Shelise found what she was looking for at a small saddlery shop just off the main street. She tied the horses to a pole under the awning out front to keep them out of the rain. As she broke into the store she was more than a little surprised to find that it didn’t have an alarm. It was a welcome change though, one that meant that they could stay a while without the siren giving her a headache.
They had been sheltering inside the shop for about an hour when Kai began to growl softly. Lucky was already up and sneaking towards the back door, his hackles raised. A large crash sounded from the back of the store and Lucky leapt through the door. Shelise felt for his mind, wanting to use his eyes to see what was happening back there.
She saw him sniffing at something that looked like a dead rat. She could feel that he was about to return to her when he yelped. Shelise turned towards the back of the shop and almost fell when Lucky scooted back through the door. Hot on his tail, a bundle of grey fur flew hissing and spitting past her, prompting another low growl from Kai. Shelise almost shot at the yowling animal before she realised that it was only a cat.
Kai. Stay. she directed at him. Don’t hurt the cat. Kai looked at her as though she’d gone mad, but he didn’t move. Lucky ran around the store and back to Shelise, cowering behind her legs in an effort to hide. The cat stopped in front of her, arching its back and hissing at the dogs.
He looked mean, and he was big for a domestic cat, almost as tall as Lucky, although nowhere near as solid. He was a black and grey tabby, with eyes the colour of dark blue sapphires. He had scars of varying sizes all over his face and body, and one of his ears had a chunk missing from the side. As he hissed, he showed long, menacing teeth. Shelise figured they would draw blood quite easily.
Settle down. she told the cat. We’re not going to hurt you. We want to be friends.
[No dog friend] Shelise heard. [Dog bad. Dog ugly.] Shelise was surprised to feel the strength of the cat’s mind. She had always known that they were intelligent animals, but she had thought dogs to be intelligent too. Yet, this cat was speaking to her, and that was something that the dogs couldn’t do.
These dogs are not bad, Shelise tried to reason with the cat. Please, we want to be friends. The cat eyed her suspiciously for a moment.
Yes, it’s true, Shelise said, projecting friendly pictures and feelings towards him. He looked at the dogs, then padded over and rubbed himself up against her legs.
[Cat sorry. Cat no hurt lady. Dog no bad. Dog just ugly. Poor dog.] Shelise laughed gently, a very rare occurrence, and stroked the cat down the length of his back.
What’s your name? Shelise asked.
[Me name Cat], he replied, looking at Shelise as though she were stupid. [Sometimes people say ‘Get out of here, dumb Cat’. But I think they dumb. Cat not dumb. Just Cat.]
Shelise smiled again and sat on the floor, lifting Cat onto her lap. They sat there until the sun came up, getting to know one another. Shelise found out that Cat had been abandoned as a kitten and had grown up on the streets. There had been some kind souls who had fed him, but on the whole he had been alone for most of his life. He thought of himself as a hunter and warrior, and the scars on his body attested to the validity of this thought.
It felt a bit strange to find herself talking to a cat, but Shelise found that she was enjoying his company immensely. At least it took her mind off David’s birthday for a while.
There was one solitary dingo bitch that had been following the little group for some time. Shelise could feel her presence constantly, but she’d only seen her from a distance. She would allow only Lucky and Kai to come near her, and Shelise watched as they frolicked together, playfully bounding around like overgrown puppies. Cat seemed very uncomfortable when she came close enough for him to see her, intuitively knowing that under other circumstances the dingo would likely have seen him as a tasty meal.
Shelise had tried to call her but she had resisted, her obvious fear of humans keeping her at a safe distance. Shelise thought that taming Kai had been hard, but at times she seriously doubted that this bitch would ever trust her. Nonetheless, she kept trying, sending feelings of trust to her and leaving tempting little titbits at their camp whenever they moved on.
It took a few weeks for Shelise to notice a change in the dingo’s attitude, but each day she would come a little closer to their camp. One morning she woke to find the dingo sniffing around the fire, picking up the odd small morsel that Shelise had dropped the night before.
Shelise startled the dingo as she emerged from the tent, causing her to scoot away. She stopped several metres away, watching Shelise as she quietly went about her routine morning duties. Shelise lit the fire [FEAR] and filled the billy [CONFUSION], setting it on the coals to boil. She brushed her teeth, then spat the foam [FOOD?] on the ground before brushing her hair.
She made coffee for herself and sat quietly on a rock while she took the time to look closely at the bitch. Close up she was a very attractive dog, somewhere between Lucky and Kai in size and she was thin, although at the same time quite solid. She looked nervous but she didn’t run away, so Shelise felt that she had won a small victory.
When it came time to eat, Shelise fed the animals from her hand, showing the dingo that there was nothing to fear from her. At the same time she reinforced this by sending feelings of calm and trust to her mind. She watched the bitch salivate… knowing that every bite the other animals took would weaken her resolve.
Eventually Shelise held her hand out towards the dingo, opening it and showing her a small piece of cooked rabbit. She saw the dingo lean forwards slightly, saw her nostrils flare as she sniffed for the scent of the meat, and saw her front legs quiver as she was torn between taking the food and running away. In her mind, Shelise named this bitch Faith, because at this moment she had all the faith in the world that they would eventually become friends.
After several minutes Shelise gave in, tossing the meat through the air and into the waiting jaws of the dingo. She had decided not to push her luck… the bitch was closer than she’d ever been before. Shelise could wait if she had to.
Shelise released the horses, giving them the chance to enjoy the rest of the day. She took off her boots and sat on a rock beside the falls. Even though her feet didn’t quite reach the water, she could feel the coolness as the mist wafted over the surface of the pool.
Faith materialised from nowhere, coming down to join her on the rock. She sat down just out of arm’s reach, and Shelise resisted the temptation to reach out to her as they sat amiably side by side. She had gained enough of Faith’s trust that she would now regularly come very close, but Shelise knew that should she reach her hand out to her she would quickly disappear again into the trees.
Shelise and Faith sat together for a long while, both of them enjoying the moment and listening to the wildlife around them. She didn’t need the calling to tell her that there was more life in this area than anywhere else she’d been. Not only could she feel it, but she could physically hear the many different forms of life around her.
Lucky broke Shelise from her thoughts as he bounded into the water with an almighty splash. He was a dog who loved the water, and on such a perfect day she could easily understand why. On a whim she decided to join him and have some fun herself. She undressed and laid her clothes out on the rock, away from the water’s edge to keep them dry. Lucky yipped happily as she dove into the water, swimming out deeper towards her.
Shelise’s dive had sent droplets of water up into the air, unceremoniously wetting Faith’s fur. She shook her head and for a moment she gave Shelise such a look of disapproval that an unbidden chuckle escaped her lips. But soon she yipped herself, and leapt into the water to join in on the fun game.
Shelise splashed the dogs as they swam around her, laughing out loud for the first time in ages. Whenever they came close she would disappear under the water, kicking her legs strongly and surfacing a short distance away from them. While she was under, the dogs would swim around in circles wondering where she’d gone, but when she came up for air they would head towards her once again, delighting in the spray she would send their way.
Soon the dogs’ legs would hold them up no longer. Lucky returned to the bank, shaking the water from his fur as he emerged, but Faith stayed in the pool a moment longer. She swam gently towards Shelise, and this time she remained still, giving the dingo the time to reach her. Faith’s eyes reflected her good humour as her tongue snaked out and she briefly brushed Shelise’s face. Shelise ran her hand gently down the length of the dingo’s back as she swam away to join the other dogs on the bank.
Shelise smiled to herself, knowing that they had… at long last… reached their final milestone.
Shelise was sure she could feel something, but she didn’t know exactly what it was. It was like nothing that she’d ever felt before… a prickle on the back of her neck that made her feel as though she was being watched. Apart from her own little band, she couldn’t feel any life around her… but she still couldn’t shake that feeling.
The animals didn’t seem to notice anything out of the ordinary, even Kai who was calmly trotting along beside the horses. Cat, Lucky and Faith were out of sight, exploring by themselves but never far away. Suddenly Shelise heard a piercing screech that sent a shiver up her spine. It was very close… very close indeed.
Missy danced around at the end of her tether and Charlie reared up unexpectedly, spilling Shelise onto the soft ground. She could feel the terror washing off the horses… but to their credit, they both stayed close by. Another scream came across the breeze, this time sounding like an animal in pain. Shelise leapt to her feet, drawing both her pistols as Cat and Lucky burst out of the undergrowth.
Where’s Faith? she asked Cat as she peered anxiously into the bushes.
[Big cat] he replied fretfully. [Jumped on Faith. Surprised her.] A cat? Shelise didn’t understand how that could be… she hadn’t felt any animal life around them. The cat must have been hiding its mind from her… but was that even possible? A deep growling came back to Shelise, a growling that was mixed with a pained yelping that she could feel was coming from Faith.
Shelise dashed into the thick undergrowth. Kai followed at her heels and as they ran Cat caught up to them, overtaking them and leading them into a small clearing. Shelise stopped and she groaned as she caught sight of a smear of blood on a nearby fern. Faith had stopped screaming but Shelise could still feel her pain. She ran off into the jungle on the other side of the clearing, knowing that each step she took was bringing her closer to Faith.
Shelise cried out at the sight of the jaguar crouching over Faith. Despite being thin, she was a huge and powerfully built animal, and Shelise could feel that she was dangerous. All at once she knew that this cat was starving to death. There wasn’t enough life around here to satisfy her hunger. Shelise couldn’t really blame her for attacking Faith… she was just trying to find a meal. But she was confused… why hadn’t the cat simply gone looking for food somewhere else. Why would she stay here, where there’s nothing to fill her belly?
Kai launched himself at the jaguar, his feverish growls filling the air. His attack had startled the cat, but she wasn’t about to let her meal get away. She began to drag Faith backwards, her strong jaws clamped securely around Faith’s flanks.
Faith had been lying still within the jaguar’s jaws, but now she used Kai’s attack as a distraction. She twisted around and sunk her teeth into the soft flesh of the big cat’s nose. With a yowl she let go of Faith, just as Kai leapt. He landed on the jaguar’s back, grabbing a mouth full of skin and fur from the back of her neck. The cat bounded to the side, and twisted her body nimbly… effortlessly flicking Kai off as though he were as light as a feather.
What a waste, Shelise thought sadly to herself as she fired both of her pistols. She can’t help being hungry. Shelise watched as her bullets hit their target. The jaguar stopped and staggered, then turned and ran off into the bushes, her meal finally forgotten. She was quick… but before she disappeared into the trees Shelise saw the wounds in her side… saw her blood quickly staining her yellow, spotted fur.
Shelise peered after the cat, squinting as she scanned the bushes through which she’d disappeared. She knew that she’d injured the animal, she suspected quite seriously. She also knew that she couldn’t allow the poor cat to die slowly, so she crept steadily along her path. The further she walked the worse she felt… there was a lot of blood.
Soon they caught sight of the jaguar again. Shelise found that she couldn’t help but admire this animal. She’d lost a lot of blood, yet she was still single-mindedly refusing to die. What was fuelling her determination? Shelise found out soon enough.
The jaguar finally flopped down onto her belly and crawled unsteadily towards a thick stand of ferns. Just before she reached it, the big cat fell onto her side and stopped moving. Shelise could clearly see that her pelt was now stained a dark crimson from her shoulders down to her feet. The cat lifted her head feebly, and as a soft wretched mewling seeped from her powerful jaws Shelise realised that she could hear her words… real words… not like Cat’s speech.
[Luca,] the cat called weakly. A tiny black cub bundled out from the ferns, suddenly coming to a stumbling halt. No wonder this cat is so determined… she had a baby to care for, Shelise thought, her heart sinking. Tears sprung to her eyes as she heard the tiny child-like voice of the jaguar cub in her mind.
[Mother, what’s wrong?] the cub asked anxiously as she stumbled forward to touch her nose to her mother’s.
[I’m dying Luca,] she replied, flicking her tongue out and gently grooming her baby one last time. [You’re going to be alone… and it’s going to be very hard. But you must be brave. And remember that I love you.] Before long the mother cat laid her head gently back down to the ground. Shelise could feel her life fading quickly. [Try to be a good girl,] were the last words that she spoke to her cub.
Luca mewed mournfully as she rubbed her body against her dead mother’s nose. She lifted her tiny paw and padded at her mother’s face, crying out her name. Shelise walked towards the cub, her tears flowing freely and unchecked down her cheeks now. She knew that the cub wouldn’t survive on her own… she was so tiny and defenseless.
The jaguar cub didn’t notice Shelise’s approach, but as she scooped her up into her arms, Luca thrashed about valiantly. Shelise sat on the ground and held her tightly, ignoring her growls and the tiny needle-like claws that scratched determinedly at her chest. After a while Luca’s struggling abated somewhat, and Shelise buttoned the cub inside her jacket, cradling her gently as she rose to her feet. By the time Shelise returned to the horses the kitten was asleep, her body stretched across Shelise’s stomach, her nose snuggled in under her armpit.
Several shorter excerpts from a novel I’ve been working on, called Saviour. I’m never sure which genre this fits into… it could be fantasy, science fiction, action, perhaps even horror. And it most definitely rings with very strong ‘girl-power’ themes.
These short extracts have been arranged together here to give some insight into some of the animal characters of the story, Cat, Faith and Luca.