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Cats, Cat, Cats

An old man who had lived alone for many years had a particular fancy for collecting cats. Every corner of his tiny home was cluttered with the animals. He had cats of every shape, color and size. Passers-by could be heard to gasp at first sight of the front garden overrun by hundreds of the creatures, stalking insects, taunting the fish and hanging from the trees that shaded the house. They would gasp again when invited in, greeted by a similar scene. Cats hung from the rafters, climbed the curtains and slept on the chairs. There were small cats and generous cats, there were furry cats and hairless cats. There were cats with long graceful tails and there were cats with no tails at all. The old man would hop gingerly about the room trying to avoid the animals that inevitably got underfoot.

One morning the man awoke to a distressing sight. During the night one of the cats had fallen victim to a terrible accident. Still a little sleepy, the man had risen from his bed to light the stove. As he walked across the room he was suddenly sickened by a strange crunching sound. He was quickly alert. The warm sensation of fresh blood between his toes and the sharp darting pains shooting through his feet told an ominous tale. With a heavy heart, the man looked down to find himself standing in a mass of tiny shards of colored glass. This could only mean one thing - murder!

Tears streamed down his face. He was now oblivious to the blood seeping from cuts in his feet. Pangs of grief pierced his chest with determined vengeance. As he knelt amidst the carnage he was disturbed by something nudging him from behind. It was a nudging that was familiar. He shooed the animal away with a wave of his hand, but the nudging continued. Again he rejected the gentle advances but still the nudging went on. Eventually, torn between his grief and annoyance the man lashed out with unkind words and hatred in his eyes and the whimpering cat escaped outdoors. It was clear to the man that he had found his culprit. Juliet, a gray Persian he had found wandering the garden as a kitten, now a spirited mature cat, had knocked the colorful glass ornament from its shelf. The helpless innocent had fallen in the night, plummeting silently to a violent, horrible death, smashed in a thousand pieces on the floor.

For days the man did not eat or sleep. He lay in his bed, feverish and pale as though suffering from some virulent sickness. Beads of sweat soaked the hair on his forehead, his breathing was labored and his limbs felt leaden. He would lie awake at night and in the light of the moon that peeped through a hole in the curtain, he could distinguish shapes in the room. Like ghostly feline guardians, the shadowy silhouettes of his cats loomed around his bed, menacing but unmoving.

His Juliet had run away after his scalding and had not returned and for the first time, the old man missed his friend very much. Instead of her friendly purring and her mischievous frolicking, the house was quiet.

His cats played, stretched and jumped - yet not one moved. They yowled and purred and cried - yet not one made a sound. Each one had a personality, character, humor- yet not one had a soul. And despite his passion for collecting, the years had been empty, his love for Juliet had been unexplored and now, surrounded by company, he was deeply lonely.

No longer did his cats have meaning for him, they were only fragments of wood and glass and clay. Their expressions merely painted illusions, their play, pure imagination. His grief for the loss of Juliet, was inconsolable. The regret, unbearable. The old man slipped further and further into a fever and death seemed imminent. His vision grew hazy, the room seemed to expand and contract in a blurry confusion, he began to hallucinate. Images of Juliet danced before his eyes, her playful grin seemed to taunt him as he grew weaker. If only he could begin again, how different things would be.

Losing consciousness for long periods, the old man would not surrender to death, wrestling with his hunger to see Juliet again. At once her face appeared before him large and lifelike, her eyes glistened, as if to greet a long lost friend. And then, the face multiplied, more faces, Juliets everywhere - but each one slightly different. The man's heart raced, the room snapped into focus, the faces remained. His beloved Juliet had returned to his bedside and much to his astonishment, she had produced five perfect kittens and brought them home. The realization dawned on him Juliet had not been growing fat, she had been expecting a litter. The kittens bounded all over the bed and their liveliness and vigor uplifted the old man.

In the days that followed, his recovery was swift. The kittens grew quickly and so too, did the man.

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