Don’t worry: I’m still working on Between the Lion and the Wolf (BLW), but in between bouts of…not writer’s block, per se, but…I don’t know, something else, I’ve been polishing some ideas for a handful of other stories. Something to keep whatever vestiges of creativity I still possess from drying out like an abandoned fruit snack. (See? I need the practice!)
Over the last couple of days, after committing a handful of notebook pages to notes for the remainder of BLW, I revisited an idea—no, that’s not quite accurate. It’s a bit convoluted to explain, but here we go:
A few years back, a friendly cat who lived on our street disappeared down a storm drain. My wife called the authorities, but no one seemed too upset: most assumed he’d find his way out eventually.
He never did.
Collectively, my family and I composed an alternate history for the forgotten feline: you’ll find the first thousand words or so below. Tomorrow (or the next day, or the day after that…), I’ll get back to work on BLW, but until then, enjoy this brief introduction to the King of the Sewer Cats. (It’s too long for a block quote, so I’m treating it as its own section.)
King of the Sewer Cats
Chapter 1. One Boring Morning on Gumball Drive
Momoro the cat padded up and down the sidewalk beside Gumball Drive, waiting for the children to appear. Every morning (well, almost every morning), boys and girls would trickle from their homes and walk across his path. Sometimes, one or two might scratch the base of his twitching, black-and-white tail, or maybe massage the skin behind his ears. Sometimes, they’d hit that perfect spot, and he’d purr so loudly he’d surprise himself. And sometimes, when someone hit all the right places, he’d flop onto his back and roll around on the nice, scratchy concrete. (For some reason, people assumed he wanted his belly rubbed when he did that! After a few quick nips with his razor-sharp teeth, most of them withdrew their hands.)
Today, while he waited, he spied a pair of brindled rabbits munching on bouquets of phlox. With his ears tuned to the quiet rhythm of their ceaseless chewing, he crouched and took a tentative step in their direction. Neither saw him. Or maybe they did and didn’t care: with their eyes on either side of their whiskered faces, he presumed the latter.
Good. That’s good, he grinned as he took another step.
One of the rabbits stopped, a half-chewed stem dangling from its fuzzy mouth. With one of its dark brown eyes locked on Momoro’s ever-changing position, it flicked an ear, then sat still. Its companion hopped a few feet away and sniffed the air.
Slow down, Momoro! he told himself.
One of the children headed for the bus saw the rabbits, too, and pointed them out to his mother. Momoro held his breath: sometimes, these children would chase after the “bunnies,” as they often referred to them, although they never had a chance of catching one. (Momoro himself had missed more than a few.)
The child’s mother steered him toward the bus stop: “We can’t be late! Not today!” she said.
“Excellent!” Momoro chattered aloud.
The rabbits, already wary, sprinted from their floral feast at the curious sound. The well-muscled tom had only a moment to recognize his mistake before giving chase, but his indiscretion had cost him his advantage. Both rabbits slipped between the twisted boards of a fence in dire need of paint. Momoro slowed to a trot and swiped a half-hearted paw through the narrow opening. His expectations realized, the rabbits were long gone.
“There’s always tomorrow,” he meowed with a laugh. “Better be fast then, too, rabbits!”
With a sigh, he sauntered toward the sidewalk again. The young boy and his mother were on the verge of passing him by, so he swatted at their legs and rolled onto his back. With a preemptive purr, he stared into the child’s happy face and waited for the inevitable.
“Momoro’s out!” the little boy exclaimed. He reached for the fluffy expanse of black and white fur. Momoro allowed him a few seconds before he wrapped his forepaws (and his mouth) around his arm.
“Momoro!” The child’s mother chided.
He recognized her tone: he relaxed his grip and made a show of lapping at the boy’s wrist before righting himself and strutting toward one of the other children who’d recently appeared. He turned and offered a solitary meow as a parting word.
“Bye, Momoro!” said the boy. “See you later!”
Momoro smiled, wondering (not for the first time) if people could tell when cats smiled, when his foot slipped. With a quick jab from his other paw, he braced his hind legs against the storm drain’s steel grate and caught himself before his face hit the ground. Embarrassed, he looked around. This morning, it seemed none of the other neighborhood cats had witnessed his misstep.
Again?! You’d think I’d remember where this thing is after all these times!
Someone laughed (a person, not a cat, thankfully!) and scooped him up.
“You all right, Momoro?” he asked.
“I was just fine until you picked me up!” he meowed. Despite his displeasure at being held (quite literally) against his will, he had to admit: this guy—someone’s father, he remembered—did the least bad job of it, though Momoro would never admit as much, of course.
The man massaged the underside of his chin, and even though he didn’t want to purr…he purred. Loudly.
All right, all right: this feels good!
Maybe a minute later, his handler turned him over and placed him on the ground again.
“Hey! I didn’t tell you to stop!”
He might have protested with greater ardor, but the morning breeze brought the scent of diesel exhaust. At other times, that unpleasant tinge could mean any number of things; right now, however, it meant only one: that big yellow bus was moments away, and Momoro did not want to be around when it got here. Feeling much like one of his escaped rabbits, he maintained a watchful eye on the intersection of Gumball Drive and Frosty Ridge: less than a minute later, the bus rumbled into view.
With a touch too much urgency in his otherwise cool, collected swagger, he crossed the road and retreated into the safety of his garage. He wove his way through piles of yard tools and sports equipment until he reached his preferred hiding place: a secluded niche atop a long-forgotten towel tossed between old cans of paint and a bag of charcoal briquettes. Momoro hunkered down and waited until the bus’ grating diesel growl diminished.
All right, it’s gone. Now what? The rabbits run away from that thing, too, and anyone who usually pets me is either inside its belly or on his way home. Maybe I’ll just rest a while; after that, I’ll see if Duds is around.
Momoro stretched his front legs and splayed his claws and sneezed when unsettled dust motes tickled his nose. He licked the inside of his paw and washed his dirtied face, then closed his eyes and hoped he’d dream about rabbits.
What’s next? More stories!
Like I said above, in between some of these ideas for other, unrelated stories, I’m still working on BLW, and I’ll follow that up with its successor, the third and final book in The Daybringer series. Sometimes, though, it’s nice to step out of Kalas’ world, appreciate this one (or others), and, upon my return, learn to enjoy Lohwàlar and Ïsriba all over again.
If you haven’t read Beneath the Vault of Stars yet, fix that! And you have read it but haven’t written a review yet, fix that, too! (Not that anyone owes me anything, but I’d really like to hear from anyone who’s read it!)
As Momoro might say: Deuces, people!