I opened up the glass sliding door, padding on to the porch. The tabby cat stood up from it’s perch, and wound between my legs purring contentedly. For a stray it was incredibly friendly, even if you were setting out some milk for it.
Maybe it just knew I was a cat person.
“Oi, stop playing with all the neighbourhood strays and help your poor decrepit grandfather get rid of his junk.”
“You’re hardly decrepit grandpa.”
“And you’re hardly helpful. You’re getting free stuff out of this aren’t you? Help out some more.”
This free stuff was little more than the junk grandpa didn’t need filling his closet space now that he was moving to a smaller serviced flat.
“Sorry kitty, Grandpa’s cracking the whip again.”
“What was that? You know I don’t speak English. Tch, you come here from Australia without your parents, settled down, and barely even visit unless free stuff is involved!”
I stopped petting the tabby and closed the sliding door behind me, shutting out the late July breeze that blew through Kyoto. You both knew that he adored having your company.
An hour later we broke for lunch. A particular case caught my eye, a dark dyed sharkskin case of a decent size.
“Oh, got your eye on that kid? I’ve been meaning to give you that for a while now… But, I uh… Why didn’t I? Ah, whatever you can have it now. I thought you’d like it since you came here to study music, as much as that’s worth.”
I ignored the customary barb at my major and flicked open the latches, the lid lifting to reveal a slightly shabby shamisen. I was definitely pleased.
“Great! I didn’t want to have to waste money on one of these things!”
“Oi! It wouldn’t be a waste! Don’t be so rude to the instrument, they’re made from animal skin after all.”
“Wait. Is this real cat skin?” I recoiled from the instrument, a finger barely brushing a red dot beside the slightly sagging silk strings.
“Hardly! Its just an old fake that I picked up cheap at a flea market just after the war. All kinds of stuff could be found back then. Look, its even got those red dots, they’re meant to look like the cat’s nipples. You can see those on the best quality ones. A fake can hardly do without them. Take it.”
I did just that.
My room was barely lit, night had fallen long ago, the sun disappearing behind the western mountains. I had started trying to tune the shamisen as soon as I got home. Trying. Hours later I had made little progress, too focused, too pissed off to get up and turn on a light, working from the sound alone.
Which is probably why I fumbled the plectrum and sliced my thumb open on a strangely sharp edge. A quick suck and the wound would be alright, a price paid for being clumsy.
Finally, as the ghostly green glow of the alarm shifted closer to 00:00, I started to get proper notes out of the reticent instrument. The once sagging strings caught in the pegs and tightened. Soon I could drag the scales out too.
And my hands kept playing.
In the darkness my well known roof, my well known walls, faded away into an unknowable abyss.
I awoke in my room. To find myself starring down at the cute tabby cat from earlier. A pair of hands visciously twisted it’s neck, wringing it’s back. I heard the crack just as I realised that those hands were my own.
The tabby cat breathed labouriously, even as it realised it’s paralysis it looked up at you in dumb incomprehension. You returned the look even as your body staggered towards your bed, as your head lolled on your neck like a marionette. Dumb incomprehension. Your feet were filthy and bleeding. You reached your bed.
The cat struggled out a hacked yowl. It rose and fell, wavering in intensity even as it struggled to fill its lungs.
And you took the shamisen out of it’s case.
The wicked plectrum, in a white knuckle grip, stark white in the dark, catching a moonbeam that simply was not there to be seen by eyes like yours. Even as it swung down you thought it wouldn’t end like that. You chose not to comprehend it.
The stark white plectrum easily cracked the tabby’s ribcage with the full power of your muscles behind it. It stood, splattered red, in the welter that was the cat’s ribcage. You could even see the poor creature’s heart attempt to beat from your vantage point of your floor, swiftly staining.
Your body rose to it’s feet. You swung the shamisen high above your head. The instrument came crashing down.
The body was obliterated in splinters.
You wondered detachedly if the nipple you saw was the cat’s or the shamisen’s.
You fell back to your knees. The shamisen’s neck rose and fell.
You caught the cat’s eye before you felt the brittle bone crack. The eye no more.
Your head lolled back.
Blood pooled at your knees, soaking your toes. It rose. And rose. And with it the cat’s corpse lifted in to the air. You could see the entirety of your handiwork on the pitiful creature’s corpse, spread eagled in mid air obscenely, you couldn’t look away. You were finally spared when the blood rapidly increased it’s flow until your room filled to the roof in life’s blood.
The little red world exploded.
Before me, even as welter dripped down from my ceiling, I was forced to look at the corpse in an appalled fascination. The neck was still in it’s skull. The plectrum in what was left of it’s ribcage. The body nothing but splinters in the scraps of it’s lower body.
And it was totally skinned.
I tried to understand what I saw before me, even as blood coagulated across my face, in my eyes, my nose, my mouth, my hair.
The flesh and organs, the remains of the shamisen with it, burst into a cold flame, turning into a black ash that fell away into nothing before it could hit the floor of blood. I was left staring at a mangled skeleton.
Then the terrible brittle cracking and popping of bones snapping, growing, contorting, shattering, combining filled my ears. I had closed my eyes. I had closed them when I saw the destroyed feline skull split in two perfectly down the middle, split apart, fold back, and a human skull loom out of the shadows between the two halves.
I could not close my ears.
I could not stop myself feeling the blood that covered me and the floor rush away like a receding tide towards where I simply knew that corpse once hung.
“That won’t do.”
My bladder emptied itself.
This time my ears did not hear it, and my eyes opened.
A beautiful woman’s face was an inch from mine, her full lips spelling out THAT WON’T DO. The order reverbrating in my head.
I looked her in the golden, inhuman eye. I didn’t want to look at anything else. I didn’t have a choice, I knew that know. A dry and brittle, sharp and wicked, claw of a hand forced me to watch all that transpired.
As muscle spread down the bones of the arm that held my head.
As skin covered that plectrum still deep in her chest.
As large breasts filled in.
As the shape of her uterus, her vagina, her vulva grew clear in the cradle of her hips, even as those too were hidden with pure white skin.
The woman let go of my head, stood and stretched in a manner that can only be called cat like. My mind replayed scene after scene after scene after scene after scene after scene after scene of that tabby as I watched that woman’s tabby tail sway with her full hips. That woman’s tabby ears flick on that head of silken black hair.
She remembered I existed.
“Male. One must thank you… It is after all, your help that lead to my release. You graciously have my thanks,” She bowed low, even as she stared at me with the smug eyes of a cat with a still living toy. She sidled up to me, “Of course, thanks must go to the young tabby who so nobly sacrificed herself to facilitate my coming. Yes, thanks indeed. If she wasn’t so fond of you this would not have gone so very well, and so very well this body is indeed!”
I didn’t need to know how much the tabby cat I just murdered liked me.
“Oh, but you do.”
Milk white skin turned to tabby fur, her face cracked back to the familiar tabby’s, even the purr I heard as she rubbed herself against my unmoveable frame was that of the tabby cat.
“Even now she is happy to be so close to you!”
Her face turned into a human scowl for the briefest moment. Then the cat grin returned.
“You do not give orders Male. I do.”
Before I could even ask, the predator rubbed itself against me and answered my unspoken question, “I am that shamisen. 400 years trapped in those strings and wood, a cat forced to cry for centuries. My authority is that I. Own. You. Male. Is that clear?”
I already knew she owned me. I knew as soon as my hands started playing that tune. I knew even before she ripped my pants off. I knew before she forced my half flacid cock inside her. I knew before her cat tongue ran up my throat and before she bit down into my shoulder. I knew before I saw her pure white skin and black hair forcibly shift, her form cracking beneath her flesh, to tabby cat and back in her esctatic throes. I knew she owned me.
She stared down at me even as she revelled in the life she stole from my seed and soul.
“You are the instrument of my revenge.”