August 17

Apocalypse Dreams #2 (Black Cat Appreciation Day)

[a series in which we imagine what bizarre dreams might haunt the troubled nights of post-apocalyptic survivors…]

 

Whitney didn’t want to take her cat to the animal shelter, but it was her only option.  She got offered a job out of town, and the housing she could arrange on short notice didn’t allow pets.

None of her friends would take Midnight.  She’d even posted FREE CAT notices on the university bulletin board, with little tear off tags listing her phone number.  No takers.

Time was running out.  Reluctantly, she took her companion of four years to the shelter, hoping they’d be able to find Midnight a good home.

And Whitney dreams about that moment now, the animal inside a cardboard carrier with breathing holes punched in the sides.  In her dreams, the reception desk at the shelter waits at the end of a long interior corridor.  She walks forward, her shoes clicking on tile, the carrier hanging heavy off one unbalanced arm, and Midnight keeps making that half-mewl, almost a gargle — the sound he made whenever he was hungry or afraid.

The desk seems to recede as she walks down the telescoping hallway, as if she’ll never get there.  Then, in a dream-shift instant, she’s arrived, and she opens the box slowly to show her cat to the volunteer receptionist.  Whitney hopes for reassurance:  the worker will exclaim how pretty Midnight is, will remark that he’ll attract a new owner quickly, without fail.  No need to mention any alternatives.

Instead, as happened in real life, the receptionist says:  “I’m sorry.  We can’t take any black cats at this time.  There has been news of odd rituals in the area, involving black cats, and we can’t get involved in those kinds of transactions.”

Stunned, she holds Midnight close to her chest as if protecting him from whatever dark rituals the shelter’s representative described.  Midnight squirms, wants to climb up on her shoulders, but Whitney doesn’t let him.  She puts him back in the container, folds the flaps together to form the handle, and walks away.

What could she do?  As in real life, her dream self feels like she’s run out of options.

Whitney probably tosses and turns nervously in her sleep now, trying not to think of what she did many years ago.

The dream corridor stretches even longer as she walks towards the exit.  A door, one she hadn’t noticed on the way in, appears to one side, slightly open.

Midnight’s cries suddenly grow silent.  He feels like a dead weight inside the cardboard carrier.

She moves closer to the door, pushes it open and steps inside.

It’s a smaller version of the usual display room at an animal shelter.  Cages are stacked upon cages, rows upon rows arranged like bookshelves in a library, aisles in a grocery store.

Each cage holds a small litter box, a metal bowl for food and another for water.  All the animals turn their heads as Whitney passes, their green eyes flashing.

All cats.  All black.  She checks other rows to make sure, and finds similar green eyes glaring from dark feline faces, their fur as black as Midnight’s.

Her cat mewls again, this time a full-throated cry.  The carrier wriggles in her arm as Midnight moves around, agitated, scratching at the cardboard.

The other animals answer back in unison, their feline voices blending to approximate the drone of a ritual chant.  In her recurring dream, Whitney thinks this is a terrible omen — this caged collection of bad-luck animals predicting a dark future for all.

And she dreads waking once again into the world where that prediction has come true, where her home is little better than a cardboard box — the world where she continually offers her own half-cry, almost a gargle, which is the sound she makes because she’s hungry and afraid.