KING O THE CATS
Tom licked himself, wondering why he never saw humans grooming themselves in the same manner. Perhaps because they weren't quite so limber. More likely because they weren't quite so clean. Humans weren't cats, after all.
His master, George Underwood bathed rarely, and when he did, it was a household event of enormous proportions. The Woman, she might have a name, but no one called her anything else, would set a kettle on the fire to later pour steaming water into a wooden tub. George would then make a big show of stepping in, screwing up his face with resolve as his bum hit the surface.
"Annoying man," thought Tom, stretching, then moving closer to the fire. The Woman walked by, carrying several vegetables in the crook of her arm. She snorted at Tom.
"I just saw a rat by the barn," she said to him.
Tom looked up with yellow eyes feigning interest. He then yawned, amused at his own wit, and fell back with a chuckle. The Woman rolled her eyes, chiding him further as she hurried into the kitchen to prepare dinner.
The sound of a horse outside told him George was home at last. His human came in through the door, red-faced, eyes wide with excitement. He removed a jacket, beating it first with his hand, then laying it across the back of a chair. He went to his wife, kissed her quickly on the cheek, and went to warm himself before the fire.
"Oh, you will never guess what I saw this night. What a thing! What a thing!"
She ignored her husband, she always did. Tom, however, couldn't help but find his curiosity unaccountably ignited. He sat up, black fur highlighted by the fire's glow.
"I was coming home, as I always do, when what should I see?" asked George. He waited futilely for The Woman to show interest. Undaunted, George continued. "I saw a group of cats bringing along the body of another, dragging it behind them. Can you imagine? And behind them, behind them were at least a hundred other cats, all keeping a respectful distance."
"You've been drinking," The Woman said at last.
"By God's blood, truer words by me were never spoken," objected George. He reached out and stroked Tom, who leaned back, resisting the urge to swipe a claw at him.
"But there's more, my sweetness. More," said George. "The cat they were dragging had a knife sticking from its side. Not a big knife, like we would keep in our kitchen, but a little knife. It was a black cat, like our Tom here, and its fur was covered with blood as though he had been stabbed over and over again."
Tom looked nervously toward the door, his ears strained forward to listen to the night. A shiver passed through him.
"And one of the cats who led this whole gruesome parade kept shouting..."
"Wait," said The Woman, "you're saying a cat spoke?"
"I swear by your life and by your mother's life. I swear by your sister's life. God rest her soul."
"And what did this cat say?"
"He said 'The King is dead, the tyranny is over.'"
The Woman laughed to hear this. She started to return to the kitchen area to continue cutting up the vegetables. George looked a bit put out at this response. He stood, talking as he chased after her.
"That lead cat, a big yellow tab with the queerest eyes, stopped. He looked at me and said: 'You're George Underwood.'"
"'You know me?'" I asked. "I shouldn't have been so amazed. After all, our's is a smallish town, but it did put me out."
"'We know you," said the tabby. 'Tell Tom his precious king is dead. He'll not ascend to the throne now. The reign of terror is ended.'"
"'The terror?' asked The Wife.
Tom began pacing nervously, his eyes darting about. The fur along his spine raised up. He wanted to run, to find safety, but he had to hear the rest. Anything stupid old George could offer up might be useful.
"What was that?" asked The Wife.
Tom lifted his head. He had heard it, too. The sound of feet on the roof. No, the sound of many feet on the roof now.
"What was what?" asked George. "I don't hear anything."
Tom yowled, partly in anger and partly in fear. The old fool had led them back here. While he had sat before the fire, spinning his stupid tale, the rebels had been creeping into place. Tom could feel them on the roof, getting ready for the strike. He could sense them in the garden, feel them just under the window. All waiting for the signal to strike. Stupid George. Stupid old man. Tom hissed, circled, hissed again. He yowled.
The king was dead. Now he was the king.
"Look at our Old Tom. I wonder what's wrong. What is it, old boy?"
The Woman shook her head, her face grim, and her eyes fearful. "Put him out," she said. "Put him out."
"What's this?" asked George.
"Do as I tell you. Put him out now."
A yowl sounded from without. Another followed.
George nodded, his stupid eyes expressing a sudden awareness that something was wrong here. He went toward Tom, who backed against the wall, exposing fangs, and preparing to run for his life. He wasn't going to be put outside. Not tonight. George reached for his coat, holding it to trap Tom.
The yowling outside continued to build as more voices joined the horrible cacophony. It was as though misery had been given a voice and thrown to the wind to scream its song through the night. Tom heard the anger, the hideous demand for blood. His blood. If he could stay here until morning, he might make his way down country to the city. His kin still held sway there.
"Got you," said George.
Tom had allowed himself to become distracted, giving George an opportunity to pounce, throwing the coat over him. He screamed, slashing with claws through the thick wool as George bundled him up. Shouting with rage, frustration, and terror, Tom couldn't escape.
The door opened and he found himself dropped into the dirt before the small house. The yowling stopped.
Hundreds of cats crept through the yard. They moved along the fence, by the barn, over the small shed where George kept his tools. They moved as one predatory, casting one shadow by the moon.
Tom studied them, trying to see where the opportunity to escape might present itself. Glancing back over his shoulder, he saw George, faced pressed against the window glass, eyes blinking in amazement.
Tom drew himself up, moving toward a tabby with queer green eyes that had seperated slightly from the hoard. The cat gave a cruel and triumphant smile.
"I'm the king o' the cats," Tom proclaimed. He strutted forward, listening to the hissing that had begun.
"I'm the king o' cats," he shouted. Feeling his strength, reveling in his nobility, he moved forward, head held high. "I'm the king o' the cats."
He stopped and let his tail swish once or twice. He almost allowed himself a sliver of hope. Then they descended on him.