Tesla was a pretty kick-butt kinda cat. He lived under a trailer. He had an endless supply of trash. He only really had to fight off the other cats. The raccoons, on the other hand? Yeah. Those were a different matter all together. You didn’t mess with a raccoon. Especially, if he was in the garbage bin snacking on some thrown-out chicken scraps.
He had a routine. It worked out well for him. Basically, it all came down to not dying through starvation or cold or someone else’s claws.
The trailer he lived under had a lot of humans. They were noisy, too. They didn’t stay the night like a lot of the other humans in the trailer park, but when they were there during the day, they actually helped make his sleeping space safer. He often slept more during the day than at night because the other cats didn’t like going near their trailer.
Several of the male humans threatened Tesla, yelling at him when he crept out from under the trailer, or boarding up the holes so he couldn’t get in again.
But one human–a woman–offered him food.
Well, she offered all the cats food, and if he was really, really lucky, he would get some of it.
He wasn’t sure because he didn’t speak human and they were terrible at communicating without words, but it seemed like she actually knew he existed. Sometimes, she’d wait outside the hole to his sleeping space with the bowl of food next to her. He thought maybe she waited for him, but his instincts told him to hide from her. Also, the other cats warned him against humans. Not that they were really looking out for him. They weren’t. They were mostly making fun of the fact that he was still alive because that particular human had seemed to take notice of him.
Yeah. He was thankful for the food when she brought it, but he could take care of himself. Thank you very much.
As the nights grew longer and colder, and as the days grew shorter, and as the food grew scarcer, Tesla found it harder and harder to survive. The other cats did, too. Each day, one or two or, sometimes, more would be missing as they all scrounged around for food.
The older cats were a lot tougher than Tesla and better able to fight for scraps. They would mock him for not having a Momma Kitty, knowing that even she had abandoned him. And when their words didn’t bring the result they’d been looking for, their teeth and claws did.
Tesla worked each day to sharpen his teeth and his claws and his reflexes, but as the food supply dwindled with the older cats maintaining the lion share of it, his reflexes grew slower, his coat grew shaggier, and his teeth grew soft in the mouth.
After surviving the coldest night of season, shivering, alone, huddling in the dirt, cuddling close to the human’s purr unit, he fell asleep.
He didn’t wake up when a human invaded his sleeping space under the trailer until his hands were wrapped around Tesla’s mid-section, dragging him out.
Not that Tesla had a lot of energy to fight back. He didn’t. He did have his claws and he used them, but the human’s funny-smelling, removable hands were too thick, and Tesla’s claws didn’t penetrate.
The man put him in a box, and then took him inside the trailer with the humans. Tesla could hear them speak, but couldn’t understand anything they said. Fear ran through him, but he was so bone-chillingly cold, and so desperately hungry that even the fear powering through him did little to help his cause.
The box moved. A human carried it. Tesla didn’t know where they were going. Was he being taken to one of the great moving boxes with the black crushing wheels? Would he disappear like so many of the other cats had, entire litters at a time?
The box stopped moving finally, and the lid rose. A single human face peeked through.
The human woman who stood guard at his hole.
He wanted to run. He wanted to claw at her face, to get out of there as soon as possible. All he needed was to get back to his sleeping space, curl up against the human’s purr unit. All he needed was to find a scrap of food, maybe some of the stuff the woman brought occasionally.
She lifted him out of the box and tucked him tight to her, wrapping her arms around him.
The mottle-colored alley cat had wrapped his arms around Tesla one time and hand shredded him pretty bad. Over a chicken bone.
Tesla growled low in his throat, releasing his claws into her arm.
She pressed his nose into her cheek and met his growl with one of her own.
A human that growled.
She brought her strange legs up, wrapping him in warmth, but kept her hands firm around him. Firm, but not hard. He could still breathe. He could break free if he wanted to.
The shivers died away. The warmth she offered finally started to seep through his mangy grey coat.
The growls and other sounds she issued softly in his ear comforted him in a way he’d never experienced before.
The feel of her teeth as she gently bit his ear after he’d attacked her face. Gentle biting. Foreign.
Without releasing him, she shoved something inside his mouth. He had no idea what it was. The thing tasted like a dirt encrusted butt.
Milk poured from it.
Warmth. Food. Kindness.
Tesla didn’t know what to do with those three things. He wanted them, but was scared of them at the same time.
But this woman, this human woman, refused to let him go. She raised her head and spoke empty human words to the other humans that came in, but she never let him go. She made sure he had enough to eat, and then, when he’d stopped shivering, she wrapped him in a blanket warmer than the purr unit. And it didn’t smell like dirt.
It smelled like…her.
He didn’t know when she would throw him out to the cold again. He knew it would happen one day. Humans didn’t keep cats. Not really, anyway. At least, he hadn’t met a cat a human kept.
But for that moment, that one day, his belly full, his limbs warm, he’d stay.
Just for a little while.
Just for a little while.