CULPO DE CATTUS
This story was
written for the 2008 Tracy Island Writers Forum's 'Three
Object Challenge.' And you thought a cat was just a cat...
working for an organization like International Rescue might
lead one to believe that there's nothing else in this world
that could top that experience. All of us on the Island, well
except maybe for Kyrano, have this smug supposition that
there's nothing else out there that can quite give us the same
sense of satisfaction as getting through a harrowing rescue
with successful results. Well, let me tell you...we're right!
But, the world can work in some pretty strange ways
started after that relic of a steam ship went under. John had
reported it as straying a bit too far from normal shipping
lanes, meaning it was going to pass a bit too close to some
underwater geothermal activity that was expected to erupt. The
path it was traveling was erratic to say the least. As we
listened to John's commentary, we began to prepare ourselves
mentally for what we knew was coming next...
the man, get going, boys!"
become a little too predictable over the years...and so had
we. Before he could utter another syllable, Scott had grabbed
the lamps, Gordon was heading for the passenger elevator and
Four, and I was already horizontal and on my way down the
slide to Thunderbird Two. But predictability can be a great
little time saver, especially when you're in a business like
ours where a few seconds could mean the difference between
life and death for someone. Alan had gone to the mainland for
some much needed R&R after a particularly nasty rescue in
Siberia. So, we were starting out one man down on this one.
late in the afternoon and we'd hoped to get the danger zone
secured before the sun went much lower. To our surprise, we
arrived to find the ship, which had identified itself as the
Culpo de Cattushad completely disappearedI mean, not
even a sliver of wood remained, which was very strange.
Nothing appeared on the Doppler either. I could hear Scott on
the horn to John...
One to Five. John, are you still tracking that ship?"
right before you called, the image faded out. I mean, it
literally disappeared from the scanners. There seemed to be
some interference and it waveredfor a bit, then nothing!"
ordered Gordon to dive down and investigate in Four, but he
came up empty. As we just hovered there scratching our heads
(even Scott was at a loss for words), something appeared on
the horizon. We became hopeful and moved in for a closer look.
Whatever it was, it didn't appear to be a passenger but was
indeed floating. As we got closer, we determined it wasn't
human either. In fact, it looked like someone's pet, perhaps
one of the ship's crew. As I lost more altitude I could tell
it was, yes, a cat and a tiny one at that. At this point, we
were glad to have recovered something and I let out a
whoop of thanks. The day wouldn't be a total loss after all.
pulled up alongside the little fur ball, which was balancing
itself precariously on what appeared to be a huge bottle.
Gordon opened the top hatch and proceeded to scoop up the
hairy little bugger, along with the bottle. We could hear it
mewing over Four's communications array. A commotion ensued
and my brother seemed to have his hands full for a moment.
Next came Scott's voice, booming over the air and filled with
all right there, Gordo? What the hell's going on?"
nothing Scott, I mean...OUCH, dammit!"
worry, Scott. Everything's erm, under control...now."
sound too sure there, bro," I observed. I knew we should have
had Brains come with us on this one. Call it a gut feeling.
to worry about. Can we just get back to base?"
replied. "There doesn't seem to be any reason to hang
around here. None of this makes any sense."
brother had begun his usual habit of sweating the obvious.
figure it out, Scott. Don't worry; I'm sure Brains will come
up with an answer. But for right now, I think we've done all
we can here. We've swept the area both above and below the
surface repeatedly and nothing. What if someone else calls in
that we can actually help?"
a slight pause and then, "You're right, Virg."
hear the grin forming in his voice.
last one back to base has to help Grandma with the dishes."
base, we were shocked to see Gordon return to the lounge
holding his charge and covered in bloodied scratches.
hell happened to you!?" Father exclaimed as Scott and I stood
there with our maws gaping.
tried to appear matter of fact, but I noticed a definite
pallor to his complexion.
nothing, really. It's um...it's fine."
well, you're not lookin' so fine there, bro."
jovial sibling turned, as if to reply to my observation. As he
opened his mouth, Kyrano came into the lounge to see if Dad
had any special requests of him after the anticlimactic
rescue. Gordon seemed relieved at the interruption and handed
the little fluff ball, and the bottle, off to him.
hit the showers."
he turned on his heel and hastily left the room.
you make of that?" John asked from the view screen on the
know," Scott said. "But I aim to find out."
He went to
follow Number Four Brother down the hallway but Father had
clean up and we'll get it out of him later. In the meantime, I
want your report."
responsible for every member of this team being at the ready
should we get another call. And I'm not gonna let..."
intervened. Gordon is a grown man and a very responsible
adult...most of the time. I'm sure if there was anything that
would interfere with the job..."
right, Scott. Let it go for now."
saw the scratches!"
brother reluctantly conceded and took the container from
Kyrano. On closer inspection, it looked to have been fashioned
from hand blown glass.
Scott said. "There's something in here..."
and frustrating day gave way to an even longer night for
Brains and John as they kept a relentless vigil by the
satellite imagers trying to detect even the smallest trace of
the ill fated ship. By the time they had finished the last
series of infra-red resolutions, they had covered nearly the
entire South Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, the new dawn had
brought with it no new information, except for what was found
inside the bottle. And that was pretty sketchy. It was
a piece of what looked like papyrus with some kind of message
written on it, a message that none of us could interpret.
After further analysis, Brains determined it was written in
some ancient and obscure language that even the linguistics
computer was having trouble deciphering.
sleep knowing that Scott and Dad were probably pacing trenches
into the lounge carpeting. It was as if that rescue call had
been some elaborate hoax. But it had seemed so genuine.
Meanwhile, our Malaysian friend would soon come face to face
with his own conundrum.
ensuing days after the Culpo de Cattus had disappeared,
Gordon had been mostly keeping to himself. It was a definite
character departure for him. After his unwillingness to
confess to any details, I think we all just assumed that he
was embarrassed because the kitten had scratched him up so
badly. Kyrano, on the other hand, had always been a private
man, his life shrouded by a certain air of mystery. We'd
always respected his privacy and whenever he'd retreat to his
room to meditate, not even Tin Tin would ever think disturb
him unless it was an emergency. Imagine our shock and
confusion then when this mild mannered person with a love for
all of God's creatures came slowly backing out of the kitchen
cursing in Malay and wielding the biggest skillet pan
available in order to defend himself against the likes of,
of...a tiny little fur ball came padding around the corner,
purring as it went.
all dumbfounded into silence, but Grandma managed to break the
what's gotten into you? Don't tell me you're trying to hurt
that poor little thing!"
Tracy, I would like to request that someone else take
responsibility for this creature. I do not wish to be even in
its furthest proximity."
that's not like you at all, my friend. If a body didn't know
better, they'd think you were afraid of that little cat."
do not wish to be near it. That is all I will say."
fine! Give it to me then."
stooped to pick up the tiny kitten and with an air of disgust,
turned and headed for the garden outside, cooing to it and
muttering something about how it needed a name. Later that
day, she stopped me in the hallway.
dear, can I show you something?"
this from around that little kitten's neck."
opened her hand, it contained a tiny collar and from it hung a
charm which, on closer inspection, turned out to be a
miniature wooden boomerang embossed with some unrecognizable
symbols and a picture of a gecko. It looked hand crafted and
very old. At each of the three points on the boomerang was a
tiny palette with a unique combination of colors. One had gray
and white stripes, another had the colors of sable and
chocolate brown and the third one had the varying hues of
you make of it?" she asked.
my head as I replied, I told her I wasn't sure but there was
definitely something different about this animal. I decided to
seek out Gordon and pull him out of his hibernation. Since Al,
his usual confidante, wasn't available, I wanted to see if
he'd confide inme.
expected, his withdrawal still included trips to the pool to
swim laps. He was just getting out of the water as I
approached. He started to slink back in when he saw me but I
wasn't about to allow it. I needed to get to the bottom of
what had happened inside Thunderbird Four the day of that
want to talk about it, Virgil."
about what, Gordo? What happened to you that day?"
"You'd...you'd never believe me if I told you."
try to keep an open mind, will ya?"
He took my
silence as acceptance. I guess my timing was good as he seemed
kind of anxious to talk to someone at this point.
cat...there's something weird about it."
you mean, weird?"
"I said to
keep an open mind, remember?"
sure, whatever. Just friggin' tell me already!"
can change form."
acknowledgement was slow in coming but Gordon was patient.
really, Virg. Once I got it in Four, It changed from a tiny
white fur ball to a huge freakin' Calico puma with an
attitude. I was holding it and the next thing I knew, it went
all Battle Cat on me and sliced me up like a holiday
ham. Just stood there afterwards, staring me down with these
big golden eyes. I didn't know what the hell to do. I knew
none of you were going to believe me. Admit it. You think I'm
joking and probably made those scratch marks myself."
I gave my
brother my best expression of sincerity.
Gordon, I don't. I see how strangely you've been acting for
the last week and I never thought you'd go as far as self
mutilation to pull a prank."
knew what was happening, he'd grabbed my head and planted a
nice wet one right on my lips. His ass was promptly propelled
into the opposite end of the pool...the deep end, luckily for
Gordon, what the hell...!"
believe me, Virg! You really do!" he spouted in his best
impression of Sally Field, the actress from the late twentieth
moment I found myself grinning.
yeah I do. And, there's someone else I think we need to talk
to about this..."
outsider, Kyrano may seem to be serving the role of a
retainer. But in reality, he is the cohesive force that holds
this place together. I don't know what Dad would do without
him as a spiritual advisor and he's pretty much been a second
pair of hands for Grandma. At times though, I can detect a
certain regal air about him, like he was born for some other
calling in life. What I'm getting at here is that I knew we
could trust in Kyrano absolutely. Whatever he had to tell us
about our new house guest was going to go without reproach
from any of us.
brother and I found him tending to his orchids in the
greenhouse. He did indeed have some beautiful specimens and I
had used them frequently in my backgrounds for paintings and
drawings. I felt bad for having to interrupt him because I
knew how much he enjoyed being here. I cleared my throat
before proceeding and that was enough to get his attention.
hello, Mr. Virgil. Was there something you needed?"
Kyrano. We're sorry to disturb you, but we were wondering if
you could tell us anything about that kitten we brought home."
to shut down at the mention of the cat.
not wish to discuss that creature."
piped up at that.
okay, Kyrano. We know there's something strange about it."
proceeded to recant his experience on board Four a few days
Malaysian man seemed to perk up once he saw that we were open
to discussing the unimaginable. He explained that he'd also
had an unnerving experience with the animal that day in the
kitchen. Only in his case, the kitten appeared to be about the
size of a bobcat but with the sable and brown fur of a
Siamese. It had piercing blue eyes that stared into his and
had rattled him to his very core. Even he, in his vast
experience, could not believe what he was seeing and thought
at first that he must have been suffering from some mysterious
affliction, such as the one that had previously caused his
quick to assure him that he wasn't. My thoughts went to what
Grandma and I had discussed earlier concerning the collar
charm. The pieces were beginning to fall into place, but I was
still hoping for a translation of that cryptic message in the
couple of days proved to be uneventful, but Gordon still
couldn't help an involuntary flinch every time that cat came
within about ten feet of him. Kyrano simply didn't allow
himself to be put in that position, much to everyone else's
puzzlement. Dad had even taken to playing with the critter and
whenever Gordon would express his cautionary tendencies
concerning the cat, Tin Tin was right there comparing his
ability to perform a rescue and his lack of manhood when it
came to being close to a little kitten. He would always look
to me for validation of his fear, but I needed to do more
research before I was prepared to go public with my views on
the subject. And still, no word from Brains about the note.
know I said I believed both Gordon's and Kyrano's stories, but
there was this little nagging doubt that kept reminding me
that I hadn't personally witnessed anything out of the
ordinary. Human nature can be both a blessing to lift you up
and an anchor weighing you down, depending on the situation.
Meanwhile, Gordon was getting more than slightly ticked off at
my lack of public support. I decided to go down and tackle
some minor maintenance I'd been meaning to do on Two. I
figured that would afford me a much needed distraction.
It was as
I was checking under Two's hydraulic struts that I noticed it,
an ungodly odor, the likes of which I'd never smelled before.
I quickly became worried as to its toxicity and donned the
nearest mask I could find, not that it helped much. After
several minutes of trying to locate its origin, I began
feeling more than a little green around the gills. I was
finally able to determine that it was emanating from the fresh
air intake valve. After turning off the ventilator and making
sure all the safety protocols were in place, I climbed into
the crawlspace to investigate. But before I did, I had
remembered an old trick that policeman sometimes used to block
the stench of putrid flesh at very ripe crime scenes. I looked
in the med kit for our equivalent of Vicks Vapor Rub. Upon
locating it, I slathered it liberally between my nose and
upper lip. Okay, this is it, I thought to myself.
I'm going in...
I made my
way down as far as the tunnel would take me, fighting the
reflex to vomit every inch of the way. When I had finally
reached the end and could begin to see daylight, I caught a
brief glimpse of what looked like the hind quarters of a
tiger. Its stripes, though, were shaded gray and white. As it
ran off, I became aware of something else. It had left behind
it a pile of droppings the size of a small bonfire. Yup, right
there at the entrance to the outside air intake. Fighting the
urge to gag, I again thought back to the the boomerang charm.
That was all I needed. I raised my wrist communicator to my
think we've got a bigproblem, in more ways than one."
had been summoned to the lounge. When I walked in, Gordon and
Kyrano were already standing there and Gordon was watching me
with a knowing look. Scott was parked on the corner of Dad's
desk, his arms folded in skepticism. Dad was just sitting
there in his chair waiting, waiting for answers I couldn't
are you sure of what you saw down there? You didn't hit your
head, did you?"
suddenly feeling as if I was on trial here. Grandma walked in
next, holding the kitty in question. Its persona was currently
that of the innocent looking little fur ball.
Virgil, dear," she began. You're going to tell me that this
sweet little thing has some sort of super hex on it and is
actually four differentcats?"
pathetically looked to Gordon for back-up. He shook his head
slowly and I thought I was on my own, until he spoke.
Virgil is telling the truth, right, Kyrano?"
Gordon, you are correct. This cat is not what it seems."
agreed. "Just look at its collar."
As I went
to grab it, the little bastard hissed at me and took a swipe
at my hand with its claws. It leapt from Grandma's arms,
morphing into Kyrano's bobcat as it jumped.
it get away!" Dad yelled.
I led the
way in my greasy overalls as the entire clan (sans Brains, who
was still heavily into decoding) did their best Keystone Cops
impression, practically falling over each other in hot pursuit
of that ‘sweet little thing.' Following its last known path
led us down to the beach, just as the mail plane was making
its weekly delivery to the Island. The seaplane pulled up to
the dock and the pilot, Crash Cosmo (we never asked) stepped
out to give it a secure tie down. Upon seeing him, we all
stopped dead in our tracks, except for Scott. He'd gotten a
bit over zealous and proceeded to collide rather abruptly with
my back, nearly knocking us both down.
Virg. Wasn't looking."
help but grin at that.
Been off your game a bit lately, haven't you?"
could offer a rebuttal, we noticed that Crash had been
standing there observing the lot of us.
you guys up to?" He asked.
couldn't have been better if it were scripted. We all replied
in perfect unison.
stunned into silence, but eventually found his voice. "Okay
then. Good luck with that. Here's your mail."
him as he walked warily past us to the elevator, dumped the
mail inside and then turned to leave.
next week!" he yelled.
returned to his plane, cast off the line and revved up the
engine. As he began to turn it to make his takeoff run, Gordon
let out a gasp that was audible, even above the engine noise.
to look at him and he grabbed my head, forcing me to look in
the direction of the departing aircraft. As I did so, I nearly
choked. In the passenger window behind the pilot's seat could
be seen a tiny white ball of fluff with big, pink eyes. It was
mewing at us, almost mockingly so.
Stop!" I shouted. But it was far too late and the noise of the
propellers was far too loud. Not exactly an up to date model.
Probably built it himself out of used parts. "Damn!"
As he flew
off into the sunset Grandma piped up. "We can't just let him
fly away with that thing on board. Who knows what'll happen!"
moved. She became indignant.
get on the horn right this minute and stop him!"
knew not to mess with that tone of voice. "Your Grandmother's
right. Try to get him on the radio, Virgil."
pulled me aside as I went to call and whispered something.
hoping he built the radio from old parts too."
three failed attempts to reach the pilot, it seemed that was
indeed the case. But with a name like Crash, we figured he
could take care of himself, evil kittens notwithstanding.
Still, we couldn't help but feel more than a little guilty
about the whole thing and hoped that he'd be safe. Gordon
stared at us all like he had no idea what species we
were...right before he clubbed us over the head with the
hellooo? I mean, if he does get into trouble, I don't
think it's just wishful thinking to say that International
Rescue could be there in less than a jiffy."
later that evening (after Gordon had dug himself out of that
sand dune we buried him in) when a disheveled looking Brains
ran out to the pool area where we were all relaxing.
I said. "You look to be on the heavy side of stressed, what's
a-able to trans-a-late the, um, note."
stutter always got worse when he was upset.
let's have it, man."
warning, a warning about the c-cat. And also, an, uh,
apology?" Dad asked in wonder.
Mr. Tracy. It states that the animal should, ah, be avoided at
all costs. Because it's a, uh, ch-changeling and can become,
er, dangerous. Also, those who brought it to this world
a-apologize for having to, uh, leave it here. What are we, uh,
going to do about it, Mr. uh, Tracy?"
going to have another drink. Would you like one, Brains?"
Brains. It's a long story. I just don't think any of us have
the energy to tell it right now."
right now, I just feel better knowing two things."
we're sitting here by the swimming pool and two..."
yelled from his chair at the other end.