A Tale of Truth
"Why does Vicky always get to be the princess. I want to be the princess", Electra whined.
"You're just jealous, Lectra. You
know I was born to be the princess"
Etcetera started giggling loudly. She couldn’t help but enjoy watching Jem put Vicky in her place.
"That kitten has such an attitude.” she thought to herself. "Ever since that family took her in to their big house and started treating her in their fancy way, she has just gotten more and more uppity, thinking she's better than all the rest of us kittens. Jem may be the (oh what was that word Bomb used.... oh yeah) wisest of us kittens, and she may one day lead us, all after Munkustrap and Old Duet go up, but she doesn't go around rubbing our noses in it. Well, 'cept like now, when a certain someone needs to be put in their place. But that different."
"JEMIMA!!" Demeter's voice cut through the night. "Where are you child. Ah, there you are. Time for you to head in. It's not safe to play around here any longer. Can you not feel it! The Paw is about tonight. Head home! The rest of you should be heading for home or hidey-hole about now, too. The Junkyard's not safe tonight"
Demeter turned and walked off back to the hole she and her litter called home, Jem a step behind. In some matters, Jem realized long ago, it was useless to argue with Demeter. When she mentioned the Paw, then it was time to keep quiet and obey.
The other kittens headed the other way down the darkened alleyway. With their keen sight, the shadows held no mystery for them.
"Do you think the Paw is really out tonight?" Electra asked.
"Oh, you are so naive aren't you, Lectra", Vicky purred. "Don't you know the Paw is just something the elders made up to scare little kittens like you. He's not real."
"I know that.” Electra said defiantly. "I was just kidding with you,” she added but she kept her eyes on the shadows. Just in case.
She was not alone in watching the shadow. Cetty kept alert, watching the shadows closely. She had heard the same stories of the cat called Macavity, the Hidden Paw, and a hundred other names. She was not sure if the stories were real or just to scare kittens as Vicky said, but she was not about to chance it. Especially tonight. Something definitely did not feel right. There was a chill in the air, but she could find no reason in the shadows to explain it.
As the kittens left the dark alley, a shape separated from the shadow heading the other way. Glancing back over his shoulder, Macavity whispered," Trust your feeling little one. They will lead you well"
Emerging at the far end of the alley, where the kittens had just left their playing, Two large jet-black toms met up with Macavity. Whereas Macavity's Coat what bright and vibrant, and should have made it impossible for him to hide anywhere, these two looked as if the where born of the shadows themselves. Named Ebony and Shade, they served almost as an honor guard for Macavity. Born of the same litter and left abandoned, Macavity took them under his paw and raised them as his own. Now full grown, they served him well. Guard, messenger, or enforcer, if Macavity demanded it, they obeyed happily. Theirs was a life debt, and they relished the opportunity to repay it at all times.
"She could sense you", Ebony observed. Shade just shook his head in agreement.
"Yes," Macavity responded, "she always could."
"That could present problems someday." Shade added," should we not do something about that? We could eliminate the problem now before it..."
He could not finish the though before Macavity's paw struck him solidly. For his modest size and unassuming appearance, Macavity held great power in his strikes. He had torn through an entire pack of Pollicle when they decided a lone Cat made an inviting target for fun. Speed, stealth, power. All were Macavity's to command.
"You will do nothing!" Macavity hissed. "When I, and I alone, decide that something must be done, then will I handle it. You have your instructions when dealing with Her and Her litter."
"I beg your forgiveness", Shade whimpered. "I did not mean to presume..."
"See that you don't. I lead. If you think differently, we can settle that right now"
" No.... Where you lead, I will always happily follow without question"
"Good." Macavity purred. "Well. They should be in for the night. Ebony, Stay and watch. Just in case. We are returning home. Come Shade."
"MungoJerrie...." Macavity muttered shaking is head. "I just don't see why you insist on taking that kitten with you while you work. That mouth of hers never shuts. She is trouble waiting to happen."
"She has potential, I tell ya.", MungoJerrie replied.
"Potential to cause trouble. I'll give you that. But potential for anything else... No matter, as long as I don't get dragged down with you..." Macavity's voice trailed off leaving the thought unfinished.
"Don't you worry. You'll see. She's got the making of a great cat burglar. She might be a little rambunctious but she's young. She’ll grow out of it. Trust me."
"You haven't disappointed me yet. Well that once, but I digress. I will heed your choice for now. But enough of this. Ebony has been on watch all night. I want you to relieve him for a while. Take Rumpleteaser if you must, but keep her quiet and stay out of sight."
"Don’t you worry, It'll be a snap. Yep, you don't need to worry at all with us on the job. We wont"
"Enough!" Macavity interceded. "Just go and take care of it"
"Why," Macavity thought to himself after MungoJerrie had left. "Why do I put up with his endless carrying on. He good, that’s why. And in this case he is also right. That kitten has potential for more than trouble. If she survives long enough to mature...” Macavity left that thought unfinished as his mind returned to more pressing matters. His empire could not survive on its own and he had been devoting much too much time to other matter recently. It was time to take care off business.
Sitting atop a dilapidated two-story townhouse. MungoJerrie kept watch on the kittens. "Ain't this something", he mused. "Me, MungoJerrie, one of the greatest cat burglars of all time, stuck kitten sitting."
Rumpleteaser came bounding over from the far side of the building. Sometime Mungo could see what Macavity meant about her. She could be a pain to keep in line while on a job at times. She was far too energetic and has absolutely no patience. Neither was good in this line of work. But she was certainly talented. That much was easy to see. She was a natural. There wasn't a place she couldn't slip into unnoticed. If she could keep focused on the task at hand, she was as professional as they come. Her problem was she was too easily distracted. Take now for example. She is supposed to be sitting here watching the kittens but where is she: Off chasing a rat all over the roof. And not too quietly at that. How the kittens haven't heard her yet Mungo couldn’t understand but so far they had gone unnoticed.
"I'm bored", Etcetera whined.
"I'm hungry,” Electra added
"Yeah, I'm bored AND hungry" Cetty replied.
"And stupid", Vicky tossed in.
"I'm bored, I'm hungry and I'm.."
"VICKY!" Jem interrupted. "Quit being mean."
"Well if she is dumb enough to repeat it, it must be true. You can't blame me for bringing up the obvious."
"No, you're right. But I can blame you for being too self absorbed to care about the feelings of others."
Realizing she wasn't going to win in this argument, Vicky let it drop. She had never won in an argument with Jem before and it didn’t look like this was going to be the first time.
"So Cetty, what do you want to do?” Jem asked, already knowing the answer. Etcetera had the attention span of a well-worn shoe, but when she realized she was hungry, that was all she could think of.
"Let's go find something to eat." she answered "We can go down by the waterside and see if the humans left anything out. They are always leaving stuff just lying around."
"Then the waterside it is.” Jem announced. "Let's go."
"You can all go down to the waterside if you want to, but I'm not coming. I'm going home and have my humans feed me", Vicky decided.
"OK, Vicky. We'll see you later." Electra chimed in cheerfully.
With that the kittens parted way, Vicky heading home while Jem lead Etcetera and Electra toward the waterside and a possible meal.
"Oh, where are they off to now", Mungo sneered annoyingly. "Well, it can't be any worse than just sitting around here all day in the hot sun."
MungoJerrie was a cat of the night. He like the cool darkness after the sun had fallen. It just felt more comfortable to him at night. Comfortable and quiet. That was probably why he loved being a cat burglar so much. It wasn't because he was an expert at it, though he certainly was an expert at his art. He was talented at many things and there were many ways for him to make sure he had a place to live and a meal each day to look forward to. It wasn't the thrill of the caper that captured his interest as it had for so many of his peers. True, the thrill kept the job from getting monotonous but that wasn't the most important part. He derived pleasure from the comfort and quiet. Slinking around along the ledge of a building at night with the only sound being the wind blowing softly through his fur: That was the aspect of his chosen profession he truly enjoyed. All the rest was just cream atop the milk to him. What made him especially good at his trade was that he truly enjoyed the precise conditions that were all important in doing the job correctly.
"Teaser, quit playing with your little toy and come along. We have work to do"
With her attention snapped back to the job at hand, Rumpleteaser took on the part of the professional once again. With absolute silence, she dropped perfectly into step behind MungoJerrie as he stalked along the rooftop after the three kittens. She moved so quietly that Mungo had to check occasionally to see if she was still there. Quiet as the wind, she had been called, her step so soft she could walk on spilt flour and not leave a trace. "When she grows up", Mungo thought to himself, "her talents will rival the legendary Griddlebone herself".
MungoJerrie recognized the kittens’ destination almost instantly and slowed to a more leisurely pace. Knowing they were bound for the waterfront and food made tracking them simple. Rushing was no longer a necessity but stealth was. At a slower pace he didn't have to worry about Teaser being distracted while they were right on top of the kittens. By keeping his distance, he increased the odds of not being noticed.
About halfway to the waterside, Mungo pulled up short, causing Teaser, who was losing interest in the hunt, to ram him from behind. He gave her a stern look and signaled her to keep quiet. Something was wrong. The kittens had stopped and were looking down a side alley discussing something. He was too far away to hear what was being said but he had a bad feeling he knew the intent.
The kittens started on the move again, but no longer toward the waterside. They were headed down the side alley and into dangerous territory. That alley led to the area the humans called Butcher's Row. Adult cats never ventured there alone because of the danger it presented. It was not a place for three kittens.
"Teaser. Return to Macavity as fast as you can. Tell him the kittens are headed toward Butcher's Row. Tell him they are entering Pollicle territory and I am stopping them now."
"Wait", Electra called out sniffing the air. "What's that?"
Jem stopped and raised her nose to the sky and sniffed deeply. A new scent presented itself, as sweet and powerful as fresh baked rolls but somehow different.
"I have no idea" she answered
"It smells good though, and closer by that the waterside. Why go all the way down there when there is food so close by. We could eat and get back home sooner if we went there."
Doubt arose in Jem's thoughts. She knew all the dangers along the path to waterside but this new route was unknown. Food was closer by though and Lectra was right. They would be home much faster if they took this new path. Demeter had been agitated recently and staying near was always a good idea when she was in that frame of mind. Last night, She had been extremely on edge. She had once again used that old story of the Hidden Paw but Jem knew it was just a tale to scare kittens. Dem could be so weird at time. One moment she would praise Jem for her wisdom and understanding, saying she was "far beyond her years" and "destined for greatness in the tribe". The next she would be telling the old tales knowing Jem was beyond that kind of scare tactic. Either way, it was better to be home well before Dem started looking for her again. The alley was the obvious choice.
"Alright then. The alley it is."
Off they started down the alley. Jem kept on full alert: anything could be lurking around here and she was not going to be caught with her guard down. She was the eldest and it fell to her to keep an eye on the others. As they neared the end of the alley, Jem's ears pricked up as she heard several sounds at once. From all sides shapes emerged from the clutter, large shapes. As the shapes stepped into the open, Jem realized the trouble they were in with greater clarity. Seven Pollicles closed in from all sides cutting off any hope of escape. They did not look like they were in the mood for a chat.
Jem noticed a hole in the wall they had failed to block and push Etcetera and Electra towards it. Two of the Pols moved to intercept the kittens as the others circled closer. The two kittens reached the hole just before the Pols and dove inside just as they closed that last avenue of escape. Jem was not as lucky. The Pols forced her back toward the center of the circle and she knew that making it out of here was hopeless. Jellicles and Pollicles had been at war for year. Although both side kept to their individual territories, and thereby open conflict was a rarity, any Jellicle caught in Pollicle territory had only two options: fight or flee. With all exits cut off and outnumbered seven to one, against opponents that were easily twice her size or more, Jem realized she only had one option: Die.
The Pollicles started moving in as a group. The lead Pol was huge. He was bigger than any three cats combined with a mouth full of teeth that could easily rip a kitten apart. Without uttering a word, he slowly moved forward, toward her. Jem started praying to the Everlasting Cat that her death would be as quick and as painless as possible. The lead Pol took one more step as a shadow from above caught Jem’s attention. As quick lightning, an orange and white blur flew from a nearby roof top, blasting the large Pol on the leaders left in a fury of claw and fang. Realizing this was her only chance to flee and she could offer no help to her savior, Jem made a mad dash through the hole in the Pols circle and raced down the alleyway. She may be heading further into Pol territory, but it was her only option and she was going to make the most of it.
Macavity stalked quietly down the alley with Ebony and Shade at his side. Rumpleteaser slinked closely behind. He had ordered the kitten to stay behind but she had refused. She insisted that she must return to Mungojerrie's side. Loyalty was one thing Macavity understood. He didn't see it often in his business and when it was found it was to be respected. The kitten's loyalty and dedication to MungoJerrie were admirable and probably the only reason he did not have her confined just to keep her out of the way.
Before they had neared the end of the alley, he could sense the battle scene. All was quiet now but he could tell nonetheless. As they neared the end, he heard Teaser's breath catch in her throat. She had seen the body lying ahead. She started to race past him but he deftly cut her off. She tried to get around him but he blocked her every move. As good as she was, he was better. He knew better than allow her to rush forward. There was enough clutter that even a Pol could hide unnoticed. Sending her ahead may flush out any trap but he was not going to allow her to play that part today. He signaled to the twins to scout ahead. Any Pol that tried an attack from hiding on them was in for more fight than they could handle.
Shade moved left and Ebony right. They circled around the fight scene toward the mouth of the alleyway. Nothing moved and neither cat had noticed anything out of the ordinary. Macavity and Teaser moved toward the bodies lying amidst the debris of the fight. MungoJerrie lay near motionless alongside two Pols. Near motionless. He was injured badly but it was not fatal. He would need time to heal but he would be fine, maybe a new scar or two to show off to his offspring someday but nothing more. The same couldn't be said of the two Pols. One was well beyond help. The other may survive but that was not Macavity's concern at the moment. All he cared was that there was one less obstacle in the way. This Pol was not going to interfere again for a long time, if ever.
"There is too much clutter to tell how many there were and this is a heavy trafficked area. I can't even determine which way they went.” Ebony reported.
Macavity paced around, looking for some sign that would put them back on the track. His task was interrupted by a small, weak voice from above. Macavity and the twins looked up to see two small kittens peeking out a second story window. Electra and Etcetera had made their way through the building to a higher vantagepoint.
"What was that, little kitten", Macavity purred softly. He had to try and keep his anger out of his voice. These kittens were scared and he had to make sure they did not bolt for safety. They were his only lead and he was not about to lose it. "What did you say?"
"She said they went that way", Etcetera said indicating out the alley and to the left.
"Jemima also?” he asked.
She nervously shook her head yes.
"And do you know how many Pols there were, Little Cetty"
"Four were left to chase after Jem. The fifth was injured and limped off the other way. Who are you? Are you him?"
Macavity left her questions unanswered. He looked to Shade and instructed him to take Rumpleteaser and the wounded MungoJerrie back to safety then he and Ebony turned and raced off after the Pollicle pack.
"It was him, I tell you. It had to be", Etcetera said, her voice tinged with fear and excitement
"And he knows your name." was Lectra whispered reply
Etcetera wasn't sure about a lot of things but she knew without a doubt that Macavity knowing her name was not a good thing and now was a good time to return to the safety of home, hungry of not.
Jem ran on through the streets. She considered finding cover but decided against that idea. She needed to get out of this area. The longer she stayed the more likely she was be found. She had to get home, find help and come back to rescue Etcetera and Electra. Delaying was not an option.
Suddenly she could hear sounds of pursuit. The Pols were still after her. She had a good start on them but their longer legs gave them speed and they knew the area better. Jem received a harsh lesson on this last thought as the passageway she in which she ran reached an abrupt end. She quickly looked around for an avenue of escape but nothing presented itself. This was not turning out to be a good day for her. She turned just as the lead Pollicle rounded the bend. As the pack reformed, she noticed there were only four now. "Not that that helps me much" she mumbled softly. Four or forty, she would need a miracle and she had a pretty good idea that one miracle a day was more than she could hope ever to receive.
The huge Pol advanced. His right eye was slashed open and swollen. His injury didn't seem to help his demeanor in the least. Jem backed against the wall. She closed hey eyes and waited for the inevitable.
A deep voice echoed over the sounds of the Pollicles.
"I'd rethink this situation if I were you, Tettlestim."
Jem opened her eyes to a scene she would never have expected. All four Pols had turn to face two Jellicles. One, the largest tom she had every seen with a coat as dark as midnight. The other, a smaller cat with a coat of white, yellow and an orange so deep it was almost red. There was never a cat of that deep of a color, with the exception of one, and that cat was only a legend. He didn't exist but there he was.
Jem wasn't sure if she should be relieved. Either force before her meant her no good. The Pollicles or Macavity, neither was a choice but she didn’t have an option.
"I'd rethink this situation if I were you, Tettlestim.” Macavity purred menacingly. "This is not a battle you can hope to win, or even escape alive"
"This is our turf, Jellicle, and we out number you"
"AND you know who I am and what I am capable of. Do you really think two to one odds are enough to help you? No, I think not. More likely, you are trying to find a way to save face with your pack and save your hide in the bargain. I make a simple bargain. Leave the kitten and go. That simple. We both part company and go our separate ways. Take it or leave it. It is your choice"
There truly was no choice for Tettlestim. The Paw was not a Jellicle to cross and every Pol knew it. Backing down against The Paw was not only the wisest choice but also the only choice if you wanted to see the next sunrise. He would lose face with his pack but anyone who thought he was too weak to lead would quickly discover the error of that idea.
"There is no feud between us, Paw and I will not start one over a mere kitten like this one. If you want her she is yours. Just keep her out of our territory. Next time things may have changed"
On Tettlestim's signal, the Pols separated and headed out of the alleyway, giving a wide berth to both Macavity and Ebony.
Jem wasn't sure if she should be grateful. The Pols had fled, and fled was the proper word no matter what words were said, but she still faced the vilest cat of legend. The cat she had been told about all her life, the cat that was feared by all. Face to face with him, Jem could feel his power. She also felt something else about him. Something so out of place with the legend that she almost did not want to believe it. She could tell by the way he talked and moved, by the way he held himself, that he was demanding, commanding, a cat who got his way no matter what. But now, looking into his eyes, she saw something else. She would never call it a softer side. Nothing about this cat indicated softness. But there was something she could not put into word. It was almost love in a body that could never feel love; the desire without the ability.
"What are you going to do with me now", she asked with all the bravado she muster.
"What are you thinking, little one"
"That the Pol's leaving was not the end of my troubles"
"On that you are right, but not in the way you think. You will come to no harm by my hand or any I command. That I promise you. Yes, I can see in you eyes, your doubt. Believe me or not, it does not matter, My promise stands. There will always be troubles in your life and I will without doubt be the cause of some, as is my nature. You are destined to lead. With that responsibility, trouble will surely follow you. You will defeat it. You will not come through unscathed, be warned, but you will survive. And learn. That is what your future holds"
"Why are you telling me this. You are not the cat the elders speak of. You are not the cat of legend and tale."
"Always remember. The stories you hear are what the teller wishes you to hear. Look under the words. Look for the meaning and the motive. Never let the words blind you to the truth behind them. Learn to listen as much with your mind and heart as with your ears. The words are only one part of the tale. You must find the rest on your own. Think on this on your walk home. You will be safe. You have my promise."
With that Macavity and Ebony stepped into the shadows and vanished.
"Will she listen" Ebony purred sitting on high watching as Jem headed home.
"She will, she saw the truth in the words."
"And the deeper truth under them....."