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Old 03-11-2016, 10:20 PM   #231
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“It was Meows’s and Bart’s work, not mine, but thanks anyway.”

“You did well,” said TigTig. “All three of you.”

“Yeah,” said Loki. “That’s impressive.”

Flattered yet touched by the cats’ sentiments, Justin smiled, and allowed himself a short moment of pride, then helped himself to some cereal and sat down at the table to read the rest of the paper.

A mile away, at ten forty-five, six cats were either watching from windows or pacing, waiting for Justin and his cats. Carrie, serving up coffee and muffins, nearly tripped over little Belle for the third time going to and from the kitchen.

Pook was glued to the living room window. “Which direction is he coming in?” she asked.

“Look to the left,” said Joyce.

Even Meows was shifting his weight from paw to paw in Suzanna’s lap. “How far does he live from here?” he asked.

“About a mile,” Carrie replied.

Paul set his cup down and accepted a refill from Carrie. “Where does he live? He told me once, but I can’t remember.”

“Oak Hills. Nice little condo over there,” said Joyce.

“Really?” Paul was surprised. “He doesn’t look like the condo type.”

The three women laughed. “Why not?” Suzanna asked.

Paul shrugged. “He’s pretty tall, kind of strong-looking but not big. Looks like the old house fixer-upper type to me,” he smiled.

“Remind me not to ask you what type I look like,” smiled Suzanna.

“Does he drive a blue sport utility?” asked Zeus from his vantage point in the computer room.

“Yes,” replied Carrie.

“Elvis is almost in the building,” Zeus announced, jumping down and joining them in the living room. “Coming in the alley.”

Carrie’s spacious apartment was over her downtown shop, Sullivan’s Antiques and Gifts, and it had stairs off the balconies to the sidewalks in the front and back. People rarely used those. She had her shop door and her rear storage room door set up to be remotely locked and unlocked from upstairs, and all her friends came in the back. A moment later, the doorbell rang. She pressed the button on the box by her living room door, unlocking the alley door.

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Old 03-11-2016, 10:25 PM   #232
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“Ooooooo wow!” exclaimed little Belle. “Here they come!”

“Yep,” replied Bart. Saav nodded, watching the door from the back of Carrie’s couch behind Joyce.

Justin opened the door, letting the cats in first. Loki and TigTig entered shyly; they had never been around this many people or sentient cats before.

“Hi, hero!” Suzanna greeted him, shaking his hand. “I can’t thank you enough for what you did last night.”

“I didn’t do anything. Meows and Bart did,” protested Justin.

Carrie helped him out of his coat, and Paul stooped to pet TigTig and Loki. “Hey there, Justin. Good job last night with that lowlife. My God, this one looks exactly like Zeus!”

TigTig, indeed, could have passed for Zeus’s twin sister. The cats gathered around each other, introducing themselves while the humans watched.

Saav put a paw out to Loki and TigTig, and Loki smiled. “You must be Saav,” he said kindly.

“Yes,” she said. “Nice to meet you.”

Belle was all over the new arrivals. “My name’s Belle. I belong to Carrie.”

“Ahh, hey, you two, meet Suzanna and Paul,” said Justin, taking it all in.

There were pets, nose-rubs, whisker-kisses and purrs all around. Justin watched as TigTig actually became talkative and Loki acted like he had manners. Awesome! he thought. Never thought I’d see this!

TigTig stole the show.

“Let me see if I have this right,” she announced suddenly. She waved a paw at Paul. “You live out on the other end of town in Carrie’s old house, and Zeus lives with you. You’re retired and wrote a book about this town.”

“Why, yes,” he smiled. “Very good.”

TigTig nosed at the pretty redhead next to him. “You’re Suzanna, and you have Meows. You have the B&B.”

“Right,” she smiled.

“I’ve met you, Carrie, and you have Bart, Belle, and the shop downstairs,” she continued.

“That’s me,” nodded Carrie.

TigTig looked at Joyce. “I’ve met you, too. You’re the reporter with the column in the paper, and you have Pook and Saav. You live just a couple blocks from here.”

Justin was floored. Joyce laughed.

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Old 03-11-2016, 10:31 PM   #233
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“TigTig, you aced it,” Joyce praised her.

“Oh,” said Justin, holding up two slim, lightweight computer bags. “Where do we want these?”

“There’s room on the loveseat in my computer room,” Carrie said.

Justin went into the next room and began to set them up.

Zeus eyed TigTig’s rear. “Nice to see another one with no tail,” he smiled at her.

“It sure is,” she agreed. “Tails are overrated, anyway.”

Zeus laughed. “They are.”

Pook poked Loki. “You and Saav are both black. Only she has those little white hairs and you’re solid black.”

Loki looked at Saav. “I like those, though. Looks like she has tiny little stars in her fur, and that’s pretty.”

Saav smiled. “Thanks.”

Bart winked at Belle, and they traded a high-paw. “Here’s to new friends!” said Bart.

Six more paws joined them, and the humans laughed.

The cats cheered.

“Wanna see my pictures?” Belle asked Loki.

“Sure,” he replied happily.

“C’mon, TigTig, I’ll show you some of mine,” said Pook.

“Okay, cool,” said TigTig, and the cats filed off to the computer room as Justin came out and sat in the chair next to Paul.

“You okay?” Paul asked. “You look a little shaky.”

“Well, I was hoping this would go well,” he replied. “Mine have never been around other sentient cats. Loki can be a butt sometimes and TigTig…well, sometimes you’re lucky to get her attention, much less more than a sentence out of her.”

“Looked almost like a family reunion to me,” Joyce observed from between Carrie and Suzanna on the couch.

“That could very well have been what that was,” nodded Suzanna. “They’re all from the Ash Mountain clowder. Didn’t you find TigTig and Loki when those feral cats came through?”

Justin stared at her. “The what?”

“Ash Mountain clowder. The band of ferals that pass through this area from time to time.”

“I had no idea they had a name,” Justin said.
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Old 03-11-2016, 10:36 PM   #234
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Carrie choked. Suzanna laughed.

“I said pretty much the same thing when she told me that,” Carrie said.

“Tell him the tale,” said Paul. “We aren’t due for lunch downstairs for two hours.”

“Wait a second, maybe his cats need to hear this,” said Carrie, getting up and going to the computer room. All eight cats filed back out with her, six to hear the story again, and two to hear it for the first time. They settled among their respective humans, waiting expectantly. Loki looked at Suzanna eagerly from Justin’s lap, and TigTig peered curiously at her from the back of his overstuffed chair.

The tale wound back to the days of King Arthur and Camelot, to the young healer in the British Isles who was called to the bedside of a desperately ill young woman, the daughter of a wealthy, prestigious town merchant. Knowing there was nothing medically he could do for her, he called the father in after his examination of her and explained her illness, and informed him that the only hope for her recovery was a very special spell. This spell had to be performed perfectly, or it would result in disaster. The father, desperate to save his young daughter, agreed to help the healer, but halfway through, a cat walked into the room. The father, who didn’t really believe in spellwork anyway, became suspicious, believing this was a bad sign. He suddenly believed that the healer was trying to harm his daughter, and tried to stop the spell.

Too late. The father instantly dropped dead, and the healer and the daughter changed into talking, sentient cats. They fled to the hills together, where they started a family, and mixed with regular feral cats. As time went on, these cats were often kept as pets or on farms to keep rodents down. Finally they were put on ships to catch rats, and in 1492, the first sentient cats came ashore on what is now the east coast of the USA.

“And that’s how you got here,” said Suzanna.

TigTig, who loved history and mythology and anything mysterious, was entranced. Loki was fascinated.

“That answers some questions,” said Justin. “I always wondered where they came from, and how.”

“What was the spell?” asked TigTig.

“No one knows,” replied Suzanna. “It hasn’t been attempted since, and everyone who ever knew anything about it are long gone now.”

“Wow,” sighed Loki. “How did you find out?”

“I heard it from the clowder storytellers,” said Meows. “I had come of age with them, but soon after, I got caught in a feral cat trap and Suzanna adopted me from the feral rescue place, so I didn’t get to hear many more tales.”
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Old 03-11-2016, 10:40 PM   #235
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“What’s coming of age?” asked TigTig.

“For males, when we’re old enough to spray and…well, you know. For females, their first heat.”

TigTig glanced at Loki. “We didn’t quite get there.”

“Guess not,” said Loki.

“None of us did, either, except Meows,” said Bart. “I became separated from the clowder and ended up in town before I came of age.”

“I don’t remember much about the clowder,” Loki told them. “Do you, Tiggy?”

TigTig shook her head. “I wish I did.”

“They were mean,” frowned Pook. “They left Saav to die when she was only about six weeks old. I’ll never forgive them, ever. I hate them. Only one helped us, and that was Bart, but he was already here in town when we got here. He wasn’t with them. They had abandoned him too.”

“It’s the feline way, though, and remember, most of those cats aren’t sentient, so they go by instinct. Survival of the fittest and all that,” piped up Belle, who had tried to read everything she could get her claws on about cats ever since she and Bart were told the story.

“Still,” Pook said stubbornly, “I hate them.”

“You have a reason to,” sympathized Joyce, remembering that rainy, stormy day when Pook sat down next to the dying Saav in Joyce’s yard and yowled and screamed until she went out and found them.

“I don’t. Dying didn’t seem to be such a bad choice then,” Saav said. “I was real sick and hurt, anyway, and I didn’t want to – and couldn’t – go on like that. But that is why I love Pooks so much. Because of Pooks, I’m here, so I kind of think that the clowder can’t be all that bad, because she came from them, too.”

Everyone smiled at the scruffy, frail little black cat. Pook licked her sister’s ear.

TigTig and Loki looked at each other. Pook and Saav certainly were a lot different from what they had thought. Loki’s whiskers drooped when he remembered what he had said about them last night, and he had certainly been completely wrong about Meows. He thought Meows was fascinating. Bart and Belle were lots of fun so far, and he was glad to know Zeus. Loki found himself looking forward to getting to know them and being around them through their lifetimes. He hoped.

Everyone was quiet for a moment, then Paul spoke up.
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Old 03-11-2016, 10:46 PM   #236
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“It seems to me that there are some extremely rare people and cats in this room,” he said, looking at them all. “I wonder what this room – and these same faces – will look like in ten years from now.”

“Probably like a bunch of old farts,” said Zeus. Loki snickered.

They laughed. “Probably,” smiled Paul. “But I wonder if we’ll have new faces then? Or are we the only ones around here?”

“That is something to wonder, isn’t it?” asked Carrie. “Joyce, did you ever think your secret would get out?”

Joyce shook her head. “No.”

“What happened?” asked TigTig.

“It’s a little weird, but I brought Pook and Saav over here when they were kittens – little kittens, less than a year old – to catch mice for Carrie. Carrie had heard that Pook and Saav talked, because I took them to work with me one day before they really realized how dangerous it was to talk to people, and they had done that at work. Carrie asked if they could talk because she had heard about the singing ferals, and Pook was the first to speak to Carrie,” Joyce told her. “But they knew they could trust her, and they were right.”

“Then what?” asked Loki. “What about the rest of you?”

“Pook and Saav found Bart in the alley, and I needed a cat instead of borrowing my friend’s cats, really, so I adopted him. Belle was almost run over by a car on Christmas Day five months later, and so I took her in, too. Then Suzanna and Meows came along a few days later, and they knew the cats for what they were, so that was kind of expected. Paul accidentally walked in on them up here talking and found out that way, then he went home and actually asked his cat if he could talk, and sure enough he answered,” Carrie explained.

“Then Saav fell last night and that’s where we came in,” Loki finished.

“Yep,” said Justin. “Then Bart and Meows with the creep last night. Joyce didn’t say anything about anyone else, I found out from Carrie about Bart and Meows and Zeus and all real quickly on the phone.”

“You fell?” asked Zeus, looking carefully at Saav.

“Missed the counter again,” Saav said. She knew she wasn’t quite as physically developed or as strong as the rest were, but it didn’t bother her. It worried them at times, though.

“Poor thing,” murmured TigTig.

“I hope you weren’t hurt, Saav,” said Meows.
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Old 03-11-2016, 11:04 PM   #237
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“You okay, Saav?” asked Bart.

Belle looked at her sadly.

“I’m fine. Had a little headache for a few minutes, is all,” Saav replied.

“Oh, I’m glad that’s all,” said Belle.

“She bounces pretty well,” smiled Pook, but everyone knew Pook worried the most for Saav. Her green eyes were full of concern for Saav and everyone could see that.

Joyce scratched Saav’s chin. “I’d put her treats closer to the floor but Ruffie would eat them, and she wouldn’t get a bite. I try to pick her up and put her up there when I can.”

“I wish you wouldn’t,” fussed Saav. “Jumping helps my muscles get stronger and bigger. You have to let me do it myself, Mom.”

Loki’s whiskers and ears drooped as he remembered his words, Joyce must be a real piece of work to put these treats out of a little cat’s reach…

And Justin’s words, Don’t go in there with preconceived notions about them…

Loki knew he’s never do that again. TigTig watched him, and when he looked up at her, she smiled ever so slightly, and gave him her “pobody’s nerfect” look. He sighed and looked back at his new friends.

“So, what online classes are you all taking?” asked Loki. Justin nearly fell out of the chair, and even TigTig’s eyes snapped huge and she stared at him.

“Oh, let me show you what I’m doing,” Belle chirped up, always happy to show anyone and everyone everything she was learning.

“We’ll all show you,” said Zeus. “C’mon, Loki, you’re in for an education.”

“Sounds good. Lead the way,” Loki replied.

“I gotta see this,” TigTig whispered to Justin, and jumped down to follow the others into the next room.

The humans watched them go.

“I think they’re going to get along fine,” said Carrie.

“I don’t think they have much choice. What are they going to do, dump them and go find new friends? I don’t think so,” smiled Justin.

“Oh, yeah, I can see that,” said Suzanna.

“I just feel bad for leaving Isis at home, alone,” Justin said.

“I know how you feel. I do that to Sunshine too,” said Suzanna, referring to the B&B’s in-house kitty, who was a normal cat. “Only he has the guests there to keep him company, and he’s often being borrowed by one anyway.”

“Isis needs a job like that,” said Justin. “She’s so friendly and affectionate.”
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Old 03-11-2016, 11:07 PM   #238
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“Is she really?”

“Oh yeah,” Carrie told Suzanna.

Suzanna frowned. “Sunshine is getting stretched a little thin these days. Lots of times, a guest will check in, see Sunshine with a guest or his picture there and all, and ask if I happen to have another one. At the last minute, some folks change their minds and want a cat.”

Justin looked at her. “Isis is a lot like Sunshine. She gets along with everybody.”

“Does she like dogs?”

“Yes, my partner at Computer Shack has four, and she couldn't care less that they’re around,” he replied.

Suzanna smiled. “How would Isis like a job?”

“I don’t know. You’d have to interview her yourself,” he told her. “I can take you over to meet her after lunch.”

“Oh good, I’d love that!”

“May I tag along?” asked Paul. “I haven’t seen Oak Hills yet.”

“Sure,” said Justin.

“The more the merrier,” added Suzanna.

Joyce looked at Carrie. “Guess we’re babysitting cats,” she said. Carrie laughed.

“Looks like it,” she agreed.

Paul looked at his watch. “Speaking of lunch, it’s in twenty minutes. Let me help you clean this up, Carrie.”

Indicating the tray, cups, and plates, everyone else got up and helped straighten up the living room. Zeus came out to make use of the litterbox in the utility room.

“Having fun?” Paul asked as he came back out.

Zeus purred up at him. “Oh, yes. Loki’s reading your book, and Tigtig’s helping Belle with an essay about Picasso, Pook’s doing –“

Justin suddenly dropped a saucer on the counter. Luckily it didn’t break, but it made everyone jump and Zeus fluffed up at the noise.

“What did you say?” asked Justin, staring at Zeus.

“I have Paul’s book on disc, and I made Loki a copy,” said Zeus. “He likes it, and he’s reading it and Meows is looking over his shoulder, showing him where he and I made changes in it. Belle is taking an art history class, and TigTig’s helping her. What’s wrong?”

“The book about Stony River in the early 1900s? That book?” Justin asked incredulously.
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Old 03-11-2016, 11:10 PM   #239
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Now everyone was looking at Justin.

“Well, Paul hasn’t gotten around to writing one about outhouse
construction yet, so yeah, I guess that’s the one. Why? What’s the problem?” asked Zeus.

“Loki’s a gamer,” Justin said. “He reads comic books and science fiction and fantasy stuff. I can’t believe he’s reading Paul’s book!”

“Are you nuts?” Zeus glared at him. “Do you know what he has on that computer of his? I just swiped Belle’s jump drive and copied all of his American and British literature collections. He threw in a bunch of papers written by Einstein, Goddard, and Darwin too. The guy’s into lots of stuff.”

Justin just stared at Zeus.

“You don’t know him too well, do you?” asked Zeus.

“Not like that, no. But…I just never really talked to him about that. I just got him books and games and things he said he wanted.”

“He needs to get an education,” said Zeus. “Try talking to him about that.”

“Okay,” said Justin weakly. Zeus winked, and trotted out of the kitchen.

“You all right?” Paul asked. “Zeus can be a little…direct, sometimes.”

“Oh, no, that’s fine, Loki and TigTig are too. I just didn’t know – damn! – Darwin? This from a cat who thinks J.R.R. Tolkien is boring!” sputtered Justin.

“Put him in school and watch what happens,” said Joyce. “Sounds like he’s interested in a whole realm of different things. This could be a blast.”

“Tiggy’s taking American history and Greek mythology. Loki never said a word about being interested in school.”

“Well, after today, maybe you can approach him about it,” said Joyce.

Suzanna nodded. “I think, as he sees others doing different things for the first time, he may want to broaden his horizons, so to speak.”

“I think so,” Carrie agreed. “Pook and Saav got Bart and Belle hooked on classes and all kinds of different things, including animal-rights political forums and even a cat-owners’ group.”

“That cat group is funnier than hell,” laughed Paul. “All of them are in it, posing as people who are pet owners and cat lovers, and not one of those people have any idea that there are half a dozen talking, sentient, educated real felines among them.”

“It is a scream,” agreed Carrie. “Bart’s a college student living off-campus with an annoying roommate who doesn’t like Bart or his cat. Belle’s his little sister who lives on the family farm and has lots of cats.”
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Old 03-11-2016, 11:13 PM   #240
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“Pook and Saav are older retired ladies with cats,” snickered Joyce.

Paul grinned. “Zeus and Meows are business partners who run a shelter, and they’re giving the impression they’re gay, but not actually coming out and saying it. They share a house, eight cats, and three dogs.”

Justin just looked at them. “You’ve gotta be kidding.”

“No, really,” giggled Carrie. “It’s true. These poor people have no idea they’re talking to cats. They’re really nice people too, and a few of them have helped Pook out with her graphics program. They are wonderful people, judging by the nice things they post and all, but still, when you know the secret, you just gotta laugh.”

Justin looked at Carrie thoughtfully.

“How do you know some of them aren’t cats?” he asked.

They roared at that.

“That’s the other funny part!” giggled Carrie.

“Yeah, they could be fooling the crap out of us,” Paul said.

“They probably are. What a hoot!” Suzanna laughed.

“I don’t get you people sometimes,” said Justin, shaking his head at them.

Paul patted his shoulder. “You’re new to this. Give it time and you’ll do a lot more than just get it. Believe me.”

“I guess,” he said doubtfully. “If you say so.”

After lunch, Justin took Suzanna and Paul to his place, where Paul got a tour of the neighborhood and Suzanna fell in love with Isis. The cats stayed with Joyce and Carrie, enjoying the leftovers and getting to know each other. Soon, the other three humans returned from their trip, and Loki was twitching with curiosity.

“Did you like her?” he asked Suzanna.

“Oh, yes. She’s a love. I told Justin we’d introduce her slowly to the B&B and to Sunshine, and go from there. Sunshine could use a little help,” replied Suzanna.

“He really could,” agreed Meows.

“She didn’t seem to mind strangers,” said Paul.

“She doesn’t. Although if you’re not a real cat lover, she can be a little standoffish. She’s very discerning that way,” Justin told him.

“That’s good,” nodded Suzanna. “Sunshine seems to know too.”

Satisfied that Isis had been accepted, the cats headed back to the computer room to visit, read, and work. The humans remained in the living room, talking about their most unusual cats.

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