I think this is better told than read, but hear goes. It is rather long so I mushed it together to save space.
Death, having had a long and industrious career, decided it was time to pass the Mantle to his Apprentice. He called the youth to his side and advised her of the plan. “My young Apprentice. It is time for me to retire and join my predecessors. A new age of man has begun and I am afraid that I no longer have your energy. I grow weary and tire of the chase. You have learned your lessons well and I believe that it is time for you to begin the next step of your journey. However, before you may don the Mantle of Death, there is one final task you must complete.” The Apprentice was overjoyed to hear of her good fortune. She had studied hard and completed all of her lessons. She had learned all of the physical and spiritual components required for maneuvering between the worlds of spirit and man. She felt ready for any challenge and in response, without hesitation, without question, she nodded and said, “I will gladly accept this final challenge. I will make you proud of your choice of successor, O Death!” Death tilted his head back ever so slightly, raised one eyebrow and slowly replied “You have not yet heard the details of the task to be undertaken. Aren’t you curious, or are you so eager to take my place that you step forward without adequate preparation?” The Apprentice, shocked at her Mentor’s words, stated most emphatically, “Oh no, Death! I do understand the seriousness of the task at hand. But there is no need for me to know more than what has already been stated. I trust your decision and feel that my training has prepared me for any task you may assign. Whatever it is, I will meet it with great humility and honor.” Death looked at her with a twinkle in his eye and a smile at the corner of his pursed lips. “Humility and honor, you say? Well, a great honor it is, my young Apprentice. And in humility, I ask you to bring me the soul of The Cat.” The Apprentice’s eager smile turned to a puzzling frown. With furrowed brow she said quietly, “I don’t understand. I have spent the last few eons in your service reaping the souls of many of the animal kingdom. I have escorted the bear, the stag, the hawk, and the salmon to the appropriate realms. What then is the difficulty of retrieving the soul of a tiny, little cat?” “No task is to small for the Office, my young friend. All souls are great and worthy of reverence. Though small in stature, The Cat can be more elusive than you think and may be your greatest challenge yet. The Apprentice replied, “No disrespect, but I do not challenge the greatness of the soul of this animal. Certainly all souls are great. But some are more difficult than others and do not surrender to peace so easily. If I could handle the dragon, I think that I can handle the soul of a cat.” Death replied with a chuckle. “We shall see.” And he sent his pupil to the world of man to complete this final task and the last sound she heard was the laughter of her Mentor.
The Apprentice entered the world in a city alleyway and began the search for this “elusive” animal. She did not have far to look for there before her was a young cat, barely more than a kitten. The Cat’s black and white fur was matted with dried blood and patches of skin showed through the tattered coat. The Cat appeared to have been on the losing end of a scuffle. Yet there she sat in an attempt to clean the dirt and grime from her coat. Upon seeing the Apprentice, The Cat paused, looked up with her almond shaped golden eyes, blinked once, dismissed the Apprentice with a glance and returned to her preening. Taken aback, the Apprentice collected her thoughts and in her most gentle voice said, “Greetings, Cat. It looks like you have not fared so well in your last encounter. But fear not for I am the Apprentice of Death and will escort you to a world of peace and rest where you will no longer need to fight for your existence.” The Cat paused from her bath, leg in mid air and replied, “I see.” And she continued cleaning the blood and dust from her matted fur. Puzzled, the Apprentice then asked, “ Did you not understand what I have said? Are you not now eager to be done with the cares of this world? Again The Cat paused, mouth ever so slightly open, tongue in mid lick. “I understand what you said, Apprentice of Death. But Certainly the Next Life can wait until I have completed my bath. I would not want to begin the next part of my journey unclean, now would I? That would be disrespectful and undignified.” And she returned to the task at hand. This was the first time the Apprentice had met with such a response. But she supposed that The Cat had her reasons for the request. She decided that she could patiently wait until The Cat was finished if it would make the journey easier. So she sat down and waited, watching in fascination at the graceful actions of The Cat as she bathed before her. The Cat stopped again, tail out in front, ready for cleaning, and said, “Um…do you mind giving a lady a little privacy? I am to the point of some “delicate” cleaning and would prefer not to have an audience.” The Apprentice thought this was a reasonable request. After all, did not she herself prefer to perform some acts in private? Certainly she could give The Cat privacy. “I understand”, she said to The Cat and turned around to face the opposite alley wall to provide the requested privacy. After a time, the Apprentice asked, “Are you done yet?” and waited for the reply. Silence was the answer. “Cat? Have you finished your bath?” Again, silence. The Apprentice turned and there in the spot where The Cat had been resting was emptiness: no cat, no fur, nothing but an empty alleyway. The Cat had vanished without a trace. The Apprentice of Death felt a feeling in the pit of her stomach she had never felt before, and now realized that there might be some truth in the word of her Mentor. With a sigh, she picked herself up and began her search for The Cat anew.
It was a year before The Apprentice of Death and The Cat met again. This time the Apprentice met The Cat in an open meadow with a fat field mouse in her paws. “There you are, Cat,” the Apprentice said, agitated that it had taken so long to find the animal. “I have been searching the world for you. You escaped me once, but will not do so again. I ask you to come with me NOW.” The Cat flicked her tail in impatience. “Can’t you see I have just caught this mouse and am about to sit down to my noon-day meal? Certainly this can wait until I have finished my lunch.” “Oh no you don’t!” the Apprentice replied firmly. “You fooled me once with your request for delay. I am not fooled so easily a second time.” Looking into the eyes of The Cat, the Apprentice now pleaded, “Come now, Cat. It is your time.” The Cat sighed, released the mouse and said, “Very well. But first there are some goodbyes that need to be made.” The Apprentice raised her eyebrows in suspicion. “If you must,” she stated, “but I will accompany you. And no tricks this time!” The Cat nodded her head and they walked in silence through the meadow. The Apprentice, mesmerized by the beautiful scenery of gently swaying grass, almost tripped over a hollowed log that was hidden at her feet. As she looked into the log she saw three mewing balls of fur, barely old enough to open their eyes. The Cat crawled into the log to join them, purred to their mews, and drew them to her for what would be their final meal. The sinking feeling appeared for a second time in the bottom of the Apprentice’s stomach. If she took The Cat with her now, the young ones would not survive. She looked at the tiny kittens, content at their mother’s teats. For the first time, tears welled in the Apprentice’s eyes prompting her to say, “Cat, in good conscience I cannot take you with me and condemn these young ones to an untimely exit from this life. You have been given another life. We will meet again in a year.” And she left with that vow to return in a year’s time.
For six more years, The Cat and Apprentice played this game. Each year, there were goodbyes that needed to be said and the Apprentice was not able to complete her task. In the first year The Cat needed to say goodbye to her adopted litter of abandoned pups. The second year she could not leave the side of a terminally ill girl. In the third year, it was too difficult to leave her post as a mascot in a home for mentally challenged youths. In years four, five and six, she found it impossible to leave the homes of a blind man, a physically abused boy and an elderly woman who had recently lost her husband, without saying goodbye. Each year The Cat told the Apprentice that she would go with her after she said her goodbyes. And each year the Apprentice’s heart welled with compassion and she granted another life to The Cat as she could not bear to remove her from the world of man where The Cat was providing such care and comfort.
Eight years had passed since Death had sent his Apprentice to the world of man to bring back the soul of The Cat. And in the ninth year, the Apprentice of Death and The Cat met yet again. Only this time, The Apprentice knew in her heart that she would be retrieving two souls that night. She had learned much more in the past eight years in the world of man than in the eons spent at her apprenticeship. Now she understood the words of her Mentor the day she first entered the world of man. She was ready to complete this journey and as clock chimed midnight, the Apprentice of Death moved silently through the alleyway where she had first met The Cat. On the floor of the alleyway, tucked behind the large green dumpster lay two figures silhouetted by the dim street lights. The Cat raised her head, her eyes showing the weariness of a life well spent. Beside her was an old man, ancient and worn, the tired visage of Death on his face. He turned toward the figure before him and closed his eyes, surrendering to the night. The Cat said, “He is tired of the chase, as am I. We are ready now.” And she and the man surrendered themselves to The Apprentice Now Death who lifted them gently into her arms and returned them to the World of Spirit to begin anew.