I had always wanted a cat. I wanted a sweet, warm lap cat that would fight for my attention and curl up next to me, purring while I wrote stories. I envied my friend Crystal for her gorgeous tuxedo kitty named Felix. If I could have cloned him for myself, I would have. My husband was not keen on adopting a cat, however. We already had a dog and two kids. That was plenty for us. Plus, litter boxes. Yuck.
Little did I know how my luck would turn one Wednesday in 2014.
Caleb was only eight months old. Wesley was three. We had just dropped my husband, Kris, back off at work after meeting him for lunch. I was headed up the ramp to get onto the interstate, and glanced to the left at a man in an orange vest picking up trash with a grapple tool. That’s when a tiny black flash darted out in front of the truck.
I swerved to miss it, thinking it must have been a chipmunk or something. As we passed by, I saw a small black kitten curled up in the weeds.
My heart jumped. My mind immediately flashed to visions of a fluffy black lap cat, forever grateful for being rescued from the tires of passing vehicles.
I pulled over.
“I’ll be right outside the truck,” I told Wesley, rolling down the backseat windows. “I need to see something.”
I circled to the back of the truck, and sure enough, there sat the tiniest kitten I’d ever seen. The moment she saw me, she ran over to me, mewing loudly. I was impressed by her set of lungs in such a small body.
I picked her up and cradled her in my palm. She felt as light and fragile as a baby bird, and just as fuzzy. She curled her tail, which had chunks of fur missing, around her body and settled down. That’s when I remembered the man picking up trash. I stepped over to him.
“Do you know who this kitten belongs to?” I asked him.
He smirked. “Nah. But it’s been following me around for over an hour. She almost got ran over a couple of times.”
“Oh no!” My heart broke. What now? “I can’t just leave her. She’ll get killed.”
The man stopped in his task and shrugged. “I ain’t seen a mama or any other kittens around here, so it must be lost.”
I held the kitten out to him. “You should take it home. It seems to like you if its been following you around.”
He took a step back and held up his hands as if I’d just suggested he contract the plague.
In hindsight, I should have taken that as an omen…
“No way, I ain’t taking it.” He smirked as she began to doze in my hand. “It looks to me like you got yourself a new cat.”
He laughed and walked away, dropping more trash into his bag.
I climbed back into the truck and looked into the backseat. Caleb chewed on his fingers, and Wesley’s eyes were huge. “Is that a kitten?” he asked, unable to hide his thrill.
“Yes,” I said, “but we’re not keeping it. We’re just going to find it a good home.”
I tucked her into my lap and pulled away, making it only a few yards before she jumped down and began circling the pedals at my feet.
In hindsight, I should have taken that as a warning…
“Ok, this won’t work,” I said aloud as I reached down and plucked her from the floorboard. She loudly protested, clinging to my hand with needle-like claws.
I pulled over at the very next exit and found a gas station. Pulling up to the curb, I stepped out of the truck and called to the clerk through the open door. “Excuse me, do you have an empty box I can have?” I held up the kitten, who looked around with pure innocence. The clerk smiled and brought out a large, empty liquor box.
I thanked her, set the box into the passenger’s seat, and plopped the kitten inside.
She easily used those needle-like claws to scale the wall of the cardboard, and jumped right back out.
I scrambled around the floorboard, located her fuzzy little form, and dropped her back into the box, folding the lid down gently.
Seconds later, the lid popped back open, and she jumped out, leaped over the console, and hid beneath the backseat.
I knew if I left her beneath the seat, there would be trouble the moment I pulled away. I snaked my body over the console, stretched across the floorboard and gently gripped the kitten, pulling her free from the carpet like velcro. I plopped her back into the box and folded it shut. When there was only silence, I sighed and headed home.
The moment we reached the interstate, a tiny black claw thrust up through the center hole and waved around like a spiked periscope. It was followed by two triangular ears, and a tiny round head. She mewed at me, then attempted to climb out.
Traffic slowed to a crawl, so I took a picture, then pushed her head back down like a gentle form of whack-a-mole.
As we inched along the interstate, she tried it again, this time swiveling to look at me, attempting to use the charm of her cuteness. For a moment, the spell worked. I took another picture and laughed.
She saw her opportunity and took it.
In hindsight… well, you know.
I pushed her back into the box and held my hand over the lid the rest of the way to keep her from climbing out.
Every few minutes, she jumped up and stabbed my palm with a needle-claw.
By the time we reached our animal clinic, my hand looked like it had been attacked by Baby Wolverine.
I unbuckled the boys, held Caleb on one hip and the box on the other, and walked up to the counter.
The two women stood to peer into the box.
“Awwww, a kitten!” They both exclaimed, and took her out.
“Will you check it over and make sure it’s OK? I just found it, but we can’t keep it. Do you think you could find it a home?”
They glanced at each other. “We’re taking the weekend off, so there won’t be anyone here to watch it or feed it. Plus, it’s two days before Halloween… we have a policy against adopting black cats out before Halloween. People do horrible things to black cats at this time of year.”
Just my luck. I have found a black cat two days before Halloween.
I resigned to take her home with me, but only for a few days. Once the threat of Hallow’s Eve black cat sacrifices had passed, I would find her a home. I tried not to think about what my husband would say…
The ladies took her to the back to give her a mini-exam (because what other kind of exam can you really give a kitten this small?). I took the boys next door to Dollar General and bought a litter box, litter, and kitten food. I studied the photo of the minuscule morsels on the outside of the bag claiming to be “actual size”, and wondered how she would get her tiny mouth around them.
When I returned back to the vet, the ladies brought the box with the kitten back out to me. A small paper bowl of food was at the bottom, and she was, miraculously, asleep.
“Well, here’s what we know. It’s a female. She’s healthy. She’s about five weeks old, and she was very hungry. What will you name her?”
“Oh, I’m not naming her,” I told them. “I don’t want to get attached. I can’t keep her.”
“Well, we need a name for the computer records. How about Pumpkin, since you found her right before Halloween?”
She turned and began typing.
“Uh, sure. That will work for now.”
I took the box and snoozing kitten home, set the box in the middle of the living room, and stared at it.
I called my husband.
“Um, listen, I have something to tell you…”
He was not happy. He swore he wouldn’t be cleaning any nasty litter box. He determined she had one week, tops, before we find her a home at all costs. One thing was abundantly clear: we weren’t keeping her.
That evening, when Kris arrived home, he took a deep breath and said, “Let’s see this cat.”
We looked around the room.
She was gone.
He shook his head and sat down on the couch, narrowly missing her as she uncurled from the shadows of the cushion.
She immediately climbed up his shirt to his shoulder, tucked in her little paws and tail, and fell asleep, purring loudly.
I held my breath.
Kris rolled his eyes.
“Fine,” he grumbled. “We can keep her. But we’re naming her Shadow.”
I turned and walked into the kitchen where I could fist pump in privacy.
Just before turning the corner, I glanced back and caught Kris reaching up to pet her.
I should have known we were simply under her spell. In the weeks to come, I would realize exactly what we’d gotten ourselves into.