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My ancestral felines knew Achilles, or so the stories go. He was no longer a man, then, having been slain by Paris at the gates of Troy. An arrow penetrated his only weak spot, by his ankle, where his mother Thetis had held him as an infant when dipping him in the river Styx. I, too, have plunged my kittens in the water, observing as they learnt to swim. I always carried them by the scruff. Perhaps history would be different had the nymph done the same with her boy.

It is told that Achilles came to my home after death, as a wandering spirit. That he rested on my island for a time before journeying into the underworld. While he roamed the rocky coastline in spectral guise, reflecting upon the war and destruction witnessed in his life, the cats of Ostriv Zmiinyi rubbed against his injured heel, soothing the great warrior. They were the only animals able to perceive the ghost of Achilles. Such is our nature. We are Cat. We see what others cannot.

The island has changed hands and names many times down the centuries as various tribes of humans staked their claim on our shore. But it has always been ours. We shared this place with many other creatures—sheep, dogs, seagulls and dolphins, rats and lizards and all manner of insects.


Apologies. The flutter of dusty wings always gets me excited.

For now, the kind humans who live here call this place Ostriv Zmiinyi, Snake Island. No serpents reside here. The white stratum of the rocks resembles their twisting bodies. Names do not matter. I have one thousand. I have been called She Who Absorbs the Sun; The Leaping Claw; Skullcrusher; Prowls by Night; The Ship in a Bottle (that one is a long story); Daughter of Hades; Tigger; Samantha Whiskers; Heart of Granite; The Educator; The Destroyer of Worlds; Fluffy Paws… I could go on, but alas, our time is short. For now, since I have risen to command my kind in this place, you may call me Empress.

On the day the Others came, a human named Bohdan was observing me eat the tin of tuna fish I had permitted him to lay before me. Bohdan was young, yet authoritative. Competent. Calm. The others looked to him for instruction. He was an emperor of his people. We shared a mutual respect. No touching, though. He tried to pet me once. I hissed a warning. I understand many languages, including some you humans have not learnt yet. Such is my nature. I am Cat.

‘Understood,’ he said, drawing back his hand. ‘Boundaries. The story of our lives.’

I was inside the place they called Radio Transmission Tower. The door was open. Bohdan knew it would not be wise to imprison me. Two of his subjects watched images of a ship on their world-windows.

‘It’s the Moskva,’ one of them said, shaking his head in disbelief.

‘Should I know what that is?’ the other asked.

‘Flagship of the Black Sea Fleet,’ Bohdan told them. ‘Equipped with cruise missiles and anti-aircraft batteries. Crew of five hundred and ten.’

‘Overkill, much?’ the second acolyte said.

‘They’re hailing us,’ the first man notified his emperor.

‘Patch it through,’ Bohdan said.

The man listened to his headset for a moment before switching on the speaker.

‘It’s the same shit as that patrol boat before,’ he said.

Bohdan motioned for him to be quiet.

A voice boomed: ‘Snake Island. I, Russian warship, repeat the offer: lay down your arms and surrender, or you will be bombed. Have you understood me? Do you copy?’

Just in case, I slurped down the remains of the briny fish and edged towards the door.

The first man snorted.

‘Well, that’s it, then,’ he said, glancing up at his emperor for instruction. ‘Or do we need to tell them to fuck off?’

Bohdan shrugged. He was unimpressed by the threat.

‘Might as well,’ he said.

The man pressed a button to reply.

‘Russian warship, go fuck yourself.’

A silence hung in the room. It was broken when Bohdan and his minions began to laugh. Their outburst was curtailed by the booming sound of artillery as the Moskva opened fire.

I turned tail and ran as the shells whistled towards us. I can move faster than anything on the island. Watch me streak between the explosions, a blur of black and orange fur. I am a warrior daughter of Achilles. I am Cat.


Bohdan and his cohorts were not slain. They survived the assault and were captured. Then the Others claimed my island as their territory by pissing on everything, as was their custom. They were not benevolent like The Great, Sorely Departed Emperor Bohdan. They smashed everything and dug into the ancient rock to install weapons that fired claws into the sky. They erected big grey bowls that transferred bleeps and bloops onto their world-windows. They ran over the sheep and goats in their grey, burping carts. They caught the sublime dolphins in nets and shot all but the wiliest dogs. They poisoned the rodents and because these scurrying creatures were the primary food source for my kind, we were poisoned too.

We died. So many of us.

Those who remained were hunted for sport.

Some starved.

As Empress, it fell upon me to act. But I did not act solely as the representative of our kind. My actions were also borne from desperation, for my belly was swollen and I would soon have four new mouths to feed.

My kittens would be birthed into war.

During such times, we are forgotten. The vast and glorious kingdom of animals suffers greatly when humans air their differences through fist and sword and gun. Irrespective of how much adoration certain species receive during times of peace, when conflict begins, we become meat. The humans forget themselves. They join us in the ecology of fear. The balance between herbivory, scavenging and parasitism is overwhelmed by predation.

The Others who came were like this. They thought their strength and numbers and claws would be enough to guarantee dominion. But I am Cat. They could not capture me. I knew all the secret places. Besides, the friends of Bohdan, the Kindly Ones, did not abandon me. Their buzzing gnats swatted the mighty Others’ dragonflies from the air, their bellies bursting on the rocks. Fire consumed their carts, while the Others tapped furiously on their world-windows and shouted things like, ‘What the fuck is a system error code 1331?’ or, ‘We’re out of fuel? How many litres does this tub of shit hold?’ or, ‘Try switching it off and back on again.’

They tried to catch me in a snare. I knew this was not because they desired a pet, nor because they were hungry. No, the Others had plentiful food. This is the human way. I would rather be a louse on a wild potato than a son of man.

A trap was set, baited with half a dead chicken. The odour was intoxicating. I was hungry. My unborn kittens were draining me of nutrients. I waited in the shadows by the place they called Vehicle Pool. Eventually, all but one sentry went to bed. I knew he was asleep when he stopped smoking cigarettes.

I crept close to the trap. A primitive design—a wire cage containing a pressure plate. Step on that and the door slams shut behind you. I don’t think so.

The risk was great but so was the potential reward. I balanced to the right of the sensor and extended a paw to hook the chicken in my claws. Careful now. Drop it on the plate and it’s all over. There. Gently. And into my mouth. Get a good grip. Raise your head, Empress. Now turn and…


The guard must have heard my claws scrabbling for purchase in the dirt as I fled for he tumbled out of his chair and opened fire. I don’t think he could even see me, but I wasn’t hanging around to find out. The gunshots roused his companions, who stumbled out of their barracks in their underwear, brandishing weapons. Bullets zinged through the night, until their Emperor commanded them to ‘cease firing, for fuck’s sake’.

That chicken gave her life to sustain my own, at least for a short while. After that, approaching the Others’ compound became too dangerous. They had orders to shoot me on sight. A scavenger, they said. A pest. Vermin.

It didn’t really matter, in the end. When the time came to birth my kittens, I was starving and exhausted. My sole concern was staying alive long enough to wean the little ones, to at least give them a fighting chance. I would not be there to help them navigate the terrifying new world in which they found themselves. I would not be present to instruct them in the ways of our island. They would not hear the stories of the majestic felines who came before. They would have to fend for themselves.

This is the way. Such is our nature. We are Cat. We endure.

The birthing took place in the crumbling lighthouse, built long before I was born. I found a quiet corner where I could care for my kittens undisturbed as they mewled, helpless in the dark. On days when I felt strong enough, I climbed up onto the broken stone and peered out through a gap in the wall. Gulls wheeled beyond. None considerate enough to fly into my mouth, more’s the pity. I watched them for hours, jaw twitching as I made the involuntary chirping sound that means Flying Thing. Oh, the wings and feathers of a bird. So mesmerising. So unlike anything else for inspiring murder in the soul.

Close by the lighthouse lay an old museum. Abandoned inside were seascape paintings and smooth stones from Ancient Greece. Perhaps taken from the walls of Troy. I would never know. A few days later I saw a rainbow bridge to the heavens, sparkling in the morning rain. I left my kittens behind and walked its beams, my paws illuminated by a thousand points of light.


I am Kitten.

I am all alone.

I never really knew the Others, outside of what my mother told me. They departed not long after her. Except they did not perish. They left in boats and dragonflies, cursing our island as they went. Spitting on our land.

My land.

I am the only one left. My brothers and sister passed over the bridge. I am left to walk alone, reliant on bird eggs and worms for sustenance. The occasional moth.


I am small and black, with eyes of gold. I have been Emperor for two cycles of the moon, and then only by default. My mother imparted what knowledge she could before continuing her journey, but I am learning more from the spirits who walk with me.

They whisper of the Kindly Ones’ return.

I have seen their buzzing gnats. One flew low to look at me and I leapt to catch it, but the insect retreated and flew back across the sea.

If the Kindly Ones return, I shall welcome them to my domain. The island needs fresh blood. I would also appreciate if they could bring with them what my mother the Empress called John West Tuna Chunks in Spring Water. I would like to taste that one day.

I am so very hungry.


I watch them from the place called Dumpster Out Back of Mess. I like how Dumpster smells. It is full of sensory echoes that help alleviate the pangs. At first, I am not sure if they might be the Others returned, but then I see them hoist a blue and yellow flag. The Empress told me to watch for these colours, and although it is a risk I decide to be bold and announce myself.

I make the sound that means I am Cat, Here I am.

‘It’s him!’ one of the Kindly Ones says, approaching with deference (as is only correct given my station). ‘We spotted you on the drone, little comrade. Here, puss, come on, it’s okay. We’re here to rescue you.’

I raise my tail to indicate that I will not attack and make the sound that means Where is your Offering?

‘We’ve logged all the equipment,’ another one says. I cannot see their faces, for they wear masks. ‘Just grab him and let’s go. Enemy ship coming through the minefield.’

‘Don’t spook him,’ the first man says.

He peels off his gloves and holds out his open palms.

‘Let me help you, comrade,’ he says.

As I near, I feel the warmth of his inviting hands. Although it is contrary to my instinct, which says RUN!, I find myself tentatively stepping into the palms of the Kindly One. He bites his lower lip and a tear streaks through the dirt on his cheek.

‘Oh, little one,’ he says. ‘You are so brave.’

When I sit in his hands, I accidentally make the sound that means I am Yours. Then he curls me up in his jacket and double-times back to the thing called Rigid Inflatable Commando Operational Watercraft.

I experience relief. And tiredness. And the bittersweet feeling of leaving my home behind for somewhere new.

The Rigid Inflatable Commando Operational Watercraft skims across the surface of the sea towards the new place as the sky turns grey with thunder. On my island, the ground is torn apart by lightning streaks. The lighthouse where I was born crumbles to dust. The museum of antiquities is obliterated. Tenebrous smoke rolls from cliff to shore.

‘Phosphorus,’ my Kindly One says. ‘They’re destroying everything.’

‘It’s still ours,’ his Emperor says, stroking my head with his finger. I make the sound that means More of that, please.

‘Call in,’ he says to one of his subjects.

The man speaks into a device called Transmitter.

‘Zero three niner reporting,’ he says. ‘Mission complete, no casualties.’ He looks over at me and I make the sound that means Greetings, Human! We are Friends!

‘One additional team member,’ he says.

I burrow down into the jacket of my Kindly One. It smells of wood and skin and many other as yet unidentified odours. He shields my ears from the salty spray of the sea.

‘Here you go,’ he says, making a metallic cracking sound that I will not forget for the rest of my life. A tin of John West Tuna Chunks in Spring Water being opened.

I squirm out of his jacket and leap down to the deck of the boat, plunging my snout into the exquisite brine. The men watch, grinning, as I eat. Then one of them speaks my first name.

I was Kitten, but now I am Cat. I was born the son of an Empress on Ostriv Zmiinyi. I am imbued with the spirit of Achilles.

I have many names, but you may call me Snake.


Author’s Note: In early July 2022, a group of elite Ukrainian special forces operatives traversed a sea minefield to reach Snake Island (Ostriv Zmiinyi), which the Russians had abandoned in June. One of their mission objectives was to extract a tiny black kitten their drones had spotted living amongst the debris. He wandered right up to them and was subsequently adopted by one of the commandos. They named him Snake.

The island remains uninhabited, but under Ukrainian control. The Moskva was sunk nearby on 14 April 2022, two days after a commemorative postage stamp celebrating the ‘Russian warship, go fuck yourself’ moment went on sale in Ukraine. The Moskva is the first Russian flagship to be sunk since 1905.