Everyone’s gotta die somehow. Umet died flinging cat food at strays at 2AM, which isn’t a safe thing to do in your car while topping 90.
Welcome, thrummed a thousand purring voices. Last thing Umet remembered was faceplanting the telephone pole. Now it was a swarm of cats.
“Where am I?” he asked. “What happened?”
It not total useless. We has accept its worships. Seize action of divert from traditioning sapiens afterlife.
“I don’t understand.”
The cat swarm parted, and Umet noticed the lounge chair.
It sittings. Pleasures cat forevers. Welcome!
Claws plucked at his pant leg. Like licking flames.
I wrote this piece after hearing a friend’s story of someone who drives around at night feeding stray cats. I love the fact that someone like this really exists, don’t you? He strikes me as a sort of cat Batman (Catman?), champion of the strays, and I’m sure that powerful forces of karmic feline alignment are taking note.
But that raises another question: if cats have their own afterlife, and their gods decided to reward you, how would these rewards stack up to what the human afterlife has to offer? Every cat I’ve met leads me to believe that for cats, Heaven would be a weird and wacky place, dominated by strings and laser pointers and nice, warm laps.
Someone’s got to provide that lap, y’know. Poor Umet. Let’s all thank him for taking one for the team.
Endemic! Week: an entire week of microfiction crafted around the word “endemic.” If you missed the introduction, read about it here.
They Always Land on their Feet
“Brain parasite Toxoplasma gondii infects rats through cat feces. It reprograms the rats’ brains. Make them fearless thrill-seekers,” Erica shouted over the plane engine. “They’ll dance between a cat’s paws after infection. Cats give people Toxo too. Freaky, eh?”
“Not really. Imagine losing your fear of death–sounds exhilarating. The ultimate adrenaline high,” Dave answered.
“Suit yourself. See you at the bottom!” Erica leapt from the plane’s open door. Far below, Erica’s parachute unfurled.
Dave gazed at the mountain peaks below. Like fang-rimmed jaws. “I’m going now!” He jumped.
The skydiving instructor grabbed for him, missed. “Wait! You forgot your ‘chute!”
Do you own cats? Then there’s a chance that you’re already infected with toxoplasma gondii. The bad news is that Toxo is endemic among people who clean cat litter boxes, eat raw or undercooked meat, or eat unwashed veg. The good news? Provided you’re not pregnant or immunocompromised, Toxo appears to be relatively harmless.
Toxo’s a versatile protozoan (not the same thing as a bacterium or virus). All felines, from housecats to tigers, act as its primary host. Inside the intestines of cats, Toxo undergoes sexual reproduction and forms packages called oocysts in the intestinal lining. These oocysts, filled with dormant Toxo cells, get shed when the cat poops.
Next, the oocysts lie in wait for another warm-blooded mammal to stop by the cat scat. Someone like Dave, perhaps, scoops out the litter box, forgets to wash his hands, and with his next meal he consumes a few oocysts. When those oocysts hit his intestines, they spring into action, infiltrating the intestinal lining, but this time their goal is to release invaders directly into the bloodstream. These bits of Toxo ride your blood all over your body, setting up shop in your organs, muscles, and brain.
Yes, it infects your brain.
The Toxo forms cysts in the areas it settles in, and congratulations: you’re now permanently infected with Toxoplasma gondii. You’ve got ’em for life, buddy. Fortunately, this is as far as the Toxo can go. It just hangs out, hoping you’ll get eaten by a cat so that the whole cycle can start anew.
Unfortunately for Toxo, humans don’t get eaten much by felines these days. Perhaps we featured more prominently in Toxo’s life cycle back when lions and bobcats were a daily threat. Nowadays, it’s mice and rats that primarily perpetuate the Toxo cycle.
Here’s the interesting thing: in rodents, Toxo infection causes behavioral changes. Rats with Toxo lose their fear of cats. They’ll attack cats directly, or just waffle around when a cat comes after them. Obviously this is to the Toxo’s advantage — it wants the rat to behave dumbly so it can get eaten by a cat, continuing the life cycle. There’s evidence that Toxo causes personality changes in humans as well, making us more likely to take risks.
How common is Toxoplasma gondii? It’s one of the most common parasites found in humans. Up to a third of the world’s estimated to be infected. If you live in the United States, your odds are one in four. So wash your hands, wash your vegetables, and don’t eat cat poop. Otherwise you’ll join the standing army of Toxo carriers all around us right now.
On the rooftop, Satan sighed. By contract, he had to do this with anyone claiming godhood, but this was getting ridiculous. “Ginger,” he said, “if you’re God, throw yourself from the rooftop.”
The feline washed her paws.
“You’ve got to pick one. Either jump or refuse,” Satan explained.
Ginger ignored him. She never followed directions.
Satan glanced surreptitiously at the sky, then produced a laser pointer. Ginger leaped after the red dot. “MRRRRRROOOoooooowwww!” She plummeted twenty storeys down.
Satan chuckled. “Works every time.”
But behind him, he heard a sound. A meow. He turned. His eyes widened. “Oh my God!”
Today I’m taking a break from the medical-themed pieces to bring you this little story, written for the Drabblecast’s weekly microfiction contest. The theme was “Test of Faith”, and this is what I came up with.
Cats, as we all know, believe they’re divine. Given the sheer number of cats in the world, the odds are that for one cat out there, it’s got to be a fact and not just narcissism. The test of faith is not the cat’s; the cat already knows it’s divine. It’s poor Beelzebub who must confront his own presuppositions.
Then again, maybe cats are just really, really good at throwing themselves off of rooftops. Satan needs a new litmus test.
Having tested the patience of the divine with that nasty laser pointer trick, I have to wonder what happens next. What do you think the punishment’s going to be? More importantly, has anyone else’s cat performed a miracle or two that we should all know about?