A dissonant chord rips me from sleep.
I freeze, bolt upright with my hand over my throat, and listen for the source.
I fall back onto my pillow and exhale over my blind panic.
“Fucking cat,” I spit at the ceiling.
Garrett’s cat. Pretzel. Fucking pain in my ass.
I haven’t slept through the night once since I moved in.
“He’s just restless,” Garrett says. “He’ll settle down once he gets to know you.”
I don’t know how long it takes a stupid cat to get to know a person. But it’s been months. And I’m about fed up with this night walker bullshit.
Pretzel prances mockingly down the length of the piano, hitting as many keys as possible, and then dismounts silently. I press my fingers into my eyelids and wait for it.
I growl through gritted teeth and sit up again. I reach for my phone on the bedtable, the sound of Pretzel scratching at something plastic in the kitchen grating violently against my frayed nerves.
My phone wakes up and blinds me as I squint to focus on the time.
It’s after 2:00. Garrett should have been home hours ago.
I tap open my messages and see one from Garrett. And one from our vet, which puzzles me.
I’m more worried about my boyfriend than the health of my nocturnal nemesis, so I open Garrett’s first.
My heartbeat kicks up, my mind already spinning with images of Garrett’s car turned over in a ditch somewhere. Him stranded on the side of the road. Helpless.
Pretzel mewls piteously as his scratching becomes more desperate. I can hear him purring from the kitchen.
“Pretzel, enough already,” I yell through the open door of my bedroom. I’m met with a lengthy enough silence that I can turn my attention to my traffic locked boyfriend.
I scoff loudly enough for Pretzel to hear me. And he does.
I didn’t know a cat could mew disdainfully. But I’m taking offense.
“Shut up, Pretzel! I swear to God.”
I press my thumbs angrily over his words, ringing his virtual neck.
The thread goes silent, and I fume over the omission of Garrett’s standard “Love you” sign off.
I swipe over to my news feed as Pretzel lets out a sustained howl. The sound of the half dozen wine glasses I polished earlier shattering onto the tile floor pushes me over the edge.
“PRETZEL!” I scream.
Near silence again. Just the watery hum of the fish tank filter in the next room and the echo of my screeching voice hang in the air.
I take a deep breath and close my eyes, taking comfort in the image of Pretzel impaled on a wineglass stem. His voice box severed and his jugular vein hemorrhaging. I take another breath and dive into the news.
I immediately laugh.
It has to be a joke.
A really bad joke.
One that every major news outlet is in on. Together.
And every social media platform is orgasming over. Together.
My heart resists leaping at the invitation to end Pretzel once and for all. Because this can’t be real. It’s bullshit. Right?
I scroll through a minute’s worth of headlines. Click bait leading to frantically written blogs offering five ways to humanely kill a cat that’s been “nipped”. Recipes for homemade antidotes for the soft-hearted set. Blueprints for traps. And bunkers. Methods for safe disposal of hallucinogenic cat weed.
My palms are sweating. My index finger trembling as I try to scroll further. My eyes blur over tearful testimonials and images of dead cats lined up on tarps in the back of pickup trucks.
A notification blinks silently in the top left corner of the screen. A second text from the vet.
I open it.
A wave a nausea hits me. It rocks me in a slow circle, and I shut my eyes over the intense desire to puke my guts out. I strain my ears for a sound. Any sound to let me know where Pretzel is. What he’s doing. But there’s nothing. Just the hum of the fish tank filter and my own ragged breath as my muscles twitch incessantly. I need to move.
But I can’t.
I can’t move.
Another silent notification catches my swimming eyes. I struggle to focus on the words. They effectively quell my nausea by filling me with jealous rage.
A scream wrenches itself from my chest. The involuntary response to a deafening crash in the living room. My hands fly to my ears and my knees jerk protectively toward my chest, making me tiny and impenetrable to whatever massive force has found its way into the house.
I slowly pull my hands away from my ears. The trickle of moving water forces my eyes open as a two-inch wave rolls calmly past my bedroom door.
The pathetic, pleading sound of my own voice, calling into the darkness, reignites my nausea.
Then I hear it. Only slightly more audible that the sound of suffocating fish flopping in death throes on the drenched carpet.
Small, wet, plodding, deliberate footsteps.
This is when I should move. Get up. Run to my door and slam it closed. Barricade myself here until Garrett gets home. Force him to deal with his roided out cat who just pushed over a fifty-gallon fish tank. Make him choke the life out his beloved Pretzel so I don’t have to deal with him guilt tripping me for the rest of our relationship when I end up murdering his prized pet in self-defense.
I shake my head.
You’re not murdering a cat, I tell myself.
I’m not even convinced Pretzel has been nipped. Even if you include the epic destruction of my fish tank and its inhabitants, tonight’s crimes against my sanity aren’t any more egregious than normal.
It’s the damn news feed. The vet’s text message. Garrett’s fear for Pretzel’s safety. But not mine. And okay, the fish tank thing is fucked up.
They’re all feeding into my paranoia.
I swallow over a throatful of bile and turn my phone on flashlight mode. I shine it right at the open door and wait. The footsteps have stopped. The water now absorbed into the fibers of the carpet in the hallway.
But he’s still moving. I can feel it.
I’m tired of waiting.
“Pss pss pss,” I call him the way Garrett does. I can’t help but roll eyes as I do it. “Pretzel,” I coo softly. “Come here, baby.” I throw up in my mouth a little.
A low, guttural growl shuts my muscles down completely. I piss myself and hurl my phone at the dark space in front of me. It makes contact with something thick, furry, and dumb-as-shit.
Pretzel lets out a high-pitched hiss that rattles my eardrums. I gather all the sheets and blankets off my bed and sprint at the door with my arms open, creating a net to slow him down. I manage to smother him against the floor, my white sheets twisting wildly around my feet, as I scramble to grab my phone.
I rush out the door and slam it shut behind me. There’s no way to lock it, but the hinge is working in my favor. The chances of Pretzel being able to force his way out are slim.
Not that he isn’t trying.
I flatten myself against the wall as he bangs against the door. Once. Twice.
Three—Four—Five times. I don’t stick around for a sixth.
I slosh frantically into the kitchen. Spot the shredded tub of catnip on the kitchen island. Its contents spread over the surface of the marble. Evidence that something rolled around in the dried vegetation, dragged its tongue and face through it ecstatically.
My feet are immediately eviscerated by the shattered glass covering the kitchen floor. My eyes flood with tears brought on by the pain and I clench my jaw so hard I feel a molar crack.
I need a weapon. Something to hold him off until Garrett gets home.
Fucking Garrett! Where the hell is he?
I take a split second to shakily pull up the GPS tracker app on my phone to determine his ETA.
He’s minutes away. And moving steadily. He also sent another text.
“Fuck you, Garrett!” I choke at the screen. I throw the phone down, shattering the cover on the tile floor, and start rummaging through the drawer of random cooking utensils until I find the one I want.
A meat mallet. One side flat. The other lined with triangular teeth.
Pretzel is scratching at the bedroom door. Growling, mewling, hissing, banging.
I charge angrily down the hall, stepping on dead fish and aquarium rocks, and gushing thick blood out of the soles of my feet. I reach the door and slam the mallet into it. Repeatedly.
“SHUT THE FUCK UP, PRETZEL, OR I SWEAR TO GOD I WILL MURDER YOUR COCK SUCKING ASS RIGHT HERE AND NOW!”
An angry purring sound and the tickle of cat breath and whiskers on what’s left of my big toe turns me to jelly. I bang my forehead against the door and sob like a baby. I’m fucking done.
The whiskers slowly recede, and I lean my ear against the door, catching a soft rustling, a throaty growl and finally, the explosive shattering of my bedroom window.
“Pretzel?” I gasp.
I steady myself, lick the snot off my upper lip, and set my trembling fingers over the doorknob.
Raising the meat mallet over my head, I turn the knob and open the door.
My sheets are shredded and rank with cat piss. There’s a jagged hole in the window, framed with blood. Enough to make me believe Pretzel won’t last the night.
I burst into deranged laughter and lower the mallet to my side. But I don’t let go.
“Fucking cat,” I cackle.
The familiar rattle of keys in the front door lock carries me down the hallway.
I stand in front of the kitchen island and wait.
He bursts in, leaving the front door open, and gathers me up in his arms. He ignores the destruction of his house. My dead fish. The fact that I pissed my pants. The blood that I’ve been letting for the past thirty minutes while he jerked off in traffic.
For a brief moment, I let him comfort me.
He smells good. Like a sexy cocktail of anxiety and Old Spice.
He takes my tear-stained face in his hands and looks deep into my eyes.
Aww. He’s worried.
It almost makes me want to kiss him. With my tongue. To make him want me.
Blood, piss, snot and all.
But then the fuckwit opens his damn mouth.
“Where’s my Pretzel?”
My fingers tighten around the mallet handle and my eyes drift over Garrett’s shoulder to the wide-open front door. A faint rustle in the hedges outside fills me with hope.
“Pss pss pss,” I call sweetly. “Pretzel. Come here, baby. Daddy’s home.”
Garrett turns toward the door as Pretzel appears, stoned and blood caked on the threshold.
His cat lips curve into a hungry smile and his throat rumbles to life.
I sidestep away from Garrett just as Pretzel lands on his chest, knocking him backwards into the island. I hear the thud of his skull on the tile floor and the repeated screaming of my name, as I walk to the other side of the kitchen and retrieve a wine glass. One survived the crash.
I uncork a bottle of stale red wine on the counter and give myself a generous pour.
Garrett continues to beg for me, his voice gurgling with blood or vomit or both.
I slide my sweaty hand through the dusting of catnip on the counter, bring it to my mouth and lick my palm.
I cough once on the texture, and then chase it with a slug of vinegary wine.
Garrett throws a bloody hand out to me as I pass him on the floor. “TRACY! PLEASE!”
I mercifully set the meat mallet into his outstretched hand and keep walking.
“Don’t hurt Pretzel,” I say, dragging my fingers down the length of the piano keys. “He means the world to me.”
And because I’m not a heartless bitch, I call back over my shoulder, before I limp out the front door.
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