Birdsong

birdsongcats

(This story is based on a dream I had.)

I was outside.

I didn’t remember going outside; in fact, my plan for the day was to spend it all indoors watching Netflix and eating a microwave dinner. My last memory before being outside was simply that around noon or so, I was feeling a little drowsier than I usually was so I walked to bed to have a nap, but I was certain I collapsed before I even reached it.

So now I was outside, surrounded by calm birdsong, and looking up at a clear blue sky. Funny, it was overcast this morning. Though I knew I should have been up on my feet and exploring, my body would only let me lie down and look up at the sky. Something at the back of my mind still demanded I try to get back home, yet I had lived in the city so long I never really had the chance to just look up at the sky and listen to nothing but the birds.

Eventually, I picked myself up and found myself standing in what looked like a painting come to life. Lush green fields lay before me, and in the distance stood a mansion gleaming so brightly white that it looked like it came from Heaven itself. Of course my first instinct was to tell myself that this was a dream, so I, of course, pinched myself. I felt it, just like I felt the air on my face, just like I could clearly hear the singing of birds, just like I could smell whatever I had stepped in.

So, if it wasn’t a dream, how did I get here? Well, maybe I brought myself here, I thought. Maybe I just thought I needed some fresh air, so I went down to the countryside. I was tired when I got there so I thought I’d have a lie down, and I dropped off while doing so. I’ve forgotten things in the past – strange how you can remember forgetting things – but I was certain I could remember coming here if I tried.

I was certain I could explain coming here – that is, until I met the two humanoid cats.

Two women in identical white Edwardian dresses, both of them sporting gigantic cat heads atop their bodies, approached me, both of them clasping their hands. I attempted to convince myself they were wearing masks and I had stumbled upon a fancy dress ball, but they blinked, and their fur looked in no way synthetic. The sight of them made my stomach twist and I attempted to force myself to run, yet I found myself fixing on their faces, as hypnotised by them as I was earlier by the sky.

‘Emily,’ said the first cat in a high-pitched voice. My attention turned towards her mouth. It looked just like a human’s, lips and all, aside from the fur that framed it. The teeth were as pearly white as her dress, and lacked the fangs expected from a cat. ‘Emily, it’s a human.’

‘I can see that, Charlotte,’ said Emily, in a voice deeper than that of her…I was certain they were sisters. They themselves confirmed that when they both said in unison, ‘Let’s take him to our brother.’

And that is when I finally decided to run. Where to run to, I was not sure. Certainly away from the cat sisters and the gleaming white house they obviously inhabited, but where was home from here? The thought occurred to me to look for a giant mirror or a hole, and I couldn’t believe I actually had that thought.

Then I fell.

‘There was a human who came here,
And he found everything rather queer,
So off he did race,
And tried to exit this place,
That impulsive human who’s now here.’

Another cat approached; this one was male but was dressed in the same style as the other two. A grey three-piece suit with a popped collar and a blue jabot. All of a sudden, the urge to run left me, and I was back to just staring at whatever I saw with a paralysed body.

‘I see that look in your eyes,
And I know that you’re wondering why,
You’re here before me,
And my family,
And why I am speaking in rhyme.’

Emily and Charlotte returned, holding up their dresses as they approached. ‘I see you’ve met our brother,’ said Emily, ‘and he was well-prepared for you.’ Their brother walked behind me and picked up something. I couldn’t tell what it was, but it’s what tripped me up.

‘We try however we can,
To bring to our world a human,
But they always flee,
At my family,
So I always require a plan.’

‘Thomas is a poet,’ sighed Charlotte, ‘one day he had writer’s block so he attempted to combat it by only talking in limericks. Once he started, he just couldn’t stop.’

‘Enough levity,’ said Emily, clapping her hands – or paws or paw-hands or whatever you call human hands with fur and pads, ‘let’s go back home.’ Emily and Charlotte both took me by the arms, and it turns out they had claws as well, digging deep into my skin. My blood had turned to cement, and I couldn’t struggle against their grasp. It wasn’t my mind or my body doing it this time, they had some paralysing power over me. The only relief I could find was that Thomas wasn’t saying any limericks at the moment.

All I could do was close my eyes. Close my eyes and think about the microwavable lasagne I was going to have tonight. Close my eyes and listen to the birdsong.

Then we arrived at the cats’ home, and I opened my eyes.

The hallway of the mansion gleamed as brightly as the exterior, illuminated by a massive chandelier attached to a ceiling that sported paintings of feline cherubs sitting on clouds. Those perfectly complimented the busts of noble cats sitting between the doorways, and the gigantic statue of a cat reaching out to the sky in front of the bifurcate staircase. I admit, I actually said ‘Wow’ under my voice.

Emily and Charlotte let me go. ‘So you like our home, then?’ asked Charlotte. Before I could answer, she added, ‘I knew you would.’

‘I know that we impressed you,
But there’s something here you must do,
Go into this room,
And do this task soon,
And I’ll prepare a return trip for you.’

I agreed. Calm washed over me at that moment, and it wasn’t just the fact that I now had a chance to return home. It was the splendour of his mansion, the glow that I now felt instead of merely witnessing, and the fact that the birdsong that had welcomed me to this world had returned, louder than ever.

It wasn’t just cats in this mansion. Sitting on a crimson settee, tapping his fingers – if they could be called that – on the armrest as he listened to a gramophone, a giant anthropomorphic red bird, dressed in a similar manner to Thomas, sat. Singing.

In seconds, Thomas grabbed him and slit him by the neck.

‘A bird for dinner tonight,
Which should be quite a delight,
To get the best meat,
The bird you must treat,
He must be happy before he dies,

There’s something that we have heard,
When it comes to preparing a bird,
Humans are the best,
Better than the rest,
So come now, you gave us our word.’

Thomas smiled, as did his sisters who had just appeared. Their mouths now bore fangs, resembling those of Count Dracula more than they did of any feline.

Again my stomach sunk. Again my heart pounded against my chest despite the fact it felt like my blood became heavier. Not because I had seen the murder of a sentient creature. Not because I was tasked with preparing its corpse. Not even because I was surrounded by three anthropomorphic cats now sporting bloodthirsty grins.

Because I never really learned how to cook.

Thomas took the turkey into the kitchen, stripped him bare and laid him out for me to prepare, handing me a knife. Yet once again, my body was paralysed and I couldn’t help but stare with my mouth wide open. Emily and Charlotte looked at me and chuckled amongst themselves like schoolgirls sharing a secret.

‘Oh my,’ said Emily, ‘I think he’s afraid.’

It was that that made me tighten my grip on the knife and slice off the bird’s head. I plucked the feathers, I shoved it in the oven for an hour or so and did everything I had vague memories of hearing about and plopped it on a platter. I didn’t even care that it was a sentient creature, but I don’t know if that was because I really wanted to get home, or due to Thomas and his sisters having some influence over me.

I brought out the bird and placed it on their long dining table. ‘Bon appetit,’ I said without really thinking. Despite their refined appearance, all three of them dug their claws into the meat and stuffed it in their mouths. And all three of them spat it out onto the floor.

‘This is horrible!’ cried Emily.

‘Awful,’ said Charlotte.

‘Hilarious,’ said Thomas, clapping his hand-paws, ‘It’s so bad it’s quite amusing!’

‘Brother!’ cried Charlotte, ‘You’re not speaking in limericks!’

‘I have no need to,’ said Thomas, putting a hand on my shoulder, ‘I have all the inspiration I need right here. Let’s keep him around a little longer, at least until he actually learns how to prepare a bird.’

In seconds I raised the knife in my hand, only for Thomas to stop me by digging his claws into my skin just as his sisters had done. ‘You are a card,’ he said with a smirk, ‘just wait until you see the poems I write about you.’

So he and his sisters decided to keep me in the stables with the horses. The bipedal horses with shirts. Every night they would kill another bird and try to get me to prepare it. I tried and I tried, but my every attempt was met with cringes, scowls and a hairball in my face or two. They provided fodder for many of Thomas’ poems, until one day, he paralysed me with his claws again and laid me out on a table. I no longer provided him inspiration, as he was speaking in limericks again:

‘You inspired me to write a whole book,
But you’re no longer useful, so look,
We’ll eat your flesh and your bones,
But you could have gone home,
If you’d only learnt how to cook!’