The Porcelain Cat – A Wendig Weekly Challenge
So, Matthew X. Gomez convinced me to get back on the weekly fiction bandwagon, and I’m going to try to keep up with him. Below is the first new story I’ve written in awhile.
The Porcelain Cat
I suppose I ought to document the strange occurrences at my house over the last month or so. It all started after my mother’s funeral and my having been willed an old porcelain cat that no one seems to recognize. Why she should wish me to have anything at all while my father is still alive is a mystery at best, but particularly when considering what it was she left me.
The cat isn’t particularly large and would perhaps fit into an old lunchbox of the sort children in the 1980s would take to school. It is unremarkable in design, sculpture, or paint. It is a stylized interpretation of a black cat with green eyes and a red collar from which hangs a tag that reads “Poe.” My father did not recognize the statue and it certainly wasn’t one that was ever displayed in the house.
We have never had cats, my father being a dog kind of guy, and I do not recall having ever encountered a cat named Poe. In fact, after the will was probated and the cat left to me, my father and I spent many hours looking through my mother’s documents to find any indication of where the cat came from, or if, in her youth, she once owned a cat. I even asked my mother’s sister and she confirmed for me that they had never kept a pet of any kind.
Not having any idea what else to do, I simply accepted the cat into my house and placed it in a position of honor. After all, it was my mother’s and she evidently wanted me to keep care of it. It rests in my library facing the desk where now I sit writing. A modified ceramic raven, a gift from my mother on my 21st birthday, lies across the room, only squawking when its light-sensing diode registers a break in intensity, at which point it shouts “Nevermore.” Instead of the menacing baritone of someone like Vincent Price, the raven cries out in my mother’s voice. As an inside joke, she had had the recording altered by the sculptor who had indeed used Price’s voice at first. “Nevermore” was how she had felt about my high school girlfriend visiting the house, and it made me laugh. I took this raven to college, the military, and my first permanent home, so it has seen numerous relationships, breakups, moves, and job changes galore over the last 10 years. I have always kept fresh batteries in it because it amuses me when someone unknowingly sets it off and shouts in fear.
After my father called to tell me she’d passed, I spent a good long time just passing my hand in front of it to hear her. I’m not sure if that’s as weird as it sounds to me, but I would guess some people might find it a tad unusual. To those sorts, I would explain it’s the last piece of her voice I have in my life. We weren’t the type of family that had camcorders or video chats or any sorts of recorded books, and no one really ever thinks about ways to preserve their voices after they die, so “Nevermore” is what I’ve got left.
Well that, and now the porcelain cat, which remains a mystery to every family member I have asked.
The mystery is even deeper than what I’ve described above, as the cat itself seems to speak to me. As with the raven, it does so in my mother’s voice, but the phrasing changes each time it utters a sound. The first time it happened I chalked it up to hysteria, as it did so while I was alone and typing through my grief in the form of a poem. Her voice clearly asked, “May I see what you’re working on?” I quickly turned to look at it, but it did not repeat what it had said, so I wrote it off as my imagination running wild.
But then she talked to me the next day, once again asking if she could see what I was writing. Moreso even than the night before, I was stunned, as the piece in front of me was not something I would have ever shared with my mother. It wasn’t poetry, to say the least.
That day I took the cat to a local ceramicist whose name I’d pulled off some directory. She told me there didn’t appear to be any sort of sound chip, no light sensor, nothing at all about it that would indicate the ability to speak. I hesitated to explain to her exactly what I had experienced, but I must have mumbled something about hearing ghosts because her demeanor quickly changed, and she ushered me out the door.
The cat has become more insistent in the last few days, practically demanding me to show it my work. I often wonder what would happen if I could manage to answer her, but so far I haven’t managed a response. The cat has my tongue, if you’ll pardon the pun. In any case, I’m not sure she’d approve of my work, and I really don’t want to disappoint her. You see, I mostly write erotica. I would hesitate to call it pornography, but only because of pride. You won’t find “lurid red members” in my work, but if I’m honest, the quality isn’t a whole lot better. It does pay the bills, though. And my fanbase keeps clamoring for more, so I suppose that makes me a success, albeit an incognito one. Even the photo I use on the back cover is a fake.
I started out writing Forum letters. You know, those make-believe stories that start off, “This never happens to me, but” and then spins a yarn so implausible that it makes the Weekly World News seem like Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporting. At first it didn’t pay a lot, but it was a nice break from the manual labor of stocking shelves and arranging sale items. My writing degree wasn’t paying the bills, and, unfortunately, putting items on display in a big box store was all that was hiring in the immediate years after finishing my degree. While placing women’s intimates on those shoddy aluminum racks one night, my brain went where you might expect, and by the end of my shift I’d concocted a fantastic tale of a Vegas-based ménage-a-trois. After work I wrote it all down, altering details to punch up the narrative, making it even less plausible than the initial concept, and then sent it off for consideration. To my surprise, someone bought it, and I was asked to submit again in future issues.
I parleyed that success into spinning out novellas every few weeks. The big draw now is paranormal romances, so that’s what has been gracing my computer of late. I don’t write under my own name, as I am sure my father would disown me, but it’s really my dead mother whose disappointment I couldn’t stand. And that is never more true than when she asks to see my work, which seems to be increasing in frequency. When she does, I shift my body to make sure the cat doesn’t have line of sight to my computer screen. The last thing I need is for my mother to suffer a heart attack again.