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NINE LIVES OF XEN: Chapter 21: Secret History of Cats 3, Final Lesson

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The 21 chapter of Anthony Lawson’s “Nine Lives of Xen.”

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Inspiration is a funny thing. In many ways it reminds me of love: It usually hits where no one either expects or prepares for it. There is no telling where it comes from. One moment life is completely mundane and the next … Eureka!

Much like love, many people claim to be inspired, but the proof of such is severely lacking.  Of all the boasts I’d heard from different cats over the years, it’s hard to tell which were of the true variety and which were merely fleeting. If I’m being completely honest, cats can be very boastful creatures.

Once leaving behind my comrades in England and journeying to New York, I tended to keep to myself, no longer trusting the pack mentality (especially after what had transpired that final week).  That’s not to say that I didn’t keep the company of other felines from time to time; I just always made sure our exchanges were brief and infrequent.  Some species would regard this as anti-social, but to us it’s just called being a cat.

New York was a wonderful change from London. I spent most of my time in Central Park. While there I came across several cats who claimed to have been the inspiration for the cat in the Poe story, “The Black Cat.” I was most amused when the cat in question wasn’t even black. Even worse were the ones who claimed to be the muse to Mr. Carroll. It’s one thing to see a cat mope around and embrace his inner darkness; it’s something altogether to witness a cat grin as wide as it can just to prove a point.

I felt bad for these cats, all of them. I didn’t understand the need to be something more than what they were. I was satisfied just being me—and alone, for that matter. As far as I knew, I never inspired anyone to excel in their craft. In fact, it seemed I only inspired insanity. Every time I thought this a vision of the shabby man from the London alley flashed before my eyes. Even in New York I seemed to find mental illness at every turn.

There was a strange man who sometimes sat in the park and stared into space. Most of the time he just looked uncomfortable or nervous, never spoke to anyone, only scratched down notes in a small black book. Even that was infrequent. He seemed most anxious and animated when he spied a larger-than-usual group of us sitting together. When this would happen, I usually would catch him muttering words to himself; at least I think they were words. It sounded more like he was pressing his tongue to the roof of his mouth and pushing air out. As odd as he was, I never felt threatened by him, although there was plenty to fear in the park.

London had taught me to be on my guard at all times. The scarcity of meat made it tough to be a cat. New York was better but, between the desperate and plain old deranged, not by much. It appeared that no place on earth was going to be completely safe, as my trip west would soon prove. It wasn’t until I found a home in Greendale Pines that I let my guard down. It became evident what that security would cost me.

*   *   *   *   *

I was outside of the home many times before to catch food, but it had been a long time since I had been out for any considerable length. I already felt tired, and the chill set into my bones.  The home had made me soft. I always felt superior to the elderly and infirm that I fed off of. I thought I was better than them for my ability to live when they couldn’t. But I had been trapped there all the same. At least they had a reason for being there; I was my own jailor.

At first the air invigorated me. I was inspired to dash forward, certain I could deduce where M. was now living, based on information gleaned from orderly chatter and photographs from her room. The fall air was full with the scent of dead leaves. Memories that weren’t my own tried to catch hold in my brain, but blew away with the chilly air. I thought of my unlucky friends, those cats of the black variety that found themselves persecuted during the plague years. They were blamed for the spreading of the disease, so any black caught instantly was put to death. Of course, this left the true culprits, the rats, to run free and spread as much death as they pleased.  Even after the wrongful accusations, black cats only seem to get respect one month out of the year.

As the lights from town appeared, I slowed my approach as my mind wandered. I left immediately without thinking, knowing in my core that it was the right thing to do. But how would my sudden arrival appear to M.’s family? Even if M. recognized me from the home—and how could she not?—she would be unable to vocalize I was indeed a welcome guest. Then I wondered if I would in fact be welcome.

Doubt slowed my pace and plunged me even deeper in thought. What would I do once I arrived at the house?  How would I get in if the front door was barred to me? Why did I risk everything without a second thought?

I was inspired. I was in love.

I conjured the correct magic words because my doubt began to melt away. I truly believed I would make a difference and I would not be turned away.  What assurance did I have? I was in love; that was enough. Being so certain was almost frightening. I only ever had been certain of one thing—staying alive. That seemed to take a backseat to the more pressing matter.

I had to get to M.—to save her. It was the right thing to do. There was no  question, but my heart began thumping hard in reply. The answer: a resounding y-e-s!

In a daze, no longer of doubt, but of heartfelt assurance, I pressed forward. I was in such a state I barely noticed when the soft give of the grass yielded to the hard, rough texture of the pavement. In fact, when I finally shook off my daydream and looked up, I had just enough time to recognize the bright glow coming toward me as headlights.

After that, everything went dark.

Anthony David Lawson is the author of “Novel,” as well as a local playwright, director and actor. He will write a piece of prose presented in parts every other week in encore throughout 2015, entitled “The Nine Lives of Xen.”

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