Nikki the cat loved boxes. She loved to climb in them, root around and then curl up and slumber, safe in the dark confines of cardboard. The Boy would leave boxes out for her whenever he could. A new pair of shoes always provided a good box.
When Nikki wasn’t in a box, she would lord through the jungle of the Boy’s back yard hunting crickets, geckoes, or mice. When no rodents were around, the Boy kept an arsenal of balls, trinkets and toys that he would toss, and Nikki would chase them, keeping up her hunting skills. The Boy liked this, and if no toys were at hand, he always found a page or two of paper that he would crumple and let sail through the air. This worked as well as any target, and Nikki would launch herself across the back yard, intercept the paper before it came to rest and gore it into bits in an instant.
Nikki and the Boy were born in the same year, and while Nikki’s days as a kitten passed quickly, the Boy grew up slowly, as humans do. At length, the Boy became a man, and left his home and went off into the world. By then, Nikki was an ancient cat. She did very little hunting any more, and spent her days lounging around, in or on a box when she could find it; or on a picnic table, or parked car, or on the ground near the tall sycamore tree in the Boy’s back yard. The Boy would come home from time to time to see his mother, and he would tarry a few moments whenever he saw Nikki, giving a few strokes to her delicate white fur. Sometimes she continued to sleep, but sometimes she would yawn, stretch, and open her ice blue eyes to stare into the Boy’s face one more time.
Then there came a day when Nikki curled up beneath the sycamore tree and didn’t wake up. She simply stayed there, year after year, until there came a time when the Boy didn’t come home any more. At last his mother left as well, and the backyard grew silent but for the sounds of mice, geckoes and crickets which ran about with wild abandon. Nikki couldn’t be bothered to chase them. She was warm and comfortable where she slept.
But at length there came a particularly rainy season, and the ground grew damp and cold. Nikki grew cold as well, and she began to shiver with a chill that sunk its bite down to her very bones.
“This is it, this is my old back yard,” said the Boy.
“You used to live here? What a dump.” said his wife.
“Well, no one’s been here since Mom died.”
“I can see why. Can we go? I don’t feel too good about this old neighborhood.”
“Just give me a minute. I want to look for something.”
“My cat,” said the Boy.
“Our cat’s back home in Maine.”
“Not Sheeba. I mean Nikki.”
“The cat I had when I was a kid.”
“So you think she’s still alive?”
“No, she died while I was at college. Mom buried her back here by the sycamore tree. She said she made a little marker, but… oh my God.”
“Right there,” said the Boy.
“Those bones? I thought you said your mom buried her.”
“Well, she probably didn’t bury her very deep. She must have come up.”
“Come up? How?”
“I don’t know.”
“But that was over ten years ago that you were in school. That’s probably just a possum or something that died back here.”
“No way, hon. Look at that femur. And those teeth, and claws. That’s a cat. That’s my Nikki.”
“Okay, well… say your goodbyes, and let’s go. We’ve got a long drive to Portland.”
“I can’t just leave her here.”
“It just seems wrong. To leave her exposed like this.”
“So what do you want to do, re-bury her?”
“Yes,” said the Boy.
“You’ve got to be kidding — ”
“Honey… this was my cat. It was the only pet I ever had until we got married. She meant a lot to me. Can we take five minutes and do this?”
“Okay, sweety. I’m sorry. What can I do?”
“Well, I think I have a little shovel in my back pack. Could you get that for me?”
“Oh, and honey. Bring me that box in the back seat. The one that my new Timberlines came in. I think I have a better idea.”
The Boy lifted Nikki and placed her in the box he had brought. She rolled and stirred about, delighted at his touch. He carried her away from the old sycamore tree and placed her in the back of his car amongst the camping gear. When the car started down the road, all the gear began to rattle, and Nikki began to purr in her box.
They drove for a long while until they reached the Boy’s new home. He took Nikki and sat her on a small table on his back porch. Then the Boy and his wife took a seat on the porch and shared a bottle of wine as the day lit sky blued into night. From time to time, the Boy touched Nikki’s box, gently caressing the soft cardboard. At length, he went to bed, and Nikki lay on the back porch, quietly savoring the strange and different scents and sounds that the vast, unexplored new backyard offered.
The next morning, the Boy rose early, and he took Nikki and laid her in a nice warm hollow beneath the immense canopy of a sugar maple tree. She lay there, watching the Boy and his wife grow older, as well as their children, and their children’s cats, who dashed about the vast back yard, chasing mice, and geckoes, and crickets, leaving Nikki untroubled in her slumber.
Christopher Owen lives in Texas with his wife and two cats. His work has appeared at Daily Science Fiction, Fried Fiction, Mystic Signals and other places. He is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop.
This story is sponsored by
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