Author's notes: This is where Gingerhead came from, for those who have already read his adventures in FFnet. This story flooded my brain one night back in 2000, and kept me sleepless for weeks. Finally, I have decided to add the rest of it.
The Gingerhead Chronicles: Made none to weep.
CHAPTER 1: The years of innocence.
Here I am, lying on the grass, moving my aging butt from sun to shade, mewing wantonly at the passing young females, stalking pigeons on the lawn - as if I have the slightest chance to get my paws on either.
While I leisurely allow my human to pet my back, I look back upon my lives. It will not be long now, before I reunite with the Great Cat Spirit in Heaven, having lived my nine lives - all lived in full. No regrets, no guilt, no sorrows, but, again, I am not human. I have seen wondrous places and met both great and terrible people. Still, one lifetime holds a dear place in my heart and I must share it, so others may know - Felines and Humans alike.
The sunlight of my fifth lifetime found me in a seaside village of a land the humans call England. In human terms, it was the sixteenth century AC, but in feline reckoning it was The Age of Death. During that period, which lasted many human centuries and now seems to finally come to an end, cats were accused for all kinds of stupid things: from causing plagues to devil worship. We couldn't care less of what humans think, but, when they try to burn, skin or lynch us, then we mind - and hide as best as we can. Fate favored me enough to be born in a sailor's home. Sailors of all ages care for their cats, for we keep the vermin population in order, and they seem to be less superstitious than country folk - as far as cats are concerned, that is.
The humans of the house called my mother Betsy, unaware of her true name: Green Eyed Niw. A slender calico cat, battered by years of battling rats, my mother gave birth to one litter after another, of which few kittens survived. We were four siblings at first, but only two of us, my sister and I, made it. Ah, my sister, my dear, my beautiful Whitepaws... My mother named me Gingerhead, but humans have always given me stupid names. Back then they called me Tomas.
My first six months were a time of innocence. I played with my mother and sister, hunted birds and mice, stole fish from the female housekeeper, and acted cute in order to get better scraps of food. I learned very early how to play humans. When they caught me stealing, I used to let the fish down, look up and mew as cute as I could. Every morning, I brought a freshly killed mouse to the housewife, to prove my usefulness, and then I slept under the stove for the rest of the day. Oh, so many stories to tell, so many lessons to pass on…
Of all the humans of the house I favored Bridget more. The youngest daughter of the family, Bridget had long red hair, just a shade darker than my fur. I still remember how she loved to play with me, as often as I wanted, and, when I got bored of the games, she would cuddle beside me and watched me sleep. Sometimes at night, I left my mother's warmth and climbed up to Bridget's bed to nap at her feet, much to her mother's disapproval, so I made sure I wouldn't get caught. All this because of another stupid human superstition: cats steal babies' breath. Even if I stole Bridget's breath, what would I do with it? So, nothing is further from the truth, but poor dear Bridget already had weak breath.
At that time I realized that cats can see the world from a different perspective. We see things that humans cannot - or won't – see. In Bridget, Humans saw a pretty ten-year-old girl with red hair and pale skin. Their limited eyes never saw the darkness around her chest, the dark mist that penetrated her lungs, and made her wake up at nights coughing up blood. Little by little, during the six months I lived with her, I watched the evil mist eating up her tiny body.
I saw more than that. My mother could see the whispering shades too, but paid little attention to them unless they were harmful, while my sister favored sunny spots where unseen things rarely walk. Unlike them, I enjoyed exploring dark corners and shady alleys, with the cellar the most favorite place among them. I stayed there for hours, inhaling deeply the lingering smell of smoked fish, bacon, and ale, and watch the shadows move around me, before fading to the blackness between the worlds. Some of them came pleading, others came crying or cursing, but all of them vanished when Ol' Ma came.
I recall Ol' Ma as a very old woman, with long, gray hair, but I could see that her hair had been darker than this of the local humans. The image of her wrinkled and pale face, her eyes of chestnut brown - so different from the village folk - remains engraved in my heart. She came and sat on the damp, cold cellar floor and the air around her turned golden, perfumed with strange exotic scents, and then she invited me in her arms. As she stroked my head and back I could feel the sun warming my fur, stronger and brighter than I had ever felt in that lifetime. Then she told me stories, chants, and lullabies in a strange language, one I once knew but had long forgotten. Still, I understood her words, her tales of a faraway land and a life we had once shared. Oh, how I loved her wrinkled hands and her soft voice!
Strangely enough, the humans of the house knew of her: "the good spirit of the hearth", they called her, and left her humble offerings of milk and bread, which I gladly consumed. Once, I asked my mother about Ol'Ma and, much to my purring delight, she knew her story.
Ol'Ma had lived in the area more than a thousand years ago, when people called "Romans" first came to this land. With them they brought warfare, blood and slaves - and cats. Ol'Ma came with them as a slave girl, brought to this cold region from a land where the sun always shines. She used to be beautiful, and exotic, and knew how to cure and dispel the evil eye. With her, she brought a cream-colored cat. As time went by, she grew older and so grew the respect and the fear common people had for her. Her master, in his dying bed, gave her freedom for deeds she had performed in his service, deeds of light and darkness alike. After that, she lived alone in the woods, surrounded by the offspring of her cream-colored cat. The people from the nearby settlements came to her for cures and potions and poisons and curses, always with an offering and hidden fear in their hearts.
Then, one day, the strangest thing happened. Around midnight, every cat of the area jumped up, leaving everything behind. Mousers left their prey, elder toms left their warm places by the fire, kittens left their meals, queens grabbed a kitten from their nest, and they all ran to the woods. Some curious -and courageous- humans followed them with torches. They found all the runaway cats encircling in silence the crone's hut in the woods. Inside, the old woman lay dead on her bed, with her trusted ginger tom on her feet and an amulet of a cat-headed woman clutched close to her heart. The humans burned the hut to the ground, fearing the magic that dwelled there. As the centuries passed on, the forest consumed her resting place and the humans forgot. But the cats had always known, being the offspring of that first kitten who came from a faraway land where the sun always shines...
So, there I was, living my first six months of my fifth lifetime with my family, my humans, and my ethereal friends. But all good things come to an end. One day, a visitor came and grabbed me as I napped by the stove. He seemed to be a friend of the alpha human of the house and he inspected me closely. When he put me down, he said he would take me. Needless to say, I ran as if my tail was on fire, and hid down in the cellar.
There I found comfort in Ol'Ma's lap and told her that a strangely smelling human wanted to take me away from my family, my home - from her. She stroked my fur with her ethereal hands and whispered to me: "It's your time to go. You were never meant to spend this lifetime in this place – go forth and see new, strange lands. Bring your bloodline to new, uncharted territories. Your loved ones would always be with you, in your heart, as long as you remember. One day, little one, we will meet again in green catnip meadows, where the sun always shines."
And so, I left. The alpha human of the house sold me to that man to be a ship's mouser, whatever that meant. As he carried me away, I looked over his shoulder and I saw my dear Bridget watching me go through her bedroom window, with my sister in her arms.
I never saw them again. A seagull told me, a few months after I left, that Bridget lost her fight with the darkness inside her, and died in her sleep a week before her eleventh birthday. Soon after, my sister followed her to the grave. She died giving birth to two cream-colored kittens, which were fortunate enough to be nursed by my mother, along with her own litter. I still miss them so...
Oh, I let my aging mind drift away. So there I was, in the strange man's hands, gawking at what humans call a "sailing ship". As he took me on board, I set sail for the greatest adventure of my nine lives.