Title: The Cat-Dogs
Author: Susan Price
Collection: The Cat-Dogs and Other Tales of Horror
Editor: A. Finnis
Published: August 1995
Description: What are they? They’re not exactly dogs. They’re not really cats. They have teeth like a dog’s and claws like a cat’s. They’re the perfect combination of two of our best-loved pets. There’s only one problem: Cat-dogs love to hunt. Humans.
[And now I have the Misfits’ “Hunting Humans” stuck in my head. Thanks a lot, whoever wrote that description.]
Okay, so this full moon we’re not getting werewolves – we’re getting cat-dogs. I ran out of time to recap anything but a short story, and I didn’t have an actual werewolf story immediately at hand. Next month we’ll go back to the regular format, but for now, the concept of cat-dogs intrigues me. They sound absolutely beautiful, but I’m getting ahead of myself. And just to get things out of the way, no, the cat-dogs are not this:
I must have read this once or twice back when it first came out – I have the copy I bought back in the day, and it’s in near-perfect condition. I don’t remember the specifics of the story, but I always remembered what the cat-dogs looked like, except I remembered them being bigger. Oh, well. And just so you know, the cover art isn’t exactly how they’re described, and not exactly how I pictured them in my head. Okay. Onward!
The story opens with our protagonist, Liz Bowyer, discovering a dead duck that the cat-dogs have got hold of. Oh, yeah, prepare yourselves for animal death in this one. I’ve resigned myself to it, since everything I’ve recapped lately has animals being killed. At least none of these are murdered by humans. I don’t know why that makes it better, but it does.
Liz knows it was the cat-dogs who killed the duck, because the farm cats know that the flocks of geese and ducks can kick their asses, and their Alsatian, Tom, is too well-trained to attack the livestock. And there’s my first hint that this story takes place in England, because we’re referring to German Shepherds as Alsatians. Cool cool.
Liz thinks about how it’s her fault, since she brought the cat-dogs onto the farm. She’d found them on her way home from school the year before, stuffed into a sack and left at the edge of a lake in the woods. She was too pissed off at whoever tried to drown them that she didn’t really notice they weren’t proper kittens when she took them home. She put them in with a stable cat who had just had kittens of her own, but the next day, the kittens were all dead. She thinks it was rats that got them; her dad disagrees but doesn’t offer an alternate culprit. Um. It was obviously the cat-dogs, yeah? Was there no blood on their snouts or anything?
Liz’s family runs a show farm in this sort of historical nature preserve area, so they get tourists, and her dad is determined to turn the farm into a haven for ancient breeds. Mostly what that means is that they’re on the phone to Iceland a lot, trying to get clearance to bring some special type of sheep in. Baaaa, bitches! As the cat-dogs grow, people in the area try to figure out what they are – they have dog’s teeth and snouts, retractable claws, green eyes, and are ginger-colored but tabby-striped, with black tips on their tails and ears. They sound gorgeous and I want one immediately! There are five of them, and three of them hunt the ducks and geese, separating one from the group and letting the other two cat-dogs move in on it. What I’m getting from this is that the cat-dogs have definitely watched the velociraptors in Jurassic Park and modeled their mode of attack after them. Anyway, Mr. Bowyer stops them before they kill the duck, because they can’t be thinking they can get away with killing the livestock. Um, yeah. Good luck with that.
It’s right around that time that Liz starts calling them cat-dogs, and the name sticks. When they become full-grown, they start leaving the show farm and attacking animals in the woods and nearby farms. RIP to those poor animals. Mr. Bowyer wants to kill the cat-dogs, but he can’t put poison down because other animals might get it, and bringing out the shotgun would freak out the tourists.
Now I guess we pick back up with the story where we came in, after the cat-dogs are grown. Liz is excited, because her dad is coming back from the airport with an Icelandic vet named Sven, and three new sheep. Or, as she puts it, a Viking and his Viking sheep! Okay, calm down, Liz.
Liz finds Tom the dog dead, with the flesh on his legs chewed off. Ew. Poor puppy. She’s too upset to deal with it, so her mom carries his body into the shed and overturns the bloody dirt so that the tourists won’t see it. Mrs. Bowyer is your typical no-nonsense suck it up and get things done type. I respect that. Liz asks what could have killed Tom, and Mrs. Bowyer hesitates for a split second before telling her the cat-dogs were the only things that could possible have. But they’ll talk more about it when Dad gets home, okay?
Dad comes home that afternoon with his Icelandic sheep, and if you want to make yourself ridiculously happy, I suggest you Google Image search them immediately! Here’s a little taste for you:
Sven is with Dad, and far from being a Viking, he’s actually a young man in his late twenties, short, with mousy hair thinning at the top, but he has a nice, shy smile and American-accented English. He’ll be stay with the Bowyers for a few days, I guess to oversee the sheep settling in or something? It’s not totally clear. Or maybe I just know next to nothing about farms in England. At any rate, while Sven is in the bathroom, Liz and Mom tell Dad about the dog being killed, and Sven comes out in time to hear part of the conversation. He asks if the dog was “knocked by a car”, and Mr. Bowyers grumps, “Cat-dogs!” Sven, of course, is confused, so they take him to inspect Tom’s corpse. He thinks the bites look like they’re maybe from another dog, and Mr. Bowyers repeats “cat-dogs.”
They explain to Sven what the cat-dogs look like, and he’s all, Oh, you mean skoffins? They go back to the house and he tells them that he knows what they’re talking about, but people usually laugh at the story – people in Reykjavic, even, but not farmers. Okay, Mr. Cryptic. He tells them they have raised a pack of skoffins, and this is a dangerous thing. Then he explains that sometimes in Iceland a female fox (and he pauses to tell us that the name for fox in Iceland is the same as the word for devil) will mate with a tomcat, and the resulting litter are called skuggabalders. They are very dangerous and will kill sheep and dogs. The farmers all get together to hunt them down and shoot them. The Bowyers’ laugh at the idea of a fox and cat mating, claiming it’s impossible, but dudes. What the fuck. You’ve seen your cat-dogs; is this story really any more unbelievable than what you’ve already seen with your very own eyes?
So. Even more dangerous than the skuggabalders are the skoffins. Skoffins occur when a male fox mates with a female cat. Then the kittens are born on a farm, but in Iceland they’re never allowed to grow up – they’re killed immediately because skoffins are even more fierce, clever, and dangerous than skuggabalders. Guys, my browser spellcheck is all lit up in red underlines from these Icelandic names, but I don’t even care because they’re so great. So much better than “cat-dogs” oh my god.
At first they think Sven is pulling their legs, but he quickly convinces him he’s dead serious. Then Mr. Bowyer asks Sven if he’s ever heard of “lamping.” Unfortunately, this isn’t some deviant sexual practice (although Urban Dictionary has some interesting definitions), it’s basically taking a lamp or torch (which I take to mean a lantern or flashlight, although the text uses the terms lamp and torch interchangeably, so I’m a little confused?) out in the woods, shining it in an animal’s eyes to make it freeze, then shooting it. Seems a little unsporting to me.
The two men and Liz go out to hunt the skoffins over Mom’s protests that Liz shouldn’t go. They say the skoffins are little things, no bigger than a fox, but then Sven says they’re a little bigger since big domestic cats are bigger and heavier than a fox. Uh? Are foxes in England especially small? I’m assuming we’re talking about red foxes given the description of the cat-dogs, and red foxes in America are rather large. Not huge, but definitely bigger than a cat. Is Sven talking about arctic foxes? Because they’re pretty small, but they’re not marked like the cat-dogs. I have so many questions right now. Because different parts of the world would have different types of skoffins, depending on what types of foxes live in that part of the world, right? There’s not just one type of fox in existence! Are there fennec-fox skoffins? Arctic-fox skoffins? I wish I were a better artist (or Photoshopper) because I need to see what these would look like, stat!
The trio heads off into the woods tracking the skoffins, keeping the lamp covered so that their eyes adjust to the darkness. Sven almost immediately gets caught in a briar patch off the path, due to being unfamiliar with woods in general. Liz helps him get untangled, but when they get back on the path (what little path there is), they’ve lost sight of Mr. Bowyer. Then they hear a shotgun blast from farther away than Liz thinks her dad could have gotten in the time she took helping Sven, but sound travels funny in the woods. I know.
Liz leaves the path and sets off through the undergrowth because it seems the more direct route toward the shotgun blast. She thinks to herself that it seemed like a good idea at the time, and I laughed. Yeah, lots of terrible ideas seem like good ones at the time, don’t they? She almost immediately slides down an incline and loses the lamp. As you do. She hears a shrieking noise that she recognizes as a skoffin, and when she reaches for her lamp she sees a pair of pricked ears at the very edge of the light. Spooky!
Liz yells for Sven and they meet back up again, whew! She’s lost though, because even though this is what she calls “a toy wood for the tourists” it’s super easy to get lost in the woods at night. Sven yells for Mr. Bowyer, but Liz thinks they need to be quiet. Sven says the skoffins have already separated them and he and Liz need to stay together, then says Mr. Bowyer will be okay since he’s the one with the gun. So, Liz and Sven are unarmed. Great.
The skoffins keep making horrible noises in the woods, and Sven points out that they’re trying to panic them. It seems to be working on Liz, because she tries to bolt every time she hears them. Girl, calm down. Don’t give them what they want! They keep walking, trying to find their way out of the woods, when they finally come across the path to the old abbey ruins. The skoffins have gotten on the path ahead of them, blocking their way, and without consulting each other, Liz breaks to the left while Sven breaks to the right. Well, that was a mistake. Now the skoffins can round you up and pick you off. Way to go, guys. Two of them come for Liz, and they don’t freeze or run away when she shines the light in their eyes. So much for that plan. She hears Sven screaming from maybe inside the abbey? I’m having trouble picturing these woods and the abbey and the wall surrounding it, I guess?
She finds the path back to the farm, but a skoffin runs in front of her, snapping its teeth, and she sees that its muzzle is stained with blood. Uh-oh. There’s another skoffin behind her, and seriously, the skoffins are just mammalian velociraptors, right?
Liz decides, Fuck it, and runs toward the path home, swinging the lamp at the skoffin in her way. It dodges and bites into her arm. It’s surprisingly heavy, and she has to punch it in the nose to make it let go of her, even though that momentarily drives its teeth deeper into her arm. The other skoffin has hold of the back of her jacket, and the other three are yipping excitedly as they run to join the hunt. So, I guess they finished with Sven?
Liz runs almost blindly, now without her lamp, back toward the abbey. Probably not the best idea, but I don’t even know what the best idea would be here. Climb a tree? Can skoffins climb trees? They have those retractable claws, so they probably can. Well, damn. You fucked, girl. She trips over Sven and quickly realizes he’s dead. It’s not specifically stated, but I get the impression his throat is ripped open. RIP, Sven, we hardly knew ye.
She thinks about all the foxes in the country, all the chances for them to mate with cats – how people will either take them for foxes or for cats, wonders how many other skoffins there are already out there running through the countryside, and then she runs into the tall abbey wall in front of her. She tries to find a way around, but there is none, and the skoffins have come up behind her.
One of the skoffins grabs her leg, another grabs the other leg, and she can’t stay on her feet. She goes down thinking “This is it . . . this is it . . .”
Nostalgia Glasses Off
Guys, I really like this one! The skoffins/cat-dogs are creepy and amazing-sounding, and while I usually find it a bummer when the main character dies, it fits here. Nature wins! I like weird creatures and the idea of nature creating its own monsters with no help from us silly humans. I kind of want a story of the skoffins and skuggabalders in Iceland; how awesome would that be? Cheers!