Stray: A Short Story
I was brought here at the end of autumn, as the final leaves fell to the ground, the winds got colder, and the nights became the longest that I have ever known. I didn’t know it then, but my life was about to change, forever.
I’ve had many homes throughout my short life before I was brought here. None of them lasted for long. I was always cast out for one reason or another, though I was never quite sure why. I did my best to make them want me. I really did. But it seems that my best just wasn’t good enough for them. At least not for most of them. Not until I met her.
I still remember the place where I was born, though the memories are beginning to fade. I don’t even remember my mother’s face. It was a big place. Out in the countryside, I believe. There were so many of us youngsters. Each of us desperately awaiting new families to come and take us to our eventual homes. Many visitors came over the first couple of weeks. A few of us were chosen to go on to new homes. I was not. Some of the visitors looked at me for several moments before choosing one of the others. Most simply overlooked me. I guess there was something about me that made them uneasy.
Eventually there were only three of us left. Spring quickly gave way to summer and our guardians could no longer look after us. Perhaps they just didn’t want to. We were taken outside somewhere, transported by a windowless van – I don’t even know how far away – and left stranded to fend for ourselves. At first my sisters and I stayed together in the wilderness. We were all the others had. But, as time went on, nature took its course and we went our separate ways. Sometimes I still wonder what happened to them out there.
I lived alone in woods for quite some time. I was on my own, and had to defend myself from the lurking dangers of the woods. I was forced to hunt for my own food. I wasn’t very good at it, and went to bed hungry most days. Mostly I was simply very lonely.
That was until I met a girl at the edge of the woods. She seemed to care for me, though she had no reason to. She brought me food when I had none. Every day she would come and visit me. At first, I was a bit apprehensive, given my past. I would hide whenever she came near, only daring to take the food she left when she was safely out of sight. In time, I did warm up to her, however.
The girl brought me to her home one warm night at the end of summer, as the leaves began to change, and the autumn swiftly announced its approach. Her family didn’t know I was there at first. She was afraid for them to meet me, afraid of what they would think. I tried to keep myself concealed. I knew I could trust her, but I wasn’t sure about the others.
Eventually I was found out, of course. These things cannot be kept secret for long. The girl’s mother was the superstitious sort. There was talk of witchcraft. Strange happenings were blamed on me, none of which I even knew anything about. I had been in hiding for days. The girl’s tears could not protect me. I was sent away, banished for the second time in my short life. I wasn’t wanted here either.
The girl’s father took me from my hiding place in the girl’s room, threw me into his pickup truck, and drove away. Just like before, except this time, it was only me. Sometime later, the truck stopped. He pushed me out onto the side of an unfamiliar dirt road and drove away. I knew before the cold, unforgiving glow of the truck’s tail lights had even fully disappeared that he was never coming back. I felt more alone now than ever.
Weeks went by. I tried my best to improve my hunting skills, but I still went hungry most of the time. I was getting weaker by the day and my skin was being eaten alive by insects. I didn’t have the energy to fight them. I was sure that I was going to be dead any day now. It wouldn’t have mattered. I had no one to miss me anyway.
Hungry and weak, I collapsed next to the road, only a couple miles from where I had most recently been abandoned. I laid there for hours, sure that some predator would find me and put me out of my misery.
And then a car stopped in front of me. The sounds of the engine ceased and I heard the door open. A woman appeared walking toward me. With what strength I had left, I got to my feet. I meant to run back into the woods, but I was too weak. I sat down and looked at the woman.
“You poor dear,” she said. Was she talking to me? “Let me help you.” She took me into her car and we drove away. What was going on? I knew better than to trust anyone now. I knew I was better off on my own.
And I was right. I was taken to a place. It was different. It was so bright inside under the artificial lights. There were several others like me. We were each kept in small cages. Before being placed in my own cage, I was taken to a small room. They tried to torture me there. I was first doused with water. They then injected a needle into my skin. I had no idea what was going on. Were they experimenting on me? What did I do to deserve this? Surely I was about to die at their hands.
After the procedures, I was placed in the small cage that would become my home for the next two weeks. The woman who had brought me here opened up my cage and placed two bowls inside. Cautiously, I inspected them. Fresh water and food. I let my guard down long enough to eat and drink. It may have been because I hadn’t eaten in so long, but this was the best tasting food that I had ever had. Without warning, the woman reached her hand inside the cage and rubbed my head. It was about this time that I noticed something strange. I felt better than I had ever felt in my entire life.
Over the next two weeks I was taken out of the cage and more procedures were done to me, but I became less afraid each time. I still don’t know what was going on, but I began to feel as though I could trust these people, despite the unpleasantness I had endured throughout the procedures. Perhaps that was what they wanted. As the days went on, the procedures were further and further apart, but my captors still visited me from time to time. They fed me and kept me company. They were kind enough, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I would be sent away from this place soon, as I had been so many times before.
And then she walked in. This was the first time I saw her. One of the people who had been bringing me food for the past weeks led her to my cage. She opened it and picked me up. I was scared at first, don’t get me wrong, but she seemed somehow different from the rest.
“There, there,” she said as she gently stroked my black fur. “It’s alright. You’re going home now.” I felt myself purring in her arms. I hadn’t done that since I was just a small kitten, snuggled up with my birth mother and littermates. Something about her made me feel safe, though I still wasn’t sure I could trust her just yet.
She took me to my new home with her. I still fear that I will be sent away again, however. Sometimes when she leaves, I fear that she won’t come back, and that I will be forgotten. So far, my fears have been unfounded. She leaves sometimes, leaving me all alone, but she always returns. Sometimes she even brings me new treats or things for me to play with. My favorite thing in the world is to simply sit in her lap, where I feel safe and loved for the first time in my short life.
I have been here with her for several months now. The cold weather outside is beginning to warm, though I was barely aware of the winter cold. The warmth of my new home has shielded me from it. She has told me countless times that I will be here with her forever, that she is so happy she found me. I am happy too. For the first time in my life, I feel like I have truly found a place to call home.
© 2018 Jennifer Wilber