Careful to only move one muscle at a time and make as little sound as possible, I began to inch my way out of the dark confines of the cave. I placed a shaky paw onto the grass and pushed my body into the sunlight, exposing myself to a vast expanse of unfamiliar territory.
On high alert, I followed my nose to the distinct aroma of fresh water. I made sure to stay hidden beneath the foliage, bristling in fear at every unknown sound and smell. But once I caught sight of a small stretch of water, thirst overcame me and I bounded full speed to the sparkling surface.
I dove into the lake, purring in satisfaction from the delicious taste after suffering from days of thirst. But despite the revitalization I received, I could not shake the loneliness that remained. I racked my brain, desperate to recall anything of my life before I was abandoned in the cave, but I felt nothing but emptiness.
My thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the snap of a twig and I found myself face to face with a small hairless creature. I bared my teeth and hissed in intimidation, but before I could pounce, a larger creature appeared and released a horrid blood curdling scream. I darted off in time to see the large creature whisk the smaller one away, retreating as fast as its two legs could carry it.
I realized in surprise that they were running from me. Power surged through my veins as I realized my ability to inflict fear on these strange creatures. I scoffed at their stupidity. Arrogance replaced my loneliness and I set forth to find the creatures to terrorize them.
I followed their trail and reached a clearing filled with rows of cave-like dwellings. I watched in confusion as dozens of creatures came in and out of the dwellings, communicating with odd gestures and unusual sounds. This must be where they live, I concluded.
Excitement churned in my belly. I rushed forth, eager to find the pair of creatures I had seen earlier. As I approached the first dwelling, I found a transparent square opening that allowed me to peer inside. But instead of finding creatures, I spotted a huge ball of orange fur that I was instinctively drawn to, prompting me to jump through the opening to enter the dwelling.
I inhaled a distinct familiar scent, realizing with satisfaction that I found someone of my species. Stretched out and basking in the sunlight, my new companion was fast asleep and had not even noticed my entrance. Why would someone like me be inside a creature’s home? I realized he must have been kidnapped, trapped against his will! I rushed to his side and prodded him awake with my paw. “I’m here to rescue you,” I said earnestly. “Wake up!”
Lazily opening his eyes, he did nothing but look at me and yawn. Completely unfazed by my words, he simply rolled over and went back to sleep.
“Hello? Do you not understand? I am here to save you!” I tried again.
He finally lifted his head towards me, annoyed. “Son, I don’t need your help. I just need my sleep. Now move, you’re blocking the sun.”
“What? Why are you sleeping here when the creatures could kill you at any moment?”
“You mean the humans?” he asked, fully awake now. “Oh, humans are friends! They take care of us cats.”
Cats, I repeated to myself, pleased that part of my identity was finally determined.
“I’m Oscar,” he continued. “Don’t worry, I’ve lived with humans my whole life. Anyway, who are you?”
“I don’t know,” I said honestly. “I woke up a few days ago in a cave all alone. I can’t remember anything before that.”
“Maybe a good meal will bring you back to your senses. Trust me,” he added, glancing at his bulging belly, “the food here is great.”
Oscar brought me to an overflowing mound of brown pellets and motioned for me to eat. I immediately dug in and savored each delicious mouthful as he continued to talk.
“You know, I lost my memory once too. It was a long time ago, back when the humans removed my claws. They put me to sleep during the procedure. Don’t remember a thing.”
The food almost fell out of my mouth. I was appalled. For these humans to take away a cat’s most important defense mechanism was just cruel! How could anyone live with such monsters?
But Oscar didn’t seem to care. “Small price to pay for the life I live,” he shrugged.
While Oscar was nice enough, I was disgusted by his fat, lazy life of domestication and felt very out of place in this human world. As soon as he dozed off, I slipped out of the dwelling and returned to the forest. I was about to go back to the cave when I suddenly caught another strong familiar whiff of feline and could sense multiple other cats in proximity. I sighed, expecting to meet more privileged human-lovers, but was instead knocked to the ground by a flurry of fur, teeth, and claws. When I finally regained focus, I found myself staring into a pair of hostile yellow eyes.
“How dare you intrude our territory?” my attacker growled, pressing his paw deep into my chest and forcing the air from my lungs. This cat definitely had claws and I suddenly wished I was back with Oscar.
“I-I mean no harm,” I managed to squeak out.
His lip curled and I braced myself for another brutal blow when a strong female voice suddenly interrupted.
“What is going on here?” she demanded. As she made her way through the crowd, the surrounding cats cowered beneath her presence and bowed their heads in shame. The weight was immediately lifted from my chest and I quickly sat up.
She dipped her head towards me in respect. “My apologies,” she said gently as her warm amber eyes studied my face. “My name is Cleo. Are you lost?”
“I was abandoned in the forest,” I said shyly. “I don’t really know where I am.”
“He’s lying! He reeks of human!” my attacker cried indignantly, but was immediately silenced by an icy glare from Cleo.
“I just went to steal their food,” I shot back, trying to sound tough.
Cleo turned back to me, her eyes sparkling. “Well then you’d fit right in with us!” she purred. “Stealing from humans is our most important food source. Why don’t you stay with us for a while? Our tribe would be delighted to have you.”
I didn’t have anywhere else to go so I accepted her offer and followed the group to a small clearing in the forest. Cats of all shapes and sizes prowled the area, staring at me with wary eyes. After Cleo’s announcement of my arrival they treated me like royalty, helping me make a comfortable moss bed and serving me the freshest pieces of meat. However, the minute Cleo left the vicinity, they immediately distanced themselves and began whispering and sneering behind my back.
As night fell, the other cats curled up together in the warmth of their den while I was secluded to the cold outer edge. I tucked my nose under my tail, feeling a pang of sadness from the isolation I endured all day. I had been alone in the cave, alone in the human world, and now alone in this tribe. Yet somehow, surrounded by dozens of other cats just like me, I felt more alone now than ever.
To my disappointment, the next few days only got worse. The cat community continued to shun me despite my countless efforts to be friendly. The mothers hid their kittens from me and even the older cats seemed horrified by my presence. Only when Cleo was watching did I get any attention but it was nothing but fake, forced conversation.
I decided I would rather be completely alone than unwanted. I was on my way to inform Cleo of my departure when a small calico suddenly approached me.
“Hi. I’m Luna.”
I barely looked up. “Cleo’s not here,” I said flatly. “You don’t have to pretend to be nice.”
To my surprise, Luna stayed put. She gave a nonchalant shrug and simply said, “I heard you were a pretty good at stealing human food. We should go hunting sometime.” Then she lowered her voice and whispered, “Everyone’s just scared of you because you’re the first outsider to live with us. Don’t worry, they’ll come around.”
She turned and trotted back to her friends, leaving me with a glimmer of hope. Although she hadn’t said much, it was everything I needed. This small act of kindness was enough to revive my happiness and prevent me from giving up. For the first time that I could remember, I did not feel alone anymore.