The first chapter of the second short story from the Azrael Series written by Ayse Hafiza
Below is the first chapter of the second short story from the Azrael Series by Ayse Hafiza. The story is currently published and available on Amazon.
Chapter One Protecting Graves
The young cat had an audience. How unfortunate; it hadn't anticipated this. The young cat hadn’t realized that its first kill was a rite of passage, and the elders within the cat community would come to watch him handle his prey. He didn’t understand that he should handle his prey with prowess and pride. The elders would rely on him to feed them in their old age, so they had a vested interest in his hunting skills, but he was too young to realize the implications of the audience. He was also too young to understand that holding a pigeon by its wing as it flapped the other freely was not correct. Incompetence was all that the elders saw.
The cat, too young to comprehend the politics of the situation, held his trophy with pride. The elders watched with displeasure as they realized there was much to teach this little cat, and until it learned, there would be lean times ahead for all of them. This would make life difficult for the little cat and his family, who would be ostracized from the community.
The cat trainer had exposed the young cat, and he should never have let the elders see this poor display. He should have trained the young cat to a higher standard before parading his first kill, which was anything but dead.
My displeasure wasn't with the young cat, as I didn't believe it was his fault. It was very much the fault of his trainer, who should have known better—and, in fact, did know better. The trainer and I glared at each other. I scowled at him to show that I knew he had purposefully outed the young cat. It was no secret in the cat community that the trainer had a young cat of his own, so it was evident that the trainer hoped his son would one day lead the hunt for the cats of the graveyard and hold the social standing the title brought. Unfortunately for the trainer, I knew his motive, and sabotage was a dirty game. I glared at him, and he reciprocated. Our bodies were rock solid and set for the fight. He flexed his muscles at me to demonstrate his strength. I knew he would try, and I also knew I could bury this cat in an instant. He knew it, too. It wasn't just my superior strength or the fact that I stood on the side of right and truth. I was an unknown quantity to him. After all, I wasn’t a cat—I was a shapeshifter. I could take the form of a person, an animal, or an animate object. Some cultures called me genie, and some called me jinn. I could bury him, and he knew it because I was nothing like him. My strength was beyond his comprehension, beyond any frame of reference that existed in his little cat brain. He knew he shouldn't mess with me, but tension built as we gave each other the evil eye.
A human man and woman walked past the graveyard and caught our interaction. They seemed to understand the situation and see the young cat with its mouthful of pigeon wing. God had sent the couple to see what was happening in the graveyard. They were more gifted than average humans, who did not understand what was going on around them. On seeing the young cat, the couple prayed for mercy for the pigeon.
God responded to their prayer and gave the young cat the intelligence to clasp the damaged pigeon with his paws and adjust his position. He held the pigeon with his jaws at the base of its neck, and a sigh of relief sounded all around as the bird slowly lost its life. The cat elders relaxed, and hope was restored. The humans’ prayers were answered. My anger with the trainer had not subsided, but God had chosen to resolve the situation by sending the humans to visit instead of letting me brawl.
The pigeons’ beating heart stopped, the damaged wing stilled, and finally, the pigeon died. The young cat had corrected himself and was officially a hunter. He ran off to show his mother his kill. It was a proud day for him: the pigeon was more than a third of his size, so it was a noteworthy achievement.
My interest was to see off the humans. They had seen enough of our community already. I came and stood outside the graveyard, hissing at them on the street. The human female approached me foolishly, but my crouched stance made her check herself. In my cat form, I was a graveyard cat, which meant I was certainly not for petting. I was a warrior and nothing like the docile, fat housecats she knew. Also, I had a job to do. The couple understood that they should leave the graveyard, and they walked away with only a brief hesitation. I returned to the cemetery to disband the elders.
My job was to protect the graves of the Jerusalem nobles buried in the graveyard. Humans saw me as a cat, but the people of the grave saw me as a fierce lion. The people of the graves were very perceptive: they knew it was my job to protect them. I am good at my job because I have been doing it for many years. I am an old soul, and I have seen much of life.
As a jinni, I am made of smokeless fire, and I can shapeshift into any living form. I can be another person—maybe someone you know—or an animal. Sometimes, you might only perceive my shadow, but most likely, you won’t see me at all. There are malevolent jinn, and you might have heard stories about them. More commonly, there are Jinn like me. I have a job to do, and I am devoted to my job. Pious and strong, I can help if I choose to, and I can bring terror. The trainer cat backed down because he knew he was powerless against me, and fighting me would have led to his destruction.
You might wonder what the people of the grave need to be protected from.
My job in the graveyard was to protect the graves from negative energies, which sometimes came to disturb the peace. I simply worked with the regular cats to teach them to chase those negative energies away, which is why you always see cats in graveyards. I was sent to protect the people of the graves and to train these cats.
Recently, the attacks had lessened because that people in the cemetery were very strong in their faith. When they met their graves, their piety gave them abundant mercy. Over time, that mercy had spilled onto their immediate neighbours and then throughout the whole graveyard. Little by little, all the people of the grave were being affected by their pious neighbours. It was a domino effect starting from the godly souls recently buried in the graveyard.
I expected to be reassigned shortly. The regular cats had learned how to protect the people of the graves, and there was less for me to do; cat community politics and playing the chief of the place held no interest for me. Position and power were completely unattractive to me, as I considered myself a humble servant of God.
The reason for the increase in pious souls interested me, and I thought about following the trail. Where had these people come from?
I heard things, whispers from the humans and the jinn, about a new king. The day the graveyard job was done, I made a promise to myself to go see this new King. What was extraordinary about him? For the first time in many years, people being buried had light and mercy to accompany them.
All the community had been benefiting from the humans and jinn who walked around in the remembrance of their Lord. They were alive in their hearts, and it was a beautiful sight to behold. I even saw some of the malevolent jinn community soften and become pious. That fact was enough to tell me there was something remarkable about this king, and akin to the cat I pretended to be, I was curious.
I was resolute. As I slept, I had a dream. Dreams were the method through which I received my orders and understood where God wanted me to go. The message was unclear, although I knew that the time had come to move on.
The next day, I requested an audience with the eldest of the graveyard cat community. He was an old and wise cat. Many cats mistook his age for frailty, negating the years of life experience he had. They didn't understand that his age was his strength. He knew cats: their natures and psychologies. He was a cat that commanded respect. He had fought many battles in his time. Being a leader meant that he had fought physical and internal battles. Leader was a title of respect, given based on merit and no other measure. I told the old cat the time had come for me to leave, and that I entrusted the smooth running of the graveyard to him. He accepted my resignation and understood that the responsibility was now solely his. He knew his cats had been trained, and they would carry out the somewhat easier job of protection since the graveyard was so newly pious. I thanked him for welcoming me into his community, which was a formality, as there had been no welcome—just assimilation. He breathed a sigh of relief that I was leaving. My presence among the cats was controversial. They knew I was a more powerful being, and many of them felt unsettled; the unknown always unsettles. I respectfully said my goodbyes and left the community, having served there for many years. I left knowing its future was balanced. I would not look back.
I exited the graveyard for the last time and came into the domain of the living humans. They were a truly different sort of creation, and very unlike the people of the graves, who were either filled with sorrow or excitement at the prospect of the end of time and the promise of Heaven. The living humans were more like our jinn community than they realized. They carried on with their lives in meaningless pursuits. I didn't want their attention, so I kept myself in cat form and skulked around the sides of the roads to get to the market square, which backed the royal compound and made it a great point of entry to the Royal Palace.
It was not a coincidence that my orders came the night after I made my intentions clear, as I had seen many times that God had a plan.
The humans in the market haggled for the price of carrots, pomegranates, and sweets. Mankind was a fantastic creation, and so very self-absorbed. Life had been serving them for centuries, and they understood little about life. The market was different in that those people shopping still had an air of calm and a remembrance of God on their lips—and presumably in their hearts as well. It was a very different experience than when I had visited years ago and the merchants were stealing from the buyers with high prices and rigging scales that they used to measure wares. The interactions now between buyers and sellers were honest and humbling. Had I been in the graveyard so long? Why hadn't I noticed the change of mood in Jerusalem? Was this the impact of the new king? His presence was all that had changed in recent times, and all these signs increased my curiosity even more.
The plan was simple: to break into the palace and observe. I could take the form of a fly and sit on the wall to watch the comings and goings. I knew that if I observed for long enough, the truth would unfold. As jinn, we understood this from an early age. It is habit to keep to the shadows and watch mankind.
Stealthily, I crossed the market square and climbed a tree that would give me access to the royal compound. I climbed the tree with ease and jumped over the palace wall, landing in a flowerbed. While I sat among the flowers and shrubs, it occurred to me that I was visiting the king: I should attempt to clean my head and paws in case I was seen. I didn't want the humiliation of being chased out the palace, and I didn’t want to take an invisible form because I had heard the jinn talking about the new king too, so I guessed that some had visited the palace. My firm faith often repelled other jinn, so I did not want attention from any of them. I licked my paws and cleaned my ears. It took quite a long time to bring myself above the graveyard standards for grooming.
I left the shrubs and walked into one of the many palace gardens. They were immaculate gardens with the greenest grass and most beautiful flowers, trees, and plants. Some were planted for decoration, some were clearly for healing purposes to prepare potions and tinctures, and some were for attracting wildlife. As I walked from one garden to another, I saw people in the distance sitting on the grass. Were they enjoying a picnic in the palace gardens? This was as good a place as any to begin my investigations. I walked forward silently and sat behind the people. The best thing about being a cat was that I didn't need to be close to hear everything, as my hearing was impeccable.
I made myself comfortable with a view of the humans’ backs, and the human to my right turned to look at me. I didn't expect to be acknowledged. He nodded his head to greet me, and his eyes glinted a dull jade green that I understood. It was a signal only visible to me. He was a jinn in a human form. He had sensed that I was not just a cat. I was even more curious. Why was a jinni in plain sight of the humans in the palace gardens? I needed a better view of what was happening. I circled to the left, away from the jinni, so I could see and hear. I let the mortal men pet me and show me love. It was an emotion I was uncomfortable with, having lived so long in the graveyard. With each touch of my fur, I had to ensure I remained patient with the humans expressing their love for me. It was painful. My instinct was to scratch, but I accepted it as a test of my patience.
The men sat in a semicircle of fine silk rugs on the grass. Interspersed among them were tea glasses and fruit platters, and some of them wrote furiously while their leader spoke. They sat mesmerized, not wanting to miss a single word.
Thank you for reading the first chapter, the story has been published and is available on Amazon.