A month ago, if you asked me “Are you a cat person, or a dog person?” I would answer “I’m a cat person” without hesitation. Nowadays, I think twice about getting another cat. I’d been an avid cat lover my whole life. I got my first cat for my fourth birthday. It was kitten that I named Mimi. Mimi eventually grew too old and had to be put down. I was a high school junior at the time, so I wasn’t too torn up about it. It was her time, I thought, it’s a part of life.
Keep in mind, I wasn’t like those crazy cat ladies you hear about. I have good friends, a decent apartment, a girlfriend that I love and intend to marry, and I... used to have a cat. His name was Cotton. He was a caramel-colored tortoiseshell tabby cat. My girlfriend and I adopted him together three years ago, when he was about six months old. The three of us enjoyed each others’ company throughout the first year. I would come home from my mundane office job, and he would be there to greet me. He’d brush against the inside of my leg, purring louder than a car engine. I would run my fingers up and down his back, and he’d purr again.
During the second year, though, Cotton became less and less active. At first I thought he was just getting used to being pampered, but I noticed how... fidgety... he became as well. He would get scared easily, and he wouldn’t willingly let me or my girlfriend touch him, let alone hold him. He would still be there, in front of the door, waiting for me when I got home. But he wouldn’t purr or rub against my leg anymore. He would just... stare at me, with his tail swaying back and forth erratically. Even stranger, I once woke up to see him sitting at my feet, his eyes glued directly above my head, looking at nothing.
Eventually, we decided to take him to the vet. To see what was wrong with him, if anything. But, the vet didn’t know what to tell us. He performed every kind of diagnostic procedure on Cotton. He checked for depression, aggression, anxiety, compulsive disorders, cognitive disorders, mange, rabies, even heartworm. Nothing. He just called it a “phase” and all we could do was wait for it to resolve itself.
The third year, Cotton’s condition worsened. He was becoming more and more like a small four-legged zombie. He never made a single sound. He never softly mewled like he used to, he didn’t purr, or make that weird chattering sound that cats make when they see potential prey. He wouldn’t eat the food we gave him, and we ended up force-feeding him supplements just to keep him alive, without much resistance. His fur began greying, and it would fall out it clumps, if he didn’t bite it off himself. I’m amazed that we weren’t accused of negligence. I’m sure it looked that way. We took him to the vet regularly, attempting desperately to restore him to what he once was. And yet... nothing.
Three weeks ago today, we decided that Cotton needed put down. My girlfriend and I talked about it. But we didn’t talk for long. We knew he was suffering, and that there was nothing we could do to help him. If he was going to die, he deserved to do so painlessly. We scheduled the appointment that afternoon.
I woke up the next day and slid out of bed. I showered, got dressed, and went over to wake my girlfriend. But I stopped when I noticed several crumpled tissues near her head and on the floor by the bed. Her nose and cheeks were flushed red. Some of her eyelashes stuck together. I remember the night before, I thought I heard someone whimpering and sobbing while I was half asleep. I decided not to wake her. She didn’t need to be upset so early in the morning.
I went downstairs and had breakfast, even though I wasn’t remotely hungry. Then, I tracked down Cotton to put him in his crate, and I took him to the vet. The car ride felt mercifully short. I heard him mewl for the first time in months, when I pulled him out of his crate. He almost scratched me too. My eyes began to water when I heard him chatter like he used to when I would come home, rather than just staring at me blankly.
I cradled him in my arms as I entered the vet’s office. The receptionist greeted me, and handed me a tissue when she saw my red face and moist eyes. The vet asked me what I wanted to do with Cotton’s remains. I decided for him to be cremated. The vet walked in the next room, saying there were a few preparations to be made. I sat down in the waiting room with Cotton. I hugged him and held his patchy fur close to my chest in his final moments. And for the first time in a long time, I looked directly into his amber eyes. Then I saw it. I saw it in the reflection of his eyes. It was just a vague image, blurred by Cotton’s cloudy eyes, but I knew that it looked very, very wrong. It was this rotting, human-like... thing. Its flesh was a sickly brown and hung off of its hideously bony, distorted figure. Two dark holes where its eyes would be were glaring at me vacantly. And it was standing right behind me. But when I looked over my shoulder, it was gone. But in Cotton’s eyes, I could still see its reflection. Smiling at me this time, bearing its oily, grotesque, black teeth.
Cotton was put down. And I arranged for his ashes to be delivered to my apartment. Now, I’m afraid of mirrors. I’m afraid of anything with reflective properties. If I catch myself looking at my own reflection, I don’t actually catch a glimpse of anything, but I’m not taking any chances. Not after seeing that... thing... in my cat’s eyes.