My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way

This song was used as the background to one of the most effective television commercials which I have ever seen. As far as I can remember it was made by the McCann-Ericson agency.

But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away

The product being offered was the RUC's (Northern Ireland Police Service) confidential telephone line. This let concerned people who had knowledge of terrorist activity leave anonymous tip-offs.

He said, "Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let's play
"Can you teach me to throw?"
I said, "Not today, I got a lot to do"
He said, "That's ok"

The advert told the story of a man involved on the fringes of an unidentified terrorist group. The song played all the way through, and there was no narration or dialogue. The gist was that this guy was missing out on spending time with his young son because he was too busy driving getaway cars for pub shootings (graphically shown), serving time in prison and the like.

As in the song he eventually loses touch with his boy.

I've long since retired, my son's moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, "I'd like to see you if you don't mind"
He said, "I'd love to, Dad, if I can find the time"

Years later, we see the son grown up. He has no time to talk to his reformed father because he's on the way to machine-gun down a rival/enemy whilst his son looks on, hands covering his ears, splattered with blood.

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He'd grown up just like me
Yeah, my boy was just like me

It still brought a lump to my throat when I seen it on a compilation show recently. My flatmates stood round open mouthed.

I'm pretty sure I was about 5 when I first heard this song. If I heard it before then I was too young to notice. At 13 I tried to make my dad (who was divorced from my mother by then) guilty by playing it over and over while at his house. If it had any effect I never noticed. He's a tough fucker. Still, this song is a phenomenal example of the writing skills of Chapin. He was so very blue collar. So very much one of the folk. So much so that he killed himself driving too damn fast down a winding road. I've driven too damn fast down a winding road before. Made it this far, but my time will come.

I have a dog now. I don't spend much time with him. Got shit to do. Some day I'll have more time and money and I'll buy he and I a big ranch and we'll play all day.
"you know we'll have a good time then."

“I know you can hear me. I know it. I know it!” I accented each syllable by slamming my fist into the dingy red brick of the alley.

It didn’t make much sense in retrospect, really. But when you’ve been voluntarily wandering the city for several days in some modern half-assed perversion you called a “vision quest”, but was really just an excuse to run away from responsibility, when you forget to eat save for an occasional granola bar after having never missed a meal in your life, when you have to do your own thinking for the first time in your life instead of have your parents tell you what to do… not a whole lot of things make sense after a while.

“Dammit, answer me!” The last splat of flesh meeting brick was accompanied by a sharp crack! as my first knuckle shattered against the wall. “I know…” I whispered as I sunk to the oily, gritty pavement, clutching my fist. “I know.”

The large tattered orange tomcat whose glowing yellow eyes I found myself staring into, now that I’d slumped down to his height, cocked his head and pricked what was left of his shredded ears at me. “What, you want a magic happy talking cat story? You want a sarcastic, cute, furry companion to accompany all your little mystical adventures? Forget it. How do you even know you hear me, anyways? How do you know that I’m not just one of myriad voices in your head?”

I jumped about as high in the air as was possible from a seated position, and held up my bleeding, throbbing fist. “Isn’t this proof enough? Doesn’t this say I’m serious?”

The tom was meticulously licking one paw and solidly ignoring me. He did not speak again. My anger was giving way to fear, fear of finding no answers, and I whimpered “Please”. Still no reply. I moved my bleeding joints to just in front of his old scarred nose, between his paw and his chin. “Please.”

“Eh, I’ve seen much better offerings,” said the tom as he leaned down slightly to lick the blood from my knuckle. “But, as they say, the one thing that is killing me is curiosity. Curiosity as to why you of all people—an unimportant brat who’s never worked a day for his keep, or been hungry a day in his life—is sitting in an alley babbling at me. And it’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to talk to one of you. Your offering is accepted.

“ONE of …me? US? One?” I half shrieked.

“Of course,” he smirked at me. “Did you really think you were the only one? Some half-feline messiah? Some D&D mystic cleric bigwig? You are full of yourself. Sorry, the real world doesn’t work like that, regardless of what your mommy and daddy like to tell their precious little boy.”

I bit back a retort, knowing it would get me nowhere, and settled in to at least listen to what he had to say.

“Let me guess. You have questions. I bet my magical psychic cat self can not only answer them, but I bet I know what they are.

You all want to know the same thing.

And don’t worry, unlike your fairy tales full of trickery, you’ll remember ever last word of this. I won’t blank your memory; I couldn’t if I wanted to. And don’t fret, there’s no cost, no hidden trap. I’m no genie, no trickster-god, no cornered leprechaun. I’m just me, and I’m just telling you a story. You’ll remember it—and you’ll decide it was a hallucination, stirred by hunger and weariness… or you’ll realize that it’s true, and you’ll treasure that truth enough to not blab it blindly. Not that anyone would believe you; of course, they’d give you a nice new apartment with lovely padded walls in return for that story.

Anyhow, as all true stories must start, many ages ago...”

“I just want the truth. Screw the history.”

“What was, is the truth," he spat. "Now are you going to listen to me? Or do I leave now and save us both the trouble?

Good, that’s what I thought.

Now, cats have walked the earth with humans for eons. The Egyptians worshipped us—good times. They feared and destroyed us across feudal Europe. That was, well, not so good.

Today, crazy old ladies stuff us in herds of 30 or more in a small apartment and boys shoot us with .22’s, while others lovingly rescue stray kittens out of busy highways and nurture them as their own. It’s been a very mixed bag. But we’ve been here, that’s the important part.

And of course over the years, a lot of old wives' tales have evolved. Some are a whole lot of bunk. Some… well, the old wives are wiser than most people like to admit.

Now, while cats don’t breed like bunnies, we usually manage a satisfactory job of keeping our numbers strong. Even with all today’s spay/neuter business and euthanasia rates, we’ve squeaked by. It’s been tough, but we’re coping.

However, there have been much worse times when we simply couldn’t keep our numbers up at all. The years around the Black Plague… that was our turning point. So many cats were being killed for being “demonic” that we simply couldn’t cope. And that’s when we discovered something interesting.

The world NEEDS cats.

It simply doesn’t function properly without us.

On a totally mundane level, of course, having more cats around to kill the blasted rats that carried the plague-ridden fleas would have seriously reduced the scope of the devastation. But I mean more than that…

Magic… magic just didn’t continue to function right as our numbers waned. It wasn’t that we cats “made” magic or had any particular special powers… rather, we came to realize that we as a species were the physical embodiment of the idea of magic on this plane.

With time and conversations with other species, we discovered that most others at some point in their history had (or would have) a similar discovery. They also learned that they embodied some idea “in the flesh” and were too few strong to preserve it any longer.

Dogs are unfaltering loyalty on four paws; horses are freedom on thundering hooves. You get the drift.

Nowadays, you see each species summarized in a two-sentence blurb in some crappy “totem animal” book off the shelf on some uber chain bookstore. What’s frightening is how much closer to the truth those books are, than the mega corporations would be comfortable with if they knew.

I digress.

At various points in time, most species had reached the crisis we now found ourselves facing. Each had to find a way to cope with their decrease.

Just as dogs were finding their numbers dangerously depleted, suddenly some men were touched with a particular affliction we call lycanthropy. Transmitted by wolf and dog bites, men yielded to werewolves on the full moon. Consequently, at the height of power in the month, when the moon was brightest, there would be more wolves and dogs in the world, to be in harmony with the rest of the fulltime canines.

Horses chose a rather odd way to replenish, if you ask me—some times, in one bygone era alone, in dreams and quests and visions, humans would couple their souls (and occasionally, perversely, their bodies) with a mare. She would then bear a halfling child—a centaur. These half-breeds were fertile and true-breeding with other centaurs, so a new race with man’s wisdom—and opposable thumbs—but a horse’s soul, arose.

There are almost as many solutions, as species that reached their crisis point. Almost. Some species never recovered at all and became extinct, helped rapidly along that path by the damnable relentlessness of mankind.

Sometimes an idea could find a new host to embody it. Many dinosaur traits passed to their descendants. The King of Lizards, T-Rex himself, raw strength, gave his idea over to modern heir, the crocodile. And that was acceptable, because as dinosaurs waned and mankind waxed, brute strength became less important than intelligence—the dolphin, of course—and memory of time—who else but the elephant?

However, some species never found new hosts for their ideas. The dodo. for example, who embodied absurdity? All possible hosts already had their own ideas to guard. The naked mole rat would have been perfect, but they were already busy dealing with “secrecy”.

Now these host-less ideas exist only poorly, a pale reflection in the imaginations of man.

Homo sapiens—dominance—is the only species that has had the capacity to comprehend and faintly mimic the ideas of other species. (They do quite a pitiful job if you ask me.) So until new hosts become available as new species evolve, some ideas are stuck with very poor reflections of their true selves. For the sake of the dodo, I myself hope a new race comes to take their place—“reality TV” and “Jerry Springer” and grocery store tabloids representing “the absurd” does them a sore disservice.”

The tom hissed this last bit through clenched teeth, glaring through slitted eyes.

“But cats…” I blurted. “What did they do?”

“Don’t interrupt me, or my reminiscences. I tell the story, my way and no other.”

“I… I’m sorry… sir. Please go on.”

“That’s better, kitten. Respect your elders.

As I’ve said, we, like any other species, had to find our own answers. Now think, boy. Which old tale of cat persists strongly even into today?”

“Um… nine lives?” I guessed.”

“No, although that’s the most common guess. Try again.”

“Um… luck… no… witch… no…” then I sat bolt upright. “Babies? Babies?? The one where cats suck the life away from infants in the crib?” I looked at the tom horrified. “But you haven’t… you won’t….”

He came as close then as I have ever seen a cat come to laughing.

“Right—and wrong. That’s the tale, but like so many, it’s wrong. It’s so easy to confuse the easily visible answer for the true one. Now listen—and relax. No cat worth his whiskers has ever harmed a child, unless it pulled his tail or chewed on his ears, and that’s still just a scratch, not death.

The truth is much stranger, and much more beautiful. Cats believe that no one, of any species, should die unmourned. Every kitten we lose, every rat we kill, anything at all—we sing a death dirge to help its soul pass Beyond.

Humans usually hear just a purr and think us cruel for expressing pleasure over our kill, but if they would just listen closely, if they knew how, they would hear a beautiful, happy, sad, full dirge.

We will also sing our own dirge, if no one else around us can or will… hence the belief we ‘die purring’. Really, we’re singing ourselves out of life.

Now here’s the interesting part. Human babies die slowly, compared to other animals. They are so barely self-aware, compared to other youngsters, that it is quite common for infant souls to vacate the body at death, but for the body to fail to realize its soul is gone, for some seconds to even some minutes. The tie between body and soul at that stage is so faint already that one can sometimes live without the other for a short while.

It was pure accident that we discovered our answer. A queen was kittening underneath a baby’s crib when that child’s soul departed. After pausing her labor briefly to sing his dirge, she continued with her queening and sang the melody we use to call our kits forth from the Beyond and into this world.

She birthed five healthy live kits, and one dead one. She was resting when she heard a mewling squall above her. Her song had attracted a sixth kitten soul, for the sixth kitten body not strong enough to receive it. Finding no feline body for it to bond to, it had inhabited the still-breathing, but soulless, human one.

She told her story, and after some experimentation, we perfected the songs. Since then, there have been a goodly number of human bodies that would have died, but now continue life with the souls of cats.

As for the myth that we ‘steal’ the breath of babies… no. We do not. We have never displaced a human child’s soul to bring in one of our own.

However, oftentimes, a mother or nurse would interrupt us in our songs. Sometimes it was during the dirge, sometimes during the birthing song, but the result was the same: we had to cease singing.

Then, no new soul was ready to enter the vacated child’s one, and the already-soulless body died completely. But because we would be found in the crib, purr-singing, we were blamed for the child’s passing. So the tale grew.

Now you know what you are, and why. Although at heart, you already knew, or we wouldn’t have had this discussion in the first place.”

“But…” I stammered, “If there are others like me, why do I feel so alone? Why haven’t I met any others?”

“I was just getting to that”, the tom shushed me.

“The answer is fairly simple. Most human lives are so ruled by logic and the mind, that the soul is ignored. ‘Dominance’, remember? That includes dominance of self.

Have you noticed a fondness for milk over orange juice or tea? That you love naps on the couch, by a sunny window, instead of on a dark bed? A jittery surge of adrenalin when a bird starts and flies up in front of your car?

Most cat-souled are so ruled by the human mind that they just write these things off as stress, or nerves, or odd personal psychoses, and try to ignore the urges.

In bygone eras, some humans did notice their peculiar longings. Many of them developed a strong and strange connection to magic. They were called mystics, shamans, visionaries, spirit seekers, and given title and rank and respect.

Not all shamans were cat-souled, of course. Many were given their talents from other sources. And not all cat-mystics were aware they were cats. They just knew something about them was different, and accepted it as such and moved on. And society let them, for the most part.

As society moved towards progress and science and away from magic, fewer people could touch their own souls anymore. When a cat-child was born, no one, not even the child himself, really noticed. It’s been this way a very long time.

Only a few humans, nowadays, are self aware enough to touch their own souls and realize that they are different. However, there’s been a resurgence in spiritual movements over the past ten, twenty, fifty years. People accept meditation as normal, they see acupuncturists, they embrace religions further from the mainstream. As the technological, bustling business world has less and less to offer them as nourishment, they begin to look elsewhere. They begin to look back to Nature. And they begin to look into themselves.

They—like you—generally do not recognize how they are different, only that they are. So they come seeking, and some, eventually, find. This is what you’ve done, and this is why you are here. You noticed something was different, outside the ordinary, something you couldn’t explain.

So, alone, frightened, desperate, screaming in an alley, you asked me.

I answered.

Now you know.”

“But… but… but… this isn’t natural, this isn’t normal…” I tried to protest.

“Of course not. Desperation rarely is.”

“But—can’t I just be a cat completely? It’s how I’ve always felt.” I wasn’t sure this was true, but it made more sense than anything else I had just heard. Just being a cat, being magic, would be so much simpler than the world of college, then a job and bills and maybe a house and a family down the road. That was the world I’d run away from, that I was too afraid to face, and didn’t know how to go back to.

“No. I can’t do that. You know it. And I don’t think you really want that, anyhow. All I ever offered was a story—a true story, but a story nonetheless. I never promised you answers. You have to figure those out on your own.

Besides, we need you cat-souled humans. You can talk to normal people. You can form words they can hear and understand, you can frame ideas in ways that make sense to them.

We need you, our bastard kits, to help us. Without you, we—and all the other ideas in the world—will not be able to survive.”

I pondered these thoughts, aimlessly sucking on my still bleeding knuckle, the same one the tom had licked earlier. From an apartment window nearby, a baby’s pained cry, then a strangled wheeze filled the air, shattering my ruminations.

The tom straightened up and listened intently. “I lied earlier,” he said. “You are important. You know how to listen. Now go. Think. Do. Act on what you know.

Now I have my work to do. Safe wanderings, my boy."

And the old, beautiful, shabby tom ran off singing.


This story has been rattling around in my head for over ten years. It has been re-written countless times, although the premise always remains the same. Today is the first day I have ever felt sure of myself enough as an author to publish it, even here on e2, my safe place. Somehow, it seems fitting to do so while we celebrate the decaversary.

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