Isetnofret woke earlier than the rest of the household because she felt a push in her lower belly. It was time, they were ready. The area laid out for her by the girl was soft and available for her needs, but as the push came now, Isetnofret decided it would not do.
She was a large mau, but she was able to slip silently from her linen lined wicker bed. The stone collar that hung around her neck and around her two front legs made a slight ‘tinkling’ sound and she stopped. She gave the sleeping child in the bed a quick glance. The girl would panic when she awoke to find her cat gone. Children did not understand the necessities motherhood placed on one. Humans rarely understood her kind the way they truly wanted to, but Isetnofret knew they tried.
With a slight bow of her head and a flex of her back, she allowed the necklace to fall forward. Then she held the chain in place with her paws and pulled it past her ears and the chain fell to the clay floor. This trick she had known for quite a while and performed it whenever she had a mind to. She would never do this in the view of the humans who were curious and amazed each time they found the abandoned chain.
With a bit of skillful maneuvering the leg loops followed suit. The last of it fell to the clay floor with the tinkling of pebbles. Then Isetnofret slipped out the door and onto the moonlit second story roof. She crossed to the ledge and looked out through the bright blue haze that the Egyptian moon cast over everything. She sniffed the air. The city was asleep. The streets deserted. Another family lay sleeping on the rooftop across from her and on the roofs all around. More movement in her belly, she didn’t have much time.
She stepped off the roof and made her way down the small sloping mountain of refuse and dirt that had been piled up the wall and led down to the street. Waste was placed right outside of the houses by the residents where it quickly dried from the intense heat. It was then packed into the ground by sandals and footsteps. This caused the street to rise until eventually a path was woven right through the garbage to the front door. It had grown so high now that the first story entrance had been abandoned. The family simply entered and exited from the path piled up to the second story.
There was another spot Isetnofret had found several days ago when she had been able to slip out. The little girl, had been afraid her cat might run off somewhere and had caught her before Isetnofret could settle and prepare the area.
Isetnofret slipped down the street past the next two houses to a small alleyway. It was narrow and dark, but her dragon green cat’s eyes showed her everything. The alley seemed clear and she crept forward cautious, sniffing the air as another wave of discomfort ran through her belly. She smelled something.
In the dim light of the corridor something shifted. Isetnofret stopped and waited. She would rather not fight right now, but if need be, she would. In the dark corner something raised its head and she stared. It stuck out its tongue to sniff the air. A snake.
Isetnofret hissed at the black thing. Thankfully it was no more than a baby that had curled itself up in her spot to sleep. She hissed again and the snake flicked its tongue again. It wasn’t much of a standoff. Any adult cat, pregnant or not, could handle a baby snake. The snake was not stupid. It flicked its tongue and slithered away. Isetnofret watched it move down the narrow alley and slip into another outcropping in the wall.
She waited a moment for the snake to return. In a little while she would be as vulnerable as her own newborns with no way to defend herself. Her eight nipples were all swollen and her belly was stirring. The small hole had crumbled into the side of the wall and made a perfect nesting area. She urinated where the snake had been to remove all trace of the creature and started to rearrange the bits of linen, wicker and straw until it was acceptable. There was no perfection now, she didn’t have time. When she was satisfied she curled and lay down on her side. It didn’t take long to begin.
By the time the third kitten was out the first two had been licked clean and Isetnofret was getting tired. She had released one howl of pain while pushing the first one out. The second was relatively smaller than the first, and the third smaller still, so the discomfort of birthing was becoming less. She still felt full and as she brought the third kitten up and began to clean it, she pushed again and felt the next one coming.
The first two in the litter were light colored with markings that would eventually become spots. The third was so dark it was almost black. She worked busily cleaning the third kitten while the first two each found a nipple and were suckling. She pushed again and a forth emerged. They were still getting smaller. She brought the forth up and worked on both the third and fourth kittens at the same time.
Isetnofret felt another emerge and stopped cleaning to look down. Something seemed different. Number five was very small and quite obviously dead. She stared at it, sniffing it and giving it a few licks. She waited a long moment. Then suddenly she snatched it up with her jaws and placed it up over her head, away from its brothers and sisters. Then she went back to cleaning three and four.
There was another push. Six kittens was unheard of and Isetnofret stopped cleaning long enough to release a howl of fatigue.
The third seemed to have fallen asleep by the time she finished cleaning it. She picked them up one by one and placed them down by their siblings. Then she snatched up the sixth and began to clean it as well.
The fourth went straight for a nipple and joined the other two.
The sixth kitten was a miniscule, struggling thing. When number six was placed with the others, Isetnofret noticed that number three still had not woken up. She gave it a sniff and a lick. It too was dead. She moved it up beside number five and then looked down to make sure the rest were fine.
Satisfied with her litter, Isetnofret turned to number three and number five. She snatched them up with her claws and moved them in front of her. She paused for a moment and then, sunk her teeth into them.
She tore through the newborn flesh, going for the tenderest parts first, but being newborn, everything was tender.
The four kittens suckled as their mother consumed their two dead siblings bit by juicy bit. All bellies were filling and as the mother swallowed another mouthful she pushed again. The push was small and insignificant consisting of nothing but afterbirth, nothing to be concerned with. Then something moved. She looked up from her meal and leaned over to examine it. Mixed in the waste was a tiny dark lump. It was barely recognizable in the mess, and could have been mistaken for feces, but by the gods, she had a seventh.
Isetnofret stopped eating and maneuvered it up near the others and gave it a lick. The lump shivered for a moment and went still. It too was dead. She was starting to get full, but her chores were not done. She would finish.
She checked on the suckling kittens then went back to her meal. She ignored the lump for the moment and concentrated on three and four. She worked on the bodies until they were gone, then turned her attention to the seventh. It was only a couple of mouthfuls.
The morning air was warm. The light began to break in the alley. The whole area was thick with the scent of birth, life and death all happening at once. Little squeaks and squeals emerged from the eating frenzy taking place by the kittens in the small clay outcropping of the alley. The seventh kitten still lay unmoving beside its siblings all hungry, helpless and blind, each suckling at its own nipple. The four heartbeats were strong beside the seventh kitten; brothers and sisters, all sensing each other, nourishing each other, and encouraging each other. Whether it was by the warmth, the synchronous harmony of the heartbeat, or just the good fortune of the universe, something deep inside number seven, twitched.
Isetnofret brought number seven over to her. It was not breathing. Its nose was plugged by its mother’s fluids and its heart had stopped. Isetnofret was full now and she hesitated.
It was a tiny little thing not much more than a morsel. She set her paw to hold it. She bore her fangs ready to eat the thing that was not her child. It ceased to be her child when it died. Now it was just something that had come out of her, something to be consumed and removed from the universe as if it had never existed. Isetnofret leaned in close. She opened her mouth wide and under her paw, felt a thump.
She paused. It was right beside the others so she could have been mistaken. She waited. Nothing. No. It was dead. She leaned in again to seize the thing and again, felt a thump.
Exhausted, confused and annoyed, Isetnofret snatched it up, away from the rest and started licking. She licked until she was satisfied and then, for the third time, she opened her mouth and as she came in, another thump, followed by another and another.
Isetnofret began to lick the face of the seventh.
It was trying.
She licked and felt the thumps increase. She licked across the body and it pooped, the thumps increased. The beats quickened and steadied. The face began to twitch and she worked harder and… yes. Yes! It was alive. It began to move. The little thing less than half the size of the first, began to move.
Isetnofret cleaned the little brown lump, thankful she didn’t have to eat another. Slowly number seven began to shift and resemble a kitten. It meowed a tiny lions roar of hunger and she set it down with the others. She watched and waited for it to find a nipple.
With all five suckling and scrambling for better purchase on her nipples, Isetnofret allowed herself now to finally, pass out.