“He’s probably dead!” Auntie Greta shouted up the stairs.
Little Sadie was curled up in a ball in her tiny bed, her long whitish blonde hair stuck to her crying face. Auntie Greta has been taunting her more than usual ever since Leo ran away. Sadie missed Leo, her beloved orange tabby cat. He’s been missing for days and Sadie couldn’t stand another second without him. Especially another second ridiculed by Auntie Greta without his comfort. Leo made everything feel better, Sadie really felt like he listened to her. She looked up at the ceiling and watched the spiders create their webs in the corners of her room. “Spiders are nicer than my Auntie,” Sadie signed to herself.
She eventually got out of her bed and slumped over to her chipped dresser. Little Sadie grabbed her notebook and broken crayons out of the drawers. Sadie hung her drawings throughout her room to make it feel more full and bright. She drew butterflies, flowers, cars, bugs, the blue sky, the sun, everything. She drew places she dreamed about. She dreamed of playgrounds with red swings and yellow slides, monkey bars she can swing on.
She dreamed of what her mother and father were like. Auntie Greta told her over and over again about the infectious disease that killed her parents and millions of others. That’s why Auntie Greta wouldn’t let little Sadie play outside, she warned her everyday about the deadly air. Sadie knew she should be thankful for her safety, but her seven year old spirit wanted to feel the sunlight against her face. She wanted to swim in crystal blue seas and build sand castles. She wanted to see and do so much; but little Sadie only had her dreams and drawings to help her imagine what the outside world was like.
Sadie sighed and crawled back in her tiny bed with her crayons and notebook, she started drawing a picture of Leo. Only the hypnotizing moon shining through her dirty nailed shut window provided her light.
“I wish Leo was here,” she whispered to herself.
Sadie’s eyes started to open and close, she could feel herself dozing off. She was about to lay down and fall asleep, but something caught her eye. It looked like a ball of fire. The little orb jumped on top of the bed, Sadie almost fell over when she realized who it was.
“Leo!” Sadie shrieked.
Leo walked back and forth across her bed, falling and rolling around in her covers, purring and meowing. Sadie couldn’t contain her excitement, she pulled the cat into her arms. The bright orange tabby cat purred in his owner’s embrace. He’s a lot brighter than I remember, Sadie thought to herself. She wept joyfully holding the warm cat against her chest. Leo meowed and rubbed his head against her.
“Leo, where did you go!? Don’t you ever leave me again! I thought I lost you forever! You can’t leave me with Auntie Greta!”
“I’ll never leave you little Sadie,” The cat replied.
Sadie immediately dropped the cat in shock. Her wide eyes stared at him as he smiled at her.
“Leo?..... You can talk?” She whispered.
“Yes,” he replied.
“Why haven’t you ever said anything before?”
“I couldn’t help you before. Now I can,”
“Help?” Sadie questioned the cat.
“Yes, follow me Sadie Perdita,” the bright orange cat walked over to the old dresser, “help me push this,” he said. Sadie skeptically got off the bed and walked over to the talking cat. The cat got on its hind legs and put his paws up against the dresser. Sadie giggled at how cute he looked trying to move the dresser. She stood next to him and started pushing it with him. To her surprise, the dresser moved across the floor easily, revealing a small opening
“What’s this!?” Sadie shrieked.
“A magic portal,”
“A magic portal?!” Sadie was overwhelmed with excitement, “Where will it take us?” She asked.
“Follow me.” The bright orange cat started walking through the portal. Sadie got on her knees and crawled right behind him.
“Where are we going?” Sadie asked Leo again.
“You will see,”
There was a small glimmer of light at the end of the portal. Leo got to the end and turned around, waiting for Sadie to reach him. After a few seconds, she felt a cool breeze. Sadie abruptly stopped, realizing where they were.
“What’s wrong?” Leo asked.
“You took me outside.”
“Why? We’re going to get sick Leo! We need to go back! We need to turn around!” Sadie started getting hysterical.
Leo tilted his head and gave her a warm smile. He started licking his paw, saying, “Sadie, you will not get sick. You must come with me,”
“Leo, I’m scared, please let’s go back,” Sadie started crawling backwards.
“You will not get sick little Sadie, the sickness is inside that house. Not here,” Leo told her calmly. She looked at the cat confused. Leo simply nodded his glowing furry head to reassure her. Sadie trusted him. She carefully crawled out of the portal and stood up.
“We’re in a forest!” She cried wrinkling her toes at the touch of the tickling grass. Her fear melted as she basked in the hugging moonlight. She couldn’t contain how excited she was. The night air felt so welcoming, the crickets chirped loud and cheerfully. Fireflies danced to the orchestra of bugs singing to Sadie's long awaited arrival.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Sadie asked Leo.
“Of course. Follow me.” Leo said as he started walking down a gravel path straight through the woods. Sadie followed her pumpkin cat; her white nightgown swaying and her little angel feet skipping to the beat of her fluttering heart, overwhelmed by the feeling of freedom.
“Leo, what did you mean when you said I needed your help? And the sickness? It’s in the house?”
“Not everything is what it seems, Sadie Perdita.”
“Why do you keep calling me that? You know my name is Sadie Pryne. Leo, I’m really confused. Why is your fur shining? Why can you talk now? Why aren’t you answering my questions? Why did you run away?” The questions poured out of the curious and anxious little girl.
“I never ran away, Sadie dear. I’m always with you, you will have answers soon. I can’t say much. I’m restricted. But, don’t worry. We are going to play, but first, you need to do something.”
“What’s that?” She asked. They reached the end of the gravel pathway. There was a wall of bushes blocking their way.
“Wait here,” Leo said before jumping through the bushes. The confused little girl waited patiently alone. After a few seconds, Leo leaped back to where Sadie was. He had a piece of paper, a pen, and a pink envelope in his little furry mouth. He dropped the items in front of Sadie.
“What’s this?” She asked.
“You are going to write a letter to your parents,” Leo said.
“My mom and dad are in heaven, Leo, you know that,” the little girl said softly.
“Write to heaven,” the glowing cat chimed.
Sadie smiled, she liked the idea. “Okay,” She said. She sat down and started writing.
She put the letter in the pink envelope and tried giving it to Leo. He shook his head, “You need to put your address,” said the cat.
“I don’t know Auntie’s address,” Sadie replied
“16366 S. Brimstone Circle,” the cat told her, “Put ‘Sadie Perdita’ on it as well.
“That’s not my name, Leo.”
“Address it to heaven,” the cat continued, ignoring the bewildered girl.
Nonetheless, she did what he told her to do. After she finished, she handed the envelope back to Leo. “Follow me,” he said before taking the pink envelope in his mouth. He looked like a little fiery sun jumping through the bushes. Sadie got up and followed right behind him, carefully walking through the bushes. She reached the other side to Leo sitting and waiting for her. Her eyes grew wide with awe and excitement.
“A playground! You took me to a playground, Leo!” Sadie squealed jumping.
Leo walked in the middle of the playground. He placed the envelope down saying, “Play, Sadie, we don’t have much time……”
Without hesitation, Sadie ran to the playground. She climbed up a yellow slide and slid down laughing. She went over to the monkey bars, swinging over to the other side with ease. She jumped down and grabbed Leo. She hugged and twirled him around and around laughing. She put Leo in a baby swing and gave him a small push. She watched his little body swing like a shooting star. She hopped on a red swing next to him. She was swinging and laughing when suddenly she stopped. A weird feeling suddenly hit Sadie, a very strange familiar feeling. Why does this feel so familiar? She thought. The way the wind hit her face, the way the seat felt and chiming of the chains, everything felt so familiar. She let her feet slow down her swinging.
“Leo?” Sadie asked
“Why do I feel……..”
“SADIE!!! SADIE PRYNE!!!” An angry yell from the distance startled Sadie and Leo.
“Run, Sadie! Run!” Leo screamed leaping out of the baby swing. He bolted through the sea of bushes surrounding their sacred playground. Sadie was frozen in confusion and terror.
“Leo!” She screamed.
“SADIE!!!” The angry voice screamed again. Sadie’s heart dropped and her blood ran cold as she recognized the voice. It was Auntie Greta.
“Leo!” Sadie hysterically screamed.
“Leo!” Little Sadie screamed again.
She bolted from the playground and ran straight through the bushes screaming Leo’s name.
“Sadie, run! Keep running!” Leo’s faraway voice echoed in Sadie’s ears.
“Leo!!......” She begged.
Sadie reached the other side of the bushes but stopped dead in her tracks. The gravel trail was gone, just a scrambled sea of trees stood before her.
“Leo!” She pleaded. She started running frantically, zig-zagging through the woods. The world felt darker, the wind was gone and the moon light was clouded. Sadie ran as fast as she could, it felt like the towering, long, tree branches reached for the terrified girl. She ran until she couldn’t anymore. She stopped running, gasping for air. But as soon as her feet stopped, a cold boney hand grabbed the little girl’s shoulder.
Suddenly, little Sadie’s world went completely black.
“Leo!” Sadie screamed, shooting up from her deep sleep. She looked around, she was in her tiny dark bedroom. Her drawings and crayons were scattered everywhere. She jumped out of her bed and ran over the dresser. It looked as if it hadn't been moved. She tried pushing it like before, but she couldn’t. It was too heavy. She reached her hand behind the dresser to feel for the portal opening, there was nothing but a cold wall. Sadie frantically ran out the room and down the hallway. She bolted down the stairs, but before she could make it to the door, Auntie Greta grabbed the little girl by the arm.
“AND where do you think YOU’RE going?!” Auntie Greta growled. She seemed as tall as a tree towering over the little girl. She wore a deep purple robe covering her hunched, wrinkled, old, boney body. Her raggedy salt and pepper hair laid scrunched up on one shoulder.
“Leo’s still outside!” Sadie tried squirming her way out of Greta’s grip, but she was too strong. Sadie winched in pain as Auntie Greta dug her rotting yellow nails in Sadie’s skin.
“HOW DID YOU GET OUTSIDE? DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW SICK YOU ARE GOING TO GET?!!” The old woman screamed at the frantic girl.
“Auntie! I saw Leo last night! I was safe….” Little Sadie whimpered.
“Leo!? You saw your cat?! Now I know you’re getting ill. Delusion is the first symptom of the illness.” Auntie Greta started pulling the child away.
“I didn’t imagine! He was there!” Sadie cried.
Auntie Greta threw the girl on the floor in front of the basement door. Sadie laid there crying. Auntie went down the basement and came back up with a black garbage bag. Sadie didn’t move, just stayed shaking on the floor. Auntie Greta threw the garbage bag in front of her. The bag emitted a horrendous smell.
“Open it,” she growled at the girl.
Sadie’s face went pale as she looked inside the bag. Dirty orange fur and bones. The smell was unbearable, little Sadie couldn’t stand it, she immediately started throwing up. She started crying hysterically, screaming, “YOU KILLED HIM! WHY DID YOU KILL HIM?”
Auntie Greta’s sunken crow black eyes stared at her.
“You stupid girl. This is exactly what I’m talking about. The sickness is getting worse. You are seeing dead cats? You need to be isolated. You’ll be dead soon, just like your parents and cat.” Auntie Greta Said.
Sadie couldn't stop crying. The old woman grabbed her and dragged her up the stairs, throwing her into her cold room.
“You’re a witch!” Sadie erupted weeping, “Whyy-y did you kill him last night?”
Auntie Greta shook her head, “You still don’t get it. I killed your cat days ago. He had the illness,” She slammed the bedroom door shut, dead bolting it behind her. Sadie ran to her bed trembling in tears. What is happening? Did I really imagine it all? Her spiraling mind couldn’t stop. She stared at her drawings. Same swings, same slides, same park. I imagined it all. I am going crazy, everything was just my imagination. I am sick.
Helpless Sadie curled up like a ball on her bed bawling her eyes out. But shortly after, she heard a small knock at her door, quieting her hiccuping cries.
“Please….just leave me alone…..please…..” Sadie begged to herself.
“Isolation won't help. It’s too late.” Auntie Greta whispered through the door. Goosebumps electrified Sadie’s horrified body as she sat up in her bed. She stared wide eyed at the door. The door unbolted, shattering the dead silence. Sadie’s little heart was bursting with fear.
“It’s too late for you, Sadie”
Auntie Greta suddenly busted through the door running full speed at Sadie. Sadie shot up from her bed screaming, she tried running past her to get to the door, but Auntie Greta grabbed the little girl by her pearly golden hair and dragged her down the hall. Sadie screamed at the top of her lungs, she tried kicking her way free but it was no use. Auntie Greta pulled the girl into the bathroom, yelling, “DO YOU WANT TO KNOW HOW YOUR CAT DIED?”
Sadie screamed in terror as she saw the drawn bath. She tried twirling her way out of Greta’s grip, but Auntie Greta held on tight to the girl. Greta was about to throw the girl in the water until a loud knock on the front door stopped her. The banging got louder and louder. Auntie Greta tried reaching for something, giving Sadie the chance to bite Auntie’s reaching fingers. Greta yelped in pain as Sadie elbowed her in the face. Sadie gained enough time and strength to squirm her way out of Greta's grasp. She pushed the old woman out of the way. She ran out of the bathroom and down the stairs. The banging on the front door continued, Sadie reached the door and opened it, welcoming in a flood of warm sunlight - and two police officers. One of them holding a pink envelope.
“Sadie Perdita?” One the officers asked.
“Leo,” She thought
“Perdita? Her name is Pryne - why are you here?” Auntie Greta gasped limping down the stairs.
“Leo said my name is Perdita!” Sadie shouted, jumping.
“Hush, child! Why are you here?” Auntie Greta rudely asked the officers.
The officer holding the pink envelope spoke, not leaving his eyes off of Sadie, “We are investigating a kidnapping from five years ago,”
That sentence replayed over and over again in Sadie’s head, everything felt like a blur as they put the foul old woman in handcuffs and took her away. The officers asked Sadie if there was anything she wanted to take with her. She told them no.
She sat in silence in the police car. She stared out the window as they started to drive away. After a few minutes the officer finally spoke.
“Your parents contacted the police after they got your letter” the officer said smiling in the rear-view mirror.
“Yes, the one you left at the park. After you were abducted from there, your mom and dad visited that same park every day for five years. Locals found it heartbreaking, but it looks like your parents were right all along. It was like they were waiting for you, like something was telling them you would come back,”
Sadie stared out the window with her head against the glass, she was dramatized and tired. She didn’t know what to say. She just watched the trees zoom past her. Then, the car slowed down to a stop at a red light, right next to a park with a yellow slide and red swings. Sadie jolted straight up at the sight of the familiar park. But what made her heart quicken and nerves feel alive wasn’t the sight of the park, but the glowing orange orb sitting at the top of the yellow slide. A king with a glowing halo watching over little Sadie.
“Leo! Do you see him!?” Sadie exclaimed, almost jumping through the roof.
“See who?” the confused officer asked.
The glowing, smiling cat nodded his head at Sadie. He slid down the slide and gave Sadie a final smile as he jumped into the bushes, leaving the little girl filled with warmth.
The traffic light turned green and the officer started driving, asking, “See who?” again.
Sadie’s body eased as she laid her back against the seat. She stared at the clouds in the sky. She finally replied, “No one,” and smiled as the sunlight covered her face. She finally felt happy, she finally felt free.