Meow Meow Bang Bang
by Oliver Buckram
She was the kind of dame you never forget. Lips as moist and pink as smoked salmon. Legs as long and well maintained as the New Jersey Turnpike. Hair the color of ripening wheat dipped in caramel and then smothered in honey.
She walked into my office at quarter to five on a Friday afternoon, carrying one of those big leather handbags that probably cost two grand. From her pearl earrings to her designer sandals, she looked like money. She probably smelled like money too, but I couldn’t tell, because my office was filled with the overpowering odor of smoked salmon. I rented space from Amalgamated Salmon Industries; the floors above my office held tons of the stuff.
She smiled uncertainly at me. “Are you Mr. Bund–Mr. Bunden–I mean, are you the detective?”
“That’s me.” I gave her my best ten-dollar grin.
“I saw your sign outside.”
The sign read “Ishmael Bundesnachrichtendienst, Private Investigator. NO PUBLIC RESTROOMS.” Technically, the sign was true: I didn’t have public restrooms. In fact, I didn’t have private restrooms, either. But I wasn’t about to tell her that, at least not before she’d hired me.
“Have a seat.” I gestured towards the chair. She maneuvered her grade-A caboose into the chair and set her handbag carefully on the floor.
I put on my concerned-yet-alert face. “What’s troubling you, Miss…”
“My name’s Felicity Manderley. It all started yesterday when my husband, Lance, gave me a birthday present.”
“Happy Birthday, Mrs. Manderley,” I said with all the heartiness I could muster.
“Thank you, Mr. Bundesbank–Mr. Bunsnatcher–
I smiled. “Call me Ishmael.”
“Thank you, Ishmael.” Her voice purred like a Cadillac lubricated with four quarts of high-performance motor oil. “Anyway, Lance bought me a cat with blue fur.”
I let out a low whistle. Genetically modified blue-furred cats were the latest craze. According to rumor, they could talk, use tools, and even do a passable version of the Macarena.
“That’s quite an extravagant present,” I said.
“Can I trust you, Ishmael?” She crossed and uncrossed her legs, sending my pulse racing like a greyhound running across hot coals while pursued by a cheetah.
I cleared my throat. “Client information is held in the strictest confidence. Of course, you’re not my client yet. You’d better give me a $500 retainer before telling me anything confidential.”
She nodded and produced five crisp $100 bills from the inside pocket of her Italian jacket.
I held the bills up to the light. Ben Franklin seemed to wink at me. “So, what’s the problem?”
“The cat with blue fur is worth millions. What if someone breaks into our house? I’m terrified that it will get stolen, and Lance will blame me.”
“So, you’re afraid of cat burglars?” It was a great line but she didn’t crack a smile. Instead, she looked at me earnestly and nodded.
“I’d like to leave my cat in your office for a few days. It’ll be safe here with you until I find a long-term solution.”
“I need to go over some ground rules.” I stood up and walked to the whiteboard. I’d done some corporate espionage work for an office supply company (I can’t tell you the client’s name, but it rhymes with maples) and they’d paid me in store credit.
I picked up the marker and wrote RULE #1: TELL THE TRUTH.
I looked her sternly in the eye. “Care to revise your story?”
“I…I don’t know what you mean.”
“I can’t help you unless you follow my rules.” I got my laser pointer out and circled TRUTH on the whiteboard.
“But…” her eyes darted from my face to the whiteboard. I kept the little pinpoint of laser light circling TRUTH like an angry wasp.
She burst out in tears.
“Turn off the waterworks, sweetheart.”
I flicked off the laser pointer and shoved it in my pocket. “You’ve been lying to me since you walked through that door. One.” I held out my index finger. “You claim to be married. But your wedding ring is nothing more than a piece of tortellini. From the Italian restaurant across the street, if I’m not mistaken.”
“I was desperate. It was wrong of me to lie, I know.” She removed the pasta from her finger and popped it into her mouth.
“Two.” I held out another finger. “Your name isn’t Felicity Manderley. Your handbag is monogrammed with the initials M V-V. You must be Monique Voulez-Vous, heiress to the Consolidated Anvil fortune.”
“Quite true, I’m afraid.”
“Three. You claim to own a cat with blue fur. Doubtful. Those things are incredibly rare.”
Monique raised an eyebrow and opened her handbag. A small blue cat wriggled out and jumped into her lap.
“This office smells delicious,” said the cat.
My jaw dropped faster than an anvil plummeting from the roof of the Consolidated Anvil Building. “So it’s true. They can talk.”
“Brilliant deduction,” said the cat. “Hey, buddy, got any salmon on you?”
I shook my head and looked at Monique.
She smiled weakly. “Where are my manners? Cat With Blue Fur, meet Ishmael.”
The cat leapt from her lap to my desk.”
You gotta have something to eat in this dump,” he said. He rummaged through my top drawer; apparently he possessed opposable thumbs. When I looked back at Monique, she was holding a pistol pointed straight at my head.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t want it to end this way.”
I grinned ironically. “Story of my life, sweetheart. A gorgeous blonde waltzes into my life, we have a few laughs, and it all ends in gunplay. But tell me one thing. Why’d you two desperados come here in the first place?”
“For the salmon, see,” said the cat. “All we have to do is cut through that ceiling, and we’ll hit the mother lode.”
“So, you’re a cat burglar?” My joke didn’t get any more laughs on its second lap around the course.
The cat growled. “Shoot him in the head and toss his body into the canal. If he makes any more cat burglar jokes, shoot him in the balls first.”
Monique stood and opened the window. Amalgamated Salmon Industries is located right on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and my ground-floor office looked directly over the water.
“I’m sorry to do this to you,” she said. “Really I am. But I’ve spent every cent I had on salmon for the cat with blue fur, and now the money’s gone. And you can’t expect a magnificent creature like him to eat anything but the best, can you?”
I’d seen it happen before. A lonely lady lets a cat into her life, and before you know it the furry little bastard is running the show.
I stood up and walked over to her. “I’ve got some bad news. See that little piece of orange plastic on the barrel of your pistol? That tells me it’s just a toy gun.”
“I told you they didn’t sell real guns at Toys’R’Us!” hissed the cat.
“It’s all over, sweetheart.” I took the plastic pistol from her trembling hands. Her face was twisted with a mixture of furtive desperation and anguished hope, like the faces you see at those online dating sites.
“Not so fast,” came the cat’s voice from behind me. I turned around to see the cat holding my Smith & Wesson snub-nosed revolver its paws. I kept the revolver in my desk, hidden under a bag of stale jellybeans I’d been saving to give out at Halloween.
I shrugged. “What a way to go. Felled by a felonious feline who fancies filched fish.”
“You’re trying too hard, gumshoe.” The cat clicked off the revolver’s safety. Monique put her face in her hands and sank back into the chair. The cat looked over at her and started to speak.
It was my chance. I grabbed the laser pointer in my pocket and sent the little red dot dancing on the wall. The cat dropped my revolver and bounded after the dot. I sent the dot hopping out the window. The cat jumped through the window after it, producing a splash.
I walked over to the desk and picked up my revolver. From her chair, Monique looked up.
“Where’s my cat?”
“He went for a swim,” I said.
She gasped and ran to the window.
“Swim towards the shore,” she yelled. “I’ll be right there.”
I stepped in front of her. “Listen, sweetheart. You don’t need to go after that moth-eaten tomcat. Are you going to spend the rest of your life running from the cops and sifting through his kitty litter?”
She glanced at me, grabbed her handbag, and ran out the door.
I went to the doorway and looked after her.
“No refunds!” I shouted.
There was no answer.
I walked slowly back to my desk and sat down. Another case brought to a successful conclusion. I celebrated by opening the bag of jellybeans.
I ate them one by one as the sun set over the canal.
by Rachael K. Jones
It’s late in the room I share with my brother. Between our beds sits my dad, who is just a dark silhouette with a hand extended toward each of us to squeeze if the story gets too scary. His voice rises and falls in a familiar rhythm, shaping darkness into the distant forests and towering mountains that haunt my dreams. On the floor, at eye-level, I watch his lips as he tells us wonderful tales of the Cat With Blue Fur.
There is nowhere too far for the Cat to go, whether he leaps from rock to rock into the center of the Earth, or rises on dragons’ backs to where wind blows clear and sweet, or skips on light paws through the years to pounce upon dodos and dinosaurs. There is no danger insurmountable, no odds too grim for our nine-lived hero, who makes his home with a family like mine, who keeps secret a window, a portal to the magic world.
After Dad kisses our foreheads and shuts the door, I lie awake and listen for it: a tapping at the window behind my headboard, a blue flicker between the curtains—the Cat stopping by to say goodnight.
My brother never believes me, but he can’t explain the little wet nose prints on the glass in the morning, or the dusty paw prints on the sill that blow away before I can drag Dad through the house to see.
Too old for kisses and tucked sheets, but not for books. And Dad buys us such wonderful books. No cats or blue fur, but I recognize these landscapes as places the Cat charted, rocket ships and portals, oceans and aeries. There is no place I can go where the Cat has not been my guide and cartographer, my assurance that all adventures end safe in bed with a goodnight kiss, no matter the fear, pain, or loss. Nothing seems too scary, even death, because nine-lived Cats can’t die–not really. My dad said so, and my dad never lies.
One day, Dad helps me peel old drawings from my wall to make way for a big world map with dragons in its seas. I peel off a scrawled drawing of the Cat With Blue Fur taped over my bed. “Why didn’t we ever give him a name, Dad?”
“Oh, the Cat has a name. He always had a name.” He folds the drawing and sticks it in his back pocket.
I’m pretty sure my brother is responsible for the shedded blue fur I sometimes find in the laundry basket, but he won’t confess to pranking me. I don’t fall asleep to tapping on glass anymore, but I swear the echoes wake me up in the dim gray morning.
Newlywed. Home for Christmas with Aimee. We sleep in my old room, twin beds pushed together beneath the world map to make a full one, my brother exiled to the couch in the den.
Aimee is doodling in her sketchpad. She pencils in a tomcat balanced in the rafters of our family’s barn.
“That for your new children’s book?” I ask.
“Kinda. Just something I saw on a walk earlier.” She switches to colored pencils and shades the cat blue.
I set down my book and smile fondly at the old, familiar friend. “You’ve been talking to my dad.”
“Well, yes. I ran into him on the walk home. He told me about your old bedtime stories.” Aimee shades shadows around the cat, each taking on a different form: a robot cat, a winged cat, six cats touching noses to a floating window in the woods. “I asked him why the cat was blue. I _did_ see it, you know. The cat, I mean.”
“What did he say?”
“He said that blue means the sky. Infinity. Worlds without end.”
Outside, somewhere in the woods, a cat yowls and yodels. “Sounds like a fight,” I say, rising to close the window.
Aimee grabs my elbow. “No. That’s a love song.” She sets the sketchpad down and pulls me closer until I don’t hear cats anymore.
I just got the call. They’re telling me my dad’s gone, that there’s nothing to bury, and I don’t understand, I don’t understand.
“It was a very bad fire,” Mom says over the line. She sounds her age. “Any human remains would have been incinerated, even the bones.”
After the memorial service, I work up the courage to visit the house’s skeletal remains. The whole upstairs is gutted, blackened, empty as a socket bereft of its eye. I circle the house, toeing at piles of ash and paper and disintegrated wood, wanting to go inside, but afraid.
Then I see a window, one I never noticed before, in what would have been in Mom and Dad’s room. It seems to hang unsupported in the air among the wreckage.
I pick my way through the rubble, trying not to wonder what’s crunching beneath my feet. Yes–a floating window, just hanging in the air, like a magician’s trick. I pass an arm under it, over it, walk circles around it. It’s just an ordinary window, except for the hovering. Clean and clear, not a speck of ash, the paint a spotless blue like the fire never touched it. I tap on the glass, and it rings with the sound of my childhood dreams.
_The cat always had a name._
“Dad?” I flip open the latch and shove upward, but the frame won’t budge, like it’s stuck. “Hey, open up!” I strain at the frame, throw all my muscle against it, but it won’t give even a little. Frantic, I beat on the glass with both fists, careless of shattering. “Open up, open up! Dad, please! Oh please, come back! _Come back!”_
_Don’t be gone. Please, don’t be gone._
I grab a half-burnt plank from the rubble and swing it right into the window with all my might, but the wood just shatters into splinters that pelt my wet cheeks. Sobbing, I rest my face against the cool glass. The tears leave a little wet nose print. And that’s when it happens.
_Cats touching noses to a window in the woods._
The glass shudders. The whole frame quivers like it’s going to explode, and the window flies open on a cloudless summer sky. No, not the sky–it’s the color of the _Cat._ Every fiber of my being yearns to jump in. And suddenly I know without a doubt the old cat has one more life left in him.
I’m going to find him. I’m going to ask him all about his new adventures in the World Beyond, and then I’m going to have new adventures by his side. And then, when I get back, I’m bringing everyone through the window with me—my mom, my brother, Aimee, our families, all of them–into worlds without end, into infinite blue.
Seven Things That Are Better in Blue
by Jason K. Jones
1. It begins with the cat. You see it pop into your Facebook feed, a workday distraction brought to you by one of the celebrities who make a living being liked on social media, and on a whim, you click to enlarge it. It’s nothing special, just a typical fuzzy kitten looking at you quizzically, as though it cares that someone has taken its picture. There are probably millions of images just like it, documenting a million kittens clogging up the internet’s tubes. But this one is blue. Entertained, you and 38 others like this.
2. Two days later you see the same blue cat appear again in your feed, this time shared by your uncle. You notice the comments below the image, where a heated discussion has begun centered around how the cat is blue. Your uncle, an amateur photographer, insists that the blue fur might be a trick of clever lighting. One of his friends, a guy with whom you’re not familiar, counters that the shade of blue doesn’t match up with any of the background lighting, so it must be Photoshopped. Engaged, you and 63 others like this.
3. The next night, as you scan your feed through an insomniac haze, you see that one of your old high school friends has shared not the cat picture, but a Youtube video showing how the particular shade of blue sported by the kitten can be achieved and applied to any image. The video finishes with a picture of a UFC fighter you’ve never heard of now made to look like a sweaty Smurf in trunks. Enlightened, you and 147 others like this.
4. Things turned blue has been trending for a week now. If you had to guess, at least half your feed is just pictures of unusually blue things: blue people, blue animals, blue plants, blue foods, blue curry, blue grass, bluebells, blue baboons, Blue Man Group. The shade repeats as often as the word, and every image reminds you of that cat. Occasionally it pops up in the mix too. Enthralled, you and 4398 others like this.
5. On the way home from work you see a man with blue skin driving in a blue car. You realize it’s probably stupid, but you snap a photo as you pass him. The blue lights in your rearview let you know it definitively. With your hands on the steering wheel, you await the officer’s lecture. She gets out of her car, and you see her blue uniform blended with her blue face. She gives you a ticket and send you on your way. On your feed you recount the incident, complete with the picture of the blue driver with the tagline, “I guess I blue it!” Energized, you click through others’ blue posts while all your friends like your status.
6. No one Photoshops things blue anymore. It’s more popular to make things actually blue. Tutorials pop up on how to mix paints to get the true Cat Blue. Stories spread of people accidentally suffocating animals after dipping them in dyes. Occasionally the news covers a death by asphyxiation, the result of someone submerging themselves in blue and not coming back up for air. Photos of dead people who blued themselves are the new rage. Everyone comments on how close they were to getting the right shade. The most liked ones show the body, open-mouthed, with blue gums and teeth, blue all the way down. Emboldened, you wonder if you could do better.
7. Blue used to be a cold color. You associated blue with ice and clear skies in October and the absence of blood in the veins and chilled stillness, but now you see that blue is really warmth. When you think of softness and comfort, you see the cat with blue fur. You remember that on the spectrum, blue light comes from things that are hotter. It’s the absence of blue that means things have stilled, and you want nothing to do with not-blue. Blue is your life, and you will live in your blue. You have rigged your phone to record and immortalize the moment. As you lower yourself into the tub, filled to the brim with blooming life that warms your cold skin, you smile. Your head sinks under and the world is blue. Engulfed, you open your mouth and hope that everyone will really like this.
Episode Art: Bo KaierRead by: Norm, Sean Sorrentino, Nathan Lee