Ladder of Cats

Vivi Dai June 11, 2021
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A month before the end of the world, I suffered from continuous vomiting. No matter what I ate, within five minutes I would be throwing up.
I felt guilty for being a burden to my family at this very moment. Because I had to live on a glucose drip, I lay in the bed like a listless fish, watching my parents and little sister go about their business: digging the shelter, pouring cement, grabbing food, water, and oxygen tanks.
Although no one knew yet in what form the end of the world would come, the world had coincidentally started a fever of building shelters. Some rich or powerful people could build an underground mansion for themselves. My family was just lucky enough to dig a small hole in our backyard. The pile of food and oxygen tanks took up most of the space, leaving just enough room for our entire family to squeeze in tightly together, even turning around was impossible.
“How can we…erh…go to the toilet?” my little sister muttered with embarrassment.
“This is not the time to think about that kind of stuff,” my dad responded impatiently. He had been grumpy lately. It was understandable, given that he had been working hard without enough sleep for more than one month. We all knew in our hearts that the chances of survival were slim, but still, we wanted to do something, just to keep us from thinking.
On the last evening before the end of the world, people went into the shelters one by one. I opened my eyes and said in a weak voice, “You guys go ahead. I would throw up if I huddled in that little place.”
Everyone looked at me with tears in their eyes, “Join us later, OK? Don’t take too long!”
However, I had decided to give up on my life. I no longer needed to occupy that small space and weaken the chances of survival of others.
I lay flat on my back, staring at the clock hands crawling little by little until the end of the world was only half an hour away. Suddenly, a wave of longing rose from deep within me, and I wanted to take another look at the world, to see it once again. So I took a couple of ragged breaths, held on to the infusion rack, staggered out of bed, dragged myself to the window, and pulled the curtains open.
The small orange lamp light imprinted my shadow on the floor, which was absorbed by the darkness just a few steps away. The earth was like an unfurled black cloth, covered with old deep wrinkles. The moon, however, looked unusually silvery against this infinite darkness, as if it were about to dissolve.
For a moment, I could not believe that an inevitable force was going to completely tear this beauty apart. It looked so serene, so peaceful as if it would surely last forever. But the deadly silence reminded me that the world was coming to an end.
I felt another wave of clenching in my stomach and almost fell to the ground. Just then, there was a knock on the door.
At first, I didn’t pay attention, but the knocking was clear and persistent. After making sure it wasn’t a hallucination, I struggled to the door and pulled it open.
Could it be my parents coming back to pick me up?
But there was nobody, only the chilly wind of the winter night weeping.
I leaned against the door in dismay and looked around. Then I felt something rubbing against my pants. I looked down and saw a silvery gray kitten.
I used to feed stray cats in the neighborhood, but I had never seen one this color, like the color of the moon stained by thin clouds. The kitten stared with a pair of strange round silver-gray eyes, the silver-gray fur almost blending with the moonlight. It was so thin and bony that it looked like a mouse at first glance.
People were too busy digging holes to take care of these poor creatures. I looked back at the empty cupboard and felt helpless. The little gray cat was still arching its back and rubbing against my pants, making a weak meowing sound.
I thought for a while, then closed my eyes, and pulled the IV syringe out of the back of my hand. A few drops of glucose fell to the ground, and the kitten immediately stuck out its tongue and darted up to lick it. In a split second, a snow-white Persian cat appeared from nowhere, followed by an American bobtail, followed by a British shorthair. All of a sudden, I had been surrounded by thousands of cats, their iridescent eyes shining in the darkness, like countless pieces of gems.
There was only a small bag of glucose, but strangely enough it didn’t run out, and the whole space was filled with the sound of a thousand tongues licking it. I rubbed my eyes hard and felt dazzled: is this some kind of magic brought by the end of the world?
After about two minutes, the little gray cat had had enough. It waved its paw and a circular space appeared among the cats. The Persian cat ran briskly to the center of the circle and stood upright on its two hind legs. Then the American bobtail ran over and jumped onto the Persian cat’s shoulder, standing firmly in the same position, followed by the British shorthair. One after another the other cats followed suit creating an endless ladder straight up into the vast night sky.
When the last cat disappeared, the little gray cat jumped onto the ladder and waved its paw at me.
“I’m going too?” I asked incredulously.
The little gray cat wore a solemn expression. I was too stunned to say anything more, reached to the ladder, and climbed up trembling.
Once I stepped on the ladder of cats, my body suddenly became incredibly light, the constant torment of vomiting disappeared without a trace, the palms of my hands and the soles of my feet were like suction cups, and limbs filled with long-lost strength. I was so full of joy that I climbed faster and faster, and finally, it was like flying. I didn’t know how long it took to reach the top of the ladder. Looking back, the earth was like a huge blue water drop, and the long thin cat steps glowed with colorful splendor in the moonlight.
While I was immersed in a dream-like feeling, an asteroid the size of a baseball suddenly grazed my cheek and threw off a wisp of stardust in the atmosphere before dashing to the surface of the earth, falling into the sea and making a large splash.
All the cats let out a long shriek. I turned my head and saw that hundreds of asteroids were flying far across the sky toward the earth.
The end of the world was at hand!
What to do? What to do? My brain was spinning fast. Oh yes, if only there were a bat, I could knock them all away! But where could I get a bat?
Just when I was sweating, the little gray cat suddenly jumped into my arms, limbs elongated, the whole body straight, even the tail became stiff.
“I can’t use you like a bat,” I said. But I had no choice, the second asteroid was already flying in front of me. I could only grab the cat by the tail and swing out the cat bat. The little gray cat’s eyes were wide open, and when the asteroid was about to hit it, it stretched out its left paw and slapped the asteroid away with a sharp blow.
“Beautiful!” I couldn’t help but applaud, brushing away my fear and posing for the strike in high spirits…
Years later, when I was old, a reporter visited me and asked me to recall the end of the world.
That night, there had been loud thumps in the air resembling balls being batted away, so loud that they deafened many people’s ears. However, except for one asteroid that fell into the Atlantic Ocean, all other asteroids miraculously changed their orbits and disappeared into the vast universe.
“You didn’t go into the shelter that night, did you? What exactly did you see?” The young reporter asked curiously.
I laughed and didn’t answer, but gently petted the old gray cat napping on my lap.

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