By Jim Willis 2001

                               The sign on the mailbox post was hand-lettered
                               on cardboard and read "FREE KITTUNS." It
                               appeared there two or three times a year,
                               sometimes spelled this way, sometimes that, but
                               the message was always the same.
                               In a corner of the farmhouse back porch was a
                               cardboard box with a dirty towel inside, on which
                               huddled a bouquet of kittens of different colors,
                               mewing and blinking and waiting for their mama to
                               return from hunting in the fields. The mother cat
                               managed to show them enough interest for the
                               first several weeks, but after having two or three
                               litters per year, she was worn out and her milk
                               barely lasted long enough for her babies to
                               One by one, people showed up over the next
                               several days and each took a kitten. Before they
                               left the woman who lived there always said the
                               same thing, "You make sure you give that one a
                               good home - I've become very attached to that
                               One by one the kittens and their new people drove
                               down the long driveway and past the sign on the
                               mailbox post, "FREE KITTUNS."

                               The ginger girl kitten was the first to be picked.
                               Her four-year-old owner loved her very much,
                               but the little girl accidentally injured the kitten's
                               shoulder by picking her up the wrong way. She
                               couldn't be blamed really - no adult had shown
                               her the proper way to handle a kitten. She had
                               named the kitten "Ginger" and was very sad a few
                               later when her older brother and his friends were
                               playing in the living room and someone sat on the

                               The solid white boy kitten with blue eyes was the
                               next to leave with a couple who announced even
                               before they went down the porch steps that his
                               name would be "Snowy." Unfortunately, he never
                               learned his name and everyone had paid so little
                               attention to him that nobody realized he was
                               deaf. On his first excursion outside he was run
                               over in the driveway by a mail truck.

                               The pretty gray and white girl kitten went to live
                               on a nearby farm as a "mouser." Her people called
                               her "the cat," and like her mother and grandmother
                               before her she had many, many "free kittuns," but
                               they sapped her energy. She became ill and died
                               before her current litter of kittens was weaned.

                               Another brother was a beautiful red tabby. His
                               owner loved him so much that she took him around
                               to meet everyone in the family and her friends,
                               and their cats, and everyone agreed that "Erik"
                               was a handsome boy. Except his owner didn't
                               bother to have him vaccinated. It took all the
                               money in her bank account to pay a veterinarian
                               to treat him when he became sick, but the doctor
                               just shook his head one day and said "I'm sorry."

                               The solid black boy kitten grew up to be a fine
                               example of a tomcat. The man who adopted him
                               moved shortly thereafter and left "Tommy" where
                               he was, roaming the neighborhood, defending his
                               territory, and fathering many kittens until a bully
                               of a dog cornered him.

                               The black and white girl kitten got a wonderful
                               home. She was named "Pyewacket." She got the
                               best of food, the best of care until she was nearly
                               five years old. Then her owner met a man who
                               didn't like cats, but she married him anyway.
                               Pyewacket was taken to an animal shelter where
                               there were already a hundred cats. Then one day,
                               there were none.

                               A pretty woman driving a van took the last two
                               kittens, a gray boy and a brown tiger-striped girl.
                               She promised they would always stay together.
                               She sold them for fifteen dollars each to a
                               laboratory. To this day, they are still a
                               jar of alcohol.

                               For whatever reason - because Heaven is in a
                               different time zone, or because not even cat souls
                               can be trusted to travel in a straight line without
                               meandering - all the young-again kittens arrived
                               at Heaven's gate simultaneously. They batted and
                               licked each other in glee,
                               romped for awhile, and then solemnly marched
                               through the gate, right past a sign lettered in gold:
                               "YOU ARE FINALLY FREE, KITTENS."

                               The End

                               A note from the author:

                               Please feel free to print out this story or request it as a Word document
                               ( Whenever you see "free kittens" advertised, place a copy
                               in the mailbox or where it can be read, along with a polite note asking the "culprit" to
                               spay/neuter their pets and to contact their local humane society for information on
                               low-cost spay/neuter programs and advice on how to properly place kittens in
                               responsible homes.

                               Tell the public that the decision to add a pet to the family is an important one for life,
                               that animals deserve our love and sensible care, that finding another appropriate
                               home for your animal is your responsibility and any local humane society or animal
                               welfare league can offer you good advice, and that all life is precious. Please do your
                               part to stop the killing, and encourage all spay & neuter campaigns in order to
                               prevent unwanted animals.

                               "Free Kittuns" is one of the stories included in an upcoming book
                               of collected writings by Jim Willis; publication is scheduled for
                               February 2002. See the author's website for details: