Where Paws Can’t Touch the Ground
by Heather J. Frederick
Wherever I am now, there’s no grass. No crunchy, fluttery snacks. And no litter box.
We left our last home in darkness. Jared stumbled, night-blind as a newborn kitten, pulling clothes from his dresser and stuffing them into a large sack. He’d done this before — the furtive packing, then disappearing for days — so at first I wasn’t worried. My bowl had plenty of kibble. When the litter box became intolerable, I’d use his closet.
This time, he got out the carrier.
I immediately ran for my panic zone. I’d constructed the unreachable haven under his bed, behind a wall of gym socks. Every cat should have one. Though Jared was a prince among the two-legged and generous with tuna, my last trip to the vet had convinced me: He didn’t always have my best interests in mind.
I wasn’t the only one with secrets under there. Interestingly, his secret was missing.
Curse my long and luxurious tail. He roped me in, hand over fist. “You’re coming with me, buddy.”
“You think you can control me,” I hissed, “but you fail, repeatedly, to take into account my thirst for freedom.”
As usual, he gave no sign of understanding my words. He wrestled me out using a ridiculous excuse for a belly grab that never would have worked in my leaner days. “Other men play golf on the weekends. I steam-clean. Not this time.”
As he lifted me, I sheathed my claws. He’d done nothing to deserve mutilation. But I couldn’t conceal my displeasure. “What nonsense do you think to impose on me now, human? I have no more testicles to give.”
His grip was as unyielding as the bathroom door. “Stop spitting all over yourself. We’re not going to the vet.”
I have to give the man credit; he knew how to sling a cat, even one as substantial as myself. I should have tried harder to escape. If I’d known I’d never see daylight again...
That was yesterday.
Since then, I’ve been subject to misery upon misery. Although he was telling the truth about the vet, there’s something worse than rabies shots and rectal thermometers: London “spaceport.”
The noise. The smells. The sheer, oversized indoorsness of it all. When I was finally released from my portable prison, it was only to be strapped into a seatbelt never designed for four feet, sat upon — “Sorry, Major Tom!” — and squished again: “The inflatable padding will counteract the effects of acceleration!”
The inflatable padding has not been invented that can resist my claws. Plan B: I spent the rest of the “flight” stuffed in a metal box full of packing peanuts. The inedible kind. I learned their purpose soon enough, when I realized there was no litter.
Another lifetime later, we arrived. Wherever we were.
I wiggled out of my confinement and threw up on Jared’s shoes. We were in some kind of garage for flying cars. Two-legs were everywhere, but nowhere the hope of a fluffy friend. I was alone in a sea of steel-toed boots. None of which were on the ground.
A brown-skinned man with an astonishing amount of white fur on his head floated over to Jared. He looked me straight in the eyes. Territorial! And aggressive! I disliked him instantly.
“How strange,” he said. “A cat, in space. Don’t see those much.”
If Jared were a cat, his ears would have perked up. His eyebrows tried. “Ever seen one at all?”
“Couldn’t say.” The man was as unreadable as a stuffed rat. He slipped a metallic ring on one of Jared’s fingers. “Your suite is ready, sir.”
Jared smiled. “Thank you, Henry.”
We took an elevator up. Jared held onto a handle and also to me. If he’d let me walk, we both know I’d have tried to escape. His feet might not stick to the floor, but surely my paws would.
I had not yet fully grasped the magnitude of my imprisonment.
The elevator spit us out in a long, narrow hallway that was suspiciously familiar. Not the gray walls, nor metal floor. Certainly not the bulging window with its view of star-spackled nothingness. But a smell, lingering in the air like day-old fish mingled with catnip...
It belonged to one, and only one.
She couldn’t be here. Sierra had left me for a better life with the Queen. I know what you’re thinking: How could she leave me? But cats love the Queen. Victoria the Third funds the zoo. She passes leash laws to keep dogs in line. Most importantly, and tragically for me, she adopts one stray cat each year.
You shouldn’t be surprised I know these things. When Jared watches the news, I pay attention, at least to the important bits.
I had to track this tell-tail odor.
I wiggled, inch by inch working my way under Jared’s arm. His normally iron grip slipped, and I was free.
Too free. I went nowhere, not even down. But Jared, for once, quickly deduced my intention. He scooped me up and carried me through the halls, nose-first. Empty, except for the kitchen. There we encountered a large, angry man with a knife. Jared accused me of causing trouble but, to be fair, there were fish. How could I have been sure, unless I tasted?
Finally I found the scent’s source: B14.
I clawed at the door. Jared pulled me away. “Not yet, Tom.”
Could it really be her?
“For Sheba’s sake, I must get in. Within resides my heart’s desire. I need. I need! MRAOW!!”
Jared spoke into his wrist unit. “Front desk. I’d like to request a transfer to another suite.”
It was almost like he understood me! Finally!
A few seconds later, Jared’s ring flashed and he opened... the wrong door.
Jared slipped inside the suite next door, B13, dragging me with him. I was a mouse to his string. A worm to his hook.
A cat to his person.
“Home sweet...” Jared sighed and put me down. Or tried to.
Yet again, I expected to drop to the floor. Yet again, my feet spun uselessly. The ground had forsaken me.
I managed to twist my tail, arch my back, and launch my claws toward his arm, whereupon I climbed to his shoulders.
“Freaking frogs on Friday, Tom!” Jared tried to peel me off. If you’ve ever had an itch you couldn’t scratch, you know exactly where I put myself and intended to remain. I was not going to be caught without transport again.
I needed to get to B14 and Sierra. Jared must have known my yearning, must have known she was here and brought me here to reunite me with my love.
But no. Jared had torn me away from sunlight, comfort, and the life in which I was master of my domain, not to make me happy, but to do nothing but stupid paperwork he could have more easily done at home. On the hotel room’s “desk,” a board mounted just above the floor, a collage of folders and photographs were pinned in place like so many dead butterflies. He wedged his knees under it, which hardly left room for a lap. I was left with a cocoon of blankets, taped to the corner.
Cats and tape do not mix.
After liberating my fur from the tape, and the tape from my fur, I tucked myself in, knowing the king of hairballs was coming.
And here I wait. And wait. And wait. We have been here at least a lifetime, possibly more than an hour. Access to water and kibble balls he is happy to provide. However, I am no pansy-waisted, toe-warming housecat — I do not use toilets, even fancy “zero gravity” appliances with feline attachments. I pee in the shower; he cleans up after me. But any attempt to move him toward the door and B14 ends in stubborn refusal on his part and plaintive cries on mine.
Cats are connoisseurs of uninterrupted leisure, but my stomach is roiling. Jared’s rustlings offer little distraction, and no comfort. He drums his fingers constantly, a relentless, staccato attack on my solitude.
I know my person. He’s worried about something. Clearly he needs a break. I take action — placing my butt in the middle of his workspace.
At least, I try. He rescues me and draws me to his abbreviated lap, or at least he tries.
While floating with my head between my legs, I see it.
Her picture is unmistakable — my love, clutched in the arms of a uniformed guard. She’s on the platform we arrived at so many ages ago, possibly this morning. Her companion is with her, easily identifiable by the white, coiffed hair, although the crown is absent. Like Sierra, she is clutched in the arms of a guard. Maybe she too is having trouble staying put.
Jared reaches under his desk and withdraws the black case that should have been under the bed back home. I know what he keeps inside it.
I should have seen this day coming, but I’d hoped it never would.
I hate guns. They turn humans, normally quite controllable, into a force to be reckoned with: a legitimate predator.
Jared is on the hunt. His restlessness is gone. With one hand he releases the latches, takes out the gun, and loads a handful of slender, menacing darts.
And Jared’s purpose here becomes clear as darting prey.
The hasty packing, dragging me to this strange place, tracking the scent through the halls — he’s not bringing me to Sierra, he’s been using me to find Sierra and, through her, the Queen. People say cats aren’t as smart as dogs, but a dog would still be slobbering at the door. I’m prefectly capable of making the intellectual leap: He’s here to kill the Queen!
I growl. Loudly.
Copyright © 2018 by Heather J. Frederick