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She lives in fear—of the two-legs, of the noisy, massive trains that scream in and out of the station, of cats and rats and dogs and the dark of the tunnels. She lives in the subway, where the hard shoes kick her ribs, where shrill voices beat her ears, where she subsists on the garbage of the humans. But the little cat walks alone.

   Until she meets Candlewax, a street kid exiled from the subway tunnels, and Katherine, a student photographer who loves her on sight. From these two she learns that trust can banish fear and love provides a home wherever you are.



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Published 01 March 2008
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EAN13 9781554696154
Language English
Document size 2 MB

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F e R A L
BEV COOKEText copyright © 2008 Bev Cooke
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in
any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying,
recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be
invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Cooke, Bev
Feral / written by Bev Cooke.
ISBN 978-1-55143-747-7
1. Feral cats--Juvenile fiction. I. Title.
PS8605.O6445F47 2008 jC813’.6 C2007-907396-4
First published in the United States, 2008
Library of Congress Control Number: 2007942396
Summary: A street kid and a small cat experience fear, hunger and pain in
a dangerous subterranean world.
Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing
programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the
Book Publishing Industry Development Program and the Canada Council for the Arts,
and the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and the Book
Publishing Tax Credit.
Cover image by Getty Images
Cover and text design by Teresa Bubela
Author photo by Sunphoto
PO Box 5626, Stn. B
V8R 6S4
PO Box 468
Printed and bound in Canada.
11 10 09 08 • 4 3 2 1To the world’s best brother-in-law—Eric Hargreaves.
To Gidget, the “real” subway cat.
To the memories of Ivan and Tasha—
two extraordinary cats who live on in the
personality and appearance of Little Cat.A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S
Thanks, as always, to my family—for putting up with a wife and mother who lived
more in the fictional subway than at home. To Donna and Mavis, sisters of the heart
as well as the pen. To my dear friends and harshest readers, Joe and Margot, Sheila
and Jan, for reading, friendship and support. To opus, my marvelous online crit
group. And to Sarah, editor extraordinaire. You saw the story and challenged and
encouraged and nudged until I brought it all out. And to you, the reader. Writing is an
act of telepathy—I write, but until you flesh out the story in your imagination, it’s not
complete. And most important: Glory to God for all things.O N E
Bright-lights cold-tile or noisy-dark shaking-ground? Bright-lights are where hard
shoes kick the little cat’s ribs, where shrill voices and whistle echoes beat her ears,
where the glaring lights hurt her eyes. But her belly grumbles, and the light has food.
She gathers her courage and darts onto the platform to hide between the end wall
and the cold iron post that holds up the ceiling.
Except for the two-legs sleeping in the corners and on the benches, the platform is
empty. The air is still and quiet. No noise filters down the stairs, no heavy wind or
rattle comes from the tunnels. It’s the safe-time, the sleep-time, when the
earthshaker ear-breakers run seldom and the two-legs are few.
This is her place, her territory: from the ledge that leads to the dark, all the way to
the stairs and from one side of the platform to the other. It is where she belongs. It is
where she feels safest.
Her nose twitches. She scents old dirt, candle wax and sleep. She knows this lost
one, although he does not know her. Candlewax Sleep-smell is as agile and as
careful as any cat. His skin is brown, darker than many of the two-legs, but lighter
than some. His straight black hair hangs in his eyes so she can’t always see them
clearly. He sells candles on the platform, and this and his thick brown coat are what
make him smell like himself. He sleeps on the platform sometimes too.
Her ears flatten at the sound of the earth-shaker ear-breaker arriving.
Candlewax stirs and sits up. “Lousy trains,” he mutters. He looks around. “Hey, a
cat. Here, furball, c’mere.”
She is not close enough to be caught but takes no chances. She darts backward.
She walks alone and it is right.
Hard, hurtful voices fill the air, and booted feet clatter onto the platform from the
Candlewax glances up and scrambles to his feet. “Better get gone, small one. Bad
news on its way.” He shifts closer to her; his hands disappear into his coat. She
moves away from him, to the metal barrier. A narrow ledge extends from it toward the
dark. In the wall along the ledge is her hidey-hole, which lies between the platform
and the dark, shaking ground of the tunnel.
Her caution and fear war with her curiosity. She should hide where the two-legs
can’t see her, wait until they’ve left to find some food. But they are fascinating, and
there is no telling what they will do.
Two-legs crowd the platform, pushing, yelling, hitting each other with their fists and
sticks. Some wear hats, with the bills jutting out over their left ears. Others wear
headcloths tied tight, with little tufts of hair sticking out from beneath them.
Candlewax yells to a headclothed one. “Affa!”
A dark-skinned two-legs turns his head. “My man!” His teeth gleam as he bares
them at Candlewax, his eyes glitter in the white light and he dances over to
Candlewax, hitting and kicking the ones who wear the hats. Voices thunder,
clattering feet rumble and crash, pushing out the quiet and peace of the sleep-time.
Candlewax, Affa and two others are surrounded by the hatted ones, fighting like the
rats in the noisy-dark shaking-ground. The scent of blood fills her nose, mates with
the noise in her ears, and she retreats to safety behind the barrier.Candlewax stumbles by. He grabs the barrier as one leg swings out over the
dangerous space where the trains run. Then he balances and his feet, like a cat’s,
are under him again.
She watches from the shadows. He swings his fists, ducks and kicks with
hardbooted feet. He is helping Affa and the ones with Affa.
A flat c r a c k, then another flat c r a c k. The station fills with an odd burning smell as a
hatted one falls, blood spilling over the hard gray ground. Her ears are battered by
screams and yells. The two-legs scatter: up the stairs, into the subway trains, down
to the other end of the platform. Headcloths and caps flutter to the dirty concrete
The blue-legs come. They grab the slower ones, take the fallen one away.
After a long time the quiet peace of sleep-time returns. The cat creeps out to the
iron pole. The smell of blood and the burning stink linger in the air. Two-legs are
dangerous and unpredictable. They aren’t that different from the bare-tails in the
tunnels. They hurt each other for no reason she knows. That is why she walks alone.
She doesn’t understand them, but she is still curious about them.
A movement on the other side of the platform attracts her attention. A rat. A
baretail four-teeth has invaded her territory, creeping around the barrier on the other side
of the platform.
The little cat crouches, her tail lashing back and forth, grumbling in her throat. This
is her space. He is big and can hurt her. Can she beat him?
He sniffs, lifting his head to scent the same thing she has: the food in the
rottensmell box between the stairs and the iron post. It must call him the way it calls her.
But he can’t have it. It is hers; she must drive him out.
She creeps forward. She is afraid. The bare-tails’ teeth are sharp and their claws
are strong. But this is her place, not his. She hisses. The rat looks at her.
She growls. Her muscles bunch. Will it run if she attacks it? Or will it fight? She
wouldn’t win a fight, but she steps forward, growling.
Sniffing, it darts toward the rotten-smell box. She runs a few steps forward but
freezes when it turns and bares its teeth at her. So long, so sharp. They would tear
her legs, her belly. She hesitates as the rat tugs some meat out of the box and darts
back to the tunnel.
The little cat follows it and peers into the darkness of the noisy-dark
shakingground. She shivers, her guard hairs standing on end, tail straight behind her. Next
time. Next time she will not pull away. She will defend her place and kill the rat that
dares invade her space.
Two-legs come onto the platform, clumping and clattering, growling and snarling at
each other. They bite at the food in their hands and throw things in the rotten-smell
box. Later she will eat well. Noise and smell and confusion fill the platform. It is the
busy-time. She hides in the shadows near the cold iron pole.
A thin two-legs comes down the stairs, squats and puts out his hat. He puts his
box with the black and white levers on the ground and presses the levers. The box
makes a strange but pleasant sound, and the odd noise he makes in his throat
blends well with the box’s sound.Other two-legs throw things in his hat as they crowd together. They hurry down the
stairs and jitter while they stand waiting for the train, or they dash up and down the
platform and the stairs.
They push on and off the subway cars, all tangled together, shoving each other,
rushing in all directions, talking, yelling, hurrying. So many of them that even if she
tried, she couldn’t move between them.
With his tray of candles, Candlewax moves through the crowds. People pick the
candles up, smell them, turn them over. Sometimes they keep them and give him
something that he puts in his pocket. He walks up and down the platform, talking,
pointing at his candles, putting things into his pocket.
As the busy-time subsides, Candlewax comes down to her end of the platform. He
smells strongly of his candles. The tray is gone, and in his hand is a box that smells
delicious. He winks at her as he sits in his spot and tosses her wonderful-smelling
food from the box.
“Egg McMuffin, furball. Sausage and egg,” says Candlewax. “Enjoy.” She snatches
it, backs up a few steps and tears it into shreds. When it’s done, he tosses her
another, bigger piece.
“You like that stuff? You must be hungry. I’ll take bacon any day. Cool fight, eh,
cat? That Affa. Man, can he fight. He’s just unreal. Neat guy when he’s not fighting.
Chilly, too. He uses that cane of his really good. But, shit! Someone got shot—one of
the Westend Crew, I guess—he was wearing their colors anyway.”
His voice is full of the ups and downs of excitement. It sounds like other two-legs,
when their voices get louder and sparkle with energy. They throw their arms around,
jump up and down, and their faces light up. He is sitting, not moving, but his voice
has the same spark and there is the same light in his face. He sits for a moment. The
light leaves his face, and he turns to her again.
“I bet Big did it. He’s scary, y’know. I wouldn’t want to cross him, he’s one serious
dude. And that dog of his—that’s one mean mother. Wonder where it was last night?
He don’t go anywhere without it.”T W O
The thin two-legs comes up, watching Candlewax and Little Cat. “You feed her much
more, she’ll be too fat to chase the mice around here,” he says. “You hear? Some
Nightsiders got jumped by the Westend Crew?”
Candlewax nods. “I heard something about the Crew gettin’ a beat-down.”
“Guy from the Crew got shot, I heard—DOA. Cops out lookin’ for anyone knows
anything, and I thought I saw you here last night.”
Candlewax shakes his head. “Not me. I left before midnight. Can’t sleep good in
the station with the trains runnin’ in and out all the time. But thanks for the tip. How
you doin’?”
“Good to hear you’re stayin’ out of trouble. Can’t complain. Done good here today.
Got an audition for a recording in a couple days. Playin’ keyboard, maybe backup
“That’s great. Anybody big?”
Player Man laughs. “Naw—just some local band, but it’s bread, y’know? And
maybe we got a bunch of dates touring around the Valley. If they work out, no more
busking. It’s starting to take off.”
“That’s great! Good luck.”
“You too. Take her easy.”
Candlewax nods. “Any way I can get it.”
Player Man mounts the stairs, passing Affa and another two-legs. The other
twolegs is tall, fat and walks with a stick, so it seems as if he has three legs. He is pale,
with yellow-white hair that hangs straight and limp around his ears and over his eyes.
He smells cold, a bundle of want held close and tight.
Affa dances, his shoes tapping and clicking on the rough gray ground of the
subway platform. His hair is big and curly, sticking out from his head in all directions.
He is the color of the fur on the mice and rats that inhabit the tunnels.
“Hey, man, you fight real good. You were a real help last night,” says three-legs.
“Yeah, bro, you do real good with just your fists. What you think, Chilly? He a good
fighter with us, eh?” Tap click tap go Affa’s feet.
“Yeah, he is for sure. C’mon up to Sisco’s on the Avenue later,” says Chilly. “We’re
havin’ a party.”
“Yeah, thanks! Hey—why didn’t Big have his dog with him? He’d’ve really done
good in the fight.”
“Demon got run over two-three days ago. When you come tonight, don’t talk about
it. Big isn’t in a real good mood right now.”
Candlewax suddenly whacks Chilly on the arm, points down the station. “Cops!
Run,” he says. The little cat moves farther into the shadows as Candlewax climbs the
barrier and leaps down to the tunnel.
She peers down the platform. A blue-legs, feet thudding on the ground, stick
swinging. Affa and Chilly glance over their shoulders and shrug. They close their
jackets, move to the edge of the platform. Now they look like the rest of the two-legs.
Chilly looks past the barrier and into the dark. “He went in the tunnel. Big’ll want to