Have you heard about shit-shoveler Dave?

For sixty years, worked like a slave.

He learned how to chisel,

When it started to drizzle.

Just in time to slip into his grave.

On Tuesday morning, July 18, Dave Berg squeezed his flabby frame beneath the back porch of his home. Then he dug a shallow, comfortable indentation in the sandy soil, lay down on top of his new sleeping bag, ate an entire two pounds of See’s triple-chocolate fudge, and a lethal dose of Seconal, which he washed down with his favorite Dr. Brown’s cream soda as he waited for death.

His cell phone lay by his side…. You know, “just in case.”

At two a.m. on Wednesday, July 19, a giant roach ran across his arm. He went back to sleep.

Not dead yet.

Six a.m. Friday, July 21, Dave dreamt about various “cat noises” and a short, violent cat confrontation.

Not dead yet.

Two a.m. Thursday, July 27, he felt a cat sleeping on his feet.

One hour later, at three a.m., he dreamt about a cat purring on his chest and occasionally batting his nose with a soft closed paw.

Still not….

Five a.m. Sunday, March 30, Dave opened one eye to see what looked like a catnip mouse and a bowl of milk next to his head. The phone was missing. Still in a haze, Dave thought that he’d heard “almost human” voices around him. A few of the catlike, but familiar voices discussed whether to let Dave “stay dead as planned,” or “join the group.” They voted, unanimously, to “let him live with them in this place” (wherever “this place” was) and “teach him the law” and “the responsibility of nine lives,” when he finally “woke his lazy fat ass up.”

Suddenly, Dave was looking into the bright green eyes of his ex-tabby Felicity, her striped head tilted in her familiar upside-down posture and with her tail tapping impatiently. Felicity stared her comic stare as Dave lay on his side nose-to-nose with the fuzzy girl. Dave was having trouble focusing.

Around them, the frame of the house floated as if it were only a vague outline above a sunny field of grass, surrounded by flowers, trees and hundreds of chattering birds. Mice raced by. A small patch of blooming catnip stood by Felicity’s musical tapping tail. Some trees in the area had grown with ready-made platforms and scratching posts.

“Felicity?”

Felicity, smiled and then turned back toward the two cats behind her.

Dave immediately recognized the other two. “Gravity? Mr. Kitty? It can’t be!”

Felicity turned and asked the two cats, in perfect Human-ese, “Should I?”

They both nodded affirmatively.

Should you what? thought the groggy old man.

Note: This chapter was originally printed in large, easy-to-read type for children — Yeah. That means you “four eyes!”

“Where am I? How can you all be alive?”

“You know, Dave, Felicity said in perfect human-speak, “that you cannot tell anyone about this place. Any… one! We mean it. If you do tell someone, I promise you, you will be sent to, sh…heck, I dunno, sent to bed without any dessert.”

“We? What place is this? We’re under my old house for Christ sakes!”

“No!”

She quickly held a paw up to his lips. “Cool it with the language, crusty old dude! We’re in a children’s book. Notice the big type font?”

Dave had no idea what-the-Fu… Fuzz Felicity was talking about.

“So, think ‘cute,’ Dave. You’re in an alternate universe discovered by your old cat Einstein.”

“Think ‘cute’? Einstein?”

“In the ‘Kingdom’ everything is cute,” said Felicity. “Really fuh … I mean really, really cute. Got it?”

Dave turned over onto his stomach, and lifted up his head. He’d spotted his old friend. Oh my God! It’s Einstein!That IS Einstein over there.

“Finally voke up, did chu!” said Einstein. “Feeeeeeed me! Just kiddink!” said the brilliant blue-eyed Burmese kitty. Vee are ALL here David. All of your old cats are here. Ve’re all alive undt vell In zis place. Efery cat zat anyone has effer known liffs here.”

“Some of us only have a few lives left,” said Felicity.

“Too many of us haff to stay inside ze community because ve haff used up all uf our 9 lifes. Zhen zhere are many cats here who are about to start new lifes as kittens, vhere zhey vill go out into ze first three dimenchunts again. Vould you like a sniff of this mighty fine catnip dot I haff been vorking on?”

“Mr. Einstein, this dialog is becoming a little too complicated for a children’s book,” said the Flisk, “and please lose that annoying German accent.”

“Thanks Fliskers,” added Dave.

“Where vas I?” Einstein continued. ” I mean,….Oh yeah! Just a few days ago, we were talking about you, Dave. Normally, we would just let a human die. Instead, we decided to take a vote, and offer you an honorable place in our world. Though you vere depressing to every human that came near you, you vere very good to us. You always kept treats. Felicity is right. You have to keep this place a secret. It’s always been a cats-only place.”

Sylvester, looking dapper in his permanent tuxedo, spoke next. “Tally ho, old bean! All the chaps here agreed that—you deserved a better ending than crawling under a house and dying in utter loneliness. We can only offer you one more lifetime, Guvnor. George gave you one of his own lives because – pip pip – You, Dave, cared enough to scrape him off of the pavement while he was still toasty warm… even though his eyes were hangin’ out and shi… stuff. Be careful my lord. George’s lives are action packed.”

“Undt, I mean, and,” said Einstein, “if you fuh…mess up this last chance for a happy life, you are Kaput! Finished!”

Einstein stopped to lick his paw and then resumed, “Did you know that humans, according to Tac, are just not cool enough for multiple lives. Two lifetimes, max.”

“Tac? Who’s Tac?” said Dave.

“Tac is our lord who you must thank for bringing you here,” said Einstein. “First, we must find George.”

“Please tell me Einstein, is this Kitty Heaven?”

“Tac no!. This …. (dramatically, with reverb-turned-up-to-ten) ….. is……

The-Kingdom-of-the-Cats!”