Chapter One

     Laying in the soft grass, she could feel the sun slowly moving across her face; warming her skin and drying the light dew that covered her. She wanted to open her eyes, but couldn’t because of the searing pain she was feeling in her head. She felt the fur of a little cat, nuzzling her hand that was laying on her stomach. Her lips parted to breathe deeper and her chest rhythmically raised and lowered with each light breath and a few soft sighs escaped. 

 

      She could feel every small rock and twig lost in the grass pressed against the skin on her legs as she ever so slowly started to stretch, still unable to open her eyes. She could feel her heart beat from behind her eyes all the way to the back of her neck. She felt again the snuggling of a small purring cat, who meowed after each one of her sighs. She managed to open her eyes to small slits, allowing the bright rays of the sun to fill her sight. She moaned, louder and her head pounded harder the more she opened her eyes. After a few blinks her green eyes were shining in the morning sun.  


      With a groan, she was able to pull herself up to her elbow and look at her surroundings but saw first the little orange cat that had been trying to rouse her. He sat on her stomach and watched her carefully with his golden eyes fixed on her, as if trying to convey a message. He meowed when he saw her eyes open. She raised a hand and started to scratch the cat behind his ear in an assumed guess at what he wanted. She slowly turned her head from left to right to survey the rest of her surroundings.


      The trees were full of leaves and singing birds around the small lake. She could hear the babbling of a creek down the way. The grass was a thick carpet and she could see the sun shining through the branches of the trees. It was a beautiful, secluded area of a forest. 


       “Where am I?” she whispered to the cat.  


      She sat up and the little cat jumped off her lap. She looked down and saw a plain, brown skirt bunched up to her knees and a pair of sandals lying not far from her feet. She had a few simple, metal rings on her fingers and brown leather bag wrapped across her body. The more confused she became, the greater the pain in her head grew.  


 “What am I wearing?” again she whispered. “What happened?” She searched desperately through the bag for a clue and found a few coins, a brush, an old key and a note that read ‘Make it home,’ in a familiar scrawl. She rubbed her forehead as she continued to look around at the damp ferns, wide eyed and confused. 


       “Where is home?” she questioned the little cat, whose eyes were fixated behind her.  


      Stiffly and slowly with trepidation, she turned around to meet what the little cat was looking at. A bird hopped through the forest floor, its feathers shining a royal blue with a long neck and a tiny head. It pecked at the brush with its beak until it found a little grub and flew to the top of a nearby tree, right as the little cat pounced at the spot that the bird used to be. She then realized, she didn’t know where the little cat had come from. She had a blurry memory of a big, black tom cat.


      She stood up and walked to the water’s edge; the little cat followed her and lowered his head to drink. The water was still as a mirror in the sunshine and was clear enough to see to the smooth rocks on the bottom. She splashed some water on her face and stared at her reflection as the ripples calmed.


      Her raven hair fell loosely about her round face. Her green eyes looked tired, with dark circles under them, as if she hadn’t slept in some time.  


      She sat on the bank for a while; watching the cat and worried. Nothing felt familiar or right. She didn’t recognize anything: where she was, what she was wearing, nor the little orange cat that had followed her. Nothing.   


     A grumble came from her stomach. “I guess I have to find something to eat,” she said to the little cat. “You coming?” 

       “Meow.”   


     The two started to walk west of the lake. She figured at least she could stay with the light and follow the sun. The forest was thick and had many different birds and creatures scampering in the shadows. She saw tiny tree frogs in shades of greens and reds jumping in the moss, and birds of all colors singing in the trees. The little cat kept up with her pace through the trees as they followed a small brook runoff from the lake. A few small fish darted from bank to bank. Abruptly the little cat stopped, staring at the fish. With a loud growl and small splash, he was in the water and had returned in a flash with a fish between his teeth. He dropped the flopping, finned creature at her feet, weaving in and out of her ankles, purring. Pleasantly surprised, she bent down and scratched his ears.


      “Such a good boy! Now we need to figure out how to cook it.” She looked around for a place to start a fire. She grabbed the wiggling fish, then grabbed a rock. “Sorry fish,” she muttered as she smashed its head.  


    She gathered some dry sticks and piled them next to her waiting meal. The little orange cat had settled next to the fish and would slyly lick it when she was not looking. She grabbed two rocks and hit them together to try to spark her kindling. She sat and pounded the rocks over and over again. Her head was throbbing and her stomach was in knots. She was exhausted and scared. Repeatedly she clicked the rocks on the dry wood. Little red sparks shot out, but none caught the brush. Tears started to roll down her cheeks; they felt hot as they made their way to her chin.   


     “Start,” she whispered. “Start. Start. Why won’t you start?” her voice got louder with each strike. She got mad and yelled “Just start!” as she threw the rocks at the wood with a final clink of the stone. A small spark started to burn the brush. Her crying turned to laughter as she carefully blew on the ember. Soon she had a fire.   


     The little cat sat by the flames before he circled twice and laid down, purring in his sleep. She picked up a sharp looking stick and pushed it through the fish, gagging the whole while. She roasted the fish over the fire as she rubbed her temple and watched the shadows dance on the forest floor around her. She ate the fish, ripping the pieces from the bones with her fingers and fed some to her new feline friend. 


     “Do you have a name, little boy?” she asked the cat, while he was cleaning his face after his dinner.  


      “Meow,” he responded emphatically. His golden eyes seemed to smile at her as he continued to purr.  


      “Meow it is,” she said with a smirk. She knew it was time to get going, and at least find some shelter. Or, better yet, a person to ask where she was. 


       She stamped out the fire and went to have a drink from the brook. Meow followed her with a little sprint. They trailed the flowing water; Meow splashing at fish, running ahead, and then waiting for her to catch up. There were flowers along the edge of the creek that swayed in the breeze. The sun was slowly starting to set and it could have been a peaceful evening if she hadn’t been so nervous for what would come with the darkness. Meow was no longer running ahead but was right next to her legs.


        She was getting weak, tired, confused, and sore. Tears started to burn in the corner of her eyes for the second time since awakening in the woods. “Well little cat, I’m not sure what to do anymore,” she said, her voice cracking as she tried to hold back the tears. She sat down on a moss covered rock, feeling defeated, and looked around.   


     She gave in and started to cry when suddenly all the little hairs on her arms stood up. She had the eerie feeling that someone was watching her. She stopped crying, held her breath in a gasp, and peered through the dense woods. She noticed that the little birds that had been singing could no longer be heard, in fact no animals could be heard, and even the flowers seemed still; like there was death in the air. 


     Slowly, she stood from where she sat and turned to inspect her surroundings, but nothing was there. Meow took the corner of her skirt in his mouth and started to tug. She looked down at him to see his sleek tail was now puffed out on its ends. “You feel it too, don’t you?” 


     she whispered to him.   “Meow,” he squeaked as he continued their trek down the brook. She cautiously followed behind the cat, constantly looking behind her. She saw a small branch that had fallen from one of the trees and decided to grab it. Perhaps it would be a good idea to carry a walking stick.   


     The peculiar silence slowly abated to the sounds of the breeze, and the birds, the farther down the creek they traveled. The water began to veer off to the left. When they reached the bend in the brook Meow took off in a sprint straight ahead. “Hey!” she yelled after him, “Where are you going?!” She lifted her walking stick to her hip and ran after the cat in a panic. She already felt alone; there was no way she was going to let the one friend she had out of her sight. The trees were streaking past her in a blur of green. The forest thinned the farther they ran, trees becoming further spread apart. 


       Meow stopped unexpectedly at a break in the trees and sat nonchalantly licking his paws as she caught up to him. She huffed and wheezed as she slowed to where the little orange cat waited. She could feel her heartbeat pounding in her temples and her chest. “Why?” she panted. “Why gasp did you gasp run gasp like that!?” Meow just rubbed against her leg and started to walk out of the woods. 


      The sun had started to set in east now and the sky was a watercolor painting of oranges and pinks that melted into dark blue. She could see the moon rising into the sky. She saw a rickety, thatched roof cabin standing in the center of the clearing.  The flowers and grass were overgrown around a broken stone wall that encircled the cabin. The small building was dark and looked as though it hadn’t seen a visitor in some time. Meow, however, seemed to be comfortable there as if the place was familiar to him. 


       Cautiously, she walked towards the structure. What if there is someone there? she thought, becoming hopeful. What if they know where we are? Then she started to think of the feeling she had in the forest, and was a little frightened. What if they are not friendly?