A Kat's (GOD AWFUL!!!) Blessing
Maria gently held onto the hose nozzle, squirting a light stream of water onto the top of Kat’s head. “And you’ve been doing this every morning?”
Kat crouched on all fours, closing her eyes shut as tight as they could. Her fur was completely soaked, dripping into a metal pet bathtub. “Yup. Just about,” she struggled to say as she twitched every time the water touched her. “Managed to do it for two weeks in a row now.”
“Wow. I’m proud of you,” Maria smiled. “This is the most effort I’ve ever seen you put into something.”
“I totally put the most effort into everything I do!” Kat argued. A shiver ran down her spine as she strained to hold back her natural instinct to flee from the water. “If I don’t manage to get over this, I won’t be able to swim in the pool before summer vacation is over!”
Once the tub had filled to the brim and began leaking over the edge, Maria cut off the hose.
Kat grabbed her knees as she slowly lowered herself into the water, submerging her entire body up to her neck. She let out a small whine as the water rose up to her chin.
Maria looked on in concern. “Are you okay?”
“Never better!” Kat forced out with a smile. “Okay… I’m gonna dunk my head underwater, so I want you to time me.”
“Sure thing,” Maria replied.
Kat continued to sit in the tub, unmoving. She had become still for so long that the surface of the water reflected the overcast sky like a smooth mirror.
“Um, so are you going to—”
“Mental preparation!” Kat shouted in annoyance. “You can’t rush these things!”
Maria apologized and went back to watching in silence. She watched in anticipation for when she’d have to start counting.
“...Now!” Kat yelled, taking in a huge gulp of air before submerging her head. The tips of her ears didn’t manage to completely sink under the water before Kat shot back up again, gripping onto the edge as if she had almost just drowned. Her heart raced as she breathed heavily. “Haa… Haa… Well?”
Maria was confused. “Well what?”
“How long was I under for?” Kat asked sincerely.
“You didn’t even last an entire second.”
“Aw man!” she cried, splashing water out of the tub with her hand. “I thought with you here maybe I’d find the courage to stick it out longer.”
“Sorry I couldn’t have been more helpful.”
Kat shook her head. “Nah. It’s fine. At least I managed to dunk my entire head underwater for the first time!” She let out a big smile, exposing her fanged teeth.
Maria decided not to tell Kat that her ears were still poking out.
“Okay! Now with that out of the way,” Kat said, standing out of the water and adjusting her swimsuit. She leaned over to the side of the tub and pulled out a bottle of shampoo. “I need your help with this!” she said, handing the bottle to Maria.
Despite having washed her siblings numerous times over the years, Maria never thought she would have to do the same to her best friend. “Isn’t this something better suited for your mom?”
Kat puffed her cheeks as she furrowed her brow and sunk back down into the bath. “Mom said ‘You’re nearly an adult! You should be able to do it yourself!’”
“Your mom has a point.”
“But I can’t!” Kat argued. “Every time I do, I feel all disgusted as the shampoo oozes off my hands! It’s so gross feeling! I wind up holding it away from me! Next thing I know it’s been ten minutes and I give up and wash it off! Pleeeaase?!” she begged. “I haven’t washed my hair once since becoming a cat! It probably reeks at this point! Here! Smell it!” she said, shoving her wet head close to Maria.
Maria backed away, not wanting to get soaked. “I’m starting to think you asked me to stay the night solely so I could help give you a bath this morning…”
Kat stuck out her tongue with a wink.
“Alright then,” Maria sighed, shaking her head in disapproval of the whole scenario. Alas, she also wanted to help Kat with her struggle. “I’ll do it this one time as payment for what I put you through a while back when you were still trying to hide from everyone.”
“Sounds good to me!” Kat said, slowly easing herself back into the water, turning to face away from her.
Maria lathered her hands with shampoo and began rubbing her fingers through Kat’s hair.
Having her head rubbed eased the tension in Kat’s body. She relaxed and sank lower into the bathtub. Her eyes squinted with joy as Maria got to scrubbing her ears. “This is great,” she said, the uneasiness in her voice replaced with utter satisfaction.
“Seems like you aren’t as bothered by the water now,” Maria commented.
“Mmhmm,” Kat mumbled. “Almost feels like I’m in a day spa.”
Once Maria had finished thoroughly scrubbing Kat’s hair, she leaned over and reached for the hose. “Alright. I’m going to rinse now. Okay?”
Kat smiled while half-listening. “Uh-huh,” she replied.
Suddenly, a strong burst of water fired from the hose, hitting Kat square in the back of her head. The shock caused her to fall backward into the tub; her feet shooting out from the rim with a flail. She scrambled to grab the edge of the tub to pull herself out of the water. Her fur dripped as she stood in her bathtub, her eyes wide from having almost drowned.
“Whoops,” Maria said. “Guess I squeezed too hard.”
Kat took a moment to get over the shock. After taking a deep breath she smiled, finding humor in the situation. The two of them began to laugh. Though Maria wasn’t off the hook completely; Kat shook the water off her body, flinging it everywhere.
“Ack! Quit it!” Maria laughed, quickly reaching for her parasol to shield herself from the onslaught of water.
Finished with her bath, Kat stepped out of the tub and grabbed her towel. “Thanks for helping with my water training this morning,” she said while drying herself off.
“It was fun,” Maria said. “Though next time you ask for help, you’re gonna wash your hair yourself.”
Kat saluted Maria like a soldier to their general. “I shall train hard to prepare for that challenge!”
The two laughed at the ridiculousness of it all.
“I’ll be heading out,” Maria said after checking her phone. “I’ve got to head home and do some morning chores.”
“You don’t want to stay for breakfast? We’ve got both kinds of cereal: fruity and chocolate flavored.”
“I’ll have to pass,” Maria apologized, needing to get home and unable to stomach super sugary breakfast cereal these days.
“Okay. See ya later!” Kat said, waving goodbye to Maria as she entered the shop to leave through the front entrance.
Grabbing her phone and towel, Kat leaped onto the roof of the building, scurrying to the edge and looking down at the shop entrance. When Maria stepped outside, Kat called out to her and waved goodbye once again.
Maria looked up and smiled, and gave a small wave before heading down the street.
Kat walked to the middle of the roof and laid out her towel. She then sat down and hopped onto her phone, using her new passcode, after begging her mom to make the trip to the nearest store to have it reset. With relaxing music streaming on her phone, she sprawled out on her towel to begin sunbathing. This too had become part of her morning ritual after her training. It acted as a way to calm her nerves down after the stress caused by constantly dousing herself with water. By the time her fur would completely dry, her mental psyche would be completely healed, and she’d be ready to start a new day.
However, with the gray overcast blocking out the sun, it didn’t seem like she was going to dry off any time soon.
“Maybe I should grab mom’s hairdryer,” she said to herself while rubbing her damp fur between the pads on her fingers.
Just then, she heard the backdoor to the shop open. Initially, she figured it was her mom coming outside for something, and ignored it, focusing her attention on the cursed humidity that was plaguing the air.
“How’s it going! Heck of a storm last night, huh?”
Kat’s ears picked up. That’s Ludwig’s voice!
“It sure was,” responded another voice.
Kat scurried to the edge of the roof and peeked over, curious as to who Ludwig was talking to. She spotted both Ludwig and a black cat by the back door. Who’s that? she wondered.
“And this humidity! Whew! Think there’s gonna be another storm today?” Ludwig asked, making small talk.
“Hopefully after I finish my donation collection. Last thing I want is to be caught in the middle of a downpour. I’m trying to get done as quickly as possible today in case it shows up too.”
Ludwig coughed. “Y-yeah. I’ve heard about that on the vine. Sounds tough.”
“None of the other strays are allowed to come into town other than us coming to pick up donations, but it seems all that’s done is cause it to expand its territory.”
“You don’t say,” Ludwig said, scratching the back of his neck.
The black cat shook his head with a sigh. “Dangerous times we’re living in.”
“In that case, I’ll stop holding ya up so you can hurry up your route and head back.” Ludwig scooted over a can of wet cat food. “Chicken and gravy this time.”
The black cat bowed. “We appreciate it.”
Suddenly, Kat hopped down from the roof, landing directly next to Ludwig and the black cat, startling them. She crossed her arms, smirking. “So you were sneaking out extra cans of cat food after all!”
The black cat’s eyes widened. “D-Diabolus Calico!” he shouted before scampering off, leaving behind Ludwig’s donation.
“H-hey! You don’t have to run off!” Kat called out, but the cat was long gone. “Man! Every single time! What’s their deal, Ludwig? And what are you doing sneaking out a can of cat food?”
Ludwig had his back up against the door, trying to recover from the heart attack Kat just about gave him with her sudden appearance. “It’s a long story,” he said, fanning himself with a paw. “Let’s… let’s go inside. Whew! Feels like I’m on the verge of getting heatstroke just being out here. Ya know?”
“A Kingdom of Cats?” Kat repeated Ludwig’s words while grabbing a handful of potato chips and stuffing them into her face.
She sat across from Ludwig, who was on the kitchen table with a bowl full of dry cat food.
“That’s right,” he replied, spitting out crumbs as he talked with a full mouth. “All the strays and abandoned cats in the area live there.”
Kat tossed a couple more chips into her mouth. “Wow! I never knew! To think there’s been a cat kingdom in the area all this time!”
“Well yeah, that’s kind of the whole point. They don’t want humans to find out about it.”
“You know how humans can get,” Ludwig said. “They get all mad whenever a stray comes running around, yelling at them to get out of their gardens and what have you. Or they come and kidnap them and haul them away.”
“What, like animal control?”
“Guys who wear jumpsuits carrying large nets? Drives around in a giant truck with cages in the back?”
Kat nodded, biting into another chip.
“Yeah,” Ludwig said. “Those guys. They take strays away from their friends and family, never to be seen again.”
Kat’s eyes widened. “Dang. I mean, I already pretty much knew that’s what animal control does, but still. Dang. Feels different hearing about them from a cat’s point of view.”
Ludwig ate some more of his cat food. “And it’s not just that. You’ve got wild animals to look out for, bad weather like that storm last night, and all kinds of dangerous stuff. The two of us are incredibly fortunate in that we’ve got a place to live with access to food every day. Strays? Not so much. That’s what the Kingdom of Cats is for. A safe haven for strays.”
Kat picked up her bag of chips, dumping the rest of the crumbs into her mouth before crumpling up the bag. “And that cat you were talking to earlier? He’s from there?”
“Yup. He comes by every once in a while to pick up food donations from the other house cats in the neighborhood to bring back to the others.”
“D’aaww!” Kat grinned, rubbing Ludwig’s head. “That’s so nice of you to help out! And here I thought you were stealing them and eating them for yourself.”
Ludwig glared. “Hey, now! I take offense to that! I’m not a cat burglar!” He then walked around his bowl so that his butt was in front of Kat.
“Aw, I didn’t mean it like that. I was just thinking, what with that big ol’ gut of yours, that you were having extra meals behind our backs,” she said while grabbing Ludwig’s plumpy sides.
“Speak for yourself! You can’t say you haven’t gotten a bit chunkier since turning into a cat.”
Shocked by the statement, Kat lifted up her t-shirt and checked her stomach. “That’s just because of the fur!” she yelled, followed by a “Hmph!”
Regardless if it was due solely to her fur or not, she decided to cut back on snacks after daring to look at the nutritional information on the bag of chips she just scarfed down.
She decided to change the subject. “So what’s this about Diabolus Calico?”
Ludwig just about choked when he heard her say that name. “W-w-what do you mean?” he asked.
“It’s what that stray cat yelled before running off.”
Ludwig hesitated to answer. He knew full well that the stray cats had been talking about Diabolus Calico, a giant calico-looking cat-like beast that’s been chasing them around since the start of summer. A monster that attacks strays, trying to devour them. A cat that had sold its soul to those humans that kidnap strays, becoming their devil.
And it so happened the monster and him shared the same roof.
Ludwig waved his paw. “Oh, it’s… You know… It’s…”
He hesitated on explaining to Kat that all the strays absolutely feared her because of how she’d been relentlessly chasing them to ask about the cat god. Things almost got ugly after he called her grotesque looking the day she came home after having transformed. He could only imagine how she’d feel if it turned out all the cats think she’s grotesque. And not just that, but she’s become their boogeyman. There’s a high chance that it’ll result in a massive meltdown.
To avoid this potential outcome, he decided to tell a small fib.
“It’s a cat’s way of kinda saying ‘oh crap!’ You startled the two of us, remember? He was going ‘oh crap’ when he saw you. ‘Diabolus Calico!’ Get it?”
Kat pondered the answer. “Well, I’ve never heard you say it before.”
“It’s slang. Stray cat slang. Adopted from out west.”
“Huh. Cat slang. That’s neat! Say, why don’t we go to the Kingdom of Cats?”
Ludwig completely choked, hacking out bits of dry cat food. His throat felt raw the rest of the day. “W-what?!”
“That cat you were talking to accidentally left that can of cat food when I spooked him. We could go take it to him! Oh! Even better! Let’s bring a whole bag of dry cat food! Enough for all the strays!”
“Why do that? I mean, sure, he left the can, but he probably got more food from somewhere else. Besides! They’re also hunters! Plenty of prey out in these parts!”
“But if I bring them a huge bag of food as a gift, then maybe they’ll stop running away from me and I’ll finally be able to ask them about the cat god! You’re cool if I give them your large bag of dry cat food, right? I can always get you another later.”
Ludwig stuttered his words as he tried to speak. “It’s not, well, I mean. I guess that’s fine, but --”
Kat ran downstairs. “Hey, Mom! Guess what Ludwig told me!” she said before Ludwig couldn’t hear her anymore.
“Hoo boy,” he said, resting his head on his paws. I can’t see this ending well. Oh well. At least I won’t have to be there when the cat litter hits the fan.
A minute later, Kat came running back into the kitchen, holding a long, bright yellow ribbon. “Alright, Ludwig! Let’s go!”