This story is by Laura Eiras and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Little One crouched under the snow-covered bush with her brothers. Her tiny tail twitched, a clear giveaway of her eagerness to follow Momma up the porch stairs. Momma always made them wait while she made sure it was safe.
She hated waiting, but Momma’s command had been firm, enforced by a solid bop on Little One’s head when she tried to follow. Smudge and Soot snickered, whiskers twitching in amusement.
Her tummy grumbled. Momma’s milk wasn’t enough anymore, and her bigger, stronger brothers often pushed Little One out of the way when the greedy guts wanted to nurse. Waiting was hard! The enticing odors wafting down from the porch made the ache in her tummy worse.
The kitten watched Momma slink forward one careful paw at a time until she reached the stairs, her white coat the perfect camouflage against the snow. She flowed up and glanced around, looking for danger. Momma must have found none because she looked over her shoulder and gave a sharp meow. Come children.
Little One sprang to her feet, only to be bowled over by her brothers. By the time she shook the snow from her eyes and righted herself, they’d bounded up to join Momma. She scrambled to follow them, her tiny legs making it difficult to climb the stairs. Finally, she scrambled up the last step with a slight grunt and plopped down to rest.
Momma came over and nosed Little One insistently. Get up!
She struggled to her feet. Resentment drove some of the love from her heart. It wasn’t fair! She had to work twice as hard as her brothers to do almost anything, but Momma never considered that.
Hungry mewling caught Momma’s attention. She glanced over her shoulder and lashed her tail. What now? A quick swipe of her tongue smoothed Little One’s rumpled fur in a rough caress—Some of the resentment faded from Little One’s heart. She does care!—and then Momma bounded away.
Little One craned her neck, trying to see what her brothers were doing. They weren’t where Momma had left them. Instead, they’d started investigating the right side of the porch, following their noses toward the delicious odor. Little One began to follow when Momma’s sharp hiss stopped everyone in their tracks. Stay put. Momma rapped Smudge and Soot on the head for moving. Bad kittens.
Momma crept forward, one careful step at a time, as she approached the bowls resting on a mat inside a latticework of metal. Her ears swept back, and her muzzle scrunched up as if she smelled something bad.
A movement seen out of the corner of her eye distracted Little One. It was another cat framed in an opening in the wall! She lifted her head and sniffed but couldn’t smell it. Intrigued, she walked over, lifted her head to sniff the black tuxedo cat, and bumped her nose against a clear, hard substance. What was this? Little One batted at it with her paw, then reared on her hind legs and began pawing at the substance, trying to reach the stranger.
Sashi sat on his haunches and eyed the strange little kitten pawing the window with its stumpy legs. He’d watched indifferently as first the white momma cat, followed by two kittens, one grey, the other black, invaded his domain. He didn’t care if they got caught in the trap or not. But the sight of the little brown tabby with the short legs bravely struggling up stairs twice its height did catch his attention. Enough so that he’d turned his head and mewed sharply to call his human to the window. That had apparently caught the eye of the kitten, as it had come over to investigate. It was clearly intrigued by a cat it could see but not smell. His whiskers had twitched with amusement. Glass was obviously not something it had encountered before.
His human walked over and made her noises at him. “What is it, Sashi? What do you see?”
Now that his human had properly answered Sashi’s summons, he ignored her and watched the kitten again.
His human twitched the curtain aside to see what had attracted his attention and saw the little kitten pawing the window. She made more noises. “How adorable,” she said. “But what’s this?” She eyed the kitten’s stumpy legs. “It’s a munchkin! Where did it come from?” She looked out, but the window was too narrow to see the rest of the porch. “Is it alone?”
Sashi twinned around his person’s legs in approval, then went to paw the door. Let me out!
With a muttered, “I shouldn’t do this,” his human opened the door and followed Sashi when he darted out.
The momma heard the door open and saw his human step onto the porch. Yowling in alarm, she swatted the grey and black kittens on their rumps. They turned and ran. He couldn’t blame her for sending them away; unlike his, most humans were not to be trusted! Before he adopted his and came to live with her, plenty had yelled and thrown things at him when he tried to reach the food hidden in containers outside their dens.
While her kits ran away, the momma faced his human, arched her back, and bristled her tail. Then, she hissed, wrinkled her muzzle, and barred her teeth. Go away! I am dangerous!
When his human wisely stopped after a few steps, the momma whirled and followed her kittens. She reached the bush the two kittens cowered under and realized the tinny kitten had not followed. She desperately called for her third kit to join them, but his human was in the way. So the momma ran back and threatened his human again. She gave a demanding mew while staring directly into her kit’s eyes. Come! Come now!
The little kit cowered away from his human, a giant creature compared to her. But unfortunately, his human had not moved and still blocked her path to safety. She gave a little mew of despair.
Sashi had to answer the pathetic cry. Vague memories of being abandoned, cold and hungry surfaced. No one had come to answer his cries, but he could do something now. He stalked over and gave the poor kit an encouraging purr. You are safe. He nosed her—now that he was closer, he could smell that it was female—toward the door. Come with me. He licked her head. Safety and warmth await.
The deep, rumbling purr of the tuxedo cat calmed Little One. The gentle nudge, so different from Momma’s hard pokes, promised things she wanted and filled an ache she hadn’t known was there. But it was the thorough licking that followed, removing all traces of the clinging snow, that sealed her fate. Momma’s half-hearted affection couldn’t compete.
Little One turned her back on Momma and the cold, hungry world and scurried inside. It was better this way. All she did was slow them down.
She was still looking around when the human grabbed her with its oddly shaped paw and put her into a box with soft padding. Something was pushed down her throat—quite unpleasant—and she was left alone. But she wasn’t completely alone, as her savior, who she later learned was called Sashi, curled up outside the box, and his comforting purr kept her company. It was a relief when the tiny creatures in her fur stopped biting and fell off. The bitey things never returned, and after a few days, her tummy was no longer swollen. Once released from the box, Little One explored and met the other cats in the house.
Little One stalked and pounced on the not-mouse, killing it with her hind paws.
Tiger, an older kitten, snatched it from between her paws and ran up the cat tree, his tail jerking madly. Catch me if you can!
She eyed the tree but didn’t follow him. Experience had taught her that he would be long gone with his prize by the time she reached the top. So little One decided to take a nap instead and joined Sashi in his bed.
Sashi was the boss cat and her friend. The others came and went, only staying for a short time, and were only tolerated by Sashi. He even shared his human with Little One, and she learned to enjoy the scratches and belly rubs that his human could give.
Days turned into months. Little One was the only cat who had been there longer than Sashi, and she began to worry. When would she be taken away and never come back? The others had spoken of a special place that would always be theirs, but she couldn’t imagine living anywhere except with Sashi and his person, now hers too.
Once Sashi realized her fear, he licked her nose. Silly kit, you belong here. This is your Forever Home.