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Where I Live
Where I live, you can be one of four things. You can be one of the Wolves, one of the Jungle Cats, one of the Birds of Prey, or human. Those who fit into an animal-named clan are barely acknowledged, shunned, or hunted by members of the other groups. There is a very slim, extremely rare chance that any of the groups will get along. Except the humans. In some areas it’s rare, but most humans accept those of us that are different.
These clans aren’t what you think. They’re not just groups that are designated by names. They fight with each other almost constantly, possibly even seeking a member of another group out, but they don’t go out of their way to hurt humans or commit crimes. Humans are the minority. Unless they’re Hunters, the clans leave them alone. It is an unspoken rule and like every rule, there are penalties to breaking it.
Depending on how bad the offense is, these penalties should not be repeated in front of small children.
Personally, I am a member of the Jungle Cats, not because I wanted to be -- this choice was made for me even before birth -- but because of certain physical features. Most of me looks completely human, but underneath, I’m different. Underneath the black hat I almost always wear is a pair of light brown cat ears -- though I have human ones too -- the same shade as my hair. Underneath long shirts and pants is hidden a slender tail the same color as my hair and ears. And underneath my fingernails are claws that can be sheathed or shown whenever I see fit. My canine teeth -- ironic since I’m a Jungle Cat -- are longer and sharper than a human’s, making them effective tools when hunting or fighting.
Other than the physical features, I also possess a feline grace and flexibility, along with a better sense of sight, hearing and smell than humans’. Because of the genes I possess, I’m also skinny and a little on the tall side. I try my best not to stick out, but to some people, the Jungle Cat members’ looks can be distinctive, as with the Wolves and Birds of Prey. Most remain blissfully unaware that we are what we are, which, though we cover up anyway, makes it easier to go out in public.
I live in a small apartment that, thankfully, is not specifically designated for Jungle Cats like other buildings I’ve seen. I live with only myself and my calico, Tally, in an apartment that consists of a bedroom, small living room, kitchen/dining room and a bathroom. It’s been just us for about a year. Like every Jungle Cat is supposed to, I left home when I turned fifteen, getting all of my high school credits so I could get out of school early like most of us did. It’s tough, I’ll admit it, but I’ve gotten used to it. Whenever it gets hard, I think about how the Birds of Prey “leave the nest” at thirteen. The Wolves leave home whenever they choose, be it earlier or later than I did, but their parents never really stop helping them.
Being born into these groups is hard, but it’s still a life. And besides . . .
We have no choice.
Waking slowly, I felt a welcome warmth snuggled up against my chest and stomach. Tally stirred a little as I reached over her to the clock on my nightstand, but didn’t get up.
“7 o’ clock.” I muttered sleepily. “How do I wake up at exactly 7 o’ clock every day?”
Tally yawned and stretched her legs out in both directions. One of her paws landed on my cheek and I smiled. Getting up carefully so I wouldn’t disturb her, I went to the bathroom and took a quick shower. When I was out, dried and dressed, I put a hand up to my head and combed my hair with my fingers, wishing it was longer. It was kind of at the stage where I couldn’t pull it back into a ponytail and could barely tuck it behind my ears -- though I rarely bothered to do even that.
Stretching with my arms above my head, I walked into the admittedly tiny kitchen and opened a box of cereal. I poured a glass of milk, which was my favorite drink, though the stereotype kind of bugged me. Sitting down on the floor, I ate directly from the Lucky Charms box, occasionally throwing a marshmallow Tally’s way. When I finished my normal, lame, completely nutrition free breakfast, I opened a can of cat food -- salmon, Tally’s favorite -- and put it in her bowl. Refilling her water dish, I put on my gray, blue-striped jacket, black hat, socks, shoes, and backpack purse and headed out the door.
When I got outside, it was cold enough to see my breath and some people looked at me like I was crazy with just a light jacket on. I wasn’t cold and I didn’t mind the looks as long as none of them turned into the maniacal grin I had seen on a lot of Hunter’s faces. The buses were always cramped, which made me nervous, so I decided to walk to the library instead. It wasn’t very far.
The library had always been my favorite place to go. It was kind of a safe haven, like most public places. Clan members might see each other and exchange a few choice words or glare at each other from across the room, but they would never fight in a public place where so many humans could get hurt. Out on the street -- as long as you were careful -- it was safer. Although, on the streets, some Hunters-to-be liked to knock off hats or other concealing clothes just to mess with us or to bring us out in the open.
When I got to the library, the forty-something-year-old librarian, Mrs. Fletcher, gave me a small smile. We had come to recognize each other since I showed up so often. I gave a little wave and a smile and walked down the rows and rows of books. Once there, I picked out a random sci-fi book off the shelf and went to my usual spot towards the back of the library. After sitting down and reading for a few minutes, I heard footsteps from behind me. My tail twitched underneath its concealment. The person was another Jungle Cat, a guy. I could smell it on him.
“It seems like every time I see you,” A soft, cheery voice said, “You’re here.”
I looked up and saw a familiar face, though I’d already known it was him from his scent. “Did you follow me again, Kadin?”
He just smiled and walked around to sit cross-legged on the chair across from me. “I might have.”
“I thought I told you that if you wanted to follow me you could just walk up and say hello.”
He yawned widely, showing his canines, and slumped back against the seat. “That’s no fun.”
“It’s not supposed to be fun. One of these times someone’s gonna see you and call the Guard.” The Guard is a special section of the police specifically trained to handle Jungle Cats, Birds of Prey and Wolves.
“Aw, come on, Kryn, I may not be leaving home for another couple years, but I’m not stupid enough to let the Guard get me. And why would anyone bother to call, anyway?”
“Well,” I lowered my voice so only he could hear, “When they see a possible Cat following someone, they’ll probably get suspicious.”
He just shrugged. “I hadn’t seen you in a while. I wanted to surprise you.”
“What are you talking about? You saw me last . . . Okay, so it has been a while.”
“See? And . . . I ran into Tildy again.”
“What’d she do now?”
“She hit me with a textbook.” He rubbed the side of his face.
“What’d you say to incur her wrath?”
He gave a sheepish smile. “I said the â€˜80’s wanted their shirt back.”
“You have no sense of self-preservation, you know that? And why a textbook?”
“It was in her hands.”
I held back a laugh. “She has weird ways of expressing her love.”
He groaned and let his head fall into his hands. “Don’t say that.”
“But it’s true.”
“I know that. . . I just don’t like it when people say it out loud.”
“You really should tell her you don’t feel the same.”
“I’ve made it perfectly clear in actions, but it seems like every time I want to actually say it she’s holding something sharp or heavy.”
“Very appropriate that her name means powerful battler,” I sighed. “Did you eat yet?”
He shook his head and looked up at me.
“Come on, let’s go get something then.”
I walked away to put my book back where I had gotten it and then walked to where I’d been sitting. Grabbing his hand, I pulled him out of the chair and towards the front door. Once outside, I let him go and we walked towards the little café I worked at. Today was my day off, but one of my friends, another worker there, a human named Chrissie, got us our food faster than normal. I had found that she was a virtual computer genius that somehow got stuck working at the café because her family needed help “paying the bills.”
When we were done eating, Kadin offered to help pay and since I didn’t receive much money from home anymore, I accepted. When we walked outside, I started to send Kadin off, but grabbed his arm as he was about to go.
“Wait, don’t leave.” I said quickly, pulling him closer.
“What is it?” He could hear the urgency in my voice. “What’s wrong?”
“I just caught a scent. . . It was only for a second and then the wind shifted, but . . . I’m pretty sure it was a Wolf.”
His eyes widened a little and he started looking around discretely. “I don’t see or smell anyone.”
“Me either anymore. . . You want me to walk you home? I haven’t seen Mom, Dad or Kyla in a while.”
“It’s okay. . . I can make it home by myself. I’ll be sure to be careful. . . And I’ll call you when I get there. See you later.”
“All right,” I kissed his forehead and pushed him away. “Later.”
He waved over his shoulder and disappeared into the crowd. I kept alert, searching the crowd carefully and walked towards a parking structure a block away, heading in the same direction as Kadin. When I got there, I waited.
“Why make such a dangerous move, Kryn?” I heard a familiar, slightly raspy voice.
To draw you away from Kadin. “I just wanted us to have some alone time, Ran.”
He came out of the shadows, dark grey, almost black hair hanging over his right eye. “How sweet. . . It’s been so long.”
I saw him run his tongue over his teeth in the darkness. His canines -- and a few other teeth -- were sharper than mine. Though his dog-like ears and bushy tail were concealed, I remembered their dark grey fur from previous encounters. He was always trying to beat me, said our fathers had a grudge against each other that stretched down the generations. We were pretty well matched in speed when running and as a Wolf, he was a little stronger, built bigger than me and had more endurance, but he wasn’t nearly as agile and a year younger. He didn’t have claws, just fists and those teeth that I had felt pierce skin once, which was one too many in my opinion.
It hasn’t been long enough. “Sorry to make you wait.” I continued in the same sweet tone, “Have you been following me for long?”
“I was planning to wait until you came out of the library, but you found your brother.” He shrugged. “I thought I could give the kid a break.”
“He’s only a year younger than you.”
“Yes, but there’s a difference. He hasn’t gone on his own yet. You Jungle Cats are soft, leaving home so late. I went on my own when I turned twelve.”
“Just because we have the common sense to leave when we can actually protect ourselves instead of just making threats you see fit to make fun of us?”
His expression darkened and his lips curled up in a small smile. “I can fulfill my threats, little kitten.” I silently unsheathed my claws as he talked. “Want to test the theory?”
With no further warning, he dropped to all fours and sprinted forward. Within seconds, he closed the distance between us and launched himself at me. Rolling over backwards, I let my shoulders hit the ground and kicked upwards. My feet connected with Ran’s gut, sending him flying over my head. I got back up onto one knee in time to see him crash to the ground. His shoulders hit first and he slid about a foot before rolling completely over and landing on his back.
“Believe it or not, I don’t want to hurt you, Ran.” I said as I stood. “We just did this a few days ago. When are you going to learn that you can’t beat me?”
Rolling over, he picked himself up slowly and got up onto his feet. “It might not be today, but I will beat you. . . And I won’t stop trying just because I got knocked down!”
He ran at me again and threw a swift right hook. I dodged him easily. He threw two more punches and a kick, but I dodged those too. Then, growing tired of the little game, I kicked almost straight up. My shoe connected with his chin and he was thrown backwards. He landed with a thud.
“You still have a long way to go before you can beat me.” I stuck my hands in my pockets and walked away. “Find me when you have the skill to be a challenge.”