Another Night in Cat Castle

We watched the fish swim through the streams of moonlight, fighting through the storm, flying above our heads. In Angela’s eyes I saw the fear as she followed their puppet dance. She could never sleep on such stormy summer nights.

Soon she would try to escape the invisible curtain surrounding us. I knew her well; I had been by her side for the past six summers. Nevertheless my company wasn’t enough on nights as terrifying as this one. I lay by her side trying to comfort her, but I could still sense her unease.

Her eyes travelled from the fish to the open door, beyond it were the shadows she feared even more than the ones inside the chamber. In her eyes the rattling olive branch was a monster waiting to grab her as soon as she took one step too far. Other branches were hitting against the few windows, but none frightened her as much as the one waiting for her just outside the door, expecting her to make the slightest mistake.

She held on to Teddy and kept petting my head, gathering all her courage.  She was afraid to leave her fortress, but even more afraid to stay. If we stayed she believed that the shadows would eventually creep up on us and the monsters wouldn’t be far behind. She couldn’t predict the future, but she wasn’t ready to take the risk. All I knew was that she wouldn’t be able to sleep all night.

Finally she made her move.  Opening the curtains she stepped into the dark unknown. She moved away from the bed as fast as possible not wanting to even start imagining what creatures hid under it. Of course I knew exactly that all there was to be found was dust and a tiny old doll. If only I had the voice to tell her that there was nothing to be afraid of…

With Teddy squeezed tightly to her chest and me following her every step she came to the doors. Her gown fluttered in the wind and her hair blew all over her face. She was right where she needed to be, from this spot her voice could be heard. One step further and the monsters might grab her, but inside the doorframe she was still at the edge of safety.

“Daddy!” she yelled at the top of her lungs. Countless times she cried for her savior, knowing that eventually her screams would be heard and he would come to her rescue. He would scare off the shadows and even the monsters wouldn’t dare to come close to him.

“Don’t worry, daddy is coming. Daddy always comes.” She whispered to me and Teddy, but more to herself. I had no doubt that he would come running once he heard his little princess’ voice, but even if he wasn’t asleep the wind made it almost impossible to hear anything other than the rustling of the trees and the slamming of doors and windows. I would have gone to wake him up myself, but leaving Angela alone would only cause her more terror. So I remained by her side as she waited for her father, the King of Cat Castle.

As the wind picked up the large olive branch started trembling like a madman. Angela shrieked as the monster came dangerously close to her. She wanted to run back to her bed, to hide inside the curtains of invisibility and seek shelter under the blankets. But the savior arrived just at the right moment, stepping between the lunatic and his little princess as he picked her up into his arms.

In the morning everything seemed perfect. Only a slight breeze was left from last night’s storm and the sun was already high up in the sky. Angela helped her mom prepare breakfast on the terrace while I followed her tiny steps around the castle. Once the table was set Angela sat down on her usual chair right underneath the great olive tree. The tree which had been her worst enemy at night was now guarding her from the hot sun, as if the light of day had eliminated all its frightening aspects.

“Why isn’t mommy coming to camp with us?” Angela asked playing around with a piece of string cheese which she was secretly serving me beneath the table.

“Mommy has a lot of work to do. You’re not the only one who likes to play in a sandbox” Her father joked.

Angela giggled. Her mom was an archeologist, which often did look like she was just playing in a somewhat larger sandbox.

“But Sir Mittens is coming right?” Angela was referring to me.

“That’s completely up to Sir Mittens.” Her father said. They never forced me to go anywhere, but I was always welcome to tag along.

“Well no one is going anywhere if you don’t eat your toast honey” Angelina’s mother said.

“At least you can’t order us around for the next few days” Angelina’s father joked, but her mother wasn’t quite amused at that remark.

The King and his princes had always been a great team. The queen was rather serious and kept reminding Angela of all the rules. Her father on the other hand was the-fun-parent.  He knew how to tell great bedtime stories, he never refused to play games and he let Angelina do almost anything. He also protected his daughter when her mother was upset with her. In many ways the King was not just Angelina’s savior, he was also her best friend.

There had only been one incident in which Angelina had feared that her father might not be able to save her. It had happened two years ago on the annual family skiing trip. As usual Angelina was skiing with her father and her mother had stayed in the hotel because there was a heavy snow storm. Of course a snow storm wouldn’t keep Angelina and her father from doing what they loved, so they woke up as early as always and were already skiing as the first skiing lift was just about to open.

The cold wind and snow that was hitting their faces didn’t matter; they were having the time of their lives. After a while they started racing each other and while Angelina was already at the skiing lift her father was nowhere to be seen. Angelina was joyful because she had beaten her father who was truly a great skier and had taught her everything she knew. But after several minutes had passed he still hadn’t arrived and the snow storm was only getting worse.

Horrible thoughts started coming to Angelina’s mind. Had something happened to her father? Would he ever come? Was she lost? Of course she wasn’t lost, there were people nearby, but without her father that was how she felt, helpless and lost. As the minutes passed, perhaps even hours, all she could do was cry as her tears froze to ice. Just as she was about to lose all hope she felt a tap on her shoulder and as she turned around she saw the familiar face of her father. From that moment on Angelina knew that he would always find her, always be there when she needed him and always be her savior.

So on this sunny summer day Angela and her father set out for yet another adventure. After breakfast they finished packing and put their bags into the caravan, but only after mother checked whether they had gotten every single item they needed, we were free to go.

“C’mon Sir Mittens,” Angela said as she picked me up just to put me down on the back seat of the caravan. Then she sat down next to me and fastened her seatbelt waiting to see whether or not I would try to get out. To Angela’s relief I made myself comfortable next to her.

The drive was familiar; I didn’t have to look at the landscape to see where we were headed. I just relaxed while Angela kept petting my head. We were going to camp Amazon. It was the camp where it had all begun, it was the place where the King and Queen of Cat Castle had met and where they had fallen in love. We came back here every year.

I could feel Angela’s excitement as we entered the great gates of the camp, she had made many friends here over the years and she couldn’t wait to see them again. The second the caravan was parked Angela jumped to her feet and opened the door. It got quite crowded after a while so I tried to distance myself since I’m not too keen on being squeezed to death. It seemed like half the camp had come to greet us, but that really wasn’t unusual since they were all old friends. In fact when the King had arrived here for the first time, about twenty years ago, the camp had only been a couple of blueprints.

After most of the crowd had departed to give us some privacy I reclaimed my place at Angelina’s side.

“How about we go for a swim before lunch?” her father said, but Angelina was already busy making plans with her friends. So the decided to meet back later for lunch and went their separate ways.

I followed Angelina as she played with her friends. They were smiling and laughing like they hadn’t seen each other in years. Angelina had always been a cheerful child, but today it seemed as if nothing could ever ruin her happiness.

Later I followed her back to the caravan where she wanted to grab a drink. I never left her side, but for what she was about to face, I didn’t have the voice to sooth her and strongly doubt that even if I could speak, no words would help.

The King once strong was now lying on the ground surrounded by almost the entire camp. I saw in Angelina’s eyes that she didn’t believe or perhaps did not want to believe that the man lying there was her father.

“Don’t worry he’ll be fine” Angelina’s friend said and in that moment Angelina could no longer avoid the fact that the man lying on the ground was indeed her dad.

That night was the longest night of Angelina’s life. She wasn’t alone yet she felt like the loneliest person on the planet. They had taken her father to the hospital and she had stayed at the camp with everyone else. The tent was under constant attack from the storm and the force brought with it not just leafs, but even entire branches. But those weren’t the kind of monsters Angelina feared that night. Her greatest enemy was the one she couldn’t face, the only one even her father, the great King, might not be able to defeat.

Angelina was told that her father had a heart attack. Many people, even older and much weaker people survived heart attacks. Her father was young and healthy. A heart attack couldn’t possibly defeat him. Could it? This uncertainty kept Angelina awake all night, hoping for someone to finally tell her if her father had survived.

This fear was unlike the one she had felt on that cold snowy mountain when she had waited for her father to rescue her. Back then she had known that if he was well he would eventually find her. But this time it wasn’t just her father who decided whether or not he would continue staying by her side. This time his body needed to pull through, the doctors needed to keep him alive and those weren’t the ones Angelina fully trusted. Angelina had always trusted her dad, the one who knew what to do, who knew where to find her, who always had the right words for any situation.

After the sleepless night Angelina’s mother arrived with the answer that had powers to either make it all alright or destroy everything. Angelina wasn’t sure anymore whether she really wanted to know. There would be no more hoping, just a single truth and this truth might not be the one she wanted to hear.

Angelina’s mother had obviously thought a lot about how to give the news to her nine year old daughter. But in the end it doesn’t really matter how you tell someone that their loved one is dead, no words can help in such moments. And once Angelina’s mother spoke the words “He’s with grandpa now” I saw how in a single sentence Angelina’s world crumbled to ashes.

10 Years later

My friend grabbed a pillow to lie down next to me on hard floor of the balcony. For a while we kept gazing at the stars in silence.

“Hey Angelina, did I ever tell you why I don’t like wearing my glasses?” She said all of a sudden.

“No, why?” I asked. I wore glasses myself and I never took them off, I didn’t know why anyone would want to see the world in blurs.

“Right now when you look at the sky you see bright individual dots right? Well what I see is a bright sky and the shooting stars are not separate, they’re like the paintbrush of this great canvas” She said and suddenly my glasses felt heavy on my nose.

“But it’s not just that, you know. When I’m wearing them I feel like I have to be realistic, everything looks realistic. I just don’t like it. I like not seeing all the details. It helps me pretend I’m somewhere else. Everything I can’t see clearly I can imagine to be whatever I want. It’s almost like I can live in a fairy tale.” She said and turned silent again.

I didn’t know what to say, so I simply took my glasses off and while the sky had been beautiful before now it appeared magical. I understood what she was trying to say. I wanted nothing more than for my life to be a fairy tale of which I was the author. I would have given everything to get back to the time when I truly saw this house as a castle, back in the day when my dad was the King and I was the princess. In my fairy tale he wouldn’t have died and the cats would never have left Cat Castle. In my fairy tale ending we would have all lived happily ever after…

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