Delicately licking her paw and feigning an aloof indifference, Miss Flossy was desperately trying to ignore the feral cats staring at her. She’d seen a documentary about ferals, quite shocked at their rough language, uncouth manners and unkempt fur, but this was the first time she’d been face to face with them. Totally inferior types, not brought up but thrown up in dirty backstreets teeming with vermin. She shuddered to think what parasites and bacteria were lurking in their fur. She hoped they didn’t have cat flu.
There were two of them. A male, Scar, who seemed to have been in a fight, and a female called Nettle.
They were all sharing a prison cell.
“So what they get you for?” said Scar.
Miss Flossy looked at him blankly.
“Why did the humans catnab you? What did you do wrong?” said Nettle.
“Nothing,” said Miss Flossy, “I’m innocent. There has been the most terrible misunderstanding.”
The ferals chortled.
“Listen, clunkhead,” said Scar. “Me and Nettie, we’re ferals, right? There we was, minding our own business, and the humans catnabbed us because they hates us ferals.” He swished his tail angrily. “But when the likes of you, a lah-di-dah Persian, is got that’s a different piece of fish.”
Miss Flossy wasn’t listening. She’d spotted something on her left paw. A knot, still in its initial phase. At home she’d been brushed daily, precisely to prevent this, and now, without the brushing, here it was, what she’d always dreaded, her worst nightmare, the beginning of the end. The knots would spread and take over her whole body. Gingerly, she felt it with her other paw, heart pounding. Yes, a definite lump. Maybe it was nothing. Maybe it would go away. Don’t think about it.
“…humans is all evil,” Scar was saying.
“I have a human,” said Miss Flossy, “a female called Samantha, and she’s lovely. She grooms and feeds me.”
“Fattening you up to eat you,” said Scar. “Make a collar out of your fur.”
“Don’t be silly,” said Miss Flossy.
“Catnabbed cats is never seen again. What happens to them then, smartypants?”
“They’re sent to rehabilitation with a nice human. I saw a documentary about it.”
“You don’t want to believe everything you see on television,” said Scar. “Nettie and me, we’re outta here…”
A rattle at the cell door.
The prison guard human opened it, placed three bowls of food on the floor and went.
Miss Flossy eyed the food suspiciously. Was it high in cholesterol? Sugar? Unsaturated fats? Did it aid transit through the digestive tract? Junk food. She’d read about junk food on the Internet, how it wrecks your health and makes you fat. The ferals, meanwhile, were devouring it with great gusto. Well, they didn’t know any better. She nibbled a bit. It tasted surprisingly good, and she was starving. Reluctantly, she ate it, trying not to think about what it would do to her insides, and outsides for that matter.
Now she needed her vitamin supplement. Without it her fur would lose its gloss, her eyes would lose their sparkle, and fall out, who knows, she had never not had it.
Another thing. After eating she wanted a catnap, but where to lie down? At home she had her hypo-allergic leopardskin (fake) cushion, whose cover was regularly washed in a solution that killed 99% of all known germs. She was forever fretting about the other 1%, not to mention the unknown germs. Miss Flossy peered anxiously at the floor. She was sure she could see germs, like miniscule spiders, swarming everywhere. And she had a slight headache: cat flu. And the knot. Was it bigger? It seemed to be bigger. It was growing bigger before her very eyes.
She burst into tears.
“There, there. Don’t cry, sweetheart,” said Nettle, patting her.
Miss Flossy wailed all the louder.
“I know what she needs,” said Scar.
He went to a corner and came back with some leaves which he dropped in front of Miss Flossy.
“What is it?” she said.
“Catnip,” said Scar.
She shrank back, horrified. She’d heard of the weed and the unpredictable effect it had on cats, how it made them lose all control.
“Don’t worry, it’s a legal substance,” said Scar.
“It’ll make you feel better,” said Nettle.
Miss Flossy gave a tentative sniff, and another, and suddenly found herself in a meadow, and oh look, a butterfly. She swiped at it, whereupon it flew off and she chased after it, laughing, leaping through the long grass and aromatic flowers, until eventually, purring contentedly to herself, she fell asleep.
Next day, she woke up beside Nettle.
Incredible. She’d consorted with ferals and all 100% of germs, eaten junk food with no vitamin supplement, and she was still alive. The knot was small, and anyway it could just be cut off. And no sign of cat flu. In fact, she felt strangely well and relaxed, like she hadn’t since she was a kitten. It was such a relief to stop fretting. She stretched contentedly.
“You got any kids, sweetheart?” said Nettle.
“No. And you?”
“Yeah. Eighty. Most are dead.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Miss Flossy, gently laying a paw on her.
Suddenly, a shriek echoed round the prison — “Where is she?” — and a wild-eyed Samantha appeared, accompanied by the prison guard.
“I’ve been sick with worry,” said Samantha, “I shouldn’t have left the door open.”
She swept Miss Flossy up in her arms and kissed her.
“Oh my God, a knot!”
Miss Flossy rolled her eyes and gave the ferals a long-suffering smile as they stared in amazement. Then she nuzzled happily against Samantha.
“Poor little things,” said Samantha, indicating the ferals.
“Don’t worry, we’ll find them good homes. If they don’t escape again,” said the prison guard.
After Miss Flossy left with her human, the ferals were silent for a while.
“Maybe humans isn’t as bad as we thought,” said Scar finally. “Let’s stay.”
“Yes,” said Nettle. “Let’s.”
Krystyna Smallman has stories published in various magazines and e-zines, and won first prize in the JBWB Winter 2007 Competition and also the City of Derby 2008 Short Story Competition.
This story was sponsored by
Rotten Little Animals — An unnatural novella by Kevin Shamel. Animals are people too! And that is messed up. It’s a crazy ride from the backyard to the Big Time. Zombie-cats, car chases, puppet shows, kidnapping! Fear your pets from this day forward…