Did you know pets can understand their owners?
No, not in the superficial sense where they go 'sit' and 'roll' and the pet does so.
I mean they really understand their owners. They know their language, their mannerisms, what they do, what it means to them, their struggles and beliefs and hopes. They know it all.
It's like some sort of supernatural bond that clicks when an owner picks a pet for the first time. One moment you're licking your fur, the next you feel your brain's synapses firing off all at once as you're flooded with intelligence and sapience and sentience.
Funny enough, it isn't as overwhelming as you might think. Maybe because of that link we have with our owners. It's almost as if we're a subconscious extension of their thoughts. We'd be the perfect vessel for all those unheard mental voices swimming about in his head.
I was curled up in my litter box watching the news. My owner was rushing about getting ready for his part time shift at the fancy French restaurant in the city. The newscaster was saying something about a string of disappearances and deaths. I didn't really pay attention. Owner's scampering about was much better entertainment.
He unceremoniously shoves a change of clothes in his duffel bag before stumbling out, still trying to put on his shoes.
"See you tonight, Muffin!"
Yeah, that's my name.
I meowed back.
I was a shelter cat. One of many off the city streets. I had patches of missing fur, a limp, and a missing eye. My fur was usually the colour of snow, but you wouldn't ever have guessed that when I was picked up.
I was washed, fixed up, de-liced, they gave me medicine and water and food. The whole nine yards.
I was a grown cat by then, lived a long and tumultuous life. Not exactly popular with the visitors but grown animals were all that roamed the streets. Not since the state banned all pet stores in 2032. Too many strays on the street.
I was in the shelter for… hmm… almost six months? Almost the time I was supposed to be put down. Until he came in.
Soaked from the rain, the birch coloured coat around his body did little to protect him from the battering of the elements. Had a disheveled look about him. And I don't mean because there was a storm outside.
Something about his face, the way he carried himself. We locked eyes and then suddenly I was drowning in his subconscious. His psyche was laid bare for me to explore.
I felt it all, and it felt so familiar.
Because it was just like mine.
The intrusive glow of the building's neon lights spilled through the gaps in the curtains, lighting the room in a spalterred mess of yellow and white and magenta. In the far corner, he sat hunched over, painted in the same hodge-podge of colours.
It was one of those nights. I knew it even before the day was over. It was easy to tell because I would suddenly feel nauseous and then about an hour later, which was his usual commute from work, he would crash through the front door and I would see the pair of dead eyes on his face.
Maybe it was a rude customer. Customers? It could be reminiscing about the past again? Or thinking about his own self-worth. Or the bills and the debt and the rent. Forgo food or heating this month?
A lot of the time he'd just stay up all night browsing porn. On worse days it was GFE pov sims. Other times it was venting on anonymous message boards, sometimes into misogynist or misanthropic territories. Usually it was just mindless browsing, just to keep his mind occupied and anchored, so it wouldn't drift into any dangerous thoughts.
Some days he'd eat his month's food in just a few days. Other times he wouldn't touch his food and let it spoil.
It sucked for the both of us, but more for Owner than me. I'm a tough cookie. I've been through shit on the streets, passed by a lot of owners a whole lot worse than him, did some things I wasn't proud of. But I could live with myself. Owner, though? Well, let's just say humans are fucking complex. And it doesn't look like society is doing them any favours either.
I do try, sometimes, to get him out of it. More often in the beginning, when I thought a simple purr and rub routine would get him out of his funk. But I should've known better. Owner wasn't like that.
It has maybe about a 20% chance of working but when it works, it was worth it.
'Cause then that means he stays another day. For me.
"The Thompson Line experienced another delay earlier today, yet again inconveniencing the morning commuters coming to work. This has been the third delay this month. The Thompson Line, which cuts through major CBD areas, sees over five-hundred thousand passengers every day. The delay was again attributed-"
"Are you watching this shit again? I swear it's like you turn on the TV on purpose." Owner was looming over me, arms folded with the remote in his hand. He was blocking the TV.
"Like any of it matters to you." Owner rolled his eyes.
He had an evening shift tonight. There will be no frantic rushing from him.
"So what do you want? I got synth-tuna, synth-sausage and spam."
I wanted spam.
He opened the can of synth-tuna, plopping the substitute meat product into my bowl.
"Table for one, your order, sir."
Well it doesn't get five stars for service.
He boils himself some instant noodles which returns me the view to the TV once more. They're reporting about sports now.
"Man I can't believe Xevia23 made it to the finals. Image going through that gauntlet of players and actually making it to the other side. If he loses the Megabuild finals I'm going to flip."
You said it. Xevia23 against WonMonSoo. Underdog match of the season.
"I'm so glad I got leave for the finals. I hope you're ready, Muffin. No sleeping. We're gonna be up all night on Hypo and chips."
I wanted to tell him he stays up stupidly late every other night anyway but I couldn't. So I just dug into my synth-tuna like a good kitty. He returns with a bowl of msg goodness and flops on the couch.
Not long after, the program switched into some period drama show about the 20th century. Was it World War One? Two? The cold one? Uhh… the Korea one? Vietnam? No, nevermind. Cast had no Asians. God there were a lot of wars… Oh, I think it was that football one. Ugh. What a boring sport. And people paid to see this in person until recently too.
My opinion has been validated by the fact that Owner has fallen asleep on the couch.
He didn't seem to be getting up.
Come on, man…
I sprung up on his lap doing a little happy dance until he stirred. I know he doesn't like being woken up like this. He likes it when I lightly brush his toes but Christ that takes ages.
"Huh?" Groggy movements have me doing the macarena and the chicken dance back to back which seems to drill the message into Owner as he practically shoves me onto the floor with that abnormal post-nap super strength.
"Fuck! Fuckity fuck fuck fuck! This suuuuuuuuucks."
There went my Owner rushing about again. The TV was still on too.
"Neighbourhood and city watch groups have urged households to properly lock their doors as reports of missing pets continue to rise. This comes on the back of Governor D'Silva's official statement where individuals needed to do their part to 'curb the stray animal crisis' facing the city. The police have said-"
"That better not be you," Owner interjected as he pulled up a sock, hopping to the door. "Stay inside, Muffin!"
No need to tell me twice.
"They're not paying me, Muffin."
I could physically feel the distraught coming from Owner. The nausea was really bad, enough for me to almost throw up. I haven't like that in ages.
"All of last month… All the part-time workers. Nothing came through. How is that possible? And no one is going to do a damn thing about it."
Fight or flight. It was like being out on the streets again.
"How fucked up is that? We're just part-timers. These two jobs were barely keeping me afloat before and now…"
I inched closer and curled up on the floor. I just needed him to notice my presence, get that faraway look in his eye out of him for a second.
It seemed to have worked for now as he tilts his head toward me. I stretch and purr before launching myself up to the couch. Now we were equal again.
"Know anyone in the city who's hiring, Muffin?"
"I'll need to take up two more jobs in the suburbs just to make up for this. I should've seen this coming." He sighs frustratedly and scratches his head. He's looking back into the past again. "We were getting less and less customers each day. There were always arguments in the back office. Staff were walking on eggshells around us the whole time. Christ I feel stupid for not even noticing. I just hoped that it was all nothing. It paid well, you know? I wanted to stay there."
He's gotta let this go. Leave today aside and start fighting come tomorrow. God I wish I could just tell him that.
"I just don't know how the hell I'm going to get out of this. If I pay rent I won't have money for anything else. I need to… I don't know. Fuck. FUCK!"
He kicks the coffee table. As if it wasn't battered enough already.
"Fuck. God fucking dammit."
My legs were screaming at me to run away from all this. The torrent of negativity and stress was just too much, having it flood me all in one go, like a burst pipe spraying its filth. But there was no point in running. Even if I jumped out the window and ran down the street I couldn't escape his feelings. We were tied. Owner and pet.
Owner, slumped like a ragdoll, was staring off, head tilted downward, looking at nothing.
It was bad. Definitely bad. For the first time in a long time I was worried.
I placed myself on his lap. He was unresponsive. We both stewed inside our own thoughts for the longest time. It ached my heart to see him like this. It ached me even more that I didn't know what to do.
Then I felt a cold hand on my fur. He started stroking me.
This was enough.
Owner was able to find jobs to make up for the one in the restaurant. The restaurant quickly closed down. Turns out they were bleeding money and the part-timers only knew about it when they found out their pay bounced back.
Now Owner has four part-time jobs. He's barely home at all and always comes back exhausted. He barely eats and spends most of his days lying in his futon.
We never really spent much time together. The occasional pats and baths (god I hate baths) were enough to satisfy the both of us. But now Owner's neglecting me too and that's never a good sign.
The feelings of despair have only gotten more intense with each passing day. It threatens to flood me, like viscous fluid pouring into a locked room. I'm trapped in this hell with him and it's slowly getting harder to breathe, slowly getting harder to see the fight in him.
As far as I was aware, Owner didn't have anyone else to take care of him. But that was every human these days. I look out the window, everyone was walking alone. Used to be that I'd see pairs, sometimes a group of four or five. When did that stop? Five years ago? Ten?
Every day I wake up to dead eyes. The same pair greets me when he comes home.
Jesus… I wasn't sure how much more I could take of this.
He was deteriorating right before me. Cheeks were sunken, dark circles under his eyes, oily hair and skinny arms.
The days where he would acknowledge me grew further and further apart as he was increasingly getting swallowed up in his job.
Even I never got this worried. Maybe it was because he was so emotional. It was a long time since I had an overtly emotional owner. We were linked so he always had the ability to affect me with his thoughts and most times I would let it go through me. They would visit, hang about, and then leave. But this time they stayed.
I was pacing back and forth most days, restless, sleepless, constantly deep in thought, wondering how this would unfold.
I hoped he wouldn't be like the rest of the humans, like my other owners.
I hoped the city wouldn't swallow him up.
I knew better than to hope, especially in such an unforgiving place like this, but I did anyway. Something had to give soon. He couldn't keep living like this forever.
We were watching TV one day. An absolutely rarity for us.
"Three years after the Animal Littering Prevention Act, the number of stray animals in the city have continued to be persistently stable. The city is pressuring animal control experts to solve the rampart problem and encouraging shelters and families with pets to euthanise their animals. The request has been met with severe backlash from residents and animal organisations. The-"
Owner was scratching the underside of my chin. A sensation I sorely missed.
"Can you believe this city?"
It really was a fruitless effort by them.
"Guess what tomorrow is?"
I looked up. I didn't think he'd still remember. He must've seen my surprise as I saw the smallest of smiles on him.
"Thought I forgot, eh? Of course not. Gonna skip the night shift tomorrow."
That was the shift that paid the most. Under normal circumstances I would have been against the idea, but for the first time in months I felt an inkling of positivity running from his mind to mine. Like a sliver of light slipping into a damp cold cave. It was bliss. I couldn't take that away.
I meowed back and settled against his side.
The day of the tournament was amazing. He had an afternoon shift in a small suburb shop but the excitement when he came home was infectious. I was doing laps around the apartment. He brought back bottles of Hypo and all matter of unhealthy snacks. He even splurged and got me spam.
That night, Owner cheered and gasped and sat in silence as we watched the gameplay unfold.
It was a best of seven. WonMonSoo took the first game decisively, much to our disappointment but not our surprise. The second match was closer but WonMonSoo still took it. He took the third match too. It was match point. Xevia23 would need to win four in a row. Owner was angrily shouting at the screen, much to the annoyance of our neighbours. I was happy just to see him impassioned again.
Xevia23 won the next match. Looks like it wasn't a clean sweep.
Then he won the next one. Decisively. Owner was practically spazzing out with crumbs all about the floor.
The match after that was tough. Hard fought from both sides and I was feeling twice the intensity. From the game and from Owner's thoughts.
After a masterstroke play from Xevia23 that completely baffled his opponent, he took the game. Owner roared and cheered. I jumped in fright, overwhelmed by the sudden injection of subconscious endorphins, and scurried behind the couch. He spotted me getting spooked and quickly apologised, apologising and gently scooping me up in his arms.
I rested on his lap as we watched the final game. It was a more lethargic affair as both players had spent most of their mental faculties on the previous game. Movements were slower, plays sloppier, but it gave Owner some time to wind down from that adrenaline high.
The mental fatigue must've been the contributing factor to Xevia23's win of the tournament. Owner cheered. The crowd from across the TV screen went utterly ballistic. By now we exhausted all of our food so Owner whipped up some celebratory instant noodles instead.
"My voice is fucking hoarse. And I got a morning shift tomorrow. Ugh."
I meowed sympathetically.
"At least we got to see that epic match though. So worth it."
Damn right it was.
I woke up and almost instantly felt dread.
Owner was calm. Very calm. The sensation penetrated my mind like a scalpel. Surgical, methodical, precise.
He had a morning shift today.
Owner was already dressed for work. Clothes neater than usual. He took a shower. I could smell the shampoo and aftershave. The scraggly neckbeard he had was gone.
"Oh, you're awake. Ready to go, Muffin?" He looked chipper. To the untrained eye in the street, maybe he could pass off as happy. To me, it was relief.
I followed behind him as he turned to lock the door.
We walked to the nearby station and then past it. Here, at the road between two suburbs, was nary a soul. Cars occasionally passed us by but we were flanked from both sides by dilapidating houses and raised streets. It was only once we reached the next suburb over did we see people going to work. A swarm of people all converging toward the same place like locusts to a harvest. One of them, a raggedly dressed businesswoman in her forties, had her pet follow behind her.
Owner was swallowed up in the sea of people, now part of the gestalt entity.
The city had claimed him.
I couldn't do anything.
I cursed myself, as if that did anything to free me from this burden, from this feeling of failure. All I could feel was him and his sterile singlemindedness. An unwelcome but unfamiliar guest.
We boarded the platform on Manor Hill station. The school of people neatly split into different sections of the station, onto different platforms where they would be taken for work. I saw the businesswoman leave for another part of the station, down a flight of stairs into the subway portion.
He stood behind the yellow line, waiting. He didn't acknowledge my presence once during the whole walk.
It was now I only got a good look at his eyes. Dead eyes behind a calm facade. A smile that didn't turn the corners of his lips. I felt it all and in that moment I knew it was inevitable.
He mouthed an apology. Did he hear my thoughts? Was he able to delve into my mind in that fleeting moment? That one word felt like he did, encompassing an impossible number of emotions, a tidal wave that crashed over me. Like he saw all of me all at once.
And then the moment was gone.
The speakers blared around the platform.
"The seven forty-five express will be arriving soon. Please stand behind the yellow line."