“Cattiwampus” by Steve Rasnic Tem
From The Devil’s Coattails edited by Jason Brock and William F. Nolan
Cycatrix Press, 2011
“I never seen a cat fight back like Ma,” says the narrator of Steve Rasnic Tem’s “Cattiwampus.” Her Ma is actually fighting back against her Pa, an abusive man who finally pushes too far. They’ve fought before, but Ma has always been able to keep herself in check. This one last time, though, she loses control, and as a result she’s forced to gather up her children and go into hiding.
Ma is no ordinary woman. She’s a shapeshifter, and she’s lived her life in fear of two things: losing control, and passing her curse down to her children. Now she’s done the first thing, and as the family ekes out an existence in the harsh wilderness of the Appalachians, signs are beginning to appear that she may have done the second thing, too.
Tem based this story on an actual Appalachian folktale, and he maintains that sense of place here with his vivid descriptions and liberal use of the vernacular. I love it when talented authors take on folktales and legends, and Tem takes this simple, common premise and wrings something special out of it.