Claws of Steel

Submitted into Contest #30 in response to: Write a story about someone who loses their cat.... view prompt

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I am a cat person and we are, admittedly, a little crazy. No offense to dog people. We know you can be obsessive about your dogs, what with dressing them up in little sweaters and throwing them birthday parties and all, but you’ve never been associated with crazy like us cat people. I am a crazy cat lady and proud of it, as evidenced in my blog, I only have the one cat right now, my calico Lulu, but she is my baby. I literally had to feed her from a bottle when I first brought her home. I may not know what I had for breakfast, the last movie I saw, or the last names of any of my friends, but I can describe my Lulu down to the last detail. But the cat currently occupying my arms was, much to my disappointment, not Lulu.


“Are you sure? It’s a calico,” the guy said, as if cats of the same breed were interchangeable.


Clearly he wasn’t a cat lover. It should have been obvious to me when he showed up on my doorstep with the cat shoved under his arm like a football, but I was too ecstatic about getting Lulu back to notice. In my defense this cat did bear a striking resemblance to Lulu, but it only took a moment to realize that she was a total stranger. Her left ear was intact, and her eyes were green-blue, not blue-green. But the biggest clue was the way she looked at me. There was no trace of the warmth and intelligence and curiosity that graced Lulu’s sweet face, only the raw anxiety of a frightened, confused animal. “Yes, I am absolutely sure this is not my cat,” I said sadly, my spirits sinking back into my shoes.  


“Whatever,” the guy muttered, clearly annoyed that I had wasted his valuable time. He snatched the cat from my arms, shoved her back under his arm, and headed for the door.


“Wait!” I cried, the alarm bells in my head ringing like crazy, as they did whenever I sensed a cat in distress. “You can leave the cat here. I’ll find it a good home.”


“Nah, I’ll just drop it off somewhere,” he said. “Unless you want to buy it from me. How’s five hundred bucks sound?”


I sucked in my breath and resisted the urge to smack him. I knew it was risky to include a big reward on the missing posters and my blog, but at the time all I could think about was getting Lulu back safe and sound. This jerk had probably hit up every shelter, pet shop and breeder within a fifty-mile radius to find a cat that resembled her. I don’t know why he needed five hundred dollars so badly, but I was betting it wasn’t for a haircut or a clean tee shirt. Fortunately, I had just the thing to wipe that smirk off his face.


I whipped out my cell phone and snapped a picture of him. “Give me the cat and get out of my house,” I said, furiously tapping the keypad. “Or I post this picture of you on all my social media accounts, along with your name, phone number, and how you tried to blackmail me by threatening that poor cat. My blog alone has over 10,000 followers and they’re all hardcore cat lovers like me. You’ll never have a moment’s peace for the rest of your life.” I stopped tapping and held my index finger over the send button.


His face darkened, and for a moment I thought he was going to throw the cat at me like a furry missile. Instead, he dropped her to the floor and stormed out of my house. The cat bolted out of the room looking for a place to hide. I decided the best thing to do would be to give her time to adjust to her surroundings. I put out a bowl of food and a bowl of water, then grabbed my purse and left.


I thought a nice long walk would clear my head, but the crushing disappointment I’d just suffered clung to me like cat litter to a turd. Lulu had been missing for three days now, and although I’d received lots of support from my online family, I was no closer to finding my baby than I was that horrible moment when I realized she was gone. I’m still not sure how she managed to slip past me. She’d never seemed very interested in going outside, probably because living outdoors nearly killed her. She was in such bad shape when I found her that the vet wanted to put her down. That’s when Lulu tilted her bloodied head to face me, her eyes hard with determination, and let out a strangled cry. It was so weak I could hardly hear it, but the message was loud and clear – that brave kitty was not ready to die. I told the vet to do everything in his power to save her, no matter what the cost. Two years later, that missing chunk of ear was all that remained of her mysterious former life.


I walked faster, trying to outrun all the awful things my imagination was saying about what probably happened to Lulu. The next thing I knew, I was standing in front of the same empty lot where I’d found her. I always thought it was Fate that led me to Lulu. She was in a rundown neighborhood with no shops and restaurants, and I had only ended up there because I was new in town and still finding my way around. I suppose I came back hoping that Fate would intervene a second time, but no such luck. The lot was still overrun with weeds and trash, and there was even a cat skulking around, but it was a large brown tabby cat.


Suddenly my brain shocked me out of my funk with the realization I’d seen that cat before. Several times, in fact, right in my backyard. Lulu had noticed him too. She would sit on the windowsill and stare at him as he wandered around the garden and lay under the patio table like he owned the place. My friends joked that they had a “Romeo and Juliet” thing going on and were planning to run away together. When Lulu went missing everyone had the sense not to mention it again, except for Sean. He’s been uninvited to Burrito Night until further notice, which is too bad for him because everybody knows my burritos are awesome.


The cat spotted me and immediately walked off in the opposite direction. As soon as he was far enough away not to get spooked by someone following him, I started following him. The tabby, however, seemed unconcerned about humans, walking right down the middle of the sidewalk with tail held high. I could see why animals felt safe roaming here as I passed one rundown house after another with their chipped paint and sagging front porches. I, on the other hand, was starting to think I may not have made the smartest decision. What the heck was I doing?


Then the tabby ducked into a yard of a house that made the other houses look like mansions. It was obvious from the boarded-up windows and crumbling foundation that no human had inhabited it for a long time, and it gave off a creepy horror vibe that implied there might be a few bodies buried in the basement. The tabby disappeared around the corner and I followed him, despite all of my instincts screaming in protest. But when I rounded the corner, the tabby was nowhere to be found. A tall wooden face ran along the back of the property about four feet from the house, leaving the cat nowhere to go except down this narrow makeshift alley. The mystery was quickly solved when I noticed a rectangular hole in the house where a basement window used to be. It was big enough for me to squeeze through if I was so inclined. I paused. How far did I really want to take this? I thought of Lulu. Thirty seconds after that, I was inside.

The basement was every bit as dark and dirty and scary as you’d expect, but was thankfully devoid of any murder tools and victims. Aside from a few beer cans, cigarette butts and newspapers, it was empty. I noticed the door was open and headed upstairs. When I got to the top a powerful and familiar smell hit my nose, knocking me back a bit. I knew immediately that there had been cats in the house, lots of them. The previous owner had to have been a crazy cat person, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that tabby had been left behind when his owner died or was hauled away. I realized then that Fate had intervened after all, sending me on a mission to rescue yet another feline in need. 

I pulled some treats from my purse and began calling out in my most cajoling tone. “here kitty, kitty kitty,” I said softly, shaking the bag. I heard a noise down the hall that sounded like a cat, and followed it to a doorway that most likely led into the living room. I went inside and immediately tripped over something that yowled angrily and sent me crashing to the floor. I struggled to my knees and froze. I was surrounded by broken furniture and boxes covered in thick layers of dust, plus a dressmaker’s dummy for some reason. And about thirty cats.

They were long and shorthairs. Big and small. Solid colors and various patchworks of brown, black, grey, and white. All of them were staring at me like those birds in that old Hitchcock movie that I couldn’t remember the title of because I was freaked. The treat bag had flown out of my hand when I fell, the contents now scattered across the floor. None of the cats seemed to notice. They were all focused on me. I tried to grab my phone and call 911, but a rather muscular Russian Blue was sitting on my purse and daring me to do something about it. But as scary as he was, he was nothing compared to the orange tom.

He was skinny and medium-sized, but one look at that face told you he was a boss. His long, pointed face bore the scars of countless battles, and his yellow eyes blazed like hellfire. He jumped down from his perch atop a leather armchair and padded over to me. I sat perfectly still, heart hammering, as he sniffed my knee, then drew back with a grimace. A low, menacing growl suddenly filled the room, but it didn’t come from him. 

It came from Lulu. 

After enduring so much worrying and heartache over the last few days, I almost didn’t dare to believe it was really her for fear she’d dissolve into thin air. But there was no mistaking those beautiful markings, blue-green eyes, and missing chunk of left ear. “Lulu!” I cried with joy, but she didn’t respond. Her gaze was fixed on the orange tom and his eyes were locked on her, as was every other pair of eyes in the room. She slowly walked towards him, the growl rolling around in her throat, and he growled back and took a few steps towards her. They stopped at the same time, tensing like two tightly coiled springs. Then, as if an invisible trigger had been pulled, both cats sprang.

They slammed into each other with the force of a lighting bolt, fused together in a furious ball of fur, teeth and claws. The other cats jumped out of their way as they rolled around the floor howling and spitting like demons, breaking apart, then smashing together again. I couldn’t tell you how long this went on, but eventually the fighting began to take its toll. The cats were slowing down, taking longer breaks between attacks, their growls withering in their throats. Both of them were tiring, but I could tell with growing despair that the orange tom was gaining the upper paw. I think Lulu knew it too, but she had no intention of backing down. She had that same determined look in her eyes she had in the vet’s office that day. Only this time, instead of fighting to live, she was going to fight until she died. 

I was about to grab her and make a run for it when a brown streak shot past me and jumped the tom. It was the tabby. The tom quickly broke free, only to be attacked by another cat. And then another. They batted him around like an orange pinball until they chased him out of the room. I heard loud scuffling all the way down the hall, then nothing. 

I turned my attention to Lulu, and saw the tabby grooming her tattered fur. After a minute she gently pulled away from him and walked over to me, gingerly rubbing the side of her face across my knees. I gently picked her up and cuddled her in my lap, assessing the damage. There were quite a few scratches and bite marks but hell, she’d been through a lot worse. 

All around me the cats began to mobilize, filing out the living room and turning towards the basement. The brown tabby was the last to leave, exchanging one last glance with Lulu before disappearing after his friends. I don’t know where they were going, but I knew they wouldn’t be back. 

“You did great, baby,” I whispered, cradling her in my arms. Lulu closed her eyes and started to purr. I got up and we left out the front door, together. 

February 29, 2020 04:32

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1 comment

Terrye Turpin
22:36 Mar 11, 2020

Great action in the story, the pace moved along fairly well. The scene with all the cats in the basement captured the narrator's fear well and I felt the tension when she fell and was surrounded by the cats. The first part of the story could have been condensed, leaving more words for the later part. The end felt a little rushed, and if you edited the beginning some and added more to the end I think it would balance out better. I think you could leave out her adopting the strange cat in the beginning, I kept expecting that cat to show back u...


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