Authors: Daryn Cash and Danielle Johnston
Now this, THIS is how you start 2023.
Since I began searching for the Strange Matter short stories, the two I specifically hoped to find were “Attack of the Talking Werewolf” by Alicia M. Heiser and “Kitty Kitty” by Darcy Cash and Danielle Johnston. I mentioned before I’ve wanted to find Heiser’s story as a gift to Wing. What I didn’t mention is that I’ve wanted to find “Kitty Kitty” because it’s the one story two people worked on, I was intrigued by the title, and I have to admit “Darcy Cash” is a REALLY cool name. [Wing: Such a cool name! Might have to steal it for a character someday.]
It’s also a really difficult name to search, because every time I tried Google kept “correcting” it as DACEY Cash, or thought I was talking about actual money. [Wing: … does that mean Dacey is more common than Darcy? I did not expect that.] The two Darcy Cashs I initially found were dead ends who never replied back to tell me they weren’t who I was looking for. It didn’t help that one of them is an illustrator who specifically does animal artwork, so that one bugged me.
After some narrowing down, I found a third Darcy Cash located in California. That led me to an obituary dated 2004 for a woman named Charlotte Alderson. Among Charlotte’s surviving relatives was a Darcy Cash. I went in a different direction and tried contacting some of the other people listed in Charlotte Aldseron’s obit via Facebook. I didn’t get any responses, nor did I ever get a notification they read my messages.
My search briefly led me to a Cash Family Daycare Center located in the same part of California as Charlotte Alderson’s family. They were super helpful, but that turned out to be a dead end as well. Still, the fact that they offered to check for me was touching. These searches always go more smoothly when I get a response, because even if I’m looking in the wrong place it helps to get confirmation so I can focus elsewhere.
Finally, roughly a week prior to this being posted I tried again and contacted a Thorey Howell on Facebook. After Thorey accepted my friend request I messaged them and asked if they were related to a Darcy Cash. Keep in mind I still had no idea if this was the right Darcy Cash. Thorey responded, and I explained in detail what I was doing and why I was trying to find Darcy Cash. Thorey was enthusiastic about helping, and offered to forward my contact information to their mother Alisha Howell (one of the people I initially contacted on Facebook).
Thorey also explained to me that Darcy Cash transitioned into DARYN Cash, which shed some light on why I couldn’t find him. Daryn’s worked on several Pixar movies, including Inside Out, Coco, Finding Dory, and The Good Dinosaur. [Wing: Daryn is such a fucking cool name. Also, holy shit, Daryn, that’s an amazing list.]
Imagine my utter joy when I woke up on Christmas Eve to an email titled STRANGE MATTER SCARY STORY CONTEST 1996. Not only was Daryn Cash indeed the person I was searching for, Daryn had EVERYTHING. Daryn had “Kitty Kitty,” as well as his autographed copy of Dangerous Waters, the story outline and notes he worked on with Danielle Johnston, as well as illustrations. If I’m lucky, Daryn might be able to get in touch with Danielle Johnston so I have them both provide input for the interview I’m working on with Marty Engle and Johnny Ray Barnes Jr.
Here’s some words from Daryn himself:
I’ve scanned the text and cleaned it up a bit, I’ll paste the story at the end of the email and attach the scans as well in case you’d like to check it again the (very badly faded) original. I also scanned the art I drew – it’s funny this was written in the middle of 1996, the dedication page is interesting – we dedicate to our cats, Little was Danielle’s cat (she died I think around 1999, crushed by a garage door), and my cat Penelope who I got when I was 13 and had til I was 33. Pandora was my sister’s cat and had his name changed to Pandrew when we found out he was a boy (trans cat foreshadowing my own transition years later), and my brother’s cat Yoda (who was my reference for the drawings) was hit by a car and died in December of 1996.So – full disclosure, Dangerous Waters is the only Strange Matters book I’ve ever had and ever read. I read Goosebumps and Fear Street because it was the 90s and who didn’t read them, but as I recall it Danielle’s grandma told us about the writing contest and we entered it because Danielle was big into writing (I said she was 13 but she might have even been 12 at the time). I never would have considered it myself but about a year before this, Danielle’s mom and my mom had become best friends and she became like an extra sister. She was really into writing of all kinds – poetry, prose, fiction, plays, all kinds of things, and it was probably her idea to write a story about mutant cat people.I was really good at writing papers for school, not really interested in writing fiction. I remember the ending of the story being a lot scarier in my head than I think it turned out on paper but it was always my favorite part. Looking at the notes and outline, I think we clearly had a lot more material that got cut (there was probably a length requirement for the story and I think we struggled to make it short enough) and some notes were clearly written later so I think we revisited it at some point and jammed about who we would cast as the various characters (I helped create and operate media for Danielle’s college final which was a multi media play of Faust and I suspect that we revisited the story around then, probably around 2005).
[Wing: Fucking fuckity fuck this is adorable and LOOK AT THAT TAPE. LOOK AT IT. Hit my 90s nostalgia REAL HARD.]
After the fucking nightmare year I’ve had I’m proud I can end on having found something I spent so much time searching for. As such, I’d like to say thank you to Daryn, Thorey Howell, Alisha Howell, as well as Holly Cash and Cash Family Daycare for their attempt to help, and finally to the late Charlotte Alderson for being the person who really got this recap happening.
[Wing: 2022 started shitty and ended shittier, and this bit of joy remains a bright spot. Jude, the work you’ve done to find and share “lost” stories is a joy and a wonder. Thank you for all you do.]
In a dark office in Washington D.C., William and Elissa Shaw were warned by their superior that they had to flee the country. Their genetic experiments were getting out of hand, and the Shaws could no longer be protected from legal repercussions. Given a loaded gun, William and Elissa were advised to take their son, change their names, and disappear somewhere.
[Wing: Well goddamn we’re off to a rollicking start. Genetic experiments out of hand! Running from the law! Scientists doing bad!]
And for their sake, and their son’s, the Shaws’ boss hoped they would give up their foolishness.
Isaac Shaw didn’t understand what was going on when his parents dragged him out of class. Elissa didn’t even give Isaac time to say goodbye to his friends from his first grade class. She wouldn’t even let him get his beloved teddy. Elissa snapped that all they needed was his father’s equipment. She failed to see how unhappy Isaac was.
On the plane, William put his plan into action. If it didn’t work, that was it. He made sure Elissa and Isaac knew he loved them when he went into the front of the small plane and shot the pilot in the back.
Having now officially highjacked the plane, the five other passengers in the government jet were now captives of the Shaw Family.
[Wing: WELL GODDAMN. There’s more action in this than some of the things I’ve read lately.]
William brought the plane into an isolated home far in the Alaskan wilderness. [Wing: WUT. This is turning into my favorite thing ever! I love horror stories in the Alaskan wilderness.] He then went about designated the roles of his new “family.” Jim Jones would be his guinea pig for experimentation. Mildred Burns was the cook. The elderly George Bailey would be their butler. While young Faun Bush and Tina Jones would serve as maids. The five individuals would also watch over Isaac whenever Elissa and William needed to get supplies.
Time passed, and the five captives remained trapped in the isolated laboratorial HQ of the exiled Shaws. Too bad for William and Elissa when they returned from a (stolen) supply trip to learn Isaac was now dead of hypothermia. Elissa immediately wanted to kill them for lying until William convinced her it was true.
Now they needed to finish building the lab so it wouldn’t stay true.
For two months everyone in the illegal lab was pushed past their limit until the lab was completed. Once they were done, William dug up his son from his icy grave while Elissa screamed about needing cats.
“WE NEED MORE CATS, WILL! IT WON’T WORK WITHOUT MORE CATS!” Elissa screamed, looking down the long rows of cats. Cats in kennels. Cats in bird cages. Lots and lots of cats.
Having been fully submerged into Stockholm Syndrome, young Tina eventually asked William what, exactly, he and Elissa were planning to do. She figured he’d either tell her or kill her. Both good options at this point.
William explained that he and his wife were kicked out of the country for conducting genetic experiments that would graft animal characteristics on humans, and vice versa. They were trying to make catlike humans, and humanlike cats.
[Wing: Why is it always cats?]
Now, they had Jim for one half of the experiments, and now they have Isaac’s body for the other half. Tina was horrified, wondering if they would really make Jim more like a cat. And what would they do with Isaac…?
Faun sat on the carpet, oblivious to anything but the playful kitten in front of her.
The kitten lashed at her hand as she moved the string away from it again, its claws sinking in but coming out quickly. Faun had a cat at home, so she knew that kittens didn’t know about their claws yet. She went on playing with the kitten.
Elissa walked into the room, and stood for a while watching both woman and cat play.
Faun looked up and quickly dragged the string away to put it in her pocket. The kitten lunged with mouth open and barred its teeth to her sensitive skin. Faun quickly disengaged the kitten with a scream.
“Why did she do that?” Faun asked, sucking on her bleeding wound.
“I wouldn’t pay much heed to it. They don’t really know what they do. It’s instinct.”
Faun and the others soon learned why the Shaws were kicked out of the country by the time their experiments took effect on Jim. Jim received injections of cat DNA, while a young kitten received injections of Isaac’s DNA. Jim and the kitten gradually mutated into horrific half human, half feline mutates with human minds.
And after the Shaws finished on Jim, they did the same thing to the rest of their captives. And then the rest of the cats. Poor George Bailey struggled to hold onto his humanity, but that slipped away as he became more and more like a grotesque mockery of a cat.
By now, William and Elissa Shaw had control over an entire colony of catlike abominations. Elissa asked William what would happen if they escaped.
“Hmm…I’m not sure. Since we enhanced them, they can endure extreme weather conditions, they can go weeks without food or water. And they have incredible strength. There’s no telling what they might do. The former humans would probably run and hide from society, but the rest… well, they would just be like deranged huge cats.”
“Their minds have been messed with, what do you expect?”
And then guess what happened.
THEY ALL ESCAPED.
Which just meant William and Elissa could experiment on a new batch.
I wonder what happened to all those poor cats… anyway let’s cut to a week later.
A small girl stood at the door of her house in Toronto. On the doorstep there was a small pawing noise, clawing at the milk bottles just recently sent out for waste. She opened the door quickly… Luring the cat into the room… In the darkness she could see a pair of gleaming yellow eyes. They were a bit higher than usual. Almost to her eye level.
She tried luring it to her again, saying, “Kitty, kitty.”
Much like with “The Journal,” “Kitty Kitty” absolutely was NOT what I expected it might be at all. Again, we need to give these kids more consideration for how dark they can go with their stories holy shit.
[Wing: THAT FUCKING ENDING. I love the monstrous transformations, the cat-human hybrids escaping, the scientists not stopping, and of course that is a beautiful horror story ending with an innocent kid and a monstrous half-animal-half-human coming for her.]
Reading this story I could easily imagine an expanded version would’ve probably been released as a book by Zebra Publishing. Something with one of those gratuitous skeleton-themed covers despite skeletons never having anything to do with the story. Like this.
And I mean that as the highest compliment possible.
Final Thoughts and First Thoughts of 2023
Well. I started 2022 with a story about a dog, and 2023 with a story about a cat. Lots of cats, actually.
I got kind of emotional in the recap I did for Matt Hunt’s Creepstakes story, so you all know how I feel about 2023. I don’t know what else to say right now except to thank Daryn Cash again, and his family, and everyone who tried to help me with this. I was searching for “Kitty Kitty” mainly for myself, compared to all of the other stories I found.
Actually I do know what to say. I expected this was going to be a difficult holiday season because of my mom’s passing. And in the lead-up to Christmas Day I came home from work exhausted pretty much every evening so working on any writing was near impossible. I’m so tired, you guys. I got emotional too much and it would feel as though there was a heaviness inside my chest when I’d try to sleep. Waking up on Christmas Eve to Daryn’s email gave me a legitimate sense of lightness I hadn’t felt in so long.
2023 better not fuck up as bad as 2022 did.
[Wing: Thank you, Jude! Thank you, Daryn! This was an amazing way to start the year.]