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A gust of wind swept dust off the road and across my face. It stung like whiskers rubbing against my cheeks. As I looked up at the sky, I wondered why it was always so hazy, but there was never any rain. I turned to look at Mama. She stared ahead concentrating, but on something in her head rather than outside.
"Mama, when will it rain?" I asked. She squinted her eyes at me. Dirt filled tears watered out of the edges.
"Don't ask stupid questions Lena," she snapped. I hung my head and stared at the sandy road in front of my feet. I knew it wasn't about to rain anytime soon.
"I'm just sick of this dust," I explained. "Maybe we can cut through the field." Mama nodded in approval.
"But just this once" she added. It wasn't our land to be walking on and the owners weren't the most friendly of people.
We stepped off the road and into the field. The grass was yellow with the lack of rain. It scratched and tickled my bare ankles, making them itch. I couldn't decide whether the field was much better than the road. But it was most definitely a short cut. The gentle rolling hills stretched about a mile until it reached the woods near our house.
"Lena!" Mama yelled, attempting to warn me, but it was too late. I stepped in a rut, twisted my ankle and fell flat on my face. The stiff grass tore and scratched at my skin like hundreds of little claws poking up from the ground. I was getting real sick of this walk home so I just lay there frowning at the ground that my face was buried in.
"You can't go one day without hurting yourself can you?" Mama hissed. She lifted me up to my feet and we began to walk again. We hadn't gone far when she noticed the tears rolling down my cheeks. "What’s the matter now?" she asked, looking a little annoyed.
"I’m just sick of this pointy grass tickling my feet and jabbing my ankle, which I think is beginning to swell."
"Whining and crying isn't going to help Lena. You know that. Do you need to sit down?" I nodded. "We'll take a rest just beyond this hill."
I couldn't limp the rest of the way up the hill, so Mama let me climb onto her back. "You are much too old for this kind of treatment, Lena. You may be small, but you need to start acting your age."
"Look," I pointed. Off to the side there were five or six grey cats. A few were just lying, licking their paws while others seemed to be pacing back and forth. "That's odd isn't it Mama?" But she disagreed and told me there were always stray cats lurking around somewhere.
When we got just over the top of the hill I got off her back and lay down. "We're not stopping here for long Lena and when we get going again, you're walking on your own." But I ignored her and hunched up on my side while thinking of my throbbing ankle. My eyes quickly became to heavy to hold open and I dozed off.
I dreamt I was given a huge, furry coat. It drowned my entire body and was an assortment of different shades of grays and oranges. Then the coat seemed to come alive and all the spots of different colors separated and crawled around. One white spot migrated from the collar of the coat up along my neck and covered my face.
Suddenly I awoke coughing uncontrollably. A skinny white cat had been sitting on my face. I pounced to my feet, disrupting the naps of several other cats that had decided I'd make for a good spot to lie down. I rubbed my eyes because what I saw next was the oddest sight I had ever seen. The entire field, as far as I could see, was littered with cats. Most of them were just lounging around as if it was a natural everyday occurrence. I wiggled my toes and then realized the skinny white cat that had been sitting on my face was licking them. I took a step back and stared down at the cat. It lay, half curled up, staring back up at me with confidence gleaming through its large red eyes.
"Mama . . ." I whined. I looked around and found her standing a ways down the hill. Another skinny white cat was with her. But instead of just lying there it was jumping at her hand that she was holding out in front of her. She stood there, casually, letting the pest nip her fingers with each leap. On the ground near her feet lie another white cat. This one was much fatter but what drew my attention were it’s huge red eyes. I couldn’t help but to stare. I felt like they sent me into a trance but I quickly shook myself out of it.
I took in my surroundings. Everything was calm. The hazy grey sky hung overhead and the air was warm and still. But a field full of cats, I could not except as normal and a butterfly began to flutter in my stomach.
"Mama!" I called, "I feel better, can we go home now?" At first she didn't respond. The lanky white cat continued to leap up and nibble her fingers. The larger one lying next to her on the ground looked at me and seemed to smile. Its leery eyes radiated and I called Mama again. This time she noticed and nonchalantly shrugged her shoulders and motioned me towards her.
"This weather must be causing the animals to act up," she muttered.
"But Ma, where do all these cats come from?"
I waited for an answer but she didn’t bother to reply. Mama was much too calm for such a strange occurrence. I wondered what she was thinking. Perhaps she was thinking at all because her face didn't show a simple glimpse of expression. Her mind seemed to have prowled out of her head and floated away leaving only her aimless body to comfort me.
After walking the entire length of the field, we reached the woods. Mama hadn't said a word the entire time. I was worried and the little butterfly fluttering in my stomach had since multiplied to dozens.
"Ma, we're almost home now." I said as an attempt to break the long silence. She didn't respond, or even bother to look at me. "Are you okay?" I asked. This time she slightly nodded.
We were then on the familiar trail through the woods. It was less than a mile home and I was desperate to get there fast. The warm comfort of home sounded a million times better than the strange crowding of cats and the empty spirits of my mother. The sky had darkened and I estimated about another hour before the sun would completely set. I noticed it had a peculiar greenish tint that I had never recognized before.
Up ahead on the trail there was a group of some kind of animals scrambling around. The woods were too dark to make out the blurry shapes but in my gut I knew what they were.
It didn't take long to reach the part of the trail where we found what I dreaded there would be, a cluster of cats. But it was even worse than I had imagined. When I got close enough to make out what was going on, I let out a shriek! Under a pile of cats crawling over each other, there was yet another cat. That cat was dead, and the others viciously tore it apart and feasted on it.
I grabbed Mama's hand and tried to run but she wouldn't cooperate. "Mama, we have to go home!" I cried. She didn't even look at me. Her eyes seemed foggy and I knew she wasn't herself. But who she was I didn't know. I took another step forward and gave her arm a tug. Her knees wobbled and her legs trembled. And right there next to a heap of corrupted cats she fell, motionless. "Mama, we have to go home!" I pleaded. I dropped to my knees and shook her shoulders. "Get up, Mama! We have to go home! Please Mama.." But there wasn't any hope. She just laid there.
I began to cry. Almost all the light had left the sky and I'd never find my way through the woods in the dark. I wasn't strong enough to carry, let alone drag Mama home. I had no other choice but to run the rest of the way for help. So I got back up and began to sprint down the trail. The thought of Mama laying on the trail alone pounded in my brain. I decided to try to get her up one more time. When I turned around the pile of cats seemed to have grown and even more were accumulating. Where Mama had been was an assortment of cats tearing and chewing. A chorus of purring expressed their feeling of satisfaction as they made a evening snack out of my mother. It seemed a few of the butterflies from my stomach tried to escape as I gagged.
There was nothing I could do then but try and save myself. I turned towards home and ran dodging tree branches and running over cats emerging from the woods. I tried not to think about the pain shooting up from my ankle and hated myself for being so clumsy in the first place.
Finally, I could see the light we left on from the porch. I ran faster than I ever had before up the front steps and into the house. I slammed the door behind me and collapsed. Tears flooded my eyes and my head filled with the sound of meows, purrs, and scratches. I couldn't tell if the noise was real or just in my head from the devastation.
"Lena! Lena!" Mama called. Or at least that’s what I thought I heard. The sound of Mama calling my name from somewhere far off brought me to my feet. I looked out the window but it was then too dark to see. Being senseless I creaked open the door to try and see if Mama was coming from the trail. As soon as the crack was big enough two black cats snuck in. Horrified of what I had done, I screamed. The tall thin black cats half bounced, half floated around my living room. All the while staring at me with happy eyes and nasty smirks on their faces. Their teeth glistened a little and I noticed they were tinted red.
I was out of a safe hiding place and any bright ideas of what to do next. I shook with fear, stumbled back out onto the porch and almost tripped over something. I looked down and there was a white cat lying proudly on the porch floor. It looked up at me with devilish red eyes and purred.