It was such a small loss, compared to the war raging around them, but the Seventh Company took it hard. She was buried with all honors, just below her favorite perch on the aging willow tree.
They took some flak for it, especially from Fifth Company, but as the weeks passed they found themselves returning to the tree again and again. To share the victories and the losses. To lean up against the tree soaking up its ancient solidity, just as they had pulled strength from her when she lived.
No one was quite sure who started the stories, rumors of ghostly shapes flittering among the branches, but the tree started pulling members of other companies into its comforting camaraderie. The teasing never really bothered those to whom the she felt like home.
Several months later, during the pre-dawn blackness, the entire battalion was awoken by a terrifying yowling. The noise drove them from the tents and buildings, from the turrets and the trenches. Drove them out, out to the grove of war-torn trees where the willow waited, out and away from the whistling shells that tore through the sky like banshees. Out and away from billowing clouds of dirt and debris as the camp turned to Hell behind them.
Out to the tree and the bones of a small gray cat who’d never forgotten their kindness.