C Was for Cat
by Jack Campbell, Jr.
C was for Cat, and the cats would not stop dancing. They kicked and pirouetted. They paired off and salsa danced in a never-ending mosaic of fur and flair.
A has been for Apple ever since Adam and Eve feasted on the forbidden and brought death to the world. B was for Boy. One all-American boy, captured behind enemy lines and left to die by his Vietnamese captors. B was also for Bamboo, the strange wood that constructed his dirt-floored cage. But C was for Cat, and still they danced.
Starving solitude destroys mental anchors, removing all governors of reality. Memory and fantasy ebb and flow unchecked, a Vonnegut Slaughterhouse mince of time. Bobby, now known as Sergeant Robert Parker, could not shake the memory of his first-grade classroom. Ground zero. Day one.
All paths lay open to a first grader. Astronaut, President of the United States, and professional football player all seemed as obtainable as teacher or construction worker. Sgt. Parker laid on the hot, dry, dirt floor jealous of Bobby’s optimism, and saddened by his inevitable doom.
D was for Dog, and Bingo had been his name-o. Bobby’s parents gave him Bingo for Christmas that year, a silky black dog with a pure white belly. Bobby and Bingo grew up together, chasing each other down dusty dirt roads and through the deep prairie grass of the field behind Bobby’s house. D was also for Draft. The draft turned Bobby into Robert Parker. Bobby was certain that it killed Bingo. He received the letter from his parents in boot camp. An old dog by that time, Bingo sat at the corner of the driveway next to the mailbox, his cataract-clouded eyes shrouded by greying fur, waiting for Bobby to return home from the war. That is where they found Bingo, asleep forever. Without the dog to chase them away, the cats kept dancing.
E was for Eat. It had been for something else. Elephant, maybe. Bobby wasn’t sure. Here, starving in his bamboo-barred classroom, Sgt. Robert Parker salivated, wishing there was a bell to send him to the cafeteria. Salisbury steak and potatoes made from white detergent flakes. Peaches in heavy syrup and a carton of cold milk. F was for Fire…napalm flames burning the jungle, consuming flesh and forest, a flow of molten lava death smothering a choir of screams.
G was for Grunt. Bobby’s fantasies of superheroes and Martians could never have contained the things that Sgt. Robert Parker would see as a grunt, here in what could only be described as Hell. H was for Hump, a grunt’s existence. They humped their sack of government-issued possessions along miles of barely visible jungle trails. I was for Infinity, the endless march towards a day marked on a calendar and a helicopter ride home.
J was for Julie, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed beauty. She sat in front of Bobby in first grade. Her corn silk blonde hair smelled like strawberries. Bobby fell in love at first sniff. K was for Kiss, their first on the playground in third grade, awkward and wonderful, and their last, on the porch right before Bobby left for basic training, scented by the flowers in her hair. The cats danced, arms swaying, fingers raised in salutes of peace. The tabby burned his guitar like Hendrix.
L was for Life, and life was perhaps the most important word in the history of words. Life was about what is worth living for—a chance to return to Julie and her flower-scented hair. Life was about hopes, dreams, aspirations, goals, fears, defeats, pains, injuries, failures, and sacrifices. Are you experienced?
M was for Missing. Sgt. Robert Parker had been missing-in-action for five years now, living on rice soup and a lifetime of memories, praying for a miracle that would never come.
N was for Neighbors. His neighbors rotted in nearby cages, their frail, dead bodies having long given in to starvation or suicide. O was for Options. He had none. P was for pride. His had fled. Q was for Qualms. These days, they were as prevalent as his options and pride. Bobby’s only possessions were hope and desperation. Each day, his supply of each seemed to drain through the bars of his bamboo cage.
R was for Rats and Rain, the two things keeping him alive. The rats came for his neighbors’ rotting carcasses. Bobby thought that maybe the rats that had drawn the cats. S was for Smell. Rat meat smells like rotting death. T was for Taste. It tasted like bloody landfill rubber. Still, the cats danced, mouths dripping saliva, teeth like gleaming needles as rodent tails twitched in time from the corners of their mouths.
U was for Urine, for when there wasn’t rain.
V was for Vietnam, his generation’s legacy, for better or worse. This country would be Bobby’s prison, his graveyard. Hell was made out of jungles, rain, and bamboo cages. W was for War. Not Vietnam, but Bobby’s personal war between survival and death. There were no rules of engagement. No protests. It was an unpopular war. No one cared but him.
X was for xylophone. The cat in sunglasses hammered its wooden bars with rubber-headed mallets. The other cats jitterbugged near the beginning of the alphabet. It had begun with the apple and the boy, but the banner above the chalkboard hadn’t really gotten fun until the dancing cats. Bobby spent first grade smelling strawberries and imagining the cats spinning and jumping in time to an imperceptible tune.
Sure, the apple came first, bringing with it sin and consequences. The boy came next, the whole alphabet trailing after him, a full array of choices and paths. But the cats had been the inspiration, an illustration of happiness. The future could be bright. Life could be fun.
Y was for Youth. Bobby had been young and full of hope. He could never have imagined clinging to life, eating rat meat and drinking urine in a bamboo cage on the other side of the world. The dancing cats didn’t allow for such nightmares. But the end neared. Sgt. Robert Parker was dying. He must be, because he was lying in a cage in Vietnam, and the cats would not stop dancing.
Bobby could finally hear the song of the cars, the rhythmic xylophone punching out a tropical tune. Movement was impossible for Sgt. Parker. Starvation paralyzed him, but the cats’ dance could not be stopped. They waltzed. They lindy hopped. They did the twist. Sgt. Robert Parker, a sunbaked mummy of skin and bone, lay on the dry dirt floor of his cage. He watched the cats dance until his eyes closed.
Z should have been the end. It should have been so many times. Instead, the sun rose and brought back A.
Issue #4 Contents
Bed and Breakfast
The Silver Apples of the Moon
C Was for Cat
Jack Campbell, Jr.
Skin, Before and After Packaging
The Turning of the Worm
Brian Douglas Moakley
When he’s not stepping on his son’s Lego creations, Jack Campbell Jr. writes horror and dark literary fiction in Lawrence, KS. His writing has appeared in a variety of venues both online and in print. He possesses both a real Master’s degree from Fort Hays State University and a fake Bachelor’s degree from Miskatonic University. Jack is an unapologetic bibliophile and researches the history of Gothic writing. He is a member of the Horror Writer’s Association and a lifetime member of the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society.