Cat Skin

“Say, Doc,” Chloe asked lowly. “You know why I’m in here?”

The doctor was a young one, fresh out of university. She wore round glasses and her hair in a serious bun. It was nearly the end of their session, six going on seven in the evening. She eyed Chloe sagely.

“You know why you’re here, Chloe.” Dr. Finley said softly. “This is a safe place, where we can talk about the things on your mind.”

Despite her cajoling words, the doctor understood the girl sitting on the loveseat across from her wasn’t talking about this room, all Zen-like and bursting at the seams with soft colors and warmth. Beyond the soft love-seats and fluffy cushions was a sterile hallway, leading to rows and rows of titanium-reinforced, padded cells.

“Beckley Place is a facility for the criminally insane,” Chloe said, nodding.

“Yes,” Dr. Finley nodded. “Yes, it is.”

Chloe’s hazel eyes darted from side to side as if to make sure no one else was listening. She leaned forward and whispered. “But I ain’t neither criminal nor insane.”

“You’ve killed sixteen people.”

Chloe continued as if Dr. Finley hadn’t spoken. “I’m cursed,” She said, leaning back in the loveseat. “Doc, it ain’t my fault that I’m cursed.”

Chloe was twenty-seven, rail thin and petite. With her over large eyes and knotty mass of hair, she looked more like a frail, urban waif than a vicious killer. Killed she had, though, torn bodies to shreds in violent ways that Dr. Finley had never even imagined possible.

“Why do you think you’re cursed, Chloe?” Dr. Finley probed.

“Oh, come on!” Chloe answered harshly.

Dr. Finley flinched.

“You think I don’t know what’s up?” Chloe demanded, eyes over-bright and limpid. “I know what’s up.”

Dr. Finley’s pen hovered over her notepad. “What do you mean?”

“Things happen to me at night.” Chloe’s voice trembled. “Awful, awful things, Doc.”

Dr. Finley set her notepad and pen aside. She leaned forward, emphatic. “Chloe, if there’s something happening to you in this place, you need to tell me about—”

There was a rapping on the door.

“Dr. Finley,” said a male voice. “It’s time.”

Dr. Finley’s eyes swung back to her patient. “Chloe, tell me.”

The chains on Chloe’s shackles rattled as she gripped the doctor’s hands in her own. “It comes at night!” She hissed, trembling violently. “Please! Please don’t let them take me back to that room.”

The door opened. A pair of burly male guards barged in.

“It’s time, Doctor,” the one who’d spoken before said. “We have to take her. Now.”

Chloe backed away, cowered in the corner of the room.

“Please, Doc!” She cried.

The guards crossed the room, dragged Chloe to her feet.

“Wait!” Dr. Finley protested. “I’m treating this patient right now. You have no right to interfere here.”

The guard who hadn’t spoken yet turned his head to look at Dr. Finley. He was the taller of the two, dark and attractive but the frosty look in his eyes made Dr. Finley shiver. “You’re new so you don’t understand how things work around here. I’ll give you that. Don’t push it, Doc. This is for your sake too.”

Concerned, Dr. Finley hurried after them.

They dragged Chloe out of the room. She was crying, clawing, and making sounds Dr. Finely didn’t even recognize as human.

“Shit! Is that a fang?” Dr. Finley heard one of the guards say. “She’s changing now. Use the tranquilizer!”

The dark one reached into his pouch and produced an injection cartridge with a big needle and jammed it into Chloe’s arm. The effect was immediate. She stopped fighting the other guard. The two guards backed away as she fell to her knees. They pulled their guns from their holsters and aimed at Chloe. The shorter guard got on his radio, asking for a facility lock-down.

“Dr. Finley, go back to your office and lock the door,” said the taller guard. His words barely registered. Dr. Finely couldn’t take her eyes off Chloe.

Chloe crouched low, growling like an animal. She was down on all fours, back flexing and undulating. She shuddered. Her muscles rippled. Dr. Finley looked on in speechless horror as the skin on Chloe’s fingers and toes broke apart and sharp claws appeared. There was blood, so much blood.

Hairs popped up on Chloe’s skin. She grew until her clothes burst apart at the seams and fell to the ground in tattered bits. Her shackles broke apart. Right before Dr. Finley’s eyes, she transformed into a massive jaguar, a hirsute killing machine. The two guards backed up a few more paces, guns still trained on the feline beast that Chloe had become.

The beast pawed at the ground, shook its head from side to side. Its glazed eyes fixed on the spot where Dr. Finley stood. It took a step forward. Dr. Finley heard a gun trigger cock. Dr. Finley’s breath caught in her throat. Fear, bitter and raw, filled her mouth. She wanted to run but she couldn’t. Her feet were rooted to the spot.

The beast lumbered forward, swaying from side to side. It stumbled and crumpled to the ground, the tranquilizer finally taking effect. One of the guards stepped in closer. He kicked at the jaguar with a booted foot. It didn’t budge.

“Right,” he said. “Let’s get her back in her cell.”

Dr. Finley sank to the ground.

“Cursed!” She mouthed shakily, watching in stunned silence as the two guards dragged the bloody jaguar down the corridor.

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