As a rule, no two cats are alike. As a rule. Edward Three-paws was not just unlike any other cat, he was entirely different from other cats, and not just because he was missing one hind foot.
For one thing, Eddie was a serious thinker, even for a cat. He wasn't as fast as the others, and he couldn't climb trees or jump tall fences. He was more of a problem solver, much more so than his brothers and sisters. Still, even saying all that and for whatever reason, Eddie was really and truly different.
Eddie's own personal world was bounded by a tall, wire-mesh fence on four sides. The fence on one side had a house tucked neatly into it. There Eddie lived with a man and a woman, and Eddie's best friend, Here-puppy.
The man and woman were good people, though like most humans they weren't able to understand the speech of the animals around them. Which was a pity, since they missed out on a lot.
Here-puppy had never been much of a talker, and he'd grown old. Almost deaf and very nearly blind, the dog spent most of his time sleeping, dreaming of his great love, a little black girl-dog who had passed through his life years before .
Eddie remembered his friend when they were both younger. Here-puppy had immediately accepted young Eddie as a member of the family and would let the kitten sleep next to him on cold nights. A cat like Eddie doesn't forget that sort of thing.
Beyond the fence was the big world. Within memory, Eddie had never been on the other side, but he knew from what he heard and saw that the world beyond the fence was vast -- maybe several times larger than his yard. Birds and small animals would visit from time to time, though few stayed very long.
One day Eddie was walking near the fence down where it ran beside an overgrown drainage canal. He smelled something, an odor he'd never noticed before, like rotting leaves under a flower pot but more....
"Nice weather we're having." a raspy voice said from beneath a privet bush.
Eddie's fur stood on end, and he growled softy. He could just barely see the form of a large snake lying in the deep shadows. Large? It was huge!
"I said, nice weather," the serpent hissed.
"I suppose." said Eddie. "Nice enough."
"Ohh, he talks. Perhaps I'll crawl over and join you." said the snake.
"I have claws and teeth. Stay where you are." Eddie warned.
"Claws and teeth. You scare me." the snake chuckled. "Claws and teeth, he says."
Eddie could sense that this was no ordinary garden-variety of snake, but something entirely new to the yard. And dangerous.
"Have you had lunch today?" the wiley serpent asked.
"What? Lunch?" Eddie was puzzled.
"You look like you haven't missed many meals, my friend," ventured the snake. Eddie could hear it slithering under the privet.
"I don't like the way this conversation is going." said Eddie. "You'd better leave."
"Where are your manners?" said the snake. "And by the way -- no offense, of course -- why do you limp when you walk?... Oh, I see. We're missing a footsie, we are."
"Did I mention the claws and teeth?" said Eddie, trying to sound hard and tough.
"Didn't I tell you I was impressed?" replied the snake. "But you do look like you'd be more trouble than you're worth." This last the snake said more to himself than to Eddie. It slid out into the light and raised its head -- it towered over the cat. It was big!
"Claws and teeth." was all Eddie could think to say, as he looked up into the face of a thing no housecat should ever have to see.
The snake ignored Eddie. It peered over his head across the yard at Here-puppy, who was sleeping in a patch of sunlight.
"Whoa. Looks to be a bit old and stringy, but do I believe I see dinner." said the monster, and with that it lunged at Eddie, who quickly slipped to one side to escape the snake's fangs. Then he maneuvered himself back between his friend and the snake.
"You should've let that be a warning -- get out of my way and be about your business." said the snake.
"Claws to scratch, teeth to bite!" growled the cat, as he pulled himself up to make himself appear larger.
It had only taken a second for the snake to recover from his strike, and he was a few feet nearer his goal. He struck again, and again Eddie leaped clear. "Watch it, Fuzzy. The pleasure of your company is wearing thin."
The snake lunged, Eddie retreated. Over and over, Eddie scrambled to resume his position between Here-puppy and the viper; but no matter how hard he tried, the battle approached the old dog. Eddie's crippled leg was hurting furiously, yet his mind was concentrating on the fight at hand. Closer and closer, the snake was nearing his quarry.
"Do you think a mere tabby can deprive Me of my rightful meal?" puffed the snake. Eddie could tell it was winded, and the time it took to recover from the strikes was growing longer. Not much, but a little. The snake was ready to strike again.
"Okay, perhaps I should thank you for all this exercise. I haven't had this sharp an appetite in years." The snake panted a bit as it said this, then lunged again -- but fatigue sent it too wide of the mark.
Eddie, knowing that he had been given the only opportunity he was going to get, dug his good foot and bleeding stump into the ground for one desperate attack aimed behind the snake's head. Contact! His teeth bit deep, his claws slashed at the heavy, scaley body. The snake writhed in fury, and wrapped itself around the cat in an attempt to crush the life out of him.
How was Eddie to know that he was locked in combat with Sha-siss-a-siss, a dark legend among the forest folk? Sha-siss-a-siss, who in its time bested a full-grown coyote and sent two farmers to the hospital. Well, under the circumstances, it wouldn't have deterred the cat, but, Eddie would have agreed, some things are better not to know.
The serpent squeezed to the point where Eddie could begin to feel himself losing his grip -- if only he could get one breath of air. if only! They tumbled around on the ground, until finally Eddie knew he was coming to the end. He regretted that he couldn't save his friend. And maybe the thoughts of how he would miss his naps near the fireplace flashed through his mind, and maybe he'd miss hearing his woman calling him to dinner....
Suddenly the body of the great snake relaxed and Eddie could breathe again. A trick, he thought, as he held on with renewed strength. Eddie growled and bit harder, but the snake lay motionless.
It was dead.
The cat lay there for quite a while, too battered and tired to move. Eventually he got up and limped painfully to the back door of the house, where one of the humans let him in. Here-puppy, unaware of what had happened, after supper joined Eddie in their quiet corner of the room. Both of them slept the night through: Here-puppy with his dreams of a little black dog, and Eddie, well, Eddie, mercifully, didn't dream.
"Janice, did you see the size of the snake that somebody killed out back."
"Yes, I was going to tell you about it. I've never seen one that big. I've never even heard of one that big around here."
"It sure came close to the house"
"I get the shivers just thinking about it. Why in the world would it come up here?"
"Don't know. But I know the dog couldn't have killed it. You don't think...?"