By the time he reached the bunkhouse at the Hunting Camp, Lucky felt like he had added a whole other dog to his weight. Maybe two. And not small dogs either. Something like a whole other Axel, wrapped around his neck like a heavy collar. He felt like his stomach was boiling, there was a heat there he couldn’t place.
The bunkhouse, with its simple wooden door and shake shingle walls loomed over him. He pawed the door open and stepped in. As he passed through the opening, he took a deep sniff of the air.
“Show selves.” He said. “Where Simon?”
It was, of course, Delia who spoke. She was sitting up on one of the upper bunks, carefully licking one grey paw before washing her face with it. “You free him.”
“Fine. I track down later.” He sneezed again, but didn’t leave.
“Answer question, go!”
He looked down the dimly lit bunkhouse, flanked on both sides by simple metal bunks. “Cats no work, no stay.”
Delia yawned hugely, showing her rough tongue and long fangs. “Cats no work, ever.”
“Cats yes work or go.”
She stretched lazily, arching her back, before laying down. “Make us.” Her voice was something like a purr and smug satisfaction radiated from her.
“Won’t have to. Dogs no fight, you done.”
He turned away without waiting for a response and pushed his way back outside. A quick sniff of the surroundings and he found the orange cat’s trail. It didn’t go far, only up to a nearby cedar tree. “Down?” Lucky asked.
“Did you talk to my boy?” The cat watched Lucky warily from his perch about a bus length up the tree.
“Not yet. Do you want to come when I do?”
The cat stretched, paws splaying wide, showing off his toes. “Sure. I’ll be down in a minute.”
The agile cat jumped from tree to tree until he reached a branch that carried him over the bunkhouse roof. From there he dropped down then hopped onto the lid of a trash bin before landing delicately on the ground.
“Do you know where your boy is now?”
“Boy is at the Barn with the other children. That’s where they take them during the day. It’s safer than the Little House. We’re not beyond the fence here.”
“I suppose that makes sense. I haven’t been paying enough attention to what the humans are doing, I think.”
“You really should pay more attention to them. I watch them a lot.”
“There’s so much going on, it’s hard to focus on what’s important. How do I even know what’s important?”
The cat snorted. “How does anyone ever know what’s important? Listen, dog, as much as I hate to say this, we’re all in this thing together. Delia may deny it, and she has sway with the other cats, but our best chance of survival is to work together.”
“I’m surprised a cat would say that.”
The big orange tom gave a rumbling chuckle. “You have no idea what a cat would say.”
“I suppose that’s true,” Lucky admitted. “I haven’t really talked to many cats.”
“I’m sure that will change sooner or later.” Simon leapt up onto a boulder and then from it to the next. “We’re quite useful if you can convince us to work.”
“You’ll help me do that, won’t you?”
“If you convince Boy and his Mother to let me come and go as I please, I will help you however I can.”
“I will do my best to convince them. Some of the people don’t listen to me all that well.”
“Some just don’t listen at all. Cats, dogs, people. It doesn’t matter.”
The cat bounded from place to place, sometimes darting ahead a bit only to sit down and lick himself until Lucky caught up.
“Did you sit in that tree since I let you out yesterday?”
“No. I took a romp through the wood and came back to the tree to sleep.”
“Where were you during the fight last night?”
“In the Big House, where it was safe. Whatever help I’ll be giving you after you help me, it won’t be fighting. I’m not a fighter. It’s not in my nature.”
“Honestly, I wouldn’t expect any of the cats to fight. You’re a little small. Not that you’re not fierce, or can’t be fierce. Cats can be fierce, I imagine.”
On a low branch, a dozen strides in front of Lucky, the cat sprawled with his tail waving slowly back and forth. “I imagine we can be plenty fierce. It’s not in me to be fierce though. I’m not a coward, but I prefer not to get my paws dirty. If you know what I mean.”
“I can understand that.” As Lucky passed underneath the branch, the cat leapt to the next one and then down onto Lucky’s broad back. The big dog kept calmly walking as the cat sprawled on his back with his belly up, tail waving slowly and his eyes slitted closed.
“What do you think we should be doing?” Lucky asked after a while.
“I think you don’t have nearly enough information.”
Lucky tilted his head to the side, his left ear flopping. “How do we gather more?”
“That, my dear canine, is an excellent question.”
“You don’t have any ideas?”
The cat rubbed its back against Lucky, squirming to find a better position on the dog’s back. “Of course I don’t. That’s not my job. It’s yours.”
Lucky mulled over that as he walked through the Camp Gate and into the dooryard with the cat sprawled on his back. It was a warm day, not overly hot, but he could definitely tell the difference when he walked through the open door and into the Barn. It was still warm, but the shade was much cooler than standing out in the sun.
Almost as soon as they walked in a young boy with dark curling hair yelled, “Simon!”
The cat jumped off Lucky’s back, landing gracefully, and trotted over to his Boy. He made a single circuit around the boy’s legs before the kid awkwardly picked him up. The cat was purring, hind legs completely unsupported and his front paws curled over the boy’s arm. Each paw opened, toes splayed, before tightening into the boy’s arm, kneading gently. The boy had deep dimples in his cheeks and a brilliant smile crossed his features. “You found Simon!”
“I’m sorry, Boy.” Lucky said. “I’m the one who let him out. Simon wants you to let him roam during the day.”
“My name’s Nick,” Boy said, burying his face in Simon’s fur. “Back home, we let him roam during the day, Mum said we couldn’t do that here because it’s too dangerous.”
“Shall we go talk to your Mum about it? Simon would be much happier if he could roam.”
“Mum says I have to stay here.”
“Which one is your Mum, then?”
“Rachel, she’s on the council.”
Lucky couldn’t help it, he laughed. “Of course.”
“Will you talk to her? I want Simon to be happy.”
“I said I’d talk to her and I will. I’ll be back.”
Lucky left the orange cat in his Boy’s arms and walked out into the dooryard. Of course Boy’s Mum would be Rachel. She had started out as a supporter, but sometime in the last meeting something had switched and she was furious. It had been less than a week since the grass-words had turned his life upside down. Every time he felt like he was getting his footing, something else changed. That heavy feeling still lurked in his gut, growing stronger with every step back into the dooryard.
As he stepped from the shadows of the barn into the bright sunlight of the dooryard, the scent of tar teased his nose again and he was caught still, lifting his head and drawing in a deep breath. Sunwarmed fur, burnt steak, and tar. His nose swung from left to right, seeking a larger concentration of the scent.
He tried to taste the air again, but there was no sign of that strange scent. His copper colored eyebrows drew together over his pale eyes and he glanced up at the sky. The sky had been beautiful this morning while he watched the sunrise with Girl, now the eggshell sky had given way to a sky the color of ashes. The sun was glaring down from a clear space amongst the clouds. Strangely, the air was completely still.
The scent should never have teased his nose. It should never have faded. Without wind, it never should have wafted in his direction in the first place.
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Hi! My name is Skwrepb (pronounced Jen, I swear). I'm a stay at home mother of three with not enough time on my hands. I've been writing since I could hold a pen and I have so many stories to tell!
I'm an avid reader and The Wandering Inn is what brought me to Royal Road. I have been devouring stories here ever since.