Spooktober Prompt # 5 – Putrid Pets
“I don’t have a cat. A cat has me.”
by Penny Tailsup
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When I found Jack, I didn’t plan on keeping him. In fact, I thought he was dead.
On my way home from work, I saw a black furry body lying on the sidewalk. I parked my car and walked over to check, finding a cat with a tire impression stamped on its side. Though I didn’t know this cat, I cried.
It’s always sad when an animal dies. Sadder still, to think about the owner who had to be looking for them. Kitty wasn’t coming back.
I could’ve left him there, but it didn’t feel right. After wrapping him in my sweater, I drove to the local shelter with a heavy heart. I figured they’d know what to do. When I went to grab the body from the backseat, I was surprised to see a pair of orange eyes blinking up at me.
The cat had shaken off my sweater and was lounging comfortably. The tire impression was still there, but it looked less serious than I remembered. Instead of questioning it, I was relieved. A lost kitty was worlds better than a dead one.
After a quick internal debate, I decided to take him home. I figured if no one claimed him, I’d keep him! I didn’t really trust the shelter to re-home him. Not because they wouldn’t try, but because I’d always heard that black cats are less likely to be adopted.
The tread on his fur was apparently superficial; if it hurt, he gave no indication. I brought him to a vet to be sure, blowing a bit of my rent money on this purrfect stranger. Jack, as I came to call him, was a medical marvel. He’d been run over but walked away without a scratch. Apparently he’d just been in shock when I found him, scared stiff.
I put up ‘Found’ posters in the neighborhood and circulated his photos on social media. No one claimed him. All I got was a troll message that said ‘that cat needs to be shot’. I blocked them immediately.
Jack was unusual. He didn’t really meow much, or play, or cuddle. He didn’t act scared or aggressive either. In fact, he was the picture of serenity. His presence was a calming one. Wherever I was, he tended to be– just out of reach, purring as he watched me go about my day. He was an observer; calmly collecting his Intel from whatever comfy perch he could find.
I didn’t make much money, so I was usually busy with whatever random side-gig I could muster. As much as I loved Jack, I couldn’t really afford to take care of him. I could barely take care of myself. Yet, finding him felt like fate– I couldn’t oust him for something as petty as money. I’d make sure his bowl was filled before mine was.
I didn’t expect Jack to understand or be grateful. He was just a cat, after all. But I hoped he felt loved and safe with me. I’d really grown to cherish the company.
When the landlord collected rent, I found myself in a pinch. I sat at my computer to budget, and realized I’d have to go without for awhile. I didn’t complain. Who would I tell, anyway? I was alone. Jack was all I had.
The next day, I found an envelope on my desk. It was a bank envelope, the same kind I put the rent money in. In fact, when I opened it up– it had a stack of hundred dollar bills inside. It was my rent money, returned.
Or had I forgotten to hand it over to John? I don’t think he’d have let me forget, yet the money was still in my hand. Jack was sitting on the back of the couch, watching me. He blinked his gleaming eyes slowly, in that affectionate way that cats do.
“Do you know anything about this, Jack?” I asked with a laugh. He cocked his fluffy head in response, as if he were contemplating an answer. I walked over, reaching out to see if he’d let me pet him. Jack allowed it, arching his body into my palm.
He was a beautiful cat; his movements were always so fluid and graceful. Sometimes he seemed more like a shadow, melting and twisting in ways that physics wouldn’t allow. Cats are strange, funny creatures.
“I’d better call the landlord.” I didn’t want John tacking on a late fee, though knowing him, he probably would if he hadn’t already. Any excuse to squeeze another dollar out of me.
“No.” Jack said. I looked down at him, surprised by the deep rumbling voice. I must have imagined it. The voice didn’t match the body it came from.
“Don’t bother calling.” Jack spoke again, his tail swishing in a leisurely way. “I took care of it.”
I was terrified and confused. My cat, on the other hand, looked completely relaxed. From that moment on, our relationship changed. The dynamic shifted, and not in a way I’d wish on anyone.
“You’ve been good to me,” he said. “I will take care of you from now on.”
John never did turn up to collect the rent. I’d tucked the envelope away somewhere safe. Jack didn’t tell me what happened to him, but the answer came. Jack wasn’t really a talker, perhaps because he knew he’d frightened me. He still watched me go about my day, still purred if I so much as glanced in his direction.
I tried to convince myself I’d imagined that voice; a great, big voice that didn’t belong to a small, furry body. Yet, the knowing look in Jack’s eyes seemed all the creepier with the memory gnawing at me. He wasn’t an ordinary cat.
At dinnertime, I filled his bowl as I always did. I refreshed his water. I cleaned his litter box. I clung to the routine and tried to feel comfort in it… but everything had changed. I could feel it. Jack watched me, but he didn’t stay for dinner. He left. He wasn’t anywhere in the house that I could find.
I thought he might be gone forever, but he was apparently a cat of his word. When he returned, he had something in his mouth. A finger. It was a fat, meaty thing.
My cat gave me the finger. He put it on the table, expectation shining in his jack-o-lantern eyes. I didn’t know what he wanted, recoiling from the grisly gift. I wanted nothing to do with it.
“Eat it.” Jack said, with a deep rumbling voice. I shook my head ‘no’, horrified. “Eat it.” he repeated, his tail swishing with impatience. “I have provided.”
“I can’t eat this.”
“Don’t offend me.” his voice was usually more of a purr, but this time it came out as a growl. “I have provided. Eat it. Eat it, or I’ll eat you.”
So I picked it up. It was cold and stiff. Dirty, too. I brought it to the sink, running it under the tap like that might make it more palatable. My hands were shaking. Jack purred, pleased with my show of obedience.
“Good girl.” he praised me. “You don’t know how to hunt. I will provide.”
I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I kept staring at the thing in my hand while the cat waited with smug anticipation.
“Do…. Do I cook it?” I asked.
He sighed, “If you must.”
So I dropped the finger in a frying pan with butter. I checked my spice rack, adding salt and pepper. I wasn’t sure what flavors went well with human flesh. I didn’t want to find out, but what choice did I have?
When it was ‘done’, I put it on a plate and stared at it. I didn’t want to eat it, I kept hoping I’d wake up from a nightmare I could laugh about later.
“Go on.” he said.
“It’s too hot, it needs to cool.” I answered nervously.
“Fine…” he sighed.
Several minutes ticked by, simultaneously feeling like an eternity and no time at all. When my time was up, prompted by the nudging of Jack the black cat, I picked up the finger from both ends. I bit into the meaty digit; eating around it like I was holding a tiny corn on the cob. It tasted like bacon.
I stripped away the meat, keeping my eyes closed the whole time. In vain, I tried to pretend it wasn’t what it was. I cried the whole time. When it was done, I put the bone on my plate and fought against my instinct to vomit.
“Are you still hungry?” Jack asked.
“No,” I lied.
Four days of fingers, followed by a thumb. Jack brought me one every day. I had a sickening suspicion that the fingers belonged to John, but I didn’t ask. I didn’t need to know who I was eating. Though the taste wasn’t bad, the knowledge of what I was eating was torture. Jack didn’t seem bothered. It didn’t matter if I cried or begged him, he’d remind me sternly:
“I will take care of you. I will provide.”
The police came to my door, asking if I’d seen John. He was reported missing. I said I hadn’t seen him, knowing the finger bones were still sitting in my trash can. If anyone got too close to the truth, I knew Jack would take care of them.
I could count the bodies by the thumbs. When I got the third one, I knew at least one more person had died. Jack always brought the fingers and thumbs, but I don’t know what he did with the rest. There were no reports in the news about bodies. People went missing, but people had always gone missing before. This was nothing new.
Jack keeps me on a tight leash. He doesn’t let me leave the house without his permission. I still go to work and go to the grocery store, but he follows me. No one else sees him, not unless he wants them to. He knows I won’t tell anyone about him, but he also knows I’ll run the first chance I get.
I don’t know what to do. Even if I told the police, who would believe me? He’d probably kill them. He’s not an ordinary cat. I don’t know what he is.
Apparently he thinks of me as his pet. I don’t know why he chose me, or if he’s done this to anyone else. When I tried to contact the ‘troll’ I’d originally blocked on Facebook, they didn’t reply. I don’t know if they knew something about Jack, or if they really were just trolling.
Jack says he’ll take care of me, even if I don’t want him to. He acts like it’s all for my own good, but I think he takes pleasure in my fear and pain too.
I don’t have a cat. A cat has me.