Pets

Sara watched Mickey gracefully navigate his way across the room. With his abundance of gray fur and large, fluffy tail, the cat hardly noticed its new owner.

Or it simply didn't care.

When Sara took him in, the house seemed more complete, cozier, more alive. Her daughter Lizzie, and husband Ben both loved the cat, each wanting to name him. Lizzie wanted to call him "Bony". She said he reminded her one of the characters in a TV show she watched.

Ben on the other hand, wanted to name the cat "Mountain", due to his large size.

But Sara had won out with "Mickey", and not named after the famous Disney mouse, but after a childhood friend she once had.

Sara steeped her cup of tea. Tiny plumes of steam swirled up from the hot liquid, drifting into the stagnant air of the kitchen.

A cup of tea. It was one of the few things Mickey let her still enjoy. That and food of course, which he provided from some unknown source every day.

He wanted to keep her alive.

Sara took a sip of tea and gazed out a window into the backyard. She knew it wasn't real, but it was still better than nothing. If she looked long enough she could see cracks in the fake sky.

Mickey jumped onto the counter. He glared at Sara with elliptical eyes that reflected a dark intelligence far beyond what it should have been.

The cup crashed to the floor, shattering an impact and spraying hot tea and shards of porcelain across the tile.

Sara held her breath. She stared at Mickey, vainly thinking that if only she could go back in time, if only she could have seen the signs, she wouldn't be in the predicament she now found herself in.

Ben had mentioned more than once how he had never seen such a large cat.

She thought Mickey was rather small.

Lizzie used to say that she loved Mickey's golden-colored fur.

She saw gray fur.

At the time Sara thought nothing of her family's strange misperceptions of Mickey, but in hindsight she knew better.

Mickey made them see what they wanted to see.

Perhaps she too only saw what she wanted to see. Maybe Mickey's real form was far was too terrible to comprehend. Maybe Mickey knew if she and her family saw him for what he really was they wouldn't have taken him into their home.

Mickey glanced down at the shattered cup and quickly swung his stern gaze back at Sara. A sinewy white tongue slipped out of his mouth, tasted the air, and vanished back between the near-perfect rows of needlelike red teeth.

"C…cleam it upt," the cat hissed.

Sara, bolstered by her determination to survive, and not as something's pet, snatched the still-hot tea kettle from the stove and threw it at Mickey. Steaming hot water splashed on the cat, causing him to shriek in pain. He fell off the counter and began to roll on the floor.

Sara wanted to run, but from past experience she knew it would be pointless. Even if she made it outside there would be no telling what she might find.

Once, when she was sure Mickey was asleep, she tried to sneak out a bedroom window, only to find that her yard was nothing more than a painting, a cardboard imitation that folded as soon as she fell into it.

She was scared, but not surprised, and in a sense, accepted her fate for the time being.

Mickey stopped groaning and straightened up. A wet sheet of fur slipped off his body, revealing sore-ridden, angry red flesh that pulsated as if ready to burst.

Sara instantly regretted her decision to attack him. He would be angry with her behavior and would undoubtedly discipline her.

God, if only Ben or Lizzie were still alive.

The anguish of losing both her husband and daughter seared straight through to Sara's very soul. They, as well as she, had not only mistaken what Mickey really was, but had also underestimated him.

Mickey cut off her thoughts with a stare of such cold malevolence that Sara couldn't help but contemplate suicide as a way out.

"B…bad pet. Very bad pet," the creature slurred. "Very bad."

Sara turned and ran. She couldn't take it anymore. Anything would be better than living another day as that thing's slave.

She bolted out of the kitchen and down the hallway.

Mickey followed. He wasn't hurrying, instead keeping a casual distance. He knew his pet couldn't escape.

The front door was locked. Sara pulled on it with all her might but it wouldn't budge. Apparently Mickey had sealed it to keep her inside. He would decide when, or if, she could leave.

Sara swung around and put her back to the door. She thought of the windows, and the back door, but knew they wouldn't open. Surely Mickey would've sealed them shut as well.

But she had to try.

She snatched a lamp from a small table and flung it at the nearest window.

The lamp bounced off the glass like rubber on concrete.

She picked the remains of the lamp up and threw it at another window.

Same result.

"Why?" she cried. "Why me?"

Mickey sauntered into the room. "Becauseth you're my pet." He cocked his head to one side, revealing raw meat beneath loose tufts of wet fur. He smiled with rows of razor- sharp teeth cutting into his lips. Black blood seeped from the wounds. "And youd are a bad pet…very bad."

Officer Nick Mannert was surprised to find the door unlocked. He nudged it open with his flashlight and entered the house.

Inside, only darkness and silence greeted him.

"Hello? Is anybody home? This is the police."

No answer.

He stepped into the living room. The beam from his flashlight roamed across the displaced furniture, the torn carpeting, the smashed lamps.

He drew his gun.

"Hello? This is the police."

Still no reply.

This is a situation. House ransacked; apparently nobody home.

He sniffed the air.

Strange odor similar to...

He turned and shined his flashlight down the hallway.

blood?

At the end of the hallway an open archway led into the kitchen. No light came from the room, and this only added to its mystery and potential for danger.

Easy there, Officer Mannert. You're a trained professional.

The hallway seemed miles long as he approached the kitchen. With his firearm in one hand and his flashlight in the other, he stepped through the archway.

Blood covered the floor like paint. Nearly every square inch of the tile was coated in a glossy sheen of blackened red that reflected the beam from the flashlight back into Nick's face. Occasionally, chunks of bloody flesh dotted the crimson sea like tiny islands.

Nick gasped for breath. His training prepared him for situations like this, but now that he was confronted by one, he struggled to respond to it.

Call for backup? Need to call for backup.

He reached for the radio clipped onto his shoulder, and was about call for help when something crept out from behind the refrigerator.

It was a cat. It was dirty, with matted black fur hanging off its body in clumps and a skeletal frame that hinted at starvation.

It growled, flashing bloody incisors and a scarred tongue that darted out of its oversized mouth like a snake's.

But Nick didn't see it that way. He saw a beautiful, helpless creature that distinctly reminded him of Oscar, the orange tabby he had as a kid.

"Hey little guy," he cooed to the twitching abomination. "You look like you need a good home." He tucked his handgun back into its holster and approached the cat. "Do you want to come home with me?"

The cat hissed. A glob of bloody spittle dripped from its snarling mouth.

"Sure you do. Lisa and Bobby are going to love you." He reached down and scooped up the cat (by then a trembling mass of sores and blood-matted fur) and cuddled it to his chest. "Come on...ahh…Oscar, you'll love your new family." He stroked the beast, running his hand over the bloody sores, but felt nothing other than soft, silky fur, much like his childhood pet had.

Nick walked out of the house, anxious to bring his new pet home.