Sunday, January 24, 2016

Short Stories: The Sentinel

The Sentinel

The observer remained motionless in the dark, his black cloak masking every feature except for his own faint silhouette whenever the clouds thinned. He was naturally well-suited to this job as a trusted sentinel, having spent several years training his keen night vision, hearing and sense of smell into a formidable ability to immediately detect the slightest movement or change in his surroundings, whether due to the wind or other causes. He also had the remarkable ability to keep stealthily alert for long periods and still remain poised without discomfort; traits easily noticed and admired by those who knew him. It was a lonely job, but an important one, and this sentinel actually enjoyed the silence, independence and personal satisfaction it provided. But, he also knew -with certainty- that he would be handsomely rewarded after each such successful vigil.
Every night, as his wards slept soundly, the sentinel would leave his post just before dawn and carefully patrol the perimeter until he was satisfied that all was well. Then, he would quietly make his way back to his next assigned position, recalling as he went what he had seen, heard and sensed during this latest watch. He did this instinctively, summoning all his training, innate cunning and the genetically inherited characteristics of his unique breeding.

Off-duty, the sentinel assumed a different personality, enjoying activities with those he liked, regularly visiting favorite haunts, napping often and eating well. Yet, he maintained his fitness and health easily and without much effort at all. A remarkable physical specimen with a pleasing personality, he was widely admired and liked. But, this he seemed to take in stride as simply befitting his nature. He did dislike loud noise, confinement, traveling in vehicles not under his control, and being bothered or threatened by unwelcome visitors. And, occasionally, he liked to chase and kill. Gideon was his given name, although he rarely answered to it. He preferred certain other nicknames instead, but communicated vocally only as it suited him, and in a style all his own. No one took exception to these peculiarities, least of all those who knew him.

This particular name - Gideon - seemed to fit him, since it conveyed the image of an Old Testament Biblical hero who was appointed by God to defeat numerous enemies of Israel, using only 300 men - an ancient equivalent of modern day special forces, or the Spartans defending Thermopylae.
That Gideon had also reconnoitered the enemy camp at night, gathered intelligence, then launched a surprise attack, using bugles and torches to frighten Israel’s greatly larger force of enemies into first attacking themselves, then retreating in a rout. The victorious Gideon then reluctantly served as Israel’s ruler and esteemed judge for 40 years thereafter, dying in old age after siring 70 sons.
Should one deduce that Gideon was not an ordinary human, they are right, although his family of friends considered him capable of human traits, motives and reactions. He inspired such comparisons because he effortlessly endeared himself to - almost - anyone he met.

The sentinel’s actual name, bestowed upon his adoption was Giddy Gato, a quasi-Italian inspired version of ‘Kitty Cat’. It was strange enough to be noticed, yet accepted by most that came to know him. Most came to call him just ‘Giddy’. He was a member of the species ‘Felis Catus', an ancient group of mammals thought to have been domesticated in the Middle East almost 10,000 years ago. He was a Bombay cat, a type of short-haired cat developed by breeding sable Burmese with black American shorthairs, thus producing a hybrid with a sleek, tight, silky, black coat, resembling a mini-panther.

Kitten Gideon first found his wards by silently moving through ferns in a forest area when only 4 months old. Immediately adopted, he lived with them almost 11 years. One day, as his wards returned home from a trip, it was apparent that something was seriously wrong with Giddy, who was normally healthy. Now, he seemed lethargic, had visibly lost weight, and didn't respond to the usual irresistible enticements for food and fun. His wards waited a week, then took him to the vet for examination, definitely not his favorite activity.

The test results weren’t exactly good, so a different diet was prescribed, along with medications. This gave the wards hope; then came results indicating troubling abnormalities. Biopsy tests showed positive, still his wards remained in denial that Giddy had a dire disease from which recovery was doubtful. The wards paid more attention to Giddy than he could fully appreciate. This worked initially, but his downward trend resumed, so after two days of not eating or drinking and barely moving, Giddy was back at the vet again for intravenous re-hydration.

This time, the vet was blunt with the diagnosis, and the wards got the full message; Giddy was dying, and it was only a matter of days or weeks before his demise.
Although the implications had been right there in front all the while, the wards had chosen to hear only those parts they wanted to hear - that Giddy would improve and optimistically, his life might extend up to a year longer - but with suffering.
Yet, again, Giddy responded well to his new regimen, rallied strongly, gained weight and acted closer to normal, although without his old strength and vitality. Then, began his final decline, culminating with a peaceful death. Giddy had sensed that his time was approaching, and like most animals, was better prepared for it than humans.

One thing will always remain; our faithful sentinel - and watchcat -still honors our home, as his ashes reside in a memorial white urn, marked ‘Giddy Gato 08-08-08’. And, of course, our memories of the little creature that had miraculously invited himself into our home; had adopted US, loved us, enriched us, entertained us, and had brought much joy to the entire neighborhood.
Now, our refrigerator door magnet proclaims 'A House Is Not A Home Without A Cat’.