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.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Personal Story by Jennifer Wrobleski

"He’s clamping! He’s clamping!"

By the sounds of it, you would never have guessed you were in a veterinary clinic.

The look on his face could not possibly have done justice to what he must have thought of me. No, it was the sound he made – similar to a young boy – as he screamed his objections to the doctor’s feeble attempt to get an accurate temperature.

Of course, it would have been difficult for anyone (let alone a trained veterinarian) to keep a firm, yet gentle, grip on the thermometer, especially while wearing leather gloves up to her armpits. A moment of hesitation from the assistant gave way to a snarl and a flash of teeth, which was promptly followed by the securing of a muzzle.

Have you ever seen a muzzled cat? Up until that very second I had not. And what a scene it was! The bright red nylon cone was securely strapped around the back of his head. Just a nickel-sized hole at the end allowed for breathing. He swayed his head back and forth, trying to get his bearings. Not easy to do when all he could probably see was red.

You’d think they would use a more soothing color, perhaps pale blue or sun-shiny yellow – not red. Wasn’t red the color used by bull fighters? Still, despite my wrenched heartstrings, I could not contain myself and wished desperately for a video camera. No one was going to believe this fiasco.

Peaches (his unfortunate name being the result of gender confusion) did not see any humor in the situation. He was not having any of this and made no attempt at convincing me otherwise.

Aha! The writhing patient finally subdued, the vet raised her thermometer high in victory. A fever…the poor thing endured the torture with good reason. In hind sight (no pun intended), this minor procedure had been a necessary one. Finally, a light at the end of the tunnel - or at least an end to the countless preceding days of hacking and choking (not to mention a horrid ride in the car.)

It all started with what seemed to be a hairball. A hairball wouldn't have been unusual considering the amount of shedding in recent weeks; it had been early summer, after all, and Peaches shed his coat with an enthusiasm that bordered on ferocity. Summer usually meant more days outside…which meant more hunting. Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve never seen a cat eat around a bunny’s fur or peel the skin off a rodent. Nope. Not Peaches – he ate right through everything.

Or so I thought.

Hack! Cough! Huuuuhh! Peaches crouched in the middle of the living room carpet, his body was low and long with his neck stretched out as if his head were trying to separate itself from his body. His breathing was labored and I could hear a peculiar crackling in his chest. Gag! Hurl! With a final lunging heave, a slippery mass emerged and flopped onto the floor beneath his chin.

I was just about to sarcastically congratulate him when I realized it was no ordinary hair ball. I squatted and peered at it a moment before I realized this hairball had a face.

I ran to the kitchen for a pair of rubber gloves and scooped the gloppy mess into a plastic baggie. Not a hair ball indeed – but a whole mouse, four inch long, tail included. Unable to believe my eyes, I contemplated my findings. Did Peaches think he was a snake? I dropped the bag in the trash can and tightened the lid, making a mental note to henceforth ban Peaches from eating out my cereal bowl.

Relieved of his burden, Peaches made his way to his favorite cat bed. After circling a few times, he threw himself down with a dramatic thump and began a feverish licking of his paw and wiping of his face. He was clean, if nothing else.

I spared him a reproachful glance before grabbing a wet sponge and towel. As I stooped to clean up the rest of the mess, I wondered why, when cats vomited, they backed away from it as it came out. Were they also repulsed by it? Well, I was repulsed by this long mess of cat food, saliva and grass. Next time he got sick, it had better be on the linoleum.

A few hours later it was much of the same – the coughing, the hacking, the oh-my-God-is-there-another-mouse-in-there? However, after much dramatic build up, there was…nothing. No hairball, no cat puke, no swallowed-whole mouse. A few more wheezes, some more circling, a thump as he lay back in his bed and twenty-three more hours of sleep. This process was interrupted only by the occasional meow for food at the dinner table or the relentless rubbing up against the refrigerator. Silly cat, I guess he found out that a binge-and-purge only made one hungrier.

This began to happen with increasing frequency until one day the wheezing became so bad he could barely catch his breath. There was something different about him now and I knew it was something bad. He lay in a crooked line, sprawled on his side, chest barely moving. I grabbed a small compact mirror and held it in front on his nose. There was only the faintest of fog on the glass.

Next was a frantic phone call and a not-so-quick shove into the dreaded Pet Carrier. Then we sped off on the fifteen minute trek to the Vet’s office. All I could hear was wheezing and hacking, punctuated by a few pitiful meows. I expressed my panic by blowing the car horn at every car that got in my way. What I needed was a police escort.

When we finally made it to the veterinary clinic, we were both out of breath and were quickly ushered into an examination room. For as much as he wanted nothing to do with that Pet Carrier, Peaches certainly put up a fight to remain inside. In a matter of desperation, I removed the door from the carrier’s hinges, picked it up and shook him out.

My husband may be the first to say cats are not really all that smart; I’d have to disagree. The very instant the examination room door opened and the white coats walked in, Peaches knew what would come next. He crammed himself in a corner, daring someone to try to touch him.

Eventually, the torturous clamping was over, the examination complete and the fever confirmed. It was off to x-ray, muzzle and leather gloves intact. The assistant scooped him up from the exam table and rushed him out of the room. I was grateful to not be able to see his eyes. I knew they could have only been filled with contempt for me.

Alone for a few minutes, I had time to reflect on those past few days. Should I have brought him sooner? Was my baby boy going to be okay? Does anyone offer mouse-chewing lessons? We could not keep going through this. Yet, could not bear to think of losing him, my best cat buddy – my friend, follower, and master. He knew what time I came home from work each day and waited for me on the road. He ran behind my car all the way to the driveway, rubbing frantically against my leg the second I stepped out of the car. He knew when I was sick and would lay by my side until I was better. When I gardened, he would paw at the soil next to me. He loved chicken and cheese and catnip and never held a grudge or talked back and now, he was really sick and I might lose him.

I never felt so lost.

Some time had passed before the doctor returned. The scan revealed there was no other mouse - no hairball, either. Rather, Peaches had asthma. While the doctor caught me up, Peaches sat in an oxygen chamber after receiving a steroid injection. He was doing well, the doctor assured me. A half hour later, Peaches was returned to me in the exam room, feeling better, but certainly looking like he was so over this place. There was no coaxing necessary to get him back in that carrier. In fact, he could not get in there fast enough.

It was a quiet ride home. No radio, no wheezing, no honking horn - just a quiet contemplation of the day and a looking forward to a fresh meal and nap. This would not be the last time Peaches had an asthma attack, but knowing what signs to watch out for would have to be enough for now.

With a belly full of food and the pet carrier no where in sight, Peaches made his way to his favorite cat bed. Pawing at it for what seemed like forever, he made a few quick circles and settled down. Using his tail to cover his eyes, he quickly fell into a deep sleep, his whiskers twitching so slightly.

I was sure he dreamed of mice. Hopefully, they were sweet dreams.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Cat People by Theresa C. Newbill

Cat People
by Theresa C. Newbill

Lucius licks the spatula that once made pancakes,
leftover grease from bacon frying in a pan,
dum-di-dum, his head tilts as music from the
morning songsters awaken with the November sun.

Last night the moon was thin, sharp crescent,
his green eyes hypnotically entranced by dark
clouds drifting across it, blotting his calico fur
with makeshift stars into prominence.

Rowan trees with gnarled bark, huge with spreading
roots and limbs, held knowledge of the dead.
Even the nonchalant nuance of Luicus’s facial
expression honored those who passed before,

knowing that one-day he too shall become dust,
only to be reborn once again. Spit and polish,
he kept everything crisp and neat, for Samhain
fell over his usual haunts registering

each rise and fall of his breath among invisible
vapors that stretched out to touch him; the nutty
stuff of dreams that leaves you frozen without
the mercy of explanation.

“How do you know when you’ve loved someone
enough, Lucius?”

He heard her voice before he saw her, the raven-haired
cloaked and hooded figure walking the old shale
road that wound into a labyrinth between the messes
of greens rising up high from the watchtowers of the

A pinch of salt to guide her way, the violet scent of her cologne,
those soft hands that tickled his neck with the sleepy, whispery
feel of her skin before she shed physical form into the cat
person she really was, leaving a surplus

of bracelets, stockings, and hooded cloak in her wake,
burning her human form barefoot across damp earth.
Lucius saw the reflection of them both in the flames,
their watery images dancing, stirring the fire,

that cackled with red blue sparks into the air. Deliberately,
she cozied up to him as they lodged in the field of woods
where he shivered as she held him more tightly. He saw the
slackness of her jaw, the blackness around her yellow eyes,

greedy for his substance. She once condemned him to death,
this Succubus that turned him into her familiar after stealing
his soul, condemned to never see the sunlight across his
own face ever again.

“Betrayal has a price, Lucius.” They were young and just then
falling in love before he found out who she really was before
he found out who he really was. Witches have no choice about
being witches, they just are,

and breed within their clans. They looked at one another with
night-seeing eyes and inhuman powers before the dawn came
reverting them back to two-legged creatures that made
breakfast in the morning and worked for a living,

existing in secret among you and taking on many forms,
possessing supernatural powers and thousands of years
of traditions and shared history. In the meadow, by the
graveyard, a raised sarcophagus holds a cold,

lovely statue of centuries old Lucius, timeless, suspended.
He still grieves for his human wife, the one he betrayed with
her, damned if he did, damned if he didn’t, but his mistress,
with violet cologne that smelled like rain,

stained from years of weather, dirt, hissed at his remembrance.
And so two once warring clans become one between the fine
threads of time, accepting their destiny; and the scent of her
violet cologne, it had all been worth it, everyday he spent,

in her prison.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Cat of Bel-Ak-Shey by Eric Dodd

The Cat of Bel-Ak-Shey
by Eric Dodd

The cat yowled and hissed, back arched, eyes a poisonous green.

"Stay away from that cat, deek. They say cats be Firstlife." The stall vendor threw a sandal at the cat, which dodged easily and ran off with a hateful glance. "They say cats find source nodes. Bad luck." The stall vendor hawked and spat into the dust. "You buying or you looking?"

Gez had money, but wasn't interested in the cheap wares strewn across the ancient wooden stall table. He looked down the narrow alley, trying for a glimpse of the cat. Source nodes. Dangerous, but if he found an untapped one, he could become ... anything. Better than he was. He shook his head at the stall vendor, and walked into the alley.

The walls of the buildings stretched high above, leaning and twisting, some curved, if they were grown, and some straight, if they were built. The alley was choked with sloughed-off building scales, bricks, trash, and sand. The Island of Bel-Ak-Shey was hot and dry, with little vegetation, so there were only a few straggling cacti and succulents hidden amongst the refuse.

Gez followed the twists of wall closely, turning his bladelike body sideways at points, scrambling over rubbish piles, going deeper into the gloom as the sky-reaching buildings tilted overhead to meet at some point lost in the haze of pollution and filth and dust. A source node. Gez had been searching for one for most of his life, but so had everyone else he knew. Tapping nodes was the one sure way a person could elevate oneself beyond the grime and dirt of the regular life of the Island. If it didn't kill, or cause madness.

He crawled nimbly over a large building scale fallen slantwise against a wall, and spied the cat grooming itself atop a pile of plastic bags. It was said that cats were Firstlife, that they came from a different place, eons ago. Some people said that people came from somewhere else, too, but that was equally unlikely. Gez didn't care. The Island was one of millions on the World, and the World was infinite, so why care where people or cats came from?

Cats were supposedly fond of source nodes. He didn't need some ignorant stall vendor to tell him that. Gez was a rarity amongst his friends -- he could read, and he traded certain items and favors with an apprentice at the Librorium so that he could read the books there sometimes, late at night. The books were mostly lies, but they did agree upon one thing: if you wanted to find a source node, look for cats.

The cat, perhaps sensing Gez' attention, looked up from bathing its red and black fur, hissed, and darted away, down and through a very narrow gap between two buildings. Gez leapt down, hopped across the rubble and checked the gap. It was larger than his head, so he knew he could fit his body through. He shoved himself through, squeezing and turning, never worrying, and emerged into a small, squarish courtyard. The cat was nowhere to be found. Gez moved cautiously into the center of the courtyard, and looked around. Overhead was only a faint beige patch of sky, far away and framed by the mass of buildings. He walked to the opposite wall, looking at the crack-mazed surface of the building for potential hiding spots.

From behind him, he heard a scratching sound, and he turned, only to see the cat leap at him, claws extended, fangs already gnashing the air. Gez threw his arm up to protect his face, but the cat had leapt slightly to the left, and landed on Gez' exposed neck and shoulder, clawing and biting, and still screeching its horrible yowl. Gez grunted, twisted, and grabbed the cat. Blood ran into Gez' eyes from a scratch on his forehead. He squeezed, and flung the animal away from him. He shook his head to clear the blood from his eyes, and stumbled against a wall, only to hear a CRACK! as the thin scale gave way. Unbalanced, he tumbled into the open darkness at the base of the building.

Gez landed a few meters down, into a pile of dust and soft debris. He wiped the blood from his eyes, and willed them to adjust to the darkness. His hair stood on end, and his skin prickled. The node! He thought. He realized he could see his hands in the gloom, lit by a flickering blue light. He looked to his left, and saw it. The source node appeared as a faint blue crack in the air, or a spider web, or some fabulously complicated geometric figure. I've found it, he thought. It's mine now.

Gez crawled to the glowing node, outstretched his hand, and felt the first wisps of power touch his hand. It hurt more than anything he had ever experienced, yet felt oddly comforting. He felt the node ransack his mind, demanding an answer to a question. PURPOSE? Gez could not answer. PURPOSE? Gez felt his mind flattening, smearing out, becoming thin. He seized upon the last thought he was aware of thinking, a view of a building he thought beautiful, tall and twisted, scales glittering in sunlight. PURPOSE. Gez felt himself stretch and expand, and then felt no more.

In the once-barren courtyard, a new building stood, four hundred meters tall, beautiful, scales glittering in the sunlight. Its hallways were roamed by many cats, who found it to be a good home.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Monday, May 9, 2011

Summer Break

Hazard Cat editor is taking a break for a week. Things have been crazy here in Alabama. Especially with new kitties just opening their eyes!

We'll be back with a Bad Cat Week next week! Stay tuned.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Cat Nap by RD Hartwell

Cat Nap
by RD Hartwell

At 8:37 a.m. the sun finally burns off a sufficient amount of the morning fog to plant thin, hazy squares of orange on the umber carpet. These are bisected at odd angles by the shadows cast from the thin strips of wood holding each pane of glass in the door leading to the back. The black and white cat, almost a feline pinto, disengages himself from the cushion on the rocker in front of the dead fireplace and, after circling twice counterclockwise to propitiate the gods, settles into an attitude of a miniature sphinx, exactly centered in one of the new, orange squares. The cat faces the door and the sun and the outside and, with great pleasure, slits his eyes against the glare and prepares to enjoy the expected warmth reflected through the glass. He is much smarter than the other occupants of the house still abed and, even if disappointed later, knows enough of life to enjoy the moment, this moment, right now. The two jays, squabbling in the bush just to the left outside the door, fighting over the favors of a third, larger jay perched on top of the fourth strand of the tautly stretched barbed wire strung between two posts next to the bush, hardly disturbed the napping cat at all.

Editor's Note on this Piece: If only people could enjoy a moment like a cat does.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Spooky and Osho Babies Born April 30th, 2011

We're still getting back to normal in North Alabama. Luckily, we have these guys and gals to keep us from going crazy. Names, anyone?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Brand Spankin' New Hazard Cats Born out of a Storm

My cat Spooky had her babies on my birthday, Saturday, April 30th. She had two orange and two tabbies. Boy and girl in each color. I will post pictures soon.

We got hit hard by the storms and our power was out until yesterday. Regular Hazard Cat posts will resume Wednesday.