BY IVANKA FEAR
Copyright is held by the author.
HE SUPPOSED there was no better time than now. With a grown son and daughter, one of whom was about to be married, it was bound to come out sooner rather than later anyway. So, William took them aside, sat them down and said, “Kids, there’s something you need to know. It’s about your mother.”
When they had first met and started dating, several decades ago, she told him her parents had concerns about their relationship. Having immigrated to Canada from Eastern Europe, they held onto their old beliefs and customs. But although her father said, “You should stick with your own kind. It’s not good to mix,” she held a more liberal view. William demonstrated a respect for her parents and their culture, so eventually they not only accepted him, but welcomed him into the family. “I guess you’re one of us now,” her father said to him when they announced their engagement.
They had been married about a month when she told him, “I need to have a cat.” Although he knew she had cats for pets when she was growing up, his response was, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” They lived in a small apartment, hardly enough room for the two of them, much less a cat. He soon learned his opinion on this topic didn’t matter. One day she just showed up with a kitten in her arms. There wasn’t much choice but to keep the poor thing.
He had always liked cats, but was more of a dog person. She told him she was afraid of dogs, that when she was a child she would often get chased by dogs in the neighbourhood. “They recognize me,” she said, “They know I’m a cat.” William laughed at this, and accepted the fact that there would be no dogs in his future. He also found it amusing when she purred and sometimes meowed along with the cat. It was kind of cute, except she would also hiss and show her fangs when she was not happy with him. But he supposed everyone had some sort of little idiosyncrasy.
A few years later, she decided it was time for another cat. “Tabitha needs a playmate,” she insisted. That’s when Lulu came into their lives. As they had moved into a house by this point, space wasn’t really an issue, so he agreed. “I guess you need to be surrounded by your familiars,” he joked. It was when she asked for a third cat that he put his foot down. The next thing he knew, there was a rabbit in the house. “You said we couldn’t have any more cats. You didn’t say anything about rabbits,” she told him. When the second rabbit came along, he told her in no uncertain terms, “No more cats, no more bunny rabbits, no more pets, period.” She seemed to accept this for a time, and before too long she told William she was pregnant.
William was excited when their son was born. He grew worried, though, when the doctor took him aside later and told him he had some concerns about the health of his wife and his son.
“I’m afraid your mother has a condition that might be hereditary,” William told his children now. “In fact, I think it may even be contagious,” he continued. The kids stared at him in disbelief. They had never known their mother to be seriously ill. “As you’re at a point in your lives where you may soon have children yourselves, there’s something you need to be aware of.”
“What’s wrong with my wife and son?” William had asked, thinking the worst.
“Just some sort of anomaly,” started the doctor, “I haven’t seen anything like this before.” The doctor told William they would need to do further tests and keep monitoring their health.
As time passed, both mother and child seemed to be doing well, with no apparent symptoms of illness. His wife insisted there was no need for further tests, as they were obviously perfectly fine. Then along came a second child. Once again, the doctor seemed to be perplexed by something. He told William, “It’s the oddest thing.” Then he told him about his wife’s rare condition.
William couldn’t believe it was true. There had to be some other explanation. He did some research online, googling his wife’s symptoms, and tried to convince himself there was some mistake. He considered if it was possible his wife could possibly have some genetic disposition towards mental illness. In his reading, he discovered the term ‘clinical lycanthropy’. Apparently, there were people who believed they were non-human animals. His wife’s cute purring, meowing, fang-like incisors, fear of dogs, and talking about herself as a cat, started to seem more than a little alarming. In his research, he also discovered the myth of lycanthropy, a superstition involving shape-shifters, humans who transform into animals. But as time passed, William realized his fears for his wife’s sanity were unfounded.
For the next several years, William and his wife were preoccupied with raising their family. It was a bit disconcerting how she referred to the kids as her “kittens” on occasion. But she was a good mother, and didn’t mention anything more about wanting another cat. Life was good and they were happy. But as the children grew and needed their mother less and less, that was when they started to show up in droves.
When the first one came, she pleaded with William to let it stay. The children sided with their mother, and William had no recourse but to let it in. Katy became a beloved member of the family. Shortly after that, William noticed there was another stray living in their garage and on the front porch. This time he was the one who welcomed another cat into the house. Everyone loved Tom. The house was getting rather full by this point.
The problem was that once he welcomed Tom in, they seemed to multiply. “You’re one of us,” said his wife. William thought to himself, “Yes, I’ve definitely become a cat person.” He seemed to attract more and more strays all the time. On the front doorstep, on the back deck, in the garage, in the shed, even at his place of work, they appeared as if blown there by the wind. William felt himself inexplicably becoming obsessed with cats. Before long, they were all over the yard, fed and cared for by William himself. He began to seriously wonder if he was becoming mentally unhinged or if the myths could possibly be true.
As he looked at his two children, he thought it was really rather obvious in retrospect. He was glad his daughter’s fiancé seemed to be a cat lover. It would have made for a very strained marriage otherwise. William recalled how he had said to him, “Congratulations. Looks like you’ll be one of us now,” much like his father-in-law had said to him all those years ago. Now, as his son and daughter asked him what was wrong with their mother, he repeated the doctor’s words and they smiled at him in relief, their little fangs showing.
“When you were born, the doctor told me there was an anomaly that showed up in your blood tests. When I asked him what was wrong with your blood, he said, ‘The thing is . . . and I don’t know how to explain this . . . but the thing is. . . . it’s not entirely human.’”