The Red Queen

The highlight of Elsabeth’s day was her final visit with the Red Queen, a mottled black and orange feline who was a master hunter, a highly intelligent and cunning creature and neither domesticated nor feral.

Placing a bucket of cat care supplies on the ground, Bette checked the gloves in her pocket and scanned the area around and behind her. The moon was full and bright, illuminating the otherwise unlit backyard like a spotlight. Scanning the area was an old habit gained during many exploring, tracking and surveying trips into the protected habitats and woodlands throughout the region.

Dealing with truly wild creatures within their own natural environment was Bette’s true love. Time and an aging body had taken that away from her, but the Red Queen brought a tiny piece of it back into Bette’s life. It was the reason why she was both grateful for the company of this particularly difficult cat, and constantly conflicted about the cage the Red Queen currently (begrudgingly) called home.

Carefully checking the area as she opened the door and turned on the shed light, Bette greeted the Red Queen and her jailmates with a cheery hello. All of the cats were present and visible. As expected, each one purred, howled or growled their own greeting in return – with the notable exception of the Red Queen.

The cages were formerly used to rehabilitate birds of prey, so they were exceptionally large for cats. However, the tree-like perches and the ability to clean the cage without opening a door made them ideal for this particular pride of felines.

Cheshire, the most skilled and esteemed escape artist among them, was meowing, pacing and leaning against the bars, trying to entice Bette into scratching his ears and opening the door to the cage for a common domesticated-cat-snuggle. Chuckling to herself, Bette reached through the cage and gave Cheshire a friendly scratch behind the ears, but refused to let him out. She knew better.

Immediately after all food and water were distributed and the litter boxes changed, the Mad Hatter leaped into his food bowl, knocked over the water dish and proceeded to yowl and fight with the scattered pieces of cat food like a crazed creature being attacked by invisible demons. Bette crossed her arms and watched until the Mad Hatter paused and cast a glance in her direction. Bette was not fooled. The door remained closed. Mad Hatter tired of the game and took his usual perch on a wooden tree limb just over the cage door, where he silently watched Bette fill and double-check the water bottle that acted as a backup for the water dish.

Placing a hand on her lower back as she stood up and stretched out tight muscles, Bette paused a moment before packing up the supplies and returning to her own home for the night. The silence was pleasant – and unexpectedly interrupted by the sound of crunching.

Looking in the direction of the sound, Bette found the Red Queen regally watching the nightly routine from the highest perch allowed by her cage, with a mouse in her mouth. It was impossible to shake the feeling that this dead-mouse-crunching was a conscious and clear message to her captor – the Queen was not happy.

Bette smiled wide. This was an animal acting as it should. This was the wilderness, the law of nature and the incomprehensible intelligence that lived within all wild creatures. This was the reality that human beings had ceased to acknowledge and the primary reason why Bette found communication with her fellow humans frustratingly problematic.

“Well played my Queen,” Bette replied. Then she finished packing up the supplies and left the shed feeling both happy and homesick. Damned time and the inevitability of aging, they placed the best of life and adventure just out of reach.

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