Catnap

Written in 2012 from the workshop writing suggestion:
Picture a ransom note. What is the ransom demand? And are you the ransom writer? Or the one who has discovered the note?

by Jennifer Croft

“I’ve got your cat,” the note said. It was written with letters cut from a magazine and pasted on a piece of green paper. Mary wondered whether a child had written it. She looked up and down the block, but no one was around. She unlocked the front door, noting that the key worked as usual. How could someone steal Pepper without going inside? She stepped in and looked around.

“Pepper!” she called out, switching on the light, waiting for the flash of his shiny black coat as he ran to meet her. But there was no noise or motion.

The phone rang—the land line, which never rang—and Mary jumped. The ring echoed, bell-like, in the empty house. “Hello?” she answered uncertainly.

“Missing someone?” said a voice, quavering and distorted. Mary was aware of her heart beating.

“Who is this?” she said. “What do you want?” Her voice, normally quiet and subdued, cracked with nervousness.

“Beef steak,” the voice said. “Cut into tiny chunks. And a fresh trout, no bones, head on the side.”

“What?” Mary gasped. “Are you crazy? Where is Pepper?” She looked frantically around the neat living room. The cat should have come out by now.

“The food,” the voice said, turning deep and guttural. “Back porch. You have half an hour.”

On her way out the door Mary checked herself in the mirror. Yes, she was still there—apparently conscious, not dreaming. She ran out to her car and drove as fast as she was comfortable, a few miles over the speed limit, to the supermarket. She grabbed the items she needed, thought about ice cream, then remembered her urgent mission.

Soon she was back home. In a frenzy she chopped the meat and prepared the fish as instructed. When she went to the back porch, trembling, she almost dropped the plate when she saw Pepper sitting there calmly.

“Pepper! Where have you been?”

The cat, of course, did not answer, and began to eat.