Invasive Species

The silence was abrupt. After the pounding rain, the whipping wind, the sudden end of the storm made the house feel…bruised. Clarissa felt bruised too as she gently flicked her tongue over her back molar. “I hope it’s just my imagination that my tooth feels loose.” That was quite the wallop to the jaw she gave me, just as the storm hit its crescendo. No idea why. It was the regular feeding time with the regular meal. Why lash out today? She was getting too big to keep, but what could Clariss do? Who would take her? Especially now when she wasn’t cute anymore.

Clarissa rubbed her aching jaw. No. Not cute at all.

Was it really only two months since she had found her? It felt like eternity.

For the one millionth time, Clarissa thought about how she had literally stumbled on the tiny furball. Where did it come from? And the prizewinning question: what was it?
Clarissa was taking her daily walk around the lake, when a tiny, mewling little thing rolled across her path. At first she thought it was a dirty tennis ball, but tennis balls don’t cry. Thinking it must be a very young kitten who may have lost its mother, she scooped up the little animal. But, it wasn’t a kitten. It quite literally was a furball. There were two nascent ears at the top of its black fury body, and small blue eyes somewhere in the middle and of course, the mouth. Already crying to be fed. Always crying to be fed. It had no discernible arms or legs. Not in the beginning.
Clarissa had a vest in her backpack and she gently placed the creature in the vest and carried it home. By the time she was home, she had already named the adorable little beastie. She called it Venus.

Not really sure what to feed it, she poured a little milk in a saucer and set it on the floor. The furball rolled over to the saucer, seemed to sniff the milk and then set to crying out in earnest.
“OK, you little bugger. Are you lactose intolerant? Fine. There might be an old can of cat food in the cabinet. Maybe you’ll like that.” The furball waited until the small bowl was put on the floor and the same scenario was repeated: roll over, sniff, yowl.
“Well, that’s what I have. So eat it or be quiet.” The furball rolled over and was quiet.

Clarissa set about making her dinner. She was looking forward to a good burger and took the ground meat out of the fridge. As soon as she closed the door of the fridge, it was as if an alarm had gone off inside the furball. It rolled over to her feet, between her feet, over her feet, yowling the whole time.

“I guess you want the meat, don’t you? OK. I’ll share with you.” And that was how it began, the raw meat feedings 3 or 4 times a day. Only raw meat. Didn’t matter if it was chicken, or pork, or whatever. It just needed to be raw. Clarissa became good friends with the butcher, who wondered why Clarissa had suddenly become such a good customer. But, always ground meat? There must be a new boyfriend getting fed.

About a month ago, Clarissa noticed a tiny ‘key’ outline on Venus’s belly. Like the key on a crab’s belly. Within a day or so, the key had sprung open and Venus had a tail. A week later, the tiny nubs Clarissa could feel on the round body, grew into legs and arms. Venus didn’t roll around anymore, she walked on her hind feet and used her new arms and hands to stuff food in her mouth. Standing upright, Venus could reach Clarissa’s knee and hold on to her leg. She liked to stand on Clarissa’s foot while she walked. It was a game they played. Well, they didn’t play it anymore, Venus was too big now. Nearly waist high. And always wanting more food.

Last week, when Clarissa came home from work, the back door was open and Venus wasn’t anywhere in the house. Clarissa panicked at the thought of a hungry Venus wandering the neighborhood. People let their cats roam around outside. In the past few days, she’d seen two missing cat posters taped to the telephone pole outside the house. Venus came in at night and snuggled in bed with Clarissa, but Clarissa knew it was time to do something about Venus.

She had no choice, she was going to have to trap Venus and take her to the animal shelter. Surely they would know what to do with her. Maybe that’s why Venus had hit her with her tail? Maybe Venus had seen the large cage Clarissa had bought? “Oh please, Venus can’t know what the cage means! She’s never seen one before. Get a grip.”, Clarissa told herself.

Clarissa realized she was being silly and set about chopping up a large bowl of raw chicken for Venus. She set the bowl deep inside the cage and waited. Venus didn’t need an invitation, this was dinner. She dove right into the cage and started wolfing down her food. Clarissa slammed the cage shut and locked the latch with a large padlock.
When Venus finished her food, licking the bowl completely clean, she turned around and saw the cage door was closed. Venus transformed into a whirling dervish of pure fury as she lunged against the door, the sides of the cage. She howled like a banshee and exposed rows of teeth all down her throat that Clarissa didn’t even know existed. Venus shot a stream of urine at Clarissa that bleached her jeans and stung her skin like acid.
There was no way she was going to be able to get the beast and the cage in her car. With shaking hands, she pulled out her phone and scrolled around until she found the number of an animal shelter nearby. “I need some help,” she told the person on the phone. “I’ve captured an animal and I don’t know what to do with it.”
“What kind of animal? A raccoon? They can be fierce”.
“No. I don’t know what it is. It walks on two…”. Clarissa heard the person on the line yell, “We’ve got another one!”
“Wait, I didn’t finish telling you what it looks like.”
“Don’t bother lady. Don’t you look at Instagram? It’s full of these things! They call ‘‘em furballs until they get bigger and then we get the call. My cages are full of them and the PetLive people are outside protesting that we can’t kill them!”
“Please! Can you help me? I don’t know what to do!”
“Calm down lady. We’ll be there within the hour. Two more of our shelter dogs went missing, so I’ve got some room in the cages.”

Clarissa threw a blanket over the cage, thinking maybe that would calm Venus down, but it didn’t. She went out on the front porch to wait for the shelter van and figured she’d look at Instagram. She hadn’t looked at it in ages. Without even searching, her feed was full of photos of furballs, and not just black ones, it seems they came in all different colors.
She typed furballs into her news app and couldn’t believe what was going on. There were articles on how to feed and care for them. More articles on how they were an invasive species and needed to be contained. Speculation that they had escaped from a lab in Russia, or Cuba, or outer space, depending on which article you read. How on earth had Clarissa missed this?? Clearly her decision to go on a news and social media diet wasn’t working out so well.

At last she saw the shelter van coming down the street. It lurched to a stop and the door opened. The driver tumbled out of the door, screaming in pain. He was covered in furballs, they were literally eating him alive. Clarissa took a moment to understand what she was seeing and then started running but the furballs were quicker. Clarissa saw that Venus had somehow gotten out of her cage and she was beelining straight towards her. Venus was very angry with Clarissa and still very hungry. That was the last thing Clarissa saw before she was swarmed by the furballs.

That night the news and social media went crazy. Although a neighbor had called the police and EMS, it was far too late. The furballs had eaten the flesh off of both Clarissa and the man from the pet shelter, barely leaving anything for a crow to snack on. Now the large furballs were roaming the streets, looking for something else to eat. Residents were barricading themselves inside as they waited for the National Guard to show up. The governor hadn’t declared a state of emergency yet, but it sure felt like an emergency to the residents.
The news reporters on the scene were reporting from inside their vans because it was too dangerous to stand around outside in the open air. They said it was the first instance of any violence toward humans from the furballs.

The PetLive people said it was because the animals must have been mistreated at the shelter. They must have been starved, so if you send $10 per month, PetLive would use the money to feed the animals. Critics of PetLive wondered how that was going to work when all that the furballs would eat was raw meat. Those creatures were not interested in tofu or Beyond Meat stuff, it had to be real and raw.

The animal behavior experts on the news and Twitter were divided on whether this behavior was natural or cause for concern. Within days a few states banned them as pets. Other states rebelled, saying “Our Choice. Our Pets.” What everyone did agree on was that they reproduced very, very quickly.

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