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magazine coverI first met Steve Rasnic Tem at World Horror in Denver, and then again in Corpus Christi for World Fantasy. It was at one of these that I found a little story called “The Man in the Ceiling” that he wrote with his wife Melanie. It caused quite a sensation, and if you’ve never read it, you must find it and read it. “Cats, Dogs, and Other Creatures” was one of the first stories to break a hard and fast rule at Talebones: no cat stories. But then again, is it really a cat story? Oklahoma artist Tom Simonton did a number of covers for us, including issue #21, where this story appeared. Simonton did a whole lot of interior art as well.




Outside, in the cold air, the babies were crying again.

Esther knew they weren’t really babies. They were cats: tabbies and calicoes, short-hairs and long-hairs, Persians and Russians and Siamese. All of them crying like babies, just to be mean, their high-pitched cries rising steadily until they were babies in distress, babies in grave danger, babies going insane within a deadly dream. Such hateful cats.

Even though she knew better, Esther always let herself be fooled, always thought of them as the babies, because she wanted to be fooled. Her own babies were long gone now, married with babies of their own. Which she never saw, because their parents never visited. Because they’d hated their own mother for years, just like those selfish cats hated her.

Outside, in the cold air, the babies began to quarrel. Babies were always quarreling because there was never enough food, never enough love to go around. Esther thought that was a terrible thing, but it was the way of the world, and there was nothing she could do about it. But of course the babies never understood the worries of a mother.

Let us in, let us in! all the babies cried, but Esther was afraid. For she knew just how hateful babies could be, with their crying, and their quarreling, and their terrible hungers, and still more crying.

Outside, in the cold air, the babies began to scream. The wind rose, and looking out her window Esther could see the babies flying through the air, blown by the wind and blown by their own anger, which Esther knew to be without limit.

Open the window, open the window! all the babies cried, but Esther would not. For she understood the deceitfulness of babies, who cared only about filling their own mouths. The babies had taken from her all she had to give, and was it her fault she had had so little to give? She’d never been married, never had a man who stayed long enough to help out. She’d been thin and cheated and poor. She’d done what she could, the little that she could.

Then the babies were dropping softly through the broken glass, their bodies torn, tiny faces bleeding, and Esther ran around with towels and torn pieces of bed sheet to stop the wounds and soothe their cries, and even though their claws tore at her arms she never complained, never opened her mouth without a lullabye inside, and still it wasn’t enough.


That summer the dogs gathered about him almost obsessively, as if afraid to let him out of their sight. There were the three he owned: the spaniel and the corgi and the retriever Ellen had left behind when she took the kids that day and went away. He’d always thought she loved that dog more than the kids, but he supposed he’d been wrong about that one aspect of their marriage. Certainly she hadn’t loved him more, but that wasn’t the reason he’d cheated on her. At least he was honest about it — that was part of his nature. Just as cheating had been part of his nature. He still believed he couldn’t have helped himself.

He supposed the retriever, Sam, was his now, even though he’d never liked the dog. Sam was old and fat and lazy, but he’d always believed that you never kicked out a dog just because you didn’t like him. You let him hang around until he died of natural causes.

Sometimes when he was out in the yard with the three dogs, picking up the kids’ toys — after all these months he was still finding toys everywhere he looked, sometimes telling them to put them away even though he knew good and well the kids weren’t there — other dogs from the neighborhood would join them, following him around with his own dogs. At least he thought they were from the neighborhood — he’d actually never seen these particular dogs before. Sometimes they’d follow him into the house. He’d never stop them. He didn’t care.

Occasionally the sheer number of dogs caused a disturbance among them — a dachsund would get too close to a boxer, a corgi would inadvertently step on a retriever’s paw — but a little fight had never bothered him much. He liked a little fight in a dog.

Over the months the dogs accumulated until he stopped counting their numbers. He simply knew he had more dogs than furniture, more dogs than words he wanted to share with anyone. He wasn’t sure when he had stopped getting up: a doberman had ripped the calendar off the wall and eaten the pages — one centerfold pose at a time, Miss July, Miss August, the mighty Miss September. He’d laughed at that one, cheered the beast on, especially that evening when the dog shit some glossy nakedness out. The god-damned chihuahua had knocked the alarm clock off onto the floor, where it was quickly covered by a heaving mass of canine bodies. Not that he ever wanted to look at the time again, but he’d never cared much for hairless dogs.

“Hey, boys,” he whispered from the bed, making a half-dozen of them move off his back. “Hey, now,” he said, as he rolled over and a shepherd stretched out over his chest, pressing down so hard he could hardly breathe. There were snarls and snaps in answer, and vicious fights he could not see. “So what have you gone and done?” as the air filled with the stench of dead dog.


The children played all afternoon on the wide lawn while their parents drank and played cards inside in the glass-walled room. One of the mothers worried that it might be too hot outside for the younger children, but the man who owned the house said it was fine because his children had always played in such heat with no ill effects. Her husband reassured her and poured another round of drinks. Then the couples traded stories about the resiliency of childhood and they all laughed and shook their heads, even the woman who had been worried.

Outside, the sun had become a great penny of fire. The older children advised the younger children to stare at the fire if they wanted to see the pretty pictures, and the younger children did as they were told even though it hurt.

At the edge of the wide lawn the other creatures gathered and watched.

Inside the glass-walled room the parents put on some music and began to dance. The young children on the lawn outside this room could no longer see through the glass, but they could hear the music and the jumble of noise that was their mommies and daddies laughing. The children moved toward the glass wall, lay down on the lawn and closed their eyes. The mother who had worried at first was glad her children weren’t in the room, because she wanted to forget them for a change, forget herself and have some fun.

Outside on the lawn the older children began hitting each other with bats. When one fell to his knees the others gathered around him, hitting him until the boy collapsed completely on the lawn and soft matter oozed into the grass. Some of the children continued to hit him with their bats because they liked the loud, soft sound his body made. The other creatures on the edge of the lawn continued to watch, but a few brave ones crept from cover to perch on the mowed portion of the lawn itself.

Inside the glass-walled room, the parents continued to laugh and dance, wondering why they’d never gotten together like this before. The mother who had worried wondered why she’d had so many children in the first place. She loved her children but they wanted so much, needed so much, that sometimes it seemed there must be dozens of them grasping, pushing, mouths open to be fed. It shamed her to be thinking like this. But sometimes the sheer numbers of children in the world filled her with terror.

Outside on the wide lawn the older children joined their bloody hands and raced down the long slope toward the wild edge below, leaving the younger children and the dead boy lying still on the hot grass. At the bottom of the slope the other creatures all entered the lawn and crept up the hill.

Inside the room the parents turned down the music and gathered at one wall of the glass. The couples held each other and smiled. Some of their children lay sleeping peacefully on the lawn, or rubbing their eyes and yawning as if impatient for sleep. The mother who had worried saw her youngest there, watching the sky.

The woman peered outside the glass down the slope of the lawn looking for her other two children, seeing nothing but a great cloud of insects in the hot summer air, and below them a gathering of eyes as the immensity of the world looked back at her.

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