#1 The City Like a Cat.

There was a city like a cat. Not that the city was particularly hairy, affectionate, or superior, as cats are. This city was more like the way that cats weave in between the legs of their human in the kitchen at meal times, pressing themselves against the solid surface of your shoe and wiping their fluffy faces against the leg of your black work trousers. This city nestled itself into the feet of a mountain like that. But like humans the mountain didn’t seem to mind, or maybe it did, but the city never asked.

Dwellers in the city were much like you would find anywhere else, except that they had shovels for hands. Not real hands that like to dig in the soil, but actual shovels. Perhaps I should clarify that they were a race of living machines who spent most of their days digging tunnels and collecting certain rocks out of the base of the mountain. It doesn’t really matter what they dug for, all that you need to be concerned with is that the mountain sometimes rumbled, and the work was particularly tedious. Which is perhaps why the presence of a stranger caused such a hullabaloo.

The stranger appeared one morning in the city square. You can hardly blame the city’s inhabitants for not having a banquet prepared for the stranger since they were not expecting it. But there it was one day, in the center of the city standing proudly on four legs with a long sleek tail, a pale-yellow fur coat, and round green eyes. It was only about three feet tall, but that seemed like plenty to the shovel-handed city-dwellers who only stood five or so feet tall. For a moment the stranger stood in the center of the town watching with anticipation as the machines began to take notice of its presence. Metal faces with screens on them turned to film the cat, other metal faces didn’t have screens, but apertures that narrowed their focus on the creature.

Enthusiasm is a tricky thing. Enjoying a thing with no hesitation, giving yourself to it thoroughly, is a liberating experience that puts fluttery bubbles in your belly and makes your shoulders a little straighter. But sometimes…sometimes, it leads you to impulsive choices, like long term commitments to produce a thing that you have no business attempting. And occasionally enthusiasm compels you to chase after the shiny new thing instead of mining like you are supposed to. Which, coincidentally, is precisely what happened. A machine was so delighted that something NEW had happened that they took a small step forward. They lifted their rounded hand and stomped toward the mountain lion. The machine probably wanted to touch the soft looking strange fur, but the sharpened shovel looked a bit “stabby” to the mountain lion, who dodged the machine’s approach. Then the mountain lion turned and tilted its head to observe the machine and waggled its sleek tail. You’ll have to decide for yourself, but to the machine, the tail waggling seemed like an invitation to follow. Which the curious machine did.

Being a collaborative race, it was inevitable that other machines joined in the chase. The mountain lion darted around corners with agility while dozens of machines tromped after it on big feet that were not made for chasing mountain lions around a city. To be honest, I’m not certain what the purpose was for feet to be made that way, but they were not accustomed to chasing a mountain lion around a city in morning sunlight. Nevertheless, the machines continued after the mountain lion leaving the tunnel to rumble by itself. A few of the machines worried that something awful would happen if the tunnel was left unattended.

The morning sun rose and put on a jacket of clouds for the afternoon. The tromping of big feet could be heard all the way at the top of the mountain (I’m not sure who was up there to hear it, but I’ve heard reports that the sound did, in fact, reach the mountain and it reverberated off the cliffs to almost sound like laughter, but I can’t prove that, so you might disregard it). All day the mountain lion waggled its tail and the machines gave chase.

Eventually the sun began to get tired and was ready to have a nap so it warned everyone that it was about to bugger off. The machines didn’t mind though because they were quite spent themselves after chasing the mountain lion all day. It was not the same kind of tiredness that came at the end of a day in the tunnel. One machine observed that mountain-lion-chasing tiredness made you sleepy, but not quite so empty as tunnel-digging tiredness.

All through the city, machines sat on the street or the sidewalk stretching their arms and yawning. Some even wiggled their toes. They watched the light leave with the sun.  And the mountain lion slowed to leave with the light. Before it left, the mountain lion brushed up against each of the machines before stopping at the edge of the city.
It stood there for a moment, waggled its tail one last time, then slid into the shadowy forest and returned to the mountain.

The night passed quietly. No machines could be heard digging in the tunnels. No feet stomped through the streets. If there was any sound heard, it was birdsong in the forest canopy or the low hum of machines that had ceased their hard labor. The tunnels didn’t even rumble.

The next morning, a soft white fog breathed across the city. The diffused light made it seem as though the sun had overslept. Machines gradually whirred into action again. The tunnel stood ready for them with a dreary look that might scold them for their neglect the previous day. However, that is only something that I noticed.

Not one machine was bothered by (or even aware of) the scowling face that their work pulled at them. The machines only noticed how happy they were, and how strong they were, and how fast they dug that day. And somehow as they worked in the tunnel, their stomping sounded different.

I can’t help but wonder what their stomping sounded like from the mountain.

If you want to keep reading you can check out some of my other short stories in this series:

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