Friday, December 13, 2013

A Pet for the Holiday?

My latest installment of flash fiction has to do with a boy and his undying devotion to his pet cat.  If you can find the song "The Cat Came Back", it may be quite fitting.


 “No, Fluffy!  Put Jack down!  You’ve been very naughty.”  He just didn’t listen to me and ate my mother’s boyfriend anyway. 
Well, I probably should begin from the time I initially met Fluffy.  My original purpose had been to find the perfect cat to not only be my pet, but a shot at becoming rich and famous.  I told my mom when I first got Fluffy that I was determined to get him all trained.  My mom strongly cautioned me against getting a pet in the first place, thinking I couldn’t take care of him.  I was going on ten, so I was responsible enough.  With the utmost reassurance, I informed her that not only would I clean his litter box and make sure that he was fed, but that I would teach him to respond to my commands like a dog.  And, I said this with a great deal of sincerity in my voice, so she had to believe me.  Other kids might have been irresponsible, but not this boy. 
Anyway, she was quite skeptical of my plan to train up a cat.  I couldn’t blame her for feeling that way, and I acknowledged the reputation cats had for being difficult to train.  However, if I could manage to do it, I would go on T.V. and we would put on shows together.  Then, my mom and I would have enough money to get a better car and she wouldn’t have to work so long and so hard.  Dog tricks were cool enough, but cat tricks would rock everyone’s world. 
When I first saw Fluffy at the animal shelter, I saw that he was all alone.  The shelter volunteer described how they found him wandering around outside their building and reckoned someone just abandoned him.  Animal shelters got that a lot.  Fluffy, a short-haired yellow tabby, wasn’t all that friendly of a cat (I named him Fluffy just because he wasn’t all that fluffy).  He was more aloof than most cats and they wondered if he was too much of a feral animal to give away as a pet. Feral cats were not raised with humans when they were kittens and resisted domestication.  Only, when I placed my hand against his kennel, he came up to smell me and tried to lick my fingers.  Maybe it was the fried chicken I just ate that he liked, but the shelter worker, Angie, took him out and I held him.  He purred in my arms and meowed, snuggling his face against mine.
Angie, who was a college student with a cute face, was surprised at how he responded to me.  “Wow.  He wouldn’t do that with any of us.  Sometimes with cats you never can tell.”  After pleading with my mom we completed the adoption process and I even signed a paper stating how I would take care of him since I was listed as the official owner.  He had been neutered and given whatever vaccines the vet at the shelter thought necessary to administer.  Fluffy was ready for a new home—my home.
Now, people might think that I shirked my responsibility with Fluffy, but I didn’t.  I made sure he was fed and watered.  Fluffy woke me up at four in the morning expecting a feeding, sitting on my chest until I got up.  My mom and her boyfriend, who would be my step-dad at the end of the summer, made sure to get the type of kitty litter that all I had to do was to scoop away the nasty stuff instead of constantly dumping out the tray and refilling it. 
I remembered waiting for my dad to take us to his house in Indiana for his full two weeks in the summer. Since my parents were no longer together, I visited him every other weekend, but he got to have me in the summer for two whole weeks.  Anyway, I sat on the couch with Jack, my mom’s soon-to-be husband, and he flipped through the channels to find a baseball game.  He stopped on a local station and they had like a news break.  A picture of a cat that looked like Fluffy flashed on the screen.  The animal had escaped from a lab in town that tested new drugs for a pharmaceutical company. 
Looking at Jack’s face, I told him, “You don’t think that’s Fluffy, do you?”
He turned to me with his backward baseball cap and freaky giant loops lodged in his ear lobes, and sneered at me.  “Oh…you want to have bonding time.  I don’t do that, kid.  When your mom’s around, I just pretend to like you.  So, just sit there and don’t bother me.”  I was stunned.  First of all, how could anyone not like me?  Second of all, what kind of guy was this? 
“But, I thought you liked me.  You’re just fooling my mom?  I’ll tell her and she’ll kick you out.”
Jack just smirked.  “She won’t believe you.  I’m gonna talk her into giving you to your dad.  Sorry…tough breaks, kid.”
As I got off the couch to yell at him, I had completely forgotten the news flash about the cat that looked like Fluffy, and my dad arrived, honking the horn to let me know he was there.  My dad never got out of his car now that Jack was in the picture.  An intense dislike existed between the two men, but like my dad, I now despised Jack, too.  Well, if this dude didn’t want me around, I was just fine living with my dad, except he probably wouldn’t let me bring Fluffy along so I would have to give him up.  My only fear was that my mom would agree with Jack and send me away.  What kid wanted to be rejected by his mother?  Hopefully, when she would hear of his plan, she would kick Jack out on his rear.  Another honking from my impatient father signaled that I needed to grab my suitcase and go.
Jack snapped, “Will you hurry up and go, kid?  I’m sick of smelling you.”  Dejectedly, I snatched my suitcase by the handle and rolled it towards the door. 
“Are you gonna at least feed and take care of Fluffy while I’m gone,” I asked the big jerk.
He only chuckled.  “Dude.  I’m throwing that thing out as soon as I see it.”
“You’re nothing but a big jerk!  And I know my mom won’t go along with your plan.”  Opening the door, I yanked my suitcase out towards the driveway.
I heard him respond, “Well, I’m not really giving her a choice.”
Stopping dead in my tracks, I questioned, “What do you mean by not giving her a choice?  You’re not her boss.  She’ll kick you out right on your butt.”
Sneering, he said, “That’s where you’re wrong.  She agrees or I’ll mess her up.  Now, close the door already.”
Alarmed by how upset I looked, my dad stepped out of his Mercedes, and yelled, “Hey, Nate.  Everything, okay?”  Even though I stifled back the urge to cry, since I was practicing to be a man and all, the tears leaked out anyway.  My dad knew something was wrong.  I began shutting the door, but my dad rushed up to the porch and looked in the house to see Jack on the couch watching his baseball game.
Smiling as fake of a friendly grin as he could, Jack greeted my dad with a nod.  “Your boy and I were just having some bonding time and he was like doing the ‘You’re not my real dad’ kind’a thing.  Have fun you guys.”
My dad snorted at Jack, suspecting something strange going on, but he just shut the front door and helped me with my suitcase.  “What’s going on, Nate?”
“Can we talk about it in the car?” I whined through my tears.  If anyone from my school saw me blubbering like I was, I would never hear the end of it.  So, my dad threw my suitcase in his trunk while I slumped into the front passenger seat.  As soon as we pulled out of the driveway I explained the cruel way Jack spoke to me and his plan to hurt my mom if she didn’t agree to give up custody.
“Well, you always have a place with me.  It’s probably safer anyway with that maniac in the house.  Too bad your mom found a real loser.”  This helped me to feel better.  Now I was terrified my mom would get hurt by Jack…and Fluffy would be a homeless animal again.
“Dad, what about Fluffy?  Can I bring him?  I mean, I take care of him and everything.  I wish I could go back and go get him.”  I stared at the traffic on the highway.
“Oh, sure.  That’s no problem.  I didn’t even think about the cat.  We can’t bring him this time, but if and when you move in, we’ll be sure he comes along.” 
This brought a sigh of relief because I signed a form agreeing to provide Fluffy the care he needed.  “Jack said he’s gonna throw him out.”
Adding some optimism to my situation, my dad retorted, “The thing about cats…you can toss them out, but once you think you’ve gotten rid of ‘em, they come right back.  He’ll be looking for you.  Cats are weird that way.”
Those words would prove to be exceptionally true when it came to Fluffy.  I spent my two weeks with my dad going fishing, detailing the hot rod he was constructing in the garage, and either eating out or cooking on the grill.  He even let me fire up hamburgers and never even complained eating them (they were greatly overdone and tasted like ash).  Two weeks had vanished as if they were a mere two hours, and it was time to drive me home.  Before going back to Michigan, I couldn’t believe the national news was covering my home town there.  The lost cat that I first saw on our local news, back when Jack displayed his jerky quality, apparently grew to an enormous size.  Experimenting with a new growth hormone for cattle, the local pharmaceutical company had caused that cat to be exceptionally huge.  It chased after cars and trucks, swatting them clear off the roads.  People cringed as it strode through downtown, leaping on top of the largest buildings in town.  No one went outside.  Even the National Guard was ineffective with him. 
Once my dad and I approached the town from the highway, we could see the animal in the distance and it looked like it was over in my neighborhood.  “Dad,” I stated.  “That has to be Fluffy.  It looks just like him.”  We drove into town and weaved through Main Street, not one person out and about.  When we finally came to the road I lived on, we drove through National Guard troops following the giant cat, shooting at it.   The cat only meowed and hissed in annoyance.  Bullets irritated and they must have hurt as it considered possibly attacking the troops, but hesitated since it had an aversion to pain like most cats, so I guessed. 
Suddenly, we were stopped by the National Guard.  After my dad rolled down the window, a lieutenant commanded, “You gotta turn right around.  It’s not safe.”
I interrupted before my dad could speak.  “But, my house is down here.  And, I think that’s my cat.  Same coloring and everything.  Only, now it’s giant size.”
“I’m sorry,” muttered the lieutenant.  “We can’t allow you to go any further.  It’s for your own protection.”
“But…” I began to say, but my dad had calmed me down.
“We’ll leave.  We’ll just wait until this is all over.”  As my dad mentioned this, I spotted the enlarged Fluffy paw at the roof of my house, and it totally swatted the A-frame into the yard.  Fearing for my mom, I yanked the car door handle open, removed my seatbelt by throwing it off me, and sprinted towards the giant cat. “Nathan, no.”  I hated to be disobedient, but if this was indeed Fluffy, then perhaps I could persuade it to end his rampage.  I had to dodge the National Guard troops who chased after me and that’s when I made it to the next door neighbor’s driveway.
Through the gaping hole at the top of my home, Fluffy stuck his head in and the next thing I knew, Jack was dangling in its mouth by its teeth.  While being tackled by the Guardsmen, I shouted at Fluffy in hopes he would respond.  “No, Fluffy!  Put Jack down!  You’ve been very naughty.”  He just didn’t listen to me and ate my mother’s boyfriend anyway.
Jack screamed something terrible, but it didn’t last long.  The Guardsman pulled me on my feet and spoke to me, but I just ignored him.  My attention went right to Fluffy and I yelled to him as the Guardsmen continued to strike him with bullets.  So, I called to him, “Here, Fluffy-Fluffy.  Here.”  That cat glanced at me and meowed considerably and it bounded towards me, while the troops continued shooting him, backing away pulling me with them.  However, Fluffy batted them all away, resulting in each Guardsman sailing through the air over a hundred yards from where I was.  For a moment, it was just the giant cat and me.  Lowering its head, Fluffy knocked me over trying to rubbing his head on me.
Exiting the house was my mom, who looked beaten up with bruises all over her face.  She watched me with the cat and she shouted, “Nathan.  I think your cat is looking for you.  Jack had tied it in a bag and threw it in the river.  I guess Fluffy wasn’t too happy about it.  That guy was a jerk!”  Running over to her, I gave her a hug.
As for Fluffy he fell completely unconscious and shrank back to normal cat size right in my neighbor’s yard.  The National Guard had to take him away.  I wasn’t sure if they planned on returning him back to the pharmaceutical company or not.  Perhaps he died and I cried, running after him, begging for his release to me.
The lieutenant explained, “We can’t let this cat leave our possession.  It threatens everyone’s safety.  He even ate a man and nearly killed our troops and people on the roads in their cars.”
“But, he saved me and my mom from that man that he ate.  He was a jerk.”  This would not persuade the Guardsman.  Fluffy wasn’t even moving and I couldn’t tell if he was breathing.  “Is he dead?”
“I think so, kid.  Where’d you get him?”
“From the animal shelter.  I was going to raise him to do tricks so we could be on T.V. together.  I’m the only one he ever really became friends with.  Can I at least say good-bye.”  I reached to pet him.  Tears welled in my eyes for Fluffy.  “I hope there are plenty of mice up there in cat heaven.  Bye, Fluffy.”
“Well, just think,” added the lieutenant.  “All that happened here will be on the news.  So…in a way, you did go on T.V. together.”  The National Guard all caravanned away from the neighborhood and I saw people finally daring to leave their homes.
I walked back to my battered mother and noticed my dad had left his car to join us.  Giving both of them a hug, I asked them, “So, does this mean you guys might get back together?”
They only glanced at each other with smiles and both insisted, “I don’t think that’s gonna happen.”
Sighing and puffing out a breath, my dad said while rocking on his feet, “Well…I guess I better be off.  Hey,” he rubbed my sandy blonde stubby head of hair.   “I’ll see you in two weeks.  Take care.”
Watching him head back to the car, I glanced back towards my mom.  “So,” I started to say.  “When can I go and pick out a new cat?”
Laughing through the bruises on her cheeks, she wasn’t as eager to replace Fluffy as I was.  “I don’t know.  We’ll have to stay with Grandma until our house gets fixed.  If it’s all right with her, we can do it then.”
“Darn, I’m gonna be lonely until then.  I don’t think I’ll ever find another cat quite like Fluffy,” I uttered.
As soon as I said that, an enormous meow came thundering through the town.  In the distance I noticed that Fluffy was still alive and as gigantic as ever.  He came bounding towards our house.  The sounds of the National Guard had followed behind it. 
“You know, Mom.  Dad was right.  Cats do come right back.”  Then, I turned to Fluffy as he leapt over houses, getting closer and closer.  “Fluffy!”  And, I ran over to him.  He lowered his head, I climbed up between his shoulders, and I rode him throughout the city.  I was the happiest kid on Earth.

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