Eleven candles flickered under Kayla’s steady gaze. Beneath the candles, chocolate frosting was lathered in a thick putty. Sweet heat tickled her face and nostrils, and her mouth watered. But eating could wait. She had to get this wish right first. Kayla’s eyes closed and her brow crinkled in concentration. Seconds passed until she opened them again, and they shone with the reflection of the flickering candles. Kayla sucked in a deep breath, her shoulders lifting as if in a shrug, then she leant forward and blew them out in one big oof.
Kayla adored animals and being an only child, her parents gave her pets to compensate for the lack of a sibling. But not for this birthday despite her requests.
‘Never again,’ said Mum.
‘They are just bad luck,’ said Dad.
But Kayla wondered whether she was really the bad luck. Kayla’s first pet was a placid black cat with big yellow eyes called Jasper. With a face as flat as a dinner plate, Jasper slept on Kayla’s pillow at night. Like a furry round cushion, she curled in such a way that you couldn’t tell where she ended. On sunny days, Jasper sunbathed in the front garden and then lazily wended her way home. On one occasion Jasper, caught in this sun-induced fugue, failed to notice two pit bulls across the street. The dogs had broken out of their yard and drunk on freedom, they gave chase to anything that moved. As Jasper meandered home, their eyes fixated on her and without hesitation, they sprang after her like greyhounds after a lure. Jasper was nearing the doorstep, oblivious of the dogs closing in on her. The front door was open and a light breeze explored the house in wafts. Through the screen door Kayla, also unaware of the looming danger, saw Jasper approach. Kayla reached for the door handle to let Jasper in, but her hand closed on air as she was jerked away by her father. A frenzy of thick muscled legs and wisps of black fur whipped and roiled on the other side of the door as if in a blender. Kayla froze, unable to comprehend the scene, her father’s arms now around her.
‘Don’t open the door, it’s not safe,’ he said, his voice loud in her ear.
‘But Jasper,’ said Kayla as she reached again for the handle. But her father’s arms were chained around her and he did not answer, instead closing the heavy wooden internal door and shutting out the scene.
Kayla’s next pet was Chester, a brindle Staffy jester. Strong, stocky, and exuberant. Chester launched at Kayla like a torpedo, knocking her to the backyard grass. They wrestled and Chester painted sticky wet licks on Kayla’s cheeks and ears, and Kayla rolled with laughter. Tug of war with a thick rope was his favourite game, and he won at any cost.
Kayla noticed Chester’s face had become unnatural. A wound had appeared on his nose. Pus puddled in a green-rimmed divot. His nose was bloated and his breath raspy. Kayla’s parents took Chester to the vet. Kayla’s parents returned. Chester did not.
Not long after, the family brought home from the pound a kelpie called Kiki. Kiki followed Kayla everywhere and sat calmly by her side, whatever the activity. Kiki’s kind brown eyes followed Kayla with adoration. During a cold winter, Kiki began to struggle to get out of bed in the mornings. She rose with Kayla’s help but her back legs had become unhinged and she pulled them behind her like a rickshaw. Kiki was taken to the vet and Kayla insisted on going along this time. In the vet’s white room with disinfectant stinging her nostrils, Kayla fed Kiki treats as she was injected.
‘It is the humane thing to do,’ said Dad.
‘She had a good life,’ said Mum.
‘It is like going to sleep,’ said the vet.
Kiki’s head dropped to the ground like a stone and a puddle emerged around her hind legs. In the backseat of the car on the way home, Kayla sobbed as she stared out the window.
Next was Kamikaze, a stripy tomcat, ferocious and mean. Kamikaze was loyal only to Kayla. He hissed like a vampire at anyone that came near and fought with other cats in the streets at night. Kamikaze was Kayla’s guardian.
Kamikaze was obsessed with Snowflake, a white Persian that lived next door. He paced the neighbours’ yard and peered through the bay window to get a glimpse, and whenever Snowflake placed a pampered paw outside, she was accosted by Kamikaze as if he was her long-lost lover. The neighbours could not abide Kamikaze harassing their precious princess and so Kamikaze, true to his name, went missing under suspicious circumstances. Kayla made posters and searched for him. He was not seen again.
In their wisdom, Kayla’s parents then gave her three hermit crabs, thinking they may have more luck with crustaceans. The crabs lived in an old fish tank that sat on a bench in the living room, far from the sea. The crabs wandered around the tank with big bug eyes and pulled their cumbersome shell homes behind them.
The crabs died one by one for no discernible reason. Kayla’s parents, lacking the courage to tell her of yet another fatality, hoped she may not notice. Until the day came that Kayla burst through the front door after school, full of excitement about “show and tell”.
‘I’m taking the crabs to school to show everyone,’ she yelled excitedly.
Her parents exchanged a look.
‘Sorry darling, they have all died,’ said Mum.
Next came the bearded dragon Kayla found in the garden and kept in the old fish tank that was no longer in use by the crabs. She filled it with branches and rocks for the lizard to climb on and fed it live crickets that she bought from the pet store with her pocket money. It made her laugh to see the lizard sitting so still as if posing for a photo, and then suddenly take chase after its prey so swiftly it was startling. Its jaws worked hard to break up its meal, like a cow chewing cud. Then its belly rounded, and it sat flat and calm when Kayla held it, as though clinging from a height.
‘It needs vitamin D,’ Kayla’s Mum would say and place the tank in the sun for the day. One Saturday she put it in the sun and the family went out. The sun shone hot that day and the family were out longer than anticipated. When they returned, Kayla let loose an inhuman screech and hid in the dark space behind the couch for the rest of the day. The little lizard body was stiff and its tail curved in a hardened crescent.
The lizard was buried in the garden with a ceremony. Kayla and her parents spoke with fondness of the things they loved about the lizard. A large smooth river stone marked the grave with the lizard’s name scrawled in Kayla’s childish handwriting.
To cheer Kayla’s heartbreak from the loss of Beardie, her parents bought her a new dog. Being brown and white like her favourite biscuit, she named him Oreo. Oreo was a destructive pup and chewed on anything in his path. Shoes, pots, socks, lamps, chairs, electrical cords. But destruction was not enough and a more apt name for him would have been Houdini. Oreo taught himself to scale the rock wall in the garden and to jump a 2-metre-high fence. He visited nearby dogs and Kayla’s parents regularly received calls that Oreo had escaped the yard yet again. It was as if Oreo knew he was cursed and was trying to avoid his fate. He was even picked up by animal catchers and taken to the pound. But the worst was when Oreo broke into the neighbours’ chicken pen. He pulled the chickens apart like down pillows and the ground was littered in a snowfall of feathers. After that, Oreo was kept on a chain. He lay on the ground with downcast eyes and when he did move, he was followed by the sound of the chain dragging behind him. Kayla’s parents soon decided to give him to a family that had the space for him to run free.
The loss of Oreo was another blow to Kayla, who was now ten and becoming aware of the bad luck that seemed to curse her pets. Kayla had heard about the black cat superstition and wondered if her pets were cursed by Jasper, her first pet, her black cat. One day after school Kayla looked it up on her Mum’s laptop. Wikipedia said that the black cat is a symbol of bad luck and if a black cat walks in front of you, it is an omen of misfortune and death! Kayla asked herself, was this Jasper’s revenge for Kayla not opening the door to save her from the dogs?
‘Ra ra roooo,’ replied Kayla, lifting her head skyward in a howl when her mother told her it was bedtime. Then she charged into her bedroom on her hands and knees. Since she could not have a pet, Kayla had taken to pretending to be one instead. Her parents were sympathetic and played along with her pet persona with pats on the head and bowls of water on the ground to drink.
By her eleventh birthday, Kayla was rarely speaking and was only interested in blowing out the candles on her cake. As Kayla leaned in to blow out the candles, she made a birthday wish and kept it secret because it would not come true otherwise. Kayla wondered how long it would take for her wish to happen.
The next morning Kayla woke to see her Mum sitting on the end of the bed smiling with her arms stretched wide. On the bed, atop the yellow quilt, romped a mewling black kitten that Kayla’s mother was attempting to fence in with her arms. The kitten pranced awkwardly in its young body and jumped about, attacking its own tail. Kayla rubbed her eyes and sat up. They both laughed when the kitten finally managed to grasp its tail and then tumbled backwards in a fluffy ball.
‘It came true,’ whispered Kayla.
Kayla’s mother was so pleased to hear Kayla speak again that she said nothing.
Kellie Felfoldi is a first-year creative writing student with Southern Cross University and also has a degree in psychology. Kellie enjoys writing in all genres, especially speculative fiction.