'The Cats’ New Humans' by Daisy Janes

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21 April 2020
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Adults and over 13's short story competition entry.

“So they dumped both cats on us? Without any warning?”

“Well, there was some warning. Oliver called when they set out. Honestly they didn’t really have a choice. Sally’s friend, the one who said she would cat-sit, let them down.”

High-fence-walker sniffed Lies-in-wait’s face, secretly relieved they’d finally been reunited after a cramped journey in those carriers that usually transported them to the nasty V-E-T. Instead they’d been unceremoniously left with some different humans – a marginally better fate.

Lies-in-wait went exploring, but soon returned with the exciting news that this house had fur-on-legs under the floor, so at least they were sorted for entertainment. She then rubbed heads with High-fence-walker to communicate that she had not found a litter tray, but there was a handy spot near the back door.

In the background, the human voices went up a register.

“So that makes it our problem? For the whole three weeks they’re out of the country?”

“There was no alternative. Oliver rang round all the catteries he could find, but they were full.”

“I’m sure the cats could have fended for themselves…”

High-fence-walker looked up. He did not like that human – there might be a need for some corrective action before too long. He decided to find somewhere to sharpen his claws.

“Brian, how could you say such a thing? Imagine if Emily and Aurora heard you? You know how devoted your granddaughters are to Puddle and Prune.”

“I know they love their cats, but face facts, Claire, see how they lost interest as soon as their furry friends got in the way of a good holiday.”

“Well, they’re here now. You sort out the litter trays, and I’ll see what food they left us… It’s probably their supper time around now.”

Lies-in-wait looked up, she was almost sure that the human with the longer fur had mentioned a good word. Perhaps she would be fed if she rubbed herself against some ankles? Humans seemed to like that, and it had the extra benefit of claiming them with her scent as well.

Claire made for the kitchen, noting an unpleasant smell over near the back door. She thought it best not to mention that to Brian at the moment.

“Excellent, a whole box of cat food!” Claire called out to Brian. However, once she’d picked up the box she found it to be considerably lighter than expected. She found a note from Oliver in the box: “Sorry about the meagre supplies. All we have. You MUST buy the same sachets, otherwise Prune won’t eat and Puddle will get the runs.” Ho-hum.

Finding some old bowls at the back of the cupboard, Claire tore open two of the sachets and called out: “Here you go. Puddle! Prune!”

Lies-in-wait was slightly annoyed that no humans seemed capable of using their proper names, but she was willing to forgive them as long as the food was of an acceptable standard.

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Lies-in-wait tucked in, only pausing for a moment to touch noses when High-fence-walker arrived, just to let him know that she had already claimed the best human.

High-fence-walker bristled, annoyed that he’d been delayed – he’d had trouble disengaging one of his sharper claws from the side of the sofa – and displeased with the colour of the bowl he’d been left with.

“You know what will happen,” said Brian, having put the litter trays in the downstairs bathroom. “Something awful will befall one or both of them and we will never be forgiven.”

“Well,” said Claire. “That’s why we’ll be very careful not to let them out in case they get lost trying to find their way home, or worse…”

Brian looked really fed up. Claire put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “I know it’s not ideal and I’m not ecstatic about the situation myself, but remember, we’ve brought up four kids. How difficult can two small cats be?”

Lies-in-wait had finished her food, but no one seemed interested in opening the back door, so she wandered off into the sitting room. Staring up at the top of the windows in the darkening room, she noticed, high up, an open fanlight and right next to it a bookcase that might make a good ladder. A moment later High-fence-walker joined her. They sat in silent communication looking up at the window and then, in unison, sprang up, leaping from settee to table, to bookcase to window.

High-fence-walker slipped and sent a sheaf of old A4 manuscripts cascading off the bookshelf (Lies-in-wait had her own secret name for him, ‘Falls-off-more-than-he-should’, but she kept this to herself).

Brian and Claire were startled by a crash in the sitting room.

“Oh no, my best vase,” cried Claire as she took in the broken shards and scattered papers on the carpet. Then she spotted the end of a cat’s tail exiting the fanlight. Did Oliver say it was Puddle who had the white tip, or was it Prune?

“Oh, blast!” said Brian, dashing out of the back door.

“Oh, double blast!” said Claire following him into the garden.

In a flash they’d escaped into a whole new environment. Lush grass to creep through, paths to slink along, flower beds to hunt in, fences and trees to scale. Maybe they could even find some better humans.

As they stalked through their new domain, High-fence-walker and Lies-in-wait could hear plaintive cries in the distance.

“Puddle! Prune! Prune! Puddle!” A pause. “Here, Puss-puss-puss.”

Lies-in-wait thought maybe they should go back to see what the humans were making a fuss about, but High-fence-walker pointed out there was no reason to go back until they wanted to eat or sleep. Plus they had lots of exploring, prowling and territory marking to do before they needed to return for either – he was sure that the humans would still be waiting for them, probably still making their silly noises too.

The thing with humans was that you had to train them right.