The Kill

by Don Hucks

The cats are conspiring against me. There are two of them and only one of me. The cats belong to the woman and vice versa. The cats and I respect an uneasy truce. We will tolerate each other's presence, so long as it befits our respective self-interest. But neither side feels any obligation to exchange niceties on passing in the hallway or to speak kindly of the other at parties.

I had managed, for some time, to play one cat against the other, by resolutely defending the older, presumably wiser, but physically weaker, cat against the persistent bullying of the younger, stronger, dominant cat. Street-smart, hard-nosed, jaded, radicalized, iconoclastic, quasi-feral, having spent her formative months roaming the wilds outside our apartment, until the woman invited her in to warm up during a blizzard after which she never left, the younger cat is a brazen little street-punk, sullen, irreverent. In acting as protector, I had hoped to maintain some level of sympathy from the older cat and thereby undermine the ability of the pair to work in tandem against me. Lately, though, things have changed.

The cats have grown smug, even cocky. Even the older one has started cutting me nasty glances. She feigns indifference to my protection, off-handedly intimating that she could get away, on her own, without my help, anyway, so what's the big deal? And besides, it's not as if the younger cat would ever actually kill her, such a transgression would poison her relationship with the woman. At worst, the younger cat might scratch her up a bit, bite her a time or two, not so deep as to cause any real harm, that's as far as it would ever go. So where do I get off acting like some kind of hero? A bit quixotic, really.

Yes, there has been a definite change of late. The cats have, no doubt, sensed an increased tension between the woman and me. The cats, of course, have no conception whatsoever of outrageous credit card debt, low career satisfaction, the slow accumulation of regret at missed opportunities and squandered time, the bitter revelation of irredeemable personal failure. But the cats sense fear. They sense pain. They sense horror. They are masters at tracking these scents all the way to the cornered mouse, trembling, drooling, wetting itself in terror, vainly squeaking childish prayers, the desperate, begging, bargaining kind.

In this increased tension they have sensed an opening, a shift in the balance of power, an opportunity to assert their preeminence. They have placed me on notice. They have been demonstrating their con-specific solidarity, agitating for change, plotting my overthrow. First, there was the fuck you sign, scratched into the arm of my favorite chair. Then, they peed on my blanket. Not a week after we watched The Godfather, they left the head of a mouse on my pillow. "It's a sign of affection," the woman said. "They're sharing the kill with you. You should be honored." But I'm not so naive as to mistake such an obvious threat.

They're planning something. I can tell. They're, no doubt, having difficulty working out how to make it look like an accident. Even in their newfound exuberance, they realize they must avoid being too obvious. They need a plan that provides plausible deniability. Fortunately, they seem to be having difficulty crafting such a scheme, the feline brain being no larger than a peach and limited, as it is, by a pitifully inarticulate cerebral cortex.

Meanwhile, I have been attempting to shore up my alliance with the woman, hopeful of regaining parity with the cats, thereby weakening their resolve. But the progress has been slow. And anyway I fear it will accomplish, at best, a temporary respite. Eventually, my status will surely decline again and the cats will be watching. They will eventually work out the subtle details of their plot. They will wait patiently until the moment suits them. Sooner or later, they are bound to win. They are cunning, persistent, and beautifully adapted to the stalk, the pounce, the takedown, and the kill.

BIO: Don Hucks's fiction has appeared in Cerebral Catalyst, Ghoti, The Pedestal, and Pindeldyboz.