A small black-and-white tomcat padded through unfamiliar forest, confused and lost. His wide, black-padded white paws barely touched the leaf mold as he proceeded. Hearing a squeak, he turned instinctively. His tongue ran over his lips in one slow, fluid movement, soothing the dry skin.

His dark amber eyes fixed on a small bundle of gray fur. It twitched as if eating. Pricking his ears, he could tell it was munching on a seed. The tomcat fell into a crouch. He stepped forward with the slightest of pawsteps, and then pounced. Clumsily, his hind paw hit a stone, and he fell, legs outstretched in front and behind him. His tail dropped between his hind legs just as the mouse stood up and ran away.

"Ouch," he murmured, standing. His pain was dulled by the fact he'd missed an easy piece of prey. But then his tail flicked. He could hear an annoying rattling noise…

Smudge awoke, blinking. A scratchy blanket, not nearly as soft as his own pelt, lay over his body. The sun felt good on his fur as he slipped out of his bed and walked across the linoleum. His claws clicked while he moved to his food bowl. Silently giving gratitude to his housefolk for putting little bits of tuna in his food like he liked, and giving him milk with breakfast, he began to eat.

Surprisingly, it wasn't as tasty as it usually was, and as he lapped up the cool milk, he thought it was smelly compared to the fresh scents of mouse in his dream. Smudge wrinkled his nose. A housefolk kit came up and held him in her arms, cooing in a strange language he couldn't understand. He purred, then struggled free.

Smudge padded out to the garden. He shivered at the cold dew on his paws and shook it from them as he moved around rosebushes. Giving a long stretch in the grass, he hopped up onto his fence and called out, "Rusty!"

The fluffy orange tomcat appeared from behind a tree, his claws still unsheathed. He'd been sharpening them on the bark. "Hi, Smudge," he meowed, clawing his way up the fence so he could face his friend. "Where were you last night? I must have woken up all the cats in the whole forest."

Smudge chuckled. "I was sleeping," he meowed, "unlike some cats." His glance to the woods must have been more noticeable than wanted, because a look of pure confusion crossed Rusty's face.

"Are you actually thinking about going in there?" the ginger tom gasped. "There are horrible wildcats in there that eat real rabbits and sharpen their claws on the bones of dead cats!" Rusty's eyes were wide with fear. Smudge stared into the green depths, and saw his own amber ones roll in a skeptical way.

"Yeah," he answered. "And you're going to tell me hedgehogs fly, too, aren't you?" Rusty looked insulted, now. He huffed and turned away. Just before he jumped, the tomcat twisted around his head and said his final words: "Well, don't blame me if you get torn to shreds!" Then he flounced away and padded into his house.

Smudge shrugged. "He never was very much fun anyway," he decided, and flung himself off his fence. The grass felt coarse and dirty. Many cat-scents mingled together, causing a horrible clash of reek. He wrinkled his black nose.

A warm, lovely aroma flooded his nostrils; one from his dreams. He licked his lips. Mouse! Slowly he slunk forward, seeing the small creature flinch and twitch before him. Smudge's paws barely touched the earth, but, just as he pounced, a heavy lump smashed into him. "Hey! What are you doing here?"


GACK! SHORT! It shall be the death of me.