The Wrath of Khat
by Ron Lee
It was during my last two years in college that I found myself living in the white house. The money I had put away for my education was nearly gone. I had broken my foot. There were no job offers to be found. So it was that I found myself in an exciting career with great potential: House Sitting.
As houses go, it was a "quaint house of local history." My translation: hey, at least it has indoor plumbing. The house was nicely isolated -- just past the local cemetery, over the railroad tracks, up and down a winding road and there you are. It was eighty years old. Somewhere down the line, someone had decided to torment the house by wrapping it in aluminum siding. There were places on the porch you just didn't step. It did have an outhouse, now covered in a decade's growth of ivy and kudzu.
As interiors go, it had no heat, no insulation, and sub-standard wiring. You could not run two outlets in the same room at the same time -- you were sure to blow a fuse. Still, it was a house, and as I was house-sitting so that the fire insurance would remain, it was also rent-free. My only expenses would be food, electricity, and heating oil in the winter. But the house was a trap. Something had been left behind that no amount of preparation could be enough. After living in dorms for the past four years, I was braced for the isolation. But no one told me about... the cats.
I had been left with the custody of fifteen cats.
I know there is a long standing tradition of fandom of liking cats, but let me explain. I come from a long line of cat haters. My Uncle Bean seems to be the family example. He used to do terrible things to cats with tugboats (I refuse to give details). And now I come nose to whisker with the Legion of Cats.
These were not the "sweet kitties" that your Aunt Patty used to have. They were not the type of cats you took compassion on and brought into the house for a saucer of milk, only to watch them curl in front of a fire and purr contentedly. No. These were survivalist cats. They had seen the end of human civilization and had taken to the woods, only coming out to see how much longer they had to wait. They honed their skills on the local moles and shrews that crossed their paths at night. Once proud trees were now scratching posts. Claws had torn strange runes into the trunks of the trees. I'm sure they said something like "Spike eats it" and "Ain't gonna be no human's pussy." Now I was moving into the house. The house at the edge of their territory.
They knew this was to be a challenge. And they made the first move.
All fifteen of them sprayed my car.
In minutes, I came to know them all. Vol was the leader, an orange tom that had weathered seven winters in the woods. There was Peanut. Jefferson. Lincoln. Tom. Cthulhu. The rest seemed to fade in and out of the trees. I would catch an occasional glimpse of strange and alien fur rushing under my car.
I braced for the first night. My belongings stayed in boxes for the most part. I unloaded a few belongings into the kitchen. A box spring and mattress had been left, along with a couch and a few chairs. Sometime past midnight, I decided to pack it in for the night so I climbed into bed, and started to read before going to sleep. It was at this point I made my most grievous mistake.
The book I was reading was Salem's Lot by Stephen King. Now, that novel by itself is enough to lose sleep over, but add to this I was alone in a strange house for the first time. There was none of the usual noise you hear in a hear in a college dorm and come to take for granted. It was a special quiet. Country quiet. And the cats knew how to use it.
Barlow had just spoken: "I see you sleep with the dead, teacher." O-kayyy, enough fun for tonight. I shut off the light. Five minutes of quiet. Then...
The noise began. Long, inhuman howls surrounded me. From every window in that house, there came a banging. I turned on the lights ... and it stopped. I checked outside... Nothing. So I reluctantly turned the lights out again.
The terror began again. Something was at every window, pounding against the glass. More howls. Lights went on again. Silence all about the house. Now I couldn't sleep. So okay then, read something. But every book I had was still packed away in the boxes... except for Salem's Lot. It became the pattern. Read another chapter, turn out the lights, and wait for the attack. Lights back on, read another chapter, lights out and wait for the attack.
Somewhere past three in the morning I decided I had to find the source, so I turned out the lights and hid beneath the window. Within five minutes, IT began. I threw open the window shade... and found a cat with its claws firmly attached to the screen. It howled, and while doing so, rocked back and forth on the screen, slamming into the window. Then it disengaged and fled into the woods. After that I left on the outside lights, but they showed no mercy. As soon as I tried to fall asleep, they were back.
I got no sleep that night.
The next morning, they were waiting for me. I was to feed them twice a day (the food provided by the owners). They knew. They wolfed down Purina dog chow, and were gone, back into the woods, with elk and moose to stalk. The noise would continue for months.
I was determined to outlast them, but they had yet another weapon. They went out and had kittens.
I know they did it just to spite me.
One day I went outside to find four white kittens at the door step. They all stared at me, so I shut the door. An hour later, I cautiously opened the door again. There were no longer four white kittens; there were eight. If fear wouldn't work, then by God, they would breed me out of the area.
The cats had a wonderful plan to motivate me in my studies. Whenever I had to have quiet to study for an exam, the cats would slip into the crawlspace below the house. They would find the exact spot where I was studying, and then, methodically, claw the floorboards beneath my feet. It did wonders for my GPA.
I attempted a truce of sorts once. We got back to the house later than planned one night. I had left no outside lights on, and there was only the faint glimmer of moonlight. As I walked to the door, I noticed a furry body crouched on a table near the food tray. It didn't move when I approached, which was unusual in itself. Usually the cats fled at my approach, but this one stayed put. I went to pet it, then decided not to push my luck. I unlocked the door, turned on the light... and came face to face with a possum. It showed its teeth, hopped down, and made for the woods. They were recruiting allies. I knew it.
The cats did have their uses, however. I went to visit my parents during Christmas, and when I returned to Chateau Aluminum that evening there was something unusual at the front door. I found a crowbar dropped at the bottom of the steps. I'm sure someone tried a little bit of breaking and entering, and I'm just as sure that Vol took care of him.
We kept an uneasy truce.
Our standoff lasted for over a year and a half. The cats gave in to the fact that I was going to stay there for a while, and I gave into the fact that my car would always have little cat footprints on the windshield. Then, they seemed to just all go away. Their ranks were decimated, all in the space of two short weeks. I found about ten pounds of orange cat fur on the porch one morning, and never saw Vol again. The other cats simply up and went. The tribe finally dropped to two: Peanut and Patrick Henry. Maybe there was a cat coup d'etat. Maybe there was a rival cat gang, or a roving pack of dogs. Maybe a kind-hearted lady took them all in.
More likely, they pulled back into the woods. Someone more at home with nature could probably read something into their actions. Me? I'd like to think there's some sort of cat commune thriving there in the woods. A cat version of the lost colony in colonial Roanoke. But not one of them left a Croatoan sign.
For the record, I do get along quite well with cats now. Peanut was adopted by my mother-in-law. He lived another ten years, and went quietly in his sleep. The house was bought and sold four times. The current owners did heavy-duty reconstruction on it, and pushed the edge of the woods further back. They even got written up in the local newspaper for their efforts. A gate now keeps strangers out. I drive by it now and then, just to check. Somewhere back there, there's a group of cats, plotting, with intellects cool and detached. But they owe me for two winters. My recommendation for you? You've got a backyard? Plant catnip.
For I have seen the future. And it walks on little cat feet.
- - - - - - - - - -The high-water mark of Knoxville fandom during that period was probably the 1984 DeepSouthCon, which featured Stephen King as the Guest of Honor and Guy Lillian III as the Fan Guest. That era lasted about five or six good years, beginning the 1980 Satyricon convention where the legendary 100th distribution of the Southern Fandom Press Alliance was collated and distributed -- at more than 1,400 pages, it is the largest Amateur Press Association mailing of all time.
Amateur Press Associations are actually good sources for fanzine material. The typical APA, such as SAPS or The Cult, has a distribution of only one or two dozen people. There have been many, many instances of good writing in APAs that go almost unnoticed except for the few people in those APAs who see it. It really is a service of fanzines to give some of this fine writing new life. All of the articles in this Fanthology are reprints, obviously, but some, like the next one, were reprints in their original appearance in Mimosa, with their original appearance being in an APA (in this case SAPS).
Bottom illustration by Brad Foster
All other illustrations by Charlie Williams