I never thought that life as I know it would end because of a cat. To be fair to September, the black cat in question, he was having a pretty terrible day too though.
It’s funny though. I remember that afternoon as being a beautiful one. The sky was bright and blue and clear. The early October breeze carried the aroma of fireplaces being put to use for the first time in the season. The frost from the morning had disappeared under the fading radiance from the sun and night was hurrying on faster and faster each day.
I loved the fall. It wasn’t as quiet and peaceful as the winter, or as lively and energetic as the summer, but it managed to capture the best parts of both.
That’s probably what sent me strolling off my normal path that day. I knew Mom wouldn’t be home for another hour or so and Dad would be later than that. Rosie, my best friend, had gymnastics and then math and science homework so I wouldn’t be able to talk to her until after dinner. Which meant I had nothing dragging me back home at all.
So I wandered.
Our house isn’t far from my school but I normally just walk there and back by the shortest route possible. The west end of Laurelwood where I lived was all suburban housing developments. Miles and miles of them. It was great for something I guess, but it meant there wasn’t a lot of reason to go exploring. All you were going to find were more houses that looked a lot like the one you lived in.
I made a game of hopscotching over the cracks in the sidewalk. It started out pretty easy because sidewalks had been repaired over the summer, but the farther I went the more the fractures started to add up. I kept hopping over them, careful not to land on even the tiny cracks, until I lost my balance and toppled over my own feet.
Concrete’s not all that fun to fall face first on, but the advantage of being small like I am is that I’m small enough to not fall very hard. I can still look plenty stupid though, which was almost worse.
In trying to protect myself, I threw my book bag out in front of me. Once I made sure I wasn’t hurt too badly, I started collecting my school books that had been thrown out of my bag by the landing. It was a short fall but they’d scattered about everywhere. I had to pick two of them up from the street and another from the lawn of the house I’d fallen in front of.
Noticing that I was off the sidewalk and in someone’s yard, I looked up to see if there was anyone who’d watched my tumble. That’s when I finally noticed that I’d walked into a very different housing development. The homes were older. And more ornate. And somewhat rundown.
A chill scuttled up my spine and I shivered as I watched the shadows inside the nearest house sway. I’d never seen houses like this and, looking at the street layout, I wasn’t sure which direction I’d come from. What was worse was that the more I looked around, the less familiar everything seemed. My heart started thudding at that thought and I panicked for a few seconds, but stood stock still.
If I didn’t know which direction to go to get back home then I was lost. If I was lost, my whole day, maybe even my whole life, was going to be ruined. I didn’t know what to do.
That’s when I heard September yowling. I always loved cats, but with Mom being allergic to them we could never have one. I wanted to be a veterinarian for a few years though, so I’d tried to study as much as I could about animals and about cats in particular. I knew all about their purrs and the roars of lions but I’d never heard a sound like the one September was making. The only thing that was clear from it was that he was in pain.
I wish I could say I started running to save him, but I just froze even more solid. I was terrified. It took another screech from September change that from being terrified for myself to being terrified for the cat that I could hear.
The yowls were coming from behind one of the nearby houses, so, somehow, I made my legs carry me there. I felt like a robot, and walked with my legs fighting my movement every step of the way.
The house was a big two story home, though it looked like it hadn’t been lived in for decades. Between the broken windows and the lack of any lighting on or around the house, I didn’t want to try to imagine who or what could be lurking inside it.
Another yowl brought me around to the back of the house, but I paused at the edge to see what was going on (and whether I had any hope of helping the kitty).
What I saw looked weird for a second, like my eyes wouldn’t focus on it quite right. I thought I saw three cloaked figures throwing little balls of fire at a cat who had his back arched against the side of the house, trying to cringe away from them as much as he could.
I blinked and cleared my vision up with a shake of my head. The ‘cloaked figures’ were just high school girls in long winter coats. The balls of fire were matches and the cat, was, well, a cat.
“Aww, poor little scaredy kitty can’t fight back can it?” the tallest girl asked and flicked another match at the cat. It landed a foot away from the poor thing and I saw the black cat shiver with a fresh wave of fear.
“Should we skin it?” the second tallest asked?
“Maybe we should use it as bait?” the last said.
“We can’t use it as bait. This thing doesn’t have any friends,” the tallest said. “That’s why we can play with it like this.”
She threw another match at the cat. This one landed near the cats tail and drew a piteous mewling from the thing.
“Just playing with it isn’t any fun though,” the middle one said.
“Yeah, we need a bigger one,” the smallest said.
Despite being the smallest of the three, she was still a good four inches taller than me, and was a lot more solid looking too. Which wasn’t my fault. My Mom said that girls in our family are always a bit on the tiny side but that we fill out later. I’m not sure when “later” was supposed to be if not by 13 but, whenever it was, that wasn’t going to help me against these girls.
I tried to think who could rescue the cat and whether we could get back before something really bad happened.
Then the middle girl took a gleaming knife out from her coat. It was as long as my forearm. There wasn’t any time left to find someone else.
“No! Don’t hurt him!” I shouted.
The words burst out of me before I could think about them. I don’t know who they scared more though, me or the girls that were tormenting the cat.
I imagined them turning the matches and the knife on me, but for some reason, when they saw me, they screamed louder than the cat had.
They screamed and then they were gone. One second they were looking at me with fear etched on their faces and the next they were running away faster than I’d ever seen anyone run before.
I stared at them for a few moments, too stunned to think straight. The only thing that managed to break me out of that was concern for the poor kitty. When I looked over to see him, I saw that he’d fainted.
I didn’t know that cats fainted, and I suppose in a sense I still don’t. In any case though, that worried me enough that I went over to pick him up and make sure he was ok.
As I brought him into my arms I felt a little zap of electricity pass between us and I saw September start to breath calmly and slowly.
I petted his head, relieved that he was ok and got up to walk away. I wasn’t sure where I was going to take him, but I knew I couldn’t leave him around for those girls to get at again. Then he licked me and started to purr and I knew I had to bring him home.
“I don’t know if Mom will let you stay,” I told him. “I’ll try to convince her somehow though.”
“I won’t be any trouble at all, I promise.” the cat said.