SAND CATS – 563 words

"Here, kitty, kitty..." The girl made a welcoming sound in the back of her throat as she coaxed the shy tabby out of the sand. Loving hands ran over the cat's smooth, soft back, brushing away excess grains from the tabby as it turned a pebbled stare on her. Beside it, a sleepy cat yawned and stretched, oblivious to the inscrutable gaze of a sphinx who studied the retreating sea. Behind the girl, a calico cat twitched its coconut-ribbed tail as it stalked a mouse, teaching a pair of kittens how to hunt. A timid kitten peeked out of its mother's shadow, terrified by the sea spray. Carefully stepping back, the girl surveyed the gamboling cats and clapped her hands with delight.

Just one more, and then the light would be perfect for a picture. The girl worked with an easy rhythm, digging into hot sand with glee, raking away powder-dry layers to uncover memories of this morning's tide. Nimble fingers shaped the sand into an arched back, alert ears, and a bushy tail that almost seethed with anger. She bent to brush her lips against the cat's warm forehead and for a moment she thought she could feel it move under her hands. Asking the fierce cat to stand guard, she ran, breathless, to call her parents and show them the sand cats.

Her mother put her newspaper down, said "That's very nice," and went back to reading the entertainment page. Her father—ah, her father had a camera, her father would take a picture of her cats, would love them as she did! She flew down the beach, clambered among the rocks and pulled her father's sleeve insistently. He laughed. Of course he would come. He would take their pictures.

Her father ambled along the beach taking pictures of every wave, so slow she pulled him in impatience. Couldn't he hear the cats call out to them? Didn't he want to learn their names, their stories? Didn't he understand that her cats were waiting to be photographed, worshipped, loved? She dashed ahead, then circled back, alternately pulling and pushing him as she chattered about the cats' antics.

As they crested the rise, she heard the sea keen, a long, low note that sent shivers up her spine. The once-angry cat bowed its head in apology and pain, his face mauled by a vicious footprint. She cried out to shoo away the kids gleefully stomping on the other cats but no one paid her any heed, and when they moved on to other distractions, she ran to the ruined tableau of all her cats wounded and grieving.

She turned away so that her father couldn't see the saltwater that stung her face. In a wavering voice she said she'd do them again, already stooping to reform the cat closest to her, pouring all her love into it. Sand caked her skin and got under her fingernails but she didn't mind. She didn't even notice when her father strolled away, laughing about the simple joys of childhood.

When she smoothed the last cheek and pinched the last ear, the sun was too low and her father too far away to call for pictures or admiration. No one would understand anyway, no one but her cats. She sat there, still and silent, a sand-girl-cat guarding her kittens. The tide came in and claimed them all.