By Rachel H Grant
Tessa was born on a still spring night, in a time-tarred barn. Her first memory, at a week old, was of stars through a broken roof, pins of light in the night, a pin cushion of the gods. I want to go there, she thought feebly, away from these ugly siblings. I want to go to one of the lights, I want to be free.
Tessa’s first few weeks were spent sleeping in the hay, or exploring the field next to the barn. She cuddled with her feline family to keep warm at night, but avoided them in the day. She was different, and she knew it.
One day a strange cage appeared in the field, with tasty food inside. However it became the taste of freedom denied. Tessa was locked inside the cage, no way out. Frantic with the desire to escape these grey bars, Tessa gazed at the stars in the sky. Please help me.
The next day a lady abruptly arrived and seized the cage. Tessa hissed in alarm. She was placed in a strange vehicle which began to move. The day descended to the depths of a cat’s despair. Tessa meowed, willing the stars in the sky to reappear. Finally, the vehicle stopped. A huge building confronted her, as Tessa’s cage was seized once more. A fat middle-aged man surveyed them from the door.
“A black and white kitten! Just what the doctor ordered!” Tessa liked the man straight away, knowing that a new life awaited, several purrs ahead.
The man, Derek, adored her. She listened as he composed music, purring in accompaniment. He told her that he had never known inspiration as prolific until she entered his life. Of course, she did not understand his words, but she purred anyway. Somehow, she knew that she was helping him. And somehow, he knew that she was special. But he did not realise how special.
Tessa would paw at Derek’s feet when he did not pay attention to her for a while. He would chuckle, declaring, “This cat keeps me on my toes!” Tessa purred in reply. She began to feel that she was her owner’s protector, his health in her paws, his well-being in a flick of her whiskers. Sometimes she felt compelled to follow him around the house, just to make sure no harm came to him. It was almost as if … she was waiting for something to happen.
Then one night, she had a dream. In the morning, Tessa was not there, bed empty, food bowl untouched. Derek searched everywhere for her. But she never returned.
In Tessa’s dream, she saw a man – a different man, but somehow she knew it was Derek. He was in a room full of children, pointing at a large black board with white letters on it. But something bad was going to happen. She knew it. That was when she did it for the first time. The Jump.
One minute she was observing the man while she slept. The next second she was there, really there, in the classroom with the teacher. The schoolkids looked at her like they had never seen a cat before. But there was one boy she had her eye on. The dark energy emanated from him.
Tessa ran and bit his leg. In alarm, the boy dropped something from his hand. A knife.
“He was going to throw that at you Mr Castle!” one of the children shouted.
Mr Castle retrieved the knife, and flushed while a look of trepidation dimmed his eyes.
At the end of the school day, he carried Tessa home. She was very happy living with Mr Castle (Derek in different clothes) until … another dream.
She saw him. Derek with another face, with different clothes. He was lying in a ditch with other men, and somehow she knew that the ditch was called a trench. He was in mortal danger, she understood as her heart thudded hard at the thought. She jumped … and was there. By the man lying in the ditch, the man who was about to die. She howled hideously, her voice her only weapon. “This is no place for a cat!” he picked her up and began to walk. Behind him, artillery fire felled his colleagues. He looked back in shock, his frozen heart breaking through ice as tears formed in his eyes. His friends. He held the cat who had saved is life as if he would never let go.
But Tessa had other ideas. Her next mission was massaging her mind. She jumped from his arms … and back in time to 1597, to a witch being hunted for trial. It was Derek, dressed in women’s clothes and with a female smell, but Derek nonetheless. She was cowering in her tiny cottage as men broke down the door. Tessa knew she did not have much time to help. She didn’t know what witch trials were, but she knew this woman was in mortal danger. Tessa looked in her eyes and screamed with all the cat telepathy she could muster “HIDE!”
The woman disappeared with the grace of a cat. As the angry men entered, they looked around in alarm. “A cat! She’s turned herself in to a cat! She really is a witch!”
Tessa was violently grabbed. She hissed in anger and pain. Then used all her might to … do the special jump.
She found herself in a very strange place, with large windows looking out on stars. Ahead, a man spoke to a wide room full of people. It was Derek, in uniform and of course with a different body. But she would know him anywhere.
The man suddenly stopped speaking. He had noticed her.
“A cat!” he laughed. “We have a stowaway on the ship! I like it! A sign! When I first enrolled in space academy, I encountered a cat at the door of the school, a lucky black cat like a sign of good luck. I saw the cat again the day I graduated. Is this a sign? A validation of my intent to arrive in peace rather than taking a more hostile stance? Somehow I know it is.”
Tessa purred. She could feel it, destiny shifting beneath her paws. Whatever she came here to do, she had achieved it. But this place was strange. Time to jump again.
But she could not do it. The jump energy evaded her. She did not understand the concepts of time travel and reincarnation. But she knew she had a gift, and that the different people she had encountered had all been versions of the first Derek, her Derek. But the real Derek, the owner who had loved her so much, was many years and star systems behind her now. She could not return. The gift was gone, dimmed by the bright stars all around. This was her time now.
I am in the stars, she thought feebly, I am free. Only it no longer felt like freedom. Destiny’s paws had dealt an unkind blow. She was here forever. Time to enjoy herself, time to flirt with freedom, to taste just the one life as others knew it. It was time to be Tessa.
So she stared at the stars, and prayed for a freedom that could not come. Like a mouse in a huge field, you could chase it relentlessly, but it would forever evade capture. Some mice have luck; some cats have nine lives; some cats have dreams that never end.