FREE Chapter Preview! The Cat Council
A scream rang out in the middle of the night.
Only, it wasn’t a human scream, like you might be imagining. It was a cat’s yowl, that particular, peculiar, loud type of meow that echoes off walls and is sure to wake up everyone in the house. You might recognize it as the noise we cats make during the night, when we want you to get out of bed to feed us or play with us.
The perpetrator was Gus. He was giving the signal for us cats to gather in the living room for our meeting.
It happened at two in the morning. I don’t know how to read the clock, but I know the time because Dad shouted, “Gus, be quiet! It’s two in the morning!”
I peered down from my padded window perch above Piper’s bed. She stirred a little bit, but she didn’t fully wake up, and soon she inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly again. I jumped down to the floor, and headed for the hallway.
Darkness filled the hall, but we cats can see in the dark. I spotted Mini just ahead of me, and followed her out into the living room, where moonlight streamed in through the front window. The moon wasn’t at its fullest brightness, but it shone strong enough to create a silvery blue circle between the window and the table. We gathered at that circle for our meeting.
Gus arrived before the rest of us did. He stays in the living room at night. And he’s the best one to call our meetings, not only because of his sleeping location, but also because he’s very loud.
Snowball was there, too. And Pixie was half-heartedly there.
Pixie is the only cat I haven’t introduced you to yet, and she’s the most recent feline addition to our home. She arrived just a few months before the human baby Lyla showed up.
Pixie’s fur is all black, and she has bright yellow eyes and a crooked tail. She was a stray, hovering and lurking outside our house. Eventually, Mom took pity on her, started feeding her, and then let her stay here permanently.
But, Pixie spends most of her time in the basement. I only rarely saw her in the beginning. Sometimes it was like she wasn’t even in the home at all. And that was fine with me, because all of the upstairs territory is already taken, and I’m not about to give her my spot on the couch. Plus, I didn’t want to share my human, and neither did any of the other cats (Dad is Gus’s person, so all the humans are already taken other than baby Lyla, who is too young to have a cat). So, Pixie got left out for the time being.
That night, she stood off in the dark, near the basement door, rather than coming to join the rest of us in the moonlight. Her fur blended into the shadows, so at times all I could see was just a pair of glowing yellow eyes that hovered in the darkness. And even the yellow was difficult to see, because her pupils were wide and made her eyes nearly as black as her fur. I got the impression she was nervous, like she wanted to leave altogether and run back down the stairs.
“So,” grumbled Mini, squinting her scarred left eyelid at the rest of us. Sometimes when she talks, she scrunches up her muzzle on the same side. It makes her look like she’s just smelled something stinky.
“So,” she said again, aiming her narrowed left eye at Gus. Her voice was squeaky, but also gruff and gravelly. “What was so important that you had to call us all down here? I had a prime sleeping spot next to Mom, but you woke up the baby, so Mom had to tend to the crying. I can’t stand the crying… it’s a horrible sound, like someone’s scratching on glass.”
“I think you all know why we’re here,” answered Gus. His eyes, normally a golden yellow, reflected the silvery moonlight. It made them look almost as blue as Snowball’s. “I think most of us saw the stranger today.”
“I didn’t like that man,” I said, holding my chin up high and nodding.
“Yeah, I saw him,” said Mini. “But so what? What exactly are you going to do about it? You’re just a cat, and we have no idea where the man went. So, what’s your brilliant plan?”
“Very helpful answer, Mini,” I said. She glared at me. I glared right back, then I continued speaking. “We should at least talk about it. I think the humans might be in danger, and they don’t even know it.”
I saw Snowball out of the corner of my eye. Her head moved back and forth rapidly between Mini and me when we talked. She didn’t blink, and she trembled a little bit. Snowball didn’t like tension or arguments.
Gus sighed. “Like I said, we all know why we’re here. So, let’s take a guess. What do you think the man intends to do? We all saw the signs, and we know he’s up to something. But, what, exactly? How do we prepare? Also, does anyone want a snack during the meeting? Mini, don’t you always have extra food in your room? Why don’t you bring some down and we can all share.”
Mini rolled her eyes. This time, I didn’t blame her. Gus always had food on his mind, even at the most inappropriate of times. Plus, I always had to watch out when the humans opened up our canned food in the morning. If I wasn’t quick, he’d push me out of the way and finish my breakfast for me.
“Back to the issue, please, Gus,” I said. “What if we set up a watch system, with one of us just outside the door. We could give each other an early warning if the man comes back. And, while I’m out there, I could catch a bird or two…”
“Now that is a very bad idea,” Mini said, her voice quieter now. She continued, “You do not want to be out there. First of all, how would you even get outside the door? The humans always watch to be sure we don’t run out. And second of all, you couldn’t handle it out there. You don’t have the experience, and the street smarts like I have.”
I stared daggers at Mini. It was true, she had been out on the streets for years, before the humans adopted her as an adult. Unlike me, who came here as a kitten. Sure, I’d spent some time on the streets as a newborn. But, I hardly remembered those times now. However, right or not, I could hear the insult under Mini’s words. She clearly thought she was tougher than all of us.
“Well, Mini,” I said. “You’re turning down a lot of our ideas. Do you have a better idea to offer?”
“Listen to me,” Mini said. “I’m telling you, this is all a bad idea. You should avoid getting involved altogether. Watch out for yourself. And, do NOT try to go outside. You have no idea what’s out there. There are cars, just waiting to run you over. There are humans who aren’t so nice as our humans, and they’ll capture you and take you far away from here, and you’ll never see Piper again. Sharp plants, with needles that will cut you in an instant. And, there are predators. Coyotes. Hawks. Wild cats as big as dogs. All with sharp teeth and claws, ready to have you for dinner.”
Snowball let out a small gasp. She trembled violently. In the same moment, I heard the basement door creak, and noticed Pixie’s crooked tail bobbing as she descended the top steps toward the basement and disappeared.
“Again, very helpful Mini,” I said, feeling exasperated. What did Mini know anyways? I could handle being outside. I’m tougher than I look.
“Well how about this?” said Gus. “Let’s set up the watch inside the house instead of outside. It was a good idea, Hazel. We’ll just keep it indoors, as there are plenty of windows in the house for us to look through.”
“Thanks Gus,” I said.
“You’re welcome,” he replied. “But to really thank me, you can offer me one-third of your breakfast tomorrow. Or, maybe one-half. The humans aren’t giving me as much as I want anymore. They say I have to be on a diet, and I don’t like it one bit.”
I rolled my eyes. Gus really had a one-track mind sometimes.
“We’ll take turns,” he went on. “We’ll operate in shifts at the front window there. If any of you see the man coming back, just sound the alarm.”
Snowball perked up a bit at hearing the plan. “Ooh…” she said. “So, since we’ll be sharing the living room, does that mean I can use your sunny spot when it’s your shift, Gus?”
We all tensed up. It’s fair to say that for us cats, sharing doesn’t always go well.
“That would be my territory,” said Gus, a growl just under his voice. “You were there when we all decided on it during the Catnip Agreement last year. I get that spot, and any of the catnip toys that happen to fall into it. You better not try to take it.”
Snowball averted her eyes downward, and backed away with her ears flattened, looking a little scared. She was the only one of us born inside of a house (a different house, before she came here), where she never had to fight for food or for space. So, sometimes she had these crazy ideas about sharing. But, it would never work here. We all knew our territories, and it was best to stick with that, for the sake of peace.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean anything by it. I just thought that…”
“Another stupid idea,” Mini chimed in. Mini never missed an opportunity to insult one of us.
“It’s OK,” said Gus. “Just remember the Agreement. It works.”
Snowball nodded, and attempted a smile, but her feelings were clearly hurt. If we cats could cry, she probably would have done so. Of all of us, Snowball is the one who wouldn’t be able to survive outside. She’s far too sensitive.
“So, is that it?” asked Mini. She looked annoyed, and she swatted her tail back and forth impatiently, but she would agree to take her shifts at the window, if that’s what we voted on.
“All for now,” said Gus. “Any objections to the plan?”
We all remained quiet.
“Great,” said Gus. “I’ve got the first shift. Until sunrise. Then I’ll be done in time for breakfast. Hazel, you take the next shift, and I’ll finish your breakfast for you.”
“What about Pixie?” I asked.
“I’ll talk to her when I can,” said Gus. “She’ll need to do her part to help, too.”
We all nodded on it.
And with that, I headed back for Piper’s room. I walked down the dark hallway, which suddenly seemed quieter and a bit foreboding. My mind played some tricks on me. In the shadows I saw the man with his false smile and crooked teeth. I knew he was up to something, out there plotting a terrible plan. Somehow, I just knew it.
Piper still slept soundly as I pushed through the partly-open door. I jumped up on the bed, but instead of continuing to my window perch, I snuggled up right next to her and curled into a ball. I felt myself purring as I fell back into a deep sleep.