Most of the main characters of my new supernatural suspense/horror novel, The Puppeteer, are humans. Some of my favorite sections, however, take on the third-person perspective of the family cats.
The central Goldstein family has two cats – Blue Cat and Stew Cat. IMPORTANT CONTEXT: The family also had a third cat, Clue Cat, who died earlier that year.
Yes, the cats’ names are an homage to Clive Barker and also Theodore Taylor. The bigger influence for writing these sections, though, was Stephen King, who frequently wrote from the perspective of the dogs who inhabited his stories, adopting a very doggy tone, perspective, and worldview. This is most memorable in Cujo, where the titular St. Bernard starts out cheery and sunny; then his terminal rabies infection (the “mad dog” syndrome) is hauntingly described from Cujo’s perspective as a feverish, tragic descent into confusion, paranoia, and ultimate psychosis.
As soon as I realized the Goldsteins were cat-owners, I knew I wanted to include the cats’ perspective on the strange and frightening events taking place in their new house. It was a writing challenge to take on a cat’s perspective. Let me know if it scans.
Blue Cat had finally started to feel at home. She had spent weeks hidden between the wall and the big desk that Rachel and Gary had gotten for themselves, but she did not feel at ease behind there either because there were no familiar smells — with the exception of her’s and Stew Cat’s food dishes in the kitchen; and the litter box, which lived in the downstairs “master” bathroom that was now a guest bathroom. And even the litter box smelled strange without the smell of Clue Cat’s urine and feces blended with the others. Smelling only Stew Cat and not Clue Cat — in the litter box, in the few nooks and crannies of the office she had summoned the bravery to investigate, usually darting back behind the desk at the first sound of anything … Blue Cat had gotten somewhat used to Clue Cat’s absence, but she still found it very disquieting.
Stew Cat was stupidly courageous, and had spent the better part of their first few weeks in the new house unwisely poking his snout into all sorts of dark corners that could have held who-knows-what kind of danger. He was very dumb, and without the balancing presence of Clue Cat, Stew Cat’s bad behavior caused Blue Cat a great deal of stress. From time to time she thought she could still smell sewer on him, and it made her cross. But mostly she was glad for his company — though she would never have admitted it to him. Nor would she have admitted it to Clue Cat … but she suspected Clue Cat had known.
Occasionally, while she had spent her time hiding, Stew Cat had come to look in on her with that big brown dumb face, and she had hissed at him, not intending to be mean but just to let him know that she was in no mood. He was admirably obedient, and left her alone. Rachel and Sarah would sometimes look for her as well, and she couldn’t bring herself to hiss at them because they were both her mother, and when she was sure that the house was secure she would rub against their legs, squeeze their skin with her claws, and hope to be petted forever.
Danny rarely came looking for her, rarely petted her, and even looked at her a few times in a way that she did not like at all. Blue Cat was feeling more at home, but she still had a lot to get used to. She no longer ever saw Josh, but she could smell him sometimes … and the smell was mixed with another smell, a perplexing smell, one like cinnamon with an undercurrent of decay. Blue Cat mostly avoided that smell, but at times she would get as close to it as she could, usually right up to the Door that Never Opened, and wrack her cat-brain over that smell like a complicated math problem, before a knocking noise would startle her and cause her to run downstairs.
Blue Cat liked the wide open spaces of downstairs, though. She used the litter box and then trotted out of the Master-Down-Turned-Study, pausing to enjoy digging her claws into the thick molasses of Berber carpet. The stretch through her knuckles was soothing, and she felt the stress of her life melt away. She walked out into the downstairs living room, concealing her claws so she could move silently over the porcelain tile; between the ottoman and love seat of the leather sofa set; into the kitchen, where she saw Stew Cat high up on the granite-topped kitchen island, chewing away at the leaves of a potted fern. Sensing he was not alone, Stew Cat looked at Blue Cat, frozen in guilt.
You know you’re not supposed to be up there, Blue Cat thought scornfully. And when they see the half-eaten fern, they’ll know you were up there.
Chastened, Stew Cat jumped off the kitchen island and ran as fast as he could out through the dining room. Blue Cat scoffed. She would never admit it if you asked her, but she herself had tested her boundaries in the new house, jumping up on several tables and counter spaces to see if this house was different than the One That Was Gone. It turned out the same rules applied. Several sharp scoldings from Gary and Rachel was all it took, and she (mostly) kept off the counter, even when the Big Ones were gone. Stew Cat was a little more slow to learn, and Blue Cat told herself quietly that she was not taking the heat for that chewed-up fern.
Blue Cat licked the dark gray fur of her foreleg for a moment, and then decided to follow Stew Cat’s scent. She had enjoyed the solitude of several hours without the Big People tripping over her like great oafs, but now she was bored and in need of distraction. She wished that she were as easily placated by a foam-rubber mouse as Stew Cat still was. Maybe there was some small joy to be gained in watching him act crazy for awhile.
She crossed over the fancy parquet of the dining room, under the grand dining table and its captivating maze of chair legs, into the foyer with its marble tiling that felt cool on the pads of her paws, and saw Clue Cat sitting at the bottom of the stairs. Blue Cat paused, slightly baffled to see her there. Sensing her, Clue Cat craned her graceful, long bengal neck around and looked her straight in the eyes. It was the middle of the day, but her pupils were wide, not the slits that Stew Cat’s had been. Something was wrong, and Blue Cat searched her senses and discovered what it was — she could not smell Clue Cat.
Come upstairs, Clue Cat thought. I have something to show you.
Then without waiting for a response, Clue Cat stood her long hind legs up and began to climb the stair case, tail high in the air.
Blue Cat hesitated, but curiosity got the best of her, and she followed the lanky bengal up the stairs.
What do you think of Blue Cat’s perspective and experience of the world? Does she remind you of cats you know? Does the end of the scene leave you uneasy?