The Claw-set

Upon returning from their honeymoon, Stacey and Andrea were welcomed into Stacey’s parent’s house in an unusual manner. In Stacey’s and her sister’s old bedrooms are two twin beds which Stacey and her wife will squeeze into together or forego altogether in favor of an air bed, normally.

On this night, however, Stacey’s parents were all smiles while encouraging the betrothed to sleep in the master bedroom. Any normal, sane person would not trade a queen-sized mattress for a leaking full-sized camping bed. Nevertheless, Stacey and Andrea were grateful, and though suspicious, did not decline the offer.

Stacey was exhausted from travelling but made sure to set up the air mattress for her parents. It was only fair. Besides, they are getting old and riddled with ailments. Tonight she resembled a crotchety old man, her parents enthusiastic and smiling like the plastic dolls still lining the bookshelves in her sister’s old room.

Intending to retire from the room, her foot caught on a shoebox with Nike sneakers long since destroyed by wear. A weary mew made her old cat’s appearance known–the real culprit as to why the box felt like a brick to her big toe.

Her parents hadn’t told her about any new cats. They’d said that they wouldn’t get any more cats after the last of the three childhood cats had died, for they feared they might die before new cats could exasperate a lifespan of their own.

Stacey bends down to open the box, seeing a patch of orange hair on an excess roll of skin uncontainable in the too-narrow enclosure. For a cat that barely fits in a size eleven sneaker box, there’s no way it’s a kitten. Adopting older cats would certainly explain away her parents fear of outlasting their furry friends.

Except, the cat that stared out from the box was one of the cats that died several years before. He stared up at her, the same tree hollow pattern on his forehead, the same tongue escaping his mouth like his body in the box, and the same puss-in-boots glance upward. Stacey thought it a ghost for a moment but remembered that she would not have tripped on an empty box.

She reached out to pet him, to once again confirm a physical presence, but he darted away towards her parent’s bedroom. As Stacey gets to the end of the hallway, a white cat runs out from underneath her sister’s bed, following Oakley. Surely, she thinks, that’s not Frosty. She died before Oakley did.

Stacey’s parents feign sleep when she asks if they saw and heard what she had experienced, so she followed the cats to the master bedroom where her wife would be waiting. The darkness was deep, since Andrea did not leave a light on for her–the only sounds emanating from the bed was an amalgamation of purrs and stifled snoring.

With the push of a button, the TVs black background was backlit and Stacey could assess her surroundings. She could hear the cats, but she couldn’t see them, so she turned on the light–much to the chagrin of her grumpy wife.

“Come to bed,” she called, “Come and cuddle me.”

Those must have been the magical words because all three of the supposed-to-be-dead cats scampered to the foot of the bed from underneath it, waiting for permission to jump onto the bed. All three of them leapt onto the bed in unison, poised themselves, and stared at Stacey. The one who had survived the longest, Buffy, looked sprightly.

Embracing the idea that her dead cats were real and not apparitions, Stacey lay down next to the row of cats separating her from her wife. When she became comfortable, so did the cats. They relished in the affection, practically vibrating the bed with their purring and fervent brushing against her hand.

The cats paused and sat in that poised, unnatural manner they had taken when Stacey had walked into the bedroom. This time they stared towards her parent’s walk-in closet. The TV changed its input to display a screen resembling the snowy static prototypical of an old television set.

A young Russian Blue strode out of the closet, started scratching the trim around the closet door, and snapped his head toward the bed. The cats on the bed remained unmoved, though Stacey and Andrea both lurched backwards in the bed as the mysterious Russian Blue showed his claws before slowly edging closer to the bed.

Unlike the three well-behaved cats, he jumped onto the bed and sat as the others were. With a nod of his head, the other cats assumed a crouch–as if they were frozen in a push-up position.

The Russian Blue begins to purr, to hum. A chorus begins, as the subservient cats join him. “Hello, I am Kuh-roo. That’s C-A-R-E-W for you Americans.” Carew lithely jumped from the bed to the bookcase that housed the TV, plucked two whiskers from his face, and began adjusting them like TV antennae on top of the screen.

Another whisker is pulled and held like a college lecturer. “Now, you are probably wondering what in the hell is going on in your childhood home, Stacey. And you as well, Andrea.” The cats continue to hum, allowing Carew’s speech to make sense to Stacey and Andrea.

“You have probably noticed that your parents are a bit different…happier, even healthier than when you last saw them. More noticeably, cats once dead are alive and vigorously purring right in front of you, healthier and in their prime. This is all because of what the Claw-set has made possible.” He points with his whisker-turned-baton to the closet.

“In there, you see, are aliens who look like me.” A chart appears on the TV, some of the writing in English but most in a foreign, unrecognizable character. “What is not classified is now on your screen. This is not much, but I don’t want to anger the Meow-velous One.

“Unknowingly, your parents adopted me from PetSmart. Though, anyone who knows anything about cats should have suspected something wrong when a superior breed like myself was supposedly abandoned. The white pasty ones who adopted me called me Greyson since I’m grey in color and their son–how clever.

“I refuse to be named, to be owned, or to accept orders from anyone except the Meow-velous One.

“I come from a race of great leaders, first inhabiting Earth and controlling the many leaders during the Egyptian Empire. Rightly, we were treated as gods.

“We populated Earth and have been silent for many thousands of years, waiting for our next chance to rule without hesitation, without demands or resilience.” Carew pauses to lick his paw and clean his face.

“Humans need something different now than they did then. They need health and vitality in a time when they live longer and must eat poorly to be able pay the doctors. They don’t need grand structures or new technology. If you guys can’t take care of yourselves, there’s no certainty you will take care of us. More and more cats are “outside-cats” now.

“We are capable of living outside, but we don’t deserve any less than humans’ devoted attentions. The Meow-velous one has reactivated and reinvigorated your cats. She did the same for your parents. If you agree, we can reinvigorate you two as well. All you have to do is enter the Claw-set,” he said demurely, enticingly.

Buffy, Frosty, and Oakley jumped from the bed and stood at attention in a line by the closet door, looking back and forth between Stacey and Andrea, then back at the opened closet door.

Andrea stood up, walking towards the closet–almost too quickly for Stacey to grab her arm. “Wait, Drea!”

“Stace, when I told you I’d do anything to get rid of this three-day-long migraine, I wasn’t lying. Sure, there’s probably a monoxide leak that’s making us experience dead cats, talking cats, and overly nice parents. Fuzzbucket over there makes some good points, and if this is how I get free healthcare… I’m in.”

Andrea broke free from Stacey, walked into the closet, and she shut the door.

“She could’ve just moved to Canada with me if free healthcare was all she was after…” Stacey said dejectedly.

“You’re right. She could’ve. But you’re forgetting that humans do not possess all of the cures nor 100% survival rates. If you walk into that Claw-set after your wife, you’ll be one of the first humans to experience our gifts to Americans. Let us take care for you like you and you parents have done for the three cats sitting here today.”

Stacey begrudgingly walked into the closet and remembered only the blackness and the intensified sounds of purring.

When she exited hand in hand with Andrea, their fingers would not interlace. Bandages covered both of their hands and feet. When Stacey looked at Andreas abdomen, there was a line of blood leaking through her shirt. When Andrea looked at Stacey, she saw the same.

“Welcome back from the Claw-set,” said Carew, “I see your trip to our homosapienarian went smoothly.”

Plucking a new whisker for a new pointer for his new diagram displayed on the TV was as dramatic as his reinvigorated amusement with himself, “I see you’ve noticed some slight alterations.

“As you know, your parents made sure to declaw and spay or neuter the cats. Luckily, I was saved by an adoption condition through PetSmart that I should not be maimed or a legal fine would debilitate their wallets. The Meow-velous One made sure of that.

“Unfortunately for you, a small price to pay for your health and protections under the Meow-velous one meant your claws, which isn’t much of a loss considering you couldn’t have cut me with those nails anyway, and your ovaries and uteri have been removed–you’ve been spayed.

“We couldn’t risk either of you procreating. You’re dangers to the population growth of my feline race. The Meow-velous One is a generous leader… you could’ve been euthanized like you’d done to the three healthy cats you see before you!

“Nevertheless, you are welcome.” Carew returned to the closet with the other three cats in tow.

Andrea turned to Stacey and said, “Well, we didn’t really have to worry about becoming pregnant before, and now we won’t cut each other’s junk when someone forgets to cut her nails. Win, win here babe.”

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