The Cat That Wrote

Just to set one thing straight from the beginning, I photograph events. Weddings, sweet 16s, stuff like that. I'm not in photography for art's sake, even though people have always said I had a great 'eye'. It's never interested me on that level, but rather than throw away what everyone insist was a "gift", I decided to meet them half way and turn it into a revenue stream.

Up until a while back, the strangest thing I'd taken pictures of was a three year old's twenty-first birthday. I shit you not. The kid had some kind of terminal disease, and her Mom wanted to give her every birthday party and Christmas she'd ever have within that one year she'd still be alive.

Sad as fuck.

But now, that's the second weirdest job I actually took. We're not going to get into the creepy jobs I rejected, mostly old men who wanted a "discreet photographer" for God knows what.

The weirdest customer, as of right now, was the crazy cat lady. Her name was Ruth or Rhonda or some stale old R-name like that. Rhoda? I don't know. It doesn't matter, because "Crazy Cat Lady" is more fitting. She called up one afternoon when I had little else to do. I couldn't really tell what she wanted, at first, because she tended to mutter and ramble - a deadly combination when it comes to conversation.

It took several tries for me to pull the reason for the call out of her. She had seen a local news story about a deformed house cat who was taking the internet by storm. She called it "Sad Cat" but I'm pretty sure she meant "Grumpy" since that's the only one I'd heard of.

As it turned out, one of her cats was "special", too. Once she explained that she had 18 cats ("currently", as she put it) I figured it was no big surprise to hear an inbred mutant had popped out somewhere along the line.

Regardless, she wanted me to photograph her cat and "stick it in the computer" so she'd be rich like Sad Cat's owners. I was entirely sure she had no idea how this sort of thing worked, but since she was willing to pay my fee and she seemed like a harmless fuddy-duddy, I agreed to take the pictures.

Have you ever smelled cats?

I mean, just an ungodly amount of cats. Litter boxes, dander, cat sick, and stale food…

That was the Crazy Cat Lady's house. I could smell it from the doorstep, where I stood on a cat-shaped welcome mat that read "Meow Do You Do?" An actual, peering feline face greeted me from between the porch slats. It stared up at me with moon eyes, then disappeared back into the dark.

I expected the doorbell to play the Meow Mix theme when I pressed it, but instead it simply didn't work. I rapped on the door a few times, then stood back from the odor.

The Crazy Cat Lady didn't stop talking once she let me into her hovel. She was a hoarder. Of course. Stacks of plastic bins and boxes were filled with random objects, creating tight spaces and a small, branching path of clean floor to traverse between them. Nothing was really garbage, per say. There were old dolls, heaps of clothing, and gift-wrapped presents she must've never been able to give away.

To be honest, other than the smell, I was most put off by the never-ending jumble of words that came out of her mouth. Her son was a fisherman with red hair and a huge beard. Oh, she had two sons. One was a fisherman, and the other is a State Trooper who use to give her yellow flowers every Mother's Day until five years ago. And her husband, a Navy man, died of a heart attack. (I wonder why.) Also, her sons married awful women and the county was harassing her… I could go on, but you probably see what I was dealing with already.

We stopped at the dining room, or what would have been a dining room if not for the junk. The table at the center of the area had various clothing items and boxes on it, and the chairs were tucked under and similarly used for storage.

Sitting on top of the heap was the cat.

A smokey gray cat with black ear tips.

The cat that wrote.

I'm sure the old woman was still talking, but I couldn't tell you what she said at that point. I was too busy staring at the stocky little creature in front of me. It's black, liquid eyes were locked with mine, and even though it had a particularly stoic attitude, I still felt a sudden and deep sense of dread.

It sat up, ears pricked, with perfectly formed, furry little human hands placed gingerly against its perch. The hands were grey, like the rest. Each finger and thumb bore the white glint of a retractable claw.

It was then that I realized I hadn't seen any of the woman's 18 cats, save for the random stranger outside, until that very moment. The others, all of them, were gathered in the dining room. They roughly encircled the strange cat, none of them sitting higher than it. Unlike the central figure, they only cared to glance at me before losing interest.

When I started retaining the Crazy Cat Lady's words once more, she explained that this was a very smart kitty who could do all sorts of interesting things with its amazing "paws". To clarify once again - these were NOT paws.

I asked what, exactly, the cat could do. Apparently, it could open doors, turn lights on or off, and would occasionally write "kitty words", as she put it. She was also hoping to some day teach it how to knit. Nothing too complex, of course.

I looked at the walls and spotted the hundreds of sticky notes and tattered papers taped to each surface. Among the debris of the insane woman's house, I hadn't even registered them. Each slip displayed random scribbles, crude stick people, and foreign letters that seemed familiar in some ancient part of the back of my mind. "Kitty words".

Quickly, I made sense of the situation. This was a cat born with deformed front paws that, through the miracle of random bullshit, looked enough like hands to be a bit disconcerting. I'd heard of smart cats who could open doors or jump at light switches before, so that was nothing special… and the "writing" was probably nothing more than the old woman herself holding the cat in one hand, and making it "write" with the other. She was clearly demented, so why wouldn't she think that made sense to do?

So, I took the photos. The lady hung a curtain as a backdrop so no one on the internet would see her living conditions. The cat didn't move from its spot, though its head and eyes followed my every movement like an owl would. I almost expected its head to rotate in a complete circle as I walked around it, but thankfully that didn't happen.

When I had taken the proper amount of pictures, I went to show the digital images to the Crazy Cat Lady for her approval. It was a simple matter of holding the camera out as we both looked over the small screen and agreed upon which photos were the best, etc.

She didn't see anything odd. All she did wish coo and titter at the images… she remarked on what a beautiful cat it was, and how clever its hands were. She praised my photographic skills to the point I wasn't sure if she was making fun of me or not.

I didn't like the photos at all, however.

Each picture was from the correct angle. I mean, the photos I had taken were from the same positions, with subject in the proper location. The problem is, that's all that didn't change. None of the photos depicted the backdrop, or even the old woman's house. Instead they showed a white, spotless room… a perfect cube of brightness devoid of any character.

Sitting in the cat's place, a worn wooden chair with peeling red paint and an old man sitting upon it. The man was gnarled. Nude. Yellowed and dirty like a stale corpse. In each picture, the man's head was turned away from the camera so I couldn't see his face.

I asked the Crazy Cat Lady if the photos were really "perfect". I asked that several times and even held the camera closer to her face to make sure she was seeing the same photo. Still, she just remarked that her "little" kitty was "adorable".

On the down side, I eventually told her I uploaded her pictures to the web even though I deleted them that day, in the car outside her house. On the plus side, though, I never cashed her check. In a few days or weeks she would probably forget the whole idea, anyway.

I'm still not sure what happened to the camera… if anything DID happen to it, of course… and I have no idea why or how that cat existed at all. I didn't really want to know. I really DON'T want to know. It was the sort of thing that you want to put behind you and pretend never happened so you can continue living a life free of straight jackets and shock therapy.

Unfortunately, like most things you'd rather forget, it refuses to go away. Every time I wake up in the middle of the night, feeling as if my nose had been pinched shut by small, hairy fingers… every time I choke in the middle of the night and spit out the mangled, bloodied corpse of a bird… I'm reminded of fact I'll never be able to un-know the cat that wrote, and it will never un-see me.

When she said it could open doors, I didn't know she meant locks.

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