• In ancient times, cats were worshipped as gods. They have never forgotten this. - Anonymous.

    The Truth About Cats

    It all happened when I moved the fish tank. The goddamned fish tank. If it had been in a different spot, we might all be where we were that day.

    "Good morning, Mother Tautenis." My mother-in-law sat by the window in a rocking chair. She held her rosary, stroking the cross with her thumb. Habitually rising earlier than us, she had undoubtedly eaten breakfast. She did not answer, as I knew she would not. She looked out the window, mouthing her prayers.

    "Good morning, dear." A lovely vision of freshly-applied face powder and Raspberry rouge, wearing a white dress with large print roses, glided by with a plate of eggs.
    I greeted my wife with a kiss on the cheek. She smiled at me, never breaking her orderly serving routine. Jude and Carl sat at the table, drinking juice.

    "Boys, how are you?" I said, settling in my chair and shaking out the morning paper.

    "Hey, Dad," they chorused in unison.

    My wife passed out the plates and sat down to eat. Before I was half-finished, my sons had wolfed down their food and were on their way out the door.

    "Carl! Did you remember to feed the fish?" I said. Carl, the twelve year-old, heaved an annoyed sigh, put his sports bag down and sauntered over to the bubbling tank. He put in a large pinch of food. Meanwhile, his eight year-old brother Jude,was bouncing at the door with nervous energy, anxious to get to summer science camp. The flakes began to slowly settle to the bottom as the fish came out of their hiding places and began to rise to the top.

    "Mrr-ow?" Raffles and Annie came into the breakfast nook. Raffle's coat was so much like a tuxedo, hence his moniker of the famous butler-thief of British literature. Next to the large male, Annie looked demure and feminine in her fringed beige coat.

    I slipped them some buttery scrambled egg under the table. They eagerly ate the morsels, but not fast enough to escape Elena's notice. My wife frowned at me. I smiled sheepishly back at her as they licked the grease off my fingers.

    I wiped my hands with a napkin and stood up. "Bye, Honey." I bent towards her, but instead of a kiss, she said "Thomas, have you forgotten?" My face must have looked blank, because she said exasperatedly, "I have to take Mother to the doctor after I drop off the boys, and today is the day the electrician is coming. You said you'd stay home today."

    "Oh! I completely forgot . . .sorry. Go ahead and take her. I just hope they come soon so I can go to work. It's very busy there."

    Elena squeezed my hand. "You're a dear. I'm sorry, I was going to remind you, but it slipped my mind." She bundled her mother into the car without any protest on the old lady's part. A short while later, the house was quiet, with only the bubbling of the fishtank.

    I called into work, leaving a message with the secretary. The engineering company where I work as a design engineer develops all types of devices for military or medical use. I settled onto the couch, the idea of a rare day off tickling the small part of my brain that lets me be lazy.

    "Brrrp?" Annie jumped on the couch beside me. I stroked her soft fur. She rubbed her head against my hand. Out the living room window near the empty rocker, I could see Bodger, the neighbor's cat in his window. A great, fat, gentle soul, Bodger looked back at me, his expression inscrutable.

    At 11:30, there was a knock on the door. The electrician had arrived to do the wiring for the washer and dryer. He came in and I showed him where Elena wanted the appliances. "Gonna need you to move that fish tank," he said.

    I bent down next to the tank, pressed my cheek against it, and put a hand on either side to lift it. To get a good grip, my ear pressed against the side. I heard a faint ping, a ping like the sonar in submarine movies. The sound washed over me oddly, as if I myself were underwater. I frowned. Apparently a hearing test was overdue. I made a mental note to make an appointment. I lifted the tank and set it aside. The electrician went to work.

    When he left, I put the tank back on its stand. Just for the heck of it, I pressed my ear to the glass once more. Nothing. Then, ping. This time, distinctively. I went to my basement workshop and brought up a prototype I had of sensitive listening equipment we had designed for fire departments to locate survivors in the rubble of collapsed buildings. I put on the earphones, attached the wire to the side of the tank. The sounds were amplified. The Hunt for Red October, The Incredible Mr. Limpet, all the sub movies I had ever seen came back to me. I was unmistakably listening to some kind of sonar.

    Chapter 2

    Late that night, I lay awake. All manner of strange ideas roamed through my head. I had said nothing to my wife. This was my own personal, weird little mystery. I walked downstairs to the tank. It glowed neon blue in the dark room. The fish swam around mechanically, their eyes blank. On a sudden impulse, I lifted the lid and scooped one out. It twitched in my hands. The cats appeared silently and brushed against my legs. When the fish had stopped moving, I took it over to the kitchen counter and sliced it open carefully with the tip of a paring knife. The cats became more frenzied in their movements below. It was just an ordinary fish. The glimmer of guts in the dim light made me feel like an idiot. Flush it, you idiot, and go back to bed . Then I thought, You've taken it this far; follow your hunch. This isn't what it seems .

    I carried the fish on a napkin down to the basement. My worktable was cluttered with projects and tools. Jude's homework desk was neater, arranged with science lab tools and school textbooks. I slid the napkin under my son's microscope. Fish guts; that's all. No, look again. Look closer . I adjusted the magnification and focus. With a needle, I pulled out the insides. They were wires. The tiny electronic guts spilled out. The fish was not a fish at all.

    Inexplicably, a blinding pain flashed through my head. I cried out and sank to my knees. Through the haze of pain, I saw Raffles staring at me solemnly.

    It didn't have to be this way. You're an interfering fool. It seems curiosity has killed the human. A voice spoke in my head, smoothly, almost as if it was my own mind. But it wasn't. I looked at Raffles. It seemed as if he was smiling cruelly. Do you not value the life of your young? The swath of our claws reaches wide. The pain in my head became a white wall, pressing on my consciousness. My God, I'm having an aneurism. Just as I was on the point of blacking out, there was a crash. The pain stopped abruptly. I opened my eyes. The basement window was broken as if something had crashed through it.

    Amazingly, my mother-in-law stood in the basement, Bodger at her side. They moved quickly between me and my cats. Mother looked angry and powerful. She raised her cane menacingly towards Annie and Raffles. "Bad Ketz!" she shouted. They looked shocked. Although Bodger had shards of glass in his fur, he wasn't harmed. He looked at me. I realized with a start that it had been Bodger's voice in my head along with Raffle's when I was slicing open the fish. The two cats had been competing for my attention.

    "You helped me, boy . . .didn't you? You saved my life." I petted him with a trembling hand.

    Well, well. Look who's here. The Vanguard arrives at last. Raffles spoke in a hissing telepathic voice.

    "They are from the Dominion," said Mother in her accented voice. She looked at the ceiling and jabbed her finger up.

    "From . . . space? Outer space? As in aliens?"

    She nodded. "Here is good Ket." She looked at the solemn Bodger. "He helps the people."

    "Annie . . . Raffles," I spoke plaintively. We're your family. I thought you loved me."

    Now Annie spoke. Family? We Dominion are our own family. You humans lost the chance you had with us thousands of years ago.

    And you've been screwing up royally ever since. Raffles regarded me.

    "Silence - you wicked Ket!" Mother said. "Egypt was another place, another time. You can't go to the past."

    The past . . . thousands of our kin exterminated like vermin. Burned. Drowned. Raffles closed his eyes.

    Annie spoke. We came to help you. You were all blind and dead. Now, you must be punished. All of you. The two cats fled out the broken window and into the summer night.

    I turned to Mother and Bodger. "The Vanguard? What is that; Is that you? Are there others?"

    "Yes," said Mother. "There are still Ketz who remember, and work with the humans who are not lost to greed and dead to the other senses.

    Bodger's voice spoke in my head. Those fish were put together by you. They used them to communicate with outer space.

    Chapter 3

    I was stunned. "But I bought those fish myself!"

    Bodger replied, For eight years, those two have been using you. You don't know how many choices were not your own. But we watched, we stopped them from fully carrying out their plan. But now they know we are Vanguard.
    We are in great danger. We have to go - NOW.

    I didn't know who we could go to, but I had to go to someone. "Come on; we're going to the police." I turned towards the microscope to grab some evidence.

    The fish was gone.

    Annie had no doubt swiped it while the tom held me in his malevolent mind grip. No matter, there were others in the tank. They couldn't have gotten to them. I gently took the old lady's arm and guided her toward the stairs, Bodger glued to my side. Halfway up, all the lights in the house went out.

    "Don't worry, Mother, we'll . . .

    She let out a scream and toppled backwards. Furry blurs ran all around us. I lost my grip on her arm, and she fell with a crash. I turned, but there were a hundred cats swarming over her. They dragged Bodger down with them, his face contorted with fear and pain. I fled in terror, Bodger's screams ringing in my ears along with the voices, mocking "Bidger, Bodger, Bidger, Bodger . . .Traitor!"

    Amid the din, Mother's voice cried out. "Thomas, take this!" Her rosary flew through the air. I caught it, and fled up the rest of the basement steps, through the living room, and out the front door into the street. I screamed for help, but when help came, I couldn't stop screaming.

    Now I'm alone in the hospital. They say Mother Tautenis was pushed down the stairs by someone. They suspect it was me. They say, no, she did not have a single cat scratch or bite mark.

    Obviously, I underestimated her. I feel badly about that. I thought she was just a superstitious old lady for whom I was doing a favor by taking care of her. Now I see she - and Bodger - were taking care of all of us.

    They tell me Bodger must have run away, because no trace of him was found in the basement. No one believes me about the mechanical fish. All I have are Mother's rosary, and my theories to work out about why my beloved animal companions would use me and try to kill me. I wonder how many people out there are being manipulated by cats - and what is the main goal of the Dominion.

    I suspect her rosary is not an ordinary rosary either, just as the fish was not a fish at all. But they won't let me have any tools or equipment to examine it.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    "Now, Thomas, it's time for your tranquilizer." Mrs. Donovan, the afternoon shift nurse, held a medicine cup containing two yellow pills and a cup of lukewarm water. I downed them in two gulps, choking and coughing in spite of myself.

    "Take it easy, Hon, your family is coming to see you." I started at the unexpected news. Time is fluid when you are in the hospital. Under the fluorescent lights, hours and days run together. In the visiting area, Elena and the boys sat outside a protective window. I sat down behind the glass.

    "Thomas, how are you doing?" Elena dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. "I want you to come home. It's so lonely without you and . . . Mother. . . Excuse me." She hurried out of the room, brushing aside the guard's inquiries. Feeling helpless, I watched her leave. A muddle of feelings pushed at me.

    "Dad . . . Dad!"

    I broke out of my reverie. "Carl. Jude. How are my big guys? How's school going?"

    "Dad . . . we believe you." Two sets of brown eyes peered at me gravely.

    "Do you have any science projects coming - what? You - you know?"

    Carl spoke. "Dad, we heard Mom talking on the phone with a doctor. You think Raffles and Annie had bad powers and killed Grandma." Jude chimed in, "Yeah, since you've been gone, funny things have been going on. Strange cats have been hanging around the house."

    An icy feeling spread in my gut. Oh, no.

    "You kids have to be very careful." I licked my lips and lowered my voice. "Try to find the Vanguard." I took the rosary out of my pocket and showed it to Carl. "Bodger and Grandma were members. There may be others - "

    Elena came back, sniffling. "I'm sorry." She sat down. She talked for a while about her job, the boys' progress in school, and conveyed the well-wishes of people from church and my job. The guard poked her head inside the doorway and rapped on the wall. "Visiting time's up." Elena rose. "Honey, we'll see you again next week, if the doctor . . . if the doctors . . . we'll see you." Fresh tears sprang to her eyes. She hurried to conceal them as she ran out the door. Carl and Jude looked at me. Across that space, I tried to convey my fears for them. I prayed they understood.

    "Wait!" I said. The guard turned around. "Please give this rosary to my sons. It belonged to their grandmother. I kept it for a while, but I . . . I don't need it anymore." I held it out, and she took it.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    In my room that night, I listened to the quiet breathing of my roommate. Drugged, he couldn't be disturbed.

    Tap . . . tap . . . tap.

    I sat up. The unit was quiet. Light from the hall seeped under the door. Tap, tap. The noise was coming from the room. A strange feeling came over me. It couldn't be. My eyes were drawn to the air vent.

    In the near darkness, two orbs reflected the faint light.

    They're watching me. If you are reading this, this is not a joke. Please help me. Please help my family.

    They're coming for me.

    They're coming for you.