Catman: In the Belly of the Beast
By Mikel Midnight
Catman: 1940, Crash Comics 4 & 5, Cat-Man Comics 1-32. 1940. David Merryweather was one of the many heroes who got his start when his parents were killed while in the jungle leaving the orphan to be raised by animals, but one of the few to actually adopt a costumed identity as opposed to running around in a loin cloth. Early in his career, he had all the attributes of the cat: agility, night vision and nine lives. Eventually, he joins the army and gains a ward, Katie Conn, who dresses in an identical outfit and calls herself Kitten. By warıs end, Kitten is depicted as a full-grown woman.
This story takes place early in his career during the transition years, he's gained the ward but yet to join the army.
Aurica and Gary Trouble (c) Michael Norwitz
Les Enfants Mangent borrowed from The Kinderessen (c) John Rozum
David Merryweather sits in his small office. He ruffles through the newspaper. The detective business has been slow this year, and he worries about supporting himself and Katie. If only he could use the notoriety he has acquired as Catman, but of course that is out of the question. The door opens, and he looks up from the Help Wanted section. Katie Conn comes in humming, and dancing, carrying two bags of groceries from the corner store. "Hey, it's hep, I've got swing!" She is gazing out the window, and suddenly she starts. "Hey..."
David turns to Katie, "Hey what?" He moves up and over to the window. "Did you see something, Katie?"
Katie shakes her head. "Something golden...I don't know." She frowns, going closer to the window. "I don't see it anymore..." Suddenly a cloud of gold dust gusts in through the window, temporarily obscuring her vision. She gahs.
David Merryweather says, "What!?...hey..."
A blonde woman wearing a golden minidress with a utility belt, and golden slippers, soars in through the window. She lands lightly on the tips of her feet. Katie coughs, "Pleh.."
David Merryweather says, "You okay Katie?" Then he draws his .45 ... "Aurica!" He recognises her immediately, and curses himself that his heightened senses had not alerted him to her presence earlier.
She and her husband, the criminal who went by the name Gary Trouble, had been a bother to Catman and Kitten before. Aurica's clever use of gold-based technology and Gary Trouble's incredible speed made them formidable opponents. Their last encounter displayed Aurica's intimidating detective skills: she had uncovered his identity and sought to blackmail him. David and Katie called in their closest allies, the crimefighter known as the Deacon and his sidekick Mickey Matthews, to attempt to bluff them out using multiple disguises. The trick proved unsuccessful, but the heroes abandoned the plan when Catman discovered that Aurica and Gary Trouble were seeking only to coerce him into taking in their infant daughter, the teams made a compromise and Catman found a safe adoption for the child.
Aurica says, "Hello David. Katie. You two helped my child once before, and we need your help again."
David Merryweather puts his gun away, "As ever you got a funny way of asking for help, Aurica ... There are other ways of getting in touch with us."
Aurica says, "Even though it violated court order, Gary and I moved to follow our daughter Lisa, to keep an eye on her and her new adopted parents, a Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Snart of New Orleans, Louisiana."
David Merryweather sighs. "I knew it was too much to expect that you two would go straight, Aurica ..."
Katie blinks. "Snart? What?"
Aurica nods to Katie, "They are hard working blue-collar types. The accordion-fold door factory is prosperous enough that it puts food on their table, and Lisa seems happy. Their building isn't so fancy, but it is clean. But ... well ... have you ever heard of something called Les Enfants Mangent?"
Katie blinks. "What is it? You're saying it weird. Les Enfants Mangent? French for Child...."
David Merryweather says, "Mangent ... that's French for 'eat'"
Aurica says, "It's from a Creole folktale. An insatiable night creature of supernatural origin which feeds almost exclusively on children"
Katie makes a face. "You've gotta be kidding. That's awful"
David Merryweather nods, "Grisly indeed"
Aurica nods. "There are local legends that tell of a clan of Les Enfants Mangent lurking in caverns beneath the swamps in Louisiana."
Katie looks totally shocked. "You guys *believe* this?"
David Merryweather says, "I have seen strange things Katie, too many to question the validity of this"
Aurica says, "Supposedly, poor families and unwed mothers would bring their unwanted children there and leave them for the Les Enfants Mangent."
Katie says, "Sounds like they just exposed them on a hillside, like the Spartans."
David Merryweather says, "You don't think this Snart family are..."
Aurica shakes her head. "No ... the Snarts are good people. They wouldn't be responsible for such a thing. I am afraid Lisa and Gary are in trouble."
Aurica says, "One day, the Snart's apartment was broken into and Lisa was kidnapped. The door appeared to be torn apart by some ferocious animal. Gary ... well, I could hardly think before he zoomed off at 150 mph and I haven't seen him since."
David Merryweather says, "How long ago was this?"
Aurica says, "We didn't discover it long ago ... I flew here at top speed, for what's that worth."
David Merryweather says, "I'm sure you did. You must be frantic with worry. What more can you tell us of the kidnapping? What makes you believe Les Enfants Mangent are involved?"
Aurica says, "We don't know anything for sure ... we knew the local legends, and there certainly looked like there had been some sort of horrible creature there."
David Merryweather says, "I haven't been a monster fighter much, but I'm willing to give it a try."
Katie says, "Anything to protect the lives of children. And it couldn't possibly have been a normal kidnapper, trying to throw them off?"
Aurica says, "We don't know much, we're just afraid ... if it's normal kidnappers, Gary will take them down. And why kidnap from the Snarts? They don't have any money."
David Merryweather says, "Aurica, can stay here if you like, and rest. I am sure you must be tired"
Aurica says, "I'm going with you! I'm not abandoning my child!"
Katie says, "I don't blame her, Uncle David. Nothing would keep me back either."
David Merryweather nods. He picks up the phone on his desk. "Katie, get me the phone number for Bart Hill Industrials."
Later, the trio arrives at the airport. David Merryweather assists the two girls out of the private plane.
Aurica looks at David Merryweather closely. "This Bart Hill must be a close friend of yours, to loan you his private plane with no questions asked like that."
David Merryweather looks about, scanning the area, and checks his watch. "Let's just say I have done some work for him in the past, and he owes me a couple of favors. Come on, we're not here to chitchat. Let's get a taxi and he can take us to the Snart's. I think it would be prudent to search the crime scene"
Katie nods to David. She fans herself as she goes off in search of a car, unused to the Southern heat and humidity.
Soon, they pulled up to the apartment. After David Merryweather paid the driver and sent him off, Aurica pulled a set of keys from her pouch. "These will let us into the building and the Snart's apartment. We told them it was safest to stay with friends until we were able to rescue our child. That way the apartment wouldn't be disturbed if we needed to look for clues."
David Merryweather raises an eyebrow at Aurica. "She's lying," he realises. But it's not about her child ... she's sincerely frightened about her, and she wouldn't do anything to harm the Snarts,
Katie looks around as they enter the apartment. "Any ideas?"
David Merryweather scans the rooms with a practiced eye. "Those marks on the doors are certainly compatible with the story Aurica told us. They could very well be claw marks." He walks down the hallway. "And here, and here. This is the baby's room?"
Aurica nods. David Merryweather wrinkles his nose. "There is the scent of a carnivore here. I know it well. It's old blood. Okay Aurica, I believe you. Where did Gary think the child had been taken?"
Aurica says, "He took off due west ..."
Katie says, "Hey wait fellows, I found something." As David Merryweather and Aurica turn around, Katie walks into the room with an elderly man on her arm. He peers at the two adults. "You are looking for Les Enfants Mangent?"
David Merryweather nods, "Yes sir. We think a child may have been kidnapped by them. Do you know anything about where they might be found?"
The old man strokes his chin. "It is a foolish mission. But at the end of the Poydras Canal is a cyrpus swamp called the 'quarter of the damned,' the site of the old shanty where the old Creole John Gravier met his final end, having lost his reason along with his wealth. There you will find the entrance you seek, if you are really so foolish as to venture there."
David Merryweather thanks the old man. "Is there anything we can do for you, sir? You've been a great help."
The old man snorts and and shambles back to the hallway. "Dead men and fools can do nothing for nobody."
Katie wows. "I guess that'd be it, huh?"
David Merryweather removes his outer garments to reveal his Catman uniform. "It's the only lead we've got ... follow the map." Katie, following his lead, dons the Kitten outfit.
Aurica nods. "I'll be right behind you, David."
They find themselves in the swamp, the colors around them an amazing array of greens and browns. They find an outcropping of stone, in which there appears to be a natural cave, of which they can not easily see to the bottom.
Catman whews and loosens his cape. "Mystery man attire is not exactly conducive to such an environment"
Kitten mops her brow. Her eyes widen as she sees her uncle's gesture. "Catman, you're bringing your gun? When in costume?"
Catman nods, "I prefer not to use firearms when I'm acting in the name of my guardian tigress, but on this night I am making an exception."
Aurica gestures to the cave, "This fits the stories I've heard ... this must be it. I think...yes I think they lead to that cave."
Kitten says, "It will at least get us out of this sun..."
Aurica shines a gold-light beam and the Catman and Kitten descend.
They find themselves in a maze of twisty tunnels, all alike.
Aurica looks around. "Catman, can you sense anything? I can't make head or tail of this place."
Catman adjusts his eyes to the light. He looks left and right at the cave walls, trying to pick up the trail. He points, "This way..."
They find themselves in a maze of twisty tunnels, all alike.
Catman looks around and sighs, attempting to find something to mark their path.
Aurica visibly frets. "Let me help with that." She removes the packets which she uses to arm her weaponry, and starts dropping a thin line of gold dust along the way.
The caverns seem to twist and turn in all directions, Catman continues to lead the group through the maze, unwaveringly. The air becomes still, almost dead.
Aurica says, "Lord, I hope Gary was able to make it this far."
Catman silently continues through the labyrinth sensing as he goes, searching out for the scent and the heat residue left by Gary's passing.
Kitten frowns, looking at her compass. "We've turned around an awful lot..."
Catman says, "I know what I'm doing Kitten. This is the way."
They find themselves in a maze of twisty tunnels, all alike.
Kitten checks her compass, nodding to her mentor.
Aurica follows the others, trusting in their sense of direction.
The journey seems like it has lasted days. Catman stops occasionally at forks to get his bearings, then moves on.
Aurica looks around. "Say, wasn't Kitten right behind us?"
Catman stops and looks about, "What ?
Aurica stops in her tracks, and flares her flame brighter to fill the passage with light
Aurica says, "I think I can retrace our steps ... stay here."
Catman says, "I think all we can do is go on ..."
Aurica says, "I will stand guard here in case she shows up."
Catman says, "I don't think it is wise to split up."
Aurica says, "No, it makes sense ... if the kid shows up she'd have no way of knowing where we'd gone to ... I'll manage on my own."
Catman says, "But right now only I am to guide us, without me, both of you are lost, Aurica!"
Aurica shines her gold-beam light. "I'm not without resources of my own."
Catman says, "And Kitten might need someone to help her if she *does* show up ... I don't think she's just lost. She knows better than to wander off in circumstances like this. Something has happened to her, and I don't want her alone down here with Les Enfants Mangent. Let's head on ... we are here to rescue a child after all, not argue tactics."
Aurica says, "And now it's two children. One of your own, Catman."
Catman says, "I didn't need incentive to help you, Aurica. I think we better head out now. The trail is getting cold!"
Catman continues to move on down the cave. Aurica's light shrinks, becoming a pinpoint and then disappearing altogether as the impromptu team round a bend
They find themselves in a maze of twisty tunnels, all alike. Their passage is quiet and uneventful, save for the occasional blast of light from Aurica as she marks the trail. They hear, off to one side, odd sounds ... vaguely animalistic ...
Aurica whispers, "shhh! What is that?"
Catman says, "I hear it! Off that way!"
They find themselves in blackness. The smell of dead flesh assaults their senses. They hear in the background the odd sounds of things moving, and half-human half-bestial growls. They can barely make out a pile of objects, their whiteness reflecting back at them the small amount of light they have brought: the whiteness is from skulls, and from their size they belonged to children no older than four, some clearly infants. There appears to be a field of them, going back an indeterminate amount into the caverns.
In the far corner a man dressed all in red ... red shirt, red tights, red boots, and wearing a red helm of Mercury (sans wings). The outfit is ripped in various places, and almost conceals spots of blood from his wounds. He is carrying a baby nestled in one arm; with his other, an iron post. He looks up at Catman and Aurica.
Catman says, "Looks like Trouble, " points toward the man, "There"
Aurica flinches. "Gary!"
From afar, a bodiless voice yells, "Ia! Ia! Nyarlathotep! Ia! Cthulhu p'thangn! Ia! Shub-Niggurath! Ia! F'tang!"
Kitten yells, half-hysterical, "Catman!"
Catman says, "Kitten!"
Aurica attempts to shed some light into the cavern.
Kitten is unable to move, chained by her ankles to the interior of a subcave and suspended over a noisome bubbling mass ... some sort of disgusting larder? and she looks like she's about to be dinner to a bunch of unspeakable things.
A mob of creatures notice the pair's arrival, and turn to them, teeth and claws bloody.
Aurica says, "Looks like we interrupted their dinner!"
Kitten arghs, "Yeah, Aurica! That's a *good* thing!"
Gary Trouble gives another swing with the pole at a creature. He looks exhausted and near to fainting. "Iron! Iron kills them!"
Catman thinks, "Iron?" He cautiously approaches a monster ... baring his knife and swinging low.
One of the creatures grunts in pain at Catman's attack, but swings a claw at him.
Gary Trouble starts to be bowled over by the creatures ... he sees that many of the creatures are distracted by the newcomers and, shielding his child, tries to make his way to the exit.
Catman, bleeding from the claw attack, presses onward, swinging at the monster ... "You won't be eating any more innocent children, demon!" He draws his gun and starts to plow a path between him and Kitten.
One of Les Enfants Mangent opens the larder door and stuffs a clawed hand around Kitten's mouth so that all she can do is moan. Another notes Gary Trouble's attempted escape and follows him and his child.
Gary Trouble swings with hysterical strength as he is at his last ebb. Aurica struggles, "Ack!", she says, as she is grabbed from behind. "...umph..."
From afar, a bodiless voice says, 'Ia! Ia! Hastur!'
Gary Trouble raises his spear. "Aurica!" he cries, as he sends the spear rocketing at high speed, killing the two creatures that were attacking Aurica. He zooms out of the cave with his daughter in his arms.
Aurica grabs the spear and attempts to impale one of the critters.
Kitten tries to elbow the freak that's got her in the ribs. Maybe it'll make him go off balance before he bites her. She hopes. Maybe.
Les Enfants Mangent start to fall to the concerted attacks, whether it be by gold or claw or spear. The brute dragging Kitten is discomfited by her elbow, but starts to gnaw on it anyway.
Kitten's yell of pain is muffled by the creature's hand over her mouth. She bites the monster's hand.
Catman leaps to Kitten's protection, slitting the monster's throat with his knife.
Aurica attacks the creatures with the spear.
Kitten collapses to her hands and knees, breathing heavily. She tries to get up and away, out of the fight. She's bleeding pretty badly.
The remaining Les Enfants Mangent disappear howling into the caves, fleeing from the ferocious attacks. One or two of the stragglers are slain by Aurica, iron in hand.
Catman picks Kitten up. "Come on Aurica, let's get out of here!"
Catman heads back to the cave following the path of glowing golden sands. As Aurica leads the way, he lays down a path of gunfire behind them, trying to take down as many as he can and discourage them from following. They eventually make it back towards the light.
Catman breaths the clean, sweet air
Aurica looks about, "It's like waking from a long slumber."
Catman says, "God, that was a mess ... but I think we ended a real menace."
Aurica says, "Indeed. How's Kitten?"
Catman gently carries the girl. "I think she's passed out ... blood loss. We'd better get her back home."
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