Héctor Horacio Otero, Argentina
Originally published in French in
(Translation: Héctor Horacio Otero and Daniel W. Koon)
“Bottled cats”, the e-mail subject line read. It showed photos of the latest Japanese fad: kittens, their bones softened with drugs, taking on the shape of the bottles in which they were being grown, breathing through tiny holes in the glass and being fed through tubes.
Horrified, I forwarded the message to my entire address book. I received an immediate reply from Adrian, a neighborhood friend from my youth, that is to say, from right after my most recent rebirth. He had printed out the colored images in order to show them to his wife, but then he changed his mind, deeply disturbed by the pictures, and threw them in the trash.
I could not get them out of my head either. My shrink asked me why that was, but before I could answer, he started to babble on about it being because I was bottling up my own emotions, blah, blah, blah. I went home that night after teaching my history class and tried unsuccessfully to sleep.
The cats from the patch of dirt in front of my house (where the old bag lady had just moved) screamed all night long, sounding like young kids being skinned. Unfortunate metaphor: our mothers always told Adrian and me that this old beggar woman carried all the bad boys back to her dunghill and then devoured them. That was many years ago, and still, whenever I see her on the street, I try to avoid the glare of her amber eyes.
As a father, I did not find that memory at all funny. That was why that night I got up from bed several times to check that my children were all right. When I finally did manage to fall asleep, close to dawn, it was only to dream that I found myself in ancient Egypt, where the cat-goddess Bast threatened to catch me between her claws. Actually, most of the time, we transdimensional beings do not dream, but we do perceive the proximity of our own kind, transparent to mortal eyes.
Fine. Given the rise in the number of felines and the decaying stench of the raw meat that certain refined ladies were feeding the neighborhood cats, I alerted the Council, but with no apparent result. Adrian, who had always had a more direct style than mine, discussed the matter vigorously with the old lady.
One night I remembered that I had been one of the workers who had carried out the Great Cat Massacre on the Rue Saint-Séverin in Paris in 1730, and this filled me with a very contemporary, PC guilt. In the morning the mewing stopped; a rumor spread that they had been poisoned.
The following Friday, in the middle of the night, repeated shouts and dull blows were heard. Then it was quiet, and soon the police cars arrived. I ran to my kids’ room, but they were not there. I felt desperate; a crowd was murmuring outside.
An enormous, jet black cat blocked my way and glared at me with its yellow eyes, hairs bristling on its back, before making its escape. I reached the police cordon almost out of breath, and I entered the prefab house screaming.
The scene was Dantesque. Half-rotting cats hung from the walls as if from a pagan altar, coated in paraffin beneath spent candles. I will never forget what I saw next; not even the sight of my wife appearing to tell me that the boys were fine, that they had just gone to the kitchen for something to eat, could dispel my fright.
Later, I couldn’t bring myself to read the stories in the tabloids. It was enough to picture what Adrian had suffered when the goddess Bast dragged him around by the rope tied to his neck. Especially when he saw his crumpled photos of bottled cats glued to the walls and the hand-saw and the mace placed next to an enormous glass vessel.
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