Fiction Contemporary Sad

This story contains sensitive content

tw: death

I can remember my life well, as short as it was. Being born was traumatic. It was the horror of sudden light and starling cold pressing against my bare skin. I could only cry. I wasn’t good for much else at the time. 

Then there was the matter of consciousness which came to me at the worst of times. A few days old, eyes barely open, and it hit me in the back of the head. It soaked through my skull and flooded over my squinting eyes. Where am I? That was all I could think and: Why? Who put me here and for what? 

I couldn’t do much. I was small and insignificant, yet my mother fawned over me and my siblings day and night. I felt bad for her. All alone. Wasting her energy on us so we could grow up and do what? Do exactly what she’s doing? Copy paste. When does it end?

My siblings were always rowdy. They always wanted to play and fight and play and fight. I wouldn’t join them. I was weighed down by knowing. Knowing what? I wasn’t sure. I just knew and knew too much and I didn’t like it. So I would nurse and sleep and nurse and sleep. Surviving for the sake of surviving.

We moved around a lot. It was for our safety, Mother would say. She’d pick us up by our necks and carry us off under houses and between allies. Then she’d leave to hunt for herself. She’d leave for long stretches of time and I would worry. My siblings wouldn’t, but I would. I thought about going with her, but I wouldn’t be much help to her. I would only slow her down.

I remember, all too well, when my brother died. He wheezed and waited days for what he knew was coming and what I also knew was coming. Then he just slumped over one day while Mother was gone. We were only a few weeks old. One of my sisters went up to him long after I’d realized what happened and tried to play with him. Her bouncing feet rippled off his placid skin. Just rippled. She tried a few more times before sauntering off. 

When Mother returned she started moving us to the next house immediately, leaving his body behind. What she couldn’t leave behind was the image of him now etched in my mind forever and ever. Why did he have to die and I didn’t? We were more or less the same, so what made me so special that the universe wanted to keep me alive and not him? I remember thinking back to being born. I remember knowing that he returned to that place we were all held before birth, before conception, even. I knew it with every bone in my body. 

One day Mother left and never returned. At this point we were all old enough. Our eyes were open and ready to take in all the light the world had to offer. My siblings didn’t seem to mind. They left one by one to discover separate corners of this vast world. I watched my sister, the same one who tried to play with my dead brother, climb up a tree and sit there for a few hours. I was asleep when she decided to climb back down and that was the last I ever saw of them.

I waited for Mother under the house for a few days, eating little bugs that decided to crawl past. I missed her. She always knew what to do and where to go. When I was with her it was easy to forget about the convolution of everything we were doing. I had to believe she knew that, too. About the meaninglessness of her job as our mother, but that she continued on despite the weight of that knowledge. I had to believe it because if she could do it then so could I.

When it was clear she wouldn’t be returning, I decided it was time to emerge from under the house. Birthed again. The first thing I did was take in the yard I found myself in. The grass was wet from dew, the hazy morning sunlight ricocheted off the dirty swing set, the birds chirped somewhere in the mess of a tree. I took in the world I could only catch glimpses of from behind my mother’s neck. 

Then I began to walk aimlessly. My siblings all seemed to know where they were going or where they wanted to go, but I didn’t. I had no direction. No purpose. So I just walked. I walked by this quiet countryside house, and walked down the busy market place where I passed many of my previous homes made between buildings, and walked down a busy road side until I eventually wandered into a neighborhood where I would stay. In the end, it was the thing that killed me.

It’s strange, such a strange thing to remember, seeing the houses all lined up down the street for the very first time. The quaint houses. Menacingly quaint. A facade. Even still, even though I could see right through it from the very start, I pressed on. What did I have to lose? A life I didn’t know what to do with?

Death seemed to follow me here. 

Three weeks passed -at the very least two- and I was sprawled out on the sidewalk, soaking in as much sun as I could on those brisk fall days, when she sat next to me. Grey and white sleek fur, pink nose twitching. She stared at me for a long moment, as if expecting something. I had never seen her here before, she must be new. The flea collar around her neck told me all I needed to know, so I rolled over and fell asleep. When I awoke she was still there, playing with a blade of grass.

This day. This day I remember all too vividly. Even after death this memory haunts me; a ghost in my past. 

I gazed at her in her sideways form, my head still laying on the cement. It didn’t take long for her to notice that I was awake. She told me with naive, childish curiosity, that she had never seen anyone like me. I asked her what she meant. She said I looked like the sky at night.

I then decided I wasn’t interested in anything she had to say, so I stretched, stood, and began to trot across the street. She called after me to wait, but I didn’t want to talk to her. I could hear her short legs and quick little feet padding against the pavement behind me. Neither of us noticed the car. 

It whizzed past me with a force that nearly knocked me down, and as I watched it pass from the corner of my eye, I saw the hardy laughter from its passengers trailing closely behind. When it was gone, I could only stare in horror at her mangled body, a tire track printed neatly down her flattened side. 

Her body didn’t stay there for even a day. I watched from the safety of a tree as a coyote ate her. I had to wonder if her life was ever hers at all. Was she only here to be a coyote’s meal for a night? Am I here to serve the same purpose?

There was another time that I made the mistake of making my presence known. I was hungry. It was cold, so cold. The bugs were hidden. The squirrels stashed themselves away in the holes of trees. I meowed at a door, a random door. There was nothing particularly special about it to me.

A little boy opened it, and I saw a flash of annoyance harbored in his sneer at the sight of me. Then there was a smile, a sneaky smile. A warning smile. I saw it and had plenty of time to run away after he turned back inside. I knew that he was up to no good, but I remained, a mix of desperation and ghastly nonchalance rusting me in place.

When he returned, he returned with a gust of something evil. I could smell it, oh the stench, the evil, rotten stench seeping off his clothes. He pushed the door open with a loud boom as it hit against the side of his house, and in his hand was a gun. He laughed and laughed as he swung the thing around and shot and shot at me. I jumped and hissed of course, running down his porch steps into the night, but he kept firing. A bullet grazed my shoulder blade with a sting. 

I was not real to him at that point. I was a thing. Target practice. But I was not behaving like a good target should, and he was getting mad at me for it. He chased after me down the street, screaming and hollering in a boyish, pathetic way. 

He shot again, missing me but hitting something else. There was a grunt, a groan in pain, and there was blood. So much blood seeping from an old man who I had seen many times before. The blood, shimmering red in the dull street lights, pooled around him as he sank to the ground. He lay there for a long time. Just layed there. I’m sure he was wondering what happened and why. Why did the bullet meant for me have to pierce this man’s heart instead?

I could hear the boy’s frantic breath receding in the distance. I could see him hobbling home, his running hindered by the weight of what he’d done. I, on the other hand, studied the old man who continued to gasp and hold on to life. Though even before the bullet he was already so close to death. He was a switch hovering somewhere between on and off. His skin was wrinkled like a thin piece of paper. His hair, what little was left of it, wispy and gray. His eyes looked straight ahead at the sky, the sky which I look so alike to. I knew what he saw. I knew he saw death right before him. I didn't know what death looked like but I knew he was staring it dead on.

I left shortly after, leaving a trail of red paw prints behind me.

The next morning the police came to take the old man’s body away. No dinner for the coyotes today. Over the next few days there was an investigation into his murder. His killer was never found.

The fear that had rattled the neighborhood from this senseless crime had begun to die down. Pumpkins carved with scary teeth and triangle eyes sat noiselessly on porches. The cavities in their faces flickered with weak candle light. I watched children walk out in costume holding bags. Expectant smiles sat on their faces. 

Night fell suddenly, like a blanket had been thrown over the sky. Something felt off about this night. The knowing which I had been burdened with since I became conscious felt as though it was coming to a head. 

I soon found out what a fatal mistake coming to this neighborhood was. 

Laughter; hooting, hollering laughter pierced my sleeping ears. A group of boys only a few years older than the one who shot at me rounded the corner. One of them said to the others that there was usually a black cat roaming around here. We’ll find it easily, he said.


I suppose that’s all I am.

An it.

A blinding light swept across the yard I slept in and another boy shouted “There it is!”

I tried to climb a tree, but the wound from the bullet that grazed my shoulder blade still had not healed. I tried to run, but for the same reason I couldn’t climb, I just wasn’t fast enough. They caught me quickly and stuffed me into a garbage bag. 

So this is what it was all for, then. To be stuffed and burned on Halloween.

In these last moments I choose not to remember the boys’ menacing laughter or the smell of my own flesh and fur burning. I try not to think about why they do this to me.

Me, a cat like the sky at night.

I think about my mother, even my siblings. I think about maybe if I had stayed in that place before birth then they wouldn’t be gone, and the old man would have lived, or maybe I could have taken my brother’s place in death. 

I picture them walking a line between life and death, what we all do. Sometimes I see how that boundary blurs. I think about the day I was born and then I think about the cat who just wanted to talk to me and the moment her life slipped away from beneath a car tire. I think about a light switch. Is life the light or the dark? There’s hardly a difference. We live in a purgatory where there is so much not to know. We live on the boundary. 

But I suppose it doesn’t matter. That’s the one thing I do know: nothing matters. Life is a place to sprawl out on the sidewalk before we move on. It is neither light nor dark. Neither on nor off. It just is. 

March 03, 2023 18:47

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.