The sun slanted through the trees, lighting the forest with a warm glow. The day was surprisingly warm, being the middle of autumn.
I climbed a sun-warmed boulder and stopped to catch my breath, letting my gaze drift through the part of the small forest I knew so well. Every day I would come here and listen to the river chatter, listen to the wind rustling the leaves of the mighty oaks and huge sycamores above my head. Since I had no friends, I spent all of my time after school here, in the forest not far from my house. I didn’t feel so very lonely here in the forest.
I sat down on top of the boulder and closed my eyes. The sounds of the forest blended together in a beautiful song; wind whispering, river splashing, birds twittering, squirrels chattering.
I frowned as suddenly a new, unfamiliar sound drifted on the breeze; a shrill mewling sound. I stood up and gazed wildly about. What is that? I wondered. It sounded like a small animal in pain.
At first, I saw nothing unusual in the clearing around the boulder. Then something caught my eye—something in the river. A black shape was being carried downstream by the river currents. As I watched, a strong current pulled the thrashing black shape underwater.
I scrambled down the boulder and raced to the bank of the river, a bit downstream of where the black shape was floundering against the river. I gasped. The shape was a kitten! It broke the surface of the water, its jaws gaping as it let out a shriek of terror.
I spun around and spotted a hollow log nearby. Attached to its mossy trunk was an old, rotted stick that once was a strong branch. I raced over to the old log and snapped the branch off. Hurry, hurry! I told myself.
Back at the river, I crouched down and stuck the stick out as far as I could reach, right in the path of the kitten. “Grab on!” I told it, though I knew it couldn’t understand me. The kitten looked at me, and I wondered if it knew what to make of me—a thirteen-year-old girl holding a rotting stick out to it.
The current tossed the black kitten against the stick. The kitten scrabbled feverishly at the rotting wood, its tiny claws gripping the bark. It could hold on for a while, but probably not very long. I had to act quickly, before the current could pull the kitten away again.
I pulled the stick back, not too fast in case it jerked the kitten off. Once the stick was close enough to me, I stretched out my left hand and plucked the kitten off the branch. He clutched my hand and meowed with an almost relieved tone to his voice.
My heart pounding, I drew the kitten close to me and dried his soaking pelt off with my jacket. He shook his head fiercely, scattering drops of water. He began to purr as I dried the fur behind his ears.
“I think I’ll call you Splash,” I said, smiling. The kitten looked up into my eyes—and I knew. I’d found a friend.