Cory didn’t turn on any lights but felt her way down the aisle, gathered an armload of woolen coolers and turnout rugs, and mounted the stairs to the hayloft. The orange tabby was at the top of the stairs.
“Surprise,” she said. “Didn’t expect to see me again tonight, I bet.”
She arranged some hay bales to form a bed, spread a cooler over it, and lay down. Her stiff fingers clawed at the pile of horse rugs and woolen coolers, struggling to pull them over her shivering torso. Her teeth chattered uncontrollably. When the orange cat padded over, she lifted a corner of the covers. He marched under them, curled up behind her knees, and purred. Cory was grateful for the warmth as well as the company. Scratching and scurrying noises came from the dark corners of the loft where the moonlight didn’t reach.
Oh, dear God, please don’t let it be rats.
Another cat appeared from the darkness—a silvery gray with fur that turned darker on his paws and the tips of his ears. He padded over to Cory and rubbed his head against her cheek. A shaft of moonlight sliced across his face, illuminating his pale eyes. He sat so close she could smell his damp breath. He stared at her with his blind-looking eyes, just like those of her mother that night. Looking but not seeing. Watching her without emotion, letting her leave the house without a word of protest. Cory squeezed hers shut to block out the memory. A wail, long held back and pressing on her chest, wound out like a long, thick snake into the frigid air. She gulped, sucking in the cold air, hurting her throat. Tears slid down her face but she didn’t bother brushing them away. The silvery cat meowed once and licked her face with a raspy tongue.
More cats appeared from the corners of the loft, kneaded at the blankets, and surrounded her in a furry cocoon. They curled up against her body and sent a dozen small pools of warmth against her frozen limbs. The silver cat settled last beside her head. Cory finally slept.
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