Midnight Rescue

This story refused to stop bugging me, so I finally gave in and wrote it.

As I was working on my bicycle, I saw a cat from my home walk beneath the window.  In the post Riot world, you might ask how I could tell this cat was from my home.  I know because he spoke to me. 

I was born before the first wave of The Riot.  My parents where care takers on an old estate.   They were paid by a trust and their duties included maintaining the house and grounds and caring for 3 to 5 dozen cats.  They did not do this job alone.  There were two other couples living on the estate to assist in the work. 

As I was growing up I did not know that cats should not be able to speak in your mind.  My earliest memories included an old orange tabby, named Flame, teaching me to read Green Eggs and Ham.  She had promised my parents that she would entertain me for an hour so they could get supper ready. Cats really like to hear books read.  They are able to read but turning pages are difficult. We got them eBook, but they still preferred to be read to.  So Flame decided to teach me to read to her.

The cat that had just talked to me was not one of the cats I remembered from my days on the estate.  He was pure black from the tip of his tail to the tip of his nose, larger than the average alley cat, and clean.  All cats prefer to be clean but after The Riot it seemed like nothing stayed clean. He looked at me and said.  I need you <here> just before sun set.  The <here> was a mind image that showed an old farm house just outside of town, it also included a map with directions to the building.  After that he turned and walked away.

I was not sure I would obey the command.  When I was 15, Flame died at the age of 35.  They day after we buried Flame, I told my parents that I was leaving. I had had enough of taking orders from cats.  Instead of arguing they simply stated “Your home is here.  Don’t forget that when you are done wandering.”  At that time I firmly believed that I would never be back.  I wanted adventure, not the quiet life of caring for cats that died.

I left the next day with a pack of food, my bicycle, a sleeping roll, a change of clothing and a young cat named Storm.  Storm was a short haired cat with grey fur. At first storm and I had great adventures, but soon paths separated.  He wanted to see Canada and I want to see the large cities.  For the next three years I wandered east toward Chicago.  I worked at odd jobs along the way.  I washed dishes, weeded gardens, ran as a bicycle messenger, helped can tomatoes, and worked many other jobs.

I soon learned that life away from the estate was very different.  The cats on the estate were very different from the cats I met on my trip. The cats I met on the road were smaller, lived shorter lives, and could not talk.  The people were different also.  I had been off the estate before but my entire county had been sheltered.  The cities where The Riot hit were scarred, and the people were afraid.  Entire lots had been turned into cemeteries.    Some of these lots only had the date of death.  They had not taken the time to identify the dead. In many cities, there were strict rules against being out after dark.   Believe me a sundown curfew in winter makes for very long nights.

Right now I was working on the edge of a large city. I had a good job as a messenger.  This job allowed me to be outside during the day, and provided lodging at night.  Just as I was thinking I could stay here, my old world came back to haunt me or was the right word temp.   

That afternoon I found myself sneaking out of the messenger dormitory. I took all of my possessions with me.  I knew that if I left them they might not be there when I returned. The city had restarted the sundown curfew so I left early to give me time to avoid the patrols.   I thought it was odd as I bicycled that I did not see even one patrol as I made my way to the old farm. 

The cat was waiting for me to arrive.  The minute I arrived he started scolding me both vocally and mentally for being late.  I was about to turn around brave the patrols again when the cat calmed down, and  informed me that my help was needed to rescue his kittens. Insisting on civilities, I ask him his name.  He was Midnight, his wife Shadow and their 4 kittens were trapped on an upper loft of an old barn.  I decided to see if I could help.  For fifteen years I had taken orders from cats, I guess old habits die hard.

When we arrived at the barn, I could see that the ladder to the loft had fallen.  When it fell it had shattered like my mother’s favorite vase that I had slammed into when I was chasing Mist.   Mist, a long haired grey cat, had been born the same month I was born. We had gotten into a lot of trouble together when I was little.   Shadow was a grey short haired cat.  The four kittens were so new that they had not even open there eyes or found there mental voice yet.   A kitten is not named until he finds his voice.

I started to explore the barn to find a way to climb into the loft or assist the trapped cats to climb down from the loft.  Eventually I found hammer and nails, after prying some board of the shed I was able to construct a new ladder. Midnight was the first one up the ladder.  He and Shadow quickly moved the kittens to the lower level.

It was way too late to return to the dormitory, so I decided to join the cats in the barn.  I missed being outside at night. Flame had taught me all of the great cat constellations.  I was surprised to find out that the rest of the world thought the constellations lion and panther were bears.  Sun down curfews don’t allow a lot of time to look at the stars.  Midnight and I took the time to watch the stars in their eternal dance across the sky.  When I was tired I curled up in the hay near the cats.  Soon six warm bodies were snuggled close to me.
The next morning I said good-by to the cats, and started back to the city.  The morning was beautiful and I was wide awake despite the late night. As I neared the city I knew something was wrong.  The world was too quiet. The destruction was indescribable.  The next wave of The Riot had washed over the city.  Normal people had run through the city destroying everything in their path.  The dormitory where I spent had been destroyed in a fire. Every inch of glass in the local coffee shop was shattered.  The streets were lined with bodies of both the rioters and the patrols officers.  I spent the next several days helping to move the living to tent where they could be cared for.  I also moved the dead to the field where they were identified and buried.

Everywhere I worked, I asked why this wave of The Riot had started again. Some said it was because there is no work for people. Others claimed it was over religious conflicts. One person claimed it was for human rights.  I thought the first human right was to live, so that answer made no sense as I moved the dead.  No one had a clear answer. 

At nights we guarded the tents for the living, so the rioters could not hurt them again. Then the next morning we clean up the latest round of destruction.  I soon decided that the city was not the place for me. I was not sure I wanted to go home, but I knew the city was the wrong place to live.

As I started to head west I decided to check on Midnight, Shadow, and their four kittens.  Midnight once again was waiting for me. He asked me what took me so long to return.  The kittens greeted me enthusiastically.  They had found there mental voice and chat away a young ones do. The copper on had been named Bell. The black and white one had been named Pepper.  The two grey kittens were Whisper, and Fog.   Looking at these two you could not tell them apart.  But once you talked to them it was obvious how Whisper got his name. 

Midnight invited me to stay for lunch.   Shadow had gathered some pears and some volunteer tomatoes.  Midnight caught fish and I grilled the fish for all of us. After a lot of discussion it was decided that we would attach an old hand cart to the back of my bicycle.  The kittens, tired cats and our supplies could travel in the cart.  In return for pedal power to the Estate, the cats hunt for food during the trip.

We picked up more talking cats as we traveled.   Storm and his pregnant wife Carrot joined us about a week into the trip.  Carrot was a beautiful orange tabby with a soft cultured mental voice.  After that an elderly cat named Chocolate and his grandson Mushroom became traveling companions.  Both Chocolate and mushroom were Siamese.  Chocolate had been on the road a long time and knew ways around the cities.  I was glad that he joined us. His mental map of the area was much better than mine.  Mushroom was very good at finding edible mushrooms.  The cats did not like the flavor but I enjoyed the additions to my diet.

About two days before we would have arrived at the Estate, we were camped on a river edge. Carrot went into labor.  We decide to rest for the day and allow Carrot to have her kittens in a stationary wagon.  Midnight, Mushroom and I went fishing. Chocolate and Shadow entertained the kittens.
While we were fishing, Midnight found a guy unconscious by the bank.  He had fallen in the water and had hit his head.  It was easily to pull him out.  He had not eaten as well as I had so he weighed almost nothing.  Midnight decided we should start a fire back at camp that would warm the stranger, and we could cook the fish we had caught.

The guy woke while we were cooking.   We found out that his name was Adam.  He had been trying to find a quiet place to live away from the insanity of The Riot.  He had lost everything in the last wave.  After eating a little fish broth and drinking catnip tea he fell back to sleep.  Just as he started to wake for the second time, Chocolate returned to camp.  He walked up to Adam, sat on his chest and stared down at him for a long time.  Finally he flicked his tale looked at me and stated “About time you found your mate.”   When Adam’s only response was “Do I get a say in this?” I knew Chocolate was right.

We decided to give the young mother, the two newborn kittens, and Adam time to heal. Adam did not think it odd that I traveled with talking cats.  He and Chocolate discussed places they had seen.   Midnight and Adam discussed fishing strategies and debated whether or not it was cheating to use traps.   He also did not mind when the four older kittens tried to use him to play King of the mountain.  A week later I arrived home with 6 cats, 6 kittens and a partner to help me care for the cats of the Estate.  Looking back I wonder… Was I the rescuer or the rescued that night in the barn?