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No. Four.

Moisture clung to the turf with an almost air of fondness in the morning chill. Though sunrise had been nearly two hours prior—and three since the daily running of the home’s sprinkler system—the newness of the day made promise after promise of all that could happen.

The rising sun cast a brilliant glint on the transparent acrylic of the bird feeder, suspended from one of the trees branches with the intent of feeding birds in the area. No birds were to be found here just now, but that didn’t keep the bird feeder from attracting the attention of another.

The squirrel’s motions were quick, separated by long pauses in between: Move. Pause. LookListen. Pause. Move. Pause. LookListen. Pause.

Repeat.

The squirrel did itself and its kind no favors with its quick, quirky movements. Indeed, its mannerisms were the epitome of being considered squirrelly. Yet the squirrel was content and wholly intent on arriving at the freshly stocked bird feeder without attracting attention, and this odd little dance was, in its mind, allowing it to do just that. Only the cat from its own perch of windowsill had noticed the squirrel, and the squirrel now had Cody’s undivided attention.

Cody had initially taken to watching squirrels on its people’s widescreen TV. While the home lacked a proper home theater system, the television featured both a massively wide, high definition screen, and a speaker setup with enough oomph to it to make Cody’s ears twitch with avidity with each whistle and tweet and rustle from his favorite “Cat TV” video stream. For many months, Cat TV had been Cody’s sole source of entertainment. He had grown weary of wrestling (and always winning) against the other cats in the house—his lean frame, short-haired coat, and perfectly streamlined manner of tucking back his ears made him a formidable opponent when it came to tussling. And Cody did love to tussle.

A cat still likes its challenge, though, Cody thought, so, when the thrill of victory became so less thrilling, Cody retired himself to some comfy spot or other in the house where he could watch the bunnies and birds and squirrels move about and root around the seeds or other treats left out by the videographer to attract said critters. And when he had grown tired of the repetition of the looped clips, Cody retired to the windowsill where he discovered realtime Cat TV. Sure, it wasn’t as predictable as what he watched on the widescreen, but at least it was real.

The squirrel had finally made its way to the tree with the bird feeder, and then switched its tactics: With no more massive stretches of open lawn to cover and avoid detection, the squirrel moved even more quickly around the trunk of the tree, as though he were a snake, wrapping its way around, tail twitching in anticipation of all that tasty birdseed awaiting in an unprotected bird feeder.

With as single spring of power, the squirrel had leaped from the trunk onto the bird feeder, grabbing hold around the plastic edges with its claws. The slickness of the synthetic composition of the feeder caused the squirrel to almost lose its grip, but it found purchase with its claws, so it held on with all its might as the bird feeder swung wildly on the cording tethering it to the tree branch. Rapid quivers of its tail and subtle shifts in its lean muscles allowed the squirrel to maintain balance and even slow the feeder to a gentle sway, as though caught by the breeze in the cool morning air.

Checking its surroundings once more, the squirrel began to gnaw where the plastic pieces fused together, fining eventually space between and, finally, the latch opposite the hinge that allowed the top to swing open for filling and refilling the feeder, as the owner had been doing the past several days—and would have to do again this very morning, as the squirrel succeeded in springing the latch, spilling seed all over the earth below. The squirrel released its hold and dropped to the ground, gorging itself on tiny seeds and sunflowers with complete disregard of who or what saw it now. And Cody saw it all.

As the squirrel cram the bird feeder’s contents into its maw, Cody let slip a yawn. Doing so disrupted something in the squirrel’s peripheral vision. It froze, now disturbingly aware that it was not entirely alone in its orgy of eating, but after a few seconds of petrification, allowed itself to thaw and resume stuffing its mouth with every bit of seed it could.

Cody felt an inkling of sudden power and began to wonder how it might get himself to the other side of the window, into the yard, for a truly immersive—perhaps even interactive—Cat TV experience. What would it take to achieve this? Subterfuge? Sabotage?

From this momentary distraction of imagination, Cody’s attention was diverted from the squirrel. When he looked back, the squirrel had disappeared, as had nearly all of the contents of the bird feeder, still swaying from the tree branch as a few of the intended audience alighted nearby and looked about, wondering what had happened to the promise of seed.

But these birds weren’t nearly as colorful or noisy or fun to look at as those on the big TV had been, so Cody’s attention drifted back to what it would take to get himself outside. He hopped down from the windowsill and meandered over to the door leading to the backyard. Looking up at the silver-colored apparatus the humans used to open the door, Cody made an involuntary, almost inaudible meow. Moments later, the door swung open, with one of his people standing on the other side, caught by surprise at the sight of Cody.

“Well, hey, there, little guy. Were you wanting to come outside?”

Wait. It’s that easy? I can actually just walk right out the door? Cody thought to himself.

“Meow?” Cody said aloud. The door remained open.

“OK, come on out.”

And he did, taking his first exploratory steps across the threshold into the vastness of the backyard.

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No. Three.

“Owls Are Assholes.”

The text on the shirt in a heavy, serif font had faded after years of wear and washings from its once brilliant black to a something resembling a dull gray, though with enough contrast to make it pop against the still-somewhat white t-shirt.

The words across silk-screened across the shirt had first appeared so many years ago, earning enough hits on the so-called news site (“America’s Finest,” according to its publishers and ardent fans, though those not in the know often found themselves embarrassed for having believed what they read on the internet) to be reprinted on t-shirts and coffee mugs and mousepads, back when there was a need for such a thing in certain environments.

The wearer of the shirt thought nothing of the irony of the shirt’s message or its place in such a remote setting. He was also completely aware of the apparent asshole that was watching him. Or was at least aware of him.

With all the noise the tall one made each time he dipped a glass tube into the pond, retrieved and then detached it from the end of a long pole and clinked it into a tray of similar tubes—but still with room for more!—it was impossible for the owl to sleep. So it nestled itself comfortably in its sleeping-cum-hiding spot and watched and listened and waited for the person to finish and leave or nightfall, whichever came first.

Splish. Clink.

Splish. Clink.

After what seemed so many minutes or hours or some amount of time of this racket (the tube case, thankfully, would only hold so many tubes), the human collected his case of tubes of water samples for later analysis by some poor overworked chemist who would report the finds to her boss who would report them back to the human at hand’s boss. It was the natural order of things in the business world, but the owl had its own business to tend to, but it needed cover of darkness to do so, and darkness was still a few hours away, despite the days getting seemingly shorter and shorter.

Though owls did not wear watches, they were keenly aware of timing of the setting of the sun and that it set so much sooner as the weather cooled and the humidity abated. Other critters became more active—friskier, even—in these cooler climes, which the owl welcomed with outstretched wings and claws. Hunting made easier.

Finally, darkness fully enveloped the shrinking wooded area near the pond. Granted, the increased human habitat and presence had made the water more plentiful—and the presence of water meant the presence of more critters that needed water which meant not just more food but more food options; variety, after all is the spice of life, even for owls—but it also meant fewer trees which meant fewer places to rest or snack or mate or so many other things for which owls needed trees.

But now it was time to eat which meant now it was time to hunt.

With a rustle and snap of muscle, the owl’s wings spread wide—more than four feet, tip-t0-tip—as it took flight from its nesting place in the tree. It had not moved much since spotting the human in his faded t-shirt and felt the need to, well, spread its wings a bit.

But, first, a drink.

Despite the lighter shades of brown, the entirety of the owl’s feathers appeared dark in the moonlight, a perfect camouflage effect for this aerial assassin. It soared down from the tree in near-silence, alighting atop some rocks at the water’s edge. Even owls need the refreshment of water to be at their best.

After several sups in quick succession, the owl felt it had taken in enough, yet still ready for flight. It turned and cocked its head slightly, catching the moon’s reflection off its orbs of eyes, felt the changing direction of the early evening’s breeze and again stretched its wings wide, catching air, taking flight into the darkened sky.

Drifting upwards with thunderous cracks of its wings, the owl began its hunt for food. Mice, it knew, were always on the move, making them a reliable snack, an excellent hors d’oeuvre for kicking off another night of hunting, feasting on the lesser creatures of the world, and, from the owl’s perspective, nearly every creature on Earth was lesser—certainly beneath it as it soared above the trees to truly stretch itself before formally commencing the search for its first morsel.

From this height, its eyes quickly picked up the darting motion of a mouse as it scampered from nearby taller grass and weeds and into an open spot of turf.

Foolish, thought the owl, but fortunate for me.

A few deft flicks of feathers and the owl had changed its course and trajectory, straight for the mouse that was only vaguely aware of the great horned owl that tore through air seconds before its talons tore through fur and flesh of mouse. The poor creature didn’t even have time to take a last breath. But, even if it had bothered to look up as it entered the clearing in the weeds, it would not have mattered; once the owl decided what it wanted—and it very much wanted this mouse—it would stop at nothing to get it.

That single-minded ferocity is probably what terrified the diverse creatures living near the pond the most. How could they—simple and earthbound creatures—compete against a bird built for death? While many of them had claws and teeth, theirs were more utilitarian: Climb trees or naw on nuts; not to fight, not to defend, even for their own lives. No, they would need a champion: A fellow fuzzy critter that had a vested interest in not only challenging but also—and especially—besting the owl, of keeping this little slice of wooded paradise safe for mice and squirrels and so many others.

But where would such a champion be found? And why would such a champion be interested in helping them? Any living thing that could take on and win against a great horned would likely be just as (more, even) interested in just eating any one of them, and without putting their own neck on the line.

As the timid squirrel pondered these things on another sleepless night in his hollowed-out knot hole, a loud hoot echoed from a few branches up as the owl again took flight. As the gust from the flapping of its great wings tapered, a feather from the owl wafted its way down from the branch where it had made its announcement to the night that it was again ready to hunt and taken flight to do so. As luck would have it for this squirrel, this feather would serve as means of introduction to who would become their champion, for every champion loves a challenge.

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No. Two.

Cats have been around for millennia.

Some writer or other once mused about dolphins and mice being the most intelligent forms of life on this planet—some forty-two years ago, as a matter of fact. Cats, noticeably, were omitted from this short list for reasons lost to time (and likely print-space), but the intelligence of a cat is timeless, no doubt.

Sure, most will point to Egyptian hieroglyphics while detractors will point to the fact that cave paintings feature dogs as hunter-companions to humankind. These folk seldom stop to consider that cave paintings were so rudimentary because the artist’s cat kept knocking over either the liquid serving as paint or the fire serving as light. Probably both.

Still, for reasons unknown, people continued to keep cats around. “Domesticated” is the word most use to describe the common cat, since most cats are no longer wild in the sense they (no longer) hunt people for food; rather, they prefer to hang around houses since houses have doors they can be let in or out of before mewing to be let back in and then back out again. And so on for minutes and hours and days on end.

But, sure, cats are domesticated in that respect and tame to the degree that they allow people to love on them so long as said love is closely followed by food. Again, cats are of the more intelligent critters crawling around this hunk of rock and water, spinning in space. After all, were it flat, cats would have knocked everything off of it by now, settling once and for all their superiority over all creatures great and small.

Cody’s greatness was never in doubt. Even in the moment he showed up on a porch and looked his pathetically cutest, he was demonstrating his greatness and being brought in and adapted into a home that loved him, fed him, and allowed him the relaxed supervision he needed to do his diligence, focused on his mission, even knowing it would break the very hearts of those who brought him in from the harshness that was life without a home. This remarkable resolve was but one thing more speaking the volumes to Cody’s greatness.

To look at him, though, Cody appeared little more than an average cat: Ginger fur fading into ringed stripes on his legs seemed ordinary enough, just as his ears were no longer or shorter than any other garden variety cat’s. His girth and gait—indeed, nearly every thing about this cat—sighed “ho-hum” and set him out as very much ordinary, very much mundane, very much nothing special.

Except for maybe those stripes on his face and the markings near his eyes.

Streaking out from the corner of each eye and the terminus of each side of his mouth was a stripe of an orange hue reminiscent of a spice-rich pumpkin pie baked a touch too long. These stripes streaked back, rakishly racing towards one another but never meeting, fading into fur beneath the ears, along the jaw line. Beneath his eyes were symmetrical spots flanking the nose of the same heavily-baked pumpkin hue, tails turned up towards the outer edges of the eyes, nearly touching those rakish stripes.

The face markings, desperate to mean something to so many who saw him, were nothing special other than a unique identifier to make him stand out among other cats of similar color. Not one to make much of himself, Cody was perfectly content with his every-cat appearance. It would allow him to better blend in when venturing out of doors and away from his people was absolutely necessary.

And it was absolutely necessary more times than any could remember.

Well, more or less absolutely necessary.

After the first few absolutely necessary occasions, slipping out of sight became almost a habit for Cody. He enjoyed the freedom that being out of doors brought him, the climate of South Texas nearly as constant as the high humidity, making his short cat hair coat perfect, year-round. Granted, coming by food wasn’t nearly as predictable as it was with people around, catering to every whim, but it was still plentiful enough in suburban areas like this one. And the nearby wildlife areas (and unkempt lawns) offered plenty in the form of mice (Not so super-intelligent now, are you, rodent?) and other critters of similar stature.

So, yes, Cody could hunt, and he wasn’t afraid to kill when his own survival was on the line. Disguised as playfulness between his fellow felines in his house, Cody was constantly honing his techniques, his skills to make him an opponent to be reckoned with, no mater what was daft enough to challenge (or accept a challenge) from Cody. He was a cool, tough cat, and he knew it.

He just didn’t advertise it much.

Because of the importance of his mission, Cody knew he needed to keep a low profile. Others before him had been tempted by the marketability of their abilities (how many times “catlike reflexes” had been thrown about when of course their reflexes were “catlike”—they’re cats, right?) and thrown off the mission, putting the safety and future of the entire planet in jeopardy. But not Cody. He was calm. He was cool. He was not going to be distracted from his mission, save for the occasional night or two or three (sometimes four) night out in order to test himself against others aside from his literally scaredy-cat roommates at home.

These tests took different forms, but they were all perfect and perfectly executed because of course they were; they were designed by him, Cody, who’s real name remained a mystery, which was just the way he liked it. It was easily said that Cody had quite the high opinion of himself; hubris was about his only character flaw, if cats are indeed permitted to have those.

If only a bit of modesty—even a touch of self-doubt—had made its way into Cody’s makeup. If only he would have tested himself a tad differently than the sneaking out to tangle with mice and other terrestrial fancies in the forests on the outskirts of town. If only he had occasionally bothered to look up into the trees.

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No. One.

She sat crouched in the small duffel, mesh netting on most sides, solid canvas over the rest. A covering of simulated lamb’s will kept her feet comfy, but the sorrowful mews told an entirely different tale. Trips to the vet were no fun, and no amount of treats would convince her otherwise. Turkey was not a happy cat.

The canvas kennel had been a hasty purchase, when it was decided that a cat might make a decent addition to the house, the home, the family. The kids were older and theoretically more mature; the cat herself had a few years on her—most importantly already trained to use a litter box, though it still didn’t keep her from pooping on the bed’s coverings when loosed from the kennel after the initial trip to her new home. Indeed, Turkey was quite the turkey, and with Thanksgiving only two days away, her name, her arrival were both fitting. Since, there has been so much for which to be thankful.

Still, 2020 and much of 2021 had been no picnic for anyone, but, for this family, the years leading up to had been so trying, so much like the proverbial rollercoaster, though with more sudden, more intense drops, the likes of which would shatter those less attuned to such trials. The pandemic, however, allowed this family increased, improved family time, with the ability for all to be at home, functioning as a cohesive unit, rather than horses scattering in sundry directions, quartering its center until it was stretched beyond measure, like Silly Putty. But, like Silly Putty, a closeness of all parts allowed for an almost rebirth of all—or at least a reorganization. And, so it was, one day, while her hair was being washed, the question was posed as to whether or not getting a cat would be a good idea.

She had leaped to the query like a cat itself, pouncing on the notion, toying with it, teasing it, with critical consideration so common to her mind, as seemingly untouched as it was in comparison to the body ravaged by years of MS progression, forcing her into a wheelchair. So there was the concern of how a cat might react to the presence of a wheelchair in the house. The concerns were short-lived after the arrival of the cat, which would come roughly twenty-four hours after the question was spat out and expected to swirl down the drain with water and suds.

Only it didn’t and was, instead, put into plan. A fast one, too.

Though the “plan” had been to investigate would-be cats from the local animal shelter, but social media queries were initiated before the garage door could even be opened, and offers of cats from friends near and far began to float in, one right after another. One such was for a tabby named Sami; Monkey, previously.

As Monkey, the cat had a home but its military owners were being deployed overseas, and a quarantine for the animal would have proved too trying, so Monkey was given a new home with another family, only Monkey proved apparently too trying for the new family, and they abandoned her. She was found some time later, roaming an industrial park and taken in by a woman running a dog rescue and renamed Sami.

Pictures and video of Sami were forwarded along quickly enough and, within a few hours, a canvas and mesh kennel was procured, and Sami found herself en route to yet another home for a trial over the remains of the Thanksgiving break.

At one point during the trek from far north side of town to the entire opposite in the northeast, some fifty miles of twists and turns and straightaways of Texas highways, the cat stared at the vehicle’s driver through the mesh. Taking notice, the driver asked of the cat, “What are you looking at, you turkey?” And the cat mewed. And mewed again and again at the word “turkey.” And the name just kind of stuck.

Turkey’s first few days & nights in her newest of homes were spent in relative seclusion, unsure what to make of the smaller humans or the dog on the other side of the windows, which seemed relatively uninterested in her; this was much to Turkey’s liking in comparison to the dog rescue where she had been before. But, even on that first night, the concern over the wheelchair was put to rest as Turkey leapt into her lap, unending as it was in a seated position—a seat that went everywhere Turkey was interested in going around the house; Turkey had her very own Über driver at her very beck and call.

By Christmas, Turkey had made herself very much at home with her own routines and began the not-so-trying task of breaking in all of the humans to her own whims, a process being duplicated just a few houses down from Turkey’s new roost.

The house at the other end of the block had also found joy with a cat found at their doorstep, albeit several months prior to the arrival of Turkey. This other cat—christened by its people as Cody—was itself a very different cat than was Turkey. Where Turkey was cautious and apprehensive, Cody was adventurous and eager to explore. He enjoyed the freedom his people allowed him, venturing into the backyard—and occasionally the front—on his own. And occasionally, he would venture beyond the yard and scamper away for a day or two here, a day or two there. Doing so permitted Cody to eventually achieve what he would come to know as his purpose, which had much to do with typical cat practices—many lost to centuries of domestication—and would last for far longer than a day or two here or there. Cody’s peculiar habits—peculiar even for a cat—would permit him to achieve success in such a fashion that it would save so much that was important to him and to what he cared about, as well as to others. Because, contrary to popular opinion about cats and their quirks, cats genuinely do care.