The Secrets of Cats


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  1. #1

    The Secrets of Cats

    This is a story build on a hand-built setting for a pen-and-paper game called The Secrets of Cats. Certain bits of vocabulary (and the intentional avoidance of words like "road," "lamp," "car," and "human") is just the nature of how the cats communicate and (mis-)understand the workings of humans. This was written as a sort of prologue to players to get quickly acquainted with the role cats have in feline society, and how spoken description will omit select vocabulary. That said, it's still a piece of fiction I'm proud of, and would love to have your feedback.



    Twilight fell over the city of Palm Springs, bathing the white stone buildings and cracked asphalt in muted blues, purples, and the faintest echoes of orange. The sprawling streets began to bleed off their traffic, and life quieted down a little for the evening. The only light, beyond little muted illumination cast by the stars overhead, was the synthetic orange glow through the windows of the Barstucks on the street corner.


    From the direction of the lake, a shadow ghosted along the side of the little cafe. The form moved only with the sway of the wind, blending seamlessly into the natural movement of the bushes. On the rock-strewn asphalt ahead, a large metal beast lumbered down the road, screaming with the sound of rubber, metal, and displaced air. After the sprawling cones of light drifted further off, the bushes released the shadow, which sprinted across the blacktop.
    Siblings of the metal beast were resting across the way, beast after beast perched lifelessly and soundlessly among the humming towers the burdens erected. They cast absolutely hideous amounts of light over the natural darkness and the stone they strew across their living spaces. Among the restless beasts, burdens would occasionally walk among the metal-smooth panels, climb inside one of the beasts, and from inside, coax it to life with a terrible power and noise.


    The silhouette ghosted across another strip of burdenous material, skipping delightedly along the unlit corridor, until delighting itself stalking through the grass and trees of a public park. Palm Springs Public Park was beautiful at night, teeming with ignorant animals, prey, and the right marriage of nature and burden. There were lit walking paths, which kittens would canter along as directed by their guardians. Small birds and rodents would fill the trees, causing a rustling atypical of the wind. Toward the northern edge of the park, a cavernous stone and metal creation stood as a testament to burdens’ ability to make entirely useless constructions, but do them on a scale both unnecessary and grandiose. On the edge of the raised area, sat a duo of cats. The first was a black and white cat, growing in years, sitting regally along the edge of the raised platform. Her ears and tail in a state of relaxed confidence, swaying absently. She would occasionally greet cats as they appeared and took their place on the grass below. The second was a light gray cat of intimidating size, scarred along his right eye and left ear, thickly built with extreme use of muscle. His gaze flitted across each new cat as they appeared and approached, as if sizing and categorizing each in both a roll call and gauging potential threats.


    Below, among the burden-maintained lawn of the park, were a growing number of cats. Maybe 20 or 30 furry bodies in all, of varying ages and sizes, were simply coming to a sprawl, seat, or relaxed stance along the outskirts. Many seemed ready to leave at any point. Among them were many young kittens, at least 15 of those present, who were sat closest to the platform where the two older cats sat. The shadow swished its tail, and crouched low, preparing to creep up to the unaware creatures.


    As the shadow got closer, it realized that the black cat on the platform had begun speaking at some point. “…useless. Despite their size, control over machinery, and ability to communicate that exceeds even our own, burdens have no awareness of the spirits and spectral energies that make up their environment. They know, unfortunately, next to nothing.


    “They are our burdens to bear, and as cats, it is our duty to serve our burdens thanklessly. Each of you has a gift, blessed by the fates with the capability to influence reality. Each of us has the responsibility to use our gifts to keep our burdens safe from the creatures that mean them harm, keep our territory free from encroaching cats, and make the world better for our kits, and their kits, and beyond.


    “Many of you are already familiar, but for those of you too young to know, this is the Palm Park Parliament, and it is both your and our sacred duty to keep this area free from threats, keep your burdens safe, and maintain safety and freedom to the benefit of our territory. Those of you wishing to join the parliament will need to come see me after the meeting to arrange the details of membership, territory rights, and responsibility.”


    With that, she backed slowly from the edge, and the lighter gray cat strut forward. “For those of you unaware,” he said sternly, “that was Shadow Eye, I am Steel Fur. We make up two-thirds of the leadership of this parliament. It will be our job to coordinate scouts, provide order to any conflict between or involving cats, and see to it that everyone’s needs are met. If you have any troubles that cannot be solved on your own, come to us with any issues, and we’ll address your needs.”


    As the dusty cat addressed the crowd, the shadow ghosted closer and closer, until it was among the group of cats, moving in utter silence among the cats. No matter where the cats were sat, the shadow found a smooth path between them. The shadow suddenly coalesced into the form of a white furred, orange pawed cat, mid-leap, who came down on the kittens with sudden ferocity.


    There was a collective yowl from the kittens, and a few of the nearby adult cats, and the grouping scattered as the cats darted in all directions. However, Steel Fur smoothly continued his speech. “This is the third member of our Parliament, named Gull Scout, who is our primary agent and scout. He will not harm your kits, nor any of you, but his role in tonight’s demonstration is to remind you that our enemies may be skilled, capable, and often intelligent. Even in the seat of our power, even when you are surrounded by allies, remember that safety is not a guarantee.”


    Gull Scout finished tousling with the young cat, who put up an admirable effort at defense despite being ambushed by surprise, and strode up onto the stage. Steel Fur continued, “For those of you new to Palm Springs, welcome. For those of you who have been here for years, thank you for entertaining this speech, as I’m sure you’ve all heard it many times before. We’ll be here to answer any concerns, but you’re free to leave as you’d like. However, remain vigilant.”


    The adult cats on the outskirts, many of whom had remained seated for Gull Scout’s “surprise” appearance, got up and sauntered lazily from the raised stage, and into the night beyond. This surprise attack, some of the younger cats pieced together, must have been an annual occurrence. After a few more closing statements from Steel Fur, the meeting was adjourned for the cats present except those interested in joining.


    Shadow Eye, standing tall and proud over the new members and young kits alike, flicked her ear and tail confidently. From atop the stage, she sat like a lion, secure in her domain. “Welcome to the Palm Springs Parliamant. I look forward to working with all of you.”
    "Maybe that's just what happens; you start out wanting to change the world through language, and end up thinking it's enough to tell a few jokes."

    - David Nicholls

  2. #2
    Yes, well written I think. You've evidently put a lot of thought into the society you're conveying, with touches like humans being "burdens". I'd watch out for overusing words; "beast" is used 5 times in one paragraph near the beginning.

    In terms of SPaG, just a couple of bits I wasn't sure of.

    On the edge of the raised area, sat a duo of cats.
    I'd drop this comma, as it doesn't feel like a natural pause in the sentence.

    The first was a black and white cat, growing in years, sitting regally along the edge of the raised platform. Her ears and tail in a state of relaxed confidence, swaying absently.


    I think that either this needs to be all one sentence, or else you need to add "were" after the word "tail".

    HC

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by HarperCole View Post
    In terms of SPaG, just a couple of bits I wasn't sure of.


    SPaG?

    I'd drop this comma, as it doesn't feel like a natural pause in the sentence.
    Good call, I'll keep an eye out for this in the future.


    Thanks for the critique!
    "Maybe that's just what happens; you start out wanting to change the world through language, and end up thinking it's enough to tell a few jokes."

    - David Nicholls

  4. #4
    Hi

    Nice opening. And a helluvan interesting premise - the Secrets of Cats as some sort of game. My own writing started as a backstory or companion piece for a (yet-to-be-developed) location based game for smartphones, and while that's another story, I like the whole massive world building it implies. So, on the basis of that, I am invested, for now.

    You have some really nice, physical sentences that really capture the motions of the cats and their environment:
    "The form moved only with the sway of the wind, blending seamlessly into the natural movement of the bushes"
    - I would say: don't let yourself down with filler like "natural movement". Make that natural movement happen. Make it, oh, sway (nope, used earlier in sentence), or to-and-fro: eg:
    "The form moved only with the sway of the wind, blending seamlessly into the natural to-and-fro of the bushes"
    - then evoke more. Use sight, movement, sound, local names, assonance, everything - your goal is to hypnotise us into being in this world.
    "The form moved only with the gentle sway of the Santa Ana wind, blending seamlessly against the to-and-fro of rustling bushes."
    (whenever I think of SoCal I think of those winds, not sure why )

    Watch those repetitions:
    Siblings of the metal beast were resting across the way, beast after beast perched lifelessly and soundlessly among the humming towers the burdens erected. [<- and while we're at it, I didn't really understand those last 3 words. What burdens? And what are the humming towers? You have set yourself quite a challenge here, to depict everything as if it were unknown. Maybe see how Richard Adams does it in Watership Down, with things like the "shining wire". Would cats be that unfamiliar with humans? It could threaten to become a hard read.]

    The silhouette ghosted across another strip of burdenous material, skipping delightedly along the unlit corridor, until delighting itself stalking through the grass and trees of a public park.


    "The silhouette ghosted across another strip of burdenous material"
    - great image&verb undermined by a frankly weird word choice And I see you reuse burdens several times. I assume "burdens" are humans. Why? The excess use of this word is starting to make me struggle, I am sorry to say.

    This:
    "Her ears and tail in a state of relaxed confidence, swaying absently."
    is a sentence fragment, an incomplete sentence. It lacks an active verb. That does not make it narratively wrong but if you want to break the grammar rules, do so in a way that complements the piece. Is this such an important thing that it deserves its own grammar wreckage? Maybe:
    "Her ears and tail swayed absently, in a state of relaxed confidence."
    Though I would say that not only do you use sway earlier but this paragraph is a bit backstory and infodump heavy so large tracts of it could probably go.

    With smaller numbers, 15, 20, 30 etc., spell them out - fifteen, twenty or thirty, a score, maybe one or two dozen. It flows better. Some things can maintain their numerate state - years, room numbers, etc.. It's a very subtle distinction with whose conventions it is worth familiarising yourself.

    With this:
    "shadow ghosted closer and closer"
    Don't overplay your high value cards. Think of a different image: eg:
    "pantherlike shadow slinked closer and closer"
    And again, knock out those repetitions:
    "until it was among the group of cats, moving in utter silence among the cats."

    With this:
    "As the dusty cat addressed the crowd, the shadow ghosted closer and closer, until it was among the group of cats, moving in utter silence among the cats. No matter where the cats were sat, the shadow found a smooth path between them. The shadow suddenly coalesced into the form of a white furred, orange pawed cat, mid-leap, who came down on the kittens with sudden ferocity."
    You should name this cat-gang the Shadow Cats and have done with it Then just smooth this over, rework it:

    As the dusty cat addressed the crowd, the pantherlike shadow snuck closer and closer, until it was moving in utter silence among the group, snaking its smooth path between them. Then abruptly it coalesced mid-leap into a white-furred, orange-pawed form, pouncing down on the kittens with sudden ferocity.
    So despite the early-draft nature of the writing I think you have something interesting here. Hey - maybe you could even make a Broadway musical about it Just work on tightening that prose and do your pretty neat ideas the justice they deserve. Think of the your story as a cat and you as its burden. Good luck!


    PS. SPaG is Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar


    EDIT: Forgot to say - in a way this reminded me of a short story called "Ancient Sorceries" by Algernon Blackwood, who is one of my favourite writers; Lovecraft cites him as an influence. Check out this story if you haven't already. In fact I am going to change my sig to one of its lines.

    Last edited by bdcharles; February 27th, 2017 at 11:08 AM.


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