Thanks to those of you who commented on my previous post regarding which novel you would like to see me publish next. Your opinions are very insightful to me. To help you decide, I thought I’d blog the first chapters of both options for you to read. Here is chapter 1 of CAT SUMMER, a sci-fantasy fiction where cats save the world. Anyone who comments gets entered in a raffle for a copy of the winning book. (Please excuse the space between paragraphs. I don’t know how to fix that.)
CAT SUMMER, by Mollie Hunt
The room was dark when Lise woke. For a moment, she was still in her dreams. The swirling not-quite-there impressions seeped over from the other side. Their content was with her, just out of reach, behind a wind-blown blanket of night.
Rolling fields with a stage-prop sky. No dimensions, flat, matte black, like a backdrop for a play.
A wind passing through dry grass with the sound of insect wings.
A soft, black presence, oozing across the scene like oil, leaving adoration and terror in its wake.
But it was nothing.
Sitting up in bed, Lise shook off her sleep-filled wanderings. Her mind was clear now, completely cognizant. She felt strong and alive, free from daytime distraction and acutely aware of things she would ordinarily have let pass by.
She sighed, inhaling the clear summer breeze that floated in through the open window. Sleep was out of the question. Tossing off the quilt, she got out of bed. Her feet touched the silky carpet near where her slippers lay, but she ignored them. The night was warm; her body was comfortable just the way it was.
For some reason, she did not find it strange to walk naked from the room. She was alone in the big house; no one to see. But these thoughts never entered her mind. Her bathrobe remained at the foot of the bed, forgotten.
Lise paused at the open window, feeling the air brush across her body, smelling it as if it held clues, hints and secrets of the hidden universe outside. She breathed deeply, allowing the delicious, life-giving vapor fill her lungs. Things were going on out there in the wide, night world; she could feel it on the tip of her tongue.
Didn’t snakes sense with their tongues? she considered briefly. And cats and dogs had a special gland for scent. People got the short end of the stick when it came to smell.
It was a passing contemplation and it slipped away unresolved, leaving Lise staring, quiet-minded, down at the garden below. In the moonlight, she could pick out the luminescent spikes of Oriental lilies against the shadowed garage and the tiny pinpoints of daisies in the edging. It was one of those rare and glorious nights when everything was perfect: temperature, texture, even the silent sky with its occasional sparkling planet. All this called to her soul; she knew she had to go out in it.
Down the narrow staircase she skipped, feeling lean and light as a thistle seed. This seemed totally natural though somewhere in the back of her mind lurked the vague remembrance of heaviness and discomfort, anxiety and tension, all the misery standard in the human machine. But that was another place and time; this was the real girl, the soul inside the trap of humanity, strong, quick, and blissfully unafraid.
The living room was veiled in darkness as she opened the paneled hall door, but in spite of the murk, she could see. Of course, it was her house – she had designed it, arranged it, maintained it. She could have navigated it with her eyes closed. But whether it was the moonlight falling in glimmering shafts from the high, narrow windows or something more elusive, there was no need. Objects stood out bright as crystal, radiating in sparkling white. This was not light as Lise knew it— the clear, harsh rays that blaze down from outside— but something more subtle. An inner glow, as if each article had a light of its own.
Without giving this phenomenon a second thought, Lise started toward the back door but paused as she realized she was not alone. On the overstuffed couch, wedged in between the cabbage rose throw pillows, sat Percy, a round-bodied black and white tuxedo cat whose ice-green eyes and luxuriant fur spoke of his roots in the forests of Norway. The elderly feline liked that place and often slept there when he was not on the prowl. Finding him like that was nothing new.
But on the carpet nearby stood someone else, a great orange tabby Lise had never seen before. He stalked toward her and halted at her feet, peering up. His eyes were like yellow lamp globes quizzing her innermost soul.
“Who are you?” Lise asked as she bent down to pet the stranger.
“I am Evermore Artair Eckx,” the tabby replied. He rubbed his blunt head briefly against Lise’s proffered hand, then retreating to arm’s length, just out of reach. “But you can call me Tom.” That stated, he plopped down on the floor with a thud and busily chased an itch on his flank.
Lise was aghast; she had heard him speak as clearly as anyone. But that could not be- cats don’t talk!
At least they had never talked to her before.
“What did you say?” she uttered in amazement.
Tom just looked back at her, blinking innocently.
Lise turned her questioning eyes on her own companion, Percy, but he was no longer watching her. Utterly the opposite– he seemed to be napping.
She must have been mistaken. Both animals were thoroughly cat-like now. What did she expect, wandering around in the middle of the night when she should have been safe in bed?
“Okay, kitties,” she said for her own satisfaction. “If you’re going to ignore me, I’m leaving.” The chirp of crickets was irresistibly calling her outside. Once again, she started for the back door, then turned. “And I think you should come too,” she said to the tabby stranger. “You don’t live here, you know.”
“Soon. Soon,” the orange cat purred back, and she could swear she saw him wink.
This time there was no doubt in her mind that he had spoken. Both animals were staring at Lise with an intensity that could bore through walls.
“What’s going on? What’s with you?” she asked, rather too loudly, as if the sound of her own voice could exorcize whatever demons were creating this hallucinatory chat. It must have worked, because again the felines were silent as space.
Finally Tom rose and stretched, first his front legs, then his back, one at a time. Lise recognized the familiar cat-aerobic: it was what cats did before they went away.
Suddenly Lise had a horrible, sinking feeling, as if she were letting something very important pass her by.
“Wait, kitty!” she called, running to the kitchen for the little tin of treats. She shook the can, rattling the hard bits inside. The tactic worked and before she knew it, both cats were at her feet.
Percy meowed his request; Tom was quiet although eager for the goodies. Lise tipped the can onto the floor and received purrs of appreciation. She knelt and stroked them as they ate. The warmth of their fur was comforting, and the strange feeling of loss began to ebb.
“Is that good?” she cooed.
“Yes, very,” and “Thank you so much,” came the polite responses.
“You’re welcome,” she began, then caught herself. “Hey, wait a minute!”
But the cats’ attentions were elsewhere. They spoke to each other now, sometimes in throaty mews and murmurs, and sometimes Lise could swear they used human words. Either way, she seemed to be able to understand everything they said.
“So what do you think?” Percy was posing.
“Good eats,” Tom answered, chowing down a few more morsels.
“I mean about her,” Percy insisted. “I have come to believe she is the one.”
“Of course you would feel that way— she’s your person. We of the Higher Order often develop strong feelings for our cohabitors. To treat them without a modicum of devotion would be rude. But you could be mistaken. Or possibly just a bit… predisposed?”
“I don’t think so,” Percy denied. “I have been watching her for some time now. She is perfect.”
“Too big,” Tom said to Percy. “And too clumsy. She will never make her way in our World. Why, I bet she can’t even catch a mouse.” Having made sure the food was all gone, he stalked away, tail slashing back and forth, slicing the air.
“She will learn,” Percy argued. “She’s smart. And if her resolve is strong, the size can adjust.”
“What if her resolve isn’t strong enough? We only have one chance. What if she quits or fails half way through? We have to know if she can complete the task.”
Percy moved to join the tabby. They sat like mirrored statues, scrutinizing the girl.
Lise’s mind was flying. The pair had spoken like people, but even though she was looking right at them, she could not see their sly cat lips move, could not detect any sign that they used their mouths to create the sounds she heard. Was it telepathy? Intuition? Her own personal hallucination?
And what were they talking about? Size and strength and tasks to be fulfilled? It sounded like something out of a fairy tale. What could it mean?
“Unless we’re sure, we should wait,” Tom declared. “Wait till the next Tri-Night. We can’t risk taking a gamble on this furless hulk.”
“Hey!” Lise protested but her objection was ignored.
“If we wait, we will remain bonded to Seh. How many of us will suffer, even die the final death and cross Beyond at the hands of its minions? I don’t know about you, but that prospect definitely has its down side.”
Tom was silent.
“Besides,” Percy went on, “what if Seh fulfills the prophecy? Then we will be ensnared forever.”
Tom frowned. “But can she do it?” he finally asked with quiet coldness.
“She is here,” Percy replied cryptically. “Isn’t that enough?”
Lise stood rigid as a tree. Her mind was clicking off reasons why this could not be happening, but in her heart, she knew it was real. Her sanity told her to flee but she could not; she was too curious. Curiosity? A feline addiction. As much as she wanted to run right back up to bed and wake the next morning knowing it was all a dream, something non-human was at work here. She was already hooked.
“Who’s Seh?” she put to the pair.
Percy turned his head toward Evermore Tom and squeezed his eyes in a cat smile. “See? She is already taking interest.”
Tom refused to commit himself on the matter.
Through the open window came the far-off whistle of a train. Tom’s soft, marmalade ears swiveled like radar scopes.
“We do not have much time, Parsifal. This is the Commencement of Tri-Night and the hours are short.”
“Yes, we must go.” Percy got to his four feet and came over to Lise. “You must be brave, cohabitor. We are depending on you.” That said, he sauntered to the cat door under the sink with his usual leisurely swagger, giving only a momentary glance toward his food bowl on the mat by the stove. Tom followed, tail raised like a banner. As he was about to nose his way through the plastic flap, he turned and skewered Lise with his golden gaze.
“Are you coming, person?” he asked.
The cat pranced on light feet. “The way has been cleared and all is in order.”
“But,” Lise sputtered. “Where? How?”
The big cat disappeared through the door. “Just listen,” she heard him call back, “and follow.”
Listen? she mused. Listen to what? But in spite of her doubts and better judgment, she tuned her ears and tried.
At first all she heard was the hum of the city– the distant crash of garbage trucks; the passing of an occasional car– but soon she began to pick out other noises– the flutter of moth wings; the rasp of a wood-boring beetle in the old stump by the gate; the yowl of a stray cat.
The meowing chorus crescendoed into a wild cry that called to Lise’s pagan soul.
Taking a deep breath, she dropped to all fours as effortlessly as if she were born to it. She gave a guttural, inhuman yowl and without further reflection, followed through the cat door and out into the living night.