Till Death do us part.

As I'm sitting before my PC to finally put down in words what happened all those years ago, my fat cat Rudy sleeps peacefully on my lap. From time to time he stretches and turns his head to look at me, and I can't help wondering: Does he remember? Does he even know?

My memories carry my aging mind twenty years ago, back when I moved in my new house, hardly suspecting what was waiting for me ahead.

I was so exited to finally find a house that seemed to fulfill all my dreams. It was sited in a peaceful neighborhood, not far from the city limits. It was a two-floor building, with a small garden area in front of it. A large pine tree was casting its shadow over it, spreading soothing scent in the air.

Bit by bit, I started to put it together. My work timetable was rather unstable -I'm a RN- and so I took it one day at a time. In a while, I met most of the people in the area. But I never got to meet my next door neighbor, not until it was too late. Word around the neighborhood -gossip, actually- presented her either as a witch or as a weirdo. I only knew at the time that she was a very old woman who rarely left her house.

I bought the house from its previous owner. He was a scruffy man, rather vulgar in his ways, who must have been handsome once. But he was wealthy, as far as I knew, and sold the house well below market values to get rid of it after his wife's death. I never saw him since, and gossip from the neighborhood said that he moved to the islands with a much younger new wife. Form the same sources, he was suspected of having accelerated his wife death, which was sick with bone cancer.

Two weeks after I settled in, I was awaken in the middle of the night by desperate cat cries. I always loved cats, and the thought of a kitten in distress made me hurry down the stairs to investigate the matter. I opened the door and I came face to face with the biggest tom I had ever seen. He was at least twenty-five pounds heavy, but not fat. He was big. He was black, with shinning golden eyes and an ugly scratch on his left ear. He was wearing a collar, but there was no name on it, just an amethyst stone. He looked at me, and then walked right in as if he owned the place.

He rushed to the kitchen, and stood before the refrigerator. Well, it was clear what he wanted. Not having expected a feline guest, all I had for him was milk. He devoured half a gallon in a split second. After having filled his stomach, he raised his eyes to me again. Oh, those eyes! How could they pierce through my soul! He started purring loudly (just like road construction equipment) and rubbed against my feet. I picked him up and took him to bed.

There we lied, side by side.

"What's your name?" I asked, not really waiting an answer. Yet, he did answer me.

"Mrroow", he said. I looked him in astonishment.

"What's that, big boy," I replied, "did you say Moore?"

No answer. I tried some variations of his original mew, until I reached "Rudy". This sounded satisfying, and he rubbed his head against my cheek. He curled up beside me and we fell asleep.

During the next few days I asked around, trying to locate his previous owners. He was obviously well fed, clean, and someone must have put that crystal on him. His ear scar was old, probably a souvenir of a street fight, but it wouldn't have healed without medical care. But in vain. No one knew of a missing cat.

So, he became my cat. No, he was more than this. He was the love of my life. He would greet me when I came home from work, he would keep me company during my meals and TV time, he would amuse me with his little games and he would share my bed at nights. Yet, he was the strangest cat I've ever seen. He would stare out of the window for hours, as expecting someone who never came. He would search the attic for hours, and when he could not find what he was looking for, he would sit down looking absolutely miserable. I swear he was crying, in his own feline way. He never ate anything but milk, which was extraordinary for his size. And I never saw him sleep… When I woke up in the middle of the night, I could see his crystal eyes watching over me.

But I loved him crazy.

It all happened two months after he entered my life. It was two days before Halloween, and I was home reading a book, listening to the rain outside. Rudy was upset all day, sniffing corners in the attic, running up and down the stairs, scratching the door crying to be let out. I tried to tell him it was not safe for a black cat to be wandering the streets in Halloween. He may run into some weirdo. But he kept crying. Then, near midnight, he let out the most horrifying cry I've heard from a cat. It sounded like a cursed soul. At the same time he took a giant leap and went through the window, leaving broken glasses and a bloody trail behind him.

I ran after him. Following a black cat at night is not the easiest thing to do, but I think he was slowing down for me to catch up. And there were bloody footprints as well…

I found him standing over a dying cat. The poor thing was a female brown tabby, with gentle green eyes. Some careless driver had hit her, and her head was smashed open. She was softly moaning, and Rudy was lying next to her, moaning as well, licking the blood from her eyes and pushing her with his nose, trying to get her up to her feet. It was too late. She sighed, and with her last breath she licked his scarred ear.

I was overwhelmed with grief. Had Rudy known she was going to be killed? If I had let him out earlier, would she still be alive, or would they both be dead? I'll never know…

Rudy looked up in the full moon, which had just come out of the clouds, and howled with sorrow. And then he stood up and looked at me. He walked to the nearby park, leading me to a remote bush. I heard kitten cries coming out of it. There were four of them, two tabbies, a calico and a black one. Obviously, the dead cat's litter. And, judging from the black one, Rudy's offspring as well. That little black kitten seemed to have the same scar as well…

I took the babies in my lap and took them home, then went back for their mother. They were too young to eat, so I fed them with an eyedropper. I buried their mother under the pine tree in my yard, and went back inside.

But Rudy had vanished.

For the next week, I searched everywhere, asked everyone, printed fliers, and even posted a "missing cat" ad in the local newspaper. Nothing. It was as if he had vanished into thin air. I spend a lot of time taking care of the young ones, trying to keep my mind of my missing cat. Then, one afternoon, as I was sitting on my front porch trying to tech the kittens how to eat solid food (here mouth, here food), I saw him. He was standing on my neighbor's front door. He looked at me and then entered the house through the cat door. I took the babies inside and hurried up to that house.

I knocked and waited. No one came, and I felt despair filling me. Just I was about to leave, the door opened just a bit.

"Who's there?" An old woman asked.

"Excuse me, but I think my cat came to your house", I replied. "Could you take a look around for him? He's a big black tom, with a scarred ear and an amethyst crystal on his collar".

The door opened wide. Before me stood an old crone, about ninety years old.

"Better come inside, dear", she told me, and her voice was a young woman's voice.

This was the woman who was said to be a witch. She led me to the living room, where at least ten cats were lying around.

"Is your cat one of them, dear?"

"No, it's not. Can you please search your house, he was hit a week ago, and I'm sure his wounds will need medical attention", I asked in despair.

She looked at me with kind, radiant blue eyes. Then took a photo from her bookshelf and showed it to me.

"Is this your cat, dear?"

I looked in the picture and was shocked. It showed a young woman with fiery red hair sitting on the front porch of my house, and a big tom in her lap. He was looking at her with affection, and an amethyst crystal was shining in the sunlight. The cat's ear was bandaged. The picture had been taken three years ago.

I looked to the old woman.

"Better sit down, my dear. I have a story to tell you".

I sat down, and a big ginger tom took it as an invitation and settled on my lap. As the crone began her story, I could sense faint sandalwood sent lingering on the air, embracing the cat-headed female statues behind her.

"The woman in the picture was my granddaughter. She lived in the house you now live. Oh, my poor Bridget, she had an unhappy life.

The man she married was a vulgar, insensitive man. Yet she loved him. I believe he did love her at first, but evil was well rooted in his heart. He was constantly cheating her with other women and kept on abusing my little girl. Sadly, after a while she came to accept it. I begged her to leave him, but she would not. And when she finally set her mind on doing it, she was diagnosed with cancer. Six months later, she died.

But there was a beam of light through all her years of misery. It was a black cat, the one you've met. He would lick her tears when she was crying and shared her bed during her lonely nights. He even protected her from that monster she had married. And that's how he got his scar. Defending her, one night that he came home drunk. He tried to hit her with a baseball bat, but dear old Rudy got in the way. The cat's ear was damaged, but so was the monster's hand. Later that night, the man woke up to find the cat's teeth on his throat and hearing an angry growl. The message was clear: If you hurt her again, I'll kill you.

He never hurt her again. He didn't have to. The cancer did it for him.

During her final days, Rudy would climb up to Bridget's bed, and put his head over her hand. They would look into each other's eyes for hours, having reached a level of communication where words were not necessary. And he would take with him his own love, my beautiful tabby Sparkle, to comfort my dying girl.

She died peacefully in her sleep, with Rudy resting on her lap. The next day, he came to me to let me know of her death."

The old woman's story touched me deeply. Trying hard not to cry, I asked: "I can see why this cat means so much to you. But he has lived with me for the last two months and came to love him. Would you mind if I could at least visit him from time to time?"

She looked at me with sympathetic eyes.

"You don't understand, dear. Rudy is dead. He was found with his head crashed two months ago, just a couple of days after Bridget's death. I had given him that amethyst for protection, but it didn't help much. That monster finally got him, although I could never prove it."

I felt lightheaded, as if I would faint. In my mind came all the strange things about Rudy, how he wouldn't sleep or eat. Had I been living with a ghost all this time?

As if she read my mind, the old crone said: "My Sparkle was pregnant with his kittens, dear. Sometimes the dead come back to look after their loved ones. She gave birth sometime ago, and probably his work was finished here. I believe he's passed on the Otherworld, reunited with Bridget at last."

That was too much for me. I burst in tears, and told her what had happened, how I had found Sparkle dying and her kittens in the nearby park.

She looked to me again with those ageless eyes. "You shouldn't feel guilty or sad, dear. Can't you see that he can finally rest in peace now? He's playing in green meadows now, along with his mate and his human. And he has left his children in good hands. Who would ever ask for more?"

She took me to his resting place, under a huge oak tree. Above his grave, she had planted catnip, and all the neighborhood cats would come to take a pick and pay their respects. I did the same over Sparkle's grave. From the kittens, we managed to find good homes for the two of them. Lunah, the old woman, kept the female tabby, an exact copy of her mother. The black one stayed with me. He was just like his father. He had the same golden eyes, and I swear I could see a faint scar on his left ear. I know, scars are not hereditary, but who knows? Lunah seems to believe that he's Rudy's reincarnation. I don't know about that, but, by the Gods, he is so much like him!

Bridget's husband died a year later during a car accident. Another driver tried to avoid a black cat, who seemed to appear from nowhere in the middle of the road, and threw him off the road. Strangely enough, there were no injuries. The coronary's report wrote "Heart attack". A coincidence? I doubt it…

Now, after all these years, grief and guilt has faded away. But what is still as vivid as the first day is the unconditional love of a humble cat. A love that knew no borders of time, space or even death. Where humans fail to keep their vows, a cat stays true:

"Until death do us part…"

…and beyond…