The Annals of Sam: A Short Story


My name is Sam, short for Samantha. I can’t tell you where I was born, or who my mother was. As smart as I am, I cannot remember much prior to my arrival here, where I live with two humans, Ron and Maya. Even cats are bound by certain rules of brain development, one of which says that my memory circuits, at least those connected to my ability to recall verbally, were not on line until I was more than a few weeks old. And I suppose you wonder what I mean by “verbally”, given that I’m a cat and, if you are reading this, you are in all likelihood human. Well, I do have verbal abilities beyond those which you have been led to believe. However, I am not typical of all other cats. Most females have some ability to understand human speech (and of course our males haven’t a clue, nor do they care), I, on the other hand, am completely fluent. Why I am different is as much a mystery to me as to you. My male human claims that I am a female human trapped in a feline body, perhaps punished for some awful sin in a past life. I don’t believe that he’s serious. Nevertheless, I understand your written and spoken speech, and have the ability to think in your language. Unfortunately, I do not have the vocal apparatus to allow me to talk in your tongue, as it were. So even my humans don’t know my abilities. They do, however, suspect.

I should mention my feline housemate, Luke. Big, beautiful, sweet and gentle, and dumber than a bag of hair. Luke, of course, hasn’t a clue as to human speech. Oh, he has been conditioned to make noises in response to our humans’ queries and comments, but his semi-silent little lion roars are, as far as I can tell, thoughtless vocal pleas for attention or food. He does have the rather humorous habit of announcing his presence when landing on the furniture after a leap up from the floor, with an odd combination of a grunt and his little roar. Which, by the way, never fails to startle the bejesus out of our male human, causing him to leap several feet in the air from a supine position. I suppose on one hand I do have some feelings for the big fool, and it is rather glorious, at times anyway, to curl up in his warm white fur and snooze the sleep of the wicked. And as gentle as he is with me and our humans, he did once fight a clumsy veterinarian, scaring the living daylights out of me, our humans, and the vet whom he, in Ron’s vernacular, “kicked the shit out of.” They finally got him under control with a blanket a few extra humans, but he had earned the respect of all concerned. Of course, when we got home, he was the same old, sweet Luke, whom I regularly whip in Kitty play. Still, a conversationalist he’s not.

So you may be wondering why a cat is writing a book. Well, recently my humans read a couple of books by some European fellow about an intelligent, speech-abled cat who goes on detective adventures solving kitty murders in Germany. I don’t know if there are, in fact, other cats like me in the world, but I do know I’m far less pompous and preachy than that fictional felidae from ze Fazerland. And while I don’t run around solving grizzly murders, I do have some stories to tell. And because one of my humans is a psychologist, I’ve picked up some interesting insights into the behavior of certain mammalian organisms. My other human, by the way, is a mathematician, a teacher, and a writer in two languages (she’s the smart one). Being a female, she is obviously superior to the male of her species. She also has shown me, inadvertently, how to use this computer for word processing, which I do when the humans sleep at night while Luke happily slams into furniture romping around the house pretending to be on the hunt in the African veldt. Sometimes he pounces on me when I’m working (another construct with which he is unfamiliar) and I have to bite him to remind him not to bother me when I’m busy. He skulks away and sulks for maybe 90 seconds, by which time his long-term memory inevitably fails to encode the event and he returns to his phylogenic playtime.

Now, contrary to popular human belief, we, or at least I, cannot see ghosts (why would I want to?). We can, however, sense very subtle changes in the atmosphere. Our sensitivity is far beyond the comprehension of humans, although I did once hear our male human talking about cats’ rapidly adapting subcutaneous high-frequency sensitive mechanoreceptors, the pacinian corpuscles, far more abundant and efficient than in the human, allowing us to pick up the vibration of footsteps in the other room (he still tries to sneak up on us, the idiot). But our sensitivity goes beyond that which can be measured by human scientific methods. We can detect extremely subtle changes in the atmosphere. So when we howl before the storm, or haul ass before the earthquake, it’s not supernatural, it’s our nature. Often humans talk about their cats staring at ghosts, or at least at some unseen apparition. We are not staring, we are concentrating. While our visual acuity is far superior to the human, we are not as dependent upon sight for perception. We are also not limited by the arrogance of a science that attempts to cram the universe and everything in it into a reality constricted by limitations of the human brain and its frighteningly limited ability to measure and understand. And those limitations are legion. But enough of that for now. I have a story to tell.

A Walk on the Wild Side

Although Luke and I predominantly reside indoors, at times it is nice to get out and have a sniff-fest or chase birds or tease the neighbor’s stupid dog. Particularly in the spring, we like to traverse the neighborhood in search of adventure and recreation. We do not, however, search for romance, as our humans saw fit to have us “fixed” when we were too young to care. I will never know the joy of motherhood, but I suppose I’ll always keep my svelte, youthful figure. And Luke gets in less trouble than most of the idiot males in the neighborhood, who moreover, given my condition, do not chase me and pile on top of me like a herd of horny goats.

Recently, I befriended a diminutive tabby who lives with a whole family of humans in the corner house on the next block. She was more quiet than most, and possessed a certain mystery and charm. She also had an aura of vulnerability or quiet pain that could grab you by the throat if you weren’t careful. Being one who enjoys the unconventional and the mysterious, I took it upon myself to get to know her. She is called Clarese by her humans. I found her perched on a stone wall surrounding the lone tree in the front yard. She looked quite sweet with her paws turned inward under her chest. Rather demure, in fact. Luke was nearby, playing grab-ass with some other mindless males, having come to some sort of silly agreement on territorial imperatives and such. I knew that if I had any trouble, Luke would make up for his lack of intellect with a ferocity well hidden from friend or foe. That, of course, is a comforting thought, and allows me a bit of extra comfort while I explore my environment.

At any rate, I strode calmly up the walk until I was under her perch and looked up at her for a moment. While Clarese made no move to indicate concern or threat, neither did she exhibit any particularly inviting behavior. Not being one with much appreciation for ambiguity, I leapt up onto the wall next to her, freezing momentarily until I saw that we were not going to have any trouble. I slowly settled down, watching her carefully. Clarese did not look particularly concerned, or, for that matter, interested. We sat a while, looking either at one another or out at our surroundings, neither saying a word. Cats, by the way, do have the ability to communicate with one another, however our communication is not directly translatable into any human dialect or speech pattern. I will, for the sake of clarity and ease of understanding, translate inter-cat communication as if it were human speech.

Eventually I broke the silence and asked her if she minded me sitting with her. She simply stared at me as if I had asked something so foolish, or with an answer so self-evident, that she either chose not to answer or was completely shocked dumb. I am unaccustomed to feeling stupid, nonetheless, at this particular point in time, I did. With a few rapid grooming licks I exposed my discomfort, stopped, and stared into her eyes, figuring that if I could stare her down I might regain some of my lost dignity. That didn’t work either. Feeling totally flustered, I began to rise in preparation for my jump down to the grass and the world in which I felt some degree of control, when she whispered, simply, “Please stay.” What a voice! So soft, so compelling. I settled back down with interest renewed and ego somewhat intact.

With the most dignified tone I could muster, I said, “I am called Sam, short for Samantha. I live up the block with two humans and the male Luke, short for Lucas.” You may be thinking that Luke is an odd name for a cat, even an odd cat. My female human claims he is named for a gallant young film hero in white from a space adventure movie. My male human has told others of his species and gender that Luke is named for an enemy sniper at Khe Sahn in Vietnam, just prior to the Tet Offensive in 1968. I don’t know, or particularly care, what either of them is talking about. He just seems like a Luke to all of us by now.

Anyway, in response to my entree, she said, “I am Clarese. As you probably know, I live in this stone house with a family of humans. The children are horrid. Their parents are worse.”

It occurred to me that I had overheard my humans talking about this place, how it had been lost in foreclosure, forcing a nice young family out and into grim circumstance. And how some greedy “Yuppies” had, after watching some 30 minute advertisement at two in the morning about how to capitalize on the misfortune of others by buying just such properties, bought up the stone house on the corner on the cheap and moved in like thieves in the night. Then they argued for an hour and a half about whether Yuppies actually exist or whether the term is just another cruel device created by evil powers to inure this generation to the fact that both partners now have to work full-time and still cannot afford to live up to the standards of their parents’ generation’s lifestyle that was based on one income. Or to focus the wrath of the growing lower class on the shrinking middle class to parry attention away from the exploding wealth of the upper class. Or something. Whatever. Anyway, I had not heard particularly nice things said about these people. Now I find they may be cruel to their cat. Lovely.

I asked Clarese to expand her season (that one doesn’t translate well into human). She told me, “I’m not sure if they were always so beastly. I’ve heard them talk, and it sounds as if they feel that at least the cruelty they inflict on one another did not occur prior to their moving into this house. As for me, I did not join them until they were already living here. I had previously lived with a family of humans who were good to me, but had to send me away because one of their litter had developed some kind of sneezing disease from me. They cried, but I ended up in this white place with hoards of other animals waiting to be taken home by some other human. It was vile. And humiliating.”

Her description resonated in me somehow. I had no clear memory, yet somehow it seemed as if I were experiencing a dim echo of my past. I shuddered. I felt sure that I too had once been housed in such a place, like some thing, some object, until chosen to be taken home to live with humans (who, thankfully, turned out to be reasonably decent animals). I could nearly smell the place. I felt more certain as she continued. “The smell was horrible. Dogs and cats and guinea pigs, packed together in little cages, begging… it was pathetic. Of course the cute little ones go quickly. The older ones have to wait and, I suppose, be chosen by less desirable humans. I don’t know. But that’s what happened to me.”

I was afraid to ask, but felt that I must. “What do they do to you?”

She quickly looked away and her breath seemed to catch in her throat. Turning back to me, she said, “I won’t tell you that. Just know that they have been cruel. Terribly and unpredictably cruel. I never know when to expect their rages and explosions of temper. They have no feelings. If they feel the desire, they grab me and drag me to them like some sort of blanket to be squeezed, then tossed aside at the slightest distraction. And when they are cruel…” She turned away again, this time for an extended period. Eventually she absently began cleaning herself, in a gesture I recognized as soothing, but with a quality with which I had no personal contact. She seemed to have drifted off, as if in a trance. Not the absorption one sees in the usual kitty bath, rather as if she had gone far, very far away. I was sure this was not the first time she had taken such a trip. I weighed whether to go to her to try and soothe her, but even as my first muscles engaged to begin to rise, her head snapped toward me, her eyes afire. I gasped.

“I’m s..sorry,” I stammered. “I didn’t mean to startle you.” Her eyes began to soften from the diamond-hard stare of a moment ago. Still, not a muscle on her body twitched.

“It’s nothing,” she murmured. “Forget it. I must go now.”

“Wait!” I pleaded. She turned back momentarily, her eyes smiling sadly.

“Come see me again. Goodbye Sammy.”

I had just met her, this strange and beautiful cat, and yet with her departure, I felt as if my heart was breaking. Somehow I suddenly had the strange feeling that I couldn’t tell where she ended and I began. I felt absolutely invaded by her presence and her pain. I wanted to yowl, but I felt that it would somehow be disrespectful, or undignified. But it was not my dignity I was concerned with. It was hers. My head was spinning. It was time for me to go home, and quickly. Suddenly I desperately wanted Luke by my side. I saw him dashing across a nearby lawn and called to him. Sometimes he’s such a sweetheart. He stopped immediately. Well, actually, his legs stopped running and he tumbled a bit, but with his out-of-nowhere grace he righted himself and pranced over to my wall. He looked up with such an innocent, inquisitive expression that I decided I didn’t mind loving the fool. I jumped down and landed on him, bit him just enough so that he shrieked, and ran off to home with him close behind.

I didn’t see Clarese again for about a week. As I thought about her I was reminded of something my humans called “Jewish”: “The flower in the vase still smiles, but no longer laughs.” The night after I had met her, I dreamed I was a kitten again, padding down a set of stairs into a dark basement. As I reached the bottom, the lights began flashing on and off. I was petrified and frozen in place. Suddenly I was whisked up by the scruff of my neck and thrown across the room. I felt myself slam into a wall and woke up with a terrible start. I must have made a dreadful noise because Luke was standing over me with a desperately concerned and confused look on his face. He tilted his head and made one of his peculiar noises, this one sounding like a mixture of sheep and lion: “Mllrraaaahh…’uhh?”. He began licking my face and cleaning my ears until I calmed. Luke’s rule number 1: When all else fails, groom.

Luke and I had continued our playing and investigations around the neighborhood, but Clarese did not appear. Finally we found her under a tree, as far from her humans’ house as possible without leaving the property. She looked much the same as when I had seen her before. Luke saw that I was going to be talking to another female, took his cue and bounced off to play with his chums.

“Hi. I haven’t seen you around much,” I opened. She simply stared at me in response. I got the feeling that she was not so much being rude as that she didn’t have much patience for small talk. Quick study that I am, I decided to simply blurt out what was on my mind. “I’ve thought about you a great deal since I met you. In fact, I’ve been a bit haunted by your presence.” She looked at me askance.

“Oh.” She was quiet for a while, then as if no pause had occurred, continued, “Why is that?”

“I wish I knew. Its actually quite disturbing.” She looked at me quickly, then looked down at her paws.

“I’m sorry to have caused you any discomfort,” she murmured.

“No. That’s not what I meant at all. I feel somehow, not close to you, but involved. I mean, I know its none of my business, but your pain is as tangible to me as the fur on my face. I’m sorry to be so forward, but…, does this make any sense?” I felt as if I were a blubbering fool, but given the feelings I’d been ruminating all week I felt the need to confront this emotional quagmire.

“Yes. I suppose it does.” She looked me in the eye, and I felt as if she were looking right into my soul. Again I had that feeling that she and I were somehow merged, on some level inextricably joined. She continued to gaze without further explanation. I needed to know what was going on inside the house. I knew that her pain was tied to something in there.

“Clarese, what happens in that house? What hurts you so?” She continued to stare. She said nothing. Suddenly embarrassed, I felt the need to retract. This was getting too deep, and I again felt like a fool. “Look, If you don’t want to talk, never mind. Let’s just forget this.”

She began slowly, “No… No. I just don’t know what to tell you. This is where I live. At times they are good to me. I have no where else to go. The house is an evil place. I can feel the presence of evil all around me. Its not only what they do to me. Its what they do to each other. At night….” Her voice trailed off. Slowly she began again. “I’m the only one that knows. I know all their secrets. And I can’t do anything about it. And of course they know it. Who could I tell? I’m just a cat, right? Just another object, like the banister or the toilet. ” I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear anymore, but if she was ready to talk, I had to be ready to listen.

“They don’t care what I see. When they beat the children. It gives them pleasure. I can feel it. I can see it glowing in their eyes. They’re taken over. They lose control. They’re like that with me as well, but what they do to me is nothing compared to what they do to their young. Its horrible…” Her voice changed to a whisper. “When they sneak into the children’s bedrooms at night…” She fell silent for a while, then continued.

“The next day, they pretend nothing has happened. They sit at the kitchen table, force-feeding breakfast and family cheer, and that lie of a normal family. Sometimes the children hold me as if I’m the only source of warmth in this very cold world. Its not love as much as need. Need to feel attached to something that doesn’t demand anything, doesn’t want, or take anything from them. I’m not sure which hurts more, that need or their violence when they loosen their rage on the only creature in the house weaker than them. There’s nothing I can do to help them. I’m just the cat.”

She continued to look into my eyes. I felt that to look away would be a form of betrayal. I tried to steady my voice. “You can’t leave?”

“Where would I go? Will your humans take me in? Should I roam the streets and try to survive? I’m a house cat. I wouldn’t last a week out here on my own. How would I eat? Where would I sleep? I’m not spayed, you know. Imagine what my life would be like when I went into heat. Every male in the neighborhood climbing all over me. No thank you. I’ll take my chances with them.” Her expression did not change, but a sadness came over her like the shadows of dusk. “Do you want to be my friend, Sam? Are you ready for me? I have nothing left to give. I’d only suck the life out of you too.” She looked away. “Perhaps you’d better go.”

I didn’t know what to say. Part of me certainly wanted to run, to run and never come back. I just wanted to bathe and find the sunspot on my humans’ living room couch. I wanted to forget what she had told me. Most of all, I wanted to forget forever the feeling she had left with me. Did I really want to be her friend? For what? Why should I go around making friends? Don’t I have enough in my life without complicating emotional matters with the baggage of others? I really wanted to run, but something kept me, made me stay with her. I simply said, “No.” I slowly got up and walked over to her and began cleaning her. She froze for a moment, looked up, and rolled onto her side. She was not luxuriating like we often do when being groomed. She lay there passively. But eventually her heart beat and her breathing began to slow. I draped one paw over her as I continued.

Just then the stampede of kitty-hooves rumbled by with Luke and his pack chasing one another down, finally catching one, tumbling, hissing and rolling, then back up and running the other way after the next pretend gazelle. Soon I would go home with my simple white friend to my warm home and my basically generous humans. She was right. They wouldn’t take her in. How could they know her story? Even I couldn’t tell them. There was nothing any of us could do.

Intermezzo

I think my favorite time of day is the late afternoon, when the shadows stretch long across the darkening landscape. I sit perched on my windowsill, watching the world pass, listening to the birds and enjoying the olfactory prose carried by soft breezes. I also enjoy the early evenings when the breeze becomes wild wind. While Luke is somewhat terrified by thunderstorms, I enjoy their passion and spirit. Of course, under the influence of the sensations of hot summer nights I am taken with the deep intoxication available to my species with just the slightest shift of focus. My white friend needs the catnip to find his nirvana, and my how he does love to take those little trips to the land of elation. Or in his case, befuddlement. Our humans love to watch him fall over, lick his paws, get lost in that action until some external stimulus catches his keen eye and draws his distractible attention to the next bout of confusion. He’ll bat his toys around, chase his tail, stop short and roar at the air. I, of course, am more dignified on the nip. I partake simply for the digestive qualities of the herb. And, while it is true that I too can be influenced somewhat by the narcotic effects of nip, I have far better control of my actions while under the influence. Most of the time.

It is also true that at times I love to sit on the laps, bellies, or legs of my humans. And while we are not pack animals like our canine comammals, I occasionally find it wonderful to curl up and sleep with my humans on the couch as the afternoon sun finds its way into the salon. I suppose you might say that I do care for my humans, perhaps in their terms one might even say I love them. They are, as I have said, good animals. And they are quite entertaining at times as well. The male human is most amusing while watching other males in silly outfits and extra skulls bang into one another and throw each other to the ground. He jumps up out of his chair, screams, throws his fist in the air, and spills his beer. Or he curses and bellows at the television and crashes back into his chair in fleeting despair. Maya, being the female of the pair, considers this behavior ridiculous and the game barbaric. Neither of us has a firm understanding of why males so love pounding one another. I suppose it substitutes for affection.

Fin de poena

The weeks of spring passed into summer. Our humans were happily digging in their garden like a couple of rabbits. They go through an amazing transformation in the spring. They’re so ignorant, or perhaps just silly. I was watching a National Geographic show on television with Maya. (By the way, some of us do watch television. Not for the same reasons you do, nor do we experience it in the same way. Nonetheless, at times it serves us as an amusement or distraction. Luke, of course, wouldn’t know the difference between a television and a desk.) The humans were discussing the changes inherent in the animal kingdom come the seasons of fall and spring. As if they were immune to or separate from the influences of a few billion years of evolution. As if Ron didn’t start eating doughnuts and ice cream like a fool every September. As if they didn’t blossom and bloom every April when the ice melts and the dreary dead colors of endless winter begin to change to lush and vibrant green.

At any rate, Luke and I spent much time perched on our windowsills after the long winter of being sealed inside. It was glorious to smell the air and to tap it for the endless information available to us through our exceptional senses. We also went out from time to time. Clarese was rarely about. When I did see her, we would often sit together quietly and watch the world. She seemed to like this best. Talking was, eventually, more unpleasant than productive for either of us. I would notice subtle changes in her from time to time, and wondered if they corresponded to particular events in the house. But I knew better than to ask.

One evening, I was sitting with Clarese on a small grassy rise surrounded and buttressed by old stones. We were surprised by the arrival of a police car in front of the stone house, from which the male child was escorted by a uniformed woman and a plainly-clothed man to the front door. Dusk had fallen and the boy had apparently failed to come home for the evening meal. Or so the male parent indicated when he opened the door, and faced with his errant son and the authorities, commented that given the boy’s escort, he would not be eating this evening at all. It occurred to me then that I had never seen the female child leave the house. I asked Clarese directly, without thinking through the possible ramifications of my inquiry. She slowly turned her head toward me and, once our eyes locked, slipped into an expression I found incomprehensible. She never broke eye contact with me, but she seemed to have disappeared from the inside of her head. The eyes that looked back at me were dead. It was perhaps the most frightening look I had ever seen, and it achieved its purpose. I would never again dare to ask such a question.

As it turned out, that particular problem would never arise again. Or not exactly. It seems, oddly enough, that approximately one week after the boy was arrested, for setting fires it turns out, the girl fled the house and sought refuge in the only place she could think of: The police station. It turned out to be a fortuitous choice. I overheard my humans discussing the neighborhood scandal. At first she would not talk to the officers, but a nice female human who was used to dealing with children was able to make her comfortable enough after a few hours to begin to tell her story. I cannot, or will not go into detail. Suffice to say you cannot imagine what that child and her brother went through in that house. You would never want to imagine such things.

When the police arrived that night, they came without the boy and left with the parents in handcuffs. The children left with other adult humans in a plain car, bland, like the police car except without all those silly lights and markings. Although humans in this part of the world are usually unusually quiet, polite, and worship privacy, the whole neighborhood turned out to watch the macabre pageant. I’m not sure if they knew what had been happening, but some were sobbing as the cars drove off.

As horrific as this story is, good did come of it. The little girl from the house next door to the stone house on the corner, realizing that the cat had been left behind, jumped up and down and begged her parents to let her keep that pretty tabby cat from next door. At first they refused, but eventually caved in to her tears and pitiful entreaty. Clarese had been sitting on the stone wall, impassive, during the whole event. The little girl carefully walked over and asked Clarese if she would like to come home with her. Clarese allowed herself to be picked up and carried back to the neighbors house, which was quickly to become her own.

A short time later, before the house could be put up for sale, it mysteriously caught fire and burned to the ground. All that was left were the stones. The neighbors’ homes may have endured some smoke damage, but nothing more serious came of it. Soon the big ugly machines came and removed the rocks and plowed the ominous scar left by the house into the earth. New construction began soon thereafter and continues at present. Clarese is slowly becoming more calm and composed. She does reacts oddly at times, but she and I have become quite close. We occasionally go on walks around the neighborhood, sometimes talking, sometimes not. Luke somehow manages to stay within eyesight at all times while attempting to appear nonchalant and unaware of our presence. He’s still afraid to come too close to Clarese. I think he’s a bit shy around females. He doesn’t know what to make of us. But once, when a large, mottled, gray male began to prowl, circle, and sniff around Clarese, Luke, from up on the hill, managed to pull a new sound from his repertoire, a growl so malignant that even my hair stood on end. The gray thing froze in place. I believe he considered turning toward the horrid sound to show face, but thought the better of it and shot off like a cheetah toward happier hunting grounds. Of course as soon as he was gone, Luke was again chasing butterflies and squirrels with no apparent further thought to the matter.

Clarese is well tended by her new human family. She is fed and watered and receives much attention from not only the little girl but from the adult humans as well. And when she wants to be left alone, they are wise enough to leave her alone. Clarese sleeps on the bed of the little girl, and I believe for the first time in ages is actually finding some peace in sleep. I believe we will remain friends for a long time. I am so happy that she is finally free from the evil that bound her. Now, if only I could stop having these nightmares…

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About Thomas N. Dikel, Ph.D.

I am a Developmental Psychopathologist trained in child development, clinical psychology, pediatric neuropsychology, and forensic psychology. My focus, expertise, or specialty is trauma and PTSD, particularly child abuse and combat related trauma. I work with both adults and children, and adults who are dealing with childhood issues. I am available for forensic evaluations, consultation, and expert witness testimony.
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