The Cat of Death

Submitted into Contest #30 in response to: Write a story about someone who loses their cat.... view prompt

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General

    Life pops in and out of existence all the time. 

He is violent and haphazard. He can be dangerous or soft or curiously loud, bursting into existence through screams of pain only to be met with joy. Death, meanwhile, for all the help and usefulness she had in the world, sat silently, unassuming, always watching through tired, curious eyes. She watched as the world went by, as people moved in every direction to get away from her, only to walk right up in completely unrepentant moments of bravery. Creatures are ever and will ever be curious to her, but none were quite as curious as the night Death sat across from a soggy, wet, cardboard hovel and witnessed the birth of three, little kittens. 

    They were tiny-- fragile. They couldn't even open their eyes and yet they mewed incessantly at their exhausted mother's belly. Mother Cat was an old creature, full of both life and death, filthy, dotted with fleas and disgust, but she took care of her babies. They were her treasures, and she would not be taken off guard. They looked healthy enough to her (and Death thought she should rightly know), but though she tried to appreciate them for what they were there was no denying an ugly little twinge in the pit of her stomach, describable in no other way than disappointment. Death liked Life, truly. She respected and considered Life like a partner, not someone to fight with but to admire while it still existed, ever finite and broken. Kittens were beautiful creatures and blessings, but Death could not fully appreciate them, not while they held something of hers she so desperately mourned.

    One of the kittens, you see, belonged to Death. 

    She wasn't there to take the kitten, of course, far be it. She was not a thief of life, rather a harbinger for what came after, but the reincarnation of Macka, Death's beloved companion, had come as quite a shock. Macka had been nestled among a group of souls neatly tucked away on a shelf, and when Death had swept her hand across the set so that their souls might be inserted back into the Earth's cycle little Macka-- sweet, sweet, little Macka-- must have gone with them. Death's devastation became unspeakable, though the irony of losing her cat to Life was not lost on her. That fact did not negate her feelings, though, and with heedless abandonment she forsook her post and fled to Earth, combing it's surface for Macka's soul signature. 

    It came as little surprise that sweet Macka had already found new breath, new sensations-- a new life, without her. 

    Death watched the fragile creature in fascination. She'd never seen life so fresh, so wild, so full of possibilities. Death was always certain. When she came Life was always trying to run away, desperately being held back by the creatures who didn't want to see him go-- devastated and suffering, some for so long... some only for a blink of a moment. Everyone was so scared of Death and the pain, but after watching Mother Cat give birth Death wondered how they could think she would be any other way. 

Life was born in violence. 

Death went away in a gamble. 

Sometimes she came silently, sometimes she came horrifically. But there was always a better chance with Death than Life that things would go peacefully. Both important. Both misunderstood. Animals seemed to know this, always accepting of her, always understanding. Maybe that was why Macka meant so much to her, and why Death was so sad to see her go. 

    Mother Cat shifted her little babies out of the wet and nuzzled them against her belly, feeding them the milk they cried for. Death had watched for weeks now, after finding the host Macka would be in to the point of birth in this shabby alley. Mother was spent. She collapsed in this dingy place, full of darkness and heartache and fleas. Yet, as she held her babies close, Death sensed the same tenderness in her which Death had always tried to use with the souls she guarded across. 

    Curious, Death reached out her hand, brushing back the fur on Mother's head to the chorus of warm, gentle purs though Death knew the creature could not see her. This was a good mother. Death could tell. She lovingly groomed the tops of her kitten's heads, Macka-- the new Macka-- nestled among them, wiggling and stretching and exploring her tiny, new body. It was cute. The kittens were all cute, and though timid, Death stroked a finger down each of their fragile, noddly spines, experiencing new life just as much as they. It all lacked dignity and poise, but Death did not mind. She allowed herself a moment to admire them and all their possibilities, questions, uncertainties. Everything that came to and through Death was certain and safe. Everything through Life, though, seemed wild and optimistically uncertain. It was entertaining to be a part of it for a few moments. 

    She sat back and watched them, wondering what to do. She had no intention of interrupting the family, but she didn't want to abandon Macka. It was possible she could follow her through life-- fifteen or so years was really nothing to one such as Death-- but fifteen years worth of souls to deal with before she returned was almost as unappealing as continuing without Macka. She could put a special mark on Macka's soul as not to miss her when she died, but--

    A noise at the front of the alley took over the experience. Death made no movement for what had she to fear? But Mother was obviously startled. She wobbled to her feet, her eyes in and out of focus, completely weakened from enduring birth. She was fascinating. Death wondered, what was she about to do? How could she stand? She was weak and life was only in her in the vaguest of sense, but her soul was bright as a new solar flare. She practically glowed, her strength so vast. 

    Voices came from the alley mouth. "Ich höre dort drüben etwas." 

    Mother shifted her weight unevenly, all of her fur starting to rise as she felt more and more disturbed by the encroaching guests. They were coming. There wasn't much time to hide. Further hesitation was not permitted. Mother pushed her babies with the end of her nose, nestling them up under scraps of paper and trash inside their little cardboard home, nuzzling them each affectionately in turn. She stumbled out. She shook. She stood before Death like a regal queen, albeit matted and dingy. She waited, growls rumbling from the pits of her stomach in threat and warning. They echoed through the cavernous alley like rolling thunder when the two humans tiptoed into view. 

    Death did not recognize them by name as Life might have done, but she knew them by the shine of their souls. A mother, a daughter, and two good hearts between them, though there was no telling that to Mother. In her eyes, the humans were a threat, and they must not come near her babies. Besides that, Death was only an innocent bystander, completely numb to the goings on of the world. It was not in her power to tell Mother to do anything, though Death wondered if she would have to wait long for Macka at this point. It didn't bring the sense of sadness like she thought it might, but there was a shadow of pity for Mother attempting to break into Death's closed heart. 

    The two women knelt down in the alley with a hand stretched out, shaking and rattling a can of cat food, Death watched from a close distance, her eyes never leaving Mother as the feline arched her back, fangs bared and pupils wide. There was a brief moment of pause, a brief hesitation in the hurricane brewing within the cat, and then-- explosion. Mother, weakened though she was, rushed away-- down the alley and away from her kittens. The daughter gasped slightly and made to chase, but her mother grabbed her arm, shaking her head. Mother Cat was gone, the two humans were left discussing her, how to catch her perhaps, how to follow, how to find her again. So enraptured were they with their conversation, that neither one of them could have noticed the little ones in the box: alone, undefended, silent--

    But not forever. 

    The first mew came startling and uncertain, just a ghost under cover of darkness. The second and third? More like starlight shining through the darkness, the tell tale squeaks resonating in Death's heart with desperation, echoing back a nonchalance where Death kept her certainties. Not so with the humans. Their eyes widened and their heads swiveled, gathering up the sight of the box with hunger, all of their senses turning to the tiny cries with affection, adoration, kindness, compassion-- beautiful gifts of Life. Their gasps and whispers echoed softly in the alley as they pulled back the roof on the kittens' home, their hearts filled with love at the sight of the three kittens-- at the sight of Macka. Macka, Macka...Macka, sweet girl. 

    Death leaned towards them as a certain fear and pity took her heart, looking down at Macka squirm uncomfortably, crying out for Mother Cat who had tried to lure the humans away, following all of her instincts to the furthest lengths she would go to protect her babies. Instincts were for animals, though, and humans had long ago abandoned their sensibilities to be animalistic in nature. They had gentle hands and weepy eyes, moved by Life and Death at far greater lengths than others, and so much more willing to choose the fates of themselves and others. For Macka-- for her siblings-- that meant being swept away by the kindness of people. 

    And Death followed, still not sure what she would do-- still waiting for ideas to strike her. 

    There was no sense of urgency to follow the pair, their hands bundled up with kittens and towels and whatever else they felt necessary to keep the kittens warm. They chatted amiably, excitedly, dejectedly, making plans of what to do for Mother Cat who obviously did not wish to be caught and who followed at a secret distance behind them, noted only by Death as she wobbled and stumbled. She needed food and water, but she wouldn't accept it and Death could not give it. Death could only offer her watchful gaze, admiration filling her heart as she watched the cat stumble after the women and her babies, her little paws cut by the asphalt, her tail slowly falling. She did not make a sound though Death could hear her heart beating. It tore her rib cage to pieces, her tongue fell from her lips in desperate pants.

    They rounded the corner, the women and Death, everyone aloof to the world about them, more concerned on selfish, happier things. The women spoke of the future, Death followed after Macka.

    Death felt it happen in a blink. There was no trumpet or call for attention, no explosion of violence or anything to draw any gaze, but Death knew the call. She'd heard it for eons. Her eyes scattered up to the women who held Macka captive, watching them disappear down the lane, round a fence, up to the front stoop of a house. Death could have followed Macka for years; her deepest yearnings compelled her so. Drawing back on herself, she turned, looking into the darkness of the street, eyes focusing in on the soft glow of a scattered soul:

    Mother Cat. 

    The scene had played out countless times before, and yet Death had never felt the same mournful sense of empathy as she did then, looking upon the cat's collapsed form in the street. She had no fanfare of mourners, no companion to lay beside, her little, broken body, shivering with shallow, thoughtless breaths of a familiar fight. Life wrestled to be away. Mother Cat wrestled to stay with her babies. Death could feel it in the cat's body, in her soul, her eyes never left the corner her babies had disappeared behind. She was broken, and yet her strength pushed her beyond her body's ability to recognize it. Death could see in her eyes and feel in her soul a desperate pleading, a yearning for help that was not coming. She had accepted it too late, and her babies were gone. Were it not for them, Death would have been able to reach her far sooner, but as it was Mother Cat had fought until life hung by the thread of one heartstring. 

    "Mater…" Death's voice was ill used and small, but by the flicker of Mother Cat's eyes, Death knew she'd heard the call. 

    Death's touch pressed gently upon Mother Cat's side, her fingers reflexively stroking down the grimey, matted fur along her thin, skeletal body. The world had been unkind to her. There could not have been another soul in the world to convince her that they would be any kinder to her babies. Yet in the After, perhaps, there was a chance for her to know. With a soft, kind, gentle brush of the fingers, Death's hands fell into the broken body of Mother Cat and wrapped around the lion's soul within, drawing her up into an embrace, perhaps the first Mother Cat had felt in all her life. It was not a triumphant feeling. No one, Death thought, should know her as their first embrace, but to the unlucky souls maybe it was better than nothing at all. Life was wild, violent, beautiful, optimistic, hopeful-- Death was certain. An end. It was sad, and Death could not remember the last time she had truly felt sadness on behalf of the creatures she'd helped. 

    Macka would be fine. It was Mother Cat's turn now. Death decided she was content with that, stroking a hand along the edge of such a beautiful soul. It was not the cat she had lost and sought, but it was a cat in need, and maybe that would be enough-- for both of them.

 

February 29, 2020 04:43

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