Fever Dream
An old cat in an old barn tells a story.


In this worn-out barn in the middle of the Georgian summer, the most unusual things tend to happen. I was just informing ol' Featherbottom about the rat incident. Just the other day I'm up here in among the rafters and I spy below three rats scurrying across the hay and they dart up Bertha's back, only she's too hot to care, big things like horses get wicked hot and real lazy, but then the rats start crawling across her face and into her ears. Bertha's earcups they start whackin' around wild but two of the rats ride hard, they burrow in, and their little tails follow them down in a slither, and Bertha tries to get up but then WHOOMPH she's down, plumb out, her neck saved by a bale of hay with her head suspended inches from the floor. The last rat gives a loud squeak and follows the others into the ears. I'm up and ready to jump right in, deal death to the buggers, Bertha and me go back, you know, but she's out cold and the rats are inside, and right on the squeak I hear a great Scurrying. More rats then I knew existed start running straight across this barn like cats don't exist. Enough rats that I'm sitting back down and counting my claws, thinkin' maybe I ought to round up some reinforcements–my twolegs keep a couple of kittypets that might handle a rat or two. All those rats, they swarm in a little formation, stop right in front of Bertha like they're waiting for her to speak.

Bertha's mouth drops like a drawbridge right down in front of 'em, and there goes the little viking mousies, marching up the tongue like it's a doormat, right on in like they owned the damned horse(I rubbed me eyes then, you can believe that). Then Bertha starts just twitchin' like it's itchin'. Its front right knee kicks against the floor, then the left, then the back, lifting her around like a worm after rain. Bertha starts sneezing and huffing, bellowing and farting, one eye opened like it's been gutted that way, like it's dead and saw the end come, the other closed like Bertha's at peace.

And I'm just sat on my tail, wiggin' the hell out.

I'd hoped those were just death throes, but then the durned thing rolls over like a foal. First onto her back and then right up. Then it's standing up, getting its hooves down solid, then it goes walking, like it's normal but the tail is whappin' around like a runaway windmill. Now I know there's no such thing as an honest rat and a hundred ain't likely to be on an honest enterprise, so I say to myself I say "Sam, you are a Rat Killer! That's mission Number One. Now's no time to go lily-livered, you get that fat rear into gear.", and I just go for it, jumping from my high perch in the rafters from beam to beam to a sprawling hug of air, all the way down onto Bertha's back. The ratsies they're all inside, so I'm just clinging on and catching breath.

Well it ain't two swishes and the horse is on the move, or rather what I perceived to be the rats controlling the horse from inside, running purposeful now. More surefooted with every step as it charges and rams the barn door with its head to a deafening crack, and the left door blows open like a snatch of wind took 'er and we're through, dead gallop, right out the gate.

I'll be honest, I got a little caught up in the moment, majestically riding my stallion friend. First because I rarely get outside the barn these days, and next on account of Bertha never letting me ride her before, despite my natural charisma and nuzzles. And kitty, Bertha was better than I ever imagined. It'd always been a dream of mine that I might be a great jungle cat, sleek and lightning quick, and most importantly big because the high view is always the most powerful (that's why I like the rafters). So there I am soaring across the scorched summer farm, feeling nothing but breeze through my fur, so high up that I nearly forget that I'm aboard the rat-infested carcass of an old friend. It was upon that latter recollection that I decide there's only noble course of action left. I had to stop Bertha, shut this pony show down right now. Unsheathing my claws I pick my way to the front of this galloping beast. The wind blows so strong that my eyes can't look straight forward, and down below I see the ground is a blur of scrubby brown brush, all firepatch with vicious nettles.

Bertha, moon rest her, I just hope she understands. I jump forward with a twist, clawing her face for grip as the rest of my body falls. This spins my body around so I'm wrapping my lower legs around her nose, my belly pressing into her long face, with me facing the poor dear's eyes. Used to be lovely eyes, brown flecked with gold, but now I saw through each little black hole there were two beady little rat eyes staring out at me. I hear squeaking, and I draw my long claw (right forepaw, secondclaw), and I shank right into the middle of the Bertha's big right eye, shattering the rat's peephole and stabbing the little lookout all at once. Then I dispatch the left eye too. This it turned out, was a bad idea.

The scurrilous scofflaws went into chaos after hearing their comrade's squeak of "CAT" and then the light's out. Bertha's hooves had been beating a rhythmed clip-clop until I poke out the eyes and then it's just clip-clip-clip and the dead horse is going tits up, tail over head, tripped and flipped.

I get thrown into the air and I land right into firepatch. Stings like hell, even after I dethorn myself from the scrub and look out at the desolate brownscape that I come into. My lovely old barn is nothing but a little red dot. With the wind gone, I immediately start feeling the heat. I see a trail of endless red ants swarming, and think I don't wanna know what it's like to have those fellers marching down your earcups. I suddenly feel that yessir I am very far home.

Bertha's mouth opens, the tongue unrolls down past the chompers, and the rats come scurrying out into formation, ready to do battle. They think that I'm here to fight them, but now they're sorely mistaken. The sun is the killer that worries me, it will bleed every one of us out. Already my fur is damp with perspiration and pricks of blood. I won't last long.

The rats charge at me, but I leap over their frontlines, land on one unfortunate rat, and bound off quickly for the barn. I came through the open barn door with my fur matted down and dried to a firm crisp. I'm nearly dead, and my home is the most worn-out old heat trap in ten miles, but at least it had shade and the door open. I collapse, near death and in a deep haze. Fantastic mirages and unbelievable dreams float through my head of such vivid clarity and detail that I'm afraid that if I were to recount them here you'd take the whole account as false. So I spare you all of the tall tales and falsehoods, speaking only the naked truth.

At last I awake here to find that night had fallen, so I go on an scroop myself up to the late Bertha's water trough.

The twoleg will no doubt be angry to find Bertha gone, but I hope that she can perceive the mighty sacrifice that Bertha made for us all, for it was only with her help that I managed to eliminate many scores of rats. I tell you for true, when the sun beats down on these red walls and the slits of sunlight fall across the floor in golden blazes, the most unusual things tend to happen. I seen it.

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