It's been three and a half hours since I last knew, with certainty, where Ember was. At 12:50a.m., I felt a kitty I was sure was Ember lay across my legs as he does every night before bed. Then I felt Gwyn jump up and take up residence between my feet. There was a noise down below the bed as if a young one was getting into trouble, and I thought perhaps I'd mistaken one kitten for another, sat up, touched the one at my legs, and felt Ember's sleek body and long tail, determining the noisy one to be Charlotte.
I meditated for ten to fifteen minutes, then was too tired to stay conscious, and turned over, nudging both cats off of me. Ember toward the center of the bed, and Gwyn behind me to the edge. I remember, just before losing consciousness, hoping I'd not hurt either of them in my insistence to be able to turn over and sleep.
About forty-five minutes later, I awoke screaming and startled. Cats were fighting on the floor beside Craig's side of the bed. Before I'd even come fully awake, I was already calling Ember, assuming he was in the scurfluffe.
Craig got up, I was too dizzy and disoriented to safely get out of bed, or even be sure I was awake. I had a moment of deja vu, as though I'd only just
heard that same cat-fighting noise five minutes before, awoke screaming, and fallen back to sleep. I heard Craig calling and hissing at them. I heard the front door open and shut.
I was calling for Ember as I stumbled from the bed. Craig kept telling me Ember wasn't a part of it. Squeek and Gwyn--our two senior males--had been fighting for some reason. But I recalled him saying something angry to the cats as they went out the door, something about only having meant Squeek to get out. The boys were fighting in the yard. They went from the front to the back of the house. I called out to Ember. Craig was growling about how he'd seen Ember running around the house. It wasn't Ember.
But my kitten wasn't coming to my side. He always
comes when I call, and he's never been outside. We've never let him get past the welcome mat the two times he's tried to escape. We've never held him outside to sniff the flowers we planted, as he pressed his paws against the glass.
And he wasn't coming to me when I called. Lights were turned on around the house. Craig went upstairs to get dressed. He had to separate the boys somehow, get them back in to be checked. I called out the back door for all the boys of the house. I heard a low growl come from the salal, but couldn't tell which cat it was. I couldn't see any of them, even with the light on.
I came upstairs, and saw a trail of torn fur. I couldn't be sure if it was Squeek's or Gwyn's, or a bit of both, but it wasn't Ember's. Eventually, after a lot of effort, Craig got both boys back in, one and then the other. He asked me to examine both. No sign of Ember, and Charlotte looked nervous.
Gwyn showed no signs of serious injury, but the tips of his fangs were covered in fresh blood. A couple of Squeek's claws were torn, spots of his fur was loose or ripped, some of the ripped fur had small bits of skin attached. But for a near-feral cat, he had fared well enough, and he didn't seem to have anything on him that a little basic first aid and gentle grooming couldn't help.
Still no Ember.
We checked under every bed. We looked in every corner. We looked on top of the kitchen cabinets where the kittens like to sit. Craig circled the house in the snow with a flashlight at least two dozen times, not quite sure what he saw as they headed out the door, but sure he'd seen Ember. Sure he'd seen Ember safe, and not running out the front door with the fighting seniors.
I went out and called, but it was treacherous in my night shirt and slip ons. I couldn't see well enough to be sure of the icy ground.
My body felt wretched without a decent night's sleep, and weeks of pain, only just having gotten my back adjusted, I had been looking forward to seven hours in a bed that didn't hurt me. I checked everywhere inside. Craig checked everywhere outside.
I sat down on my futon, unable to move anymore. I just hurt too much. I couldn't find the strength. I hit something. I wanted hit something, anything, over and over and over and over again. I lost two male kittens last year. They went out the door, and I never saw them again. Since getting Ember, I've taken every precaution. I've never shown him how to use the cat door. I've never harnessed him and walked him. I've never let him out to play in the garden during the day. He was absolutely, 100%, an indoor kitten.
Craig found me having managed to climb back onto his bed. Charlotte had come, stood on my legs, and then searched the drawers where Ember had been playing a few hours before. She was worried, too. He said he didn't think Ember would ever come at the sound of his voice. He'd never come when Craig called, but he always, always, always came to me when I called. He'd be right at my feet, even if he had to get up from a nap, stretch, and walk sleepily to me. He'd be there.
So, I got dressed. I put on warm leggings and a sweater. I put on my snow boots. I put on my winter jacket. I put on gardening gloves. I walked circles around the main floor, forgetting what I was supposed to be doing. Then I went outside and called him. I walked all the way around the house, tiny step by tiny step, the blue light of a full moon giving me a glimpse of where to place my feet.
I went around the slippery side of the house to the broken hot tub, where Craig handed me a flashlight, and I got down and looked under the tub, shining the light back and forth for any sign of living shadow, for a flash of pumpkin-orange eyes. Nothing. No sign of any cat. I gave him back his flashlight, and walked up the rock path leading up to the back garden Ana had cleared.
I looked under shrubs. I looked for signs of movement beneath the side of the house beneath the kitchen window where a slight overhang protects kittens from rain and scary things like the coyotes I could hear that very moment howling two blocks down. Craig's flashlight could be seen all along the back yard, the wildest parts, down into the trenches, over into the neighbor's wilderness. I saw so many animal tracks in the snow, I couldn't tell who had been by or when. I saw no signs of black fur. I saw no white triangle at his throat. I did hear a raccoon hiss at me when I came to close, though I never saw it. Something small sitting in the salal screeched and went skittering or flying away very fast with a threat.
I continued down the cardboard path, now frozen and crunching beneath my boots. I held my arm at the level of my eyes, for some reason thinking of Phantom
at a time such as that. I came back around to the front door and headed down, taking careful steps as my knees crunched, and the right one ached in a manner suggesting it might give if I took too big a stride down the hill.
I saw Craig had opened the garage door to give Ember shelter, should he be out there. I called at the car, walking slowly, and stopping after each call to listen. My ears rang. There was nothing but silence, and the occasional drip of water down the drain pipe. I stepped onto frozen cedar leaves and twigs, heading down the steep driveway. I was pleading with the moon, with all the goddesses and gods and guides and every being who helped me along my path. Give me back my cat.
I'd already lost Taigil in the snow, and Cotton to the start of fall. I couldn't take another loss. I couldn't lose this one.
Then I heard a single coyote howling, almost as if to mock me. I called him then, the first one. I challenged him, and bared my teeth at the imagined shadow of the giant beast known only as Coyote. I'd honored him. I'd respected him all my life. He couldn't have this one. He'd taken Taigil, and for all I know, he took Cotton, too. His children are so hungry, and they've been breeding and breeding and breeding all over these lands, so quickly.
I grit my teeth, and stared Him down. The great Coyote. I took a step forward, and he took one back. I stepped again, and he retreated. Little by little, I worked my way down, barely aware of the ground beneath me, or the pain in my knee. Then I heard Craig, and the whole madness of thinking I'd challenged an old god faded into the crisp night air.
I came back up the hill, looking in the hiding spots Charlotte had liked so well. I opened a car door so the light would spill over the wheelbarrow. No sign of a cat, or any mammal, for that matter. When Craig came around to find me, I told him where I'd searched. I went slowly back inside, still calling Ember.
Charlotte circled the hall, agitated. She wanted to know where he'd gone, too. Squeek was on Ari's bedding on the cat tree. Ari, her safe spot usurped, stared from the couch at the tired boy, who clearly wanted to get some rest. I took off my boots, put them away, called Ember's name around the house, checking all the corners again, and then lay down, fully dressed, in Craig's bed.
At some point Craig came back in. He'd searched far longer and farther than I, and he was sniffling from the cold. My body simply wouldn't respond. I stared at the wall. I couldn't focus on a single thought except he wasn't there. I knew from the first moment I screamed something wasn't right with him.
Gwyn jumped up and purred, but I wanted nothing to do with him. Craig touched my shoulder, and the tears started to roll down my cheeks. He pet Gwyn, occasionally touching me. He got into bed, tired. The tears came faster. I couldn't breathe. I sat up, found some tissue, and blew my nose. And blew it again. And again. Until I could catch a breath. I kept having to tell myself to breathe. I took my glasses, put them on, shut off the light, and left the room.
I shuffled down the hall, and felt a surge of rage. I slammed my shoulder into the wall, feeling impotent. I started to walk down the stairs, but my knees wouldn't work. I ended up sitting down in the middle, and then sliding down. What had been silent, turned into heavy crying. When Craig came down to check on me, it turned into sobbing. He tried to tell me he never saw Ember at the door. There was no sign of him. He was quite sure Ember was running around the house, but not with the fighting pair. I . . . it wasn't a scream. It was something deeper, more primal. I felt something physically snap within me. Some secret place in my chest that's supposed to stay whole and unbroken. I can't go through this again. I don't have anything left.
Craig seemed angry with me. He said he never saw Ember with them, unless Squeek had had him in his mouth. Another deep pain came from my mouth. I knew he'd searched and searched. I never accused him. I slid further down the stairs until I was sitting on the debris from Ana's boots. I couldn't move. I reminded myself to breathe. Then again. I looked out the window and saw the shadows move, and thought maybe, maybe
, and ran out barefoot to check to see where the shadows originated. No sign of Ember. I called anyway. I called Cotton and then Taigil, too.
I sat back down at my computer. I chose my journey music instead of the angry music. I needed to remind myself of a better path, not the darker one. I put my headphones on, and started typing. I'm so incredibly numb. Craig's sitting across from me, doing more homework, or watching videos, I can't tell. The volume is up so high I can't hear anything else. I don't even know why I'm typing this, except I didn't know what else to do. When there's a problem, I've learned to write. Whether it does any good or not.
I don't know how to do this again. Taigil. It took me six months to recover. Cotton . . . I wasn't recovered when I adopted Ember, but I knew one of those free black cats needed me, and I desperately needed him. And he's been my baby, my constant companion, my possessive puppy, ever since. He fetches his mice in his mouth and brings them back to have me throw them again and again and again. He doesn't like other cats having too much access to me. He doesn't like to be far from me if he's not asleep, and he usually sleeps where he can be close to me during the day.
He always comes when I call him, even if it takes him a few minutes to wake up from his nap, stretch, and walk sleepily to me. Always.
UPDATE: Ember reappeared this morning
, a bit spooked, but not at all apologetic for having worried us.