I am a bobcat. Names are a purely human tradition and so I do not have one. For the sake of convenience, however, you may refer to me as "Boxcat" for reasons which I shall soon make clear.

My life so far has been a typical one for a member of my specie- sorry? You'd like to know that now? Oh, very well. Humans are, after all, impatient and restless as a rule.

I have suggested "Boxcat" for the simple reason that I am in a box, and a sturdy one at that. The human who forced me in here was wearing a black hat, if that is of any significance, and gave his reason thus: to "make the world a weirder place."

Now how about that? The world is already a vast mystery inhabited (or perhaps infested) by a species that has done everything in its power to shrink it, and this Black Hat fellow wants to return some weirdness to it.

...By stuffing me into a box and shipping said box to someone expecting - well I don't know what precisely, but certainly not an irate bobcat.

There. That should satisfy your fidgety curiosity. Now, back to my life story!

Ahem.


For my noble species it is common to be born with siblings, and I too came into this world with a brother and two sisters. Our mother was a fine hunter with claws of exquisite sharpness and a coat of the most admirable camouflage. What she couldn't pass on to us through birth she bequeathed through education, and I believe the four of us became second only to her as hunters of small fleet-footed prey. We stayed with her through the winter, to take advantage of our warmth through togetherness, knowing we would need to leave to find our own territories after the snows.

Earlier this year I left our den - the second to do so, being neither adventurous nor particularly cautious - and staked out a territory of my own. Our mother encouraged us to travel far and explore for unclaimed land full of prey, which I believe I had done.

Humans, it turns out, are astonishingly bad at cleaning up after themselves or adequately managing the prey animals attracted to their negligence; their inadequacy, however, is my noble species' feast. Our mother cautioned us to be careful, to not overindulge our cleverness. But we were raised far within the wilderness, far away from humans and their temptations - she could only tell us about them, instead of demonstrating to us the necessary adroitness with which to manage our presence around theirs. My current adventure is my own fault, the result of trusting my lived experience over her wisdom.

...But even I'm not dumb enough to just get captured so easily. I'm definitely not so numb to my sense of caution that a human - clamorous, vivid, pointlessly over-scented creatures you insist on being - could catch or trap me. I assure you that, under ordinary circumstances: if you can see me, with your glazed, domesticated eyes, it's because I want you to see my handsome self.

(Alternately, it's because we find you humans so perplexing as to be temporarily stupefied by your existence. With that said, my younger sister knows no fear and loves only family and challenges, so she would likely be sizing up the prime cuts of your form instead - I advise backing away slowly from her, should you be so unlucky as to meet her.)

I'd seen the 'black hat' a few times, picked up his scent too, and was certain he hadn't seen me. What most likely happened was, he found my footprints or some other clue to my presence. He may have even worked out that some unseen hunter of great skill had been depleting the local prey population, and I give him this credit based on the actions he took.

I first became aware of his desire to capture me when I found a well-treated cut of cattle flank on my hunting route. As I don't particularly like beef and couldn't recall killing it myself, it was easy to ignore in its capacity as bait and, consequently, far too obvious as a trap. But that wasn't what it was. The 'black hat' hadn't left bait; he'd left an offering.

'Bait' is easy to come by; it's the barest minimum level of enticement necessary to convince a thinking creature to ignore warning signs. It is an attempt by cleverness to circumvent or neutralize cleverness. A local rabbit that had died of natural causes would be appropriate bait in this situation, to get me to stop and possibly further distract me while I ate an unexpected meal. It would be civil in a way our mother told us humans no longer thought about, and would probably have ended my short existence. The 'black hat' hadn't done that; instead, he'd demonstrated respect. He was attempting to invite me into his trap through what he considered an excellent meal.

This was… interesting. Puzzling, yet interesting.

I decided to play his game out of curiosity. That was my primary mistake: the game was his, and on his terms besides. I can look back and say that my current situation in an uncomfortable cardboard box (that's what you humans call it, I believe) began with that error.

I left my route and hid, until a young fox came along and ignored faint signs of my presence to excitedly devour an unexpected meal. The fox had only finished it halfway before it couldn't eat any more and, unusually, fell asleep where it stood. Feeling pity for the fox and its bellyful of human trickery, I dragged it off into the bushes and made sure to leave some of my scent as a warning; it would get the message when it woke up. The deceit-filled meat I carefully carried to and dropped in a nearby stream, in the hopes that the water would dilute whatever the 'black hat' had added to it.

The 'black hat' may or may not have figured out how his opening gambit had played out; I never went back to check on that meat, nor saw the young fox again - as prey or otherwise. Regardless, as the game expanded, he never bothered me with meat again. For the rest of the season I found little trinkets on or near my route, some of which smelled more strongly of him (and, I believe, a second female human) than others, which he'd obviously used what I now know to be human cleansing materials on to make identification difficult.

Other animals had begun to take notice of the 'black hat' and his forays into my territory. An owl I had recently become friendly with over shared tastes in food noted that she'd seen him openly walking around near my route - but never too near it, nor at the times when I was out hunting. She'd spent time among, or at least above, humans long enough that she'd gotten comfortable with names, and liked to be called Purdue for some reason. "And he's not out hunting for prey?" I asked her.

"Nooo," she replied in that urban accent of hers. "I think he's just exploring, or somethin'. Humans're like that, y'know? They like to go out and walk around, just to leave their dens I think." She shrugged.

Her shrugging was just as likely to be the last thing prey turned and suddenly saw before becoming food, as it was an expression of bemusement, so I subtly checked for any just to be sure. Finding none, I continued: "Well then, I can only wonder what he is doing in our territory. Have you seen the small items he leaves behind?"

"I don't think so, nooo," Purdue replied. "Wait, hold up, how can you tell the black hat left them- oh! Is it because you can 'smell' him?" she chuckled. I'd explained how scents worked to her a few times before, as she lacked that sense herself. She seemed to think it was an unconvincing hoax or tall tale, an in-joke among the landwalkers, and was content to 'play along' with it. "Show me one tho'."

I nudged my head towards one of the items fixed to the lower trunk of a nearby tree. It was a square device of solid material with a clear round 'eye' in the corner, encased in a transparent box that was attached to the tree. "Even if it hadn't smelled of Human, it's new and unusual and no other creature could have anything to do with it. I assume the 'black hat' left it through process of elimination."

She hopped down and took a closer look. (I'd had Bird for meals before, the feathers always got caught in my teeth, so I don't eat them.) "Hey yeah, I've seen one of these before. I've seen lots of these before. It's definitely Human!"

"Then, what is it exactly?" I asked.

"It's called a GoPro. And, they use it to watch stuff." She nodded, satisfied with her knowledge, and silently flapped back up to her branch. "Nooo idea how to use one, tho'. They usually wear 'em instead of putting 'em on trees. Huh! Why's one all the way out here?" She turned her head quizzically.

This of course meant nothing to me, at first. With some judicious application of curiosity, I was able to eventually wheedle further information about them from her. Apparently 'Gow-Proes' acted as extra eyes somehow, to compensate for the weakness of human senses.

I saw them everywhere after that. And when I saw them, I changed my route to avoid being seen by them. This, in hindsight, might have been an attempt by the 'black hat' to manipulate my schedule, and I should have been more wary.

As it turned out though, it wasn't the 'black hat' I needed to worry about. He had a friend, one whom I only became aware of when he suddenly appeared right behind me on my way back to my den, with that expression humans call 'a smile' on his face.

Note that I didn't say "he was smiling" but that he had a smile on his face. Humans have a covering for their face called a 'mask', I believe, which they wear for various purposes nefarious and otherwise social. This human was not wearing a mask, but a smile.

Also a hat that looked like the top of an acorn. It seemed to serve no purpose other than covering his head.

"Hi! You can call me Behray'gai!" he said to me, when he saw that I could see him.

I was so surprised that I couldn't work up the sympathetic nervous system response I would usually have in that situation. Or, now that I've had time to think about it - Behray'gai might have externally suppressed it through some means fantastic and beyond mortal understanding. All I could do was introduce myself and ask him what his business was with me.

"Oh no no, I'm just here to say hi today!" he replied. "My friend thinks you know him? Wears a black hat?" He motioned around his head with hands that seemed to be his, feeling a hat that wasn't there. "He wants me to capture you, so I thought I'd just let you know."

I thanked him for the - I think it was supposed to be a warning? And then he left. He didn't walk away, he left and while I was looking right at him at that. Now, I have to stress that, while he looked Human, he sounded Human, and he smelled Human (like fermentation and also grains, in fact), but that encounter ended with my feeling like I'd met something rather more infinite.

A short while later I met with Purdue, who informed me she'd been in the area and had even seen me talking with him. Confirmation that Behray'gai wasn't just a waking dream or a hallucination was helpful, but then she added: "Yah, I could hear you just fine, 'cause the Beret Guy didn't say anything."

I did not sleep well after that. Worse, I next woke up in a human den that smelled very much of the 'black hat'. Behray'gai was nowhere to be seen, but I woke up in a little bed made of sheep fur that smelled of fermentation and also grains.

Then, seeing that I was awake, the 'black hat' shoved me into a box. Not the box I'm currently in; that was four boxes ago. What happens is this: I will end up at another human den, the human will open the box I'm in expecting something that isn't 'Boxcat', I'll run amuck for a short while and try to escape…

And then Behray'gai will find me and take me home to my territory, using something that he calls 'fast travel'. I don't know what he does, but one moment I'll be somewhere unfamiliar, and the next I'll be back in my territory unscathed - and he'll be waving goodbye at me.

I'm getting to know Behray'gai a little better with each trip, and his presence no longer worries me - though this reaction itself worries me greatly. It seems Black Hat's specific means of making the world a weirder place is to ship me somewhere in one out of every thirty boxes he ships, with the surprise on the part of the receiver becoming an oddly accepted form of criticism of a social network-based means of trading materials.

The only thing I want to know, after all this: why not just send Behray'gai instead?!

[OH, BECAUSE THAT'S AGAINST SHIPPING RULES - B.G.]