It was a cold October night when a stunning yellow Queen gave birth to her litter. Deep in the shadows of the alley, she licked the little newborns clean with her rough tongue. All of them were either red, yellow, or orange in colouring. Except one. One kitten stood out from the others.
A scrawny little silver tabby kitten pitifully mewed for its mother. It was the last one to be born, and because of that it was very tiny in size. Its brothers and sisters were much larger than the little one, so therefore pushed it away from their mother’s milk. The mother only watched, her tail thumping against the ground. She did not give in to the crying of the smaller kitten, and did not give it the milk it needed. She thought that, because of its puny size, it would not survive anyway.
Before it was weaned, the mother abandoned the small tabby to die, taking her healthier kittens with her to some other place to raise them. Leaving the silver Cat alone in the alleyways, the Queen looked back just one more time at the kitten, then turned away into the streets.
Whimpering with hunger and cold, the unwanted tabby blindly crawled around in search of warmth. The only shelter it could find was a tattered old woolen coat, but it was good enough. It cuddled close into its fabric, curling up into a tight ball. It tucked its small black paws under its chest, the small tail wrapping around its hind legs. Shivering, it fell asleep.
A few months had passed, and now the unnamed kitten was up and about, roaming the streets skillfully. He wasn’t the healthiest one around, but he was the wisest of all the street urchins. He knew every turn, every corner, and every trick. His thin, dark coat also helped when he was hiding in the shadows waiting to grab some food.
The little thief had earned a name for himself after awhile. Little Chika. Even though it meant ‘girl’ in Spanish, they used it as a pet name for the guy. When something was missing, they sighed and said, ‘Little Chika, that Devil, has done it again.’ And the Tom enjoyed every bit of it.
He knew of a Tribe that dwelled not far from where he was pulling his pranks. A Junkyard stood alone at a high hill in the northern side of London. He loved to watch the many breeds of Cats wander up there to converse and do whatever they did in their Tribe. They called themselves the Jellicles.
Chika wanted to join the Tribe in hopes they would take him in, but he was wary. His reputation that he had earned in such a short time could do much damage when trying to get into a group of any kind.
Especially a reputation of stealing.
And one day, he had his chance.
Chika was wandering the railway stations when he came upon a well-looking TomCat. He ducked behind some benches, eyeing him. Even with his blurry eyesight, he could tell that the Tom was an orange tabby with piercing green eyes. He looked as if he was well-fed, not too plump. Just in the middle.
Getting a little closer, he could make out a brown vest that the other wore. Straining his ears and eyes, Chika could both see and hear a tinkle of little golden bell hanging daintily from the orange tabby’s neck. So he was owned.
After a bit of studying, Chika looked down at himself. He was very thin—Cats could see his ribcage almost clearly—and not very muscular. From reflections he had seen in puddles, his face was dirty and he had high cheekbones with big emerald green eyes. He stared at his arms. They seemed to have no meat on them. Just skin, bones, and fur.
Looking back up, Chika saw that the orange Tom had disappeared. Frowning, the silver Tom silently made his way out the station where the trains were coming and going. He trotted over to a ledge to watch an incoming train pull in. Chika was leaning a bit too far over the edge when the train came charging through. The noise and fast-paced motion caused the kitten to lose his balance.
Just before he fell into the railroad tracks where he would be crushed, two strong hands clasped his shoulders, pulling him back with a jerk as the train came in at full speed. Chika fell back onto his rear, watching in a daze at the train that could have ended his life. Then he looked up at his savior.
The first thing he saw was the same glass-green eyes of the other Tom he had seen before staring down at him. Unable to speak, he merely opened his mouth slightly, then closed it, falling back in a faint.
‘Aye, laddie—is ye alright there?’
Shaking away the darkness from his eyes, Chika awoke to a strong Scottish accent nearby. He blinked up at the same Tom who had saved him. He started to ask where he was when he was interrupted by the newcomer.
‘Don’tcha say nothin’—methinks you should just take it easy there after that scare ye had. Jus’ rest.’
Chika kept his mouth shut, but he couldn’t stop staring at the orange Tom who now had his back turned. ‘Ye was almost train jam if I wasn’t there ta watch ya. You’re a lucky one, you are.’ He turned around, a soft smile on his face. He was about to go on when a cream-coloured Queen scuttled in with a cup of steaming liquid.
She looked very motherly in appearance, with her soft features and gentleness. She shot a scolding glance at the marmalade Tom, then turned her attention to the tabby. ‘You poor child. Here, have some of this. It’s tea.’ She carefully placed the cup in the Tom’s paws.
Chika took the cup numbly, his hands shaking a bit in half fear, half confusion. He didn’t understand why they were taking care of him and not scolding him for poking around the railway station. His thoughts were shattered when the fiery coloured Tom cleared his throat, pulling the Queen aside. ‘Jelly,’ he murmured, ‘don’tcha think we should take him to Deut? The laddie’s an orphan, obviously, and he’s as thin as a rake.’
'Oh, Skimble, I don’t know,’ the Queen responded. ‘I’ve heard of him before. That’s Little Chika, the little thief around the marketplace.’
‘But I’m sure we can fix him up,’ the one now identified as Skimble urged. ‘He is only a kitten and he needs all the love and attention he can get. Just look at the lad!’
The Queen glanced at Chika, who was now sitting up and studying the contents inside the foam cup he held. Sighing, she remarked, ‘He is a bit… thin… and very young…’
‘So let’s take him back to the Junkyard, lassie!’ This erupted a squeal of surprise from the third Cat in the room. The two older Cats looked over in the kitten’s direction to see a bewildered look on the dirty gray face. Instantly the Queen was beside him, a worried look plastered on her face. ‘What’s wrong?’
'You go to the Junkyard?’ Chika asked, his ears rising. Slowly, she replied, ‘Yes, sweetie. Skimbleshanks and I are Jellicles.’ Chika squealed in amazement. Skimbleshanks laughed to himself, finding the kitten’s fascination very cute. ‘Laddie, we were gonna take ye with us to find yerself a home.’
Chika started bawling. Immediately he was enclosed in a hug, but he politely pushed away, not used to being held. He started to get up when Jelly asked him what was the matter. He turned to her in tears. ‘Miss, honestly, you are kind, but I don’t think the others at the Junkyard would accept me.’ He sniffled. ‘I mean, I’m not that kind of Cat to be… I mean, I’m not worthy of that… I mean, um…’ His head lowered in thought. ‘I… I’m just not sure about it, ma’am. I certainly appreciate your offer, really… but I wouldn’t fit in.’
Skimble approached the crying kitten, kneeling down before him. He took Chika’s little hands in his own, trying to comfort him. ‘Me lad, don’tcha worry. The Cats from our Tribe come from everywhere—a whole lot of them are strays. Believe me, laddie, you’d do fine.’
Chika wiped a tear from his cheek with his dirty shoulderfur. ‘I just don’t think I could do it. It’s a real honor to be in a Tribe like that, and…’
Jelly patted his cheek lightly. ‘Little Chika, please understand that there are other adults like ourselves there that will take care of you.’
Eyes once again flooding with tears, Chika backed away. ‘I… I couldn’t..’ and with that, he ran out the door.
A few months passed until cold December set its harsh winds upon London. Chika was forced to seek shelter for the winter, but had no luck. He was getting sick, again, for it seemed to be that he never was well, and he didn’t have any food. The snow was falling down in heaps, making it hard to trudge through the streets. When the blizzards hit, all Chika could do was curl up beside a building and wait for it to end.
He was getting sicker and sicker by the minute, his forehead burning with a fever. His chest ached, his stomache wanted food, but at the same time felt of nausea. There wasn’t a place to rest his tired body—everything was covered in layers of snow.
Food was scarce, and if he was lucky, Chika could get a small morsel, but it only made his hunger grow, and his nausea became worse. Now, his forehead felt like fire, and a piercing headache didn’t help at all. Better yet, there was a constant siren in his ears just to add to his pain.
Chika wearily approached the steps of an unknown building. He couldn’t read the title due to falling snow and terrible eyesight. With a final step to the top of the building staircase, he collapsed in exhaustion.
Even during the harsh winter storms, Skimbleshanks still made his rounds at the Sleeping Car Express. He didn’t enjoy being out in the cold at all. The snow was made of water, and whenever he walked in it, his paws got wet. That was just about the worst thing. Getting wet. Next to getting fixed, that is.
Checking his pocketwatch in a pocket in his vest, Skimbleshanks sighed in relief. His duty was done for the day, and now he could retire to the warmth of the old oven in the Junkyard with his friends. Now he could gather up Jellylorum, his mate, and head out.
Just as he was making his way back to his reserved area in one of the station’s rooms, he stumbled upon a lump in the snow. With annoyance, he began to go around it when his foot made contact with something soft, causing a whimper from whatever was buried under the white sheet of frozen water. Skimbleshanks bent down, brushing some of the snow away to see what he had kicked. In only a few brushes, he revealed a pale face with blue lips. It took him only a second to figure out whom it was. ‘Jelly! Jelly! Get out here quickly, lass! Chika’s nearly frozen to death!’
Skimbleshanks hugged the prone body tightly to his chest as they entered the seemingly abandoned Junkyard. He hurried over to an old dryer, stepping inside to meet the warmth within. Several Cats looked up to see the new arrival when the tabby blurted out, ‘Jenny, prepare a bed immediately. I’ve got a little kitten ‘ere who is terribly sick and needs all the help he can get.’
The other Cats, some teens, some adults, mostly kittens, parted as the other passed through. Jellylorum was in close pursuit after her mate. Jennyanydots had very quickly made a makeshift bed for the kitten, staring down at the little body in sympathy as Skimble lay him down. But she bustled about gathering all the medicines she had while Jellylorum tucked the icy body into some warm blankets.
‘How long has he been like this,’ Jennyanydots questioned, setting herself beside the kitten.
‘Only the Everlasting Cat knows,’ her friend responded. ‘Skimble just found him outside the station awhile ago.’
Jennyanydots frowned, feeling the body. ‘It’s going to take a miracle for this guy to survive,’ she whispered sadly.
Chika was terribly ill for a month and a half, vomiting half the food he was fed. Nevertheless, the elder Queens were determined to have him eating right once again, and patiently fed him soups and broths until his stomach could hold them properly. He was very weak and couldn’t sit up by himself. The kitten stayed in bed basically the whole time, and only got out of the bed if Skimbleshanks or another Tom such as Asparagus would gather him up and take him out into the outside for some fresh air.
When he was sustained in bed, there were other kittens his age coming around to visit their new arrival. They would peek at him, look up at the elders, and stare. One black and white splotched Tom by the name of Alonzo was the only one who would stick around long enough to talk to him. Chika was always looking forward to the Tom’s visits, and soon they became close friends.
During one visit, Alonzo had brought up an interesting subject that had been floating around the Junkyard ever since Chika arrived.
‘Hey, Chika, I heard that some of the elders were gonna introduce you to Old Deuteronomy and get you into the Tribe and give you a new name.’
Chika looked utterly confused. ‘A new name? Who’s Old Duetstronomy?’
Alonzo laughed. ‘Old DEUTeronomy. He’s our leader.’
‘I didn’t know you had one.’
‘Now ya do!’
Chika smiled. ‘Is he really old?’
The splotched Tom giggled, then whispered, ‘We think he’s as old as time, but the elders say that he’s only an adult, no older then they are.’
Giggling himself, Chika poked his friend lightly. ‘So what do I hafta do with him?’
Alonzo grinned. ‘Well, you’re gonna hafta meet him and he’ll decide whether you can be in the Tribe or not. He’ll prolly let you in, but you never know.’ He paused. ‘And he’ll give you a new name. One that’s Jellicleish, you know what I’m sayin’?’
‘I got ya,’ the tabby responded, winking. ‘I can’t wait.’
When Chika was well enough, Skimbleshanks took him out on a walk to the Vicarage Wall to meet the leader. Chika was very excited about coming face to face with a well-known Cat, but Skimbleshanks warned him of one thing: Only speak when you are spoken to.
Chika nodded. When they arrived, Skimbleshanks wished him luck and departed, leaving the silver tabby to find the leader himself. It didn’t take him long to find where the Jellicle Leader was resting. Chika approached the Tom slowly without a sound. He was now nervous and frightened. What if he leader didn’t like him? What if he wasn’t accepted? What if—
‘You must be the new arrival in the Junkyard.’
He froze. Chika looked up at the lounging Cat before him, from where the deep baritone voice had come from. Quickly, he nodded. ‘Yes, sir.’
Deuteronomy slitted his eyes at the little Tom. ‘What is your name, child?’ ‘Ch… Chika, sir,’ he sputtered.
‘Chika,’ the older Cat repeated. After a moment’s pause, he rose to his feet. Suddenly, Chika felt very tiny next to this gigantic TomCat. He also felt very self-conscious when Deuteronomy advanced on him, beginning to circle the kitten slowly. The tabby kitten stood stiffly, tensing when he felt the warm breath of the elder fan his fur.
‘How old are you, son?’
‘I’m not quite sure, sir. I would guess around two.’
Silence filled the air. Chika was beginning to feel very uneasy around the older Cat. Especially when Deuteronomy stopped circling him, standing behind the kitten with his large hands on his shoulders. The silver tabby tensed immediately, and the hands squeezed his shoulders. THIS was not a good sign.
‘From now on, your name is Munkustrap,’ the deep voice said. ‘You are no longer Chika. You are Munkustrap, and you are to act as my son. You will do whatever I say without complaint. Do not resist anything. Do not talk back.’
Munkustrap sucked in a quick gulp of air at his words. Don’t resist what? Whatever he was talking about, it didn’t sound very good.
‘Remember, Munkustrap—you are now my son, and you are to abide by my rules. You are part of the Tribe now. But you must tell them nothing of what I do with you. Never.’
Then, something came around Munkustrap’s neck—something heavy. He jumped in surprise, hearing a click from behind. His hand sprang to his neck to feel the new collar that was just given to him. It was a different feeling. He felt captured in the new thing, and his worries increased as Deuteronomy turned him around to face him. He was now kneeling in front of the tabby, his hands still in a death lock around his shoulders.
Munkustrap swallowed hard, unsure of what was happening when one large hand slid down his arm and the other down his chest. He only stared straight ahead in fear when Deuteronomy whispered into his ear, ‘You are mine.’
Time passed and Munkustrap grew older. He was now a very handsome teenager, rather much a Queen attraction. Despite his very thin appearance, he was strong Tom with a big grin. But behind that grin was a dark shadow that no one saw.
At Deuteronomy’s warnings, he never spoke of what he did with the older Tom to anyone. And if they asked, he made up an excuse. His mind was shouting at them to rat out on the leader, but his body told him no. Especially now, when he was getting nervous as he always did when a litter of his was to be born.
Munkustrap sat silently in a corner in the Vicarage Wall territory, watching Deuteronomy pace endlessly outside a curtained box where one of his many wives was giving birth. His bushy silver tail thumped lightly against the cold stone pavement in wait. Finally, after an eternity, a muffled cry came from the box.
Both the Toms’ ears stood straight at the sudden sound. Deuteronomy rushed in, leaving Munkustrap to wait once again until he gave the clear signal to join him. He didn’t have to wait long.
As soon as it was okay, the lean tabby stepped in to see the new kitten. He smiled faintly at the small body, reaching out to gently stroke it’s soft cheek. Deuteronomy was not very pleased at the fur patterns of the kitten, but when he saw Munkustrap’s attraction to it, he reconsidered.
The silver tiger very gently caressed the newborn’s face, smiling to himself. ‘What an adorable little chika,’ he murmured, using his pet name for any newborn. He held the kitten with such grace that Deuteronomy came up with a plan as he watched Munkustrap lightly stroke its cheek. The elder cleared his throat.
‘Munkustrap, I see you like that kitten.’
In a hush, he responded, ‘Very much, sir.’
To Be Continued...