Zap was an alley cat.
She was as black as the night - as black as coal - as black as the inside of a liquorice factory at midnight! She was VERY BLACK. She had long fluffy hair but she had nobody to brush it and look after it for her. So it was dirty and full of prickles and knots.
Zap prowled along the alleys looking for food. She jumped onto rubbish bins and pulled the lids off with her strong claws. When she found something delicious she ate every bit by herself and did not let any of the other alley cats near until she had finished it all down to the very last lick.
Most of the other alley cats did not like Zap. They thought she was stuck-up and greedy and mean and nasty and vicious. At nights she stalked around as if she owned the place - and she probably thought that she did! She snarled at the other alley cats and fought them for the best food scraps and the best fences to sit on and yowl all night.
If she found a good place to sleep during the day and there was another cat there already Zap would screech and yowl and arch her back and make all her fur stand on end until she scared the other cat away.
Then she would make herself comfortable and no one dared disturb her until the night time. She did not like the other cats and she did not like mice and rats - except to eat - and she did not like people.
Especially, she could not STAND dogs. Dogs were awful animals.
Any dog that dared come anywhere near Zap ran the risk of having its nose scratched or its tail bitten or its ears pulled so far they felt as if they were being pulled out by their roots.
One day Zap was curled up asleep in a tree in the park near the alley where she always found the best snacks. She was dreaming about having someone to look after her. She was dreaming that she had an owner who would brush her hair and feed her delicious food and give her a good place to sleep.
Zap was dreaming that her owner was stroking her. All of a sudden she woke up. She discovered that there was a big dog standing next to the tree trying to get at her. It was VERY BIG. It was standing on its back legs and it was scratching at the branches where she was trying to sleep.
Zap was scared of the big dog, but she was very angry too. How dared he come and disturb her? She jumped up and she arched her back. She made all her long black fur stand on end. She screeched at the big dog and she showed it all her sharp white teeth.
Zap called the dog a very rude name in cat language.
Then she reached out her front claws and scratched his nose as hard as she could.
The big dog yelped in fright. He thought he was big and tough and he hated cats. How dared this black monster scratch his nose? Ouch!! Cats were not supposed to do that sort of thing. They were supposed to miaow and run away and maybe climb a tall tree to escape. It was fun to chase a cat up a tree.
It was NOT fun getting his nose scratched.
Zap was not a happy cat. She was pleased that she had given the dog a scratch on his nose. But she had made him angry. He jumped up and down and barked at her. He tried to jump up into the tree. He stretched out his long front paws and tried to grab her. Zap jumped up onto another branch. She looked down at the dog and snarled at him. He ran around the tree and barked some more.
She could see his teeth. They were enormous.
She could see his tongue. It was big and pink and he was slobbering. Zap thought that was disgusting. She really did not like dogs at all!
But she did not know what she could do. The dog's owner was not trying to get him away from her. Zap started along one branch but it was not very strong and it started to bend. She turned around and went back and tried another branch.
It was much stronger but - it only went out over the top of a little lake in the park. Zap was scared now. She looked down and all she could see was water. If she turned around the dog would try to get her.
The dog was still barking. It was loud and scary and it was giving Zap a big headache. Then it jumped up and tried to get the branch she was on. It made the branch wobble. Zap wobbled. She lost her balance.
Zap fell into the lake. SPLASH!! She could not swim. The water was cold and wet and dirty. She was sure she was going to drown. She miaowed in fright.
All of a sudden someone grabbed her. It was a person. He held onto Zap and carried her out of the water and he sat down on the grass. He did not let her go. Zap was glad he had rescued her. She was cold and wet and shivering. It was not a sunny day, and it was very windy. She wanted to get away and find a warm place to clean herself and get dry.
But the person who had rescued her was still holding onto her tightly. It was not the dog's owner. When Zap had fallen into the water the dog had run back to his owner. He thought he might get a bit of sympathy. But his owner just laughed at him and told him he was a stupid dog to try to attack an alley cat who was trying to have a nice little snooze in a tree.
He put the dog back onto its leash and walked over to where Zap's rescuer was still sitting on the grass.
"It's only a scruffy dirty alley cat," he said. "Why did you jump into the water to rescue it?"
Zap's rescuer was a big boy with black curly hair and brown eyes.
"I like cats," he said. "This one looks like it's a Persian cat. They have long fluffy hair." He laughed. "But right now she looks really terrible. She looks like a little drowned rat. I think I'll take her home and give her a bath and some warm milk and maybe I'll keep her. I don't think anyone owns her. She's such a pretty cat. Just like a princess!"
"Huh!" said the dog's owner. "I don't know why you would want a cat! Cats are horrible animals. Look what it did to my poor little dog's nose!"
The big boy laughed. He didn't feel sorry for the dog.
"That was really funny," he said. Then he tucked Zap inside his jacket and went off home.
Zap wasn't very happy when he put her into a tub of warm soapy water and gave her a bath. She tried to scratch him. But he just laughed at her.
"That's not a very nice way to treat someone who rescued you from a dog and from drowning in a dirty lake," he said. Then he took her out and rubbed her in a big fluffy towel.
And then he found something strange.
Around Zap's neck, under all her fluffy long black hair, was a pretty little collar. It was like a lady's bracelet. It had glittery stones in it. The boy stared at it.
"Well," he said in surprise. "Maybe you're NOT an alley cat after all."
When Zap was clean and dry he brushed her hair and gave her some milk to drink and also some fish to eat. Zap was happy for the food and the milk and she even liked being brushed. She seemed to remember that long, long ago, when she had been a tiny kitten, someone had brushed her hair for her every day.
Then the boy tucked Zap inside his jacket again and took her to a friend of his who was a vet. The vet looked at Zap. She opened her mouth and looked at her teeth. She looked at the neckchain.
"This certainly is not just any old alley cat," she said. "Let's have a look and see if she has a microchip. That will tell us all about her." She sat Zap on a table and ran the scanner over the back of her neck. "Ah! Yes. This cat has a chip, and she has an owner. Somebody will be very happy to get her back, I think."
The boy who found Zap was happy that she would have a proper home.
But he was sad, too. He liked Zap. He stroked her and cuddled her while the vet wrote down the name and address of Zap's owner. Then he tucked her inside his jacket again and went off to find the house. It was a long way away. He wanted to catch a bus but when he got on and the driver saw Zap sticking her head out of his jumper he would not let the boy on the bus.
"You are not allowed to carry cats on buses!" he said. "I am sorry, but you will have to walk."
The boy thought he might be able to get a taxi but when he hailed a taxi and the driver saw Zap sticking her head out of his jumper she would not let the boy in the taxi.
"I am very sorry," she said. "But - atishoo! - I am allergic to cats. They make me - atishoo! - sneeze! You can't bring that cat into my taxi."
So the boy walked to the house where Zap's owner lived.
It was a big house. An old lady opened the front door and looked down her nose at the boy.
"And what do you want?"
"Um, I have found your cat, I think. She was trying to get away from a big dog and she fell into a lake. I took her to the vet and she found the microchip she has in her neck. So I have brought her home to you."
The old lady looked at the boy and she looked at Zap. She was cross.
"That cat belonged to my mother. It ran away a long time ago. My mother is very very old and she is in hospital. I don't want the cat. I don't like cats. You can keep it if you want to."
"May I really? Thank you!"
The boy tucked Zap back inside his jumper and danced off down the street. He was so happy. Zap didn't know what was going on but she hadn't liked the sound of the old lady's voice. She had remembered her voice. A long long time ago that lady had opened the front door and thrown her out one night. She had shouted at her to go away. She had set her dog to chase her away. Zap had only been very small and very scared but she had run away and ever since then she had been looking after herself.
But now Zap would not have to look after herself any more. She had a new owner. He would brush her long hair. He would give her delicious food. He would give her a good place to sleep. He was a nice person and he liked cats. He liked Zap.
Zap was not an alley cat any more. She was a princess.