Kitten Please
Back to part one

The moment Gary was released the next night, he went through his usual routine, trying to think clearly about how he was going to play this.  He would need to hide out until after dark, wait until Jimmy couldn’t come looking for him too easily.  Gary knew that Jimmy couldn’t see well in the dark because he always tripped over things when he got up to go to the toilet in the middle of the night.  He would need to hide out a little further away from home than he usually went, because Jimmy would certainly try seeking him out.

            Gary sought refuge in a garden shed four doors down.  He was quite prepared for the wait, nothing could be so dull as the amount of time he spent in Jimmy’s room at night.  When humans find cats in garages, they assume that they have been locked in.  Chances are they are in hiding.  It’s not uncommon for a cat to want to get away for a short while, and often garages and sheds are the only places they can go for a think without being pawed at by children or old ladies. 

            During the three hours he spent in the shed, Gary tried to imagine what lay in wait for him.  Most of the outside world was inconceivable – he just had no experience, and thus no expectations.  He hoped for more cats, he needed to talk to some people, learn some stuff.  He hoped for instant fulfilment and wild abandon, and he hoped that there was enough out there to make him leave Jimmy behind once and for all. 

            Bang on time, Gary heard Jimmy calling his name from afar.  The box of biscuits rattled and Gary’s muscles tensed up, as if an involuntary reaction made him want to run to the noise.  “You’re classically conditioned,” he repeated in a mantra as his dug his claws into the floor of the shed.  It was a tough thirty seconds, at any moment he felt himself susceptible to bowing down to his traditional reactions, but he held firm as long as he could.  He was on the brink of cracking when, from nowhere, he suddenly cried out, “I am not Pavlov’s dog!” and then it was over.  The spell was broken.  Jimmy could shout all he wanted now – Gary was immune, if a little hungry, and mildly confused as to who Pavlov was.

            Over the next hour, Jimmy could be heard calling after Gary again and again, but it was falling on deaf ears.  Gary lay in wait as it got darker and darker, and when he was sure that he would be concealed, he crept out, heading to the end of the road.  Rather daringly, he walked along the back walls of all of Jimmy’s neighbours; if Jimmy had been looking out of an upstairs window instead of calling from the patio, he may have seen his supposedly missing cat legging it off to pastures new.  It was one risk, Gary knew, and then it all got interesting.

            The problem with a plan such as Gary’s is that it’s all based around only the beginning.  That is, Gary planned his escape, but now he was out there, he was entirely sure what he was meant to do next.  That was the problem with being a sheltered house-cat – he had no street skills.  For the first time, he wondered whether he had been a little bit hasty in his escape plan, but then he imagined Jimmy’s eager little face and that was enough to spur him on.  It was just a case of getting off the wall and picking a direction.

            Confidence was the key, Gary thought.  He needed to at least look like he knew where he was going, follow the smell of fresh cat to try and get some answers.  He bounced off the wall and stalked along the alleyway.  Tentatively he moved in and amongst some cars out on the next street.  He knew to avoid cars in motion – anything that loud and unstoppable was worth steering clear of.

            The area in which Gary had been held captive for eighteen months was made up of a long series of streets of terraced houses.  They were all interlinked by a basic system of alleyways and roads, which from the air made it look like the bars on a prison cell.  Not that Gary would ever get that high, but he started to notice the pattern fairly easily – the outside world was just more of the same, just slightly different. 

            He was only two streets away from home, but Gary was starting to feel brave. There seemed to be no-one around, which was both reassuring and disappointing for the inquisitive young cat.  It was nearly midnight on a weekday – the majority of people were tucked away.  He could smell the presence of others, but there was no-one to be seen. 

            Gary flinched as his front left paw rested on broken shard of a small bottle.  He leaned in and sniffed at it, feeling the tiniest of thrills as the smell coursed through his body.  His vision seemed heightened only for a second and he let out a purr of delight as a self-satisfied grin spread across his face.  I like it, he thought.  He believed that it was the feeling of freedom that had taken him over. 

            “Don’t move, puppyfucker,” a menacing voice said from Gary’s periphery.  He heard a clicking, as if a tiny gun were being readied for action.  Gary turned around abruptly, trying to work out where the threat had come from, he moved around in three perfect circles, as if he were chasing his tail for Jimmy’s entertainment once more. 

            “I mean it, kitten,” the voice repeated and Gary stopped obediently.  He stood stock still with baited breath until a figure emerged over a back wall to his left.  It was a ginger tabby that leapt down in front of him, and Gary involuntarily arched his back and formed a hiss.  It was a noise that he had heard many times through the window of Jimmy’s bedroom, and here he was making it so naturally.

            “And you can quit that puppyfucking growling as well, castrato,” the ginger tabby said as he approached, revealing a limp on his left hind leg,  His fur was matted and his white bits were muddied somewhat.  He didn’t look like the sort of cat Gary wished to associate with.  A little bit too tabby trash for his liking.  He did indeed have a small gun strapped to his back, which was not something anyone could have predicted. 

            This was the first real confrontation of Gary’s life, and he was ashamed to find himself spontaneously urinating into the alleyway, right in front of his aggressor.  Suddenly, he didn’t feel so brave.

            “Oh kitten, please,” spat the ginger tabby.  “If you’re out on the streets at night, you don’t go pissing yourself like to bitch-ass kitten.” 

            This was humiliation.  Suddenly Gary wanted to run home, to run back to Jimmy and be locked away from the real world and its demands.  He had nothing to say.  “I don’t know what I did wrong,” he mewed and he was worried that he was going to start urinating again, or worse.

            “Don’t shit outside your litter tray, wet nose,” the ginger tabby said with a detectable thaw in his tone.  “I get it, you’re not who I thought you were.  You’re just a little housecat who stayed out after dark.  Now you’ve got a choice, either you pound your ass back to your loving owner, or you have a night on the tiles, down in the bowl with me.”

            Gary stared at the cat, who he noticed wasn’t wearing a collar.  Chances were he wasn’t micro-chipped either.  The ginger tabby was eyeing up his collar, and Gary realised that he was in danger of being mugged.  How stupid of me, he cursed himself, coming down here to the alleys dressed like a housecat.  I deserve to get mugged.

            “Listen, Gary,” the ginger tabby persisted, looking at his collar before saying his name, “I can see you’re a bit of a pussy, but I’m guessing you stayed out tonight to see a bit of the world.  Now I can be the bit of the world you’ve seen, or you can have an adventure.   Fancy a night out with Red Stripe?”

            Gary nodded, believing that this was the right course of action.  “You’re Red Stripe aren’t you?” he checked, and the look of contempt that he received in return was enough to tell him that it was.

            “Come with me,” Red Stripe beckoned, “and not one mouse-shit word from you unless I say so.”  Gary didn’t know whether he was allowed to reply to this, so he kept his silence and moved with Red Stripe into the shadow of the wall.  It was a simple game of the follow the leader that they went through, through back gardens, across roads and eventually out into the waste-grounds – discarded, long grass of the sort Gary had never encountered before, what with the gardens of his world being so immaculately mown.  The smell of other cats was much stronger here.

            “Welcome to the bowl, kitten,” Red Stripe said with the grandiosity of one cat showing another cat the real world.  In and amongst the grass were cats in a similar state to Red Stripe.  No collars and lots of dirt where their fur was meant to be light.  It was hard to see them all because the grass was so long, but once in a while Gary caught a flash of another cat. 

From what he could see there were two types of cat roaming around the bowl.  The first were the ones that lurched around with matted fur and tired eyes.  Some looked deliriously happy whilst others seemed depressed and desperate.  There was something sad about these cats, something about them that Gary couldn’t fear.  In fact, he was inclined to judge them outright as pathetic cats.

The other cats seemed much more in control – distant in the opposite way.  There was a steely determination about them as they stalked through the grass, making eye contact with other cats and refusing to give it up.  At any one point, Gary imagined, there were hundreds of cats here locked in staring contests with other cats, not daring to blink.  Like Red Stripe, some of these cats had small guns on their back.  Many of them had garish collars around their necks – often two or three each, which would have looked ridiculous were they not on such proud, tough-looking cats.  They occasionally shouted things out – like ‘shock and paw’ and ‘bird flu’ – which made no sense to Gary, but he assumed that he wasn’t to ask questions.  

“Take a look, Castrato, see what goes on here,” Red Stripe eventually said, in a hushed tone.  “Go for a wander.”

“Are you coming?” Gary asked him.

“I’m not so welcome round these parts,” Red Stripe smirked.  “I’m seen as a bit of a disease.”

“Is that why they’re saying bird flu?”

“Not quite.  You just run along.  I’ll be here.  Just save any questions for when you get back,” Red Stripe motioned with a paw that it was time for Gary to go wandering.  “Just watch where you step, little kitten, there’s vials of the stuff everywhere.”

Gary moved on without correcting Red Stripe.  He hadn’t been a kitten for some time, but whilst Red Stripe had a gun, he wasn’t going to push his luck.  He moved through the grass tentatively, thinking about the broken vials that might be on the floor, whatever a vial was.  He spent too much time looking at the floor, and was surprised when a scraggy looking black cat charged into him.  Gary tensed up for a moment, worried that he was about to get into a fight, but this was one of the down and out types, a real alley-cat, and he could barely raise his head to look at him.

“Out of my way, stripe-back,” he mumbled before lurching on in no discernible straight line.  Gary vowed to pay more attention whilst also avoiding the vials.  He clearly had a lot to learn.

Gary wasn’t expecting the long grass to clear, into a clearly trampled impromptu arena, where at thirty cats were either wandering around or loitering at the sides.  It was indeed in a bowl-shape, and Gary realised that what he had seen on the peripheries had merely been a prelude to the main event.  The bowl must have been fifteen metres in diameter; there were small fires burning from clawed open drinks cans, surrounded by the more dilapidated looking alley-cats who looked extremely cold.  The scraggy looking cats made all the noise – occasionally they make to scrap with each other, but something always sought to change their mind.  Some were crazy and happy, whilst the others were crazy and depressed.  Gary didn’t understand.  Was this what happened to cats who never had an owner? 

There was a certain element of feline chaos to the whole affair, with a wide variety of cats wandering around in different states of awareness.  Some were rolling around manically, whilst others chased their tails frantically. Others lay in a stupour, as if life really were too much for them.  The first thing that struck Gary was the segregation.  On the west side of the bowl were all the tabbies and tortoiseshell cats, any cat that was made up of more than one colour.  In the centre of this area, three black and white cats sat on a discarded cushion keeping an eye on things.  To the east side were just as many cats, but just the one coloured cats.  The black cats and the white cats, the grey cats and the brown cats.  The cats on the east side glared at him when they saw him, and he could hear murmurings of “puppyfucking striped-back.”  They didn’t seem at all welcoming.

The cats on the west side paid him no heed, and Gary took this as a sign that he should move towards them if he was going to explore.  There are certain things in this world that you just knew, and he was certain that “striped-back” wasn’t a term of endearment.  He moved to the west side and wondered what it was he should do.  He was uncertain about talking to anyone, because although they seemed disinterested now, Gary could tell that this wasn’t a particularly pleasant crowd.

The ill-looking cats seemed much more comfortable being out in the open, around the meagre light of the insignificant can-fires.  The more sinister, multi-collared cats lingered in the darkness, communicating with each other through nods, winks and basic hand-movements.  One nod could make a kitten run from one place to another, usually to another cat.  Two winks would make another kitten run to the edges of the bowl and dig around in the longer grass until they returned with a number of small snap-bags, like a smaller version of the bags Gary often watched Jimmy put his sandwiches in.  That kitten would drop the bags as he ran, then stop several paces on, and use his left front paw to tap his right shoulder twice.  At which point another kitten would head over, casually pick up the first bag and take it to one of the scraggy cats, who would scurry away once the exchange had taken place.  He didn’t hear them speak at all, and therefore couldn’t tell what it was they were doing.  This was not the world Gary had expected to be exposed to.