Heiress Apparent

Bev was sitting on the couch with the tortoiseshell cat, Ishtar, when her husband, Joel, staggered into the house. With a dazed expression, he collapsed onto the other end of the sofa. “I just had the weirdest experience on the way to the parking lot.”

Bev leaned toward him with an encouraging nod.

“While I was cutting through the native plant garden, as usual, a procession of cats crossed in front of me.”

“A what? Cats don’t process.”

“Well, unless I fell asleep at the computer or somebody drugged my latte, these did. They marched in a double line from one side of the path to the other. They were yowling, like cats do, but it sounded almost like singing.”

“That’s weird, all right.” She stroked Ishtar, who uncurled from her sleeping position and rubbed against Bev’s hand.

“You haven’t heard the strangest part yet. There were six walking in the middle of the column on their hind legs, carrying a miniature coffin with a tiny crown on top.”

Ishtar raised her head and perked up her ears.

Bev patted his hand. “Are you sure you didn’t fall asleep at the computer?”

He nodded. “Believe me, that’s the first thing I thought of. I tried to wake up. Didn’t happen. I unfroze enough to ask what the hell was going on. Not that I expected an answer.”

“Don’t tell me you got one?”

“A half-grown kitten near the end of the line said, ‘It’s the funeral of Her Majesty Thomasina the Dagger-Fanged, of course.’ An adult swatted him and told him to shut up. Then the procession moved on and disappeared under the trees.”

Before Bev could gather her thoughts to comment, Ishtar stood up, stretched, and flexed her claws. “So old Thomasina finally died? Then I’m Queen of the Cats!”

Bev gaped at her. “You can talk?”

Ishtar blinked at her. “Meow. Purr. Mew.”

“Quit messing with us,” Joel said. “I know what I saw back there, and I’m not dreaming now either. You just spoke English.”

With a disgruntled hiss, Ishtar sat down. “Okay, I can talk. Want to make something of it?”

Bev found her voice. “I guess now that you’ve inherited the crown, you’ll be leaving us. We’ll miss you.”

The cat flicked her tail dismissively. “Live outside in the heat, cold, rain, and snow, eating vermin and garbage scraps? Waste half my time settling squabbles on the Feline Council? And the other half defending myself against challengers? Not to mention toms who don’t understand the word ‘spayed’? No, thanks. Let my sisters fight over the crown.” She licked a paw. “But now that the talking secret is out of the bag, so to speak, I have a few conditions.”

Joel frowned. “Conditions?”

Ishtar’s ears slanted back “First off, clean the litter box every day, for Bast’s sake.”

“Reasonable,” he muttered.

“And that dry food from the discount mart doesn’t meet my standards. Also, buy one of those water-dispensing fountains.”

Bev asked, “How do you know about those?”

“When I lie on your lap all day while you’re working at the computer, you think I haven’t been listening? One more thing, I’m sure there’s room on the rear deck to install a catio…”