Having made her way out of the woods and away from the constant cover of the trees, Hollow braced herself against the unencumbered wind that she was now subject to. She hadn't expected much of the moors; after all, it looked to her like a dull stretch of flat, blank, grassy land, but surely even the most mundane of landscapes had to hide something exciting, some hidden gem. A hidden gem like...these rocks? A set of large, dark stones loomed tall and imposing ahead of her, in stark contrast to the frosty ground. She peered at them, taking in the slight sheen to their surface. Ice, she realized, with a note of disappointment. They looked as though they might have served as a decent vantage point, but Hollow was not particularly inclined towards scrabbling around on slippery rocks just for a look at what was mostly likely a big patch of grass.
Oh well, I can still take a look around the old-fashioned way. With that thought in mind, she sniffed, trying not to flinch at the coolness of the air around her. As expected, most of the scents were stale; prey was harder to come by this time of year, and some of the larger animals tended to retreat from the cold. But there was something that caught her nose, and she twitched in recognition.
Another cat! Hollow was suddenly torn between twin waves of mounting curiosity and unabating fear. Half of her wanted to engage, to find out more about this stranger, while the other half warned her that they could be dangerous, that she should run away now...as usual, the curiosity won out.
She slinked forward, trying not to make too much noise just in case. The wind was loud enough out here that she was not too concerned about her stealth, but better safe than sorry. As she moved closer to one of the stones, however, the wind seemed to wane, and Hollow noticed that the configuration of the stones allowed for small pockets of calm. They also, she realized, were numerous enough and large enough that it was impossible to get a good view of the whole area without being atop of one of the stones—which were, of course, conveniently covered in ice.
Well, I know I'm not alone out here, and this other cat will know I'm here sooner or later too, she thought. I'm sure one of us will find the other eventually. How hard could it be?
The fluffy gray cat had gotten an itch again to start wandering, having grown bored of twolegplace as they always did. It had taken a while to get out this far and they thanked their parents for the long coat they sported, the one bastion between them and the chill wind. With the moors having little cover outside of the long grass, the wind wasn’t often blocked out and had whipped their fur in all directions until they had managed to find this rocky outcropping. It had seemed interesting enough to draw them over and begin checking the stones.
They were most interested in the taller rocks, but when they set a paw on them they could feel the cold, rough touch of ice covering the surface. As much as they wanted to climb up and gaze across the hills they had crossed to get there, there simply wasn’t a safe way up. The disappointment didn’t last long as they shrugged their shoulders and kept nosing around the place, wondering what kind of secrets could be hidden in plain sight.
It was around the time that a strong gust of wind slipped through the stony wall next to them and brought a new scent with it. Curious, they opened their mouth and endured the cold to discover that a she-cat was nearby! But where? They tried walking around the rocks but after doing so three times they were beginning to get a little frustrated.
“Awringt ya canny lass, it’s been a bit of crack walken’ ‘round but I’d rather skelp me mam then keep this goin’. Hows ‘bout ya let this blether spin a yarn with ya?”
(Sigh If you have no idea what that says, it says “Alright you clever lady, it’s been a bit of fun walking around but I’d rather slap my mom than keep this going. How about you let this chatter-box tell a tale with you?” Gato is supposed to have a Scottish accent and I’m probably butchering this slang so bad. Also I'm unsure if "Crack" means fun in Scotland but it does in Ireland so hopefully the Scottish don't murder me.)
The sudden—and not to mention strange—voice startled Hollow as she wove her way around the rocks, still searching for her elusive would-be companion. She had a bit more to go on, now, hearing their voice, but the stranger's words raised more questions than they answered. For one, the sound of the other cat's voice itself did little to help Hollow to determine where they were; the wind's whistling passage between and around the rocks made it difficult to discern the sound's origin. At first she thought she would find the stranger right on the other side of the stone she was behind, but after rounding the corner still found herself alone. Perplexed, Hollow sat down. Maybe I need to stop moving for just a bit, she thought.
The strangeness of the words themselves hit her a moment later, as she let them sink into her mind. I don't think I understood half of what they said, she realized, after a moment's contemplation, Did I not hear them well? Or did they really say 'blether'?
Well, regardless of what the words meant, Hollow, figuring she had already come this far and would not be so lucky as to avoid the encounter at this point, called out in response, "Er, hello. I'm sorry, I can't seem to find you." Her tail moved back and forth in anxious swipes behind her, and Hollow shivered as it brushed the frostbitten grass. Surely the other cat would find her soon? Staying still was all well and good until she froze her paws off. She yearned to stretch her muscles and get her blood flowing again, but the spot she was in was relatively well-sheltered from the wind, so she held her ground for a few moments longer.
I sure hope 'spin a yarn' doesn't mean 'get in a fight', she mused, keeping her eyes, ears, and nose peeled for further signs of the stranger.
Gato gave a hearty laugh. Indeed, they didn’t seem to be able to find each other! It was quite amusing, honestly, that they had probably wandered around each other in circles. “Awright, lass, sit tight an’ I’ll find ya,” they said and began to pick their way around the rocks once again. Hopefully she listened, otherwise this may go on all day, and as much as Gato found that funny they really did want to meet this she-cat. Ever the people person, or rather the ‘cat cat,’ Gato simply loved to meet new people.
Wind buffeted them as they climbed around the stones. It felt like time was going slower than usual and that each paw step took longer, but Gato was sure that was just the anticipation. Thoughts were flying through their head about what this mystery cat looked like. Certainly they sounded like a she-cat, but perhaps they were more like Gato and had found that didn’t quite fit. Ah, but she hadn’t corrected him before, so perhaps they were right to call her lass. As these thoughts continued to dance about their brain, they turned a corner and at long last spotted their new companion.
She was deep brown in color, something they hadn’t seen before, looking rich and warm under the winter sun. Her body was more wiry than Gato’s, her fur shorter, but there still seemed like there was a hidden strength beneath her pelt and in her large green eyes. Gato’s own fur looked like a mess by now due to all the wind, but the long haired gray tabby still looked like the giant fuzzy teddy bear that they were.
With a wide grin, they said, “Ah, there ya are lass! A bonnie lass at that! I was startin’ tah fear we’d never meet. Me name’s Gato, wandering house cat at ya service. It’s a pleasure tah meet ya. What may ya name be, lass?”
It took a moment for Hollow to register that the other cat had finally found her; their gray fur blended in nicely with the gray of the stones, but when they more fully emerged from the outcropping, Hollow could see white swathes among the long gray fur as well as warm hazel eyes peering out of what seemed to be a friendly face. I wonder if they're any warmer than I am with all that fur, she thought enviously, still shivering from the wind and cold.
"Oh, hello! Or, hello again, I suppose," she meowed, standing up now that she no longer had to worry about being found. Gato, I wonder if that means something? Hollow did not understand most names; her own made enough sense to her, even if it had been a bit uninspired on her brothers' parts, and any other cats named after familiar trees or animals or plants or whatnot seemed normal enough, by her (perhaps biased) reckoning. And then there were cats like Gato and like her brothers with names that were just...sounds. It was all a bit baffling, but Hollow didn't want to run the risk of offending Gato so soon after meeting them, and decided to keep these musings to herself for the time being. Hopefully they assumed her confusion was in response to their manner of speaking and not their name...though could that be upsetting as well?
Hollow shook her head in an attempt to clear it of the spiralling anxieties taking hold and focused instead on actually answering Gato's question. "I'm Hollow, wandering...well, just a wandering cat. An explorer, maybe?" She gave a self-deprecating chuckle. "It's nice to meet you as well, Gato."
She hazarded a glance beyond the rocks for a moment, trying to get a glimpse of the moors. The view was obscured, but that was the price of staying shielded from the wind, she supposed. And besides, no view from the ground would be as nice as the view from atop the rocks, but with the ice that just wasn't a safe option. Maybe Gato had been here before and would know if there was anything worth seeing.
"I haven't been by the, uh...houses?" Hollow was not entirely sure of what that place or those creatures were, but she knew that Gato was not the only cat who frequented the area, so presumably they were not too dangerous. "So maybe that's why we haven't met before. I usually stick to the forest, but I've been trying to branch out." Hollow paused, realizing that she had unintentionally made a bit of a joke. "Ah, anyway, this is my first time out here. Are you familiar with the moors at all?"
Gato noted her shivering and adjusted themselves to try to keep the majority of the wind buffeting against their back so she wouldn’t be as cold. Granted, it was still winter, so she’d be cold anyway, but it was as much as they could do without curling around her and they got the impression that might be a bit too… forward. Not every cat enjoyed a stranger coming up and pressing their fur close, as Gato had learned a little while ago with a young tom in twolegplace during a rather harsh snow. So they’d just wait until this she-cat asked herself or it seemed okay enough to offer.
She seemed a bit lost in thought if Gato were honest, though that was often how they were, staring off into space as an entirely different world floated by in their thoughts. Thankfully she wasn’t lost to it too long and was able to give her name, causing a bright smile to light up Gato’s face. “That’s a fine name, lass. An’ yar an explorer at that! It seems we have a wee bit in common awready,” they said, glad that this encounter wouldn’t be too awkward. Sometimes they found cats that they simply had nothing in common with and it made for difficult conversation.
“Ah, the forest. Gorgeous, I’nit? Been all over the forest, I have. Workin’ on these here moors bein’ tha same way. So I got a lil knowledge of tha moors. If’in ya could get up thar,” they motioned to the top of the rocks, “then ya could see a big dip in uh, in that there direction I think,” he motioned to the west, “an’ in that direction a big ol’ red nest where tha horses stay. There’s a fence ‘round it so if’in ya don’t annoy tha horses, they won’t trample ya. Though they’re gentle, they are. Aye, one let me sleep on it’s back once!”
Gato gave a chuckle at the memory before asking, “Was thar somethin’ in particular ya were lookin’ tah see, lass?”
The wind's bite softened as Gato moved to block its path, and Hollow let out a quiet purr of appreciation, relaxing now that she was no longer so exposed to the elements. It was an unexpected kindness, and her thoughts darkened momentarily; what did Gato have to gain from this move? Were they trying to promote a false sense of security? They didn't seem particularly territorial, but anything was possible...Hollow blinked away her suspicions. No, I can't assume the worst of every cat I meet, she chided herself, They're just an explorer, like me. A bit more well-traveled, though, it would seem.
"Yes, the forest is beautiful. It's very...green." Hollow cringed inwardly at her failure to articulate anything more substantial. "Usually, at least. Not so much right now."As if they don't know what seasons are, she thought with another wince, bemoaning her pitifully rusty social skills. How long has it been since I've spoken to another cat, anyhow?
Hollow's eyes followed Gato's gesture to the top of the rocks. "Shame there's so much ice," she meowed. "I was just thinking earlier how these stones would have a good view if it were safe to get up there." The rest of Gato's description sank in, and Hollow felt a bloom of curiosity within her—what was a horse?
"A horse? She voiced the question aloud. "I'm not sure what that is. I don't think I've ever seen one before." She wasn't quite sure what to make of them, given Gato's description. Apparently they were big enough to trample a cat but calm enough to be slept on? Hollow had trouble imagining such a creature. "Is it far to their nest? I didn't have anything particular in mind when I came this way, but...that would almost definitely be something new."
Gato gave a light chuckle. “Aye, tha forest is ripe with greenery most o’ tha time. Right now it’s just mostly white!” they said with another laugh. “Ah, I must say, it’ll be belter when tha leaves come back ‘n’ tha snow is gone.”
It was around this time that it started to dawn on them that maybe, perhaps, that this cat in front of them had no idea what they were saying when they used those slang terms. Much like most cats didn’t. “Ah, sorry lass. Belter means extremely good. I sometimes forget me family’s way o’ speakin’ can be a wee bit hard to understand. I’ll try to keep in mind not tae use any funny words.”
Hollow’s rusty social skills didn’t bother Gato any. In fact, it almost seemed charming to them. Talking could be hard, especially after going a while without doing it. A faint memory of tripping over words came to mind momentarily, when they had been gone for over a week and hadn’t seen anyone but the horses and some chickens. It had almost felt like they forgot how to speak at first, but after a little bit it came back to them.
“Aye, ‘tis a good view. When the frost goes ya should come back here, take a wee peek. It’ll look bonnie good come warmer weather,” they said. While they had no way of knowing what it looked like from the very top, most of what they had seen was white snow coming up to this point anyway. If there was anything interesting to see, it was simply too bad.
“Oh, it’s not that far. Might be a wee bit cold getting there, but ya can press into me fur if ya need. They’re probably in tha barn—tha’s where the two-leg folk keep ‘em when it’s bad weather—but I think we can get inside. Be warmer in there than out here!” Gato nodded toward the direction of the barn, “If ya still want to go, I’ll sho’ ya tha way.” If she decides to go along with it, Gato will do their best to block the cold air even though it’s like trying to fight back water in a lake.
Sigh If you were ever wondering why I don't go full-blown Scottish, it's because I don't fully understand it. I mean look at this sentence: "It wiz pure hoachin up eh toon eh day." Know what it means? I would understand a couple words but I don't think I'd reach the conclusion of: "It was really busy in the town centre today." So yeah lol
It was difficult to suppress a wince at Gato's graceful response to her lackluster commentary, but Hollow thought she managed well enough. She was grateful to her companion for not pointing out her conversational shortcomings; there was no way they weren't aware of it, much to Hollow's embarrassment, but so far they had been kind enough to carry on the conversation without complaint.
They even went so far as to apologize for their own part in the conversation, Hollow realized with no small amount of shock. Sure, Gato spoke a little differently than she was used to, but it wasn't...well.
"Oh, that's all right! It can never hurt to learn some new words!" But even as she said this, the thought of an entire family speaking the way Gato did was such a vivid image that Hollow was briefly struck by a strange sense of vertigo, like everything was slanted slightly to the left of where she was used to it being.
Hollow shook off the sensation, willing her reality to slot back into place even as the very cadence of speech that had prompted the disturbance carried on. Ah, a much safer topic. Warmer weather can't come soon enough, she thought. Oh, I suppose that's the sort of thing I should say aloud.
"Yes, warmer weather can't come soon enough," she agreed, hoping the pause between the words forming in her head and coming out of her mouth wasn't too lengthy. "But I guess you've already noticed, I don't deal with the cold very well." A shiver passed through her, as if to emphasize her point. Still, she was much more comfortable now than she had been earlier. Getting to the barn would be another story entirely, it seemed, although Gato had offered to help keep her warm on the way, an offer which had her stuttering. "Oh, um, well—I'm sure I'll be able to—I mean, it's not—" Her gaze dropped to the ground, and Hollow made the decision to simply ignore the offer for now in the interest of saving face. Not that I have much dignity left at this point, she thought despairingly. "If you're willing to guide me, it certainly sounds interesting! Much better than some rocks and snow, anyhow."
370 | Zesha Kudos for keeping up the Scottish thing bc I'm over here second-guessing every word in a language/accent that I should know like the back of my hand
Even though warmer weather would eventually bog them down similarly to a rat that fell in a river, the cold and snow were getting, at the very least, boring. There were fewer birds, no squirrels, not even any butterflies to catch their attention and accidentally lead him off in the opposite direction of where they intended to go.
“Ah, no worries lass,” they said. “We all have our strengths. Though not even I would complain if tha winter were a wee bit warmer!” They gave a bit of a laugh at that. If only.
It was fairly obvious that their offer to keep her warm had flustered her a bit, so they decided they’d step back on that one. If it seemed that she needed the extra warmth at any time during their travels they could always move a bit closer and offer again.
“Well then,” they said, “let’s be off! Don’t want ya tae be too far from home when tha sun goes down.” It was getting to be roughly noon as it was, so whatever warmth they were going to get from the winter sun would only last a pawful of hours at most.
With a wave of their fluffy plume of a tail, they set off towards the direction of the farms. The snow on the ground crunched gently under their paws, leaving a trail of little kitty feet behind them. The ones from earlier were still there, too, where they had both come up to the lookout to see what was up there. The hardest part was just traversing through the snow while going up a large hill, but once they crested it Gato raised a paw as his tail shuddered in excitement.
“There it is, lass,” they said, nodding their head to the barn down the hill. There was s horse out with a blanket draped over it as a human groomed its long mane. “No need tae worry ‘bout the twoleg, they’re kind. I usually jus’ stay out o’ their way ‘til they’re done. We can get into the barn and see the other horses if ya’d like, too.” If Hollow looked closely, she’d be able to see the barn door was ajar enough for a cat to slip in.
Home? Hollow wasn't sure if she had one, really. The concept was alien to her; even when traveling with her brothers, they had moved around a fair bit, never staying in one place for too long. It was one facet of her old life that Hollow had kept after shedding so many of the others. Still, Gato was right in that she would prefer to be back in familiar territory before nightfall. Easier to find a good place to sleep for the night without worrying too much about the unknowns.
As Gato set off for the mysterious horse-place with a graceful flick of their tail, Hollow steeled herself for the cold. She wouldn't be protected by the stones for much longer. If it gets to be too much, you could always just accept that offer, she reassured herself, but the thought of asking set her whiskers quivering with the potential awkwardness such a question would undoubtedly carry. Luckily, distracted as she was by her own theoretical social ineptitude, Hollow stood and followed Gato forwards, buffeting winds removed from the forefront of her thoughts.
The climb would not have been difficult under normal (warmer) circumstances, but as it was, Hollow found herself pushing to keep pace with her companion. Their pawsteps left prints in the snow behind them, cataloging a less-than-graceful ascent. Not that there's anybody around to see it, she thought, determined not to be embarrassed about her struggle through the snow. But as she crested the hill behind Gato, all thoughts of her fumbling flew out of her mind, and she took in the horse.
It was...weird. Large and imposing, for sure, but it's legs were so thin and stick-like compared to the rest of its body that Hollow had a hard time conjuring what she thought might be an appropriate amount of fear. The face was strangely elongated, but the ears were very small. It was hard to tell from such a distance, but it seemed to have hair more like a twoleg than a cat, a long tail and mane darker than the rest of its body. It looks a bit ridiculous, she thought with a note of surprise.
"Are the other horses like this one?" Hollow asked, before realizing that she wasn't sure what like this one meant. "I mean—well, yes, I suppose I would like to see them." She kept her eyes fixed on the horse as she spoke. What is the twoleg doing? Do house cats get treated this way too? The thought made her shiver; Hollow had never had any bad encounters with the strange twolegs, but she wasn't sure she wanted any encounters with them if she could avoid it.
"Are there any horses that don't live with twolegs? I haven't seen any, but that doesn't necessarily mean they aren't out here..." She trailed off. "If you know, I mean. I'm just—curious." Hollow was ready to stick her paw in her mouth again. Why did she have to go spouting off questions like Gato was some kind of omniscient genius? It would only show how little Hollow herself knew, and she wasn't even guaranteed any answers. Still, she would like to get a look at those other horses...
Gato felt a purr rumble in their throat as Hollow seemed to become curious about the horses. Of course, they had been the first time, too. With such strange looks compared to what they were used to—tall, thin legs holding up a bulky body with a long neck and nearly as long face—it was a wonder if anyone could not be interested in seeing that there were more of these odd creatures that twolegs seemed to keep in nests that looked similar to a twoleg nest on the outside. They were, by far, the strangest creatures next to twolegs that Gato had met thus far.
“There are many different horses,” they said, ignoring Hollow’s awkwardness. It was simply nice to be talking to someone again, even if they weren’t well versed in conversation. They gestured with their head for Hollow to come with them down the slope towards the horse and twoleg. Despite the fact that their pelts didn’t blend into the landscape, the twoleg seemed completely oblivious to the cats’ approach, rubbing the horse’s neck and combing through its long, dark mane. They wouldn’t be able to get close to that one, since the twoleg might act a bit crazy if two stray cats just wandered up to them, but that was fine by them.
They reached the barn door without incident. Gato gave a sigh of relief as the cold air stopped buffeting against his fur, replaced by the still air of the barn. It didn’t smell all that pleasant, but it was certainly, in their mind, better than the chilly wind outside. As they gazed up, many elongated faces turned to stare at the cats. They were in many different colors: brown, black, beige, many with splashes of white across their faces and bodies. Even the strange hair that grew from their necks and backsides ranged in colors from blond to black.
“I’ve never seen a horse tha’ didn’t live with twolegs,” Gato admitted. “I’m not sure if they can. They seem like they’d be strong enough tae do it though. Maybe if I learn to speak horse I can find out!” They laughed lightly, though they would secretly love to be able to speak horse. It would certainly be interesting to hear what the giant creatures would say, what tales of their lives they could tell. That and all the questions they’d ask the cats about why they were so small and why they didn’t look alike at all. Unless they ever learned how, they’d have to be satisfied with their imagination.
“Come on, over here,” they said, leading the way deeper into the barn. A stool sat near one of the stalls, the wood old and worn but still sturdy. They leaped up onto it, then turned and wiggled their butt to position their feet before jumping up onto the side of the stall. Their balance was a bit wobbly at first, but they managed to settle onto the top of the short wall after a moment. “They’re quite gentle creatures. I’ll show ya! They’ll let ya on their backs.”
With that they stepped carefully from the half-wall to the beige horse’s back. The mare glanced back at them and gave a soft snort, but did not attempt to fling them off. Careful to keep their claws sheathed, they stepped lightly up to the mare’s neck and rubbed their head against it, brushing against the blond mane. Another soft snort. Satisfied that the mare was fine with them, they sat down on their back and waved their tail for Hollow to come up. “Jus’ mine yar claws an’ ya’ll be fine, lass. This girl has let me on ‘er a dozen or more times.”
As Gato motioned for her to follow, Hollow acquiesced with her face turned towards the ground in embarrassment. It was nice of Gato to ignore her social ineptitude, although they were clearly not oblivious to it, if their rumbling purr was any indication.
Their path towards the barn seemed oddly exposed, and Hollow felt herself tense as Gato cut a straight path without sparing a thought for cover. Her worries were for naught, though; both the twoleg and the horse—as far as she could tell—didn't notice the two of them passing by, even with their pelts contrasting so starkly with their snowy surroundings. If only all predators were so oblivious, she mused, mind flashing to badgers and bobcats and all other manner of dangerous forest-dwellers. Or prey, for that matter. What easy hunting that would be!
This train of thought inspired a small rumble in her stomach; though Hollow was not desperate for a meal by any means, she rarely—if ever—fully satisfied her appetite during the lean moons of leafbare.
Hollow was distracted from her hunger by their arrival at the entrance to the barn. She was suddenly much more comfortable, as she was once again sheltered from the wind. She noticed Gato also seemed relieved; they were not as impervious to the cold as their chivalrous offer of protection had suggested. But in spite of the more comfortable climate, the barn was not entirely an improvement. The smell of the barn was strange, for one, and Hollow scrunched up her face at the unfamiliar aroma of, she presumed, horses.
"The smell is...strong," she choked out. "I definitely would have noticed horses before if I'd encountered them, with a scent like this." The smell wasn't even entirely unpleasant, although it certainly wasn't what she would call good either. Eventually Hollow managed to move on from the smell and got a good look at the other horses. Her eyes widened in surprise; in shape and build, they were much like the creature outside, but their colorings were mesmerizingly varied.
It took another moment to realize that the horses were returning her gaze. Hollow averted her eyes hastily, uncomfortable with so much attention even from such strange creatures. She tried to focus on Gato's words instead.
"Do they talk? What do they sound like?" In Hollow's experience, larger creatures made louder noises. While not an exact science, it was a decent enough rule, in Hollow's mind. Considering the size of the horses, she assumed they must make quite a racket when they made any noise at all. "They must be loud."
Gato's voice beckoned Hollow deeper into the barn, and she follow with no small amount of trepidation. The feeling only increased as Gato leapt onto a stool near one of the stalls. Even their reassurances of the horses' gentle nature did little to assuage Hollow's fears. "A tree is gentle, too, until it falls on you," she murmured with wide eyes.
And yet, Gato seemed to speak truthfully; they were able to step onto the back of one of the horses without issue, even going so far as to sit down and gesture again for Hollow to follow. She gulped before steeling herself and tracing Gato's path from the ground to the stool to the side of the stall. Her gaze lingered on the horse's back for a long second before she finally reached out a paw. It was a strange sensation, stepping onto a surface that was also a living, breathing creature. She eased herself slowly off of the stall onto the horse, focusing on maintaining her balance without her claws. This task took so much of her focus that she hardly had any to spare to worry about what it was she was actually doing. Probably for the best I don't think about it too much, she thought wildly.
Once finally fully seated on the horse's back, Hollow started to comprehend just how many times Gato had apparently done this. She had only spared a moment to consider this, however, the door to the barn creaked, signaling a slight movement. Hollow's claws started to unsheathe on instinct, but she willed them back, hoping they hadn't come out far enough to bother the horse.
“They do have an odd smell,” Gato admitted. “Still better than rotting food though!” Granted, most things smelled better than something that was rotten. The horse manure could get close to such a rank stench, but not quite as bad.
“I’ve heard ‘em make some noise before,” they said. “They make sort o’ a… neigh? I guess tha’s what ya’d call it. It gets louder the more upset they get. Once, when it was stormy out, tha’ twoleg was trying tae get one into tha barn, ‘n’ it reared up on its back legs an’ made this horrible scream, it was so scared! I felt bad fer tha horse. Lightnin’ is a pretty scary thing!” Their eyes clouded a moment, remembering the day. “But ot’er than tha’, they make soft but loud snorts.” As if on cue, one of the horses gave a gentle snort in their direction.
They let out a belt of laughter at her quip. “Aye, I suppose that’s true,” they said. A tree falling on someone certainly would not be a gentle thing whatsoever.
Gato was glad to see that Hollow did, after a bit of thought, decide to climb up beside him on the beige mare. She glanced over her shoulder at Hollow but didn’t seem to mind that another cat had gotten on her, as if this were a common occurrence. The fur on the horse’s back was short, but didn’t feel unpleasant despite not being as soft as a newborn kit’s. Between the barn and the horse, though, it felt warm and was beginning to make Gato feel a bit tired. Perhaps they could just take a quick nap here and then be on their way…
No such luck would be had. The sound of the barn door hinges caught their attention and caused their ears to prick. They brushed their tail over Hollow’s flank to signal to flatten herself as close to the mare’s back as she could. Gato had almost unsheathed their claws too but caught themselves in time, otherwise their friend would have whinnied loud enough for twolegplace cats to hear her and likely have thrown them off her back.
From the doorway they could see the twoleg leading the horse from outside into the barn and into one of the stalls. The horse complied without much issue, only hesitating slightly before heading back into its little paddock. Then the twoleg went over to the next stall and reached up to grab something. It looked like the same odd blanket-like thing the other horse was wearing. With that, the twoleg opened the door of the stall and led the next horse out, the horse’s hooves clipping and clopping out the large barn doors. Then the twoleg closed the door to a slit again, and the cold air from outside mostly disappeared from the warm barn.
“It’s going tae get cold taenight,” Gato said. “Tha’ there’s a blanket. I seen tha twoleg do tha’ last bare leaf, too. Tha barn stays pretty warm at night, though. I think it’s jus’ tha’ tha horses have less fur than us an’ get colder.” Slowly they sat up, now that they were sure that the twoleg was outside with the other horse.
A sudden scent caught their attention, and their eyes focused on a pile of hay that was in the corner. “Ya hungry?” they asked. “I always find mice here. Tha’s one of tha good things about twolegs; there’s always mice an’ rats.”.
Hollow had to admire Gato's positive attitude; though they weren't incorrect in saying that the horses smelled better than rotting food, it was not a particularly high bar to clear. She chuckled at the comment anyway.
Her mind kept swinging back and forth between her conversation with Gato and the reality of being on the back of the horse. One moment she would be nodding along—"A neigh? That would be something to hear, although best not if we're in such close quarters"—and the next her body would tense up, remembering that she was currently seated on the back of a creature much, much larger than herself. The soft snorts Gato mentioned were not slow to reveal themselves either, drawing Hollow back to that state of awe whenever she lapsed back into conversation. I wonder how much of this my heart can candle, she thought in a brief repose of lucidity.
She was distracted from both of these trains of thought by the entrance of the twoleg into the barn. Per Gato's signal, Hollow lowered herself until she was almost flat against the horse's back. It was still a struggle to keep her claws sheathed, but her focus was sharpened by the twoleg's arrival. She eyed the oblivious twoleg warily as it led the horse from outside into an empty stall, exchanging the creature for one of its companions. The two exited again out the barn door, leaving Hollow and Gato alone with the horses again.
While Gato rose shortly after the twoleg departed, Hollow stayed low for a moment longer, limbs still infused with a burst of adrenaline from the unexpected arrival. It took her another second to tune back in to what Gato was saying. "They seem to have more fur than us, actually," she replied, "It's just poorly distributed."What's the point of having all that fur if it's not doing anything to keep them warm? she wondered. Then, realizing what she had said, she berated herself internally. It was bad enough when I was just awkward, but now I'm rude too? Fantastic.
Luckily, Gato seemed suddenly more concerned with a new prospect: food. Hollow nodded in response to their inquiry, remembering her rumbling stomach from earlier. "I hadn't even thought about finding prey here," she admitted, "It must be difficult to pick up the scent..." She gave a quick sniff to test her theory, and was pleased to find that, while the horse smell was definitely still present and powerful, it was not all-consuming; there was something else there—a mouse, maybe?
She rose gingerly and stepped off of the horse's back onto the stall fence. It was a strange transition, and she paused momentarily to adjust to something solid beneath her feet that didn't move. The fence was narrow, though, and she jumped down onto the nearby stool with only the briefest pause. Her gaze followed Gato's to the pile of hay. "In there?" she asked dubiously. It didn't look easily accessible, but the smell was certainly coming from that direction. She supposed she would have to trust Gato's expertise in this; after all, they were the one who'd done this one or twice or a dozen times before. Hollow was the newbie here.