(This is my 2013 NaNoWriMo being reposted. Explanation over in blog Real Soon Now.)
This bit of fluff is dedicated to Ripley and Zoë, who manage my household very well.
I shook my paws. I don’t tend to be all that fussy about getting wet, especially when it’s only damp; it was psychological and I knew it. Frederick assured me that the water in the toilet was perfectly fine. He even flushed it a couple of times, which was one of his secret party tricks–poor Mrs. Roaman didn’t realize he could do it and had told the lady next door that she thought she had a ghost.
“Ghost,” sneered Frederick from the doorway, as if reading my mind. He was licking his chops. I wrinkled my nose, although my tummy rumbled.
“What did you find to eat?” I asked. It smelled like an old mouse. Yuck, but by now I hoped he’d cut me a break and share. The hopper of the food dish had been empty for two days, and I had dug out every last bit of stray kibble I could find under the counters. Frederick was too big to fit, and I had to scoot him out over half of it after he’d cuffed me one and called me a little pig.
He didn’t answer me. Instead, he took an extra-long drink and then burped. “Ate too fast. Hope the ghost isn’t offended.”
“Ate what?” I yelped. “Please, Fred. I feel funny. Dizzy. I’m so hungry.” I hated myself for sounding pathetic.
He sighed and flopped over on his side on the bathmat. “Plenty left, Squeaker. Go right on in. Let me know if she’s ripe enough for those tiny teeth of yours. I might be able to open her up for ya.” He grinned, his tartar-coated fangs as long as half my paw. He flirted a lazy tail in the direction of the bedroom. I didn’t want to go in there, because Mrs. Roaman was giving me the creeps. But my stomach was starting to cramp, so in I went.
Mrs. Roaman was still in bed, which was unsurprising. Much as I had hated being grabbed up and the air half choked out of me with her affection, I would have given anything to have her do it just one more time, particularly since at least half the time it also meant she would go to the treat packet and come up with a delectable tidbit of Tuna Triumph. (I had nicked my tongue on the clean-licked foil of the empty packet this morning. It was still sore.)
The smell in the room was a creature in and of itself: thick, oily, and beginning to be nauseating. I was impressed that Fred had been able to mouse at all; I sure as hell couldn’t find the thing. I pawed at my nose and sneezed, eyes watering. I looked under the bed: nothing except dust bunnies and the new pair of Mrs. Roaman’s underwear Fred had taken under there to chew holes in. I drew a blank under the rest of the furniture too. “Damn it, Fred,” I muttered.
I couldn’t stand it any more. I knew it was the same stupid psychological urge that had me shake my paws from the microscopic remnants of Mrs. Roaman’s last dozen meals, but I had to scratch. I leaped up onto the bed and began to paw at the grease-sodden sheets as one possessed, although the smell would have made me vomit if I’d had anything to come up. I tried not to look at what had been Mrs. Roaman’s amiably wrinkled face, now swollen smooth, eyes sunken, tongue-tip poking out like an incongruous bit of forgotten beef.
I did a double-take. The tongue was no longer showing. I froze, waiting I think for the heap in the bed to move–to blink, to turn over. To grab me and smother me with the smell. Which I would now have to lick off my paws. Smooth move, Squeaker. But nothing happened, and then I noticed that Mrs. Roaman’s lips were . . . gone. I took in the unmistakeable furrows left by those long, dangerous fangs and every strand of my fur went on end.
Then I was off the bed and out of the room like a shot. I ended up in the back of the hall closet, wedging myself in the corner behind Mr. Roaman’s long-abandoned bowling ball, immovable in its flaking leatherette case. It didn’t take a genius to think it through: Mrs. Roaman probably wasn’t as yummy as I was. I had been born in February of 2004 and was only three months old and small for my age; Frederick weighed 18 pounds (or had a week ago); and I cowered in my hole feeling like snack food.
“You don’t eat people,” I moaned. “Not human people, not cat people. Oh please Bast, not cat people.”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” Fred hissed. He was outside of the closet. No way could he get at me, and we both knew it. “Do you want to die too? You will, you know. Before I will. You’re skin and bone already. Safe enough from me, little queencat. Not worth the pounce. Better get in there and check your scruples at the door. She may not smell too good, but she’ll keep us going for a while.”
I covered my ears with my paws and tried to envision it but I just couldn’t. Some fearless predator I was. I was a failure as a cat. Hell, in my inability to hang on to this one of my putative nine lives, I was a failure as a being. The pain in my stomach was overwhelming, but my imagination kept me trapped behind the bowling ball. I sniveled myself to sleep. It was a dizzy thing punctuated by nightmares of the bloated mess that had once been a querulous old lady still stumping through the house and calling, “‘eeker? ‘ere’ eeker?” Its articulation was hampered by the mess Fred had made of its mouth. I shuddered and put out my claws, but it was coming closer and closer–
I was awakened by the sound of human feet trampling about and human voices. It took a moment for the reality to sink in. Then I heard Fred screaming, “Squeaker! Squeaker! We’re saved! It’s all right!” The unmistakable joy I heard in his voice surprised and touched me. I wouldn’t have thought the old bastard had it in him. Then the humans were exclaiming and talking about the big kitty and, oh heaven, opening a tin of food.
“Looks like you had to fend for yourself, big fella. Can’t blame ya, though. It happens.” I could feel Fred purr through the floorboards as he scarfed down the Prairie Picnic.
I tried to scramble out of my hideyhole, but my paws wouldn’t obey me. Nooooo . . . I growled to myself, or started to. All that came out was a squeak even more pitiful than my usual toy-mouse mew.
“Fred?” There was no answer. I scrabbled with my hind legs, trying to get up. No use. The effort left me dizzy, light and dark splotches pounding in my eyes. I lay there, panting, listening and smelling as something metal on wheels came and took away what was left of Mrs. Roaman and some fascinating-smelling people came and took Fred to the pound. I’d come from there; Fred frequently mocked me for it. I hoped he appreciated the irony.
“Maine Coon. He’s a beautiful cat. Keep his recent diet a deep dark secret and he’ll be adopted out in a jiffy,” said a woman. She was standing right outside the closet and I squeaked with everything I had. But there was no helping it. Her thick human ears couldn’t hear me. Hell, I could barely hear myself.
“Where’s the second one? The kitten?” This new man was different. I couldn’t make sense of it to myself, but it was as if he were an entirely different type of human. Smell, the sound of his voice, even the vibrations of his outer soul made him stand out from the rest.
“What makes you think there’s a kitten, Sasha?” asked the woman with interest. In response I smelled and heard him rattle the empty bag of kitten chow I had shredded to bits days earlier.
“Not rocket science. Ask about the kitten in the neighbor canvass.”
“Aye aye, sir.” Her footsteps faded toward the door; his, toward the bedroom. I slumped in hope, if there could be such a thing. At least they knew I existed.
Through the blood rushing in my ears, I heard somebody tell Sasha that I hadn’t had any of Mrs. Roaman: none of the teeth marks could have been mine.
“Poor little tyke,” Sasha said, and I felt all their outer souls go all sad. I appreciated the thought. I felt all sad too. Every so often I’d squeak, or try to, but not a lot came out. After about an hour, they all left. Period. Lights out. I felt them leave, and I curled up in the musty dark and waited to leave too. Sucked to be me.
But after some time I couldn’t measure, I heard the key in the lock and sensed that Sasha had come back alone. I wondered if he were going to steal something, the way the neighbor lady sometimes did when she had picked up some groceries for Mrs. Roaman. I could hear him going through the house, his strange outer soul poking into corners. Looking for something. Looking for . . .
His outer soul then yipped without sound and the closet door yanked open, the light from the hall brighter than it had ever been before. Mr. Roaman’s bowling bag disappeared and the warmest hands I had ever felt were picking me up. Small hands for a man, I thought. Small man. Big outer soul.
“Eureka!” he whispered to me. He draped me over his shoulder and the next thing I knew, one of his fingers was poking a tantalizingly tiny morsel of Prairie Picnic into my mouth. He wrapped me in a dishtowel and sat down on the couch with me in his lap, doling out licks of Prairie Picnic and rubbing my belly. I was embarrassed by the wisdom of the dishtowel when my vacationing gut roared up without warning, but this human seemed immune to smells and he just tidied me up. I almost expected him to lick me with his smooth, flat tongue; he was that cattish about it all.
“Eureka,” said Sasha again, and this time I fell really asleep.