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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1500747-The-Lives-of-Misty-Chapters-8-15
Rated: ASR · Novel · Young Adult · #1500747
The life of a cat is far more than it appears...
Chapter 8 – The Ninth Life & the 54 Rule

(Chapters 1-7 can be found at www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1491738 )

              

                     

         Well, it appeared my mother really did want me to prove my patience. For two weeks she hadn’t said another word about FPT since her story of how it was first discovered. I planned on giving her just a little reminder about it the next morning. Luckily, Jack saved me from that mistake.

         “Hey, Kid. Wake up,” Jack said, nudging me awake. I was sleeping under Joshua’s arm.

         “Are you crazy?” I said loud enough to make my feelings clear to Jack, but not too loud as to wake Joshua.

         “Some have said so,” he said, smiling. “Actually, a lot have said so. Thankfully, I have a thick skin so I don’t let petty things like name-calling get to me.”

         “You’re going to get me in serious trouble,” I said, nodding my head in Joshua’s direction.

         “Come on downstairs so you won’t worry yourself to death,” Jack said as he jumped off the bed and headed out the door.

         My heart leaped into overdrive as Joshua began shifting his body. It ended up being a blessing, however; he took his arm off me and just turned over. Judging by his deep breathing pattern, I was pretty sure he wasn’t awake. It wasn’t long before I joined Jack in the kitchen. He was already pawing at a half open bag of chips on the kitchen table.

         “Can you not do that, please? You got me in trouble last time.”

         “Kid, an open bag of potato chips coupled with an incredible hungry beast, such as myself, make for a dangerous combination.”

         I rolled my eyes for there was no controlling this guy. And then it hit me … for some reason I had briefly forgotten … this was my father I was trying to control. I watched him for a few minutes as he skillfully maneuvered one or two chips from the bag at a time, and then, with deafening crunches, he quickly gobbled them down.

         He looked up, licking his chops. “You’re quiet tonight, Kid. These suckers are pretty salty. Any water you can spare for an old, thirsty cat?”

         “I think my dish is empty. I drank it before bed. Sorry.” Jack looked at me in surprise. I think he was expecting an angry retort since he had completely gone against my wishes by eating the chips. I found myself surprised as well. My voice was indeed far kinder than I intended it to be.

         “That’s ok, Kid. I have my ways. I’ll be right back.” Jack jumped off the table and headed to the half bathroom off the left of the kitchen. I stretched my head as I stood on the edge of the kitchen table trying to see what he was up to. My stomach revolted when I saw him jump on the rim of the toilet bowl. “He is not going to …?” I said aloud to myself. But before I could finish the thought, he had already balanced himself until he was able to take a drink from the bowl. I tried my best to ignore the lapping sounds. I was as horror-struck as I had ever been in my entire life.

         Jack didn’t jump so much as slip down from the toilet when he was done. He came over and jumped back on the table. He began walking right back to the bag of chips looking for seconds. I sprung between him and the open bag. “Sorry, Jack, but I don’t think my stomach can take your being thirsty again.”

         He looked at me in confusion, and then realized what I meant. “You mean drinking out of the bowl, Kid? Awww, come on, that’s nothing. Same water that comes out of the faucet, you know? You’d be surprised at what you’d do if it came down to your survival.” He moved around me to get back at the bag.

         “I know you’re my father,” I said, feeling it was time to get out the fact that I knew.

         It was the first time I’d seen Jack speechless without food plugging up his jaws. “So, how’d you find out, Kid?”

         “My mother, who else?”

         “You told her I came back?”

         “Well, you didn’t really leave me a choice did you? You completely trashed the kitchen the last time you were here. I was the one being blamed, so did I have a choice but to tell?”

         “No,” Jack said somberly, “I guess not. It’s just -” Jack stopped himself.          

         “Just what?” 

         “It’s just … she told me she’d never tell you about me if I left.”

         “You left? I always thought you were gone because Joshua’s father took you when he and Christine got divorced.”

         “There is some truth to that. I was with Joshua’s father for quite some time. Your mother and I were still able to see each other through FP …” he hesitated.

         “FPT?”

         “Yes,” he said, looking somewhat surprised. “I thought you didn’t believe me when I last spoke with you.”

         “I didn’t. Mother’s been telling me about it. I guess she didn’t want me to think my old man was nutcase.”

         At this, Jack smiled.

         “Misty?” I heard my mother’s voice from below. In a moment she joined us atop the table. “Jack?”

         “Fog.” Jack smiled upon seeing my mother, but then thought better of it. He took on a more serious appearance. “You look wonderful, Fog. I’ve missed you.”

         “You shouldn’t be here, Jack. You’re making a lot of noise. If you get caught, the humans will become very suspicious about how you got here.”

         “Oh, they won’t care,” Jack said, waving his paw in indifference. “It would just be another one of those fantastic tales you hear in the news: ‘Dog Finds its Way Home Three Years After Being Lost on Family Vacation’. They’ll get over it. Besides, Joshua and Christine are the heaviest sleepers I’ve ever met. We have nothing to worry about.”

         I didn’t let Jack’s complete disregard for my wishes bother me too much, but when he ignored my mother’s concerns, I found myself very irritated.

         “Don’t speak to my mother like she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”

         “It’s ok, Misty. He’s probably right,” my mother said in his defense.

         “He might be right, but it doesn’t mean he has to make jokes about it. Like you have no idea what you’re talking about.”

         “Is that the way it sounded, Kid? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it to come out that way.” Jack looked at my mother. “I’m sorry if it sounded as though I take your thoughts lightly, Fog. You know me - always making jokes.”

         “I know, Jack,” my mother replied with a tenderness that didn’t escape my notice. “If we are going to be talking, I think we should take this outside,” she suggested.

         Outside? My mother never offered to take things ‘outside’ with me. She said we were housecats, and housecats weren’t meant for the outside. The last time I was out of the house was during what was now referred to as The Tommy Incident.

         “Sounds like a great idea,” Jack said a little too eagerly, as though trying to make up for his earlier joking.

         I wondered how they planned on getting outside. All the doors and windows were completely shut. Only once did Joshua leave the front door open. It happened when I was a kitten. He freaked out when he saw me sitting on the sidewalk watching the cars go by. Since then, Joshua kept us in complete lockdown mode; never leaving doors open. 

         Without another word, Jack jumped across to the counter that sat beside the back door, while my mother jumped off the table, and walked over to the same door. I watched them from the kitchen table in amazement. Jack pawed at the lock until he pushed it into its unlocked position. My mother craned her neck to watch Jack then pawing at the doorknob. “Ok, get ready,” Jack said.

         “I’m ready,” she replied. She had her right paw perched between the door and the doorjamb. Jack worked feverishly with the knob. You could barely hear the ‘click’ as the bolt just slipped free of its hole for a fraction of a second, but my mom caught the sound and quickly pawed at the door. She had it opened within seconds.

         Jack let out a laugh of triumph. “Great job as always, sweetheart – I mean - Fog,” Jack quickly corrected himself. He jumped off the counter to join my mother by the door. “You coming, Kid?”

         I jumped off the table without hesitation and followed them out the door. I suppose I should have been a bit scared, but I figured if my parents were heading up the trip, what was there to worry about?







         There was an enormous overgrown maple tree in Joshua’s backyard. It was autumn and the freshly dropped red leaves peppered the ground around it. We all stretched out on the pile of soft leaves. I watched the dark clouds pass in front of the moon for the first time without a window or screen hampering my view. It was the most beautiful and peaceful scene I could remember up to that point; so quiet. Though the quiet didn’t last very long.

         “So you told Misty about FPT?” my mother blurted, suddenly recalling she had cause to be mad at Jack.

         “I know. I’m sorry. You know me, Fog. I can never keep my big mouth shut,” he said with a slight grin.

         “He almost died, Jack.”

         The grin vanished. “Almost died? How?”

         “You told him how to start traveling through FPT,” she paused to express her seriousness, “but you never told him how to return to the OP.”

         Jack’s eyes went wide. “I’m sorry, Fog. I never thought he’d actually try anything without getting more information from you first. I didn’t even think he was listening. He was calling me crazy. Weren’t you, Kid?” Jack asked looking for backup.

         “Young ones are always listening, Jack. Even when you don’t think they are,” my mother continued.

         “Sorry there, Kid. So how bad was it?”

         “Awful. I thought I was going to tear my skin off.”

         “He’s a First-Lifer,” my mother said. “I think now is a good time to tell him about what to expect in the future, and how that future depends on his actions each day.”

         First-Lifer? I’d never heard that expression before. Did that mean my mother was an Eighth-Lifer? I wondered what Jack was.

         “Does he already know about the nine lives?” Jack asked.

         “Yes, I do,” I piped in. “Mom told me about that a couple of months ago.”

         “But he doesn’t know the about the Ninth Life,” my mother said.

         “What about the ninth life?” I interrupted. “It’s pretty much like the other eight, isn’t it?” My parents looked at each other for a few moments. I’m not sure if they were trying to communicate something telepathically or if neither wanted to tell me. “What about the ninth life?” I repeated.

         “In the Ninth Life, Misty,” my mother began, “you can indeed come back as a cat, but there are two other possibilities as well.” She looked to Jack for guidance.

         Jack took the lead. “There is a chance you could come back in your ninth life as a dog.”

         “What?” I said incredulously. “A dog? You’re saying I could come back like that crazy dog next door that’s always drooling, digging holes, and barking at everything that moves?”

         “You got it, Kid. Every dog was once a cat just like us. Some dogs really have it out for us cats because they don’t forget their past lives. They knew they were once cats and some are very jealous. After all, most went from a life of leisure, to a life of being told to ‘sit down, roll over, shake, speak, fetch my slippers’. Some don’t take kindly to this new life of servitude, when they were once the ones being served. And let’s not forget - no more litter boxes. Sure, you might think that’s a good thing, but how would you like it if you were expected to relieve yourself outdoors, whether it was 80 degrees or a raging blizzard with 70 mile per hour winds?” Jack laughed.

         “There is also the chance,” my mother interrupted, “and here, Jack may not agree, that you could become human in your ninth life.” As she spoke these words, her eyes reminded me of Joshua’s eyes upon seeing all of his gifts under the tree on Christmas morning.

         I was stunned. For a moment I wondered if I had heard her right. Never would this thought have ever crossed my mind. “A human?” I whispered. “Really? I could be a human one day?”

         “Now hold on, Fog, before you get him all excited,” Jack said. “There is a legend that claims some cats have become humans. But there is no real proof. Dogs we know for a fact. We can communicate with dogs. And, again, dogs do recall their lives as cats. However, it is said that if you become a human in your ninth life, you can recall nothing about your past lives as a cat.”

         My mother shifted her gaze from Jack back to me. “Misty, I believe this legend. About two hundred years ago, a human named Samuel Freedman told every cat he saw that he remembered his first eight lives as a cat himself. He knew about dogs being cats in their previous lives and everything. Up to that time, cats thought they had only two future prospects in the ninth life: a dog or a cat.”

          “Let’s not forget, Fog, this human was a real person, but he was the only one who ever remembered. Many think he was just a crazy guy who talked to cats and just got lucky guessing about the dog thing.”

         “So how do you know if you’re going to be a dog, a cat or whatever, in your last life?” When I heard myself ask this question, I wondered if I was the crazy guy.

         My mother took the reins in answering. “Cats were told over the centuries to keep track of their ages, behaviors and whatever else might affect the outcome of their ninth lives. After centuries of study, they have discovered there actually is quite a science to it. It’s determined by the number of years you lived in your first eight lives.”

         “Basically, Kid, if you act like a big dummy, and get yourself killed quickly all the time, you come back as a dog. If you live reasonably well and use your head, then you come back as a cat,” Jack said.

         “And if you live your first eight lives wisely, Misty, you could return as a human,” my mother finished.

         “Again, pure speculation and not necessarily true,” Jack countered.

         My mother glared at Jack. “I guess some things never change, Jack.” My mother stood up. “Why do you always insist on not believing so badly? Are you that jealous of those who still have a chance at being human?”

         “Oh, that one hurt, Fog,” Jack said dispiritedly. “Your mother’s right though, Kid. I’ll never make it now. I’m on my seventh life with only forty years under my collar. This is actually the longest I’ve ever stayed around. Your mom was someone real special to me, but sometimes these things just don’t work out. She’s too calm, and I’m too crazy.

         “What it comes down to is, I don’t care if the legend is true or not. The problem is that there are too many of our kind who do believe it,” Jack said in a curt, yet concerned, tone.

         “Why would that be a problem?” I asked. “Believing in this legend, I mean. Wouldn’t that make cats more likely to try and live their lives respectfully?”

         “Your mother knows why this belief can be such a problem.” At this, Jack looked at my mother as if giving her the chance to reveal what he meant. She only turned away from him, so Jack continued, “Don’t forget that it’s widely believed that those who become human in the ninth life will have absolutely no recollection of their past lives. The problem, Kid, is that many cats cut their eighth life short, by jumping in front of cars or whatever it takes, so they will die before making it to that milestone. They think they want to be human so badly in their first seven years, but in the eighth, when they know they have a real chance at making it, they realize they don’t want to forget all the creatures and people they loved. Because they start remembering all the tender moments they had with their families and friends - suddenly being a human isn’t worth it to lose those precious memories.” Jack stood up and walked over to me. “It doesn’t bother me at all that I will probably be a dog in my ninth life. I’ll be happy because I’ll remember you, and I’ll always remember the love I had for your mother.”

         My mother turned back to Jack. “I appreciate your view, Jack, but humans live such a long life that those memories would become dear to them too.”

         “This is where your mother and I disagree,” Jack said, and started scratching at the back of his neck.

         My mother emitted a deep sigh. “Jack, you have never experienced the pain of loving and nurturing your offspring for two or three months, only to have them stripped away from you forever. As a human mother, I would have the ability to love and watch my children grow into adulthood. And though human children do eventually leave on their own accord, the ones that truly love their parents do choose to visit them, usually for the rest of their lives. I just wonder, Jack - does anything compare to that human bond?”

         Jack was saved from answering my mother’s question as we were all blinded by a sudden light thrown out through the kitchen window.

         “Uh, oh. Looks like we woke someone up,” Jack said. “Hurry and get back in there before they notice the door, and close it on you.”

         My mother didn’t hesitate, and ran straight back into the house. I could hear Christine mutter, “Fog, how did you get out there?”

         I didn’t want to go back in yet. I wanted to hear more.

         Jack ran behind a bush to get out of sight. “Hurry up, Kid. Get in there before they lock the door on you. I have to get out of here soon anyway.”

         “When can I see you again?”

         “Well, I can’t come back for a couple months.”

         “Why not?”

         “The 54 Rule, of course.”

         “What’s the 54 Rule?”

         “You can only travel by FPT every 54 days.”

         “54 days?” I said. Now it all made sense why I wasn’t able to travel so soon after the Tommy Incident.

         “Misty! You’re out here, too?” Christine said in a loud whisper so as not to wake the neighbors.

         I started to run back inside, but stopped briefly on the steps. “I’ll see you soon … Dad.” It felt awkward as I said it, and I remember thinking to myself afterwards that I shouldn’t call him that again. I couldn’t see him behind the bush, but I was pretty sure I made him smile.

         





         For the next few days, I grilled my mother for more information. After Jack’s visit, she was much more open when I pressed for details: How many years did you have to live to become a cat again? “Between 50 years and 107 years.” You became a dog if you only lived for how long? “Anything under 50 years. But if a cat didn’t live foolishly, and just seemed to have rotten luck, they would become a smarter breed of dog such as a Border collie or a poodle. Though there are many who would prefer to be a mutt than a poodle. Unfortunately, it is not our choice to make.” According to legend, (which my mother truly believed to be fact), what did the total of your first eight lives have to be to become human? “One hundred and eight. One hundred and eight appears to be the magic number that is always spoken of. You will hear others refer to it as ‘The 1-‘O’-8’. That means throughout your first eight lives, you must average a life span of thirteen and a half years.” 

         “That doesn’t seem too hard. I thought many cats live to be at least fifteen,” I said.

         “That’s true. But, Misty, there are many who pass away before even being weaned from the teat of their mother.” I hadn’t thought about that. Then I remembered back to my first couple of days, and how I thought I was going to die from the pain of emptiness in my belly.

         I finally got up the courage to ask the question I’d wanted to know for quite some time. “Mom, you said you’re in your eighth life, right?”

         “Yes.”

         “So, are you going to make it to The 1-O-8?”

         We were both soaking in the rays of the sun which penetrated the living room windows. My mother considered her answer before speaking. “I was born just before the Civil War – a horrible time in our country where brothers sometimes pitted themselves against one another – sometimes to the point of death. I lived safely through both World Wars in surprising prosperity. I’m eight years old now, Misty. I’ve lived for a total of 98 years up to this point. I would have to live until I was 18 years-old to make it to The 1-O-8. That just seems highly unlikely at this point. I can already feel myself slowing down a bit. Not too much, mind you, but I can feel the change in my body.”

         “You could make it though. 18 isn’t impossible, Mom. Aren’t there many cats who live to 18?”

         “I wouldn’t use the word ‘many’ – ‘a few’, ‘some’, but not ‘many’.” She closed her eyes. We were both silent for several minutes. I thought my mother had fallen asleep when she began speaking again. “I had a real good chance of making it. I had several long lives in my first six. I had even lived a long life during The Great Depression, when rich and poor alike found money suddenly hard to come by. Thousands of cats died of malnutrition because humans had to choose between feeding their children and their pets – of course, choosing their children. I was already up to 90 years in those first six lives, so all I had to do was average nine years in my seventh and eighth.”

         “If you were up to 90 years after your sixth life, and now you’re eight-years-old in your eighth life …” I was trying to do the math. Then it dawned on me. “That means …”

         “Yes, Misty. I died in my first days as a kitten in my seventh life.”

         I felt horrible. I know it was something my mother was probably already over, but this vision of my mother dying so young really bothered me. “You really could have made it to The 1-O-8. What happened?”

         “I was born to a stray. I don’t remember much, because I wasn’t yet able to see. All I can remember were people’s voices off in the distance. Different voices, some yelling, some laughing. Car horns were beeping often as well, so I guessed I must have been in some type of city.

         “The ground and the air were so cold - like no cold I’d ever felt before. I believe I was born by a dumpster for I remember a mixture of rotten smells hanging in the air from the instant I woke up until I slipped away to my eighth life.”

         “That’s not fair you were given that life,” I said. “You must have been so angry, not having a real chance to live your seventh life.”

         “I wasn’t angry. I was, most certainly, disappointed. But Misty, I’ve been one of the very fortunate to have been born to so many wonderful homes where humans took good care of me - most of the time anyway. I knew so many that were lucky to be granted even four lives in nice homes. Many cats had awful lives of scratching for whatever food they could muster out of trash cans. Many of those died early from starvation.”

         “So that could happen to me someday?” I said as more of a statement than a question. The thought did not warm my heart, or my belly for that matter. I was a big fan of fluffy beds and a full stomach.

         “Unfortunately, yes. It could, and most likely will, at some point happen to you. The one thing I’m glad about your father getting in touch with you is that he can be a great teacher of survival to you, Misty. In his seven lives, five he was born as a stray.”

         “Five?” I said incredulously. “That’s terrible. I don’t know what I would do without the love of humans. I hate to admit it, Mother, but I don’t think I could ever make it as a stray.”

         “Cats do make it, Misty. Many hang on to the hope that a kind human will take pity on them and bring them into their homes. And this does happen. There are many kind hearted humans. But, unfortunately, there are not enough of them for all of us.”

         Just then I remembered sitting in the warmth of the kitchen window one afternoon when a stray started sniffing around in our yard. His fur was matted down and mangy. I felt repulsed as I looked at him. “What a sorry excuse for a cat,” I remembered thinking to myself. When he jumped on top of an open trash can beside the house, I scratched at the window to shoo him away. He looked at me with a startled expression. He then gave me this pleading look. Thinking back on it, I suppose he was hoping I understood his predicament. But I didn’t then. I scratched like crazy again at the window to give him the clear message that he didn’t belong there. He left, without another look, and without any scraps.

         This memory suddenly caused me great pain. My stomach was actually squeezing in on itself. That cat had no choice in the matter. Instead of leaving him be so he could grab an apple core, or anything to put off starvation, I forced him to leave. That could be me someday, I thought to myself. Would another dumb cat in his first life like me turn me away from food? I thought I’d better prepare myself, for that day may arrive, and it probably would. Maybe not in this life, but surely in one to come.

         The roar from the engine of the school bus filled our ears. The screeching of its brakes soon followed. “Joshua’s home!” I said, thrilled to be pulled back to my current, heavenly reality. I jumped on the windowsill to see Joshua walking down the bus steps with his oversized backpack thrown across his shoulder. “Mom?”

         With her eyes closed, my mother was still soaking in the sunrays. “Yes, Misty.”

         “It’s been two months since the Tommy Incident. According to the 54 Rule, I could travel through FPT again, right?”

         She was slow to answer. “Yes, you are correct.”

         “Do I have your permission? I think I know what to do now. I would be very careful, I promise.”

         Again, she was slow to answer. “I suppose there’s nothing to stop you. Just do me a favor, ok Misty?”

         “What is it?”

         “Don’t tell me when you’re doing it. It will only cause me great worry.”

         I jumped off the windowsill and walked over to her. I rubbed my head against hers. “I will only tell you after I return.” Then Joshua came through the door and saw us together on the floor.

         “Boy, I sure wish I was a cat sometimes,” he said.



         





































Chapter 9 – An Unpleasant Discovery





         I knew exactly who I wanted to see on my next FPT venture - Smokey. Though I thought about and missed all of my siblings on occasion, it was Smokey I missed the most. I often wondered how he was doing with the little old lady who took him away. He was the last to go on account of his limp from falling down the cellar stairs. The look of disappointment in his eyes, when I saw him for the last time as he was carried out the door, has never left me.

         I waited for several days after asking my mother’s permission before I attempted my second trip through FPT. She said nothing more about it since I had asked. At her suggestion, I waited for everyone to fall asleep. She said it was always best to travel at night, that way you were less likely to meet up with humans. It was also best to leave at night so your own human owners wouldn’t miss you since they would sleep through your entire disappearance.

         I thought I’d try from a different place in the house. I wanted to test whether it really could be done from under any piece of furniture. So I chose the couch in the living room as the OP.

         The couch proved a tighter squeeze than under the beds, but I did my best to wedge myself under it. There was a pile of dust bunnies that unleashed a brief sneezing fit in me. It was rather suffocating, so I quickly closed my eyes and brought up that last mental picture I had of Smokey - and then made my wish to see him.

         The 54 Rule didn’t hold me up any longer. It had been at least two and a half months since the Tommy Incident, so I immediately felt the gravitational pull on my stomach. As I was transported through the darkness, I became excited at the thought of seeing Smokey after so long. Was he happier? Did his limp go away? Did he know about this whole FPT business? I had many questions.

         As I slowed to a stop and opened my eyes, I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. From the animal posters on the wall, the bright lights and the smell of cleaning solutions, it was clear I was in an animal hospital. I was standing on the green linoleum floor in a long hallway when I heard some barking coming from another room in the distance. In confusion, I walked into the closest examination room where I could hear two people talking. Their backs were to me so I was able to slip in unnoticed.

         There was an old woman with a cane and, what I guessed to be a young veterinarian with a white coat on. The old woman held the cane in her left hand while she stroked an animal on the examination table. I couldn’t make out which type of animal through the humans.

         “I’m sorry, Mrs. Barlow, there’s nothing else we can really do. He’s in a lot of pain right now, and I really think it would be in your best interest to euthanize him.”

         I walked under a green, cushioned metal chair that was settled against the wall. I still couldn’t see so I jumped on the chair to get a better look. I gasped as the old woman turned her head to the vet. Mrs. Barlow was the same woman who had taken Smokey from us.

         “You mean you want me to put him to sleep, Doctor?” Mrs. Barlow asked in a slow, and somewhat, creaking voice.

         “Yes, ma’am. I really believe it’s for the best. I’m sorry, but even with further treatments we can’t guarantee he would be cured.”

         Mrs. Barlow looked back down and continued stroking the animal upon the table. The vet walked over to wash his hands in the stainless steel sink on the far side of the room. The opening confirmed my fear - Smokey was prone on the table with his eyes half closed. I felt tears well up as I looked at him. His breathing was shallow and he didn’t appear to know what was going on. 

         “But Smokey is all I have, Dr. Jansen. I hate to just let him go.”

         “Mrs. Barlow, you must be aware of how much further treatments would cost you,” Dr. Jansen said in a discouraging tone. He turned off the water and swiped a paper towel from the automatic dispenser above the sink. I jumped off the chair before he turned to see me.

         “I’m well aware of the costs, Dr. Jansen,” Mrs. Barlow said somewhat angrily. I ducked as she suddenly waved her cane in his direction. “You know, there was a time when people helped because they could, not because of how much money was to be made.”

         From beneath the chair I watched Dr. Jansen as he was stunned into silence. Mrs. Barlow lowered her cane back to the floor. At last the vet got up the nerve to speak again. “Again, I’m sorry, ma’am, but there’s nothing I can do. Shall we take care of this tonight or do you want to take him home?”

         She stroked Smokey along his back. “What shall I do, Smokey? I wish you could speak so I’d know the right thing to do,” she said. “How much pain is he in, Dr. Jansen?”

         “At this point, on a scale on 1 to 10? I’d probably guess around an 8 or a 9. He’s unresponsive, so his brain is basically trying to shut everything out due to the pain.”

         Mrs. Barlow let out a heavy sigh. “Who am I to continue his suffering just so an old lady can be comforted by his presence? Let’s take care of it now, Doctor. Please do it quickly.”

         “I’ll be right back,” Dr. Jansen replied and walked right past me out of the room.

         “I’m sorry, Smokey. I’m so sorry, dear, but this will be for your own good.” Mrs. Barlow’s voice cracked as she began to cry.

         I couldn’t take it – my heart was ripping from the inside. I couldn’t just sit on the floor waiting for my brother die. I crawled from under the chair and leapt onto the table.

         “Oh dear,” Mrs. Barlow jumped back. “Where did you come from?”

         I paid no attention to her. I didn’t have much time. I nudged Smokey trying to get his attention. “Smokey. Smokey, it’s me, Misty. Remember? It’s me, your little brother.”

         “What are you doing here, little cat?” Mrs. Barlow asked in a slightly irritated tone. “Did you escape from somewhere? Go on now,” she said, trying to shoo me off the table.

         She stopped shooing me away when Smokey lifted his head to look at me for the first time. “Misty? Am I already dying? I must be dreaming.”

         I let out a little laugh through my tears. “No, you’re not dreaming. I’m here. I’m really here. I got here through FPT.” From Smokey’s look of confusion, it was obvious he didn’t know about FPT yet. “It’s a long story, but I’m really here with you.”

         “However you came here, I’m thankful.” He rested his head back on the stainless steel table. “Thankful for anything that takes my mind away from this pain,” he uttered more to himself than to me.

         “What’s wrong with you, Smokey?”

         “I have the cancer - this invisible thing that eats away at the insides of your body. It’s unbearable, Misty. I’ll truly be happy when it’s all over - though I’ll miss my sweet, sweet servant. She’s always been so kind to me.” Smokey paused for a moment and then continued, “When kids in the neighborhood would make fun of my limping, she’d throw her cane up at them and bark, ‘How would you like to be limping next?’” Smokey let out a little laugh, but the pain of the movement quickly transformed his smile into a wince.

         Dr. Jansen ambled back through the door focusing on the needle in his hand. He looked up taking notice of the new addition to his examination table. “What the -? Where did this cat come from? Go on, get off of here,” he said pushing me off the table with his hand. My feet barely touched the floor before I jumped right back on the table. “Persistent little bugger. I’m sorry, Mrs. Barlow. I don’t know how this cat got in here.” He tried pushing me off again, but I evaded him easily.

         “No, no, Dr. Jansen. It’s ok.” And though Mrs. Barlow seemed as truly confused as the doctor was, she said, “Let him stay. Smokey seems to be enjoying his company. I haven’t heard him meow like this in such a long time. He barely even moves anymore.”

         Dr. Jansen did as he was told. It was a delicate situation. “If it’s ok with you, I guess it’s fine with me,” he said. I watched as he pressed the measurement end of the needle until he ejected some of the lethal liquid onto the floor. He checked the gauge and brought the needle toward Smokey’s hind leg. As I watched the needle pierce his leg, I closed my eyes. Mrs. Barlow began crying uncontrollably. She stroked the length of Smokey’s body with her frail, weathered hand. “It should only take a couple of minutes. I’ll leave you alone, Mrs. Barlow,” Dr. Jansen said, and again he left the room.

         “I’m so sorry this happened to you, Smokey,” I said.

         “It’s ok. It’s ok. I’m glad it’s coming to an end,” he said, trying to soothe me. How strange that I was the one to be comforted when it was Smokey facing the end of his first life.

         And then I suddenly remembered! Did Smokey know? I had to let him know before he faded away. “Smokey,” I said frantically, “we have nine lives!”

         “What? Ohhh, my body is getting very warm now – so warm,” he muttered to himself.

         “Nine lives, Smokey! We have nine lives! This was only your first! Chances are you’ll be reborn, and you can start a new life all over again - healthy as can be.”

         “That’s a great story, Misty. Thank you for trying to make this easier for me. You were always a great brother. You were always the one trying to make me feel better after my injury, when the others were afraid to even approach me. I never said it before - but I loved you for that.”

         It hurt that he didn’t believe me, but I would have to be happy with the knowledge that he would find out soon enough and know that I wasn’t lying to him. “I love you, too, Smokey. I never forgot you. And I never will.”

         A slight smile crossed his mouth and then he closed his eyes for the last time. I didn’t wait any longer. I jumped off the table and ran out of the room. I heard Mrs. Barlow call out to me, “Bye, little kitty. Thank you.” I ran into another examination room down the hall. It was dark. I ran under the examination table with the tears streaming down my face. “Ok,” I stammered, “I’ve had enough.”

         I didn’t even remember the trip back. I know my mother didn’t want to know when I traveled through FPT, but this was something that if I kept it to myself I would explode.

         I dashed from under the couch and up the stairs to Christine’s room. I pawed at the squeaky door, not caring how much noise it made. I needed my mother. 

         My mother listened to my story patiently, and then we both cried for a long time. I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to journey through FPT again.

















Chapter 10 -- Frustrations





         In the month that followed Smokey’s death, I thought about him … a lot. He knew nothing about FPT: that a cat’s nine live were not just a saying, the 54 Rule, The 1-O-8. I wished I could have told him more. I wished I knew where he was born next. My mother said that no time elapses between each life; as soon as one death occurs, the new life begins within the next day. I wished for some distraction from thinking about Smokey. Unfortunately, I was granted one.

         Joshua’s grades had been slipping since The Tommy Incident. Christine asked her son what was the matter, but he started coming back with the same standard answer: “Nothing. Nothing’s wrong.” Well, that nothing became apparent when he walked through the door one day with a swollen, black eye that looked ready to burst. When Christine came home that afternoon, Joshua informed her it was another Tommy Incident - this one couldn’t be hidden beneath a long-sleeved shirt.

         Joshua explained how he was running a little late for class because he forgot a book in his locker. He ran to his locker, grabbed the book, and when he closed the locker door, Tommy just smacked him in the eye with his meaty fist.

         “That’s it. I’ve had it with this kid,” Christine declared without asking Joshua too many questions. She began pacing back and forth like a lion watching a zookeeper tease him with a big steak outside his cage. This time Christine didn’t bother asking Joshua’s permission to intervene. She called her work a few minutes later to let them know she was going to be late the following morning.

         Christine had marched out the door by 7:00 the next morning. My mother and I kept close by Joshua, who stayed home from school that day.

         He was quiet; quieter than I’d ever seen him. He didn’t take any time to talk with me or my mother that morning. Once in a while he would take a break from watching TV or reading to look at the damage to his eye in the bathroom mirror. He would lightly press on the purplish bruise, causing him to wince slightly. It was the first time I noticed Joshua no longer had to perch himself on his tip-toes to look in the mirror.

         Christine wouldn’t arrive home from work until later that evening, since her boss made her make up the time she lost from work that morning. You think curiosity kills the cat, well you should have seen Joshua pacing the house in anticipation of his mother’s return. He was looking for anything to distract him. Luckily he found a box of Pop-Tarts, his favorite snack, hidden behind a box of Wheat Thins, which his mom knew he couldn’t stand. He quickly unwrapped the first foil and ate the first two pastries without a blink. Other than the couple bites he threw to me and my mother, we watched in amazement as he finished all eight pastries in the next forty-five minutes as he sat on his bed. He let out a few grotesque burps, and looked a bit like he might get sick. But it didn’t stop him from bounding down the steps from his room when he heard the front door open and close at last.

         “So what happened?” Joshua burst. Not the usual greeting of ‘Hey, Mom. How was your day?’

         “I’m irritated with that school,” Christine replied. She dropped her purse on the couch and fell back beside it in an obvious show of exhaustion. I jumped up next to her. Unconsciously, she began to pat me.

         “Why? What happened?”

         “I went in to see Principal Smith. I told him what you told me. I said I wanted to see this Tommy character and his parents. At first he refused, saying we had no real proof that Tommy did it. He said you told the nurse that you walked into a door someone was opening. Why did you say that, Joshua?”

           Joshua’s eyes widened as he remembered his fib. “I was embarrassed, ok? Do you think I like being this kid’s punching bag?” Joshua yelled.

         “Of course not, Joshua. I’m sorry. It just made it more difficult since you lied about it.”

         Joshua hung his head. He wasn’t one to lie, and I could tell it did hurt him that a lie he uttered made something harder on his mother. I don’t think there was ever a son who loved his mother more than he did.

         “I’m sorry, Mom. I was actually going to tell you I got hit by a door too, which would have made your day a lot easier, but by the time I got home yesterday and all the kid’s on the bus were staring at me, I couldn’t wait to rat Tommy out. I was thinking more about getting your sympathy than keeping my story straight.”

         “You should never have to lie to me, Joshua. I’m the one person who should be closest to you in your life right now.”

         “So is Tommy in trouble?” Joshua asked trying to get the conversation back on his track.

         “The school administration is too busy worrying about being sued by unscrupulous people who care only about themselves, that they don’t do what’s right for the good students like you.”

         “So he’s not in trouble?” Joshua asked with a mask of confusion on his face.

         “Well, they called Tommy’s parents, and then called Tommy in from his class. Of course, he denied the whole thing. Said you were still mad about him grabbing Misty. He said you made it all up to get him in more trouble. I wanted to throttle him.

          “About five minutes into talking with Tommy, his father showed up. Looked like he had just rolled out of bed.”

         “He probably did,” Joshua offered. “From what I heard his dad’s been out of work for almost a year.”

         “Tommy’s attitude doesn’t surprise me so much after seeing how his father behaved this morning. Since there were only two chairs in front of the desk to sit in, he was standing up next to his son. When Principal Smith informed Tommy’s father about what ‘allegedly’ happened, as he put it, his father just slapped Tommy against the back of his head and started barking at him, ‘Did you do that?’” Christine said, imitating a gruff voice.

         “Right in front of the principal?” Joshua’s widened with incredulity.

         “It was unbelievable. For a moment I actually felt bad for the kid. Principal Smith quickly stuttered that it was an accusation only. There were no witnesses so it was one kid’s word against another’s. Then I was ready to throttle Principal Smith next. I wanted to throttle them all. Long story short, after Tommy and his father left the room, Smith informed me they can’t do anything to Tommy right now. He said if Tommy continues to give you a hard time, and there are witnesses, then they can do something.”

         “You mean, he doesn’t even get detention or anything?”

         “No - Nothing.”

         “Great. You know what this means now, Mom?” he said putting his head in his hands. “Now he’ll just make sure no one’s around.” Joshua then started taking the whole situation out on his mom. “I knew it was a bad idea to tell the school. I’m dead meat now. He’s definitely going to pound me for tattle-tailing. I told you just to forget it, but you just had to say something.” 

         “Joshua,” Christine said as she pushed herself up off the couch, “don’t talk to me like that. I did the best I could.”

         “Well, it looks like your best wasn’t good enough,” Joshua said before he ran upstairs and slammed his door.

         Christine looked completely shocked, and then the shock turned into a blanket of disappointment that hung over every movement she made. With slumped shoulders, she walked into the kitchen on autopilot, and made hamburgers for dinner. When she called Joshua to come down - there was no answer. Christine sat in the kitchen alone and ate in silence. When she was done, she brought Joshua’s plate upstairs.

         “Joshua, open your door and eat something.”

         “I’m not hungry,” he retorted. I wasn’t surprised. His stomach was certainly working overtime to digest all the Pop-Tarts he’d eaten before his mother arrived.

         She asked a couple more times, but she decided it was best to just leave him alone. My mother and I got to split his hamburger, so it wasn’t a total loss.

         For a week Joshua avoided speaking to his mother as best he could. He didn’t even pay any attention to me. He would come home, go upstairs, and close the door to his room, often only coming down for dinner. I started sleeping on the couch quite a bit because Joshua didn’t want to give or get any attention whatsoever.

         After a week of missing her son, Christine insisted he come ‘back to the land of the living’ as she called it.

         “Can’t you just leave me alone? I don’t want to talk about it,” Joshua yelled out to his mother as she tried, yet again, to coax him into opening his bedroom door. I watched Christine while sitting on her bed across the hall with my mother.

         “Joshua, it’s one thing to just say ‘let it go’ and forget about the fact that this little brute at your school can’t seem to keep his hands to himself. But when my son contemplates lying to me about it, you better believe I’d be talking to someone about it. Did you really expect me to just sit back and do absolutely nothing? I’m sorry Tommy didn’t get what he deserved. And my interfering, as you call it, may even cause you more grief in the long run. But do you really blame me for trying?” I watched Christine standing in front of the door with her arms folded, still wearing her greasy waitressing uniform. The that’s-life, get-over-it sternness of her voice didn’t fall on deaf ears; with a click, Joshua finally unlocked the door, though he didn’t open it.

         Christine took him up on the half-hearted invitation and opened the door to go inside. She closed the door behind her, which I found a bit odd as there were no other humans about. My mother and I could hear their voices, but couldn’t make out what they were saying. After an hour, they went downstairs, ate dinner and watched a comedy movie before going to bed. It was the first time I’d heard either of them laugh in over a week. I hoped it meant things would be getting back to normal. 





         













Chapter 11 – Jack’s Lair





         It had been a long day. I was ready to settle into bed just like most nights, but my mind had other plans. I thought about Jack briefly before bed. My mother had mentioned something about him that evening, and for some reason I began to burn with curiosity as to where he lived. And just why didn’t he stay with me and my mom?

         It had been six months since Smokey passed away. FPT had been the furthest thing from my mind for quite a while. It seemed each time I traveled through FPT something awful happened. But boredom had set in pretty deep by that point - I was getting the itch once again.

         It didn’t escape my notice that Jack hadn’t come to visit us for a while either. I think I was a bit jealous that Jack chose to go elsewhere on his last few FPT excursions; for I knew he wasn’t the type to let the 54 Rule go unnoticed without marking the time with more adventures. Knowing him, I guessed he was probably visiting some famous chef where he could raid the kitchen to his heart’s content.

         I chose my OP under Joshua’s computer desk in his room. I was still fascinated that I could pick any place out of human eyesight to go see whomever I chose. Sure, humans pretty much had that ability, but in their case they needed serious cash and much longer modes of transportation. I wondered why we were given such a great gift, as my mother referred to it. Was God rewarding us for the wonderful behavior of cats in the past? Perhaps humans had this ability as well; they just didn’t know how to do it.          

         As I imagined Jack, and felt my belly gravitating toward the floor, I thought of what a cool life he must have - not having family close by all the time to answer to. No worries to endure because there were no expectations from others on how to live your life. You were your own cat. I loved my mother and Joshua, but sometimes I think life would be much more fun if I wasn’t afraid of disappointing them if I did something foolish in my travels. If my mistakes cost me my life, sure I would go on and begin Life Two, but I would break my mother’s heart - and Joshua would forever wonder what happened to me.

         The thought of Jack’s life being one great adventure after another proved quite false within only moments of arriving at the DP.





         When I opened my eyes, I was surrounded by several brick buildings. They were so tall I could barely see slivers of gray sky in between them. Six inches of snow on the ground told me that Joshua’s father had moved quite far away from us, for we rarely saw this much snow where we lived.

         I quickly scanned the area in search of Jack. His position was revealed by a loud metal clanging about twenty feet away. I ran over to a bunch of trash cans where the clanging noise continued. I jumped on top of another can that still had its lid on. Unfortunately, the six inches of snow proved quite slippery and I slid right off the other side and into a big pile of snow.

         “Hey! Who’s there?” Jack’s voice echoed from within the other metal can. “This is my loot, pal, and I’m not one for sharing.” His voice sounded a bit muffled, as though he were talking with something in his mouth - which, naturally, he was.

         I jumped up again, more careful this time, and stood on the trash can looking down at my father - an old piece of meat stuck out of his mouth. Upon seeing it was me, he dropped the meat and gave me a hearty welcome. “Kid!” he said, jumping on top of my can. “What the heck are you doing here?”

         “Just thought I’d check out where my father lives.” I looked around the dark alley for a moment. “Uh … so, is this it? Is this where you live?”

         “This?” Jack spun his head to the left of him and then to the right. “Aw, heck no. I live uptown, Kid. That’s where all the high-class cats live. Come on and I’ll show you.”

         We both jumped off the trash can and started down a main street. I had never seen so many cars, people and flashing lights. I wondered why people would be up so late. Joshua and his mother had been asleep for at least three hours by this time. I was nervous about the people taking me away, but they didn’t pay any attention to Jack and me whatsoever.

         “Why are all these people out here?” I asked, slowing down a bit.

         “Looking for trouble. Listen, Kid, don’t stop moving or you’ll draw attention to yourself,” Jack said without a pause in his step.

         We were moving pretty fast. Jack crossed streets as though he had nothing to worry about. I nearly died as a car came to a screeching halt, and blared its horn at me. It’s headlights blinded me for a moment and I lost my direction. “Over here, Kid. What are you doing?” Though the headlights consumed my vision, I headed toward Jack’s voice and made it the rest of the way across the street. “Kid, you need to be careful. You can’t just run across a street without looking.”

         “I was just following you. I thought you were just running without looking.”

         “Trust me, Kid, I look. I scan the street and make a quick determination whether I can beat a car or not. It might be real close, but I know what I’m doing. I like to keep humans on their toes. They think they own the streets. I love reminding them that they still have to share some things with us creatures who are lower on the food chain. Never just follow me without looking out for yourself, got it?”

          “Yeah, I got it,” I said somewhat embarrassed.

         Jack started running down the sidewalk again. I quickly picked up my pace, keeping side by side with Jack. After a couple more blocks I tried talking, even though I was running out of breath. “How come you haven’t come back to visit in six months? I thought you only had to wait 54 days. My mom was asking if you said anything about coming back again.”

         “She did?” Jack said in genuine surprise.

         “I think she must have really loved you,” I continued.

         “What makes you say that, Kid?”

         “I don’t know. Just the way she talks, I guess. Like she was real disappointed when you moved away.”

         “Humph. Well that’s funny.”

         “Why do you say that?”

         “Because your mother wanted me gone.”

         “She did?”

         Violent barking suddenly erupted out of nowhere. I looked back and a large black dog, with rather scary looking jaws came into view. Each time I looked back the gaping jaws closed in, so I decided it was best to stop looking behind me.

         “Over here, Kid. Hurry!” Jack yelled a couple feet ahead of me. He turned down one of the unending number of alleys beside a crowded restaurant. “Quick!” Jack leapt from the tarmac and over the lip of a five-foot high dumpster. I was amazed to see how the fear in my legs propelled me so high. I soared over the lip of the dumpster like I could fly. We landed atop a heap of black garbage bags covered with snow. The dog jumped on his hind legs and furiously scratched his paws against the outside of the metal dumpster to get at us. I was terrified at the noise, but when I looked over at my father, he was on his back laughing hysterically.

         “How can you possibly think this is funny?”

         “What do you mean how can I think this is funny? We beat him, Kid. There’s no way he can get in here. Plus,” and here Jack looked out at his surroundings like he was king of the world, “we have this lovely feast to enjoy while he barks his little heart out.”

         I looked at him and wondered if he was truly crazy. “How can you enjoy food,” I yelled out so he could hear over all the barking and scratching, “while this crazy dog is making all this racket?”

         Jack stood up and began ripping open one of the trash bags. “Don’t worry, Kid. The dog will stop in a few minutes when he realizes he’s not going to get anywhere. Holy Mackerel.”

         “What? What’s wrong?”

         “Nothing’s wrong. Holy Mackerel,” Jack repeated as he stuck his face in the trash bag and pulled out a large piece of mackerel.

         “That’s disgusting.”

         “That’s dinner, Kid.” Jack chewed and devoured the piece of fish in about six seconds. Sure enough, after about five minutes the dog got bored and left.

         “Why do dogs hate us so much?” I asked.

         “Think about it, Kid. Like I said before, as cats they were generally the ones being served by humans. Now they have to do the serving. And once you become a dog,” Jack said shaking his head, “no more traveling through FPT. I know that would make me cranky. I already go bananas having to wait out the 54 Rule.”

         “Can we leave now?” I asked.

         “Leave? Why would you want to leave this little piece of heaven?” Jack stuck his head in the bag again. I can’t believe some of the stuff these humans throw away. Why anyone would want to be a human is beyond me,” Jack said more to himself than to me while he gobbled up a half-eaten scoop of mashed potatoes. “Most of them aren’t too bright from what I could ever tell.”

         “I never really asked Mom for details, but I thought you were with Joshua’s father. Why are you always hungry when you come to our house; like he never feeds you or something? I mean, you’re eating out of dumpers for crying out loud.”

         “By choice, Kid. By choice. When was the last time Joshua gave you this for dinner?” Jack pushed a chuck of chicken breast covered in sauce out of the bag with his paw. “Chicken Cacciatore,” he said triumphantly licking his jowls. The chicken then took part in a quick disappearing act followed by Jack licking the sauce from his paws. “Cat food from a can is strictly for suckers, Kid.” Jack took a deep breath. “Ugh, my stomach,” Jack said flopping onto his back once again.

         “So do you still live with Joshua’s father or not?”

         “I haven’t lived there for almost three years. He lives around here though.”

         “He does?”

         “Yup. Nick, Joshua’s father, took a new high profile job right here in the city. That’s what split the family up. Nick was only supposed to work here four days a week. The plan was to fly out and then fly back home each week so he could spend the other three days with his family.”

         “That doesn’t sound too bad. What happened?”

         “Well, four days turned into five, then five turned into six, and pretty soon there were times Nick didn’t make it back home for three weeks at a time. I was living with your mom then.”

         “When they split up, why did you leave?”

         Jack gave me a look that said, ‘Come on, Kid, you don’t know?’ He let out a sigh. “Why did I leave? Why did I leave? Kid, do you actually think I had a choice in the matter? Do you think I could just walk up to Nick and say ‘Hey Nick, not sure if you know this, but Fog and I are in love. I know I was your cat before, but I’d rather stay here than move with you to the city’? I’m a cat. Humans take us where they want us to go. I’m not going to lie, though - I thought it might be exciting to move to the city. I had never stayed so long in one place. I loved your mother, but I was never strictly a housecat before and it wasn’t easy for me, you know, being tied down like that. She was almost ready to have you when Nick brought me to the city.”

         “So you just up and left?”

         “Again, I was taken, Kid. And your mother and I visited each other through FPT about once a month. She would visit me, and then I would visit her a month later. The month after my visit she could visit me again right after the 54 Rule had passed. We did that for about a year and a half.”

         “Why did you two stop visiting each other?” I could feel a little itch coming on as I said this.

         “Your mother got real mad at me.”

         “Why?”

         “Because I had a chance to come back - but I didn’t.”

         “How did you have a chance to come back?”

         “Nick started seeing this woman from uptown. They were starting to talk about getting married, but she told Nick that if they got married I had to go. She wasn’t going to have ‘some ill-behaved muskrat’ living in her house, she said. I might have put my claws in a couch or two, but I didn’t think I was too bad. Anyway, Nick asked Christine and Joshua if they wanted me back.”

         “That’s right, I remember them talking about having another cat in the house again. I didn’t know who they were talking about.”

         “Well, yeah, that was me they were speaking about. Your mother was thrilled on her next visit to see me. But,” Jack paused and absentmindedly began poking holes with his claws into one of the trash bags as he thought.

         “But, what?” I said trying to get his attention back.

         “But, I wasn’t sure I wanted to come back.”

         His words hit me like a truck. “What do you mean you weren’t sure? You didn’t want to be with my mother? With me? I thought you loved her.”

         “Of course, I loved her, Kid. That’s what made my decision so difficult. I thought it was great the way things were going. I got to live in the big city. Nick would let me out sometimes because he knew I would come back - plus I still got to see your mom on a regular basis. I had all I ever wanted - love and freedom. I knew if I moved back with Christine and Joshua, they would never let me outside. I knew because that’s the way I lived for the years Nick and Christine were together and it drove me bonkers to wait 54 days before I could go anywhere. And your mom … well, she’s a Believer, and sometimes her talk of becoming a human really got to me.”

         His words infuriated me. I got up and paced, balancing myself as I walked across the bags. “What’s wrong with believing in something that guides you to behave responsibly, even if it ends up not being true?” I retorted.

         “You just hit the nail on the head, Kid; what if the stories aren’t true, and they are indeed myths? Do I have to live out the rest of my days in a five room prison? Besides,” he paused again, “I lost any chance at being human by the time I was a Third-Lifer. I don’t know.” He looked at his paws for a moment. “I think when she spoke about it I became a bit jealous, because at that point I would be lucky if I could make it back as a golden retriever in my ninth life.”

         My anger melted into an unexpected sympathy for my father. “So after Nick offered to give you back to Christine, what happened?”

         “I was torn, Kid. Completely torn. I wanted to be with your mother, I swear I really did. I kept thinking, though, that if I went back I would drive her crazy. I was so used to doing my own thing that my boredom as a housecat would make me a miserable creature to be around. She promised she wouldn’t complain whenever I went off through FPT, but she didn’t understand; I was accustomed to adventure on almost a daily basis. I live for close escapes from big black dogs like tonight. I’m not one to stop and soak up the sun like most cats.

         “Anyway, the night before Nick was going to ship me South, back to Christine’s, he let me out like he usually did … but this time, I never went back,” Jack said as he dropped his head.

         I noticed his body began to show slight spasms - he was crying.

         It was awkward for me. I was hurt that Jack chose these streets over me and my mother, yet I admired him for his honesty. I felt it best for me to go, because I really didn’t know how to react.

         I jumped onto the lip of the dumpster. “I have to go,” I said.

         “Hey, Kid?”

         I looked back and Jack’s eyes were red with tears. “Yeah.”

         “I’m really glad you came.”

         “I know,” I said. I jumped off the dumpster and ran under it quickly, as I wasn’t convinced the dog was completely gone. “Ok, I’ve had enough.”









































Chapter 12 – Confidence Boost





         I thought about telling my mother about my visit to see Jack. But then I thought, what would I tell her? That Jack told me all about how he decided to leave her so he could make daring escapes from mammoth dogs that wanted to chew his tail off, and so he could eat leftover goodies out of dumpsters he referred to as ‘little pieces of heaven’? Somehow I didn’t think she would be too enthused over that excursion, so I forever kept it to myself.

         Joshua was growing up quickly. His friend Samantha from the school started visiting on a regular basis, which left less time for me. This naturally hurt and disappointed me. I expressed my disappointment to my mother, but instead of the sympathy I was seeking, she warned me not to get too close to young humans. “Their interests sometimes change with the winds, Misty. You must get used to that. Where you were once the center of attention, there will be times when they forget you are there at all,” she said. “It is a sad, but very true fact of life for a cat. It helps to remember that they do love you, or at least they did, so you don’t fall prey to loneliness.”

          Samantha would come home after school and often stay for dinner. I was ashamed of my initial jealousy when she first started coming to the house on a regular basis; as the years passed, she became a human quite dear to my heart. It was clear that she really cared for Joshua. Those feelings grew for each of them as they entered high school.

         The thing that was great about Samantha’s visits was she and Joshua talked - a lot. I found out all about Samantha and her family as I would often sit nestled between the two of them as they watched television or did their homework.

         “My father hurt his back at work,” she started in one day. “Sometimes he can barely move. And when he does, everybody knows, because he’ll let out this ear-splitting moan that rips right through you.” She continued on about how her father used to be a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. “But since the accident, when he couldn’t work anymore, he’s become so bitter. He hardly ever goes out anymore and whenever I come home he’s usually in a bad mood.” That explained why she spent so much more time in our house than her own. “He’s always barking at me and Joe.” Joe was her older brother by two years. “All the surgeries just seemed to make him worse. I do feel bad for him sometimes, and I try my best to remember how nice he used to be when he starts yelling at us for no good reason.”

         Joshua was a good listener. And Samantha always returned the favor with an eager ear. He confessed to Sam that although he loved his father, he was glad when he moved away permanently. “He would be gone for two, three weeks at a time and mom would be so upset. She was always asking me questions I couldn’t answer: ‘Why does he have to work so much? Why can’t he even come home for two days?’ I felt like an idiot because the only thing I would say is, ‘I don’t know, Mom.’”

         “And when he did finally make it home, they would just fight anyway, nearly the whole time he was here. So I just stayed in my room with the door closed. Thank God for headphones. When they divorced, there were no more questions. My mom did cry a lot for a while, but then things got better. We were pretty used to living on our own by that time anyway.”

          Christine loved Samantha and seemed to like having another female around the house to talk to after she got out of work. Sam lived about a half mile down the street. If it were still light out after dinner, Joshua would walk her home. But when it was dark, Christine insisted that she drive her home.

         During their second year of high school, I remember Christine going into Joshua’s room because she wanted ‘to have a little chat’ with him about Sam.

         “What about her?” Joshua said.

         I was too lazy to move from Christine’s bed across the hall, so I only caught bits and pieces of the conversation; ‘You seem to really like Sam’ and ‘Just make sure you’re careful if you ever decide to -’ and something about ‘the birds and the bees’. At the time I thought the birds and the bees were getting a bad rap. I never saw them bothering anyone, and trust me I watched them through the windows on nearly a daily basis. They pretty much kept to themselves. Of course, it wasn’t until later that I understood what she was referencing.

         





         Life was pretty normal for Joshua until the eleventh grade. For the previous couple of years Joshua had the pleasure of telling his mother that he and Tommy didn’t share any classes, so he was no longer a daily threat to his happiness. Then, after a wonderful summer hanging out with Sam, Joshua paid for these two threat-free years - Tommy was in three classes with Joshua that year. And Tommy hadn’t changed very much over time.

         After I heard this I decided a little visit to the school was in order. I hadn’t seen Joshua outside the house since the Tommy Incident years before.

         I FPT’d into Joshua’s English class. Luckily his teacher, Mrs. Zimmerman, was reciting a section from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with such enthusiasm she didn’t notice my sudden appearance at the back of the classroom.

         Upon seeing Tommy right in front of me at the back table, I jumped back a bit remembering our last encounter. Joshua sat directly in front of him. I watched Tommy as he picked up his pencil, leaned over his desk, and started jabbing Joshua in the back.

         “Hey, Bookworm Boy,” he whispered.

         Joshua ignored him. Tommy jabbed him again, harder this time. Joshua spun around in his chair and glared at him.

         “So, is Sam your girlfriend, Bookworm Boy?” Tommy asked with a grin.

         “What if she is?” Joshua spat.

         “Well, that would be a lucky thing for you, Bookworm Boy, because you need protection, and she’s got quite a right hook.”

         Joshua turned back to face his teacher. Boy, that Tommy could really get me steamed. Why couldn’t this kid just leave Joshua alone?

         Tommy jabbed Joshua in the back again - so hard that Joshua let out a terrific howl. “Ugh!” Joshua stood up and spun about to face his assailant. “What is your problem?!” The entire class snapped out of their Shakespeare-induced fog to see what was going on. “I have had it with you, Tommy. I’m not ten-years-old anymore. You wanna fight? Let’s go. Let’s do it, because I’m seriously sick of your crap!” 

         “What is going on back there?” the teacher said, glancing over the rim of her glasses.

         “I’m not doing anything,” Tommy said feigning innocence while he lifted his palms in the air in an I-don’t-know-what-this-kid’s-problem-is type gesture.

         “Joshua, why are you yelling?” Mrs. Zimmerman said, pressing for an explanation as to Joshua’s outburst.

         My nerves shot into action - I couldn’t just sit by while Joshua was blamed for interrupting the class. I watched the back of Tommy’s large frame on the standard issue school chair. I panned down to his thick legs, which were well exposed due to the late warm weather. My conscience didn’t have enough time to convince me that I was about to make a rash decision.

         My claws extended and, before I knew it, Tommy’s voice took over where Joshua’s had left off, “Ugh!” Tommy jumped out of his chair in a piercing scream as I jumped and latched onto his upper thigh. As Joshua couldn’t see me, he thought Tommy was jumping up to attack him. In defense, Joshua swung his right arm behind him and came back across Tommy’s face with his clenched fist. Tommy’s eyes went wild with shock. I quickly detached myself as Tommy swayed for a few moments and then fell in a heap, shaking the entire floor. I escaped to the opposite corner in the back before I could be seen. Everyone jumped out of their seats and ran over to look at the fallen giant. He was sleeping like a baby. Within seconds, the class erupted in laughter, and it wasn’t long until I joined in.

         Mrs. Zimmerman ran over and knelt next to Tommy on the floor. She looked up at Joshua, who was as shocked as she was. “Joshua! What’s come over you? This isn’t like you at all. Sarah, go get the nurse,” she commanded to a slight young lady with glasses in the front of the class.

         I pushed myself as far out of view as possible. Thankfully, Mrs. Zimmerman didn’t mind keeping large stacks of dusty textbooks in the back of the classroom. Unless a member of the class got the sudden urge to pick up an antiquated version of An Anthology of American Literature, I was completely shielded from any human observation.

         The nurse arrived in less than two minutes. Mrs. Zimmerman escorted Joshua to the principal’s office. I waited another ten minutes until the bell rang. When everyone had left the room, I smiled to myself and said, “Ok, I’ve had enough.”





         At home, I was made privy to the rest of the story as it happed after I’d left. After Joshua explained to Principal Hamilton that Tommy was harassing him with the point of his pencil, both he and Tommy were awarded in-house suspensions for three days.

         Knowing Joshua’s history with Tommy, Christine didn’t have any difficulty accepting what Joshua had done. “I wish you’d done it years ago,” she declared. “I’m sorry you only got to hit him once,” she said as her metal spoon scraped along the bottom of a pot of boiling spaghetti. She stopped and looked at Joshua as he sat with his elbows on the table resting his cheek in his palm. “Does that make me a bad person?” she wondered out loud.

         “Yes,” Joshua chuckled. “But no worse than me for doing it. I can’t believe I laid him out in one punch,” he returned enthusiastically. “I don’t think he’ll ever call me ‘Bookworm Boy’ again. But if he does …” Joshua raised his bobbing fist with a smile. From that day forward, Joshua possessed a confidence I’d never seen in him before.

         The best part was everyone thought Tommy was crazy after that. Joshua told his mother how Tommy had insisted there was a cat in the classroom that had attacked him just prior to Joshua’s blow. There were indeed some unexplained marks on his legs, but there was no cat to be found when they all, Tommy, Mrs. Zimmerman, Principal Hamilton and Joshua, returned to the classroom. “Tommy, the door’s been shut since we left and there’s no cat in here. It’s impossible. You must have scratched your legs when you fell somehow,” Mrs. Zimmerman had said.

         I was eating alongside my mother while Joshua conveyed this information to Christine. As we listened, I could feel my mother’s disapproving glance on the back of my fur. As usual, I pretended not to notice - and proceeded to enjoy my vittles even more than usual that evening.























































Chapter 13 -- Epiphany

                   

         

         The evening news is something many humans seem to enjoy; though I had a difficult  time understanding why for the first eight years of my first life. People will perch themselves in front of television sets, listen to the noise box for an hour or more about business affairs that may or may not affect them, only to turn it off and do absolutely nothing with the information - except maybe to regurgitate it to someone else who may or may not have already heard it themselves.

         To me it was a complete waste of time. At least sunning yourself in a window brought some pleasure to one’s soul; bad news on the television set only caused more stress and worry. Joshua, Sam and Christine had seemed completely sapped of their energy when President Kennedy was shot. For weeks they sat watching never-ending commentary on the incident. It was truly a sad affair; and the television didn’t let them forget it. However, it was this very television set that opened my eyes to one wonderful purpose of FPT.

         I sat on Sam’s lap as she stroked the length of my body one evening. She, Joshua, and Christine had sat down, like most nights, to watch the evening news. Joshua had just been given a color television set by his father for his birthday. We were one of the first in the neighborhood to own a color set, making Joshua something of a celebrity for about a month; kids I had never seen before were suddenly taking up valuable space in our living room. Christine tried to refuse it at first, saying it was too expensive, but Nick had insisted.

         Usually the first news story was of national importance, but this evening there was a major local story that would soon take on national proportions.

         “Amy Bernstein, a seven-year-old at the Strom Elementary School in Madison, didn’t return home from school yesterday afternoon. Police say Amy walks the two blocks from school back to her home each day, but after not arriving by 3:30, her mother called to say she believed Amy was missing,” said the familiar newscaster with his tight crew-cut and equally tight tie.

         “I drive by that school everyday,” Christine said, suddenly focusing with more interest.

         The newscast then switched to a video clip of a very distressed mother and what appeared to be the girl’s father sitting beside her on a couch. “Amy is never late,” the woman blurted through tears. “I thought maybe she went to visit her friend Shannon and forgot to tell me she was going, but when I called, they said she wasn’t there -” She was unable to continue as the sobs relentlessly invaded her speech.

         “Police are asking that anyone who may have been in the area of Strom Elementary yesterday between the hours of 2:30 and 3:30 who may have noticed this little girl,” the blond newscaster said while a school picture of the brown-eyed girl with shoulder length brunette hair stretched the entire length of the 27” television screen, “please contact the detective division at the Madison Police Department right away at 555-9918.”

         “I think I’ve seen that little girl while driving home before,” Christine said.

         “Did you see her yesterday?” Joshua asked.

         “I don’t think so. Not that I can remember anyway. Isn’t that awful? What a beautiful little girl. God, I hope they find her ok. Sometimes this world drives me crazy.”

         





         For the next few days Amy Bernstein’s disappearance consumed the television airwaves each night. In that time, Americans across the country found out more about this little girl than they probably knew about their own children: she loved to read books about animals, she had a collection of porcelain rabbits she placed all around her room, she loved playing basketball, she was the middle child of two brothers, and she would be celebrating her birthday in another two days. I felt the newscaster’s use of the word ‘celebrating’ to be a poor choice.

         When the status of the Bernstein family became known, it was not much of a surprise when a ransom note finally made its way to their mailbox later that week. Mr. Bernstein was a corporate executive for a major oil company. I asked my mother later on that evening as we stretched out on the couch, “What’s an oil company?”

         “Oil companies sell a liquid necessary for humans’ automobiles and planes to work. Why do you ask?”

         “Well, when they were talking about Amy Bernstein tonight, they talked a lot about how Mr. Bernstein works for an oil company. I was just wondering why it was such a big deal.”

         “It’s not a big deal. Executives for these companies make a lot of money, so now it makes sense why the girl was taken. There are apparently some humans who decided they wanted to make some money off the Bernstein family.”

         “You mean the girl was taken just to get some money?” I had a hard time grasping why people would terrorize a little girl for green pieces of paper and metal coins.

         “Unfortunately, most humans cannot function in life without money. This is how they get their food, shelter, even love. If a human doesn’t work for money to provide the necessities of their lives, they are seen as basically worthless creatures.”

         My brows furrowed in confusion. “Joshua doesn’t work and his mother doesn’t see him as worthless.”

         “He’s still young, Misty. He will be expected to make money just like everyone else once he gets older. Some have difficulty making the money they need or at least as much money as they think they need. This is why I suspect these humans have stolen the little girl from her parents.”

         “Humans are weird,” I said.

         My mother softly chuckled at my response. She lifted her head up from the couch and looked me in the eyes. “Humans are weird sometimes, Misty; weird, but wonderful.”





         

         The following day would prove to be one of the most exhausting days of my first life. I had settled in for the usual quiet evening with Joshua, Christine and Sam. It was a Friday. Since there was no school the following day, Sam went home late. When Joshua and Christine came back from dropping Sam off at home they decided to watch a movie before heading to bed. They both must have had tough weeks because each of them had fallen asleep before the film was half over. I was stretched in front of the television. The noise coming from it almost drowned out the noise that suddenly came from the kitchen - sending my nerves into high alert.

         Before I came around the corner to the kitchen, I knew exactly what it was once I heard what I suspected to be the bag of pretzels on the counter being ripped open; Jack.

         I hadn’t seen him in almost four years. I peeked around the corner and found a creature much slower and worn since the last time we met.

         “I thought maybe you were dead,” I said as I jumped behind him on the counter.

         “Not yet, Kid. Close, but not yet.”

         “You never came to visit again. Why not?”

         “I could ask the same of you,” Jack replied without turning around.

         He had a point, but did he really expect me to go back to the city and risk my life to see him gobble garbage out of a dumpster?

         “Just try to keep it down. Christine and Joshua are asleep in the living room.”

         “Well, that’s something,” Jack said and turned to face me. His eyes were yellow and had lost the brightness they once possessed.

         “What’s something?”

         “You didn’t just try and kick me out this time. I thought you couldn’t stand me.”

         “I never said I couldn’t stand you.” I paused for a moment and thought back wondering if I had ever said I couldn’t stand him.

         “Some things don’t have to be said, Kid. Sometimes you can just tell what someone’s saying by looking them in the eyes.”          Instinctively, I turned away from Jack’s gaze. “Is that a television I hear?” Jack said as he jumped off the counter and ran straight for the living room.

         “Hey, what are you doing?” I shouted out, but Jack had already rounded the corner. When I followed him into the room I saw Jack as he jumped onto the armrest of the loveseat. Joshua’s head was resting on the opposite armrest. A low snore calmed my fear that Jack had awoken him. Jack was right all those years ago - Joshua and Christine were the heaviest of sleepers.

         I jumped up next to Jack. “So, what brings you back here?”

         “I wanted to talk to you about something … something important before I’m gone.” The way he said these words it was clear he didn’t mean gone from the house again - gone meant dead.

         The room was dark except for the light from the television which reflected in Jack’s eyes. I waited for him to continue. However, he examined the television intently, deep in thought. I watched it to see what kept him so focused. The eleven o’clock news was on, and yet another update about the Amy Bernstein disappearance flashed across the set. “I’ve been seeing stories about this girl in the windows of television stores in the city. It’s awful isn’t it?” Jack kept his gaze on the screen.

         I looked over as Amy’s school picture met my gaze for about the hundredth time since her disappearance. “Yeah, it’s awful. The kidnappers keep asking for more money before they let her go.”

         Without missing a beat Jack said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could help her?”

         I looked at him like he was crazy, as I’d done so many times before. “Sure it would be great, but we don’t even know where she is.”

         “We don’t know now, but … we could easily find out,” Jack said. Then he looked at me with his tired eyes. “Couldn’t we?” It was more of a statement than a question.

         “What are you talking about? How are we supposed to find out where this girl is? The police have been trying to figure it out for almost two weeks.”

         “Think about it, Misty.” Jack looked at me with a stare that burned with seriousness. I felt an incredible pressure to decipher what he was talking about - when it hit me like a bullet.

         “FPT,” I said slowly as if in a sudden trance at the revelation.

         A smile crept across Jack’s face. “You got it, Kid.”

         My mind was awhirl with the possibilities; all we had to do was think about Amy Bernstein and FPT to her exact location! Why had I never thought of it before? “Let’s go! Let’s go now and see where she is!” I whispered excitedly, still mindful of the human resting within paws reach.

         “Whoa, Kid. I can’t go,” Jack said, waving his paw at me.

         “What do you mean you can’t go? You were the one who gave me the idea.”

         “You can’t FPT to a second location, Kid - not without going completely berserk. It’s part of the 54 Rule, called the Double Jump.”

         “I don’t understand.”

         “You’re not allowed to Double Jump. You have only one choice of who to see every 54 days. If you try and see a second person, animal, whatever, before returning to your OP, your mind will go absolutely crazy - like you’ve overdosed on catnip. You won’t be able to comprehend who you are or why you are where you are, never mind remember the phrase ‘Ok, I’ve had en-” Jack shook his head violently. “Whoa,” Jack laughed to himself. “I almost took a premature trip back to my OP.” He took a deep breath before continuing. “Anyway, humans tend to blame this behavior on rabies when some poor sucker tries a Double Jump, because the symptoms are somewhat similar.”

         “Why? What happens?”

          “Have you ever seen an animal with rabies, Kid?”

         “Mom’s talked about rabies, and that I should get away as quickly as possible if I ever come across any animals acting strangely, but I’ve never actually seen one. You’re the strangest animal I’ve come across so far,” I said jokingly.

         Jack ignored my little dig. “Well acting strangely is just the tip of the iceberg, Kid. A cat that’s Double Jumped won’t have the luxury of symptoms coming on slowly as with rabies. Within two minutes of a Double Jump a cat becomes immediately edgy and bad-tempered. He can’t think straight enough to even speak in simple sentences. For a couple minutes he’ll start bouncing off the walls with no explanation, completely disoriented, and then goes into a massive seizure a couple minutes later before his heart finally has mercy on him and stops beating. The whole process takes less than fifteen minutes. I only saw it happen once; saw it happen to a cat I knew,” Jack paused and then looked me in the eyes. “Don’t ever try a Double Jump, Kid. Never.”

         “So what should I do?”

         “What do you think you should do?”

         “I should find out where the girl is. Now I’m dying to know.” I thought of my mother as I said this. “Mom would kill me if she found out.”

         “I won’t tell,” Jack said. His sly smile sent a burst of adventurousness to my heart. “Sometimes the greatest things happen when you think less about how scared you are of the unknown, and just do.”

         “I didn’t say I was scared,” I said defensively. Though he was right; I was scared.

         “It’s up to you, Kid. It’s your call. If you don’t want to do anything, I won’t say another word about it. You’ll still be a cool cat in my eyes, I promise.” Jack stretched out on the armrest and rested his head on his front paws.

         A million thoughts ran through my brain: What will Mom think? What if something went wrong and I couldn’t make it back? What if the girl was dead? That’s the question that spurred me. That’s when I knew I had to stop thinking, and just do. I leapt off the couch. “I’m going,” I declared.

         Jack sat back up so he could see me. “Good for you, Kid. I knew you had guts. After all, you’re my son.”

         “Will you be here when I get back?” I said, but thought to myself ‘if I get back’.

         “No sense me rushing back when I have a nice warm couch to roost on,” Jack said. “I haven’t scratched once yet, so I’ll be here for a while.”

         “Alright then. I’ll be back.” I ran for the stairs and chose under Joshua’s bed as my OP.

          I closed my eyes tight and brought up the school picture that had become emblazoned on my little brain. “I wish to see Amy Bernstein.”

         As the dark, tearing winds pulled me toward some unknown destination, I doubted for a moment that finding this girl, whose whereabouts had eluded everyone possible, could be so easy to find. When the winds died and I was able to open my eyes again, I still had my doubts, for I found myself surrounded in darkness.































Chapter 14 – Serving a Purpose





         Now most people might think: ‘Darkness? Oh no, that can’t be good’. One might believe that FPTing into darkness would be eerie and frightening, but I am a cat. And as a cat I have an uncanny ability to maneuver through darkness as though the sun was blazing.

         In seconds I was able to identify my Destination Point; a basement. Who’s basement? I had no idea. Cobwebs plagued the walls and rafters, while tools, old furniture, and stacks of musty clothes were strewn about the concrete floor. Why I was brought to this basement I wasn’t quite sure. I thought for a moment as I looked around, when a sudden panic struck my bowels - was Amy buried here? Beneath the floor perhaps? I thought about this possibility, and for a moment I thought I was going to be sick.

         Thankfully, my panic was short-lived as a light snoring sound reached my ears from another section of the basement; around the corner of a cement dividing wall. My panic reduced further when I rounded the corner; there I saw the face of little Amy Bernstein in the glow of a little nightlight stuck in a socket imbedded in the cement foundation. There she was - the little girl a whole nation had taken into their hearts. Though most would believe, in those very same hearts, that the girl was probably already dead.

         As she slept on a twin bed positioned in the center of the basement, one would never have guessed she was in a life-threatening situation most people would never experience. Her light brown hair fanned out smoothly over an uncovered, sweat-stained pillow. Her face revealed only innocence.

                   I walked over to the side of the bed and considered my next move carefully. It was at this point I noticed Amy’s hands and feet, bound together with a thin black rope, sticking out a bit from under the blanket off the side of the bed. I felt an incredible impulse to let the girl know someone was there - someone that cared for her, not what someone could get for her.

         I leapt as lightly as I could onto the foot of the bed so as not to surprise the girl; unfortunately, I was unsuccessful.

         “Yyaaahhhhh,” Amy’s eyes shot open in complete terror, letting out a whisker-raising scream. “Who’s there!” she blurted, looking about in confusion.

         Never had I wanted to have the ability to speak to humans more than at that moment. But the only thing I could do was run up by her face to let her know it was only me, a simple cat - nothing to be afraid of. I wasn’t quite sure what to do, so I came over and brushed up against her cheek with the side of my face. The look of terror on her face quickly subsided into a look of joy. “Hello, little kitty,” she whispered with a smile in her voice. “How did you get in here?”

         I turned and then rubbed against her shoulder purring. I was pleased I had calmed her with my presence; unfortunately it had come too late. The door at the top of the stairs was thrown open with a bang. A light switch was snapped, blinding us with the gushing light.

         “What’s going on down there?” a deep voiced bellowed from the large shadow of a man as he stomped down the wooden stairs. “I told you, if you made one sound, I would put the gag back on you. Is that what you want?”

         I leapt off the bed and dove beneath it before being detected. I peered out to get a look at Amy’s captor. He was a whale of a man. His disheveled, graying beard and large belly made him look like Santa Claus’s evil brother. His eyes made him oddly familiar, but I didn’t know why.

         “I said, do you want me to put the gag back on?” the man said, pointing his chunky finger an inch from Amy’s nose. He was breathing heavily – either because he was so upset or he was so out of shape even a trip down the stairs was a chore.

         “No,” Amy said with fear in her voice.

         “Then what are you yelling about?”

         “I … I had a bad dream.”

         “You had a bad dream?” The bulk of a man straightened and laughed beside the bed. “And then what happened? You woke up to your nightmare, right?” He continued his maniacal laughter so that I wanted to rip my claws across his face. How could a human be so cruel? “It shouldn’t be too much longer now. Your parents are going to give us a ton of money, little girl. And if you’re good,” he said, leaning into her face, “we might actually let you go back.” He straightened and laughed again. The little girl started whimpering. “Stop your crying,” the man hollered. It was followed by an act I couldn’t see, but heard with clarity; a loud slap of skin against skin.

         My heart overtook any rational thought. I jumped out, latching onto the kidnapper’s jeans. I gave him all my claws had to give. The sound that followed made Amy’s yell seem like birdsong. “Yyyeeeoooowwww! What the h- ?!” I was immediately grabbed by the man’s meaty hands. However, I didn’t give up possession of his leg easily. He yanked and yanked, shaking his leg, but I clutched on with all my might.

         Through all the howling, I barely made out the new voice entering the scene. “Dad? What’s going on?”

         “Tommy! Hurry up and get down here!”

         Tommy? Suddenly the familiarity of Santa’s evil brother made sense as I peeked around his thigh to find Joshua’s arch-nemesis bounding down the stairs.

         “Help get this crazy cat off me!”

         Tommy looked in my direction. In no time, shock and fear covered his face. I released the whale’s leg and ran back under the bed.

         “How the hell did that thing get in here?” Tommy’s father demanded.

         “Dad, it’s that crazy cat I told you about at the school! The one that attacked me!”

         “What?”

         “I swear that’s him. That’s the cat that attacked me.” Tommy pointed at me under the bed as he looked at his father for endorsement. But he got none.

         “Don’t be ridiculous, Tommy. Just get the damn thing out of here.”

         Tommy reached under the bed and, just as he did in the schoolyard years before, brutally grabbed me by the scruff of my neck. He walked me up the stairs that led to the kitchen and then moved toward the front door. Tommy opened it halfway before launching me onto the sidewalk. “Stay away from me, you dumb cat.”

          I was sure glad cats had a knack for landing on their feet. I quickly surveyed the street. I couldn’t believe it - Joshua’s house wasn’t even two blocks away. I bounded toward a van parked ten feet away and quickly shuffled beneath it. “OK, I’ve had enough.”

         



         I ran out from under Joshua’s bed and prayed that Jack was still there. My heart dropped as I heard Joshua breathing atop his bed. I started down the stairs and noticed the television had been turned off. Surely Jack would have transported back to his OP if Joshua and Christine had woken up.

         “Hey, Kid, is that you?”

         It was the first time I felt elation at the sound of Jack’s voice. As I reached the bottom of the stairs he came out from behind the entertainment center. My adrenaline pumped my words out like Niagara Falls as I declared to Jack with joy, “I know where she is! And you’re not going to believe it; she’s right down the street!”

         “That’s great, Kid. So what’s your next move?”

         I fell back on my haunches as the absurdity of it suddenly hit me like a bowling ball. Niagara Falls dammed up in seconds. Reality quickly presented its unwanted, obvious obstacles. “What do you mean, ‘What’s my next move’? What the heck am I supposed to do? I’m just a cat.”

         Jack rolled his eyes. “I’m just a cat,” he repeated mockingly. “See, that’s the problem I have with most of our species,” Jack said in complete exasperation. “No imagination. We could use FPT to do so much good, and instead we focus on our limitations or try to be nice little kitties,” he said with disdain, “so we can become humans in our ninth lives. It disgusts me. It truly disgusts me,” Jack said as he started walking toward the kitchen. “This is what I waited around for? I’m outta here, Kid - I’ll just grab a little something before I go.”          

         I stared at him as he retreated. I never thought a reproach from Jack would affect me so deeply. “Hold on, Jack. Hold on.” I started pacing around the couch with my head down. “Just let me think for a minute.” Jack turned around slightly, but made no clear abandonment of the snack idea yet.

         I really didn’t know what my next move should be. Sharp claws and hissing could only get a cat so far. I thought of what resources might be available. What did I have that could help me get a young girl out of the clutches of heartless monsters? Then it struck me - there was only one way to do it.

         “Jack, how bad are you itching so far? Do you have to leave soon?”

         “A few scratches. I’m not at the uncomfortable stage yet. Why?”

         “Come with me.” I ran ahead of him into the kitchen. I stopped at the corner of the kitchen counter by the back door. “Jack, get up there and start working the doorknob.”

         “We’re going to spring her ourselves?” Jack said doubtfully, but still he sprung onto the counter as instructed.

         “Why? Are you thinking about your limitations?” I said haughtily.

         “No. I’m just wondering what the plan is, Kid. I’m usually the one with the plan. I’m not used to blindly following orders.”

         “You’ll know soon enough. Come on. Let’s hurry up with the door.” I know I didn’t have to be secretive, but I was enjoying being in a position of power for a change. I knew I was about to lead Jack into one of his greatest adventures yet.

           Just as I had watched Jack and my mother all those years ago, Jack pawed at the doorknob while I wedged my claws between the door and the doorjamb and waited to hear the door lock release. While I waited I was thankful that Joshua and his mother trusted their neighborhood so much that they never locked the back door. I was pretty sure once word reached them that a cohort of kidnappers lived only two blocks away that that practice would soon change.

         The scratching at the doorknob continued. “I think the knob’s getting stiffer. It’s not turning too well. Either that or I’m just not the young cat I used to be.”

         “Just keep trying. This is our only chance, Jack. You’ve got to turn it.”

         “Thanks, Kid. No pressure, right?”

         I didn’t say another word. I listened; listened and prayed for the signal to come. I thought about Tommy’s father and how he slapped that poor little girl just because she was scared. Jack had to open the door - he just had to.

         And then it happened; the click that signaled the locking mechanism had slipped from its hole, shot my nerves into high gear. I scratched at the side of the door with both paws, claws fully extended. The door was heavier than I thought and I panicked that the door would slip backwards and the lock would snap back into its hole. But slowly the door moved. And once there was an opening crack in the door, Jack helped push it open with his paws. The door swung open, hitting me in the head. “Ow!”

         “Whoops. Sorry, Kid. Just trying to help.”

         With my paw, I rubbed the side of my head for a moment to get rid of the pins and needles. “It’s ok. Come down and help me open the door all the way.”

         “There’s plenty of room for us to get out,” Jack commented.

         “I know, but we need something else before we go, and I don’t want the door to close in the wind.”

         Jack jumped off the counter and helped me push the door open as far as it would go. “Ok, great. Let’s go.”

         Jack followed me as I ran back into the living room and then headed up the stairs. When I went into Joshua’s room, Jack hesitated in the doorway.

         “Come on, Jack,” I said, nodding my head for him to come in.

         “I can’t go in there, Kid. He only went to bed twenty minutes ago. He might still be kind of awake.”

         “That’s what I’m counting on.” Jack gave me a weird look. I recognized the look, for it was the same stare I’d given him multiple times; he thought I’d gone crazy. “Come on, Jack. This is the only way. You have to trust me.” Jack crept into the room. Normally I’d be pleased at this sudden thoughtfulness, but it was poor timing on Jack’s part to become a gentleman. “Jack, this is the one time I’m going to ask you not to be quiet. Just follow what I do, and don’t ask any questions.”

         I leapt on the bed and starting pounching all over Joshua while I meowed until the sound waves bounced off the walls like raquetballs. Jack jumped up beside me and did the same. For a moment I thought it worked, but then Joshua just turned on his side and mumbled something incoherently.

         “He’s always been a heavy sleeper,” Jack said in defeat. He scratched behind his ear with his hind leg.

         “We’re not giving up,” I said. I walked up to Joshua’s head, started walking all over his neck and head, and then dragged my tail under his nose.

         “Misty! What are you doing?” My mother yelled at me from beside the bed. Then my mother looked further down the bed. “Jack! Is this one of your crazy schemes?” My mother was furious.

         “Don’t look at me,” Jack said. “This is the kid’s idea.”

         “Mom, I don’t have time to explain. You have to help us wake Joshua.”

         “What on earth for? Have you lost your mind?” My mother blurted.

         “We’re trying to save Amy Bernstein,” I said.

         My mother frowned at me in complete confusion. I had no doubt what she was thinking; I’d gone completely bonkers.

         “Amy Bernstein?”

         “Yeah, you know, the girl who was kidnapped a couple weeks ago? I know where she is. I just FPT’d to her location. She’s right down the street!”

         “She is?” My mother said, trying to comprehend the magnitude of what I was saying.

         “Mom, we really don’t have time. We have to wake up Joshua.”

         “What’s waking him up going to do?” she asked. “It’s not as though you can explain the situation to him, Misty.”

         “I have a plan. Please, Mom. We could use your help.”

         Just as Jack had mentioned about himself, my mother wasn’t a young cat anymore either. It took her a couple of tries before she made it on top of the bed. “Thanks, Mom,” I said as I gave her an extra paw to keep her from falling off the bedside.

         It took three full-grown cats two full minutes of pouncing and meowing before Joshua snapped out of dreamland. “Misty, what the heck are you doing?” He said angrily at being disturbed. He switched on the lamp next to his bed and squinted in the flooding light. After a few seconds, his eyes adjusted to the glare and he jumped as he took in the unexpected; three cats perched on his bed staring at him with intensity. “Fog, Misty,” he said in irritation. And then he continued in bewilderment, “Jack? Is that you?”          

         There was no time to waste. I didn’t want Joshua to get used to Jack’s presence. I needed to spur Joshua into action. “Come on, guys. We have to go.” I leapt off the bed and my parents followed as quickly as they could.

         “Hold on,” Joshua said. He grabbed his bathrobe off the hook on his closet door, slipped on his slippers and followed us as we headed for the stairs. “Where are you guys going?”

         “Run faster,” I instructed my parents. I ran through the living room to the kitchen and on to the open back door. “As soon as Joshua gets here, run out the door so he’ll chase after us.” No sooner had I uttered the words then Joshua dashed in the kitchen after us.

         “What are you guys doing?” Joshua said sliding into the kitchen out of breath. “How’d the door get -”

         “Ok, let’s go!” I commanded. The three of us took off down the three steps to the driveway. “Follow me.”

         As my parents started after me, Joshua quickly grabbed my mom just as she reached the bottom step. “No, Fog!” He scooped her up and put her back inside. It was chilly outside and I could see my breath as I stopped under the kitchen window.

         “What are we doing, Kid?” Jack asked.

         “We have to wait.” In a minute we saw Christine’s light go ablaze in her room above the kitchen. Joshua’s muffled, but hurried, voice reached us outside in the dark. Jack and I waited by the side of Christine’s car. In another two minutes the door to the back door opened again. Christine had thrown on some sweatpants and her coat. Joshua had done the same.

         “See, Mom. Look. It’s Jack!”

         “Ok, time to go.” I said.

         Jack and I took off, careful not to go too quickly. Only fast enough to keep Joshua and Christine just out of reach so they would continue to follow.

         “What the heck are they doing?” Christine’s voice could be heard behind us.

         “Jack! Misty! Come back here!” Joshua yelled.

         By the time we reached Tommy’s house, Christine and Joshua were completely out of breath. Jack and I walked on the patches of grass beside the house. I was thrilled, for the basement light was still on.

         “I can’t believe this.” Joshua said in a loud whisper.

         “Can’t believe what?” asked Christine.

         “This is Tom Gallivan’s house.”

         “Really?” Christine said looking around the yard. “Doesn’t surprise me, look at all the junk everywhere.”

         Junk and trash littered both the yard and the porch: old bikes, newspapers and cigarette butts being the preferred choices of decoration.

         The air was cool as Jack and I continued our trek next to the house. Joshua remained in close pursuit. “Misty, come on you crazy cat, get over here before we both get in trouble.”

         Just a little further, I thought to myself. I jumped onto the sill of the basement window in the back of the house where I could see Amy sitting on the side of her bed. Tom’s father began wrapping a neckerchief around her mouth.

         Joshua came around the back after me. “Now I gotcha,” he said as his hands clamps both sides of my body. That’s when I saw Amy’s reflection in his eyes. I knew he recognized Amy for he stopped dead in his tracks. Or perhaps he just found that a girl having a neckerchief tied around her mouth to be strange. In any case, he crouched down and to the side so as not to be discovered. He watched Tom’s father as he tied off the gag.

         Joshua held me fast as he stood back up and ran to the side of the house where his mom was still trying to get a hold of Jack, who was now beginning to scratch more often than not. “Mom,” Joshua whispered urgently.

         “What?” she whispered back in exasperation. She apparently didn’t take pleasure in playing cat and mouse with my father – in this case, my father being the mouse.

         “Hurry up. Com’ere.” Joshua waved his hand to bring her closer.

         She gave up on Jack and came over to her son. Joshua walked back to the basement window. “Look,” he said pointing to the window. “Isn’t that the girl missing on TV?”

         Christine bent to look in the window. Tom’s father pulled at the neckerchief behind Amy’s head a couple times to check for tightness. Christine’s eyes went wide and looked back at Joshua. “That is her.”

         “What do we do?” Joshua said.

         “Get out of here. These people are dangerous.” Christine started to stand up when Joshua grabbed her with his free hand as he was holding me in the other.

         “Mom, we can’t just leave her here.”

         “I know that,” she said somewhat insulted that he thought she could just ignore something like this. “We have to call the police and I left my cell phone at the house.”

         “Ok, you go back to the house and call the police. I’ll stay here and keep an eye on the girl,” Joshua offered.

         “No way,” Christine said, fiercely shaking her head. “You are not staying here. You’re coming with me. This isn’t a game, Joshua, these people are dangerous.”

         “Mom, nothing’s going to happen. They have no idea we’re even here.” Christine gave Joshua an angry look that said this was no time to argue. “Mom, just go. I’ll be fine.”

         Christine gave up, knowing her son wasn’t going to back down. The faster she got home the faster the police would be on their way. “Be careful, Joshua.”

         “I will.”

         Christine ran back around the side of the house and disappeared. Joshua looked back in the window. Tom’s father was gone, but the light was still aglow. I expected it to be shut off at any moment when I heard a rustling beside the house. The rustling got closer. Joshua looked up in a panic. There was his mother being held by the back of her coat. Tom’s father had a gun to her head. Tom then appeared behind Christine and her captor.

         “See, Dad. I told you I heard people talking out here,” Tommy said triumphantly as he carried a flashlight and waved it in our direction. “Holy Jesus. It’s Bookworm Boy.”

         I could feel Joshua cringe.

         “You spying on us, boy?” Tom’s father said.

         Survival instinct answered for Joshua as he shook his head.

         “Get on over here before I blow you mother’s brains out,” he said, pushing the black gun against her head. Joshua quickly did as he was told. I was surprised he still held on to me. 

         Tom and his father pushed us into the house and then down the stairs to the basement where Amy was held. I observed Amy’s eyes express pure terror for the second time that night. I felt a twinge of guilt that her terror was due, at least in some part, to my actions.

         “Tommy, grab some rope and a couple rags. Get these spies bound until I figure out what to do with them.” Tommy went upstairs while his father continued pointing the gun in our direction. He took a closer notice of me and sputtered, “That’s that crazy cat that attacked me earlier. That thing spilled quite a bit of my blood tonight. I think he should pay me back with some of his own.” At this, he lunged for me once again with his meaty hands. My fur sprung up on my back like stalagmites. I hissed and threatened our captor with my razor sharp feline teeth. To my surprise, he actually jumped back. “You keep that crazy thing away from me, you hear?”

         Joshua quickly nodded his head and put a firmer hold on my body. “Take it easy, Misty,” he whispered in my ear.

         “Mr. Gallivan,” Christine spoke up, “I know we’ve had our differences in the past, but you’ll never get away with this. Please, Mr. Gallivan, please just let us all go and we’ll never say who it was that kidnapped Amy. Right, Amy?” Amy nodded her head in agreement. The scared look in her eyes now a permanent fixture.

         “You must think I’m some kind of idiot. You think the police are just going to let you tell them it’s ok to let me go because we had some sort of agreement? They will grill this little girl until she has no choice but to tell. They’ll be no nicer to her than I am if they don’t get their man.”

         “You don’t know that,” Christine continued. “Her parents will just be happy to have her home. If Amy says to let it go, they will.”

         “Have you ever had run-ins with the law, lady?”

         “I’ve gotten a few speeding tickets.” Christine hung her head realizing immediately how ridiculous the statement was – her realization was confirmed when the whale let out a thunderous roar of delight.

         The laughter was short-lived. “Tommy! What’s taking you so damn long?” Tom’s father yelled. Ten minutes had passed since he sent his son off in search of supplies.

         “Coming, Dad.”

         With rope in hand, Tommy started down the basement stairs - followed by three police officers, all with guns drawn; one pointed at Tommy, the other two poised and ready at his father.          

         “Hurry up. I want to get some sleep tonight for crying out loud.” Tommy walked over and handed his father some of the rope. When the whale put his gun aside, the three officers pounced like four-month-old kittens on a ball of yarn. “What the h-?” Tommy’s father began as the officers crammed the side of his face into the cement floor before he could finish. As one officer slapped cuffs on Tom’s father and read him his Miranda rights, I looked over to Amy; her eyes were filled with tears of joy. I had never been so proud. I was just a cat, but I had made a difference.

         “You folks ok?” the youngest officer with pale, blond hair asked. Amy and Joshua nodded their heads – Christine walked over to the officer, and wrapped him in a bear hug that caused him to turn a couple shades of red.

         As Tommy’s father was dragged up the stairs, Joshua was full of questions. “How did you know we were here?” he asked an older officer with salt and pepper hair with a tone of incredulity.

         “We got a 911 call.”

         “A 911 call? From who?” Christine piped in.

         “From me.”

         We all looked over in astonishment at the speaker – Tommy Gallivan. The third officer, with seasoned lines in his face, was about to bring him up the stairs. With Tommy’s hands cuffed behind his back he explained, “I thought the kidnapping was kind of crazy, but my dad said it would be a cinch way to get a load of money. If we didn’t get money soon we were going to lose the house. But when he found you all out in the yard, there was a different look in his eye. It was a look that told me he would be capable of murder. I may be a bully…but I’m no murderer.”

         Christine and Joshua looked at each other briefly with raised brows. “Thank you, Tommy,” Christine said. “You did a brave thing tonight.”

         Tommy didn’t answer her. “Let’s get this over with,” he said to the officer. At that, the officer gripped Tommy by the scuff of his shirt and they tramped heavily up the bare wooden stairs.

         Joshua wouldn’t see Tommy again until he testified at his trial. Tommy had to serve three years in juvenile hall for his involvement in the kidnapping. His father earned himself twenty years in the state penitentiary.



















































Chapter 15 – End of the Beginning



         For the following two weeks the television teemed with images of the Bernstein Family’s reunion with their daughter. There was no shortage of hugs and tears on the screen.

         My mother said Jack came back to the house to tell her we’d been captured. She said he desperately wanted to return to Tommy’s house, but he had to FPT back, for the itching had reached the unbearable stage. My mother said she told him not to worry, that whatever happened, it was in God’s hands.

         As soon as we returned to the house safely she FPT’d for the first time since I was a kitten to let Jack know everything had turned out fine. She said he was as happy as could be that she had come to see him. And that Jack was as proud as any cat could be of his offspring. “Now I have a better story than all the other cool cats around,” he had declared to her.

         Jack visited us a couple times after that crazy night. I never FPT’d to visit him again, for I have to admit I was afraid of what I would find. I knew after a couple of years had passed with no snack raids that Jack was probably well into his eighth life. It wasn’t too long after that I would lose the one dearest to me.

         I was resting in the living room sunlight on a warm Saturday afternoon when I heard an unusual muffled sound coming from the second floor. It wasn’t a loud, jarring noise, so I took my time and stretched before I started up the stairs to investigate. The sound became more pronounced as I turned the corner to Christine’s room - where I found Christine crying on her bed with my mother - motionless. I looked at my mother with her eyes closed. I jumped on to the bed and came over to nudge her with my nose, but still she didn’t move. It took me a moment to realize she was no longer breathing. It took only a moment more for my heart to turn hollow and fill immediately with despair and agony.

         Christine picked me up and started to pet me. Though I had been primarily Joshua’s cat, I was all she had for comfort at the time. Joshua was away at college and wouldn’t be back for Thanksgiving break for another two weeks. I closed my eyes and felt her tears fall softly on my fur. I opened my eyes again to watch my mother, hoping for some kind of movement - knowing deep down she would never move for me again.

         I started to cry, but with all the weight of agony bearing down in my heart, I found an ounce of happiness that she had died here - on Christine’s bed - and not on a cold, stainless steel table of a veterinary hospital as Smokey had died.

         I then remembered back about a year before her death; my mother and I were eating dinner together in the kitchen, as always. But on this night she seemed distracted from finishing her meal.

         “You feeling ok, Mom?” I said as I eagerly ate my share.

         “Misty,” she began, “I don’t know how much longer I have, but I want to tell you something before it’s too late.”

         I remember her statement making me a little nervous. “What is it, Mom?”

         “It’s no secret that I’ve wanted to make it to The 1-O-8. It’s something I’ve dreamed of for my last four lives.”

         “I know.”

         “It’s thought that if you do become human, you forget everything about your lives as a cat,” she continued.

         “Yes, I know that, too.” I looked at her with a puzzled expression, for she knew I was already well aware of these basic facts. She returned my puzzled look with one of tenderness.

         “Misty, I just don’t want you to think that I don’t care at all about my lives as a cat. I cannot lie; being a female cat, I did not enjoy losing my children at the whim of human decisions. It’s the thought of spending a lifetime with a child as a human that kindled my desire to reach The 1-O-8. But you must know, Misty, that I have never been closer to any of my babies as I’ve been with you. I love you dearly. And if I do ever make it to The 1-O-8, and the legend is true, I know in my heart that I could never forget you.”

         And then the question really struck me; did she reach The 1-O-8? I couldn’t remember. I was always thinking about how old I was that I had lost track of my mother’s age. I knew she was certainly close, if not there completely. Perhaps I didn’t really want to know. I just wanted to imagine my mother being born as a human as she’d always dreamed. This thought brought me great comfort, whether it was true or not.







         I was fifteen-years-old, eight months and three days when my time came. Joshua and Samantha had just come back from their honeymoon to visit Christine. Though more lines graced her face, it glowed with pride as she watched the young couple talk about their plans for the future. I don’t know how I knew it was my time, but it just felt right. My heart was light, but my body felt heavy. I smiled, left the kitchen, and rested in my favorite spot in the soothing sunlight of that living room window.

         I thought maybe I was just more tired than usual - tiredness came easy to me then.  But when I awoke, I could not see. And when I heard a little girl’s voice exclaim, “Mom! Lady had her kittens!” I knew Life Two had just begun.   

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