KETCHUP by Rebecca Gransden

Ketchup went missing. I made some posters and taped them around the neighbourhood.



Black and white cat. 7 yrs old. White socks. White spot on head (see pic). Last seen yesterday (Sept 27th) in the Glenwood area.

Reward for information. Call us on ***** **** **** even if it’s bad news. Please return Ketchup if you have him, no questions asked. Ketchup is really missed.

Every telegraph pole, lamppost, or empty surface around the nearest blocks had a poster attached. If Ketchup didn’t return, I planned to extend the search area to streets farther away.

After a sleepless night I got out of bed to find Regina already up, eyes red. I hadn’t seen her eyes like that since her dad punched her brother at our reception. She looked at me, headphones on, guitars blistering, some track I couldn’t make out. I grabbed a handful of dry cereal and then my bike and rode, coming back every few hours to break her heart with no sign of Ketchup. She worked from home and wanted to be there in case he came back, but she greeted me each time with the same red eyes that said Ketchup hadn’t returned.

On the third day of Ketchup’s absence I had to go in to work. Sticky air met me as I left the bar, having spent my time cleaning. There had been no real rain for weeks, and the baked concrete of the day turned stale in the evenings. I collected my bike from the locked courtyard behind the bar and took off in the direction of home.

Hunger pangs irritated me, but despite the discomfort I swerved around a corner, deciding to take the long way back with the intention of checking that the posters with Ketchup’s details were still in place.

A telegraph pole resided at the end of the approaching avenue. The streetlight farther along had lit up earlier than the others and it created a strange light when mixed with the lemony dusk. I clutched at my bike’s brakes and they squeaked with dry dust. The dark wood of the telegraph pole really made the white poster attached to it stand out. I glanced at the poster, ready to ride away. Something wrong with the picture. I bumped the bike’s front wheel up onto the pavement and walked the bike closer to the pole.

There, where Ketchup’s picture should’ve been, another image had been placed—black and white, a printed reproduction of an old photograph, glued into position to cover Ketchup. A figure stood mid-picture, dressed as a cat, the costume sagging around the body, tail ragged and floppy, the head rounded and cushioned, large eyes, ears slightly flattened, a checkered bowtie around the neck. Hard to tell what colour the costume would have been, but something about the shade of grey made me guess at light brown. The figure in the cat suit stood on a suburban street, a street indistinguishable from any around the neighbourhood. Waving a raised paw, the cat person posed in front of a garden that appeared to be from another era, as did the small 1950s house.

I reached out my hand, slowly, pointing, and then placed my finger on the poster, tentatively running my fingertip along the outside edge of the image. Whoever had put the new photograph there had been careful when attaching it, the glue or paste firmly adhering its edges to the poster underneath and at the same time using just enough of the substance to not soak through or spill out onto the surrounding poster.

I ripped the poster down. It came off mostly intact and I put it in my backpack. Wondering if I should tell Regina about it or not, I shuffled my bike back onto the road and continued along the avenue.

Distracted by my thoughts I almost sailed past the next location of a poster, this time a lamppost. This lamppost hadn’t lit up yet, like the malfunctioning one I’d left behind. Before I got close to it I could tell that Ketchup’s picture had been tampered with again, the same image placed over it, a black and white shot of a figure in a cat costume, holding still for an unknown photographer.

I travelled the neighbourhood, ripping down every poster, Ketchup’s picture smothered by this new image. When I got home my backpack was bulging. I walked into the kitchen, part of me hoping Regina was out somewhere, as I knew I had to tell her, but didn’t know what the hell I was supposed to say. Regina looked up at me from her place at the kitchen table, partially torn posters scattered over the tabletop. What posters I’d failed to locate she’d apparently already dealt with.

Regina spent some hours the next day reprinting Ketchup’s poster. I called in sick and re-postered the neighbourhood. It didn’t even occur to me to be concerned that we hadn’t received a single call about Ketchup.

Exhausted, I closed the back door on the dark midnight behind me and staggered into the spare room we’d made into a den. Curling up on our small sofa, bile shifted my guts, steadily rising until I couldn’t stand it. I got up and went to get my bike.

Outside, night insects flitted between gardens. A hush came down driveways. I rode around the streets, protectively gazing over the posters I’d taped up in daylight hours, all as I’d left them.

My head pounded. I’d been awake too long. A sudden swell of uninvited emotion hit my chest as the light from a lamppost struck Ketchup’s picture from a peculiar angle, causing the image to halo in my vision. I shook my head, halted my bike in the middle of the street. No good being out here. Go home.

I took off, rounding a corner, aiming for the shortest route back.

About halfway down the street a figure stood next to a lamppost, arms up and reaching for a poster. I clutched at my brakes, screeching the bike’s tires, and stopped. The figure rotated its head in my direction, a head adorned with a cat’s face. Dressed in full costume, the figure clutched at a bundle of papers under its arm and turned to run.

For a moment I froze, but as the figure rushed towards a section of street in shadow, where it would be possible to slip out of sight, I felt myself press the bike peddles into action and before I realized what I was doing I was chasing it.

The person was fast, wearing trainers, not cat costume feet. It reached the darker stretch of road and upped its speed, rushing ahead under high black trees, branches overhanging from unkempt gardens.

I felt a bump, then something wedged beneath me awkwardly and sent my back wheel skidding out from under me. The ground hit me quick, my shoulder taking the worst of the fall.

I lifted my head to see the figure turn, the person having heard the accident. The cat costume was identical to the one pictured in the photograph, but sorrier, worn, the lightish brown colour I’d imagined, the same checkered bowtie skew-whiff around its neck. The figure raised a paw, mimicking the pose in the image, and scrambled to flee and was gone.


I recovered myself and hobbled back home, a bruised shoulder and sprained ankle the result of the night’s efforts.

The following evening I sat with Regina, both of us trying to watch TV but taking very little of the streaming film in. Around eleven pm, when tiredness had enabled us both to doze on the sofa, our heads roused at the sound of a car coming to a loud stop on the road outside. We paused as a few moments of quietness passed, then listened to indistinct noises echoing from out front. A car door slammed and almost immediately the car sped away.

Regina looked at me, then stood up, moving to the den’s window and peeking out from behind the closed curtain.

A harsh sound resonated from the kitchen behind us, a noise we’d heard so many times previously. The cat flap.

A dark blob rushed past the den door. It came back along the hallway, slower this time, a cat shape, weaving around, as though regaining its bearings. Ketchup walked into the den, a lopsided checkered bowtie attached to his neck.

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Loose teeth in the hot tub. Sun on bug splatter eruptions. Bodies pile in dreamy aftermath.

A bearded chubby man is in the summer house, performative human berserker, rewatching footage of a winter streaker. Somewhere inside the main house schoolgirls dance around a fish tank.

Hairy boom licker in a sunlit bedroom, sweating to his parents’ bootleg. Too shy to risk playing his untitled demo, because it’s flammable. Twin motor lips frozen wrongly. Heavy. Smasher. Forever.

Monster spinster reclines on a duck egg blue deckchair and sucks on a bombsicle. Sweetener for evil. The largest prescription sunglasses you’ve ever seen.  She’s the only one who vomited, and she led the cheering. Everyone loves her from a distance, she’s the queen.

Cults hang out at the end of the garden, burning plastic masks on a portable barbecue grill. Their pity party becomes a panic picnic. Water pistols filled with cough syrup spray green over string vests.

The runner is punished for his monohole, poked ribs with rolled up magazines, his face the cover star. He was famous until he felt. He sits on a broken rocking horse beside a fence, looking defeated in a Hawaiian shirt. A coughing fit sees a sticky tooth sprint from his grinning mouth.

A few try-hard students take the ultimate trip to sunburn and feel the drip jam. Gangs are carrying boxes. Bottomless helium damage. Extra bubbles cast shadows over the bare skin of a sleeping minx. The host moves across carpet like he’s got worms and writes acne angst in stardust. Algae on the taps. His milky heart bursts apart and all his yesterdays end up yours.

We spraypaint the road on our way out. The sun sets and a dark glow descends. The girls compare all the times their boyfriends have tried to smother them. Kim wins.

The late evening air stinks of petrol and smoke, like someone is burning the last flowers on the planet. It’s difficult not to sing when walking the road and waiting for a ride.

There’s always someone who claims they can remember before they were born. Imagine the pulse and the seed, unreleased.

Roadside under the moody gloom of darkening equinox skies.

Warm, eating melted Starburst in the beautiful night. Standing over a decaying python.

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Stay back!

I will melt your mugs with fire if you move an inch, you police cordon shitmorons.

Your pink stinks.

Especially you. Stares at squat policewoman centre left

I’ve filed my baby teeth into pointy baby fangs, and I will bite with my baby jaw if you try to stop me. The pitball in the alley showed me how to do it. I watched its eyes too, you know.

Baby arcs flamethrower flame overhead making an infernal rainbow against a starry ink sky

My burping today is toxic gas, regurgitated from last night, from the barrels of radioactive waste I found at the back of the supermarket. Yes, I guzzled them. I’m a baby! I’m a chubby flesh house of tantrum and mayhem! I will have my barrels to feast upon, my chemical dummy to furiously suck, my substitute nipple of chaos and disaster! Bring them to me or I will burn you until it’s not funny anymore.

Police officer uses megaphone to address baby but baby cannot hear due to whooshing of flamethrower going berserk

Nom, nom, nom. Just thinking of it now gets me going. Green sludge of my dreams. Every second without it is a nightmare! I will unleash fury of the like your tiny minds cannot comprehend if I’m deprived any longer. Where is my waste? Get me my barrels, you incompetent inverted dick whistlers!

The police line retreats and huddles in a circle, deliberating

Baby goose-steps along the mountain path, the city at night displayed below

One of the officers breaks free from the circle and screams through the megaphone Stop doing that, it constitutes a form of hate speech”

You are going to make a point? Now?

Baby’s eyes glow with red rage

I’m a freewheeling baby without a care in the world, strutting the land on which I was born. I’m brand new and that’s a fact, and this, this? is how you react? You can’t swallow the freedom, can’t stand my show. You’re a baby too, didn’t you know?

The megaphone says Stop rhyming. I find it offensive”

Couplets, smuplets. You let me be, or I’ll fry every one of ye. See this fire, see this flame, I see the whites of eyes resplendent tonight, in my firelight.

Baby shoots a bolt of flame like a waterfall

Wanna be crispy? Wanna be a delight! Roast you up on a spit, fry your innards, cook your fingers, that barbecue aroma so sweatily lingers, onions and oil stench from your skin, endlessly turning. What a sight, what a smell, my fangs gnash in chomps of glee, in this future, that will be, surely. Now get me my barrels before hell is raised, and you, my stinky chums, are glazed.

Fuck off”

I’m getting ready to go turbo, up to the max. I’ve been pumping iron while weeping, in preparation for this day. There’s nothing you can surprise me with.

The circle disbands and a hefty police officer steps from her parting colleagues, a bazooka on her shoulder

Holy shit! Don’t bazooka me. Overkill! I’m just a baby! Baby cries Mother!

A man in a casual suit sidles up to bazooka woman, calmly takes the megaphone from the other officer and says My name is Mike Oldfield. Would you like us to contact your mother for you?”

Still crying No. I don’t want her to see me like this. Because I’d kill her. I’d pyre her just like the rest of you. Snot cries of disgust Get that patronising negotiator away from me. Give me a stake and I’ll burn you black on it. Yum.

The man slinks off, leaving bazooka policewoman to confirm her readiness with a wide load-bearing leg stance

You’re nearing your end, the end of you, flamed by an infant with an addiction to goo. What a travesty, a glorious way to expire, I’ll give you a way to be remembered, I know you care a lot about that, with your badges and accolades and slaps on the back. You drew the line of duty, and perished, what fun. Do you want me to disembowel you to add symbolic weight to your desisting? Hail me with bazooka! Split my entrails to bits, let’s see my flesh fly over this cretinous city, to the earth, a zit.

The officer picks up the megaphone and says For the record, why are you doing this?”

I’m bored. And your face hurts my eyes with its disinterest. I’m chewing this gum I’ve collected since I was born. When I slapped my way out of the afterbirth I had become conscious on, across a concrete wetted with the fluids of my birth, I lifted the umbilical, which had nearly strangled me, from my blue neck and took some breaths filled with ammonia and rot. I left my mother’s carcass to the back alley predators and crawled away shaking and weak. On my way to finding my feet the path was decorated with gum of many colours, smells, and, I discovered, tastes. Soon I was using my baby energies to claw the flattened gum away from the street, until I had a precious ball made from each piece squished together, a chewy gobstopper linking me to humanity, all those mouths turning the gum against their tongues, biting down with their teeth, infusing with their saliva and cells. Now I have them, I can taste them, every one of them. So give me my barrels! That slime is the only thing I’ve eaten that takes the taste away. Cleanse my palate, you rancid harbingers of nothing!

Flamethrower roars

Die, die, die! This infant malcontent will atomic bomb your soul in a booming eruption of fire vomit. I can hear your molecules praying. Squeal as you kneel, fucksters!

Bazooka whooshes from inside ball of hellfire and screaming

And misses

Not even a comeuppance!

Bazooka hits the hillside behind baby and shakes the mountain

The officers continue to die and moan

With my flamethrower ablaze I shall hit the city.

Baby waddles towards the twinkling city lights, thrusting the spewing head of flame forwards

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