The smoke gray tabby lived alone. Any place that offered her shelter was home.
Underneath porch stairs.
Inside cardboard boxes.
Inside broken down and abandoned houses.
But when she slept, she dreamed of having a real home.
A place that was warm in the winter and comfortably cool in the summer.
A place where food and water was readily available. She wouldn’t have to hunt for either or fight for them. They would be there, sitting there, waiting for her.
A place with soft beds and soft perches.
A place of gentle hands and kind voices. No one would grab her by her scruff and toss her. No one would throw things at her. No one would yell profanities at her.
It would be more than a home. It would be a haven of safety.
It was her favorite dream.
The smoke gray tabby skulked down the sidewalk. She tried her best to be invisible. People were strange and unpredictable. The less they noticed her the better.
Venturing out for food was always a high risk, but it was one she couldn’t afford to ignore. And not just for the obvious reason. People picked on stray cats bad enough. But stray cats who looked half-starved were treated even worse.
She couldn’t afford to look half-starved.
She stayed on high alert as she skulked down the sidewalk.
Watching for danger.
Watching for any conveniently dropped food.
Watching for any mice, birds, rats, or other prey that were stupid enough to cross her path.
Listening to the voices around her.
Getting ready to bolt if those voices came too close. If they came too close, they could accidently step on her. Or they could grab her and deliberately hurt her.
A dog broke through the pedestrians and charged right at her. She ran.
But he was bigger than her. His large feet thumped on the pavement. If he caught her, he’d eat her. She had no doubts about it. He was going to eat her.
But she refused to surrender. She ran as fast as she could. If she could just get to higher ground, she’d be safe. Needed to find higher ground. Needed to be safe.
She darted around flip-flops, sneakers, high heels, luggage on wheels, bikes, wheelchairs, and crutches.
But the dog wasn’t thrown off by her maneuvers. He stayed on her trail.
His feet thumped the pavement like a horseman of doom. His loud breathing overcame the noise of the crowd. He was going to catch her and eat her. She knew it. She just knew it.
There was a tree in a bricked up planter right ahead. She ran to it and flew up into the tree. She climbed as high as she could and huddled tight to the thick branch.
The dog paced around the planter, barking.
She dug her claws into the branch and hoped the dog didn’t have any climbing skills.
He hopped onto the planter.
She bristled her fur. If he climbed up after her, she was ready to give him a good fight. The odds would not be in her favor at all, but she was willing to fight anyway.
She froze as a person ran to the dog. “Midge! You stupid dog!”
Midge barked one more time before turning her delirious attention to the human. She wagged her tail and whimpered and shimmied.
The human snapped a leash onto Midge’s collar. “You had me scared stiff. I thought I’d lost you this time.”
The cat held her breath and stayed as still as she could. She could not let the human notice her. He’d grab her and throw her and hurt her. No doubts about it.
But the human didn’t notice. He knelt before Midge and hugged her. “Don’t you ever do that again. Okay?”
Midge chin-propped on his shoulder and seemed to smile.
“Come on. Let’s go back home.” He released her neck and led her away.
The cat relaxed, but she stayed up in the tree. It was safe up there and she needed to calm down after that whole chase scene.
She watched the people below. It amused her that she could see them, but they couldn’t see her. And it was the first time she’d seen them from this point of view. They were no longer dangerous feet and grasping hands. They were heads.
They were hats.
They were hair.
And such a variety of heights.
But none of them noticed her.
She happily tapped the tip of her tail against her front feet.
A person with black hair stopped near the planter. He looked up at her. His eyes were as dark as his hair. He smiled.
Her tail went still. Her pupils went wide. He was going to grab her! He was going to hurt her and yell at her and throw things at her! She knew it!
“Hi there.” His voice had a nice sound to it. Something like soft cushions and warm beds. But he was a person. He was dangerous. He couldn’t be trusted.
And he smelled like blood.
She clung to her branch with all of her might.
“It’s okay. I won’t hurt you. I’m not in the habit of biting animals, not even when I’m very hungry. It would take a lot for me to cross that line.”
She bristled her fur out, making her appear to be at least three times her real size.
“You don’t have to be afraid of me.”
His ignorance astounded her. Didn’t he even know what other people were like? Didn’t he know she had to be afraid in order to survive?
“I’ve seen you about when I’ve gone hunting. You’re smart. You’re a survivor. But you deserve better than to simply survive.”
Yet, he kept talking at her in that comfortable bed sounding voice. No one ever talked to her. And when they did, it was in volumes of unpleasant screeches and swears. No one ever talked to her like this.
“You deserve a good home. I can give that to you.”
What if he were just another dog waiting for his chance to eat her? But dogs didn’t talk. They barked. They chased. They nipped. They bit.
Could he be trusted? Could she surrender to him? There were so many risks in doing so. Was he worth taking the risk?
“You will be loved and cared for. You will have good food, clean water—-” He smiled. “—-and a whole house to claim as your own.”
But such words…Such wonderful sounding words…So alluring. So tempting. What if she gave in?
His expression turned serious. “If you come with me, you will not be hurt again. I promise. You’ll be safe.”
She released her death grip on the branch and climbed down the tree. It was a skill she had to learn on her own. Yet, even after having done it so many times, climbing down a tree still felt weird. She felt as if all of her blood was rushing down to her head and pooling up inside her face.
But she managed to do it successfully without falling and embarrassing herself.
The human sat on the planter and held his hand out to her.
There was something different about this human. He was not like the others. She inched forward, ready to flee at the very whiff of danger. She stretched her head forward and sniffed his fingertips. She darted back. His fingertips smelled like claws and blood.
He was a hunter. Just like her. But he wasn’t crude and loud like a dog. He was quiet and calm. If he touched her, she knew his hands would be gentle. He wouldn’t grab her or hurt her in any way. She just knew it.
She had no doubts about it at all.
She crept back to him and rubbed her head against his hand.
He smiled at her and petted her head. His hands were gentle, after all!
She purred and she surrendered.