Adoption Day

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.”

“See who?”

“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.



Peter sat on a log on the fringes of the meadow and watched while Honey and her kitten companions chased each other in and out of the long grass, disappearing behind the tussocks and reappearing, laughing, sometimes bobbing their heads up above the stalks to get their bearings and to check whether their companions were within pouncing range.  He smiled at their antics.  It looked like a good game, and it was one in which he often enjoyed participating but, today, he was content to sit in the warm sunshine on the hollow log and watch.

He took a deep breath in.  The air, as ever, carried the scents of new-mown hay, lilac, damp earth and that familiar, far-off salt tang.  The sun was exactly as warm as he liked it – warm enough to heat the fur but not so hot as to sap the energy. Sometimes, he liked to bake under a hot sun, so he would just remove himself to where the sun was hottest.  Sometimes, he had a fancy for watching the rain, and there was somewhere he could go to do that too. There were napping spots which were soft and napping spots which were firm.  Indoor beds where he could be cosy and outdoor beds where he could lay and watch the stars.  There was never any shortage of food – which was the tastiest and most succulent food any cat could imagine, or water – which was as sweet and pure as nectar and could be sipped from any number of rivers, rivulets, streams, fountains, waterfalls, pools and puddles.

In this place, there was no pain or sickness, no physical discomfort, no want or hardship, but there was still free thought.  There was emotion too.  Sometimes, someone would feel unhappy, or homesick for a past life, or they would feel the need for solitude or companionship and, for a kitten who overstepped the mark, there was discipline.  Peter himself had often been on the receiving end of a squeak from an angry playmate or a cuff from an irritated adult.  He had a way to go before he reached Honey’s total though.  That girl was incorrigible.

The game of chase had morphed into a giant bug hunt.  He could see his friends spotting their targets, flattening themselves against the ground and shifting their weight from foot to foot in preparation for the deadly pounce.  The bugs always got away.  Honey was flying through the air, trying to bring down a dragonfly – which also got away – and laughing her tinkling laugh.  There was rarely a time when Honey didn’t laugh.  Nothing seemed to dampen her high spirits.

Yes, life here was good.  It was better than good – it was wonderful.  But, every now and then, Peter felt a tiny tug in his heart that he did not quite understand.  It had begun the night of his birthday party, when he had looked down to see his two brothers, now fully grown, sleek and handsome and so clearly loved by their human family, as well as by their own mother – Peter’s mother.  He had thought at the time that maybe, just maybe, it would be nice to experience life as a grown-up and to try out the actual growing up part, too.  He had also thought that it would be nice to live alongside a loving human family.  He had a faint, residual memory of his short time in a human household.  He remembered the feel of a human hand, the sound of a human voice and now he was curious – a little.  It was just a thought that popped into his mind every now and then, while sunning himself on a log for instance, or sometimes just as he was falling asleep under the stars.  The thought never persisted long, and it would disappear from his mind as swiftly as it had appeared, and he would go back to sunning himself or dozing without any worries…until the next time.

Honey came bouncing over to him, eyes shining, her grey fur stiff with burrs and a dandelion clock stuck to the top of her head like a fancy hat.

“Aren’t you going to join in?” she demanded, trying to dislodge the dandelion clock with her back foot.

“I’m happy to sit and watch.”

“What are you thinking about?” He knew by her tone of voice that “Nothing” was not an acceptable answer.

“Do you ever wonder what life would’ve been like if we hadn’t – you know, come here?” he asked.

“Yes, of course” she said, to his mild surprise. “I think everyone thinks about it, especially we kittens. It’s not the same as the old cats – they miss their old homes and their old hoomins, but at least they have memories to cherish.  We kittens never had that. We missed out on a lot.”

Peter felt comforted to know that he was not the only one to ponder about “what if”.  He stood up and stretched, a full arched-back stretch – standing up right on his tiptoes and turning his spine into an upturned U.  That was the best sort of stretch. Feeling the muscles unwinding from his nose right through to his tail, he felt suddenly re-energised and leapt off the log and ran to join in the bug hunt, flattening, wiggling and pouncing along with the rest of the kittens.  The bugs still got away.

Later that day, as the air began to cool and the sky began to pinken, they were making their way back along the path to where they knew they would find a good meal, a brisk baff from one of the adults – someone was going to have fun picking out those burrs – and the comfort of their companions, when they were stopped in their tracks by two cats who they did not recognise.

“You’re wanted,” said one of them, “back in the meadow”.

The two kittens turned around, mystified, and headed back to the meadow where they had been playing moments earlier.  When they arrived, they were startled to find a sizeable assemblage of cats, familiar and unfamiliar, all sitting round in a semi-circle.  Their escorts ushered the kittens to a spot in front of the crowd and bade them sit down.  They looked at each other, baffled and a little nervous.

“Don’t worry,” said a voice, “you’re not in trouble for once.”  The voice belonged to Truffles, an old cat who had arrived after them, but who was treated with much respect by all the others.  She was a quiet, polite lady but, when she spoke, others listened. She was accompanied everywhere by the enormous, shaggy Loki, who had been her friend on the other side and who was rarely far away from her.  The kittens adored Loki.  He was like a big, benign uncle who tolerated having his whiskers pulled, his tail chewed and trying to sleep with three or four of the smallest kittens snuggled up in his long fur, squeezing their tiny claws into his flesh.

“What’s going on?” asked Honey.

“Well, for you and Peter, the time has come to make The Choice”

“What choice?” asked Honey.

“May I suggest,” Truffles replied, firmly, “that you stay quiet for once and let the adults talk?”

Honey slumped a little, deflated, until she caught a glimpse of Loki’s twinkling eye winking at her.  Truffles began again.

“The Choice is offered to all who live here, cat or kitten, provided they have lives left to live.  You will have heard it said that we cats have nine lives – even the hoomins have heard this, but they do not understand exactly what it means.  When our earthly lives are over, we cross the bridge and we live in this place, healthy and happy and with everything our hearts desire.  The one drawback is that we never change over here.  Kittens remain kittens, the old remain old.  For some, this is a happy state of affairs, but for others – especially the young – it is unsatisfying.  They often yearn for another chance at earthly life, to experience new things or to complete a journey which was cut short before.  We all have nine chances to do that, to go back, and I know you have both been thinking about it.”  Honey and Peter looked at each other, wide-eyed.  How did she know? Had they been talking in their sleep?  Best not to ask.  Truffles went on.

“Please know that you are not obliged to return.  You can stay here for as long as you wish.  Forever, if you like, or you can choose to return later rather than sooner.  However, the time has come for the two of you to make The Choice.  You both have eight further lives to live and you can choose to do so the other side of the bridge if you wish.  Now, we understand that your previous lives were cut short very early and you don’t have many experiences to draw on when trying to decide.  So, some of our friends here have agreed to tell you of their experiences on earth.  The one thing that is certain is that, if you return, it will be to the world of the hoomin.  Listen to their stories and then think carefully about what they tell you of the hoomin world, it’s benefits and its drawbacks.  Now, sit down and make yourselves comfortable.  And don’t interrupt…” she looked directly at Honey when she said this.  “You may ask whatever questions you wish at the end…when there will also be snacks.”

Still a little bewildered, but placated by the promise of snacks, the kittens settled down as instructed and prepared to listen.

A pale cat stepped up.  She was one of the unfamiliar cats who had waylaid Honey and Peter on the path and only now did they notice how exotically beautiful she was.  Her fur was the colour of cream, shading through gold to russet on her flanks and legs. She was tall and fine boned, with chiselled cheeks and a long, sharp muzzle.  Her eyes were the colour of a setting sun and the shape of almonds, sweeping upwards towards her large, magnificent ears.  She spoke in a voice like melted chocolate.

“My last life on earth was spent in a land of dust and sand,  which lay parching under a blazing sun. Beneath the azure sky, the very horizon would shimmer in the heat and the eyes would be tricked into seeing things that were not there.  In the middle of the day, the sand would seem to be transformed into a silvery lake, although there was no water to be found for miles.  The air would be full of the whine of the relentless, hot wind, the strange echoes of the sand dunes as they shifted and the occasional, piercing shriek of an eagle as it scoured the land, searching for something – anything- to eat.”

The kittens closed their eyes, transported in their minds to the burning, empty desert.

“Running through this land, however, was a great river.  Every year it broke its banks and the land was flooded for many, many miles and it was this flood that transformed the fringes of this river into a fertile plain where plants and trees grew and animals and birds thrived and, naturally, it was ripe for exploitation by humans.  They came in abundance and multiplied and cultivated their crops and raised their animals and built villages and towns and cities with great temples and statues.  They had powerful kings who believed themselves to be gods and they had priests who grew fat by encouraging the kings to believe they were gods, but, for the people, life was good, food was plentiful and the climate benign and so a great civilisation flourished.  These people, and their priests and their kings, had the good sense to include some animals amongst their pantheon of gods, such as the bull and the hawk and…well, let’s face it….me.

I was born in a village outside the capital city, close to the site where many men laboured to build a great stone temple to the beautiful cat goddess Bastet.   I was one of many kittens, but it was the general consensus that I was the most beautiful.  I was housed and fed by a stonemason and his family. It was he who was responsible for creating a great statue of the Goddess to stand in the hall of the temple on a huge sandstone plinth and, as I grew from kitten to cat, he made many images of me, using pigment made from powdered rock mixed with lamp oil.  He painted me from every angle and in many poses, laying asleep, standing alert, sitting with my paws tucked under, but mostly he drew me sitting as I am now, my head proud and my eyes gazing towards the horizon.”

By way of a demonstration, the cat sat neatly, paws together, tail curled round her feet, and then drew herself up so that her body formed a silhouette the shape of a teardrop.  Lifting her chin, she gazed into the distance with a haughty expression.  So noble did she look that Honey and Peter almost felt compelled to bow down in worship before her, but instead she relaxed, smiled and winked at the two kittens, before resuming her speech.

“When most of the fabric of the temple was complete, my stonemason set to work.  He had shown the images he had painted of me to the priests who were overseeing the design of the temple and they had indicated their approval and so, taking a great slab of black basalt rock and his trusty wooden hammer and bronze chisel, he began to tap, tap, tap away at the stone. First he incised some guidelines to indicate a rough shape and then, with the aid of his two sons, began to chip away the unwanted surfaces until, gradually, little by little, a shape began to emerge from within.  My shape.  Over the course of many months, the three worked away at the stone, shaping and refining until, at last, instead of the crude black rock pillar, there stood a magnificent cat.  She still needed to be polished smooth, and that task took several more months but, by the turn of the year, the statue of Bastet was ready to be moved into her final position inside the great hall of the temple.  She was moved with great care by many men using wooden sledges, then ropes and pullies.  At last, our beloved goddess of love, motherhood, war and justice stood upon her plinth, looking out between the columns of the great hall, towards the mighty river.  There she stood for century after century, tended by priests and priestesses, visited in secret by many cats seeking aid or comfort, and worshipped by all who passed by the temple.  Thereafter, the same image appeared over the years in infinite forms – in pictures, statuettes, jewellery…. all of them me.  I spent my life both as a humble but beloved house cat and as an object of worship for an entire civilisation.  For me, earthly life could not give me more than that – any future life would only disappoint, my expectations having been raised so high, you see.  So, I will not be returning.  My future lies here.”

The exotic cat bowed low to the two kittens and to Truffles before withdrawing into the crowd. They could still see her, standing as she did half a head taller than most of the others.  Another, very different looking cat took up position in front of them. She was tiny, black and somewhat ragged. Her ear was notched and she sported scars around one of her eyes. Her tail had a sharp, angular kink towards its tip and her whiskers splayed in all directions.  Her earthly life had clearly been very different from that of the temple cat. When she spoke, it was in a small, breathy voice that the kittens had to strain to hear.

“My last life on earth was on a small island in the north of Europe during what the hoomins refer to as the Middle Ages.  It was a dark and primitive time.  Most of the people were desperately poor and barely scraped enough from the land to feed their families.  Most of the food they laboured to produce had to be handed to the local baron, so the peasants went without.  They were oppressed by the nobility, oppressed by the church and oppressed by life in general, so I guess I can’t really blame them for turning to supersition and witchcraft as a way to explain their lot. It was a bad time to be a cat.  It was an especially bad time to be born a black cat.  We were persecuted as being the familiars of witches, who were themselves considered to be the servants of the Devil.  Many were slain by some terrible means in order to rid the world – so the hoomins thought – of evil.

My hoomin mistress was an old widow lady who lived in a hut made of dried mud and straw at the edge of a village on the eastern side of the island.  It was a flat land of marshes and creeks where, even in the summer, the wind blew relentlessly from the sea, so that the trees and bushes grew bent over, as if they were trying to escape its constant howl.  The local people toiled away digging great ditches to drain away some of the water so that they could cultivate the soil and grow grain and vegetables, even though most of these were given as tithes to the manor house and to the church.  Ah…the church.  It was a great building of men, which rose out of the flat landscape and towered over the huts and hovels of the peasants, as if to remind them daily of their position in the grand scheme of things.  On Sundays, the whole village walked, limped, or shuffled in a convoy to the church to listen while the priests shouted hellfire and damnation at them, told them they would all go to hell for their sins and that they should repent their ways if they did not wish to be personally responsible for bringing about the Apocalypse.  They even had to stand outside the church and peer in through small windows in the walls to be threatened and terrified like this.  They were too lowly and insignificant even to be allowed through the doors.  So ignorant and uneducated were they, that they believed all of this and so tried at all times, out of fear, to do whatever they were told to do by those they considered their betters.  It made me sad.

My mistress, though, was one of those who saw the truth.  She did not attend the church, she did not pay their tithes and she did not fear God or the devil.  Unable to work the land due to her frail old age, she would dispense crude medicines made from herbs in exchange for bread and, sometimes, she would wave around a small bundle of bound hazel twigs and utter incantations for young women anxious to conceive a child, or to lure a certain neighbour’s son into marriage.  For this, my mistress received maybe a couple of eggs or some turnips.  She would cackle quietly at the gullibility of some of her “clients”, but at least she ate. Then, one night, a party of villagers arrived at the hut bearing flaming brands, which they used to burn the place down – we did not know why.  Maybe one of the young women gave birth to a daughter instead of a son, or the neighbour’s boy married someone from the next village instead, but thereafter we had to tramp the countryside together, barely surviving on the food she could gather and I could catch. She would still dispense her herbs and chant her incantations, but when she had finished, instead of receiving bread, the local children would run us out of the village, hurling insults and rocks at the same time. Crouched in the shelter of a hedgerow one freezing winter’s night, she took me in her arms and said to me that her time had come to depart this earth, and that she was not afraid as the great Mother Hecate was waiting to receive her and would avenge her soul in this life and the next.  I did not understand what she meant, but I did not want to be left alone in that cold and hostile world so, when my mistress uttered a last incantation and cast herself into the freezing river and I watched, with my own eyes, pale hands come up and catch her and bear her down into the depths – or maybe it was my imagination – I threw myself in after her.”

The kittens were mesmerised and wide-eyed with astonishment and shock at the black cat’s tale.  Honey could think of a million questions to ask her, but she was still speaking.

“And yet, I have chosen to return.  I had the misfortune to live in a hostile world, but I knew love from my hoomin who, I realise now, was unusual in that she could speak to me in my own language.  But, anyway, I have faith that there is a better world to be found now and I wish to know the love of a hoomin once again.  But maybe not a witch, this time…”

The black cat bowed and withdrew, leaving the kittens confused.  “But….” stammered Honey, “…the cat who had the wonderful life wants to stay here and the cat who had the terrible life wants to go back….”

“Nothing is straightforward, you see,” said Truffles. “You must follow your hearts.  You will know if you have made the right choice, I promise.  Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m starving…”

Confused though they were, the kittens’ appetites were unaffected, and they tucked into the considerable spread with gusto.  Loki sat down beside them, smacking his lips after consuming a plate of pilchards. Peter looked up at the big, shaggy cat and asked “If we went back, would Honey and I still be together?”

“I don’t think there are any guarantees,”  he replied. “If you opt for another life, you get what you get, if you see what I mean. The cats who spoke to you had experienced both extremes, good and bad.  For most, though, life is more mundane.  Take me and Tuffy, for instance.  Our home was just an ordinary house, in an ordinary suburb, but it was better than the temple of Bastet to us, and our hoomins were just ordinary people who loved us – as we loved them, but they were better to us than priests or kings or witches.  They made us happy, and I don’t think there is any finer state on that side of the bridge or this than to be happy. Tuffy and I don’t need any other memories. The memories of that life are sweet enough but, maybe one day…who knows?  You, on the other hand, have yet to acquire any memories.  I can’t imagine what that must be like.”  Loki turned his attention to washing his face and paws and the images continued to whirl in the minds of the kittens.

It was dark by the time the meeting broke up, and the moon was on the rise. It was a warm night and the breeze was gentle and fragrant. The two kittens walked in silence to the place where they usually liked to sleep ignoring, for once, the fireflies that danced around their heads.  Usually, they would find a good spot – a soft mound of grass, an indentation in the earth underneath a bush, or maybe a flat rock still warm from the sun, and they would settle down together and chatter, play and snooze the night away.  On this night, though, they went their separate ways and each curled up alone – although still within sight of one another – both feeling that they needed solitude and silence in which to ponder the evening’s events.

Peter lay on his back in the grass and watched the stars – there was his and Honey’s, tiny diamond chips seeming to almost touch each other.  There was Tuffy’s emerald star and beside it Loki’s amber one, there was Jaguar’s and Siberia’s sparkling like fire and Keiara’s and Sheba’s, soft like pearls…he idly wondered what happened to these stars if you went back.  Did they disappear for a while, to reappear again on your return?  He sniffed the scented air.  Tomorrow would be another perfect day and he and Honey could spend it chasing bugs in the meadow with their friends if they wanted, or they could dip for fishes in the stream or climb trees or just bask in the sun, but…. there it was again. That tiny tug in his heart, as if an invisible thread connected him to the earth on the other side.  This was impossible!  How did anyone ever choose?  He yawned and rolled over, tired of thinking.  It was unlike him to be unable to sleep, but something was keeping him awake…something not quite right.  He heard a soft rustle in the grass beside him and felt a warm, familiar body – still a little lumpy with burrs – lay down close to his.  The Choice could wait for now. They snuggled up and drifted into sleep.


It was warm and dark in the nest, and safe.  There was nothing to see, nothing to hear, just the comforting scent of mama and the soothing vibration of her purr.  And nothing to do but eat, sleep and grow.  Nothing to sense but the reassurance of another heartbeat close by…and the trace of a memory, faint, like a tiny star in the farthest reaches of space..

The young woman sat on the sofa, smiling as her son dangled the feather on a stick just out of reach of the kittens, giggling as they leapt into the air to grab for it before landing with a thud, feet splayed out on the wooden floor.

“He’s good with them.” the older woman said. “Not everyone is, but he’s a natural. They’re really comfortable around him.”

“He loves animals,” his mother replied. “He’s just never had any of his own before. His dad wasn’t keen, what with us moving around so much. But, now it’s just the two of us….”, There was a short silence which spoke a thousand words.

The boy was laying on his stomach, laughing as four of the kittens swarmed all over him, grabbing his hair and licking his face and ears.  The fifth kitten hung back a little, preferring to play alone and he was chewing experimentally at the boy’s sock, in the hope that it tasted like chicken.

“You know these four are already spoken for,” said the older woman, “and their mother. The only one still looking for a home is that little guy.” She detached the small, cream-coloured kitten from the boy’s foot.

“He’s really cute,” said the mother. “I’m surprised he hasn’t been snapped up.”

“Well, we encourage people to adopt in pairs, but when there’s a litter of five, it means one will be adopted alone.  It’s a shame, but they usually adapt.”

“Oh, he wouldn’t be alone,” the mother said. “We adopted another kitten about a month ago – it was on our application form.  She’s very sweet, but she seems bored and a little depressed, if that’s possible. She sleeps a lot.  We thought a playmate might cheer her up.”

“Well, it would certainly cheer me up to think he would have a friend,” said the woman. “What does your son think?”

“Do you like this little guy?” she asked

“Well, he’s not as much fun as the others,” said the boy, “but maybe he’s a bit overshadowed by his brothers and sisters. Let me hold him for a bit.” The boy took the kitten in his cupped hands and lifted him up to his face.  A pair of placid blue eyes looked into his.  They looked deep into his.  And they spoke to him.  And he knew.

“If you don’t want him, we can keep on looking.” said his mother.

“No. This one’s mine.” said the boy, solemnly. “He told me so.”

“Sometimes they do that.” said their foster mother, and she was absolutely serious.

The women shook hands and said their goodbyes, and the boy clutched on tightly to the cardboard carrier containing it’s oh so precious cargo. In the car on the way home, He peered in through the air holes at its tiny occupant, who clung with all his claws to the towel at the bottom of the box, his eyes closed tight in fear.

“Mum, can I call the kitten after Dad?” the boy asked.

Involuntarily, she bit her lip. “Why would you want to do that?”

“I don’t know. It’s a nice name and it suits him, and…well, I think this kitten is special. He’s going to look after us.”

His mother smiled. “OK. I think he’s pretty special too.”

The boy peered into the box again and whispered to its worried little occupant, “Don’t be frightened, Peter. We’re going to have such fun!”

Late that night when the house was quiet,  Peter the kitten sat alone in the small box room which was his temporary home. He had everything he could possibly need – bowls of food and water, a litter box, a scratching post, a comfy bed and lots of toys – but an odd feeling was keeping him awake.  He felt as if, just maybe, he had been here before.  Or somewhere similar. Try as he might, he couldn’t make his memory stretch back further than the last ten weeks.


A tiny sound near the door caught his attention.

“Pssst…” There is was again.  He went to investigate.

“Hello.” said a muffled voice from the other side of the door. “Are you going to live here?”

“Yes,” he said. “Who are you?”

“I live here too. I can’t wait to meet you – it’s been a bit lonely here on my own.”  A small grey paw appeared beneath the door, so he pressed his own against it.

And there it was again. The trace of a memory, faint, like a tiny star in the farthest reaches of space…. For a second, his head was full of visions of butterflies exploding in swarms out of the long meadow grass and night skies full of stars.

“Do you feel that?” said the grey kitten, “It’s like we were meant to be together.  Oh, we’re going to have such fun!”  She laughed, and her laugh was like the tinkling of a tiny bell.




“Peter! I’ve been looking everywhere for you…”

Honey came bounding across the grass to where Peter was laying, sprawled on his stomach, peering nervously over the precipice into the void.

“I don’t know why you look so nervous. You can’t fall off,” she laughed.

Peter slid back from the edge and sat up. “I dunno. It’s weird. It seems such a long way down.”

“What are you looking at, anyway?”

“Mum and my brothers. I always like to check in on our birthday, but I can’t see them. The house seems to be full of boxes.”

Honey leaned over and squinted through the mist. “Perhaps they’ve moved. Oh no – there’s your mum, perched on the top of that pile by the stairs. Wow! That’s impressive!”

“What is? Let me see!” Peter flattened himself on the grass again and slid himself gingerly to the edge. “Hold on – those are all birthday presents? What’ve those two louts done to deserve so many? I haven’t had anything…”

“Don’t be daft,” said Honey. “Those gifts are not all for Ray and Egon. They’re donations for the shelter. Remember, they did it last year too?”

“Oh, right….”

“And anyway,” said Honey, “who says you haven’t had anything for your birthday?” From behind her back, she drew a red balloon on a string, and a small cake, with two layers – one tuna and one chicken – slathered with fresh cream frosting. Stuck in the top was a small, burning candle.

“Happy birthday, Peter” she said.

“Thank you. How do I eat it?” He was entranced by the tiny candle with its dancing flame, but felt it was a little impractical to set a fire on top of food he was about to eat. His whiskers were definitely at risk.

“You blow the candle out.” Honey told him. She’d done her research.

“But you only just lit it…”

“It’s a hoomin tradition. You blow out the candle and make a wish. And don’t tell me about it.”

“Ah, I see.” said Peter, not seeing in the least. He blew out the candle and made his wish.

“What did you wish for?” asked Honey.

“Hey! You told me I wasn’t to tell you….”

She sighed – it had been worth a try – and handed him his balloon instead. He reached out a paw to grab it, claws extended to get a better grip on the smooth surface and, with a loud pop that sent them both scurrying behind a small shrub, it completely disappeared.

“Where did it go?” asked Peter, mystified, as his tail began to return to its normal size.

“I don’t know,” replied Honey, peering behind a rock, just in case. “Hoomin customs are weird. Better to just stick to our own. What did you wish for?”

Peter ignored this, and went back to watching his family. “They’ve grown so big.” he said, a little envious.

“And handsome….” said Honey, which did nothing to allay Peter’s envy. Life on the other side meant perpetual kittenhood, which was wonderful, but sometimes he wondered what it would be like to grow up.

He didn’t ponder for long, as a rustling in the nearby bushes prompted him to look around. Heading towards him, bows round their necks and fancy hats on their heads, were about a hundred cats and kittens – all of his many friends. They were carrying toys and treats and platters of food and more cakes – no candles, sadly – and more balloons (he made a mental note to keep his claws tucked away this time), ready to start the best birthday party a kitten could ever want.

While they set everything up in the silver birch glade, laying out blankets and tables and hanging lanterns in the branches of the trees, he took one last look at the box-filled house, his big and – yes, he had to concede – handsome brothers and his beloved mama. Next to him, something caught his eye in the grass. The candle from the cake was alight again, its tiny flame dancing like a firefly. So, birthday wishes did come true after all….
He carefully placed the little wax stick with its dancing flame on a rock at the very edge of the void. “This is for all the lost and lonely kitties down there…” he whispered, “…a light to guide you home.”

And down in the house, among the boxes, Janine gazed at the darkening sky. She knew exactly where to look – she looked every night – but on this one, she couldn’t help but notice that his little star was twinkling more brightly than usual. “Looks like you’re having a good party, darling” she whispered. “Happy birthday, Peter.” And, blowing him a kiss, she hopped down and went to find her big (and handsome) sons.

The Day of the Dead

I’ve had this one hanging around for a couple of weeks, but as the Babylon Six are going for adoption today and it’s already half way through November…

“Tell me again what I do with this broom…”
“You push it” said Susan “to sweep up the room”.
Uncle Kougra had told them to polish and buff
So they dusted and tidied and hid all their stuff.

“Tonight will be special”, their uncle had said
“It’s the time when we gather to honour the dead.
So polish your whiskers and tuck in your vests
As we’re going to play host to some most honoured guests”

The kittens weren’t sure they’d be very good hosts –
Do you give snacks to zombies or drinkies to ghosts?
Do you tell jokes to vampires and – well, what the heck
Do you say to a guy with a bolt through his neck?

As the sun turned to red and the sky turned to flame,
The guests were arriving, by the dozen they came.
They were hanging up streamers and blowing balloons
And laying up tables with knives, forks and spoons.

There were platters and glasses and bowls and tureens
Filled with more food and drink than the kittens had seen.
And Spices and Ripleys and Clones and AI’s
All gossiped and chatted, while watching the skies.

Then away in the distance, the sound of a bell
Rang the first stroke of midnight – a deep silence fell.
Then a breeze like a whisper, a change in the air
Like the breath of a ghost, and they were just…there.

There was Kari’s lost baby and Holly’s lost mum,
What a shriek of delight as Janine found her son!
And Tory hugged Loki and Tuffy kissed Grant
And Neil just kissed everyone – who says he can’t?

And Rosie and George found a quiet place to chat,
While Peter and Honey attacked Zombie Rat.
And the moon bathed the room in a magical light,
All together again, for just one special night.

Then Keiara and Sheba stole out of the door
To seek out the soul mate they’d lived with before.
And, leaving the others to party all night,
They jumped on his bed and they snuggled up tight.

What a party ensued – what a hullaballoo!
There was Musical Cat Trees and Poop-in-the-shoe,
Pin-the-tail-on-the-vet and Squeak-kitty-squeak,
And enough games of Sardines to last for a week.

There was tuna and crab paste and kibble with dip,
There was Ice cream and custard and big bowls of nip.
They munched and they slurped till the food was all gone
And then, as they relaxed, someone called for a song.

Kari stepped up and she started to sing,
But she had to keep stopping when Marcus joined in.
So Eddie and Holly, and Egon and Ray
Picked up their guitars and they started to play,

And the cats jumped and hopped to the sound of the boys
And the room filled with laughter and colour and noise.
So they tangoed and jived till the furniture shook
All friends reunited, till someone said “Look!”

Along the horizon, a grey misty light
Brought an end to the party, an end to the night.
So, softly and sadly, they said their goodbyes
And cuddled and hugged, brushing tears from their eyes.

And, in the dark bedroom, he started to stir
At the touch of a whisker, the sound of a purr.
And opening an eye – well he couldn’t be sure
But it looked like a tail that just went through the door.

With a last glance around them, as night turned to day
The dead and the living crept softly away.
And the kittens looked round them with shock and with awe
At the wreck and detritus strewn over the floor.

The carpet was ruined, the curtains were torn
“He’s going to be livid” wailed Marcus, forlorn.
But he cuddled the kittens and, smiling, he said
“It’s the same every year on the Day of the Dead”

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

“Pew! Pew! Pew! Aaaaagh! The asteroid is coming closer – we’re all doomed – save us, Superkitten! Superkitten fortifies himself with a mouthful of his secret, mega-strength muscle mix – OK, two mouthfuls…mmnnnn…hang on while I clean my plate – I need all my strength to repel the asteroid…bit left over here..mnnnn…maybe a couple of my maxi-power biscuits too…OK, ready! I will save the earth!”

He rolled onto his back under the bridge and batted fiercely at the soft yellow star hanging on its string – “He’s doing it! Superkitten is diverting the asteroid! He has saved us all! Thank you, Superkitten! How can we ever repay you?” He licked a paw nonchalently. Another grateful population. Another job well done. Just another night in the life of Cassidy – Superkitten.

A small noise behind his head caused him to roll over and peer into the darkness. “Hello? Is someone there? Uncle Barty? Aunt Bunny?” A small dark shape resolved itself into a kitten. “Topper? I thought you’d gone…”

“I’m not Topper…I’m lost” The small tabby kitten’s lip began to tremble and her eyes glistened.

“Whoah…no crying on my watch! Crying’s not what we do in Superkitten’s secret lair. Here – borrow my carrot.” He manoeuvred his favourite felt carrot in front of the tearful kitten. She looked at it blankly. “It’s OK, you can play with it – as long as you give it back when you’ve finished. It’s my best one.” The kitten continued to stare uncomprehendingly at the toy. “Look..” said Cassidy. “You do this…” He flicked the carrot deftly between his front paws. “It’s fun. You can’t cry when you’ve got a carrot to play with.”

Tentatively, the tabby kitten dabbed at the carrot until she managed to move it. Then she stopped and put her head on one side, still sniffling. “I’ve never pushed a carrot around before. It’s weird.”

Cassidy sighed. He’d never before come across another kitten – or a cat for that matter – who didn’t know how to play. This sounded like a job for Superkitten! He took a deep breath, flexed his muscles and closed his eyes to concentrate. Like all superheroes, Superkitten had his sidekicks….

“Over here…!” shouted a new voice. The tabby kitten stared, wide eyed, as Cassidy punted the carrot across the floor to where another tabby kitten had appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and was waiting to receive it. Suddenly, there was mayhem in the little room. Three kittens galloped about, pouncing, wrestling, skittering the toys around, running, jumping…and Cassidy happily scooted around with them, propelling himself with his front feet, matching his companions turn for turn, never falling behind, never missing a catch or a pass, laughing happily as the impromptu soccer match was finally declared a draw. They all flopped down to catch their breath in front of the now wide-eyed and bewildered visitor.

“Who…how…?” she stammered.

“This is my crew” said Cassidy, proudly. “They don’t come often, but they come when they’re needed. This,” he indicated a sleek black kitten – “is Toothless and these two,” he pointed to the two tabbies who were sitting close together, occasionally chewing on each other’s ears – “are Tadpole and Pollywog.” The black kitten smiled, and the other two broke off from whapping each other in the face to grin at her.

“What’s your name?” Toothless asked her.

“I’m not sure I have one” she said, wistfully. She gazed at Cassidy. “What’s wrong with your legs?”

He looked round at his back legs, encased in their usual splints, “Why, are they dirty? Have I got litter stuck to them again?” He winked at her and she said no more. “How come you don’t know how to play?”

The little tabby’s eyes misted over again. “I don’t really know. I was just starting to learn how but everything changed so quickly. I was with mama and my brothers and sisters and it was warm and cosy and I felt safe and happy and then one day I wasn’t with them any more and I was outside and there was all these cats who I didn’t know and I was hungry and it was cold and then I was in this box and in this other place which smelled a bit like this place and there was big people who put their hands all over me and I was frightened and they stuck this thing in my bum…” the other four all nodded sagely at this “..and then I was in this other place and then…” the tears began to trickle now… “I was here and I don’t think I’m supposed to be. I want mama…”

The tabby kitten made a futile attempt to wipe her eyes and nose with her paw but only succeeded in wetting the rest of her face, which made her weep anew, until the touch of something soft against her foot made her stop and look down. Cassidy had pushed the felt carrot over to her and he was looking at her, his head cocked to one side. She gave it an experimental tap. It moved, so she tapped it the other way. She batted it a little harder and it rolled in a way that made her mouth water a little – she didn’t know why. She bent down and took it in her mouth. It felt soft and delightfully pliant between her teeth and she was seized with a sudden compulsion to run with it. Before she knew it, she was dashing around the room, the four boys in pursuit, all of them intent on taking possession of the precious carrot. She threw it in the air, she pounced on it, she pushed it, she rolled on her side and pounded it with her back feet, she weaved in and out of the furniture, she jumped, span, slid, ducked and dived and never once lost her grip on her prize. She was fast and fierce and – for the first time in many, many days – she was happy.

“You’re good..” said Tadpole, breathlessly, as the chase wound down. “I couldn’t keep up with you.” The others all agreed and she was declared undisputed champion of the carrot hunt. She beamed with pride. Her first hunt… But, as her euphoria wore off, that nagging feeling returned that she was not where she was supposed to be.

“Cassidy,” she said “why am I here?”

“I called you. So you could join my crew.” he replied. He beamed with love and pride at his three companions. “These are my boys, my team, my family… They make me strong. They weren’t able to have their lives down here. I don’t know why – only the Moon knows that. So, they gave me their life force when I needed it. They helped me survive and they give me the strength to overcome all my problems. They were there when I was healing and they were there the first time I walked on my front legs and the first time I could push myself round the room on my own and the first time I tried my wheels, and climbed up to the first platform on the tree, and when I climbed up to the second… They’re there when my hoomin comes in and bends my legs, so it doesn’t hurt so much, they make me laugh when my splints get uncomfortable…even if they’re not in the room, they’re inside my head. We’re always together. We’re like one. We are Superkitten – and we’re going to save the whole world.”

“Then why do you need me?” asked the tabby.

“You are strong and courageous. You may not feel like it at the moment, but you are a mighty warrior and I can always use a mighty warrior on the team. You’ll see. You’ll never be lonely again – you’ll have the boys and you’ll have me, and I will have you too. We’ll play and we’ll snuggle together and we’ll tell stories and jokes and I’ll tell you all about hoomins and televisions and cars and spiders…”

“But I can’t stay here…”

“No, your place is with them. They’ll be your brothers on the other side. They tell me it’s beautiful over there. You’ll never be frightened or cold or hungry again. You just have to promise you’ll come and see me sometimes.”

“Of course I will.” She secretly swelled with pride and excitement, her sadness forgotten. Nobody had ever wanted her to be in their team before. She’d be the best team-mate ever! She looked around the room, but there was no sign of Tadpole, Polywog or Toothless. “But how do I find it – where do I go…?”

Cassidy nodded his head towards the back of the room, where a large shadow was moving towards them. “She has come for you.”

The shadow loomed ever closer until it was right on top of them, then it kissed Cassidy on the nose and said “I hope you’re being good.”

“Of course I am, Auntie Quark” said Cassidy, winking at the kitten over the big cat’s shoulder.

Quark turned towards her. “Come along Rain. It’s nearly dawn – time to go. The boys have gone on ahead.”

“Rain? Is that me?”

“Do you see anyone else here?” asked Quark, imperiously, making a big show of peering around the room. Rain felt a little intimidated, until she noticed the twinkle in the big cat’s eye.

“Ooh…you remind me of my mother…” Rain skipped after Quark, tail aloft. “See you soon, Cassidy – I promise.”

The room always felt very empty after his crew had departed. Cassidy idly swatted at the carrot. “Superkitten! We need your help! A giant mutant spider is terrorising the city and devouring all in its path. Only you can save us…”

Cassidy sighed. Never a moment’s peace for a superhero. Mutant spider, eh? This would take an extra large helping of mega-strength muscle mix, plus a side of maxi-power biscuits…

His brain buzzing with possible spider-defeating strategies, he applied himself to his bowl.

A small birthday song for FDJ (with apologies to whoever wrote “The Animals Went in Two by Two”)

The kittens they came in two by two
Hurrah, hurrah
The kittens they came in two by two
Hurrah, hurrah
The kittens they came in two by two
Their tails so floofy, their eyes so blue
And they all came into the ark, for to get out of the rain

The kittens they came in three by three
Hurrah, hurrah,
The kittens they came in three by three
Hurrah, hurrah
The kittens they came in three by three
And Daddy John said “you’ll be safe with me”
So they all came into the ark, for to get out of the rain

The kittens they came in four by four
Hurrah, hurrah
The kittens they came in four by four
Hurrah, hurrah
The kittens they came in four by four
They marched right in and they closed the door
And they all came into the ark, for the get out of the rain

The kittens they came in five by five
Hurrah, hurrah
The kittens they came in five by five
Hurrah, hurrah
The kittens they came in five by five
So happy and lucky to be alive
Cos they all came into the ark, for to get out of the rain

The kittens they came in six by six
Hurrah, hurrah
The kittens they came in six by six
Hurrah, hurrah
The kittens they came in six by six
With zoomies, pounces and bunny kicks
And they all came into the ark, for to get out of the rain

The kittens they came in seven by seven
Hurrah, hurrah
The kittens they came in seven by seven
Hurrah, hurrah
The kittens they came in seven by seven
Peeing in Chickenfish feels like heaven
They all came into the ark, for the get out of the rain

The kittens they came in eight by eight
Hurrah, hurrah
The kittens they came in eight by eight
Hurrah, hurrah
The kittens they came in eight by eight
Nomming their way to their target weight
And they all came into the ark, for to get out of the rain

The kittens they came in nine by nine
Hurrah, hurrah
The kittens they came in nine by nine
Hurrah, hurrah
The kittens they came in nine by nine
All looking their best for adoption time
Cos they all came into the ark, for to get out of the rain

The kittens they came in ten by ten
Hurrah, hurrah
The kittens they came in ten by ten
Hurrah, hurrah
The kittens they came in ten by ten
And so the cycle begins again
And they all come into the ark for to get out of the rain

The kittens they come and come some more
Hurrah, hurrah
An endless queue outside the door
Hurrah, hurrah
The hungry, lonely, the lost and stray
Not one of them will be turned away
So they’ll all come into the ark, for to get out of the rain


Part Two: Parting

“But I never got to say goodbye!”

He stood stubbornly before the bridge looking back, unwilling to believe that his time had come to cross, afraid of stepping into the swirling grey mists that obscured his path, reluctant to leave it all behind.

“Walk with us, brother.” Two black cats had stopped in front of him. “There’s nothing to fear”

“But I’ve left my only friend behind. What will I do for companionship? Who will sleep beside me and tell me stories, and teach me about the moon and show me the eyes of my ancestors in the night sky?”

“Come along.  It’ll be OK. You are expected.”

There seemed to be no other choice so, dejectedly, he stepped onto the bridge, flanked by the two black cats, and together they headed into the fog. The walk felt like an eternity to him. He could see nothing but grey gloom for a long time – he even lost sight of his companions, although he could feel their presence close to him. But still he felt alone – more alone than ever before, and the thoughts continued to tumble around in his head – why me? Why now? We had so many naps left to take, so many games left to play, so many things left to discuss….

Then, slowly, the mist began to grow paler and he became aware of colours dancing just on the edge of his vision and a twinkling like a million tiny shooting stars, and a tang in the air of new mown hay and a distant, salty ocean….then he stepped out into the pinkness of a summer sunset. Beneath his paws was the sensation of fresh, springy grass. Above his head a perfect sky of rose and gold and purple. In front of him, a small, unassuming grey tabby cat, who beckoned him to follow her.

“Hello and welcome.” said the grey cat, as they made their way through a small birch copse and onto a rough path leading away from the bridge. ” I am Tuffy and I have something to tell you. Some of us are lucky and know when our time is coming and we are able to prepare, but some, like you, find themselves here before they are ready and they worry for those they have left behind. So, we arrange for them to have a little company crossing the bridge, to allay their worst fears, and, sometimes, we can also arrange this…” They had stopped on a shingle bank at the edge of a wide, slow river. Around them there were stands of tall reeds and yellow irises, through which skimmed jewel-like blue damsel flies. Beneath the green water, he could see shoals of tiny silver fish darting between gently waving green fronds, and the reflection of the last rays of the sun as it sank below the horizon, briefly turning the water blood red.

“What are we doing here?” he asked

“Watch the water when the moon comes up. We will be waiting for you in the meadow”

The grey cat disappeared, and he sat down on the shingle and waited while the sky turned from blood red to purple and then to deep blue. He breathed in the cooling air, savouring the scent of earth and grass and the far-off salt tang. The inky darkness was suddenly pierced by a shaft of silver so bright that he briefly had to close his eyes. He looked down into the water just as the grey cat had instructed and there, shining and rippling and smiling up at him, was the face of the moon. Maybe it was an illusion caused by the movement of the river surface and the sound of the breeze through the leaves, but he was sure the moon was calling him by name. He bent closer to listen and, as he did so, the face of the moon began to change, its edges became blurred and soft, the silver became white, the shadow of a cloud began to resemble a pair of beautiful ginger chops….



“Yes, it’s me. I don’t know how I’m doing this and I’ve a feeling we don’t have long, but I wanted to say I’m sorry. I had no idea when I left that I would never be coming back. There was so much I would have told you if I had known.”

“It’s OK,” said Rosie softly. “I had a feeling, so I sang to the moon last night to ask her to let us meet one more time.”

“Wow! I can’t believe she said yes. Does she owe you money or something, or is my Rosie more important and mysterious than she ever let on?”

“A little of both” said Rosie with a chuckle. “Oh, George….”

“Sshhh…” said George. “There is nothing you can possibly need to say to me that I don’t already know. When I had nothing, no home, no family and no hope, somehow I found you. You taught me about wonders and mysteries beyond my wildest imaginings, you made me laugh until my sides ached, you soothed my sleep when my dreams were bad, you tolerated my terrible singing, you kept my ears quite ridiculously clean and, above all, you gave me happiness that I never in my whole life thought I deserved. Our time together may have been short, but it was rich and full and I was a better, wiser and more contented cat because of it.”

“And you, George, you showed me that a kind heart and a generous spirit was more important than all the knowledge and book learning in the world. You reminded me to appreciate the simpler things in life, a shared joke, a good vigorous baff, a long nap on a rainy afternoon. I will never forget to appreciate those things, and I will never forget you.”

“Rosie, my sweet girl – I want you to do two things for me.”


“Firstly, I know you will, but promise me you’ll take good care of them and let them know how much I loved them. Secondly….would you tell me one more story?”

Rosie sniffled a little, before clearing her throat.

“A young lioness walked the plain. She strutted along with her head held high, confident that she was the queen of all she surveyed. She was afraid of nothing, for she was part of the pride and they protected her and kept her safe and gave her love and comfort and companionship. She had recently joined the hunt for the first time and she was proud that she had helped to bring down the antelope which they had all shared, and for once she had not had to wait until last before it was her turn to eat. So confident was she in herself that she had left the pride snoozing under a tree while she wandered far from home, because she wanted to find out what was out there. She saw ostrich and giraffe and antelope and wildebeest and a troupe of noisy baboons and she licked her lips at the thought of tomorrow’s hunt and, better still, tomorrow’s dinner. So preoccupied was she with her thoughts that she didn’t realise she had stumbled right into a herd of huge buffalo. Now buffalo were the one thing she was afraid of. If buffalo ever wandered close to the pride, the young lions were under orders to scatter in all directions, so that none of them would become a target. But now she was alone, and all of the beasts were looking straight at her and snorting steam from their great nostrils. In a sudden fit of panic, she turned and ran blindly as fast as she could, with no direction or goal – anything just to get away. When she finally stopped, panting, she realised she had run into the forest and she had no idea where she was or how to find her way out. She turned this way and that, but every path looked the same. It was dark and full of strange scents and even stranger noises. Frightened and lonely, she lay down and put her paws over her eyes, trying to block out the unfamiliar sensations with which she was bombarded.

Day turned to dusk, and the lioness remained frozen with terror, until she felt the touch of a paw on her cheek. She uncovered one eye and looked up to see a she-leopard sitting in front of her, surveying her quizzically. “So, what is the mighty lioness doing in my forest, shivering with fear with her paws over her eyes?” “I’m not afraid!” retorted the lioness, still shivering, but not wanting to let her façade slip. “Yes you are,” replied the leopard, “and, what’s more, you are afraid to admit you are afraid. That will get you nowhere. I would offer to help you, but if everything is under control….” “OK, OK! I am afraid. I am lost in this dark forest and I don’t know how to get home. Everything here is so strange – there are terrible screams and shrieks, and awful, awful, smells, yet I can see nothing. I don’t know if something is going to swallow me whole, or suck out my brains, or capture me and make me dance for them at their feasts…” The she-leopard laughed aloud. “Those sounds and smells are just the inhabitants of the forest going about their business. They are not at all frightening – mostly. Come on, I will show you how to get home.” The two big cats set off side by side, pushing through the undergrowth, and the lioness noticed how the she-leopard would stop from time to time to rub her face against a small rock or the bark of a tree. “Leaving myself a trail,” she explained. “So I can find my way home.” “Aren’t your family going to worry about you, away from home at dusk?” asked the lioness. “I have no family” replied the leopard. “I haven’t seen them since I was a cub. It’s the nature of we leopards to live solitary lives.” “Ooohh…I can’t imagine what that is like!” said the lioness. “I could never be separated from my mother and my father and my aunties and my siblings. We do everything together. I feel so sorry for you – you must be lonely all the time. Maybe you can come and join our pride, then you’d never have to be alone again.” The leopard smiled and said nothing, and the cats walked on. Suddenly, the lioness squawked and jumped in the air. She had trodden on something squishy and squashy in the dark, and it had hissed at her. “What is it? Will it eat me?” she whispered. “Good evening, Mr Snake” said the leopard. “I apologise for my friend – what are you up to this evening?” “Digesting….” said the snake. The lioness noticed the huge, deer-shaped swelling in the snake’s belly. “Eewwww…” she said, curling her lip. The leopard bade the snake a polite good evening, and they walked on. A sudden rustling in the trees made the lioness jump again and, looking up, she saw a small black and white face peering at her. “Good evening, Mrs Colobus” said the leopard. “How’s the family?” “Keeping me busy” said the monkey. “The kids are into everything and now a family of chimpanzees has moved into the next tree – shrieking and yelling at all hours – I never get a wink of sleep…” “Sorry to hear that” said the leopard. “Tell you what, I’ll have a quiet word with the chimpanzees. Maybe they will move to a tree farther away. In fact, I’m sure they will.” The monkey thanked her and the cats walked on. All the way through the forest, the leopard greeted her neighbours and passed the time of day. They all seemed to like and respect her. The lioness was baffled. “But surely, these are the same creatures that you eat.” “True…” replied the leopard, “But they know that. They understand that it is my nature to eat their kind, but they accept me for what I am and just hide around mealtimes.” “We lions tend to stick together” said the lioness. “We would never think to make friends with a giraffe or an antelope or a zebra.” “Well, perhaps you should change all that. I am a solitary creature, but I don’t envy you your pride in the least. I embrace every species in the forest, and we help each other in different ways, each according to our own abilities.” They walked on in silence until, at last, they reached the edge of the forest and the plain, vast and moonlit, stretched out before them. “Would you like to come and meet the pride?” asked the lioness. “Er…not now, thanks” the she-leopard replied. “I’m sure they’ll be relieved to have you back and I’m pretty sure they won’t want me getting in the way. Besides, I’m not sure they would accept me for what I am…” The lioness had to agree. “Probably not, but I always will” So, the two cats parted, each returning to their very different lives but, from then on, they met often at the edge of the forest, and they walked together and talked about their days, and the leopard learned about the plains and the lioness learned more about the jungle and they discovered what made them different and what made them the same, and they were enriched by their relationship, which continued until the end of their days.”

“It’s only a little story, but it seemed appropriate” Rosie said

“And the moral? There’s always a moral….” said George, smiling.

“Friendship is where we find it. We might not have a big, stable family to back us up and provide us with love on tap, but if we go through life with our eyes open, and our hearts open and we are prepared to admit when we need help and to accept that others are different, there is love and support to be had all around us. We just have to embrace it. We found that out, didn’t we George?”

He smiled. “We certainly did. Oh, I’m going to miss you, girl”

“Me too”

“Don’t ever stop watching the sky, will you?”

“As if…I’ll be watching for your star tonight”

Loathe though he was to tear himself away from those beautiful emerald eyes and that beloved face, he felt a pull that he could not resist.

“Rosie, I have to go”

“Yes, I know.”

“Love you forever…”

“Me too…”

He turned to leave.



“We were OK, weren’t we?”

“Yes, Rosie. We were OK”

And he turned his back on the river, lifted his head and walked through the trees towards the meadow, where a thousand friends he never knew he had were waiting to welcome him.

The Kittens of Oz have writ a pome for Mama Shelly

You can sing it if you like, to the tune of “If I Only Had a Brain”. It’s full of dodgy rhymes and even dodgier scanning but, hey, could you write this well at three months old?

We could while away the hours
Relaxing on the towers
Dreaming every day away,
But the days are getting longer and the feelin’s getting stronger
That we really cannot stay

Living with my favourite bruvver (or sister: Ozzy)
There’ll be new things to discover
And some awesome games to play,
There’ll be boxes, bags and mousies waiting for us in our housies
On the day we go away

We’ll be meeting brand new minions
And forming our opinions
Of their personalities,
Do they have a sense of humour, are the cupboards full of tuna?
Vital questions such as these

It’ll feel a little scary
We will all be rather wary
Moving on to pastures new,
But we’ll be brave and gallant moggies, growling at the local doggies
Just like mama used to do

We will miss our kitten brothers (and sister: Munchie)
And the loving of our mother
Our adoring public too,
And Bartlett and Bunny, who we thought were really funny
And not forgetting Pantseroo

But we wouldn’t be here croonin’
If we hadn’t met a hoomin
Who ensured our lives could start,
So not un-naturelly, it’s to Foster Mama Shelly
That the Ozlings give their heart

Story Time

He hadn’t known what to expect.  He knew he would probably meet cats with whom he was probably related and cats he had spoken to through the glass or from inside the tunnel of sun and rain, and cats he had heard of through the Great Circle.  He hoped he would meet one or two of the famous cats he had held in high esteem for their wonderful singing voices, their awesome beauty or their legendary hunting skills.  And he knew he would be reunited with a beloved friend.  The reality took him completely by surprise, though.  As he stepped off the bridge onto the springy turf (a feeling which he found slightly startling, though pleasant) he found himself face to face with a huge crowd of cats of all sizes, shapes, colours and ages – there was just a sea of faces, all smiling, with their eyes fixed firmly on him.  And the noise!  It sounded like distant thunder rolling over the mountains and it kept on rolling – into his ears, his paws, his whiskers, and it grew louder as the crowd of purring cats began to walk towards him.  As they came close enough, each of them either touched his nose with theirs, or extended a paw, or pressed their bowed head against his, and then moved on.  He sat, a little taken aback at this outpouring of love and respect until, gradually, the crowd dissipated and he could actually see some daylight.  And that is when he saw her, sitting a few feet away from him, smiling and blinking away a small tear.

“Tuffy…”  They touched noses and licked ears and bonked foreheads, and he gazed into the familiar, beloved grey face and was forced to stifle a sniff.  “I’ve missed you.  We’ve all missed you” Tuffy smiled and gave her old friend an extra lick on his woolly ears.  Life was sweet on the far side of the Bridge, but now it was just a little sweeter.

The sun was setting as the two friends strolled side by side through the birch glade and onto the path that led away from the Bridge.  Loki’s senses tried to take in all the new sights and scents – there were so many – the smell of fresh grass and newly cut hay and pine trees and lilac blossom and the distant, salty tang of a far off ocean, the rosy glow of the setting sun reflecting on the silver bark of the birch trees and the tiny dancing shadows cast on the grass by the leaves, the loud rustling, squeaking and whispering, accompanied by the occasional glimpse of a furtive kitten face popping up from behind a stone…

“Why are all those kittens following us?” he asked.

“You’re famous” Tuffy replied, “and I don’t think they’ve ever seen anything quite like you before”.  She stopped and gave a low murr and, slowly and tentatively, kittens began to emerge from behind every rock, tree, bush and hillock.  As their walk resumed, they found themselves at the apex of a flying wedge of over-excited kittens and young cats, all bursting with pride at being allowed to accompany this magnificent creature to his destination.

“Where are we going?”

“To the meadow – for story time”

“Oh good – I love stories. Who’s telling them?”

“You are….”

He cleared his throat, nervously surveying the audience ranged at his feet, and shuffled a little on the molehill on which he stood.

“I’m sorry,” he began “but I don’t know many stories.  In fact, I only really know one – my own, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I stick to that.”  The audience all hunkered down contentedly, tucking in paws and curling up tails.  He cleared his throat once more…

“I was lucky enough to live in a castle.  It was a true fortress, keeping us safe from the dangers of the world outside.  With me lived a handsome lord in a black velvet cloak, a venerable grey lady and two young squires.  We were also lucky enough to have two of the most faithful, loyal and useful hoomin retainers, who hunted prey for us, prepared our meals, kept us well groomed and provided us with many comfortable places to sleep.  We wanted for nothing and our happy home remained unchanged for some time.  Then, one day, one of the young squires (I forget which) came running in to tell us that he’d found two urchins lurking under the desk and they wouldn’t speak to him and refused to come out.  Well, I found this hard to believe, so I went to see for myself and – sure enough – when I bent down and peered with one eye under the desk, there were two pairs of eyes peering back at me.  “Who are you?” I asked.  “Who are you?” replied a set of eyes.  “What are you doing in there?”  I asked. “What are you doing out there?” replied the other set.  I sighed.  It was going to be a long night….

Eventually, the hoomins were able to persuade the urchins to come out from their hiding place.  We all took a good look at them, sniffed them carefully and voted almost unanimously to keep them (Sammy voted against – he was afraid they would eat all the crunchies).  So, despite the fact that they smelt a bit funny and had no manners to speak of, they became part of the household.  For several weeks, the halls of our castle rang to the sound of thundering kitten paws and the crash of falling ornaments, and occasionally the squeaks of protest as one of the young squires decided that a bit of chivalry was called for and cuffed an urchin round the ear.  I would take refuge in my favourite sleeping box for a bit of peace and quiet, but it would be only a matter of minutes before the small she-urchin would push herself in beside me and keep me awake by sucking noisily on my fur.  I found this most bizarre, but Tuffy told me she was just missing her mama, so I tolerated her and I soon found myself warming to this odd little creature.

The he-urchin, in the meantime, found many areas of common ground with the young squires, mostly food, destruction and sprawling on his back with his legs in the air.  As time passed, we grew accustomed to their joyful presence, until we could no longer remember what life had been like before they came.  They took on the task of keeping the castle walls safe from wild beasts, by glaring through the window at them, and Little Tory Longtail put herself in charge of checking our food, before it was served, for substance and quantity.  She also began to spend more time with the grey lady, whose task it was to educate her in cat lore and the ways of the Moon and stars.  Truffles, as the only female, was the household’s representative and advocate at the Great Circle, a job of great responsibility which could not be undertaken by any cat without the necessary education and, although none of us liked to think about it, a time would come when Tory would be obliged to take on that role herself.

That day came sooner than we expected – and long before I was ready. Our beloved Truffles told us it was time to say goodbye and I was so unprepared and terribly sad, not just to lose our dear sister and friend, but sad too that Little Tory Longtail’s kittenhood was so soon over and that she no longer needed our protection.  In fact, it would be she who would be protecting us and watching over the household, as Tuffy had done for all those years.  Tory crept into my sleeping box for the last time that night and we were glad for each other’s company, for the next day Tuffy set off on her journey to the Bridge.

So Tory sat in the window in the last hours before dawn and sang Truffles’ name to the Moon and we all listened as the song was picked up by every cat in the Circle.  Then, in accordance with the tradition, we looked up and waited, and, sure enough, a tiny star appeared like a jewel in the night and sparkled brighter than the others and I thought “Is it her…is that our friend?”  And I saw the star wink with an emerald light and I knew.  Our sister was watching us now and she would watch us forever.

And then, the time came when I knew I too had to leave and I asked them for their help and it was gladly given, even though it made them sad.  And I said my goodbyes to the young squires and to my darling urchins and to my old friend Sammy and told them I would be watching over them until the time came to meet again.  Then I said goodbye to my hoomins, which was much, much harder…”

He tailed off, unable to think what to say next.  Tuffy licked the top of his head and pointed into the sky.  All the cats in the meadow fell silent and looked up.  It was a cloudless night and the silver crescent of the new moon (his favourite) hung low over the horizon.  Then, as he watched, a small star appeared winking with an emerald light and, beside it, another, fiery amber like a topaz.  It burned in the sky like the flare of a match and, on the breeze, he thought he could hear the echo of a familiar feline voice, singing his name.  And all the cats in the meadow joined in the song, to give thanks to the Moon for the life of Loki.

Much later, Loki and Tuffy sat together in the meadow, tranquil and content.  All around them were curled up cats and piles of slumbering kittens.

“Where do we sleep?” asked Loki

“Anywhere we like,” Tuffy replied “but tonight I thought you might appreciate this..”

She stood aside to reveal a battered cardboard box, and Loki couldn’t help but grin.  He climbed in and tested its construction (a little shabby – good) and size (just a little too small for his huge frame – perfect!) and he circled around ten or eleven times just to get the feel of it. Once he was oriented to his satisfaction – positioned so that he could see his new star if he chose to open an eye – he began to doze.

A small sound brought him back to wakefulness and he found, peering over the rim of his box, a small black kitten gazing at him with huge saucer eyes.

“Yes…?” he asked.  The kitten said nothing, but continued to gaze at him.  “Shoo…off you go. It’s time you were asleep.”  The kitten’s eyes began to mist, and her lip trembled a little.

Loki sighed deeply and rolled his eyes.

“OK…just for tonight” and he shuffled over to make room.

For Siberia and Jaguar

“Look! There’s another one. Beat you good, brudder!”

“Aach…what’s the score now?”

“Three all…”

The two young cats lay on their backs in the meadow, watching the night sky for shooting stars. It was a particularly good night for them – clear and nearly cloudless, the merest hint of a breeze rustling the leaves in the tall elm under which they lay. They had been playing this game since the moon came up, revelling in the mild night air, the fragrance wafting off the grass and, above all, each other’s company.

Jaguar had been stalking shadows through the undergrowth that morning when he had suddenly stopped still and sniffed the air. There was a change in it somehow. Not a scent as such, but a change in the texture and the feel of the air in his nostrils. He rolled his tongue and opened his mouth a little, employing his unique olfactory senses to try to analyse the sensations hitting his nose. He still could not identify it, but he was seized by a compulsion to follow it to its source.

He set off, alone, not really knowing where he was heading, but following the scent which he knew was calling him and him alone. He pushed out of the undergrowth and found himself following the path that lead – well, it only had one destination. It was a shock, but he knew…

He immediately became aware of the skittering of small, beclawed paws behind him and, turning round, he found he was being followed by a group of kittens and young cats, all of them keeping a respectful distance, until his sudden stop caused a major pile-up as the leading kitten applied her brakes a little too sharply.

“Where are you going?” she asked him

“You know where. This path only leads to one place”

“Can we come too? We’ll be everso quiet”

Jaguar doubted that, but he found it hard to deny the precocious, woolly kitten, who had been among the group who had met him on the night of his arrival. He would always be grateful for her laughing, eager face and her tinkling laugh which had so eased the shock and fear of his sudden and unexpected arrival but, tonight – well, it wasn’t her night. It was his…theirs.

“I need to do this on my own, Honey”, he said as gently as he could, so as not to hurt her feelings.

“Do what?”

“He is coming….”

The kitten smiled and signalled her pack to turn around, and they were gone. Jaguar resumed his walk, following the path as it crossed the small silver stream, where he drank, and past the bed of butterfly bushes where the earth was nice and soft and ideal for digging small but necessary holes, and into the stand of silver birch trees where the afternoon sun danced like flames across the velvet grass. Then, he was on the springy turf at the end of the bridge.

He was not alone. Many cats were waiting and, to his surprise, among them he saw the two old female cats with whom he had shared his home for a short while. He had once found them formidable and intimidating, but now they smiled in greeting and booped his nose and he was glad they were there.

Then, the murmur and rustle of sudden activity, followed by quiet…the air electric with suppressed excitement and, suddenly….he was there. Handsome and sleek, his head held high, scanning the crowd for a face he knew he would find…

There are no words adequate to describe the joy of their reunion. They dashed to each other, wrestling, washing, chewing ears and paws and purring like a thunderstorm, until they were finally able to gather themselves enough to say “hello”. As they walked side by side back through the birch copse and watched silver moonlight playing where the sun had once danced, they talked.

“I’m worried about him. He’s on his own now”

Jaguar understood. He himself had worried about his brother, left alone with nobody to play with or snuggle with. His fears had proved to be unfounded, though. “Remember when we were altogether in that white room, with all our brothers and sisters?”

“Oh yes, how can I forget? I used to see stripes even when I closed my eyes”

Jaguar smiled at the memory. “Were you ever afraid, or hungry, or sad?”

“No, never, although I was a bit dubious about being dipped in that bucket”

“Hmmm…yes, that was an odd one. I’ve asked around here, and nobody else can recall ever being dipped in a bucket, so I guess that was something that the she-hoomin liked to do. We went along with it to please her, but she fed us and cuddled us and kept us safe and warm in return. And what did you think about our special hoomins?”

“They were wonderful. I couldn’t have loved them more”

“Did they ever let you down?”


“Then be sure that they won’t let him down. They will do what they have always done and will do right by Sam. Whatever path they choose, he will be loved and cared for. You will be able to watch over him – your star will be right next to mine and the Circle will name it tonight so he can always find it. He’s going to be OK”

They walked on in silence, while Jaguar smiled at the rustles and squeaks made by the kitten pack as they frantically dived out of the way under bushes and behind tussocks, while still trying to sneak a glimpse of their exciting new friend. Tomorrow, they would meet him and he would be mesmerised and charmed by their fun and joy and their simple, uncomplicated little hearts, just as Jaguar had been.

But, tonight belonged to the brothers.

And so now, they lay on their backs together in the meadow and they breathed in the warm night air and savoured the tang of fresh grass and distant oceans and Jaguar shared his knowledge of the moon and the night sky and they raced each other to spot shooting stars…

Two Jungle Kittens, together again on their next big adventure.