Tales as old as time
True as they can be
Barely even friends
Then somebody bends
(Reader) awoke from a sleep blacker than ink, her head still throbbing in spite of rest. It was another brain squeeze headache, where every ridge in (Reader)’s brain felt pressed against her skull. The pounding continued behind her eyes all down the back of her neck, which was stiffened by the constant agony. Not once did (Reader) need a thermometer to know she was running another fever. What was her temperature today? 99.5? 100? It hardly mattered to her anymore. Fevers and brain squeeze headaches came and went as they pleased, alongside static jolts from her hips to her ankles and dull fires surrounding her joints. From day to day, (Reader) never knew what to expect, and in spite of her doctor’s promises, the acyclovir did nothing to help.
“This will decrease the time of your outbreaks. Take it for ten days. We can keep you on it every day if the herpes doesn’t get better.”
When will it get better, doctor? It’s been almost a year.
In spite of her cell phone’s urgent ringing, (Reader) moved slowly, trying to decide if she needed her cane. It was a question she would have to answer quickly, considering she only got called at night if an animal was in danger. Step by step, she moved from her bed to her dresser, finally deciding she could move cane-free if she took her non-narcotic cocktail: 600mg of aleve, 1400mg of tylenol. 500mg of straight naproxen would be the next step if neither medication helped.
“Hello?” (Reader) said into her phone, hardly bothering to check caller I.D.
“Hey, (Reader),” Heracles started, “Ludwig and I found a kitten in the alley our business dinner. Do you think you could come to the shelter tonight to get him registered for the cat rooms?”
“What? But why? Can’t this wait until tomorrow?”
It hardly seemed rational to open the cat rooms after hours for a single kitten.
“This kitten’s special. He needs our help in a way most kittens don’t.”
“It’s another cursed kitten, isn’t it?”
Rustling of hair came through the speaker as Heracles nodded.
“All right, I’ll come in…but we really have to do something about this. We can’t keep taking in every cat and kitten cursed by witches, you know. We’re not equipped to help them, and it’s not like we can ask your bosses for help.”
“I understand. We’ll take care of that tomorrow. For now, we just have to keep the little one safe.”
“Right. Just give me half an hour or so. I was asleep when you called.”
“I figured you would be. Take your time. Don’t worry about rushing for Ludwig.”
(Reader) tried her best to head Heracles’ words, but she knew Ludwig wanted nothing more than to see her gone. Military training played a huge role in how he wanted to run the shelter, including elimination of anything deemed inefficient. The fluctuations of (Reader)’s herpes deemed her unreliable in Ludwig’s eyes, with unexpected absences, careless mistakes attributed to brain fog, and daily naps in the cat room. Any one of those offenses would have been enough for him to throw out an employee, but all three left him enraged and impatient with (Reader) at the end of each work day. Already feeling hellish from her brain squeeze headache, the last thing (Reader) wanted to do was see Ludwig in any capacity. For the sake of Heracles and the cats though, (Reader) pushed through her pain and prepared herself to leave for the shelter.
“That bad of a night?” Heracles asked the moment (Reader) arrived. Smeared eyeliner and lipstick were more than enough to give away her exhaustion.
“Another brain squeeze headache.”
“It seems strange to me that you’re still sick like this. Most people with herpes don’t have pain like this after the first few outbreaks…or even just the first one.”
“Heracles, I know your theories about it being something else, but I don’t want to talk about it right now, okay? Just take me back to the inspection room so I can meet this cursed kitten.”
“All right…but you have to talk about it at some point, (Reader). I don’t know how much longer I can hold off Ludwig, and I don’t know how much longer you can live like this. If it’s something else, it could get really bad.”
Any energy (Reader) could have used on sarcasm disappeared, instead going into preparing herself for the sight of a cursed kitten. It was hardly anything new to (Reader) and Heracles. Since a brigade of witches moved to town, more cursed kittens arrived at the shelter each day. Most of them offered no insight into their identities or what it was that earned the curse in the first place. Some of them came to the shelter in grotesque shape, with added fleas and ticks to further worsen their punishment. Heracles and (Reader) especially hated when such occurred because it put every living being in the shelter at risk. Lyme disease. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Anaplasmosis. Encephalitis. Poorly understood infectious diseases that could be fatal if left untreated. Several kittens had died from them in the past year, and infected cases grew each day. It was of no help that (Reader)’s hometown was infamous for its high number of ticks, but the witches adding them to curses sent the problem out of control.
“He’s not carrying any insects or parasites,” Ludwig said through the kitten’s wiggly inspection. “so that’s a relief, but he’s too heavy at six kilos.
Between the otoscope and the cat thermometer, the kitten was desperate to find safety away from Ludwig’s grasp, etching bloody lines across his skin. Ludwig yelped as the kitten sprang to the floor and made a whimpering beeline towards the door.
“FELICIANO!” Ludwig screamed, “THIS IS COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE! GET BACK HERE, DAMMIT!”
“So that’s your name, huh?” (Reader) said as she picked up the scampering kitten, “Feliciano. That’s a pretty name for a…”
“…boy,” Heracles replied.
“A pretty name for a pretty little boy.”
With arm supporting his back legs and another underneath his front paws, (Reader) carried Feliciano around the room, talking silly little nonsense phrases. How he was such a pretty little kitty and so adorably soft, and oh! Those precious little toe beans! So pink and pearly and smooth and too cute not to touch! Heracles watched in wonder as Feliciano spread apart his front toes for (Reader) to tickle and squeeze them. Until he met (Reader), Heracles never knew anyone who could make a cat feel safe when their toes were being touched. Cursed or not, cats rarely let any human play with their toes for fear of being defenseless in case of an attack. Watching in awe, Heracles tried to understand what it was about (Reader) that allowed cats to be so vulnerable around her.
“If you think this is something special,” Ludwig grunted, “you’re wrong. Feliciano would be like this with any girl.”
“Mmm-mmm,” Heracles said, shaking his head, “You don’t understand cats, Ludwig. Cats don’t open up to people easily, especially when they’ve been cursed. The cursed ones often get more scared because they’ve been cursed. It takes patience and kindness to gain a cat’s trust…and (Reader) can do it faster than anyone else I know.”
“Can one of you get me a chair?” (Reader) asked, “I’m starting to get too sore to stand.”
Heracles stoically obliged and (Reader) pulled Feliciano close to her chest while she winced, burning tears running down her face. Had (Reader) not been in so much pain, Feliciano would have loved being so close to her bosoms. A woman’s pillowy softness against his body always left Feliciano enthralled, longing to taste, touch, tickle, and tease every surface of her skin. In spite of the reputation Feliciano had as a casanova, however, he was an empathetic person who took on others’ emotions as his own. The thrill was not from how many women he could conquer, but how many emotions they could share together. Whether a woman felt joy or sorrow, Feliciano sensed it in his own body too, giving him a desire to elate every woman he found beautiful. Even as a cursed cat, that attribute of Feliciano remained unchanged, causing him to desperately lick (Reader)’s fingers amidst her pain.
No, no, no, bella. Don’t cry. Please don’t cry. Your face is far too beautiful for tears. Please let me help you. Let me make you better.
Amidst his licking, Feliciano found himself frustrated by a lack of words. Everything he tried to say came out in chirps and mews, hardly able to bear the message he wanted to give (Reader). Feliciano may have been able to have close contact with women when they were sad, but there was nothing he could say to make them feel better. The fate of a kitten was to remain voiceless alongside humans, going purely on faith that they could share any emotions. Only once before had Feliciano felt so helpless in comforting a woman, and that was when he broke the witch’s heart. No matter how many times he said he was sorry, it was never enough to quell her rage.
“Do you even know what you’re sorry for?”
“No, but I know I’m sorry because you’re hurting and I don’t like it when you’re hurting and can’t you let me make it better for you, bella?”
“You’ll never be able to make it better because you’ll never understand. Men can’t understand at all. There’s only one way you’d be able to understand how it feels and why it hurts so much when you go from woman to woman! May you have the fate of a kitten!”
I don’t even know what I can do anymore. I wasn’t enough to make women happy as a man and I’m not enough to make them happy as a kitten. I still ended up in a cardboard box cold and alone even though so many people came by to pet me. I don’t want to be alone, being alone is the worst thing in the world. I have to make this bella happy so I’m not alone anymore, but I don’t know how to do it! I don’t know how to…wait…what’s this…she’s sad…but she’s…smiling?
“Aww, thank you for the kisses,” (Reader) said. The pain in her joints may not have abated, but the touch of a sandpaper tongue always brought a smile to her face. If that were not enough, Feliciano’s purr sent healing vibrations across her body, allowing her to relax into a state where pain was tolerable and life was not an ongoing hell.
“Can you watch Feliciano while we get a cage set up for him?” Heracles asked, “He seems to be really comfortable with you.”
“Of course I’d be happy to watch little Feli Belly.”
Feliciano was about to object to the nickname when (Reader) started tickling his tummy, causing him to wrap all four paws around her hand and chew on her fingers. Between each tickle, he tittered and chirped—the closest he could get to laughter in cat language. As a human, Feliciano was extremely ticklish; one wiggling finger pointed in his direction was more than enough to make him giggle. If anyone got a hold of Feliciano, he would laugh until his cheeks were scarlet and streaked with saltwater. Women would then be pulled into his arms to either be tickled in return or covered in kisses, eventually leading to something further. In his little kitten body, Feliciano found himself completely at (Reader)’s mercy, only able to chew and chirp while her fingers skittered across his skin. Frustrated that he could not return the affection as a man, Feliciano continued pulling on (Reader)’s hand with his paws.
“Feli Belly, are you trying to hold my hand?”
Hold it and so much more, bella.
The ticklish playing and petting continued between (Reader) and Feliciano while Heracles set up a cage and Ludwig filed the necessary paperwork. Rocking Feliciano as though he were her child, (Reader) found herself laughing alongside Feliciano’s chirps. Cats always made (Reader) smile, but rarely had any of them made her laugh as much as the little brown tabby in her arms. Cursed cats always wanted extra affection, and (Reader) could relate them to easily, feeling as though she had been cursed with “weird herpes” by her infector. Not once had Heracles explained that cursed cats had previously been humans, only that they had upset a witch and had to remain intact if possible. Most of the cursed cats wanted affection and reassurance they could still be loved, especially if they came to the shelter covered in fleas and ticks. Feliciano stood out from them in that he did not have the same level of shyness. Even if he had been fearful of the examination, not once had he been afraid of physical affection from a human. Not that (Reader) could blame Feliciano if he had been afraid of humans, having a similar fear after getting so sick from herpes.
Oh Feli Belly, I’m so glad you’re not afraid of me…you’re the only boy I know who isn’t afraid of me or disgusted by me right now. I know you’re just a cat and not a human, but it seems like boys of all kinds are repulsed by me now that I’m sick. Heracles isn’t, but he doesn’t count because he’s like my big brother. All the other boys though treat me like I’m garbage once they know…maybe you won’t because you’re cursed too. Heracles thinks it’s just some miraculous gift that I can reach the cursed cats, but it’s not…I understand them because I’m cursed too…and whether or not we did something that deserves being punished…What could a cute little kitty like you have done to deserve a curse anyway?
Blissfully ignorant that Feliciano had once been human, (Reader) started kissing his head, thinking nothing more than she would with any other cat. Not once had she noticed the left side of Feliciano’s head had a small curl, which could have easily been mistaken for a whisker. Purrs and chirps from Feliciano turned into an unexpected shriek when (Reader) accidentally pressed her lips against his curl. Afraid of her discovering what the curl did to his body, Feliciano thrashed away from (Reader)’s arms, leaping to the floor and hunching over in a corner. (Reader) shrieked upon seeing him bolt, unsure of what she did to upset him so much. Feeling like a failure at her job and in life, (Reader) fell from her chair onto her knees, pitifully weeping with what little energy she had left. Once Feliciano had calmed his reaction to his curl being touched, he ran back over to (Reader) and gently bit down on her thumb.
No, no, no, no, no, bella, not again. Please don’t cry. It’s even worse now because I’ve seen you smile and your smile is so pretty and you make me so happy when you smile and oh please don’t be sad. I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I don’t want you to be sad!
“Feli, what are you…” (Reader) sniffled as Feliciano tried to drag her thumb. Releasing her weight, she let him guide her hand back into her lap, where he eventually rested with her fingers in his front paws. (Reader) tried to move her hand, but Feliciano quickly snatched it back and held it over his heart. A faint blush painted (Reader)’s cheeks as she felt Feliciano’s heartbeat alongside his deep purr beneath her fingertips.
“I’m sorry I scared you earlier…I’m not sure what it was I did…I just feel like I can’t do anything right anymore…everything I do just seems like it’s wrong and a waste of time…”
Blinking back further tears, (Reader) took no notice as Feliciano shook his head
Bella, you’re okay. You’re not doing anything wrong at all…I just didn’t want you to see the naked stand up. I’m sorry I made you cry.
Lacking the words to express his feelings, all Feliciano could do was resume licking (Reader)’s fingers.
“Thank you,” (Reader) whispered, stroking Feliciano’s right ear. Feliciano continued running his sandpaper tongue over (Reader)’s skin, determined to wash away all of the pain that caused her to cry. Neither (Reader) nor Feliciano was sure of how much time had passed, but both of them eventually fell asleep, their curses draining the last of their energy. Heracles was about to grab Feliciano for his cage in the cat room, but changed his mind after seeing him curled up in (Reader)’s lap.
“Fifteen minutes,” Heracles whispered, “Fifteen minutes.”
Neither Feliciano nor (Reader) realized they had taken the first steps needed to break free from their curses. (Reader) in her openness with a boy for the first time since she became sick. Feliciano in giving (Reader) affection she had been denied since receiving the herpes diagnosis.