Indigo Acres, the farmland area of the afterlife pet waystation known as Collarworld, was bustling with activity. Cows and pigs and chickens grazed on the corn and hay and grain produced on the farm, while Cassius Marcellus, the strongest drafthorse in the realm, guided all the work.
Very few animals remembered when Cassius Marcellus entered Collarworld; it seemed as if he was always part of their lives. And while the pets in Collarworld could never truly starve or go hungry, their natural grazing inclination meant that farms like Indigo Acres had to produce vegetables and stocks for all the realms.
And all pets and residents in Collarworld knew that the best vegetables, the finest fruits, and the most delicious grains all came from Indigo Acres. They knew that Cassius Marcellus guided all the plough animals with precision and determination; that all the chickens produced the most fulfilling eggs; and that the sheep and llamas and alpacas on the back lands gave the warmest wool and fiber for beddings.
Harvest day at Indigo Acres. A beautiful afternoon. Everything on the farm moved as it should. This made Cassius Marcellus very proud; the drafthorse always ran Indigo Acres the way he imagined his master might have achieved. The drafthorse’s memories of time in the living world seemed so distant. The love of his master, however, remained a solid memory in the horse’s mind.
This realm was also Cassius Marcellus’ protectorate. As much as Indigo Acres was a home of peace and solitude, it could also turn into a land of danger in an instant. The drafthorse still had a tiny, aching limp in one of his forelegs from a battle years ago with an angry, demonic fighting dog. On certain chilly days, the leg ached and throbbed.
All seems well on the grounds, the drafthorse mused. Time to check out the stables and make sure they’re clean and –
The drafthorse paused. It was almost as if he felt a sense of dread, of unanswerable mystery inside the stable. Perhaps he should summon other animals to help him investigate, maybe contact Lord Vincent the tabbycat and his new friend, the Newfoundland rescue dog Messer. Or maybe even contact the Royal Order of Ancient Carissima Hamsters and have them herald St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of all pets in Collarworld.
No, the colt thought. I’ve never asked for help before. I won’t ask now.
Cassius Marcellus slowly entered the stables. The stable animals were outside grazing, so the building should have been quiet – maybe a mouse or a rat or two, but no other sounds.
Something’s in here, Cassius Marcellus mused. I can sense it.
A quick horse whinney, to alert any intruders. “Who’s in here? Show yourself now!”
Some scurrying noises in one of the stables. Three berths down, one to the right.
Cassius Marcellus walked into the barn, his hooves slowly clop-clopping on the wooden floor.
“Whoever you are, either show yourself now or I will find you. Come out!”
In the stable. The horse peeked inside. Nothing but a small tuft of hay and a half-filled water trough.
Maybe I thought I heard something, the horse surmised. If it’s that rooster trying to wake everyone up in the afternoon… and he’s hiding in the stable…
“Come on, rooster, if it’s you, come out. No one needs a rooster call this late in the day.”
A soft meow. “Leave me. I’m scared. Please don’t hurt me.”
And then Cassius Marcellus saw them. The gaze of two grey, gleaming, kitten eyes, glaring through the hay bale.
“I’m sorry,” mewed the little cat, as his face peeked through the strands of hay. “I was hungry.”
Cassius Marcellus stepped back. “Who are you?”
“I don’t know. I’m scared, and I thought I smelled food in this building. But all I can see here is hay and water. And I can’t drink any more water.”
“Did you have a master?”
“Someone in the living world, a human who took care of you.”
“I don’t remember.”
“You must have crossed over the Rainbow Bridge to Collarworld, surely you remember that.”
“I don’t think so,” the kitten cried. “I just remember being in a barn. A barn where rain poured down every day.”
In an instant, the drafthorse knew exactly what the kitten described. This little whelp was from the Rainy Barn, a sorrowful location for stray cats and dogs. It was the Collarworld home for the abandoned, the hoarded, and the unwanted. This kitten didn’t belong at Indigo Acres, and Cassius Marcellus wasn’t sure how the little feline made the two-day-long journey from the Rainy Barn to here.
“Do you have a name?” Cassius Marcellus asked the kitten.
“I don’t know. Nobody ever gave me a name other than ‘cat.'”
“Well,” the drafthorse whinnied, “Everybody needs a name. My name came from a great leader, someone who advocated the freedom of those who were not free. It is a strong, commanding name. You should have a strong, commanding name as well.”
The kitten looked up.
“You also need a home. The Rainy Barn is no longer a suitable home for you.”
“But where shall I go?”
“You can work here at this stable,” Cassius Marcellus neighed. “Your job will be to keep the animals in this stable safe. If anyone enters who should not, it will be your job to run and find me and let me know.”
“How will I know who is welcome and who is not?”
The horse smiled. “You will know. You are a smart cat, you will know before today’s sun has set. And one more thing.”
“From this day forward, you shall have a name that inspires you to grow and thrive. You will not be referred to as ‘cat’ any more. A working cat needs a name of inspiration.”
The kitten purred softly.
“I have it,” neighed the drafthorse. “From this day forward, you shall be known as Arklatex.”
“Ark-la-” the kitten stammered to pronounce.
“Arklatex. That was the name of my stable in the living world. The Arklatex Farm produced the greatest and strongest work horses in the country. My master and his men raised powerful and intelligent stallions. To be an Arklatex horse meant that you were among the top in your breed.”
“But I’m not a horse.”
“No,” Cassius Marcellus smiled, slowly whipping his tail back and forth. “You are not a horse. But you will be strong, friend kitten, as strong as an Arklatex Stable horse. My master named us after great men, great leaders and great thinkers. Welcome to Indigo Acres. This is your new home. No more rainy barn for you, little Arklatex.”
“Thank you… I don’t even know your name.”
“I am Cassius Marcellus, the drafthorse and leader of this farm. And I will teach you everything you need to know. Because there is time for me to pass on all that I know. And you are smart enough to learn all that I teach.”
“Thank you,” the kitten now named Arklatex mewed. “Where do I start?”
The drafthorse smiled. “In a few hours, my friends Vincent and Messer will arrive to help gather vegetables and grains for delivery to other realms. Your first duty will be to greet them and introduce yourself as my assistant.”
“I can do that,” Arklatex cooed.
“See? You’re already working hard at your new duties. And that’s good.”