To Love a StraybyMygypsy©
The town is like many other small towns I have passed through - nothing more than half a dozen houses, a general store, pub and a small post office branch. The pub is similar to many others I have walked into during the last few months, noisy and smelling of stale smoke and alcohol. The people that fill it are in various stages of drunkenness. There are a couple of businessmen at a table against the far sidewall eating their supper as they talk. I tune out their conversation of real estate prices as I pass them by. There seems to be the usual drunk standing by the bar swaying as he raises his glass in a shaking hand to drink his beer. Several groups of people enjoying a drink make up the scant clientele and I walk up to the bar to order a meal and a beer. I smile at the barkeeper as he runs his gaze over me appreciatively.
"What can I get you?" His name is Darren according to the name embroidered on his shirt.
"I'd like to order a counter meal please, a large steak medium rare with roast vegies. And a schooner of beer thanks," I say with a smile. I watch as he turns around and calls my food order through a window to someone working in what smells like a kitchen.
"What brand of beer would you like?" Darren asks as he picks up a clean glass and looks at me. I put my forearms on the bar and lean forward as I glance at the taps that deliver beer to the bar.
"Whatever you have on tap will be fine thanks," I grin at him. He expertly pours my drink and I hand him the twenty-dollar note from my pocket. I take the change he hands me along with my glass and head to a small table in one dim corner. The amber liquid is cold and bitter on my tongue as I swallow.
Unease tingles up my spine making me glance around nervously. Some instinct warns me of danger and I turn my head to watch as four men enter the bar room. I look away quickly before they notice me looking their way. The smell hits me, sending me into a fear-filled hunch over my drink. Werecats! The intricate levels of their scents tell me they are clan cats: born to this life, not some roving strays that have been turned by fate's cruel hand. I glance their way without lifting my head, a sly movement of my eyes. They seem unaware of my presence as they make their way to the far end of the bar and order their choice of drinks as the barman greets them familiarly. All four of them are large, six foot tall or more and three of them have the solid muscular build of mature clan cats. Roving strays are often thin and scrawny but clan cats that are secure in their clan never are. They have well defined muscular bodies moulded by plenty of physical exercise.
"A large steak medium rare with roast vegies," a female voice says at my elbow.
I smile and nod at the woman from the kitchen as she places my plate of food on the table in front of me. I control the urge to grab the plate and growl possessively as she puts the cutlery down beside it. I sneak a quick glance at the four men as the woman walks away and before I reach for the knife and fork, they seem oblivious to the fact that I am a werecat, a stray, and I am trespassing on their lands. My mouth begins watering as I begin to cut the steak into chunks pausing only to put a large piece into my mouth and chew as I continue to hurriedly cut the entire piece of meat into chewable pieces.
My instincts are screaming at me to leave but my body demands the food in front of me. It has been too long since my last proper meal in human form, and I have only been hunting small game when I shape-shifted so I don't attract human attention to my presence. I am halfway through my meal when the inevitable happens; one of the four toms walk past where I had lent both arms on the bar as I had ordered my food and drink. He stops in mid-stride. My acute hearing lets me hear him draw in a sharp breath as he catches my scent on the bar, and I hear the sudden stop of conversation from his companions as they too hear him. Tension quickly fills the bar room as suddenly hostile eyes look around the room. I can almost feel the tremors of fear that threaten me as sharp eyes skip over me dismissively.
The piece of meat in my mouth almost refuses to go down as I swallow it before reaching for the next bite; I figure I have a few moments more before the men start walking around the room trying to catch a whiff of any scent. I watch unobtrusively as two of the men make their way out towards the restrooms thinking the roving stray werecat would be there. I hear the distinctive low range popping sound that tells me one of the men who went out the back of the building has shape-shifted. An acrid smell wafts in through the side door warning me that the tom in cat form is marking clan territory. It's time to leave, I tell myself as I put my knife and fork down. In human terms he is saying he will grind the trespasser to dirt beneath his heel.
I get up from my table leisurely and head towards the kitchen with a regretful last glance back at my unfinished meal. I give the two men a wide berth as I leave the room unnoticed; they are looking for me but are unaware of exactly why they can't find me. I slip into the women's restroom to avoid the tom walking towards me and I hurry into a cubicle as I hear his footsteps slow. I realise I am sweating and grit my teeth in annoyance; my scent will be faintly detectible if a werecat was to get near me. I had accidentally found a way to mask my scent from animals and other werecats but unfortunately sweating, especially with fear, will render it ineffective. The footsteps continue on their way and I hold my breath as I listen to the steps fade away. I creep to the door and listen with my ear pressed against it for a few moments before opening it warily and glancing both ways before slipping out into the corridor and heading towards the rear exit.
I instantly rule out escaping in my rental car, as the other werecats are sure to have vehicles at hand. Vehicles bigger and faster than mine, making using my car futile. I have no wish to be forced off the road in a dark isolated place to find myself at the mercy of four large toms. Toms have no mercy for females.
At the edge of the parking lot I stop and listen, I am rewarded when I hear the faint sounds as velvety paws circle beyond the parking lot lights. I give my rental car one last look before taking a deep breath and stepping into the glow of the lights and heading along the street as if I regularly did this. I have long since learnt that the easiest place to hide is in plain sight. I am almost to the end of the block when I become aware of a silent form shadowing me. I stop and glance around uneasily as if I am a human.
"Who's there?" I call nervously as I act like a normal human. I take a cautious step backwards before turning and hurrying towards the main street with several uneasy glances over my shoulder. The sensation of being followed fades.
I look for somewhere I can hide as fear sends waves of fire burning up my spine; tremors shake my body as terror speeds my steps. I reach a park and melt into the shadows as I step out of my sneakers and begin unfastening my jeans. A quick wriggle has them pooling around my ankles and I kick my feet free of them while pulling my sweater and top over my head. Even though I am unable to control it I know what is coming as I feel the first shafts of pain shoot through my very bones. I shape-shift into cat form almost instantaneously even as I let my clothes fall from my hands. Angrily I turn on my clothes and all that remains of them after a few seconds is tattered rags. I raise my head to listen as I glance back the way I had come; my ears prick forward and then back as I test the night air for any scent.
The breeze is blowing into my face lightly as I pick up the scent of several werecats; angrily I bare my teeth and arch my whiskers forward before giving a screech of pure rage. I head across the park at a slow lope as I head away from the town. If there had been anyone to see me as I burst out of the trees to cross a highway, they would have seen a black leopard like cat bounding across the road in three leaps. The sounds of pursuit reach me telling me I have foolishly revealed my whereabouts with my screech. I bare my teeth in an almost grin like expression as I pause to look back the way I had come. Fear floods my system and I fight to maintain control of my mind.
Run boys run, I think as I turn and begin running at full speed across an open field. Run run as fast as you can, you can't catch me I'm the ginger bread ... cat.
The parody of an old nursery rhyme runs through my mind as I speed across the ground and reach the thick belt of trees on the far side. The fresh crisp night air is sweet with the smells of nature as it blows in my face as I weave through the trees at high speed before slowing slightly as the practical side of my mind takes over.
Circle. Don't leave the breeze taking your scent straight to them. Don't stop-keep moving.
Four long exhausting hours later I stop below a ridge top just outside of town. I am motionless as I listen for any sounds of pursuit. I crouch low and crawl to the crest of the ridge with my belly almost touching the ground as I slink over the edge without showing a clear silhouette. I stop as I cross the trail of my pursuers and lower my head to take a deep sniff so I will know their scents if I ever come across them again. Seven toms, three of the group from the pub, then shortly after a group of four followed. I glance around uneasily as I realise I must be close to the clan home range. I must leave quickly. A roving stray won't be tolerated so close to home. Even as I realise this I feel a strange longing that goes against every cat instinct I possess.
I have spent my entire werecat life alone avoiding other werecats; I survived a werecat attack as a twelve-year-old child. I later came to learn the attack was unusual in the fact the werecat had come across me while he was in cat form pounced, shape-shifted and then raped me. My father had scared him off when he and a workmate had appeared unexpectedly, we had been on the way to hospital when the cat had attacked the second time.
I have little memory of the first year after my turning and had learnt later that I had disappeared from the human community for nearly a year. At first it was believed that I had been killed in the motor vehicle accident that was believed to have killed my father as he had rushed me to hospital but my body had never been found in the burnt out wreck.
When I had turned up eleven months later malnourished, unkept and disorientated it had been assumed I had suffered a severe head injury. This had never been confirmed as I had a well-developed fear of strangers and physical contact. I had evaded the authorities and managed to survive on my own until my father's uncle had taken me under his care as best as I allowed. This had amounted to free food when I needed to eat and the knowledge that there was always a bed available if I should need it.
I am mainly self-educated in survival, although a roving stray had befriended me in the first few months after I had been turned. He had taught me how to hunt while in cat form and when he had learnt I had an uncle in human society he had urged me to return and learn how to blend in now I was a werecat. For a few years I had lived uncomfortably between the two worlds unable to find a place I felt I belonged. Werecat? Human? I belonged to neither world until the day I had been stealing apples from an orchid and while up in a tree I had witnessed a clan werecat as he had shape-shifted back to his human form. My now- neighbour Pete Willoughby was unaware I knew his secret and we had become friends soon after I had stumbled across my scent masking secret. From him I had observed over several years how to live in the human world and retreat to the wildness of the bushland when my inner cat no longer can be controlled. Now at twenty years of age I am on the run from clan cats yet again.
Twenty minutes later I slink into the parking lot of the pub and make my way to my rental car. It sits deserted on a car trailer and I nearly scream my rage as I see its torn condition. I had shape-shifted back to my human form involuntarily and this fresh burst of fear and rage threatens to make me shape-shift once again. Numerous dents mar the formerly smooth panels, one door hangs half off its hinges and the interior is ripped to ribbons. The strong odour of urine and dung come from inside the vehicle as I quickly squat to reach under the destroyed front seats to retrieve a metal box. Inside is a complete set of clothes sealed in plastic along with a pair of sneakers in my favourite brand; deep in one of the jeans pockets will be a large sum of cash. I crouch in the shadows beside the vehicle as I awkwardly pull on the clothes before crawling on hands and feet to a connecting shadow that travels along one side of the parking lot. The clothes are unisex and well worn already so I blend in with any other human out at this time of night. I adjust the collar of the heavy coat and tuck my long blonde hair down inside.
When I am well away from the abandoned car I straighten up and glance around quickly before lengthening my stride to hurry my escape. When I reach the highway leading from town I hesitate for a moment before heading for a nearby service station. My need for food overcoming my instincts to flee the town, I had expended a lot of energy changing forms and now I am in more desperate need of food then when I had stopped to eat. The lights inside are bright and I blink rapidly to adjust my eyes before walking slowly along the aisles towards the counter, on my way I collect an array of packaged food. Placing the pile on the counter I hesitate a moment before adding a plain black baseball cap to the items and stand back as the young guy behind the counter begins running it through the till.
"We've had a run on the jerky tonight. You're lucky there was any left," he tells me.
"Yeah?" I answer flashing him a grin as I pull the baseball cap onto my head.
"Yeah, the Williamson family must be going camping. Four of the sons and seven of their ranch hands were in buying up on their favourite camping snacks," he says with an answering grin.
Eleven of them, I tell myself as I idly reach for a bottle of coke.
"You don't say. How many workers does the family employ?" I ask casually.
"Up to a dozen at different times," he informs me as he scans the last item.
"Do you want plastic bags for these?" His question brings my mind back to the job at hand.
"Can I get two of those backpacks over there?" I ask pointing to a shelf behind the counter.
"Sure thing," he smiles, "Any particular colour?"
"The dark green army style. My brother will love it," the lie comes easily to my lips, I have no sibling.
"What ever pleases the pretty lady," he flirts with me and I laugh softly while he begins packing my purchases into one of the bags.
I loose track of his conversation as the door opens and two large men hurry in and I recognise them as two of the toms from the pub earlier. I tense as their scent reaches me quickly in the heated space. I hurriedly push several large bills towards the guy across from me and grab the nearly filled bag.
"Keep the change," I say quickly and head for the side door as I hear the very low hiss of anger.
"You forgot some of your things!" A deep gravely voice calls dangerously close and I glance back over my shoulder to see one of the men too close for my comfort. His eyes widen with surprise as he sees my face clearly and realises I am female.
"Back off!" I hiss so low only he and his companion can hear me as I back pedal fast towards the door as my terror escalates. I dare not chance loosing control and changing shape inside the shop in front of a human or near either of the clan werecats moving towards me with purpose.
"The Boss wants a word with you before you clear out," the closest one says in a firm tone.
"Tell Mr Williamson maybe another time!" I hiss in a whisper soft tone before I spin on my toes and race for small side door. Surprise that I know their clan Alpha's name gives me the vital instant to reach the door ahead of my pursuer and then I am outside in the night air and running for my life. The shop is quickly left behind as I use all my speed available in human form. I know I am fast but I have never put my pace to the test as I do now. I refuse to drop the pack of food as I sprint into the surrounding darkness and head for the trees. Behind me I can only hear one pursuer and over the sound of my laboured breathing I think I detect the sounds of someone using a phone.
The soft give beneath my sneakered feet tells me I have reached bare ground and I strain to increase my pace. The sounds of my pursuer suddenly stop and I slow to chance a quick look over my shoulder. I can't make out any sign of pursuit and I drag in a sharp breath as I hear the faintest sounds of bone and tissue popping. Terror races through me as I realise the tom behind me is changing form to that of a cat, and fiery pain shoots up my spine even as I struggle to keep running. I toss the bag towards a tall pine and take a deep breath as I plunge forward as if to do a somersault or cartwheel. As I shape-shift on the fly there is a brief but fierce flash of pain as if my body has exploded before my front paws hit the ground and I run several more paces before executing a sharp turn sending leaves flying as I end up facing the way I came.
I lay my ears back as I slow to a trot and glare at the darkness ahead of me. I bare my teeth in a vicious snarl as I spot the inky black form gliding between the trees. He slows and enters the tiny clearing at a fast walk. I wait until he is in the open then launch myself at him, teeth bared and claws unsheathed. My fear has turned to savage aggression and I attack with the experience I have gained protecting myself from tomcats for the last eight years. I am in good condition weight wise and my hundred and fifty pounds stagger him as he tries to twist away from me. It's no use as I whirl after him delivering several hard bites to his shoulder and a savage swipe of my claws along his ribs. Before he can recover his balance I am off and running once again. This time I hear no pursuit but maintain my pace knowing his backup would not be too far away.
The night is long and I am tired as I alternate between running full speed and loping comfortably. When dawn comes I am walking steadily in the dark shadows of a gully and pause to lap several mouthfuls of water before trotting in the narrow stream. I find a small shallow undercut several miles up the stream and I leap from the stream to the small shelter without leaving any marks in the damp clay of the stream. I settle my tired body on the cool earth in my feline form and stretch out making myself comfortable. Rest is my first priority as I lower my head until my chin rests on my front legs. I yawn widely and lick my lips before closing my eyes contentedly. Sleep comes fitfully and I wake at the slightest noises, even mice scurrying in the undergrowth brings my eyes open.
It is nearing sundown when I come fully awake and creep out of my hiding place. I stand for several long moments in the last of the day's sun enjoying the warmth on my silky fur. I am entranced as I watch the fur on my side gleaming in the sunlight. I twitch my skin and I am startled to notice my fur has an almost coppery sheen to it with inky midnight black rosettes showing underneath. I yawn with satisfaction before walking down to the stream for a drink. Having quenched my thirst I leap the stream and begin padding along the opposite bank alert for any game. I am hungry and need to eat. Since I have not shape-shifted back to human form, not to mention the fact if I had that I have no clothes or money, that leaves me with the only option to hunt.