The winner of the Matthew Cross Flash Fiction Collaboration Contest is
January Contest: I’ll be announcing the January contest soon. (Probably next Monday.)
I started the story below. See how Dario seamlessly picks up the thread after the red line and gives us a sweet, satisfying ending just perfect for a cat story! (You really want me to say it? OK, a purr-fect ending!)
A Present for Smittens
by Dario Ors and Matthew Cross
Smittens heard the front door open and she leapt down the stairs. A stranger stood in the doorway and Smittens’s person let the stranger enter.
Smittens saw her chance and dove between the stranger’s legs towards the morning light and freedom. Smittens’s person was not as fast as Smittens, not usually, but somehow Smittens found herself scooped up in her person’s arms.
“Mwooorrroowwrrr!” Smittens said, demanding to be put down.
The stranger and Smittens’s person coughed in that odd way that only persons cough. “Hahahahaha,” they coughed.
Smittens squirmed and squirmed, making louder noises of complaint and finally freed herself to drop to the floor. The persons were walking down the hallway towards the kitchen. That’s where Smittens’s person kept all the food. Feeling hopeful, Smittens raced down the hall and arrived first in the kitchen. Her claws clicked on the hard floor.
“I see what you mean,” said the stranger, “she has a lot of personality!”
“Oh, yes,” Smittens’s person cooed. She coughed some more. A happy, throaty cough that usually meant Smittens could continue to do whatever she wanted to do. “She’s a torty–a tortoiseshell cat–and they have a lot of personality. They’re very smart and very determined. They do whatever they want, and if they don’t like what’s happening, they’ll tell you.”
“She’s a torty–a tortoiseshell cat–and they have a lot of personality.”
The stranger coughed. “Ha ha ha! Well, at least you know where you stand.”
The stranger set a large box down on the floor. Smittens gave it only a quick glance. It looked like the box her person sometimes put her in when Smittens got carried out of the house. But it did not smell like the box.
Her person was ignoring her, so Smittens wove her way between her person’s legs and began saying that she would like some food. “Meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, meow!” Smittens insisted in a high-pitched voice.
“You see what I mean? She’s asking for second breakfast. No, Smittens, no more food. I already fed you this morning!”
The stranger coughed. “Trying to get fed again? Every cat knows that trick.”
Both persons coughed.
Smittens’s person reached for Smittens to pick her up again, but Smittens dodged her easily. Smittens decided to ask the stranger for food. She rubbed up against the dark covering of the stranger’s leg. She told him she was hungry and told him to bring some food. The stranger kneeled down and Smittens ran away a few steps. She looked at her person, who stood with hands on hips. Her person did not seem alarmed, so Smittens waited. The stranger held out his hand and became very still.
He made a tiny clicking noise that intrigued her.
She approached his hand carefully and gave it a courteous sniff. “Hi, there, Smittens,” he said softly. But he did not move. She gave the hand an approving bump of her head and he coughed.
This box smelled like hard metals and sticky oils. She rubbed her face on the corners, marking it with her scent anyway.
“You have a way with cats,” said Smittens’s person.
“Well, we have a couple. They’re my wife’s really, but I help feed them. And I’ve gotten exposure to lots of cats since joining Virtual Ventures. I’m an engineer and we designed the VAC–Virtual Adventure for Cats–especially for cats. They’re working on a model for dogs, as well, but that’s still a year away from production at least.”
Smittens kept talking to the persons, raising her voice louder and louder. But no one gave her any food. She wove around their legs over and over, but they just stood there and made person-sounding meows at each other. Smittens got bored and went to see the box. She checked carefully over her shoulder to make sure neither person was going to scoop her up.
She sniffed at the box. It did not smell like the box her person called a “crate.” Whenever Smittens heard that word, she ran and hid under the bed. She knew the “crate” meant being stuffed, clawing and hissing, into the box and leaving the house.
The “crate” smelled like Smittens. It smelled like her nap places and there was a soft, frayed towel inside filled with old but strong smells of herself. This box smelled like hard metals and sticky oils. She rubbed her face on the corners, marking it with her scent anyway.
“And it’s perfectly safe?”
“…no, no electrodes are needed. Nothing like that. The VAC contains tens of thousands of sensors to read the cat’s temperature, respiration, pulse, everything. Believe me, the VAC knows every second more data than your vet would ever collect in an entire visit. We want to make sure Smittens is safe, comfortable, and engaged at all times.”
“And it’s perfectly safe?”
“Oh, of course! We’ve built in tons of failsafes. Everyone who worked on the VAC is a cat owner. We all want what’s best for Smittens. Believe me, we wouldn’t let anything bad happen to her. That’s the point of the VAC, to keep her safe and entertained while you’re gone.”
“See how she’s curious about the VAC? Now’s the best time to introduce her. Do you mind?” the stranger asked.
“Do you want me to pick her up?” Smittens’s person said.
“Not to worry. I’ve gotten pretty good at this,” said the stranger.
The stranger knelt down and it turned out he had food after all. He dropped a couple of bits of dry but soft and savory bites on the floor and Smittens quickly crunched them up and swallowed them. He had two more bites in his hand. Smittens looked cautiously at the stranger and then up at her person.
The next thing Smittens knew, she was swooped up and plopped inside the box. An opening in the front had appeared and the stranger had smoothly slid Smittens through it. She cried out and spun but the opening was gone with a whirr and a click.
Yowling, Smittens turned around in the small space, looking for any opening. Everything went completely dark and she froze. She was frightened and called out to her person. “Meoooowl!”
There was another hum and she saw tiny blue lights flashing on the edges of her vision. The floor began to vibrate and she tried to lift her paws. They felt tingly and suddenly she couldn’t feel the floor!
She leaned drunkenly but did not fall over. She was beginning to really panic when a light appeared directly ahead. It grew from a pinpoint of light. Smittens squinted her eyes.
Yellow sunlight poured through the hole, and a tiny yellow butterfly flitted across the opening. It was a hole to the outside!
Smittens leapt at the opening. Her takeoff was awkward and when she landed at the far side of the box, the floor felt squishy.
The hole grew larger and Smittens squeezed through. She found herself blinking in bright sunlight. She was surrounded by green grass. Several butterflies flitted lazily above the grass tops. One floated within reach.
Smittens pounced. She landed softly but awkwardly in the grass. The grass rustled when she landed, but it did not brush her fur the way it should. Then the yellow butterfly flitted past the edge of her vision again and she turned and pounced. She missed it again, but this time her landing was almost normal.
Smittens chased butterflies for a long time. She finally caught one, but when she tried to close her teeth on it, it felt like empty air. Just then, two more butterflies floated in front of her and she leapt at them.
Just as she was growing bored with butterflies, a fat, green grasshopper leapt up from the grass with a “thwap.” She watched it land. She lowered her head, so she could just peer over the grass. Her tail twitched. She shook her rear end, once, twice, and then leapt at the grasshopper clinging to a blade of grass.
She chased the grasshopper to the edge of a tree line. She was tired. She lay down in the grass and watched the grasshopper, sitting still on a blade of grass. The sun was warm on her fur and Smittens fell asleep.
When she woke, the grasshopper was gone. Smittens stretched and began to clean herself. The sun had moved, but it still shone warmly down on the meadow. Yellow butterflies flitted by but Smittens only pawed at one if it came within reach.
She thought about eating. Breakfast seemed a long time ago. Smittens did not think butterflies or a grasshopper would fill her belly.
She heard a soft scratching sound and froze. Only her ears twitched, turning towards the scritch-scratching sound. She slowly rotated her head until she found the mouse. It was moving along the edge of the treeline under the shade of a row of bushes or brambles.
The mouse moved with determination, following the line along the edge of the grass. The undergrowth under the trees seemed too tight even for the mouse to enter.
Smittens paced the mouse for several feet, ignoring the yellow butterflies that floated by and even the two grasshoppers that suddenly sprang from almost underneath her feet. The mouse turned, disappearing into a dark hole in the brush. Smittens reached the hole just after. It was just wide enough for her to fit. She sucked in her sides and squeezed through, determined not to lose the mouse.
Gnarled roots covered the forest floor along with a smattering of dried leaves. The mouse came in and out of view as it climbed over the hump of a root and then plunged down the other side. Its tiny claws made little scritch-scratch sounds as it ran and slight rustlings as it ran over old, dried leaves.
Smittens followed deep into the forest. She ran almost silently on the pads of her feet, eyes glued to the mouse’s progress. She chased it until it disappeared into a hole dug beneath the large knee of a tree root. Smittens stuck her paw in the hole and batted it around, fishing with her claws. But she could feel nothing but air.
Smittens settled down over her paws a few feet from the hole. She waited a long time. If the mouse came back out, it would be worth the wait. Eventually, she decided to take a bath while she waited. She grew bored and her tail twitched. Just then, she heard the tell-tale scritch-scratch of mouse claws behind her. She turned and another mouse was climbing over the tree roots, busily making its way across the forest floor. In a flash, Smittens followed with cat-quiet tread.
In this way, Smittens followed three mice, catching none of them. After the third mouse went to ground, Smittens was tired and hungry. She looked about the forest, paying attention to her surroundings for the first time. It was dark and gloomy. No sunlight made its way through the treetops. Had night fallen? She relied on her night-vision to see through the dim murk.
There was no undergrowth here, only thick, gnarled roots, bare dirt, and piles of dead leaves here and there. The trees were tall, dark and thick and marched to the horizon. Smittens suddenly realized she was alone and far from home. She did not even know which way home was. She was lost!
She wandered aimlessly. Occasionally, she saw blue glints of light on the edges of her vision. She could not tell if they were glowing bugs or glints of an unseen moon or just her imagination.
A dark shape glided silently overhead. Smittens was afraid.
Instinctively, she flattened herself hard against the forest floor, and stood still, trusting her “tortilla” coat to blend her in with the surroundings and prevent her from being seen by the unknown shade. She registered that the ground underneath her belly didn’t feel as cold and humid, as ground-y as she expected, but her attention was focused above.
The shape flew past, as silent as the Moon.
The shape flew past, as silent as the Moon. It was hard to see it, but she could just make out its silhouette, a darker shade of black against the canopy.
It was a bird! She had seen many before and chased a few in her previous forays outside the house, but none like this one. She then saw it slowly circle around, and as it came about in her exact direction, Smittens’s little heart froze for the tiniest instant.
Two giant, orange rings–glowing eyes, she realized–swept towards her. They were closing in . . . Smittens held her breath and stood completely still, her eyes closed to slits lest they gave her position away, her ears pressed against her head. The eyes grew very close now. Smittens felt seen. A shiver ran from the back of her head all the way down her spine. Her shoulders shrank in uncontrollably. Time froze.
The bird flew past. Smittens’s body relaxed, melted even, but she dared not let it show, and stood there a while longer. She waited and waited, but the bird seemed gone. She turned her ears this way and that, listening for clues, then dared to open her eyes fully. Slowly, very slowly, she turned her head, peering into each and every shadow, checking for darker or moving bits. All seemed clear.
Cautiously, one paw at a time, she prowled forward. Her belly was oddly dry and not cold but, above all, empty. Food was in order.
Smittens picked up the pace and explored some more, trying to find something she wasn’t sure about, but–something–possibly food. Hopefully food. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much of interest around anymore: no butterflies, no grasshoppers, no mice, and, sadly, no savory bites. In fact, there were just trees and shadows, and those occasional blue lights at the edge of her vision.
Bored, Smittens tried to take a better look at one, but they kept escaping her gaze. When she tried to look at one, it would either move or vanish and reappear, but would never be clearly visible or pounce-able. She tried a few times. This was most annoying, she was bored and hungry, and when neither need could be satisfied, there was only one remedy she knew of: a good, old nap.
The ground was actually quite comfortable, and she didn’t need any help dozing off. And Smittens’s person was always there–always!–after a nap. Yes, a nap would do. And nap she did.
And she woke to the familiar smell of her person’s hand swooping her up and smothering her in cuddles. Naps worked, every time.
Best of all, after naps came food!
I hope you enjoyed this piece of flash fiction that Dario and I wrote together. He’s a great collaboration partner!
If you enjoyed Dario’s prize-winning ending, please make sure and share some kind comments below.