Judging time was difficult when everything was always the same, but what I do know is that I haven't had a health check in quite a while, which meant I would be getting one soon.
Health checks were not something I enjoyed, not that I found much enjoyment in my life being locked in a cage. My cage might be barren aside from a pile of straw and a bowl of water, but it was mine. I saw my cage as my territory and I would let no one in it, it wasn't much but it was all I had to call my own, so I protected it fiercely.
I know vet Marshal was only doing his job but I wasn't used to being touched, feeling him touch me so thoroughly, poke and prod at my sensitive areas and shine light in my eyes was obviously not going to be well received.
He'd learnt that pretty quickly and now, each time I had a health check he had to tranquilise me first. I don't know what he used but it made me sleepy and my body too heavy to move.
Like most of the time, I laid curled up in the corner of my cage that the keepers had covered with sweet-smelling straw. I'd dug my nose into the soft stalks and dozed lightly. There was nothing to do other than sleep after all.
Anxious chatter coming from a small group of approaching keepers made my ears twitch but other than that I paid them no mind, not until they got closer that is. Keepers usually carried pitchforks to rake hay and spades to scoop up the poop. One of their faces soon came into focus and I growled, I wasn't getting a health check soon, I was getting one right now.
Vet Marshal was carrying his gun that shot out sharp red feathers and his health check box. The keepers with him had empty hands all except one, Juan, my main keeper had something large and blue tucked under his arm.
They came to a stop outside my cage door and I licked my lips nervously, my muscles going taut, knowing what was to come.
"Are you going to make it easy for us today Luci?" Vet Marshal asked hopefully, his tone of voice light and soft. He always made an effort to try and calm me, not just with his tone of voice but he often spoke throughout the health check, telling me what he was doing and always smiling. He hadn't given up even after all these years, even though I never acted any different. I didn't dislike him, just what he did, he was familiar and that in itself made me feel a little less threatened, not that I ever showed it.
I growled low in my throat and hunkered down on my straw bed, my small round ears pinning against my skull and my slender black tail lashing behind me.
He sighed with a small shake of his head, setting his health check box down and fiddling with his gun. I watched as he loaded a sharp red feather and went to lift the loaded gun, almost throwing it when I startled him with a short rumble.
I shuffled back on my hind legs until my rump pressed to the cold concrete that made up the back wall of my cage.
Vet Marshal sighed again and lowered the gun he'd cocked at me. "Damn that cat's too smart for his own good," he muttered under his breath, walking around the outside of the cage trying to find a spot that gave him a clear shot of my stifle, the meaty upper part of my back legs.
"What's taking you so long Marshal?" Juan asked the vet, who sent him a glare and lowered his gun once more.
"I can't get a clean shot," he explained frustratedly.
"Do you want me to get the jab stick?" I snarled loudly at Juan's suggestion, I loathed that stick, well, sticks, I'd destroyed an innumerable amount of them over the years. The jab stick was pointy at one end like the sharp red feather and was filled with the same tranquilliser.
"It's the gun or the stick Luci, we've put this off for long enough." Vet Marshal's voice turned sterner and I grumbled quietly. We'd played this game so many times, and Vet Marshal was so incredibly stubborn, I knew he wasn't leaving until I got my health check, and he knew I was aware of the fact.
I let out a big snort of displeasure and reluctantly rose onto my four paws, stretching out stiff limbs before padding onto the cold concrete. I walked a reasonable distance from my bed, not wanting to give them a reason to get too close to it. It was my only comfort and source of pleasant smells, they hadn't taken it from me before but there was always a first time for everything.
I forced myself not to watch Vet Marshal as he raised his gun once again, instead dragging my left front leg against the floor, the dull scrape of my nails making my ears itch unpleasantly. I began to pace back and forth from one side of my cage to the other, knowing what was about to happen, knowing I couldn't escape it, like the cage I'd been stuck in for as long as I could remember.
I heard the quiet click and slight woosh as Vet Marshal fired his gun, the familiar sharp pain hitting my left stifle. A roar left my throat, more from destress than the actual pain. I looked down, seeing the sharp red feather stuck to my skin. I shook my large head as a wave of dizziness overtook me, and I swiped at the red feather, pulling it out of my leg with a kiss.
I stumbled a little, deciding to lay down before I fell, the drugs quickly travelling through my body and turning it to lead. I snuffed, trying to comfort myself as I became trapped in my own body, my heavy paws barely twitching when I tried to move them.
I heard the squeak of my cage door opening and watched through drowsy eyes as they cautiously entered, eyes never leaving my prone form sprawled on the cold concrete. A pitiful growl escaped my throat as they got closer, Juan setting down his blue item and Vet Marshal opening up his health check box and putting on some gloves.
He slowly kneeled in front of me and gave me a soft and apologetic smile, his gloved hand gently stroking from my shoulder to my flank. "Hey Luci." he cooed.
I snuffed in reply and his smile widened as I reciprocated his greeting.
"I'll be as quick as I can alright?"
Like always he spoke to me in that soft and calm voice of his as he checked me over, which included my mouth, ears, shining a light in my eyes, feeling along my body and poking and prodding certain places, and my least favourite of all, checking my temperature.
'All good Luci." He informed me once he was done and scratched the top of my head and I snuffed it again. He stepped away and I expected them to all leave but to my surprise, and horror, Juan unrolled the large blue thing he'd brought along and I growled, they've never done this before, they always just leave and I'm alone again, waiting for the tranquilisers to wear off so I could reach the comfort of my bed.
They struggled for five minutes to get my large and limp body on the tarp and I growled and snarled constantly, putting them on edge everytime I managed to move my mouth enough to show them my teeth.
They gently dragged me out of my cage using the tarp and all the other workers quickly got out of their way, or mine more accurately.
"Where are they taking blue-eyed Luci?" One of the keepers wondered quietly to the other standing beside him.
"Auction or to the morgue, depending on if he gets brought or not." The man replied and I let out a scared whimper, catching Marshal's attention who patted one of my large paws.
"I'm sorry Luci but the boss wants you gone." He explained and I meowed at him fearfully, I didn't want to be sold and despite my depressing existence, I wasn't ready to die yet either.
His gentle brown eyes softened at my cry and he looked close to tears, he shook his head and blinked them away as he continued to drag me with the other keepers.
We reached an area that looked quite different from where my cage was. It still had cages but they were a lot smaller and filled with shifter pets like me. They watched me with wide eyes, some with fear and others with awe of a mixture of both. It was a large hallway, with cages on each side and as we went the small cages got bigger, and so did the pet shifters inside.
We came near to the end of the line of cages and Juan let go of the tarp as we stopped, he unlocked a cage I would just be able to stand or lay down in, and there wasn't a stalk of straw in sight, I didn't like my new cage. All I wanted was my sweet-smelling bed, to curl up and forget what had happened until next month.
I growled at the cage and my paws twitched as I tried to move away from it.
They noticed and quickly pulled me into the cage, Vet Marshal going in first as none of them dared to be in such a small space with me.
They gently set me down and tugged the tarp from beneath me and I meowed at Vet Marshal as he climbed over my large and limp frame. He stopped and looked down sadly at me. "I'm sorry Luci." He apologised and squatted down to stroke my dark and sleek fur. "All I can do is tell you to behave during the auction, if you get a bid on you won't have to die." He advised me and I snuffed and managed to rub my head against his forearm that was placed not far from my head and he gasped, tears spilling from his eyes.
"I'm sorry," He sniffed and bent down to hug my middle and his tears soaked into my fur and I snuffed loudly. Turning my head to lick the moisture off his cheeks and startled gasps sounded from outside the cage.
"Seems the cat can feel empathy after all." The boss's voice spoke up and I growled hearing his voice. I'd never liked the man, he was the reason I'd been in a cage for so many years, he was the reason I was torn from my mother, and now he was trying to sell me off, and if he failed at that he'd kill me.
"Oh hush Luci, say goodbye because whatever happens, you won't be seeing the vet again." He warned and I meowed sadly, nuzzling Vet Marshall's head with my own.
I might not like what he does but he has a kind heart, he's always spoken to me softly and taken care not to hurt me when giving me a health check, and whenever something was wrong he'd always make it better. He was familiar to me, a constant I was reasonably comfortable with. I was leaving here though, sold to some human or to my grave, I felt surprisingly emotional realising this was goodbye, and seeing him acting how I felt inside only made the feeling grow.
To my shock and everyone else's, I shifted into my human form, something I hadn't done in years and hugged Vet Marshal with all the strength I had, which wasn't a lot because the tranquilisers were still in my system, although they were quickly wearing off.
He hugged me back and Juan wolf-whistled, causing the boss to chuckle.
Vet Marshal pulled away from me and looked down, his soft brown eyes still full of tears but they also held some hope. "Shift when asked at the auction Luci, do it for me okay? I don't want you to die." He asked of me and smiled sadly, running his fingers through the hair on my head, and scratching behind my small and rounded ears and I purred at the nice feeling. "Can you do that for me? Make me proud on that stage?" He requested and despite my better judgement I nodded my head a little and his smile widened. He hugged me tightly once more before exiting the cell and the door closed and locked behind him.
Unlike humans, I never broke my promises. What had I just agreed to?
They all left and I was on my own, well aside from the hundreds of other shifters around me. I just laid there, my body slowly coming back under my control. Eventually, I managed to roll over onto my front, still in human form and my fur-less body shivered as it pressed to the cold concrete, wishing more than ever for my sweet straw bed.
I pushed myself up into a sitting position and looked down at myself with curiosity and confusion. I looked so different. My short and robust limbs were covered in soft human hair instead of fur, my chest still broad but two teats visible, with more dark hair and nestled between my bent backward legs was my member, it looked different in human form, not hidden by fur or a sheath.
I wiggled my strange human paws that were called feet and hands, they felt strange and awkward. I curled my tail around myself and it gave me some reassurance that I was still me. I decided to shift back and sighed in relief as my fur protected me from the worst of the cold and hard ground. I curled up and decided to have a nap, sleeping off the tranquilisers whilst I waited for the auction to begin.