This is the 4th installment in the free serialization of FATHER CHRISTMAS, Spam the Cat’s First Christmas. Please return tomorrow for more of the story by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough and K.B. Dundee and more of the wonderful illustrations by Karen Gillmore.
“You planning on grazing here long?” I asked Nelda.
“It’s nice grass,” she said. “Still green and moist under the snow.”
“Could you wake me up before you go or if an owl comes, or a coyote?” I asked. “I really need a nap.”
“Of course, Spam. When you wake up, it will be Christmas morning, and we may be flying off into the sky with the reindeer. But I’ll be sure and let you know first.”
I can sleep anywhere if I want to, and I decided to rest on top of the fake camel. I forgot to say there was a fake camel, but there was, and I slept between his neck and his hump.
A pungent, and yet oddly familiar scent awoke me, I’m not sure how much later. But Nelda and her family were not there, as they’d promised, and my old man with his matted, tattered coat was peeing on the perimeter of the makeshift manger and chatting up La Toya.
“So, sweetheart, just one kitten, eh? I’m slipping. Used to get five or six at a whack every time.”
“You told me you were fixed! And now my people have abandoned me and our daughter!”
Dad laughed. “It’s not all that bad. Come with me. Join the clowder. My other mates will show you the ropes, help you take care of the kitten, and you’ll be just fine without people. Take a break now, and I’ll tell you all about it. See, there are lots of ways to get fed when you’re wild and free without having to put up with people. I can show you one if you come have breakfast with me.”
He turned tail and headed for the back yard. Looking over his shoulder at her he called, “Come on, honeybunch. Lately they’ve been serving a regular buffet here for all us homeless kitty cats. Sonny boy, you stay here with the kid. It’s about all you’re good for since the humans got a hold of you.”
“Maybe I’d like to eat too,” I said. I didn’t feel I was cut out to be a mother, or even a kitten sitter.
La Toya looked at me pleadingly. She’d told me she hadn’t eaten in days, and she’d need to in order to feed the kid. I knew where my
kibble bowl was at home, and if I acted really pitiful, could probably get Darcy to break out the good stuff.
I shrugged my whiskers. With a little growl at the smug and very male hind quarters of my old man, slinging his excess baggage under his tail, I jumped up in the manger, and she jumped down. “I’ll watch the kid,” I told her. “Hurry back.”
I curled up next to the doll in the manger with the kitten between us. It squalled a couple of times, and then tried to nurse in my long fur. Most of the kitten was buried in my coat, which kept it warm at least. It kneaded and kneaded, its tiny little paws massaging my side. Soothing. Maybe being a mother wasn’t such a bad job. I grew a little drowsy. La Toya and the old man were sure taking their time about eating. I hoped what was keeping them wasn’t what I feared might be keeping them. Poor La Toya hadn’t been fixed yet, and she still had one kitten to raise—could she even START a new litter before this baby was out of the nest? I licked the kitten on the part not buried in my belly fur. “I’ll try to talk her out of it, kid,” I told the baby. “She wouldn’t like the rough life he leads, and would spend a lot of it trying to protect you from those other females he thinks would take care of you. He knows how to make kittens, and that’s it. My human would probably take you two in if I got your Mom to bring you to the door. Maybe it would be best if I carried you, and she just came with us. I mean, you can’t do without your mother, but if I was carrying you in my mouth, and pawed the door and looked up at my human with big sad eyes, what’s she going to do? Resist me and a baby kitten and a pretty young queen? I don’t furry think so. Not my Darcy.” Okay, it was kind of a one-sided conversation. But it’s never too early to instill family values in the young.
I was actually talking to the kitten to try to keep myself awake. It seemed like hours since the old man and La Toya took off for the back yard. The night was clearer and colder, I was exhausted, and the kitten was actually quite a soothing little thing. It was very . . .
“Coyote!” Gelda cried, and the deer scattered. At almost the same instant, from the back yard, there was a loud “Clang!” and the spitting, hissing, yowling of angry cats. I hoped the coyote would eat the old man first, I thought, believing it was the cause of the commotion behind the house.
So I was looking the wrong way and didn’t really see the coyote until it was eye-to-eye with me.
I must have jumped back, the kitten still attached at the mouth to my fur.
The coyote licked its chops. “An entree and dessert all on the same plate!” the coyote said, slavering.
There had always been someone between me and coyotes before. Bubba the police dog, Rocky . .
Somehow I hissed, snarled, and caterwauled for, “Rocky!” at the same time.
The coyote leaped for me, snapping its jaws where my head used to be. I sat back on my tail, ready to snatch up the kitten and head for the shoulders of the nearest statue.
The coyote lunged again, giving me a whiff of his rancid garbage breath. The wind from his snapping jaws blew back my fur, which was sticking straight out from all my follicles.
The kitten suddenly lost her grip on me and tumbled out the back of the manger onto the porch step.
New plan! I flew in the face of the coyote, going right for his nose and eyes with all claws deployed and raking.
The coyote snarled in return, and I gave him another smack on the nose. Then suddenly he flew into the air, bawling, “Kiyi! Kiyi! Kiyi!”
He snapped, growled and squirmed, but it had nothing to do with me.
Behind his head I saw the transformed batlike ears of my roomie, the vampcat—or catpire, take your pick—Rocky, who had been a creature of the night ever since he bit the vampire who was invading our house. With his supernatural strength, the battered old tom held the coyote by the throat in midair while he drained his blood with really rather disgusting slurpy sounds.
I jumped from the manger to the step to comfort the kitten, who was okay, except for staggering around saying, “me, meep, me, meep!” looking for me or her mom.
Rocky bore the coyote to ground, sucking away until the doggy creature was quivering and cowering and crying. I was no longer worried about Mr. Coyote. Since Rocky had become a catpire, the predators who had once scared the poop out of him when he was on
his own in the wild were now his very favorite prey. He loved seeking them out to harass and feed on at every opportunity.
He gave the one at his feet a clout on the nose, and said, “Get outta here. I’m not gonna kill you on accounta there’s children present. But find yourself some new territory, hound dog, because if I ever catch you near another cat, I’ll finish what I started.” As an afterthought, he added, “Mewaahahahahahahah.”
The coyote cringed.
I spat at him and washed my shoulder as if flicking off the spot of bother he had caused me before meeting my friends in high places. He skulked off as fast as he could go with his tail tucked between his legs.
With a lash of his tail, Rocky went airborne again, and for a moment hovered in front of the bathrobed human with the wings at the top of the carport. “Any more trouble, just sing out, kit,” he said to me.
“Thanks, pal,” I replied. “You’re a life-saver.”
He melted back into the night.
The deer gingerly tip-hoofed their way back toward the yard. I picked up the kitten as gently as I could by the scruff of the neck and turned toward the back yard to see what was left of La Toya and the old man. I didn’t know what the yowling and clanging had been about, but I was sure if La Toya were still alive she’d have come when I started snarling in her kitten’s defense.
Good thing the kitten didn’t have her eyes open yet so she wouldn’t have to see her mama all messed up and bloody. Except—wait. There was no smell of blood, only angry but healthy cats. All was, in fact, quiet now in the back yard. A big rectangular box sat on the lawn under the bird feeder. Cat snores rattled the wire front. Carrying the kitten closer, I saw the latch at the bottom. It would have made a clang when it slammed shut.
My old man and La Toya lay together in a furry puddle near the back of the cage. The scent of salmon still perfumed the air, but not a scale remained inside the cage.
I set the kitten down on the grass, and she clung to my leg, trying to nurse on my toes. A skim of snow covered the ground with the grass spiking up through it. I rowled at La Toya, but she didn’t wake up. See if I ever kitten-sat for her again! I rowled again.
She thrust one paw out, then the other, stretched forward, then put her rump up and stretched back. Her eyes opened, and I think it was then that she remembered she was a new mother. Or maybe it was when her back end went in the air and she realized it was still sore from giving birth.
“How did my kitten get out there?” she asked.
“The question is how you got in there,” I told her. But I thought I knew. I had heard Darcy’s new boyfriend the shelter dude/Sheriff’s deputy (who was not a vampire) talking about the live traps Olympic Mountain Rescue set out for feral cats, baiting them with food and letting the cats enjoy the chow for several days before setting the trap to spring. The wily old con cat who sired me and half the kittens in town had finally been conned himself. Good. And it might be a good thing for La Toya to be taken to the shelter and let her rest up and get some food—except that if she weren’t there for this newborn kitten, the baby was for sure gonna die, because Uncle Spammy did not have the required equipment to help her out.
Small as the kitten was, it was too big to stick through the wire mesh of the cage door. I hoped the people would come soon and pick up the trap. They wouldn’t take me, or if they did, they wouldn’t keep me because I had a personal ID chip that also let me in my personal entrance to my personal home. But I wasn’t sure the kitten could survive in the cold this long.
The kitten was shivering badly now from being out in the air. The sky was lightening, and I could see a thin fuzz of ginger among the white fuzz on her. She was going to be another orange tabby, like me, and like the old man would have been if he weren’t such a matted mess.
La Toya didn’t help matters. She started crying and crying and crying. She woke up the old man, who started cussing in cat, which sounds a lot like crying, only louder. “Maybe you two could shut up?” I said. “You’re safe from predators, but the kid and I aren’t . . .”
La Toya shut up, and with a final growl, so did my pop, though he continued to pace and mutter furiously.
“The snow isn’t good for the baby,” I told them. “I’m taking her back to the manger. Then I’m going to shred that door, and wake up those people to come out and get the trap and the kitten.”
I snuggled next to the kitten letting her warm up in my fur again and pretend to nurse. She shivered for a long time. After all she and her mother had been through, and now with them separated, I began to worry. What if she didn’t make it?
STAY TUNED! Another installment tomorrow.