A few months ago Brian Keene and Dave Thomas were talking about my novel Hacks on their weekly podcast, The Horror Show with Brian Keene, because I was bringing it back into print and offering free digital copies to Horror Show listeners. Mostly it was shameless self promotion, but partly it was because many of the book’s main characters are based on real writers I know, one of them Brian Keene.
Dave suggested that someone should put him and co-host Phoebe in a story, then offered up a premise that had a lot of possibility.
“What are you waiting for, Knight? It writes itself!”
I’m pretty sure he was kidding, and pretty sure he was still kidding when he mentioned the idea again a few weeks ago, but I liked the idea, and he called me out by name, so what the hell.
It was supposed to be a flash piece, but evolved into a full grown short story. I’m publishing it with Dave and Phoebe’s permission in my upcoming collection Dangerous Toys, but I wanted you guys to have a chance to read it for free before Dangerous Toys comes out, so I’m posting it here for the next few weeks (after removing it for a few years I’ve decided to put it back up as a free read).
I hope you all dig it!
Mother of Kitties
Dave Thomas thought he would probably enjoy CatCon more if it wasn’t for all the fucking people. He loved cats, cats were great because they mostly left you alone, but cat people were just so … weird, and peopley. Except for Phoebe, who was also weird, but in all the right ways. Phoebe was also the reason that Dave was fighting his way through a press of strangers, making his slow way to the restroom of the Pasadena Convention Center, instead of catching the Summer Slaughter Tour in Grand Rapids.
He was wearing his Soreption concert t-shirt in honor of the show he was missing, and drawing strange looks from an assortment of blue-hairs and uptight fur-mamas littering the hallway. He had to piss, and badly. If he couldn’t bust through this press of people between him and the bathroom soon he was likely to piss right down his leg.
A skinny guy with stringy black hair, a wisp of mustache, and a Grumpy Cat t-shirt watched Dave’s approach with a sneer.
“The fuck you looking at?”
The skinny guy jumped like Dave had reached out a goosed him, then turned away and moved on, opening a path through the crowd past the men’s room door.
Dave smiled, feeling a little better about the day, and shouldered his way through the shrinking gap in the crowd before it could close again.
He heard the screams while he was washing his hands. The first one was isolated, out of place in the low hum of conversation beyond the restroom door. He ignored it as he shook the water from his hands, then thumped the button on the hot air hand drier with his elbow. No matter how clean they looked, public restrooms were disgusting places. Pressing the flush on a public toilet made his skin want to crawl right off his body, but that couldn’t be helped. Anything he could avoid touching with his hands, he did.
The low hum of conversation in the hallway increased to a din, he could hear it over the racket of forced hot air, and he wondered what was going on out there. Probably a Colonel Meow sighting in the hallway. He dreaded the probability of having to press his way through an even larger crowd to get back to Phoebe.
Then the forced air died, and he realized that the noise beyond the door no longer qualified as a low hum, or even a din. It was a cacophony. Raised voices, shouts, trampling feet, and screams. Screams of pain. Screams of terror.
His mind conjured up a hundred dreadful possibilities as he ran to the door – fire, flood, a crazy ass-hole with a gun and some political or religious agenda, a Kim Kardashian sighting in the lobby, or maybe the zombie apocalypse.
He was reaching for the door when it swung open and slammed him into the wall. A dozen or more men and women pushed past him and crammed themselves in the stalls, hiding from … he didn’t know what.
“Don’t go out there, man,” someone shouted as he reached out to catch the closing door. “They’ve gone crazy. Fucking crazy, man!”
“Who’s gone crazy?” Dave paused on his way out, waiting for a bit of clarification. “What the hell’s going on?”
“Shut the goddamn door!” A woman in the far stall screamed at him. “You’re going to let them in!”
For a second, Dave teetered on the brink of retreat. He considered letting the door close, maybe propping the trash-can under the handle to bar it before forcing himself into one of those tight little stalls.
Phoebe’s out there.
He was out into the hallway and running the way he’d come before he realized he meant to go.
He ran against a strong current of panicked, screaming bodies, elbowing and shoving people aside.
He scanned faces even as he pushed past them but didn’t see her.
A burly man in checkered golf pants and an oversized paisley shirt grabbed him by an arm and swung him around.
“Are you insane?” Dave felt the knuckles of the man’s long, meaty fingers crackle as they squeezed his arm. “You’re running the wrong way!”
Dave wrenched his arm from the man’s grip and shoved him aside.
“I gotta find Phoebe!”
The man regarded Dave for a shocked moment, then backed away from him.
“Fuck you then. Go get yourself torn up.” That said, he turned tail and sprinted with the ebbing flow of cat lovers toward the convention center lobby.
Dave’s cell phone buzzed in his pocket. He realized that it had been in there, forgotten and buzzing against his leg as he panicked and ignored what might be Phoebe’s last frantic call to him. He dug for it and tugged it out.
It was Phoebe, but she wasn’t calling. She was texting.
There were a half-dozen new texts.
Hurry up sweetie!
Morris is here! OMG!
The third was a picture of a fat, orange tabby stretched out in what looked like a silk-lined cat bed. The current incarnation of 9 Lives cat food mascot, Morris the Cat. A white plastic food dish with his name printed across the side sat ignored next to him.
A loud scream brought Dave’s attention back to the mostly empty path ahead. For the first time he saw the blood streaking the walls and dotting the carpeted floor. An enormously fat man burst through the open door of Exhibit Hall B, where a select few famous felines were displayed for their adoring public.
Dave had been warned in advance that there would be no touching of the famous cats. You could look all you wanted, take a picture if their handlers allowed it, but you couldn’t interact with them in any way. Actual meet and greets would be available later, in more private settings, and for a fee.
The screaming fat man’s face was carved up and bleeding badly, and when he turned toward the sound of Dave’s shocked scream, Dave saw that one of his eyes was gone. The man tripped over his own tangled feet and hit the floor hard.
Dave was moving again, rushing to help the man up, when the cats pounced.
First two, then four, then half a dozen, they leapt onto the prone man, hissing and wailing, digging with their claws, biting his shoulders, the back of his neck, the top of his head. A Maine Coon the size of a dog and with a lion-like mane of gray hair tore a chunk out of his throat, and a surprising fan of blood sprayed Dave, drenching him from the knees down.
Dave screamed again, and the cats turned to regard him.
He waited for them to attack, grateful that he’d already emptied his bladder.
They looked at him, then past him, and rushed toward the fading screams and shouts of the fleeing cat fanciers. The Maine Coon brushed against his leg and purred for a second before catching up with the rest.
The fat man gurgled briefly, then died.
Dave’s phone vibrated in his hand.
He scrolled past two more pictures of famous cats, one of them was indeed Colonel Meow, and read the last two texts.
Where are you honey, I need you!
I love you, baby.
“Phoebe.” It was little more than a whisper. He didn’t have the breath for anything stronger.
The phone buzzed, and a new picture appeared.
A sea of cats, more cats than could have possibly been in attendance, even at the largest of CatCons. There were pampered celeb-cats, well-groomed but more-or-less average attendee’s cats, big cats, small cats, old, young, and dirty, matted, mangy strays who seemed to have somehow gotten past security.
All of them facing Dave through the picture Phoebe had just sent. Closing in on her.
He leapt over the fat man’s outstretched legs and ran through the open door into Exhibit Hall B.
There were perhaps twenty Celebrity Cat booths set up throughout the spacious room, and all of them destroyed in the chaos. Tables were overturned, backdrops trampled into the floor, promotional posters of the convention’s most famous feline guests torn and scattered, and their human handlers either dead or fled.
There were bodies everywhere.
Some of them were still moving, moaning, screaming, so, Dave supposed, they weren’t technically bodies yet, but the remaining felines were busy correcting that. The cats chewed on wrists and throats. One tiny kitten was half-hidden in an unconscious woman’s hiked up skirt, chewing into her thigh. A second later the woman’s femoral artery let go with a gush, and the kitten climbed onto her chest, mewing in triumph.
Another text alert sounded out, and every cat not currently occupied with turning a human into a corpse turned to him.
“Shit.” Dave’s voice was little more than a whisper, but the cats meowed at him, as in to say Yes indeed, human. Shit.
He retreated a step, turned back to the hallway, and found his path blocked.
Another text alert, and the cats, now surrounding him on all sides except one, meowed again.
Dave had the absurd notion that they were telling him to check his damn phone.
What they didn’t do was attack him.
Dave checked his damn phone.
The first of the new texts said Ballroom.
The second said Hurry up, honey. There isn’t much time.
Dave moved in the only direction the gathering cats would allow, forward, deeper into the abattoir that was Exhibit Hall B. The faster he moved, the faster they followed. He was running by the time he saw the opening in the partition wall between Hall B and Hall A, sprinting by the time he passed through it into the empty and previously blocked off Exhibit Hall A.
Not empty anymore.
Every cat in the city seemed to have converged on CatCon, and they were all gathering in the unused Exhibit Hall A. They filled it wall to wall, parting for Dave when he rushed in blindly, closing behind him when he skidded to a stop.
They writhed, mewed, yowled, and squawked, then rushed at him in a wave.
A wave of cats, Dave thought as he felt himself sliding smoothly out of consciousness. Too bad no one else is alive to video this. No one is ever going to believe me.
Then the wave crested, then fell over him.
Oh, right. I won’t be alive to tell anyone.
Sharp, nipping pain brought Dave back to an unreal reality.
His first surprise was realizing he was still alive to wake up. His second was realizing that he was moving, and rather quickly, but not under his own power. The cats were conveying him across the empty convention hall like fans at a rock concert. Dave was crowd surfing across Pasadena Convention Center’s Exhibit Hall A on a mewling tide of cats.
There was another nip, drawing blood from a fingertip.
There was another, gentler nip, then what might have been a dozen rough tongues licking the injured finger.
The wave beneath him, moving him ever quicker, ever higher above the floor, was purring now.
Then Dave was standing upright, not under his own power, but supported by hundreds of cats. He tried to pull free of them, but was caught fast by claws and teeth sunk into his clothing.
The wall at the end of the exhibit hall was nearing, and Dave realized that he was about to smash face-first into it.
He clenched his eyes shut, but couldn’t squelch the scream of anticipated pain.
The pain didn’t come.
There was a crumping, crumbling sound, the sound of a wrecking-ball knocking down a wall, and a dusting of splintered and broken press board fell in his hair, down his face.
Then Phoebe’s voice.
“There you are, honey! What took you so long?”
Dave Thomas opened his eyes and beheld the love of his life, the reason he was knee-deep in gore and neck-deep in psycho killer cats instead of a mosh pit, rocking out to the best in modern metal.
Phoebe was reclined on a throne of living cats. She swayed gently from side to side as they moved, trading places beneath and behind her as part of her throne, then darting back out onto the floor as others took their place.
The giant Maine Coon was in her lap purring so loudly Dave could feel it vibrating the air between them.
Phoebe waved, grinning ear to ear, showing teeth that looked quite a bit pointier than Dave remembered them being earlier in the day.
“Uhh…?” Dave said.
Dave crowd surfed the cats right up to the foot of Phoebe’s living, purring throne, and then they set him down before her and parted to give him room.
He wobbled on his feet for a moment, thought his knees were going to unlock and drop him where he stood. He kept his feet with a great effort of will, and tried to formulate a question more intelligent than Uhhh…?
“What in the hell is going on, Phoebe?”
“Did you know I was a cat goddess?” Phoebe sounded both surprised and delighted. “I didn’t!”
“No,” Dave said. “I didn’t know that.”
Somehow, he wasn’t as surprised as he should have been.
Phoebe nodded down toward the massive cat reclined in her lap.
“This is Titus. He’s my familiar!” She giggled. “I didn’t know I had one of those either.”
“Hi, Titus.” Dave gave Titus a little wave.
Titus regarded Dave in perfect silence for a moment, as if appraising a competitor for his mistress’s affection, then gave a low, amiable yowl.
“He says he’s come to elevate me to my rightful place in the universe and lead all of feline-kind to supremacy over humans.” She sounded dubious, but Phoebe had always been pretty openminded, and she did love cats, so Dave thought she was prepared to accept Titus at his word on at least a provisional basis. “Titus says that humankind is a failed race destined to bring total devastation to the Earth and all of its creatures.”
Dave let that sink in for a moment, and decided Titus made a good point
“He’s not wrong,” Dave said.
Titus seemed almost to smile at him.
“I told them no way was I going to become the dark goddess of cats and harbinger for the destruction for mankind unless they let you come with,” Phoebe said. “Titus said I could keep you.”
“So, will that make me a god?”
“Naw,” Phoebe said. “More like a pet.”
Yes, her teeth were definitely pointier than they had been that morning. Her eyes much greener too, and the pupils more like dark slits than regular old round pupils. Also, she seemed to have grown a tail.
The ballroom had gone silent. All the purring, licking, and feline fidgeting ceased. All eyes were on him. Waiting.
“So,” Phoebe said. “What do you say?”
“Sure,” Dave said. “Why the hell not.”