Phil Temples lives in Watertown, Massachusetts, and works as a
computer systems administrator at an area university. A native of
Bloomington, Indiana, he has published over seventy works of short
fiction in print and online journals. Blue Mustang Press recently
published Phil's murder-mystery novel, “The Winship Affair." And his
new paranormal-horror novel, "Helltown Chronicles," has been
accepted for publication by Eternal Press.
Ida Hensley was nose-to nose cooing with one of the felines. Her latest acquisition to her family was a small, one-year-old female named Ruby. The calico hung limply in Ida’s grasp, but after a few seconds Ruby began to rebel. The cat indicated her strong displeasure at being suspended in midair. She squirmed and meowed loudly.
“Oh, all right! You don’t have to be so fussy.”
Ida set the cat down on the floor. Immediately, a half-dozen other cats wandered up and began rubbing their heads and backs against her legs, begging to be picked up and petted.
“You’ll come around, Ruby. You will. You’ll see. Your brothers and sisters actually crave my love and affection.”
The woman selected another cat—a black Siamese—picked it up, and began stroking it. This cat, Samantha, was one of dozens of felines that the old woman had rescued off the street, or took possession of via various “Free Kitten” ads posted on telephone poles and in the neighborhood spas. Those who knew Ida referred to her as that “crazy cat lady.”
A widow with no children or living relatives, Ida’s only human acquaintance was the store clerk at the neighborhood market where she purchased her weekly supply of cat food and kitty litter. On days when business was slow, the proprietor, Freddie, would load up a shopping cart, close his store, and help Ida transport her supplies the three blocks to her walk-up flat. While Freddie could sense that she loved her “family members” and had nothing but the best of intentions, he worried that she might be an animal hoarder. Freddie had watched a documentary on the Animal Planet Channel about hoarders the night before. It made him think of Ida. He recognized many of the warning signs in her: accumulating larger numbers of animals, failing to keep their litter boxes clean, and not stocking enough food to feed them all. The couple of times he’d been in her apartment, Freddie observed the cats’ overall cleanliness had been in decline. Their coats had begun to take on a lackluster appearance; they looked scruffy and disheveled. They were also continuously hungry. He made a note to say something to her the next time she was in the store.
Come to think of it, though, Ida missed coming into the store last Thursday . . .
* * *
Freddie grabbed the spare key from under the back porch step and he let himself in the back door of Ida’s flat. But before he called out to her, a wave of nausea hit Freddie. He was nearly overcome by the strong odor of ammonia and feces. Freddie withdrew a handkerchief from his pocket with which to cover his mouth and nose.
The floor of the back porch consisted almost entirely of litter boxes laid side by side. He counted sixteen boxes. Each one was overflowing with cat feces. Freddie shook his head in disgust. He quickly unloaded the provisions he’d purchased for her and sat them in the corner: several bags of dry cat food, and six large containers of kitty litter.
“Hello? Ida! Are you here?”
Freddie received no response. Instead, a couple of scraggly looking cats wandered into the porch when they heard his voice. They sat down and watched him intently. Freddie thought it strange—the way they stared at him.
He was almost ready to turn and leave, but something gnawed at him.
What if she’s sick and can’t call out?
He made his way into the kitchen. What he saw made him freeze with fear.
Was it . . . in the floor? It was Ida. Or, more precisely, what remained of her.
When they heard him, a dozen feral cats leapt off of the woman’s half-eaten corpse and scattered. Freddie could only surmise that Ida had taken ill and collapsed; and cats turned to the only source of food at their disposal. They had stripped most of the flesh off her arms, legs, and face. They were now making inroads into what was hidden under her tattered dress.
As he turned to leave, his horror intensified. All around him—on top of the counter tops, the kitchen table, the refrigerator, on the floor, and the stove—hundreds of cats were waiting, eyeing Freddie intently. Licking their chops.