The Christmas Kitten

It was a fairly standard Christmas present, wrapped in shiny green paper with a silver ribbon and hand-tied bow...and it was purring. Now, I've opened some pretty standard boxes that contained some awfully surprising contents in my time, so mere purring wasn't nearly enough to dissuade me from investigating further. The ribbon came loose with a gentle tug, and the flaps of the box were pushed outward by something hiding within.

She was a scruffy little ball of fur, standing with wobbly legs on a folded towel at the bottom of the high-sided box. Her inquisitive eyes were the shade of a flawless sky, a blue so deep it was almost purple. When she meowed with her tiny voice, it was enough to bring tears to my eyes. Much later, I would be crying tears of another sort.

Her early years sped by almost without incident. Oh, there was the occasional squabble with the neighbors; mostly missing property like sofa cushions, fruit, the odd 40-pound bag of elbow macaroni, and once, an entire Olympic-size swimming pool, water and diving board included. Normal stuff for a feisty kitten to drag back to her bed and admire in the long hours of the night. I passed it off as growing pains and innate curiosity; the neighbors felt otherwise. We had to move twice before finding a community more accepting of my kitten's natural impulses.

One evening, on my drive home from work, my brakes failed and I nearly drove over the side of the Burnside Bridge. When I had the car towed to a garage, the mechanic spent an unusually long time examining my brake lines before returning to the waiting area. He held up a short piece of rubber tubing. The ends were ragged, torn savagely by something strong and sharp. "Teeth," said the mechanic, "Kitten teeth."

It wasn't until after her third birthday that I finally began to put all the pieces together. I walked into the living room one morning to find my kitten standing on her hind feet, balanced precariously on a kitchen chair atop a stack of mounded cushions. Upon closer examination, I noticed tiny teeth marks in the legs of the chair and around the edges of the cushions. She was reaching for the chandelier, a pair of spring-loaded pliers held firmly in her mouth. When I cleared my throat conspicuously, she casually hopped off the chair and traipsed across the pile of cushions. Once on the ground, she set the pliers down and began to methodically wash herself with her tiny pink tongue. After a moment, she retrieved the pliers and sauntered off toward the kitchen.

Confused and shaken, I drove to my parents' home for advice. My mother, strangely, was not the least bit surprised as I detailed the collection of odd behavior from my innocent little kitten.

She poured me a cup of tea and bade me sit down at the kitchen table. After a moment punctuated by much spoon-wrangling and tea-stirring, she began.

"When we went to the animal shelter to get you a pet for Christmas, we didn't want a boring little animal that would be complacent and predictable all of its life. So we asked the volunteers there for a recommendation."

"'Well, you could get a weasel,' suggested a rather smelly young man of dubious intelligence, 'or a ferret or even a stoat. Or a rat. Rats are fun.' But we shook our heads and looked to the young woman who was cleaning the cages with a hose and scrub brush."

"'If it was me, I'd get either a crack monkey or a evil kitten,' she said."

"We asked her what, exactly, made the difference between an evil kitten and a standard kitten," my mother continued, adding a fifth spoonful of sugar to her tea and stirring it slowly.

"'You see,' she explained, 'most kittens are sweet, loving companions. They snuggle, they play, and they never, ever, set fire to your legs except by accident. By contrast, evil kittens appear identical to normal kittens, but inside, they're...twisted. They snuggle, but only to leave kitten fur on all your clothes. They play, but only to distract you from noticing their larcenous pastimes. And it goes without saying that they set fire get the idea.'"

"I see," I said.

"So she led us back to the kitten section and left us by the rows of cages, each filled with a single, fluffy kitten. We looked at them, but they all seemed very...innocent. After a moment, the young woman smiled and led us down a hallway, talking as she walked."

"'That was a test,' she said. 'Most people who claim to want an evil kitten think the kittens you just saw are evil. These people are idiots. I don't allow idiots to raise an evil kitten. It's far too dangerous, and the liability insurance is so expensive I can barely afford my own evil kitten. I'm glad you're clever enough to see through my little ruse. Let's go find an evil kitten for you.'"

"She walked past a door marked 'Evil Kittens' and stopped in front of a door marked 'Not-So-Evil Kittens'."

"'Why aren't we going in the 'Evil Kittens' door?' we asked."

"'Well, it was the kittens' idea, actually. They figured that if they were located behind the "Evil Kittens" door, then they would be, in some small way, helping people by conforming to conventional wisdom and being appropriately labeled. Helping people is not what evil kittens do. So they had this "Not-So-Evil Kittens" door built and installed to fool the unwary. People who are looking for "Not-So-Evil Kittens" will actually get evil kittens. And people looking for evil kittens won't find any kittens at all. Either way, the evil kittens win.'"

"We looked at four evil kittens that December morning. In the end, we settled on the kitten you got for Christmas three years ago. And the rest you know."

I finished my tea and stumbled home, reeling with the knowledge that my kitten was not the sweetly innocent ball of fluff that I had come to love.

As I opened the front door, I knew that I would have to turn my kitten over to the authorities. There was no way I could continue to support her evil activities. But as I walked into the kitchen, what I saw halted me in utter amazement. The table was set, and a sumptuous meal had been prepared. As I took in this bewildering scene, my kitten appeared behind me and carefully pulled out a chair for me to be seated. I sat.

As I ate, my mind turned to thoughts of her evilness. My resolve drained away with each delicious bite. After dessert, I could not bear the thought of ever being separated from my evil kitten, no matter how wicked her behavior. I petted her soft head and velvety ears.

Later that night, she set fire to my legs.

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