Author's Note: Nearly a year ago, fanfictiondotnet lost one of its best authors, Terry McElrath. Terry loved cats, so in honor of her I've written a story about the only cat I can ever remember seeing in Rurouni Kenshin, the one in episode three. So here's a bit of episode three from a cat's eye view.
Kamiya Dojo 1878
The cat yawned and stretched, enjoying the warmth of the sun on his belly as he extended his paws and rolled his back first this way and then that in the patch of dusty ground he'd claimed as his own. He surveyed the humans' buildings as he lounged, raising his head for a quick look around. The walls kept out dogs and cruel children. There were nice dark cool places under the planks that surrounded the dwellings, places that were perfect for retreating when things got scary or the day's heat became oppressive.
The humans who lived inside the walls were all right. The female with the long swishy black hair like a horse's tail was a bit loud, as was the smaller male that yelled at her a lot, but they were loud only to each other, never to the cat. When their fights became too clamorous to ignore, the cat simply vaulted over the wall and prowled the streets.
The streets, however, required constant wariness. There was no lounging in a comfortable patch of sun or exposing his belly out there. Here was better. Here was where the tall lean human with dark hair that stood up all over like a rooster's coxcomb would visit bearing gifts of fish bones in his mouth. Well, perhaps not gifts exactly, and the bones were usually picked clean by the time the tall one spat them out, but they still smelled of fish, so the cat accepted them as tribute.
The tall one, the cat decided as he lifted a paw and licked delicately between the pads, was his favorite. He had a certain wariness about him that the cat respected. In the spirit of mutual professional admiration, the cat ignored the tall one, and the tall one never stepped on or yelled at the cat.
Yawning, the cat cast its yellow-eyed gaze over the empty yard by the gate.
'Where was the old slow human and the two smaller females?' the cat thought to himself crossly. They had usually arrived by now. The two small female humans knew how to treat the cat. They did not grab or kick. They did not pull whiskers or tails. They simply adored the cat, as all humans should do. The old man always had a smile and a gentle pat for the cat, but it wasn't the same as the worship given by the two younger females.
Abruptly the cat pulled himself to his paws and stood attentively. A dog was barking outside the walls. The cat gathered himself, and then darted across the yard, jumping to the top of the shed and from there to the wall. Balancing easily on the tiles which crowned the man-made barrier, the cat lowered his center of gravity and slunk along it until he saw the source of the commotion.
A large, brown, stupid looking dog was barking its disapproval of the humans passing by. It was the older human and the two small females. As they passed by the dog's gate, the dog's cries raised to near-hysterical pitch.
The cat winced and hunched down lower, gluing his belly to the tiles. His ears momentarily flattened against his skull at an especially loud bark. Dogs had no sense of subtlety or timing. Annoyance was best expressed with a lightning swipe of the claws, or a quick chomp of the teeth on an unsuspecting hand. Hissing was permissible too, but only as a warning, and in extreme cases a growl could speak volumes.
But barking? As far at the cat could tell, barking was just a lot of pointless noise.
The disturbance was no longer worth the cat's interest. He had better things to do than listen to a stupid dog. Launching himself off the wall, he alighted on a nearby tree branch. Slowing his pace to a saunter, he made his way down the branch to the trunk and hunkered down to wait.
He knew where the humans were now, and that they were headed his way so he narrowed his eyes and stared at the opening in the wall where humans entered. Sometimes if the cat stared hard and long enough, whatever he expected to happen where he was staring, happened. Staring was one of the many things the cat was exceptionally good at.
The red headed human came out of the main house to greet the others as they passed through the opening in the wall. Usually it was the loud, smelly girl who did that, but she was inside the long narrow building with the noisy boy. Really, those two were a lot like dogs, wrangling all the time.
The cat narrowed his eyes at the red haired one and considered his opponent. He was the enemy of the cat, and thwarted the cat's attempts to snag food at every turn. In short, the red haired human was the guardian of that magical room known as 'Kitchen'.
The conversation ended and the older human left, leaving his two kittens behind, for such they must be. They smelled similar to him, and he collected them at the end of each visit.
The two young females clung to either hand of the red haired one. The cat noticed that the man stooped a little to reach their hands. He walked slowly too, compensating for the younger ones' smaller steps. An idea formed in the cat's brain.
Was he...? Yes, he was. The red haired one walked a path that would take him right under the cat's tree. By his calculations, that glorious mass of scarlet, bound up by a string that bobbed tantalizingly with each step, would be right within the cat's grasp.
He tensed, watching, listening, every fiber of his being focused on one goal and one goal alone.
His paw struck like lightening, flashing out to encounter...nothing. Nothing but air as the red mass with its tempting string ducked down at just the right moment to avoid the hit.
The cat's eyes closed to slits. Had the red haired one somehow sensed his intentions? No. The human had merely bent down to speak to the smaller of the two females.
The cat did not like being frustrated.
Changing moods abruptly, the cat decided that he didn't care one jot what the humans were up to and instead climbed higher in the tree, causing a pack of sparrows to flee in terror. The cat remained in the tree until the smell of cooking food began wafting its way from the central building.
Pausing on a branch, the cat sat on his haunches and sniffed the air. Rice and salted plums. That was food fit for dogs or humans, not cats. Cats would never deign to eat rice (or tofu for that matter) unless it was mixed with something better. If the cat was starving he supposed he could eat rice, but he wouldn't like it. Not when there were birds and mice and bugs to eat instead.
Growing tired of arboreal explorations, the cat jumped down from the tree and began searching for potential acolytes. It was time to accept the worship of the small female humans.
He found them playing with a ball at the back of the enclosure.
Strolling with majestic unconcern at the ball's arc overhead, the cat made his way between the two females and sat. The larger of the two young ones immediately dropped the ball she'd just caught and rushed over with appropriate swiftness. The youngest one yelled, "Kitty!" and followed close behind.
There were few human words the cat bothered to learn. "Kitchen" was one and "Kitty" was another. The cat knew that the word "Kitty" meant himself.
The larger human girl held out her hand. The cat inspected it briefly, then deemed it worthy of his attention and batted his head against it, rubbing his cheek along her fingers as the other child ran her hand reverently down his back. The worship session progressed to the point where the cat allowed his approval to be expressed in the form of a purr.
He was just getting ready to claim the lap of the smallest female when the red headed human's voice interrupted. The small females scampered off. The cat decided he didn't care and walked over to inspect a fly sitting on a rock. A very entertaining chase ensued. The fly escaped as flies often did, but the cat was content. He curled up in a ball under the planks of the wooden shed and slept.
When next the cat cracked open an eye, the shadows had lengthened and the light was a soft mellow shade of gold. It was late afternoon and the cat knew what that meant. He lifted himself up and stretched, lengthening his muscles and reveling in the feeling of being toned, rested, and ready. Today was the day the cat would make it into the 'Kitchen', and snag a treat.
But not quite yet.
The cat walked nonchalantly across the warm dirt of the yard. Little puffs of dust rose under his paws. He came to the wooden porch and jumped up, wending his way around each of the support posts, stopping to sniff at a few grains of rice that the humans had left behind.
The cat was not interested in rice. He had a far loftier goal in mind.
The smell was unmistakable, a siren's call of deliciousness that beckoned from within the hallowed hall of 'Kitchen'. It was time for stealth.
The last few times the cat had ventured close to that room, he'd snuck in through one of the openings the humans used to get through the walls. Each time the red haired human had shooed him away with a broom.
The cat hated brooms. They were nasty swishy things with prickly straw. Why did humans always insist on shoving them across surfaces where the cat wished to nap undisturbed?
This time the cat would be clever, far cleverer than the human. The cat was always clever. That's what made him so much better than, say, a dog. This time the cat would use, not the long tall opening the humans used to pass into their dwellings, but a smaller opening set higher in the wall.
Staying close to the wall, he ran down the length of the building, paws soundless on the polished wood boards. Rounding the corner, he plastered himself against the wall under the rectangular opening set above him in the wall, and waited for his chance.
Every other one of the thick wooden slats in the rectangular space was open. The cat could clearly hear the red haired one messing about with water and those metal things that humans used to desecrate their food. The open spaces between the stationary wooden slats were just wide enough for the cat to slip through. He knew this because he'd done it before one night when the humans were busy further inside the building.
That's how the cat knew that there was a nice flat surface under the open slats, right next to the small pond-like basin that often had water in it. The cat liked to drink water, but did not fancy landing in it.
Lifting his nose, the cat sniffed delicately at the air coming from the open space above him. He needed more information, and tantalizing whispers of fish scent were coming from the opening. He stood, and placed his front paws on the wall. Stretching his spine, he elongated his body and sniffed again.
There it was, the pungent whiff of a fish fresh caught from the river. Rotting fish smell was different, richer and satisfying in its own way, but not the same as fresh fish smell. He had to have it.
But the red haired human was, as usual, in the way. It seemed that human's goal in life was to prevent the cat from poaching some well-deserved sustenance from the 'Kitchen'. Even now the cat could hear and smell the red haired person very near the fish. He was banging about making totally unnecessary noise, right by the opening the cat needed to get through.
The cat sank back down to his haunches and glared through the wall in the general direction of the human. Glared and waited anyhow, for if there was one thing the cat had learned by hunting birds, it was that patience often paid off in the end.
There was a noise out front by the opening where the old human had left. The cat flicked an ear toward it, identified the noise as that of the old human returning, and flicked his ear back toward his goal. The old one was obviously coming to collect his kittens. That was expected but not interesting. Fish was interesting.
The human inside must've heard the old one returning also, for the sound of his footsteps moved toward that end of the building, away from the fish and toward the noise of the young male human greeting the older one.
Now was his chance, while the red haired human was distracted. Gathering himself, the cat leapt up to the space between two wooden slats, wiggled through, and stood in the opening, balancing for a moment with his tail in the outside world and his head in the heaven known as "Kitchen".
There it was, that lovely silver oblong, scales, fins, and all, practically begging the cat to eat it. Needing no second invitation, the cat pounced, away from the basin area, all four paws landing silently on the flat wood surface where the fish lay. In a flash he chomped, securing his prey in his jaws, teeth piercing the scaly surface and sinking down into the tasty flesh below.
Then came the bellow from the red haired human, spouting that weird jumble of noises humans used to communicate with each other. The cat wasn't human. He neither knew nor cared what the human was saying. He had to escape with his prize.
Twisting, he jumped for the opening, just as the human reached the flat wood surface below it.
But no, the opening, which had been just big enough for the cat to pass through, proved too small for the cat and the fish together. The fish's head and tail ends struck two of the slats on either side of the cat's head, and stopped him from escaping through the opening.
Growling his rage, the cat tensed as the red haired one grabbed him around the middle and plucked him away from his escape route.
The cat knew what the human wanted him to do, he didn't need to know human talk to figure it out, but there was no way the cat was going to relinquish his hard won treat. He growled again, low in his throat, and unsheathed his claws, preparing for battle.
The red headed human was quick and agile, but he had no claws. Even better, he appeared to be trying to retrieve the fish without hurting the cat. The cat sneered at such folly. He yowled through the fish in his mouth and attempted to shred the human's stomach with his back paws. The battle was joined.
At that moment, the female human with the horsetail hair burst in, shouting human gibberish. Both the cat and his human opponent paused in astonishment. Then the female turned away, just as the sound of the oldest human's footsteps approached from another opening to the room.
Taking advantage of the redhead's distraction, the cat wriggled free of his grip, landed on the floor and took off, streaking toward the oldest human. He dashed past the old man, fish still secure in his mouth, with the redhead close on his tail.
Once inside the house proper, the cat had only to look for the light to find a way out. There it was. He ran, avoiding the human easily and slid through the opening and over the wood planks outside to slip beneath them into the darkness below.
Humans spurned the lovely dark enclosed space under the wooden boards they walked on outside their buildings. More fools they! Under the boards was the perfect place to hide.
The red headed human's face appeared, blocking out the light. The cat didn't care. Cats could see perfectly in the dark. Yellow feline eyes met a steady, human, amethyst tinged gaze.
Then the cat deliberately clenched his jaw. Teeth met in the middle of the fish's flesh, rending it. The rest of the tasty corpse fell into the dirt. The cat continued to stare expressionlessly at the human as it began to chew its mouthful of succulent fishy goodness.
Defeat and sorrow clouded the human's eyes as he retreated, leaving the cat to his meal.
Victory at last. The cat tucked into his celebratory feast.
Tonight the humans would have to make do with tofu.
NOTE: This story can be found in the C2 "In Memoriam". If you would like to contribute a story in honor of the late Terry McElrath, please contact Ms. Zeal or Omasuoniwabanshi.