The monster seemed cute at first.
He was small, and furry, with big brown eyes that gazed soulfully at her.
When she picked him up, he nuzzled affectionately against her, stroking her cheek and her breast with his little paw.
At night, when the moon rose, he purred like a kitten.
She named him Liam.
He ate kibble from a little dish on the floor, haunches raised high behind him, while his little pink tongue darted in and out of his tiny little mouth.
Yes, he had sharp little teeth that nipped a bit when he tried to cuddle her too hard, but he almost never drew blood. She could overlook the occasional love bite.
When she found another lost little Liam in the street, she couldn’t resist bringing that one home, too.
As it turned out, however, the new pet was … well, let’s just say, compatible. They began to mate, practically non-stop, with breaks only to eat, and eat, and eat. They grew at a correspondingly high rate. Apparently, sexual maturity — and sexual activity — triggered their growth hormones, and they grew astronomically. Soon Liam and Lisa were the size of Rottweillers, only hungrier — and meaner.
If she didn’t have their breakfast on the floor at 6 a.m. sharp, Liam would wrap his jowls around her ankle and pull her out of bed.
She invested in a self-feeder and started to lock her door at night.
Before long, however, the animals began to empty their self-feeder during the night and chewed through her bedroom door to express their displeasure.
“Well,” she thought, warily, “it’s not their fault. They’re animals. They don’t know any better.”
And Lisa was pregnant, after all. Victoria was a woman, too, and she felt a certain kinship with the mother-to-be. She prided herself on the connection. Women have to stick together, she told herself, even if they were different species.
When the puppies were born, they were every bit as cute as their parents — if not cuter. There were 10 of them, each softer and browner and more cuddly than the one before.
They clambered into Victoria’s lap and nipped her, too, until her neck and shoulders and arms were covered with tiny little scabs.
They were adorable, though — which is why Victoria couldn’t understand why none of her friends wanted to adopt them.
“Victoria,” they said, speaking softly and gently. “Those aren’t really puppies, you know. We’re not sure what they are, exactly. They seem a little … wild.”
“You’re so mean!” Victoria replied. “They’re soft, and brown, and furry, and they sing at the moon! You’re just being selfish.’
Before long, Victoria didn’t have time to spend with her friends, anyway. The animals needed her — and frankly, it felt good to be needed.
She stopped seeing her friends, and she stopped going out to movies, or concerts, or coffee shops, like she used to. She only left her house to work and shop for kibble. At night, she collapsed in a heap on her bed, surrounded by two generations now of rutting, mating animals, who bit her while she slept and woke her every two hours for more food.
Her neighbors, concerned about her safety and well-being — not to mention the smell — called animal control — but the representative who visited her home was actually very impressed.
“I can see that you’ve got a lot of these … pets,” he said.
Victoria nodded. “Yes,” she said. “I think we’re up to 37 now. There’ve been three litters so far.”
He noted that on his clipboard.
“And I can see that you’ve got them all housetrained.”
“Well, yes, more or less. They mostly go in my second bedroom. I had to throw away all the furniture and line it with newspapers, but the mess is mostly contained.”
“Very good,” he said, and he noted that on his clipboard.
“Do you work?”
“Yes,” she said. “I’m a legal secretary.”
“Who watches the animals when you’re gone?”
“Ah,” she sighed. “I can’t afford a pet sitter. I leave the TV on to keep them company, and they mostly amuse each other.”
He made a note of that, too.
A week later, she received a copy of his report in the mail.
She had half-hoped, half-feared that the government would insist that she cull her herd, and that she’d have to get rid of some of her pets. Instead, the report was more of an executive order: The creatures in her care were well fed and well behaved, it said, and showed the beginnings of a unique culture that was to be protected and preserved.
While she would be allowed to keep her job — at least for now — the animal control office had decided that Victoria would have to work from home, in order to maintain a nurturing environment for her pets.
At first, she cried. She loved her animals, but she hadn’t planned on staying home with them full-time. Still, she was buoyed by the worker’s encouraging words. She was inspired by his keen observation about their songs to the moon, and she recommitted herself to the care and feeding of their culture.
As the menagerie grew, and grew, and grew, Victoria cheered their adaptation into her world — ignoring, for as long as she could, the fact that she was actually adapting to their world. She no longer had a bed: it had been shredded by generations of tiny teeth, and turned into nesting material for the ever-increasing litters of new births. Her floors were completely covered with old newspaper; she was very careful about where she stepped. Since she never left the house, she didn’t need to keep the TV on anymore, but it didn’t work anyway: too many little Liams had chewed on the cord. When she did sleep, in fits and starts, her dreams were filled with the sounds of lunar trilling.
Of course, some of the animals began to chew their way out of her house. They began to burrow their way into her neighbors’ homes. When the neighbors complained, they too were ordered to protect and preserve the little creatures.
Before long, every house on the block was overrun.
Victoria was feeling old, and sick, and heartbroken at her failure to provide the best life possible for her pets. One night, she slipped into the last pair of shoes she owned — they had been an expensive pair of gym shoes, before the insoles and the toes were chewed up — and left.
She simply left.
She walked away, crying and kicking at the animals in the street who bit her ankles as she passed through their collective, blocking the sound of their barks and their singing as she aimed for a new town, and a new life, where the tribe hadn’t yet found a home.
She had to leave, even though she’d been expressly ordered to remain. She didn’t care. She simply wanted to sleep in a bed alone, in silence, without the burden of caring for an entire culture that wasn’t her own. She walked until she reached the barricade that marked the perimeter of the animal protection reserve.
She paused there, just for a moment. She knew that she was taking a tremendous risk. She was violating a governmental order. She knew that if she was caught, she’d be fined, and perhaps imprisoned, and charged with dereliction of civic duty. She might even be accused of a hate crime.
But at the same time, she had a legal background: if she could find a computer and a printer, she could create a new identity for herself. She knew that if she kept walking, she could find a new home, with people who didn’t have pets, and people who slept soundly at night despite their cold hearts and their selfish ways.
She ducked under the barricade and kept walking.
She never noticed the tiny little furball that followed her.