The pillow she was lying on was soft, but it could not relieve the constant aching in
Koshka's back end. The arthritis clenched her hip joints in a vise of pain that made
moving sheer agony. Her failing eyesight could barely judge distances to the places so
familiar to her. Slowly lifting her head, she peered into the shadows, knowing that
somewhere was the couch she had so naughtily sharpened her claws on, the stairs she loved
to race down then turn a full somersault upon reaching the bottom, and the carpet with
more than a trace of her gray fur mingled with chocolate brown fibers.
She exhaled in a near wheeze. This was all so new, and so frightening. After fourteen years her body was worn out. Weakened kidneys were straining everything else, starting with her lungs. The respiratory ailment of the past week was gone, but breathing was still hard through the scarred air passages. Sleep was her only comfort, sleep and the strong, reassuring hand of her owner, Mark. She expected him back soon, back from the hunt she knew he went on everyday. He was so clever to bring her his kill minced inside little cans. Though she instinctively knew how to find and track prey, she had never pursued anything more formidable than a spider. But with a provider as good as Mark, she never felt the need to hunt.
Faintly she heard the living room door open, and glanced up just as she felt Mark's hands reach under her emaciated body and lift her up. While she loved being held, she was never too keen on being picked up. Until now. Then she felt herself nestling into his lap. Mark scratched behind her ears, stroked her from head to tail, and made the sounds she could never understand except in tone. The sharp tone was reserved for when she got into something, which had been often. But that was the extent of his anger. He never hit or hurt her in any way. Usually his tone was like it was now, soft and soothing.
Koshka closed her eyes as Mark's touch lessened the pain. She tried to purr but couldn't even find the energy for that.
"It will soon be over."
Slowly Koshka opened her eyes. It had been so long since she had heard intelligible words she wasn't quite sure what to think.
Her eyes were suddenly able to focus. On the other end of the couch sat another cat, a pure white persian with ice blue eyes. Koshka was miffed as Mark wouldn't dare bring another pet into his house. Especially now when she could no longer establish to the intruder that this was her domain and anything that was done was only with her permission. The persian penetrated Koshka with her look. "Do not be alarmed, I am here to lead you."
"I don't understand," Koshka stammered. "Lead me where?"
"You know where, to your next life."
"No, I'm not ready."
"But you are. I would not be here unless it was imminent."
Koshka paused as Mark scratched her chin, then replied, "will it hurt?"
"No, you will not suffer any longer, unless," the persian lifted her chin towards Mark, "this human decides to prolong your agony."
Koshka found those words offensive. "He will not do that, he's loved and cared for me since I was a kitten."
"Unpredictable these humans are," said the persian in an officious tone. "They use us for their pleasure then discard us when we are no longer able to entertain or be of service to them. And then they lament our passing as if we were their own children."
"That's not true. Mark has always been good to me."
The persian paused as her head swiveled to let her eyes absorb the living room. Koshka had a peculiar sensation that her visitor's vision could peek through walls.
"It seems that way, your home is secure, your litter box is clean, your food and water are fresh. But has he let you hunt, explore, be on your own, be free?"
"Then he has not done you any favors. We cats are predators, our senses and reflexes sharpened for survival."
"He always protected me and hunted for me."
"We do not need the protection of humans, unless that was your choice." scoffed the Persian. "Your senses are by now so dull you would be unable to hunt a thing."
Now Koshka was angry, but too weak to argue. She had no idea who, or what this was, and why it was deliberately annoying her. The blue eyes did not reveal compassion. Instead this seemed to be a creature who acted out of duty. And this gave Koshka a new emotion, fear. What was it the persian had said, that she was here to help lead her to a new life? And where could that be? Koshka's world were the walls of Mark's townhouse and its small backyard. In her youth she had once scaled the fence then was immediately chased back by a dog. So much for exploring the great wilds after that. She was content with her own territory.
Rarely did she even have to share Mark, though lately it was with a grudging acceptance that she warmed to his new girlfriend, Janice. At first Koshka kept her distance, except when Mark and Janice were snuggled on the couch she would do her best to get between them. In time Janice won her over, starting with the evening she brought over her favorite kitty treats. Koshka was impressed, anyone who could hunt as well as Mark had to be ok.
Koshka glared at the persian. The persian did not flinch, but sighed and said, "I can see that little I say impresses you. But no matter, you can't miss what you never had. If you feel your life was happy and fulfilled, then nothing more needs to be said. I will wait with you until the end, then when your spirit is freed of your body, I will guide you to a place where you will not know hunger, or thirst, or danger. You may hunt if you wish, and you will never miss a kill. You can explore vast forests and deep caves knowing that nothing will hurt you. You..."
"Can Mark come with me?" Koshka interrupted.
Cold silence hung in the air.
"No, where we are going humans are not allowed."
"Then I won't go with you," Koshka protested.
"That is not your decision to make."
"Yes it is! Mark is everything to me, and I will not leave him! If he could only speak our language he would tell you."
"And if he could only see me," corrected the persian. Then she added, "you must realize that Mark will probably live many of your lifetimes."
"Then I will wait for him in wherever it is we are going."
"Yes. And I will be miserable until he comes for me."
The soft fur around the persian's lips shifted as Koshka saw a near smile.
"He means that much to you?"
"Well......I suppose an exception could be made. What I can do is take you with me, but leave you in a type of hibernation until it is his time to join you. But remember that he will probably have many more cats after you, and could forget all about you. So when you are rejoined you may no longer be his favorite."
"No! He will never forget me."
The persian emitted a soft sigh. "Has he ever told you that?"
"Not in words that I understand. I wish I knew his language, I must have missed many words of love."
"They could have been disdain disguised in tones of love."
"There is no changing your mind, I can see that. And I am not insensitive. You will have it your way...and before this night is over."
With that the persian vanished. Koshka pressed her head against Mark's hand, closed her eyes, and started wheezing again. She then felt his hands shift beneath her and lift her up. He then rose from the couch. Consciousness started to flit in and out as Koshka knew she was being carried to Mark's car, then a short while later she was on the stark metal table in the veterinarian's office. She barely heard the sounds Mark was making with the vet, an older man who had jabbed her with needles and squished her innards until she felt they would burst out her ears many times. Yet he too seemed to have Mark's caring attitude. Koshka felt a needle poke her side, then she closed her eyes once more, and felt all vestiges of awareness quickly slip away.
Next she was trotting along a path that seemed to be made of a soft strong light. It
was surrounded by what looked like a tunnel through clouds. The persian was in the lead.
Obediently, Koshka followed, almost giddy that she felt none of the aches of before. At
the end of the path there was a swirling, white mist. The persian vanished into the mist.
Koshka followed, then felt her senses go blank again. When she awoke, she was again lying
in Mark's lap.
He was stroking her ears once more, evoking a satisfied purr. Koshka let her mind go blank as she closed her eyes to bathe in serene bliss. It was several minutes before reality jolted her back to awareness. Her body felt different. There was no pain, she could breathe easily, and the vigor of her youth had returned. Opening her eyes just a slit, she saw that Mark looked the same. Except that instead of being inside his home, they were under a tall oak tree part way up a gentle, wildflower covered slope. Down the slope a grove of freshly scented pine trees hid a gurgling creek.
Comforted by Mark's presence, Koshka was not alarmed by being in such an unfamiliar place. "Where am I?" she asked.
"I'm not sure," replied Mark, "but it looks like I got my wish, a beautiful place and reunited with my cats."
Koshka jerked her head up. Elated at a sudden realization she blurted, "I can understand your words!"
"As I can yours," Mark smiled. "It's odd, though, this is something I've always wanted, to know exactly what you were trying to tell me, but I always felt that I already knew."
Koshka licked his hand. "I also had that same wish."
Then she heard a shy "hello," from a soft voice. Craning her head she saw a beautiful ragdoll cat, gazing with innocent blue eyes. Flanking her was another tabby, a calico, and a plump black and white shorthair. Before Koshka could say anything, Mark said, "after you left me, I knew you wouldn't want me to go through the rest of my life without sharing my home with cats. I love your kind too much to not be around them." Nodding to the ragdoll Mark added, "So let me introduce you to Ting Ting," then pointing to the others, "Suki, Mika and Muffy."
Koshka frowned. Mark must have understood as he placated her by saying, "but you must be aware I just got here, and though it has been many years since you left, you're the one sitting on my lap."
Koshka glanced at the other cats. They all looked friendly and playful. And Mark was right, she did have the place of honor. And now she also had an eternity free of illness or aging plus the long desired gift of always understanding his words. At that she smiled in amazement. The persian was right about one thing, this place indeed a paradise, especially since humans could finally talk.