By: Karla Fetrow
“I am beautiful. Black satin. Perfection in grace. A symphony of fluid movement.”
“And I am Persian Blue. Really, there’s no comparison to my champion color, like quicksilver shimmering on the water.” Hepoof stretched out a languid, tufted paw and tapped Miss Filia, causing her to twitch.
“Hah,” she said, rolling away. “Do you know what the big difference is between you and me? You are just a cat. You were born one and throughout your nine lives, you’ll remain just that; a spoiled, pampered cat. I, on the other hand, was born pure black. It gives me a special asset. One night a year, I transform. I no longer appear just a cat, although I can assure you I have all a cat’s instincts, but I appear as a human.” She hissed the last words, baring her fangs for emphasis.
“Is that why you disappear on the Day of the Dead? Oh, don’t think the rest of us weren’t aware of it. As soon as the spooks come out, we spend all night guarding door posts and windows, hissing warnings of the trespassing intruders, but where are you on this night of all nights when we must stand between the gates of this world and the intangible brew of the Other? Nowhere to be found! We always thought you had pussied out and were in a dark corner, hiding.” He chuckled and tossed a wadded paper ball at her.
She deflected it casually, then sat up, her eyes narrowing. “Laugh all you want, but I’m telling the truth. I am part of the undead, the souls drowned in the rivers, scorched in the fires. One day a year, these souls resurrect to exact their revenge through me, and others like me. Even now, Mediana is making preparations. Do you know what she said to me the other day?” Miss Filia mimicked the voice in a high, nasal snarl. “Miss Filia, I don’t want you disappearing this year or I’ll begin to suspect that the old wive’s tale about black cats is true. Old wives tales, indeed. Humans are silly that way. If they repeat something that has been passed down through the ages out of wisdom, they think it came from an old wife.”
“What’s an old wife?” Asked Hepoof, turning upside down to see if it would improve his perspective.
“I’m not really sure… I think it’s one of those poor creatures who are put on a pedigree list and are bought, sold, and put on display. No lives of their own, really, so they have nothing to do except pass on gossip and occasionally, a little wisdom. Anyway, that’s all irrelevant. My point is, Mediana is going to try and keep me inside tonight because she’s afraid of what will happen if I disappear. I’ve already mapped out my strategy and she can’t stop me. For three hundred, sixty-four days of the year, I keep her pantry clean of pests. I beseech the sunbeam’s presence in the windowsill. I steer her dreams away from nightmares. I have the right to a one day a year vacation.”
“What will you do when you become human?” Asked Hepoof, sliding his back along the bed and batting at dust motes.
“Scare everybody,” she hissed, jumping down and stalking out of the room, her tail waving in the air. The afternoon hour was coming. She could feel it and she was ready.
It was shamefully easy to get past Mediana’s watchful eye. All she had to do was remain in the kitchen all afternoon, supervising the assortment of sugary smells that filled the air. Her quite visible appearance lulled Mediana more than any hiding place would have done. As soon as it turned dark, however, she melted into the shadows and waited for the first of the small children in their ceremonial garb to knock at Mediana’s door. When the door opened, she slipped out, and never once was noticed.
She ignored the clusters of children decked out in clumsy costumes, traveling from door to door begging scraps, and trotted off in the direction of the alleys. With the evening deepening and the moon rising, her time was coming. The adrenaline in her blood raced.
The alleys would lend secrecy to her transformation, somewhat painful in its beginning. She groaned as she felt her back legs grow longer, supporting an erect spine, a curved waist and a heaving bosom. Her silky fur disappeared, leaving only cream colored skin under the mantle of a shimmering velvet cloak. She let out a piercing cat’s yowl that ended in a human whimper. As quickly as it had begun, the transformation was over. Straightening her clothes and dusting herself off, Miss Filia stepped back out on the sidewalk. She looked with satisfaction at her reflection in a store window. She appeared beautiful and dangerous, just the way she liked it.
The pickings would be easy. The streets were filled with revelry. Punk rockers crashed in and out of bars. Day time businessmen dressed as ghouls, giddy career women decked out for the night as witches and vampires strolled up and down, enamored with their own cleverness. She padded silently, her eyes narrowed and calculating. Perhaps the young fellow dressed as a gangster, or the zombie in tattered wraps, clinging to a lap post singing, “Roxanne”. She liked that. “You don’t have to put on the red light”. She sidled closer, a purr rumbling in her throat. “You don’t have to sell your body to the night.”
He noticed her and the song ended abruptly on his lips. “Hello gorgeous!” he said thickly, a haze of inebriation muttering around him. “Do you want to get high?” He held out a bottle.
She pushed it away, her fingers moving up his arm and tapping at his neck, “actually,” she answered, her lips close to his ear. “I was thinking of something a little more… pleasurable.”
He struggled to straighten himself, his glazed eyes frantically trying to come into focus. “Here?”
“No. Come with me. I desire privacy.”
He was like a lamb, a very dazzled and wobbly lamb to be sure, but as innocent and trusting as a lamb nonetheless. She led him into a dark cul de sac between two tenement buildings, where the moon barely peeked in, spilling a pathway of pale illumination. She allowed him to fumble in her clothing a moment, then unsheathed her claws, more animalistic painted red and attached to human fingers than her cat claws had ever been. In an explosion of complete ecstasy, she slashed his face.
“Whoa!” He said, jumping back. “That is so rad! Can you do that again? Over on this side, please. Make a long, terrible claw mark across my rib cage. Oh, baby. That’s the business.” She raked him again, and he howled with pleasure. “Oh, man. Wait until I tell the others. They will be so jealous. Do you have fangs, too? Bite me! Bite me right here. Make me an undead.”
“I’m not a vampire,” she pouted, crossing her arms. “I’m a cat.” She extended her claws again and bared her teeth. “I’m going to shred you piece by piece.”
“That’ll work. I’m not picky. You’re an animal, I get it. You’ll infect me. Werewolves infect. Vampires infect. Everyone knows about cat scratch fever. It’s all good. Tear me up, baby.”
She smacked him a couple of times, then shook her head. “This is no fun. You’re supposed to be afraid. You’re supposed to try and escape from me.”
“Oh, sorry. I’m not trying to spoil your party, but I’ve wanted to get into your club for a long time. They’ve become a little exclusive, you know.”
“No, I didn’t know. I don’t get out much. You want to join the undead?”
“It’s the hottest thing out there.”
“I see. And your friends, they want to join the undead, too?”
“Oh, man! Rake me up a little more, will ya? They aren’t going to be impressed with a few kitty scratches.”
“Kitty scratches! I’ll bite your head off!” She pounced on him in a series of sharp bites and gouges, but still he didn’t cower. She looked at her bloody but still eager victim. “Eh, what’s the use? It’s not about the killing. It’s about the fear. I can’t kill you if you’re not afraid of me.”
“Because I’m a cat! Do you think we spend all our time hunting because we’re hungry? I get plenty to eat. I live in a house. I have servants. I hunt for the fear I instill.”
“I can’t wait until I turn. Your life is kick ass.”
“And that’s why I won’t kill you. You’ll have to wait. Your wounds will heal. If you want to become a cat, you’ll have to come by it honestly. Get yourself drowned for being a witch or burned at the stake.” She left him while he was still pleading for her to finish him off.
She made a couple more half-hearted attempts, but with the same results. All her potential victims were more than willing to be mauled, mutilated and mangled if they could join the undead. She shuddered at the thought of these strange, new people moving into the neighborhood as household cats. Haunting was a serious business and they all seemed to think it was a lark.
Her desolate footsteps finally found their way to Salty’s Nip and Tuck. It was a cross world tavern, the kind of place you don’t notice unless drawn by the strange glimmerings of twilight or already belong to the ethereal world of darkness and shadows. It was a favorite haunt of swashbucklers, pirates and sea-faring adventurers, all claimed by the ocean’s depths ages ago. The atmosphere was deathly, but their sordid tales were sung with gusto and their camaraderie was lively.
The bartender recognized her. “Miss Filia! What are you hankering tonight? Some catnip tea?” He poured a cup of warm, tempting fluid. She couldn’t resist. She lapped it up, purring, and began swiping at a skeletal head dangling from a hangman’s noose.
“Ah, now. Don’t go bothering Marty. He’s feeling sensitive. He hasn’t been able to get a good scream out of anyone all night.”
“Marty, too?” She sighed and rolled a wine glass around on the counter. “What happened? Why aren’t people afraid of us anymore?”
“I don’t know. There’s some that say there have been too many converts. Look around this place. Have you ever seen it so crowded?” She agreed she had not. “I’ve had so many new customers, I was forced to invoke the no suicides clause. We haven’t had to do that since the stock market crash of the nineteen twenties. It’s even worse at Black-Out apartments. They are so crowded, the League of Vampires has called for stricter immigration procedures and population controls. The zombies are the worst. They don’t listen to anyone and they’re packed like sardines in their basement cells. The town council has given until the end of the fiscal year to raise a few good scares or else…”
“Or else what?” She asked sharply.
The bartender sighed and dropped his head, then rolled it back up to his shoulders. Miss Filia’s eyes glittered and she swatted with both hands. “Don’t mess with my head, please,” he begged, holding it in place. “They’re moving out. We’re all moving out. We’re closing down the borders. Many of us are thinking of relocating in Nirvana.”
“Nirvana! Not much happening there. What about Operation 2012? Isn’t it still going on?”
“Somebody screwed up the dates concerning the Rapture. After the first panic, everyone settled down, and we haven’t been able to raise a single 2012 scare since then. Asteroid collisions? They’re all over it. They can’t think of anything more exciting. Nuclear melt-down? They can’t wait to become mutants. Black holes? They’re so damned curious, they want to know what’s inside one.”
“What if I thought of a way to scare humans? Would you stay if I did that?”
“You want us to stay?”
“Well, yes. Where would I go on my cat walks if I had no one in the shadow world to visit? I’m not like you. I spend most of my lives in the human world. I have six more to go before I’m ready for Nirvana.”
“The rules are pretty strict. No entrance until you’ve met all the qualifications for redemption. Most of us old timers were redeemed a long time ago. We only stuck around for the chuckle scaring brings. If you can give me a good laugh, I’ll keep my shop open. With all these new converts, I won’t lack for business.”
Miss Filia was extremely thoughtful as she made her way home. She reached the front door and opened it with the emergency key always kept hidden in the lattice work, and went inside just as the first rays of sunlight began returning her to her cat form. She tiptoed into the bedroom and curled up at the foot of Mediana’s bed, confident she had not been missed.
She brooded nearly the entire day, pretending to be asleep, but with her eyes were tiny slits as she unobtrusively watched Hepoof play in the yard. His brains were about as fluffy as his coat, but; she thought suddenly, maybe he could help her. Her eyes widened, her pupils dilating. Maybe there was a way to scare the humans. Maybe Hepoof was just the right tool. Making sure to appear casual, she did the old one-two-three stretch with each leg, then yawning expansively, asked Mediana if she could go out. “Don’t you go too far,” scolded Mediana. “You didn’t come out last night when I called you for bed. I’d like to know where you’ve been hiding.”
Miss Filia mewed, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” and flicked her tail. There were plenty of hiding places in the house. Mediana knew this. She was just fishing for new information.
Hepoof had cornered a mouse. He smacked it, encouraging it to run, than pounced, capturing it in his paws again. “Did you see that? Pretty fast, huh? I’ve clocked twenty minutes and not one claw mark yet. Don’t try taking it. This is my mouse. If you want one, go find your own.”
“Yes, about that.” Miss Filia circumvented the mouse held tightly in Hepoof’s paws, and rubbed up against him, whispering in his ear.
“You don’t say!” Gasped Hepoof with surprise, nearly releasing his grasp on the mouse. “You weren’t able to scare anyone?”
“Yes, and that’s not all.” She whispered to him some more, than sat back and washed her face.
“This is terrible.” Hepoof batted at the mouse experimentally. It was still alive. “But what a wicked plan,” he added, smiling.
“Then you’ll help?”
“I’ll call on the cat brigade. We’ll have everything ready by tonight.”
That evening, a very unsuspecting Mediana retired to her bedroom and made her normal night time preparations. To all appearances, there was nothing out of order, except that from the corner of her eye, she thought she saw the blankets move. Not sure if it was fantasy or fatigue playing tricks on her exhausted mind, she sat in her dressing room chair and decided to watch the blankets a little closer. This time, there was no mistaking it. Something fluttered. Something awful squirmed under the covers. Finding nothing but a can of hair spray for a weapon, she advanced cautiously on her bed.
She whisked back the blankets, hair spray ready. From out of her bed sprang dozens and dozens of mice! They scattered and squirmed. They leapt to the floor. They scampered in every direction, up her dresser, into the bathroom, out her door and spilling across the hallway. She screamed. “Mice!”
She ran into the yard, the mice following her in packs, in herds, thundering across the deck and diving into the shrubs. From a dozen homes up and down the street, neighbors were standing in the yard, screaming with terror, while a single word echoed, “Mice!” From the shadow world, there rose a great chuckle, while the cats sat on their outposts and purred. Tomorrow would be soon enough to clean up the mess. For tonight, they were in Nirvana.