“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.
“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
“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
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
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.
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.