9 Lives

A short story by Fleur Helsingor

Julia woke up, frightened by a nightmare of being chased by something that she could not see. In her dream, she had been running along a narrow path that seemed to have no end, for what felt like hours, and she couldn't stop, not even for a minute to catch her breath.

It was still dark, but after trying to doze for just a few more minutes, she decided that she might as well just get up.

She checked the basket where Smokey usually slept. The gaunt smoky gray and peach tortoise shell cat was snuggled inside the blanket and she was sound asleep. Smokey hadn't been able to eat for more than a week now, and her fur was dull and matted rather than glossy and spotlessly clean.

Julia checked the clock. "Still two hours before I can take her in," she thought.

She prepared a light breakfast, but all she could choke down was a cup of coffee, so she put the dry scone and juice away. Maybe she would feel more like eating when she returned home.

She sat down at her computer to try and get something done on the web pages that she needed to get finished for a client later in the week. It was slow going, though, and she looked more at the clock on the wall than at the document on the screen.

Usually, she found the design process so engrossing that hunger pangs would remind her that it was time for another meal, especially since Mark had left six months ago.

Her nickname for her computer was The Time Machine. Whenever she sat down at it, hours would pass in an instant and she could forget her problems.

But not this morning.

Finally, the time came, and she loaded the still sleepy cat into her carrier. The animal hospital was a short walk from her apartment, with just one busy street to cross, so there was no sense in trying to catch a bus.

As Julia crossed Broadway, she heard a car horn blare off in the distance and then everything went dark.


I woke up, and heard a meadowlark singing. I was lying on my back, and butterflies were flitting around among the wildflowers that seemed to be taller than I was.

I sat up slowly, but I felt all right. I must have sat down for a rest and dozed off somehow.

I felt a soft paw batting at my right hand, and saw that Smokey was next to me. She mewed, using her "come with me, I want something" voice.

I stood up, and brushed the dust from my jeans and sweater. Smokey started to scamper down a little path through the grass and wildflowers, so I followed her. I noticed that there was a cabin at the edge of the woods, and smoke was coming from the chimney. "Maybe someone there can tell us where we are and help us get home," I thought.

As we got nearer, eight cats greeted us. I recognized them all.

I saw Sheika first. She was a little calico who was the same age as Smokey, but she had been killed by a hit-and-run driver seven years ago.

I heard Sergei before I saw him. He had been a talkative Russian Blue who was the runt of the litter but had managed to live for almost sixteen years before he developed kidney failure.

Jean-Claude, my elegantly dressed black and white cat, and Buster, my elegant tabby with the swirls of thick stripes and the white belly, were also there, ready for me to pet them again. They were close friends who died within a few weeks of each other.

Tomas, the plush gray and white Manx cat that I adopted shortly after I graduated from college, was next, then sweet little Elizabeth, my first "tuxedo" cat, and then there was Alexandria, with her fluffy orange and black tortoise shell tail held high. Licorice, my childhood pet who had thick silver fur with the thin black stripes that gave him his name, was the last to arrive, and he had a big smile on his face.

I followed them all up the steps, and I knocked at the door. It was open, but no one was home.

Since the cats had all gone inside, I decided to go in. I could wait inside just as easily as on the steps.

Everything was dusty, as if no one had been there for a long time. I looked at the stack of newspapers, but the most recent one was dated from before I was born. There was no food in the cupboards or the pantry. When I tried the water faucet in the kitchen, it was dry.

In the pantry, there were eight clean ceramic bowls full of clear water, and eight more filled with cat food. I saw two more bowls on the shelf mounted on the wall, and I realized that these were for Smokey. When I laid them on the floor next to the others, they filled right up, and Smokey began to eat her supper.

There was plenty of firewood in the fireplace and the fire was blazing away. Each of the eight resident cats seemed to have a favorite spot, and they were all soon fast asleep. Smokey wandered around the room and finally selected a dark red velvet chair near one of the windows, and she curled up on the cushion.

The room had oil lamps on each wall, and they were all lit, so I decided to relax and read the old newspapers. They were a window into the past, reporting on wars that had ended long before and scientific discoveries that were new and exciting decades ago. I especially enjoyed seeing the advertisements and the movie listings.

I sat reading until it got too dark and my eyes got too tired. Since I was exhausted and there was nothing else to do, I decided to go to bed. Since the bed was so musty, I decided to sleep on the long couch in the living room, with Buster, Sergei, and Jean-Claude.

The fire was still blazing away when I woke up late the next morning. I tried to imagine how it could burn and give off heat, but not consume any of the wood.

The cats were all awake, and they kept me company during that first day and all of the days that followed, while I explored the meadow and the little patch of woods. There was no one else around, as far as I could tell, and I kept track of each trail that I followed.

In the beginning, the days passed pleasantly enough. All I had to drink was the cold water from the creek, and I managed to make do with nuts and berries from the woods. There was a small apple orchard that had gone wild, and the fruit was small but ripe. Sleeping with the cats was always pleasant after a day of hiking.

There was nothing else to do, though, and when I had finished reading all of the newspapers and a few books that I found on a table in one corner of the room, I started to feel a little bored.

My daily walks got longer and longer. I've always been a loner and I enjoyed the company of all of my cats again, but I started to miss seeing other people. I didn't have a lot of friends, but I enjoyed going to brunch with Linda and other friends, and going to the pub around the corner with some people that I knew in the neighborhood.

My clothes got grimy and I started to daydream about a long hot bath. The diet of nuts and fresh fruit was limited, and I longed for a hot meal, with a glass of wine and a rich chocolate dessert.

I also missed my art and design work, and using my computer to visit the web. There weren't even any pencils and paper in the cabin, so I couldn't draw the pretty flowers in the meadow or the trees in the woods. I couldn't even sketch the cats.

At night, my dreams were vivid and exciting, and I wanted to jot them down before I forgot them.

I realized then that this rustic cabin was a great place for my cats — a kind of heaven for them — but it wasn't where I really wanted to be. So I decided that I should say goodbye to my cats one last time. I cuddled each one, and told them that I would miss them all but would remember each one for as long as I lived.

I walked down the steps, and turned around for one last look. The nine cats were sitting in the windows, with smiles on their faces.

I turned away, to follow the path that I taken to come to the cabin. I would follow it all the way back, to see where I would wind up, even if it took me many days.


Julia woke up, feeling exhausted. She was lying on the sidewalk across the street from the animal hospital.

"Are you all right?" a man asked.

"I think so," Julia replied as she tried to sit up. "I just feel a little dizzy."

"Just take it easy," a woman sad. "There's an ambulance on its way. You must have fainted."

Julia recognized the woman. She was Marlene, one of the staff members from the animal hospital.

"I'm afraid that your cat may not be doing too well, though," Marlene continued. "Shall I take her across the street for you? I work at the animal hospital there."

"Sure, go ahead. I had a nine o'clock appointment. I'm Julia Wells, and I was bringing her in to have her put to sleep," Julia replied.

Marlene picked up the carrier and hustled away.

"Is there someone we should call?" the man asked. "I'll be glad to stay with you until the ambulance arrives. My name's Edward Park."

Julia said, "that's very kind of you, but I don't want to impose if you've got someplace else to be. I think I'm all right."

"No problem. I've already called in to let everyone know that I'll be a little late."

As they waited, Edward told her a little about himself. As it turned out, he lived just around the corner from her apartment building.

"When you're up to it, why don't we have dinner sometime?" Edward suggested. "Do you like sushi?"

"Sure!" Julia said. "I haven't had a chance to try the new place that just opened."

As the ambulance pulled up, Edward handed Julia his card and asked for her phone number. "I'll call you this evening, just to see how you're feeling. Maybe we can take it from there."

Julia smiled and waved goodbye as the ambulance doors closed.

Genre: a fantasy tale of cats, depression, sadness, love, a depiction of the afterlife while staying in a cabin in the woods, and making a fresh start in life