Jeff Phillips: Down is Up in the Cat Hole

cat hole

As springtime replaced Winter ’17, large potholes destroyed her car and forced Katie to get around on foot. It was on her walk to pick up a bottle of chardonnay, to calm herself after hearing the body shop’s estimate on what it’d cost to fix her right rear axle, that she got lost in a section of the neighborhood she hadn’t yet explored.

After passing along a narrow street, watched over by six-story apartment complexes, the compact nature of the city stirred such claustrophobia, it seemed air had been sucked right out. She wished she were a miniature version of herself, that what little air there was would go further in proportion to her lungs. She rounded the corner at the end of the street and saw a park on the other side of the intersection. Patches of trees and sprawling green grass called her over for some alleviation from the overwhelming sense of that little street bearing down on her, ready to crush her.

The sun shone on the park. She slipped off her shoes and walked barefoot, intending to walk diagonally to the other side of the park, where she could see a strip of shops, and find a good place for that chardonnay.

As she crossed the park, she stumbled on something hard sticking out of the ground. She would have hit the ground had it not been for the stabilizing force she realized were two stray cats, up on their hind legs, pressing paws on both sides of her to keep her upright. When her footing was firmly planted, the cats hopped back down to all fours and rubbed up against her legs. She petted them and laughed. “Thanks guys!”

The cats walked away from her as she pulled at grass clumps that got twisted between her toes. She turned to see what had tripped her up. It was a cylinder made of a dark red glass. She tried to nudge it with her foot but it wouldn’t move. She bent down to pick it up but it was firmly secured in the ground. She tugged a little harder and this time there was movement. She pulled, leaning back and up with her weight and the thing started sliding out of the ground nice and slow like it was suctioned to mud. She stayed focused on seeing what this was, and as it emerged in full, accompanied by a wet popping sound, she held a wine bottle filled with the weight of liquid. There was no label.

“Haha, the fruits of the Earth!” she said as she turned the find over in her hands. She looked around her; no one was around to look at what she was doing except for the two cats. She could now see they were standing at the edge of a patch of trees, watching her. Their white and tan fur stood out against the dark browns and greens. She wasn’t creeped out, however. There was no judgement. They pinched their eyes with a smile.

Katie Rose sat down in the grass to examine the bottle. It looked like it could be some delicious wine, but who knows where it has been, she thought. Just lying in a public park, what bum pissed in it? Who coughed inside it and sealed in the germs?

She noticed an amber glow shine up along her forearm. She turned around to look at the hole in ground where the wine bottle was lifted. There was a light source down below.

The cats were back, rubbing alongside her elbows and knees, and on past to squeeze themselves headfirst into the hole, momentarily blocking the light. When the second cat was fully inside the hole, the amber shone again, a little brighter. She heard a few clicks, like more lights were being turned on.

If these were hallucinations, then they were probably stress-induced and the wine seemed that much more necessary to settle the nerves back down. She also came to the quick conclusion that if she was indeed hallucinating, getting wine drunk in the afternoon seemed the lesser of possible intoxications to scoff at.

She checked the neck of the bottle, bracing for the disappointment of not having on her a proper tool to uncork it, but was surprised at the twist-off cap that turned in her palm. The sound of the seal breaking told her this was untampered with, free of bum pee and a sicky’s wet breath. She brought the open top to her mouth and sipped, the red wine flowed through her lips, the spices told her it was a Malbec, okay by her to replace the chardonnay she was craving. The taste of wine triggered instant warmth in her belly, and her limbs felt looser, she felt like laughing, but was still confused about the cats in the hole.

She turned around to face it so she didn’t have to crane her neck, she could gaze right into it. Shadows played across the amber light. She leaned closer as she sipped more. One gulp, another inch closer, until the tightness of her muscles oozed into an absence of tension. She noticed she was a bit smaller in stature, and a reddish brown fur spread up and down her arms. The bottle slipped from her clutches as her hands shrunk into paws. She tried to shout “what gives?!” but only heard her voice as a mewing.

Katie Rose tried to stand up to run and hide, but on the hind legs of a cat she had difficulty balancing. She fell on her side and realized the closest place to run to and hide was the hole illuminated from within by the amber glow. Katie Rose darted down and into the hole, a tight squeeze. Once she was through, she found herself on a ledge that spiraled around a large open chamber. Below her were more cats, a dozen, maybe even two dozen of them. Some were scrawny, some were fat. One was hairless, but most were of shorthair breeds, a few were fluffy. Tiger stripes and pure lily white sauntered around the space. Some were lying on their sides, resting. Some were curled up into little balls, their bellies rising with each inhale, lowering back down on the exhale. A few were looking up at her, others were strolling to where the ledge met the ground, which was covered in a shag carpeting, colored orange.

She walked slowly around, orbiting the perimeter of the wall twice, until she was at the bottom. Several floors lamps showed themselves to be the source of the glow, wrapped with a burlap shade. Pedals built into the cords lay situated for a paw to step on it if a cat desired to turn them on.

Two cats came over to lick her. She flinched at first, but as more cats cornered her and licked her fur, she was flush with a sense of cleanliness, a similar feeling to that of a long, refreshing shower.

After a few more minutes of this, the cats eased off their welcoming bath. They sniffed her, rubbed their heads on her’s, and went back toward the center of the chamber to lay back down. Katie Rose heard what sounded like trickling. She saw an opening in the wall, a small hallway. Once she entered the hallway, the sound of rushing water echoed from the other end. Curious, and thirsty, she trotted over to the source, down the tunnel decorated with graffiti of famous cartoon cats: Felix, Fritz, Garfield, Topcat, Snowball, Heathcliff, Catbert, Tom and Eak. There were no lights in the tunnel, but her eyes allowed in enough of the little light that reflected from the other room. The drip and eddy reverberated on the walls around her as though it were enhanced Dolby surround sound, her ears twitched to follow each bouncing vibration. She passed by another small opening and peaked in to see a small desert, an underground sandbox. A couple of cats were burying their spray and droppings. She was relieved there was such a room, that the cats weren’t just pissing on the shag carpeting.

Katie Rose continued on toward the sound of the water, to where she crouched through a small opening, whiskers brushing the edge of the hole, she stopped a moment. She jerked her head up as her attention was pulled to a movement wavering up above, a new instinct relayed to her that it must be a bird. But it was only the luminous glow bouncing off, what she noticed to be an underground river, as she emerged on a small platform that overlooked it. The water, illuminated by overhead lights, bubbled and fizzed and smelled familiar. Intrigued and enticed, she lowered her head, and with caution, dipped in her tongue to taste. Champagne! It was a river of champagne! Delighted, she lapped up the drink, and the buzz hit her quick as it circulated the tiny frame of her cat body.

Silvery things flashed by in the champagne river. As her eyes focused on the new movement, she realized she was watching schools of sardines swim by her. A bit hungry from the drinking, she lurched at them, attempting to bite. She tried to scoop with her paws, but they slid around her reaches. After a few misses, the fur of her face now soaked, she was able to lock her jaws on a small fish. It wiggled free after a few seconds and splashed back down into the stream of silver, but she enjoyed the nibble. The wet fur around her face started to bother her, she shook her head to fling off the droplets.

When the champagne river settled, her little cat heart skipped a beat when she saw what reflected on the surface. Above her dangled a rotund, brown, hairy spider, descending from its web. Her back arched and she stiffened, a sharp contrast to the lissome musculature she was experiencing as a feline. Her claws protracted, she skidded a pace on the concrete. She was turning herself around to sprint back to the lounge area, but a black, fluffy cat was rushing right at her from the opening. She ducked down as the cat leapt over her to bat the spider away. The leaping cat missed, but his paw made contact with the hanging silk, yanking the spider up and away, only inches before it got to Katie Rose.

The spider splashed down into the champagne as the black, fluffy cat landed on a ledge on the other side. The current was starting to pull the spider away, but not quick enough to overpower its crawl on the bubble’s surface. It was fast approaching Katie Rose’s side. She backed away and tried to shriek but what sounded was a hiss. The black, fluffy cat jumped up to one of the overhead lights, landing on top of the fixture. The cat’s weight ripped it from the ceiling, and he rode with it to splash down on top of the spider before it reached Katie Rose. There was an instant spark as the wiring conducted electricity across the champagne river. The spider fried, went limp and sunk into the bubbly’s depths, but Katie Rose’s elation was short lived as she saw the black, fluffy cat’s being danced upon by hot white bolts. The cat thrashed in the champagne, a heavy dose of horrible pain. It took a minute for the shocks to fizzle, for the smoke to simmer and rise off the surface.

Katie Rose cried for the poor, black, fluffy cat, her hero, now out of her sight, he must have sunk and drifted away. Her cries echoed throughout the tunnels until they were interrupted by the sound of a collar shaking. Splashes on her face prompted her to wipe away the tears that clouded her vision, and she was surprised to see the black, fluffy cat standing right beside her. His fluffy mane was puffed out from the electric charge. To her, it looked like the cat had a fro. She wanted to laugh out loud, but was only able to express a purr. It felt like what giggling once felt like in a different physique.

Both Katie Rose and the black, fluffy cat pinched their eyes shut and touched together their noses.

Up above, a bushy, bearded man wearing a red sport coat, unbuttoned and opened to a t-shirt with bold lettering asking “Is it Caturday yet?” walks across the grassy park. He approaches the hole and pulls out a bottle of wine he has hidden between his scrawny arm and the sleeves of his coat. He swirls the contents of the bottle. He wants the potion to blend with the wine as thoroughly as possible before he reaches down to push it bottom first, pounding a few times with his clenched fist, to plug the little hole left vacant by the previous bottle uncovered by the girl now known as Kitty Rose.

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