Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Stone Beach by Kim Chatel

When Caroline begins her last year of middle school, she barely recognizes her best friend. Brenda dresses differently. She blows off classes, homework and friends. But has Brenda really changed, or is Caroline just seeing her with new eyes?

Caroline has worries that Brenda doesn’t even understand. Her fifteen-year-old cat, Casey, is sick and the vet has been hinting that it’s time to put him to sleep. How can Caroline lose her two best friends at once.
In the next few months, Caroline learns that some friendships are not worth keeping, others are worth fighting for and still others will endure into the afterlife.

Read more about Casey and Caroline at


“Casey! Casey!”

She felt foolish calling him, but she was far enough from the house that no one would hear her. She walked along the river’s edge toward the stone beach and was so intent on peeking under every shrub, she didn’t see the river open up before her until she came right up to the beach. When she saw the pink stones under her feet, she looked up and held her breath for a moment. The stones were a mirror of the sunset sky. The river was smooth obsidian. The sun lit the willows from behind and they glowed like gold filigree.

This is truly the most beautiful place on earth, she thought, and sat on a large rock to enjoy the play of light area.

“I never should’ve shown you this place,” said Aimee, from behind her, as she clambered onto the rock beside Caroline. She carried the same purple book which had caused the fight earlier in the week.

“Now I guess I have to share it with you,” she added.

Caroline didn’t say anything. She wasn’t in the mood for Aimee tonight. Casey was lost. It was getting dark and she’d have to leave him outside, to fall prey to whatever the night would bring.

They watched in silence for a while as the last light faded, leaving the stone beach in shadow. Suddenly, from high up in the trees behind them, Caroline heard yelling. She tensed for a moment, thinking her mom had called, but no. The voices were an angry man and woman. They were too far away to hear the argument, but the rage was clear enough. Something shattered. The voices were quiet for a moment and then exploded again, louder than before.

“I guess I can’t even escape them here,” said Aimee. Caroline was about to ask who, when she noticed the strange expression on Aimee’s face, embarrassment. She hadn’t thought it possible to embarrass the brash Aimee Jones.

“My parents,” said Aimee, with a shrug, as if it explained everything.

“Oh,” said Caroline, hating herself for uttering such a stupid response. She didn’t know what to say. Her parents rarely argued, and never with such vehemence. How did Aimee stand it?

The two girls sat on the stone beach, listening to the parent-storm above them. Caroline was too embarrassed to get up and leave now, as if it would make it worse somehow. Aimee, clearly, had nowhere else to go.
Eventually the storm blew itself out. Aimee still made no move to leave, despite the growing dark. Caroline’s mother would be worried about her, but she couldn’t make herself leave. Not without saying something.

“So how come you spell your name that way?” she asked, pointing to the notebook with “Aimee” scrawled all over it.

“It’s French. My grandma’s from the south. They still speak French there, or something like it.” She smiled at Caroline wryly. “It means ‘loved’.”

Caroline smiled back at her.

“That’s pretty sucky,” she said. Both of them seemed to know, Caroline would never tell another soul Aimee’s name meant something so mushy.

“Yep,” said Aimee. “I sure feel the love.”

The girls burst into nervous laughter that turned genuine.

“I think my parents were hippies,” said Aimee, finally catching her breath.

“Mine still are,” said Caroline. “If I have to hear one more time about the benefits of compost, I’m gonna puke.”

After another moment of companionable quiet, Aimee asked, “So what are you doing out here, anyway?”

“I’m looking for my cat,” said Caroline. “I haven’t seen him all day. I’m worried he might be hurt.”

“You know,” said Aimee, “Cats often go off to hide when they’re about to die. It’s instinctual or something.”

“Why do you always have to do that?” said Caroline, getting to her feet.

“Do what?”

“You know what!” Caroline’s voice cracked, and she fought back tears.

Not in front of Aimee, she thought. Please, not it front of Aimee.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Spaz. I was telling the truth.”

“It might be true, but it’s really mean.”

“So sue me,” said Aimee.

“See what I mean,” said Caroline. Anger had won out over the tears. “Every time you’re nice to me for even a minute, you have
to ruin it. You’re such a . . .such a . . .jerk!”

She spun to leave and her ankle turned on a stone. She went down with a thud, banging her knee and badly scraping both hands.

“Dammit!” she swore. Aimee always made her feel so awkward and small. There was nothing nice in her. No point looking for what wasn’t there.

As Caroline painfully got to her feet, Aimee shushed her.

“Shush yourself,” said Caroline, but Aimee waved at her curtly with one hand while she listened to the night.

A pathetic mewling came out of the bush behind them followed by a bedraggled cat.


Caroline ran toward him, ignoring the pain in her leg. Then she noticed the strange way he walked as if he were drunk. And his meow was almost strangled in his throat. He took another step and his back legs collapsed on him.

“Oh, Casey!”

She sat beside him and gently stroked him all over, looking for broken bones. He didn’t hiss at her touch, so he wasn’t in any pain. In fact, he purred. Caroline wondered if it was a nervous purr. He did that sometimes at the vet.

“I’ve got to get him home,” she said. “Something’s wrong.”

“Wait,” said Aimee, staring intently into the bushes. The night was silent. Unnaturally silent. No crickets, no frogs, no rustling leaves. A chill shook Caroline. As she bent to pick Casey up, a shadow burst out of the bushes, knocking her to the ground.

Except she’d felt nothing, even as it pushed past her. No, not past her. Through her!

Another long wraith erupted from the bushes, and then another and another until the beach was filled with the bounding shadows. They ran along the edge of the river, never touching the water.

“They’re cats!” said Caroline.

Orange cats, black cats, striped, calico. Hundreds of cats.

She held onto Casey as the ghostly cats ran around them. He mewled, and Caroline bent herself over him, protecting him from the wraiths. They caterwauled with an ear-splitting howl. Caroline covered her ears but nothing could block out the piercing noise. She shut her eyes tight, but she could still feel the wind against her skin as they swirled around her.
Casey squirmed in her arms, and Caroline held on tight. The ghost cats wanted him. Deep in her heart, she knew it. They wanted to drag him off on their monstrous hunt.

They screamed and raced around the beach until Caroline thought she would go mad.

As suddenly as they’d appeared, they were gone. Caroline opened her eyes to see the last ones running on sleek soundless paws along the river’s edge. They melted away, shadows into shadows.

In the silence that followed, Casey mewed loudly. One of his eyes drooped shut. Caroline had to get him home, but she couldn’t move. She looked over at Aimee, who also looked frozen in place. Aimee met her eyes and shook her head.

There was nothing to say.

Coming Soon: Read about the real Casey, the cat who inspired "The Stone Beach."

Kim Chatel is a Canadian born novelist and picture book author. She now lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, daughter and assortment of animals, which, until recently, included an alarmingly orange tabby cat named Casey. Website