Contest #187 shortlist ⭐️

Shelter from the Storm

Submitted into Contest #187 in response to: Set your story in a cat shelter.... view prompt

13 comments

Fiction Friendship Inspirational

This place smells of cat pee and desperation, yet for the first time in so long, I am hopeful. I feel like I might save a life today. I sigh and scan the room. I spot her right away.

She’s hunched and trembling. Alone, in the corner by the cage of buoyant, adorable kittens. 

Stooped and scarred, gray all over, her body shakes. I can smell her fear – tangled, yet screaming from every pore. I wonder what storms brought her here? Who abused her and discarded her? She notices me too.

She’s older than the rest. The flicker of hope in their shining eyes — that adventure awaits and love will abound — is a ghost in hers. A weariness in her stifled cough declares its presence instead.

I’m reluctant to leap over to her — I don’t want her to shrink away from me. I step hesitantly toward the front of the cage and she yelps. She takes a few steps backward and cocks her head to the side.

A trio of teenage girls crouches down next to the kittens. Laughing and spilling out loud “oohs” and “ahs.” They stand so close to her and yet she’s invisible to them. I throw eye daggers their way.

“Oh, I want that tabby,” the loudest, tallest girl declares. The rest nod their heads in agreement and look for the shelter employee to open the rusted cage door.

A large, frowning woman wearing a crooked, peeling “Lisa” nametag lifts a set of keys jingling from her belt and opens the kitten cage. The girls squeal and run in over the sawdust, knocking the new, plush kitten beds out of their way. The old and forgotten do not receive new beds. There’s a stark contrast between the cages.

Each girl hugs a kitten to her cheek and plasters their tiny, furry foreheads with kisses. The loud one chooses a brown, orange, and white tabby. Her friends lose their interest in their temporary playthings and put them back down in the corner where they had crouched earlier. Their momentary love leaves the kittens confused and meowing at an alarming volume.

“What are you gonna name him?” The short girl with the swinging ponytail asks her friend.

“Um…Sir Austin Butler McMeowaton,” the loud girl yells, saccharine dripping from the edges of her words.

I want to throw up in my mouth. Trust me, no cat will answer to that ridiculous name, I think. I squeeze my eyes shut and telepathically will the kitten to poop on her bed when they arrive home. Or at least scratch her face, Sir Austin.

The lady with the keychain clangs the steel door shut and motions for the girls to follow her to the front desk. They giggle and take turns squeezing “Sir Austin Butler McMeowaton” as they jog to the front. I swear his purrs are code for “save me.”

We’re all alone now. My frightened friend and me. The dogs are kept in a separate room and the remaining kittens fail to utter even one “meow.” A cloud of silence thickens throughout the shelter, amplifying each noise. My friend peers through the steel bars and her head bangs against them. A loud echo rips through the room and reverberates off of the empty cages. 

I don’t want to force her love and affection. I tried that — first with Brandon and then with Sally. I knew I didn’t belong with either, but I poured my love and loyalty into those relationships. Brandon lasted three years: Years filled with passion and compassion alike. We lived together and became comfortable in our familiarity. He mocked my strong love of naps. When he snored like a leviathan, I covered his face in jest. Sally loved to snuggle. She opened her heart to me and I thought she’d stick around forever.

Both abruptly abandoned me. No explanations. No tearful goodbyes.

I become lost in those memories, disgust courses through my body, and I feel my stomach flip. No, I won’t try to win the love of anyone ever again. Neither human nor animal. That desperate behavior is beneath me. I’m better off on my own, I think.

Yet at this moment, as she shivers and silently pleads with me, I know I’m needed. Her hollow loneliness is a dark cavernous cave. I silently tell her that I’m not always easy, but I’ll show her love and loyalty if she’ll let me. 

I won’t try to play with her. I’ll let her hide away from the world when she needs an escape. I inch closer to her. “Who hurt you?” I whisper. She doesn’t answer and perhaps she doesn’t understand, but I think she’s crying.

I forget all I know and my chest swells. I want to comfort her. I want to give her a better life.

I feel foreign and exposed. I don’t easily think of others. My heartstrings aren’t tugged by traumatic stories — I’ve been through them all myself. Even the cuteness of the kittens next door sickens me. I feel drawn to this lonely, angry being. 

I stand still for a moment and try to appear less threatening. I inch my way toward her.

My new friend straightens up and reaches out toward me.

 “Hey,” she says. “Do you want to come home with me? I promise I’ll love you. I promise I won’t leave.”  She half-smiles and seems taller and younger than I’d initially thought. The waning red beams of sunlight say their goodbyes to the windows behind me, and I realize I’m running out of time. She won’t be here tomorrow. 

 I answer her with the deepest purr I can muster.

I hear the jingle of Lisa’s key chain as she lumbers back to the cages.

“We close in ten minutes. ‘Ya want this one? She’s ornery … I’d stay far away, if I were you,” Lisa says.

I feel indignant. I’m ornery? No, if anyone’s “ornery,” it’s you, Lisa.  I’ve just been around enough to understand the fickle, cruel nature of humanity. Ornery … bah. I hiss at the shelter woman but she ignores me.

My friend crouches down and answers, “I guess it’s a good thing you’re not me, then. She’s coming home with me tonight.” Yes, I like this one. 

Lisa shakes her head but opens my cage. I rub my head against my friend’s hand, wrapped around the cage bars. She tells me she’ll call me “Toby.” She coos at me and blows little kisses my way. I don’t even hack up a hairball. 

I’m okay with this. I forget about Brandon and Sally. I have a new mission. I won’t bite this one. I won’t scratch her face as she sleeps. 

Somehow I know her home will have a cat bed, a large scratching post, ample kitty litter, and an endless supply of gourmet cat food. Somehow, I know I can help this broken creature. I can curl on her lap and knead the hurt out of her. 

Yes, this human needs me.

March 02, 2023 17:23

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13 comments

Laurel Hanson
21:19 Mar 10, 2023

Well done!

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Sarah Paris
22:20 Mar 10, 2023

Thanks so much, Laurel!

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Margot Thomson
05:34 Mar 24, 2023

Great story! Descriptive and engaging. I've had many of the same thoughts in pet stores. Well done Sarah! :)

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Amanda Lieser
03:49 Mar 17, 2023

Hey Sarah! Oh my gosh, what a twist! I really loved this well-deserved shortlisted story. I had first thought that you were definitely doing a human perspective, especially with the way that you were discussing relationships. I loved that you defined and challenged love within those paragraphs. But then, when you revealed at the end, the true point of view I found myself extremely delighted, and I reread the story using the clues that you provided in the piece. Nice work!

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14:57 Mar 11, 2023

This is great! As I started reading, I assumed the narrative was coming from the context of the human. So as I read, certain elements seemed a little incongruous to me. Then, as I realized that it was the cat providing the narrative, I felt a little foolish, but not in a bad way, just the delightful surprise of discovery. The only thing that’s lacking is finding out how the new home is. What patterns do they establish? What happened in the human’s life that they needed a feline assistant? What nefarious plots will they uncover together? ...

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Sarah Paris
19:20 Mar 11, 2023

Thanks, Chris❤️🤗. I think clearly they are undercover, partnered super heroes who join forces to rid the world of sickeningly cute cat names

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Wendy Kaminski
20:19 Mar 10, 2023

This was so heart-breaking and so touching, Sarah! Congratulations on the well-deserved shortlist this week, and welcome to Reedsy!

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Sarah Paris
21:02 Mar 10, 2023

Thank you so much, Wendy! I appreciate it and thanks for taking the time to read my story--I had fun writing it, for sure

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Mary Bendickson
20:18 Mar 10, 2023

Congrats! Short listed on your first story!

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Sarah Paris
21:03 Mar 10, 2023

Thanks very much, Mary!

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Mary Bendickson
21:06 Mar 10, 2023

Please write a bio

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Arpad Nagy
16:19 Mar 10, 2023

Hi Sarah! I read this last night on my phone, but it was too late to search for my login deets and comment. Great story, very well done! I hope you win!

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Sarah Paris
21:03 Mar 10, 2023

Thanks, friend! Alas, I didn't win, but my story was shortlisted 🕺. Not too shabby ❤️

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