Startracer, Starchild - Tale 13--> Sorrow
Author's Note: This Tale is based on an event that actually happened to me. This Tale is neither happy nor censored in any way. Facts are facts and here they are. This Tale is dark and unfriendly and is likely to depress you, so don't read it unless you're really ready for it.
Recap of Tale 12 . . .
She landed on the ground with a harsh thud and the knives fell from her hands as she tried to gasp in a breath. "That was very good, love," he informed her apologetically as he knelt by her, "but not quite good enough, I fear."
A weak smile was her answer. "I'll win . . . one day," she rasped.
At the edge of the forest, the four younger Elves looked among themselves in stunned amazement. [Did any of you see more than the first ten seconds of that?] Dirnees asked in disbelief.
Haldir turned from his place on the porch swing to see Krystine come around the side of the house at a dead run, her face twisted in anguish. The other four Elves looked up at her curiously as well. "Krystine?"
"Papa!" she cried breathlessly, bending over and panting heavily. "I found some . . . some feral kittens! . . . They're newborn and . . . all alone!"
Setting his book aside, Haldir rose and leapt from the porch. The others followed him instantly, having decided to spend their time learning all they could about the changes that had taken place in the world they left behind.
Krystine led them around to the bushes a few dozen feet from the barn and crouched, scooping tiny black forms into her hands. A high-pitched mewling noise reached the Elves' ears and they sped up to gather around Krystine as well as the little beings she held.
"Sweet Valar," Haldir breathed, examining the kittens. They were extremely young; their umbilical cords were still fresh. Worse, it had rained overnight. An icy, heavy August rain and the ground was now cold and wet. Kittens could not regulate their body temperatures--they were probably dying even though they struggled mightily around in the girl's palms. And to make the situation worse yet, Haldir noted with disgust, some flies had had time to lay eggs on the things. The *** bugs had started to come out for the summer and taken advantage of the first host they could find.
They had clearly been abandoned by the queen that birthed them.
"Krystine, take them inside at once! Call your mother and bathe them!"
"Bathe them? But aren't you not supposed to bathe them until---"
"This is an extreme circumstance! Do you want those eggs hatching into maggots and eating the kittens alive?! Get them off now!"
Teary-eyed at the kittens' plight, Krystine nodded and ran back toward the house, the newborn cats cradled in her cupped and outstretched palms. She burst into the kitchen, where Marie was washing the pots and pans that were too big for the dishwasher.
"Mama! Mama!" Krystine bleated, tears now rolling down her cheeks. "I found newborn kittens! They're in bad shape! They're covered in fly eggs!"
"All right, all right," Marie soothed her daughter in an instinctive, motherly manner. "Calm down, you can't help them by crying about it." She grabbed a fresh dishtowel from the towel drawer. "Here. Wrap them in this while I go get some shampoo and a tub to bathe them in, okay? Hold them close to your body and keep them as warm as you can. Heat's important for them."
Krystine set the two kittens in the towel and wrapped it around them, then stuck the roll of kittens and towel up into her shirt, where warmth had been pocketed by the fabric. The distressed mewls of the kittens stretched Krystine's nerves. She wanted to do something for them, but what?
Haldir and the other Elves came in then. "I put the dogs back in their kennel. I doubt Elen or Anca would catch anything from them, but the pups might. I won't take that chance."
Krystine nodded as Marie reappeared, armed with the shampoo (which was actually left over baby shampoo that had been used on the dogs for their sensitive skin) as well as a milk supplement to feed them with. The supplement was mixed and a small dropper used to hold milk. Both of the kittens, while at first rejecting the replacement, quickly warmed up to it and sucked the dropper dry almost twice each. This was viewed as a good sign.
Then they bathed the kittens one at a time, being sure only to keep their noses clear of water, as their sealed eyes and ears would be protected. Marie poured some of the shampoo directly onto the fly eggs to kill them and instructed Krystine to rub in the opposite direction of the laying pattern to dislodge them. The girl obeyed and this, while abhorrent, did not disgust her too badly until Marie started making a few muted noises of revulsion.
"Mom, stop! You're making me sick just by muttering like that! Be quiet so I don't get queasy!" Krystine rinsed the kitten's body, continuing to rub where the eggs had been until she was sure all of them were gone. Once the kitten had been encouraged to relieve itself and was finally cleaned completely, it was traded for the second kitten and the process was repeated.
Marie then used a hairdryer to dry them off. She set it on `warm' to dry their fur, then drew back and set it on `hot'. While even at such a distance it might have scalded a human, the kittens stopped moving and settled down temporarily, getting a small taste of the one hundred-three degree environment their mother would have provided for them had she kept them.
But they soon began to fret and Marie stopped. The kittens were coaxed to try to eat again, though they had little appetite this time around. Krystine gave up after a minute or two and wrapped them up in a clean, fuzzy washcloth before tucking them carefully into her shirt once more.
"They smell like the baby shampoo," Krystine murmured happily as one slept and the other fidgeted restlessly.
She watched over them for the rest of the day, trying to keep them warm and trying to feed them often. Sometimes they ate, sometimes not. She tried to introduce them to her queen cat, who had always presented an ideal mother figure, but as soon as the one kitten felt her fur against its tiny nose it struggled mightily for her and let out a wild mew of need. The queen, at first mildly interested in the odd little creature, recoiled in disgust and ran away. It was not her kitten and it still smelled of the outside world . . . she had no wish to associate with it.
"You're going to have to stay up with them all night," Marie reminded her as they ate dinner. "They'll be calling for food every few hours."
"Okay," Krystine answered readily.
So as it grew late, Krystine searched the internet for kitten-care websites. She learned many things, including how to identify illnesses. This particular information she kept very much in mind, knowing that kittens would be highly susceptible to even the weakest cold virus.
However, as it came nearer to three a.m., Krystine noticed that one of the two kittens--the quiet one with the small spot of white on his chest who she had named Spike after a cat that her mother had once had that bore the same marking--was breathing erratically. He hitched in two breaths, paused, and pulled in two more in the same pained manner. Frantic at his mewings, Krystine thought that he might just be hungry.
Or, that was what she hoped, at least.
But he was neither hungry nor thirsty and didn't need to relieve himself. In one moment he stopped breathing and she quickly managed to bring him back to life, but the soft, groaning mews he gave in protest at her actions hurt her. Even more upset now, she retrieved her mother.
Marie, not yet asleep, sighed as she took a look at the kitten. "Hon . . . I'm afraid this is it. Just . . . let him go next time, all right?"
Krystine's eyes filled with tears as she nodded. Wrapping the other kitten in an old fluffy washcloth, she left him lying on some bottles of Mountain Dew filled with hot water and held the dying one in her hands, staring down at his tiny body that was blurred by the tears in her eyes.
Finally, at three-thirty, he took his last breath.
Marie got a fresh paper towel from the kitchen and held it to her daughter to take. "Wrap him in this and we'll bury him tomorrow."
Sobbing, Krystine obeyed. Marie took the small bundle away and set it in a bucket for safekeeping. "Dear, why don't you try to get some sleep? I'll watch the other kitten--Leo, right?--for a while."
She didn't want to, but didn't have the energy to argue. Wandering from the media room into the living room, she went to the den, which Haldir had converted into his bedroom years ago.
"Papa . . ." she whimpered, falling onto his bed in the dark.
He put an arm around her and kissed her forehead lightly. "I'm sorry, love. I'm so sorry . . ."
Marie retrieved her four hours later. She accepted Leo readily and surfed the internet for her favorite fanfiction sites, where she whiled away the hours with the almost too-quiet kitten resting on a bottle of hot water in her lap.
Checking on him at one point to see if he was sleeping so she would know to be careful not to disturb him too much if she needed to get up, she came to the agonizing realization that he was breathing in the exact same two-hitch-and-pause pattern that his brother had been.
Biting her lip, she got up and reheated the already hot bottle to provide the kitten with as much warmth as he could want for the rest of what little life he had left to live. She then resettled him in her lap and went on reading.
About an hour and a half later, Leo began making puffing mews of protest to movement that Krystine wasn't making. She realized that whatever illness he had, it was eating at him from the inside and causing him pain. Helpless, she stroked his small head carefully with her index finger, hoping to ease the pain with the pleasure of the head rub.
Haldir appeared a few minutes after to check on her and the kitten.
"He's dying too," she informed him flatly.
He bent over her and embraced her. Then, placing a gentle kiss on her head, he brushed the tears from her eyes and left her alone as she had silently been asking him to.
She gave the kitten a careful rub all over, then wrapped him up again and put him on the hot bottle once more.
At nine o'clock, Leo drew in his final breath.
In an almost zombie-like manner, Krystine left the computer and walked into the kitchen, where Marie and the five Elves were sitting reticently at the table. They watched her pull down a paper towel and unwrap the kitten from the washcloth, lifting the limp form with the utmost care.
Suddenly, she started and stared wide-eyed at the kitten.
When she didn't move, Haldir queried softly, "Krystine?"
She whirled and rushed to the table, looking at the Elves excitedly and saying in a rushed voice filled with hope, "I'm the Good, right? So I have the power of Life, right?!"
They were all flustered at her abrupt change in attitude and stumbled over a reply. There was no need to slam her with a dose of reality, but they couldn't just indulge a fantasy hope, either. "W-Well . . ." Haldir stuttered unsurely, wondering if she'd gone mad, ". . . theoretically, I suppose . . . Yes . . ."
"Then I can cure it and bring it back to life!" she concluded happily. She set the kitten's body on the table and stared hard at it. "I just have to remember what it is I have to say and do . . ."
After several minutes Haldir touched her arm. "Love . . . I don't think that power works in such a way."
Krystine glared at him for a moment, then burst into tears and collapsed on the tabletop, hiding the kitten's body in her hands. Marie hugged her and carefully removed the kitten from her grasp, putting it on the paper towel and pushing it to Haldir to take care of.
He wrapped the body in the paper towel, collected the bucket that held Spike, and left the house. There was an old pet graveyard back in the woods and he would put both kittens there so that Krystine would be able to visit them whenever she felt up to it.
But as he entered the trees his peripheral vision caught sight of a small black rock hidden under a bush. He leaned closer and saw that it was actually a third kitten that had been not fifty feet from where the other two had been found. Also black and patched with fly eggs, its still body was cold and very obviously long dead. Probably suffering from the same illness as its brothers, it had gone totally unnoticed and had certainly not survived the night.
If it had lived that long.
Going into the barn, he went into the tack room and got a paper towel from there. He wrapped up the stiff kitten and placed it in the bucket as well, burying all three together in the fenced graveyard. He said a short prayer for them and went back to the house to tell Krystine about the third kitten. She'd be angry later if he didn't tell her immediately.
But as he entered her room he found her sitting in the window, staring out over the yard to the trees. She spoke first. "Do you think it was afraid?"
He closed the door and went to sit beside her. Obviously, she had seen him discover and collect it, so telling her was pointless. Instead, he answered her with a soft, "No, I don't. Fear is more of a learned behavior and I think that it had no time to be afraid because it was more confused over where its mother had gone. As the day grew late and its confusion distracted it, it got colder and stopped moving and then . . . it just went to sleep. No agony, no fear. A painless sleep."
She nodded tearily. "I guess . . ." She sniffled quietly. "I think . . . I think I'll visit them tomorrow to apologize to Nanashi for not seeing it."
"If you wish," he replied, drawing her against him. "But remember that you did what you could. Spike and Leo were comfortable thanks to you--it was an unfortunate accident that we missed Nanashi."
She nodded again, slowly, still looking at the trees. "I know that. I just wish . . ."
He kissed her head. "You named him, love. So even though you knew nothing of his existence with your eyes or mind, you knew with your heart that he was there and that means . . . that he was never really alone at all, was he?"
". . . No . . ." she answered in a whisper. "He wasn't . . ."
This Tale is dedicated in loving memory to Spike, Leo, and Nanashi, who were born in the early afternoon of August first and died between then and nine-fifteen a.m. of August second. Spike was indeed named after a cat my mother owned who was black with a single spot of white on his chest, Leo was named for the star sign they were born under (Leo the Lion), and Nanashi is (as I understand it, since I'm not that great with my Japanese) the term for `no-name'. They will always be in my heart.