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Tara Fox Hall
The sickness started like most bad things, suddenly it was there and no one could remember when it really started.
One of the oldest cats, Gray, began to feel sick and his mouth began to hurt.
A few weeks later his long-time companion Grizabella, began having the same symptoms.
A trip to the vet brought medicine and relief, but not piece of mind.
Later that day, the cats gathered to talk.
"The vet said the disease isn't transferable," Gray said to his friends. "You can't catch it from us."
"Well, where did you get it?" Blackie asked.
"Remember that stray cat Mom fed for a while?" Grizabella hissed. "He has it."
"We don't know that," Grey countered. "Don't cast blame."
"What will happen to you?" Kester said, worried.
Grizabella locked eyes with Gray, then looked at Kester.
"The vet said this would help. He didn't say more than that."
Her tone was grim, so all serious talk ended and the cats went their separate ways.
Things were okay for a while.
The medication worked, Grizabella and Gray didn't feel so bad.
Then, over time, the medication slowly stopped working.
Gray and Grizabella got worse and worse, until they were in constant pain.
"We aren't getting any better," Gray told the other cats one night.
"This is it friends."
"I'm oldest," Light Eyes said, carefully moving down off the sofa. "I always thought I'd go before you and Grizabella. Isn't there anything we can do?"
"No," Gray replied. "Except tell us you love us."
Kester, Light Eyes, and Blackie went up the Grizabella and Gray, began to purr, licking their fur in an attempt to comfort them.
They were saddened and upset.
Lucky, an old beagle, hobbled up. "What's all this?"
"You know," Grizabella hissed. "Don't make us say it, Dog."
"You don't have to say it, Cat," the dog replied stiffly.
"But don't be afraid. Dying isn't an ending,there's the Summer Country."
"And how would you know?" Grizabella hissed back. "You're not dying"
"I almost went there," Lucky snapped. "When I was accidentally shot while rabbit hunting long ago. I had a dream of my puppies, two of them were there, waiting for me. Then I woke up at the vets."
"She speaks the truth," Strider, a young, regal German shepherd added. "I was only a little puppy when my mother died, shot by a man who believed her to be a wolf. My father told my siblings and me of the Summer Country. He said that our mother was waiting for us there, that we'd see her again one day."
"Did he say what was there?" Kester asked.
"Green grass and sunlight," Strider said, stretching happily. "All the rats, shrews, moles, and mice you could ask for. Cool shade under big pines with soft moss. Fresh water in small lakes and a rocky stream that ends right near a small cottage."
"Humans live there?" Blackie said sceptically.
"There's an old couple that live there. They take care of the new arrivals, until they settle in," Strider explained.
"Not all cats know how to catch mice, especially if they've never been outside the city"
"Be nice," Lucky growled. "Cats can't help that they never get to go on walks and there are some dogs that can't catch mice, either, present company excluded."
She scratched her ear, then shook her head.
"I think other humans could come, if they wanted. Like Mom, I mean, not all humans like animals, remember"
"Sounds like that Rainbow Bridge that Mom was talking about the other day," Kester offered. "Bridges connect things, maybe the Summer Country is where the Rainbow Bridge leads to."
"I don't want to live outside with strangers, or eat rodents," Grizabella said irritably. "Especially with my mouth sore as it is"
"But that's the best part," Strider interrupted. "You won't be sick like you are now. You can be anything you want to be there, even a kitten again, if you want Griz."
She wagged her tail, then drew herself up. "Not that I'll look any different when I get there. I'm perfect just how I am"
"Perfectly full of yourself," Light Eyes whispered to Kester, who laughed.
"I hope you're right," Gray said softly, curling up in a cat bed,
"We'll find out soon, I think."
The next day, Gray and Grizabella went to the vet, and didn't come back.
In the weeks that followed the other cats were sad, knowing that they would never see their friends again.
That fall, Light Eyes got week and feeble.
As they had for Gray and Grizabella, Kester and Blackie comforted her as best they could.
One morning, her body was cold and stiff in her bed.
"We're the last," Blackie cried mournfully to Kester. "You and I, we're going to be stuck in this house with those dogs"
"No, there will be more cats," Kester said, trying to be positive.
"Mom already talked about adopting one or two. Now we'll be the oldest Blackie, I'm not sure I'm ready for the responsibility."
"I can't go on," Blackie said, slumping, his tail thrashing. "Not when a long trip to the vet is all I have to look forward to."
"There's more," Kester encouraged. "You just have to believe."
"You believe those dogs?" Blackie asked in disbelief.
"I believe my own heart," Kester answered.
"Last night I dreamed of the Summer Country."
"There were three old cats grown kittenish, playing in the sweet green grass."
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