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Authors: Zilpha Keatley Snyder

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BOOK: Cat Running
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Ellen didn’t go on to say it, but the way she rolled her eyes around at the living room’s dusty clutter made it clear that she meant that Mama had been a failure at that too. But Cat didn’t give Ellen the satisfaction of starting an argument about why Mama didn’t do much housework, even though there were some things she could have said if she’d wanted to.

She could, for instance, have mentioned that Mama would probably do a lot better if Father wasn’t so tight with money. He wouldn’t even buy her a new vacuum cleaner when the old Hoover broke down, though he could have gotten one for cost at Kinsey’s Hardware. And it was impossible to keep things clean in such a big old house with nothing but brooms and dust mops. In a big old house that, according to Ellen, had once been “the pride of Brownwood”—but was now a leaky, run-down wreck, because of Father’s stinginess.

Or she could have mentioned Mama’s asthma and headaches, and how little certain people helped out around the house. But if anyone suggested that Ellen might help out more at home they only got a lecture about the long hours she worked at the store, and how Father couldn’t get along without her. Arguing with Ellen just wasn’t worth the effort.

Cat shrugged, sighed, and leaned forward to peer out between the palm fronds. Mama had stopped calling now and was just standing there wiping her hands and then her pale, freckled face with her apron. She wiped her cheeks and around her eyes, brushed back some flyaway wisps of curly red hair, and then turned slowly and went back into the house.

She probably would go to her room now, hers and Father’s, put a wet washcloth on her forehead, lie down on the bed, and have a sick headache. Mama had headaches a lot and most of the time it was when someone had made her feel bad. Like Cat, for instance. Quite often it was Cat. When she was younger it had always made Cat feel terribly evil and guilty, knowing the headache was her fault.

But not anymore. At least not today. Today she was too angry to feel guilty, or to even care whether Mama was going to be sick. Putting all of it, Mama’s headache, Father’s stinginess, and even the whole problem about slacks and the Play Day races, out of her mind, Cat pushed the palm fronds apart and got into a crouching position. Ready, set ...

THREE

C
ROUCHED AND READY TO
run, Cat waited impatiently for Father to leave for the store. He must have stopped to putter around at the garage workbench again, because she still hadn’t heard—But then, there it was, the rasping grind of the starter followed by the clatter and chug of an ancient, ailing motor. Parting the palm fronds, she watched as the old Model A Ford bounced down the rutted driveway, turned out onto the road, and headed for downtown Brownwood. Cat followed its progress through squinted eyes, her lower lip clenched between her teeth. She hated that ugly old Ford. Right at that moment she, Cat Kinsey, hated—everything. And everybody. Particularly everybody.

“I hate them,” she said out loud. “All of them.” She’d never said it before. Never even thought it, really, at least not in so many words. But somehow saying it out loud made a difference. A jolting difference, like sticking your finger in an electric light socket. She caught her breath sharply, swallowed hard, and ran.

Across the lawn, through a gap in the pyracantha hedge that separated the house from the driveway, and then on down the drive at top speed with her braid flip-flopping against her spine. Around the old garage that had once been a stable, and from there across the field where Cliff’s pony had once lived. No pony there now, of course. Not since Cat had gotten old enough to want one. Nothing in the weed-grown horse pasture except Cat herself, galloping fast and free, pushing herself until her lungs burned and her breath came in hungry gasps. Fast and free to the end of the Kinsey property, over the sagging fence, and on across open land toward Coyote Creek.

Somewhere along the way she began to feel, not good exactly, but at least a little less miserable. It always worked that way. There was something about the fiery burn of leg muscles and the good clean ache in her lungs that tended to deaden other kinds of pain. By the time she reached Coyote Creek Canyon her anger had tamed. Something she could direct and control, instead of a dark, raging storm.

The path down to the creek bed was narrow, winding, and very steep. A trail for wild things only. Wild things like deer and coyotes—and Cat Kinsey, whose descent today was a sliding, skittering plunge, checked only by sudden impacts against bushes and boulders until it came to a jarring finish in the creek bed, in an unplanned sitting position. Staggering to her feet she rubbed her bruised bottom and examined herself for other injuries.

Yes. There was a scraped ankle, all right, and that was just one more thing that was all Father’s fault. His fault because her leg would have been properly protected if she’d been wearing slacks. And if she got blood poisoning and died that would be his fault too.

Sighing deeply at the thought of the poor youthful corpse lying in state in Spencer’s Funeral Home, she limped across a wide expanse of dry creek bed to the narrow stream. At the edge of a pool she squatted and splashed a little water on the smarting scrape, examining it closely for blood-poisoning potential.

Probably not. She skinned her knees and scraped her legs a lot, but she’d never yet had anything more interesting than some pretty spectacular scabs. “Look at yourself,” Ellen was always saying. “Your legs look disgraceful. It wouldn’t happen if you didn’t run so much. Why can’t you walk like a young lady?”

Cat shrugged, splashed her wound again, and her face for good measure. Then she got to her feet and started on down the canyon, running again now, flying down the sandy stretches, leaping over rocks and dodging around boulders—until she came at last to the ruins of Monopolis Village. She stopped there and, lying on her stomach on a smooth boulder, stared down at the few remaining traces of roads and walls and thought about the tragic end of the village. And then about other tragic endings, like the end of her friendship with Janet Kelly.

FOUR

C
AT AND JANET HAD
built Monopolis Village the summer before last when the receding creek had left a small circular pond near the large flat boulder. A deep, clear pond, like a miniature mountain lake. Together they’d planted tiny saplings around the pond on lawns of soft green moss and built twig fences beside sanded roads bordered by shiny white pebbles. The roads had wound through a tiny village where a lot of little green houses and red hotels surrounded a painted tin church. The church had once been a bank for Sunday school money and the houses and hotels were from a Monopoly game. The church, and a lot of the ideas for Monopolis Village, had been Janet’s, but Cat had contributed the houses and hotels. The village lasted all summer, until a sudden fall rain flooded the creek and washed everything away.

Cat hadn’t been too much concerned about the loss of the houses and hotels. She hated playing Monopoly anyway, and besides, the game really belonged to Cliff, who happened to be the most heartless and greedy Monopoly player in the whole world. But Janet, who’d always had a kind of crush on Cliff, had worried about it a lot. Just the other day, during recess, she’d mentioned it again.

They’d been playing on the bars and Janet was upside down at the time, hanging by her knees. “Hey,” she said suddenly. “Do you still play in the creek bed?” And when Cat said she did Janet said, “Do you suppose you’ll ever find any of Cliff’s Monopoly game?”

Cat did a one-knee spin to a sitting position on the bar. “Not a chance,” she said. “They’re probably halfway across the ocean by now. But don’t worry about it. He still hasn’t found out they’re gone. Nobody ever played it with him except me, and now when he wants to play I just say I don’t want to.”

Janet swung back and forth to build momentum and then spun up to sit beside Cat on the bar. “I sure do wish we could play there again,” she said. She glanced at Patty Burns, who was hanging from the next bar, leaned close, because Monopolis Village had always been their secret, and whispered, “I really miss playing Monopolis Village. Do you suppose your dad will ever let you come to my house again? Because I know my folks would let me visit you if your dad would let you visit me. Do you suppose he ever will?”

“Not a chance,” Cat said again, and Janet made a tragic face, sighed dramatically, and threw herself over backward in a dangerous “dead man’s drop.”

Cat really missed playing with Janet, too, even though she usually wasn’t as dramatic about it. Remembering all the good times they’d had she sighed, scooted forward on the boulder, and dangled her hand down into the cool water of the tiny lake. “Not a chance,” she said again, out loud, although there was no one there to hear. No chance she and Janet would be allowed to play together again—except, of course, at school, which hardly counted—because Charles Kinsey wasn’t ever going to forgive Janet’s father for siding with Reverend Booker.

Cat and Janet’s fathers hadn’t always been enemies. In fact, a few years back, they’d both been elders at the Community Church. But that had been before Reverend Booker became the new pastor and started arguing with Father about things like having dances for teenagers in the church’s social hall.

So then the Kinseys, all except Cliff, had stopped being Community Church members and had started going to the Holiness Church, where Reverend Hopkins felt the same way Father did about things like ballroom dancing and “females wearing men’s attire.” And because Mr. Kelly had been on Reverend Booker’s side, Cat had been forbidden to visit the Kellys anymore, or even to have Janet come to play.

Cat missed having Janet visit, and she especially missed visiting the Kellys, who lived in one of the few new houses in Brownwood, a beautiful Spanish-style stucco with arched windows and a red tile roof. A stucco house with a tile roof—that had been Cat’s idea of absolute elegance ever since she could remember. And she also missed the beach cabin at Santa Cruz where, before the Reverend Booker feud, she’d sometimes been allowed to spend several days with the Kellys.

She missed all the movies too. Cat’s family went to movies too, of course, when something “worthwhile” was playing, which only happened once or twice a year. But the Kellys went every weekend to the Brownwood theater or sometimes all the way to the new American Theater in Orangedale, where they saw all the latest films—even scary things like
Frankenstein,
and movies that starred actresses with bad reputations and plucked eyebrows. But trips to the movies and the beach were forbidden now. Just as wearing slacks on Play Day was forbidden to Cat Kinsey.

Cat sat up. Resting her chin on her knees, she began again to imagine going on down the creek bed. Past the waterfall and on and on until she reached the river and then maybe even farther, to where the river flowed into the sea. Going on forever, crossing oceans and strange foreign lands and never having to return to the boring little town of Brownwood, and Ellen’s mean smile, and Cliff’s everlasting teasing, and all of Father’s mean, stingy, old-fashioned rules.

FIVE

S
HE’D IMAGINED RUNNING AWAY
before. Now and then when she was especially angry at all of them, she would spend hours making up long, complicated stories about going down Coyote Creek to the Naranja River and then on down the river to the Pacific Ocean, where she would stow away on an ocean liner headed for wonderful faraway places. She was definitely in the mood to think up a new running-away chapter—if the sun hadn’t been quite so hot. But she’d hardly gotten started imagining when she realized that her dress was sticking to her back and beads of moisture were trickling down her forehead.

Sliding down off the boulder she stood for a moment, looking first up the canyon toward home and then the other way, past the rapids and on toward the Naranja and the Pacific. Suddenly she squared her shoulders, clenched her teeth, and headed down canyon.

But just below Monopolis Village was the waterfall. Not a real waterfall so much as a steep cascade, where the water tumbled down over sleek, polished boulders, splashed into a round, deep pond, and then continued on down the center of the widening canyon.

Standing near the edge, Cat peered over, looking for a safe way down. In all the hundreds of times she had played up and down the creek bed she had gone on past the cascade only once, nearly two years before. A frightening experiment that she had not repeated since.

She’d begun the descent that last time by climbing down the bank on the right side of the stream where a cleft between rocks formed a narrow, ladderlike passageway. Down the cleft and then on to the bottom of the steep slope by jumping from boulder to boulder. Going down had been fairly easy, but when she tried to return it had been a different story. Jumping from boulder to boulder, she discovered, was much harder when the jumps had to be made against the force of gravity. She had been bruised and scraped and pretty scared by the time she’d finally made it back to the top—and she hadn’t tried it since. But now ...

She smiled suddenly—a mocking, bitter smile. What did it matter now if she couldn’t get back up? She might be coming back and she might not, and if she couldn’t climb the boulders it would just mean that she really ought to run away.

The climb down went easily and before long Cat was on her way downstream again. In new, unexplored territory now, she stopped often to check out deep, quiet pools, gurgling shallows, and interesting rock formations along the cliff face. It was while she was inspecting a pool where some minnows had been trapped by the receding water that she noticed the rabbit.

The creek bed was wider here and a clump of cottonwoods and heavy underbrush had grown up between the stream and the high, rocky cliff to the north. She had been sitting quietly watching the minnows when suddenly a rabbit hopped out from the underbrush, noticed Cat, and quickly darted back the way it had come. Cat went to explore.

The thicket into which the rabbit had disappeared was, on closer inspection, made up not only of bushes and saplings but also of blackberry vines. Vicious, thorny vines that twisted in and out among the saplings, making an impassable barrier. Impassable except by way of the rabbit’s tunnel.

BOOK: Cat Running
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