Excerpt from “The Carved Chest”

The old tom was curled up on the sofa in the barn. When the sofa had been in the house, it was always his special place.   His human would let him sleep there and would pet him as he purred his gratitude.   And the house – how he remembered the house. It was always warm and his human always made sure his bowl was full and there was fresh water, too.   When did that end? He couldn’t remember.  All he knew was that, one day, no one let him in when he cried at the door. He waited, and meowed, but the door did not open.  Soon, there came other humans, not his, and they moved the couch and other furniture from the house to the barn and put a sign on the front lawn.

So he moved into the barn, too, caught mice and voles and an occasional bird for food, and drank water that puddled when it fell from the sky.  He did not know how long he had been doing this, but he knew he had made it through at least one winter and was now facing another.

A ray of light came in through the window from the loft overhead.  It warmed the cat on this brisk December morning.  He was dozing with one eye half open, enjoying the sunshine and the softness of the couch.  As he lay there, his half open eye caught movement under the carved chest that was stored next to the sofa.  His nose picked up a scent that he did not recognize.  It wasn’t a vole or a mouse, but it was small and he was very hungry.  He pretended to be sleeping, though he was now fully alert.  He saw the movement again.  Slowly, ever so slowly, he changed his posture till he was ready to pounce.  The creature moved again and, in that same second, quick as he could, the old tom leapt at the movement.  But, as soon as he did, as soon as he had the strange little creature in his claws, he knew he had made a mistake, a very bad mistake indeed.