Klondike sat on a flat stone on the edge of the meadow, soaking up warmth from above and below. The sun was high and there was no shade nearby, but he was enjoying the sensation of being slowly and pleasantly cooked from the ears down. He imagined he could hear his fur quietly sizzling. The residual heat from the stone warmed his underside at the same time – he would be done to a turn, he mused, yawning. A honey bee hummed past, followed closely by Ladybug, her tiny legs going full pelt to keep up. All morning, she had been galloping about the meadow, squealing and laughing in delight as she completely failed to catch butterflies, wasps, and damsel flies. Catching them wasn’t really the point. The fun was in the chase. Klondike grinned as she whizzed past again, going in the other direction, having given up on the bee and now intent on bringing down a fat, noisy maybug. For a while, it looked as if Ladybug might actually catch up to her quarry, slow and clumsy as it was, so she stopped her pursuit and flopped down next to her brother, panting slightly from her exertions.
“Do you know?” she said, “If I’d been born in Britain, I’d be called Ladybird.”
“Who told you that?” asked Klondike.
“Er…..a British cat!” she declared. “Ladybugs are called ladybirds in Britain.”
“But you’re named after a card game.” he reminded her.
“Oh…well, maybe card games are called different in Britain too.”
“Maybe. Come on, we’re going for a walk.” Klondike hopped off his stone onto the cool grass and had a good, invigorating stretch – front paws together first, then back paws one at a time.
“Where are we going?” asked Ladybug, eyeing a juicy looking moth as it skittered past.
“To the Bridge.” said her brother. “Keep up, or you’ll get lost.” He strode off, out of the meadow and onto the little rough path that lead to the edge. Neither kitten had been back to the Bridge since they had arrived weeks earlier, tiny and lost, to be greeted by a crowd of cats and kittens who all seemed to be expecting them. The journey from being frightened and lonely to feeling safe and loved was exactly the same length as that taken from the Bridge to the party meadow. Ladybug had made it borne on the back of a huge, shaggy, cream coloured cat, as the welcome committee were afraid that her petite frame and extremely small legs would delay them reaching the sumptuous tea which awaited them. Klondike was proud that he had made the journey on his own feet, but then he was almost twice the size of his sister.
“Why are we going to the Bridge?” asked Ladybug, trotting briskly to keep up with her larger brother.
“Not sure,” he replied. “I just think it’s time we went. We’ll be able to see them, if we dare to take a peek.”
“Our family, of course.”
Ladybug sat down on the path, wide-eyed. “Really? I think that might make me sad.”
“Well, you don’t have to look, but I think you should. I don’t think it’ll make you sad at all.”
They continued on their way, pausing to drink at the little brook, then hopping onto the big stones to cross it, then up the grassy bank which led to the birch glade with its velvety turf and dancing shadows. Bug cheered up when she felt the springy grass under her paws, and pounced and leaped after the fluttering leaves. Seeing her spinning and jumping, full of glee, Klondike was unable to resist the temptation to join in the game, allowing himself, just for a while, to drop his persona as the sensible, responsible one. He was a thoughtful kitten, with wisdom beyond his years and he was very protective of his little sister but, every now and then it did him good to just be a kitten. Eventually, when their leafy prey had all been duly despatched, they emerged from the glade onto the broad greensward which ran along the cliff edge. Right in front of them, they could see the ancient trees whose gnarled and leafless boughs had twisted together to form an archway and, beyond that, the bridge itself, disappearing as always into swirling fog.
Above the chasm, the sky appeared dark, even though it was a bright afternoon where the kittens stood. In that midnight blue expanse they could see a million twinkling stars, one for every soul who had crossed the bridge. They could see their own, like tiny ruby chips close together, red and silver sparks shooting back and forth between them. As usual, the ground close to the bridge was crowded with cats, some awaiting the arrival of friends and loved-ones, some checking up on the homes and families they had left behind. Ladybug and Klondike approached the edge with caution. The ground dropped away vertically like a sheer cliff face and there was nothing below but darkness – it was a scary sight, even though the kittens knew they were safe.
“There!” Klondike pointed excitedly. After several minutes of peering into the void, Ladybug could finally see where he was pointing. “Look, there’s Tommy and Deuces and Diplomat too. And the hoomin!”
“Where’s mama?” asked Bug, craning her neck.
“There she is, behind the boys.”
“What’s happening?” The scene looked unfamiliar. There was light and noise and the room was full of people and bright objects and other cats. Klondike was unable to answer his sister.
“It’s adoption day.” The kittens turned to see an adult cat, whose face was familiar although they couldn’t recall her name right now. “Keiara” she reminded them. “I come here often – usually I come to check up on two young friends of mine who went back over recently. But I also come for adoption days. They make me so happy.”
“What does it mean?” asked Klondike.
“It’s when a kitten or a cat gets to go home with a special hoomin. They live together and they take care of each other and have wonderful lives. Your mama and brothers are being adopted today. Each of them will go to a new home with a hoomin who really wants them, and they will get good food, warm beds, lots of toys and lots of love. It’s just the best life. It’s lovely here, but sometimes I miss my hoomin.”
“Will we still be able to see mama and our brothers after dopshun?” asked Ladybug, her lip wobbling a little.
“Of course. You can watch them grow up and become big, handsome boys.”
“I wish we were being dopted…” Ladybug’s lip continued to wobble. “It sounds lovely.”
For a long time, the pair watched, fascinated, as their family crouched patiently in their cage while the people milled around them, occasionally reaching in to pet them. Then, one by one, they were lifted out and each was handed to a hoomin to cuddle. Even though the kittens had little experience of people, they could see the joy and love written on their faces as they held their new babies for the first time.
“It must be wonderful to have hoomins love you so much…” Klondike mused.
“Yes, it is.” said Keiara. “Maybe one day…..who knows?” She smiled at them, then blew a kiss over the precipice to her own special person, before turning and walking back towards the birch glade.
The family were all gone. Dopshun day was over, but the kittens continued to watch and wonder what it must be like to be loved so much by creatures so different from themselves. But then…something else was happening. Someone was speaking…and handing something to the big hoomin…..
“Listen, Bug,” said Klondike, “We’ve been adopted.”
“What? Who? Who dopted us?”
“Lots of people. Even though they could never meet us and hold us and have us scratch their furniture and bite their toes…they still wanted us.”
“Yay! We’re dopted!” Ladybug hopped and bounced and chased her own tail in celebration. “Hoomins are wonderful!”
“Yes, they are aren’t they?” Klondike gazed with awe as the little presentation concluded. He closed his eyes and he truly believed he could feel their love washing over him.
It was two satisfied kittens who made their way back that evening. Ladybug was full of excitement as usual, bursting to tell their friends that they were now dopted kittens with a huge hoomin family over on the other side. Klondike pondered. He wanted to say thank you somehow, but he wasn’t sure how. Maybe it didn’t matter – such caring hoomins would surely understand… He looked up to the now darkening sky and smiled. That would do.
So that night, when the moon was at her highest, if those special hoomins had cared to look upwards (as many like to do), they would have seen two stars, like tiny ruby chips, flashing red and silver fire towards them as two contented kittens curled up to sleep, happy in the knowledge that they were remembered with love.