Stephen King Short Story Project, #34: “The Cat from Hell”

The story: “The Cat from Hell,” collected in Just After Sunset. First published in part in 1977. Wikipedia entry here.

Spoiler-filled synopsis: An aging man hires a hitman to murder his cat, which he believes to be an avenging demonic entity. The cat, he believes, has murdered his family and will soon kill him in revenge for fatal experiments that his pharmaceuticals company conducted on felines years ago. He’s not wrong.

My thoughts: So far, this year’s Stephen King story project has felt a little on the heavy side. We’ve read an intense story of revenge, a strange meditation on suicide, a slow descent into madness, and a gross-out story about a longsuffering parent. “The Cat From Hell” brings a bit of needed levity (albeit gruesome levity) to the mix.

This story falls into the “Nature Strikes Back” subgenre of horror. In this case, nature is striking back against a certain Mr. Drogan, who as the head of a massive pharmaceuticals company oversaw drug development processes that cost the lives of thousands of feline test subjects. Feline revenge has a respectable history in horror: H.P. Lovecraft’s well-regarded story “The Cats of Ulthar” and Poe’s “The Black Cat” both depict bad people getting what they deserve at the hands of cats they’ve mistreated.

The titular cat in this King story is a strangely-colored but otherwise ordinary feline that appeared at Mr. Drogan’s door one day, and was adopted into the family (by Drogan’s elderly sister—Drogan himself hates cats). Before long, all three of Drogan’s housemates are dead: his sister takes a suspicious fall down the stairs, another housemate dies in her sleep, and Drogan’s butler dies in a car accident on the way to have the cat euthanized. The cat returned (unscathed by the car accident, although the dead driver was covered with scratches), and Drogan—convinced that the cat is an avenging beast—has now hired a hitman to get rid of it for good.

There’s not really a lot to the story beyond this basic setup. After hearing this backstory, we follow the bemused and skeptical hitman as he drives the cat out into the country to be done in. Not surprisingly, the cat escapes its container in the car, causes a car crash, and kills the trapped hitman in a horrifically gruesome way. King stretches the “trapped in the crashed car with a murderous cat” scene over many hilariously suspenseful pages, as the mostly immobilized hitman tries to get to his gun while the cat stalks around the car seats and periodically lunges for his face, ears, eyes, crotch, etc. It ends really badly for the hitman.

The story wraps up as the gore-drenched cat races away from the scene of the crime, presumably to pay a final visit to Mr. Drogan.

That’s pretty much it. This is a highly enjoyable, tightly written story that delivers exactly what it promises, no more and no less; which admittedly leaves me without a lot to write about here. I thought about delving into depictions of the cat in horror literature—it’s alternately a creature of both soothing comfort and inhuman terror—but taking this too seriously would spoil the fun.

Next up: “Lunch at the Gotham Café,” in Everything’s Eventual.

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2 Comments

  1. Mark says:

    I’m pretty sure what King is describing is not a demonic entity in the form of a cat. It’s just a cat. That’s what they do, given the right opportunity.

  2. Andy says:

    For what it’s worth, I read this story while a purring cat sat on my lap. Fortunately, I am still alive. But for how long?

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