meow like a cat or eat bugs like a cat, or cough up hairballs like a cat, you need to stay home like a cat, so you can stare out the window and eat cat food. Got it?”
"Got it," replied the kids, nodding, looking appropriately chagrined.
* * *
That evening, Principal Cohen called him in for a meeting.
"So what’s with these kids you sent me?" She asked, looking truly confused. "Why are they acting like cats?"
Mr. Thomas exhaled, running a hand through his hair. The principal’s office was all brown and beige, and it smelled like mildew and paper. It didn’t help his stress. “I’ll be damned if I know. It started yesterday with Ronnie Larson. At first I thought she’d snap out of it, that she was just messing around, but then she actually scratched me. Like, on purpose.”
Principal Cohen nodded and frowned. "And what about Stuart?"
Mr. Thomas shrugged. “You know how he is. Anything for a laugh. He was just copying the girl, trying to be funny. He ate a spider and everything.”
"He ate a spider?"
"Yep. Gross, right?"
"Yeah." Ms. Cohen sat back in her chair. "Well both students refused to stop their playacting, even in my office. I was forced to call their parents to come get them."
"Did the parents get them to stop?"
Ms. Cohen threw up her hands. "No! The kids just kept on pretending to be cats. It’s actually sort of impressive that they managed to keep it up so long. I figured if nothing else, their parents would scare them into acting normal."
Mr. Thomas shook his head. "It’s just too dang weird."
"It is. So, I’ve got to ask. Were you playing some kind of...I don’t know, some kind of animal or farm game with them or something? Something that might have triggered such weird behavior?"
"No! Yesterday was kickball day and today was volleyball day. They’re too old for Farmer in the Dell."
Ms. Cohen shrugged and sighed. "Yeah, I figured. But I had to ask."
"Yeah. Well, keep me updated, will you? Let me know if you hear back from the parents or anything."
"You got it."
* * *
Mr. Thomas lived in a tidy two bedroom cottage, alone. A divorced dad, he needed the extra bedroom for when his son came to stay on weekends and two weeks in the summer, but that was the only nod to space or luxury he allowed himself. Simple, modular, and frugal were his watchwords.
The size and cheap construction of his cottage meant that he was not well insulated from outdoor noises, so he woke easily and often. On this morning, the sound was a new one.
"MEOW! MEOW! MEOW!"
Not the meowing of horny or hateful cats, as often happened during feral cat mating season. In fact, it wasn’t the meowing of real cats at all.
"You’ve gotta be kidding me," he moaned. He rubbed his eyes and got out of bed. It was just starting to get light out, still in that murky morning gloaming. He pulled a sweatshirt on over his T-shirt against the morning chill. He put on his slippers. Then he opened the front door.
There were at least a dozen kids in his front yard, all on their hands and knees, all meowing earnestly. He blinked a few times, as if to clear his vision. He stepped forward and immediately recoiled as something soft and squishy squirted under his foot.
He looked down and gave an unmanly little shriek as he spied a pile of dead animals, one of which was now clinging to the bottom of his slipper, a tiny forked paw stretching out from his instep. He kicked the slipper off and away from him. It sailed into the front yard, right in front of one of the kids. He recognized Stuart and a few others.