Whiskers Sam by Victoria Whittaker

 

Whiskers Sam

PART ONE
~Strange Days~

 

The alarm sounded with a fury, disturbing my dream. I awoke in the same bed, in the same apartment, in the same bleak light of dawn, but something was amiss. I swatted my arm towards the alarm singing from my mobile phone, which continued to question the grey room to the tune of “Hello, I love you, won’t you tell me your name…” but I couldn’t make a connection with the device. That’s when I realized that something was no longer the same. My nose twitched and my whiskers detected a slight variant in air current. Wait. What? My whiskers? I reached for my face and felt soft fuzz and yes––whiskers! When I looked at my arm I was astonished to see a furry appendage, ending in a paw; with tiny nails and delicate pink finger pads. I must still be dreaming. But Jim Morrison was crooning and dawn was breaking and I could smell the Earth waking up. Bird chatter distracted me for a moment. Then I realized –– I am awake! This is me! And I have become a cat!

 

It was just a crazy idea. Idle chatter amongst girlfriends and a couple glasses of prosecco. We talked about men we’d like to have sex with; men we’d like to be married with; men we’d like to grow old with––the usual. When I said I wouldn’t mind being one particular man’s cat–– he’d be so nice to curl up with––Margot said that was slightly disturbing. “Really, I can’t think of a more sensitive pet owner on the planet. He’d take care of every detail from my kibble to my litter box and bedding. And just think of the quality of music I’d be exposed to––it would be sheer heaven.” “Don’t be creepy. It’s okay to admit you want him. Everybody knows it.” “Yes but I also like him as a person. It would be an honor to be cared for by him. And I’ve always wanted to live the life of a cat, so I’m just saying, I wouldn’t mind being his cat…” “Turning into a cat is not an option! Trust me, I’m in therapy to stop living in a fantasy world.”

 

But I meant it. I meant it even through the laughter at her self-deprecating remark. And she was right––I did want him. I wanted to be with him and spend hours in his company. I wanted to grow old with him, and all the rest. Sure, it was just a fantasy dream.

 

Little did I know that when I went to sleep that night my dream would take a turn towards the macabre.

 

Jim Morrison was still asking for my name. When I went to bed the previous night, my name was Samantha Whishaw. An interior designer–freelance, and a drinker of white wine–Italian, I’d always dreamed of living in Milan, where I could practice both of my pursuits in glamorous style. I’d never (seriously) dreamed of inhabiting the body of a feline entity. I lived with a cat, yes. I adored him and professed my undying love for him on a daily basis, as long as he stayed out of my sweater drawer. I was inspecting my tawny hued fur. In comparison to the grey and white long-haired coat on Q (short for Queneau), my striped markings had various shades of marmalade, miso and brandy. Appetizing adornments. Oh my god! Q!

 

As usual he’d already been up and stalking around the flat. With the advent of Jim Morrison’s daily proclamation, Q would recall that it was time to assault me with breakfast requests, massage demands and generally get underfoot while I attempted to tend to my toilette. I felt the thump on the bed an instant before the awestruck yowl. His spine stiffened into a hump and his tail unfurled into a thick feather duster. I screamed, but it came out as a stifled and weak mewl. Shock had us both flurried. Just before Q pounced, I leapt from the blankets and shot out the door, going nowhere fast. Think! Think! I ran around in circles but Q, more experienced at this game, soon had me cornered in the kitchen. Staking his ground, seething and spitting, I eyed him warily, my whiskers shuddering. Could I talk my way out of this? “Mewl.” How weak and embarrassing. Q hissed back with authority. I mewled again, my vocabulary underperforming. Q glared at me with disdain. Then he backed off, turned around, and strutted down the hallway, as cool as a…cat. Cautiously I exited the kitchen. He sat in the middle of the hallway, his back to me, his head swiveled around and his whiskers quivering in a more friendly fashion. He ambled into the den. I followed. There, the morning was more apparent. Birdsong was louder, the breeze loftier. Q sat in the middle of the circular rug in the center of the well-appointed room. Just above him was a desktop workspace and above that a large window. An open window, letting the breeze waft the curtains––Italian silk, of course––with a pleasant ripple. Q motioned to the desk. It was impossibly high. The leather chair was snuggly tucked in under the desk. I tentatively reached my tawny paws onto the seat. I would have to leap. Ow…my head hit the underside of the desk as I scrambled onto the slippery leather seat, leaving scratch marks on the buttery hide. Q’s haughty frown pierced my watery blue eyes. No time for remorse, I tried to slink my way up to the desk top. Q whipped his tail to demonstrate. I stretched my tail out for balance and gingerly made my way atop the desk’s riser shelf careful not get tangled up in the undulating curtains. My whiskers timed the ripples of air current and when the space widened like a wave’s trough, I sprung onto the open windowsill. Q chirped a quiet meow of approval. I tested the air. I was being hit by an amazing quantity of smells, coming at me from all directions. With trepidation I crossed the threshold of the window’s sill onto the catwalk ledge designed with just enough width for me to navigate along the side of the house. My first exploratory steps into the outside world gave me a new perspective on spatial relations. Everything was so out of proportion. And the heights—don’t look down!—made me woozy with vertigo. I hugged the side of the building and made my way to the landing where the steps would take me down to solid ground. The steps were tricky at first. I wasn’t used to having four feet. Which one goes first, which next? I admit I got a bit confused and almost fell down a couple times. I’m pretty certain I heard a feline snigger of derision coming from the window I’d just exited. And I thought I saw the tip of a grey ear, mocking from the shadow of the curtains. I retained my focus, determined to get the hang of it. Luckily no one was on the staircase and I had the field to myself. It wasn’t until I reached the bottom of the steps and the vista of the carpark that I thought to myself…

 

“Now What?”

 

t?” A thunderous motor chugged to life and exhaust spewed into the updraft right up my nostrils. Humans were on the move. I weaved through the jungle of shrubbery along the side of the porch pausing under an azalea bush, its pink blossoms fringed by morning dew. A sparrow twittered in the branches creating a miniature shower. It eyed me carefully before flitting away. I paused to rest from my arduous escape, ruminating over the present quandary in which I found myself. Where did I fit in this new world? How would I survive? I licked my fur; I wouldn’t give up hygiene for one thing. Though I’d had to make a hasty exit before brushing my teeth or sipping my morning cappuccino, I still had standards to maintain. I would have to figure it out somehow. I had figured out how to be a single 35 year old female with creeping cellulite and graying roots. I’d sort this out too. I examined my youthful and lithe frame. On the small side. I’d definitely lost a few pounds and a few years. I felt kittenish. Once I’d finished my quick bathe and deliberations I sought to quench my thirst and tried licking the azalea blooms. Hmm. Fresh and clean. A thrumming buzzed my ear. The jacket of a bumblebee searching for sweet azalea nectar. I gave way to the bzzzzzz and wandered towards the sidewalk, slinking from shrub to shrub. Not alone on this brisk spring morning, I observed squirrels rave across the grass and up into the swaying maples, where dappled sunlight flashed through verdant leaves. The morning chill began to burn off; the day was looking to be dry and bright.

 

The question hung like a birdhouse from the horse chestnut. Where was I headed? Should I follow my dream and seek asylum with the architect who’s ownership I’d invoked? And would he take me in? Of course I knew where he lived––and it was no morning stroll down the block––it was several miles away through the urban jungle of human traffic. Was I really equipped to take on such a journey? Was I crazy? Well, I am a human turned into a cat––what could be more crazy than that? And honestly, where else would I go? Most of my local friends already have cats—or kids, which is far worse. I was left with few choices in the immediate area and living on the street wasn’t an option I was willing to entertain. Just then, my neighbor, Matt, who lived on the second floor of the sprawling Victorian, strolled past. Armed with a swinging messenger bag and hipster Wayfarers, he was headed to the station where he caught the commuter rail into the city. I gave one last lingering look at my apartment and began to follow my neighbor at a safe distance. He was humming a familiar tune and I felt brave enough to get closer. Matt gave me a sharp nod and whistled the chorus, before adding, “Nice morning for a cat-about-town.” Was he talking to me? Previously we’d exchanged no more than three or four words. Meeting with the garbage cans curbside or collecting the mail. We had compared notes on the weather, nothing more exhilarating, but here, this morning, I found him to be a comfort to me in my alien state; like a long lost friend. I followed him out of security, not wanting to face the directionless void on my own. He had a spring in his step and it was a pleasure to accompany him. Soon we arrived at the station and there parted ways. I skulked amongst the yews bordering the building as commuters criss-crossed the drop off zone. So many humans––and so self absorbed––no one even noticed as I made a circuitous route around the building. Eventually I settled down in a quiet patch of sunny weeds. I may have dozed off for a bit. When my whiskers were tickled by a fluttering butterfly, I opened my eyes to see the commuter volume had thinned and I realized that most workers were diving into their second cup of office coffees by now. How I could lap up some creamy steamed milk right now…my furry tummy gurgled with hunger.

 

Just then a white van pulled up to the station entrance. Two uniformly jumpsuited men began to extract a large floor buffer from the hatch. I saw my chance open up right in front of me. It was becoming clear that my intentions were leading me in one direction––that fella whose lapcat I’d offered to become––and his place was a few towns over on this train line. I simply skittered through the door that had been so conveniently and carelessly left propped ajar. The wide expanse of the now empty station interior left me no time to change my mind; no place to hide. I sauntered under the turnstiles with no need for a Freedom Pass––freedom was mine! Down the stairs, the platform beckoned. At the end of the deserted waiting zone there was a bench. I huddled in its shelter to await the next train. From my vantage point I could see into the station through its large plate glass windows overlooking the platform. The cleaning crew was busy washing the windows and I could hear the plug-plug of the floor buffers puttering across the tiled floor. A couple stragglers joined me on the platform. They skulked at the other end, pacing. Students or swing shifters, I assumed. They appeared harmless and sluggish, not yet awake, but I kept my distance.

 

Soon the distinctive rumble could be heard––alternate to the rumble in my empty stomach––and I sensed a change in the air currents as the train emerged from around the bend, headlight gleaming, sliding to a screeching halt. Swoooosh! The doors parted. The two stragglers answered the invitation to enter. With no obstruction visible I streaked into the train. Keeping off the center aisle, I slunk under the seats and tried to keep my balance as the train thrust onward. It was bumpier sitting on the floor and though I knew every twist, curve and screechy turn of the route, I found the ride jittery and nauseating. Only four stops separated me from my destination. My senses remained guarded. Up front I could see movement. A passenger wearing feminine footwear accompanied by a pair of smaller, more rugged sneakers; those of a child. I heard the child being chastised to sit still. The high pitch squeal as the train braked overrode the driver’s muffled announcement approaching the station. I braced myself for an influx of humanity. Two pairs of shoes boarded my car, headed in my direction; a pair of tough black boots with gold laces and a beat up pair of purple hightops. They plopped down in seats at opposition to each other and conversed in mellow tones. As the train took off, so did the small sneakers. The toddler had escaped its mother’s grasp and was closing in on my position, causing me to go into a crouch. My shoulders hunched as the child came to a shrieking halt and pointed right at me with glee. Just as the train rattled to a halt, pausing with a hum at the next station, the child’s voice resonated with a high pitch. “CAT!”

 

The two dudes honed in on the location of the child’s aimed finger, rising out of their seats. I shrunk into a ball. The mother moved closer but her only aim was to capture the runaway child. Meanwhile the two dudes had begun to maneuver into positions to surround me. The train jerked, wiggled and rolled. I tore off between the two dudes keeping them off balance just enough. They laughed, chasing me with lack luster, but I wasn’t going to let down my guard. At last the train shivered into the third stop of my journey and I didn’t hesitate when the doors puffed open. I scampered through as quick as an orange streak of lightning. Meouch! Forgetting that it was a raised platform, high above the station, I almost flew head over heels into mid-air. But for my tail, that great balancing feat of engineering, I would have fallen off, to certain splattitude. Although this wasn’t the station on my itinerary, I wasn’t about to test my luck by boarding another train. I was close enough to walk the rest of the way. All the streets of the neighborhood were tree-lined and pleasant. The exiting passengers had funneled towards the downward stairs and once they’d cleared the platform I followed. At the top of the downward passage I encountered the familiar device known as the escalator. Its metal steps zoomed ominously at me before disappearing into the abyss below. I didn’t know how to embark onto the moving stairs. All of a sudden I was faced with something as foreign as surfing. I sat and pondered, watching the rolling conveyor belt undulate into infinity. My whiskers sensed movement from behind, startling me. It was a man in uniform, a security guard. Frightened, I leapt from my seated position just out of his reach and landed on the metal median between the up and down escalators I skidded to my descent in a slippery, sliding, skating exhibition, garnering a few bewildered glances from the stony faced commuters gliding by. I arrived at the bottom with a plop, landing surprisingly on my four firm paws, then I simply followed the humans to the station’s exit, as if I hadn’t just bombed my way down the slope, catching air with a 10-80, and landed with the elegance of 007. Like an undercover agent, I mixed into the masses heading towards the exit. When a human held the door, I scurried underfoot. I think I may have startled a few people as I tangled my way outside where I immediately sought refuge in the bushes to catch my breath from the stressful commute and aerial escapades.

 

Mapping the streets in my tiny mind, I planned a route that would take me safely and directly to my destination. It was approaching noon, by the look of the sun’s transit and without the use of public transit I was now reduced to my four stubby legs. Still, the day was pleasant, breezy and warm. All I needed was a drink and some food in my belly; the rest of the creature comforts I sought would be awaiting me at the end of the journey. First, I navigated across the parking lot, looking both ways before attaining the sidewalk along the main street. The grass beside the human walkway was cool and ticklish; it felt good to claw into the soil after losing my grip back on the escalator. I watched the traffic speed by; the bicycles, the perambulators, the joggers. How invigorating to be strolling on such a day. A few blocks away was one of my favorite coffeeshops and I could smell the brew at that distance with salivating glands. I remembered that they always kept a water bowl outside for their four-legged patrons––water would do for now––hydration was key for my afternoon excursion. I had the place in my sights, like an oasis to a desert traveler, but as I approached, to my horror, I found two labradoodles slurping up the liquid offerings with gusto. My back went up. The slobbering behemoths left the dish bone dry. Then I saw Lee––the curly haired barista who made splendid cappuccinos and quirky drawings. He spied the wolfish beasts and came out to fill the bowl with fresh, clean, filtered, unadulterated and slobber-free acqua vitale. My hero. I dived into the bowl like a fish into a pond. Psapp, psapp, psapp, psapp, psapp. “You seem a little extra thirsty, my friend,” as his large, gentle hands engulfed my head and smoothed my back to the tip of my fluttering tail. “Maybe, you’re a little hungry too, eh? Let’s see what we’ve got for you…” He went back inside and I sat patiently under a patio table. When he returned, it was with relief that I saw the most palatable snack. “I’ve never seen you around here before. This your first time at our cafe, hmm?” I nudged his ankle. I wanted to tell him how wonderful a quiche-maker he was and how much I always appreciated his attention to the art of cappuccino making. I think he understood each nudge and he reciprocated with a tickle on my tummy which made me shiver in ecstasy. I always knew being a cat would be wonderful and now I’d just experienced my first catergasm of delight Fulfilled, in every sense, I thought a siesta was in order, but the day had reached its apogee. Lunchtime was over. Lee went back to his frothy drawings and I waddled around the corner into the residential section of town where the sidewalks are paved with cracks and upheavals, marching in straight lines under the shade of oaks and chestnuts, sycamores and maples, lindens and elms. Squirrels chasing squirrels. Birds chasing other birds. Bees buzzing around more bees. I’d encountered many forms of urban wildlife, however, I’d yet to confront another of my own species. When it happened, as I innocently traveled through green yards, my tail sailing in the air like a kite string, I was completely taken aback. I froze in fear. My whiskers tested the vibes emanating from this felione. Less aloof than my beloved Q and a little rougher around the edges —a nipped ear and mangy tail—this was a cat-about-town of a different stripe, though it was outfitted in a patchwork, an Amish quilt of browns, blacks, greys and white. We eyed each other warily, in a mute standoff. The patchwork cat was so intimidating that I wet myself. All that water I’d psapped squirted now in nervous dribbles. The other cat turned its nose and whiskers up at me in distaste before slinking off into the rhododendron bushes. As the warm puddle soaked into the ground I tried to regain my composure. Finding a thick patch of grass, I rubbed my paws clean, then balanced on my haunches to lick my nether regions and restore my dignity. If my mother could only see me…

 

My guard was elevated now, as the sunny disposition of the day was beginning to fade below the tree-line. I still had many blocks to travel on my journey and I wanted to arrive before my new owner got home from work. With whiskers on full alert, I navigated through the urban jungle of sidewalks, driveways, and lawn ornaments. A particular small bearded man, holding a lantern, caused me to make a wide berth around one yard. When I heard rustling from the bushes I rushed away. The rumble of car motors and the whirring of bicycle wheels brought bursts of energy into my ramble. I out maneuvered every obstacle and cautiously traversed the residential quadrant, edging closer to the town center. Covered in asphalt and cement, my terrain now granted fewer places to hide. I turned the corner at Euclid. The road ended into a square parking lot which backed the main street’s shops and businesses. My destination was in the far corner of the lot. Just beyond the regular parking spaces, next to the fence bordering Grace Church, there was a private parking sign guarding a spot lying vacant while my new owner was at work. Snuggly positioned between the church grounds and a row of buildings fronting the main street was my final destination. I had it in my sight. A row of cypresses curved from the back of the house to form a small garden whose path met the the parking space creating a private entrance. I stood on the outside of the cypresses and peered through into the courtyard––all clear. Approaching the entrance to the garden path I felt the most delightful apprehension. And then my breath was taken away. From the entrance into the garden a slate walkway curved through a rectangular space bordered by the cypresses on one side and bigger trees on the other side, where the church rectory met the property. The walkway was lined with plantings of juniper, azalea and boxwood, with a medium sized magnolia tree as a centerpiece. Pansies at ground level sent bursts of color over the aromatic cedar mulch. The shade of afternoon gave this open space the feeling of a hushed grotto. At the end of the pathway, looming above me was the face of the house. A house I had come to admire as much as the man who had designed every inch of its façade and interior. I took a moment to just sit in the middle of the path and appreciate his visionary masterpiece of urban dwelling.

 

His name was Jacob Van Doren and he was an architect specializing in modern design with a focus on functionality and environmental sustainability. I’d always thought we’d make a great team and we had worked together on several projects. We maintained our friendship on a professional basis, recommending each other to potential clients. I’d always particularly relished decorating the interiors of spaces he’d designed and I felt the results matched the integrity of his vision. I’d seen his place for the first time when he hosted a holiday cocktail party for business associates. He’d just finished the restoration of this acquisition located on a main street in a historical district with strict building codes. While the colonial veneer was maintained on the front of the building, facing the street, he had completely brought the back of the building into the future. Fiercely and unapologetically modern in design, with warm stained cedar siding and decking; a wide balcony, partially glassed in and furnished in solid comfort–– it was a paradise of zen function, beauty and style. I instantly had desired to move in. However, word on the street was that Jacob entertained playing the field; others maintained he took pleasure in living alone, while some gossip had circulated that he favored his own sex over that of female companionship. I’d never figured out the answer. He was a quiet enigma. Endowed with charm and in possession of a personality that appealed to both sexes, Jacob was never at a loss for friends, but if there had been some special someone in his life, he’d kept him or her, a mystery. Which led to my pronouncement over those glasses of white wine. He was the man I’d felt the most attracted to––so much so, that I’d entertained the idea of becoming his personal pet, feeling that the benefits would outweigh the drawbacks. And now, here I was, poised to luxuriate, bask in and savor his adoring favors. Meow to that! I moved closer to the door, protected by the overhanging balcony. The pathway merged into a blanket of small white stones in which slate tiles had been inset as stepping pavers leading to the redwood steps and the simple wooden door. A raised cedar planter housed a radiantly blooming azalea and I plopped down in the space between it and the wall projecting from the dwelling, housing a garden shed. Here I would hold my stakeout and await my architect’s return. I wondered what Q was doing just then. I found that I could only hold thoughts of home, my friends, my family and even my cat, fleetingly. I was now running on a one track mind. And my one track mind was thinking one thing––nap. I promptly fell fast asleep. It had been a long day and much of night had fallen during my slumber. The Japanese lanterns along the pathway were warmly golden. The cypresses were strung with tiny fairy lights and the blooming azaleas sucked up the glow. The garden was like a wonderland, protected and serene. Warm lights also glowed from inside the house itself and my ears picked up the tinkle of a piano, accompanied by the sonorous tone of a saxophone. Heaven. However, heaven had come home from work while I’d been napping and I’d missed my chance at entrée. Whiskers on radar duty, there seemed to be no other trespassers in my garden domain; I was the lone occupant. My nose twitched to pick up the interior scents as my stomach reminded me it had been hours since my last meal. Mmmm….Asian food, perhaps a hint of curry on the night breeze. Then I heard a rattle as a door slammed and the clink of bottles and clang of a trash can. I realized that the business next door was taking out the garbage. The scents hit me stronger then––and it was Asian––a Chinese restaurant, in fact. The idea of pork dumplings made my mouth water and I licked my lips in anticipation. I was about to go pick through the garbage. Yes, the idea was abhorrent to me, but so was starving. I left my lofty pride in the Wonderland garden and went on a reconnaissance mission. My hope was that the leftovers were still warm. Eek! A mouse! Ugh. I know I’m supposed to be their worst enemy, but honestly, they were my worst nightmare. I held my ground as two mice scurried down the alley and into the cracked crevices. As long as they stayed out of my garden––I would not allow any rodents in my Wonderland. Now, faced with a large garbage receptacle I was looking at yet another challenge to my day––this strange day. How could I get to the food within? I saw steps leading to the door of the restaurant and tentatively ascended them. A wooden barrier boxed off the landing from the parking lot and the garbage cans below. If I could just strrrrr–eeeettt–ccccchhhhh. Oh hell, that wasn’t going to work. I’d have to leap onto the lid of the other can and then try to get into the—.

 

Ohhh!, something smelled soooo good. Beef Teriyaki. I took a leap and landed surefootedly on the lid, which promptly caved under my landing, throwing me into the open one, where I sunk into a pit of garbage––a mixed bag of smells from vegetable to offal to coffee grounds and tea leaves. Great. I was surrounded by dinner, but stuck in its mire. How the hell was I going to get out of this jam? Too hungry to panic, I started to scratch into the bags and was soon covered in the aforementioned mire of vegetables, offal and coffee grounds. The rice was delicious, succulent and salty, with bits of beef and vegetables; I scored some pork dumplings too. I admit I relished this meal and ravenously partook of it. While I was slurping up my dinner, my whiskers detected that I had company. The sounds of scratching claws against the side of the can indicated that my company was hungry too. I feared more cats. My fears couldn’t have been more wrong. It was when I saw the masked eyes gleaming over the edge of the can that I realized the trouble I was in, for my masked companions in gustatory pursuits were none other than raccoons! Two of them. And their whiskers detected me as well. However, they were pros at the procurement of foodstuffs and knew how to achieve their quest without landing inside a receptacle they couldn’t escape from, applying effective skills to secure their meals. They simply tipped the can over. And when they did—with a bang and a clatter—I went sprawling, along with the refuse, onto the ground; and I hit the ground running, let me tell you! Thankfully, they weren’t in the mood for raw food that night and they left me to flee while they took possession of the cooked victuals which were more to their tastes.

 

Whew. Now I’m back in my safe haven, rolling around in the gravel to clean my fur before a thorough and much needed catbath. Serenaded by the music wafting into the garden’s glow, I am at peace. I’d survived. It hadn’t ended with me curled up in my architect’s lap but I had managed to feed myself and escape harrowing obstacles. I planned to nap for a while and be bright-eyed in the morning to meet Jacob afresh. I dug a bed amongst the bushes and pansies, nestling into a supple nest of mulch. With my tail curling around my neck like a scarf I am feeling blissfully sleepy, my belly full and content. Ever wonder what cats dreams are like? Check back with me in the morning and I’ll tell you!
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Victoria-Elizabeth is a self-taught scribbler who was brought up along the central coast of California and the northern shores of Lake Michigan, but finds herself living, inexplicably, within the southern suburbs of New Jersey, where she translates French symbolist poetry and writes fanciful speculative fiction. She would like to dedicate this story to her marmalade tabby, Miso.

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