Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
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Pet Adoption

by John Winn

Jeremy gazes at his shiny orange coat shining in the afternoon sun. He licks his lips and turns over on his back. Closing his eyes, he stretches out as the rays flow over him, warming his stomach. Slowly, his throat begins to vibrate, the living room filled with the sound of purring.

Life is good.

His eyes flutter. Yawning, he shifts around on the hardwood floor just so. Fading out, he basks in front of the screen door, oblivious to the swaying trees, the leaves swirling in the breeze, the world outside. Not yet asleep, his thoughts drift to the African savannah, and scenes of lions and lionesses running amongst the tall grassland.

Waking up, he looks around. He doesn't see the brown ottoman that has long occupied his master's home since time immemorial. Nor does he see the leather armchair that he usually occupies when he isn't lounging in the master bedroom, or the guest room, or the living room floor, of course. What he does see is grass. Rows and rows of blades. Tall as the tallest tree. Stretching out for miles and miles. And he hasn't even rubbed his eyes yet.

Jeremy runs towards the vegetation, pawing the leaves, only to have his claws pass through them like shafts of light. Watching the leaves bend away from him, he scrunches his forehead in confusion. This isn't like any yard he's seen. At least, any yard he's trampled upon.

The sound of raucous laughter fills the room. Startled, he rears back and hisses. He casts his eyes about, looking for the source of the sound. His claws glisten in the light.

"Xyglaoiol!" the baritone voice exclaims.

"Quargoplee!" a falsetto voice responds.

The leaves fade away, replaced by a blank black screen. In fact, the whole room appears to be black -- including the block walls and furniture. He backs up instinctively, bumping into a wall. He cowers, not quite sure who the voices are, or why they are so cheery.

A crack appears in the wall, causing the room to be bathed in white light. As the gap increases, Jeremy braces himself into the wall, unsure what to expect. Covering his eyes, he strains to make out the outlines standing out against the light, their imposing figures stretching into the heavens. Their arms are hulking, their fists monstrous.

Stepping into the room, their figures take on a more hideous shape. Their slimy green skin -- if it can be called that -- shimmers. Their fingers are curved. Yet it is their eyes, their large black eyes that stand out the most. Their grey irises search for the feline.

Jeremy hisses at them. Go away. Go away and don't mess with me anymore. I am not in the mood for it. Yet the creatures' feet are planted, still and unmoving.

The creatures walk towards him, careful not to disturb the cat, their hands stretching out to him in a gesture of friendship. The feline scampers and runs past their legs, standing at the crack of the door.

"Quargoplee?" the female asks.

The male places a hand on his chin and broods.

"Guarrrhalf," he growls.

As the creatures look about the room, searching for the feline in vain, Jeremy dashes out the room. Standing in the light, he is taken aback by the corridor, long and winding, maze like in its complexity. Backing up, he arches his legs, preparing to sprint down the hall. He looks back toward the two creatures, their voices pitched with emotion.

Jeremy nervously dashes past the duo, oblivious to the commotion behind them. Rows upon rows of doors and bay windows fly by, little more than slivers in his peripheral vision. Stopping by an open area, he walks into the room and hides behind a large black pot, its sleek frame shielding it from his would be captors. He hunches down, obscuring his figure.

He closes his eyes and relaxes his muscles. He imagines himself in the African savannah, stalking hyenas, devouring their flesh in the afternoon sun. Licking his lips involuntarily, he purrs at the thought. And it is a fine thought.

Yet the respite is brief. Pricking his ears, he lifts his head and cocks it in the direction of the high pitched sound. Or rather sounds. They seem to be discordant and frenetic, like arguing, but it's not anything Jeremy is used to. It's something else entirely. But what?

As if on cue, the creatures walk into the room gesturing wildly.

"Arghee!" the male exclaims.

The female points a finger accusingly at him.

"We! We arghee!"

The male shakes his head vigorously.

"Ta. Ta ro arghee. Meeg ko ra arghee."

The female stands erect, her grey eyes glowing a brilliant white.

"Arghee?" she says. "Arghee? We quargoplee. Ta Meeg quargoplee. Karkhee!"

The male shrugs.

"We Karkhee," he says with a dismissive wave of the hand. "Ta ro karkhee. Ta meeg quargoplee."

Suddenly, a reptilian tongue flies out his companion's mouth, wrapping itself around his neck not unlike a boa. He falls to his knees. Grasping his throat, he gurgles, desperately searching for air. She glowers at him, watching as he fights for his life. Yet before he expires, she lets go of him, letting him crumple to the floor.

"We.karkhee.We karkhee.'

From his location behind the pot, Jeremy eyes the couple anxiously, gauging their interactions. The male is lying prone, still and unmoving on the floor. His companion towers above him, cackling as he wheezes. She struts about the room, taunting him with her laugh.

Sensing an opportunity to escape, Jeremy surveys the area, fixing his gaze on futuristic furniture surrounding the couple. Seeing an opening, he sprints past them into the hallway, running as fast as his legs will carry him. The female glimpses briefly at the flash of fur. Taken aback, she kicks her companion, rousting him into a sitting position.

Pointing towards the corridor, she waves the finger violently.

"Quargoplee! Quargoplee!"

The male gazes quizzically at her.


The female nods her head.

Side by side, the pair runs down the corridor, their heavy frames causing it to shake. After what seems like an interminable period, they slump on the floor, winded. No trace of fur, nothing. He's ephemeral. A ghost.

They exchange glances. Their faces say 'why bother'? Yet despite feeling short of breath and wanting to call it all off, their hearts are still in the game. They've traveled to the ends of the galaxy for the kitty. Why should they quit on him now?

Breathing deeply, they brush themselves off and resume the search for the AWOL cat. Walking briskly down the corridor, they gaze into windows of rooms, desperately hoping for a sign of him. Dilating their irises, they scan the area, leaving no paw tracks or fur ball unturned. Their stomachs rumble.

Several minutes of scouring the hall in vein, they stop. Sighing, they pace up and down the corridor. The creatures are no closer to finding the feline, and they have several more paths to cover, several more potential hiding places that the kitty may be residing in. His hand on his hips, the male kicks he floor, shouting out exclamations of anger.

"Tikitaka! Ta ro quargoplee!"

"Ta ro. Mek no ga re Earth quargoplee."

Out of the corner of his eye, the male spots a stationary orange speck. His curiosity aroused, his eyes zero in on the spot. He shakes his companion's shoulders, rousting her out of her reverie.

"Quargoplee!" he says excitedly, pointing his finger animatedly.

The couple dashes through the long corridor. In less time than it would take a human to heat a cup of coffee in a microwave, the female seizes on the kitty, cradling him in her thick, broad arms. Jeremy hisses and struggles against her. He claws her hands, cutting her skin. Yet she ignores the open wounds and maintains her grip on him.

Cooing, she rocks him gently, as if he were her own child. Jeremy closes his eyes and purrs involuntarily. The babying reminds him of a place a long, long way from here, when his master would come home and hold him and stroke his fur. Yet even as the female coos to him, he reminds himself that she isn't a substitute for human flesh, for the sensation of human fingernails running themselves through his silky coat.

"We ga to?"

The female glances at her companion and shrugs.

"We. Ga. To."

"Mik quargoplee."

"Mik quargoplee?" The male fumes. "Mik no quargoplee. Mik Gherg!"

As if to illustrate his point, the male pats his stomach, loudly smacking his lips. The female steps away from him, her eyes flashing angrily at him.

"No! No Gherg!"

"Gherg! Gherg!"

"Ta ro gherg! Ta ro gherg!"

Their voices pitched, their voices are rich with the sound of friction. His hair on end, Jeremy pricks his ears, listening for signs of violence. He can feel her nails digging in his fur. He bites her arm. It's no use. He bites again. Yet it seems to be a waste. Only a deux ex machina could help him now.

As if by divine intervention, the female loosens her grip, allowing him to scamper away, well out of range of the two creatures. Looking back, he notices the male lunging towards her, his arms targeting her throat. The female steps to the side and dodges him, watching him run head first into the wall. As he crumples to the floor, she kicks him repeatedly, chortling all the while.

Not wanting to tempt fate, Jeremy makes a run for it, putting as much distance between him and them as possible. Panting, he comes towards a forked path. Exhausted, he stops in front of the pathway, catching his breath. As he recovers, he casts glances behind his shoulder, weary of the intergalactic duo.

He examines the two paths, weighing them anxiously. Sniffing the air, he ascertains various pros and cons of either one. Yet they both seem to be equally good as the other. With no clear choice, he steps slowly toward the longer, narrower path, planting his numb paws in the direction of the walkway. He looks straight ahead, thinking nothing of his choice.

The growling of his stomach is palpable. Famished, he casts his eyes for a glance of food -- any food, bones, entrails -- it doesn't matter. Yet there is no sign of nourishment anywhere. Saliva drips onto his chin, finding its way towards the floor. Licking his lips involuntarily, he fantasizes about coming across the carcass of a bird, a rabbit, anything.

He can taste the imaginary blood on his tongue, mixing in his mouth. He makes a note to kill the first fowl he sees when he gets home. If he ever gets home. Glancing at a door that is ajar, he wanders into the room. Walking around, he picks at the array of bones scattered about. Most of them are small-toes and paws.

Yet as Jeremy ventures throughout the room, he comes into contact with other, more significant findings. Mostly legs skulls, and a rib or two here and there. He thinks nothing of them. Whatever they were, their fate is not his problem. They might as well be sparrows or robins in his backyard.

And if it were him on the receiving end of whatever felled them, it would be no different. That is how life works. Gawking at the dismembered skeletons, their empty sockets staring out at him, they seem familiar to him. He chalks it down to their tailbones, or the slope of their head. They definitely seem feline. Almost. Like. Cats.

The hairs on his back stick up. Backing slowly away, he glances towards his left and right, scanning the room for the presence of a predator. Finding none, he scampers out of the room as quickly as he came, his tail on end. Running through the corridor, he attempts to put distance between him and the feline murderer. He can hear it coming towards him, stomp stomp stomping its way towards its prey.

Jeremy picks up his pace. Yet the stomping grows louder and louder. He can feel the creature barreling down on him. Only its fetid breath is absent. Sensing the creature gaining on him, he darts into a dimly lit room.

Carefully stepping through the room, he hides behind a large panel.

"Quargoplee? Quargoplee?"

He can feel its legs brushing against him, thick as an oak. Terrified, he looks for an opening.

"Quargoplee? Quargoplee?"

Jeremy hisses. The creature backs away. Yet as he scampers into a far corner, the creature trips and bumps its head into the panel. Jeremy huddles in the corner as the room is filled with the beep boop beep boop of gadgets whirring and clicking. As the creature stumbles aimlessly, trying to find its way, all Jeremy can make out is a blanket of white.

Rubbing his eyes, Jeremy adjusts his vision. Gazing down at his feet, he is shocked to see a big hulking legs and a shiny coat of beige fur. Taken aback, he glances at his backside. His trunk, his back his whole body -- everything is bigger. He shrugs and looks at the horizon. A lone tree stands among the grassland. Spotting a figure lying in the distance, he runs towards it.

As he sprints towards the vision, wind whips through his fur. Grass and weeds and rocks whir through his peripheral vision. He's dreamed of this all his life, yet it feels strange somehow. Liberating, yet still out of place.

Staring at the gasping creature, he can't believe what he is seeing. A dead hyena. Licking his lips, he pauses for a moment and considers whether to eat the poor thing. Yet he can't help himself. Biting into its femoral artery, he lets the blood run down his chin as he ravenously tears into the morsel.

No place like home... but this would do just fine.


© 2009 John Winn

Bio: John Winn is a recent college graduate who has been a science fiction fan off and on for several years(!) (but a cat-lover for much longer...). This is his first science-fiction story.

E-mail: John Winn

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