The Cats by Mark Renney

Found in Weird Mask Issue 2

The Cats by Mark Renney

They were the kind of couple that, after twenty years of marriage, had settled wholeheartedly into the rituals and routines that now comprised their life together.  They didn’t want for more than they had or for what they wouldn’t be able to obtain.  They worked diligently for their employers, if objectively, but were reliable and didn’t doubt in their future.  They trusted each other implicitly.
Were they smug?  No, I don’t believe anyone would ever have described them as such.  They were satisfied and comfortable, certainly, and among their circle of friends there were those whose lives seemed to them unnecessarily complicated.  The couple couldn’t understand the yearnings, the desires.  Contentment seemed so much simpler and it was right there, waiting to be grasped.  But they didn’t offer advice and they didn’t judge and so they weren’t considered to be smug.  Ordinary, yes, dull, perhaps, but not smug.
Their house was cluttered and untidy and comfy.  Back in the old days, during the early years of their marriage, it had always been the chosen venue for the gatherings.  But the impromptu dinner parties and drinking sessions were now few and far between.  In truth, the circle had all but broken and if it hadn’t been for the couple’s persistence the group of friends would have parted long ago.  They had all moved on and had added responsibilities – children, bigger houses and demanding jobs.  There were now newer and sleeker circles to infiltrate.
When their friends visited now, unannounced, it was always one at a time and, usually, they were stressed, wanting to talk or needing simply to sit quietly.  It was one of the couple’s oldest friends, recently divorced, who brought the cat into the house.
She had been distraught and the cat was symbolic of happier times.  She and her ex-husband had chosen him together, had nurtured and cherished him.  But she couldn’t possibly keep him, not now.  She had work and a new life to build.  Sadly the cat couldn’t be part of it.  She had been on the way to the Shelter and had broken down.  Sobbing in their kitchen she dropped the cat onto the quarry tiles and it immediately set off to explore.
They delighted in the cat’s discovering of their home and followed him from room to room.  They marveled at his agility as he climbed over their furniture and moved gracefully amid the clutter, leaving all in his wake just as it was.  Eventually he settled on the window sill in their bedroom.  Reluctant to leave, they lingered, watching over him as he slept.
They never did tire of watching him as the days turned to weeks and the weeks to months.  Maybe before he began to change each night, before he began to metamorphose, if those months had stretched on until they amounted to a year or more, maybe then their enchantment would have begun to wane.  But they remained firmly enthralled and from the beginning he fascinated them most when asleep, when he curled, softly purring, into a tiny golden ball, and they wondered how he managed to make himself so small.
They charted the cat’s progress as he moved about their house, settling here, there and everywhere.  They would seek him out, reassuring themselves he was okay.  Alert to his every move, they listened attentively, each taking it in turn to check on him, one informing the other of his whereabouts and whether he was asleep or washing himself or simply staring into space.
They heard him first and it was enough, they knew that he had changed, was different.  They moved to the foot of the stairs and above them, on the landing, he prowled back and forth.  Cautiously they edged their way up and, when he revealed himself, clung to each other.
He was ablaze; mustard and orange and big, the size of a jungle cat but he hadn’t transformed into a tiger or a leopard.  This was their cat, the cat their friend had abandoned here just a few short months ago, but fiercer, stronger, bigger.
Pushing between them he forced them apart and made his way down – just as agile, just as graceful whilst they, for some moments at least, were unable to move at all.  But then he began to whine and it seemed that they hadn’t any option other than to rally and attend to the needs of their pet.
He wanted to be let out and sat before the kitchen door, loudly pining.  They tried to distract him, first with food, but he wouldn’t eat.  Next they tried him with his toys be he refused to be placated.  He wanted them to perform just one simple task; to open the door and of course they relented.  How could they not, after catering to his each and every whim.
He was a pitiful sight, whimpering and desperately clawing at the door.  He needed space, to be outside and so reluctantly they set him free, followed him into the garden, where he promptly bolted, swallowed up by the dark.
They left the door open and waited, sitting at the kitchen table, hunched over mug after mug of scalding tea.  Reaching across she took his hand and in the harsh fluorescent light they studied each other.  They were growing older but together and it really didn’t matter.
The cat returned just before dawn in a wild and excitable flurry, skidding to a halt on the tiles.  He was small again, back to normal.  They heaved an audible sigh and it wasn’t until they moved closer to the door that they saw the dead cat.  He had brought it in, dropped it on the mat, mauled and bloody.  A misshapen and unwanted gift, still wet, still warm.  Flinching, they backed away, very aware that he was watching them.
In that early morning, they buried the first of the dead cats and a pattern was then set.  After each of his nightly jaunts he ate heartily and would settle down to sleep.  They didn’t ever see him turn and didn’t wish to do so.  The transformation occurred just after dark and he then sought them out and began to beg.
After letting him loose they trudged wearily up to bed and tried, for a few hours at least, to forget.  It was beginning to take its toll and they were exhausted, but the urgency to rise early was so great that their rest could be described at best as fitful.
When they opened the door he was there, as fresh as the wintry air and eager for the warmth within.  Each morning he seemed a little smaller beside the spoils from the night’s hunt.  The dead cats he had brought and piled throughout the night, from all over the town, from close and from afar.
At the break of day they will find yet another spot and strike with the shovel, dig a hole and hide all trace.  Wrap them in newspaper, cover them with earth, and tramp on and around them.

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