Saturday, October 06, 2007

Friday Snippet -- Kat Among the Pigeons

I decided I was not going to miss another snippet week. Yes, it's late. And yes, I shouldn't have played around with my graphics programs and made the picture, which took even more time. But you know what? It was fun! And I don't do that kind of stuff often enough these days.

This week I'm starting with the opening to Kat Among the Pigeons. I wrote this one for NaNo in 2005, so it's appropriate to bring it out to show people now, with NaNo only a few weeks away. It's a fun story. I hope you enjoy the pieces I drop here.

Chapter One

The incessant tapping of small bird beaks against the bedroom window brought me out of a deep and blissful sleep.

Tap, tap, tap.

"Go 'way," I said, pushing my head under the pillow. Cato, the big lazy lump of a yellow cat who slept on another pillow by my head, made a sound of protest. I started to fall back asleep. . . .

Then I began to hear the little voices.

"Big wings! Big Wings!"

Tap, tap, tap.

"Don't care."

Tap, tap, tap-tap-tap-tap. "Big-big-big wings!"

I cursed and rolled over, pausing for a moment to stare at the ceiling as I considered what kind of ecological disaster would be sent upon the earth if I wiped out the nuthatches.


Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap.

It sounded like a badly sung round robin, with the drummer out of beat as well -- and it was not a sound a person could sleep through. I finally sat up, brushed hair from my eyes and looked toward the window where a dozen or more panicked nuthatches were clinging to the wood around the frame, some of them hanging upside down, and all of them tapping ceaselessly at the window. Their little voices rose in high-pitched cries of frantic worry.

"Big wings, big wings, big wings."


"Yes, yes. I got the idea. I'm getting up!"

I yanked on my robe as I stood. The light through the window showed it couldn't be more than a few minutes past dawn. Cato lifted his head from the pillow and blinked sleepily. He didn't look any happier than me, but he gave a huge yawn, stood and stretched before he padded over to the edge of the bed closest to the window.

"What is wrong with the little nuts?" he asked through another yawn.

"Not nuts," I answered batting at his head as I went past. I missed and he just stretched again. "Nuthatches."

"All the same to me," Cato said and laid back down, his tail curled up around his nose. "Do you think you could quiet them down a bit?"

"Sure. I could throw you out the window and they'd probably find that interesting enough to shut up about the eagle or hawk or plane that upset them this morning."

Cato snorted and mumbled something I didn't quite hear. Probably just as well.

Understanding animals is fairly common among the fae. It's what makes us good at our work, even on this side of The Edge. But. . . . Well, I'm not blessed with the ability to understand all animals like most of my kind. No, I got lucky enough to just catch two: birds and cats.

It's not a good combination.

Like the rest of my clan, I work as a border guard, sent to watch over parts of the human world where The Edge is unstable -- usually wilderness areas, since magic abhors technology, and even wild magic like The Edge stays clear of large settlements. I've been here on the outskirts of Estes Park for the last four years, living in a lovely A-Frame on land which had been owned by my family for generations.. Just down the hill a busy road curves up toward Rocky Mountain National Park. It's lovely, and usually quiet and peaceful.

Except that sometimes little birds get upset by things. It's especially true this time of the year, with the seasons changing from winter to spring, and the migrations coming back through. It's not their fault that a big bird of some sort came sweeping over where they were gathering bugs and scared the little guys.

I buried my anger about getting up and cranked the window open. Nuthatches held on, some of them upside down as they looked in at me.

"Big wings, very very very very big big big wings."

"It's okay guys," I said. They stopped tapping on the window, at least. "The big wings aren't here."

Dozens of little heads turned, craning around to look up at the sky between towering pines and the edges of the mountain that come right down beside my house. They scanned left and right and back again.

"What are the little guys saying?" Cato asked, lifting his head again. His nose twitched a couple times.

"Something big frightened them. But it's not here." I looked out into the still gray yard and saw quite a few more nuthatches. "Whatever it was, it must have really set them off."

"Ah." I looked back and saw his nose twitch again. "Do invite the little ones in for breakfast, Kat."

"Why? You're so fat and lazy you couldn't catch one if it landed on your head."

"I resent that," he said, with that prissy sound that only an annoyed cat can get. "And I'd like to see you catch one."

"Like this?" I asked, holding out my hand. Four came to cling to my fingers.

"Show off." He put his tail back over his head again.

I spent the next few minutes doing my best to calm them. More than a dozen came to my fingers while I stood there. The day brightened, and the fact that no big wings were around the house helped to settle them again.

Nuthatches, like most of the tiny birds, panic at everything. If I weren't here they'd just fly off in all directions. But I'm like a beacon to birds. And cats. I could see three of the local strays lolling near the pine now, eyeing breakfast on the wing if the birds weren't careful.

"Don't do it, guys," I said to the cats. They'd been hanging around for over a year now, and I saw them look my way with a moment of 'dare I pretend I don't understand?' in their eyes. "I'll bring food out as soon as I get dressed."

"Some of the canned stuff," a big grey tom called Pawford said with a flick of his tail. "If we're not going to get the birds, I don't want just the dry crap."

I leaned out, looking at him. The nuthatches had all headed upward on the tree, except for the few that still clustered on the side of my house. Two suddenly burrowed into my hair. I plucked them back out, but didn't stop staring at the cats. They were getting nervous about it, too. Ears flickered up and down, tails twitched. Then Pawford gave a great sigh and dropped down into the dirt, his head on his paws, and looking dejected.

"Food would be nice," he mumbled. "Anything you can spare. Thank you."

I smiled and drew my head back into the room. Cato had sat up once he heard the other cats and looked far less interested in the birds now. He and Pawford had had a few clashes in the last year, and he had two nicks out of his left ear to prove it. I think Cato surprised Pawford when he proved he could hold his own. He may live in the house, but he's not soft.

I'm not even certain how he got to be a house cat. He just wandered in one day and I found the company... well, nice enough for a cat.

Not lonely here. Nope.

"Everything is all right," I told the nuthatches, brushing my finger over all the little heads that came my way and using just a whisper of magic to settle them. "It's all fine now. The Big Wings are gone."

They did that scan of the sky again, and this time included the trees and even the cats, as though they would suddenly sprout wings and come after them.

I leaned back away from the window, waiting a moment to make sure the little guys were settled, and then cranked it shut again. I pulled several feathers from my hair and dropped two of them down in front of Cato's nose.

"Tease," he said, without opening his eyes or moving his tail.

I laughed and headed for the bathroom, and then on to the kitchen. I grabbed the cat food, including a couple cans for the guys outside. They were good for strays, and they knew how to behave around the house. I can't stop them from doing what's natural to them elsewhere, but here -- where I can understand the screams -- well, they just know better.

But as I leaned down and opened the cabinet I felt such a surge of magic in the area, it snapped me back up, spinning around so fast that it startled Cato who had followed me into the kitchen.

"What!" His ears had gone back and his fur fluffed out, making his tail look twice the normal size.

"Magic," I said and lifted my hand. The surge of magic had unsettled me. It's like nails on a chalk board -- free magic running through the ether doesn't feel right. Some fae don't mind it -- or at least say they don't -- but it's always made me uneasy.

"Is it all right?" he asked, looking around, eyes narrowed and ears back still.

"A surge, but nothing solid I can feel. And it came from far back into the park -- but damn that was a lot of magic from out of nowhere. I hate it when The Edge starts acting up like that!"

Cato made little sounds of agreement, but he'd noticed the open cabinet and at the sight of food he would pretty much agree that he was a bird and could fly if it would get me to open one of the coveted cans for him.

I closed my eyes, and reached out with magic, but I still didn't find anything out of place. Maybe the worries of the nuts... the nuthatches had affected me.

Most of the time I love my job. I like being settled here, in this little bit of nowhere on this side of The Edge. Yeah, I miss home, too -- but we all have to work this side for a few years, and there are far worse places to be. This is a relatively stable area, and they gave it to me because I'm not the strongest person in my clan. The rest of them were out in the really tough areas like the Sahara, the Gobi and places that make Tibet look like an easily accessible vacation destination.

Free magic can play havoc with the weather, though, and we were already having a very stormy April. If The Edge continued to act up, I feared it was only going to get worse for awhile.

"Meow?" Cato said.

"Very funny." But he did make me smile.

"Hey, you're standing in the magic place," he said, and purred as he rubbed against my legs. "I had to get your attention before I fell faint from lack of food."

"Oh yeah, you look like you're going to starve, pudge."

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IanT said...

That's great fun. :-)

They say we anthropomorphise animals too much; I reckon they're right - cats would never lower themselves to the level of a human... *grin*

Gabriele C. said...

What a charming story. I want to read more of it. :)

Yeah, I'm sure things get bad pretty soon, but Cato is so much fun.

Kaelle said...

I don't know why more of your work isn't published, zette. I've been reading genre for decades and I find your writing to be just as good and often better than what gets out there.

Keep it coming.

Oh, and I've been waiting somewhat patiently for the next installment on the sisters' story. I hope you have the time for this!


cherylp said...

Free magic! That's an interesting phrase to use--I'd like to read this. I'm assuming it's done since you wrote it for Nano 2005?