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After her beloved owner dies, Mayhem invents a game to find a new, equally caring, friend

Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Naming of Cats”

It was a dark time for animals. Wise elephants were dying. Raptors and other birds had lost their homes. Polar bears were still swimming for their lives. Baby penguins, because they cannot swim, were drowning. Unmindful people were stepping on snails. Fearful owners were abandoning their pets who could spread new, lethal viruses. Pet cats and dogs were kidnapped and then returned for reward money.

In this dreadful time, a cat named Mayhem wanted to have some fun with humans. Besides, her owner had died, leaving her abandoned. She didn’t really want to become a feral cat. She longed to find a new, right owner. So, when she learned of a new way to use her secret name to serve this purpose, she was elated.

She found one of the portals for “cats only” in the nearby city park on a picnic table by the water fountain. The forever-green park was always relaxing. The old oaks, chestnuts, and elms were relaxing deep into their roots in the cool earth. The bookworms, leaning against their trunks, were relaxing. The mallard ducks in the pond were relaxing. The reeds, the wind, the fish, and even the water were relaxing. The blind walking with their guide dogs were relaxing. The gardeners were relaxing into their work, the grass was relaxing, the roses, poppies, peonies, water lilies—all were relaxing. Only the police were vigilant, and the weeds were stressed.

There, feeling calm and relaxed, Mayhem spoke her secret name at the portal, leaving behind an optical illusion of herself inside a glass full of water.

Mayhem first explored the feline world. She found it as dark as black pepper and very cozy—a perfect refuge for cats. All cats in the world could secretly go there to party with all of their friends and enjoy everything they could possibly want! From there, Mayhem could always return to her water-glass portal and, through a special lens, inspect people and play her game. Every day, when people would pause, curious about her image reflected in the water, Mayhem would speak to them:

Forgotten Moon

“If you want to save me, guess my second name, and if you guess correctly, you will receive a reward.”

In the feline world, one of Mayhem’s friends asked, “Why are you so interested in humans?”

Mayhem explained that she was trying to find an owner.

Her friend replied, “If you do find an owner, please visit us daily, or I will miss you.”

Mayhem nodded and smiled. “Of course. I will come back daily, and I will never forget you.”

Another cat came by and said to Mayhem, “Why do you want to find an owner? I think the cat world is great.”

“I want to find an owner because it is a love that nothing can beat. So whenever a person tries to guess my name, I need to be behind the scenes, ask questions, and study the person’s characteristics to learn if she or he merely wants a reward or truly wants to save my life.” She never told any of her cat friends that she had planned to accept the guessed name only if the person had shown true care for her.

Mayhem soon saw a person strolling through the park reading a newspaper. He smelled like sweat and rotten eggs. Yuck, thought Mayhem. How gross. I would prefer an owner smelling of catnip. Yet reflected sunlight through the glass of water, unfortunately, caught the man’s eye, so he stopped to stare at—oh, my gosh—the cat in the water glass! Unsuspecting a real cat listening nearby, he laughed out loud.

“So ridiculous! A cat in a water glass?”

Mayhem thought him mean, but because she wanted some fun, she

encouraged him: “Perhaps your guess will be just as ridiculous!”

Embarrassed by the hidden cat’s voice, he became serious. “Okay, I will try to guess your name.”

“Definitely not a person who could be my rightful owner,” Mayhem grumbled to herself.

“Is it Leggy?”

“No,” replied Mayhem.

“Is it Koko?”

“Sorry, Koko isn’t the right name.”

“I give up. Besides, I’m due at work in five minutes.”

As he walked away from the water glass, folding his newspaper, Mayhem felt relieved and patiently waited since the park would be full of people during the noon hour.

After a minute, a high school boy saw her. “Haha, a cat in a water glass! Someone must have painted it!”

To Mayhem it looked like he had painted himself. He wore a funky hat with dots and splashes of vibrant colors, a plain blue shirt and pants splashed with the same vibrant colors, and his shoes were jolly-looking, being unmatched. He himself was as white as blank paper, except for a painted monkey on his cheek. He also smelled like caramel candy. He’s a person who loves to laugh and to make others laugh too, Mayhem discerned and, rolling her eyes, said, “I’m real, not painted. Do you want to save me?”

The boy blithely replied, “Oh, a talking cat that doesn’t appear at all to be afflicted by water. You must be a joke.” And he walked away.

Yet reflected sunlight through the glass of water, unfortunately, caught the man’s eye, so he stopped to stare at—oh, my gosh— the cat in the water glass!

Back in the cat world, Mayhem took a nap. A dozen people had tried to guess her name, all of them wanting the reward. She returned to her post for the after-school kids.

A kid soon walked by, engaged in reading an All About Science book. He wore large, round-rimmed glasses and a navy blue-and-grey school uniform. He looked up to the cat in the water glass and politely said, “Hi, my name is Joe. What’s your name?”

Mayhem thought, How nice! “My name is Mayhem.”

Joe stared at Mayhem and observed, “Looks like you’re stuck in a water glass. My father told me that if I guess your name correctly, I can save you!”

Mayhem nodded in agreement. Quite unexpectedly, and to her dismay however, Joe suddenly turned to announce, “Oh, look down! There’s a big yellow snail! I want a closer look at its beautiful spiraling shell and to add it to my snail collection!”

As he kneeled down at the foot of the water fountain, Mayhem frowned and sighed. “He is way too curious and easily distracted to be my owner. I suspect he would ignore me most of the time.”

Soon, the kids lessened as the sun began to set and shadows lengthened. Just as Mayhem began to fall asleep from the day’s wearying task, running footsteps alerted her. A middle-aged woman zoomed by, a streak of grey hair, pale pink T-shirt, and cyan pants. Not at all curious or concerned about the cat in the water glass, she briskly waved at Mayhem and breathlessly spoke: “Sorry! Can’t guess now. I’m late! Late for a very important birthday!”

Mayhem reflected as the woman disappeared. I bet she’s always running late. Bet she hurries through her whole life. Why, if she needs to arrive at her work thirty minutes after she eats breakfast, she might unwittingly pour my food on the floor instead of in the bowl.

The next morning, Mayhem woke, yawning and stretching through her mad cat, keen to find her new owner. As full of hopes for the new day as Mayhem, the human world was also full of cars, but it was raining and the park was practically empty.

Finally a long- and grey-bearded person walked by in a police uniform. “Hello there, kitty! What’s your name?” he formally asked.

Mayhem formally replied, “I am Mayhem. Guess my second name, and you will liberate me from this prison.”

The policeman smiled, but his smile wasn’t normal: it hid a smirk, “Well, that would be a change. My job is to capture, arrest, and imprison, not liberate. Why should I liberate you?”

“I’m loyal to my friends, and I was loyal to my owner who died.”

“Okay, I’ll give it a go.” After thinking for several long minutes, he finally asked, “Is it Peter?”

Mayhem thought, Thinking this long just for a very common name? He is not using his heart to study my temperament. Temperament is key to finding suitable names!

She replied, “No, Peter is not my name, and you have to go to work now, don’t you?”

He nodded and spoke: “Good luck! I hope you find a better liberator than me.”

Next, a person wearing a deerstalker and a brown coat stopped. “Ah, you’re the cat I’ve been searching for! I’m Detective Dan. I solve cases, and I’ve been asked to solve the case of the cat in the water glass.”

When Detective Dan aggressively reached into her water glass to rescue her, Mayhem realized he himself was a case in need of rescuing.

“The way to rescue me is to guess my name.”

“Oh, the Rumpelstiltskin game?”

Mayhem responded: “Yes, before you do anything else, let’s play the Rumpelstiltskin game. You just need to guess my name.”

Detective Dan shook his head and continued to inspect the glass of water. He was just about to flip the glass over when Mayhem begged, “Please. You might get a reward!”

Detective Dan thought for a moment and said, “Fine, I will play the game with you, partly because I may receive a reward.”

Mayhem thought, Good. Now he is distracted from solving the water-glass puzzle. In fact, he was so easily distracted that he is probably a new detective. Yet, he may truly care for me. I need more evidence.

Only one person truly wanted to save Mayhem.

First Detective Dan guessed, “Is it Penny?”

Mayhem shook her head, not wanting to be associated with such a low value.

“You seem to be so graceful. Is it Bomballarina?” Detective Dan guessed again.

But again, Mayhem shook her head, unconvinced that he cared for her. Besides, she remembered that only when she had offered a prize had Dan started to guess her name. Detective Dan guessed many more names, yet Mayhem still found him more determined to win the game than caring. Finally Detective Dan gave up.

Only one person truly wanted to save Mayhem. That person was Maya. But after introductions had been made, Maya hesitated to guess Mayhem’s second name, looking very worried, so worried that Mayhem had never seen anyone this worried.

“Mayhem, I will be right back!” she urgently assured as she ran off.

As she ran off, Mayhem called out, “Thank you, Maya, for remembering my first name!”

Maya returned carrying a tray of food. Mayhem could smell the bowl of kibbles, the bowl of tuna, and another bowl of fresh, steaming milk. As she kneeled down to place the tray, she spoke in warm, friendly, considerate tones. “Here, little Mayhem. Help yourself. You must be terribly hungry. I’d give you a hug if I could,” reminding Mayhem of the sweet mornings with her former owner, Miss Dorothy.

Who had abandoned Mayhem? Or could Mayhem be feral? Maya wondered. Still worried, her eyes widened, and she asked, “Are you still okay?”

Mayhem softly replied, “Thanks for asking. Though I appear to be drowning, I am actually in the world of cats. But if you guess my second name to save me, I can return to your world and enjoy this wonderful feast. And, if you guess correctly, you will receive a reward. Here’s the clue: my second name is a family name.”

Maya nodded and thought to herself.

While Maya thought of names, Mayhem wrote in her notebook: Maya wants to save me. Then she added a star. Why? Mayhem continued to write: My faithful whiskers tell me that this genuinely kind person would make not only a great owner, but also a fine friend. Then she spoke to Maya:

“I will give you three guesses, since you have been so kind and concerned about me.”

Maya guessed, “Is your family name Miracle?”

Mayhem nodded with a big smile. “Yes, Miracle is my second name! And you are my miracle, one of the family, for having saved me! Your reward is that I long to be your pet! Our reward could be that we will be good friends.”

Maya replied cheerfully, “I had only wanted to save you. Now, I would love to be your owner!”

Back in the cat world, Mayhem jumped through the portal and landed next to Maya, and they walked to their home together.

Ellie Wang
Ellie Wang, 9
Sammamish, WA

Anna Koontz
Anna Koontz, 13
New York, NY