Out Of The Box

Submitted into Contest #43 in response to: Write a story about an unlikely friendship.... view prompt



(Alright, you’ve heard the dog’s story about “Broken Bridges Restored” here: https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/contests/41/submissions/16499/

Now it’s the cat’s turn to tell you how we became friends. Let’s start at the very beginning, shall we...) 

Hiding is safe for a cat. Out there, it’s all about survival, speed, strength. But when hiding, the only contender one has to face is yourself. Easy. 

Maybe that was why Momma kept me hidden, in a makeshift den of scraps and junk. I don’t know what became of her other offspring. Died after birth, or consumed by others. Your guess is as good as mine. 

Then Momma left and never returned. I felt an abnormal emptiness. It was as if I’d lost the opportunity to get to know her as more than my provider of milk and food. 

But no time for sob stories. I had to learn to hunt. And stay alive. 

I managed on my own just fine. Hungrier sometimes, got into a few skirmishes occasionally, dodged many a sleazy tom cat frequently. It was a tough life for a tabby, but I fought like a tiger. I didn’t need pity, thank you very much. Besides, I always found a box somewhere to disappear into. 

Then I started interacting with humans more. They had fanciful names like “rescuers” and “foster carers”, all to which I’m ambivalent. At least they didn’t bite or strike me. I’ve been fed, my wounds tended to and health has improved. Plus the cage in the animal shelter and the carrier boxes in foster care were wonderful hiding places. 

The only perplexing issue I had with humans was: why do they keep stroking and petting me? It was mostly tolerable, but I sometimes get flashbacks from my time on the streets where physical touch was more an act of violence than validation. So I kept mostly to myself and minded my own business. 

The humans called me “a shy puss waiting to blossom in the right home”. What travesty. I was simply an aloof and independent feline who has weathered through much adversity. 

I was cleaning myself when I met my adopters one day. Sigh, more humans in the shelter, dropping by at the most inconvenient of times. How rude, but I reminded myself that humans commit feline faux-pas out of ignorance. 

Some of the kitties threw themselves at the humans, mewling “Pick me! Choose me! Take me home!” The poor dears have gone mad with clinginess and longing, going all out with the slow blinks, head butts and body rubs. 

The true mad cats though, were in a sorry state. Despondent, depressed, hissing and swiping at any passer-by. I feared that they would live and die, hiding in the metal box of an animal shelter cage. 

The couple stopped just outside my cage. A volunteer opened the door and lured me with a treat. While I preferred to hide, I do enjoyed the occasional kibble. 

“She’s gorgeous!” The woman exclaimed as I slowly emerged, sizing up the two newcomers before me. 

Well, that’s a first. Thank you, woman. I thought to myself as I indulged in kibble, obliging an ear scratch from her. 

She had a gentle touch with a faint flowery scent. Tall and willowy, with soft dark hair flecked with grey. I couldn’t put my paw on it, but everything about her was...warm, reassuring, inviting. The brief, bittersweet memory of Momma resurfaced in my mind as I allowed more caresses from her.

The man next to her, who I assumed was her mate, seemed short in comparison. An optical illusion, I presumed, given that they were approximately the same height. I gave him a side-eye as he leaned in to pet me. Tanned, wiry build, with lean arms and surprisingly delicate fingers. He smelled stronger and richer, not overly pungent like stagnant water but like the one time I escaped to the seaside. 

Interesting combination of scents they had. But I liked them. 

I reciprocated with a few head rubs, a low purr rumbling in my throat. “I’ve never seen her so comfortable with anyone before, not even with her foster carers.” The volunteer remarked.

The woman turned to the man. “She’s the one, James.” 

“I totally agree, Bree.” James replied with a smile. 

That day, I moved into my new home. 

And as suddenly as the warm feelings of acceptance and respect for James and Bree blossomed in me, I quickly realised that I wasn’t the only one at home with them. 

I heard a cacophony of running footsteps and howling as we entered the house. I curled up more in the carrier box. Best to hide from what sounded like a war zone outside. 

“Can I see the cat? I wanna say hello to the cat!” A young boy shrilly announced with excitement. 

“Now now, Sebastian, calm down. She needs time to get used to us.” I heard Bree reply. 

“Sibelius! Ah ooh...ok thanks for the licks...okay okay, down, boy. DOWN!” James’ words were punctuated by noisy skittering, off-key yipping and undignified slobbering. 

“Hang on, let me put the carrier down and open the door - Sibelius, NO!” Bree shouted as a massive black wolf snout with wet nostrils intrusively poked into the entrance of the box, nearly touching my whiskers. 

Nobody violates my personal space in such a beastly way.

I instinctively hissed and swiped. The snout retreated with a painful YOW. 

“It’s ok, Sibelius…” The boy comforted as the beast protested with more YOW YOW YOWs. What a cry baby. That was just a warning swipe at minimal force. 

“I think that’s enough for one day. The poor cat’s overwhelmed.” Bree carried my carrier a few ways away before setting it down. The front door opened again and she peered at me with an apologetic look. 

“Poor darling, so sorry for the kerfuffle. Sibelius is an enthusiastic greeter. We’ll leave you here for a moment and then slowly introduce you to the rest of the family.”

Thank you, Ma’am. I appreciate your sensibility.  

The humans were all sensible, respecting my personal space and giving me time to adjust to my new environment. My inner affections for them grew as my territory expanded to include the rest of the house, with preference for bureau drawers as well as the tops of the piano and my scratching post. Nonetheless, I still slept in my familiar carrier box each night. 

I also noticed that James, Sebastian and Bree were a rather quirky family. 

For one, their arguments for my christening were highly amusing. 

“Deuteronomy? Jemima? Tabbytha?! Jelly, short for Jellicle or Jellylorum?! Bree, we wouldn’t be able to take her seriously. These names are so over-the-top theatrical!” 

“Fine,” An annoyed huff. “But for the last time, James, we’re not naming her Debussy.” 

“Why not? It’s the purrfect name for her!”

“No, it’s too overt! And it can be taken...the wrong way...cat-astrophically.” 

“Ughhhhh Mom! Dad! Stop it...” Sebastian rubbed his temples in agony. “Couldn’t we go for something more normal, like ‘Miso’ or ‘Tofu’ or...?” 

“But where’s the fun in that, son? You gotta think out of the box.” I heard the cheekiness in his father’s voice. 

“I like Brahms.” Bree stated. 

Silence. “I like it too.” Sebastian agreed. James grunted in approval. 

Thus Brahms I became. 

I later found out that I was living in a household of classical music nerds. James was an orchestra violinist while Bree played the piano in her free time. Their son Sebastian inherited double the musical genetics so he was learning to play both instruments. They had a music room with an upright piano, music stands, everything one needed for lessons and practice sessions. 

I don’t feel strongly either way about the humans and their unconventional passions. We cats know that each member is unique within a tribe. I assumed humans celebrated such differences too. 

But I do have an opinion about that great lump of a dog called Sibelius.

He’s a giant, shaggy Siberian Husky with uncontrollable, boundless, dangerous destructive energy. I’ve seen him jump on the humans like a possessed dancer from Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” whenever they prepare to take him outside. He even frequently adds his own overly bright, tuneless falsetto solos during James’ and Sebastian’s practice sessions. How unrefined. 

The humans love Sibelius. But ever since that intrusive welcome on my first day, I’ve been keeping my distance. I don’t want to be jumped on and attacked. 

I was washing my ears from my new favourite perch on top of the piano in the music room one night, when Sibelius sauntered in through the open door. 

I dropped into a crouch. Go away. I hissed. 

Sibelius laid down on his belly instead, ears twitching in curiosity. You seem cranky tonight. He made a deep throaty sound like a chuckle. 

I eyed him cautiously, catching a glint in his blue eyes. What do you want, Sibelius?

Nothing. Just came to say hi and have a friendly chat. Sibelius replied easily. 

What makes you think I want to chat? Or that we’re friends? I felt my hackles raise as I squinted at him. 

Oh come off it, Brahms. We’re part of the same pack now.

The dog had a point. 

Tribe. I corrected the dog, relaxing and tucking my legs under me. But I’m listening. 

This was the first time I was having an intelligent conversation with another creature, let alone with someone I had regarded earlier as a threat. Sibelius had an oddly comforting presence, even though my default response was fight or flight for survival. But I have the advantage of a vantage point on the piano, way above his jaws or claws should he decide to attack me. 

Sibelius gave a huge yawn, revealing rows of dagger-sharp teeth followed by a sudden, comical sneeze. 

Firstly, I’m not here to hurt you. Never wanted to, but I get the feeling that you needed more convincing than just a friendly hello the other day. He sneezed again. 

You poked your snotty nose into my face without warning. It seemed more intrusive than friendly to me. I muttered in exasperation. 

Sibelius’ ears flattened guiltily. Oh. Sorry, didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable...Can we start over? He whimpered. 

I was an aloof and independent cat. That didn’t mean I was unforgiving. Plus I was impressed by Sibelius’ courage to apologise. We don’t see that very often these days. 

Fine, Sibelius. I replied. 

Sibelius gave a loud WHOOP, only to cower at my sudden hiss. 

Shush, you! The humans are asleep, do you wanna wake the whole house? 

Sorry. He whispered in mezzo piano. 

Pianissimo if possible, dog. Triple p pianissisimo if we must. 

Ooh musical references! You enjoy music too?! Sibelius enthused, his tongue lolling out with glee. 

I cocked my head sideways, grooming a paw. It’s alright.

What do you mean, ‘alright’? It’s the best! Sibelius did a happy butt wiggle/tail wag. 

You’re certainly very enthusiastic about it, Sibelius. 

Absolutely! I like it because Master and Mistress and Little Master like it too!

Hmm...interesting… I continued grooming. 

Who’s your favourite composer? Is it Brahms? 

I don’t have a favourite. 

WHAT? Sibelius sat up in surprise, disregarding the pianissimo instruction. Clearly keeping the volume down wasn’t his forte. 

Calm your yapping, dog. Every composer has their own highlight pieces. Why pick favourites when you can listen to all of them? But I have higher tastes in life. Like grooming. And napping.  

For a cat who doesn’t have a favourite composer, you seem to know an awful lot about music, Brahms.

I yawned and rubbed my ears. Now you’re just trying to flatter me, Sibelius. But I’ll have to remind you that I know no more than you do. And whatever knowledge I have about classical music is by virtue of immersion in this tribe. 

Sibelius silently stared at me with his head slightly tilted. I’m not sure if he understood my long-winded reply. 

You seem sad and lonely. Sibelius suddenly said. 

I froze, paw on my ear. What do you mean? What do you know of sadness and loneliness anyway? You’re barely out of your puppy years. 

Sibelius thoughtfully nodded. You’re quite right about my youth. But I also had a feeling that life hasn’t been very kind to you. That’s why you hide in your box and avoid me and the humans, so that no one can hurt you. 

The dog’s really insightful. Maybe I’ve misjudged him. I thought to myself, blinking slowly in concentration. 

It’s okay, it’s daunting to come out of the box, so take your time. We’re not going anywhere without you. You’re part of this pack -- I mean, tribe -- after all. Sibelius stretched lazily. 

I’m going to bed. I’ll see you in the morning. Nite, friend! He turned and left. 

I contemplated returning to my usual box. But I decided to take a chance instead. 

The humans had set up my sleep spot beside Sibelius’. He was snoring loudly as I padded quietly next to him and settled down for the night.

Glad that you’re keeping me company, Brahms. Sibelius mumbled just as I was about to doze off. 

Likewise, my friend. Just don’t squash me in your sleep, will ya? 

Sibelius’ chuckle and my purr of laughter gently transitioned to a peaceful slumber duet.

May 27, 2020 13:36

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Niveeidha Palani
04:06 Jun 04, 2020

I believe every writer has room for improvement (including me). I loved this though! It was an interesting read. However, I do believe you might want to check out your punctuation a little though... Other than these slight errors, this was a lovely story!


Sze-Ning Chuah
11:36 Jun 04, 2020

Thanks for your feedback. With regards to punctuation, were there any specific parts in my story where I could improve on?


Niveeidha Palani
22:38 Jun 04, 2020

Hi Sze-Ning Chuah, I believe that you wrote this excellently, regarding punctuation, I believe that this was perfect!


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