for the QLFC, Season 6, Round 4:

prompts —

CHASER 2: Write from a pet's perspective about their everyday life.

(action) running;

(sound) bark or mew;

(restriction) no names

thank you to my loves audrey and sienna for betaing!

wc (barred a/n): 1722

. . .

Cats don't speak human language. They understand mews, which are a language of their own, but the human languages? Those are mysteries. That makes it wildly inconvenient to be a domesticated cat.

What is she supposed to know now, among these strange humans? What are they saying about her? All she can hear are little jabbering sounds, a steady stream of crowing, in vastly different tones; some have deep voices and others have feathery, light ones; some are gruff, others are soft — now what is she supposed to even make of all that?

And they're so large, at that. Tall, upright like trees, standing on their two legs, straight, proud.

She doesn't know how she's supposed to understand him. And the bad part about not being able to understand him is the fact that he gets angry when she can't.

Try as she might, she can't decipher the words coming out of his mouth, the expression on his heavy-set face of stone and his ratty dust-colored hair. She doesn't like his eyes, either, shot through with the yellows of drink and old age.

He's tried to beat her into understanding him. Understanding his language. But she just can't, because she wasn't made to understand the tongue he speaks in. She was made for mews, for fur instead of hair, for paws instead of hands, for cats instead of people. He doesn't seem to understand that.

All she can do, really, is hope.

. . .

She doesn't know why she has to prowl the hallways at night, but he gets mad if she wants to stay in. He also gets mad if she catches a human outside and doesn't mew out in response, so that's what she has to do.

The humans he wants her to catch are small — smaller than him, at least — so they're probably children. And yet, she's scared of what they are because they're still so large. How does one creature come to be that big?

There's one of them, with black hair and green eyes framed by some circular contraptions, walking around the halls, shifty and always muttering to either a redheaded boy or a bushy-haired girl who mostly just sniffs at her male companions.

There's another with blond hair, a sneer, and two lumbering boys behind him that look and act more or less the same. The group led by the blond snarks at the group with the black-haired boy, and they're always fighting. She turns her nose up when they do — she has better things to do than watch them.

Her dusty-haired master doesn't like the black-haired boy, that much she can tell. His boss is a stern lady with a pointy black thing on her head, constantly shaking her head at him.

He gives her a significant amount of trouble about the black-haired boy. Always muttering in his tongue and looking at him, sneering, perhaps miffed that she can't always catch him.

Sometimes she can see the boy's shoes but not the rest of him. It's a little confusing, but she knows them to be the boy's shoes because they're scuffed things, of poor quality, and most of the students at this school wear shoes that are neater.

She'd like to catch the rest of him so she can show him to the dusty-haired human. But it's never more than his shoes for her.

. . .

The night is silent. Metal effigies of humans with different face structures from the ones she sees normally peek out at her, gleaming in the absence of light. She doesn't know what they are, doesn't care either — they're humans and that's that. They don't move or speak or expect her to understand their gibberish, which is why she likes them best of all.

She roams the halls, hoping to find something to end her boredom. It's always too quiet here. No one's around, and the only entertainment comes from catching mice — mice that can't usually be found. The humans do things with sticks protruding from their arms that make the mice scurry away. She watches those proceedings with distaste.

The small humans don't like her. Maybe, to some extent, they fear her.

All she wants is for the loneliness to stop. There isn't much companionship with her master, and there's no one else around that likes her.

It's so tedious. She needs something to make the boredom end.

And yet, they fear her too much. They take too many precautions.

She wonders why she's doing this, every day, every night. She can't answer herself honestly.

So she runs — she keeps running and running and running across the halls, running until she's too tired to run anymore, away from the boredom and the humans and the effigies. She tries to run out of the castle whose halls have become her prison, but she can't leave.

So she keeps running and pretends it's enough.

. . .

The castle where she lives gets more unsettled every year. One year she'd been frozen, another year there were these black, feathery creatures everywhere, there was one year with dragons and then a dead body, and then there was pink.

There was a woman who wore pink and had little cat plates in her office. She smelled faintly of cats, too. But the woman wasn't nice, always wrinkling her nose down to look at her.

There was one year where a girl went flying into the sky. She saw it from a distance, but the humans were all a little subdued for a few weeks after that, and her master wasn't as cruel. He seemed occupied, absentminded.

Now the kind old man with the beard is gone to be replaced with the man with the hook nose, and there are two new humans with smirking faces and a disdain for her.

And the little black-haired boy with the circles on his eyes is gone, too. She can't even find his redheaded companion, nor the girl with the upturned nose who'd sniffed at the two of them.

She can hear screams as she passes by the classrooms. And some of the small humans disappear halfway through the year — they've never done that before.

She doesn't butt in, though. She doesn't like the two large humans. And if they're torturing fellow humans — well, what would they be willing to do to a small cat like her?

She runs a lot more at nights now. She pretends she's running from the cruel humans, out of the walls that confine her, away from the sticks and the screams.

There's graffiti on the walls, written in that odd human language. She sees the paint and colors and words, can't decipher them, and runs away. But when she checks for it later, it's always gone.

. . .

At the end of the ugly year with the ugly, large humans, the black-haired boy returns. He brings his companions and a large amount of the disappeared small humans with him.

And somehow, there ends up being a fight. A lot of it is gibberish and she can't understand the motivations behind it, and she's on the opposite side of the castle when the fighting breaks out, so she doesn't know how it started either.

She hates not knowing, but she's gotten used to it.

The two cruel humans who made the smaller humans in the rooms scream have sided with the people in black cloaks, wearing masks. She decides she'll fight that side.

She claws at the masked figures, and they're taken by some sort of surprise, at the very least. She reckons a few smaller humans were saved by her interference, so it must be worth it.

There are lots of sticks protruding from every which way, random gibberish sounding from every direction, and so much light from so many places that there might just be a rainbow over the castle.

. . .

In the end, the black-haired boy wins. She doesn't know how he won or what he did to win but there was a very pale man showing off his supposedly dead body, and then he'd sprung up and talked his gibberish, and somehow the pale man was dead.

Why was there so much power in their gibberish? What did they say, anyway? Their words had caused so much death, bloodshed, and carnage. There are lots of dead humans after the pale man dies; everyone just about collapses from some measure of exhaustion, grief, or both.

They're strange, these humans. Even her dusty-haired master seems sadder. He drinks more, gets angrier, shouts in more of his language that she can't understand —

Until finally, he gives out. She doesn't know how long it's been since the fighting ended, but after that day he just hadn't been able to go on. It's for the best. Maybe now no one will make her prowl the hallways, maybe now she won't be bored all the time, maybe now she won't have to watch the small, sad humans and their large, sad companions.

And she runs. She runs right through the halls and she thinks she could do it now, she could leave this place — but then there's a woman standing in front of her, blocking her escape.

It's the man's boss, the woman with the severe face and the black, pointy fabric covering her head. The woman looks at her with an expression very unlike her usual one, something soft, perhaps piteous. The human turns her head to one side, regarding the cat in front of her. This woman is larger than life, larger than anything. She doesn't know how humans can stand it, being so large all the time. It must be an odd thing.

The lady with the pointy fabric on her head keeps looking at her. A few moments pass like that, both parties staring at each other, at a stalemate.

And then — the woman is a cat. She doesn't know how exactly it happened. But one moment the lady was a human and the next, she wasn't.

She looks like a grumpy cat, and her fur is the same brown color as her hair used to be, though there are some black and white spots mottled into it.

The woman lets out a mew — the sound she's been yearning to hear for years.

Finally, finally, she understands.