Midnight. Not a sound from the junkyard. A certain Jellicle Protector made the usual rounds, silently savoring the peaceful silence of the night. The sky above him was dark save for the brief glimpses of stars between the clouds. Moments like these were ones he looked forward to as a time to reflect and relax without the activities of the tribe to distract him.
Of course, not everyone was resting. The faint traces of a hushed conversation met his ears, voices too indistinct to pick apart from one another. Curiously he drifted towards a refrigerator box, peering around the open end to find the source of the noise.
Several cats were inside. Right at the entrance to the box was Pouncival, tail hanging outside and just waiting to be stepped on. Sprawled up against the inside of the box was the Rum Tum Tugger, illuminated by the artificial glow of an electric lantern. Attached on either side of him were Etcetera and Jemima. The two queens were peeking out at Tumblebrutus through Tugger's mane. From the looks of it the tabby tom was in the middle of a riveting story.
"And then Pounce said-"
"Munkustrap!" Pounce exclaimed, the first to notice their visitor.
"No, that's not what you said." Tumble turned around. "Oh."
"Good evening, everyone." Munk entered the box. "What are you all doing?"
"Tugger found this lantern and Lonz found some batteries and now we're telling stories!" Etcetera explained.
Lounging on a cushion just outside the circle of light was Alonzo. Lazily he flicked his tail in a greeting.
"It's way too late." Munk addressed the kittens. "You all should be asleep."
"But Munk, we can't!" Etcetera protested. "Tumble was telling a scary story and now we're too scared to sleep."
"It's not supposed to be scary." Tumble said. "I was just telling them about the dogs that Pounce and I saw hanging around the junkyard last week."
"You know who knows some real scary stories?" Tugger cut into the conversation, eyes flicking to Munk meaningfully.
Great. Of course now would be the time when Tugger decided to praise his storytelling. Immediately every pair of adorable, pleading kitten eyes turned towards him. It did not escape his notice that Alonzo discreetly smothered a laugh with a paw.
"Oh! Munk! You have to tell us one." Pounce begged.
"I dunno, it feels pretty spooky already." Jemima said, voice small and uncertain.
"Don't worry, I'll make sure nothing sneaks up on us." Tugger drawled.
"Yeah, nothing can get us if Tugger's around!" Etcetera's enthusiasm was enough to bolster Jemima's confidence.
Again with the kitten eyes. Munk sighed. Ah, to hell with it. He wasn't the tribe storyteller for nothing. Whether or not he would admit it he had a reputation to uphold. And it was the perfect night to tell a particular story.
"Very well. But only one."
"Yes!" Tumble flopped back onto Alonzo to use him as a makeshift pillow, Pounce immediately joining him. The black and white cat grunted but allowed the kittens to stay.
"Have you heard the tale of the shapeshifting felines of the Fell?" As expected the kittens shook their heads. It was a story he had only told once before a long, long time ago.
"Shapeshifters? Like werewolves?" Etcetera asked.
"Yes. Only these creatures are not wolves, but cats."
"That doesn't sound like a real thing." Pounce said. "You're making it up."
"Pounce, you didn't believe that Old Deuteronomy was real until you saw him." Tumble nudged him.
"Well, I'm just saying that it doesn't sound real."
"You may not believe it, but that doesn't stop it from being a real thing." Tugger said, shifting a bit to get more comfortable. Etcetera and Jemima settled in next to him, both reluctant to leave his safe embrace.
"If I may continue?" Munk raised an eyebrow. "Now, werecats, though rare, have been sighted around the area-"
"Pounce!" Tumble shoved him. "Shut up!"
The two fell into a brief scuffle, rolling around in the light of the lantern while the others watched on. The fight, generally a familiar means of communication between the two, was quickly interrupted by Alonzo stepping over them and heading towards the exit.
"Oh, don't mind me." Alonzo said as everyone turned to look at him. "I'm turning in for the night. I've heard this one before."
"Bullshit." Pounce said, abandoning his fight with his brother to confront the cat. "You're just scared!"
"Pounce!" Munk and Alonzo both automatically barked. "Language!"
"Jeez, you two yelling at me in sync is the scariest thing I've heard all evening." The tabby tom muttered. Sullenly he slumped on the now vacant cushion.
"Even if I was scared, which I am not, I am still going to bed. Goodnight." With a flick of his tail Alonzo took his leave, affectionately brushing up against Munk as he passed by.
"Has Lonz heard this story before? Did he leave because it's too scary for him?" Etcetera asked.
Truthfully Munk had not a single clue as to why Alonzo left. It hurt to admit but it stung his pride a little. Was it something he said? Was the story not entertaining enough?
"Eh, don't worry about him. We're brave enough, aren't we?" Tugger said. "Go ahead, Munk."
Putting Alonzo out of his mind for the time being, Munk resumed his usual Storytelling Stance. It was important to have the right posture and poise in order to properly get the words out. Trying to command everyone's focus and attention while slouching would not do. Obediently everyone focused on him.
"As I was saying, werecats, while rare, have been sighted across the world. Including here. They don't appear during the day, but favor the cover of night while everyone is asleep in their beds."
He crouched down on all fours, angling his head so that the light of the lantern cast long shadows over his face. Slowly he advanced upon the nearest kitten, which happened to be Tumble.
"They prowl through the shadows, watching and waiting for the perfect moment to pounce upon their prey. They are always hunting, always hungry, never satisfied with a single meal."
Tumble let out a small squeak and darted behind his brother.
"Uh, I'm not scared." Tumble quickly claimed when everyone looked at him. "Nothing to be scared of when there's just one measly little werecat."
"There's not just one werecat." Munk clarified. "Once they have eaten their fill, they set their sights upon anyone they can easily turn into one of their own. One single bite from a werecat is all it takes to turn you into one of their own."
"A- anyone?" Etcetera gasped.
"Yes. So it is very important that on a night such as this that we stick together. They're particularly active on the night of the new moon, where the absent of moonlight creates the darkest, deepest shadows for them to hide in."
"Is there anything we can do to keep them away?" Jemima asked, eyes huge.
"The werecats are frightened of the light. You will be safe so long as you remain… illuminated." Munk drifted over to the lantern and hovered his paw over the power button.
"No!" Etcetera screamed, darting forward to protectively clutch the lantern. Unfortunately in her haste she hit the button and plunged them all into darkness.
"Turn it back on turn it back on-"
"Ow! Watch it!"
A hurricane of feet thundered around the box, which was much too small for the flurry of activity. The box rocked and rolled around them, threatening to burst apart at the seams. A set of claws sank into Munk's leg.
"Everybody sit still and be quiet!" He shouted, bringing the chaos to a halt. "Whoever is closest to the lantern needs to turn it back on. Now."
A small figure delicately fumbled with the lantern. Light illuminated the space once more, revealing Jemima as the one who turned the lantern back on. Etcetera and Pounce were clutching each of Tugger's arms like a lifeline, all three of them fluffed up in alarm like frightened cottonballs. That left one more kitten to account for.
"I think that may be enough for one night." Delicately Munk tried to pry Tumble off of his leg.
"Nooooo, no." Tumble protested.
"We wanna hear more, honest!" Etcetera promised. "Tell us more, Munk, please."
"We won't turn off the lights anymore." Jemima added.
Continuing probably wasn't a good idea. Responsible Munkustrap would have sent everyone home and tucked them in with a cute, heartwarming bedtime story. But, on a night such as this and with an incredibly receptive audience, he couldn't help himself.
As he considered his options something large brushed up against the outside of the box. Munk did his best not to acknowledge it while Tumble still had his claws lodged in his leg. Gently he pushed the kitten off of his leg with his foot, nudging him towards Jemima instead.
"One night, on a night just like this, under the moonless sky, I was patrolling the junkyard. Not a single soul was around except for me."
The thing brushed up against the side of the box again. Discreetly Munk sniffed the air, carefully concealing his immediate confusion with his most serious expression. Now it was time to ramp up the tension.
"The night started out like any other. But as I made my rounds I couldn't help but notice that I wasn't as alone as I thought I was. The dirt beneath my paws was cold, sharp, and quickly becoming covered in a thick blanket of fog. It was so quiet you could hear a mouse breathe, if there were any around. But there weren't any mice."
Tumble and Jemima leaned in closer, mouths slightly open in identical expressions of awe. Munk crouched down to speak directly to them.
"You'd think that at that point I'd turn around and head home. And I was very tempted to. But it is my job to keep you all safe and I hadn't finished my patrol, so I continued forward. As I carried on the fog grew thicker and thicker until I couldn't see past my whiskers. All I could hear was a growl that drew closer the further I went into the shadows."
A low growl rumbled in their ears. Tugger frowned at him, obviously trying to puzzle out how he was able to speak clearly and growl at the same time.
"It was like a beacon calling to me through the mists." Munk continued as the growling around them increased in intensity. "Even if I wanted to I could not turn away. Step by step it drew closer, growling, hissing, breathing down the back of my neck, and I was helpless to resist. There was nowhere for me to run, nowhere to hide. In a matter of moments I was about to see what had been pursuing me throughout the night."
Pounce and Etcetera both hid their faces in Tugger's mane, trying to become one with the fluff. Even Tugger looked unsettled. It was difficult to keep from smiling at the sight, but with a small amount of effort Munk managed to keep his serious face.
"And then..." Munk paused for effect. "It appeared."
Something huge and hairy burst into the box, spitting and snarling and roaring like a demon. Its eyes blazed a fearsome red, glowing in the light of the lantern beneath a forest of hair. It crawled across the floor on all fours, claws digging into the blanket underneath the cats and drawing Tumble and Jemima closer towards it.
With impressive speed Jemima darted back towards Tugger, diving headfirst at the cat and gluing herself to his torso. This dislodged Pounce from his spot, inadvertently rolling him straight towards the monster. A horrific growl was the only warning Pounce had before the creature turned on him.
"Aaaaaargh!" Pounce literally climbed the wall to escape the long claws grabbing at his feet. With an acrobatic twist he leapt off the wall and crashed into Tumble.
Tugger jumped into defensive mode, scooping up Etcetera and Jemima under each arm and hustling them out the back of the box. All three of their screams echoed throughout the junkyard in their wake. Now left to their own devices, Pounce and Tumble clutched each other, each one trying to hide behind the other as the beast loomed over them.
"Don'teatuswe'retoohandsometodie!" Pounce babbled.
"PleaseohpleaseI'msorryI'msosorryitwasallmyfault-" Tumble's vague confession of guilt was drowned out by another ear rattling snarl.
It took everything Munk had to sit still and not come to their aid. Eventually Pounce and Tumble got their feet under them and, as one unit, fled out the box and into the night. Now, just as he had previously described, the Jellicle Protector was the only one left with the monster.
The beast turned to him with its unnatural eyes and flexed its long claws. Its breath rattled in its chest, punctuated with the occasional snarl. Munk took a deep breath to steady himself. Even though he saw it coming he felt a little shaken by the sight.
"Well." He casually said to the abomination. "I think it's safe to say that they won't be forgetting that story any time soon."
The beast raised a black paw and grasped the pile of fur on its head. Off came the wig, along with the bright red goggles that reflected the light of the lantern.
"Pft. Pah." Alonzo spat out the fake fur. "I hope so. I'm going to be coughing up hairballs for the rest of the week."
"That was quite a performance. You really went all out." Munk glanced outside. "I don't think I've ever seen Tugger run that fast."
"I'm quite proud of that one." Alonzo set aside the Great Rumpus Cat costume and set to work on removing the fake claws. "What was that Tumble said about something being his fault?"
"I'm not sure, but we should check on that once he's able to speak coherently again." Munk moved in to help him.
"Thanks. How did you know I was going to come back?"
"Honestly I wasn't sure." Munk shrugged. "Once I smelled that it was you outside I figured you were going to return, just not in such a… memorable way."
"Well, I knew this one was going to be too good of an opportunity to pass up." Alonzo patted the mane. "Especially since I had this lying around. It fits in with the story quite well if I may say so myself."
"So you have heard this story before." Munk remarked. "I'm surprised you remembered it. It's not one I tell often."
"Of course. I remember all your stories."
The heartwarming moment between them was extinguished by a cold chill running up the back of their spines. It was a chill brought on by senses honed from a lifetime of avoiding a particular sort of trouble. Alonzo dropped down into a crouch, sending the Rumpus costume skittering across the floor, while Munk hovered over him protectively.
Something was moving towards the box. An aura of disapproval radiated through the flimsy cardboard walls. As one both cats turned off the lantern and silently waited in the dark for the creature to come closer.
"Munkustrap! Alonzo!" The terrifying shout came from Jennyanydots. "Why are there four kittens and Tugger hiding in my den, and why are they all babbling about a werecat?"
"Time to go." Munk said, already hurrying towards the exit.
"Right behind you." Quickly Alonzo scooped up the evidence and hurried after him.
Forget fictional monsters, an aggravated Gumbie Cat was truly the scariest creature of them all.