A clutter of stray cats roams the streets at night, eating corpses. Least that’s what they say. The clutter don’t make the corpses neither; they just sort of clean them up for us. Course, technically speaking, they’re a destruction of cats, seeing as how they’re wild. But clutter sounds better. Besides, all cats are wild no matter how fat and lazy and orange they might pretend to be. Cats are more like us than we care to admit. Only two animals who regularly practice sadism are us and the kitty cats. Hell, they even domesticated themselves just like we did. But even after all these thousands of years, they’re still creatures of the night. Just like us. Just like that Laura Branigan song. And just like the world.
But a clutter of them roaming the streets of our sleepy little burg, munching on our decomposing neighbors? Like something out of the Sunday Scaries? Hard to swallow. Course it would explain some things.
Y’all know that bull about how cats eat you after you die? Dogs eat you, too. It just takes them longer to work up to it, but eventually they do. They all do. All our pets eat us in the end because that’s just what the world does.
But cats eat you quicker. Not because they’re evil, mind. No sir. It’s because kitties are what’s known as ah-blig-ate carnivores, meaning they can’t get their nightly protein from nothing that didn’t have parents. Don’t blame the poor kitties, though. It’s like the scorpion that stung the frog, or the snake that bit the woman. It’s in their nature. Has nothing to do with wicked or unwicked. It just eats.
Take Austin Abernathy for example. Now I didn’t know him well as most, but I did know he was like me. He liked kitty cats, and that was enough.
He was a working stiff with bad eyes, thinning hair, the beginnings of a middle-age paunch, and word was he suffered from bouts of insomnia. That’s how it was that night—he was burning the midnight oil replying to long neglected emails from people he didn’t care about and enjoying the summer smells through the open window—when he first heard it.
Austin tore his achin’ eyes away from the harsh glow of his computer screen and gazed into the black portal of his office window. That meow he’d heard had been like the whistle in that Cummings poem—far and wee. He checked just to make sure it weren’t his own cat. Good ol’ Mr. Mistoffelees, with his great dust colored mane and brilliant yellow eyes, was coiled in his usual spot under the desk. He was looking towards that open window like he didn’t trust it. Then they both heard it again.
Mr. Mistoffelees stood up, arching his back and trying to make himself look big.
“What is it, huh, buddy?” Austin asked. “Friend of yours?”
Mr. Mistoffelees wouldn’t take his eyes off that window. Austin didn’t know what was happening, but ol’ Mr. Mistoffelees? Oh, he knew.
Austin fetched himself a deep sigh. “God damnit.”
It sounded hungry. And there weren’t no way he was ever going to let a kitty go hungry. No matter how much he didn’t want to put his pants and shoes on. No ma’am. He threw on a pair of sweats, slipped into his shitty shoes, filled a plastic bowl with kitty crunchies and went outside. It was darker’n hell. He shook the bowl so the dry crunchies made a gravelly sound, and then he called in a loud falsetto:
It was still far and wee, and it sounded like it was coming from that tree line about a dozen yards from his backdoor. He strolled on up to the edge of the woods, shaking that bowl, squinting into the dark. He couldn’t see shit. The trees, they melted into each other in the dark into an oh-pake black mass, like something solid. An impassable thing. A wall of woods and shadows not meant to be crossed. He shook the bowl again.
At first, nothing. Austin thought maybe it’d scampered off. And then:
The earthly scent of rain hung in the air, a lingering from the storm the night before. The underbrush crunched under his old sneakers as he made his way deeper into the woods. It was another world out here, the world of the insects and night birds. He could hear them talking to each other. He kept his eyes down, expecting to see a hungry little critter.
A big ol’ pair of mud-caked bare feet stepped into his view. A man’s feet. Austin looked up into the naked man’s face. He was completely bald, eyebrows and eyelashes plucked clean, and his skin was shiny with sweat under the moonlight. He had a lunatic look in his eyes that spoke of hunger.
“Meowrow,” the naked man meowed.
Austin never saw the hammer before it came down. Ball-peen. It came down hard and fast onto the top of his skull and emptied his brains onto the forest floor before he knew what was what. He collapsed there in a heap, twitching. Blood pooled around his head and soaked into the dirt. Kitty crunchies were everywhere.
The naked man started hyperventilating and dancing round Austin’s leaking, broken body. “Meowrow-row!” He capered like an idiot, jumping up and down, swinging his hammer, his uncut manhood flapping against his bare stomach. “Meowrow-row! Meowrow!” He yowled at the moon and danced until his heart felt like it was going to explode. “Meowrow! Meowrow! Meow—”
His foot found a leaf and his head found a rock. The ground that night was slippery from the rain the night before, and the rock was jagged and embedded deep in the dirt, but not deep enough. It’d cracked the naked man’s head open in an act of instant karma the universe weren’t used to. He lied there face up in the damp dirt of the forest floor, his mouth working and trying to say meowrow, but only white foam dribbled out.
That’s when they came.
A clutter of cats crawled out the woodwork. The naked man couldn’t see them, though—whatever part of the brain that was responsible for that’d been severed. There must’ve been at least a couple dozen, maybe more. They didn’t meow. Quiet as death and quick as shadows, they were. The clutter was upon the cracked n’ bleeding men in an instant. Big black ones with little white hairs here and there, little calicos with gold burning eyes, long hairs and short hairs, pointy bat faces and flat no-nosed faces. And more. The biggest of them all—a fat black monster with eyes as green as grass and fangs so long they peaked out the corners of its jaws—claimed the first nibble. It twitched its ratty ears, flicked its powerful tail back n’ forth, and started licking the naked man’s eyeball with its sandpaper tongue. It bit into it like a grape and warm yellow goo dribbled down the big cat’s chin.
Case you’re wondering what became of good ol’ Mr. Mistoffelees, well, let’s just say I know firsthand he’s doing alright for himself. I’m kind of the local crazy cat guy round here. Okay, not that kind of crazy. I’m the guy people come to when they need someone to take a kitty off their hands. Everybody knows I can’t say no to a kitty. I got a whole clutter myself, and Mr. Mistoffelees gets along with ‘em well enough. And we’re glad to have him. Even told me a few secrets, he did. Kitties are special like that, you know.
Lemme tell you, kitties have been called everything from guardians of the underworld to gangsters of the animal kingdom. Worshiped as gods and vilified as demons. And make no mistake, they’re all those things. But more’n anything—they’re us. That’s why they chose us. That’s why they eat us. Because that’s what the whole world does. It eats people.