By Sean Gilbert
the author here
"Y OU'RE THE CAT LADY,” I said, nudging her lightly.
She blushed. “Shut up.”
She was smiling, though, so I kept it up. “Do the neighborhood kids peek at you from the bushes? ‘Psst! Come and see the crazy cat lady’? That kind of thing?”
She was grinning widely now and punched me in the arm playfully; her luminous green eyes flashed in the dim light. She was definitely into me.
That wasn’t why I was here, of course. Turning her on was just a useful distraction.
The cat lady label fit her like a glove. Earlier, as we walked up from the street, I could see five or six pairs of luminous eyes watching us from inside. It gave me the willies, a little. Still, I was totally unprepared for the sight that awaited me when we entered the neat little house.
“Oh my God,” I whispered.
There were nearly two-dozen cats. They watched us from the corners, from under the small couch and chairs in the living room. The house was sort of ‘open concept’ and I could pretty much see the whole thing from the front door. One or two felines prowled across the hallway and over the kitchen table. A couple of them batted at each other.
But mostly they just watched, in eerie silence.
“Have a seat,” she said.
“No, I’m good. Want to get us a drink?” She nodded eagerly and left for the kitchen.
There were knick-knacks of every description all over the place. I scanned the room quickly, looking for some sign of Morris having been here.
As I circled the room, I could feel the eyes of the cats on me, watching. I whirled nervously a couple times to see their eyes on me, large and unblinking.
In fact, more of them entered the room as I searched. Soon, there must have been forty cats sitting there watching me. None of them were playing or exploring anymore. They just watched. It was creepy as hell.
I wrinkled my nose. Not surprisingly, the whole place stank of cat. When the girl came out of the kitchen with drinks, though, I had quickly replaced my grimace with a smile.
I took the wine and wondered how it could possibly not have hair in it.
“Can I take your coat, Simon?”
“Sure.” I passed her my jacket and examined the wine. It looked okay. I took a sip. Cheap, I thought, but what do I know?
I looked her up and down. Svetlana. It was a pretty name, but she wasn’t much of a looker. Her nose was long and narrow, and her lips were too thin. Her hair was tied back in a ragged ponytail. She had big green eyes and large white teeth, though, and her skin was smooth and fair.
What could this skinny little thing have done to a big guy like Morris? Did she have help from someone else? I’d have to watch my step around her, but I wasn’t worried. I’d been in plenty of tough scrapes before.
She was looking at me, and I gave her a little wink. She smiled, making her a little prettier, and took my coat into what I guessed was the bedroom.
Suddenly the cats erupted into a cacophony of yowling. It was deafening and I clapped my hands over my ears. They had all gathered in the living room and were surrounding me.
I spun around, wincing and hoping Svetlana would come back and control these cats, when I spotted something on one of the bookshelves. I approached slowly, stepping between the wailing animals, and looked at the watch.
It was one of those navy watches or whatever you call them. It had the built in compass and all the buttons on it. It was really ugly and way too big. I reached out a hand and took it, looking at the back. The engraved inscription was there.
To Morrie, Happy 40th Birthday, Love Mom
“Jackpot,” I whispered. Of course, I couldn’t hear myself with all of those damn cats screaming. I turned to face them.
“SHUT UP!” I shouted. “SHUT THE HELL UP!”
All at once, they did. The silence was sudden, and my triumph at finding Morris’ watch was replaced by a more powerful thought:
I’ve got to get the hell out of here.
“What have you got there?”
I jumped and looked at Svetlana, who was standing beside me. I pointed at her and my hand was trembling.
“You –- you killed Morris,” Even my voice was shaking.
Her eyes widened in surprise. “Morris? Who’s -- you know Morris? Oh, of course!” She clapped her hands and laughed. “You work with him at the newspaper!”
“How did you-?”
She reached into her pocket and pulled out my wallet.
“It’s all in here. Your name isn’t Simon. It’s-” she glanced at my license, “-it’s Paul Winchester. You’re a liar.” She was glaring at me darkly. “You’re just looking for Morris. He was a bad man, too. He hit me.”
Well, that sounded like Morris. His Mom may have loved him, but nobody else did, far as I knew. He was a big, dumb, mean cuss. But he was one of ours, a reporter at the Chronicle. I’d tracked him as far as this girl; he’d probably charmed her and then gotten pushy.
“He said he liked me. But he didn’t. You don’t like me, either. You’re BAD.” Her arm shot out to scratch my face, but I jerked out of the way. Morris’ cheap birthday watch fell to the floor.
“Get away from me.” I took a step back and heard a hiss from one of the cats.
She advanced toward me. Her green eyes and white teeth flashed.
I turned to run, but I felt dizzy. I wanted to collapse. The world was spinning. I dropped to my knees.
“You drugged me.”
“Of course not. I liked you. You said you liked me. But you didn’t. There’s so many bad men out there. They lie, they hurt me…”
I put my hands in front of me to keep from falling on my face. It was hard to think. “What did you do to me? What did yrowWW!”
I shook my head to clear it. It cleared. I looked around in astonishment. My head was poking out from under my clothes. I had become a cat!
Apparently that’s what she did to people who pissed her off. I considered the forty-odd cats in the house. Apparently she got pissed off a LOT.
“That’s right. Maybe you’re a bad man. But you could be a good kitty.”
I felt my hackles rising. I held up a paw and extended my claws.
She flinched for a second, then her eyes narrowed and she smiled. “Oh, no. You better be a good cat.”
She leaned down to look at me more closely. “You better be good or I’ll put you outside. How would you like that?”
I considered that. These cats seemed to be well-fed, at least. And maybe she could turn me back if she wanted. Or maybe I could start a revolt. Could cats conspire?
“That’s right. I’m good to my cats -- as long as they’re good to me. Why don’t you say hello to your new friends?” Svetlana smirked at a big orange tabby. I looked over at him.
There was something about the eyes. The big, droopy, piercing blue eyes looking out from that big body…
It was Morris.
He looked at me for a long time. If anyone had ever told me I’d be roommates with Morris, I’d have said they were crazy. Finally, Morris shook his head with resignation.
I knew what he was thinking, because I was thinking the same thing.
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