by Mary E. Lowd
Originally published in Daily Science Fiction, April 2020
Edgar Allen was a grumpy cat. He had the sleek black fur you’d expect from a cat named Edgar Allen, but his whiskers shone like slivers of moonlight.
He wasn’t grumpy about his black fur or his shining whiskers. When he thought about them, he was rightly proud to be such a fine feline specimen. Humans who saw him lounging on the warm pavement on the street in front of the house where he lived invariably called out to him, begging for a chance to pet him. He rarely obliged. Though he would sometimes flirt with younger children, trying to lure them into dashing off of the sidewalk in hopes of reaching him. He never let them reach him. But he did enjoy listening to them get scolded by their parents. “Stay out of the street! It’s dangerous!”
Perhaps. Perhaps the street was dangerous to them, but not to Edgar Allen. He had abilities not possessed by ordinary cats. He could sink down into the Earth — or the asphalt, in the case of the street — and become nothing more than a shadow, stretched thinly under the pounding sunshine.
At night, his powers were stronger — without sunlight pounding down on him, Edgar Allen could expand like a cloud, a stormy cumulonimbus cloud, filled with bolts of lightning that looked suspiciously like slivers of moonlight if he let them claw their way out of him.
His belly was always full of static and rage, waiting to boil over in those crisp, clear, powerful bolts of lightning.
Edgar Allen wasn’t grumpy because of his magical abilities either. Not exactly. See, he loved turning into a shadow and a storm cloud and being filled with lightning. But he hadn’t always been able to. And he was grumpy because he didn’t know where he’d gotten these powers, and he was grumpy that he hadn’t had them as a kitten. And he was grumpy that they made him discontent with the simple life he’d been living.
All of those years that he’d spent trapped in a simple cat’s body, unable to shift into something more amorphous. He’d thought — naively, foolishly — during those years that a feline body was amorphous. Compared to a dog’s body, Edgar Allen supposed it was. Compared to a cloud? Not so much.
All of that time wasted.
Edgar Allen lay on the street, soaking the sunlight into his shining black fur, and waiting for twilight when he could transform into more than a shadow, more than a cat… a god of thunder!
The sun painted the horizon gold and pink — colors that made Edgar Allen impatient, even as he admitted to himself that they were beautiful. Then the gold winked out, and the pink faded to palest purple. After that, it was mere minutes until the world was dusky twilight, and Edgar Allen expanded like a butterfly unfolding from a chrysalis.
The darkness intensified wherever Edgar Allen tread with his silky, smoky paws. He walked, drifted straight through people out for their evening strolls, and they shuddered at the warm, muggy touch of his cloud-self. He liked that. He liked unsettling people. He might as well like it — black cats can’t avoid it given the mythology humans have saddled them with.
But Edgar Allen had thrown his saddle and bridle; he was a free cat. Freer than a cat. A cloud. An idea. A possibility.
And he was searching.
As cats — and creatures who are more than cats — are wont to do.
Edgar Allen stretched wider, larger, becoming a cloud of darkness that rested over all the houses in the neighborhood like a fog. He felt mice creeping through the grasses under him, tickling as the green blades shifted around them. He could return to his original form in a moment and capture any of those mice. The idea pleased him. It was so much easier to be pleased as a cloud than as a cat. But mice weren’t what he was hunting for. He was hunting for the source of a warm, ginger-lemon scented glow. He followed the scent, sensing its particulates with his expansive form and found it was emanating from the basement windows of a house three blocks from his own.
Edgar Allen slid from cloud form into shadow form, thin and wily, and slipped through one of the basement windows. On the other side, he expanded into a cat again. A simple black cat in a basement he hadn’t been invited into. Edgar Allen was no vampire. He needed no invite. Besides, cats are welcome everywhere. That’s what they think, at least.
This was not an ordinary basement; although, it was trying hard to convince Edgar Allen that it was. Work tables strained to hold their form with wrenches and pliers strewn upon them. Lots and lots of wrenches and pliers, arranged in a pattern that wasn’t quite random but also didn’t make sense if a human had been using them. Peg boards on the wall held electric clippers, hoses, and lawnmowers that were far too large to store that way. None of it was quite right. And Edgar Allen could feel the illusion of it — he knew about illusions; his own body had become one.
“Show me yourself,” Edgar Allen meowed in cat language. The basement seemed to sigh with relief and all of the seemingly-human tools morphed into control panels with blinking lights, big red buttons, and display screens showing star fields, galaxies, and shining spaceships; futuristic technology that Edgar Allen didn’t understand.
But he did understand one thing: “You’re a spaceship,” he meowed. “Crashed here? Hiding?”
The lights on one of the control panels blinked and flashed in a friendly way, possibly agreeing with him. Possibly not. Edgar Allen didn’t care. He liked the story he’d made up for himself about this house. It felt like a place he could belong. A place he could escape to when he felt like being more than a cat. A place that was more than a house.
“Where’s your power source?” Edgar Allen asked.
The lights in the basement sparkled, moving and pointing toward a glowing green coil in the far corner. Edgar Allen approached the coil and sniffed it — copper, helium, and lime. Also the ginger-lemon that had drawn him here. There was a smooth patch of linoleum-like floor in front of the green coil, and Edgar Allen stretched out on his side, soaking up the glow. It fizzled inside of him. Like lightning. This was where his power had come from. This was where he could soak up more.
Edgar Allen felt content. He wasn’t grumpy anymore.