The Green Mile

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


Drama Sad

The Green Mile

“Yet ah! Why should they know their Fate?

 Since Sorrow never comes too late,

  And Happiness too swiftly flies.

  Thought would destroy their Paradise.

   No more; where Ignorance is Bliss,

  ‘Tis Folly to be Wise."

-Thomas Grey

“We have a pretty good record for adoptions. Most will find homes.”

“And for those who aren’t adopted, how long before you…”

“Oh, excuse me, sir, we don’t like to talk about those things in front of our clients.”

“I understand.”

“But this one is a real cutie. I’m sure there won’t be a problem finding her a good home.”

“It’s just that, well the condo rules are just one cat. I’d love to keep her, but…”

“I understand.”

Tabby was carried back to her new home as a veritable smorgasbord of bunnies, dogs, cats, puppies, kittens, and one menacing lizard looked on. The new arrivals always drew more attention than the departures, except for those taken down what the long-term (more than a week) residents somberly referred to as “The Green Mile".

The “clients” understood that prison overcrowding had nothing on Animal Shelters. Tabby was just one of over six and a half million unwanted should-have-been-pets deposited at such places. A million won’t see the light of day. The new arrival was oblivious to the numbers, and many things are best left unknown. But Charlie knew.

“Here you go, sweetheart. We’re a little crowded, so you’ll be sharing a cage with another cat. I’m sure you two will get along just fine.”

“Hey! What the heck?! I didn’t ask for no stinkin’ roommate!”

“Sorry. I didn’t have a choice. They just put me in here. I’m Tabby.”

“What a creative name for a cat. Tabby. Brilliant. Just stay out of my way. I get to bed early, and I sleep late. Sometimes they skimp on the food, so I might need some of yours. Oh, and I get first shot at the litter box. Follow the rules, and it might be tolerable.”

“I like your gray coat. What’s your name?”

“Charlie, but try not to talk to me too much.”

“What is this place?”

“Jesus, there’s a huge sign out front. This is the County Animal Shelter. They put animals here that don’t have homes. People come and look at us. The lucky ones go home with them.”

“Hey, Charlie, tell her what happens to the unlucky ones!”

“Shut up, Boris! She doesn’t need to know.”

“Just havin’ a little fun with the newbie, Vern.”

“What’s he talking about, Charlie?”

It appeared to Charlie that Tabby was nervous, fearful of her new surroundings. He showed a little compassion.


Boris, a middle-aged bulldog, had a personality as ugly as his face. His affinity for biting people brought him to the shelter.

Vern, a fourteen-year-old Shepard-Collie mix, knew the odds were stacked against him. Not even Catholic Charities would set up an adoption stand in front of a nursing home. Vern had been a good dog, a good friend, to his owner, but then the old man died, and no one wants an aging mutt. Vern was counting the days, fourteen to be exact, well fourteen plus however many days until the next Sunday. The Shelter was closed on Sundays, so that was the day the undesirables would take that long, slow walk down the Green Mile.

It was indeed like a prison, but with a much shorter turnover. The information was passed down from one generation of inmates to the next. The routines were well known, the number of days, the fateful Sunday rituals, even a rough understanding of the likelihood of adoption or the long walk. The cynical placed bets on it.

“Charlie, when do we get to go outside?”

“Outside? Keep dreamin’, sister. There is no outside for us.”

“When do we play?”

“Oh, you poor cat.”

Charlie was only a year older than Tabby, but he was streetwise. From his very first day at the Shelter, he understood this was a temporary situation, either a springboard to a new, happy life, or the plank. Like all the other residents, the anxiety over his future caused sleepless nights, lavish doses of stress, and an occasional contrary attitude. He did not immediately warm to the idea of assuming the role of big brother to the sweet, but naïve Tabby.

“So, where did you come from, Charlie?”

“I was in a home, and I had it pretty good. Then they moved to someplace called Chicago. I heard them talking about what a hassle it would be to take me along, so they brought me here. I was pretty ticked off about it. I guess I still am.”

“Don’t you want to hear my story, Charlie?”

“Not so much, but go ahead.”

“I had a pretty good guy for an owner. Then he went and got married to a girl who was allergic to cats. I guess he brought me here to make sure I end up in a really good place. I hope I go to a home with lots of kids and a nice big yard. Somewhere out in the country would be the best.”

“Yeah, you’ll end up in a good place, you little fool, right through the big iron door at the end of the Green Mile.”

“Shut up, Boris!”

“I’m just having a little fun, Charlie.”

“What’s he talking about, Charlie? What’s behind the iron door?”

“Nothing. Don’t pay any attention to him, Tabby. He’s just a bitter, babbling jackass.”

Mealtime, not bad for institution food.

“Charlie, you’re bigger than I am. They should give you more to eat. Here, have some of mine.”

Regret for things said.

“No, you need it as much as I do. I was just kidding when I made that crack about getting some of your food.”

Kidding, or a change of heart?

“Charlie, look! A cute little bunny!”

“That’s Hopper. He’s been a good neighbor. Hey, Hopper, what’s up?”

“I’m ok, Charlie, doing as well as could be expected under the circumstances. I guess rabbits are hard to move.”

“Yeah, you’ll be hippity-hopping down the Green Mile bunny trail one of these days.”

“God dammit, Boris! That’s enough! You’re lucky we’re locked in these cages. I may be old, but there’s a lot of fight left in this old dog. I’d shut your mouth for you!”

Tabby, the unaware optimist, and Charlie, the pragmatic pessimist, were thrown together in the most unlikely, and dramatic, of circumstances. Fourteen days plus the countdown to Sunday, a life-or-death holding pattern, the beginning or the end. Charlie remained pensive with the threatening dark clouds of worry and stress hovering overhead. His mind bounced back and forth from his ill will for his former owners to hope. The oblivious Tabby only dreamed of how many children would love her and how big the yard would be.

“Charlie, is it mostly people with children that take cats? I sure hope so. Not too many kids, maybe three or four. A big yard would be nice, but I’ll be ok if I’m with children. What do you think?”

Jaded by the heartbreak of being left behind, Charlie had settled on the philosophy of looking out for Number One. Aware of the alternative, he only wanted to reconnect with the world, a home, any home, anything to avoid the long walk down the Green Mile. He had little time for fanciful illusions, yet the innocence, the sincerity, and perhaps those full, sweet eyes, tugged at his heart. Who was he to be popping balloons?

“From what I’ve seen, you’re right. The younger cats usually go to homes with kids. I don’t know about the big yard, but I’m sure there will be kids.”

Although he had never read the book, Charlie had unwittingly become George assuring Lenny there would be rabbits, lots of rabbits.

“Yes, lots of kids, Tabby.”

“It’s really quiet in here tonight, Charlie. You’d think it would be a little noisier on a Saturday night.”

“Uh, I guess everyone is just a little tired. It’s been a long week, Tabby.”

“Did you see Vern? He looks so sad. I wonder what’s up with him.”

Charlie knew. Vern’s time was up. He’d be getting his last meal soon.

“Maybe we should try to cheer him up with a joke. Do you know any good jokes?”

“Oh, I don’t think he wants to hear any jokes tonight. Maybe he’s just a little under the weather.”

Vern was deep in thought. He struggled to keep his mind off tomorrow, battling the images of that long walk down the Green Mile. He remembered the kind old man. He was always at his side, from the time he was a puppy to that horrible day when the old man died. The old man was a hunter, and despite the lack of any genetic instinct to retrieve, Vern had become a reliable partner in the field. He ran the footage over and over again in his mind- gingerly dropping a pheasant at Vern’s feet, long walks through the woods on a winter’s night, sitting in the bow of the boat as the old man navigated to his favorite fishing spots, that momentary pat on the head that meant everything. What happened to all those years? The old man was gone. Maybe it was time for Vern.

“Hey, Vern! I hear they might bring back the guillotine!”

“Shut up you son-of-a-bitch!”

“Charlie! I’ve never seen you so angry. What’s a guillotine?”

“It’s nothing, Tabby, just a sick dog’s idea of a joke.”

“It must not have been a very good joke. Vern’s not laughing.”

Saturday nights were the worst for all the residents. Once the Shelter closed at five, the shroud of gloom and doom descended like a suffocating cloud. With the lights out, absolute quiet reigned as the animals reflected on their fate.

“I think we better turn in early tonight, Tabby.”

“Good night, Charlie.”

Morning always comes. The sound of rattling keys announced the arrival of the Grim Reaper. He had come for Vern.

Charlie buried his face in his paws. He didn’t want to see, he pretended not to know. But he was compelled to do the right thing as Vern had been a good friend in these trying times.

“Goodbye, Vern. You’re a good guy. It’s been an honor to know you.”

“Thanks, Charlie.”

The rattling of the keys and Vern’s nails clicking down the hallway of the Green Mile told the story. The slamming of the heavy iron door sent a shudder through the residents.

“Charlie, where are they taking Vern?”

“I…I don’t know.”

“Well, it seems like…Charlie, are you crying?”

“What? Crying? No, just something in my eye.”

The residents scurried to the front of their enclosures every time the door at the “good” end of the hallway opened. Soon either food or hope would be coming down the hallway. Anxiety levels soared as people from the outside walked through looking for a pet to take home. Charlie and Tabby would watch intently as anyone from the outside world approached. They did their best to look happy and healthy, but the visitors would pass them by. It was a scene repeated with disappointing regularity. Dogs were moving, the bunny found a home, and even the lizard was carted off by some geeky-looking teen. But day after day, night after night, Charlie and Tabby remained.

“Charlie, I’ve been here for two weeks. I’m beginning to think there’s something wrong with me.”

“There’s nothing wrong with you, Tabby. Don’t worry. You’ll find a good home. We still have four days left.”


“Four days? What do you mean we have four days left?”

“I didn’t say four days. I said…more ways…there are more ways they find us homes. Like they sometimes hold a big fair at the Exposition Center, or they’ll put our pictures on TV. Don’t worry, you’ll find a good home…with a big yard, and kids, lots of kids.

“Man, you are one pathetic liar, Charlie.”

“Shut up, Boris.”

Tomorrow always comes. Four days became three, three became two, and two became one, the final day. Saturdays were always the busiest days at the Shelter, so Charlie still held on to hope. He didn’t wait for the door to open. Today his eyes were fixed on that front door from the moment he awoke.

Hours are a lot like days. They keep moving along. The Shelter opened at nine o’clock, and within what seemed like minutes, it was noon. Anxiety turned to worry, worry changed to fear, fear to a sad resignation of his fate. Charlie wouldn’t fight it. He would make the most of the time he had left, peacefully accepting his fate.

And then there was Tabby. She didn’t know it, but she was on the same countdown clock as Charlie.

“Charlie, do you think a cat could ever have too many kids around? I mean, like if I had, say ten kids around, that might be hard with so many kids fussing over me. What do you think?”

“What? Sorry, Tabby, I guess I wasn’t listening.”

“Could a cat ever be in a house with too many kids?”

“Too many? Heck no. The more the merrier.”

“Can I tell you something?”

“I guess.”

“I’ve never been around children.”


“I just want to be with children. Even one child, just once I’d like to know what it’s like to be with a child. I bet it’s great, and I would do everything I could to make the child happy.”

“That’s a nice thought.”

Charlie had never looked at life that way. It was always about where he would like to be, what would make him happy. Tabby’s take was new to him. 

“Charlie, can I ask something?”

“Sure, what is it, Tabby?”

“Do you think anyone would ever take both of us?”

“That’s pretty unlikely. It’s always one.”

“That would be sad, Charlie. I’d really miss you. You’ve been such a good friend.”

“You’ve been an ok roomie too, Tabby.”

 “You know what, if someone comes to take just me, I’m going to tell them they have to take both of us! I’d hate to leave you here alone. You’ve been the best friend in the whole world.”

“Don’t say that Tabby, if someone picks you, you go. That’s just how it is.”

It was a most unfortunate circumstance that Charlie could see the clock on the wall from their enclosure. Every skip of the minute hand jolted his spirit and knocked hope down a notch. He intermittently cursed the man who brought him to this unholy place and prayed for a miracle.

Five minutes to five. The animals who were on the doomsday clock returned to their beds dreading the long walk down the Green Mile the next morning. Charlie dropped his head and moved away from the front of the cage. His mind was numb, but his eye caught the form of Tabby. His thoughts shifted from his walk down the Green Mile to hers. His heart ached for Tabby, and he wondered if he should tell her. No, he would wait until tomorrow morning. No sense in depriving her of one last night of peaceful sleep.

The sound of the door opening was of no import. They always got fed at five. But then…

“Thanks for staying late. We promised our little girl a cat for her birthday tomorrow, and we didn’t know you were closed on Sundays.”

A cat? Hope. The miracle!

“We just have two right now, but either of them would make a great pet.”

A young couple and a little girl were led down the hallway by a member of the staff. Tabby was hopeful; Charlie was desperate.

“What do you think, honey, the tabby-colored cat or the grey one?”

The little girl carefully studied her options. Tabby’s heart fluttered as she knew she would love to be with that little girl. Charlie’s heart stopped.

“I like the gray one, Daddy.”

Saved, rescued, prayers answered. Charlie had cheated death by a whisker. The enclosure was opened, and Charlie was placed in the little girl’s arms.

“I’ll miss you, Charlie.”

An emotion he had never experienced before ran deep through Charlie. He looked into Tabby’s eyes and could only feel pain. He imagined a lifetime of remembering those eyes. There was no sense of relief at being rescued, no happiness, only sorrow. As the little girl was about to place Charlie in a carrier, he suddenly snarled, let out a blood-curdling screech, and took a nasty swipe at the little girl’s arm. The little girl recoiled in horror, the staff member grabbed hold of Charlie, and the little girl’s dad suggested the tabby-colored cat would be a better option.

Tabby was stunned, bewildered, as Charlie was placed back into the enclosure. Their eyes met as Tabby’s mind struggled to grasp the meaning of what she had just witnessed. The Green Mile, the somber mood on Saturday nights, the taunts from Boris, Vern walking through that iron door never to return, only four more days left. She understood.

“Charlie! No!”

 Tabby’s last look at Charlie was through the wires of the carrier. Charlie nodded his head, forced a smile, and slowly shuffled his way back to his bed for a long night of contemplating that slow walk down the Green Mile in the morning.


February 27, 2023 01:12

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Gabriela Wels
21:28 Mar 10, 2023

Oh my goodness!!!! That was- that was wow! I almost cried for Vern. Charlie's sacrifice was some beautiful character development. Nice job!


Murray Burns
13:01 Mar 14, 2023

I appreciate your reading the story and your comments. The plight of so many of the animals taken to shelters is pretty sad. Thanks.


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Wendy Lathrop
01:57 Mar 09, 2023

Smorgasbord of animals: good phrasing in that description. I very much liked the realistic dialogue between caged creatures facing their doom, but was surprised that Charlie tried so quickly to hide the truth of where they were from Tabby after his snarling (and very realistic) setting of rules on her arrival. I did not expect him to renounce his own chance at life to save Tabby's.


Murray Burns
02:22 Mar 09, 2023

I appreciate your reading the story and your comments. I guess the idea was that Charlie was a little tougher on the outside than on the inside...? Thanks.


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Ann Miller
23:12 Mar 07, 2023

I had to force myself to read this, because I knew it would be sad. Charlie is a good friend. It's really well written.


Murray Burns
02:40 Mar 08, 2023

I appreciate it. I originally had a happy ending planned, but I went with the reality of what happens for many of these animals...if not most. Can you imagine working at a place like that? Thank you again.


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Tara Leigh Parks
15:21 Mar 07, 2023

"Although he had never read the book, Charlie had unwittingly become George assuring Lenny there would be rabbits, lots of rabbits." Yes. This is heartbreaking. Strong piece. Thank you for writing it.


Murray Burns
02:37 Mar 08, 2023

I appreciate your reading the story as well as your comments. One of the worst experiences of my life was accompanying a friend who did local news in L.A. His assignment that day was to do a story on the number of animals euthanized at shelters. It was pretty depressing. Again, thanks.


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Ren Sabo
18:47 Mar 06, 2023

Oh I was expecting but hoping the end would not be so sad! This happens all the time and it's so important to write about the bad and the good in life. I hope anyone wishing to send a cat to a shelter would read this and rethink!


Murray Burns
20:33 Mar 06, 2023

Many years ago, I visited a friend in L.A. He was a reporter for a local TV station. I went to work with him one day, and unfortunately his assignment that day was to do a story on the number of animals euthanized at shelters. It still bothers me. I appreciate your reading the story and your comments. Thanks.


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Valerie Shand
22:48 Mar 04, 2023

Oh, no! I was afraid of what might happen at the end, and this was exactly my suspicion. You must be or have been affiliated with an animal rescue organization which was not no-kill. Those are truly sad places. l appreciate the information you disseminate along with the personification of the animals. This was truly difficult to read -- only because of how well written it is and how sure I was that the ending was going to be something tear-jerking. And it was. Great story.


Murray Burns
23:37 Mar 04, 2023

Many years ago I visited a friend who was starting his broadcast career at a local TV station in Los Angeles. I went to work with him one day, and unfortunately his assingment that day was to do a story on animals euthanized at a shelter. The numbers were staggering. He and I were both shocked and upset by the experience. I appreciate your reading the story as well as your comments. Thanks.


Valerie Shand
23:50 Mar 04, 2023

I spent several years helping to save from euthanasia and find homes for pit bulls from the animal control centers of New York. The five ACCs are still terrible, horrible places where kittens, cats, puppies, and dogs were kept briefly in small cages with very few workers or volunteers to care for them. Then they were either pulled by breed-specific rescue organizations; adopted on the spot by very dedicated, determined individuals who fell in love with them as they were posted on Facebook (for the most part) or Twitter; or euthanized. ...


Murray Burns
00:04 Mar 05, 2023

No need to be sorry...I feel the same way.


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Wendy Kaminski
21:05 Mar 03, 2023

I knew -- I KNEW -- better than to read any of the shelter ones! :( So very bittersweet. In all fairness, an excellent story, even so. :)


Murray Burns
22:31 Mar 03, 2023

I was going to have "Tail of Two Cities" for the title.... Thanks


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Delbert Griffith
13:56 Mar 03, 2023

I really loved the "Of Mice and Men" reference. Nice! And I see that "A Tale of Two Cities" was also the inspiration for the two cats. Yeah, I never liked Sydney Carton nor Lucy Manette. Two of Dickens' weakest main characters, IMO. What you did, however, was sterling. A much better modern-day Sydney and a much more relatable modern-day Lucy. What a great story, highlighting the plight of the poor animals in a shelter. Youi brought such heart and realism to the situation, my friend. This is a story that I will read at least three times. Ju...


Murray Burns
14:38 Mar 03, 2023

I thought about using this for the title- "Tail of Two Cities". Thanks.


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Lily Finch
21:36 Mar 01, 2023

This is a great story. I love how you humanized the cats along with the other animals. It almost felt like they were in prison as you often went back and forth between the shelter and life on death row. Charlie, a Mr. Gallant to the end. The poor, innocent Tabby saved from premature death that he only could have discovered was her dream by being her roomie. “I just want to be with children. Even one child, just once I’d like to know what it’s like to be with a child. I bet it’s great, and I would do everything I could to make the child happ...


Murray Burns
21:46 Mar 01, 2023

I had Sydney Carton of "Tale of Two Cities" in mind. (It is a far, far better thing that I do...") I thought about the title of "Tail of Two Cities." I'll read you story tonight...Now I'm sure I'm losing it...I swear I saw an email from you that started "This is the real one..." I can't find it...?


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Murray Burns
21:53 Mar 01, 2023

Oh...and thank you for catching yet one more boo-boo! I can't believe I keep doing that. Proofreading is hard. Like I've said... I lack the patience and discipline..maybe add lazy. When you read your own stuff, one (at least me) tends to race ahead because I know what's coming...I get really mad at myself for this type of error, so I am very grateful you told me about this. Thanks!


Lily Finch
00:42 Mar 02, 2023

You are welcome! I do it too. I shared my doc in google docs with you. LF6.


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