First published by Cold Creek Review.
Sara was undoubtedly a witch. I don’t even think she knew she was a witch, but I knew. We met in biology lab my sophomore year of college. Both of us were the perpetually early type, both of us were constantly nose deep in a book, and both of us were draped in too many layers for fall in Texas. Naturally, we were fast friends.
When we finally started talking, Sara told me she was an English major. She was just taking biology for fun. The words, “People do that?” instinctively slipped out of my mouth before I could even think to say them.
“Take classes for fun?”
“Isn’t college supposed to be for learning?”
Our lab teacher was a three hundred pound red head who spat when she spoke. She explained that our first assignment would be to dissect a worm, then a frog, a rat, a shark, and a cat. Then she brought out the worms.
It was the slimy texture that did it for me, and I knew from that moment I would not be able to cut open a single creature during the class. “That’s ok, I’ll do it. How about you just record it on your phone so we can study the video later?”
Dumbfounded, I nodded. You would have thought the lab teacher asked us to feed the worms to children by the way I reacted. Sara just pushed the sleeves of her cable knit sweater up to her elbows like she was about use her hands to knead bread. Instead, she used them to slit open the worm and reveal its tiny parts. For the next hour we poured over the creature trying to guess the names of the pieces that had formerly kept it alive. Finally, our lab teacher came around and pointed at all of the appropriate parts with a pin. When she dismissed the class I found myself asking, “What happens to the worms now that we are done?”
“They get thrown out,” she said as she started clearing up the lab tables in the front of the room.
Believe me, I’m not an advocate for worms. Everything about the creatures disgust me, but I was devastated by the news. I packed up my things in the haze of my own distressing thoughts. Sara chased me down the hallway and opened the palm of her hand. There were spots of gold inside her green eyes that glimmered like flecks of hope. She had stolen our worm.
We decided to bury him in the yard in front of my dorm. The gothic kids who were outside smoking wandered over to see what we were doing and accidentally found themselves attending a funeral for a mutilated worm. Sara made everyone hold hands in a circle around the grave. Over and over again she whispered, “Best wishes as you make this transition into new life.” Soon, the entire group was muttering the phrase.
Eventually the circle broke. Sara left me with a hug, a knowing smile, and said, “I’ll see you next week in class.”
The next morning I saw a worm inching its way across the sidewalk on my way to class. I wondered if maybe this worm had been related to our biology worm. Maybe it had ventured all the way from south of campus to crawl across this sidewalk just as a way of thanking Sara and me for giving its fellow worm the kind of funeral a worm would deserve. I decided right then we would bury all of our class projects.
The next week proceeded much in the same fashion, but this time Sara dissected a frog. When she slit open her stomach, we found it was filled with tiny black eggs. Sara and I both cried until we got her in the ground and long after. We buried her by the river that ran through our school, and our salty tears covered the grave.
We had our first argument over where to bury the rat. I thought he should be buried by the worm in front of my dorm, but Sara insisted he needed to be laid to rest with the trash. I finally won the argument by pointing out that burying him in the trash would be no different than letting him be thrown out with the rest of the dissected rats. Sara finally agreed to let him be buried in front of my dorm, but she pulled an old banana peel out of a trash can and laid it on top of the grave like a headstone. The gothic kids thought we had gone too far with that one.
The shark was a real adventure. At that point we were fully dedicated to giving each creature a resting place that felt like home. If we were sane, we could have just buried the shark near the river like the frog. However, we were obviously not sane since we were on a mission to bury our biology projects. We stole a cooler from a frat boy and put the shark on ice. In the dead of the night we drove to the beach. As the sun rose along the horizon, we watched as the shark disappeared into the dark salt water.
Of all the burials, we knew the last would be the hardest. The class was set to dissect the cat in our last class. It would be stored for a week until our final exam, and then we would have to name all of its parts one last time. I was in agony over leaving the cat in a freezer for a week, but it didn’t seem to bother Sara at all.
On the dreaded day, I showed up for class early as always. I didn’t start to worry until time seemed to slip right past me, and a cat appeared in front of me. It would have been a cute little thing if it wasn’t wet with formaldehyde and frozen in fear. I was surprised no one had taken in the silver cat with three white paws. It would have made such a cute house kitten. Sara never showed up, and after all of this time avoiding the dissections I would have to begin with the most compatible of creatures.
The scissors cut through the skin like paper. I found myself pulling back the muscles of the cat’s chest with animal like precision. Sticking the pins through the flaps and onto the board bothered me the least of all of my tasks. For a moment I wondered if I had been a fool to let Sara be in charge of the dissections the whole semester, but the moment passed. I was done and stood looking at the blood left dripping on my hands and the body of a cat’s carcass on the table.
A week passed and I still hadn’t heard from Sara. I brought two cups of coffee to our final exam. I was certain that she would show up to that. It was our final mission, and I had no clue how we were going to steal the cat.
The lab teacher arrived fifteen minutes late, and there was still no Sara. Everyone filed to the freezer in the back to collect the dead cats for the final exam. I looked through the racks three times for my silver cat, but it was nowhere to be found. “Did someone take my cat by mistake?” I asked the class. Everyone shook their heads. The lab teacher wrung her hands as she made her way back to the class.
“Just pair up with this group here,” she gestured to a pair of sorority girls who looked at me like they’d rather eat glue than share a dead cat with a nonconformist like me.
I walked around the garden in front of the biology building after I finished my test, kicking at the grass. Something had happened to Sara, but the gnawing feeling inside of my stomach told me to wait. Somehow I just knew she would meet me in the garden soon. I was just about to head home when a silver cat with three white paws came trotting along in front of my path. She stared up at me with spots of gold inside of her eyes glimmering like flecks of hope. I sat down on the ground in front of her and whispered, “Best wishes as you make this transition into new life.”
About Kassie Shanafelt
Kassie is a social media manager living in Brooklyn, NY. Her work is forthcoming in Coffin Bell Journal and has previously appeared in Enclave. She is the founding creative director of Millennial Pink, an online community for fellow creatives.
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To read more check out Cauldron Anthology's Issue 3.