short story, Writing

Death Valley Trial

July’s Short Story (Finally done)

The desert is an unforgiving place. This one is called Death Valley for a reason. Every living thing there has to fight for survival. And we would have to fight, too, or else everything they’d said about us would be true.

I was tired of hearing, “You don’t belong here,” “Women shouldn’t be in the landing party missions,” and my least favorite, “There was no room for weakness in my military.”

All those things and more were running through my head. This was our final survival training requirement. If we passed this, we were fit to join the landing teams, which would be the elite of the elite forces.

Our unit was an all-female team. The powers that be were trying to prove a point. They let us all in the program, kept us lumped together, and didn’t want us to succeed. From day one, they made us train with inadequate gear and malfunctioning equipment. And despite their best efforts, we’d made it this far.

We had to pass this – to survive, even in an environment designed to kill everything.

As team leader, I was trying to keep my soldier’s morale up, but it was proving difficult. We were lost and running out of water. There was a distinct possibility that we would not survive the next 48 hours. It was my task to pull the plug before any causalities happened, but my own stubborn pride was not in the mood for failure. 

We were currently sitting under a tarp enduring a windstorm. No one was saying anything. There were twenties eyes on me. I could feel them willing me to make the call.

Every second of training I’d ever been through brought me to this moment. I was in charge of these ten lives, ten women, ten daughters, sisters, mothers, friends. What I wanted more than anything was for all of us to succeed and to finally prove that we have what it takes to make it with the rest of the squads in the landing missions.

If I wanted that moment, this might not be it. If I let them all die out here, or if I even lost one life, the powers that be would never let us join the landing parties.

We needed to live if we wanted to be a part of those teams. Dying during a training mission would not get us to Mars.

For some reason, even with all of them staring at me, I wasn’t thinking about our current situation. All I could think about was a story my mother used to tell me. Why did it keep coming to me now?

There were two brothers who begged and begged their mother for a kitten, but she repeatedly told them no. After many months of pestering her on a daily basis, she finally gave in and adopted a cat for them.

However, the brothers were disappointed because the cat was already full grown and they’d wanted a kitten.

Despite not getting exactly what they wanted, overtime the boys grew to love the cat. It followed them everywhere. If they went to play, the cat went too. If they were sleeping in their room, the cat slept with them.

As the boys grew, so did the cat. Their attachment only became stronger. When the boys reached school age, the cat would follow them to school and wait patiently outside the gate.

With winter in full effect, the boys would try to get the cat to stay home and not follow them because they didn’t want her to wait out in the cold for them all day. But she would bolt out the door the first chance she got.

One day after school, the boys started to walk home, and they noticed the cat was not waiting for them. They were hopeful that their mother had finally found a way to persuade the cat to stay inside.

As they walked home, they had to circle around the lake. As they were passing the west bank, they heard a familiar sound. It was the cat. It was mewing.

The boys looked around and they saw her standing on the lake, and she wasn’t moving. What was she doing? Was she stuck?

The boys knew better than to go out onto the ice. The lake wasn’t frozen through yet, so they stood on the bank calling to her. She wouldn’t come towards them.

The brothers decided that the youngest would walk out a little way, very carefully and hoped that if the cat saw them coming, she would make her way towards them.

He’d only made it about five steps when he heard the lake crack. He froze and he could see the fear in the cat’s eyes. She still wasn’t moving.

The older brother was yelling frantically to his brother to come back to the shore as quickly as he could. The younger brother was snapped out of his fear and made it back to land safely.

When the boys looked back towards the center of the lake, the cat wasn’t there. The lake was splintered and ice was floating about. There was no cat though.

Sitting under the tarp listening to the harsh, dry wind of the desert, why could I only think of that story and those two boys with the cat? What was it about that story that I couldn’t let go of?

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