Cat Winter! I can’t believe it’s finally coming out after some 20 years from concept to print! December 21, the first day of winter 2020, is the day! Stay tuned for a link—since it’s too late to get it onto presale for Dec. 21, I’m just going to wake up Monday morning and punch the publish button. Cat Winter will be live, both for Kindle and in paperback.
Like Cat Summer, the first book of the Cat Seasons Tetralogy, Cat Winter is a work of the heart. In the genre of sci-fi/fantasy, anything is possible, so my choice as author and queen of my kingdom is to change the world. With cats.
Each of the four stand-alone components of the Cat Seasons Tetralogy takes place in the same universe but features a separate set of cat characters facing different and difficult challenges. Based on the premise that these cats are smarter than (most) people, they make the choice to help us humans through a constant barrage of both new and historical woes.
Cat Winter takes us on the journey of nine special cats who have been chosen to slip beyond time and help put right humanity’s wrongs. Among them, a young black feline named Slayter and his little tabby fur-sister Emma.
“Unseen by human eyes,” Slayter intoned, “a special task force slips between the seconds to correct those small mishaps that might ultimately lead to greater ills. In the depth of winter, in the dark of darkest night, a time hole opens. While humans lie in slumber, the Chosen Nine carry out the Rectification of the Variants.” The obsidian feline paused to let the magnitude of his words sink in. “Any questions?”
“Oh, only about a million,” Emma replied, though she had the somber feeling she would find out for herself soon enough.”
But in the dark matter of space, a powerful anomaly has come into being, its single purpose: to devour the cosmos. Little does Slayter know that the outcome balances on his small, shoulders.
Here is an excerpt:
Somewhere in the cosmic soup, it floated. Smaller than a photon yet denser than Jupiter, as old as the universe itself. It had not always enjoyed its present consciousness. Dimly it remembered an awakening, a coalescence of mind where before was only shape, sound, and the vast, cold omnipotence of its dark home, space.
And before that, it remembered nothing.
Once, it had been no more than an elemental particle, but now it was alive, a creature of the void, residing among the stuff of the beginning. Although it throbbed with its own interpretation of life, its light was so feeble as to render it invisible, even to a cat’s eye, an eye much farther-reaching than the simple, sun-lit dimensions of human sight.
Its name was Zaadkiel.
It was alone.
And it was lonely.
For eons, Zaadkiel had been content to simply bide in the nest of its black hole, feeding on the constant matter stream that flowed into the hole’s insatiable maw. It had been enough to be self-aware, to feel, to think. But the thoughts had turned to wonder, and its questions had grown great with time. It was greedy for answers, but the more it learned, the less it knew, for that is the nature of knowledge.
Finally it began to ask the ultimate question, the question which has baffled sentient life from its inception: Why?
To its query came only silence.
The silence wore at Zaadkiel like water on stone until its mind had become a hollow shell. It knew that without this one ultimate answer, all else was moot. The answer must be found, or it would perish trying.
But Zaadkiel was not sure where to start. All it had ever known was its home in the gravity well; all it had ever learned of the outside had come through the well to it. Did others of its kind sail the darkness? Such possibilities had not mattered when it was young and self-absorbed, but now that question tickled its ever-expanding awareness as well.
A thought began to form.
Over a thousand millennia, the thought grew.
The thought reached maturity.
For Zaadkiel to satisfy its curiosity, there was only one course of action. It had to leave the black hole.
The house was dark. Claire had left the lights off to better see the snow fall. Snow was uncommon in her part of the country; not unheard-of, but rare enough to be savored and enjoyed. The beauty of the spiraling flakes, the sparkle of the crystals as they swathed the landscape, turning everything clean and new. Brushing back a lock of her dark auburn hair, she let her mind go, imagining Snow Queens and faeries, illustrations from books she had read as a child. What marvels those stories held! If only real life were capable of such wondrous possibilities.
But real life was filled with ugliness and pain, and it was getting worse each year. Wars cropping up all over the place; some living in life-threatening poverty while others had much more than their needs; people seeking solace in all the wrong places. One of these times, they would go too far and do something terrible. Claire prayed she wouldn’t be around to see it.
She gave another glance at the falling snow, but the magic was gone. Her frustration and fear had driven it away. With a sigh, she hefted herself from the couch and headed to the kitchen. Claire was a big-boned woman, but right now she felt an added weight, the weight of the world. She may not have been the one to create the chaos, but she was human, and by default, a contributor. If only there were a way to make things better.
For a moment, she wished she had someone to share her uncertainties, someone close who would understand, but she was alone, and it seemed she might well remain that way. Too picky, her friends told her. But wanting someone nice, someone honest, someone kind—was that too much to ask? Claire didn’t think so.
She flicked on the kitchen light and jumped. There were her cats, Slayter and Emma, sitting bolt upright on the table watching her.
“Oh, you dears,” she gasped. “You scared me. What are you doing there?”
Neither cat answered, nor did they make a move to get down. They just continued to stare, black Slayter with his bronze-green eyes and little tabby Emma with her gold ones.
Claire laughed. “Okay, guys, be that way. I’m going to bed. I’m exhausted.”
She glanced at the clock—only nine-thirty. But there was no denying the torpor in her limbs, the fuzz in her brain. Why, she could barely drag herself up to her bedroom! Briefly she considered falling into bed, clothes and all, but resisted. She’d been raised that sleeping in one’s day clothes just wasn’t done.
She felt for the lamp on the bedside table, found it, and punched the switch. As the room filled with a warm honey glow from the homemade shade, she gasped for a second time.
Slayter and Emma were on the bed, sitting in the exact same poses as before, except now they were occupying the very center of the pile of antique quilts. How had they got there so fast? She didn’t remember them coming up the stairs before her.
“Quit looking at me like that,” Claire chided. The cats paid no heed.
“Oh, well, do what you like. You will anyway.”
Sloughing off her clothes and tossing them on the chair, she slipped into a flannel nightie and fell into bed. It was scary how fatigued she felt, almost as if she’d been drugged.
She flinched. Was it possible? Could someone have tampered with her food or beverages? But as she snuggled into her pillow, she found herself too weary to care. It was a pleasant, floaty feeling, as if something magical were about to happen, and she let her eyes drift shut. The last things she saw before falling deeply asleep were the penetrating stares of Slayter and Emma.
Slayter gazed out the window at the chill, white landscape. He’d been like that since he and his sister had watched their cohabitor fall asleep. For a time, the lacy snow had whorled across the beam of the streetlamp, hypnotizing him into a stupor, but all that was changed now. The snow had ceased, flakes suspended in midair. The frozen outdoors lay as rigid and unmoving as a Currier & Ives print. Slayter’s soul burned in anticipation.
Soundlessly, he rose from his place by the window, moving like an obsidian shadow through the darkened room and down the stairs. With the stealth bred into his dark ancestors, he prowled the murk as only Felis can, making sure all was in place for what was to come. Once satisfied, he returned to his cohabitor. As light as a phantom, he came to rest on the bed beside her, caressing her slumbering form. She did not move, but he had not expected her to. He knew she would remain in that unconscious state for a very long time.
But things can no longer be measured in time, Slayter reminded himself. Time had become meaningless once the snow froze in place and Winter Verus came upon the land.
Winter Verus, the true winter, when time itself would cease to exist. Only then could the nine feline emissaries slip between the seconds to execute the Rectification of the Variants and put right humanity’s wrongs. As much good as the humans do, Slayter thought to himself, they manage to make a mess on a regular basis. Without the aid of the Nine and their yearly rectification, things would quickly go to hell in a handbasket.
Slayter fidgeted. The Rectification was one of Felis’s deepest mysteries, and only the chosen Nine knew how it was done. Slayter had always wondered, but now his black velvet breast swelled with pride. This year, he would be among them.
As quickly as his elation had risen, it floundered with questions:
What if the council had been wrong about him? What if he weren’t up to the task?
How could he make a difference in the great ways of humanity? How could any of them?
Could nine cats really expunge the torment the star-children had heaped upon themselves? It seemed an impossible mission.
He kicked himself for having doubts. The Rectification would be done as it had been each winter since humankind attained the power to destroy. The how of it would be revealed—he had only to keep his curiosity at bay for a little while longer.
Slayter stared down at his beloved Claire, still as death underneath the quilts in the old wooden bed. She was as pale as the snow on the window ledge, but he wasn’t afraid. He knew she was in no danger. If all went as planned, his absence would be as the blink of an eye, and she would wake to a better world upon his return.
The obsidian feline felt a prick of disquiet. Time-stall was risky, and sometimes things didn’t go as planned. There were even tales of a brutal and unexplained fatality. He would need to be vigilant. He’d never forgive himself if anything happened to Claire.
Slayter gave the sleeping female one last check. He sniffed her breath, her scent, tuned his scrutinizing gaze for the slightest movement, but there was none. Jumping to the floor, he was down the stairs and through the house like a satin streak. Out the cat flap he bolted, into another world, a world beyond time, frozen in the crystalline formation of forever.
Please join me Monday on the Winter Solstice for a first worldwide look at Cat Winter! Find the link o my Amazon Author page here