• “Nisemono nante yoba re te ta / Dare ichi nin mimuki mo shi hakatta…” The alarm sang.

    “Sleep,” a tired voice says quietly, pulling the covers over her head. The song fades away, the room turns cold. A reminder, the person realizes as the cold temperature clears her head. “Play,” she murmurs and the song continues. “…Bokura no sutori / Donna houseki yori mo kagaya teru…”

    The person, a girl, walks “outside“. A bleak, blue imitation of the sky greeted her, which was really only a painted glass wall. She shivers as the air breathes on her skin, the temperature low in her habitat because the other cats. The artificial plantation glistened with morning dew. Every now and then some plants were crushed, revealing the tracks of the Iriomote Mountain cats. She was the only person who could get close enough to interact with the four that remained.

    Her short brown hair, highlighted with a spot of blue, covered her face as the wind shifted and she got on her hands and feet. Her “smart” skin and bones shifted silently and quickly, making her shorter and smaller, only the size of a house cat. From a distance, she could be mistaken for a cat, but up close you would notice the lining of her smart clothes, which shrank along with her during her metamorphosis; her fingers, cleverly padded and hidden with fake claws; her bright blue eyes also shrank slightly during her change. She had been told to interact with the cats as much as possible, which was often considering her new, extremely small, feline stature. She took the translator from her pocket and clipped it on her cat ear, moving the fur so it covered the gleaming piece of metal.

    All she needed to do was wait a few seconds before one of the children came bouncing through the “grass.”

    After a quick glance at the child’s completely unique spot of red on her back, she identified it as Ichigo, the youngest of Oka-san’s newest liter.

    “Dokutoku!” the silver translator whispered in her ear, “Oka-san says she needs to see you immediately! But close your eyes.”

    Dokutoku had to smile, a row of fangs visible through her lips. “Ahh, little Ichigo,” the translator said for her, “You know I would never try to anger Oka-san by keeping my eyes open.”

    Ichigo ran off to a bush of flowers and waited patiently. Dokutoku stretched and leaped to the bush of flowers in one jump. She bowed her head, closed her eyes, and let the darkness overcome her. She could hear Ichigo’s guiding growls beside her. She didn’t need the translator to understand what Ichigo was saying. She already memorized the way to Oka-san’s home, but Dokutoku didn’t dare tell any of the cats. They didn‘t want the humans to know where they lived. They would quickly find another home and never come near her again.

    “Oka-san! Dokutoku is here!” the translator whispered, too low for the sensitive ears of the other cats. Only Dokutoku knew of the translator. The Iriomote mountain cats believed she had actually “learned their language, even when the other stupid humans could not, no matter how simple it was to understand,” but that was clearly not the case. It turned out that the cats spoke backwards Japanese. They would pronounce the words backwards and the translator would reverse it into correct Japanese then translate to English in half a second. Only someone who had spoken that way their whole life could speak the iriomote cats’ language.

    Oka-san smiled at Dokutoku when she opened her eyes. “Dokutoku, Hikari is ill.” she said. “Could you take her to your home and care for her? I know you work miracles.” Dokutoku assumed Oka-san spoke of the time when the doctors had cured Hikari when she had broken her paw. As far as the cats knew, medicine didn’t exist, except for letting nature run its course and hoping for the best. They knew nothing of the smart matter inserted into Hikari to help pull the bone back together then hold it so it could heal faster. All they knew was that rather then spending months without using her paw, Hikari had been healed within days when she was with Dokutoku.

    Dokutoku nodded, knowing that if she refused, the young kitten would die. Dokutoku picked up Hikari with her mouth by the scruff of her neck and bowed to Oka-san before closing her eyes and letting Ichigo lead her out.

    “Arigatou, Ichigo,” Dokutoku murmured between the fur of Hikari. She didn’t need the translator for Ichigo to understand that word. Dokutoku walked to the sliders and set Hikari down as her skin and bones reconstructed themselves to make her human skeleton. When her body was done, she pulled Hikari into her arms to keep her warm, quietly singing a lullaby. “Nagareru kitsetsu no mannaka de / Futo hi no nagasa wo kanjimasu…” The kitten yawned and closed its little eyes.

    An elderly man in a white coat was waiting for her at the door.

    “My dear Dokutoku, what’s wrong with Hikari?” asked her “father.”

    Dokutoku only shrugged and sat on the cold, metallic floor of her habitat.

    “Well, I guess we’ll just have to… examine her.” He seemed to be uncomfortable, making Dokutoku wonder why. “By the way, Peculiar,” the man said, using the English translation of her name, ”it’s almost noon.”

    Dokutoku nodded silently and went to another door. Upon opening it, a long, dark hallway greeted her. She could hear a voice at the end of the tunnel, only a whisper to her human ears over the restlessness of the crowd, screaming in her cat ears.

    “Welcome all, my fellow Americans! In a few moments, you will all get to see a rare creature! Part human, part iriomote mountain cat! Born-”

    Dokutoku tuned off the voice. Yes, one of a kind she was. Although iriomote mountain cats are native to Japan, only one is left there, Yaju, the only living, full-grown male. Oka-san and her two children were brought from Japan to be studied. Now they very slowly adapting to America and will possibly thrive in the borders they all call “home.” The foot-thick pane of glass blocked them from the outside world, from the disgusted glares of the adults, to the surprised, curious stares of the children. The facility was running low on government funds, so they used Dokutoku to make money, displaying her as a “freak” everyday at noon. Her inhumanness always drew large crowds, therefore making the facility more money to help continue their experiments.

    She held back tears, remembering the cruel experiments done to have her become this way. Ten years she suffered by the hands of her biological parents, meth-abusers with lots of love to give, but their love was distorted from the drugs; eight more by the substances constantly being added by her “parents,” the scientists who took her from her real parents, killing them in the process after her real parents refused to give her up; and three years of constantly being ill after transforming back to her human self. She had lived 21 cruel years filled with nothing but pain and loneliness, that is until her “parents“ had finally succeeded in making her skin and bones smart enough so she could transform into an iriomote mountain cat.

    A loud, sharp buzz came from the door, interrupting her thoughts, and instinctively she ran from it, into the dark hallway. A strange feeling made her stop. It grew quiet, too quiet. The announcer’s voice no longer filled the hallway, nor did the jeers of the crowd. The light at the end of the hall faded to black and her knees gave out from under her.

    A bright light filled her vision, but she couldn’t open her eyes. What was going on?

    “…removing her smart skin and bones is not going to help,” she heard a soft female voice say.

    A man responded, “Every little trace of those cats must be erased, as well as her memories.”

    Another male voice, softer than the other, said, “Those spots release toxins caused by an industry in the Iriomote Mountains. Iriomote cat fur captures those toxins, thus changing their fur color. It only affects humans, which is why she is constantly ill after her transformations. Once she is human, the toxins released from that blue spot in her hair affects her human immune system, which cannot fight it. Remember in the past when bacteria grew smarter and smarter than antibiotics? That is what is happening here.“

    The woman responded to the first man, “You know as well as I do that the spot will keep growing and spreading. And it is dangerous for our health as their caretakers. Look how weak you’ve already come just from being with her for so long, and for caring for that weak little kitten, Hikari.” Somewhere else, Dokutoku could hear the high growls of Hikari.

    “But isn’t that why we brought the cats to America? To have them flourish in this facility and increase their population? We are supposed to protect this species!” the man cried.

    “But now we have to think about the good of mankind! Their fur absorbs the polluted air, but when in contact with clean air, those toxins are released!”

    The second man calmly replied, “Jacob, your attachment to her is fogging your opinion on this decision. She considers you her ‘father’ because her true father is gone, but that doesn’t mean you have to care about her that way as well. At first you just went along with it, but now I think you truly love her as your own flesh and blood. We must end her life. It’s the only way to keep those toxins from spreading.”

    End her life… They were going to kill her…

    “No!” she shouted, her eyes flying open in surprise. The room, it was fuzzy… What was wrong with her? She sat up, but her limbs felt much too long.

    “She’s conscious!“ one of the male voices said, and two pairs of hands restrained her.

    Somewhere, the growls and whimpers of Hikari could be heard, then disappear completely.

    “No!” Peculiar shouted again. Why couldn‘t she remember the kitten‘s name? Or even her own? “What have you done to me?”

    The woman smiled cruelly at her. “Do you remember your name?”

    “My name? I know I had another name, when translated meant ‘Peculiar.’ But that’s it…”

    “We must test her memory further. If she has forgotten enough, we can still save her,” the soft-speaking man stated. “Can you identify this song?”

    A song started to play, “Nisemono nante yoba re te ta…” Then it faded.

    “No… I mean, it sounds familiar but I can’t name it at all.”

    The man chuckled, “Do you recognize us, Annie?”

    Annie… this was her name, wasn‘t it? “Annie. That’s my name. And my sister, Annabel, my parents, Katherine and Joseph. They‘re all dead.”

    The woman sighed. “It seems we were not successful. She still remembers events leading to her experimentation… ”

    “Just one more test. Please, Carol, I’m begging you,” Jacob pleaded.

    The name seemed familiar to Peculiar, but she couldn’t be sure where she’d heard it before, or why it was important to her.

    “Annie,” the man said, looking at Jacob before turning his gaze onto her, “what ingredients are used to make smart skin and smart bones?”

    Annie’s answer was automatic, “5 secret ingredients whose names cannot be repeated by me for legal reasons, human bone marrow, iriomote mountain cat skin cells, and smart matter.” Annie’s smile was smug, thinking she had passed a test that would let her live.

    “Annie, please!” Jacob whimpered, his eyes full of tears.

    The woman laughed. “You see, old man? You’ve grown too attached to her over the years. Better to get it over with before those toxins keep spreading into this room and make us all ill!”

    Jacob stuck a needle in her arm and she tried pulling it out, but the room was disappearing, little by little. The last words she heard were, “I’m sorry, Dokutoku, my daughter.”