I watch as Ankhesnamun enters my bedroom, immediately flattens to hug the wall, and, with palpable trepidation, inches along the baseboards until she slips into the shadow of the bureau. Soundlessly, she slinks on her belly into the blackness until the very last stripe on the tip of her tail disappears into her warren. I wait, watching, until she has been gone for so long that I wonder if I’ve imagined the entire glacial vanishing act.
Just as I’m about to get out of bed and peer into the tenebrous depths of my furniture, the tiniest shiver of movement gives me pause, and resolves itself into a cautiously emerging whisker as I continue to watch. Cat-hair upon infinitely many more cat-hairs, she creeps back into the murky dimness and takes a solitary, silent, step forward, and then another… but now she freezes, one paw poised for her next furtive movement, and I follow her gaze and realize the source of her sudden indecision: if she does not abandon the safety of the wall with her very next step, Ankhesnamun will pass by the bedroom window and within reach of the barely-perceptible swaying of its gloomy shroud.
Perhaps it’s only a draft that sets the curtain’s folds to fluttering; perhaps she can slip silently behind the opaque panel and take refuge there, protected by the same inscrutability that now sets her tiny heart to beating a frenzied tattoo. But her paw still hovers, trembling, as if every part of her fears to commit to completing this frozen step. How can she be certain that the curtain’s motion isn’t the only warning she’ll get that an indescribable orange horror bides its time on the other side of the cloth, patiently waiting for an incautious kitty to stray within reach of it’s slavering maw?
Ankhesnamun’s eyes flash an eerie green as she angles her gaze towards me, and the corner where she stands frozen is so dark that I almost can’t see her mouth open in a silent plea for help. Uneasily, I realize that, though the window has been in my field of vision for the entire time that I’ve been abed, I can’t be certain that nothing has slipped through my inattentive watch. Struck by that sickening realization, I feel as uncertain, as exposed, as she must. I hesitate, but ultimately I have to give her the barest shake of my head, echoing and confirming her fear. I am now as convinced as she that the slightest sound could summon forth a howling, nameless, creature of the deep from beyond the deceptively placid window hangings. I dare not rise to aid her and risk the bedsprings creaking; any incautious movement could destroy us both.
Ankhesnamun hesitates a heartbeat longer, clearly not savoring the prospect of being exposed and vulnerable in the middle of the carpet. But she seems to steel herself, looking fiercely at the bed as if fixing this goal in her mind, before realigning her course in one fluid ripple of limb and tail and crossing the open carpet in a desperate dash directly to the nightstand. I let out my involuntarily-held breath as she gains the safety of its stalwart particleboard. The worst is surely over; the rest of her path is lined by items of furniture that create defensible positions without any possibility of concealing any unsavory lurkers.
Wisely, Suna retains her caution even as as she crawls out from the near side of her the night table. We both know that haste could lead to a fatal misstep even now, if we have misjudged the enemy’s position, but her apprehension is palpable even as she forces herself to carefully measure each languid step. My ears strain in the silence as she inches closer to safety, but I hear nothing, not even the barest whisper of her passage over the cat hair that covers literally everything I own. Finally, just as I can abide her torpor no longer and tense my muscles to snatch her swiftly to safety in a frantic flurry of motion, she crouches, preparing to vault up to safety and probably treats.
Neither of us registers the presence of the other cat until it’s too late. Still, all may not have been lost if I had been able to restrain the involuntary shriek that now startles all three of us; like the bell at the start of a fight, it seems to galvanize the violent tendencies of my unstable cat. Ankhesnamun’s forepaws have just grazed the edge of the mattress when Little Baby rears up from where, in my trepidation over Sunamuna’s harrowing ordeal, I’d forgotten she lay next to my pillow. Though she had always been downright timid, even for a cat, Little Baby has, for some mysterious reason, adopted a new policy of claw first, ask questions later over the past ten days or so, almost as if her tiny kitty mind has finally snapped. Once likely to attempt a hasty retreat from her own proverbial shadow, Little Nutcase now froths and seethes with berserker rage. Whatever wandered in from the cold approximately two weeks ago has been the stimulus for a bizarre geological metamorphosis: at the briefest glimpse of a feline silhouette or tail-twitch, she erupts in a volcano of flying claws and cat-spit. Ankhesnamun has learned to keep her distance until Little Psycho’s poor, overtaxed brain registers recognition and tranquility is restored. But, tonight, Ankhesnamun doesn’t realize her proximity to the crazy volcano until it’s too late.
The stillness of the night is shattered by all hell breaking loose. As Little Baby’s claws wildly shred the air a cat-hair’s width from everybody’s face, I scream again, and Suna falls back from her precarious perch at the edge of the mattress, startled and reeling from this wildly disproportionate response to her existence. I can only watch helplessly as my poor kitty, momentarily too affronted and confused to remember to beware, backs away towards the foot of the bed…the very same foot of the bed she had been willing to circumnavigate the bedroom in order to avoid.
Realization of where her scrambling legs are carrying her dawns, and she is already twisting in mid-air in a desperate attempt to be literally anywhere else. But it’s too late for her to change course no matter how her front paws scrabble for purchase on the blankets tumbling over the edge of the bed. Time seems to slow as she falls, and I can only stare as the first paw finally touches the carpet. The pad of her foot has barely grazed the floor when, with preternatural speed and deadly accuracy, the deadly claws of the monster under the bed-skirt dart out to seize her leg.
Ankhesnamun lets loose a blood-curdling yeowl, but freezes, and I realize that she’s nearly paralyzed with terror. My heart leaps into my throat, and, I’m sure that I’m about to witness her tragic end. Then, at the last possible instant, she digs deep within her soul and discovers that she has always been strong and courageous, and that it was only ever her own self-doubt holding her back. She is of a warrior’s lineage, and in her chest beats the valiant heart of a lioness.
Her eyes shine with the power of her new faith in herself, and she whirls with the lethal grace of a panther…
…and runs away as fast as her striped little legs can carry her. Her flight comes not a split-second too soon, for her terrified cry has already awakened the unquenchable bloodlust of the furry nightmare lurking in the darkness under the bed. Harkening neither to her own will nor even to her singular desire for mischief, but held in thrall to the primal instincts of a truly bad kitty, Peach is compelled to emerge and give chase. For just an instant, time seems to stand still, and then the brown blur disappears around the corner. Before my heart can beat again, a fiery streak like the tail of a comet hurtles away in pursuit, and then all that remains of either cat is it’s hellfire afterglow, burned into my eyes, so brilliant that I am momentarily blinded.
As it fades and my vision returns, I realize that Little Baby is hiding her face in my pillow and hissing at it, and now I struggle to remember how to breathe. An unholy clamor reaches our ears, as if the earth itself quaked and parted in obedience to the gods of the underworld, who have, judging by the ghastly discord emanating from the front of my apartment, called my piano down to eternal damnation. Little Baby abandons her pillow, spits and hisses at no one in particular, and leaps over me to the other side of the bed, where she slaps a teddy bear.
The jangling notes of my doomed instrument fade, and all is silent. I swallow my fear and rise from the bed, intending to rescue Ankhesnamun, or recover what remains of her, even at the cost of my own life. Just as I am standing unsteadily and steeling myself to my task, Peach saunters back in like she owns the place. She pauses to look at me, her expression unreadable, and now she sits and begins to wash her face. I make my way cautiously past her, to the door, but Peach is now quiescent, her lust for violence sated…for now.
I find Ankhesnamun hiding in the bathtub, hunkered all the way down despite the fact that it’s still wet from my shower. I speak soothingly to her until her violent trembling still, and gently pick her up. She meows piteously in response to my pledge to see her safely to our bed (I no longer have any illusions about who owns what around here), and continue to speak in gentle tones of treats, all the treats such a good, brave kitty deserves. But I’m so busy cuddling and reassuring her that I don’t notice that Peach has once more disappeared, and so I forget to make the last step towards the bed as more of a flying leap…
Blood is suddenly spurting everywhere. It takes me a moment to realize that the blood is my own. I feel strangely calm as I look at the place where my leg used to be, and perhaps it is the knowledge that this is the end, that I have been stricken a mortal blow. With the last of my strength, I heave Ankhesnamun toward the safety of the bed.
The last thing I see before my vision goes black is Peach wearing my left foot as some kind of strange, savage, crown.