There once was an abandoned, run down barn that sat near a beautiful countryside home. The barn was an eye sore for many of the neighbors, but no one took the steps to remove it. Some children dared to go near it, feeling adventurous and seeking out mystery, but all were in trouble when their parents found out.
The barn was home to all sorts of critters, including four feral cats. They must have been brothers and sisters as they were all black with white paws and faces. Inside the barn, they trapped and ate their meals, huddled close together during the winter nights, and explored every corner of their home.
The cats were thin, for their meals were sparse. Their behavior was skittish when seen, for they rarely encountered humans. Their coats were shabby and dirty, for they lived a difficult life. Yet, they were always together, guarding and helping one another. Hunting meals was a team effort. When one left the barn, the other three followed. If ever only three cats were spotted, it could be assumed the fourth experienced a grim fate and would never again be seen.
The first time the cats heard the new, far-off noise, they stayed away, curious, but much too cautious to investigate. It was a sliding noise from the near by house, followed by a few very light taps. Late that night, when the countryside was pitch dark and not a human stirred, the cats carefully crept to where the noise had come from. After several minutes of exploration on the house rooftop, they came across something salty…crunchy. Food! They quickly ate every bite, licking the spot on the roof where the treasures had been.
Several days later, they heard the sound again. This time, they were not so wary. They bounded up to the rooftop just in time to see a window slide open, just slightly. Through the thin opening, poked out a very tiny human fist. The fist opened up, and onto the roof below the window, fell several small, orange, salty cheezits. The cats gobbled them up and waited for more. They meowed and begged, but none came.
Soon the sound became as familiar and regular to the cats as day and night. Only a few cheezits came at a time. The little boy snuck into his pocket whatever he could get past the watchful eye of his mother. It quickly became his favorite time of day. He named the cats and talked to them as they ate. Eventually, the cats began to trust the little boy and took the cheezits right from his hand. He imagined the moment when one day he might even be able to pat them on the head. He wanted so badly to comfort the cats and give them some happiness in their grueling life. He knew his mother wouldn’t approve, so he never told anyone about his secret pets.
He fed the cats every day until suddenly, they stopped coming. He called out his window for them (in a whisper of course, so his mother wouldn’t hear). He tapped on the window frame, hoping to see them bound once again to his bedroom window. One day, he even braved the dangerous, creepy barn in search of them. But he never saw his friends again. He imagined the best for them. Perhaps in their daily travels, a nice woman adopted them and they were living happily in a clean, warm home with their bellies full every night. Perhaps they simply moved on, journeying far away to a better climate where they wouldn’t shiver at night. But from then on, every time the little boy saw a black and white cat, he wondered if perhaps that was a daughter or grandson of one of his childhood friends. He always took a moment to give the cats a morsel of food or simply give a comforting pat on the head.