The following post is a response to a creative writing prompt issued by The Daily Post. Today’s assignment was to tell a story of human-animal transformation.
In the movies, the detectives always tell the grieving widow that the victim’s end was painless, and that he didn’t feel a thing. That it was quick, and he probably didn’t even know what was happening.
But I knew. I knew, and I felt every second. The blood was flowing out of my gut and into a sticky, steaming puddle, and I guess to anyone else it would have been pretty obvious that I was a goner. But leaving wasn’t a possibility. I’ve always been an optimist, you know?
I didn’t know my killer. Still not entirely sure why he chose my apartment to rifle through, or why he stuck around to beat the shit out of me after cutting open all of my couch cushions. Maybe if I’d been a little smarter, if I hadn’t grabbed a kitchen knife for self defense, I’d still be around to figure all of those bits out. But I did grab a knife, and I did try to stab him, and next thing I know I’m alone, on the floor, with several large wounds where perfectly good internal organs used to be. My guts were on fire, my legs didn’t work, and that was that.
I had options, of course – scream for the neighbors, find my cell phone, try to crawl to the door. But I didn’t do any of those things. I didn’t give up, but looking back, I didn’t exactly try my damndest, either. You can probably tell that that’s something I’ve spent some time rehashing – why just lie there? Still not sure. Except that my mind was racing, the pain was starting to ease off a little, and I desperately wanted to work a little normalcy into the situation. “Why me?” was what was hovering around and around in my last few minutes of humanity.
So it wasn’t sudden, or painless. My life ebbed out onto the crappy linoleum of my crappy kitchen in my crappy little apartment, and there were no sirens in the distance, no heroes pounding down my door. They wouldn’t get there for another three hours. In the end of my life as Joe DeRuth, the only one left to see me off was my cat, Ella. And eventually she got bored and went to take a nap under the overturned couch. She can be such a bitch sometimes.
Once the cops come and find your dead carcass, and the EMTs have a look just to make sure you’re really dead (especially if you’re as fresh as I was), the morgue comes to take the body. The medical examiner takes a look to figure out how you died while the detectives are combing over your belongings to figure out how you lived. Somewhere in there they get in contact with your family and let them know that you’ve kicked the proverbial bucket, and then your folks come to identify the body and collect your belongings.
I was never married, and didn’t have a serious girlfriend. My parents have been dead for years, and the few good buddies I had died in Afghanistan. It was just me and my older sister, Pam. We were close enough, but she loved me more than I knew, apparently. More importantly, she loved my mangy feline, and was at my apartment to collect Ella as soon as the police would let her in. It was Pam’s arrival that told me something was off with my situation. Mostly the realization that I still had a situation to attend to.
I could hear Pam before I saw her. She was outside in the hallway, talking with someone in that gravelly voice of hers. Too many cigarettes; she’s a bundle of nerves, just like our mom was. A rattle of a key ring, a shaky scratch of key in unfamiliar lock, then she and the landlord walked in. I recognized Mrs. Connolly’s old fashioned nursing shoes from my hiding spot under the couch. That was what tipped me off that there was something wrong. Something rumbled in my chest, a little noise of frustration and fear. Why was I under the couch?
I was dead. The blood puddle still clung to the kitchen floor. The apartment was still tossed. My sister, pillar of strength, was standing in the entry, tears openly streaming down her cheeks. She was toting a cat carrier, so she was probably here for Ella. But why was I seeing all of this? Was I a ghost?
“Shhh. Calm down, Joe. Stop being such a freak.”
What the…? My head (I have a head?) snapped around quicker than it ever had when I was alive. The rumbling in my chest intensified of its own accord. In the darkness of the under-the-couch structure, I couldn’t make out much. There definitely wasn’t room for more than one person, but since I was dead, I figured that maybe there would be room for another ghost or two. But there was nothing. “Who’s there?”
“Kitty? Ella! You can come out baby, it’s OK sweet thing.” Pam’s feet were beside the couch now, with Mrs. Connolly’s right behind her.
“Maybe we should tip the couch over.”
“No, I’d hate to accidentally hurt her if we tipped it over wrong. She’ll come out. I know where Joe kept the cat treats.” Both women walked back towards the kitchen, Mrs. Connolly’s feet stopping suddenly at the edge of the linoleum. Pam, ever no-nonsense, stepped right over my blood and straight to the treat drawer. I felt the rumble in my chest stop.
“Oh yum, the salmon ones!” A brick wall of fur pushed past me and into the kitchen. Ella was munching on treats in no time; so much for cats having a conscience.
“I can clearly see how heart broken you are, jerk!” The words were out before I knew it. Ella responded with something that sounded mostly like happy crunching with a garbled “whatever!” thrown in. Pam, on the other hand, scattered a few more treats and then cautiously walked towards the couch. The rumble in my chest started again; what was going on here? How did she hear me?
“Mrs. Connolly, did Joe have any other animals? I could swear I just heard a little growling noise under the couch.” The feet were closer.
“Not that I knew of – he knew he’d have to pay another deposit for any other pets he brought in. I suppose he might have tried to get around that by hiding something from me.” I could already hear the gears turning in the old lady’s head. Good luck getting that deposit back, sis.
The hand snaked in and grabbed me before I had a chance to react. I struggled for a second, then went limp. It was very similar to dying again, but in slow motion over the course of a few seconds. What was going on? How could someone see me? Or touch me? Or grab me? Or yank me out from under the couch and ohsweetjesusthisismeflyingthroughtheair…
And then I was getting a hug from my big sister, and I didn’t really care. I snuggled into her sweater, breathing in the sweet smell of lavender soap and cigarettes.
“Look at you, hogging all the love already. We’re going to have to have a talk about that, dude.” I looked down to see Ella’s big yellow eyes, staring rather murderously up at me.
“Aww, look at it! Isn’t it such a gorgeous little thing, Mrs. Connolly? I wonder why Joe never told me he got a new kitten?” The rumbling in my chest started again in earnest, but this time it felt a little different. It felt familiar, which is kind of funny, since it was my first purr.