By Jen P
On my daily trek down Main Street, I realize that Halloween has finally arrived. For weeks, the shop owners have been decorating for the occasion with their banners, orange flowers, and pumpkin carvings—my favorite of the three. I recognize my own likeness on one, so I give it a lick as I pass by. Hmm. That one’s been sitting out too long. But today must be the actual day they’ve been preparing for, as the humans themselves are dressed as witches, vampires and the like. The smaller ones carry buckets and sacks full of sweet smelling treats; while many of the larger ones drink warm cups of apple mead. If I’m lucky, I may catch some of the leavings.
I weave between the legs of the hairless giants, especially careful not to get stepped on by one of the females—as their paw-covers are sharper than those of the males. The few humans who notice me, jump back. Some turn and walk the other way. But mostly, I’m invisible.
I slip into my favorite alley unscathed, then leap into the dumpster behind the seafood restaurant. Looks like their whitefish spoiled. Pity for them. Dinner for me.
Finished with my meal, I hop from the dumpster to the damp alley ground. I then slip back onto the street and continue towards the suburbs. I’m full, but I never stop looking for food. Sometimes my meals have to last me a few days.
As I round a corner, a sharp shoe rams into my shoulder, sending me flying. The female attached to it merely stumbles.
My immediate reaction is to hiss. The female takes two steps back, clutching her heart, and shouts, “Cursed Little Wretch!” before removing the offending shoe. I’m no dummy, so I run. The shoe lands in the spot I just vacated, and the female’s curses follow me as I bolt through a thick patch of bushes at the back of the building. I imagine myself as little more than a black streak to the passing eye as I cover a distance in five minutes that usually takes me fifteen.
Once I make it to Pine Street, I settle back into a slow prowl.
Cursed Little Wretch. That’s a new one.
I don’t have a name; though I’ve been called many. “Disgusting Beast,” is a common choice, or “Flea Bag”. Of course, the most accurate is the simplest: “Cat”, as in, “Get out of here, Cat,” or, “Someone needs to do something about that cat.” I’ve heard both in the past week. Unlike my Persian friend, Fat Cat, who grew up with me in the alleys of this town, my solid black coat keeps me from being adopted. But Fat Cat saves me a chicken leg from his dinner every night, so I can’t complain. That’s where I’m headed now.
Ah, my nightly welcoming committee. I take a deep breath and try not to look at the quaint, one-story house as I pass.
“Huff. Huff. Barooooooo.”
Holy Bastet. He’s going full hound on me. I can’t deal with this tonight. I turn towards the house, acknowledging the Doberman, and he loses his mind barking.
“Calm down, Man,” I say, padding up the steps. “Do we have to do this every night? Your humans are just going to come out and scold you.”
Houndoom howls louder, like the big dumb idiot he is. I don’t know why he’s like this. One time, he busted through the screen to chase me. I thought I was going to die, but as soon as he got close, he gave me a good sniff and then turned and went back home. But the way he acts every time I walk by, you’d think he doesn’t remember I’m the same cat.
Houndoom’s humans have placed a candlelit jack-o-lantern on either side of the steps, against the screen. I hop atop the one on the right and flick my tail back and forth as the dog continues to howl at me. Any moment, his humans will open the front door and tell him to shut up. Since I’m already full and that chicken leg at Fat Cat’s isn’t going anywhere, I’ll stay for the show.
Houndoom prances back and forth, barking and snarling. It’s quite terrifying. In the back of my head, I know he’s harmless; but if not for the screen, I’d have bolted by now.
But then, Houndoom does something unexpected: he rises onto his back legs.
I leap from the pumpkin as his massive paws come down on the screen. I crash through the bushes below and run to the path leading up to the steps—a safe distance to turn and yell at the dog. As I turn, the pumpkin wobbles, but rights itself. I sigh in relief. We didn’t break anything. Usually, humans don’t throw things at me unless I do something to disturb their existence.
“Stupid dog,” I mutter. “You’re not the one they’ll blame if the pumpkin breaks.”
The big dumb idiot stands up and hits it again. I yowl and retreat to the sidewalk. I’m not going down for this. As I look back, the pumpkin crashes down the same path through the bushes as I did. I’m about to make myself scarce when it hits the mulch and the top pops off. The candle rolls out, lighting the dry mulch beneath. Within seconds, the fire is licking up the sides of the screen.
My eyes bulge. Houndoom whimpers and backs further onto the porch.
“Come on, stupid!” I yowl, streaking back up the path. “Hit it again and get out of there!”
But Houndoom is terrified of the fire. It’s getting hotter by the second. I begin to hope the people will show up, whether they blame me or not.
He whines as the fire catches on a rug and boxes him into an even smaller space at the back of the porch. Now there’s no way he can break himself out, so I start looking for a way in.
I climb the screen, searching it for open spots, and luck out on the far corner, high above the flames. I push through and land on all fours in the small, hot space beside Houndoom. He’s pacing frantically now, too distraught to notice me. I pause to assess the situation. There’s one clear path around the fire—but it’s narrow and cluttered with people stuff. I can guide him through it, but he’ll have to follow me close. There’s only one way I can think of to make that happen: I bite down on his back leg.
Houndoom turns on me, and I take off running around the clay planters and beneath the metal sofa. I stop at the screen and close my eyes, waiting for his teeth to close around my neck. But the pain never comes. I fear he didn’t follow me; but when I open my eyes, he’s hovering over me, panting. His eyes lock with mine. For the first time, I think the brute is actually communicating with me. Picking up on the message, I move out of the way. Houdoom stands on his back legs and pounds the screen with all his might. It takes him three tries, but the screen gives way. The two of us streak out as the fire trucks arrive.
“Boof,” he says, watching from the bushes as the firemen tackle the blaze.
“Boof, indeed,” I say, coiling myself around his paws. “I’m sorry, friend.”
Houndoom lowers onto his stomach, pressing me down with his chin. I let him use me as a pillow as the fire turns to smoke that blocks out the moon.
Long after the firetrucks clear, Houndoom’s humans arrive, waking me from the troubled sleep I’d found. Guilt doesn’t find me often, but when it does, it plagues my dreams. If I’d left Houndoom alone, he never would have knocked that pumpkin over; and I replayed the event over and over in my sleep. I hope his people won’t punish him too greatly. It’s enough that he lost the front half of his home.
But ever the goodboy, Houndoom runs to them without fear. They greet him with tears and pats and hugs, and I know they’re too relieved that he survived to punish him for this.
Hmm. I wonder what that feels like. I duck my head and slink off.
Fat Cat’s chicken leg is cold, but it fills my belly. As I lick the oils from my lips, a loud sniffing sound grabs my attention. I tense as Houndoom pushes Fat Cat’s gate open and trots towards me.
“You don’t want the bone, dog. I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ve been told the shards will hurt your stomach.”
He eats it anyway.
I try to slink off while he’s distracted by the bone, but he catches up and nudges me with his nose.
“Leave me be. I have a routine and I’m already behind.”
He nudges me again.
“Quit it,” I hiss, rearing a paw.
He whines, and I roll my eyes.
“Fine. What do you want?”
“Boof,” he says, prancing towards the gate and back again. It’s not the best form of communication, but it’s obvious he wants me to follow him.
“Alright, but I can’t waste too much time,” I say, padding after him. “The Joneses take their trash out at ten AM, and they never put their lids on. If I wait too long, the raccoons will claim it; and I don’t mess with raccoons.”
“Ruff.” He nods in agreement.
We arrive at his blackened house a few minutes later, where the humans are discussing the damage with another male holding a clipboard. The male nods in agreement at something then returns to a vehicle parked at the street.
“Arooo,” says the dog, trotting up to his people.
I lower my head to my shoulders and slow to a prowl, ready to dart at a moment’s notice.
“How sweet! Honey, look, Houndoom has a kitty friend.”
“Oh, man. Look at the ash on the little guy! Looks like he’s been at the house.”
“Oh my goodness!” says the female, folding her body to be closer to the ground. “You poor thing. Come here. It’s okay.”
Never having experienced this reaction to my presence, I freeze. Houndoom circles back and nudges me forward with his wet nose. I scowl at him as I press my paws into the dirt. It’s no use. He’s too strong. I slide across the dry grass with ease.
The female chuckles and looks to her mate. “You ever see Houndy act this way?”
“I’ve never seen any dog act this way. I think he’s trying to tell us something. No clue what…” He shrugs. “…but he likes the cat.”
“You know… we always talked about how we’re dog people, but if this kitty doesn’t belong to anybody…”
“No, no, no, no, no.” The male waves his front paws in the air. “We’re not bringing any new animals in while we’ve got the house to worry about. Besides, you know my mom’s allergic.”
“Good,” says the female, brushing her legs as she stands. “I won’t have to worry about her surprise, weeklong visits anymore.”
His jaw drops in horror.
I shudder. The last thing I want is to be the center of human drama. I try to bolt, but Houndoom has the audacity to pick me up by the neck!
As I struggle to escape, he stands on his back legs and places his front paws on the female’s shoulders. She stumbles with his weight but remains upright. His lips wobble against my fur as he “Boofs” again.
I had no idea what a clever, manipulative mutt he can be.
“Good try,” I yowl, “but it won’t work. Put me down before she throws something at us both.”
But the crazy female just giggles and pets the dog. And then, she pets me.
“Great. You’ve brought me to a lunatic,” I say, as I close my eyes and lean into her touch. Against my better judgment, I purr.
Dammit. It feels amazing. “Scratch that ear…” I purr. “Yes. Right there. Soooo nice.”
But of course, it ends too soon. Houndoom drops to all fours and places me back on the ground.
“This is why I avoid people,” I say. “The tenderness is temporary—a tease! They don’t want me. No one does. Only a dog would be fool enough to believe—“
Suddenly, I’m lifted off the ground and pressed tight to the female’s chest. Her heartbeat reminds me of nights curled up with my littermates against our mother; her warmth soothes the cold I did not realize was so harsh. It is cruel to know. Too cruel. I struggle to escape, but she holds me tight. I could claw her—it would be too easy—but for reasons I don’t understand, I do not.
“What have you done to me, dog?” I say, pushing against the female’s front legs to no avail.
“Ruff,” he says.
The male human shakes his head as the female carries me near him. “I don’t want it. That thing’s gonna claw your face off.”
“See?” I hiss at the dog. “See? He admits it. They think I’m a monster.”
“He’s not gonna do that, are you baby?” the female says, lowering her voice to a strange, but soothing, tone. I’ve heard this tone when humans address their babies. I’ve even heard it used with their dogs. But never have I heard it towards me.
My body gives a steady, involuntary purr.
Damn them. Damn them all three. I settle into her arms and allow her to pet me.
“If we keep him, we’re calling him Meowth,” says the male, placing his arm around the female’s shoulders.
She sighs. “Will your obsession with Pokémon never end?”
“That’s my condition if you want to keep the cat.”
“Fine,” she mutters, but I can tell she’s not truly upset. “He doesn’t look anything like Meowth, though.”
“Yeah, but it’s perfect. Meowth is based off a Japanese lucky cat, and this guy seems lucky to me.”
“Lucky? How do you figure?” She chuckles. “If anything, black cats are unlucky. I mean I’m keeping the cat because I don’t really believe in that crap, but our house nearly burned down, and almost took Houndoom with it.”
“Yeah, ‘nearly’ and ‘almost’.”
She smiles. “I knew you secretly liked the cat.”
“Meowth,” he corrects.
As my new people carry me towards my very first home, Houndoom prances around their feet.
And for the first time in my nine lives, I realize I am lucky.