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Cat Fright

We thought our cat Gretchen was dead a few days ago, but she hasn't given up her nine ghosts quite yet.

As we were getting ready for bed last Sunday night, Gretchen captured a common house centipede on the kitchen floor (good kitty!) and spent a long while gently patting it to death with her tiny paw, watching it slow down with each leg that fell off. (Ugh!) We thanked her for her service and started to back away, and then the centipede mustered up enough outrage to bite her. I've never seen a centipede bite anything or anyone, but I quickly discovered by Googling that it is possible. Gretchen flailed her paw and finally shook the centipede off, and then she went into a huff and didn't want to finish the job. So I bravely, yes very bravely, squished it with a long broom and swept it into the trash.

Gretchen usually curls up with me and my daughter when we start reading a bedtime story, but on that night, she took off into the basement to nurse her battle wound. Understandable.

I woke up in the middle of the night with my heart racing, convinced that something was terribly wrong. But I couldn't think what it might be, so I told myself it must have been some kind of nightmare or adult night terror (is that a thing?) and went back to sleep.

The next morning, the house was eerily quiet. Our 6:00 wake-up call had not come. We compared notes: Did the cat sleep with you last night? Nope, me neither. This had never happened before. Every night for the past 10 months since we adopted Gretchen, she has spent at least part of the night sleeping curled up at our feet. Could the centipede bite have upset her that much? Or... worse?

We opened a can of her favorite beef and chicken cat food, sprinkled kibbles in her bowl, and called for her. Nothing. In a panic, we ransacked the house and even checked outside, calling for her into the early-morning darkness. Nothing.

Could a centipede bite make a cat very sick? Google told me not likely. Google also offered me many other stories of people flipping out because their cats had gotten into a snit about something and hidden for a long time. Some of these people had suffered emotional breakdowns, missed work, or wandered their neighborhoods sobbing hysterically. I didn't want to be that kind of a crazy cat lady, so I made sure we all went about our morning routines and went to school and work as usual.

When I got home from work, for the first time in 10 months, nobody greeted me at the door. The house was silent as a tomb.

When my daughter got out of school, she asked if Gretchen had come out. I had to tell her no.

When my husband got home, we turned over all of the furniture, dragged a ladder downstairs, and shone a flashlight into all the crevices between the ceiling and floor--where we had never seen our cat hide before but where a cat who didn't want to be found certainly might hide.

We called off the search after examining every inch of every room. We watched I Kill Giants together, a nice family film about a girl working through grief. My husband put fresh litter in the box and raked it like a little Zen garden so that we would know if she had set foot in there. We set out food and treats on both floors.

After 36 hours with not a single sign of life--no eating, drinking, or using the litter box and no smell of urine coming from anywhere else in the house--I became convinced that she had crawled into a wall somewhere and died. I Googled how long it would take for her body to smell. Three days to two weeks, depending.

My husband contacted a friend who might know someone training a K-9 dog who could help us find a dead cat inside a wall.

There is no feeling like believing a loving creature you are responsible for keeping alive and well might be dead--and not knowing for sure. When I was a kid, I had pets that died. I had a long-lived cat who often went outside and didn't come back for days, and I had a dumb dog who sometimes escaped the yard. There were times when I cried over a pet that died or worried about a lost pet. But never before last week have I experienced the inside-out screaming horror of slowly facing the possibility that my child's beloved kitten has vanished without a trace, possibly inside the very walls of the house (it doesn't help that one of my daughter's favorite bedtime stories is Beatrix Potter's "The Roly-Poly Pudding") and there is nothing I can do to bring her closure or ensure that the mysterious void will not suck away another kitten we might adopt in the future.

The second night without Gretchen, I cried until morning like an absolutely crazy cat lady. My daughter was able to sleep but then wept silently as she got ready for school. We ended up taking too long to walk to school as we usually do, so all three of us climbed into the car, and my husband drove us. We dropped off our sad little girl, who had dried her tears so the other kids wouldn't see, and went back home.

As we started to turn into the driveway, I spotted the silhouette of a dark creature with big, pointy ears sitting by the front door, still as a statue. My husband says that I threw myself out of the car before it was even in the driveway. (But I'm not a crazy cat lady, right?) It was indeed Gretchen, who must have sneaked out as we were looking for her that first morning, and she looked shiny and calm and perfectly happy. "Meow," she said pleasantly.

I opened her a fresh can of beef and chicken stew, hugged her until she purred, and stopped at my daughter's school on my way in to work to tell her the good news.

And that's how Halloween was saved!

My daughter was able to wear her cat Halloween costume joyfully and have fun trick-or-treating.

Gretchen did appear on our Day of the Dead ofrenda, but in a healthy, corporeal form as we were setting it up.

And during all of this drama, we were comforted by many friends and family, including Esperanza, servant of the dark spirit known as LucyPurr, who you should follow on Instagram if you are into #catsofinstagram. Why wouldn't you be? They're the best.

Not that I'm a crazy cat lady or anything.

And now that this nonsense is behind us, I am taking a full day to kick off a month of intensive novel-finishing. I shall spend much of this month in my writing chair, with a warm and inspiring ball of fur and murder-mittens in my lap.

Happy NaNoWriMEOW!


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