The evening sun was waning over the abandoned city, and the cats were on the prowl. Leo Socks was walking down what he believed was an empty alley way just minding his cat business when from out of a bin sprang a red fox. Leo regarded the newcomer with consternation. He’d seen foxes before, but few as bold as this one. He was after all deep in cat land.
“Say, what brings you here Mr. Fox?”
The red fox skulked as he crept sideways yet was careful to maintain eye contact with Leo.
“Who are you?” Croaked the fox.
“Socks, Leo Socks,” said the cat coolly.
A broad toothy grin slipped across the fox’s face. Leo instantly recognised the meaning of this grin and bounded forward just as the fox did the same. They connected in mid air except Leo landed on the fox’s back and sprang back off again driving the fox’s nose down into the ground in an dramatically uncontrolled landing. The baffled fox snarled uncomprehendingly at what Leo had just done; cats generally run away from foxes not attack them head on.
“You’re very brave for a cat!” Hissed the red fox.
Leo didn’t wait for the fox to charge again. He leaped over the confused fox and bit hard into his tail. The fox yelped pathetically and ran away. Leo looked about the now deserted alleyway and started walking calmly on his way when he heard the unmistakable sound of paws clapping. A puffy ginger cat was looking down from a balcony clapping slowly.
“Very impressive kitto, you’re a natural. I haven’t seen a cat push a fox around like that in a long time. Which is good news for you, because my organisation could use a cat like you.”
Leo’s whiskers drooped forlornly, “I am not interested. I have got important cat business to attend to. I think I saw a rabbit around his this morning.”
The ginger cat jumped down into the alley to walk beside Leo. The cats were flanked by tall buildings that had been abandoned some years before. They were structurally in excellent condition, but paint had long peeled off and putrid water stains had ruined once festive decorations. The ground was covered in trash, and small bushes and trees were breaking out of the cracks in the road and side walks well along their slow but relentless mission to turn the town into a forest again.
“You know, that fox will be back after you sooner or later. Cat land is getting smaller every day. The foxes are taking more and more of our hunting grounds away from us. If we cats have no places left to hunt we will starve. We need to do something about the foxes. We need to reclaim the town as ours again otherwise we will all be forced out of our ancestral homes here in the town. That will happen to us all eventually, but it will happen to you sooner. That fox was after you specifically, and eventually he’ll bring his friends and tear you apart.”
Leo glared at the ginger cat, “why would he do that? I am a nobody to him. I am not worth his time.”
“Because look at you. You’re all black and white. You look like you’re in a tuxedo. What’s your name kitto?”
“The name’s Leo Socks. Socks because I have four white feet, I don’t know what my mother’s name was. She was gone before I learned to speak. All I remember of her from my kittenhood was that she had black and white fur like me. I don’t have any siblings and why would the foxes be after me just because I have black and white fur?”
“Well Mr. Socks, I’m Fletcher. So Socks isn’t your family name? How interesting. Peculiar how you don’t have any siblings, I’ve never met a cat without siblings before. It seems to me like you just popped up here out of nowhere. Yet you know your cat name is Leo?
“I know my first name is Leo though, it’s the only word I can remember my mother saying to me.”
Fletcher meditated on this for a few moments. Leo examined the fluffy ginger and guessed that he would have to be at least ten years old. Clearly Leo had been around for a long time, and would have remembered what the town had been like when the people lived here with the cats. Older cats like Fletcher always seemed quiet and suspicious wherever they looked. As though the world had become foreign to them, yet for cats Leo’s age this was the only world they had ever known and it was just fine as far as Leo was concerned. With no memory of a time before, he had no idea that he was missing out on anything.
Eventually Fletcher decided to speak again, “Have you heard of the FBI?”
Leo stopped in his tracks.
“That’s right, the Feline Bureau of Investigation. That’s my organisation and I really think you should consider my offer before they come after you again.”
“Why would a fox attack me again, though?”
Fletcher chuckled, “Whatever litter you sprung out of you’re too young to remember what life was like when people used to be around. This city used to be full of them, and dogs too. Back then dogs were annoying still, but they were on our side, so were the rabbits, but the foxes and rats knew their place and kept outside the town. Now the people are gone, the dogs are wild, the rabbits have fled, the foxes are encroaching on cat land, and the rats are in charge of everything. It’s us cats against the whole world and the rats are after all the tuxedos in town and I reckon that makes you a very important cat. Do the right thing, come work for me. We need to stick together.”
Leo pondered this speech. He found it hard to believe that dogs and cats would ever live peacefully together, but if that were true then the foxes would never dare try to take over the town. Leo pressed Fletcher for more details but the old cat was silent for a long time. Eventually he said that foxes will stop at nothing to take Leo down so long as they think he’s the carrier.
“The carrier? But why would they think that I am the carrier?”
“Because you’re a tuxedo cat,” Fletcher said plainly, “and all the rats talk about nowadays is the tuxedo terror. That’s why they’re helping the foxes to take over cat land. They want to hung down every last tuxedo cat.”
Leo squinted, “Yeah, I got the suit from my mother, but what’s the deal with being a tuxedo cat? Sure, I’m a good hunter, but I am no tuxedo terrorist. Yet.”
“Well,” said Fletcher chuckling, “The rats believe that the carrier cat is a tuxedo cat. I don’t know how the rats figured this out, but what’s important is that they believe this to be true. True enough to have paid the foxes and the dogs to hunt down all the tuxedo cats in town. Somewhere the rats have a stash of dry crunchy kibbles, and with it they can buy off any fox or dog they want. A cat can’t trust anyone these days.”
Leo’s jaw dropped, “Why would the rats do that? How can they do that?”
Fletcher flapped his tail impatiently, “Why is the secret cat business of the FBI. So I can’t tell you why. How though remains a mystery. A mystery I want you do solve. Solve the how mystery and I may tell you about the why.”
“Then what do you expect me to do?”
“Well, a cat like you who can take on foxes has a useful skill, a skill the FBI needs for a dangerous mission. Also, because the rats are so afraid of the Tuxedo terror they aren’t likely to get in your way should you cross paths with them.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to go after the next fox that attacks you and follow him until you find out where and how the rats are buying their loyalty. It’s a dangerous mission but you look like the tabby who could pull this one off. The FBI would be grateful for your help. We don’t have any dry crunchy kibbled, but there’s a tin of gourmet cat food just for you if you can pull it off.”
Leo looked hard at Fletcher, “No. I am not interested in this. You will have to find another cat willing to stick his neck out for you.”
Fletcher blinked slowly and looked away from Leo, “Suit yourself, but if you change your mind you can find me in the old car park on the west side.”
With that the ginger cat strolled away leaving Leo alone. Leo continued wandering around the streets, he was something of an unusual cat in that he was almost fearless when exploring areas he hadn’t been before. It was when he was heading down towards the old railway line that he heard the sound of running water. Running water was so rare that Leo immediately went running towards where he thought he had heard it. Running water was much better than lapping a stagnant puddle.
Leo tracked the sound to an old abandoned house that had been engulfed by thickets and blackberries. Hesitating for a few moments he athletically jumped through the gaps in the foliage and found an open window to crawl into. The house was bear with wall paper peeling of the walls in long strips with weeds and mushrooms growing up out of the carpets. At last he found a wall in the house that was making the sound like that of a waterfall. He walked all the way around it but could see no water, he put his ear to the wall and there was definitely a sound of water coming from behind it. Eventually he grew bored trying to solve this mystery and decided that next to the wall was as good a place as any to get a quick cat nap.
Leo dreamed that he was lying on a giant lily pad washing down a stream when a great tigress burst out of the clearing. Leo jumped from the lily pad and watched the tigress timidly from the opposite side of the stream. The tigress looked at Leo and spoke to him, “Leo… you are needed… go…”
The tigress spoke with a feminine but urgent voice, Leo was transfixed by the sight of an animal that the cats of the town considered to be a race of titans. As Leo was gazing at the tigress he noticed something peculiar about the fur. He couldn’t see a trace of colour between the black stripes. Leo wanted to ask the tigress why he was needed but the tigress roared at him so loudly that the whole dreamscape shook, “GO! NOW!”
Leo awoke with a start to find he had over slept and the afternoon sun was shining through the ruined house. Sensing something behind him he looked over his shoulder to see a fox head peering through a window in the kitchen. Jumping to his feet Leo ran out to the living room where two more foxes were already climbing through the bay windows. Leo turned about and raced back to the corridor only to see the fox from the kitchen was waiting at the other end. There was only one place left he could run and that was into the toilet room. He squeezed through the gap and slammed his body against the door closing it with a ‘snap’ of the latch. A split second later he felt the tremors of the foxes hurling themselves against the door.
Looking about him he saw a small window near the ceiling. He went about hopping first onto the toilet seat and then leaping onto the cistern just as the foxes managed to knock the old door open and burst into the room. The first fox leaped up onto the toilet after Leo but the cat reacted with lighting fast reflexes and scratched the side of the fox’s muzzle. The fox panicked and slipped falling head first into the toilet bowl below. While the other two foxes were distracted with pulling their comrade out of the toilet bowl by his hind legs Leo jumped from the cistern up onto the window ledge. It was a difficult perch but Leo used his feline dexterity to angle himself up and over the glass slats and squeeze himself outside. He landed on a patch of blackberries with a thud and from inside the house he heard a fox yell, “Quick! He’s outside, everyone after him!” Leo looked first to the hole in the fence, and then to the pathway beside the house: he knew he had to choose quickly and wisely as the foxes would be there any second.
Moments later the foxes came from both directions and found not a trace of Leo. The confused foxes split up and searched the garden and the house again. Meanwhile sitting quietly on the roof of the house Leo kept a close eye on the foxes. Eventually it got too dark for the foxes to continue their search and they decided to cut their losses and go. Leo decided he had better follow these foxes, as they weren’t going to leave him alone. Aided by his night vision and feather soft paw pads he was able to follow the foxes without them knowing it in the darkness.
Leo followed the foxes along the railroad tracks and into an industrial area filled with abandoned factories. In a stockyard there was a fire burning. Leo climbed onto a nearby roof to get a closer look. A dozen foxes were gathering around the fire including the red fox that had attacked Leo that morning as well as the three foxes that had chased him around the old house. Leo noticed that all the foxes gathered looked rather thin. It made sense to Leo, after all foxes aren’t as good at hunting as cats. The entire fox colony must be on the verge of starvation.
Then inexplicably a small cart was slowly wheeled into view. It was being pulled by six surprisingly fat rats. Obviously they had been successful at finding lots of food even if the foxes hadn’t. Then Leo saw what was on the cart: a container filled with kibbles! The foxes surrounded the cart and a seventh rat wearing thimble hat was riding on top of it. The rat in the hat started flicking kibbles out of the cart and at the foxes circling it like hungry vultures. Although Leo’s cat ears were excellent he still needed to get closer to hear what the rat was saying to the foxes.
“Eat up fox friends! Eat up! We rat friends feed you! Tell us of the tuxedo cat? Have you caught him? If you have then tomorrow we will bring so much food it will be a bounty of unlimited joy!”
The foxes slyly admitted to the rats that they had sighted a tuxedo cat twice that day but failed to catch him. The lead rat’s mood changed to furious anger when hearing that the tuxedo cat had gotten away a second time. Picking up a kibble the rat threw it hard at a fox hitting him between the eyes. The startled fox yelped.
“Bad foxes! Terrible foxes! We rats feed you all but you won’t honour us rats! Sad foxes. If you don’t go get tuxedo cat soon then you be hungry foxes! We rats won’t feed useless foxes!”
The foxes howled and snapped, but not at the rats but at each other. Leo observed that so great was the rats’ power over them they they turned on each other desperately trying to win the approval of the lead rat who oscillated between flattering and disparaging the foxes. Leo wondered what calamity had altered the natural order of things that the rats would dominate over the foxes?
Whatever the answer, Leo decided he had to find out. Using his feline stealth moves he followed the rats as they left the encampment of the foxes and headed out across the wasteland. Leo was so focused on following the rats that he failed to notice that the red fox had spotted him leave and was slinking after him at a distance. Leo followed the rats across a field toward a series of great concrete silos. When the long grass ended abruptly there was moat filled with dirty stagnant water. The rats were crossing at a bridge nearby, but Leo observed that the bridge was guarded by fierce Rottweiler. Leo froze in fright: the dogs and rats were working together, just like Fletcher had warned him.
Leo slowly retreated from the bridge area his feline nerves steady as steel as he crept back into the safety of the long grass. When without warning he backed into the red fox. The fox pounced on Leo before he could flinch. Leo struggled but underneath the fox’s weight he couldn’t break free. The fox whispered into Leo’s ear.
“Remember me? You embarrassed me this morning but no one ever embarrasses the red fox, especially not an uppity tuxedo cat!”
The fox pressed his muzzle into one of Leo’s ears and hissed, “I think it’s time I trimmed these ears of yours back!”
Leo heaved and tensed but to no avail the fox had him pinned down too well for him to struggle free, he heard the fox open his jaws ready to bite into his ears.
“Why are you trimming that cat’s ears?” Said a gentle voice from somewhere in the cool night.
The red fox looked up nervously. Leo could sense that the fox getting distracted from him. He should wait for an opportunity to make a break for it he concluded. From out of the darkness appeared a Labrador just recently grown out of puppyhood.
“Why do you want to trim that cat’s ears Mr. Red Fox?” repeated the dog innocently.
“I-I-I just think that he w-would better without them being so p-pointy,” stammered the fox.
“Oh! That is true. I think pointy ears look silly. It is better when ears are floppy like mine,” said the dog.
The Fox smiled and thinking that he had an ally in the dog went on to say boldly this time, “Do you want to help me tear him apart?”
The dog’s mouth dropped open and he immediately fell back on his front legs tensing up his body, “You’re going to hurt that kitty! You’re a bad fox!” exclaimed the dog.
Realising his blunder the fox tried backtracking, “No, no, no! I was just playing!”
Leo made his move. He twisted himself underneath the fox and with his four claws free to move at last started swiping energetically everywhere at the red fox’s body: belly, neck, chest, jawline. Leo spared nothing. The dog barked and the fox realising what was happening jumped off and fled into the darkness. Leo was left panting in the dirt and grass; winded from his ordeal. The dog came up and muzzled him gently; Leo stayed completely still pretending to be dead.
“It’s ok kitty. Humphrey has saved you. Humphrey is a good boy.”
“Thank you Humphrey, I’m Leo. I’m also confused: I though you dogs didn’t like cats nowadays?”
“Hmmm, generally not. If that Rottweiler guarding the bridge found you she would probably eat you up.”
“But you’re not going to eat me?”
“My mumma told me that dogs and cats used to be friends in the old times. She says we will be friends again one day.”
“The old times?”
“Yeah, back when there were people around here. Cats and dogs used to live together with the people. It was us against the foxes and the rats.”
“Wow. What happened to the people?”
Humphrey shook his head, “Mumma didn’t say. It was years ago though. Before I was born.”
“Then why are the dogs working with the rats now? If dogs used to be friends with cats?”
“Mumma said we need to do what the rats say because the rats have food. The rats are the masters for now.”
Leo rolled back onto his feet, “The rats have food?”
“Yeah, the rats give us food and we dogs guard this area.”
“The hand that feeds leads,” murmured Leo.
“That’s right, that’s the second doggie commandment!” exclaimed Humphrey, “you know our laws!”
“Where do the rats get the food from?”
“No one knows. They just show up each day with more food.”
“Where do they come from with the food?”
“From that building over there,” answered Humphrey indicating towards the silos.
“Hmmm, what is in that building?”
“No dog knows. Dogs aren’t allowed in.”
“How do the rats get in?”
“They just squeeze through the fence.”
Leo gasped, “Humphrey, I think I know what is happening here. I think the rats are manipulating you. They’ve convinced the other dogs and the foxes that we cats are the enemies. We used to be friends like your mumma said, let’s be friends again?”
Humphrey stared at him innocently and wagged his tail affirmatively.
“Humphrey, I need to get across that moat, can you help me?”
Humphrey turned his head slightly sideways, “Why not just wade through it? It’s wonderfully muddy and smelly.”
Leo gulped and looked at his luscious long fur. He frowned a little when he realised that some of it was covered in dirt from the struggle with the red fox, however, the thought of getting his beautiful coat covered in mud was too horrifying for him.
“Humphrey, there’s got to be another way, I can’t cross such a muddy moat. I will be compelled to bathe myself for hours before moving forward. It’s a cat thing, you wouldn’t understand.”
So Humphry lead Leo to the moat and Leo suggested he ride on Humphrey’s back. The cat clung to the dog as he pushed himself through the thick green mud and pounced off the dog’s back onto solid ground once across. Once over the pair headed straight for the building. It was a large steel building attached to six enormous silos. There was a rabbit proof fence running about the entire perimeter. Humphrey pointed at the base of the fence how all the dogs’ previous attempted to dig underneath had failed because of the wire buried in the ground. Leo extended a claw and gently teased the wire mesh up.
“Humphrey, I can’t dig well, but I can use my claws to lift up this wire mesh. Can you dig underneath it?”
Humphrey was a bit slow and didn’t catch onto what Leo was getting at, so Leo had to encourage him to dig and the big dog was happy to have a cat friend. Leo struggled to hold the mesh up for Humphrey to dig underneath and eventually Leo’s paws had fallen asleep. Leo’s grip slipped and swatted Humphrey’s face. The dog barked and howled in shock. Seeing other dogs coming Leo slipped underneath the partially dug hole just in time. Two dogs walked up to ask Humphrey what was up. The first was a bulldog and the other an Irish wolfhound.
The bulldog spoke first, “Humphrey, what’s the commotion here about?”
Humphrey explained that he had just been digging a hole underneath the fence.
The wolfhound sniffed the air tentatively, “Humphrey, have you seen a cat nearby?”
“By George! You’re right! There is the smell of a cat in the air tonight,” exclaimed the bulldog.
“Yes, I gave a cat a ride on my back tonight,” answered Humphrey naively. Not far away in the thickets Leo was putting his paws over his eyes in consternation. The two other dogs sniffed Humphrey’s back.
The wolfhound chuckled, “He’s been playing with the cats again. I fear Humphrey here will never make a good guard dog.”
“Aye, Humphrey here is too nice. That’s his problem, too nice. Gentle to the family, savage to the stranger. That’s the third doggie commandment. You should learn it Humphrey my boy,” lectured the bulldog authoritatively.
With that the two dogs turned and trotted off back away into the darkness. Leo slowly uncovered his eyes.
“Thank you for not telling them where I was,” whispered Leo.
“Oh, I would have told them if they had asked me,” said Humphrey casually.
“But they would have eaten me,” protested an appalled Leo.
Humphrey seemed surprised by this, “Why could they ever do that?”
Leo drew a long breath and answered slowly, “because my dear Humphrey boy, not everyone thinks like you do. Here, let me help you get underneath the fence. Oh, and sorry for hitting you with the mesh before.”
Humphrey wagged his tail with glee and squeezed underneath the gap they had just made underneath the fence. The two were about to head over to the building when a sound of rustling in the grass shocked them both. They ran away from the sounds in panic at their proximity to them and ran straight into the building. The inside of the building was lit with electrical lamps and Leo had to squint before he could see properly. However, the image of thousands of rats starring at him in horrific awe soon swam into focus.
Leo smiled and said casually, “Hello there ratties!”
From somewhere in the crowd a rat shrieked, “THE TUXEDO TERROR!!!”
A maelstrom of chaos exploded inside the room as the rats all started running in every direction screeching as loud as they could, “THE TUXEDO CAT! THE TUXEDO CAT!”
In fewer seconds than Leo could regain his composure from all the hurried excitement as the whole room was emptied of rats and he was sitting alone surrounded by junk. Leo was stunned by the silence which had erupted as suddenly as the raucous had only seconds before. It was a full minute before Leo realised that Humphrey was missing. He moved towards a faint munching sound and around a corner he found Humphrey chowing down into a huge pile of dog food.
Leo ran about the building exploring every nook and cranny. All the rats had thoroughly abandoned the place, but the mystery of the rat’s power over the dogs and foxes became clear to him: the silos were used to store dog food. There were hundreds of tonnes of dog food: Dog food that only the rats could get at via the rabbit proof fence surrounding the building by squeezing through the gaps in the rabbit proof fence.
“Humphrey my dear friend,” said Leo, “I think us cats and dogs are soon about to become good friends again!”
Did you like Leo Socks’ adventure? Let me know if you would like to read more of his adventures.