[First half posted in December. Though written in 1991, I have done some tinkering with the ending and, I think, improved it.]
So fervent was my digging that I didn't notice right away that the ground was getting harder. Rather, the realization hit me all at once that I had reached some extraordinarily hard clay. Less and less was I removing with my shovel. I had only dug half as far as I needed to, but I had so much left to go! So, I thought, now the ground itself was trying to stop me. For a while, the ground was doing an excellent job, but then I felt a drop of water fall on my ear. Then a second fell on top of my head. The very clouds which obscured my vision were now my salvation in digging. I could hear the raindrops falling more steadily then. I bent down to feel the ground. It was moistening. More drops fell. For some time the rain fell and it fell harder every passing minute. Soon it was falling so hard it hurt, but I didn't care. I felt the clay at my feet. It felt wet. I threw down my shovel and raised my arms to God and shouted, "Thank you, God! Thank you for the rain! Thank you for the mud!" Yes, that evening I praised the Lord for mud. So ecstatic was I over my deliverance that I failed to think that my shouting might draw anyone's attention. Who would hear?
At long last I could scoop into the soft, malleable, wet clay and brought up a full shovel-full. I felt to make sure. I did the same again and again. I was as high as a kite. Suddenly, I sank very low. Very low. I hit the sloped floor of my put once more and the reverberation chilled my body more than the icy rain. On my hands and knees, I ran my hand over the ground, wiping away the loose dirt. I could not see this latest obstacle, but I knew from its texture I had hit stone. I had hit stone! What was a stone doing there? I couldn't be deep enough to hit bedrock. Someone had put a huge rock in the ground at that very spot just to thwart me. Quivering with anger, I looked up. I saw nothing, but I knew who to talk to. "You," I said. "You did this to me. First you took my mom and dad, then you took Timmy, and now...this rock!"
No one answered.
No matter, as I wasn't done yet anyway. I clambered out of my pit to get closer to Him and shook my fists skyward. "And you made it rain just to get my hopes up so you could crush me with this! Why couldn't you just leave us alone? What did Timmy do to you? He clawed up my couch, not yours! I didn't even care! I loved Timmy! You hated him, though. You were jealous of Timmy, weren't you?"
No one answered. Well, maybe that's not true. I definitely heard something. It wasn't coming from Heaven, though. It was coming from the west. Figuratively speaking, the noise brought me back down to Earth. I even heard it again. It was the creaking of leather. Was it the caretaker's boots? This time I chose not to hide. One more obstacle was not going to bother me in the least. "Who's there?" I asked. I heard no reply. I expected to hear something like, "What are you doing here?" or, "Get out, now!" but I didn't. Something else was wrong too, but I couldn't put my finger on it.
The rain was just about over and I was sure that was not raindrops I heard. The clouds overhead parted ever so slightly and I could see again. I was amazed at the progress I had made on my hole. It was looking much more like a grave. I could see no sign of the caretaker. Then I realized what had been wrong before. Why would the caretaker stumble in the dark like I did when he could use a flashlight? I heard the noise again to the north. "Who are you?" I asked again. "Timmy, is that you?" No, it couldn't be Timmy. Timmy was in the bag. The bag was exactly where I had put it. Wasn't it? I had to look and make sure. I was hesitant, but I went to the bag and lifted the corner of it. Timmy was laying there, as peaceful as ever, with his tail curled up around him. I heard the same sound again. That couldn't be Timmy in the bag. I heard him.
I could see much more as the sky continued to clear. "Come here, Timmy. Where are you? Did you catch something? Here, Timmy, Timmy, Timmy." I couldn't understand why he didn't come. Then I saw something was moving by the old Palmer tombstone. "Is that you, Timmy?" I asked. I started to walk towards him when I choked on a horrible, horrible smell. I heard the creaking again. That smell was so repugnant and nauseating that I wanted to run away from it, but I kept going forward. The creaking became louder. I had followed the sound and the smell all the way back to the entrance and could see the gate swinging back and forth in the breeze. That was the source of the squeaking. It wasn't leather boots at all. Or was it coming from my boots? I couldn't be sure. But then I saw where the smell was coming from. A pair of eyes were watching me from behind a bush and I knew who it was.
"Timmy!" I called out to him. "I'm so glad you're still here." And I went to him, no longer afraid of the caretaker. I remembered then that I was the caretaker and that Timmy would never let anything happen to me. Or let me leave.
Black Cat by Steve Rude
15 hours ago