Monday, August 22, 2011

Note to Contributors

When I started this site, I heard most last around a year. We made it a year and a half and the money's run out. I will complete posting all my submissions as the wallet allows, but I'm closing submissions indefinitely. Thanks for all the wonderful kitty love and bad cat weeks.

Friday, July 29, 2011

So Are the Cats of Our Lives by RD Hartwell - Essay

So Are the Cats of Our Lives
by RD Hartwell

Gibbs and Jamie

“Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” Now that is a nice maxim, but not one to which I can attend as guidance. My life has been far too filled with the jolts and boredom, joys and tribulations to think of it as one of smooth regularity. I am sixty-five, one of those ages that supposedly define one’s life, but I find that that maxim does not really mean much to me. I do not number my life in years, but in cats.

How do you quantify your life? Notice that I did not ask how you qualify, or analyze, your life. That would be far too personal and subject to much deep consideration. I will ask again, “How do you quantify your life?” It is one of those questions you encounter all the time and it appears on almost every form you fill out. It is a question asked of you so often that it is probably only surpassed in number by “How are you?” or “How have you been?” These are rhetorical questions, questions of a type that no one really wants or expects an answer. Anyway, “How do you quantify your life?”

Now wait a moment! Before you answer, truly or falsely, with a given number of years, stop and think about those years. I would venture that, upon reflection, some of those years you were “older” than your chronological age and for other years you were considerably “younger.” What makes that so is highly individualistic? For me, it is cats. Yes, CATS!

It would be a tremendous understatement for me to say that the cats that have owned me (small giggle for those in the know) for sixty-five years have given me great excitement in their acquisition and great joy in their lives and equally great sadness in their passing. For me, it is these cycles of catdom that define my age. Recently, Gabriel and I have been ninety-eight, or thereabouts. Gabriel is the last of his generation and the oldest in our family of ten felines and seven humans. Both of us had been feeling and acting a bit long in the tooth and short on the energy. Well, colluding with her sister, my wife took care of that. It seems that about three or four weeks ago one of my sister-in-law’s cats gave birth to a single kitten, possibly her first litter. So, of course as she has quite often, my wife decided that we needed that kitten to make a nice, rounded eleven cats!?? I do love my wife, but she sure counts funny.

So Leroy Jethro Gibbs (his naming is another story altogether, with a foundation in the television show NCIS) has joined the family. All of a sudden Gabriel and I are teenagers again. Some of you may have encountered just such a fluctuation in your “days of (y)our lives.” Anyway, Gibbs has served to make most of us in the family younger and a couple of the previously dominant cats a bit older. It is a strange phenomenon how this has occurred; however, I’ll wager that this system of marking age is not unique to me.

It is much too glib to say, “You are as young (or old) as you feel.” My feelings towards this concept of age, my regulator or emotional thermostat, is calibrated by cats. We currently have eleven cats from five different generations allowing us to stay here. In the backyard are cats from three other generations. We have been in this house for twenty-four years. Allowing for some error in my computations, or perhaps my memory, it appears we are acquiring a stray or a litter every three years of so. Now if that won’t keep you young, I just don’t know what would.

Gibbs and Sally

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How Not To Get a Cat by Toni Dwiggins

How Not To Get a Cat
by Toni Dwiggins


I got into this cat thing for one reason: my daughter desperately wanted a cat.

At the time, I was wrestling with a mess of a novel, and I figured getting a cat would prove a great diversion. Wrong. Trying to get my daughter a cat proved as tortuous as trying to get my novel into shape.

Neither my characters nor my daughter were holding their breath.

Flashback to…The Setup
We’re a family of four and up until this cat thing making do with pet guinea pigs. But eight-year-old Emily wants a cat. She has eighteen stuffed cats; she crawls on all fours meowing. This kid has wanted a cat half her life and she swears she’ll clean the litter box.

I resolve to get my daughter a cat.

In theory, I’m a cat person; my husband Chuck is a dog person; hence, the guinea pigs. My fourteen-year-old daughter Molly leans toward the dog camp but she’ll go along with the cat thing. Chuck agrees: just do it.

But first I need to research.

I buy CATS FOR DUMMIES and read. There are complexities, I learn. Claws will need trimming (you access the claws how?). The cat will have to stay indoors because we live in the hills and there are bobcats with untrimmed claws outside. If we get a kitten, it will tear around the house like Genghis Khan. I think this through. Molly has a disability and gets around the house with a walker. Perhaps an older, settled cat is what we want.

But what kind?

I hit the Net. There is, I find, a breed of cat called a Ragdoll that loves kids and goes limp when you pick it up so you can cradle it like a baby. I imagine getting Emily a cat she can cradle like a baby. I imagine a Ragdoll sweetly sidestepping Molly’s walker. Then I hit a snag. There’s no Ragdoll breeder in my area. The cat will have to be air-mailed. What does that cost, to say nothing of the mood this cat will be in when it arrives? There’s another, more fundamental snag. Ragdolls cost in the neighborhood of $500.

I’m mulling this over while I take another pass at my novel. The plot’s working, but the characters are flat. They hang limp, like a Ragdoll.

Back to cat research. I find an ad for an animal rescue group. They have a boatload of cats needing homes.

The Protagonist
The family goes to a cat adoption fair. We meet Cyrus.

Cyrus is an eighteen-month nine-pound orange-and-white tabby. He’s handsome, with a lengthy tail in bold stripes, and seems very mellow. His foster owner puts him on Emily’s lap, where he sits quietly while she strokes his fur. He’s transferred to Molly’s lap, where he sits quietly; he doesn’t give a hoot that she’s in a wheelchair. Emily’s in love, Molly’s in love, I’m astonished—this is the first cat at the first cat fair and I have a long list of others to check out. Chuck looks at the kids and the cat and his watch and says, well what’s wrong with that? He’s an engineer; it’s not a dog but it looks workable to him.

There is one small issue. We’re told Cyrus doesn’t like other cats. We confer: all we need is one.

Cyrus turns out to be nine-tenths the perfect cat. He doesn’t claw the furniture, he’s a lap cat thirty percent of the time, he likes to play but he’ll take no for an answer, he’ll put up with having his claws clipped, he politely sidesteps Molly’s walker.

However, there is one-tenth of him that’s not perfect. It’s a fundamental flaw. He doesn’t like Emily.

He likes adults, he’ll take a teenager in a pinch, but he doesn’t like high-voiced bounce-around-the-house Emily. Not only does he dislike Emily, follows Chuck like a dog.

This really hurts. My daughter is heartbroken. After much hand-wringing I decide that Cyrus goes. I’ll look into Ragdolls again. But Chuck balks: hey, we adopted the cat; hence, the cat is ours. Besides, Chuck thinks Cyrus is a cool cat.

But Cyrus doesn’t like Emily, I protest.

It’ll be one of those life lessons.

She’s heartbroken.

Maybe he’ll learn to like her.

What if he doesn’t?

Chuck shrugs. If you wanted unconditional love, you should have gone with a dog.

I go back to my novel where I’m in charge. But my characters are still balking; they don’t believe in the plot.

Meanwhile, Emily tries to win over Cyrus, who hides under the table wrapped in his tail.

I do more research. The animal rescue group, it turns out, has on staff a cat behaviorist. Hopeful, I call in the cat shrink.

Jennifer the behaviorist and Emily and Cyrus have a meeting. Jennifer teaches Emily to read cat body language, she observes them interacting—or not—and she makes her diagnosis. Cyrus is a butthead.

Possibly, in Cyrus’s kittenhood, a small person didn’t treat him kindly. Possibly, Cyrus just doesn’t like kids, the way Emily just doesn’t like potatoes.
We embark on a program to change his mind. Emily will be the sole person to feed him, play with him, pet him. The rest of us will ignore him. If he wants love, Emily will be his only option. This program will run ten days.

Ten days later, Cyrus is still a butthead.

The way Jennifer sees it, we now have three options. (1) Wait until Emily is less bouncy, say two or three years. (2) Trade Cyrus in for another cat. (3) Keep him and bring in a kitten for Emily.

Bring in a kitten? I remind Jennifer that Cyrus doesn’t like other cats.

Ah, Jennifer says, but a kitten is not another cat. It’s small and submissive.

The Antagonist
Enter Coco.

Coco is a three-pound twelve-week gray-and-white male tabby with a splash of Siamese. He’s got huge ears, a long nose, gray teardrop markings at the corners of his eyes, and he motors like a truck when you pet him. He’s been rescued from a household of too many cats and kids, so kids don’t faze him. He allows Emily to flip him on his back and carry him around like a baby. And he doesn’t cost five hundred bucks.

Emily is in love. Molly is in love, and now firmly in the cat camp. Chuck thinks Coco is a cool kitten.

All that stands in the way of total victory is Cyrus.

Jennifer isn’t worried.

The program will run thusly: Coco will be brought out of his safe room (Emily’s room) daily in his protective cat carrier and placed on the living room floor, and we’ll go about our business as if there’s nothing there. As if, should we notice the creature in the carrier, we wouldn’t care. Kitten? So? And Cyrus is supposed to think: there’s a kitten in the room and they don’t notice, so they’re either stupid or kittens don’t matter. They can’t be stupid because they chose me, so my position in the household is secure. And gradually, the king will surely come to accept the subservient newcomer.

Cyrus reacts in three modes. Mode one is the Big Orange Weenie. Nine-pound cat cowers under the table wrapped in his tail wishing the cat carrier and its cargo would disappear. When this doesn’t happen, mode two appears—King Of The World. Cyrus circles the carrier, hissing. Coco pokes a paw through a hole in the carrier. Cyrus swats the paw. Coco thinks this is a game and pokes his paw through another hole. Cyrus swats. Coco pokes. Defeated, Cyrus goes into mode three: Bored Socialite. That gray creature is here again. Yawn. How utterly predictable and uninteresting. Think I’ll sit on the windowsill and watch the world go by.

This is not bad, the cat shrink says.

But I worry. Little Coco is sweet and cuddly…and very playful. Actually there’s a touch of Genghis Khan in Coco. He’s not aggressive, he’s simply undeterred. If he wants something, he takes it. I’ve kitten-proofed Emily’s room and armed myself, as the cat shrink advises, with a squirt bottle. The theory is, the cat goes after something it shouldn’t—the doll’s hair, say—and you surreptitiously squirt the cat. So the cat concludes that the doll’s hair has squirted it, and thus believes that a doll’s hair will forever make it wet. The squirt bottle worked with Cyrus, the few times Cyrus misbehaved. Cyrus jumps on counter, I squirt Cyrus, who levitates out of there and wouldn’t get on that counter again if you paid him. Coco’s a different kettle of fish. Coco wants the doll’s hair and you can squirt him until he drips.
It’s this tenacity, I worry, that will lead to trouble. Will Coco really let Cyrus be king? And if he doesn’t? I need the characters in my book at each other’s throats, not my cats.

Thinking of my book, I throw in some obstacles to pit my characters against one another. They have other agendas. I have nightmares in which I squirt my characters but they won’t behave. They just shrug, dripping. My characters are buttheads.

The Climax
Three weeks pass and Cyrus is, by and large, the Bored Socialite when Coco’s carrier appears.

It’s time.

What you should watch out for, Jennifer says, is if Cyrus rolls Coco, in which case assume that Cyrus is going to rip Coco’s guts out. You might want to have a broom on hand. Otherwise, pretty much anything goes.

Jennifer can’t be here. Molly isn’t here either; she hates conflict and she’s gone to a junior high dance.

Chuck, Emily, and I gather around the cat carrier. I open the door. Cyrus, sitting bored nearby, comes to attention. Coco’s long nose pokes out. He locates Cyrus, hesitates.

This is good. Coco is showing common sense. I breathe easier.

Coco charges.

Cyrus hisses, the kind of sound that if you were in the woods around the campfire and you heard it, the hairs would rise on the back of your neck.

Chuck raises the broomstick.

Coco brakes to a stop.

Cat and kitten face off.

I want Jennifer. Now.

Coco lunges. What’s he thinking? But it quickly becomes obvious what he’s thinking: I’m FREE, I’m free of that stupid carrier and I WANT TO PLAY. This is better than doll’s hair. I want to play with HIM. Coco lands on Cyrus, Chuck circles with the broom, Emily yells CAREFUL OF MY KITTEN, and I’m thinking five hundred dollars for a Ragdoll isn’t so bad. Cyrus hisses—the whole campground would have cleared out—but little Genghis Kitten just extends a friendly paw and bats Cyrus in the face.

Oh shit.

Cyrus has had enough. Wham-wham-wham, right between those gray-teardrop eyes, and Coco finally gets the picture and prostrates himself. He rolls onto his side and bares his neck, gazing up at Cyrus. Cyrus lays a big paw on Coco’s little belly.

Chuck and I are frantic. Is gut-ripping the next step, or is this part of the establishment of rank?

Emily dances around. Don’t let him kill my kitten!

But cat and kitten are coming to an understanding: who’s king, who’s not, and for the next several minutes there’s a minuet of batting and hissing and prostrating and so we relax and start thinking about dinner.

Cyrus, too, suddenly thinks about dinner. He switches to Bored Socialite and saunters into the kitchen.

Coco is pleased. A tail to chase that isn’t his own.

And it’s back to battle stations…

The Denouement
Well how’d it go? asks Jennifer.

No blood on the floor, I report.

And so it goes, over the next couple of weeks. Coco takes over Cyrus’s scratching post, Coco eats Cyrus’s food, Coco chases Cyrus around the house and Cyrus’s hissing begins to lack conviction.

At night, Coco sleeps on his back in Emily’s arms.

I scratch Cyrus behind the ears and assure him that kings are overrated.

And then one day I find the cats napping together, and when they wake Cyrus licks Coco’s ears and Coco licks Cyrus’s nose and the world turns upside down.

The cat shrink is a genius.

I’m thinking of calling her in on my book.

Back to the Present
Emily grew taller and quieter and one day Cyrus climbed into her lap. The king had found his princess.

Coco grew mellower, but remained the alpha cat.

I found a new subject for a book series. My characters liked it.

The two protagonists are forensic geologists, a young woman and her father-figure mentor. We’re all happiest when I’m not in charge.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Purrsonal Story "Casper and Harry" by Neal Holtschulte

Casper and Harry
by Neal Holtschulte

Casper was a cat's cat, free from litter box, dry food, or human shelter, red in tooth and claw, strong and fierce. You did not pet Casper. You put your hand out and she met it with her forehead like a firm handshake.

Casper had short black hair except for a white spot under her neck. She was lean and wiry. She came and went as she pleased, disappearing into the woods, or stalking small creatures from the shadows beneath the pines. With Casper around, our sliding glass door became a window into the wild.

Harry Mudd was a dog the way we imagine dogs, a platonic dog you might say, loyal, loving, and selfless to a fault, dumb and smelly from his propensity to roll in fresh mulch, but such a g'boy, good boy, yes you are.

Harry was a black lab with hip dysplasia and a skin condition that gave him perpetually greasy fur. Oh Harry, we love you but you're a filthy creature, we would tell him though he would only understand the first part.

Before she was fully grown Casper survived on the grounds of a Scott's fertilizer plant by catching mice until humans caught her. They gave her to our family in October, near Halloween. This wasn’t adoption so much as catch and release of a miniature panther. In keeping with the season, we named her Casper in spite of the gender mix up.

Casper avoided the hard food we put out for her. Not because, like a lot of cats, she expected to train her humans to buy her the Fancy Feast, but because she could get wet gushy food all by herself. She perfected the self-confident stare: I’m disemboweling a mouse. What are you looking at? All she would leave behind would be a blood spot and the gall bladder. She ate mice the way some people peel Starbursts in their mouth, nothing left to do but spit out a bit of wrapper.

Harry made a miserable guard dog. He didn't bark or growl except in his sleep, his legs twitching in imaginary chases. He was bursting with love and compassion for all men and beasts. He learned the hard way that Mr. Skunk did not wish to be his friend and the sharp-clawed Siamese next door was not amused by friendly butt-sniffing.

I misspoke. Harry did not learn. All his learning neurons had been replaced with optimism. With optimism he tried to make friends with the skunk again. With optimism he wrapped his leash around the picnic table, tying himself in knots, and with renewed optimism he struggled to free himself as he heard our car pull in to the driveway. He succeeded only in pulling his chain tighter and stumbling in his food bowl to the delight of the ants streaming across the patio.

Harry came to our family as a replacement. At first we called him Harry Mudd Junior, because young Harry Mudd Senor (no actual relation) was killed by a car on the dangerous road we lived on. The road was well-traveled enough to be paved, but rural enough to have a fifty mile per hour speed limit and our driveway let out just above a hill that produced an awful blind spot.

In the winter Harry slept curled up in the garage on the filthiest mat you ever saw. The grease from his fur soaked into this mat, indelibly marking it as his. Casper came, seeking shelter and though she never let herself depend on the generosity of others, she hopped on top of Harry and curled up to sleep. Casper never sought help and Harry gave of himself without ever expecting anything in return, but in the
winter, they shared their heat.

It was quite a sight, this lump of black fur piled on top of a lump of black fur. We took a picture but in poor lighting it turned out looking more like a black hole in the garage floor than this unlikely bond between animals.

When we walked back to the woods, Harry led. He had to lead. It was in his bones, a genetic compulsion, a dog's duty to act as scout and vanguard, to go on ahead of man though there might be danger.

Casper, too, joined these hikes. We glimpsed her stealing between shadows under the pine trees, then darting into tall grass to watch us unseen. Perhaps she was curious, but more likely she obeyed her own genetically ingrained instincts. What could be more natural for humans’ domesticated creatures than for the dog to lead and the cat to follow, knowing that mice and rats too follow in the wake of humans?

Even when Harry became old and gray, though he shook while lying still, though we merely walked and he struggled to move, he stayed ahead of us. At some arbitrary point we decided we were done with our pleasure walk. We reversed direction to head home. Harry ran, though he wheezed, in order to lead us in this new direction.

In old age when Harry tried to stand, he flailed against the slippery linoleum. His motion served only to push away the rug that gave him traction. We hastened over to push the rug back beneath him and let him out to pee.

Harry showed uncharacteristic self-awareness at the end of his life. One day he made his flailing motions indicating he wanted to be let out. We slid open the back door for him. He never came back. He went out and found a quiet spot far back in the woods and lay down to die with dignity.

Casper should have lived forever. Perhaps the white spot on her neck had grown larger, but besides that she showed no signs of aging. She was as strong as ever, rubbing against our legs like a bear trying to knock down trees, leaving patches of fresh vole blood or bird feathers on the garage floor, evidence of her continued prowess.

In the winter she found the greasy blackened mat in the garage where it had always been. It smelled of Harry but remained cold and empty. She slept there all the same.

Casper died instantly, hopefully painlessly, when the twenty-four ton rock quarry truck ran over her at fifty miles per hour.

She had lived by that road for over a decade during which time Harry Mudd Jr. had been hit by a car and survived, gaining a new plastic hip in the bargain. I won't believe that she made a mistake by running in front of that truck. She knew exactly what she was doing.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hazard Cats Are Sick

Hello, Hazard Cat enthusiasts. Sorry I haven't been posting as much. I have some health problems and need surgery on my foot.

My kitties are having eye problems. If you've heard of this, please send me an email or leave a comment.

First, Devlin's eyes started. The second eyelids close halfway most of the time, but not all the time. I thought it was allergies.

Now all my cats except Spooky and kittens have the affliction. They have no symptoms otherwise, and they've had their shots. Any ideas?

Thanks! I'm also adding a donation button to the site to help pay for submissions. If you like what you read and see and want to contribute a buck, that would be awesome.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Cat People by Bruce Boston

Cat People
by Bruce Boston

If cat people
were the world
we would embrace
the sharp and furry.

We would slink
along the street
and dash across it.

If cat people
were the world
we would build walls
against the sea.

We would sleep
by day and wander
the haunts and heights
of our cities by night.

We would have flesh
delivered living
to the arena
of our choice.

We would delight
in our feasting
and celebrate
the deathful grace
in our play.

If cat people
were the world,
oh how we would purr!


Cat owners. We learned a new trick today. Spray air freshener into your air conditioner filter while A/C's on and it goes out every vent in the house.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Interview with Merlin from Gaia Dreams by Pamela Davis

Heard about Hazard Cat and had to stop by. I’ve been out and about with my pet, Lisanne. She thinks she owns me, but I see her as my pet human. We’re out there promoting the book, Gaia Dreams, which was just released, a book where I am featured! Well, so are some other animals and humans, but I guarantee I’m the one you’ll remember the most.

So, the end of the world is not as final as you might think. It is, however, quite messy. Disasters happening all over the place, and who is always forgotten at those times? The animals of course. Cats like me are the ones who survive. We survive by having a human completely under our, um, paw.

Hello, Merlin. We’ve never had an interview on Hazard Cat before, and we’re super-excited to have one with a cat from a book! Tell me, what do you look like?

Gorgeous, naturally. Oh, you want details? Solid black shining fur with large golden eyes that can stare right into your innermost thoughts.

I hear you associate largely with one person, Lisanne. What’s she like?

A pain in the—neck. She’s incredibly smart brain-wise, but dumb as can be when it comes to living life. Without me, who knows where she’d end up. Let’s just say that I am the reason she’s still alive.

I’ve read your story, and I’m amazed that you endured so much disaster. How did you keep clean?

By insisting that Lisanne carry me wherever there was a mess. Humans do have their uses, you know.

What did you think about riding in a car out of a cat carrier?

I refused to be imprisoned by such an inhibiting cage! I will admit there were times I landed rather unceremoniously on the floor of the car, and it is true I had to hang on by my claws a few times to keep from being thrown around, but that’s all in the line of duty for an independent such as myself.

Do you prefer laptops, or would you be able to work well with a blackberry or iPad?

An iPad might work, but a laptop is best. Anything with a mouse is fun.

What was the scariest thing you encountered with your person, Lisanne, in the telling of your story in Gaia Dreams?

Lisanne’s driving. Ha. No, it was the snakes. Don’t ask, I can’t say more.

What is happening now? Rumor has it you have more of a story to tell. Don’t give away everything! We human readers, unlike cats, like to be surprised.

There is more of a story coming—if the author could be chained to her computer it would come out sooner. I will be featured prominently. I’ve suggested a title of Merlin’s Amazing Adventures, but so far it has been voted down.

Thanks for coming to Hazard Cat, Merlin. Any advice to give cats in preparation for the end of the world as we know it?

Try not to hook up with a party girl. Stock up on cans of tuna and salmon—rather, make sure your human does so. And direct your human to a safe zone where there is plenty of fish. Lightly sauteed trout is delectable, and humans are great at catching fish.

Where can we read your story?
Gaia Dreams on Kindle

Gaia Dreams in Paperback

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Cat’s Love by Samantha Memi

A Cat’s Love
by Samantha Memi

Cupid fingered the feathers of an arrow, placed it on the string of his bow, aimed, and fired.

A cat washing its paws near a bus-stop was suddenly struck with love for a woman waiting for a bus looking at a man who stood just behind a cat. The man looked down the road for a bus and then went into a shop. The woman wondered if she had time to nip into the shop, buy some chocolate and perhaps nudge the man gently, smile and say sorry. She looked into the shop and just as she decided to go in, the cat, a beautiful Siamese, pushed against her leg. As it was summer she wore no tights, and the fur of the cat was so soft and sensual she wanted to feel it in her hands and against her face. Just as she picked up the purring creature and felt it push its whiskers against her cheeks and heard its purrs and looked into its soft loving eyes, the man came out of the shop looked at the woman and said,

'That's a beautiful cat. Is it yours?'

'No. It just came up and made friends with me.'

The cat, for whom the man was a rival, narrowed its eyes as he came over and, as he reached to stroke its head, the claws in its paw opened and in a painful swipe drew blood on the back of the man's hand. Immediately the woman dropped the cat, said, 'Oh, I'm so sorry,' to the man and reached into her handbag for a tissue.

'It's nothing,' said the man, half-wishing the woman wasn't there so he could kick the cat. 'It could probably smell the dog of a friend of mine. I've just been round there. There's no harm done.'

By friend he meant girlfriend and her dog was a Chihuahua that he hated because it constantly yapped.

'I've got some Rescue Cream. It will stop any scaring.'

The man disliked all the fuss over a tiny scratch in front of the other waiting bus passengers but to please the woman he acquiesced as she spread the cooling, healing solution on the back of his hand. He tried to see her face as she applied the cream but as her head was tipped forward he saw more of her eyelashes than her eyes and none of her face except the ridge of her nose.

A 61 arrived.

'This is my bus,' he said.

'Mine too,' she lied.

She would be late for work but this was a chance too good to miss. The woman got on the bus. The man followed. The cat too, unnoticed by the driver. They sat together and just as the woman had made herself comfortable the cat jumped on her lap.

'It obviously likes you,' said the man.

'I wish I could say the same after what its done to your hand,' said the woman and she lifted the cat from her lap and put it on the floor.

The man said his name was David. He worked as a driver, delivering washing machines and fridges all round the south-east. Her name was Diane and she worked as a cashier at a supermarket in Holloway Road.

'You're on the wrong bus,' he said.

'I've got the morning off,' she lied, 'I'm going to see a friend,' and she told him she had to get off at the next stop. He asked her if she'd like to meet for a drink sometime.'

'Okay,' she said, fluttering her eyelashes and pretending to be shy. She gave him her phone number.

When she got off the bus the cat followed. She was in Farringdon. How the hell do I get to Holloway Road, she thought. She realised she was 20 minutes late already. By the time she got to work she would be at least an hour late. Then she felt the cat curling round her leg as she stood and wondered what to do. How weird, she thought, is this thing following me? She picked it up and loved its softness stroking against her and the breezy purring helped her relax. I'll take the morning off she decided and phoned work to say she couldn't get in till the afternoon. Then Diane and cat caught the bus home.

The cat immediately made itself at home, and when she got back that evening with cat food and milk, the cat curled round her legs and its purrs were full of affection. She lifted it up and it pushed its face against hers and she embraced its warmth into her life.

He never phoned, but she didn’t care. Her beautiful cat gave her all the love she needed.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Hierarchy by Amanda C. Davis

by Amanda C. Davis

The first fingernail fell out at nine-thirty at night. I was drinking a Coke and watching my cat attack the rug when the nail slid free, just slipped right out of my smallest finger and left a smooth pink slot behind.

I picked it up. It was longer than I'd thought, a half-cylinder of translucent Bakelite with one white edge. I'd paid a lot for that French manicure.

I held it up to the cat. "You did this?"

She shrugged, as cats do.

"It's not funny."

Her attention remained fixed on a snag in the rug.

"Okay, okay," I said. "I'm sorry I got you declawed. Now break the curse."

The cat yawned. She leapt from the floor to the sofa to the staircase and vanished.

The cuticle of my ring finger went rubbery, and another nail drifted to the floor. Two down, eight to go. Or would it be eighteen? "I should have gotten the poodle," I muttered, collecting the nail. Dogs don't give you this kind of trouble. And things were really going to get hairy when it came time to have her spayed.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I Am A Bomb by Mark Wolf

I Am A Bomb
by Mark Wolf

I dream of being human. Unsurprisingly, I suppose, since the organic part of me still contains human brain cells, though they don't function very well, being filled with cancer. The rest of me was cremated last year when I died. Cancer does that, you know.

The part of me that is still human is in a Croid, (cat-droid), patrolling the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, observing the behavior of Taliban forces as they move between the two countries. Waiting for my tasking order. For you see, I am not JUST an observer. I am a bomb.

The organic part of me that is cat, the part of the cat's brain that controls motor skills and behaviors, would rather sit in hiding, waiting for a rat to peek its head out from one of the ground burrows scattered throughout the region, and finds my scouting boring. It is a constant struggle to keep the cat on task.

I sat-link my observations to my handler back in Afghanistan. One of the sites I've been watching, a series of caves, has been seeing more traffic in and out of it for the last few days. My handler pulls me from my other observation sites and tasks me to move in closer and relay faces back to him; my mission is infinitely more dangerous now. My droid cat body would never be mistaken for the real thing, being made of Kevlar composites, and titanium. T-Rex/cat terminators, or T-Ts, we are called.

Red lights flash in my heads up holo display as a white robed figure passes before me. My facial recognition software recognizes a primary target. A major Taliban leader. I'm ordered to go active.

I feel relays clicking inside me, mixing the ingredients of the chemical bomb. I'm now toxic on two levels, the proximity explosive that will trigger within a yard of my primary target and the biological agents that will mist from my body from a dozen yards away. I'm sent in.

As the mist seeps from my body, I am spotted and fired on. I began running and leaping toward my target. Several rounds from an AK-47 hit me. I drag myself forward the last few yards with my front legs. Just before I trigger the explosive, my cat brain fixes on a memory, more of a dream, actually, of being blind, surrounded by warm siblings searching for mama's milk. It's a good dream to fix my mind on as I blast myself into oblivion.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Name That Cat by Rick Hartwell

Name That Cat
by Rick Hartwell

I’m thinking about nicknames, the universality of them, the reasons for them, the ridiculousness of some of them. Almost all of us have had a nickname, or several, bestowed upon us because of a euphemism with our given name, or a physical attribute, or a mannerism, or even as a designation of complete oppositeness to a fact or reality. Some of us not only name our pets, but we then go on to create a nickname for them as well. Such was the case with a cat my wife and I acquired when we were first living together.

My son John was visiting us at our apartment in Tennessee when I was stationed at Fort Campbell. My girlfriend, who was destined to be my wife within the year, was very taken by one of the kittens in a litter from our upstairs neighbor’s cat. She, as well as my son, was so taken by one runty kitten in particular that I gave in to her request in spite of my initial misgivings.

That done, and my girlfriend and son dutifully thankful and appreciative, it came to the thorny issue of naming this new family member. Ever the pompous classicist, I opted for Pericles, knowing full well that Perry would likely be the agreed-upon nickname. Sally, the girlfriend-later-turned-wife, wanted something softer, gentler, kinder. John, about five at the time, wanted something unique and snappy and topical. What was the result of all this? Why, the cat was named Pericles Batcat Hartwell, a combination from the great minds of father and son. Now, you would of course ask, what did we call the cat? Sally said she needed a cute name and immediately called the kitten Pumpkin. The kitten meowed, apparently agreeing that cute was best, and that was that! So much for male-dominated naming conventions!

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Shade of Grey by Lorie Calkins

A Shade of Grey

by Lorie Calkins

Owen squatted in the dusty street, the heat of the morning sun stinging the back of his neck as he watched the bug scuttle along in a brave attempt to cross the enormous, for a bug, distance between the raised wood-slatted walkway in front of Wylie's General Store and the dirt-level door of the Saloon. He glanced up at the pounding hoofbeats and rattle of creaking wood, and understood at once that the heavy freight wagon, hauled by two huge mud-grey Percherons had no driver to stop the team or veer around him, as folks usually did. Too late.


"Ettie, don't take on so."

"It's my fault," the young woman sobbed, her brazenly gaudy dress clashing wildly with her grief. "I shoulda been watching him!"

"You had to sleep some time. An' he was surely old enough to know better than to sit in the street, for Heaven's sake. Don't blame yourself."

Ettie lifted her face. Damp curls of fine hair framed a face that would have been pretty, had it not been grief-swollen. A few soft chestnut strands remained tear-glued to the old metal strong box, clutched between her arms where she half-lay on the bed, obscuring the promising paintings of horses, eagles, cottonwood trees, snakes, and owls, that decorated its dull grey exterior. "You don't understand, Clara Mae," she said, the pain in her voice so powerful Clara could feel it rasping through her, like barbed wire being pulled through her grasp. "He was all I had."

"You got us, honey." She said the words gently, genuinely, but Ettie dropped her head again to the box, weeping, her anguish still fresh.

"I'm sorry, Mama," the freckled boy said, patting her shoulder softly. "I didn't mean to, Mama. I'll be good from now on, Mama." He stopped, then, realizing that she couldn't hear him, as well as the fact that he wouldn't have another chance to be good.

He knew he must be a ghost, since no one could see or hear him, and he could pass through walls, horses, even people. It was plain to him that if he was now a ghost, he must have died. But what was most obvious to him was that he had caused his Mama pain. Again. He ran from the room, so distracted that he forgot his new abilities and fled through the open bedroom door, down the long hallway, past the other ladies' rooms, some with their doors closed as they "entertained customers." He dashed down the steep stairway to the main parlor, filled with men eager to console the `ladies' for their loss. He darted quickly to the kitchen, knowing he was not allowed in the parlor when customers were there, and escaped out the back door. Reaching his favorite place, the base of an immense cottonwood, he curled between two massive roots exposed by wind and flash flood, that stretched toward a trickle of stream.

"I didn't mean to be bad," he moaned, capable of the motions of crying, but not the salve of tears. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry! Why am I always bad?! Mama told me to stay out of the street, and now I've gone and got killed, and she thinks it's her fault." Owen cried, berated himself, and felt generally miserable until, worn out, he lay quietly in his hollow, listening to the susurration of leaves above. In that quiet moment, he felt a tug. It had been there for some time, he realized, but his misery had kept its awareness from him. Something called him, pulled him, toward ... what? He didn't know.

Owen got up, floated up, really. He hadn't got the hang of ghostly movement yet. In search of the reason for the tug, he wandered into town again. Behind the big house where his mother lived with all the other women, his little cat, Grey Baby, scampered up to him, her body arched and turned sideways. Her fluffed tail straight up, she playfully batted him with her paw. It went right through.

Baby sat down immediately and washed her paw, then a spot on her left shoulder, before looking at Owen again. She took another swipe at him, less sure than before, with the same result. Owen crouched down to pet her. He felt sorry for her confusion. But his hand couldn't touch her soft, silvery fur. He tried to hug her, for whatever solace he could derive, but found he could not.

Peeking out from inside the foggy form of her favorite human confused Baby to the point of voicing her displeasure, a high-pitched cry, so human-sounding that it had earned her part of her name. Owen wanted to cry again, because he was hurting yet another loved one, but he had no energy left for it. Instead, he walked on, Baby at his heels, as she so often had been before.

A woman with a painted face stared from an open ground floor window as they passed the side of the sun-greyed clapboard building. "Mara, look! It's the cat! Be darned if that cat ain't trotting along, just as if she's following the boy like always!" Owen glanced up to his and Mama's window, in time to see his mother turn away from the window, crying.

He crossed the dusty street, still heedless of the cantering horses, hurrying stagecoach, and jockeying wagons. The strange tugging feeling led him to the open door of the Saloon, a door he had never passed through. He hesitated. But why not? Nobody could see him now. He went in, leaving the little cat to bask in the patch of dusty sunshine outside the swinging doors.

Wondering at the noise and the activity around the bar, and what sort of things might happen in here that he had been forbidden to see, Owen threaded between the chairs, around the cow-smelling ranch hands, toward the tinny old piano, played off-key. He stopped there, and stared at the woman playing it. Her gaudy, feathered, red dress looked to him more like a fancy lamp shade than a dress, and certainly its ability to preserve her modesty shared more with unmentionables than outer clothing. He stared at her bare arms moving up and down the length of the piano.

"You! Hey, you there!" Owen started at the first shout. Then he ignored it. They couldn't mean him. Nobody could see him. He was a ghost. His eyes never left the piano player.

"Hey, Boy! What're you doin in here!" The voice sounded from directly behind him, as his arm was roughly seized. "I'm talkin to you, Boy."

"What!" Owen screamed, more out of shock that he had been seen than fear of punishment. "Let me go!"

"You don't belong in here, kid." Owen whirled to look at the man, who was dragging him out of the Saloon, and saw the foggy outline of a gaunt, weather-aged cowboy, with a two-day growth of beard over a deeply creased face, topped by a grey Stetson hat.

"How ... How can you see me?" he finally got out. "How can you touch me?"

"Ain't it obvious, Boy? I'm a ghost, too." The man released his arm. They had passed out of the Saloon. "Now don't you be goin back in that Saloon no more, Boy. That's no place for a youngster." With those words and a stern look, he turned to go on his way.

Because Owen felt so bewildered by his encounter with another ghost, (on top of the shock of the strange world inside the Saloon), it took him a few minutes to rediscover the tugging feeling, and then to recognize that part of it was pulling him toward the other ghost.

"Wait," he cried out in his childish voice. "Don't leave me!" He ran after the ghost of the cowboy in the grey hat, his little, silvery cat loping along behind him, as always. But the horse and wagon traffic didn't stop for ghosts the riders couldn't see, nor for small, grey cats that trustingly followed their masters.

A squeal and a gut-churning crunch made Owen aware for the first time that the cat had been following him. He screamed and flew to the cat's side in the blowing dust of the road. The driver stopped his hay wagon and climbed down to see if he could help the poor creature. It was too late even to put her out of her misery. Grey Baby was dead, consigned to the same terrible fate as her young master.

"No! Oh, no, Grey Baby. Not you, too. Oh, Baby. I'm sorry." Owen cried and railed, trying to hug the crushed furry body. He couldn't. His touch went right through. The driver paid the dead cat the courtesy of dragging it to the side of the road before he remounted the wagon and drove on.

"Baby, I didn't know you were following me. I didn't think. I should have watched out for you, and now you're dead. I'm real sorry, Baby. And I just told Mama I'd be good from now on." Instinctively, he tried again to gather the cat into his arms. This time, he came away with an armful of purring grey ghost. Baby rubbed her chin on him and bumped him ecstatically with her head. With a single high-pitched, "Meaow!" the ghost-cat squirmed out of Owen's arms and rubbed herself back and forth across his shins, overjoyed to be back with her beloved master.

But Owen only gathered her up again and trudged miserably after the cowboy's ghost. The older spirit had more experience with the form, so the boy and cat didn't catch up to him until they reached the top of Boot Hill, where they found the cowboy's ghost stretched out on an old, grassy grave. Daunted by the sight of so many graves, Owen hesitated. But the tugging felt strong here. He needed to know what it was.

"Excuse me, Mister."

"What do you want now, Boy? Can't you see I've got things to do?"

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bother you, Mister."

"The name's Quincy. What is it you want, kid?"

"Quick-Finger Quincy? The famous gunfighter?" Quincy scowled, but the grey hat tilted slightly in reply. "I have this feeling that there's something I forgot to do, or someplace I'm supposed to go. It's like something's tugging at me, or calling me. Can you tell me what it means?"

"Sure can. You got to pass over."

This made no sense to Owen. "Over what?"

The ghostly cowboy thought a bit. "Not over nothing, really. Just the way we say it. You got to cross over to the other side. You're a spirit now. You don't belong on this side, with the living folks." Quincy could tell from the child's face that he didn't understand. "You got to go on up to Heaven, Boy."

"My name's Owen, Mister. How come you're here? Did you come to fetch me?"

"Nope. Been here for near twenty years now. You'd better run along. Git yourself to Heaven, where you belong. Myself, I didn't cross over, as I didn't figure I was likely to go to Heaven, and I didn't want to go to the other place."

Owen sat down, the little cat curled on his lap. "I guess I better stay here, too," he said quietly.

"Boy, if you know what's good for you, you'll take off now for the other side. Once they bury your body in the grave, it's too late. You're stuck here forever." Quincy looked around him at the gravestones, the dead, brown grass, and the slaty, peeling, buildings of the town below. "You don't want to stay here, kid."

"Well, I'd like to go. But I just can't. I don't want to burn. Preacher said bad people burn in Hell for Ternity," the boy answered solemnly. "I been real bad."

The old ghost threw his head back and guffawed with laughter until he would have choked with tears, had he been able to spill any. "BOY!" he roared, then more kindly, "Child. You ain't done nothin bad enough to get sent to Hell for. What're you worried about? Sassing the schoolmarm? Snitching cookies?"

"No, sir," he said. "I'm bad. I hurt my Mama."

"Oh, come now, young man. Can't be all that bad. What'd you do, tell her you didn't like her new dress?”

Owen's small freckled face looked sadly down. "I ruined her life. It's my fault she has to live in that house with all the other women and people call her bad names."

"How do you figure that, Boy?"

"Owen," he said firmly. Then, remembering, he went on softly. "I once heard Mama yelling at a man. He told her I was nothin but a sissy, that no self-respecting boy would be sitting in the parlor playing with paints and colors, drawing pretty pitchers. He said I should be out riding a horse and learning how to be a cowboy. Then Mama asked him, "Are you offering to marry me and help me raise this child, then?'

"And he said, `You must be kidding. Marry a whore? My mother would turn over in her grave!'

"Mama got really angry then. She talked in a voice that scared me. `You know full well your bastard child is the reason I have to live like a whore to survive.' That was me, Mister."

The long-dead spirit was silent for a moment, unsure what to say. "My name's Quincy, Boy."

"And my name's Owen."



"She say any more?"

"He did. He said, `I don't know no such thing. You could've been with a hundred men.' And she said, `Then you got no reason to be telling me how you think the boy should be raised. Get out.' After he left Mama cried and cried. That's how I know I'm bad. It's bad for a boy to draw pretty things, and I didn't stop. I like to draw. I didn't want to stop, even after I knew it was bad. Besides, I'm a bastard child."

"Do you know what that means, Owen?"

"No. But it's bad, ain't it?"

"Yeah, I guess. But not the way you think. It ain't none of it your fault."

They were both quiet for a long time, thinking over the good and bad deeds of their lives.

"Quincy, are you a good man or a bad man?"

"Why do you ask me that?"

"I can't tell by your hat. Good guys wear white hats, and bad guys wear black hats, right? But yours is grey. I can't tell!"

"Boy, ... Owen. White hats get dirty; black hats fade. Nobody's all good or all bad, no matter what color hat they got."

"What're all those people coming up here for, Quincy?"

"Looks like a burial, Owen, probably yours. You'd better cross over, while you still can. You can't get through after the body's buried. I know! I wish I had gone."

"But you said you'd have gone down to Hell!"

"Most likely. Still, it couldn't be any worse than sitting here, day after day for twenty years, watching the living go about their lives, and not being able to talk to anyone, touch anyone, even be seen by anyone. If that ain't a kind of Hell, I don't know what is."

"That's my Mama!" Owen said suddenly, as the parade of black and grey clad mourners climbed the hill. "She looks real sad. I'm sorry, Mama. I'm sorry I was bad." Owen looked down at the cat perched on his bony knees. "Quincy, I killed my cat, too."

"This cat here?" Quincy asked. The boy nodded. "Well, she don't seem too angry with you now." The little cat, noticing that she was under discussion, began to purr and nudge Owen's knee.

"I guess not." He looked over at the funeral procession, his Mama, the other ladies, the men carrying the pine box that seemed, even to him, very small and light. "Mama shouldn't wear black. It doesn't look right on her. She should wear grey for mourning." He took the cat into his arms again and stood up, walking over to peer into the narrow, but deep, hole.

"Owen, go now. Please. Cross over while you can." Quincy had been pacing back and forth, and now he threw his ghostly arms into the air. "They're lowering the coffin into the grave, Boy! You got to go!" He strode over to take the boy's shoulders and shake him. "Listen to me, Owen!" He turned the boy to face him, and saw that he was crying.

"I'm afraid, Quincy."

"Owen, I'm sure you'll go to Heaven. You're a good boy. You ain't even got a hat, and I can tell. You got your cat. She can go with you."

"She's scared, too. You come with me, Quincy. If you come and hold my hand, I won't be so afraid."

"I can't come, Owen. I told you. I waited too long. And besides, I'm a bad man. I wouldn't be able to go where you're going."

"You're wrong, Quincy. Maybe you were bad before, but you're good now. I can tell without the hat." He paused, then stuck out his chin in childish stubbornness. "And I won't go without you."

The prayers finished, women put their arms around Ettie and led her away, as the men picked up shovels. Quincy couldn't stand it. He just couldn't let this innocent child make the same tragic mistake he had.

"Owen, I'll never be able to get through, but I'll take you as far as I can. Take my hand, Boy! Come on, run!" He took the boy's small freckled, ghostly-grey hand in his big, calloused one, and turned away, toward the tugging feeling that had never ceased in him, despite twenty years of knowing the doorway was closed to him forever. He began to run.

For a brief moment, Owen continued to watch the departing mourners. "Goodbye, Mama. I love you, Mama!" he cried at last.

As he turned, pulled by Quincy toward the light, the pretty woman in the black dress turned back, almost as if she had heard. "Goodbye, Owen," she said through her tears. "You were always such a good boy. You were my treasure."

As the first scoops of dirt thudded onto pine, Owen, his little grey cat in his arms, disappeared into the light, pulled in by an old grey ghost in a white hat.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Bastet by Beaulah Pragg


by Beaulah Pragg

How many years have I walked this earth? How many things have I seen? Yet here, in the final days, I find it strange that it is she who dances in wild abandon. Humanity’s last star; she is born in darkness, rocked to sleep by the crash of bombs, while above they choke on red dust. Warm her with your fur, my children. Bring her scraps of food when you can find them. Give her comfort, teach her to dance. They have been waiting for her.

Grow tall, little girl. Escape the pitch black sewers to see the end of the world through your own two eyes; here are towering pillars of twisted steel and melted glass. Fill yourself up on the emptiness, the silence. The birds do not sing in this metal graveyard. Dance out your anguish in the Theater Royale. Sweep clean its cracked marble floors; cling to the dusty red velvet – what better home for the world’s last dancer?

See how they come. They love her, these ghosts of the past. They yearn to touch her, to remember what it was to live. She looks at them, eyes dulled, hating them for their betrayal. Her pink skirt is hitched up above her thighs, sleeves slip, revealing smooth young shoulders. See, how she taunts them with things they cannot have. They crowd around, lusting after life, but their fingers pass right through, raising only a shiver.

Taking a sip from her chipped teacup, she asks them how the world came to this? What justified such a slaughter? Dancers – they cry – blinded them with glitter and flashing lights. Evil slipped by unnoticed. Innocence, they plead, blaming her for their fall. Last child of the human race, the weight is heavy on her shoulders.

She stands, lifts her frail body onto the tips of her toes and spreads her arms wide. Twisting and leaping, she does not falter. If redemption could be danced, she would dance it for them. Salty tears pour down her cheeks as she gives herself over, accepts the responsibility. Her shadow grows longer, filling up with their pain.

Outside, the sun is setting. Yellows merge into orange becoming red, then later blue. In the theater, she dances still. Perfect pink ballet shoes, laced up just so, are darkening with blood. Possessed, she cannot stop. Dance through the night and maybe, when the sun rises, the world will be silent.

She collapses at last and my children cuddle around, purring, licking, nuzzling. They love her, silly fools. They want me to bring her back and perhaps I will…

I wander the streets of this once mighty city. My paws leave delicate prints in the ash and trees grow in my wake. Concrete dissolves, replaced by grass. Water springs up, clean and clear. I will make a garden for my own children; I will teach them to care for the earth and the air. They will purr and pounce and play for the earth belongs to us now. Osiris can keep the souls of his humans, all except for one.

Eve has earned her place in paradise.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Gombhi by Louis Bertrand Shalako

by Louis Bertrand Shalako

Gombhi sat at his grandfather’s side. The two of them were on the edge of a great cliff, looking off across the valley. Down below could be seen the glistening sphere where the newcomers lived, as well as the cuts in the land they had made with their beasts-without-legs. The two had walked up here in friendly, contemplative silence; although Gombhi was troubled by the grey hairs on the older cat’s muzzle. He also noticed, not for the first time, that his grandfather’s tail dragged in the dust most of the time.

He could remember a time when that simply wouldn’t be.

“Never accept the judgment of the mob, Gombhi,” Laughing in the Wind told him,
his paw on the young cat’s shoulder. “Truth is often lost by the will of the many. Do what you know to be right, even if you find yourself alone.”

“I…I fear, grandfather,” confessed Gombhi, trembling at these words, which he had never spoken aloud to anyone.

His grandfather nodded sagely, turning to look upon the youth’s troubled face.

Gombhi had never heard these words, or this tone before.

“I have never met a brave cat,” he said gently. “And for that I am truly grateful. You will never lead the Ni-Annanni into a war of our own choosing. You will never risk all for a goal that is unworthy.”

How to put it in words? Perhaps if he went about it another way.

“I heard that you thanked your mother, and your grandmother, for your upbringing.”

That showed a maturity beyond his years.

“Have you given any thought as to who you are, and who you might become?” he


Gombhi just shook his head in the negative.

“Before you command, you must learn how to obey.”

His grandfather paused in silent thought.

Gombhi heard the words, the voice no longer the strong voice of a young cat, but the shaky and soft wise words of the very old. The two stood silently with just the wind for company, and the land for their friend.

“I want you to take the two newcomers to the place where stones stand upon one
another,” his grandfather instructed him. “Show them where words are scratched on the
stones, so that they might see how even the mighty may be laid low, by history, by time, by fate. Show them how their own greed and ignorance may be their undoing.”

“Who made that place?” Gombhi asked his grandfather. “Is that not an evil place?”

“No one living today knows, but it is to be hoped they never return,” stated Laughing in the Wind. “As for evil; your heart is pure and that will suffice to protect you.”

“See,” said Gombhi excitedly. “The world is a ball — you can see it from any big hill.”

“But not everyone can see it, Gombhi. You look at the world differently, and it is your greatest strength.”

He felt his grandfather’s big paw, still strong, squeeze his shoulder.

“I will tell you who you are, Gombhi.” the old one said. “You will make a good
father. You will be honored to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves, the
children, the elderly, the women, the sick, the weak, and the cripples; and those people as yet unborn. Did I ever tell you about your father? In thirty-five winters, I never saw your father raise his voice in anger, I never saw him strike another cat, I never saw him lose control over his temper.”

Gombhi contemplated this awful truth. How could anyone ever live up to such an
example? And yet his father had been killed in battle, defending a fording-place while his warrior-brethren retreated in the face of superior numbers.

“Do not hate the Ti-Arranna, Gombhi,” his grandfather advised, “Seek to understand your enemies, and to avoid conflict with them. That battle was about nothing; a misunderstanding.”

The pair of them thought about that for a while.

“The most important thing a cat can have is his name. A cat must have a good
name,” his grandfather told him seriously. “Think on how you wish to be known.”

Gombhi had no words to answer this truth.

“After you show the new people the words-on-stone, take them back to their home.”

“Yes, grandfather,” muttered Gombhi.

“I cannot tell you, for words do not exist, just how proud I am of you, my grandson,” said Laughing in the Wind.

His tired old eyes drank in the scene of the valley, the desert.

“Why do you tell me all this?” Gombhi asked, his fears rising to the forefront.

“Because I am old, Gombhi. Because I am old,” and the old cat would go no further.

After some silence, his grandfather made a request, startling in its stark simplicity.

“Sing me a song, please, Gombhi?” the old chief asked. “Any song. Sing the first one that comes into your mind.”

Gombhi cleared his throat, and took a deep breath. He had one already.

“What is it that we mean,”

“When we say we know?”

“What is it that we mean,”

“When we say we mean?”

“Who is we?”

“And what is what?”

“What’s done is done,”

“What is, is”

“What will be, will be.”

“What little we know,”

“When we say we know.”

“The time has come:”

“It’s time to go.”

Gombhi’s words spun around on the air, falling off the cliff into the valley below.

The old chief grinned, nodding in approval; watching clouds gather across the valley.

“And to think I was worried about you,” he laughed.

The youngster was right; another few days and it would be time to pick up the village and follow the suns as they fell ever-lower in the sky.

Louis Bertrand Shalako lives in Canada. He studied Radio, Television, and Journalism Arts at Lambton College of Applied Arts and Technology in Sarnia, Ontario. Louis enjoys cycling and swimming, and is a lover of good books. He lives with his elderly father, in a small war-time bungalow filled with books, cats, and model airplanes. Louis feels extremely fortunate to have retired early, and to have the opportunity to write full-time. He still has his self-respect, and that's the main thing.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Seeing in the Dark by Bruce Boston

Seeing in the Dark
by Bruce Boston

The cats come out at night
to prowl the neighborhood.
On rooftops and in yards
some gather to fight.

Others join in exploits
of feline exploration
beneath the passing moon.

The cat lady from the dirty
white frame at the corner
stands alone in her robe
at the end of the block.

She summons her brood
of strays and discards,
long-haired and short.

She croons to them
in a language all her own,
She offers loud kisses
to the night.

She calls again and again,
yet her wayward charges
have other needs.

With a complement of senses
and a questing sentience,
a range of emotions
and eccentric variations,
each in its own way
consumes the curious night.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Cats Closed by Mary Lou Pearce

Cats Closed
by Mary Lou Pearce

The sleek cat stepped daintily over the body lying in its path. Even more daintily, it sat down and began to lick the blood from its paws as it stared through slitted eyes into near space. Abruptly, the regal Siamese sat tall and began to yowl, heart-breakingly human in its anger and pain.

Repeated calls to the ASPCA and the increasingly strong smell coming from the condo eventually brought authority, of all shapes, sizes and kinds. The deceased proved to be deli heiress, Magda Steinberg, known for both her philanthropy and her champion Siamese, Ming China Doll. There was nothing obvious missing from the scene, in spite of the over-abundance of fence-able items scattered throughout the luxury apartment and the blatant signs of ransacking that were everywhere.

All efforts to capture the frightened Ming China Doll proved hopeless. She knew every nook and cranny and used them all like a seasoned escape artist. Lt. Erickson knew, from the time he was assigned to this case, that his only witness, a sensitive, excitable feline could only be soothed and eventually, questioned by one exceptional man.

He punched a certain unlisted number he knew by heart into his cell phone and waited impatiently. On the eighth ring, the distinctive voice he had been waiting to hear finally came on the line. Wasting no time, the policeman cut off the usual pleasantries before they started.

“Milo, it’s Lee. I just got a case that’s right up your alley,” he growled into the phone. The reply he got made him hold the phone several inches from his ear.

“No, that was not a sick joke on your middle name! Jeeze, I’m the last guy to make jokes about something like that! Look,” the red bearded policeman continued roughly, “this one’s really a stumper and there’s a cat right in the middle of it.”

The bulky cop leaned on the door molding and pushed back his visored cap as he continued. “Yes, I said…cat! Come down right now so I can fill you in, okay?”

The middle-aged lieutenant with the typically Irish face and the unlikely name of Lee F. Erickson barely finished giving the address before he heard the connection get cut off abruptly. He sighed gustily and pushed off wearily from the door frame. It was going to be a long day!

Thinking longingly of a tall cold one, the enjoyment of which he’d given up six months ago on doctor’s orders, Erickson jumped guiltily a few minutes later as the familiar basso profundo voice hailed him heartily.

“Lee F., you old Viking by-blow you! What’s all the caterwauling?” The tall, thin man dressed all in black who addressed him blinked owlishly through thick glasses and grinned broadly.

The big policeman groaned and wished he had that beer after all. This amazing man, who looked nothing like his voice, was prone to using many allusions to cats in his everyday conversation. As if his name, Milo Allee Katz wasn’t enough, this was a man with a most amazing, almost unbelievable talent.

Milo Katz understood cats. He bent all of his genius IQ and considerable common sense to doing just that, on a regular basis. He was known internationally as the ultimate expert on communications with and about cats, wild or domestic.

Many hailed him as the only truly qualified cat psychiatrist in the known world. Lee F. could and did believe anything he heard from and about this man. He’d seen him at work more than once.

It was as if Milo could read a cat’s mind or maybe the cat read his, the big policeman never knew exactly which. How he did what he did really didn’t matter much. What did was that Milo got excellent results and fast.

“Where’s the little beauty?” Milo asked Lee.

Seeing Lee’s hopeless shrug, Milo grinned anew. Reaching into the pocket of his height of fashion suit jacket, the thin man pulled out a handful of something. Placing his hand flat, he began making incredibly real-sounding vocalizations like a Siamese.

In less time than it took for Lee to wonder what he had in his hand, Milo was stroking a trembling Ming China Doll. When she was finished eating her snack, the man scooped her up and slipped an elastic collar with a leash attached over her head simultaneously. “But we tried every kind of food we could find in the house to get her to come out, what finally got her?” Lee couldn’t resist asking.

Milo shook his head as if he would never understand how someone couldn’t know such a simple thing. “The trick with these pampered cats is to offer them something they’ve never even smelled before. In this case, imitation bacon bits.” Lee started to roar with laughter.

“I’ll have you know it works every time,” Milo protested somewhat huffily. “If you don’t need me or Ming China Doll any longer, I think I’ll take the poor, traumatized thing home with me.” Lee nodded, still chuckling.

After both cat and man had left, the policeman took a last look around. After seeing the coroner off with the body and making sure all the experts from Forensics had gotten what they needed and left, he ordered his men to secure the crime scene with police seals and yellow crime scene tape across the windows and doors. Soon all was quiet.

Yawning nonstop, Lee slapped his pal Harvey Tynes on his blue clad shoulder.

“Do me a big favor, pal ‘o mine; take first watch, okay?”

Harvey nodded and said with a grin, “You owe me one, Lee-F, today’s my afternoon off!”

Before they sealed the main door, Lee ran back in and brought out a large, leather Windsor chair. Setting it down beside the door, he brushed off the leather and plumped up the pillow. “There you go, Harve; a throne fit for a prince among friends,” he said with a flourish.

With Harvey’s roar of laughter and comments about blarney ringing in his ears, Lee headed home. It seemed like his head had barely hit the pillow, when his bedside phone shrilled. He swore colourfully when he could finally understand what the voice on the other end was trying to tell him.

On his way back to the Steinberg condo, Lee tried to collect his thoughts. When the next guy on the watch rotation had come to relieve Harvey, he had found the police seals broken and Harvey dead in the big chair, seemingly killed by a single blow to the side of his head. Apparently, the condo had then been, methodically this time, ransacked a second time.

Grabbing his cell phone, Lee ordered a guard sent to Milo’s brownstone. The only reason anyone would return so soon to the scene of the crime was because they didn’t get what they had killed for in the first place. That could only mean they wanted Ming China Doll, maybe for cat-napping and ransom purposes and were surprised by Magda Steinberg, whom they were forced to kill before she could identify them.

The young rookie pulled up to the brownstone and parked her cruiser. She stepped out and stood looking at the old house. Two gateposts topped with black marble cats guarded the walk up to the door.

The walk itself was made up of stepping stones shaped like cat paw prints. As she walked quickly up to the massive door with its stained glass window in the shape of cats' eyes and a huge lion’s head knocker, she decided this was a person after her own heart. She smiled to herself.

When she reached the door and used the knocker, a loud purring sound came from it instead of a thump. Smiling wider, the policewoman couldn’t wait to meet the famous Milo Allee Katz.

When she opened the door and stepped in at the request of a deep bass voice, she wasn’t surprised to see a tall thin black-clad man entirely surrounded by cats sitting in a Lazy Boy recliner and sipping what smelled like catnip tea.

“Yes, officer…what can I do for you?” the man asked.

“If you’re Milo Allee Katz, then you can let me come in and guard you and Ming China Doll” the officer said, holding out her hand.

Clearing his lap, Milo stood up and stepped forward to take her hand and shake it.

“Now why, Officer Calico would any of us need guarding?” Milo asked, raising one dark eyebrow.

As she explained, Milo’s face grew more and more solemn, even as he handed her a cup and filled it with tea.

“So, you’re our guard? What makes you the best man…I mean person for the job?” Milo asked when she had finished and was sipping her tea.

She grinned. “I am an experienced witness protection officer, I’ve read all your books and I love cats,” she said, ticking each item off on her ringless left hand.

Milo beamed benevolently at her and said, “Well, a fan! I was just about to try finding out what happened from Ming China Doll, maybe you’d like to sit in on the session,” he queried jovially.

Officer Calico nodded eagerly, in spite of the fact that as her guard she would have to stay with Ming China Doll anyway.

“I’m afraid you might find my methods a little unorthodox,” Milo said over his shoulder as he carried Ming China Doll draped over the other shoulder into a small library and study off the living room.

“You see, I do most of my communicating with animals, cats in particular, by mental telepathy. This can take some time depending on the animal’s willingness to cooperate.”

“At other times, I use mind reading while the animal is under the influence of hypnosis. Many times, I just observe the cat and it begins revealing clues by its actions and attitude. But then,” he finished as he settled down in a chair that stood behind an ebony desk that was a carved marvel of hundreds of cats entwined to make its legs and sides, while the more solid top was Birdseye maple assembled cleverly to look like as many cats’ eyes. "You probably know all this, since you claim to have read all my books,” he said with a twinkle across at the officer.

Settling a tense and trembling Ming China Doll on the desk blotter in front of him, Milo began, while Officer Calico watched in rapt astonishment. Three hours later, the thin man in black was totally exhausted; Ming China Doll was hysterically bouncing off walls and Officer Calico was sympathetically making coffee for the fifth time. Nothing was getting the elegant Siamese to open up and “tell” what she knew, Milo explained with bewilderment.

As the harried man sipped the strong brew and stared morosely at the elegant lady cat, who by now had finally tucked under paws and perched on her brisket and was staring intently at him. He was looking very dispirited. Suddenly, all three jumped as Milo’s purring doorbell was heard loudly and insistently. Wearily, Milo waved distractedly at Officer Calico when she reminded him that she should really answer all door while she was present in the house.

When Milo saw whom she had with her when she came back, his face brightened immediately and relaxed in a smile when he saw what they were carrying. “Nona!” he cried, jumping up to take the huge covered platter and assorted plates out of his grandmother’s hands. As she supervised their trip to the kitchen and talked a mile a minute, Nona Katz kept patting Officer Calico’s hand and cheek affectionately.

After he had settled his tiny grandmother comfortably in her favorite armchair with a cup of tea at her elbow, Milo showed his curiosity at last.

“Nona, what are you doing here?” he demanded sternly.

Ming China Doll jumped up into the old lady’s lap, settled herself in the crook of one arm and began purring as she was being stroked gently.

“A better question, bubal, is where you got my friend Magda Steinberg’s precious angel, China Doll.” the old lady countered, looking at him over the top of her cat’s eye glasses.

Officer Calico turned to the old lady. “You knew Mrs. Steinberg, Mrs. Katz?”

“Of course,” the old lady said, still stroking the velvety cat. “We were girls together, even came to America on the same ship. Why, we even became citizens on the same day, too,” she finished proudly.

Milo and the officer looked at each other.

“Magda never put on airs, even if she was entitled, she would always play canasta with her old friends, even after she got her rich husband,” continued Milo’s Nona.

“You still haven’t answered my question, how come you got Ming China Doll?”

When Milo told her gently about the death of her old friend, his grandmother sighed deeply then said matter-of-factly, “I’ll sit Shiva with her family when the time comes. But what about my little sweetheart, what happens to her?” The frail senior hugged the sleepy cat and began murmuring to her in a strange tongue.

Officer Calico cocked an eyebrow askance at Milo; he smiled back and said, “Yiddish. She speaks it most of the time among her old friends, especially when she or they are upset.” The tall man slapped his forehead.

“Yiddish. That was the problem all along, the cat only understands Yiddish!” Over the next hour, with a lot of help from his grandmother, Milo astounded Officer Calico once more by coming out with a plausible story that he claimed came from the cat!

After she had taken down the story, Officer Calico asked to use the phone. When she got through to the precinct, she found out Lee F. was out breaking the sad news to Magda’s family. She left a message and began to have a cozy chat with Milo’s Nona, just to see what else she could find out about Magda Steinberg and her family.

What a family! Lee F. slapped his notebook shut and leaned back in his rickety office chair. That Aymes, the butler and only full time servant to Magda Steinberg, strictly speaking wasn’t family, certainly not officially.

But what he didn’t know about her personal business and private affairs wasn’t worth knowing, it seemed. He claimed he was out doing the marketing yesterday at the time of the murder and said any number of tradesmen could vouch for it, since they all knew him at the specialty stories where he shopped at Madam’s insistence. When Erickson prodded, he finally conceded he was named in Madam’s will for quite a considerable sum but only on the condition he kept Ming China Doll in the manner she had become accustomed to until her death.

Then, it seemed, a monthly allowance, which he admitted was more than generous, would be his for life. Lee F. had checked his story and found several witnesses that knew him in the stores he had mentioned stopping in. Still, shopping would not take that long and who knew what an old retainer like him would do to be rid of the impediment of a spoiled cat and an even more spoiled old lady, in order to get the bequest and allowance early.

Then, there was Ida Lassiter. According to her, she had been the victim’s right hand woman. Personal secretary and companion for ten years to the deceased, she had told him every detail of the will and any questions he asked about the old lady’s business affairs, she seemed to know all the answers and then some.

Erickson studied his notes from the interview with Ida again. It seemed that the only heirs were Mrs. Steinberg’s twin girls, May and June. According to Ida, as she insisted flirtatiously that she be called, those two were shopping addicts married to gamblers who couldn’t keep a job to save their bank accounts.

Recently, Ida claimed, Mrs. Steinberg had threatened them, both to their faces and behind their backs to her lawyer, to cut them off and divide the estate between Aymes and herself. So there seemed to be a solid motive for the daughters to get rid of the old lady before she could change her will and if Magda had succeeded in cutting the girls off, Ida now stood to get a hefty chunk of cash for herself.

The daughters, speaking irritatingly in chorus and between sobs, claimed they were shopping at the time of their mother’s death. They had credit cards receipts to prove it, unfortunately. As for Ida herself, it seemed she was busy with the hundred and one things she did every day for her employer and wasn’t home at the time of the murder.

When Lee talked to the old lady’s lawyer, he bore out Ida’s claim that one of the places she had stopped was his office with the newly signed and witnessed revised will. So, here he was with four suspects, all with compelling motives for murder, all with seeming airtight alibis and not a real clue in sight. All he could hop for now was that Milo was having some kind of luck with that cat!

“Yes, Lee,” Milo said serenely into the phone, “I have done ‘my thing,’ as you so quaintly put it, and I’m pretty sure she knows who the murderer is.” He listened intently, absently stroking Ming China Doll, who was dozing on his lap.

“No,” he continued reluctantly, “I can’t prove she really knows, that’s your job, isn’t it?”

Relenting, Milo finally worked out a plan with Lee that he was satisfied would work, in spite of the policeman’s very vocal skepticism and hung up the phone. He smiled down at the sleeping Siamese.

“Well,” he murmured to the cat, “I guess we’ll know tonight whether you know who done it, eh?” Ming’s ear twitched and one eye opened and closed as if in a wink.

At seven o’clock, Milo stood outside the ornate front door of Magda Steinberg’s condo once more. Beside him stood his grandmother holding the carrier where Ming China Doll was telling the whole world how insulted she felt by the treatment she was receiving. Through the door, they could hear the sounds of several voices all talking, arguing, pleading and generally causing a stir.

Milo smiled down at his frail grandmother. She was almost grinning and there was a light of avid curiosity in her eyes as she reached up to press the bell again, this time more firmly. He hadn’t really wanted to bring her, but she had helped him with Ming China Doll and she deserved to see that the killer of her old friend was brought to swift and proper justice.

A harassed looking Lee F. opened the door. “It’s about time” he roared, “I’ve almost got a mutiny on my hands here. What took you so long?”

Milo and his Nona moved into the elaborate living room to find every one of the suspects seated around the room, some holding drinks in their hands.

When the group saw the carrier and heard the cat, they all stopped talking at once. The air was so full of tension it could have been cut with a knife as they looked at each other and then at the new arrivals uneasily.

Milo’s grandmother quietly set the carrier down in the center of the room. Milo opened the door and Ming China Doll stepped out daintily. With high raised tail and whiskers twitching, she circled the room, sniffing each person in turn.

When she got to the twins, sitting side by side like bookends, she bristled. With a yowl fit to wake the dead, she leaped onto the head of one, digging all her claws into her scalp. When the other tried to remove the cat, it clawed her face viciously.

Milo leaped to remove the cat and expertly put her back into the carrier. Lee stepped up to the two women and began to read them their rights. He had barely started when Milo stopped him with a loud clearing of his throat.

“Excuse me, Lieutenant,” said Officer Calico, who had entered the condo behind Milo and his grandmother, then stood back in the shadows to see what happened, just as Milo had asked her to.

“I think you’ll find those two ladies are not the only two twins in the room.” She pointed the carrier toward the butler Aymes and the companion, Ida Lassiter.

When she opened it, Ming China Doll sprang out. She approached the pair cautiously. When she reached their feet, she deliberately peed on each of their shoes in turn.

“I’d say you have your proof, Lee,” Milo pointed out mildly as he reached out one long arm to stop Aymes from running from the room.

His grandmother tossed the empty cat carrier under Ida Lassiter’s feet as she tried to escape at the same time. Officer Calico and Lee Erickson had them both cuffed before the others in the room could do more than gasp.

“So,” said Lee F. over Chinese food at Ling Wong’s Oriental for Occidentals Palace. “Aymes and Lassiter were fraternal twins. But if they were named in the will, why kill Magda?”

Milo passed the Chicken Soo Guy to his Nona with a sigh. “Don’t forget Magda didn’t follow up on her threat to cut out her daughters and leave the whole fortune to her faithful retainers,” he reminded the other man patiently.

“So those two decided to fake the cat’s kidnapping to get some ready money so that they could arrange the death of the old lady so it would look like she died of a broken heart at the loss of her beloved Ming China Doll.” Officer Calico continued the story as she served herself some more chicken balls with sweet and sour sauce.

“But, as Ming China Doll ‘told’ us, poor Magda caught them at it, so they were forced to kill her before she could expose them,” finished Milo’s grandmother as she emptied the plate of fortune cookies into her voluminous handbag.

Lee F. sighed as he pushed himself back from the table and pulled out this wallet to pay the check. “Speaking of Her Highness,” said the big policeman, "What happens to her now?”

Milo’s grandmother lifted a cat carrier onto the empty chair beside her and poked some chicken through the mesh. ”Magda would have wanted her Ming to go to someone who loves her,” the old lady said as a throaty purr issued from the box.

“But Nona,” protested Milo, “What will you do with her when you go to Florida in the winter?”

His Nona winked and smiled across at Officer Calico, “I think I know the perfect cat sitter,” she said brashly.

As the young lady blushed, Milo said nonchalantly, “Well, I guess it’s the least I can do to visit while you’re gone and see how Ming China Doll is doing.” Nona and Lee smiled at each other.

It was definitely time to mark this one “Cats Closed” before things got any more out of hand.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Lost Souls of Cats by Emily Veinglory

The Lost Souls of Cats
by Emily Veinglory

The first soul asks, “You’re the cat angel?”

Sign on the door aside, the fur and whiskers usually give me away.

“I died yesterday,” she continues, “and I was gaga most of the last year. My son promised he would look after her, but....”

“But you think...?”

“He put her put to sleep, my Snowball.”

I open the book; it falls to the right page.

“We have thousands of ‘Snowballs’ here,” I say. “There’s only one way to proceed.”

I lead her to the purgatory of cats. It looks like an enormous hall, walls extending into depthless gloom. The cat souls aren’t cold, hungry, or even scared…but they still suffer. Spread to every horizon there is nothing but glowing, waiting eyes. A thousand golden eyes blink and waver, and one glad meow rings out. Snowball leaps from the masses and into her owner’s arms, and simultaneously one of many Snowballs vanishes from the book.

“That nasty boy,” she says. “I knew it.”

Not your fault, Snowball replies. I would rather be with you.

They leave together and thousands of cat souls look away, disappointed again.

God’s concession to the cats is that although they cannot go to heaven of wild cats, they can go to human heaven so long as their owner claims them — no place for strays in paradise.

The second in line insists, “Cinder must be here!”

But none come forth.

“I see the problem,” I say. “Cinders has already gone, with a Mrs. Smyth.”

“That old bat,” he explodes, “always feeding my cat, sucking up to her while I was at work. I paid the vet bills, worried when she stays out all night.”

“You could share her?”

“Are you serious?”

I gave him a look that reminds a soul they are addressing a genuine Angel.

“I didn’t even like Cinders much,” he grumbles. “She wouldn’t sit on my knee, never purred — but wouldn’t let me have another cat. I tried once with a kitten. Cinders beat the tar out of it, stitches and everything, so I gave it away. And here I am for eternity without a cat."

“Sorry, Mr. Pederson,” I reply. “Invite me by some time for a saucer of milk.”

He looks worried.

“Joke,” I say.

Not everyone feels comfortable around a cat angel, or maybe he’s just not a cat person really, but I could see how it was the blood pressure that got him.

The third guy causes lots of interest.



“Spotty, Phantom, Tabby?”




“I love cats,” he explains. “Any kind of cat, since I was a kid. Now let me see; other Blacky, other other Blacky, little Blacky, Fatso, Spike, Tabby, other Tabby, Whiskers…”

The cats mill gleefully.

“Whiskers, how long has it been, twenty years?”

Too long.

“Whiskers, meet Phantom.”


“There was another. I was about seven…small and black. The name escapes me; it was seventy year ago.”

“Another Blacky?”

“No…but something like…”

“Sooty, Shadow, Jet?”

“No, wait. That stuff, you know, they used it on stoves.”


“That’s it, Zebo!”


“That’s all,” he says, “until Blacky number four pops off, but he might decide to stay with Judy.”

Thirteen leave, but fifty more new cat souls arrive. Another lady edges in.

“I’m looking for Nibbles…Nibbles?”

No answer.

“Are you sure Nibbles has passed on?”

She bursts into tears. “I’m sure. I was only ten and didn’t know. Dad said we had to move for his job. I assumed Nibbles would be coming. On the day we got into the car I was saying ‘Where is Nibbles?’ and Dad said he’d run away.”

I had a bad feeling about where this story was going.

“It wasn’t until I was over forty Mum told me Dad had SHOT HIM. He had taken Nibbles out back and SHOT HIM BECAUSE HE COULDN’T BE BOTHERED BRINGING HIM ALONG. Mummy said she’d thought we could just get another cat, but I didn’t want another cat. I never did have another cat.”

I sense tremulous interest out in the dark.

“Try again,” I said.

“Nibbles!” she called. “I would have stopped him… I would have tried to stop him.”


“I swear. I’ll make it up to you!”

Slowly at first, but quicker and quicker and finally in great leaps and bounds, Nibbles went to her.

Daddy didn’t come, Mummy didn’t come, little Georgie didn’t come, he didn’t even remember me!

“I came. As soon as I could.”

You came.

They left together, not looking back. They never look back at those left behind.

Next came a man inquiring for: “Plucky?”

No answer.

“Always wanted a cat,” he said wistfully. “Mum couldn’t abide them. I got married and Mabel was allergic, so that was that. When she passed on there was this scraggly feral thing. I spent months feeding him and luring him in, almost had him too. Then I found him on the road, stone dead, buried him under the roses. Went into hospital myself not long after, and never came out. Then I heard about this place. I wouldn’t
like to think he was in here…Plucky?”

I took out the other book.

“Sorry, sir. It seems Plucky went straight through to wild cat heaven.”

“With the lions and all? Well it doesn’t surprise me, he was a wild’un. Still, I always did want a cat. Don’t suppose I could take one of these?”

We were fixed with the intense gaze of the almost uncountable eyes of the cat souls.

I have waited many thousand years. No one will come for me.

There was dignity in the request, but desperation also.

I am Bilqis. Take me?

They look to me.

“How could I refuse,” I say.

They leave together. The eyes of the remaining cats fix on me. New hope wells up in those abandoned beyond all hope of remembrance.

“Excuse me,” I say to those waiting. “I must have a quick word with God.”

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Note to Contributors

It looks like I'll be opening paying submissions again starting September 1st and ending September 30th. Get your good and bad cat stories, poetry and art ready for this fall.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Cold Comfort by Christina Crooks

Cold Comfort

by Christina Crooks

Tattie knocked on the raised wood door panel around the decorative stained-glass window pane, then hastily tucked her citation book in a pocket of her blue uniform. She was there to investigate a complaint, not give a citation, though she could smell the odor the neighbors had complained about. Oddly musty, with an undercurrent of some organic reek. Tattie wrinkled her nose even as she tried to place it. Four years with the animal protection service and she’d never smelled anything quite like it. Maybe the reported “elderly lady with way too many cats” was simply a poor housekeeper.

The front door swung open a few inches, afternoon sunlight crawling over colored glass. Gimlet eyes peered at her. “Yes?”

“Ma’am, my name is Tattie. I’m with Ketterton Animal Control. We’ve had complaints--”

“Are you a police officer?” the woman demanded.

Tattie sighed inwardly about her uniform as she shook her head. She wore a badge, but carried only pepper spray at her waist. It was easy to mistake her for the police, and sometimes the mistake expedited investigations. The whole fear-of-authority thing. Other times, as now, evidently, it inhibited trust.

Not everyone liked authority.

“No ma’am. Animal Control is supervised by the city Health Department and commissioned by the Police Department, but we’re a separate organization focused on animal welfare. We…oh.” Tattie stepped back as a small calico squeezed through the crack in the doorway, bolted across the porch, then streaked across the shaggy front lawn. “Yours?”

“That one’s a visitor. Do you like cats?” The door opened a little more, and Tattie could see the woman’s lined face and bright eyes fixed on her with unusual intensity. The smell that wafted out was unpleasant, but not as bad as some.

But Tattie smiled. “I love them. Have three of my own.” She tried to look inside. “They’re a handful,” she lied. If the woman was a hoarder, she might be in over her head, overrun by cats gone feral. Tattie’s three were all rescues taken from elderly women who didn’t realize that unaltered felines required more than the occasional cuddle. All three possessed easygoing temperaments. Tattie’d had to euthanize hundreds of others.

“And you’re thinking I’m a crazy-lady cat collector. Thanks to my nosy neighbors.” The scowl she turned on the nearest house - the family that had called, incidentally - made Tattie’s heart give a little leap. The fearsome expression made the woman look like the scariest kind of Halloween witch. But as quickly as the scowl appeared, it faded, replaced by sadness and fear. “You won’t take them from me, will you? They’re my only family. My babies. My comfort.”

Tattie eyed the still mostly-closed door. “I just want to talk with you, at this point. I’m sure we can get this settled without my having to get a warrant. I believe in keeping pets with their owners if at all possible. If I could just come in for a few minutes…?”

The woman’s expression struck Tattie as doubtful, but also achingly lonely. Finally the heavy door opened all the way, the woman hobbling out of the way with a shuffle and a wheeze. Her blue cotton dress wasn’t quite shapeless, clinging to wide hips more tightly than was flattering before draping in limp folds to the floor. The area of her chest above her sagging breasts seemed almost concave in comparison, giving her body a lumpy pear shape.

Her hair, however, might have been professionally set. A striking salt and pepper, it gleamed with vitality in natural, shoulder-length waves that perfectly framed an aged face that Tattie realized had once been quite beautiful.

“Ma’am, may I just say, you do have the prettiest hair.”

With a ponderous half-turn, the woman smiled for the first time. “Call me Rose. Watch your step. I’m afraid that I haven’t cleaned house as thoroughly as I should.”

You could say that again. Tattie grimaced as she neatly avoided stepping in the piles of cat doo and puddles of urine dotting the tile hallway leading to the kitchen. Chewed cat toys littered the floor. Tattie stopped counting the brightly colored yarn toys and bell-stuffed batting-balls when she reached two dozen. The toys perched atop the cat trees, the dust-sheets covering the furniture, and strewn across the adjoining living room’s carpet. The carpet served as a litter box.

The odor filled her nostrils. No wonder the neighbors had complained.

“I’ll call a cleaner,” Rose said as if she’d heard her thoughts, her matter-of-fact voice echoing in the kitchen as she turned the corner. “I’ve been putting it off. My mother-in-law would’ve had a heart attack if she could’ve seen this mess. Come through here. Why don’t you have a seat, dear, and I’ll serve tea.”

Tattie turned into the kitchen and stifled a gasp. The dominant smell changed from one of feces and ammonia to one of spoiled food. The encrusted, fly-buzzed dishes in the sink doubtless accounted for some of it. The overflowing trash, more. Tattie brought her hand up to her mouth before forcing herself to lower it again.

Tattie demurred. “Please, don’t trouble yourself. It’s not necessar--”

“Bleach for now, cleaners for later,” Rose muttered, rolling up her sleeves. “I’ll have this mess out of the way in two shakes of a cat’s tail. Sit, sit!”

Tattie sat, wondering if the woman had always been so bossy. And if it had anything to do with why she lived alone with her cats.

“One gets used to the smell,” Rose said apologetically a few minutes later as the sharp scent of bleach filled the air. “I suppose it seems strange to a young lady like you, the things a body can get used to.” She ran a sponge over the breakfast bar separating the kitchen from the square eating area where Tattie sat at a round table. The smell did seem to be improving, though an odor stubbornly remained, mingling with disinfectant and the raspberry tea Rose served despite Tattie’s protestations.

Tattie surreptitiously examined the mug, then took a polite sip. “Where are the cats?”

“Don’t waste any time, do you?” Rose observed, turning a critical gaze on Tattie, spreading her dress to sit in the white-lacquered wooden chair. She sipped from her own mug before answering. “They’re around. They’re shy with strangers. Look, there’s Rascal inside the tall cat condo. Over there in the den, past the scratching post. See him watching us? My mother-in-law used to kick him, hard, when she thought I wasn’t looking.”

Tattie started, spilling her tea. It still amazed her, how cruel people could be. “That’s horrible.”

Rose giggled, an unpleasant sound emitted around the mug she lifted to thin lips. Rose swallowed, her eyes narrowed with a cat-like enjoyment. “I couldn’t agree more. That woman was insincere, petty, cruel, and vain. Through you know, she couldn’t run a comb through her dyed-blond hair without it looking like a disaster. Her son - my ex-husband - worshiped the ground under her feet. He’d have held the cats for her to kick for his mommy’s pleasure. But my babies outwitted that man. He never could catch them.” Rose looked fondly at Rascal.

Tattie realized Rose was right. She couldn’t smell the odor any longer, unless she concentrated on it. “So, I have to ask. How many cats do you have?”

“No you don’t. You don’t have to ask.” Rose set her mug down with a thump. Tattie felt herself tense.

“People think they have to say things, have to do things. In my day it was even worse. Going through the motions, doing what’s expected: ‘Be a nice girl. Respect your elders. Respect authority. Get married. Know your place.’” Rose snorted. “Kiss your mother-in-law’s patootie no matter how badly she treats you. And then you die and I’m the one who does your hair. Fourteen.”

“Excuse me?”

“Did I mumble? Fourteen, I said. I have fourteen cats.”

“’The one who does your hair.’” Tattie gazed at Rose’s beautifully styled tresses. “You’re a hairdresser. Of course you are.” Tattie suddenly felt foolish for thinking out loud, and reached for her citation book to try to feel more official. Fourteen cats living in unhygienic conditions were certainly an animal-cruelty violation. But maybe Rose would be open to giving most of them up.

Rose was responding, though, her eyes blazing with righteousness. “She said being a hairdresser for corpses was all I’d ever be good for, since I couldn’t have kids. As if there couldn’t possibly be anything wrong with her precious Bob’s plumbing. My clothes were wrong, my cooking was inadequate, my background was questionable, and if you listened to her catty comments, you’d believe I was the queen of all rottenness. And did Bob stand up for me? Of course not. She queened it over both of us. I had to just take it. I looked forward to getting those phone calls from the funeral home. I preferred the company of dead people to hers.”

“Corpses. You did their hair.” Tattie shook herself. “About the cats…”

“Look. Pippin and Rambo came out of hiding.” A fluffy Persian mix and a large steel-gray cat lolled in front of a thick leather-covered scratching post, playfully batting at each other. The steel-gray cat tired of the game first, crouching on the ground, tail lashing. Suddenly he attacked the post with claws out. The sound of ripping made the hairs on Tattie’s arm stand up.

Rose’s gaze went faraway. “The funeral director would clean and embalm the body, sealing its orifices with wax. He’d wash the hair for me before I arrived too. The body would lie waiting for me on a steel rod that holds the head higher than the feet. That’s necessary to drain a body of fluids when you embalm, you know. They were all cold and stiff and sometimes in real bad-looking shape. My job was to help make them look good, for the viewing. That last, peaceful image of them is what comforted the bereaved.”

Rose glanced at Tattie, and seemed satisfied with the expression on her face. Tattie made an effort to close her mouth. But before she could interject, Rose continued speaking.

“I did murder victims, disease victims, accident victims. I did little children that were taken out of this world by electricity, or a golf club. One young man had been stabbed to death at a parking lot in a bar - he wouldn’t buy beer for some younger guys so they killed him - and that same night I had a young redhead woman in a green bathing suit that had drowned. The funeral director was an artist at getting the person back to as near-normal looking as possible when no warm blood was pulsing through their veins. I learned so much by watching him work.

“When he was done, I’d do my part. Twenty-five dollars per body, makeup extra. Down in the cold, bright, formaldehyde-smelling bowels of the funeral home, not up in the showing room with the pretty pink lights reflected off the ceiling, giving a softer look to the dearly departed. First I’d view the photo of the deceased. Often the photo was more than twenty years old and the only one the bereaved family could find in a hurry, and I was expected to make the deceased look just like that photo.

“I worked from the top of the head, since, you know, I had a bit of a hard time looking at the face until I was done. Usually the person was someone I knew, you see. This is a small area and I’ve been here since 1953. Sometimes I cut the hair, and dye it too. I blow dried the hair and then used a curling iron, but some of the elderly required those tight roller curls, so I placed rollers in their hair and left them under a hair dryer for awhile. Doing their makeup was a little like painting the life back into them. I made them look alive, just asleep. It helped the bereaved families so much to see the deceased that way. I often got thank-you letters from family members, and people would come up to me in stores and in restaurants to tell me how grateful they were for making Mom look so beautiful, or Dad look so peaceful. I provided a valuable service that gave the living much-needed comfort. Did my mother-in-law ever once acknowledge that? Of course not. And if I dared respond to defend myself, Bob would just raise his eyebrows at me with that stupid, infuriating grin and say, ‘Cat fight! Meow!’”

Tattie pushed out her chair in preparation for standing. “Speaking of cats, maybe we could--”

Rose hissed, “Sh! The rest of them have come out of hiding. Look. They never came out when my mother-in-law was yammering at me.”

Sure enough, all fourteen cats and kittens were in the den, lounging on cat trees, slinking along the floor, batting toys about, and two more had joined the steel-gray cat in attacking the tall scratching post. The post looked the worse for their clawed onslaught. A dust-cover the size of a small tablecloth trembled at the very top, swaying with the tiny impacts of claws slicing furrows in the thick leathery material covering the post.

Tattie paused, then against her better judgment asked the question. “So, what happened with the corpse hairdresser job? Do you still do that?”

Rose cackled, wheezing for a moment before she could answer. “Oh, dear heavens no. As you’ve no doubt observed, I can’t even keep my own house properly. It’s painful, due to my arthritis and joint problems. How on earth would I be able to style hair and apply mascara?

“But I did it for thirty-five years. I tell you, I can no longer abide the smell of flowers. Reminds me of death. But I learned so much about the trappings of dying. And about the management of bodies. For example, did you know that when someone has died at home and found face down, the blood pools on the face and they’ll look as if someone has beaten them? And, when someone is injured in the head area the feet will sometimes club down, indicating trauma to the brain? My mother-in-law was found just that way a few years back. The funeral director thought maybe she tripped at the top of her stairs. Or perhaps that she was fighting with someone, though they never found a suspect. I’m thinking it was a fight. That woman loved a good cat fight.

“Through my art and the funeral director’s skill, we made her look alive. However, I told Bob she wouldn’t have wanted to be viewed that way. Remembering how vain she was, he had to agree. He ordered a cremation.”

Tattie looked at the small smile that curved Rose’s thin lips. “And did she get a cremation?”

Rose continued as if Tattie hadn’t spoken. “So many options exist these days for the deceased. Cremation. Burial. Cryogenics. There’s even a company willing to compress remains into a sparkling diamond. Wear them as jewelry, now that would be a kind of solace, don’t you agree? But my favorite, I think, is the company willing to freeze-dry a body. The deceased is placed in a stainless steel tube that looks like a cross between an aquarium and a glass-front fridge and then frozen solid. The ice is turned directly into a gas, bypassing the liquid stage, and whoosh! Freeze dried human. All the museums are using the method now for animal displays, instead of traditional taxidermy. A body retains lifelike appearance down to the last eyelash.”

Tattie tried not to envision it, but her skin crawled nonetheless. “I see. Very interesting. Thank you for sharing such… such vivid details of your work background. We really should discuss the disposition of your cats now.”

“All I want is for my darlings to be happy. Have you ever seen happier babies?” Rose asked. “Look at them!”

Tattie looked. Two more cats had joined the bunch at the scratching post. They all attacked it with a zeal Tattie associated with catnip. She almost smiled. “I want what’s in their best interest and the best interest of the neighbors. They’ve complained about the smell. Don’t you think your cats might be better off if some of them were placed in other loving homes?”

“I’ll call in a cleaner. Once a week. And get new carpets in the rooms. I’ve wanted to, it’s just…” Rose trailed off as she saw Tattie shaking her head. “How many do I have to give up?” she asked flatly.

“Half. And you call in a professional cleaner.”

“And in return?”

“In return I’ll personally supervise the cats and see they get the best chance at placement with loving families.”

Rose glared at her, then, surprisingly, smiled. “Well, I don’t have to like your having me over a barrel. But at least you don’t spit and scratch at me while I’m down, like some people used to do.” She stared meaningfully at the cats, as if they shared her sentiments.

“Okay then.” Tattie approached the bunch of cats at the scratching post. “Since you agree, I’ll bring these playful ones with me.” They seemed the most aggressive, the way they attacked the scratching post with their sharp claws. Maybe the most dangerous. Rose was getting up in years. Her safety had to be considered, whether she realized it or not. The covering was shredded. Tattie approached the dark, leathery post.

“No!” Rose’s shout set Tattie back on her heels. “Not them! Take some of the others.”

At her first shout, the cats bolted.

Tattie stared, concerned with their high energy – they might be difficult to catch – until something else drew her gaze.

Two cats collided, and one crashed against the post itself, knocking it sideways. The dust cloth at the top slipped.

Gleaming curls of elegantly styled, dyed-blond hair caught the light.

“Take some of the others,” Rose repeated. “Not them.”

Tattie watched with dawning horror as the more energetic cats reemerged from hiding.

She could hear the indulgent smile in Rose’s voice. “They’re my comfort.”