Pussy Eaters

“Bartoli, I’m starving.”
Bartoli looked over the head of his companion Josip, staring at the abandoned hovels surrounding the dank, muddy lane. It cut a path through the remains of a village on a Serbian road between Ecka and Bečkerek within the Banat District.
“I see no souls who can offer assistance,” Bartoli said to Josip in his native Italian. “Only a stray mongrel or two roam the houses and shops filled with the dead, along with dozens of cats, and the crows pecking at the eyes of plague-ridden corpses. Even they are about to take flight with the setting sun to leave us starving and thirsting for even a flat beer or water.”
Josip looked upon Bartoli with horror. Water, where fish pee and maidens wash their soiled undergarments. He attempted to strike the image from his mind, wincing as he did so.
When he re-opened his eyes and his vision cleared, he noticed a black cat had inched closer to them. It was sitting halfway behind a barrel filled with something rotten.
“How about a cat?”
“A cat?” Bartoli asked.
Unperplexed, Josip replied “A cat.”
“For what?”
“To eat, of course. I’ll die if I don’t eat soon.”
Bartoli placed his hands on his hips and stared his friend down as if admonishing a child. “This is 1738, Josip. We are civilized beings, not wretched heathens who eat pets.”
The black cat meowed as if in agreement.
Josip looked at the cat then back to Bartoli. “He might not be a pet. He might be lost.”
“Lost?”
“Or without an owner. There is a plague going around. His owner could be dead and the cat is homeless.”
“Meaning?” Bartoli asked, his brow sunken and furrowed.
“Meaning he would no longer be anyone’s pet.”
Bartoli tapped his foot impatiently as his expression of disgust deepened.
“Meaning we could spit and roast him like a rabbit?” Josip half-questioned, hoping to change the Italian’s mind.
“What would our countrymen think of such behavior?”
“They’d think we are ingenious survivors.”
“No, Josip, they would think we are wild curs.”
“I am from Dalmatia,” Josip said excitedly. “We have a spotted dog that has become a symbol of quality amongst those in Zaostrag and surrounding areas.”
“Yes, a magnificent, energetic, black and white beast, which you are none of the three,” Bartoli spat.
“Parts of me are black and white,” Josip insisted.
“That would be the pupils of your eyes set upon a yellowing field crisscrossed with minuscule lines of red. I would no longer even call them white. Quit trying to talk me into eating the cat.”
“You don’t have to eat that particular cat. There are dozens of them. We could eat for days! Possibly weeks!”
Bartoli shook his dirty friend, causing clumps of mud to drop in the slop they were standing in up to their ankles as flies buzzed about their bodies. “You are going mad, my friend. Lay down and sleep. You will feel better in the morning.”
Josip looked longingly at the cat, which was washing a paw and ignoring the humans. He licked his lips but gave in and followed Bartoli to a small alleyway with no dead bodies and less mud. It appeared the cats had eaten the rats.
There were several overturned barrels they could lay back against to keep their heads off the ground. It took quite a while, but Josip finally fell asleep despite the sounds reverberating from Bartoli’s large schnoz. He began dreaming of roast cat…fried cat…Linguini and kitty.
He was nibbling on pussycat Dalmatinska pašticada when he kept feeling the meat nipping back. It nipped and nipped. No matter how much Josip withdrew his hands, his fingertips kept tingling with pain.
He opened his eyes to a full moon and the shadow of a cat sitting on the barrel behind his head. The pain in his fingers was unrelenting. He looked down to see four cats, two at each hand, biting his fingers. The tip of one finger was gone and another was following suit.
Bartoli awakened to screaming. He saw Josip jumping to his feet, shaking cats off. The supervising cat on the barrel appeared to be the black cat from earlier.
“What is happening?” Bartoli yelled over Josip’s screaming.
“Cats are eating me.”
“But you are filthy and disgusting. Why would they do that?”
“I don’t know. Ask the cats,” he said, swinging one cat after another off his body as more joined the fray.
The black cat looked at Bartoli and asked, “You appear homeless. Is he your pet?”
Surprised, Bartoli only answered, “No.”
“Prijatan!” roared the black cat.
“Buon appetito?” Bartoli questioned. The clowder attacked them both. “But I love cats!”
“I’m sure we’ll love you, too,” the black cat said with a smirk.

Ethan Nahté worked several years in TV/Film/Radio. He is an author, journalist, screenwriter, photographer, & musician. He has over three dozen published stories, two story collections, and three novellas. He resides in the mountains of Arkansas, loves animals, hiking, camping, and fishing. Check out http://www.NahteWords.com for official author info about Ethan Nahte’

Categories: Fiction

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