Jade has always trusted the authorities, but now she begins to question the very society in which she lives. Not far in the future, cat breeding is strictly controlled and cats are only for the rich in their private estates. When beautiful, sleek Feela turns up in Jade's backyard, she cannot resist taking the cat in, even though it could cost her everything. Soon the enforcement officials are raiding Jade's house. After her mother's death, the only person left for Jade to turn to is Kris, the cynical school loser. Soon Jade and Kris are on the run...
About the Author
Jon Blake is the author of over fifty books for children and teens. He is also involved in many community projects and teaches creative writing. He lives in England.
Read an Excerpt
The Last Free Cat
By Jon Blake
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 2008 Jon Blake
All rights reserved.
I kept one eye on Feela and one on the trap door. Down below I could make out the gruff voice of the Pets Inspector and Mum's faltering replies. Mum wasn't used to breaking the law. I felt guilty for putting her in this situation.
Muffled thuds. They were coming up the stairs. Mum's voice was getting louder as her anxiety grew. I reached to check the lock on the door and knocked over a bottle. Feela's eyes opened.
"Ssh!" I said stupidly. Feela stretched out her front feet for a big, bugeyed yawn.
"What's up there?" I heard.
"Just the attic," replied Mum.
Feela stood up, stretched into a quivery arch, and padded to the edge of the bed. Quickly I reached over and tickled her chin. For the moment, she stayed put.
"I'm sorry to put you to this trouble," said the Pets Inspector.
"I'm sorry too," replied Mum.
"The cat was seen in your garden," said the Pets Inspector.
"So you said," replied Mum.
Feela's ear was cocked. She was recognizing Mum's voice. Suddenly she jumped. To my horror, she went straight over to the trap door and let out a tiny pinkmouthed cry.
Dead silence. The whole of my life hung in the balance. If the inspector came through that trap door, I wouldn't be seeing Mum for another five years. And I wouldn't be seeing Feela ever.
The voices rose again, this time farther away. Thank God. They were downstairs. Feela's cry hadn't carried.
The front door closed. He'd gone. Until now, I hadn't really felt afraid — just focused, like a racing driver at full speed. But as the relief came over me, my hands started to tremble uncontrollably. I scrabbled at the trap door, pulled it open, and found myself looking down at Mum's face, flushed pink and ten years older than before.
"Never again," she declared. "Never, never again."
"He's gone now," I consoled her.
"Until the next time," Mum replied.
"There won't be a next time," I countered.
"Of course there'll be a next time!" snapped Mum. "We can't keep that cat hidden forever!"
As if in reply, Feela jumped down onto Mum's shoulder, then used her like a climbing frame to get to the floor. I lowered the ladder and followed. Mum dropped into a chair, one hand to her head, fighting for breath.
"You see what this has done to me?" she gasped.
I squatted down next to Mum and took her hand. She'd had a weak heart for a few years now, and it wasn't getting any better. There were drugs which could cure it, but none that we could afford.
Mum noticed my hand was trembling. "You're becoming like me," she said, "a nervous wreck."
So what? I thought. Everyone in this horrible neighborhood had nervous problems. It was inevitable, like getting older. But at least with Feela, I had something worth living for.
I replayed in my mind the night we found her. Of course, we had seen cats before, but only onscreen, or in the wide windows of the houses on the mount. To find one, real and alive, in our moonlit garden, was breathtaking. We watched, transfixed, as it tested the scents of the grass, offered its chin to a small branch, then began to scrape a hole in the earth. Everything about it was so focused, so sure, so lithe in movement. The smallest noise, and its head was up, its ears swiveling like radar screens, its almond eyes watching. I loved the sweep of its tail, as bushy as a squirrel's, and the close gloss of its black, ginger, and white coat. From the little smile that played on Mum's lips, I could tell she felt the same.
"Where do you think it came from?" I whispered in a religious hush.
"It should say on the —"
Mum's sentence never ended. She had noticed something very wrong about the cat. It had no collar.CHAPTER 2
When GreatGrandma was alive, she told me stories of a time when almost everyone had a cat. Incredible as it may seem, you could answer an ad in a petshop window, knock on someone's door, then go home with a kitten. Just like that, and not pay a cent! What a world that must have been!
But that was before the flu scare. HN51, the new and deadly strain of cat flu, which was passed to a human in Surinam and without quick action would have spread around the world like wildfire. After HN51, there was a worldwide cull of infected cats and ownership of cats became strictly monitored. All cats had to be registered, and over a period of time two big companies, Viafara and Chen, took over the whole business — breeding, vaccinating, and putting them on the market.
There weren't enough cats to go around. So the price went higher and higher, till only the very rich could afford them.
There was one girl in our school who had a cat. At least, she said she had a cat. But when we asked her if it was a Viafara or a Chen, she didn't seem to know. I think she was just trying to make herself sound big. Anyway, it all rebounded back on her, because her house got burgled so many times her family had to leave the area.
It wasn't surprising, really. Every time you turned on the screen there was another advert showing some beautiful cat, strolling around the pool in some fantastic mansion. Then you'd see the price. Two million euros, some of them! Is it any wonder cat kidnapping became such a common crime? Mind you, they had that under control now. It was pretty much impossible to get into the private neighborhoods unless you had a minicopter, and they cost almost as much as a cat.
The new collars had also put off the cat kidnappers. They all had tracking devices built in. For a while you could jam the Chen ones, but then Viafara bought out Chen and put the same processors in them, and made them pretty much foolproof. And since it was impossible to get the collar off without lopping the cat's head off, the chances of a kidnapper getting caught were roughly a hundred percent.
But our cat, as I've said, had no collar. That was the exciting — and frightening — thing about it.
"It's seen us," I said. The cat was staring steadily in our direction, caught between fear and curiosity. Then, unbelievably, it started to move towards us. Mum began to panic.
"Don't touch it!" she warned.
"It might attack."
The cat didn't look like it was about to attack. But then, maybe that was the way they worked. Maybe they jumped suddenly, without warning. The fact was, we knew practically nothing about them, other than what GreatGrandma had told us.
"We'd better go in," said Mum.
Neither of us moved. Mum was as fascinated as I was. Everything about this creature cast a spell, and when it stood no more than a meter away, opened its needletoothed mouth, and cried, we knew we couldn't ignore it.
"Maybe it's hungry," I said.
"Fetch some sardines," said Mum.
I was right about the cat being hungry. As soon as the sardines were on the ground, it checked around, then set about its meal with total abandon. Even when the last trace was gone, it kept on licking. Then it looked back up at us with a new and powerful interest.
"Let's let it in," I suggested, more in hope than expectation. Mum was horrified.
"It's a criminal offense!" she said.
"But it's lost!"
"Jade, it's an unregistered cat."
"But look at its face, Mum."
"It could be diseased!"
"It doesn't look diseased."
"Looks can be deceptive."
Mum said this with great weight, and a nodding of the head. When she spoke like this, out of grim experience, you didn't doubt her. But the pull of the cat was just as strong.
"If we took her in tonight, Mum —"
"Just tonight, Mum! Then ring the authorities in the morning!"
"Are you going to ring the authorities?"
Mum viewed me doubtfully.
"On my mother's life, Mum!" I blurted, not realizing what I was saying.
"Exactly," said Mum. "It will be on your mother's life."
"Please, Mum," I pleaded. "Just to have it in the house, for a few hours; just so we could say we had a cat once in our lives."
Mum smiled at my dramatic little speech. I sensed a weakness and pressed home the advantage with a lostlamb look I had practiced all my childhood.
"On your head be it," she said, but as we've already established, both our heads were on the block from that moment.CHAPTER 3
There was no way she'd let me touch her at first. Trust had to be built up slowly and painfully. I talked to her softly, offered her little treats, and took care not to make any sudden or threatening movements. Then, when Mum had gone to bed, I laid a trail of tuna flakes on the kitchen floor, got down flat to the ground, and arranged the last few morsels along my arm and on my back.
Time passed, maybe half an hour, then at last she crept out from her hideyhole and began to take the bait. I hardly dared breathe as she drew up alongside me, still with that quivery watchfulness, but growing more confident all the time. And then, in one sacred moment, she snaffled the tuna from my arm, and I felt just a tickle of contact.
Hardly daring to breathe, I silently urged her on. She laid one testing paw upon my elbow, craned her neck, and took the next treat.
Two paws next, and a snaffle from my back — but that was as far as she could reach.
I closed my eyes, desperately tired, and resigned myself to trying again in the morning. But I would not have to wait that long. Again she tested my arm with her paws, then, without warning, sprang softly onto my back. I lay still and steady, in quiet satisfaction, as she went about her business, nibbling the last of the tuna. Then, when she'd had her fill, I laid another trail and did exactly the same thing again. This time, lying beneath her gentle weight, I fell fast asleep. I was still there next morning when Mum came down; so was my little cat.
"Look at you!" she said, with a broad smile. Once she had smiled and laughed a lot, but it didn't happen often now.
"I want to keep her, Mum," I said. The words had escaped before I'd even thought about what I was saying.
"Jade, no," said Mum.
"But Mum," I protested, "what if they kill her?"
"They're not going to kill her," replied Mum, then gave a nervous little laugh, betraying the fact that she wasn't so sure.
"They will kill her," I replied, much more sure of myself.
"I'll ring them when I come back from Afshan's," asserted Mum.
Mum never did ring the authorities. By that evening I'd trained the cat to lie on my lap, and after tea she climbed onto Mum's, stretched her paw across like a baby, and closed her eyes. Mum absentmindedly stroked her head, and for the first time, the cat let out a purr.
"I think we should call her Feela," said Mum.
"Why?" I asked.
"It's a nice name," said Mum.
"OK," I replied.
Mum carried on stroking, saying nothing. Then, out of the blue, she said, "It's wrong, you know."
"What?" I asked.
"That we can't have things like this," said Mum.
It half frightened me to hear Mum say these words, but it thrilled me too. By and large, she was a woman who accepted her lot, who avoided argument at any cost, but there was a part of her which still had some fight in it, which sided with the underdog, which never fully accepted the way things were.
"Mum," I said, "I won't let her out. No one'll see her."
"You can't be sure of that," said Mum.
"I can, Mum!" I protested. "I can!"
Mum studied my pleading expression, as if hoping to be convinced.
"Let's keep her, Mum," I said softly.
Mum looked back at Feela, so beautiful, so composed, so very much at home. She sighed deeply.
"Looks like she's made up our minds for us," she said.CHAPTER 4
For the next three weeks Feela was my life. I studied everything about her and, bit by bit, built a relationship with her. I couldn't believe how much she slept! All day sometimes, with just a break for a meal or to do a toilet in the box of earth we prepared for her. Yet she could come awake in an instant, be totally alert, and five seconds later be on a mad dash about the house. She did one of these mad dashes once every few days, and they really alarmed me. Her ears would go back, she'd skid around corners, then end up wrapped around a table leg with her back legs cycling furiously. There seemed no reason for it, unless it was the memory of some scary experience. Either way, I kept my distance while she was like that. At other times, though, she was as soft as a toy, chinning the edge of my finger till I stroked her, or climbing silently on to my lap. I'd never felt such a peaceful feeling as I did at these times. A rich, warm purr would stir inside her, building higher and higher to a sonorous preep. And I would glow with the wonder of having a living animal in our house, sharing our lives.
Just as I was studying Feela, Feela was studying me. She got to know all my habits — when I ate, when I got up, even when I went to the toilet. Soon she became a part of those habits. I'd wake up to a rough tongue licking my face, and eat with two serene eyes staring up expectantly. When I went upstairs, she'd speed ahead of me, check to see I was following, then lead me up the steps into my bedroom. We'd race each other to the bed. She'd flop down beside me so I could get my hand around her and whisk the warm, silky tufts of her belly. It all seemed such an unashamed luxury.
In all this time we kept the blinds in our front window closed. There were no front gardens on Ferry Street and precious little privacy. When we lived on the marina no one used to sit on our front windowsill, and they certainly didn't stare straight into our living room. But people were different here. They sat out on the street, shouted up and down it, had fullblast fights on it, and didn't seem to care what anyone thought, least of all us. We were outsiders and probably always would be. Not because we were stuck up, because we weren't, but because we'd lived somewhere different, somewhere where people didn't shout or ride their bikes through the red lights. And, let's face it, we'd never have moved to Ferry Street if Dad hadn't died and there hadn't been that problem with the life insurance that I never understood.
At least we had some privacy out the back — high fences on all sides and pyracantha bushes with thorns like nails. In fact it took us quite a while to figure out how Feela had got in — a hole in the fence behind the shed, which Mum fixed with a tomato box. There was no danger now of her leaving the garden and getting lost. But since there were about fifty gardens adjoining each other on our block, where she came from remained a mystery.
Then, of course, there was school. It was impossible to keep your privacy there. Someone always wanted to know what was in your lunch box, or where your mum worked, or what you'd been doing with x over at y on the nth of z.
By and large, though, I steered clear of serious trouble. I wasn't part of any gang, and even though some people gave me a hard time and called me Marina because of where I used to live, I just wasn't the type that got picked on, not really picked on, like the ones that committed suicide. Maybe I just came across as a boring person who had no secrets worth knowing.
There was one person, however, who found me endlessly fascinating. Kris Delaney. Kris was the bane of my life. It was the entire aim of his existence to test me. I don't know why I interested him so much. It certainly bugged him that I wasn't born in the neighborhood and had lived in a greenhome and, OK, we'd had a boat, if only a small one. But Kris was different, too. You'd see him with the other lads, kicking a ball about, but you'd see him on his own just as much. There was always a distance between him and his mates. Some people said his parents were gypsies, and I believed it. There was something about that bony face, that mop of corkscrews and, most of all, those soulful brown eyes. He might have been beautiful if he didn't have that big loose mouth with its tombstone teeth. Seeing him looking out over the docklands, you might think he was composing poetry or something. But as far as I knew, he never did. Most of the time he just swore and made snarky remarks, like all the other boys.
I might have kept my secret forever if it weren't for Kris.
* * *
It started as an ordinary enough day, except that I tried to pick up Feela just before I left for school. I didn't often do this because it was one thing she wouldn't tolerate, but I lived in hope that one day she'd get used to it and let me hold her like a baby. No such luck this time. She hissed into my face (her breath always smelled of haddock, no matter what we'd fed her), struggled, and jumped free.
Excerpted from The Last Free Cat by Jon Blake. Copyright © 2008 Jon Blake. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Last Free Cat was unlike any book I have every read (in a good way). The concept is something NO ONE could ever think of. I really enjoyed reading it! Kris was a compete jerk at times, but came through in the end. Sometimes during the book I would think, "I wish I had a cat," but then I would remember that I'm allergic to them. Even though I don't- or ever can- have a cat, I felt Jade and Kris's compassion for Feela. The ending had me ALMOST in tears (I never cry). The book has become one of my favorites. Overall, I would recommend this book to cat lovers, dystopian lovers, and people who want a heart warming read.
Kiss your hand three times then post this on three diffrent books. Look under your pullow.
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