THE WILD ROAD


About THE WILD ROAD

About Gabriel King

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Wild Roads Discovered

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Hardcover: 0-345-42302-X, $24.95
Paperback: 0-345-42303-8, $6.99

The one-eyed black cat called Majicou sat between a rusting cage and two sacks of stale grain on a shelf at the top of a shop on Cutting Lane.

He had positioned himself with care; of the shop's inhabitants, only the spiders he had dispossessed were sure he was there. He seemed to be asleep among the shadows and soft grey cobwebs. But his one eye was half-open, and from it he had a hunter's line of sight through the shop to the street door, where small rippled-glass windows admitted just enough weak afternoon light to illuminate a stock of leather collars, tartan-lined wicker baskets and gaudy paper sacks of dried animal feed. Among this poor stuff, a human being moved clumsily about its business in a cloud of disturbed dust. It seemed to Majicou as tired and greedy as most of its kind; it seemed as ill as they all were, on the bad air and bad food they had made for themselves. Majicou watched it idly for a moment as it pushed a rat's nest of straw, torn paper and spilled fish food round the old wooden floor with a broom.

Unless their affairs touched his, the black cat had no interest in human beings. He sat on his shelf as still as a stone, and half his mind was somewhere else. (There, fires broke out, there were cries of terror both human and feline, he was responsible and not responsible: it was long ago but no so far away.) The other half was on the shop--where, despite the gloom, nothing escaped him. If his cold eye could not penetrate, his whiskers mapped the air currents instead; and his nose was full of the thic k, complex smell of imprisoned animals: "pets," reeking of their own pent-up energy and tired resignation. Fish swam round their tanks in circles. Mice and rabbits crouched listlessly in heaps of straw. A cage of finches filled the shop with sad electrical peeps and chirps.

There was a single kitten in a wire pen. At sixteen weeks, he was already a little old to sell easily.

He was too big. He had lost the awkward delight of the very young, the appearance of a charmed life, the mixture of fragility and iron, timidity and courage. Nevertheless, he was still striking, with lambent, shocking green eyes set in a sharp, intelligent, oriental face. He had enough energy for every other animal in the shop. His fur, creamy white beneath, shaded above to an almost metallic grey. When he paced his cage his thick-piled coat seemed to shift and ripple restlessly in the gloom, emphasizing each muscle and movement; polished by passing gleams of light, it leapt out silver to the watching eye. There were faint grey tiger-stripes high up on his forelegs, and a darker stripe ran the length of his spine. Did this reflect a darker stripe to his character? Majicou hoped so; but before he let things go further he had to find out. He would not call the kitten by its true name until he knew.

Let someone else name it until then.

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