Note: I have referred to my short story “An Untold History of Cats” several times on this blog. It is one of my favorite stories that I have written but most editors I have sent it to have disagreed. I have received comments stating that the ending kills the plot, the climax is too cornball sci-fi and that it is basically a too-strange story that can’t be defined as either horror, sci-fi, or parody. I almost included it in Debris but it didn’t even seem to fit there, either. So beginning today, I will post the story in parts on Fridays…a free story to the few of you that have expressed interest in it in the past. It seems that it is an unpublishable piece, so I thought I’d give it away for free.
I’d also like this to serve as a writing workshop of sorts. In the comments, let me know how you would have changed it, how you feel about the story, the characters and the idea itself. Enjoy!
“Daddy, have you seen Mr. Dusty Bottoms?”
Nick opened his eyes to the sound of his daughter’s voice. He looked to the bedside clock and saw that it was shortly after eight o’ clock. He felt his wife stirring beside him, also awakened by Alice’s voice.
“Alice,” he said, “it’s Dusty. Not Dusty Bottoms, just Dusty.”
“Whatever,” Alice said, hopping up onto the foot of the bed. She scanned the bedroom, looking for her missing cat with a cute frown on her face.
“I can’t find him anywhere,” Alice went on. “I checked the whole house. And then I peeked out the back door and he wasn’t outside either.”
“Hold on and I’ll help you look for him,” Nick said. “Go downstairs and get dressed and we’ll go outside and look, okay?”
“Okay,” Alice said, obviously pleased with the suggestion.
Nick waited until Alice was out of the door and then turned sleepily to Ellen, his wife. “Eight o’ clock on a Saturday monrning. What could Dusty possibly have gotten into so early in the day?”
“That’s Mr. Dusty Bottoms to you,” Ellen said, mocking him.
Nick rolled his eyes at her and slid out of bed. He threw on a pair of jogging shorts and a tee shirt and looked back to Ellen. “I’ll be back in a bit. He’s probably just somewhere in the house that Alice overlooked.”
He checked the bathrooms first because of an incident where Dusty had accidentally been shut in the downstairs bathroom for an entire day. Nick found them both empty and was a bit disappointed. He had been sure he would have found Dusty in one of the bathrooms, curled up at the toilet, waiting for someone to take a seat so he could rub against their ankles.
After doing a quick check of a few other rooms, Nick joined Alice at the back door where she was waiting for him. She was dressed in shorts and a white tank top with Dora the Explorer on it.
“Okay,” Nick said. “Let’s go find Dusty.”
“It’s Mr. Dusty Bottoms, dad,” Alice said giggling.
“Whatever,” Nick replied, smiling at her.
Alice opened the back door and they stepped out into a beautiful July morning. She started out for her cat right away, her voice rising and cracking with nervousness. “Duuusty,” she yelled loudly, looking frantically around the back yard. “Mr. Dusty Boooottooooms!”
As Alice yelled, Nick hunkered down and looked beneath the back porch. It seemed dumb to be out here looking for Dusty because the chances of him having escaped the house were small. Of course, he could have always snuck out by their feet as they had left the house for dinner last night. But even if that were the case, there was no telling how far Dusty had gotten since then.
Nick suddenly had a mental flash of finding Dusty on the side of the road, struck by a passing car, his little eyes wide and expressionless, his body stiff and bloated from the summer heat. It wasn’t the image of a flattened Dusty that pulled at his heart, but picturing Alice’s reaction to it.
“Are you sure he wasn’t inside anywhere?” Nick asked his daughter.
“Yeah. I even shook the jingly ball with the bell that he likes and he still didn’t come.”
Nick looked around their fenced-in back yard and saw no signs of Dusty. The fence was only five feet high; Nick supposed that a very determined cat could make the jump. Still, the most likely theory was that Dusty had darted past them as they had left through the front door last night. It made Nick uneasy to think about Dusty, whom had always been an indoor cat, venturing out into the road.
As grim as it may seem, he knew that he had to check. And with that thought, he was somehow sure that when he walked to the front yard and looked out into the street that he would see a fluffy gray smudge on the pavement.
“It looks like he’s not back here,” Nick said, putting his arm around his daughter’s shoulders. “But we can check the front yard, too. Go inside and get your mom out of bed. We’ll walk the street together to see if we can find him.”
“Okay,” Alice said. Apparently, the idea of a search was exciting to her because she went running back inside right away.
As soon as she was inside, Nick strode quickly around the house and into the front yard. He walked out to the sidewalk, stood by the mailbox and looked up and down the street for any sign of Dusty, dead or alive.
Other than a car making a left turn at the end of the street and a kid attempting (and failing) skateboard tricks on the sidewalk, their street was empty. The only debris in the road or alongside of it were a few stray pieces of litter; there were no dead pets within sight.
As he scanned the street, Nick saw Anthony Gatanis standing on the sidewalk. The Gatanis family lived three houses down and while they didn’t know each other well, the two families always made a point to wave at one another in passing, merely for the sake of being social. Anthony was wearing a bathrobe and slippers and held a cup of coffee. Like Nick, he was also looking up and down the street. He spotted Nick and waved.
Nick waved back. “Good morning.”
Anthony walked over to him and Nick could see right away that he was annoyed. “What brings you out so early?” Anthony asked.
“Alice can’t find her cat. It’s nowhere in the house or the back yard, so I figured I’d check for any casualties on the road.”
Anthony smiled at the comment but looked fairly surprised. “Damned cats,” he said. “Ours is MIA, too. The little furball always sleeps at Maria’s feet and he wasn’t there this morning, so she’s freaking out. She’s on the phone with animal control right now. She’s a thirty-six year old woman and is flipping out like a little girl.”
“Maybe our cats just went out and had a night on the town,” Nick said.
“Yeah,” Anthony said, chuckling. “They’re probably passed out in an alley behind a strip club or something.”
The two of them joked about this for a while when a distant voice sounded out from the other end of the block. They looked in that direction and saw Mrs. Talbot, the elderly woman that always kept to herself, calling out into the morning.
“Jingles! Benson! Come here, babies! Jingles…Benson!” Her distressed voice sounded frightening in the midst of the picturesque morning.
“I wonder who Jingles and Benson are,” Nick said. “I hope—,”
The look on Anthony’s face cut him off. He was looking to the opposite end of the block, away from Mrs. Talbot and behind Nick. His brow was furrowed and his lips hung down in what wasn’t quite a frown. He looked confused.
“What?” Nick said, already turning to follow Anthony’s gaze.
Two blocks over at a four-way intersection, he saw what appeared to be a moving quilt spread across the road. Nick stared in the same stupefied manner as Anthony as he slowly began to realize what he was seeing.
There were countless cats strutting across the road, walking through the intersection and heading east. The stream of cats seemed to never end and even as Nick watched, the beginning of the line disappeared behind the last house on the block while the end of the line never appeared; it kept going and going, a horde of cats walking together as if they had adopted the flocking mentality of birds.
There were easily three hundred of them from what Nick could tell. Probably more. And they kept coming as he watched. Tabbies, calicos, Persians, Siamese; a wave of muted colors with endless legs, marching with intent.
(to be continued next Friday…)