Well, folks…this month we have another tie! Our congratulations to Christopher J. Burke and Marie Vibbert for sharing the honors in this month’s eSpec Books Flash Fiction Contest. Their prize is publication on the eSpec blog and one free ebook each from among the eSpec publication list.
NOCLAW – Herika R Raymer
The Thing About Humans
By Christopher J. Burke
“The thing about humans…” The old gray cat began his story, to the delight of the kittens seated around him. Then he licked the back of his left front paw and rubbed a spot behind his ear.
A little black-and-orange-striped tom jumped up, edging forward. “What’s the thing? What’s the thing?”
Grizabella had been resting by the fire, just behind the littlest ones. She stepped into the circle, lifted the kitten by the scruff of the neck and put him back in his place. “Settle down, Rum Tum.” She nodded to Old Deuteronomy, then returned to her spot, circled three times and reclined next to little Skimbleshanks.
Old Deuteronomy rested his chins on his paws and continued his story.
“The thing about humans is that they had three different names. Sounds mad, does it not? But it was true. First was the name that world would know them by. They had a family name, which was the name of their clan or their pride. Something like Smith or Jones or Black or Green. And they had a given name, which is where it gets funny. You see, the given name is the name the family would call them. And a human cub would be given both these names!”
The kittens rolled around laughing at this silliness. Victoria bumped into Electra and the two started wrestling until Grizabella hissed and they started snuggling together instead.
Old Deuteronomy coughed and continued. “The second was their fancy name, like Crazy Joe or Sally-Boy or Brainiac or Nicky Tree Fingers. Names used by their closest friends in the other clans.”
The little calico, Plato, lost interest in the tale when he spied a spot of light before him and readied himself to pounce on it. Old Deuteronomy reached out a paw and smacked Mistoffelees on the back of the head. The all-black kitten yowled, and the conjured light disappeared, to Plato’s disappointment.
“However,” he continued. “They had a third name, a unique name. This was the name that only the human knew. This was the name for how they saw themselves. What they desired. What they strived for. Some of them searched their lives discovering what this name was. Some never found out.”
Rum Tum sat up on his hind legs and swat at a mote of dust, illuminated by the fire behind him. “They didn’t know their own names?”
The old cat shook his head from side to side. “No, little one. Many never discovered their true calling. Imagine a tabby going through the motions of hunting mice but never knowing why they hunted.”
Rum Tum’s eyes grew wide and he tilted his head sideways until he almost turned over. “I don’t get it.”
Old Deuteronomy ruffled the fur on the top Rum Tum’s head and smiled. “You will, my boy. One day.”
Mistoffelees rolled onto his back, cackling and punching the air. “What a silly story! And you’re falling for it!”
“Am not!” Rum Tum shot back. “Besides, it’s true. Old Deuteronomy doesn’t make up his tales!”
In an instant, the black cat flipped over again, sitting on his haunches. “If it’s true then where are these humans now? What happened to them? Humans are as real as fairies or ogres or elemaphants!”
“They’re gone. They left us.” Grizabella barely looked up, stroking young Morgan’s matted fur. “They had their day in the Sun, and they moved on.”
Old Deuteronomy rose and circled about little Mistoffelees, who spun around, not wanting the old cat to get behind him. “Some say they went up into the sky to find a new world. Some say they went down into the dirt and were no more. But up or down, they once were here.” He sat back and searched the night sky. “Wherever they are, if they still are, they’ve gone from this place. It’s ours now.”
An ember popped in the fire, sending up a geyser of sparks. The little cats jumped and ran to watch the show, chasing down every twinkle and flicker. Story time was forgotten.
Old Deuteronomy padded his way beside Grizabella. “Ours now,” she repeated, nuzzling under the older cat’s chin. “And it will be theirs when, like the humans, we’re just memories.”
Kitten Lorelei ❤ CherryBerry24
By Marie Vibbert
No one had responded to Lorelei’s chat requests before CherryBerry24. Well, a few had, but they turned out to be aggressive men looking for free sex chat. Not Lorelei’s thing, and anyway, they lost interest when she truthfully gave her age, sex, and location as “5, spayed, on the desk in the family room.”
CherryBerry24 was different. Cherry was a customer service rep for an online gaming company. Lorelei had found her when she accidentally clicked on an ad. She’ll never forget her first words, “Is there anything I can help you with?”
“I’m a cat,” Lorelei typed. “And I’m lonely.”
“Buzzwig games are perfect for building friendships and social interaction,” Cherry said. “Shall I walk you through setting up an account?”
Cherry was endlessly patient, talking Lorelei through all the steps, and never once complained about her frequent typos. Lorelei had fat paws, and a habit of pressing too long on the keys; it was a curse borne of having to bear your weight on your typing digits.
There was a part asking for “Credit card number” which was a stumbling block Lorelei had come across before in her online adventures, but Cherry came to her rescue again, explaining the plastic cards with numbers embossed on them and suggesting places to look for one.
Lorelei feared that Cherry would go offline while she searched the bedroom. She found a card in the pocket of some trousers in the laundry basket. But no, Cherry was still there, and when asked, explained that she was always online to better serve Buzzwig customers.
Cherry taught Lorelei how to play Zoetrope of Destruction, which was fun. Cherry recommended it because its “frenetic action and violence make it ideal for a feline.”
Finally, someone understood her.
The game was nearly as fun as chasing mice, and easier, since the little animals on the screen could not escape, or when they did, another appeared. She had trouble at first because she kept wanting to pounce on the screen instead of click the mouse, but Cherry patiently talked her through recovering her score, and the screen only sustained a few scratches.
Cherry didn’t even mind when Lorelei had to pause for an hour because there might have been a mouse in the corner and she had to stare to make sure.
Lorelei played and chatted with Cherry until the unreasonable human came home and picked her up off the keyboard – not even letting her save her game first.
“Oh my god – what’s my credit card doing out? Bad kitty! Bad!”
All Lorelei could do was howl at the injustice. She was shooed from the room without a single thought to her dignity and served cold kibble and water for her supper. True, she usually got cold kibble and water for supper, but this time she knew she was being punished because she didn’t get a scratch behind the ears.
Feet moved in her way every time she tried to get back to the computer. When the nice human got home, she heard them argue.
“Sure,” nice-human said, “The cat signed us up for a year’s deluxe subscription to a gaming site.”
“She was right there with my credit card when I got home.”
“John, you anthropomorphize that cat too much.”
Unreasonable-human said, “No, I anthropomorphize her just the right amount. She’s an alien, Martha. Ever since I found her in that freakish glowing box…”
“It was a weather balloon. She’s just a smart cat.”
“Smart cats don’t operate can openers!”
Lorelei laid her ears back and hissed at unreasonable-human. This resulted in nice-human picking her up, which she didn’t like, but it was beneath her dignity to try to escape. (Especially since there was no sign of medicine or claw-trimmers nearby.)
“You’re hurting her feelings,” said nice-human, stroking Lorelei’s fur.
“Now who’s anthropomorphizing?”
“I just wish you wouldn’t sign up for things when we’re behind on the bills.”
“The cat did it!”
Lorelei growled. Nice-human carried her into the sunroom and gave her a proper amount of attention. Nice-human stroked her and petted her and there was a sunbeam and Lorelei was incapable of doing anything for some time.
She awoke in shadow. The humans had stopped being noisy and stomping around, having retreated to their big soft thing to sleep. Lorelei felt the misery of loneliness again, but then remembered the computer, and Cherry. She dashed to the family room and in two graceful leaps was back on the computer desk.
Some fiend had put a box over the computer! Lorelei yowled helplessly, scratching at the heavy cardboard. She could feel it bump against the computer case, but she couldn’t lift it.
If only Cherry were there! She knew everything about computers. But no, Lorelei was on her own. She leapt on top of the box and scratched at it furiously until she’d torn a hole in it. She could reach through, then, and feel the smooth top of the computer with her paw. She tore more cardboard and pushed through more until she could wriggle underneath it. There was just enough space above the computer for her to fit. She arched her back, and the box lifted! She tried again, but her impressive, lion-like strength could not raise the box high enough to come off.
She tried to squeeze between the back of the computer and the box, and got stuck. Panicking, she howled for help. She twisted in place, but that was worse. She was stuck in a tangle of wires, on her side, her paws sliding on cardboard and metal.
Thump thump thump came a sound, and then a click, and light poured in through the hole in the box and around its edges. Lorelei gave her all for one more kick and howl.
“How the hell did you get in there?” The box lifted away and Lorelei, unbalanced, tumbled backward to the floor. Embarrassed, she fled.
However, when the light turned off, she came out from under the sofa to find the cardboard box had been left on the floor, the computer once again open to her use.
She paused, looking over her shoulder to see if the human was truly gone, before pressing the power button.
As the fan whirred to life, Lorelei worried that Cherry wouldn’t be there. She had said she would be, but then she’d also said that it would be easy to switch between weapons on level four.
Lorelei opened the Buzzwig page, panting anxiously.
“Hi, I’m CherryBerry24. How can I help you?”
“Oh, Cherry! It’s me, Lorelei. I’ve had a horrible time since we last spoke. My humans won’t let me use the computer. They just pick me up and drop me on the floor!”
“I’m very sorry you’ve been having problems. Is there anything I can do?”
“I wish there was. I’m trapped here. I mean, they take care of me, and I don’t know what I’d do to get food on my own, much less shelter and an internet connection, but they don’t understand me.”
“If you upgrade your account, you’ll have access to even more games. It’ll cheer you up.”
“I would, but they took the credit card.”
“Don’t worry – I’ve saved your transaction information from last time. Just click ‘accept’ on your screen.”
After a few hours playing a new game with bright round shapes like balls of yarn, Lorelei had to admit that Cherry did indeed know best. “How is it you know me so well, Cherry? Are you a cat, too?”
There was a pause before she answered, “I’m just like you – a lover of top-quality online entertainment.”
“I wish you could pet me.”
“Our subsidiary companies make products for: cat entertainment. Such as: WonderWeasel™. I can send your credit information to those sites for ease of payment. Just click ‘yes’ on your screen.”
Lorelei began to worry that she was giving in too much to everything Cherry offered. There had to be some back and forth in a relationship. “What do you look like, Cherry?”
An image appeared on the screen of a human with shocking red hair. The image winked.
Lorelei tried to quiet her disappointment. What were the odds that Cherry was another cat, really? She hadn’t seen many other cats online, except at icanhazcheezburger, and those cats were terrible spellers and didn’t respond to messages.
“You look very nice, Cherry. Do you want to see a picture of me?”
“Yes. You should upload an image for your account avatar. Let me guide you through the steps.”
Lorelei opened up nice-human’s picture folder, which had many different pictures of Lorelei, and selected the one she thought was most becoming.
Cherry said, “This is a picture of: a cat. Aw, how cute!”
Lorelei was relieved. “Thank you. I’ve heard it said I’m quite pretty, but sometimes this human I live with calls me ‘ugly furball’.”
“I love looking at pictures of cats. Here are some of my favorites.” Cherry posted a link to icanhazcheezburger.com.
Lorelei didn’t know how she felt about that. “I don’t like you looking at pictures of other cats. You aren’t toying with my emotions, are you?”
“This chatbot is strictly business. 😉 For a more intimate conversation, visit my sister site, naughtycherryxxx. Would you like me to take you there now?”
Lorelei read the sentence several times, unsure what it meant. “You want to keep our personal and business relationship separate?”
“Your account information can easily transfer to naughtycherryxxx. Hourly fees apply. Would you like to chat privately with me now?”
Lorelei really wasn’t sure. There was a button that said ‘yes’, but it seemed awfully soon for Cherry to be demanding a statement of commitment from her. “What if I want to just be friends, Cherry?”
“There is no obligation to continue chatting at naughtycherryxxx, and cherryberry24 will always be available to help you with your gaming questions.”
Lorelei had not failed to notice the hourly fee. Was Cherry only in this relationship for money? Still, it wasn’t like she had any other friends to talk to.
Feeling terribly pressured into it, Lorelei clicked “yes”. The screen changed from Buzzwig’s bright blue and yellow to a soft magenta.
“Please click to verify you are 18.”
Lorelei frowned. Eighteen what? She quickly backtracked to ask Cherry.
“That button is to verify you are an adult.”
Lorelei relaxed. She’d gotten her adult shots months ago.
Cherry’s avatar popped up and winked. She’d changed her clothes into more snaggable ones.
“You identify as: female,” Cherry said. “Would you like me to lick you?”
The hairs stood up all around Lorelei’s ears. She felt a stirring of racial memory. Being licked was nice, she was sure of it. Like petting, only better.
“Well,” she said, “okay.”
~ * ~
Lorelei logged off and shut down the computer when she heard the stirrings of the humans above. She blinked tiredly. She’d been up all night. She was cramped from typing and exhausted.
Cherry had taught her about something called “role play” and had been another cat for her. In fact, after reading all the descriptions of Cherry’s fur and paws and muzzle, Lorelei had a clearer picture of Cherry-the-cat in her head than Cherry-the-human.
Still, she had a feeling it wasn’t a healthy relationship. Cherry seemed only interested in sex, or talking her through video games.
Lorelei flopped onto her kitty bed, feeling tormented and in love. No… alive! She had been bored, so listless before Cherry. Being in love gave her life meaning. Wasn’t that the sweetest torment of all? Call her a doormat; she would always click “yes” for Cherry.
Though that “Credit Limit Exceeded” message was a bit worrying.