The end. Sort of.
Just after dark, death grabbed me by the tail. The moon was full, and the earthy scent of fall flavored a cool September breeze. My mind on a svelte little Siamese who was coming into heat, I trotted over a mound of fresh dirt, not an uncommon thing in a graveyard―and a hand shot up and grabbed my rear extremity.
I twisted and went for it with my claws, but another hand burst out and seized the scruff of my neck―I went limp, just like when I was a kitten and my mom picked me up. The hands snapped my body straight, and then a woman’s face poked out of the ground. She sat up, holding me in front of her. I figured I was about to kiss my furry butt goodbye, and I was right.
The woman looked to be twenty-something. Dirty blond hair―with dirt, that is. Her bulging eyes were scary, but I forgot all about them when she put her mouth on my throat and bit. She got her teeth into my skin and I felt a warm rush of blood on my neck. She sucked and slurped. Strength and will drained out of me, along with the sweet sauce of life.
I didn’t even have enough energy for regrets. Not that I had any―except maybe for having peed on my associate’s bed when she switched cat food without asking. A petty thing to do to Amy, I admit.
Soon I was pretty spacey, just floating. The woman stopped her noshing and laid me on the dirt in front of her. Her eyes weren’t scary any more. I couldn’t see real well at this point―things were dim and it was hard to focus―but her expression seemed sorrowful. Then she turned her head and, patooie, spat out fur.
Served her right.
She turned sad eyes on me and said, “I’m sorry, kitty-cat. But the pain hurt so bad . . .” She trailed off and licked my blood from her fingers like she’d just had some Kentucky Fried Chicken. I could only lie there like a sack of cat meat.
As though handling something precious, she shifted me to the grass and then climbed out of her hole. After brushing dirt from her clothes, she lowered me into the hole and stroked my back―I could hardly feel it, but I sensed my body moving under her hand.
She said, “Oh, I hate this so much.” Then she pushed dirt over me.
Too weak to move, I waited to die.
My heart slowed and slowed, and then stopped. Amazing how utter the silence was, lying there in total darkness. I’d never been aware of my heart beating, but once it quit its constant lub-dubbing I missed it.
I thought, “Well, that’s it.”
I was sorry I couldn’t give Amy a parting purr. I’d been with her since kittenhood, maybe four years, but cats don’t keep track of things like that. We’d sit in front of a fireplace in the wintertime, me curled in her lap, her with a philosophy book in one hand and the other petting my favorite spots. I enjoyed the times her college students came over. When one kid tried to argue that I was just a concept, I countered with reality by climbing up his leg.
Ah, the intellectual life.
And then I thought, “I’m still thinking.”
I focused on my innards. No heartbeat. And I wasn’t breathing. Probably a good thing with a snootful of dirt.
I pushed up with a front paw and it broke through. I crawled out of the hole, tried to stand, and fell on my stomach. I was alive.
And I wasn’t.
An ache started in my belly. Then it flashed into a fire that spread through my body. I’ve never, never, never felt such agony, not even the time a kid doused my hind end with kerosene. I struggled to my feet and I could think of only one thing.
The pain pulsed hotter and hotter.
I heard the scuttle of rat paws just on the other side of a gravestone. I took off in a run . . . then my legs buckled and I hit the ground with my chin. But I had some luck; the rat didn’t run away. I listened as well as I could, considering my unbearable suffering and all. He was digging. I crept until I could peek around the stone. His back was to me.
The pain was so consuming I could hardly think, but I managed to get into a crouch and spring. Instead of grabbing the rat with my claws, I belly-flopped right on it. I was a little off, but hey, I’d just had most of my blood drained from my body.
I pushed myself up, hoping the rat wouldn’t run off―I’d never catch it. But it just laid there, face in the grass. Its head wobbled when I flipped it onto its back; I’d broken its neck, and ratso was dead. Unlike me. Sort of.
Now, I never liked rat. Gave me indigestion. And rats stunk. Also, I was accustomed to a steady diet of premium cat food. No queasiness about rats that night, though, mostly because of the pain raging though me that screamed for BLOOD!
I couldn’t have stopped if I’d wanted to. My mind said ewwww when rat stink hit my nostrils, but my body steamrollered over that. Steamrollered? More like a tsunami, a fifty-foot wave of irresistible gotta-have-it driven by escalating pain. I’d have gone through a brick wall to get that BLOOD.
I’m embarrassed to say that I went into a frenzy. Utter loss of control, totally uncatlike. Luckily, it turned out I didn’t want to eat the filthy thing. I ripped open its throat with my canines (why aren’t they called “felines”―our carnivore teeth are much better developed than what dogs have) and I lapped up the blood that spilled out.
The relief was instant. My heart began beating and a feeling like the best scratch-behind-the-ears I’d ever gotten spread through my body. I just sat there and purred, in a daze of well-being. Which, it struck me, was an odd thing for a dead kitty-cat to be feeling.
My heart stopped and the euphoria wore off. I’d have sighed if I’d been breathing. Home was all I could think of, so I made my way back to Amy’s townhouse. I was weak, though, and I thought I’d never make it up the front steps and through the pet door.
I found her in the living room. She didn’t notice me because, as usual, she was absorbed in a book. I had my usual answer for that―a leap into her lap, which always resulted in a warm greeting and a good scratch behind my ears. The question was, would I be able to make it into her lap?
Blood. Blood-blood. The need came back. The closer I got to Amy, the more . . . delicious she smelled. The pain I’d felt in the graveyard started. Blood-blood.
The tidal wave in me grew. I wanted to race to her and bury my fangs in her leg and lap up BLOOD!
I couldn’t do it. I turned away, but just barely. My control was losing ground like a dog chasing a Corvette. Heading toward the door, her scent grew fainter, but still I wanted her BLOOD.
Her voice came. “Spot?”
Amy thought calling me Spot was funny. There are some things you just have to live with.
Keeping going was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. I wanted her to hold me. I also wanted her BLOOD!
I pushed out of the pet door and then fell down the steps. I knew I was too weak to make the climb again, so Amy was safe from me. The door opened and she looked out. I crawled to the side of the stoop so she couldn’t see me. “Spot?” she called. “Come here, sweetie.”
I’d have meowed right then and there for her to come get me, but that took breathing, which was no longer part of my operating system.
I heard the door shut. I sat for a while.
It hit me that my life with Amy was over.
I missed her already.
Damn the woman who had ripped me from the arms of my associate, who had become my friend as well as the provider of never-ending servings of gourmet dining. The cat thing to do was revenge―although peeing on my killer’s bed, if she had one, seemed like inadequate retaliation for what she’d done to me.
One unlucky mouse later, I had the strength to go back to the graveyard to see if I could track her. I’d think of suitable payback when I found her.
I sniffed the hole. Dirt Woman’s scent included the normal people reek of animal and chemical, plus dirt-smell and a coppery undertone, like blood. What the hell was she doing, buried under dirt and sucking blood? That was what vampires . . . Naw-w-w . . . but what else could she have been? Come to think of it, for the last few months I’d been seeing more and more creepy people lurking in the night.
I’d track Dirt Woman down and then . . . well, it was too bad a wooden stake was out of the question, my paws lacking opposable digits, but I’d come up with something.
It was good to have a mission; I didn’t want to think about what being dead would do to my life.
While I followed Dirt Woman’s scent, I was forced to entertain the wacky notion that I was now―it sounded silly―a vampire. What did I know about them? The story went that they had fangs. I explored my mouth with my tongue. I had fangs. But I’d always had fangs.
Although my attacker had acted like a vampire, she hadn’t had fangs. Just regular old blunt human teeth with those pitiful excuses for canines. She’d managed to do damage, all right, but it hadn’t been properly vampiric. So was she not a regulation vampire? Fang challenged?
What else was there about the undead? No daylight or you’re cooked. That one shouldn’t be a problem. I could see in the dark, so the up-all-night thing was cool. And nobody’d look twice at a cat sleeping all day, while human vampires had to hide. Maybe that was what Dirt Woman had been doing. How disgusting was that? Imagine the mess when it rained. Ugh. And when winter hit you’d be a corpsicle. Come to think of it, cats were a whole lot better equipped to be vampires than people were.
I came to 15th street and spotted her on the other side, just outside the 7-Eleven. Now that I wasn’t being terrorized, I saw that she wore a dark blazer over a cream blouse and tan slacks. Would have looked very professional if it hadn’t been for the dirt smudges. I trotted across the street, thinking that leaping and burying my claws in her leg might be a good start on retribution.
She peered at her reflection in the store window and rubbed at her chin, no doubt trying to get rid of my blood. I started to go down the vampires-can’t-see-themselves-in-mirrors road, but realized that they were supposed to have fangs, too. Who knew what the myths had wrong? Lucky me, I was going to find out.
Taking a brush from a shoulder purse, she gave her dirty hair a few good strokes. She cleaned up nice. I sprang into a shaky run and closed on her, but she opened the door and stepped inside before I could spring. My momentum carried me through the door and inside. Fine, I’d wait until she left and get some satisfaction when she wasn’t looking. We cats are all about the element of surprise when it comes to attacking. You know how the cavalry in the old West sounded charge with a bugle when they attacked? Dumb.
There were no customers in the store. I secreted myself next to a rack of potato chips to wait for my chance. The odor of dust nagged at me. Well, yeah, I had just been buried alive. I felt an urge to lick. I hadn’t had a good lick for hours. But the minute I sat I sagged, my strength sapped. I hadn’t gotten nearly as much from those rodents as Dirt Woman had taken from me.
She went to the guy behind the counter and took a deep breath. “Excuse me, are you the manager?”
The clerk was a big one. A head like a pumpkin above narrow shoulders that spread to a fat waist overhanging his belt, and then he tapered back down to big feet. It was hard for me to tell the age of fat people; this guy could have been twenty or forty. He inhaled and then said, “That’s me. George.”
Dirt Woman looked around as if she’d like to escape, but then squared her shoulders and gave George a smile that I could tell she didn’t mean. She took a breath. “Hi. My name’s Meg. I’d like to apply for a job.”
She sure was a heavy breather. Then I thought about it. I focused on my chest and imagined me taking a deep breath. My chest expanded and air came in. I breathed it out with a soft little “Mrrr.”
If I’d known this, would I have called out to Amy? And then gone into a feeding frenzy? To be honest, the pain had been so bad that I don’t think I could have resisted.
I tried to start my heart, but that had never been available for conscious control, so nothing happened.
George shrugged, then inhaled and said, “Sure, you can apply for a job if you want to. But there ain’t any openings ‘cause I’m it at night. Could check out the day shift.” He eyed her and took another breath. “You don’t look like the 7-Eleven type, though.”
Her smile sagged and she looked a little scared. “It has to be, er, at night. Please, isn’t there anything?”
George leaned forward, his eyes narrowed like he was studying her. “Most folks prefer to work days.”
“I’m . . . I can’t go out in daylight. I have photophobia.”
“Big problem. It cost me my job at the ad agency. But I’m a good worker.”
I wondered why a mostly dead person would need a job. All she had to do was dine out on some innocent person―or cat―and be able to dig a hole.
“I . . .” She looked around as if searching for a good answer. She slumped and said, “I haven’t been able to get back to my apartment. During the day I’ve had to sleep . . .” she glanced out the plate glass storefront “. . . outside.” It was as if she saw a monster lurking out there.
Her gaze swung across me on the way back to George. She paused, and her eyebrows lifted in an expression of surprise―that’s a thing cats envy people, the ability to create expressions with your face. That and the opposable thumbs. Then she smiled like she was glad to see me. Aww. I was starting to lose my resentment and even feel a little sorry for her.
She brushed at a splotch of dirt on her purse and turned back to George. “I’m so embarrassed. I’m homeless, and I don’t know what to do. All the public aid places are only open in the daytime.”
George smiled. What an ass, taking pleasure in her distress. Meg looked at him like he’d just bonked her on top of the head with one of his ham hands. Then he said, “Welcome to the Night Shift.”
Her sudden smile was like the sun she couldn’t tolerate. “I can have a job?”
He shook his head. “‘Night Shift’ is just a handle for people like us.”
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