The problem with Fairfield was all the damn cats. I couldn’t find any people—at least not alive—but these purring fucks were everywhere. It was like everyone in town became tabbies. I searched for everyone for anyone, but all I found were more cats.
Ever since I crawled out of the infirmary in an abandoned Travis Airbase, they were all I saw alive.
Several followed me as I searched for a place to shelter at dusk. I found some clothes before leaving the base. I remember being feverish in the infirmary, then awakening alone with the dead lying around me. And cats feeding on them. I stayed on the floor, but it was too much, and the stench was worse. The stench that permeated Fairfield was reduced in the open air.
I slowly wandered south, and by the time I passed the Mall, I noticed a couple of cats trailing behind me—a fat white one in particular. I soon found myself in a residential area with tiny one-story homes. They were built with either painted drywall or wood. Their flat roofs lay on their frames, each like a house of cards.
I was looking for a rickety one to break into. It was getting cold. I saw a couple, but it was hard to get myself to break in. I’ve never done anything like that; I mean breaking into someone’s place. I stole shit from the store when I was young, but that was as criminal as possible.
So, regardless, I guess I was also distracted because that white cat had gathered itself in a big entourage. I saw this brown home with a two-car garage and a Hyundai mini-van in the driveway. Then, I noticed them staring at me across the street. I stared back.
For a moment, all of us were gazing at each other. Then two cats jumped me from behind. I freaked bad and started running. The white cat came at me. The others followed.
Cats have never swarmed me. I mean, when do cats ever swarm people? I once was attacked by a bunch of bees—it felt kind of like that. I was getting scratched and bit severely. Patches of blood-soaked through my fatigues; chicken-pocks-looking bites were swelling on my skin.
I ran for it as soon as possible while trying to pull them off me while get my bearings. They were faster than me but were watching themselves. I kicked and threw a couple of them, so they knew I meant business. Everything in front of me—meaning houses—was fenced. I was too freaked out to climb anything, so I went for it when I saw a rickety house without a fence. I tried to jump through a window, but it was all boarded up. I panicked so much that I tried to punch loose the boards. I heard their screams, and the cats were on me again. I ran for a busted-up Bronco in the driveway.
I got in. And so did a cat. It was all over me like that Tasmanian Devil in the cartoons.
It scratched up one of my eyes and ripped open a patch of flesh on my left cheek. I kicked it against the bottom of the cab and repeatedly stamped it with my boot. Bloodshot out of its mouth, and a pool of more blood seeped from its rear. It stopped squirming and laid still—staring at me bug-eyed. It released a fresh odor of a bowel fluid. I felt cold and disgusted with myself. Meanwhile, the other cats were screaming through the windshield. But then, sensing their collaborator’s death, the cats stopped and trotted away from the cab. The white cat was sitting still by the house, watching.
I laid back in my seat and closed my eyes. It was dark when I opened them again. The cats were gone. Feeling cool evening air, I started looking around the cab for something to warm me up and grabbed a small flashlight in the glove compartment and some cigarettes. The car had a battery and was old enough to have a lighter. So I cracked the window and had a smoke.
I noticed light coming through cracks in the boards of the house. Someone was inside. It was too dark for me to chance to get their attention. They probably already knew I was here and hoped I would just go away. I couldn’t make sense of that, but nothing had made sense since I woke in the infirmary the other day.
After finishing my smoke, I found nothing bigger than a cleaning towel. But then I found some keys. I didn’t waste time and slipped over to the driver’s seat, starting the car. But then someone in the house began rushing around.
I waited for them to rush through the front door, but It never opened. I could hear more clambering around inside, and at least two people were talking to each other. Then, everything was quiet.
I was about to walk up to the house when a shot was fired. It rang out as I was opening the truck door. I slammed it shut and hit the gas, peeling out as more shots fired. Two passed through the cab, one right next to my ear. I could feel my ear cook as it began ringing. They continued to fire at me as the Bronco sped away.
The streets were pitch-black, and I nearly ran into several parked cars. I found myself back on the main business street. You could hardly tell if you were in town or on an open road. No streetlights. No light from residential homes. Only the stars and the moon. And clusters of eyes as cats watched me drive past.
I slowed to 15 miles per hour. I saw through the headlights only the concrete a few feet ahead. I found a curb and parked next to some one-story tracked home in the dead quiet. The feline’s eyes were gone. The cats were ignoring me. I laid my head down and closed my eyes.
* * *
I dreamed I was still on base. I was passed out drunk again, and the MPs tapped on my windshield. But they weren’t. She woke me up by tapping on the driver’s side windshield. It wasn’t any MPs. And I wasn’t at Travis. The girl must have been in her twenties. Her blond hair was long and brittle. Her teal hoody and black jeans were hanging loose on her boney frame. She stared at me with these colossal crater eyes, darting them every few minutes.
“Hello,” she said. “Can I please ask for your help, sir?”
I didn’t know what to say. Who was this girl? What did she want from me? But, I was happy to see someone who wasn’t shooting at me.
“Who are you?” I said.
“My name is Pryce,” she said. She sounded like she’d been crying. Her words came out in a languid drawl, and she had to wet her chapped lips while she spoke. “I am from here. I’ve hidden out since everything became so out of control. Please, sir, can you please let me into your vehicle before the cats start their morning hunt?”
* * *
Pryce told me to drive to a parking lot. Or anywhere easy to see cats coming at us from a distance. I asked her what she was doing while I went. She shared little things while sizing me up. She told me she was staying with her older sister and her kid when people started getting sick. Because of the way I was dressed, she asked me my story.
I told her I remembered little aside from getting the flu and laying in the base infirmary. I was out of it for a while. While I was sick, I remember hearing people talking and stuff near me. But I didn’t know what was happening. Then the other day, my fever broke. I discovered I was alone in the hospital.
“Sounds like you got the Azure Flu.”
“It’s this illness that turned into a pandemic.”
“A pandemic? Seriously? Like in a sci-fi movie?”
“No, this was extremely real.”
“Is that what happened to Fairfield? Everybody died of this flu?”
“Many did. Others died from starvation and crime—Many more died because of the cats.”
Pryce thought the cats had been affected by the flu. They didn’t get sick, but they became more intelligent—not Planet of the Apes smart, just smart enough to organize and think better. The cats moved in when most people were dead. They were starving, too. There was no one left to feed them. They began gathering in town, living off mice and garbage. Soon, they started hunting raccoons, skunks, and roaming pets. They killed off most of the wildlife, driving the dogs out of town, so there was nothing left to eat but people. Especially since the few still alive were starving and weak.
I didn’t know what to think of Pryce’s story. I mean, the town was empty. And, these cats had been fucking my shit up. Looking at her, I wasn’t sure. She was super out of it. Her clothes were torn and filthy. She was constantly scratching herself and trembling. She coughed frequently and had to think a lot before responding to anything I said. She smelled like a toilet and had scabs all over. I asked where she was before she tapped on my window. She told me she was hiding under the house I parked by last night.
“Do you have food? I haven’t eaten for a day and a half.”
“Nah, I’m in the same predicament,” I said, stopping in the Target parking lot. “We’re almost out of gas, by the way. You know a close gas station?”
“Totally,” she said, looking me over. “Where are you going?”
“I don’t know. What do you think?”
She looked at me kind of funny and wiped her mouth. “What’s your name again?”
“George, but everyone calls me Geo.”
“I think, Geo, that we should get gas and get the fuck out and away from Fairfield and the cats. And then, I don’t know.”
* * *
We were driving to a close Chevron. I told Pryce more about me to get her to open up more herself. I was a lifer with the Airforce, serving my second tour mechanic on bomber engines. Travis was among many bases I served worldwide—Germany, Turkey, and American Samoa. I wanted to retire from service and get a gig with United Airlines or Alaska. I didn’t know much about this flu, except that I had and somehow survived. And, of course, that it fucked up the world.
“How are we going to get gas?” she interrupted as we pulled up to the gas station.
“We’ll pump it?”
“I mean, we have to turn on the pump, right? Assuming it’s still operational, are we going to turn it on from the cashier’s place or charge it? I mean, you don’t have a card? I don’t.”
“Yeah, good point.”
I pulled up slowly. There were a bunch of wrecks surrounding the station. I would have to pump gas from a distance or just fill up a container or something to siphon into the tank. The wrecks had a couple of corpses. The cats had obviously picked at the body; some bodies were riddled with patches of bone, while others were bones with patches of meat. They smelled worse than they looked—the whole area stank of gasoline and rotten meat. I gagged twice, but it didn’t hurt. Pryce didn’t seem to mind much.
Somebody had successfully locked up the station store but then apparently died of something inside. I guess the flu. The person’s corpse was somewhat visible near the pay counter with no marks or lacerations.
“I see a couple of cats, but that is it.” Pryce was leaning forward in her seat.
“Oh, that’s a good sign, right?”
Pryce sounded better—more confidence in her voice and less hesitation in her words. “It’s better than nothing. Do you think you can park close enough to pump gas?”
“Yeah, I think we’re good. Do you want to raid the store for food and drinks?”
“Fuck yeah. Watch out for the fucking cats, though.”
I was able to pull the pump nozzle out far enough to reach the tank and scrambled into the shop. Pryce was already inside. The place was pretty well raided, but Pryce got into a bunch of stuff left behind in the storage area. There was a lot there too. Pryce said a lot of people left before the cats took over, so nobody had that much time to loot for food. We shoved all the Sneakers bars and a bunch of candy into a box, followed by the chips and other junk food. We loaded up on drinks, except for the diet soda, because what’s the point? There was no booze.
We talked about our favorite candy bars while packing. I was in love with chocolate, while Pryce preferred gooey stuff. She said that all her kids at school were addicted to chocolate, and she was tired of seeing it everywhere at work. She said she taught English at a high school. Kids were the last to get sick. I asked about what when people died of the pandemic. She told me it was just like the flu. Except, everyone was dead a week later.
She didn’t say much after that. I didn’t mention anything about what happened after thank. Then, I came up with the worse icebreaker that I regretted as soon as I said it. “Hey, do you know that famous poem about the world’s end? The one with everything falling to pieces, where the good are weak, and the wicked are powerful?”
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre,” she said, smiling at me as she nibbled on some red lickerish. “The falcon cannot hear the falconer. Things fall apart. The center cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”
“Yeah, that’s it. So, what do you think? Was that poet accurate in his lyrics?
“Yeats? I don’t know. This seems more like something Emmerson wrote about the Greek Goddess Nemesis.”
“How’s that go?”
“Despite Virtue and the Muse, Nemesis will have her dues, and all our struggles and our toils tighter wind the giant coils.”
“Nemesis is the Goddess of Fortune. She supposedly doles out rewards and punishments to those who have it coming, like some Greek goddess of karma.”
“That’s heavy, and I kind of can see what you’re saying. But didn’t we like cause this virus?”
“I don’t know, but we had it coming nonetheless.”
“I don’t know. Do you mean like your family, you, and I had it coming too? I don’t know about that.”
She definitely felt that was the case, but I disagreed. There are many horrible things done, but many members of humanity never participated in that behavior. I thought she was lumping everyone under the same umbrella. We debated the whole thing halfway out the door until we noticed the entire area outside was covered in cats.
* * *
We sat in the gas station convenience store eating candy bars, watching the cats while they watched us. After an hour, it was super obvious that there was no way we could outwait the cats. I mean, what else did they have to do? Waiting for a meal when you’re starving could make anyone patient. There were no real easy answers out of that trap. Pryce suggested we cover ourselves with something thick that would protect us long enough to get to the car. But we only found a worn Raider’s hoody.
There was nothing for us to do and sit there. Pryce told me all about her couple of years of teaching and how it was something that she wasn’t sure about staying in. Too much BS and not enough benefit. I told her how cool the Air Force took care of its people and how outstanding it was to travel the world. Even when your commanding officer was a complete dick, you had to follow orders. Also, it got old having to follow someone else’s schedule.
That killed a couple of hours, but both of us were ready just to make a run for the car by the afternoon. The cats were getting antsy too. They were up and about, eyeing us from different directions. “I owned two cats,” Pryce said, hugging herself and watching them pace around the gas station. “They were two black cats—one tiny old one and a fat young one. Their names were Penny and Grendel.”
“Penny eventually died when there was no more food, and Grendel was killed in a fight with some marauding cats one night.”
“It was after the power stopped. I could hear Grendel screaming in the dark. I thought she was frightened, but then I heard the others. They screamed, and they screamed.”
“And then there was silence. The next morning, I found her. I never cried so hard…”
I didn’t know what to say, so we sat there in silence. I thought about my fiancé’s cat. “My fiancé owns a cat named Encantado. He was this burly tomcat who was always stealing my food.”
This got a smile from Pryce.
“He was always stealing my food, then kissing up to Janet. It was like he was jealous or something.”
“Did Janet play favorites?”
“Dude,” I said, scratching the back of my head. “I don’t think I’m going to answer that question…”
Pryce laughed, and we both seemed to relax until we heard him screaming down from the other end of the block.
“Pryce!” he screamed. “I know you’re in the gas station! Come out!”
“What’s going on?” I asked Pryce, but she said nothing. Some cats started trotting towards the man, while others kept their eyes on us.
I could barely see him, though he strolled around the street listlessly. He kept walking toward us like he didn’t see the cats. “I forgive you for taking the last of the food. Just come back. We’ll figure something out.”
I looked at Pryce. She focused her attention on the car, then grabbed a can of diet soda and lobbed it at the cats on top of the vehicle. I heard a curdling scream as the cats swarmed the guy, who was instantly enveloped in a mound of frantic animals. The manic animals were biting at anything, trying to get a piece of meat before it was all gone.
The guy didn’t even scream. He keeled over at the knees in the wrong direction. The cats were devouring him from the legs up. I saw a foot stick out of the mass of fur. It was an old Adidas running shoe, the ones all black with three white stripes. Soon, a pool of red blood seeped out beneath the mound of cats. It pooled by the Adidas shoe, getting thicker and darker until it looked like a thick glob of cherry maple syrup. I looked away while hearing the muffled rips of cats clawing at one another to a morsel of what was left of the guy.
Pryce grabbed me by the arm and pulled me towards the car while carrying a bag of stuff. We made it inside and were back on the road without the cats noticing us. I found the entrance to the freeway and zipped out of there fast.
“Who the fuck was that?”
“That was my husband,” Pryce said, leaning back in her seat. “He was cheating me out of my share of the food. I got sick of it, so I took the last of the food and his pistol. That was a day before I found you. I still got the gun, so don’t fuck with me.”
“What the fuck about all that stuff with Nemesis dishing out karma? And all that shit about poetry and literature?
“That was a while ago before cats started hunting people. Don’t be a putz. You just woke up in this world. Don’t judge what you didn’t have to go through.”
“Yeah, right, so now what? You know what’s going on better than I do, so what do we do now?”
“Just keep driving away from the cats.”
I focused on my driving and kept quiet. Pryce was lost somewhere in her head. We passed over a set of hills into the Central Valley. Once we got to the Highway 505 interchange, I headed north, then merged onto Highway Five. We had enough gas to get us to Oregon. I didn’t know what we would find at the next gas station. But it would be getting dark in a couple of hours, and I didn’t know what Pryce had planned.
“Are you going to shoot me?”
“Not if you act cool. I’m not a killer, Geo, so relax.”
“Yeah,” I said, then laughed. “I should have stayed at Travis.”
“The cats would have found you, eventually.”
We drove into the night and the next day, stopping only to refuel. Pryce eventually forced me out of the car at gunpoint days later. She drove away, abandoning me in front of a deserted motor lodge next to a gas station. I was utterly alone and relieved—no people or cats. The only thing left was my memories and the shattered world I found after awakening.
Rudolfo San Miguel earned a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from San Francisco State University. He has written fiction for ten years and continues to develop as a writer, drafting stories that amuse him. He hopes they amuse you as well.