9 Lives

Arlo Roos

 

Prologue

    “Oh shit.”, she exclaimed, looking down at the piece of paper in her hand. I cocked my head curiously, looking up at her pale, frightened face. She seemed on the brink of tears. I had to help her, what kind of friend was I if I couldn’t comfort her at times like this?

    I meowed and rubbed against her now shaking legs. No response. It was at this moment that I knew something was really wrong. Never once had she ignored me before. I was her best friend, her companion till the end. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, she turned her head to look at me. Her face was red, streaked with tear marks, her vibrant blue eyes a shade of maroon from the crying. Despite the bright sun shining through the window of our dingy apartment, the sky got a whole lot darker with that look. She knelt, and, pressing her head to mind, she stated 8 words that I would never forget.

    “Duffy, things are about to change for us.”

    The piece of paper from before fluttered the ground, settling on the hardwood floor. The large, bolded letters on the front read “EVICTION NOTICE”.

    “I’ve worked so hard. I have 3 jobs. I have friends. How? Why?

Duffy"

The next month was a nightmare of paperwork and planning. As the weeks went by, we sold our belongings, Laura lost two of her jobs, and we were packing up what little we had left, getting ready to move out. I was lying down on my little cotton bed, looking glumly at Laura. She was currently in the process of stuffing her bag with some clothes, and solemnly and methodically placing them in the duffel. She had already sold the house for a fraction of its value for the sake of time, and all of the furniture had been either sold or given away last week. This was the final cleanup before we were officially going to be given the title of homeless. At this point, the house was looking as barren as a desert (not that it had looked any better before).

I didn’t care though. So long as we were together the where or the how didn’t matter. I loved her and she loved me. She had even devoted a bag just for my toys and my bed. Wherever she went, I would follow.

As the final few articles of clothing made their way into the bag, she came over to me.

“Alright Duffy, time to get up. We need to go now. I’ll pack up your bed and we’ll head out.”

    At first I hesitated, not wanting to leave for her sake, but I knew there was no other way. I stood up and walked towards the door, sitting down as I watched her stuff my bed into my bag. With that, we walked out the door with somber faces.

    The next few months went by in a blur. We went from house to house, couch surfing, just looking for a roof over our heads. Luckily Laura had plenty of friends in town that were nice enough to let us stay. But one by one we exhausted our supply, eventually getting kicked out of every house. Sometimes it was me (quite a few of her friends were dog people, or already had dogs. I couldn’t stand that), sometimes it was her somewhat underwhelming amount of money, and sometimes they just got tired of us living there. Of her 3 part time jobs before the eviction, she had only managed to keep one of them. The only headway she had managed to make in her work was getting to work full-time, much to my despair.

    Finally, our time was up. The last place we stayed was at an old co-worker’s house, Julia.  It was a run-down, miniscule apartment on the outskirts of town. Julia herself was a wizened old lady with wrinkled skin and snow white hair, always carrying a bright red-stained leather purse, the origins of which were questionable. Despite her almost menacing and aged appearance, she had a kind heart, and gave me biscuits from her pantry. While Laura was out working we had good times, and she made me a small ball of yarn to play with.

    Eventually the size of the apartment was too much and Julia could not keep Laura and me comfortably in her home. Regrettably she kicked us out within a few weeks. As we left the house with our ever-dwindling supply of belongings, I looked back longingly at the cracked brick walls of her home, wishing it could last longer. Laura needed me, however, and I couldn’t leave her behind on the streets. So, retreating like the French, we retreated into the ever growing supply of rain-water dripping from the plump clouds above.

    That night was a downpour. The raindrops came down like anvils, colossal beads of water pounding our heads down into the ground and our spirits even lower. We wandered around town, looking for anything to shelter us from the storm. Luckily Laura knew the town well, having lived in it nearly her entire life, and knew of a bridge where we could rest.

    By the time we got there, it was nothing short of too late. We were both soaked to the bone, her hair and my fur alike matted to our bodies like a freezing blanket. Despite the addition of moisture to our bodies, it did much more than that. The rain had soaked our spirits up like a sponge.

However, at least we had shelter now. The bridge was cracked concrete, a highway overpass. We could hear the rush and rumble of cars driving above us, although it was somewhat staggered due to the weather. That bridge would become the last hearth for us.

    She laid out my bed and collapsed on it. I saw her grief, her struggle, and knew that she needed me right now. I walked over to her and curled myself in her arms. I could feel her embrace tighten, and the little warmth available creep into her body. I gave her everything I had, trying desperately to cheer her up.

    “Oh Duffy. I don’t know how long I can do this. I-I can’t deal with this anymore. Frankly if it wasn’t for you…”

    Her voice trailed off into the distance. I turned my head, looking up at her, looking her in the eyes. I knew that expression on her face. The expression of deep and saddening emotion, of pure sorrow. I rarely saw it in her anymore, but that face… I knew that face.

    It was about two weeks after she got me if I recall. For the first week of my being there she was beautiful, pleasant. I never saw her sad, and her eyes lit up whenever she saw me. It didn’t last. One day she got home from work with that same look in her eyes. I never found out what happened that day, but the moment she walked in the door with those eyes, she ignored me, walked past into her room, and retreated there until the following morning. I wouldn’t have suspected more than a bad day if not for the sheets. While she was at work the next day I went into her room. I hopped onto her bed, looking for a place to bask in the sun all day, to rest. I hopped up and saw something I wished I’d never seen. Her sheets were stained red with blood. I glanced around, and on her nightstand… on her nightstand laid a razor.

    Remembering that day, I curled up tighter, rubbing myself against her, trying as hard as I could to show her that I was there, I could help her. I had to. I couldn’t let her do anything like that again. I meowed and licked her nose, trying to show how much I cared for her. She barely reacted, keeping that same blank look.

    Finally, after an eternity, she spoke. “No job. No money. Sleeping on a cat bed that can barely even fit one of my legs. Oh how the mighty have fallen. Although… I suppose I was never mighty to begin with… the closest I’ve gotten to that title was getting you. You’ve gotten me through so much, you don’t even know. Duffy, I love you. Don’t leave me…”

    She hugged me tighter, clinging to me like a lifeline.

 

    That night was probably the worst of my life. Laura was constantly shivering and muttering in her sleep, both of us were soaked, and the cars passing by offered constant noise and distraction. At one point I attempted to release myself from her embrace and keep watch, protect her, but when I moved she hugged me tighter and whispered, “No, please don’t go”. So I stayed. Her wish is my command. I’d gone so far into the lamp I was a genie.

The next morning when the sun rose, I woke up to a bright sky, no rain, and a beautiful morning. Laura was still fast asleep, the sunshine slowly making its way under the overpass and towards her sound, unknowing face. It’s strange to think how sleep can erase even such depression as I had witnessed last night. I slowly worked my way out of her arms, making sure not to wake her up. Even in the time that we had stayed at her friend’s houses, we had both lost weight due to malnourishment. I had to find food; despite our situation I was still her protector, and providing for her was part of my job.

Before she woke up, I decided to go on the hunt for food. I ran across the road, heading for nearby houses. I walked down the road, turning my head and seeing the various Victorian-modern homes in the neighborhood. Finally, I found a house whose owner had been foolish enough to leave his trash can on the curb. I tipped it over, creating a loud clash of metal to asphalt contact as it hit the pavement. After much rummaging I finally managed to find a wastefully thrown away box of Pop Tarts with a few still in it.

 

     I heard some shouting and turned to see a half naked, hairy, overweight man running across his lawn towards me, armed with a TV remote in his right hand. His nearly-united bathrobe majestically fluttered behind him as he attempted to sprint. My cue to leave! I ran as fast as I could back down the road, Pop Tarts in mouth, heading back to the bridge, and more importantly, Laura. She would be so happy for something to eat!

      I managed to outrun the man without much difficulty (he wasn’t exactly at the top of the fitness chain), and began a brisk pace back home. Well, the closest to a home that we had at the moment. I made it back to the opposite side of the road, and looked over towards where Laura was sleeping. Her eyes were still closed. Good, I had made it before she woke up.

     The next few moments seemed to take place in slow motion. From the corner of my eye, I noticed a blur coming down the road. I heard the squeal of brakes. Heard a yell of surprise. I turned my head.


Laura

 

     A sound jolted me awake. My eyes fluttered open, responding to this mysterious noise. A loud thump, this simple sound filled me with dread. I didn’t know why, but something drove me to get up from the coarse cat bed that was my resting place. Something ominous. Where did that sound come from? I forced myself awake. Just last night had been my worst episode in a long time. I looked around the small camp. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

WAIT. DUFFY. I started hyperventilating.

“Nononononononononononononono”, I whispered under my breath. This can’t be happening.

“DUFFY!!!!!”, I cried in anguish. Where could he be? I had to find him. He was my everything. I couldn’t lose him. I scanned nearby, looking for anything, any sign of him. My eyes focused on a small black lump in the middle of the road.

My eyes narrowed. I lost all breath, all thought. My vision tunneled into a spiral, a pipe concentrated on that one piece of road, that one piece of the universe. I ran faster than I had ever run before. I had never been athletic, but I could run a marathon if it meant getting to the road. It couldn’t be. Please just let it be a fox, a rabbit, anything. Oh god no, please let it be just that.

“Nononononononononononononono”

As I covered the distance to the road, I saw specks of red on the asphalt.

“Nononononononononononononono”

I inched closer.

“Nononononononononononononono”

I arrived at the pile of black, blood-stained fur.

“Nononononononononononononono”

I looked down at the sight before me. I recognized the small white patch of fur on his neck. I knew those eyes, now white, lifeless. Broken.

“Duffy….”

     At that moment I let out a blood curdling screech, one that I didn’t think possible to exist. Birds flew away from their perches, animals miles away perked their ears, the old fat man looked up from the now-cleaned up garbage can. My heart, soul, and mind cracked. I could almost hear the shattering.

     I cried more than I ever had. Cars swerved around me and I didn’t care. I didn’t move. Everything had been taken from me. My house? Gone. Money? Gone. Friends? Gone. Duffy? De-. My mind caught on the word, not able to say it. Nothing could bring them back. Nothing.

     I stayed by his side all day. At around noon, I finally got some of my wits returned and moved out from the road. I took him into the forest. Carrying Duffy’s remains with me, I sat over and cried until the sun made the hills its grave. I fell asleep with my face buried in his fur.

The next day I buried him. Right there. Using only my bare hands I dug out a space. I dug until my knuckles bled, raw and muddy. But after a day of work Duffy was in the ground. I looked down at his disheveled body and knew that I had to do something more. Reluctantly I ventured further into the forest until I found some flowers. After the recent rainstorm they were plentiful and beautiful. I gathered them into a bundle and made my way back to his grave.

      That afternoon, I held a funeral service. Me and him, just as it had always been.

 

“I can barely put anything into words right now. For you I’ll try. When I first got you it was the happiest day of my life. I don’t know a lot of things. I’ve never been anything special. Of this, however, I am sure. You were my everything, my motivation to get through.”

      The use of the word “were” in the past tense brought tears to my eyes. But I had to get through this. I had to. For him. Stuttering and crying, I continued.

 

“Thank you. That’s what I want to tell you before I go. Thank you for always being there for me, for helping out when everyone and everything else had abandoned me. Good-Goodbye.”

     Sobbing now, I tossed the flowers into the grave. With the remaining sunlight I filled in the grave, averting my eyes from my friend’s body. My family’s body. That night marked the last I would ever go near that forest or that bridge. Too many memories. Too much pain.

    After that, things went downhill. I tried in vain to get a job, to no avail. Although I managed to scrape together enough food and clothing so as to not starve or freeze, I went the next month with no place I could call home. Every night I would return to whatever street corner or alleyway I was sleeping in at the time and sob, reminiscing over Duffy and how hopeless I felt without him. Without anyone. The few other homeless that I managed to befriend weren’t true friends, and if the time came to help me, they all backed out in the end.

    One day, however, I was leaning against a dumpster out the back of a coffee shop that I frequented when she showed up. I heard a noise from the dumpster adjacent to mine, and perked my head up in order to see what the commotion was.

“Who’s there?”, I asked.

 

     In response, a small, mangy, brown and white-speckled cat slinked out from behind the waste disposal, a small mouse hanging from its mouth. It rotated its head, peering at me curiously.

“Are you lost?”

     It mewled and turned its head for a second time. After a small staring contest, it dropped the mouse and started to approach me cautiously. I continued to look at it in wonder, sitting still so as to not scare it off.

     After a long and arduous journey towards me, it laid down in my lap and began purring. I leaned my head back against the wall, and for the first time since losing Duffy, I smiled.

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