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Bone Planet - Katie Whelan

Bone Planet by Katie Whelan from Vantage

Strays

It was summer, and as usual every day was uneventful. When my mom and the rest of my family noticed the tiny kitten and its mom that had been appearing around our house, my sister Stacy and I were naturally happy. The kitten was absolutely adorable: tiny, fluffy and black with wide green eyes. The cat, who we assumed was the mother, was small as well, and mostly white with a large black spot stretched across her thin body. My mother, however, was instantly unhappy with the cats. This dislike was fueled even more when we found the kitten playing with a dead chipmunk. It was a strangely adorable and guilty sight: this innocent playful kitten tossing about and clumsily pouncing on its toy, only the toy was a fat limp chipmunk with a few drops of splattered dark red blood across the dull grey concrete steps outside our front door. The mother sat neatly nearby, watching. While Stacy and I felt amused and remorseful, my mom instantly accused them of killing all of the small animals in our neighborhood. As soon as the mother saw us peering out the window and heard our front door opening, she and the kitten darted into the crevice under the wide concrete porch. We stood there and stared at the abandoned body.

“Why the hell do I need these stray cats?” my mother complained stridently. “They’re going to kill all the animals in the neighborhood. Look at this poor chipmunk. And now we have to clean this up.”

As we cleaned up the chipmunk and its blood from the two neat punctures in its neck, our mom angrily demanded that we henceforth scare off the cats as soon as we saw them, and not dote on them. As she continued ranting, Stacy and I tried to reason with her, tried to explain that they were not going to literally kill all the animals in the neighborhood.

“I am not cleaning up every dead body they drag over here,” she retorted.

In the following weeks the mother disappeared, making us wonder if she even was the kitten’s mother. She did seem too small and thin, and her body was almost completely white while the kitten was pure black.

Now all we ever saw was the kitten sitting crouched on the porch rug, or sitting outside the entrance to the crevice. Slowly, however, it started drifting further from its hole, sitting under the row of bright red azalea bushes right outside our bay window. Lots of times it would curl up in one of the potted plants on the concrete, neatly tucking its tiny paws under its chest, looking down at its small hooded shelter. Other times it would bat at the hanging pink flowers of the potted plants, or bite and eat a grasshopper it found in the dusty, sun-dappled dirt. At this point it had grown used to us peering at it from our window, and we’d grown used to the kitten staring up at us from one of the pots.

One afternoon as my mom was walking over on the pathway to the front door she froze.

“What is that?” The way she said it, somewhat scared and shocked, let me know something was something wrong, something that was not supposed to happen. I quickly ran over. She was now crouching down and peering into the crevice. I looked over her shoulder.

There, although shadowed, loomed out of the darkness the unmistakable face of the mother cat, blown up and decaying, its once bright green eyes swelled shut.

 “Oh my god. How did this happen?” My mom sighed heavily and looked up at me.

 “That must’ve been why the kitten has been staying outside the hole so much. His mom has been dead the whole time so he probably couldn’t stand the smell and the flies,” I said.

The stiff bloated body had already half sunken into the ground, the skin peeling away to show white bones and sickly flesh. Her fur was matted and dusty with flies that lighted on it over and over again. Her face was pulled back into a sad painful grin showing all of her teeth and rotting black flesh, while hiding her eyes. After we carefully raked out all of her remains from inside the crevice, I looked up to see the kitten staring from behind a bush on the other side of the concrete. It was sitting absolutely still. It continued to watch us as we cleaned out as much as we could of the hole with bleach.

Surprisingly, my mom seemed to lose her hatred for cats. We concluded that the poor kitten had probably watched its mother die, and that now it was learning how to live on its own. We worried that it probably couldn’t even hunt yet, so we bought some kitten food and put it on a plate outside in hope that it would eat. However, two days after we removed its mother’s body from under the porch, the kitten disappeared.

In the end we realized that the only reason the kitten had probably been staying near the crevice was because its mother was there, even though she was dead and decaying. Now that there was nothing keeping it, the kitten must have decided to go out on its own. In the end, it was the mother’s dead body that we cleaned up, not one of the small animals in the neighborhood. My mother revisited the story a few times, in each instance, with a new-found pity for the suffering of all mothers and offspring in the world.

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