Patches pulled herself from the mangled wreckage. The train burst into flame behind the tiny kitten. The heat singed her fur. Embers fell all around her, charring the grass. She coughed weakly between mews, but no one heard.
The sounds of human screams and the shriek of metal ripping and falling apart meant nothing to her young ears but noise. Noise and hurt. She crawled through the grass to the dark edge of the forest without knowing why. She only knew its cool shelter in contrast to the excruciating noise and the bright, bright burning.
In the gnarled roots of a tree, Patches curled into a trembling ball. For how many hours the screams and the burning lasted, she did not know. Eventually they quieted down, but other sounds and lights arrived in waves. At some point, those also stopped.
Too weak to mew any longer, Patches shivered until she fell asleep. She dreamed she saw the skull of another cat. The skull faded into sight from the pure black night. It grew until it filled the sky, and the moon sat in place of an eye. Little Patches had no word for death, but she understood the magnitude of what she saw.
The skull cat looked down from the sky at the disaster in the pale moonlight. Its lower jaw dropped open. From the train’s wreckage, the ghosts of dead cats soared up, up, up into the open mouth. Patches wondered if she knew any of them. From here, she could not tell.
Patches dreamed her own ghost tried to pull free from her body. She struggled to hold onto it. She twisted and shuddered in her sleep. Her limbs struck out wildly. She growled at the monstrous cat skull, and its single lunar eye focused on her.
As the eye of death examined her, Patches shook as if she had been thrown into arctic water. She growled her refusal to relinquish her spirit to this icy, grinning horror. She growled for all she was worth.
The eye of death winked at her. Patches heard a low, rumbling purr, and a raspy tongue combed the side of her face once, then again.
When she woke up alone, she killed and ate the first bug she saw. Ten minutes later, she made a breakfast of a small lizard. Finches in the bushes chirped loudly. Patches did not catch a bird that day. But she would.
She would not give up easily.
Excerpted from “Patches the Immortal”, one of ten short stories collected in Meteor Mags: Red Metal at Dawn and Other Tales of Interplanetary Piracy.