It's a rough draft, just completed, so forgive the, er, roughness of it...
To help occupy myself while in mourning, I decided to go on a short overnight hike. The woods and the water and the clear, cold air of the nearby mountains around the Rubicon River are always invigorating. And my vigor was in need of, well, invigorating. I needed to get away from home and go somewhere to be more naturally alone, to breathe and recconnect with the forces of nature.
The Rubicon is not very far away, as the crow flies, but it is remote in feeling and effect due to the steepness and roughness of the terrain. Not many people go there because there are beautiful areas with nicer trails and more convenient footing equally close by. The Rubicon is thus wild.
As I left the trail and began roughing it through the brush, cutting a slightly sideways angle down the steep canyon, I paused on a sort of flat spot, a kind of ledge in the canyon side with a couple of bare granite boulders along the edge, framing the view up the canyon to the plunge pools and cataracks below. I sighed and took a sip of water and was startled as a raven landed atop one of the boulders, breaking the silence of the moment with his wing beats. For a long moment from about fifteen feet away, the raven just stood atop his boulder, and we eyed each other. I was standing there with half raised water bottle, still staring in the direction of the raven when he abruptly took wing and arced down into the canyon and was soon gone.
"Better get going," I said to myself, breaking a sort of bubble of tension, "if I'm going to get there before dark."
I didn't see any more ravens and gradually found myself deep in the rocky canyon at the little opening I was aiming for: a nice, sandy and flat area adjacent to long, deep run in the little river. Four casts yielded two plump, wild trout. I cleaned them and promptly got a fire started. It would be dark soon.
As I was enjoying the perfectly cooked trout, pulling succulent chunks from the foil in which it was wrapped while cooking on the fire, I thought about how much Kiki always enjoyed sharing trout with me. She never begged, but she was always by my side, and would delicately accept each piece from my hand, never lunging or snapping at it, but simply grasping it gently as I held it to her mouth, purring immediately in appreciation and flashing those beautiful golden eyes back at me. As I was thinking this and tears slowly formed and ran down my face, I thought I saw a shadow just beyond the fire. I wiped an eye and looked out, but saw nothing. For a few seconds I just sat there, holding the steaming foil package in one hand as the fire slowly popped and the river lapped at the shore and the rocks midstream, the rapids below a distantly echoing rumble. Then, as I took another bite of trout, I saw a shape sitting just beyond the fire. A cat.
My heart jumped. What? How? No. It must just be my imagination. I was thinking of my dear Kiki, missing her so much that now my mind is - Oh! It moved. It IS a cat.
I sat there staring. Staring at the immistakeable shape of a cat just past the fire, sitting just like Kiki. In my ears I could only hear my heart pounding. I kept staring and the cat, though I could not see her eyes, was just sitting there, staring back at me.
"Kiki?" I said, weakly, almost a croak.
The cat's left ear twitched once. We sat there staring at each other across the fire. I'm not sure how long it had been, but I took a breath, a gasp, like coming to the surface of a deep pool. The cat's ear twitched again, but she did not move.
Some time passed. I'm not sure how long we just sat there that way.
I brought the foil up to my mouth without taking my eyes off the cat and took a bite, and the cat took a short, tentative step forward, then resumed her posture.
The piece of trout sat in my mouth, which remained open for a couple of seconds, my hand still holding the trout to my mouth. I swallowed the trout and again but with more energy, perhaps some foolish hope this time, "Kiki?"
The cat seemed to nod at me, the way Kiki often did when gazing back at me. I couldn't see, but I imagined her eyes flashed, a soft blink, the way Kiki's always did when she gave her nodding acknowledgement.
The cat stepped forward again around the edge of the fire's glow, coming towards me on my right. She paused and stepped closer still.
Coming into the light and closer to me, I suddenly could see her face and her eyes clearly and sighed deeply.
A single heavy sob. It was not Kiki. I felt stupid and broken. My shoulders sank with my heart.
I sat there by the fire, holding my trout, back sagging and looked directly into the eyes of a beautiful bobcat.
She looked back at me just like Kiki used to, and she nodded and flashed her eyes the same way, too. It was--eerie.
She was now only about three feet away from me. I could see that she was much larger than Kiki, who was only nine pounds at her heaviest. This bobcat had to be around twenty pounds, at least.
I held the trout out toward her, and she stepped forward, keeping her eyes on me, and took a ginger bite.
She swallowed the bite of trout, flashed her eyes with a slight nod and began purring.