Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Telling Tales 127

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Circuitous Conversations

“Do you hear that?” the cat went on. “No? Do you smell it? The Gathering Storm.”

Are storms following me everywhere, wondered the soldier. “What gathering storm?”

The cat licked one paw and brushed its already perfect whiskers back to the side, gave a yawn. “Not ‘gathering storm.’ ‘Gathering Storm.’ It’s a title, not a description.” Evidently the cat could hear how important you thought something was just in the way that you said it.

The soldier puzzled. “It’s a thing and not an actual storm, this Gathering Storm?”

“It’s both, in fact. I suspect that the thing brings the storm, but it could be the other way around, by all means.” The cat pushed its head forward and gave another offended sniff.

“Why do you keep doing that? I have it on good authority from a weasel – or a polecat? – that I don’t have any scent at all.”

The cat made a sound like it was coughing up a hairball. “Don’t be ridiculous. Weasels don’t talk.”

Which was about the strangest thing that the soldier could imagine the cat saying. “Do all cats?”

“If you know how to listen.” The cat settled back again. “Nevertheless, the second half of your statement is true. You don’t have a scent, and that’s what’s so curious.”

“Could it be that since my scent is together with my breath?”

The cat stared at him. “Are you always this distracted? I was talking about your breath and the Gathering Storm and then you go off about weasels and smells. Pay attention. Now. You’ve seen cats jump?”

Leaning against the tree, the soldier nodded, feeling the memory of the weight of the cat on his chest, almost as solid as it had been when he had awoken.

“No doubt you’ve marveled at how high we can get. Most people do. And you should be impressed, even with the secret that I’m about to tell you.”

“A secret?”

The cat stood up and stretched its back into a tight curve, settled back onto four feet. With only two or three quick steps, the cat sprang into the air and scrabbled its way on to a branch nearby, just about the height of the soldier. It settled itself with its paws under it on the branch and stared across the space between it and the soldier. The soldier gave the cat a blank look. He’d seen cats jump before, after all, just like he’d indicated. He wasn’t sure what was supposed to be so incredible about this leap over any of the others he’d ever witnessed. The cat gave him a look of bland disgust, as though the soldier weren’t worth any real emotion. “Can you jump four times your body height?” The soldier blinked. The cat yawned again. “Well, the truth is, cats can’t either. Not on our own. That’s why we borrow your breath. It gives us a bit of cushion.”

A low rumble ran across the horizon. “Thunder?” asked the soldier.

“The Gathering Storm,” answered the cat.

“Does that mean we’re running out of time or something?”

“It does,” agreed the cat.

“Why are you telling me about your secret?”

“Your guide wanted to check and see that we hadn’t borrowed your breath.”

“Cardinal?”

The cat blinked. “The bobcat, of course.”

“They thought you might have my breath,” the soldier repeated.

“On loan. Yes. I don’t. We don’t.”

“Do you know who does?”

The thunder rumbled again and the light dimmed as clouds shifted above them.

“There’s a reason why I had us meet before the Gathering Storm,” the cat said as though that explained everything.

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