Chapter One: Endless Rain
Rain fell to the earth in sheets as thunder rumbled overhead. The earth was cold and soaked, the big white house was warm and dry, and the barn, where four cats huddled together against the chill, was someplace in between.
Four bodies lay curled and pressed against one another atop a smattering of hay. The mass of orange and white was Oliver, a large tom of two years. His brother Sam was darker than he, not solid black but nearly so, with stripes visible on his face and chest. Molly was young and thin and beautifully marked, cream tipped with chestnut on her tail, ears, and mouth. In contrast, Jaz looked like she'd had it rough. One ear was tattered and a fresh wound still crossed her nose from an encounter with a feral cat. Her fur was smokey gray and dulled with age.
"You see?" Sam muttered to the others as he drew his dark tail close around him. "It's been raining for days. Never before has it rained like this, and still the master hasn't come. He sits in the big white house and ignores us while we suffer. No creature deserves this kind of neglect. The master is cruel."
Jaz lifted her shaggy head off the floor and glared at Sam without saying a word.
"He hasn't ignored us," Oliver said. "He put food out this morning, remember?"
Sam growled and was quiet for a moment before answering. "The master puts food out as a matter of routine," he said. "He owes us that much, although food from the pan is coarse and tasteless. The mice of the field are more satisfying than that."
"Spoken like a true fool," grumbled Jaz. "The master goes out of his way to care for us, and all you do is complain."
"You do a fair amount of complaining yourself," Sam retorted.
"Only when dunces speak."
"That's enough you two!" Molly whined, standing and circling herself to find a more comfortable position. "Oh, why can't the master open his door to us? Why will he not let us inside?"
Sam flashed Jaz a wicked grin. "Even the strong have doubts, I suppose."
Molly blushed indignantly under her fur.
"Well I don't," said Oliver. "The master loves us. We can endure this little bit of wet and cold. We're better off than some."
"Better off than who? Ha, I could go out into the forest and be better off than you."
"Then why don't you?" Jaz snapped. "And save all of us the trouble of hearing you balk."
"Please!" Molly cried. "My fur is wet... Oh, I think this barn has a leak."
"Just wait it out," Oliver said softly. "The rain won't last forever. It hasn't gone on for days like Sam said. We had sunshine this morning, and yesterday in the afternoon. Do you remember that, how warm it was? It isn't as bad as he says."
"Puh," Sam scoffed.
"I hope you're right," Molly said. "I hope this misery will end soon!"
"It will." Oliver smiled and scooted next to her to keep her warm. "Think about tomorrow, when the master will come out of his house and call for us. You'll run to him and he'll scoop you up in his arms like before, like he does every time you come to him." He licked her ear. "Then you will remember how he cares."
Silence settled over the four. Sam turned away from the others so that his back was to them. Someday, he was certain, his friends would wake to reality. Someday they would realize that it is best to be one's own master.