It Ate the Cat’s Head

It’s a rare thing for me to remember dreams; today is a rare day. This time, the cat suffered for it.

The hotel room had a dungeon-esque quality: the walls were stone, there were no real windows because the room was underground. A little natural light filtered in through a few window-well like gratings around the ceiling. I have no idea why we were there, but it was voluntary. There was no sense that we couldn’t leave, and the general mood was curious delight.

A squirrel used one of the ceiling grates to join us in examining the room. It was as far as I could tell a normal squirrel, but it had a preternatural knack for clinging to the rough stone of the walls. It scrambled this way and that with the kind of psychotic jitters that you expect from squirrels. Then it was gone.

Near the foot of a large bed, between the footboard and an armoire, between the ceiling and the floor hung a visual catastrophe of spider webs, or cobwebs. It was as if a century of spider genealogy had stacked up upon itself, and for effect a sourceless breeze caused the leaf-litter and dust to tremble in a somehow meaningful way.

The higher tiers of web-on-web were clearly very old, caked with dust and families of bunnies long forgotten. There were no signs of caretakers. But where gravity had its say, and where the debris that comes with entropy encroaches, were visual wonders.

I crouched down to see what had tangled at the lowest level of this expanse. The whole tower was of the almost cliché triangles upon triangles, and the vast bottom was no exception. In a surprisingly well-lit apex of the spray sat a wonderful example of morphology: it was crab-like, hen egg-sized, and yet almost impossible to tell from the leaves. It’s carapace was coffee-and-cream, with jagged edges of burnt sienna. I marveled at the beauty of its shape and colors – and knew it was a spider only because it moved. The legs untucked from the body in that careful and deliberate way that web-builders move, and touched here and there. It was as if striking notes on an elaborate harp, testing the strings to make sure they still had the pitch and tone expected, before comfortably returning to its nigh-invisibility.

To my immediate left, the cat appeared. It had the posture of a cat on the prowl, ears perked and listening, whiskers trembling, and its right fore-paw held slightly aloft – almost like a pointer. Its nose was barrel-straight in a line with the heaviest collection of dead leaves. Whatever it had seen, it didn’t appear to be the web’s owner – it was something hidden within the debris. Something I determined was awful.

Leaves fell away as the cat crept forward. Hidden beneath was another creature: softball-sized and of shining, oily black. What it was I still can’t guess, but it was at home in a spider web. It opened. If you have ever seen a spider’s mouth open – the alien and horrible way the chelicerata quiver and reach – then you know the obscenity of it. The abyssal black sheen gave way to a hot red interior that was slick with digestive preparations and the eagerness of hunger.

The cat, somehow hypnotized by the waving bits, stepped closer.

There was no speedy and violent movement. No leap. There was only a crunch of bones shattering when the thing closed itself upon the cat’s head.