Prompt Day #78: What did the cat drag in? Make it disgusting.
This story is dedicated to our cat Smokey who was never much of a people cat (although he enjoyed sleeping the day away in our bed) and who couldn’t ignore the call of the wild. He got out of the house so many times sometimes for days on end. We knew he was still around because he’d bring us “treats” every once in awhile. A dead mouse here, a chewed up mole there. Then one day, he didn’t come back. I like to think he is out there somewhere living the life that he so desperately wanted to live. I hope he didn’t come across any pod-opus plants. They’re carnivorous and parasitic. Miss you, buddy.
Milo was an outside cat and that was just the way he liked it, thank you very much. He tried being a house pet, but the call of the wild was just too strong. He snuck out every chance he got and one day, they didn’t try to catch him. Oh, he still cared about his people. He liked to bring them presents once in a while; you know, the usual dead mice, chipmunks, pieces of road kill and leave them on the door step. This let them know he was still around and thinking of them and they in turn put food and water out for him every day just in case.
It was the best day for hunting; early fall in the Midwest meant comfortable stalking. In the summer, he mostly laid under the porch in the shade and fed almost exclusively on the cat food his people put out. But today, he padded through the woods listening for something he could chase. His ears worked on instinct scanning back and forth. From the right, something rustled in the dying ferns. Milo stopped, his pupils dilated wide, he didn’t move a muscle. His ears zeroed in on the sound and his brain quickly calculated location and likely species. On his right, at about 4 O’clock, there was a chipmunk most likely. He sniffed, his nostrils flared, taking in the scent. His brain quickly sorted through the myriad of smells and found the one he was after. It was a chipmunk. Milo lowered his body, flattened himself out, and silently crawled in the direction of his prey.
He had the chipmunk in his sites when it stopped and sniffed. It had caught the scent of him. Damn it, he’d need to act quickly. He lowered himself even more, preparing to pounce. His eyes fixed on his prey and his brain calculated the distance and energy needed to make the leap. Simultaneously, the chipmunk turned and sprinted further to the right. Milo took off after him. They ran through the woods, jumping over fallen logs, Milo gaining and then losing ground on the chipmunk. All of a sudden, Milo saw the chipmunk seemingly fly into the air and then drop back down. Then, it was gone. Milo stopped and assumed the statuesque position that allowed him to once again survey the scene and calculate dangers. He heard nothing and saw nothing so he took a few steps towards where he last saw the chipmunk, stopped, listened, and continued on.
He smelled the chipmunk and then he smelled something else. A meatier smell, not unpleasant but gamey, perhaps something that had been dead for a day or so. Sitting just to the side of where he could no longer scent his prey, sat an unusual rounded pod. Milo sniffed at it. He could almost smell the chipmunk underneath the death smell. He pawed a bit at what might be a plant a fungus like the mushrooms his people liked to pick and eat. The pod fell open, what had looked like several thick stalks, were now writhing about like tentacles. Not that Milo knew that word, but that’s what they looked like. Milo got closer and looked down into the center, in a ring around a beak-like structure, were rows of thin worms, their mouths opening and closing, stretching their necks out to get a taste. Milo retracted his neck back away from them.
He decided that the best way to deal with this usurper of his dinner was to tear it apart. He bit into one of the tentacles. And pulled. He felt a tear and pulled harder. The other tentacles were waving above him and the thing was folding itself in two. Thick, aloe-like ooze squeezed out of the bite marks and dripped down Milo’s chin. This ooze was black and it smelled like decay. He wrinkled his nose but he refused to let go of the thing. He pulled and it rolled. Its beak was snapping feverishly so close to Milo’s nose that he could smell the chipmunk’s blood. He felt the piece of tentacle in his mouth loosen. He had no choice, he swallowed it quickly and took another purchase of the slimy thing. This time, he unleashed the wildness inside him and tore at the thing with his front claws, all the while pulling at it with his head. It came loose. The beak let out a high pitched squawk. The thing which was definitely not a fungus, rolled completely over and lifted itself up on the tentacles it had left, and limped away, leaving a stinking, steaming trail of thick, black muck behind it.
Milo, satisfied with his heroic revenge, drug the wriggling limb back to his home. It seeped and dripped the black sap onto the ground and Milo’s tongue. It had a sort of numbing sensation that Milo did not like much. He wanted to get rid of the thing. He was going to give it to his people, and he might even spend the night inside. All of a sudden, he didn’t feel like being an outside cat anymore. He got to the front door and dropped his find on the stoop. He scratched at the door and yowled.
“My God, Milo, what have you brought this time?” The female said. He nosed it towards her. She crinkled her nose. “Ugh. Milo! Bad Kitty! Where did you find a tentacle out in the woods?”
Milo meowed. He wanted her to pick it up and examine it. This was not your common gift, plus it had made him feel quite sick. He rubbed his face against the bristly mat in front of the door.
“Oh you stinky cat! That thing is positively disgusting. I didn’t know Octopus had black blood.” She leaned down and poked it with a finger. “Or maybe that’s ink. Ooh, and I didn’t know they stunk so much. Milo, that is just gross.” She kicked it. It squished under her shoe and little puffs of aerosol came out of the little bumps she had taken as suction cups. Milo sniffed at it again. It didn’t smell so gamey anymore. Now it just smelled sickeningly sweet. He followed her in to the house.
“If you’re coming in here, you’re getting a bath.” His person said. Milo didn’t care. He wasn’t feeling up to fighting. He just wanted to sleep. He got his bath twice. The first one didn’t work because the water turned black from all the goo on him, and it stank so that was rinsed down the drain and the tub filled up again. This time, his person managed to get all the stuff off him. She worked the shampoo through Milo’s fur and as she did, clumps of hair came out. He wanted her to stop and leave him be. He felt bloated and itchy.
“Oh Milo, goodness. You’re getting mange or something. You should be an inside cat for a while until you’re feeling better” She said drying him off. She found his old basket bed and put it in the living room by the fireplace. He laid down on it and slept. Cats dream. All animals do. Most cats dream of chasing and catching mice or other vermin. Sometimes they dream of making impossible vertical jumps high into trees to catch birds. Milo dreamt the dreams of the damned. Falling into nothingness, being torn apart by some giant beast, and then drowning in a pool of black, viscous, gel.
When Milo finally awoke, the house was empty. His people were away for the day like always. He was terribly itchy and more hair had fallen out. He imagined he looked pretty ridiculous. He could smell breakfast in his dish but he felt bloated so he just stayed in his basket. He licked at his protuberant belly. He found sores all over. He licked even more at them. As he finished his cat bath, he realized the sores were everywhere. They weren’t sore though, just present. His stomach roiled. He hacked up a hairball that was tarry. It left a bitter, bile taste in his mouth. He fell back asleep.
“Oh my God, Doug! What’s wrong with him!” the female screamed. It woke him up. He tried to open his eyes but they felt stuck. He licked at his paws and wiped them over his eyes until they opened. Everything he saw had a grey-black cast to it and everything was blurry. He tried to focus up at his people both of which were bent over looking at him with looks of horror and disgust. He tried to meow but it came out gargled and he coughed up another hair ball, this one with almost no hair, just a ball of inky mucilage.
“You have to take him out back and put him out of his misery, Doug.” The female was crying. She had her hand over her mouth. Milo tried to meow again but it came out a weak mewing sound. Pitiful. He felt pitiful. Something brushed against his naked thigh and he turned to look back at himself. Each of his sores had opened, sprouting from them were long worm-like feelers. They were various lengths, but each moved seemingly of its own free will and each had a rounded mouth like a lamprey eel. The base of the sores were weeping the same black substance that kept coating his eyes. His naked skin was mottled and bruised. He tried to stand, to go to his people and rub against them. His legs collapsed beneath him. His bones had turned to jelly. The instance he collapsed, his female screamed and backed away. He gurgled at her.
“Doug, Please!” She cried. Doug, his male person, reached out to pick him up. The worms snapped at Doug’s hand. One managed to get its mouth on him. Doug pulled back and the worm slid long out of Milo’s belly. Doug screamed this time. He grabbed the worm and threw it into the fire. Gelatinous and clotted discharge trickled out of the hole left by the worm. Milo was nothing more than a sack of proteinaceous worm fodder. It still didn’t hurt. It was all quite numb. He felt nothing but loneliness. He wished he hadn’t left them so long ago, giving up love and security for freedom to run wild and never think of anything but himself. Now, he realized his mistake, now he wanted nothing more than to sit on his female’s lap and purr contentedly while she scratched behind his ears. He looked at her through his rheumy eyes. She was still crying but she had the ash shovel in her hands. Milo knew what she was going to do. It was ok though. It didn’t hurt, not physically. He tried to show her with his eyes that it was ok. He never meant to scare her. He loved her. He knew that now. She brought the shovel down. The black covered his eyes again and then it covered him.