The Battle of the Lemon Tree
By Larry, California
Editor's Note: Enter "Cat World", with Larry from California, a friend who submitted this delightful, well written story to the magazine.
"Let me out," Whiskers meowed at the back door.
Where is that damn pet of mine? he thought to himself while facing the door. It's morning. I must patrol my territory.
Whiskers, a large tabby cat, thought his pets were sometimes slow and lazy. He had three human pets. There was the big male one, who recently grew more fur on his face. Probably a reaction to the cold winter ahead, Whiskers thought. Then there was the female one who would spend many hours in Whiskers' temple area - called 'kitchen' in human language - preparing inedible food. Why does she spend so much time with plants and leaves? I meow at her constantly to give me meat, but she ignores my pleas. Then there's the little one, though she's not such a little kitten anymore, growing almost as tall as her mother. She picks me up and talks annoying kitty talk to me, but feeds me treats and lets me smell that crazy perfume. Mmmm, the sweet, intoxicating aroma of catnip.
They seem to always forget to check my empty food bowl; I have to yell at them constantly to feed me. And now my pets, which I allow to co-exist with me, are ignoring my orders to open the door. "Outside," Whiskers meowed even louder.
Finally, the big newly-furry male pet noticed Whiskers standing there and held the back door open for him. It's about time, Whiskers thought to himself while standing in the doorway, catching a whiff of the fresh outdoor air. He took a moment to appraise the surroundings, picking up scents both of his enemies and of his friends who had passed by the back steps in the night.
Just as his big pet began to get impatient and started to close the door, Whiskers took a step forward. He looked back with a 'harumph', and strutted down the stairs. Whiskers was greeted there by his girlfriend, a small calico cat named Dirty Face, called that because of a dark patch on the fur around her face. She had a tendency to hang out by the back door because Whiskers' pets would sometimes leave tasty treats on the porch for her.
Being wild and independent, Dirty Face had a natural distrust of people, skittering away at the slightest approach by any human. Once the door was closed again and the imposing threat was gone, she bounded up to Whiskers, rubbing her furry face against his.
"Good morning, my friend," she meowed to him. "Sleep well?"
"Off and on," Whiskers replied with a tired meow. "The younger pet was up most of the night staring at her little window that makes noise. I think she calls it a 'laptop' in human."
"Those humans have strange customs," Dirty Face noted.
"Yes," Whiskers agreed. "Like how they put on new fur every morning. Or purposely stand under water in that thing they call a 'shower'. Very strange indeed."
Dirty Face sniffed Whiskers' breath. "What is that?" Dirty Face asked. "You've been eating tuna again?"
"Yes. It was glorious! The big one had a late night snack and gave me the juice from the can. He is almost tolerable when he does that."
"Careful," Dirty Face said. "You may lose your feline aloofness!"
"Not likely," Whiskers said while sniffing the air. "Hey. The Clone has been by here, hasn't he?" The Clone, also an orange tabby like Whiskers, lived a couple houses down and was constantly trying to usurp Whiskers' territory.
"I'm afraid so," Dirty Face said. "He came prowling after you went in last night. He struts around with that little dingly bell around his neck pretending like he owns the place. Some nights he even steals food that your pets leave out for me."
"Oh, Dog," Whiskers cursed. "He knows not to come into my territory."
"He knows not to come into your territory when you're not around," his girlfriend corrected.
"Let's see where else he has been," Whiskers said as he began to sniff around.
With his tail pointed straight into the air, Whiskers strutted over to the lemon tree in the neighboring yard. It was a contested zone, sitting squarely between The Clone's territory and Whiskers'. Sniffing, he caught The Clone's distinctive smell around the lemon tree.
"He's been here," Whiskers hissed to his girlfriend.
"I told you. He's always around when you're not," Dirty Face purred.
Whiskers canceled The Clone's scent with a spray of his own onto the base of the tree. "Well, okay. We have to do something about that!"
"What's this 'we' stuff, big guy?" Dirty Face purred. "Let's remember our roles, you big pussy cat. You're the alpha-cat and I'm just the cute little kitty that follows you."
"Females," Whiskers pretended to complain, sticking his nose into the air. "Pretty little things that aren't a bit of good in a scrap."
Dirty Face smiled and purred happily while rubbing her head against Whiskers's fur. "And you wouldn't have it any other way, would you?" She said demurely.
Later that evening, around about the time for Whiskers to go in for the night, he caught a glimpse of The Clone peeking around the neighbor's house. Ah ha! He meowed to himself: I'll catch him tonight.
The back door opened, illuminating the backyard, and the young female pet poked her head out looking for Whiskers. He made a demonstration of swaggering toward the door, making sure The Clone saw him. When Whiskers's pet looked over toward The Clone's direction, he cowardly popped his furry face back behind the building with a little jingle from his collar's bell. Now's my chance, thought Whiskers, jumping down from the porch just before going inside. His female pet mumbled something exasperatedly in human, then shut the door, leaving the yard in darkness again.
Walking along the edges of the yard, Whiskers stayed to the shadows while he made his way over toward the lemon tree. Dirty Face watched from the distance, sitting on the back steps to get a good perspective. She couldn't see her beau hidden in the shadows, but she knew he was there.
Whiskers didn't have to wait long for his adversary to appear. The Clone pranced out from the passageway between his house and the neighbor's garden, oblivious to Whiskers's presence in the shadows. The Clone nearly made it to the lemon tree, when he eventually sniffed the air, suddenly realizing something wasn't quite right.
Whiskers stepped out of the shadow and into the clear. "So. You think you can walk through my territory without consequences?" Whiskers hissed.
The Clone, clearly startled, hissed back, "What? What? Why are you still outside?" He took a step back, which allowed him to recover a bit, and struck a more defiant pose. "And what makes you think this tree is yours?"
"It was mine before you were here, it's mine now, and it'll be mine long after you're gone. Now take your cowardly tail back home!" Whiskers hissed loudly.
"My cowardly tail is staying right here," The Clone said. Then realizing his faux pas, he tried to correct himself. "I mean, not my cowardly tail ... It's not my cowardly tail. Oh wait, my tail isn't cowardly, it's ..."
Before The Clone could sort out his internal confusion, Whiskers pounced. In a ball of fur and fury, the two cats tumbled through the garden, rolling past fallen lemons. Whiskers got his right paw in The Clones face, but The Clone rebounded with a hind kick, temporarily separating them. Whiskers, though slightly bigger than The Clone, was still quick enough and ended up on top of him again in a single bound.
The sounds of the fight carried through the neighborhood. Pretty soon other cats had gathered to watch. George, a bushy tailed bright-eyed cat, cheered on Whiskers, while Midnight, a completely black cat, rooted for The Clone. Dirty Face stayed toward the back, preening herself, confident in Whiskers's ability.
The two cats hissed at each other, throwing every curse in the book at each other. "Your mother sleeps with dogs and has mice over for tea!" Whiskers growled at The Clone.
"Yeah, well, your mother sleeps and has tea, too! Um ... And mice and dogs are there." The Clone tried to counter, but wasn't nearly as quick with his wit as his foe. The gathered crowd laughed and Midnight put his paw to his face in embarrassment for his friend.
The two cats had separated again and were staring each other down when the door opened to Whiskers's house. In a final cowardly move, The Clone turned tail and ran. The rest of the crowd paraded away, taunting The Clone as he fled. Such an embarrassing defeat would be hard for him to recover from.
An odor wafted from the open door: meat! There was the smell of cooked bird in the air! The mother-pet laid some bones down on the ground for Dirty Face and called to the cats. As Whiskers swaggered victoriously toward his door, Dirty Face rubbed against him once. "I'll be here for you tomorrow, my big hero."
Whiskers purred his delight and strutted into the house as Dirty Face began chomping on her bonus meal, knowing that, at least for one night, she could eat in peace without being bothered by The Clone.