was five minutes to midnight; Friday the Thirteenth, May, 1988.
Sheila and I were lounging in the crack-plastered splendor of our
moldy postage-stamp studio apartment, located in beeyootifull South
Seattle. We were reclining on our bed cum sofa in our
bedroom cum living room watching spooky movies and allowing
the magic of superstition to expand our imaginations. "The
Changeling" was on TBS and George C. Scott was watching goggle-eyed
and craggy-faced as a dead child's ball mysteriously bounced its
way downstairs from an empty upper floor.
Sheila snuggled up next to me,
and I felt the gooseflesh on the belly of her arm as I pulled her
close. Her hair still smelled of the frozen pizza we'd burned in
She cringed at the action on
the tv but I had missed it. Something was at the door.
I rolled out from under her
embrace and padded my way to the chain-latched hollow-core front
door that was our only protection from the elements, both natural
and criminal. Sheila whimpered from the bed.
"What are you doing? Get
back here. This is the scariest part."
"I thought I heard something,"
I said, realizing how ridiculously cliché that would sound at almost
midnight during a grade-B horror flick. But she heard the sincerity
in my voice and, knowing that I was not nearly that good an actor,
she performed one of her patented Lift-and-Spin maneuvers and ended
up on her stomach, facing me and the door, a wide-eyed counterpoint
to good old George C.
"What is it?" she
I shook my head. "Probably
a leaf or branch or something. You know me." She did. I
was her Early Warning System. If there was a disturbance within
five city blocks—from the bellowing of a besotted husband as his
enraged wife cracked a Pyrex pie plate over his head, to the whisper
of a peeper's nylon parka outside our street-level window—if it
was out there, I'd hear it.
There it was again. A light,
quill-like scratching along the lower corner of our front door.
I reached up and silently slid the chain from its resting place.
The brass-plated links whispered amongst themselves as I gently
let them hang from their nail in the door jamb. Behind me, just
as I laid my hand on the dented knob of our door, George C. Scott
began to demand information from the unseen entity in his home.
I looked over my shoulder at Sheila in an attempt to reassure her
that I was in complete control. Her face was all but hidden behind
a barricade of pillows and blankets. My weak smile and the swelling
of the movie's music only served to drive her deeper into cover
from the anticipated horror that lay on our doorstep.
I yanked the door open.
The shadows beyond our door
exploded. Not in a blast of heat and light but in an intense expansion
of darkness and sound. My gaze had been intent upon the crack between
the door and the floor, and when I pulled the door open, all I saw
was a long strip of blackness. This strip of blackness rose up
to knee height, made the sound of air escaping a slashed tire and
scared a piercing scream out of Sheila.
The thing coalesced into a writhing
ball of shadow, hissed and spat and yowled its way off the stoop
and down into the bushes. After a full thirty seconds of twig-cracking
and foliage-thrashing, it finally came to rest. My hand trembling
on the doorknob, the only sounds I heard were the pulsing of my
blood through my poor, constricted veins, and a voice from the TV
"My God," said George
"Oh, the poor things,"
Sheila cooed, suddenly at my side. "You scared them!"
She punctuated this last remark with a none-too-gentle punch to
my ribs and then proceeded to make those inane sounds that many
women (and some men) make upon encountering infants and small animals.
"Hey puddypuddypuddy. Yeeess. It's okay. Big bad man didn't
mean it. Noooo." All of it in that slack-consonanted, sing-song
voice that makes those of us who do not make such sounds cringe
and scratch our scalps until they bleed.
I looked out over Sheila's crouching
form and, from beneath the lowest branches of the shaggy bushes
that lined our sidewalk, I saw two pairs of eyes. Four golden orbs,
floating in the leafy darkness.
Cats. I was not fond of cats
"Call to them, Honey,"
"Why?" I inquired.
"Just look at them,"
she sang, flipping back into her quasi-baby-talk. "They're
so scared! And they're so hungry."
They were hard to make out from
where they cowered in the shadows, but I could see that they were
small, black, bedraggled, scrawny and completely bonkers with fright
"Aren't they cute? Yes
they are! Please, Honey," she said to me over her shoulder.
"Call them. Here, Puddypuddypuddy."
I did not think it through.
I did not say to myself, "If you call them, they may come."
I did not say to myself, "And if they come, they will stay,
and your calm, simple life will be altered in ways you cannot imagine."
No. These thoughts, these rational,
insightful thoughts, did not race through my mind. Had they done
so, I would have gone back to George C. and his phantom roommate
and let Sheila "puddypuddypuddy" herself into an early
grave out there on the porch. But, as I said, I did not think of
these things. All I heard was that insipid voice. All I wanted
to do was to make her stop and the only way I could knew to do that
was to give her what she wanted.
I sped into our kitchen (delineated
from the rest of the room/apartment only by the loudness of the
carpeting), pulled open the ancient door of our HotPoint refrigerator
and looked for the worst smelling item I could find.
It was chili. I didn't remember
when we had made it. I didn't even remember if it was us
who had made it. It may have come with the apartment. But it had
a smell that resembled old meat and that's what I needed.
I bounded back to the front
door where Sheila was keeping up a running pitter-patter of insane-sounding
gibberish. I shouldered her aside and crouched down on the stoop,
arm extended, offering the bounty of our larder. I remained there,
waiting for time and the creeping odor emanating from the dishwasher-warped
Tupperware to work.
yammered Sheila from my side.
"Shut up, Dear."
It took less than a minute for
the first paw to find its tentative way onto the walkway. Emboldened
by the first cat's move, the second one peeped out as well. Within
three minutes they had one-upped each other to the step and, as
I placed the container on the ground and slowly waddled my way back
towards the door, they padded themselves up to the aromatic stew
and began to partake, making little feral growlings in between gulps.
In the light that escaped from
our doorway, we could see them clearly. Two tiny black kittens,
probably not much more than a month old. You could hold each of
them in the palm of your hand. They were shorthairs, both; one
completely black, the other black with white gloves and spats and
a white dickey. They had hugely innocent eyes and didn't look like
they could cause anyone the tiniest bit of trouble. From beside
me Sheila asked the question that sealed their fate and changed
"What do you want to name
Sheila named the black-with-tuxedo-white
cat, "Luciano," and I named the all-black one "Agammemnon."
They grew with frightening rapidity. We found a vet—a Dr. Blood,
D.V.M—who gave them their shots while asking their age for the
"We've had them for four
"Incredible," he said.
"Never seen anything like it."
When they were six months old,
we brought them back to Dr. Blood to be neutered. He shook his
head again. They had reached full size, and weighed in at about
eight pounds a piece.
"I would suggest that you
keep them as indoor cats," he told us. "It would reduce
the risks of injury." We agreed, assuming that he meant the
risks to the cats. Now, I'm not so sure.
But time passed, and we learned
the joys and trials of living with cats. Despite these inconveniences,
I came to love them. They became our children, our family.
Life was good.
Then I got a promotion.
My promotion to Assistant Branch
Manager came complete with a raise in salary, a hefty one by our
standards. We made immediate plans to leave the Land of the Studio
and enter the Realm of Bedroom Doors, Dining Areas and the ever-elusive
Hallway. In August of 1989 the four of us removed ourselves from
our 500 square foot hovel into an affordable 1250 square foot townhouse,
complete with carpeting of one believable color, doors that shut,
a deadbolt, two bedrooms, two baths, and, incredibly,
stairs. We were happy. Aggie and Lucky were happy.
But then—subtly, slowly—something
began to happen to "The Boys."
Arriving home after a pleasant
evening, Sheila and I were walking from up to our front door when
we both saw a huge animal peeking out from between the drawn curtains.
Sheila gasped and I felt my back go cold with sweat. A wild animal
was in our house! Had we left a window open? What about The Boys?
We looked again and realized
that the face belonged to Lucky, his big eyes and meowing whiskers
looming forth from the shadows of the darkened apartment. We opened
the door and there he was, hungry, as usual.
"When," I asked Sheila,
"did he get so damned big?" Sheila only shook her head.
We spent the next two weeks watching them closely, weighing them,
measuring them. Next week, we told ourselves, we'll take them to
the vet and find out what's wrong with them. Probably just a glandular
The Friday night of our third
week in the house the doorbell rang. Sheila and I looked quickly
around the crumpled newspaper-strewn second bedroom for the cats.
Finding them there, we closed the door on them and went downstairs.
We opened the front door to
find Karen, a work buddy of Sheila's with her husband, Fred, standing
on our doorstep, pizza boxes and wine bottles in hand.
"Surprise!" they said.
No shit, I thought.
Still, a night when neither
of us had to cook couldn't be considered a total loss. After dinner
we were all in the sparsely furnished living room chatting. A friendly
fire crackled in the fireplace and there were glasses of Chardonnay
all 'round. It was a scene out of thirtysomething, until
Fred stopped his story in mid-sentence and said, "My God."
Karen, always the model of propriety and example, gave up a "Holy
Shit!" Their gazes were fixed on the stairwell. I turned
It was Agammemnon.
I was too surprised, seeing
Aggie on this side of a door I had closed myself, to come up with
any brilliant explanation.
"My God," Fred said
again and then, looking from Sheila to me, he elaborated. "He's
"Yeah," I chuckled
artfully, pretending nothing was amiss. "He's grown since
the last time you saw him, hasn't he?" I moved over to Aggie
and picked him up. I returned to my seat and placed him standing
on my lap. Aggie rubbed his muzzle against my face and I scratched
him under his chin. "He's a little chunky, but neutered males
get that way, right, Sheila?" Sheila, bless her heart I will
love her forever, did not let her company smile fade. Rather, she
pumped the wattage and nodded.
But Fred's face had not changed.
He shook his head and pointed the index finger of his wineglass-holding
hand at Aggie. "No," he instructed us. "That cat
is fucking huge." He turned to Karen as if to gauge his own
senses by her reaction. She could only gape.
I began to feel the prick of
Agammemnon's claws digging into my leg. Not the kneading "happy
paws" that torture and delight all felinophiles—this was a
steady, meaningful application of pressure, a preparation for mayhem.
Aggie was facing away from me at this point, sighting down the long
pointing digit of Fred's outstretched arm, settling into a crouch
and getting ready to lunge at the gawking face before him.
Gently, I stroked Agammemnon's
coat and coaxed him from his pre-pounce stance into a less aggressive,
albeit very alert, lie-down. Still, the claws remained out. And
in my leg. But it was an improvement.
As for Fred, it was time to
put him in his place. I slammed my banker/bean-counter brain into
high gear and crunched out an obfuscation of gee-whiz figures.
"Fred," I said, trying
to look as serious as I could considering the fact that I now had
a Aggie's tail swishing me in the face. "I assure you, he's
not that big. This boy's only 12 kilos. He's about fifty centimeters
tall and eighty cm's nose-to-tail. He's well within the normal
range for a cat his age.
It didn't work.
Fred knitted his brow in concentration
and began muttering about metric equivalencies. God help me. Fred
worked for the City for Chrissakes. Who would have figured that
he actually knew anything?
I heard a thump on the stairs.
Luciano, sensing that his brother was being paid some attention,
was descending. Unable to move with Aggie on my lap, I put all
of my mental energy into one huge, telepathic "shoo" and
sent it to Luciano. But he kept coming, heedless of His Master's
Mental Voice. Thump. Thump.
Fred, having finished his mental
conversions, opened his eyes and looked at me, his eyebrows now
trying to meet with his hairline. "Do you know what that is
in pounds and inches?"
Thump Thump Thump. Yes, I knew.
I closed my eyes as Luciano
came around the stairwell corner and down the last few steps. All
22 inches of height, 34 inches of length (not including the tail),
and 30-plus pounds of him.
For those of you who work better
with a less prosaic description, Luciano's shoulders came up to
my knee. He was as long head-to-butt as from my extended fingertips
to my nose, and I couldn't pick him up without grunting. He was
lean and well-muscled with only a small dewlap hanging from his
neutered belly. Agammemnon was a bit smaller, but not much. I
thought they were both fine-looking animals.
Fred giggled. "My God,"
he said. I could hear hysteria beneath the patina of civilization.
"They're like carp. They just keep growing."
The sound that came out of the
thing on my lap was unlike anything I had ever heard. It started
high and soft, but quickly dropped in pitch as it rose in intensity.
It was a siren, a warning, and it was telling Fred to knock it off.
Its message was unmistakable.
Fred, however, first runner-up
in the Twonk of the Year competition, continued to giggle and pointed
at Luciano. Karen, at his side, lightly tugged on his sleeve.
"Honey," she pleaded in a quavering whisper. But Fred
blithely cackled on.
"That's not a cat!"
he sputtered at last. "It's an experiment gone bad. It's
a genetic throwback!" He turned his face to me and I could
see the glaze forming across his eyes as his legume-sized brain
searched for the proper metaphor. "It's a goddamned sabre-tooth!"
Interpret it as coincidence,
if you wish, but at Fred's final word Luciano crouched and put on
his flat-eared owl hat. His eyes were wide and fixed on the goon
before him, his back curved and fluffed. He hissed. It was a long,
deliberate escaping of air. A thousand vipers would not have made
a more evil sound.
Fred got the hint. Too late.
Faced and flanked by two spitting
Econo-Panthers, it looked like, unless somebody did something, Fred
would be leaving a little something of himself with us that night.
I was completely trapped. One of the creatures that had substituted
itself for our little kittens was on my lap, tensed like a coiled
spring. One wrong move and certain parts of my anatomy were in
Sheila stood, unaffected by
the paralysis that had gripped the rest of us. "Hey!"
she shouted, striding over and interposing herself between Lucky
and Fred. "Hey! she shouted again and clapped her hands.
Lucky looked up at her sharply
and hissed again. I said a mental goodbye to my lovely wife. I
was sure she was a goner. And then she did something that amazed
me. She leaned over, looked the wild-eyed beast in the face and
yelled "Hey!" a third time. Then she swatted him on the
Stunned at her audacity, Luciano
"Get upstairs," said
Sheila, Queen of the Jungle, toeing him with her stockinged foot.
He did. Turning, she took a step toward Aggie and me. "You,
too," she said and hooked a thumb toward the stairs. Agammemnon
slid off my lap and slunk up to the bedroom without further comment.
"Gotta let them know who's
in charge once in a while," Sheila explained to our stunned
It was only a very few moments
before Fred and Karen politely but hurriedly bid us adieu.
It seemed imperative now that
we take The Boys in and get a professional opinion of their condition.
Sometime in the next ten or fifteen years we were bound to have
people over for dinner. We couldn't always count on handling their
reactions to The Boys as well as we had handled Fred and Karen.
So we crammed Aggie into a large-size dog-carrier and carted him
off to the neighborhood cat clinic.
At the clinic, we checked in
with Aggie wailing like I had removed his liver with a wooden spatula.
At his call, a woman in a white coat — a Dr. Vaughn — appeared
from behind one of the examination room doors. She looked from
the snarling dog carrier to our silent selves and asked a question
by lifting an eyebrow.
"He doesn't travel well,"
"It's our only carrier,"
"They're your 3:30,"
announced the receptionist.
We rolled the carrier into the
examination room, closed the door, and I let Aggie loose. Vaughn
did what I had come to call the Standard George C. Reaction: a
wide-eyed "My God."
she told us. "An amazing animal!" She tried, to her
credit, to follow through with the standard exam. She weighed him,
she measured him, she asked after his intake and elimination. But
between each question she would shake her head a bit and step back,
as if she needed the extra distance to fit the whole cat into her
field of vision.
"So, how come he's still
growing?" I asked.
She didn't hear me. "What
were his parents like?" she asked.
"What? Like was one of
them a Great Dane?"
"They were strays,"
Sheila said, glaring at me.
"They?" said Vaughn.
"Yes," said Sheila.
"Aggie and Lucky. They were strays."
"Lucky," said the
doctor. "Is he this big, too?"
Oh God, I thought.
"Oh, no," Sheila said,
unaware of having awakened the Beast of Scientific Inquiry. "Lucky's
That was it. Before my eyes
the nice vet in the white coat was transformed into the Great Researcher.
Her gaze drifted off into space and I could see all those dreams
that she'd had as a vet intern—dreams of discovering the key to
feline leukemia, dreams of walking the jungles of Peru in search
of some lost species, dreams that had died as she had performed
her twelve-hundredth spay operation—they were all resurrected,
springing full-grown from the head of Aggie.
And I knew what that meant for
us. Signing forms, signing checks, and watching as bits and pieces
of our cats were removed and studied. I wanted an answer to why
The Boys were still growing, but I hadn't bargained for this.
I had to move quickly. No time
to explain. I scooped Aggie up off table like a sack of cement
and practically flung him into the carrier, latching the door before
he could get his bearings.
"But, I haven't finished,"
the vet told me. "The fact that both cats are this large effectively
eliminates the possibility of this being a spontaneous genetic mutation.
There must be some environmental cause for their size. There are
still a great many tests I want to run on Aggie."
No doubt, I thought. I began
to wheel the carrier out the door. Sheila, who knew I was severely
bugged about something, went with the flow and followed me out.
Vaughn met us at the desk.
"Please," she said,
trying in vain for another glimpse of the feline in question. "I
can't tell how serious their condition is, yet."
"How much we owe?"
I asked the receptionist.
"There's all sorts of things
it could be," Vaughn pleaded.
said the receptionist. Sheila began writing a check. I stopped
her. Color me paranoid. I did not want them to have our address.
I pulled a twenty from my wallet,
and hoped Sheila had some cash on her as well.
"It could be life-threatening,"
tried the vet. Sheila stopped at that, but I knew what the doctor
"Ever seen anything like
this before?" I asked.
"No," admitted Vaughn.
"Ever even heard
of anything like it?"
"Do you even know where
to start looking?"
"Size aside, is the cat
"Thanks, Doc. You've taken
a load off our minds." I took the five from a thoroughly-confused
Sheila, slapped it and my twenty on the counter, smiled, and wheeled
Aggie out the door.
On the way back home, Sheila
didn't say a word. Finally, after Aggie was back home and out of
the box, she cornered me.
"What the hell was that
"Didn't you see the look
in her eyes?" She hadn't. "All she wanted was to make
Aggie and Lucky the focus of some study into abnormal growth patterns."
"You're crazy," she
The phone rang. Sheila answered
it. "Yes, this is she." Pause. Sheila looked my way.
I was not surprised. I had known who it was known before she had
answered it. It was Vaughn.
"No. We don't want to
participate in a study.... No.... No, I think we'll be getting
a second opinion on that. Goodbye." I could still hear Vaughn's
voice rattling on as Sheila hung up the phone.
"Our number's unlisted.
How'd she get it?" I asked.
"I had to leave it when
I made the appointment."
The phone rang again. Sheila
picked it up and I could hear a tiny voice pleading as she returned
it to the hook. It rang again, and Sheila unplugged the phone.
I sighed. We'd only been here
a month and already we'd have to change our number. Hell, I'd only
just memorized the old one.
We learned to live with their
size. We learned to sidle past them in the halls and not to trip
over them in the dark. We learned to close and latch them in the
office when company came. They became our secret shame. But we
loved them and they, in their fashion, loved us. So we forgot about
their size and went on with our lives.
Sheila wanted a house. A house
with spare rooms for guests, a den for reading, a basement for storage,
and a yard for gardening. Those were her needs. As for the payments,
our income could now handle it. We stood on the brink of true adulthood.
A lifetime of debt. Wouldn't Mom and Dad be proud?
We found a lovely three-bedroom-two-bath-large-kitchen-daylight-basement-fenced-yard
affair in a somnolent neighborhood outside of the Seattle city limits.
It was close enough to the city to drive in on a whim, far enough
away from the overpriced city proper to be affordable and give a
feeling of "country". We settled in but, before you could
say "housewarming," we knew that something was wrong.
They were growing.
By the end of our second month
in the house, Aggie's head was at hip-height. Toward the middle
of the third, Lucky could see over the dining room table without
standing, and when he did stand he could nuzzle my shoulder.
The fold-out futon in the guest bedroom quickly became the folded-out
bed in the cats' room, complete with customized indentations in
They just kept growing. "They're
like carp," I remembered Fred saying that wintry night so many
months ago. It seemed he was right.
We had to do something. They
were growing daily. We decided to let them outside.
The neighborhood was fairly
rural and our yard was big. The fence that enclosed it was high
enough that (a) they couldn't get their lumbering bulks over it
and (b) the neighbor's couldn't see any more than vague dark shapes
through the cracks in the boards. We'd tell them we were raising
Irish wolfhounds. It was the ideal solution: it would give us
the house to ramble around in during the day and keep them safe
when we brought them in at night.
Soon, Aggie and Lucky took their
first trip outside, chaperoned, of course. The Boys cavorted like
calves in the sunshine, chasing birds and squirrels, while Sheila
and I sat on the deck, sipping chablis spritzers, discussing how
we might budget in a chest-style deep freeze and a side of beef.
They quickly proved themselves to be quite at home in the yard's
environs. They made no attempts at escape, and were happy to laze
in the unfettered light of the summer sun.
That weekend, we installed a
large-sized doggie door in the pantry and erected a pre-fab toolshed
that we furnished with their futon and an oak half-barrel filled
with water. We pulled up the lawn and plantings in one large, distant
corner of the yard and turned all the soil, hoping they'd use it
as a supplement to the industrial-sized trays of kitty litter in
On Monday morning, exhausted
but hopeful, we patted The Boys on their massive heads, released
the catch on the doggie door, and went off to work. As we pulled
away, Sheila looked back at the dark shapes just barely visible
through the cracks in the fence.
"Do you think they'll be
all right?" she wondered.
"What could happen that
they can't handle or sleep through?"
Arriving home that evening,
the first thing I noticed was the flapping, twisting yellow tape
across the Acton's driveway. The breeze tugged at the tape, but
the words were clear: POLICE LINE - DO NOT CROSS.
The second thing I noticed was
the piece of paper taped to our door. We got out of our old Honda
and walked quickly to the house. I tried not to look furtive, but
I'm pretty sure I failed.
I snatched the note from the
door as Sheila let us in. I turned on the news and scanned the
note—a hastily-typed and -xeroxed memo from the Department of Wildlife
on the subject of cougar attacks—while Sheila went towards the
back door to see if Aggie and Lucky were all right. Her scream
brought me streaking after her.
She was standing in the pantry
doorway looking at the floor. Bloody paw prints graced the linoleum
from the doggie door to the bowl of beef-fortified kibble. We stepped
through to the back door, unlocked it and pulled it open. I put
a hand over Sheila's face to muffle her second scream.
Agammemnon and Luciano lay beneath
the red-barked limbs of the madrona tree. In a crook of the tree
hung the body of the next door neighbor's Weimeraner. They had
grown during the day. A lot. Now the size of small lions, they
rested in the shade. Lucky was on his back, his belly obscenely
full and rounded. Aggie lay nearby, still gnawing on something.
It was not a dog.
I caught Sheila before she hit
I carried her back to the living
room and laid her on the couch. She moaned and opened her eyes.
I went to the kitchen for some water. When I came back, she was
sitting up, looking at the tv, her face a slowly constricting mask
of disbelief and horror.
The stiff-haired reporter on
the tube was telling us about a cougar attack within the city limits.
The scene cut to a tape of our street. A reporter asked a question
of Alice, our Baptist fundamentalist neighbor.
"I was sweeping off the
porch when I heard little Billy scream," Alice said. "I
came running around the hedge, and there he was, lying on his back,
kicking and screaming, with this huge cat holding him down, playing
with him like he was a mouse or something."
"What did you do?"
inquired the reporter.
"Well," said Alice,
choosing that moment to begin to cry, which made her face all red
so that it clashed with her blue hair. "I ran in and tried
to beat that monster off with my broom but it picked Billy up by
the head and — My God! There it goes!"
Alice pointed to the side, and
the camera's view tumbled and swerved until it was focused down
the street. We saw Audrey Chamberlain's car come to a screeching
halt. In front of it, looking at the driver over the car's grill,
"That's it!" cried
Alice and "Jesus!" said the reporter. The camera zoomed
in on our kitty. Audrey hit the horn and threw the vehicle into
reverse. Aggie took a swipe at a headlamp and skulked off to the
sidewalk. The camera's view followed him as he loped up our next
door neighbor's driveway and in one giant leap sent his huge bulk
to the top of the fence and disappeared over it. The Weimeraner
did not bark.
I couldn't listen any more.
I leapt off the couch and headed toward the back door. I had my
hand on the latch, but stopped when I saw the stranger standing
at the base of the madrona.
Well, not really a stranger.
It was Dr. Vaughn.
The good Doctor Vaughn was standing
over the motionless mounds of The Boys, a large pistol in her hand.
Red, fabric-tailed trank darts dangled from the cats' glossy black
haunches. They had hardly moved from the last time I had seen them.
The doctor must have given them a good dosing.
Sheila came in from the front
of the house, took a look out of the window at the trespasser and
"What are you going to
do," Sheila asked, turning to, of all people, me.
"Me?" I laughed.
"I don't know. When did I get put in charge?"
She turned and looked out the
window again. "We've got to do something. She'll
call in the cops just to get back at us and then the cops'll find
The Boys and kill them and then they'll come for us and we'll lose
"What are you blathering
"Don't you see?"
she explained. "We've got wild animals within the city limits.
We let them run loose in the neighborhood. They've destroyed property.
They've created a civic disturbance. They've killed a boy.
If they're discovered you and I are going to jail."
She was right. The civil suits
alone would ruin us. Everything we'd struggled for would vanish
in the blink of a litigious eye.
I trotted back to the living
room, Sheila right behind. "I don't know what to do about
The Boys, yet, but I don't want to go to jail, and I don't want
to lose everything we've worked for." I nodded toward the
backyard. "We've got to get rid of her."
From its ceremonial place above
the mantle I pulled down Great-Grandad's musket. It was a long
and imposing thing, heavy to hold, and must have been a bitch to
"What are you planning
to do?" she asked me.
And it hit me. What was I doing?
Was I actually contemplating murder? Jesus, yes, I was actually
contemplating murder. I don't know what it was—the threat to my
home, sheer territoriality, or some primal drive to conquer—but
the skinny kid who played in the high school band and couldn't get
a date till college was about to go out and calmly take a human
life. What was I thinking? And yet, could I turn my back, could
I let this vet stomp across my life, steal my privacy and destroy
my home? I looked at Sheila and imagined my life without her.
I realized that, no, I couldn't just stand by.
I thought, hefting the weapon. It's us quiet ones you gotta
watch out for.
I went back to the pantry door,
opened it, and walked to the edge of the deck. I stepped off the
deck just as Vaughn pulled out a syringe and bottle and began measuring
out a dose. I raised the weapon dramatically, tilted down its four-foot
barrel until it was aimed right at the doctor's head.
The needle squeaked in the bottle
as she looked up at me. Then she obligingly raised her hands without
my having to request she do so.
"Hello again, Doctor Vaughn,"
I said, doing my best tough-guy imitation.
"Is that thing loaded?"
Ah, the scientific mind at work.
Such a wonder. Of course the musket was... oh, shit.
The musket, of course, was not
loaded. Even if I had had the black powder and a miniball with
which to load it (providing, of course, I knew how), I would only
have had one shot. Assuming for the sake of realism that my first
shot would be a clean miss, in the time it would have taken me to
reload, the doctor would have been able to go to her car, drive
to the nearest police station and bring the cops back here personally,
stopping for crullers on the way. Hopefully, Vaughn wasn't up on
her Civil War weaponry.
"Of course it's loaded."
The doctor smiled. "I
don't believe you," she said. Maybe she was up on
her Civil War weaponry.
She dropped her hands and slipped
one into her coat pocket. The pocket without the trank gun. She
withdrew a slim pistol, silver and sleek, and definitely one designed
for use with bullets. She pointed it at me.
"All I want is the cats."
"Tough," I said, trying
to describe my demeanor. "They're with us."
"Put down the blunderbuss."
I knew then that she had me.
I wasn't sure that I could have killed her had the rifle been loaded,
but now, with her clear and present pistol up against my glorified
piece of plumber's piping, it was over.
Her attention was on me and
the musket. It kept her from seeing what I saw. Agammemnon was
moving. Vaughn must have misjudged her initial dart dosage. But
when an animal that large moves, it is not a silent thing.
Aggie woofed and rolled. Vaughn
heard it and turned, pistol in hand. The doctor pointed her weapon
at Aggie who, barely awake, was having trouble keeping his feet.
Seeing my little kitty boy about to get plugged by a fame-lusted
vet flipped my pacifist lever the other way, and the danger of getting
shot no longer mattered.
I stepped forward and swung
the musket, hitting Vaughn in the back. She grunted and staggered
forward, off-balance. Her small gun went off with a pop and the
grass between Aggie's legs puffed and flew, waking him up thoroughly.
Aggie lashed out. Claws caught
in fabric and flesh. Vaughn cried out as Aggie pulled her down,
pulled himself up. His second swipe smashed into the side of her
head, paw covering her face, and I heard her neck snap.
Vaughn crumpled and Aggie backed
"Oh, shit," said Sheila
from the edge of the deck. I was too stunned to move. My "little
kitty boy" had just kacked a vet with one blow. Aggie, still
dopey, shook his head and lay back down.
Sheila knelt down beside the
doctor and touched her wrist. The doctor's eyes were open and staring.
Her ear was resting against her shoulder. Her right ear. Her left
I doubted Sheila would be able
to find a pulse.
"Grab her feet," she
"And do what?"
"And hide the body, stupid!
Grab her feet."
"Hide it? Where?"
"In the basement. Christ,
what had you planned to do after you killed her? Grab her feet."
"But I didn't kill..."
"GRAB HER FEET!"
"Mmph," I said as
I picked up my end of the deceased Doctor Vaughn. We carted Vaughn
over to the basement door, opened it, and carried the body inside.
I winced as the vet's pendant skull clump-clomped on each stair
during our descent. We dumped her between the old ratty recliner
and the furnace.
"Now, The Boys," my
After two minutes I could see
that I was quickly losing my position as Alpha Male in our little
pride. The Boys, still a bit sloppy from the drugs, discovered
that if they didn't want to move, they didn't have to. And they
didn't want to move. I could no longer pick them up, and our attempts
at dragging their boneless leonine forms soon became a game. They
batted at us playfully with huge paws. They hooked onto our clothes
with long translucent claws. They rolled over, taking us down and
holding us close, giving us friendly little rabbit kicks with their
Exasperated, I went to the carport
and got the pruning hook. I crossed the yard to the madrona and
emptied their arboreal larder. The dog's corpse came down with
a heavy thud. I moved in and grabbed it by the fore and hind paws
and picked it up. Now they were standing. Now
they were moving. They began to close in on me. I swear I could
see them grow as they came on, shifting mass from distended bellies
to muscle and bone.
Somehow, from somewhere, I found
the intestinal solidity to step forward. Taking a page from Sheila's
manual on cat training, I swung the canine corpse and smacked them
across their big black noses.
"Hey!" I shouted.
"Knock it off." Confused at my having turned their carefully-hung
trophy into a bludgeon (Man: the tool-maker), The Boys backed off.
I toted the mangled body towardthe basement. The Boys followed.
I elbowed open the door, went down the steps and chucked my burden
onto the cold, concrete floor next to the cooling vet. The Boys
and I passed each other on the stairs.
I exited the basement and locked
it. Then, with Sheila standing guard at the basement door, I went
about destroying evidence.
What was left of Little Billy
Acton—and there wasn't much—fit neatly in a Hefty Cinch-Sack.
I was surprised at my composure. Here I was, running about our
suburban manse searching for odd pieces of human remains and stuffing
them, quite coolly, into a trash bag. I couldn't believe it of
myself. And yet, I could feel the cord of my sanity humming under
the strain. I was close to the edge.
I returned to the madrona, cinched
up the Sack o' Billy, and grabbed Vaughn's purse. At the basement
entrance, Sheila and I looked at each other in silence. What could
we say to one another? We had to finish the job.
I opened the door and was hit
by the smell.
Cats to the end, Aggie and Lucky
had played with their food. The smell of opened bowels was heavy
in the air, the color of blood was puddled thickly on the floor.
Innards were strewn about like a tangled skein of yarn. The carnage
was absolute, and, in either corner, looking cramped in an uncrowded
basement that ran the full length and breadth of the house, crouched
two black smilodon-sized housecats. The Boys.
Aggie looked at me and growled
from around the doctor's left thigh. I could almost see the wheels
turning in his blood-lusted brain. Whatever my previous status
in his eyes, I had been demoted.
I was prey.
I slammed the door as he lunged,
shot the latch home as he crashed into the other side. The door
held. I looked to Sheila and saw her standing, feet apart, weapon
to her shoulder, sighting down the long, long barrel to where Aggie
had almost just emerged. She was an avatar, a feminist Hemingway,
facing down the onrushing beast, little wispies of hair tasting
"What were you going to
do?" I asked as I fought down my hysteria. "Yell 'Bang?'"
After some discussion, we came
to the conclusion that we were incapable of killing The Boys outright.
So, like the Princes of Old, we opted for banishment. The Boys
would be repatriated.
We found the doctor's van up
the street and, using the keys from Vaughn's purse, pulled it around
the house and up to the basement door. Then, with as much sweetness
as she could put into her nervous voice, Sheila began to call them.
she warbled. "Are you in there?" Of course they were.
But the content of her words didn't matter. It was the magic of
her song that counted, and within a few minutes we heard from beyond
the door not the roar of the MGM lion, but a meek and surprisingly
Gingerly, Sheila unbolted the
door, all the while singing and twittering the patterns that our
cats had long ago come to associate with brushings, scratches under
the chin, and, most tellingly, food. I stood by with a six-pound
sledge should either of them still be confused about what (or who)
Sheila pulled open the door.
In her free hand was a sirloin-tip roast laced the dose of the drug
that Vaughn had measured out. A similar dose was inside the second
roast that lay at her feet. When Lucky's white whiskers appeared
out of the gloom, I got ready, but he came forward, sniffed the
meat (could he still be hungry), and followed it as Sheila
tossed it into the back of the van. Aggie came close on his heels
and the van creaked as the now almost pony-sized cats plonked themselves
down to gnaw on their meaty tidbits. We slowly closed the van's
While we waited for the drugs
to take effect, I went down in the basement for a repeat of my matinee
performance in the yard. This time I needed two bags. The Boys
had taken care of most of the fleshy parts while we were getting
the van. But there was still a good bit of clothing, some entrails,
and an assortment of surprisingly clean bones left to collect.
Sheila peeked into the back
of the van, and reported that The Boys were rumbling in peaceful,
narcotized sleep. We hefted the Hefties into the back with them
and headed for the hills.
I drove the van, Sheila followed
in our car. We had no idea how much time Vaughn's dosage would
give us, so we drove out on Highway 522, headed for Sultan, our
fastest route to the Cascades. We passed quickly through moonlit
farmland and up into the foothills. Trees crowded close to the
highway and stars shimmered through the clean mountain air. I heard
the rythm of feline breathing change, and took a right onto a local
In a very few minutes, we found
ourselves driving through a valley forested with dark evergreens
from rim to shaggy rim. A crisp clean creek of trout-filled snowmelt
lay across a meadow, and I could imagine a doe or buck hiding behind
every other tree. The Boys could do a lot worse. We turned off
onto an unused forestry road and stopped just as I heard a deep
"Mau" from behind me.
I exited the van swiftly. A
flashlight through the window showed the two soporific cats beginning
to stumble about, nictitating membranes masking half of their eyes.
Sheila brought our car up close
to the van and opened the passenger door. I slid open the van door
and dove for the relative safety of our Honda. Then we waited.
It was deja vu. Suddenly I
was back on the porch of our tiny studio apartment, a bowl of stinking
chili on the stoop, watching the first tentative steps of two wild
animals towards captivity and domestication. Now, I was watching
the final steps of those same animals back towards wildness. I
found myself shaking with the stress of the day, the burden of our
choices, and the sudden change in our lives.
When Lucky poked his head out
of the van, silently sniffing the forest air, and when Aggie took
the first step down from the van onto the mat of needles and swordleaf
ferns, I found my eyes filled with tears. This was my family.
And we were breaking up.
They hung around the edge of
the clearing in the dim glow cast by the van's dome light until
I couldn't take it anymore. I reached over in front of Sheila and
hit the horn. They turned and hissed, then slunk off into the night.
A few minutes later I got out
and went up to the van. I picked up the squelching bags and emptied
them—vet and Billy—into a pile nearby. Hopefully that would tide
them over until they got their bearings. I was gathering up the
bags when I heard the crash of brush and the thump of massive paws
in the mulch. I turned and saw Agammemnon and Luciano padding in
from the forest, heading for me, drawn by the scent of blood.
They came in close, slowed,
and began to pace around me. Sheila was in the van, wiping it down.
She saw what was happening and hit the horn. It did not phase the
beasts before me.
I could run, but how far? I
could bat at them, but to what end? I could not match these creatures,
not any more, not the way they were now. Again, I recalled the
kittens we had taken in so unsuspectingly. Could these huge lions
be the same creatures?
I extended my hand. "Hey,
Boys," I said in a quiet voice. "Hey, Aggie. Hey, Lucky."
They both stopped their pacing. "Come on," I told them,
patting my thigh. "It's okay." And they came.
They spooked when Sheila came
out of the van, but all she had to do was say a few words and they
went to her, too. We said our goodbyes then, patted their heads
and scritched the bases of their tails one final time. Then, the
van hidden in the brush, the cats sitting in the clearing, we drove
off, leaving them to fend for themselves. Tearfully, we went back
to our house, and prayed to God.
The Boys have not been sighted
since. There has, however, been a dramatic increase in cattle mutilations
in the Eastern Cascades. It seems our two furry kittens are heading
for the Canadian border. Caribou Country. Fine. The Mounties
will have their hands full, though.
Good luck, Boys.