LTF: If Life Could Only Be a Catnap — Part I

Steven Bergom

These are the great questions of history: Where were you when Francis Ferdinand was assassinated? Where were you when Kennedy was shot? Where were you when the Challenger shuttle exploded? Where were you when all the members of the TSA-Talk mailing list were remarkably transformed?

For the first two, I wasn't even born yet. For the third, I was in the third grade gym class. For the last, I was sitting at work, staring at my computer monitor.

I can't really describe to you the sensations I felt; you know, the fur growing, gaining about 300 pounds, growing really big teeth. I just zoned out and came to about 15 minutes later staring at bouncing sheep splattering on the ground. (Okay, before you ask, that's my screensaver. I never claimed to be sane!)

You're now going to ask, how come Marcus didn't see anything? Even though Marcus, the guy I share my office with, sits right across from me, he is like every software engineer in the world: when they're face-down in code, they won't move except for an announcement of fresh-baked cookies available in the break room. He broke me out of my own shock of discovering that I suddenly had orange-furred hands by slamming into the wall behind him and trying desperately to climb it backwards.

Mike, my boss, paused in walking past our door to stare incredulously at me. What I meant to say was, "What happened to me?" but it came out as a series of deep rumblings and snarls. Mike took the time to repeat Marcus' performance but opted instead for falling into a fetal position.

I still didn't have an answer to my question, so I decided to head to the restroom where the mirror could provide me with more information than either Marcus or Mike could at the moment. I could still stand and walked, but as I tried to hurry I automatically fell to all fours. It was much more comfortable but I didn't stop to consider the implications.

The restroom was empty save for one person who screamed and rushed into a stall, locking the door behind him (and no, I refuse to use that trite phrase here!) I ignored him and instead lifted up onto two legs, looked at my reflection and stopped.

Black stripes? Check. Three inch canines? Check. Long tail? Check. Wang mark? Check.

Buddhist monks at the Shao-lin temple in China had in ages past studied the fighting techniques of felines, reptiles, birds and drunks. Over the centuries they incorporated these movements into their own fighting style, or gong-fu. I had the opportunity to learn five of these animals in my study of Shao-lin chuan-fa, but there was one that intrigued me most. One that struck me with its beauty and grace, and its deadly ferocity.

The tiger.

And now I had the opportunity to study it much more closely than I had ever studied it before.

I looked down at my hands — no, paws. Well, they looked like hands. They still had four fingers and an opposable thumb, but they were stubbier. Flexing a muscle I didn't know I had I found that my fingernails had been replaced by the ubiquitous claws. These new utilities would reak havoc on my keyboard when I finished writing the client code for a demonstration I was working on.

A sound from behind me broke my reverie. I moved my head just in time to catch the unidentified restroom user duck back behind the door of the stall he was in. I sighed. I knew somehow that he was not the only person that I would see react in this way. I wondered momentarily at why I wasn't jumping around in panic at my predicament and why I was taking everything so calmly. Glimpsing my golden, almost glowing, eyes in the mirror again, I had my answer; I was the predator, the lord of my domain, the top of the food chain, and predators as a rule don't panic.

I would have to go out and greet the world before long, and if I was lucky, that world would not include men in khaki clothes, pith helmets and monocles carrying guns and repeating, "Heah, wot! Good show, I say!" every two minutes. Growling an apology to the whimpering man in the stall I stepped to the doorway and pulled open the door.

The crowd stepped back as one as I moved from the doorway. I realized I was standing straight up and probably looked ready to pounce on them. I picked up from the air a scent I head never smelled before; a scent of sweat, urine and what could only be described as tension. I flared my nostrils and breathed deeply, drinking in the sweet aroma of a frightened animal.

Ultimately it was my tail hitting the door that brought me back to my senses. I really should have known better since the one way that mammals have survived so many millennia is by developing an acute fight or flight mechanism. In humans this is balanced by an almost equally powerful curiosity factor. In some people this curiosity is actually of greater strength than their desire for flight and the Darwin Awards would have a new candidate to vote on.

Since I didn't want any of my fellow engineers to win any of those awards in the foreseeable future I calmed my predatory instincts and sat down, trying to look like nothing more than an overgrown tabby. I sat like that for several minutes waiting for everyone to start breathing again, which they did, eventually. They still did not come any closer to me and several times I had to forcefully push from my mind the thought of a deer caught in a car's headlights. (Hey, it was lunchtime and I was gettin' kinda' hungry!)

Finally I felt I small hand stroking my shoulder. I turned to face Tina, Jeff's four-year-old daughter, visiting her daddy at the office for the day. "Nice kitty," she said while patting me. "Meow!"

The carefree innocence of youth works wonders on the soul! A sound not unlike purring came from my throat and I pointed my whiskers forward in smile as I put my arm around her tiny shoulders. She giggled when I pulled her into a hug; wouldn't you giggle, too, if you were suddenly hugged by a giant plush animal that you could only win at a carnival? Tina did more to assuage the fears of my colleagues than any action I could have performed. I stood, gently cupping Tina in my arm. Walking to one side I deposited Tina in her startled father's arms and motioned the crowd to follow me into the conference room.

I couldn't talk at the moment but the giant whiteboard in the conference room would serve adequately for my purposes. While everyone filed nervously in, I wrote, wrinkling my nose at the strong odor coming from the markers. When everyone was in the room I stopped my ministrations and stood back from the board giving everyone a clear view of what I wrote.

"Yes, I am still bergy." (Note: You will often see me being referred to as 'bergy' in this narrative because there was already someone named Steve working for the company when I started. At the time there were only a dozen people working for the company so things got confusing real quick. To this day if you were to mention my given name, most of my coworkers would stare at you blankly before realizing who you were talking about!) "No, this isn't a costume. No, I don't know what happened. Yes, I'm having trouble talking. No, I won't bite, but the first person to call me 'Tony' will learn what disembowling feels like!"

There was a moment of silence before I began to hear a few stifled laughs. A confused voice came from the back, "What? I don't get it. Who's 'Tony'?" In lieu of an explanation someone tossed a red handkerchief to me and I dutifully — if not somewhat annoyedly — wound it around my neck and struck a pose, holding one finger in the air and staring vapidly ahead.

The laughs weren't stifled anymore as the entire room degenerated into the sounds of guffaws and slapping knees. Let's face it; it's hard to be afraid of something that you see in advertisements for a sugar-coated breakfast cereal.

There were a few questions which I answered as best I could before Mike finally chased everyone back to their desks to do work that probably wouldn't get done now. I tried speaking again when Mike turned back to me and was able to get out a semi-understandable, "Thanks."

"So," he said to me, trying to hide his nervousness. "What do you want to do now?"

I wrote 'home' on the whiteboard.

"You wanna' go home? Yeah, it'd probably be a good idea. I mean, I don't think anyone'll get much done now, huh?"

'Can I bum a ride? Don't want to drive like this yet'

Mike had to think a moment. Yes, I know I was probably frightening him, but what choice did I have? He had an SUV that I was pretty sure I could fit in, and the tinted windows were a definite plus at this time. Besides, I was hoping that immersion therapy would dull the edge of his fear.

"Sure," he said finally. "Let me get a couple of things from my office first." I nodded and watched him scamper out of the room. I was left alone, but the concentrated smell of fear lingered on.

A half hour later I was back at my apartment looking for something to eat. I forced myself to consider everything in my kitchen but my eyes kept coming back to the steak I had in the refrigerator. My will power kept my instincts at bay for a full ten seconds before I pulled the package out of the fridge, ripped the wrapping off and tore into the meat with my teeth. It was exquisitly delicious and it knocked the edge off my hunger to some extent. Conscious of trying to eat balanced meals, I next tried some carrots, but they didn't seem to taste right anymore.

Afterwards I went to my bookcase and began work on a skill that I would need to survive: speaking. I considered carefully my choices and eventually chose a compendium of Edgar Allen Poe's works. I reasoned that the poetry would be an ideal source of practice for my new facial structure; the vocabulary and cadence of the rhymes should be perfect and, if I got bored I could always read, "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether."

Predictably, I did not open to 'The Raven', but to a little poem entitled, 'Sonnet — To Science'. I chuckled at the second line, wholly appropriate to my circumstance: 'Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.' The poem is actually a lament at how science has stripped all the wonder from the author's world, but now, this author has a whole new world to wonder about.

I'm sure, gentle reader, that you would love to hear me tell you of my travails as I attempted to move lips and tongue in configurations for which they were not meant, but I have to tell you that I had spent some time learning ventriloquism. Though I never became adept at it, I still remembered how to speak without using too many facial muscles, and my practice soon yielded an understandable sort of speech.

Soon, however, is actually a relative term and a glance out the window informed me that it was well past sunset when I finally looked up from my book. I had often had the habit of reading in an almost dark room (a habit born out of pure laziness since, when I am deep into the pages of a novel I don't like to interrupt my train of thought to perform a trivial task such as turning on a light!) but I was nowhere near a window where I could catch ambient light yet I could still see rather clearly.

I could get to like this.

It was only then that I also realized I was tired. My bed was a bit small for my form now so I pulled the mattress off my futon, laid it on the floor and curled up on top of it. A blanket seemed unnecessary with my fur and even the mattress seemed superfluous as I was sure that a nice tree limb would do nicely to sleep on. My last thought before somnolence claimed me, though, was that I was going to need to invest in 3M when shedding season came around and plain-old they have some amazing products for picking hair and lint off of clothing and furniture.

I have no one to blame for what happened the next morning but myself. Waking up was a wonderful feeling; opening my eyes, taking a deep breath and then stretching. (I now know why cats look so ecstatic as they reach forth with their paws and extend to their full length! Yawns are much more satisfying, too!) It was mid-morning and, thinking that everyone would be at work, I left to check my mail.

The mail center of my apartment is in a kiosk by the main office. It was a long walk and I opted to do it on all fours. I didn't see anyone, but then again, on the way back I was concentrating on not putting holes in the letters I held between my jaws.

Bill. Bill. Flyer. Credit card application. Flyer. An unlisted number cuts down on the amount of unsolicited mail you find in your mailbox but, trust me when I say that it doesn't completely stop. I practiced working a pen in my paw for a while so that when I got around to actually writing checks for the bills, they would be somewhat readable. It was when I got up that I could hear noises coming from across the way. The view from my balcony was not the best for the angle they were coming from so I decided to wander out my front door to get a better look.

Between my apartment building and the front entrance are a wash (a stream bed — normally dry — to divert the flow of water out of the mountains) and the main office. The wash, of course, has a railing around it since the sides are quite steep and I was leaning on it when I saw a group of people round the office corner. Two were wearing the apartment uniform (tan pants and white polo shirt — half the time it made you feel like you were living in a racquetball club!), one looked to be from the sheriff's department and the last two were wearing khaki-colored clothes that I remembered seeing somewhere before.

Then they saw me. All froze except for the duo in khaki-clothes who moved quickly. The first set down the metal briefcase she was carrying and the man pointed at me what looked like a…

Curiosity doesn't always kill the cat. In this case, he got tranquilized.