Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Greece: Getting Sleepy

Instructions for the use of this short story: 1. Play the first song. 2. Read until you get to the second song. 3. Play that one. 4. Read the rest. 5. Repeat as needed.

Beetle Juice - Shake Shake Senora

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     There isn’t anything that quite compares to awakening from a pounce. There’s nothing subtle about this sort of shift from dreaming to wakefulness. One moment, you’re sound asleep and the next you’re staring into the eyes of someone who finds themselves bouncy-trouncy-founcy-pouncy-fun-fun-fun-fun-fun!

     Back at home, I have a cat who knows better than to play the role of the alarm clock. She sleeps or doses along with me until a change in the rhythm of my breathing alerts her to the fact that I’m no longer sleeping. And then, of course, I’m fair game.

     But I wasn’t at home. In fact, I was sleeping on an airbed in the bell tower of a run-down church on an island devoid of all human life.

     When I first opened my eyes, the green, translucent set of cat eyes staring back at me seemed too large to belong to a feline of normal proportions. I had to get grip on reality, shake away the hypnogogic vision and allow her to come into focus. The pounce, the 6:30am pounce means only one thing: that the cat expects breakfast now. The size of the cat demanding breakfast makes a difference, where the survival of the adventurer (here, me) is concerned.

      She had gotcha! written across her face, but as the sleep drained away from my head, her scale diminished and I could see that she was just a normal, cat-sized cat. Gotcha! and tiny cat teeth weren’t a cause for alarm.

      I raised a groggy hand to scratch between her ears, where the fleas had left scabs. She responded by sinking her paws right into my boobs, one on each side, pressing her whole weight onto the points that were her front feet. Squeezing each hand in turn, she did her best to work my nipples down underneath my rib cage, where they do not belong. I wish cats could understand how much that hurts. I pushed her paws away but each time I picked one up and placed it on more solid ground, she returned it from whence it came.

      After a moderate power struggle, she got the point and slipped between me and Lynn, who was still asleep beside me. She sat there for a few minutes, rubbing her nose against mine and sending her tail, whack, whack, whack, across Lynn’s neck. I still had my hand on her head and was just about to doze off again when a shrill voice brought me back around.

     The voice was Lynn’s. The words were, “Zombie cat! Zombie cat!”

     The cat turned to face Lynn and dipped her head closer to deposit a sweet kiss on the tip of Lynn’s nose.

     This affectionate gesture sent Lynn sliding off her side of the mattress and over to the wall, as far away as she could get from what she again identified as, “Zombie cat!”

     Miffed at the sudden disruption of the sleeping arrangement, the cat turned and climbed on top of my chest, prompting an almost immediate confirmation from me: “Holy shit! Zombie Cat!”

     I hadn’t seen her left side before this moment, and now that I did, I shuddered, trapped beneath the Zombie Cat. I wiggled to free myself, but she sent me such a glare that I froze up again, completely unable to extricate myself from under this black and white monster of a cat.

Beetlejuice Theme Song

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     “What the hell is wrong with it?” Lynn screeched, still pressed against the wall like a fugitive anticipating a bullet.

     Zombie Cat sat down and tucked its front paws underneath its chest, settling in and purring audibly on me.

     “Skin infection,” I diagnosed, completely trapped.

     Lynn, emboldened by her ability to walk around, leaned in a little closer, even venturing an ineffectual sniff in Zombie Cat’s direction. “That’s disgusting.”

     “Yeah, no shit. Get it off me.”

     “Un-uh. I’m not touching that zombie cat. Good luck, Captain.”

     She left me there. Lynn left me there with half a dozing cat draped across my chest.

     For five minutes that seemed no less than five hours, I worked to free myself. I squirmed, dragging my body out inches at a time, using my elbows for leverage. Zombie Cat remained on the bed, sinking on the slowly deflating hole I’d left by my absence. It sighed. Sleep on, Zombie Cat.

     I jetted down the stairs but came to an abrupt stop when I saw what Lynn did.

     Last night, under the cover of darkness, dozens of partially decomposed cats crawled from out of their graves. It must have been a full moon. Tiny headstones would have been lined up in front of mounds of disturbed earth. Somewhere, off in the distance, a crow. Then, that ominous still before a single paw breaks the surface of the soil. Another paw; entire cats, struggling to free themselves just as I had struggled under the weight of Zombie Cat. The camera zooms in, close-up on the half-eaten face of an orange tom, that one there, sniffing at Lynn’s toes. He meows a low, throaty sound that cats make only to be horrible. You know the sound.

     “Brains,” I yowled in my own horrid, throaty cat-voice.

     “Not funny,” Lynn reported. Then she punched me, just to get the point across.

     Everywhere there were cats: perched on stairs and windowsills and stone ruins that were crumbling to pieces as bad as the cats were. No cat was made from a complete set. Some were missing a leg, others an ear, most a swath or two of skin. Eyes had rolled away. Lips receded to leave toothy cat-grins stretched across their faces.

     In the distance, the boat bobbed gently up and down. We’d tied it up to what was left of the long-abandoned harbor. At least now we knew why the people had gone.

     “Just run,” I whispered and shoved Lynn straight into the mob of hobbling cat parts. More emerged from the ruins, climbing up from under the city and into our way, chasing and chasing and weaving in front of our feet even though we weren’t carrying any large boxes. We ran and the cats ran with us and just when we thought it was over, our feet splashed into the cool, blue Mediterranean sea and the cats stopped.

     We didn’t look back.

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