The small, wet ball of black and silver fur lay curled up, purring contentedly, near Grizabella. Gazing down at it in surprise, and partly in disgust, the new mother sneered. That goddamned, bastard son of Deuteronomy's, Macconolly, had had his way with her, and she had let him! The lowest of the low, destined to become nothing, had touched HER! She who was called, "The Glamour Cat" the most highly respected, famous, most beautiful queen in the entire Jellicle Tribe! She had let him, and then she rejected his offer to mate. This slimy result -- a single kit she refused to name -- would never truly be hers. Still, she felt slightly guilty. Maybe she would give him ONE name.
"Munkustrap. My little Munkustrap." She licked him once, almost lovingly, before scurrying away.
The young kit's world was blackness. He was cold...so cold...Rejected. Alone. His eyes hadn't opened, and his legs were still too weak to support his tiny, frail body, so he lay unmoving in the gray alley. His stomach was cramped with hunger, and there was a biting, icy emptiness in his chest where his other two names should have been. Each breath seared his throat until his lungs burned. Every painful movement reminded him that his mother was gone and he was alone.
Day after day he lay motionless, growing more apathetic and fading further from life with each passing moment. He almost gave in, almost let himself die, but the pain kept him conscious.
Finally, when he could take no more of the searing hunger or pangs of pain, and in a strength born of desperation, he took a deep breath and willed himself to stand. The effort nearly made him mew in pain, and his muscles burned and protested, but he struggled up. Sheer will and instinct driving him, he leapt to the top of a trash can and sent it tumbling over. The pickings were meager, but the silver tabby was so hungry, it mattered little.
When, after a few minutes of frantic searching, of gulping down the awful, half-eaten, rotten tidbits, new strength seemed to flow over him in waves. But quickly as it came, it was gone. His belly finally full, the weakness returned with such force that he pitched forward, his legs trembling. Slowly, his tiny silver and black tabby body quaking, he stumbled to a cardboard box, shimmied inside, and collapsed into unconsciousness.
He awoke to pouring rain, his humble cardboard box melting around him. He was soaked.
Mewing his discomfort, he heaved himself up and began to run, out of the alley to the sidewalk and the street beyond. His emerald eyes strained to see through the thick fog that swirled around the feet of the brick giants that lined the deserted avenue, searching....
There! Toward the end of the block towered an abondoned building, it's windows boarded, looking warm and dry. His eyes widened in happiness and he scampered over, bounding up the stairs and slipping through a hole in the rotting double doors. Too tired to do anything else, he slunk to the foot of the stairs and fell asleep.
He didn't realize he was being watched.
Mmm, Rik thought. A small kitten, his body silver with black tabby stripes, had staggered into his building and fallen asleep. The boss'll like this one, he told himself, creeping up on the unsuspecting kitten.
"Kit!" Rough paws grasped Munku's shoulders and shook him. "Get up!" a hoarse voice snapped. Munkustrap's eyes jerked open, and he woke with a start. He found himself gazing into harsh lime-green eyes and a frightening face. He couldn't speak.
"Come wi' me. The Boss'll like ya fer sure!" Before the kitten could protest, in fact, before he even realized what was happening, the huge gray tom had bound his paws and gagged him. The tom yanked hard on the bindings, leaving them so tight that after minutes his wrists and ankles were chaffed and raw, and he had begun to lose feeling in his paws. He whipped his tail back and forth in agitation, but the huge cat held him tighter. They seemed to run forever, but the black and silver kit couldn't get his bearings, his mind fogged with sleep and his face to the sky.
Abruptly, the tom ducked into a building, scampered up a flight of stairs, and dumped the dazed, wet, now-hungry kitten on the floor. The tabby lay perfectly still and silent, not quite sure what else to do. Fearful that the gray would return if he moved even the slightest inch, he lay motionless, frozen to the the bare wooden floor of the empty room. He wanted desperately to escape, to call for help, to get away. But at a mere week old, despite his unusual size and strength for a week-old kit, he was only that -- a week old. By normal terms, his eyes should just be beginning to open. They had been open for at least a day. He should still be drinking his mother's milk; he had survived without it nearly from his birth. But still, he was small, he was frightened, and he was alone.
He could hear voices -- queens and a tom -- somewhere nearby, but he couldn't see them. With nothing else to do, he pricked his ears and listened intently to hear their words.
"...can kiss my tail."
"Come now, Xiomya, really." A different queen now.
"Aw, Red, don't be such a spoil-sport." A third queen spoke.
"There's nothing spoil-sportish about that, Amethyst. You know how the boss gets." The second queen's voice was tinted with annoyance.
"Yeah. Aftah all, he's Mistah Stick-up-his-butt!" A queen giggled.
"Manhattan, you're going to get us all in trouble!" A tom this time.
"Aw, Jijarron..."Manhattan whined, laughing.
"What?" The tom chuckled. The voices faded, and the kitten was alone again in the musty room.
They left him for must have been weeks; food appeared when he slept, brought in by some unseen cat whose scent always lingered in the room. By now, it was a scent Munku knew well.
There was no way to escape. He had discovered that early. One high window allowed light to stream into the otherwise dim room. The other cat must enter and exit through that window, because the door was closed and locked. He had long since chewed through the twine that held his paws bound, although he still had painful, open sores around his wrists and ankles. He had grown, his shoulders and legs now sinewy and muscular. He was lean, slender, and still a bit gawky, as all kittens are. He was still very young, by cats' standards, perhaps three weeks old, but he was already looking menacing.
Sometime during the long stretch of his confinement, someone appeared. It was dim in the room, but not dim enough to be nighttime. Nonetheless, the shadows were deep and dark. Munku lay curled in the center of the room, at the point where the most light touched the floor, scanning the room.
A low, throaty growl came from a corner, followed by a mocking laugh as the kitten leapt to his feet and hissed.
"You don't think you have a chance against me, do you, babe?" The voice from the shadows snarled. "You're mine."
The kitten whimpered.
"And your life's mine. Each day, kit, you hunt, you steal, you kill for me. If you do as I tell you, maybe you live another day. Maybe I won't harm you. If not..." The shadow-cat laughed evilly.
"Rikmahtan, take care of this thing's training."
The large tom who had captured Munku originally reappeared; he stretched and flexed his claws.
"Goodbye, kit." The cat in the shadows padded away.
Before he knew what was happening, the big gray -- Rikmahtan, the other cat had called him -- slashed his shoulders hard. His "training" had begun.
"Aww. The poor thing!" Red, Xiomya, Amethyst, Manhattan, and Aurora watched as Rik beat the helpless kitten unmercifully. There really wasn't much any of them could do -- and stay alive. The Boss -- Scithlorn, or Shadow, or Black Cat, he went by any name but his own -- could easily exterminate any of them if they showed too much compassion to or interest in his new charge.
Red -- or Redwissa -- watched furiously as Rik beat the trembling kitten. A low, hissing growl emanated from her throat, but she didn't move. There was something strange about this kit. She would watch him, see if he was easily swayed to Black's ways. If not, she would talk to the strays. Fiesty, who was a sort of "wandering" Jellicle, had a kit half-brother in the Jellicle tribe across town. If she could somehow get the young cat to Macconolly, the Jellicle leader...But that was only if she found something worth saving. With a sigh, she turned away. Perhaps in a few months...
It had been almost a year.
The tabby kitten was eleven months, three weeks old, though he seemed older and younger than that at the same time.
His demeanor was quiet, reserved, but defiant. His quiet calm, for a kitten, was unusual, but nonetheless bold and rebellious. It made him seem much, much older. And his eyes -- the cheery, youthful emerald green was clouded and hazy from months of pain, both physical and spiritual.
But physically, he seemed much, much younger. Despite his large size -- he was larger than even Rik, now -- the eleven months of little food, brutal work, fear, and pain had taken their toll. His body was lean and lithe, his tattered coat pulled tight over all-too-visible ribs. Malnutrition had sapped all luster from his eyes and fur. His ears drooped forward, and his long, elegant tail dragged despondently in the dirt. He walked tenderly, and with a heavy limp; his paw pads were raw and bleeding from long days of running on the unforgiving, sandpaper-rough cement that carpeted the city.
Among Black's band, he was well-loved. Quiet and selfless, the other cats gravitated to him and looked to him for guidance. Any one of Black's lackeys, save perhaps Rikmahtan and the core of Black's fighters, would step in to preserve his life. Black, too, had seemed to single out the silver tabby as something special. All the hardest assignments, the most gruelling or physically difficult, assasinations and the most delicate, dangerous theiveries -- and the kit always succeeded, to the great astonishment of the older cats.
Killing included. Black sent Rik himself to insure that Munkustrap killed the other cats with his own teeth and claws. By eleven months, Munku had killed half a dozen other cats. Every time, when he staggered back to the abandoned building, he would simply collapse and cry.
Nonetheless, there was a kind of frightened suspicion of this strange, Nameless cat. The younger cats, especially those truly evil or cruel at heart, had taken to calling him Assassin, or Devil's Cat. Nasty jibes and barbed comments born of fear were continually being thrown at him. Despite this, he seemed, outwardly, to be bearing up incredibly well.
Every night, when the deep darkness descended, he would crawl away and let all barriers down. He would simply collapse and sob. He was no longer Nameless, at least. Devil was his first name, now, and his third name had followed. He refused to utter his third name, even THINK it, even in absolute solitude, for fear that Black would discover it. As for his second name, it was that which he was desperately whispering to himself in an attempt to keep himself sane when Redwissa found him.
"Munkustrap, Munkustrap, Munkustrap..."
"Devil?" Red rested a paw on Munkustrap's back.
"Oh!" His head snapped up, and his silver and black body tensed.
"It's all right. Please. I'm here to help." Munku looked bewildered. Why should Red help him? "That name -- was he someone you knew?"
"No," the young tom whispered, his voice deviod of emotion. "He's me."
"Your name is Munkustrap?"
"Well...yes." No point guarding it now.
"Why didn't you ever tell us?"
"Why should I have?" Munku asked bitterly. "You work for HIM."
"Him? You mean Black?"
Munku only nodded.
"You don't seriously think we all AGREE with him, do you?"
Munkustrap glared at her in suspicion. "What's that mean?"
"We hate him as much as you do! But Rik and those other robots of his keep us 'in line'. There's no way for us to escape. It's become a way of life. But for you -- maybe there's hope."
"Do you want to escape?"
The young tabby cocked his head. "Is this some kind of trap?"
Red laughed. "Trap for what? Black's already got you under his thumb!"
"He will NEVER have me 'under his thumb'!" Munku shrieked.
The crimson queen laughed again. "Ah, little kit. Do you realize what you've just done? Were that a trap, you'da fallen right into it. But it's not, good thing for you, and you've actually passed my final little test."
"What?" Munkustrap looked confused. "Trap? Test? What are you talking about? Whose side are you on, anyway?" He scowled darkly at her giggle.
"Do you want to escape, Jellicle?" Red asked.
"Jellicle? What's that?"
"It's a tribe; or a breed, almost. You were born to two Jellicle parents; it's obvious. I may even know who. Do you want to escape, or not?" She looked a bit annoyed.
"I -- I mean -- well, I -- of course I do!" He stammered, still rather wary of this queen. He recognized her scent -- she was the one who had brought him food. But why -- ?
"Good. Glad to hear it," Red replied, with a bit of a self-satisfied smirk. "Here's the plan. Fiesty, a friend of mine, has friends in the Jellicle tribe. I'll create a distraction, and you can get away. I'll come and let you know, help you to get out. We'll meet up with Fiesty, and she'll take you to the Jellicles. Okay? Got it?"
"Got it," Munku replied.
Munku was resting, his eyes closed against a rather fierce, Rik-inflicted headache when Red arrived. It had been about a week, and Munku was now a year old. He was large, probably his full height and length, an impressive tom. Rik had beat him yesterday, just for the fun of it, Munku supposed; and when the tabby fought back, Rik had slammed him up against the wall and clawed him into unconsciousness. He'd been dizzy and sick when he awoke, and the feeling was just beginning to flee, to be replaced by an odd sense of unbalance. Something inside of him was not right, and he knew he was getting sick.
But when Red burst in, he jumped up and ran over to the door.
"Come on," she panted. "We don't have much time. Follow me!" She headed down a corridor, around the corner, down a flight of steps, and through a door. Munkustrap found himself in the basement of the building, staring at a hole in the dirt wall that surely led to the outside world.
Something wasn't right here, he thought to himself. He had a strange feeling of icy dread that formed a ball in the pit of his stomach. What was going on? Just what had Red done?
Red turned to him and whispered, "I've set the upper floors on fire. Before long, the humans will come. The other cats will take the back way out, but they'll look in your room first. If they see you're not there, they'll come down here. They know about this exit." She broke off as her ears twitched.
"Red!" A female called somewhere above them.
"Damn!" Red hissed, her eyes looking about frantically. "I've been missed. I was hoping to go with you, but --"
"Red? Where are you? Hurry up! The building's on fire, the humans are coming!" The voice was closer now, no longer above them.
"But I can't --" Munku protested.
"You'll have to," Red replied, fear in her eyes. "You're almost fully grown. Now listen to me," she said, looking intently into his eyes.
"This corridor leads to a hole in the ground outside, in a field that used to be the lot of a building. There is a parking lot there. Cross the lot and you'll come to a train station. There shouldn't be too many people there. Slip inside, and a marmalade tabby tom will meet you. He's a bit older than you are, but not by much. That'd be Skimbleshanks, one of the Jellicles. Fiesty will be with him. They'll take you to Macconolly. Hurry! And good luck! We'll miss you around here." Without another word, Red hugged him, then turned and ran into the darkness without looking back.
So he was alone again. But he wouldn't give up. Steeling himself, he plunged into the dank, dark hole.
He struggled on through the dirty, narrow passageway for what seemed like hours. The tunnel -- it wasn't a corridor, not really -- was sometimes so narrow that Munku had to crawl on his knees to get through. At one point, he reached a place where the tunnel narrowed even further. Already on his knees, he lowered himself to his stomach and started to inch through, clawing his way through the moist earth. The walls pressed in on him, and a sudden deperate fear made his stomach clench. For a moment he thought he would pass out, or die, in that little hole in the ground.
He clenched his teeth and closed his eyes against the pain and fear. He felt sick and dizzy, but he forced himself to crawl further. Then, suddenly, he was caught.
He immediately panicked, writhing and twisting and succeeding in scraping his sides up badly and re-opening the almost-healed sores on his wrists and paw pads.
No, he told himself. Struggling won't get you anywhere. Calm down and think through it.
Slowly, he forced himself to relax and breathe. As he let the air out of his lungs, his sides drew away from the wet walls. Ignoring the pain, he nearly laughed aloud. Breathing out and sucking his stomach in, he was able to inch forward.
A few minutes later, the walls were no longer pressing in on him when he took a breath. He realized that the tunnel was getting wider. Laughing almost hysterically, he scrambled forward. Now the tunnel was wide enough and tall enough for him to stand. He bounded forward.
And stopped. The tunnel was going uphill. That could only mean one thing -- the opening was close! Excited, Munku leapt up the sloping floor of the corridor. There! In the distance, he could see a tiny pinpoint of light. As he scrambled toward it, it grew larger and brighter, till suddenly he was leaping through a hole and up into the sunlight.
Shuddering and laughing in disbelief, he collapsed in a furry heap in the grass. He'd done it! He was away from The Black.
Munkustrap roused himself rather unwillingly. He really just wanted to lie down and rest; he felt overly warm, he had a headache, and he was sore all over. But Black wouldn't let him off that easily -- or would he? Munku didn't want to stick around to find out. Red had told him to find Skimbleshanks and Fiesty, and to do it quickly.
A parking lot, she'd said. He scanned the area, looking for the flat black expanse of asphalt. It was right in front of him, he realized thankfully. He didn't think his raw paw pads and wrists would carry him far.
Limping as quickly as he could toward it, he realized he must look awful. His coat was covered with dried mud, and the many open scrapes and cuts that criscrossed his body oozed reddish blood. They hurt, too, he mused. But right now he didn't care. All he cared about was making it to the train station.
He was now at an all-out run, his mind fuzzy, only focussed on running and running in a straight line, towards the lot and the station beyond. When he hit the hot, rough asphalt of the lot, however, he gasped in pain and slowed slightly. His paws felt like they were on fire; the asphalt was complete agony. His lungs burned, and his legs were close to giving way beneath him. He HAD to reach the station.
Slowly, carefully, he hobbled across the paved lot and into the grass on the other side. It was short relief; the cement sidewalk of the station started soon after it.
At least it's close, Munku thought. And so it was. Staggering and weaving, his mind on fire with the pain, he leapt up on the steps and slipped through a cat door. The station was deserted, save for one man busy mopping the floor. The cool water soothed the tabby tom's feet for a few moments -- until the soap entered the fresh cuts and began to sting. Munkustrap's eyes watered from the fresh pain, but he ignored it and continued on.
The station was large, and he had no idea who he was searching for. A marmalade tom, Red had told him. But where --?
"Who are you? And what're you doing here?" A voice asked at his left ear. Startled, he spun around and swiped at the voice. It's source ducked, and Munku, exhausted and panicked -- luckily for the stranger -- missed. The other caught his paw and forced him down. Munku collapsed easily, willingly, and lay like a dead thing on the cool, wet tiles.
"My...my name...is Munkustrap," he rasped out through a dry throat. "Please...are you...Red told me...are you Skimbleshanks?" He gazed drowsily up at the marmalade tom through half-closed eyelids.
Skimble's -- if that's who this was -- face immeadiately changed. His eyes widened and ran the length of Munku's rather battered body. He seemed to recognize him, and in an instant was helping him to his feet, licking off some of the dried mud and purring.
"I'm sorry...I'm so sorry...I didn't know...I really...I'm sorry," Skimble said between licks and purrs, looking contrite.
He was probably a little over a year and a half, Munku guessed, and he felt for the young tom in this awkward situation. He tried to support himself better, mumbling, "It's all right, you didn't know. Can you...get me to Macconolly?"
"Macconolly -- I -- " Skimbleshanks looked uncomfortable. "Well, I mean, not Macconolly. But to the Jellicles, yes. Yes. Can you walk?" Skimble looked anxiously over at him as he shifted some of Munku's weight to his own legs.
Munkustrap laughed, a dry, rusty kind of sound, that sent shivers down his own spine as well as Skimble's. "I've been through worse than this," he said, and it was true. "I'll make it. Just please, get me to the Jellicles. I want to be safe. Please."
Skimbleshanks looked much, much older in a matter of seconds. Holding Munkustrap up as the limped out of the station, he purred softly in reassurance.
"It's not far. We'll make it. You'll be safe soon. I promise," he murmured. He seemed all confidence and reassurance.
But when he looked up, down the street, Munkustrap saw a single tear slide down his furry face.
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