Monday, January 5, 2009

Waking Nightmare

In the wee hours this morning, I was awakened by a meow. It sent a chill down my spine, because I didn't immediately recognize the voice as belonging to either of my two cats. There was something different about it: deeper, louder, more mournful than it should have been. I started to wonder whether a strange cat had somehow gotten into the apartment.

It brought to mind a story I had recently heard, the story of a family that didn't realize a raccoon had gotten into their house through the cat-flap. The raccoon had stayed out of sight for several weeks, eating cat food and using the litterbox when no one was looking. Except for the fact that the owner noticed something odd about his cats' droppings, it managed to fly below the radar until the night the raccoon decided to join its new owner in bed. He was awakened by feral hissing and growling, half of it coming from the real cat (which was perched on the owner's chest) and half coming from an unknown shape in the darkness at the foot of the bed. Now I ask you, wouldn't you have been petrified in that position?

It was with such cheerful thoughts that I reluctantly got out of bed to investigate the cause of the inconsolable meowing coming from the living room. With my glasses off and the apartment in darkness - lit mostly through the crack at the bottom of the hall door - I groped my way toward a curled-up cat shape that I took to be Tyrone. I called his name. He turned his face toward me, and I received a shock. I couldn't see much detail, but there was something decidedly not-Tyrone about the face that looked at me in the darkness.

The head was too big, and there was too much white in it for a solidly charcoal-gray cat. And it definitely wasn't Sinead (who does have some white on her face), because she came to me when I called. Tyrone, who would ordinarily have done the same, remained crouched by the front door.

I won't hide from you that I was scared. It was the kind of scaredness one feels in nightmares, only this time I was wide awake. What had gotten into my apartment? What had taken possession of my cat?

I approached Tyrone a second time, and chickened out again when he turned the same strange, pale, oversized head toward me in the blurry darkness.

I paced the kitchen for a minute, then came back determined to get to the bottom of this. When I knelt down before the bizarro-Tyrone the third time, I reached for his face...and my fingertips met solid carboard.

The gormless cat had gotten his head stuck inside a Kleenex box, one with a white square of cardboard on the bottom. It was a pretty tight fit, but I got it off in one tug. Then I went to bed laughing -- at myself as well as my cat.

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