The threadcat slithers into the pond;
her fur closes up, her ears fold down.
Her long body twists itself a swathe
through the dark waters. She alights,
all belly, down on the muddy floor.
Leeches attach themselves to nothing
but braided wire, for her dense fur
is impenetrable. They hold on nevertheless
to what they have, for a congenital hunger
drives them. The threadcat will wait here for
a lugpike to pass through the pond-clouds
of muck. All teeth, external bone, no flesh,
a lugpike eases closer; its mouth bristling
with sharp spikes, it opens its maw
and regurgitates gobbets of fur and slime.
The pellets settle to the mud floor
and the threadcat steals her chance, sliding
swiftly through the gates of teeth and into
the lugpike's gullet. She writhes her way
down into the gut, and, safe now, curls
in the vulnerable hold of the lugpike, snug
in its soft centre. She remains there until
she gives birth to her litter, four dun-coloured
striplings. In the acid of the gut they frolic,
nipping the glistening walls. The threadcat
abandons them without a backward glance,
evacuates out through the lugpike's rectum.
She makes landfall on the edge of the pond
and thrashes herself dry, the leaches flying off
in all directions. Small birds come and pick
them off the wet grass, every one. The threadcat
wends forth, makes her way to her den.
Soon she is asleep, her litter forgotten. They
are just a number, but a number belonging
not to her, but to the world. In this wet, ponded
world, numbers are what count; and the highest
numbers count the most. Nothing adds to the count
here but the threadcats, for this world is theirs, and they
are everywhere, unstoppable. Everything begins
and ends with them, begins and ends with four, which
is both the smallest and the highest of numbers, un-
countable, unfathomable. A numberless number.