Author's Notes: Because this is a piece for a challenge still currently open, I was unsure if or not to correct the obvious and egregious errors my kind reviewers have thus far found. In the name of being responsive to their kind attention, here is the revised piece.
I make no excuses for the errors - I had put off writing this until only the midnight hour was free. I also had grown so confident that I thought this would take only half an hour, which was one-third the actual time. So, I have no excuses, only the explanation that I was pretty darned sleepy when I finished it and was giving it an attempted proof-read.
With my sisters, I stalked through the woods, silent and alert. Shalane, our eldest, blended into the night, with only the bottom of her paws not the colour of shadows. Reisa, my litter-mate, kept herself low to the ground, her green eyes narrowed, ready for any ill-fated rodent to stir. Nahmi, my other litter-mate, craned her head as she padded lightly through the cool, dark air.
The edge of a clearing awaited us, threatening to deprive us the shelter of these woods. Shalane flicked her tail, turned and addressed us.
"Little sisters. Tonight, you cross the threshold. Your bodies are lithe, your senses honed. Kalhumet, Great Mother who created us, created us to hunt. Go. Kill, and let the blood of your prey quicken your pulse. Feel its last life strengthen your heart. See fear fill its eyes, and let that fear be taken from you."
She flicked her tail again, then bounded into the woods. I felt a flurry of breezes, and then was alone.
"Kalhumet. Why did you not bless my eyes like Reisa? Or my ears like Nahmi? I lack their senses, and I lack Shalane's power. Now hunt, says you. How hunt, ask I. Give me your boon, or take me to your bosom."
Silence. Silence and darkness replied. Above, a cloud rolled across the sky, turning the stars dark, strangling the moon. Was this Her answer?
Across the field, a light suddenly danced before my eyes. I studied it. It shone steady; only the swaying weeds between us made it flicker. I raced towards it. If this was to be Great Mother's boon, then avail myself of it I shall. If this was to be Great Mother Herself, come to strike me down for my bitter prayer, then present myself to her I shall.
Tonight ended my time as a kitten.
The house was small, but brightly lit, mocking the night, the clouds and the moon. Laughter sprang from within. By the door, I spied a plate, one piled with the smell of prey, but not the shape. Still, the smell compelled me forward, and I licked it, lapped it, and found it pleasing. Gently, gently I nibbled on it. It was of prey, but was not prey itself. It was meat, but not kill. It was good.
Sated, I left and returned to our rally-point. Reisa awaited me, her sharp eyes long having seen me.
"You were wise to go there - where there live farmers, there live mice. Shalane taught me that." She sniffed me, and I sniffed back.
The tang of blood she wore like a prize. Her eyes sparkled all the more, and her beautiful coat of smoke and midnight seemed shinier.
"What did you catch, Reisa?" She was about to ask me the same question, she was. My heart gave another prayer, this one silent, to Kalhumet that my words would distract her.
"It was a bird. It thought itself clever, nesting in a tree. It thought itself brave, protecting its eggs. Bah. Eggs were never my goal. But, as Shalane also taught me, sometimes a feint is as good as a slash." She slowly clawed the air between us, her pride floating her tail.
"And you, Luhei? Did any mice fall to your teeth?" Reisa doomed me.
Nahmi saved me. She attacked Reisa from the rear, not letting fly her yowl until she was a tail's length away. They rolled, they batted at one another with claws held back, and amused us three until they tired. We retreated to our colony, their happy meows warning all before us. Our bellies full, we cared not.
Shalane sat atop the burnt out car. "Hail, sisters. No longer I call you little sisters. We are all the same in Kalhument's eyes - blooded hunters, tested killers. Let those who dare taint our paths fear us!"
The night filled with cheers, especially the toms. With this night, we became Shalane's peers, and we became the toms' quarry. When next came those days of rush, we would be ... I banished the thought, joining in the light and merry songs in our honor, though no amount of gamboling would squelch fully that care.
Nahmi and Reisa soon retreated to their claimed spots, tired as they were from the hunt and their tussle afterward. I nodded my parting to Shalane, and left before anyone asked me how fared my first hunt.
In the days that followed, I did hunt, and fared ... poorly. Still, some prey I did down - a rabbit, squirrels, and other rodents. They were usually tired, old, and gamey. They were not their breeds' best, which was as well, given that I was not my breed's best either. On nights where Kalhumet withheld Her blessing, I returned to the farm house. It welcomed me each time with that saucer, and a dish with the sweetest, clearest water did ever touch my tongue.
The family welcomed me, too. Theirs were the faces soft with concern, the eyes abounding with care. While looming so large, they were gentle. They fought their fear, I think, as resolutely as I fought my instincts. One night, I bested my reflexes and stilled my body.
The smallest, the youngest of my hosts, patted me.
His touch I found sent warmth to the tip of my tail. It was a passing warmth, like a slow wind rippling fur. There, then fading, then gone. It was a soothing warmth, not unlike my full belly. It was a loving warmth. All nights til that night found my parting with them regretful, prolonged. This night, it felt that, too, but also felt wrong.
The days of rush seized Nahmi the next day. She could not speak, or cared not to. Prancing was all she did, her hindquarters held high, her voice reserved for carnal sighs and pleas. Madness infected the toms. Duels and ambushes abounded. Yes, the toms went wild each time one of us entered the days of rush, but Nahmi's was ... different.
"Ah, I remember that time." Sahlane's happy rumble filled my ears. "To be the one, the prize. To see all those silly toms kill each other for my favour. My first rush, and their frenzy to be first to take me. It was special to them, you know. And it was to me, too."
"What was it like?"
"Amazing. I lack any word for it. To be prey for once, not predator. To be downed; to feel that clamp of teeth at the base of my neck. To fear, but not fear." She shook her head. "And the finale, so beautifully painful."
"Luhei, Luhei. I suppose never have you seen a tom's proud staff? It has prongs. They are tiny, but they are sharp. They are legion. They face toward him, so his entry is smooth. When he is done, his exit is ..."
"Painful." I felt ill.
"Exquisitely agonizing. Orgasmically excoriating. It is the most amazing part of the dance. To feel myself ripped apart, and, yet, have my body sing to it. Never before did I feel that pulse, unique upon that instant. That blessed, blinding instant." Shalane shook her head. "Magical. Utterly magical. Fear not, Luhei. Reisa and you will both know its truth, and soon."
I don't remember what I said. All I remember was taking leave of her, and quickly so.
My rest was not restful, and my mind was now overflowing with fear. My prey, the few and cursed as they were, never showed fear in their eyes. Some showed relief, others disbelief. Never did one show fear, so never did one take away my fear.
The next day, I didn't bother with the hunt. Across the clearing and up to the door I sailed. The dish and saucer awaited me, filled with their appropriate offerings. As I feasted, I became aware of the littlest farmer's presence. His quivering hands neared my ribs. I willed away my instinct and stood there, eating but not eating.
"Gotcha!" Again, that warmth flashed through me. But this was not a pat. This was an embrace, and the warmth pooled in my belly, far more pleasing than any ersatz game on that saucer could be.
"Kitty, can I keep you?" Through that warmth, his was a kitten's voice - tiny, breathy, and lively.
"Honey, you're asking the wrong person. That cat can't understand you. And besides, it's up to Da." Hers was a voice more feline, smooth and mellow, at once enticing but assertive.
"Of course, slugger. But it'll have to earn its keep. It looks like a good mouser." His was the authority, the strength. From his voice alone I could tell.
"Da, why are you calling him 'it'? Isn't it obvious he's a tomcat?" He held me out, and I floated in his arms, between him and his father.
"Steven, with a cat, nothing's ever obvious. We'll take him and get him spayed. It's the responsible thing to do."
I was cocooned once more in the boy's arms. It lulled me, tempted me with sleep. "I'm going to call you Tom." A smile filled his face.
A smile filled mine, too. An interesting surprise awaits you, Steven.
The father patted me. "Yep, he'll calm down a lot after he's spayed. Less skittish. It's a good thing he doesn't understand us."
I did. I did. As I understood what awaited me, too. No more days of madness, days of frenzied toms. No more days of rush.