I live in a world of cats, these days; I share a house with no less than four, and a neighborhood with countless more, so many that they have nicknames and familiar meeps as I walk past and say hello. (There’s even one who has, to all intents and purposes, taken up residence on the porch, only deigning to go home to sleep, and even then I’m not sure that’s always the case.) All of this is preamble to the strange story that happened recently, which started in the way stories often do: with a knock on the door.
It was someone I’d never seen before, who quickly explained that they lived around the corner and had found a dead cat outside their house, and would I be able to tell her which house the cat belonged to…? She was distraught to the point of tears, but she knew the cat’s name and said she talked to him a lot on this street. I said I’d accompany her to tell the owners.
The cat lives just two houses down, so Sophie — as the woman around the corner was called, she nervously explained — and I went to see if anyone was home. They were, as evidenced by the fact that their front door was open and they were deeply unhappy to see us even before we shared the unpleasant news. Once we’d explained what was happening, however, one of the cat’s owners immediately walked out to see what was happening, so suddenly that we had to ask her if she’d rather wear shoes considering it was raining.
The cat’s corpse was so strange to see. There was no visible damage, but the face was frozen in a sneer as it lay in a gutter. The owner went to pieces instantly, telling us over and over that the cat knew not to visit this particular street because of the heavy traffic, but confirming this was, indeed, her cat. The grief had turned into shock and Sophie, not knowing what else to do, left to get a box to put the cat into.
Which is when the owner realized that it wasn’t her cat after all.
Sure enough, this cat had a collar that identified them as “Captain Fake” — it sounds like a joke, but it’s not — and a phone number. Lifting the cat to expose the collar tag, it was entirely stiff, in a way that seemed less rigor mortis and more taxidermied. When Sophie returned with the box, we quickly explained what was happening, and she added this, to make the whole thing even more odd: she was, she believed, being bullied by someone unknown, who kept leaving orange things outside her house — bags of Cheetos, traffic cones, and the like. The cat was orange, and now she wondered if Captain Fake was part of this sinister agenda.
We put the Captain in the box, and the owner of the not-dead cat determined that she’d take him and call the number to share news of his discovery. I haven’t seen her in the days since, but my head is full of questions. Was he a real cat, dead on the side of the road, or a stuffed cat left there to mess with someone? If it was the latter, who’d do that? Who’d call a pet Captain Fake? What world has such people in it?
This all happened January 2. As I walked home, I wondered if this was an omen for the year, and how strange it would end up becoming. Hold on tight.