It was getting dark by the time Lottie stopped walking. She had been upset and then angry, her heightened emotions propelling her across the fields to the log that crossed the brook; into the woodlands; as far as the railway line; and then beyond to the pasture land on the other side. She had never been this way before but had seen it stretching out from her bedroom window. The uplands were still some distance away, looking ominous in the fading light. She needed to find shelter until morning.
The old barn was used to store hay after harvest, but only a few bales now remained. The livestock had been returned to the fields closer to the farmhouse, ready for their young to be brought into the world. Lottie felt sorry for them, destined as they were to die at the hands of men such as her father who seemed to cope with death all too easily.
The barn smelled of old hay from broken bales, but Lottie found one intact and clambered on top, preparing to settle down for the night. She pulled the fleece rug from her backpack and wrapped it around herself; it only helped a little. The cold was already making her shiver, or was that her fear of the recurring dreams?
A soft mewling disturbed her on the cusp of sleep, exhaustion having won over discomfort. Lottie sat up and looked around. A tiny kitten had crawled in beside her, its eyes bright in the moonlight.
‘Have you lost your mummy too?’ Lottie asked the tiny creature.
Reaching into her backpack she pulled out her bottle of water and poured a little into the palm of her hand. The eager tongue tickled as it lapped making Lottie smile. When the kitten had drunk its fill she cradled it in her hands, tucking them close to her chest for warmth before settling back down to sleep.
It was a little after sunrise when she woke again. The kitten had crawled out from its makeshift nest and was sitting close by, watching and waiting trustingly. Lottie checked the barn carefully but could find no signs of any cats.
‘What am I to do with you?’ she asked.
Lottie was hungry and guessed that the kitten must be too. Sighing she realised that she could neither abandon it nor seek help elsewhere without risk of discovery. To save the creature’s life she would have to go back.
As she approached the railway line she saw the line of people, heard the shout as she was spotted. Frightened now she stood still, hugging the kitten to her, as the policemen hurried across the field to bring her in.
‘I was so worried!’ father cried as he tried to embrace her rigid form, ‘I thought I had lost you as well…’
Lottie looked at him anxiously. ‘We need to buy kitten food and a bowl. Should we take her to the vet? You will let me keep her won’t you?’
Father looked at his only daughter, a fierce and tiny version of the wife he had loved beyond life itself. Fighting back the tears he laid down his terms.
‘You can keep the kitten, so long as I can keep you.’
Lottie smiled and, for the first time since her gentle and beloved mother had died, allowed herself to be hugged.