Excerpt for Pisu's Revenge by , available in its entirety at Smashwords









PISU’S REVENGE

Prequel to the series The Fairy Gifts






By Susha Golomb






Copyright 2018 Susha Golomb


Smashwords Edition

TABLE OF CONTENTS


PROLOGUE – ANCIENT HISTORY


PART I – SIX MONTHS OLD

-Chapter-1 – Life on a Barge - The First Day

-Chapter-2 – Life on a Barge - Hunting

-Chapter-3 – Life on a Barge - Swimming

-Chapter-4 – Life on a Barge - Pisu

-Chapter-5 – Life on a Barge - Settling In


PART II – SIX YEARS OLD

-Chapter-6 – Things Fall Apart

-Chapter-7 – Queen Tefnut

-Chapter-8 – The Plan

-Chapter-9 – Trying it Out

-Chapter-10 – Pisu Returns

-Chapter-11 – Working Out the Details

-Chapter-12 -- Shirley

-Chapter-13 – Hazel the Harvester

-Chapter-14 – Twidum and Twidee

-Chapter-15 – The Riffle

-Chapter-16 – Oren


PART III – EIGHT YEARS OLD

-Chapter-17 – Things Fall Apart...Again

-Chapter-18 – Small Changes

-Chapter-19 – The Queen’s Barge

-Chapter-20 – Claw Perfect

-Chapter-21 – The EQs

-Chapter-22 – Comfortable


PART IV – TWELVE YEARS OLD

-Chapter-23 – It was a Dark and Stormy Night

-Chapter-24 – Parting of the Ways

-Chapter-25 – The Rest of the Story

-Chapter-26 – The Human Village

-Chapter-27 – Evelyn X

-Chapter-28 – Shade Meets Maggie

-Chapter-29 – Pussytoes’ Proposal

-Chapter-30 – Making History

-Chapter-31 – Call Him Pyewacket

-Chapter-32 – Tefnut Goes for a Walk

-Chapter-33 – A Tiger in Fairyland

-Chapter-34 – The Mouse that Roared

-Chapter-35 – The Trap is Sprung

-Chapter-36 – The Inevitable Ending


EPILOGUE

-Chapter-37 – I Am Cat

-Chapter-38 – Sanctuary

-Chapter-39 – How to Train Your Humans



SAMPLE FROM:

THE FAIRY GIFTS, BOOK ONE

MAGIC SUCKS


OTHER BOOKS BY SUSHA GOLOMB


PROLOGUE

Tefnut as a kitten


ANCIENT HISTORY

I was a pretty happy cat when I was young, born and raised in Ailuria, a little country by the sea, tucked into a small corner of The Greater Elf Kingdom.

Because of the strict laws in The Greater Elf Kingdom about not eating other people--and everyone here counts as people: fairies, animals, even bugs--my mother never taught us to hunt, but all our games were about catching stuff and destroying it. The shredding and ripping was the best part, the climax to an intense game of stalk and pounce. We loved it.

There were four of us, but my brother Pisu was the biggest, the strongest and the most fun to be with. I adored him. Now he’s in trouble, nothing new for Pisu, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to help him this time.

It was easier when we were younglings. Not being able to eat anyone leaves a lot of wiggle room, especially for kittens, and Pisu wiggled better than anyone. There were always ‘accidents’. I usually got blamed for the ‘accidentally’ squashed beetle, and Pisu got off the hook. I didn’t mind.

As we got older and more independent we spent more time apart. Once, while I was sneaking around practicing my stealth mode, I caught a flash of Pisu’s orange stripes through the bushes and heard a chirpy little cricket voice begging for mercy. There weren’t any squashed crickets afterwards so I assumed that the game finished and the cricket had moved on.

When we were six months old, Mom kicked us out. It was time for us to move on, too. I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I became a barge cat.

--PART I

SIX MONTHS OLD

Tefnut learns to swim


-CHAPTER-1-

LIFE ON A BARGE -- DAY ONE

My paws were sore after two days of nothing but walking when I arrived at the mouth of the Cattywampus River where the river barge Grimalkin was unloading bags of dried kibble-fruit into the ocean.

Sitting on the rocky shore, my tender paws tucked under me, I followed with my eyes as each bag went over the side and into the arms of the waiting sea fairies. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the tail of another sea fairy under the boat checking the engine and getting it ready for the trip upriver.

I spent most of my kittenhood watching the long flat boats with their loads of kibble-fruit sail up and down the river and now I was about to become a barge cat. There was an opening on the Grimalkin and I had been accepted as an apprentice.

“Hi! You must be Tefnut,” a patchy tricolor cat called from the deck of the barge. “I’m Felix. Welcome to the Grimalkin.” Felix, was already friendlier than most of the other grown cats I met. He jumped off the boat and walked over to where I was sitting.


“We’re loaded and ready to start back,” Felix said after we touched noses. “Come and be introduced to the rest of the crew.

“Just one thing,” he said as we were about to jump onto the deck. “Our senior cat is called Pussytoes...don’t ever ask him about his name.” The automatic ‘why not’ stayed in my throat. Felix was already back on the deck where three more cats waited to greet me.

“Hello, Tefnut. I’m Pussytoes,” the long yellow cat said, “and this is Neko and Hatooli. Our fifth crew member, Anu, is nesting. She will be back in four or five months when her kittens are grown.” Neko and Hatooli were spotted cats, something I’d never seen before, but then, I hadn’t seen that many cats, just my family and the cats I passed on my journey to the Grimalkin.

I nosed each of them in turn and waited to be told what to do. Any questions I had were gone, pushed out by the ‘why not’ even though I already know the answer to ‘why not’. It’s because Pussytoes is a stupid name.

“Come up top,” Pussytoes said. “The only hard thing to learn is piloting the boat and everyone has to know how to do it. I’ll show you the basics. After that, it’s just watching until you get the hang of it.”

Pussytoes took me up to the roof of their den, a wooden cabin near the back of the barge. Off to one side, a tree trunk with stubs of branches still attached was set into the deck up against the cabin and rising above it. There was a wicker basket nailed to the top.

“Who’s in the cat nest today?” Pussytoes called to the three still on deck.

“I am,” Felix called back, scrambling up the tree trunk and into the basket.

“Running the barge only needs two cats,” Pussytoes told me, “one to pilot and one in the cat nest. Felix will let me know if anyone has a flag for pickup or drop off in plenty of time for me to steer us to shore.

“He also usually sees any sandbars or shallow spots before I do. We all know this river by heart, but rivers change. An extra pair of eyes comes in handy.

“First off, we need to reset the Grimalkin for the trip upriver.” He turned his head and looked, and I followed his gaze to two large buttons set into the floor.

“The button on the upriver side reverses the engine and switches over to the forward rudder which will become the aft rudder when we get started. Got it?”

“No, but I will.”

“That’s the spirit. Now press the button.”

I stared at the two identical buttons waiting for one of them to wiggle so I could pounce on it. Nothing happened, however I did notice that one button was taller than the other.

Trying to look like I knew what I was doing, I walked over, sat down and put a paw on the tall button. I waited. Pussytoes didn’t say anything so I leaned, adding a little weight.

“You’ll have to press a lot harder than that if you want to get this old boat moving,” he said.

I stood up, put both front paws on the button and leaned some more. Slowly, the big button began to sink.

Interestingly, as I watched, the second button began to rise up. By the time the first button was flush with the floor, the second one was just as tall as the first one had been. Fascinating.

“Can I do that again?”

“Go and tell Neko and Hatooli to cast off. When they yowl back ‘All Aboard’, you can push the next button.”

That was when I realized that Neko and Hatooli were not busy doing anything. They weren’t talking. They were both watching me...intently.

I looked up at the cat’s nest. Felix was watching me. Pussytoes was watching me. I was starting to feel like one of Pisu’s bugs.

I thought about our mother’s commanding voice. When she told us to get back to the nest, we got back. Fast. Even Pisu.

I am going to need the mother-voice. Stepping to the edge of the roof of the cabin, I looked them right in the eye, just like Mom did.

“Cast off,” I yowled. It worked. Neko and Hatooli ran to the edge of the deck, jumped to shore and began undoing the ropes that held the Grimalkin steady.

“I’m ready for the next button, Pussytoes.”

“You don’t touch it until you hear ‘All Aboard’,” he said. His mother-voice was way better than mine. I waited.

Pretty soon I heard Neko call out the ‘All Aboard’ yowl. I thought I understood what the ‘All Aboard’ call meant, but I couldn’t see Neko or Hatooli anywhere on deck. I was confused.

“Is there a problem, Tefnut?” Pussytoes asked.

“What happened to Neko and Hatooli?”

“Look in the water.”

There they were on the river side of the barge, swimming side by side. I was shocked.

“Neko and Hatooli are fishing-cats. They were born next to the river and learned to swim as soon as their eyes opened. Their way-back ancestors were fishing-cats and they love being in the water. They even like it when it rains.”

I shivered at the thought.

“I know how to swim, but it’s not something I do for fun,” Pussytoes said. “What about you? I assume you don’t mind the water or you wouldn’t want to be a barge cat.”

“I like playing with water,” I said, “and I like watching the river but I never thought about being in the water. It feels wrong.”

“You’ll have to learn how to swim if you’re going to be a barge cat,” he said. “There will be plenty of times when you won’t be able to get on and off the barge without getting your feet wet, but that’s all. Getting all the way into the water is up to you. Personally, I don’t get it,” Pussytoes said.

“Next time we’re docked, you can try getting into the water from the shore. Don’t do it alone. Make sure one of us is with you. We’re all good swimmers. Now, here’s that button I promised you.

“Those two sets of pedals over there are for steering.” He walked over and put his paw on the nearest pedal. “This pair,” he said “is for the upriver rudder and the other pair controls the downriver rudder. That’s your button on the side. Step on it and let’s get moving.”

This button had a raised rounded top. I slid my paw to just touch the edge. It had a bumpy soft feeling. I moved my paw to the middle. Definitely squishy. Lovely.

I pushed.

I jumped.

There was a new noise. Really new. Something I never heard before...and my feet, I could feel my feet vibrating.

“Feel that,” Pussytoes said. “That’s Grimalkin. She’s purring. Sweetest sound in the world. Nothing beats a nap on the deck when Grimalkin’s engines are at full speed.”

“I knew that,” I said quickly to cover my embarrassment. Pussytoes was too polite to say anything. I decided to clean my shoulder, a good way to avoid eye contact. But my eyes were drawn back to the new button. My paw followed, reaching but not quite touching the new button. I looked up to Pussytoes.

“Press it again and the engine goes off,” he said. “Don’t ever touch any buttons unless I tell you to. Understood?”

“Understood,” I said, looking longingly at the soft squishiness of it.

“Not many cats are able to become barge cats,” he said.

My heart thumped in my chest. Maybe I’m not a barge cat yet, I thought, but I will be. I sat at attention, ignoring all buttons and keeping my eyes on Pussytoes.

“Watch my paws” he said. “Watch the river, and watch the boat.”

I looked down. He was standing with his front paws on the two upriver pedals. I looked out to the river. Grimalkin was turning away from the river bank and moving slowly to the middle of the river. My chest swelled. I was on a real barge and we were underway.

“Your job now is watching,” Pussytoes said. “Watch my paws. Watch the river and watch the boat,” he repeated. I will let you know when you’re ready to start steering, but don’t expect it to happen anytime soon.

I settled down into a relaxed-alert posture and started my apprenticeship.



It had been a long day. The sun was warm on my back and I could feel Grimalkin purring in my ears and in my bones. I watched the pedals. I watched the river. I watched the boat--

“--Wake up Tefnut!”

“Never, never, never go to sleep when you’re piloting the boat. Never take your eyes off the river. Never!”

“But--”

“--When you are a watcher, you watch,” he growled, “and you are a watcher. You will never be a barge cat if you can’t learn to keep your focus. It’s not enough to just look. You must ‘hunt’ the river. Stalk it. Learn it. Never look away.”

I sat up straight, swished my tail, and pretended to be Pisu. I ‘hunted’ the river.




-CHAPTER-2

LIFE ON A BARGE -- HUNTING

I ‘hunted’ the river until dusk. I watched how the river curved around and back on itself. The Cattywampus River curves and twists so much that even though technically it runs north to south, sometimes the sun was in front of us and sometimes behind us.

I watched the steep hills that rose up on either side of the river, the hillsides covered with kibble-fruit vines hanging on wooden trellises.

I watched stretches of the river where the water was fast and where it was slow. I watched the places where the river bank was steep and places where it was shallow.

Felix warned us about big rocks in the river and I watched Pussytoes steer around them. I watched until the sun was low in the sky and I watched as Pussytoes steered the Grimalkin closer to shore.

“Time to step on that button again,” he said.

“Why are we stopping?” I asked, even though I was more than ready.

“Don’t dawdle or we’ll drift,” he said. “Hurry up. Just one hard push. You don’t want to let it go off and on and then have to turn it off again. It’s bad for the engine.”

I was already up and at the button pushing it sharply and quickly releasing it. It wasn’t as much fun as the first time, but it was satisfying.

“Am I finished watching?” I asked, trying not to whine.

“Drop anchor,” Pussytoes yowled out to the deck cats. “We are done for today, Tefnut. You did a good job.”

As soon as I heard the word ‘done’ I dropped to the floor, lying on my side, four paws out, and closed my eyes.

“If you’re interested, there are buttons that work the anchors,” Pussytoes said.

“Can I do them tomorrow?” I asked without opening my eyes. I didn’t hear his answer.



It was night when I woke up. No moon, but more stars than I had ever seen from my birth nest under the trees. There was no sign of Felix or Pussytoes. Neko was stretched out on top of the bags of crushed sea-fruit that the sea people had given us in exchange for our dried kibble-fruit.

When kibble-fruit gets old, it goes from moist and crunchy to smooth, shiny and rock hard. I came close to breaking my teeth once when I tried to eat a dried out kibble-fruit that had accidentally got mixed in with the fresh. We all learn to avoid it.

The sea-fairies call our dried kibble-fruit power-nuts. We use them to run the engines on our barges. They use the energy from the dried kibble-fruit to power their lights.

Their eyes are like ours. They can see pretty well in the dark but there are places in the ocean where the dark is way past cat eye or sea-fairy eye ability. Our old dried-out kibble-fruit lets them live anywhere in the ocean they want and the crushed sea-fruit they give us in exchange gives our nutritious but bland kibble-fruit a most delicious fishy flavor.

Hatooli was sitting at the edge of the deck staring down at the water. Except for a small twitch at the end of her tail, she was perfectly still.

After a carefully executed and delicious stretch, I jumped down to the deck to see what it was that had captured her attention.

But before I got there, she was suddenly up in the air and over the side. I raced the rest of the way, pulling up short when I got to the edge of the deck. Hatooli was in the water talking to a big silver fish.

“Bye, Fred. Thanks for the game.”

“Bye, Hatooli. See you next time.”

She swam over to the steps that all barges have built into the sides for drinking water, pulled herself up the first two steps, jumped from the middle step to the deck and started to tongue dry her fur.

“Welcome to barge life, Tefnut,” she said between licks.

“Who’s Fred?”

“He’s a fish I know. Usually, I just catch the fish and let them go. Fred likes to play a bit after I catch him.”

“You hunt fish?” The fur on my back started to frizzle. This was very exciting news.

“Only if they’re big enough to catch without teeth or claws.”

“What about ‘accidents’,” I asked, thinking about the occasional squashed bug from my kitten days.

“No accidents, no mistakes allowed...ever. Our mother taught us to swim and fish. She also taught us claw control. We weren’t allowed to fish until we were perfect.

“Will you do it again, so I can watch you?”

“Again? Haven’t you had enough watching for one day?”

“I’m rested. Do it again, so I can see.”

“Fine. Don’t come too close. I need lots of room.” She sat at the edge of the deck, hunched over, staring down at the water.

“Night fishing is a little tricky,” Hatooli said. “It works

best when the moon is out, but a clear night like tonight with plenty of stars is good, too. The night light makes the fish shine, especially the big ones.”

I could see lots of little flashes of silver light in the water.

“Are those fish?”

“Those are little ones. Look here comes a small school of big fish now.” She was tensed and ready to pounce.

I could see almost the whole body of each big fish shining in the starlight. There were five of them coming right to the barge.

Hatooli leapt into the air, all four legs stretched out almost sideways. There should have been a big splash, but the water hardly moved as she landed right on top of the biggest fish, wrapping her legs around it.

“Gotcha,” she said as it wiggled out from between her paws, hurrying to catch up with the rest of the school.

“Thanks, fish,” she purred, managing to swipe its tail with one paw just before it swam out of reach.

“Hmpff!” said the fish, with an extra burst of speed.

My whole body shivered with excitement. I crouched at the edge watching for more fish, ready to leap into the air and capture my prey.

“Uh, Tefnut. Do you know how to swim?”

I snapped out of it and sat up.

“Neko and I will be happy to teach you--”

“--and fishing. Will you teach me to hunt fish like you do?” I held my breath, waiting for her answer. This was nothing like killing dead leaves or poking at poor innocent bugs. It was worth any amount of wetness.

“Mom used to tell us that Ailuria is a special place,” Hatooli said, “and that we were lucky to live here. I think she’s right and I teach my kittens to fish like true Ailuricats. Absolute and perfect claw control comes first. Take it or leave it.”

“But I already know how to control my claws. I’m really good at it,” I said, pushing the memory of the small scar on my sister’s nose and how it got there, out of my head.”

“Not ‘Good’,” Hatooli said. “’Perfect’. Nothing less is acceptable for an Ailuricat.”

“Anyway, how about learning to swim first, youngling?” she said.

“I’m not a kitten. I am six months old,”

“Right. How about first light before we sail?”

“I’m ready now,” I said enthusiastically.

“I’m ready for a nap,” Hatooli said. “Be on the shore at first light.”




-CHAPTER-3

LIFE ON A BARGE – SWIMMING

Hatooli had joined Neko at the top of the sea-fruit pile. I stayed on deck for a while but the sky clouded up and it got harder and harder to see the fish. Walking the short distance to the edge of the cargo pile, I curled up with my back against the soft sea-fruit bags and closed my eyes.



I may have been asleep, but my ears were awake. I heard Neko and Hatooli padding down the cargo pile. I was at the edge of the shore side of the barge before they got down to the deck.

“Good morning, Tefnut,” Neko said. “Are you ready to start swimming?”

I wasn’t so sure about getting into the water and jumping into deep water to catch fish didn’t feel as exciting as it did last night. But Pussytoes said that a barge cat had to know how to swim.

“I’m ready,” I answered.

The river came to me a little sooner than I expected. Leaping off the barge I imagined myself landing on the grassy shoreline next to Neko and Hatooli, but didn’t quite make it. I landed with my paws in the shallow water of the river bank.

It was cold and wet and muddy and yucky. I lifted one front paw and shook it. Then I lifted a back paw and shook that. I started to tip over into the yuckiness. Putting both paws back in the wet, I prepared to leap the short distance to shore.

“Stop!” Hatooli yowled. “Stay where you are.” I stood up, my ears drooping, and lifted one paw out of the water. I looked pitiful and I knew it. It was all I could do to keep from mewling like a kitten.

“Stay in the shallows and keep walking until you get to the back end of the barge,” she said.

So I walked along the wrong side of the shoreline, lifting each foot completely out of the water for a moment of ‘not water’ before I put it back down. The mud was squishy like the bags of sea-fruit, and it held onto my paws for a moment when I lifted them up. Interesting.

The water didn’t feel less wet, but it didn’t feel cold anymore. I tried pushing down a little harder with my leg to see what happened. Sure enough my paw went a little deeper into the mud. I wondered if I could do that with the sea-fruit bags.

I had a little trouble pulling one of my back legs out of the mud. When it came out, it came out fast and made a little splash. Hmmm. I tried hitting the water with a front paw. Bigger splash. It’s still water, but it’s also kind of fun.

I passed the back of the barge and, forgetting where I was, I sat down to let Neko and Hatooli know that I was finished.

Big mistake.

My tush was wet. My tail was wet. It was so gross. I jumped straight up, all four feet in the air, out of the water. It didn’t last.

I landed back in the water with an even bigger splash and now my stomach was all wet. This was awful.

I was out of the water, trying to decide where to start tongue drying first, before Neko and Hatooli could say anything.

“We’re impressed,” Neko said. “It took my mother two days to get me to do what you just did.”

“It took me four,” said Hatooli.

I kept licking the awful wetness. What were they, a week old maybe two, when they had to get into the water? I’m an adult. Six months old.

I could see Pussytoes and Felix out of the corner of my eye. They were sitting on the deck watching. I’m not an apprentice, I’m the entertainment. I wanted to melt into the earth like warm snow. I kept licking.

“You’re nice and wet, Tefnut. You’re ready for the next part,” said Neko.

“Maybe tomorrow,” I said roughly, without interrupting my licking.

“By tomorrow, you will have had all day to think about what happened today. You might change you mind,” Neko said.

I don’t want to change my mind, I thought. I want to be a barge cat and all barge cats know how to swim.

“I’m ready,” I said. “What’s next.”

“What’s next is that you go back to the water and keep walking until you get to the steps at the back of the barge.

“That’s impossible. As soon as the water gets deeper than I am tall, I’ll fall to the bottom of the river.”

“You won’t sink. Swimming for a cat is like flying for a bird. They push the air away with their wings. You push the water away with your legs. Just keep your head up and keep walking, only a lot faster.”

I stood, walked the few steps back to the water’s edge, and stopped. I looked down at the water. It isn’t even puddle deep here. I can do this. Carefully, I put one paw into the water. Hatooli was right. My paw was already so wet, I could hardly feel the water. I kept walking.

When the water reached halfway up my legs, a couple of spots that were still dry got wet. It wasn’t nice. If I walk any further, my stomach will be in the water.

I stopped again. Even though it’s already wet, I really, really don’t want to put my stomach in the water.

Gingerly, I lowered my wet tush back into the water until I was sitting down. Then I let the rest of my still wet tail slowly fall until it was under the water too. It wasn’t great, but it was acceptable.

The back end of my stomach was now in the water. Taking a deep breath first, I walked my front legs forward, each step putting a little more of my stomach into the water until I was stretched out on the ground with all of my stomach in the water.

This is all right. Not great, but okay. I crawled forward and the water slowly crept up the side of my body until only my head was out of the water.

Having all of me in the water isn’t too bad, so I kept moving forward, straightening my legs as I got deeper until I was standing straight with my feet on the bottom.

The barge is only about ten feet away, and yet, the distance seems vast. I looked back at Hatooli and Neko for encouragement.

“Push the water with your legs, Tefnut,” Neko said. “It’s just like walking. You can do it.”

Why did I not feel encouraged?

I lifted my head high and pushed.

This is not walking. I am running as fast as I can, but my head is out of the water and I’m moving forward. In fact, I’m almost at the barge. Who would have thought?

I got to the steps and pulled myself up like Neko did last night. Dragging my body up one step at a time, I flopped down on the deck in the warm sun, too tired to dry myself.

All four barge cats were right there waiting for me.

“That’s one boney cat,” Felix said, looking over my wet body.

“Don’t worry,” said Pussytoes, “A season on the Grimalkin will put some muscle and fat on her.”

I lifted my head to speak.

“So when do I learn how to hunt fish?”



I napped through our departure and missed getting to push the anchor buttons again. Oh, well, tomorrow.

Most of the rest of the day I spent hunting the river with Hatooli and Neko who were on pilot and cat nest duty.

There was a flag on the river around midday and Felix showed me how to tie off the barge at the dock. I helped unload sea fruit to the waiting cats. I think I looked like a regular barge cat to them.



By the time we had sailed up and down the Cattywampus half a dozen times, picking up kibble-fruit where it was ripe and dropping it off where it wasn’t, I had learned the river well enough to help pilot the boat.

I was never officially on duty, but I steered the barge while the cat who was officially on duty watched me. At first I could only pilot for an hour or two.

Eventually I worked up to half a day and by the end of the season, I could spend the whole day without breaking my concentration.

Working the cat nest was just as hard in a different way. The basket was very comfortable and nobody would notice if you had a little cat nap.

Every night after a cat nest day, Pussytoes would ask me how many times I fell asleep. He never got angry with me, he would just say, ‘Fine. In five days you’ll be back on cat nest duty. You can try again.’

I learned.

Being an apprentice pilot took up most of my time, but when I was free, Neko or Hatooli would wrestle with me. They would sheath and unsheath their claws while we wrestled but I had to keep mine in all the time, no matter what.

If both of them were free, we would wrestle all three together. I had to sheath my claws with one of them and unsheath with the other. That was hard.

I couldn’t go by the color of the fur I was attacking because they were so similar. Even worse, I could have one paw on one cat and three paws on the other and I had to be perfect. With all my attention on my claws, I got beat up a lot, so my wrestling strategy tended to be mostly defensive. I didn’t mind. It was a lot like growing up with Pisu.

There was a lot of hissing, a lot of growling and occasionally a little blood. It was my favorite thing to do.

Just when I started to get the hang of it, they invited Pussytoes and Felix to join in. Now I have four paws and four cats to keep sorted out. This is going to have a very long learning curve.




-CHAPTER-4

LIFE ON A BARGE -- PISU

Like most tomcats, Pisu had no interest in the close confinement of a barge. He had joined the harvesters, groups of cats who traveled all over Ailuria to wherever the kibble-fruit is ripe.

Because the Cattywampus River is so twisty, the vines grow and fruit faster or slower, depending on where they are. Every twist in the river means different amounts of sun, rain and wind. Even the temperatures are different. It doesn’t seem that different to me, but plants are fussy that way.

Our varied topography means we have ripe kibble-fruit all year round. As barge cats, our job is to pick up the fruit where it’s ripe, and drop it off at the kibble-fruit distribution points where it’s not yet ripe.

Even though the harvesters are usually nearby when we are picking up fresh kibble-fruit, I didn’t see Pisu until my third trip downriver. It was very exciting.

We were about halfway through the downriver trip and stopping to make a pickup of ripe kibble-fruit. I was on the dock, about to wrap the aft mooring line around a post when I saw him.

“Pisu,” I yowled and nearly dropped the rope, which would have allowed the rear end of the Grimalkin to float away from the dock.

“Pisu,” I purred. “What are you doing here?” I let go of the rope and sat on it to keep the Grimalkin from drifting.

“I thought I would see how my favorite littermate was managing as a barge cat.”

“Oh, I’m not a barge cat yet, I’m still an apprentice barge cat.”

“An apprentice? How long does it take to learn to push bags of kibble-fruit off a barge? Harvesting is way more complicated and I learned how to do it in about five minutes.”

“We all take turns piloting the barge and I can’t do it until I know the river perfectly. If I make a mistake, we could run aground, or worse.”

“You should let somebody else do that. It sounds like too much work.”

“It is tiring. That’s why there are so many cats on the barges. No one can do it all the time.”

“Speaking of tired, don’t you get tired of never being able to go anywhere?

“The whole river is our territory, Pisu. We travel through it every day.” I finished wrapping the post, passed the rope under the hook to make it secure and let the end fall to the ground.

“I have to help with the loading. Will you come aboard afterwards? I can show you the Grimalkin and I want to introduce you to my companions. I have so much to tell you. Please wait.”

“Actually, I thought I might hitch a ride downriver to the next harvest.”

“Even better. There’s not much loading to do. Wait here. I’ll be back soon.” I raced happily back to the barge to join Felix at the bag-end of the crane.

The sleeping cabin is on the upriver end of the barge, and the jib crane is at the other end. It’s made from another tree trunk and basket plus a long pole at the top, called a jib, that is attached under the basket. The pole can swing up, down, and sideways and has a short rope at the end with hooks for holding bags of cargo. The basket has pedals that control the pole.

Hatooli was in the basket, working the crane, and Felix was already on the cargo pile waiting for Hatooli to swing the first bag from the dock over to the pile.

“Who were you talking to?” Felix asked as we unhooked the first bag and made sure it was in a good spot where it wouldn’t roll away.

“Guess what,” I said excitedly. “It’s my litter mate, Pisu. I told you about him, didn’t I?”

“Oh, you told us all right. So, the wonderful Pisu is here. Do we get to meet him?”

“I told him he could come aboard as soon as we finish loading. Is it all right if he comes a little way downriver with us?”

“Absolutely. We often get cats who want a ride. The only rule is that none of us objects. But nobody will. We all want to get to know Pisu.”

As soon as the last bag was safely stowed, I ran back to the dock to collect the rope and Pisu. All four cats were waiting for us on deck.

“This is my littermate, Pisu,” I said. “Pisu, these are my barge mates, Pussytoes, Neko, Felix, and Hatooli.” Each cat stepped forward and touched noses with Pisu as I introduced them. There was no head butting or butt sniffing, it was all very formal.

“We’ve got to get this barge moving before she drifts onto a sandbar,” Pussytoes said. “Tefnut, you can show Pussytoes around and get him settled down before you come up top for watching duty.”

Pussytoes and Felix went up to the roof of the cabin to start the engine. Neko and Hatooli raised their heads to us and headed back to the cabin, presumably for a nap.

I showed Pisu all around the barge and since he would be staying at least overnight, I showed him where we kept our food and how to use the steps to get to the river when he was thirsty. The bottom step was wet and a little slippery. He was uncomfortable.


“What if I fall in?” Pisu said.

“Just crouch down on the bottom step. You’ll be fine.”

“It’s wet.”

“Of course it’s wet, Pisu. We’re on a boat.”

“Hmpff.”

“You sound just like a fish I know.”

“You talk to fish now?”

“It wasn’t talking to me. Come on, there’s a couple more places I need to show you.” I showed Pisu the small hole in the deck behind the cabin in case he needed to squat. He didn’t like that either. Then, I showed him my pillow in the sleeping cabin.

The whole boat is shared territory. Only my sleeping pillow is mine and mine alone. They are made by the sea fairies and are not easy to come by. Every other decent sleeping spot on the boat is shared. Cat piles are not unusual. Those are the rules we live by. We don’t have to like each other, we just have to get along.

“Whatever you do, Pisu, don’t sleep on any other pillow except mine.”

“What are they going to do? Throw me overboard?”

“Probably.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Just don’t do it. Tonight, after the barge is anchored we’ll have more time to talk. I want to know everything.”

I left Pisu and went to resume my watch with Pussytoes and Felix. It was hard to stay focused on the river. I couldn’t wait to see Pisu again.

But Pisu is easily bored and it wasn’t long before he jumped up to the cabin roof and started walking around like he belonged there.

“Pisu, I was going to show you the pilot’s deck after we dropped anchor. It’s not good to come up here while were sailing unless it’s important.”

“Tell that kitten to get off the forecastle,” Pussytoes called down from the cat’s nest.

“What’s he doing up there?” Pisu asked, hunching up his body to jump.

“Pisu! Don’t do that,” I said. “You can climb the cat nest after we anchor.” He stopped and looked around, spotting the tall button that we used to change the direction of the boat.

“Can I touch this? He asked, putting his paw on the button and leaning into it. “What’s it for?”

“Move, cat!” Felix growled right into Pisu’s ear. Startled, he jumped back off the button.

“Cat. I don’t care who you are. You don’t come up here when the boat is moving and you don’t ever come up here unattended. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir,” Pisu said and got off the roof fast.

At dusk, we dropped anchor and I went to find Pisu. Pussytoes and Felix headed to the cabin for a nap. I was tired too, but I was all bristly with excitement.

At home, once we were weaned, Pisu preferred to nap near the kibble-fruit. He liked to have a snack when he woke up so that’s where I expected to find him, wherever the food was.

He wasn’t there. Instead I heard terrible screeching coming from the cabin.

“Get...off...of...my...pillow.” It was Felix. I never heard a cat that mad.

“How dare you wake me up!” Pisu screamed.

Pisu! He’s in trouble. I raced back to the cabin. In front of me I saw Neko and Hatooli running into the cabin.

I screeched to a halt at the entrance. All five cats were standing in full battle mode, on their toes, eyes narrowed, tails in rapid swish, fur standing on edge, not just on their backs but all over, and ready to attack.

Nobody’s backs were arched. Nobody’s ears were flattened. Nobody was backing down.

Neko, Hatooli and Pussytoes were facing Felix and Pisu. Felix and Pisu were inches away from each other, eyeball to eyeball, mouths open wide, in full tooth.

Pisu was standing on Felix’s pillow.

“Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine,” Pisu hissed, possessively.

“Move off my pillow now, you stupid fat-assed overgrown kitten,” Felix growled loud enough to hurt my ears.

“Felix. It’s not his fault,” I said. “I forgot to tell him about the pillows.” Felix kept growling.

“Felix,” I yowled, as loud as I could, trying to get his attention. “It’s my fault. I forgot to tell him about the pillows. Leave him alone.”

Felix took a step back but didn’t look away or change his posture.

“Get off my pillow, you stupid cat.” he growled, a little less loudly.

I couldn’t get between them. There was no room, so I stood next to Felix and looked Pisu in the eye.

“Pisu. Get off that pillow,” I said calmly, with no growling no hissing, “...or I’ll cram your teeth down your throat with my head.”

Pisu looked at me and stepped forward, his back feet still on Felix’s pillow. His fur softened slightly.

“Get of the pillow, Pisu,” I said. “All the way off. Now.”

Pisu stepped off the pillow and sat down in front of me. I sat down, careful to not break eye contact with him.

Pussytoes, Neko, and Hatooli sat down. Felix stayed standing. Everybody’s fur was starting to smooth out.

“Look,” Pisu said calmly as if nothing had happened. “There are five cats and six pillows. Which one is mine?”

“That one,” I said, indicating my pillow.”

“That’s your pillow,” he said, making a liar out of me. “Which one is the extra one?

“There are no extra pillows,” Pussytoes said. “The sixth pillow belongs to Anu. She’s nesting.”

“So, she’s not here. I can use her pillow, right?”

“Anu is a barge cat,” Pussytoes said in a threatening voice. “Nobody sleeps on her pillow.”

“That’s a dumb system.”

“It’s our system,” was Pussytoes’ only explanation.

It’s a very good system and Pisu knew it.

Everyone except me and Pisu moved to their pillows, not relaxing, just settling down and watching us.

“Come on, Pisu,” I said, nodding toward my pillow, “Let’s get some sleep.”

Pisu looked around at the watching eyes.

“I think I’ll sleep on the deck tonight,” he said.

“Good idea,” I said, “You go ahead, I’ll join you in a minute.” I remained sitting near the entrance.

“We’ve had lots of hitchhikers,” Felix said after Pisu left. “We never bothered to tell anyone to stay off our pillows and we never had to.”

“Oh, come on,” said Neko. He’s only a couple of months out of his nest. He’s big for his age so it’s easy to forget how young he is. Besides, he’s a harvester. They’re always moving around. They don’t have permanent sleeping spots.”

“Well, he certainly is feisty, standing up to all four of us,” Hatooli said. “I wouldn’t want to tangle with him a couple of years from now.”

“He was scared,” I said. “How could he not be with all four of you ready to attack? Pisu is good at bluffing. I think he would let you kill him before he let you know how frightened he was.”

“Not a smart thing to do,” said Pussytoes.

“Pisu is very brave,” I said in his defense.

“Tefnut,” said Felix. “You didn’t forget to tell Pisu about the pillows, did you?”

“No, I didn’t forget. But you were ready to kill him. I had to do something.”

“For a youngling, just out of the nest,” Pussytoes said, “you are surprisingly mature...unlike your littermate who seems like he could use a little more time with his mother.”

“I was just like Pisu when I came to the barge. I’m learning a lot from all of you--”

“--and a budding diplomat, too,” Pussytoes added.

“I’m not being diplomatic. I mean it.”

“That’s what makes it so diplomatic.”

“I’m not being diplomatic,” I insisted. “I just know what I want. I want to be a barge cat and I want to stay friends with Pisu.” I wanted them to understand.

“Being with Pisu,” I said, “is like living on a barge. Life is always interesting and fun. He doesn’t mean to misbehave, he’s just forgetful sometimes. He completely forgot what I told him about the pillows.

“He was invariably forgetting stuff when we were little and getting into trouble. But he’s so funny. He would get all silly and lick Mom until she purred, and wasn’t mad at him anymore.

“I am used to Pisu. I know what to do when he misbehaves. I just pretend I’m Mom. He always listened to Mom.”




-CHAPTER-5

LIFE ON A BARGE -- SETTLING IN

You have to be pretty easygoing to be a barge cat. When our boat was full of cargo, there wasn’t a lot of extra room and we were constantly bumping into each other. Hissing happens, but anyone who can’t resolve the issue with a quick conciliatory sniff doesn’t belong on a barge. Pisu did not belong on a barge. There was always tension when he was around.

The next day, Pisu asked to be let off the barge. I was on the cabin roof watching and Neko was piloting. Pisu was on the deck and called out to me.”

“Hey, Tefnut, pull over. This is where I get off.”

“Pisu,” I called back, “We can’t, there’s no place to pull over. You have to wait until we make a stop.” I could see cats on the hillsides moving among the vines. They must be the harvesters.

Felix stuck his head out of the cabin. He had that ticked off look that meant he was napping and not interested in waking up.

“Hey, Pisu. Don’t mind her. You should get off here.”

Felix sauntered over to where Pisu was standing near the edge of the deck. His voice sounded friendly but there was a slow swish to his tail and his whiskers were pulled back in protective mode. He didn’t look friendly.

Pisu noticed too. He stepped back a little closer to the edge.

“Most hitchhikers get off wherever they want,” Felix said, kindly. “We’re pretty close to shore right now. You shouldn’t have any trouble swimming the distance.”

“But I can’t swim,” Pisu said. His eyes went wide and he hunched up a little more.

“Of course you can, Pisu. All cats know how to swim. They just don’t know it.”

There was a loud splash.

“Peeee-sue” I yowled at the top of my lungs. I hit the deck and raced to the side, ready to jump in. He was in the water, paddling back to the steps.

Felix stood on the bottom step with his ears forward, his tail still swishing. He used his body to fill up the whole space.

“Not this way, Pisu. You want to get to your harvester friends,” he said politely.

“You pushed him,” I screeched. I was all fluffed out now and headed right for Felix.

“Nonsense,” Felix said. “It was an accident.”

Even if I believed him, it was too late. I was in the air. I landed on the step and Felix landed in the water. Pisu wisely turned and headed for shore.

Nobody said anything when I jumped to the deck, walked to the cabin and leapt back up to the roof where I quietly resumed my post. In fact, nobody said anything for the rest of the day.

Felix waited until we were all together that evening and everyone was watching. He came over and gave me a head bump. When I was too surprised to do anything, he rubbed my side and purred. I didn’t purr back, but I gave him a head bump and sat down. He started cleaning my ears.

That’s was when I really learned what is means to be a barge cat.



It was a few months after Pisu’s visit that Anu came back. She was a white cat with orange ears and she was even better at hunting fish than Neko and Hatooli.

Anu would sit on the bottom step and watch for a certain kind of fish. When she saw it she would go into the water, head first. She would be underwater for a while and then come up with a fish in her mouth.

It was amazing. The first time I saw her come up with a fish in her mouth, it made my fur tingle. Anu opened her mouth and the fish swam away. Then she was back under the water hunting for more fish. I never imagined that living on a barge could be so wonderful.

This was too much to resist. I slipped into the water, paddling around, keeping my head high, more excited about the hunting than I was unhappy about being wet. But I couldn’t bring myself to put my head into the water. It was the only part of me that was still dry.

I tried fooling myself. Getting back out, I crouched down on the bottom step, drank a little water then, accidentally on purpose, let my face sink a little into the water, As soon as my nose was underwater, I panicked.

“Anu,” I asked her when she got out of the water, “What do you do about breathing when you’re underwater?”

“I don’t do it,” she said. “You have to hold your breath.”

“But just thinking about not breathing makes me want to start pulling my fur out.”

“Try not breathing while I’m underwater,” she said. “You won’t be able to do it as long as me, but if you practice, you will get better.”

So now, I thought with a sigh, I’m learning the river, learning claw control and learning not-breathing. I just hope I get to learn how to hunt fish before I’m too old to be interested.

I did eventually learn, and when I birthed my first litter, I found a spot by the river where the water was shallow and still. I made my nest there and taught all my kittens to swim and hunt fish like true Ailuricats. Claw Perfect.



It was a long time before I saw Pisu again. When he did come back it was late at night. He was all wet and smelled like the river. He curled up next to me on my pillow. I licked him dry while he whispered stories to me about where he had been and what he had seen.

Our country is small and harvesting the kibble-fruit is not time-consuming. Pisu, being Pisu, spends most of his time exploring. He got to know every inch of Ailuria, out to the boundaries and well past that, places that few cats were familiar with.

Pisu continued to visit me occasionally, usually at night. I was always happy to share my pillow with him and Pisu was always happy to tell me about the things he had seen.

He told me stories about the halfandhalf human village in the valley below our hills and about watching the dryads, that lived at the top of our waterfall, come out of their trees to dance together.

Eventually, he left The Greater Elf Kingdom and visited the cats who live with humans and the cats that live wild in the human world. I learned a lot about Ailuria without ever leaving my comfortable barge.

Life on a barge is good. It’s comfortable and interesting and I was very happy for a long time, but...things change.

PART II

SIX YEARS OLD

Claw Perfect Practice


-CHAPTER-6

THINGS FALL APART

Queen Snickerdoodle, who was old when I was born, just kept getting older and frailer. It was not long after my second litter, when she was all skin and bones and couldn’t keep down more than a little bit of food at a time, that she finally announced that it was time to choose.

Every cat in Ailuria breathed a sigh of relief. For cats to agree on something big, like who should be the next Dominant Female Over All is next to impossible. This is why the last job of the DFOA is to pick the next one. Ailuria works because the only thing we all have to agree on is that the Dominant Female Over All has the final word.

Snickerdoodle had been out of touch for so long, that she didn’t know who to pick, so she got her advisors to offer a small selection. Her only input was that they should all be barge cats.



There were eight of us sitting on the grass next to the waterfall that night, watching old Snollygoster slowly walking across the cat-sized swinging bridge that connected both sides of the river.

Snollygoster was gray and white with long fur that disguised the fact that his stomach was so big it dragged on the ground. Arthritis made him slow and careful on the bridge.

I was near the back trying to look inconspicuous when Pisu sidled up beside me.

“Hello, Pisu,” I purred. “Are you coming to the interview with me? How nice.”

“ Never mind that. Go in first, Tefnut,” he whispered in my ear.

“Are you crazy? I don’t want to get picked.”

“I hear she’s totally gaga. By the time she gets to the last cat, she won’t remember you. Go on.”

“Queen Snickerdoodle is ready for the first candidate,” Snollygoster announced when he finally stepped off the bridge. Nobody moved.

Pisu bit me hard on the shoulder.

“Hey!

I jumped.

“Ah, Tefnut. Excellent. Follow me.”

“I’ll get you for this, Pisu,” I hissed under my breath and went to meet my fate.



At snail’s speed, I followed old Snollygoster back across the swinging bridge to the retired barge anchored in the middle of the river. The cabin was normally used as a receiving room for the reigning DFOA, but Snickerdoodle was now living there full time. No one could remember the last time she walked across the bridge to the riverbank.

We arrived at the middle of the bridge and I followed Snollygoster onto a short connecting bridge to the Royal Interview Platform. He stepped to the side so that I could see Snickerdoodle and she could see me.

“Your majesty,” he said, “the first candidate has arrived.”

My first impression of our Dominant Female Over All was an assortment of bones poking out of a small pile of dark fur. There wasn’t much left of our DFOA. I could see every single bone in her back. Cats live a long time in Ailuria, but Queen Snickerdoodle was the oldest cat I had ever seen by a long, long way.

She was lying on a pillow, her chin resting on her two front paws. The two cats who had been grooming her, stopped and stood at attention when we arrived. So did the cat who had been cleaning the Queen’s water dish.

Snickerdoodle looked up with her eyes, lifted her head and crossed her front paws.


“Come close so you can hear me,” she said. “What is your name, youngling?” Her voice was weak. I moved closer.

“Tefnut,” I said.

“And you are a barge cat?”

“I am.”

“Good. Tell me, Tefnut, what made you choose barge life?”

“I wanted to see the ocean.”

“Well, you’ve seen it. Why are you still on the barge?”

“It’s comfortable. There are plenty of sunny spots for sleeping when it’s cool, shady places to rest when it’s hot, and a cabin to keep out of the rain.”

“There are no trees to climb. Do you not miss that?” she whispered.

“There is the lookout post, and the roof of the cabin. They are both comfortable and the view is never the same.”

“So, you like change. You are indeed young,” she said almost to herself. “How do you get along with the other cats?”

“Well enough. We stay out of each other’s way.”

“Well enough is good enough,” she said. “You’ll do. What was your name again, youngling?”

“Tefnut.” With considerable effort, Snickerdoodle lifted her head all the way and, speaking in a loud, clear voice, said,

“I have chosen. Tefnut will be the new DFOA.” A long, raspy exhale came out of her mouth as her head dropped slowly back to rest on her paws. Queen Snickerdoodle spoke no more.

My fate was met and sealed.




-CHAPTER-7

QUEEN TEFNUT

Everyone stared at Queen Snickerdoodle for a long time. No one moved. No one spoke. No one went over to see if she was still breathing. We knew.

I stared harder than anyone, willing her to get up and tell us that she changed her mind.

Get up. Get up. Get up. I tried to move her with my eyes. All cats are halfandhalf, half magic and half not magic. It means we can live anywhere we want, in human lands or fairy lands, but we don’t generally do magic.

In any case, I couldn’t will her back to life. Not magically or any other way. This was a disaster. Being the DFOA might be Interesting but it will not be Comfortable.

I looked around. Heads were turning and they were turning to me. No. No. No. Don’t look at me. I am not who you think I am.

I ran.

I ran across the bridge, past Pisu and the remaining seven cats. I could feel them all looking at me.

I kept going, at top speed, up the hill, past the vineyards, where cats tending the vines stopped working to watch me race past. Humiliated by the thought of what they must be thinking, I managed to add a little more speed to my pace.

I felt safer when I reached the trees beyond the vineyards and slowed down to a fast trot. I didn’t know where to go. Every cat in Ailuria will be looking for me.

Near dawn, I found a flat rock, near the crest of the hill, with enough space underneath to fit one slightly undersized female cat.

There was no scent of other cats under or around the rock. I lifted my head and sniffed the air. There was no scent of a fresh-water spring and the river was too far to be practical as a drinking source. Not many cats would be interested in denning up here.


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