A small black cat runs across your path, nearly tripping you. You curse and swear, but you haven’t the time to do anything more; the city guard is close behind and ready to dice you into itty bits. You can’t help but glance over your shoulder, even though you know they’re not quite that close. When you turn back, the cat is staring at you from the mouth of an alley. It looks into the alley, and back at you. It does this twice more, then slips into the alley until all you see is the tip of its tail flicking in and out of the bright moon light.
You think, “What the hell,” and follow the cat. It leads you down the alley, stopping at small door. It mews softly and scratches at the wood until the door opens.
Golden light spills into the alley. A young man steps to the door, looking down at the cat. He says, “Hey, Pouncer. What are you doing out here?”
The cat meows and looks at you. The young man looks at you too, then says, “Holy crap, cat. What am I supposed to do with that?”
The cat just purrs, does a figure eight around the man’s ankles, and disappears into the warmth of the house.
The man looks behind you, down the alley toward the street. You can hear the guard too. They’ve closed the distance. Before you can bolt, the man opens the door wider. “Well come on, before they notice the light.”
The radiation and the virus of the Big Death changed humans, unlocking potential that had been dormant. This is true of animals as well. Those that survived were stronger, faster, and often smarter.
Shadows Pouncing is a little black cat. He doesn’t think the way humans do, or process information the way they do, but he does think. He is self-aware, and can consider abstract concepts like time, albeit in a limited manner. He communicates simple concepts like hunger and irritation through body language and vocalization. For more complex concepts he uses telepathy. But he has to know you, and really like you, to do that.
Shadows Pouncing has given his name to his favorite humans, but, in their human ways, they tend to shorten it to Pouncer. This is annoying, but they give him food, and pets, and warm places to sleep so he tolerates it. Usually. He is part of a community of cats living in and around Ellay, consisting of about a dozen different Clans. They go about their feline business, governed by their own rules, largely unnoticed by the humans they live beside. Shadows Pouncing is a rogue, and a troublemaker. He likes to do things differently. The Council of Elders is afraid he will make too many humans take note of the cats, but Shadows Pouncing feels that if they never try to be more than mousers, then they never will be. The Council would have thrown him out and declared him Feral long ago except for the intervention of one of the elders. Stub Tail (don’t ask, he doesn’t like talking about it) is a battered yellow tom who happens to think Shadows Pouncing is right. Stub Tail keeps a check on Shadows Pouncing’s wilder ideas, allowing Shadows Pouncing to experiment with the humans and still keep the Clans safe from human scrutiny.
This work by Jean Headley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.