Snowball

Submitted into Contest #187 in response to: Set your story in a cat shelter.... view prompt

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Horror Suspense

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

“Really Daddy?” Cassidy shrieked, her curly pigtails swinging wildly while she bounced in her seat.

“Sure thing, Princess. Mom and I talked and we’re impressed with how well you’ve been keeping your room clean, and helping with the dishes,” Tom gave her a wink in the mirror then looked back at the road, “so we decided you are old enough, responsible enough, to have a cat of your very own!”

“Yippee! I’m gonna pick a black cat and name him Midnight! No, wait, an orange one and name him Sherbert. Oh, I know, a gray one named Shadow! Wait, how about a fluffy white one and I’ll name her Snowball?” Cassidy was so excited that the ideas came so fast they nearly tripped over themselves getting from her mind to the tip of her tongue. “Do you think that’s a good name?”

“Which one, Sweetie?” Mom, Lisa to everyone else who knew her, asked.

“Snowball! For a pure white kitty who is fluffy and soft and purrs all the time!”

“I think it’s a wonderful name,” Lisa answered, reaching out to snuggle her hand into Tom’s. When he looked over and smiled that giant, goofy, happiest of smiles that made her heart gallop Lisa was suddenly really glad she had let him talk her into this idea. Yes, Cassidy was doing better keeping her room clean and she did help with the dishes, but let’s be real, once the novelty wore off didn’t it always fall on the mom to take care of the kid’s pets? When she had argued that point with Tom he said at least cats are semi-independent, not needy like dogs. To which she said she would remind him of that when the litter box needed changing. He  just smiled his I’m-so-innocent charming smile and she knew she had lost. Now, seeing the joy beaming throughout the car, she was glad that she had.

Tom slowed the car, signaled and turned right into the parking lot for Feline Funhouse Shelter and Rescue. The Toyota’s tires left the paved entrance and began crunching over the nearly empty gravel lot. “That’s weird. I thought it would be busier on a Saturday morning,” Tom said. There was only one other car in sight.

“Didn’t you call ahead? I thought you were going to call yesterday to see if we needed a reservation,” Lisa answered with a slight frown showing between her eyes and a hint of frustration in her voice..

“I did call. No one answered.” Tom eased the Toyota to a stop next to the old green Camaro parked by what looked like the side door, employees only, entrance. “Doesn’t look like it’s going to be a problem. We’re the only ones here.”

“I can’t wait! Hurry, Daddy, undo my buckle. I wanna pet all the kitties!”

“Ok, ok! Stop wiggling so much and I can get you out faster!” Tom said, chuckling and pretending to fumble with the buckle.

Lisa slowly shut her door, needing to do it quietly for some reason. Standing there, looking at the cat shelter in the oddly empty parking lot made the hair on her neck stand up and her stomach tighten but she did not know why. Then, finally released from her seat belt, Cassidy was rushing toward her, tugging Tom with her left hand and straining to reach Lisa with her right. With one look at the happiness on her daughter’s face the momentary trepidation was forgotten.

Tom pulled the front door open and it let out the tiniest of squeaks. A small brass bell tinkled as the door pulled its string, alerting the employees to the arrival of their newest customer. Just in case they had missed the excited chatter of Cassidy describing the toys they would need to buy and the tricks she wanted to teach the new cat.

The lobby was deserted. Not a single employee in sight. It was deserted and dark. The computer screen was black, the overhead lights were only partially on, still in that overnight safety mode businesses use, and Lisa suddenly realized even the neon open sign was not turned on. The door had been unlocked but, other than that and the Camaro parked next to their car, the Feline Funhouse seemed almost abandoned.

Tom tapped the service bell sitting on the counter and half yelled, “Hello! Is anybody there?” He paused for a moment, his cheerful smile slipping a notch, then added, “We are hoping to adopt a cat?”

“Daddy? Where is everybody?” Cassidy whispered. She had let go of Lisa’s hand and now stood with both of her arms wrapped tightly around Tom’s denim clad leg, looking like a koala about to climb a tree. A very scared koala.

“I’m not sure. You stay here with Mom and I’m going to go take a peek back there,” he said, pointing toward the door behind the desk. His voice sounded confident, for the most part, but the look he shot Lisa let her know he was getting the same creeped out feeling she had ignored earlier.

“Babe, why don’t we just leave? We can come back another day,” Lisa implored, trying not to let her voice give away her nervousness. Something about the place felt off. Something she could not put her finger on but she felt it anyway, and it seemed like Cassidy was feeling it too judging by how hard she was pressing her face into Tom’s leg.

“What if someone’s hurt back there? There is a car in the lot. They could have fallen and hit their head. I’m just going to check it out to make sure. Why don’t you girls wait in the car?” Tom said while handing the key toward her. It made sense, sounded plausible, so Lisa took the key, lightly brushing his palm with her fingertips, and held her other hand out for Cassidy. Cassidy stepped quickly toward her and Lisa swung her up onto her hip, carrying her like a toddler. She had not done that in a long time, a really long time, but it just seemed right at the moment. 

“Hello again, is anybody there? Are you okay back there?” Tom called out as he walked toward the door and began to push it. Before walking through he looked back at Lisa and Cassidy with a quick smile meant to reassure and a nod meant to say he knew what he was doing.  “I’m just going to check real quick to make sure then I will be right out. See you in a minute, ladies,” he said then pushed through the swinging door.

The hallway he entered was dim, not completely dark but dim enough to cast shadows in corners. He stood still for a second to let his eyes adjust and when he heard the front door bell tinkle again, letting him know Lisa had taken Cassidy outside, he slowly began walking toward the other end of the hallway with a door that was letting light in through a small square window. As he walked he passed four rooms, two on his left and two on his right, with short gates halfway up instead of full doors. Behind each gate the rooms were set up for customers to interact with the cats. There was a couch in each and a tower for the cats to climb with platforms to lounge on and nearly enclosed places to hide if they wanted to. Each room had a basket of toys sitting on a rug in the middle of the floor. Each room had plenty of shadows in the corners. 

Tom made it down the hallway, placed his hand on the next door, and froze in place. Why is it so quiet? Why aren’t the cats making any noise? No meowing. No yowling. No sounds of playing, or fighting, at all. He did not hear food bowls being filled or cats being talked to. Nothing. He did not hear anything at all and it chilled his blood. 

Suddenly needing to be in the light of the next room Tom gulped, trying to clear his glued together dry throat, and added pressure to his fingertips already touching the door. As he pushed a sliver of light appeared next to the square of light from the window. He turned to give a last glance into the hallway and was startled to see four sets of green eyes staring back at him. “Oh shit! Crap! Where did you come from?” he yelped with a nervous chuckle. He had not heard them walking toward him at all but now he knew what had given him that weird creeped out sensation. It was just cats hiding in the shadows that he could not see but his subconscious picked up on. Lisa was going to laugh her ass off when he told her a few kittens looking for breakfast had nearly made him pee in his pants!

Tom pushed through the door into what seemed to be the only room in the shelter with the lights on. It was full of wire cages, at least fifty with their doors all hanging open, but no cats. A large bag of dry cat food stood in the closest corner. Tom could see food spilled out all around it forming what looked like a small food volcano. At least the cats were not going hungry, he thought to himself.  He looked into the cages at eye level and noticed the water bowls in each were tipped over. Every one of them was either upside down or on its side with no water to be seen. Ok, so the cats are probably thirsty, he added to himself. But where are the cats, he wondered. 

There was a door on his right, in the middle of a long counter full of grooming supplies, canned food and stacks of blankets. Tom knew this was the door he had seen in the parking lot next to the old green Camaro, the door he had thought was the employees only entrance, and he walked quickly toward it. On the floor in front of the door he saw dark drips with tiny paw prints tracked around them. Tom felt his throat dry out and squeeze shut again at the same time he felt a bit of bile rise up from his stomach. There were so many drops of blood. And then he noticed the handprint on the doorknob. Four fingertips, one thumb and a palm in bright red blood. He gulped, trying again to free his throat, but it did not work this time. His tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth, his stomach was churning acidic bile up into his throat and his heart was pounding against his ribs. 

Tom felt his nose flare and his breathing speed up, every part of him now ready for fight or flight, and that is when he noticed the smell. He turned his head to the right, tracking the sour stench, and saw a puddle of greenish, foamy liquid, probably vomit he guessed, with small chunks of skin and hair, dribbling out from and puddling under the semi-open cabinet beneath the counter. Fighting his own gag reflex Tom pulled the door open the rest of the way and found a pile of dead cats. Orange cats, gray cats, striped cats and white cats all streaked with blood and covered in vicious bite marks. Tom could not hold back any longer and he sprayed vomit onto the tiled floor, bringing up every last bit of his breakfast from earlier. 

As soon as he could stand up straight again Tom turned for the door. He grabbed a towel from the counter, wanting a barrier between him and the blood on the door, and felt his shoes slip in the gore. He heard the door at the other end of the room swish open and he snapped his head around to see the four cats from the darkened hallway. In the light he could see they were all sleek black cats with glowing green eyes. They came through the door in a single file line but quickly spread out, forcing Tom to turn his head back and forth  to see all of them. Slowly they advanced, emitting low, menacing growls. The cats were halfway across the room and Tom could see their shoulders hunching up, looking like they were getting ready to pounce on cornered prey. He turned quickly, losing his balance a little in the slippery goo on the floor but managing to stay upright, and yanked open the door.

Fresh air rushed at him, filling his starved lungs. Bright sunlight blasted him, making him squint. Tom felt gravel crunch under his feet, squishing and slipping, slowing his progress toward the car. It was like running in slow motion. The energy his feet drove into the ground went helter skelter into the shifting gravel instead of propelling him forward and his torso wobbled every which way just trying to keep from falling. 

The cats were closing in. Their growls were louder and more frenzied. Sharp claws ripped into Tom’s low back and began climbing up to his neck, forcing out a loud cry from his parched throat. The cat sank its teeth into his neck, sending bolts of electric pain up into his head. Tom reached over his shoulder, trying to grab the cat, and was rewarded with angry slashes from its claws. He ducked, trying to at least cover his head, and felt a second cat land on him. The force of the second cat was the final straw in Tom’s balancing act and he fell to the ground where the other two cats quickly joined in the melee. 

As Tom landed on the parking lot, feeling the gravel drive into his cheek and smelling the distinct odor of engines, oil and gas pollution that had been left behind from every car parked there, he saw a body crumpled next to the passenger side of the Camaro, hidden from where they had pulled in and parked earlier. The man was wearing a yellow Feline Funhouse Shelter and Rescue hat with a matching t-shirt, both smeared with dirt and blood. His face was covered in claw marks and his throat had a gash where dark liquid drained and thickened in the gravel. 

“Tom, oh my God, hurry! Oh God, you have to get up and run,” Lisa screamed. Tom heard Cassidy crying, sobbing hysterically really, in the background and tried to push himself up. All four of the black cats were now on him, biting and scratching. Knowing he could not grab the cats to get them off he decided to roll. The cats had no choice but to jump clear, except the one biting his neck which managed to swing around and clamp onto his face. Tom reached up and ripped the cat loose. “Tom, come on, run,” Lisa wailed.

Tom did not want to turn his back on the cats again so instead of running he backed toward the car, kicking or slapping away the cats as he went. Finally he bumped against the Toyota and fumbled the door open just as Lisa  put the car into reverse. Tom swatted away the last cat near him and slammed the door closed as Lisa crushed her foot down on the accelerator, making gravel spray against the building. Lisa turned the car  in a crazy circle, looking for the exit, and Tom saw cats standing all around them. Sleek black cats with feral green eyes and white, foamy mouths. Cassidy’s crying had turned silent and Tom could hear the hissing and growling cats encircling them. 

Lisa angled the car toward the exit and the cats parted ways. As their car hurtled back through the opening, back to the paved road, Tom saw a sign that read “Quarantine: rabies infestation. Do Not Enter” and he wondered how they had missed it on the way in. He had only taken his eyes off the road for that one second, to smile at his family and enjoy the anticipation of what was going to be an amazing day.

March 03, 2023 19:31

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