All of those YouTube videos of cats? Part of their evil plan for world domination!
Lisey hated cats. Nasty things, like reptilian aliens wearing fur coats to fool people. They didn’t fool her, and they knew it. They went out of their way to taunt her.
Mrs. Sterling’s place attracted too many strays. Something had to be done—even if Lisey had to do it herself!
That cat sprawled across the sun-warmed concrete sidewalk, right in front of the gate. Fat and black, with white paws. The tail beat a slow tempo on the concrete, counting time. It knew what it was doing. Lisey knew the truth about them.
Beneath the fuzzy exterior lurked a reptilian monster. Probably something from outer space, that had infiltrated Reflection court for its own evil plans. And it was going to make her late for school again.
Another tardy and she’d get detention. That meant listening to Mrs. Berg drone on in her high-pitched nasty voice. Mrs. Berg might be another alien invader. Or maybe possessed by Satan himself.
She pressed against the screen door.
Just open it. The thing would probably run away. Today was one of those rare March days that was sunny, instead of raining all the time. She liked the rainy days better. The cats stayed hidden, mostly, on rainy days.
What if aliens were actually the same thing as demons? She couldn’t ask the pastor, he didn’t like her questions.
“Lisey!” Mom’s voice came out in a sharp whisper behind her. “What are you doing? You’re going to be late! You know what Steve will do if you’re late again!”
A shiver ran down Lisey’s spine, but she still didn’t move. If Mrs. Berg was possessed by Satan, maybe she could take Steve straight to Hell. No passing go, no collecting any of his shit.
“There’s one of them out there.” She hated her voice. It came out all quivery and sounded like a mouse that had sucked helium. It wasn’t how she sounded in her head.
“Oh, for Heaven’s sake!” Mom came up behind her, not much taller now. Lisey was thirteen already. She’d started her period, had about died when Steve found out about that.
Mom leaned past her shoulder and Lisey stepped away from the screen. If it was Steve, he might shove her out, or worse.
“I don’t recognize that one,” Mom said.
As if it mattered. What was she going to do, go over and introduce them or something? Ask it to move?
“We should call animal services,” Lisey said. “It’s a nasty stray. Who knows what diseases it has!”
Mom sighed. “I don’t think it has diseases, Lisey. It looks healthy. It probably lives over at Mrs. Stirling’s.”
Lisey’s gut tightened and she clenched her fists tight around the straps of her backpack, her nails biting into her hands. Mrs. Stirling was the cat lady. That’s what everyone called her. The batty cat lady. Lisey never walked that way to school. No way. Not when there were always cats outside. Watching her. Plotting.
It wasn’t even legal to have that many cats in Tono. She’d Googled it. Not that anyone cared.
“I have to get Steve’s breakfast ready,” Mom said. “I’ll shoo it away from the gate, but that’s it! You have to walk to the bus stop yourself!”
“What if it goes that way?!”
Mom pushed open the screen door. “There’s a whole road, Lisey! You can avoid it. Come on.”
Lisey’s feet might have been sunk in concrete. She didn’t move. With the door open she had a clear view of the cat sprawling in the sun. It’s head turned. So help her, if it looked at her she’d scream.
“Lisey!” Mom grabbed her arm. “So help me, if you wake Steve before I have his breakfast done! Do you want that?”
No. Lisey knew what Steve would do if that happened. Her feet moved.
Mom went out first. Lisey took short, quick breaths, and followed. There was the chainlink fence and the gate. The cat couldn’t reach her, not unless it jumped, which cats —
Don’t think about it. Don’t imagine it. She watched her mother instead. As old as she was, Mom was still pretty. Short, but thin, and she had boobs. Not huge, but boobs all the same. Her short hair was styled around her face, it made her look younger. Not like young, really, but younger. Pretty. Already wearing a nice dress and heels. For Steven, not that anyone called him that. Sometimes Mom called him Stevie when she wanted something.
She could do a lot better than Steve, that fat, hairy computer geek! What sort of a guy was it that worked at home all the time in nothing but boxers?
Mom was at the gate. “Shoo! Scat!”
The monster turned its head. It didn’t look at Mom, it looked at Lisey. Yellow, slitted eyes that revealed its true reptilian nature. They were reptile demons wearing fur coats. They had some sort of mental powers to convince people they were cute or something.
Plus they had the plan to post videos on YouTube, convincing more idiots to take them into their homes. All part of the plan.
Mom flipped up the metal clasp on the gate. “Go on! Get!”
The cat stared at Lisey and Lisey stared back.
“Hon?” Steve’s voice inside.
Mom jerked away from the gate as if someone had pumped an electric current into it. Her heels hit sharp taps on the sidewalk as she rushed back to the house.
To Lisey, in passing, she said. “Get on to school Lisey!”
Then she was gone in a whiff of lavender, the screen door banging behind her.
The cat stretched, claws digging at the concrete, back arching, tail sticking straight up. Lisey swung her backpack off her shoulders, bringing it around in front, strap still over one shoulder.
She took two steps closer to the gate and glanced back at the house. No one at the door.
A check across the street, and to the neighbor’s house. No one visible. That didn’t mean they weren’t watching. Someone was often watching. It paid to be cautious. Like the time she put dog shit in Heather’s diet coke, she’d used Blake Adams to distract her and all of her friends. It was easy enough to arrange the whole thing and it wasn’t like Heather didn’t deserve it, even if she hadn’t meant for her to get that sick. Who knew that it’d give her giardia?
After all, dogs weren’t as nasty as cats.
While walking closer to the gate, her hand dug into her backpack, feeling past papers and her books. She found the rubber band and slipped it around her thumb and index finger. Then the needle from the pin cushion she carried.
The cat hadn’t moved more than two feet from the gate, cleaning its paws. Mocking her. Waiting for her to step outside the gate.
Lisey kept the backpack in front of her and her hand close to her body as if she was using the backpack to shield against the cat.
You had to be cautious, they had everyone brain-washed.
She pulled back the needle as she reached the gate. “Get out of here, nasty cat!”
It raised its head. The hair started rising on its back. The lips drew back from gleaming white fangs. The filthy, nasty, monster!
She let the needle fly!
The cat let out a hair-raising yowl and took off running. It bolted beneath Mom’s Jetta and didn’t stop. It reappeared on the other side of the car, springing up over the white picket fence. And kept going, toward Mrs. Stirling’s house.
Come back and I’ll really show you! Lisey thought. I’ll teach you a lesson you won’t forget!
She pushed the gate open and stepped out, closing it carefully behind. Not that it’d stop the nasty things from getting in. Her heart was racing so hard, her chest might burst. She slipped her backpack back on and started running.
After school Lisey walked home slowly, thumbs hooked in the straps of her backpack. It wasn’t like she wanted to go home, there just wasn’t any other place to go.
Sleep out on the streets? Gross. She was too smart to end up as some pimp’s sex slave. If they’d even want her, on account that she didn’t really have boobs yet. There were enough pervs and weirdoes out there that they probably would want her, but that was gross. Like the time she’d heard gagging noises in Steve’s “office” and had looked in to see Mom on the floor beneath his desk, between his legs. She couldn’t really see what Mom was doing, but she knew. For one thing, creepy Steve was watching the same thing going on in a video on the computer screen.
Seriously sick. No way she’d be caught dead doing something like that. She couldn’t even tell anyone, it was so sick. Not Dad, on the rare times that they Skyped. He was clear across the country living in Tennessee with his bleached blond redneck girlfriend, Tiffany, which was just as sick. It would have made more sense if Tiffany and Steve had hooked up instead of her parents splitting up.
While she walked, she kept an eye out for the cats. Someone had to do it. They’d take over everything otherwise.
The decaying mobile home three houses down. A skinny gray cat sat on the porch railing. A second cat lurked beneath the rusted bumper of a broke-down Datsun pickup in the weedy yard.
At the gray house, Simpson’s house, a fluffy white cat lounged on the window sill inside. It watched her with lazy insolence as she walked past. Daring her to do something.
Indoor cats were good and bad. Good, because they stayed away. Bad, because there wasn’t anything to be done about them.
The outside cats, the strays, those were the worst. It wasn’t like Animal Services got rid of them either. Why find them new homes? They were taking over!
She reached her house and stopped on the sidewalk. She didn’t want to go in.
The screen door banged open. Steve stepped out, wearing a robe. It wasn’t even belted over his swollen, hairy belly.
“You’d better get in here,” he said. “Your mother’s been worried sick. You’re supposed to come straight home!”
Lisey ducked her head and hurried up the driveway.
Steve worked nights and Mom liked spending the first part of the night soaking in a hot bath.
Lisey paused on the way past the bathroom. “Taking out the trash!”
“Thank you, Lisey,” Mom said from inside.
Lisey went out the backyard, taking the kitchen trash with her.
The shed was one of those prefab aluminum sheds, squatting in the corner of the backyard, smelling of gas and old grass. It held the lawn mower, the rakes, and other tools that rarely got used anymore. That was always Dad’s thing. Since he was gone, it was her place. Like Steve was ever going to mow the lawn. If she didn’t do it, it wouldn’t happen. She pulled the string to switch on the light.
The catcher stood in the corner. Lisey picked it up, running her hands down the smooth plastic. It’d started as a white plastic broom handle. She had taken off the ends, leaving a hollow handle. Then she’d run a length of clothesline through it, to create a loop at one end. At the other, the lines went through two holes drilled through a thick dowel and tied in knots. Pull back on the dowel, and the loop hanging out the end tightened.
She clenched it in her hands until her knuckles were white. It seemed simple, but she’d never had the guts to use it.
The cat this morning. She twisted the handle in her hands. Nasty, dirty things. If animal services wouldn’t take care of them, if no one would, then she’d have to do it.
The thought made her gut tighten like she was sick or something.
It was Mrs. Stirling behind the strays in the neighborhood. She kept feeding them. People dumped them off there. It was too many. Somebody had to do something about it.
It’d have to be her.
She clutched the catcher and went out into the night to fight the alien menance.
Night was the absolute worst. During the day cats tended to sleep a lot. At night they went out, slinking around in the darkness doing who knew what.
Lisey walked quickly, clutching the catcher close. Her heart was pounding so hard it probably was going to scare the cats away.
That wouldn’t be so bad. Except then they’d come back.
Six houses down to Mrs. Stirling’s house. She skirted around the pools of light from the street lights. If people saw her out, someone might say something to Mom.
And she didn’t have much time. Eventually, mom might wonder why she hadn’t come back in from taking out the trash.
The street curved around, and there was Mrs. Stirling’s house, just ahead.
As houses went on the block it was a fairly nice place. A small two-story house, blue, with those fake white shutters on the windows. Not much of a lawn to speak off, a tiny circle in front, surrounded by flower beds and shrubs. A porch wrapped around the front of the house from the garage over and around the side.
That’s where the cats liked to hang out. Some days it looked like there was a dozen or more of them, lounging on the porch, on the railing, draped all over looking fat and satisfied with themselves.
When they weren’t lurking in the bushes.
In the dark, the house looked less inviting. The bushes and the trees along the sides shrouded the place. No lights were on. Mrs. Stirling must go to bed early.
Lisey’s chest heaved. She hadn’t been this close to the house in weeks. Ordinarily, she stayed away, but Mrs. Stirling was the reason that the cats were taking over the neighborhood. They had to be stopped! She had the catcher. That was something.
Her resolve hardened. She took a step out into the street. Then another. Then, feeling exposed, she hurried across the street right up to the picket fence that bordered the sidewalk.
Lisey went still again, watching, and listening.
Glowing eyes appeared beneath the bushes ahead, catching the light from the street light a couple houses down. She swallowed the shriek that tried to escape.
Was there anything creepier!
Glowing eyes regarded her. The shape of the cat itself was hidden by the bushes. It was only two disembodied circles watching her with demonic intensity.
Did they know? Could they tell what she intended? Heat rushed into her face and her courage almost broke. She could run home, put the catcher away and forget the whole idea.
Except, except it was watching her. If she ran now she didn’t think she’d ever stop. They’d have won completely. They already made her walk to school a living hell.
It had to stop.
Lisey walked closer to the cat, slowly. She spoke softly, hating that her voice shook, trying to coax out the beast.
“Here, kitty, kitty.”
The glowing eyes blinked out like fireflies then opened.
Mrewp. The cat rose and stepped out of the bushes.
In the dim light, it was black, with white markings. Was it the same cat that she’d seen this morning? She couldn’t tell.
Lisey jerked the catcher and the cat jumped back away from the loop. She bit her lip, hard. Her heart was hammering so hard in her chest, it was like the time she had run the quarter-mile race at school against Wendy Johnson.
The cat was fast too. It was watching her, wary, poised to dart away, but apparently curious what she was doing.
The catcher shook in her hands. Tears stung her eyes and the loop dropped. The cat watched it move.
Lisey shook the loop more, dropping it down onto the driveway. She jerked it around and the cat crouched. She pulled it back, away from the cat.
The cat jumped.
She snapped it up as fast and as hard as she could. As if by magic the loop went right around the cat’s head. It could have been a trick, the cat jumping through the loop, except the rest of the cat wouldn’t fit.
The catcher jerked in her hands and the cat fell, twisting, already trying to escape.
Lisey grabbed the dowel at her end and pulled. The loop tightened around the cat’s throat. It growled and tried backing up.
She pulled harder.
The cat exploded! It bolted, almost succeeding in yanking the catcher out of her hands!
She yanked it back, flipping it on its backside. The cat’s yowls grew in volume, a nerve-shocking noise that rose into the night.
“Shut up!” Lisey yanked harder on the dowel and twisted it around, drawing the noose tighter. “Shut up, you stupid cat!”
The cat tried backing out again, running in a backward circle at the end of the catcher. Her arms hurt, and still the cat fought!
She twisted the dowel around more and more, drawing the loop tighter. Tighter!
Out of the dark, a woman’s voice shouted. “What are you doing?!”
Lisey looked up, shocked at the sudden appearance of the woman with frizzy white hair, and a dark dress, bearing down on her like an apparition from the grave.
Mrs. Stirling. The cat lady. Lisey shrieked.
“Quiet!” Mrs. Stirling snapped. She snatched the catcher from Lisey’s fingers.
It was all over. Lisey’s chest heaved. She was caught. At the least her Mom would be called. Maybe the police. Word would get out.
What was Mrs. Stirling doing?
She slid her hands down the catcher to the cat, now lying on its side, gasping. Mrs. Stirling gently picked up the cat. She cradled it in her arms, pulling the noose free. The cat’s wide eyes blinked up at her as it sucked air. Mrs. Stirling’s hand soothed the cat, running down its neck.
Bile rose in Lisey’s throat. “I—”
Mrs. Stirling’s hands did some sort of movement, quick and sharp. There was a snap, loud, but at the same time not, like someone popping their knuckles. The cat’s legs kicked hard, twice, like it was trying to escape and then it lay still.
“That’s how you do it,” Mrs. Stirling said. “Quick. Quietly. You don’t draw attention to the whole neighborhood! What’s your name?”
“Lisey.” A mouse-squeak answer.
“Well, Lisey, you’d better come inside. We can’t send you back home in that state, your parents would worry.”
Mrs. Stirling started up the walk. Lisey’s feet carried her along, as if making the choice for her.
A few minutes later Lisey sat on a hard kitchen chair, painted blue, with her feet up on the seat. A mug of untouched hot chocolate was in her hands, the steam carrying the rich cocoa smells into her face while marshmallows melted.
The cat lay dead, eyes half-open, a tiny pink tongue sticking from its mouth, in the center of the table.
Other cats prowled around the room. Their meows echoed. They twined around Mrs. Stirling’s legs as she filled a large enamelware pot with water at the big kitchen sink.
A small white cat jumped up onto the kitchen table, sniffing at the dead cat.
Mrs. Stirling snapped her fingers. “Down!”
Instantly the white cat turned and jumped, vanishing from view. Lisey pulled her arms and legs in closer, wishing she could close her eyes, that she could be back in her room, but closing her eyes would be worse than having them open.
Mrs. Stirling grunted and carried the pot to the stove. She came back to the kitchen table and picked up the dead cat by its hind legs.
“There’s no point being sneaky with cats,” she said. “They’re sneaky devils all on their own. Try that, it’ll never work. They think with their guts. Hook them there, and they’re yours.”
She carried it back to the sink and lifted it up. What was she doing? Lisey couldn’t help but watch. Why was she —
There were two metal hooks in the ceiling, like ones used to hang plants, except sharp. Mrs. Stirling impaled one back foot on the hook on the left, and then the other on the hook on the right.
The cat hung upside down, legs spread, white belly facing Mrs. Stirling.
On the floor, the cats meowed more and paced in circles. A long-haired tabby stood up, paws on the counter. A practiced shove of Mrs. Stirling’s knee sent it away.
Mrs. Stirling grabbed a knife from a magnetic rack at the side of the sink. It was short and caught the light on the fine edge.
“Head has to go first.” Mrs. Stirling’s hand enveloped the head and the knife cut at the neck, pressing hard and fast, two quick tugs and the head came free. Blood poured from the neck, but Mrs. Stirling had already pulled her hand away. She dropped the head with a thud into the sink.
Lisey’s throat was dry. She hardly felt the chair beneath her. Her heart raced.
Mrs. Stirling pinched the fur on the cat’s chest while the blood slowed to a trickle.
“Easy enough to clean ’em. A slice here.” A quick cut across the chest.
Lisey felt dizzy and sipped the hot chocolate. The heat and chocolate spread like a balm through her throat, soothing her.
“Not deep, mind you, just through the first layers. Then cut up, like this, opening the belly skin, as easy as pulling a zipper, but not so deep as to enter the gut.” The knife cut up along the belly of the cat, parting the fur as if there really was a zipper there.
The smell of meat filled the room. The cats on the floor meowed and spun in increasing frenetic circles, pacing around the chairs and Mrs. Stirling. Lisey couldn’t tell how many there were, but a lot.
Lisey sipped more hot chocolate.
“Up the legs, around, and now it all comes off like a glove.” Mrs. Stirling put down the knife and grabbed the fur. She tugged and pulled, quick hard actions and the skin peeled right down the cat, turned inside out and off, until it hung from the naked front feet.
“A good pair of shears works with the feet, or you can do like I do.” She grabbed each of the front legs and snapped the leg right above the foot as easily as a twig. Then she picked up her knife and sliced off the feet, and the fur went with it. The only fur left was on the tail, hanging in a limp curve behind the back.
Mrs. Stirling looked at her, and then the tail. She nodded. “You’ve got the idea. The same thing with the tail, although that you can pretty much pull off.”
She grabbed it at the base and twisted. The sound was soft, popping, tearing and then the tail came free in her hand.
The cats paced all around, bumping the chair. Lisey sipped her hot chocolate and ignored them, entranced by Mrs. Stirling. Her neighbor smiled.
“Almost done. Slit here.” The knife went through the bulging translucent skin over the belly, and slit upwards.
All kinds of guts, squishy and wrinkled, pushed against the opening.
Mrs. Stirling put down the knife and parted the skin she reached in and pinched near the top with her fingers. “Get a good grip here, you don’t want to get any mess on the meat if you can help it. A quick tug, pull it all down and out.”
As easy as that the guts spilled out of the cat, dangling down in brown and grays. Not bloody, really, at all. Lisey wondered at that, and what all those shapes were.
Now the cats went crazy, wails rising in frantic pleas, circling madly around Mrs. Stirling.
“Hook in two fingers down at the bottom and scrape out the rest. The lungs’ll usually break up, that’s okay.” Mrs. Stirling dug in with her fingers and pulled out the rest, the whole mass of stuff coming out, and when her hand came out this time it was bloodied.
She ran the cat’s organs through her fingers and pulled free a large dark mass. “Liver. Very good, organ meats. People don’t get enough.”
Mrs. Stirling placed the liver on a cutting board beside the sink and picked up her knife. With practiced strokes, she chopped it into bits. Then she put the knife down and swept the pieces into her hand. She beamed at Lisey.
“You’ll like this.”
She scattered the liver bits onto the floor like she was feeding birds.
The cats tumbled over themselves to get the pieces. Yowls and hisses emerged from the pile. While they argued and devoured the pieces, Mrs. Stirling picked another organ. It was dark, harder.
“Heart. Kidneys are good too.” She chopped while she talked. “Cat gut makes good string, it was often used in the past. Of course, you can tan the hide and it makes a nice leather. I like to use everything.”
Mrs. Stirling reached up and pulled the cat down off the hooks. Two sharp snaps, a cut of the knife and the rear paws were free. She rinsed the naked pink, emptied out cat—it didn’t even look like a cat anymore—with the tap and then dropped the whole thing in the steaming pot on the stove.
“The meat is tasty, I usually boil it to make a good broth and get everything off the bones. I’ll leave that to shimmer, once I clean the bones they’ll get dried and ground into bone meal to fertilize the garden. Nothing gets wasted.”
Mrs. Stirling clucked her tongue. “Look at the time! You’d best get home. Come by tomorrow, Lisey, and this one will be ready. I think you’ll like it. I grow all my own vegetables.”
When Mrs. Stirling lifted the hot chocolate mug from Lisey’s hands she blinked, startled. Her eyes kept going back to the skin, and a drop of blood that was still hanging on the curved chrome faucet.
The cat was in the pot turning into soup. Mrs. Stirling had killed it. Killed it, skinned it, gutted it, and stuck it in the pot. And there hadn’t been anything reptilian underneath the fur. No devils inside. Nothing but meat and bones. Like a chicken, with fur instead of feathers.
Mrs. Stirling’s hand fell on her shoulder. Lisey stirred and looked up at the woman’s kindly face. “Tomorrow?”
“Yes. Soup’ll be on. We’ll have crackers and we can talk.”
“Thank you. That sounds nice.”
Lisey stood up. A pale orange cat rubbed against her legs. She didn’t shriek. She looked down at it and it was just meat. Sooner or later it’d end up on those hooks, skinned and cooked while all of the other cats milled around for its giblets.
“It is funny, isn’t it?” Mrs. Stirling asked, as if she could read Lisey’s mind.
They were walking together now, through Mrs. Stirling’s house. It was nice, cozy, and smelled like cooking. Mrs. Stirling opened the door for her, shooing back cats with her legs.
Outside the cool air was like coming up out of a deep pool and breaking into the air. Mrs. Stirling had saved her from drowning.
“There you go, Lisey. Run on home. I’ll look forward to seeing you tomorrow.”
Lisey waved and walked down the sidewalk feeling light on her feet. From beneath rose bushes on the corner, a cat’s glowing eyes watched her, and all that came to mind was all those other cats begging for the guts. She wrinkled her nose. In one way, they were monsters. They ate their own.
Mom and Steve were arguing when she reached the front door, she could hear them all the way from the yard.
“Jeez,” she said, stepping inside. “The whole neighborhood is going to hear you!”
They were both in the living room, facing each other across the coffee table, except Mom was standing and Steve was sitting on the couch, his hairy belly hanging out over his boxers, robe hanging open. He didn’t stand up at all when she came in, thank goodness for small favors.
Mom’s hands fluttered like birds that didn’t have a perch. “Where were you?”
“I told you I was taking out the trash, it was so nice I took a little walk.”
Steve’s fat face flushed. “Oh? Is that what you did? A walk?” He sneered. “By yourself? In the dark?”
Lisey looked right back at him, right into his piggy little eyes. “Yeah, Steven. I did. I went and saw Mrs. Stirling.”
And her voice didn’t quaver or sound mousy at all.
His face darkened. “The cat lady? Now I know you’re lying!”
“I’m not, ask her yourself if you want. She’s invited me over for dinner tomorrow.” Lisey smiled her brightest smile. “I’m sure she’d make room for you if you want to invite yourself.”
Leaving Steve – Steven – with his mouth hanging open, Lisey turned to Mom. “I’m going to head up to bed, Mom. I’m sorry I worried you. I went to see Mrs. Stirling, to ask if she could help me see what she sees in cats. She did.”
With that, final word – she got in the final word! – Lisey walked past Mom and headed to her room.
This story is the 80th short story release, written in March 2013. This dark twist on the idea of a ‘cat lady’ hits my funny bone. I could see her finding her way into a longer work.
If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Next up is my story, The Copyleft Heart.