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I stood on the top of the tall mountain, relishing every minute, every second, every moment. The cool breeze against my face, the wind toying with my umber coloured hair and the warm glow of the sun warming my skin… When I was surrounded by nature, by trees, flowers, valleys, rivers, and the forest teeming with life; when I was far away from the arguments between my parents, the furniture being thrown around, and the stress of my life, then I truly felt free.

I sat down. I sat for a long, long time, watching the sun climb slowly up into the sky, its warm glow radiating onto the earth. A rock wren landed beside me, cocking its head. I smiled, watching as it hopped back and forth before spreading its wings and flying off. I sighed. I wished I could be free like a bird, free of worry.

I was a mute; I could not speak. However, I went to a normal neighbourhood school, where schoolmates left me alone, ignored me like I did not exist. I didn’t mind, I preferred to have my own time anyway. I would sit patiently by the river in the school garden, my hands on my lap. My observant eyes and patience caught movements commonly unnoticed. I saw the sparrows collecting twigs and leaves for their nests, leaves falling from trees, squirrels storing nuts for the winter and ants working hard to build homes, bit by bit, one step at the time.

Sensing how long I had stayed on the mountain, I looked at my watch, broken from my chain of thoughts. It was getting late and I had to head home for breakfast. Reluctantly, I stood up, enjoying the magnificent scenery for a while longer before carefully making my way down.

I cautiously stepped on the rocks, slippery on the surface by the melted snow in the morning warmth. Spring was approaching. After walking downwards a few steps, I paused and squatted down by the stream near me and took a drink of water. The cool, clear water felt good as it ran down my throat. After the few mouthfuls of fresh water, I continued my progress down the rocky mountain. As I reached the valley, I could see my house ahead. It was a broken down building with an untended garden filled with weeds, and a hole in the roof where rain could sleep in.

I took of my shoes and held them in my hands, walking barefooted in the soft grass. The grass pricked my feet, but yet it was soft, fuzzy and comforting.

As I walked on, I thought I heard a rustle in the grass. I paused for a moment. There was no sound for a while, then the rustling resumed. Silently, I edged closer to the sound. Before I could edge any closer, I heard a shrill squeal and an Andean mountain cat came into view, dashing across the grass. It clutched a small bundle in its jaws, running with a slight limp in my direction. Upon closer inspection, I realised that it was bleeding on its hind leg. It was chased by a wolf with shaggy grey fur, almost close enough to deliver another bite. I looked around frantically for something to throw at the wolf, but couldn’t find anything. The wolf was gaining on the cat really fast.

Then I had an idea. I reached into my backpack and drew out my purse. It contained tools I would need for survival if I ever needed them when I went out for an adventure in the wild. The purse was hard, but not too hard to hurt the wolf. Clutching it in my hands, I waited for a moment for a good aim and flung the purse at the wolf with all the strength I could muster.

The purse hit the wolf’s skull, dropping onto the ground. The wolf whimpered and paused for a while, giving the mountain cat the time to run off. Realizing who had thrown the object, it spun around and advanced towards me. Slowly, I backed off and ran home as fast as my legs could carry me, slamming the front door behind me when I reached the broken-down building. It was then it dawned upon me that I had forgotten to retrieve my purse back.

From the sofa, Dad glared at me. “You’re late,” he snapped. “Breakfast is on the table, turning cold.” I trooped into the kitchen, retrieving the packet from the kitchen table before walking out of the back door. I wondered if I could find my purse-and the cat.

When I reached the field, the same spot where I last saw the cat, I sat down and munched on the sandwich. After a long while, I saw the grass part and the same mountain cat streaked past me. Curious, I followed the cat to see where it was going. I tailed the cat until it reached an overhanging rock. Inside lay an adorable baby Andean mountain cat. I looked at the older cat with big, grey eyes and mewed ever so softly. The cat picked up the kitten tenderly and dashed off. I followed the mountain cat. It didn’t seem to mind.

The cat disappeared into a bush in the field. I peeked in and saw a litter of five kittens, all huddled together and mewing. I was surprised to realise that beside the litter lay my purse!

The mountain cat picked up the purse tenderly in its jaws and handed it to me. Here, this belongs to you, thanks for saving my life. I stared at the cat, baffled. It seemed like it was talking to me, like I could hear its voice in my head. Indeed, I am talking to you. I attempted talking back to the cat. Thanks? I tried uncertainly. You’re welcome, the cat's reply sounded like a purr. Happy with my new discovery, I sat beside the family of six as I continued eating the sandwich, sharing some meat with the mountain cat and its litter.

When I noticed that the mountain cat was still limping, I helped it with its leg and found out that the cut on its leg was not serious. It would mend on its own. The cat purred and thanked me again. Touched I smiled.

When I finished my breakfast, half of it given to the cats, I played with the kittens in the bush which was quite large. One of the kittens was acting oddly. It didn’t seem to be looking directly at me. Its eyes were distant and empty. Then I realised that it was blind, just like I was mute. It became my favourite.

'Cat in an Empty Room' by Emma Huang

I didn’t know it was that late until I looked at my watch. Quickly, I said goodbye and slipped out of the bush, dashing home. Once again, my father reprimanded me for being late. Why did he care anyway? I thought he hated me. He had only wanted a son after all, and the fact that I was mute only made him hate me even more. He made sure he made that obvious, talking about it often loudly in front of me. Things were no different for Mum.

I walked up the stairs and entered my bedroom, sitting beside the window, scribbling in my diary. It started to rain and thunder, and I was worried for the cats and their pathetic home under the bush. They might get soaked.

I looked at the fields, pressing my face onto the closed window. The surface felt cold on my face. Outside, I could hear my parents arguing. Again. I cringed as I heard a smash. There went Mom’s vase. An incredibly loud rip. And Dad’s favourite sweater. Mom must have retaliated.

I could not escape the shouts and the noises. There was no way I could go out in the rain. As I continued to stare out at the empty fields, a sudden movement in the trees startled me. A grey figure leaped onto the windowsill, and I was surprised to realise that it was the mountain cat! It mewed and batted at the window, crying to be let in. I unlatched the window and the cat leaped in, dripping wet. It had one of its kittens in its jaws. It put the kitten on my bed before calling, help me, my kittens are getting wet in the rain. It then dove out into the rain again, climbing nimbly down the tree. I grabbed my raincoat and a towel, swept up the first kitten in my arms and followed the mountain cat.

The two of us gathered the kittens together, one by one. The mountain cat handed its kittens to me and I dried then with the towel. After which, the seven of us dashed home, swinging up the tree and climbing into my room.

Relieved, I flopped onto my bed, heaving a sigh. The kittens under my raincoat tumbled out, mewing, and begun exploring the room. I took out the towel and dried the mountain cat, before drying myself. If Dad sees you guys, he would skin you alive, I warned. Better lie low.

That night, I slept with the cats, who cuddled up by my side. When I woke up in the morning they were gone.

When I changed out of my pajamas, preparing to leave the house, my Dad called me over. By the look on his face, what he was about to say didn't seem good.

“We are filing for divorce,” he begun. I was not surprised. I always knew this would happen. But what he said next did shock me. “Neither of us want to keep you,” he told me. His face showed no trace of emotion.

My whole world crashed onto me.

Having parents who didn't show they appreciated you was one thing, but having parents who didn't even love you was a totally different thing.

I clenched my jaws in fury. Then what was I even going to live in? In the sewers? By the streets?

As if reading my mind, Dad continued, “we will send you to an orphanage.” An orphanage? No way was I going to stay in an orphanage. Mom, who was no better, seemed to show a slight hint of sympathy. “Go pack your stuff, Xexilya.”

Silently, I walked up the stairs. I took out my big, bright red backpack and stuffed all my personal belongings in it. Just five sets of clothes, four thick blankets, a square cushion, a bottle filled with water to the brim, a diary, an encyclopedia of all sorts of animals thinkable, two pens, too pencils, a correction tape, two erasers, a rubber band and a photo of my family. I hesitated as I held the photo in my hands. I was about to put it in the backpack, but on second thought, I ripped it to shreds and threw it out of the window, making sure that the pieces were not too small so they were fairly visible. I watched as it drifted like confetti and landed all over the garden.

I took my backpack, which was almost full, and walked out of my room. I stepped into the garden, where I could see the bits of paper from the photograph scattered around. I jumped into Dad's car, shutting the door behind me with a bang. Dad sat in the driver’s seat and drove off wordlessly. I noticed that Mom didn't even say goodbye. As I looked into the rearview mirror, I saw Mom picking up one of the pieces of paper from the floor and looking at it. She disappeared from view as we turned around the corner.

As I remembered how badly my parents had treated me throughout this past twelve years, my heart turned bitter and cold. My eye shone with defiance and I clenched my fists. I felt like screaming. The words I felt like saying rang in my mind. I hate you, I hate you all. You never loved me, all you wanted was a son to carry on the family name. You know what, I want to leave and never come back!

I opened my mouth, wanting to ask my father to pull over. Instead, it came out as a raspy grunt. “What?” dad spoke for the first time in the car. I took a deep breath. “I… I said…p-pull… ov-over.”

Dad looked at me and gasped. I was shocked myself too. I was surprised at how smooth my words sounded. Well, kind of. For the first time in my life, I had spoken. “Pull over,” my voice sounded confident. It sounded good. Dad continued staring, his mouth hanging open. I glared at him. “Stop the car, pull over!” I screamed.

Suddenly, there was a screech. The car behind horned. Quickly, Dad slammed on the breaks and the car stopped with a jerk. Snatching the opportunity, I flung open the car door and dashed out, without looking back. I ran all the way back to the forest. My red backpack jerked on my back. I prayed that my parents didn't care about me enough to call the police, or I might get tracked down.

I dashed back to the bush where the mountain cats were staying. I had made up my mind. I found them in their usual spot, tearing at the flesh of prey. They looked up as I burst in. I tried speaking to the cat aloud, but this time, no sound came out. So I asked in my mind, may I stay with you?

The cat stared deep into my eyes. I could feel my heart thumping in my chest as I held my breath, waiting for an answer. Would the cat accept my request, or deny it?

Free Tiffanie Goh
Tiffanie Goh, 11

Cat in an Empty Room Emma Huang
Emma Huang, 10
Hunts Point, WA