This month’s writing challenge was potentially the hardest one I’ve ever experienced. Writing a utopia is hard work, not least because I can’t understand how a perfect world would work. I ended up regretfully having to go to my ‘fall back’ of writing an animal utopian city. The story is meant to exemplify what I wish would happen within the rescue world. I’m looking forward to this month’s challenge, however! Dystopia is something I’m pretty good with! (Yes, that’s this month’s challenge, and it WAS chosen at random.) And take a look at Jennifer’s own utopia, The False Perfection. She did a much better job than me!
“Can’t we go outside to play?” The trio of pups begging would have softened the hardest of hearts, but I wasn’t buying. With a hiss, I swiped at them, claws retracted so the blows wouldn’t hurt. They were young, they didn’t know what generations of our kind had gone through outside of these walls. I backed them away from the exit I guarded. When they moved out my way, I uttered a low growl that had them quivering in their brindled coats.
“Please, Miss Shenai, don’t tell our ma!” I wasn’t as soft as any old dog – but those wide brown eyes did seem to swim with apology.
“Maybe I can make an exception, this time.” I couldn’t hold back the purr in my voice before they converged on me. Small whimpers and wagging tails assaulted me. They beat me into submission before I could finish what I was saying. They weren’t getting away with this entirely. “But…you have to go and talk to Apollo and Banjo. You want to know why we can’t leave here, they remember why.” I fought back a laugh at their identical looks of despair. If I had been them, I wouldn’t have much enjoyed a visit to the old tortoise and parrot. I didn’t give in though. “It’s either talk to them, or I go and see Sprite. Your ma will not be pleased to find you are trying to leave safety.”
I ignored their scoffing sounds of disbelief. We all knew what it had once been like. I knew that only the unlikely pair of friends remained of those that had lived through what had happened. I stood and padded delicately at the flat rocks below us, using my blunt nose to push the puppies along. Humans passed us, splitting to either side to allow us space to pass. I mewed my thanks and received the odd, lingering stroke. The puppies led the way, no longer as interested in me as the people around them. Time was passing by, and like the litter of kittens I had in my stomach, they would go off to their humans soon, to live in happiness until they passed this world for the next.
Our little procession wasn’t unnoticed. Soon, the tom I had mated with walked at my side, his ginger-pelted frame shiny with health. I purred at him, my side brushing against his velvet-soft fur.
“Where do you take the pups, Shenai?” He always spoke so casually. It made my cream coat bristled against the air. I smiled at him, taking my time. I didn’t need to worry, or hurry as the humans watched us go by.
“To see Apollo and Banjo. They wanted to leave the city, Magus.” His face wrinkled a little before he sighed.
“So that’s why you take them then? To go and see those crazy creatures?” His purr was a soft laugh, even though there was a worry in his green eyes.
I nodded. Magus understood me. He understood what I was doing with the pups. They needed to know just how important our small world was. Just why it was that we didn’t leave, why no one wanted to leave. They wouldn’t understand until then. I realised we were almost at the home where the pair were looked after. I could hear soft songs coming from Banjo, his wings beating the air. I laughed, padding to the front as the pups hesitated. I butted my head against them in turn, my tail swatting gently from side to side.
“Come, learn why it is we all live in peace. We all came to these two as pups and kittens ourselves.”
The group around us, the honour-guard slipped away. Magus watched for a moment longer, before giving a bow I was impressed with. I’d remember that, next time. I purred and dipped my head at my sometimes mate. I had a duty to do – a duty that these pups would one day perform themselves. I stepped forward, the pups at my hips. My stomach was beginning to protrude, and perhaps they knew. They weren’t as crazy as normal. As hyperactive, and loopy. I smiled at them, rasping my tongue across my lips before letting out a low mewl. Apollo stuck his head out from his shell, his wizened, leathery old face seeming surprised to see me.
“My…Shenai. How…you’ve…grown.” His voice was soft, halting. I purred, walking forward smoothly. I felt the bated breath of the pups behind me as I rubbed my head against the hard edges of his shell. A beak tugged gently at my ear as I lifted my head, purring under my breath.
“What Apollo means to say is that you are a very beautiful queen, Shenai. A queen among queens, if he had his favourites. What can we do for you?” I loved how accommodating these two were. I circled round to herd the pups forward, towards the pair, speaking the whole time softly.
“These pups need to learn our history. As you once told me, will you now tell them?” I was polite. One day, these old creatures wouldn’t be here to tell us all that had happened. We would have to tell each other the stories. As the pups sat and sprawled down, I sat sedately upright. I did as I needed to, as any guard, as any mother to be would do. I could no longer act like a kitten. I was in my third spring now. My third year of being with a human that loved me, and that I cared about. Only dogs truly loved their human companions. My tail swayed back and forth, my eyes gleamed. My ears perked upward, as I waited, alert. I enjoyed hearing this story, much as it made me hide in fear at times.
Our past was horrible. We’d lost a lot of kin, we all had. Only the humans could have changed our way, and that was what they did. They changed. Life was better now, from what I knew. From what I’d been taught. Banjo preened himself before he turned his attention to us, his beak running gently through dull green feathers.
“I wasn’t very old when the world was bad for all pets. Humans were cruel, forcibly mating their pets, their dogs and cats, until so many existed that they had only one solution. They would leave them in tiny places called ‘pounds’.” The parrot extended his wings at the last word, uttering a squark. He was clearly unsettled in a way I hated to see.
I stretched a little, curling myself around the wide-eyed pups to wait for him to settle his ruffled feathers.
“When no one came forth to give them homes, the humans had no choice but to send each cat, dog and other animal to the endless sleep, to the eternal dream. Don’t fear your humans, pups. Those that had to do it loved us so much they wouldn’t see us suffering. Never the sun on our backs. Never a breeze through the fur, or feathers. There was no freedom, not for any pet. Even those much loved – they weren’t allowed to roam. They had to be tethered to their humans, all the time.”
I could see the shock welling in their eyes, in those brown, wide-eyed pools of innocence. They still wouldn’t understand the depths of this until they were older. I wish I could have eased this from them, but now they needed to know what the world outside was like.
“Those humans that loved us dearly decided one day to gather up all the animals humans had cast aside, and built themselves a city. A massive city, where we can roam the streets. Where every human is brought up to love animals.” He shook himself, his tail feathers dipping as he changed his grip on Apollo’s shell.
“Now, we live in peace. No animal wants to leave the city. The humans grow their own food. They keep us as their companions. That is why only certain among us breed at certain times – such as Miss Shenai, there.” I dropped my head, purring as I rasped my tongue over one of my slender paws. I wasn’t embarrassed. I was a cat, I knew how wonderful I was. I was instead pleased. I was proud in myself, in the fact that my perfection had a reaction. “She paired with the best male she wanted to choose from. She’ll provide a litter of kittens that will go on to new homes in our fine city.”
I watched the pups before they turned from me to watch Banjo and Apollo. I stood, determined to draw their attention before a low purr ebbed from my lips.
“So, pups. Do you want to leave the perfection of our home now? Or will you return to your mother?” I waited, aware of the squirming kittens in my heavy stomach. I tired quickly this day, even as I uttered the lowest of purrs, curving my lips into a smile.
“I don’t want to leave here now.”
“Nor me, it’s safe here!”
“I would rather stay with my ma…” The last pup caught me. I purred at him, bumping my head against her shoulder.
“Then run on home, little pups. And remember what you learned today.”