Beware of Owner

by Chuck Wendig

The cat was back on the garage roof, and Pop was mad.

“Dirty animals, those cats,” he said, pressing a .308 round into the Winchester rifle.

“I think that’s Grandma’s cat,” I said, but I didn’t think so, I knew so. She called it Monkeyface because its dark, mottled tortoiseshell head gave it a chimpy look.

“I know who’s cat that is.” He jacked the bolt forward. He rested the gun on the kitchen windowsill, handling the weapon gently like it was a carton of eggs. He peered through the scope. I could hear his beard stubble scratch against the texture of the rifle butt. “My mother has to learn that she should keep her filthy little shits to herself. They bring in parasites. What do I always say?”

I swallowed hard. “We don’t abide trespassers.”

“Goddamn right. You’re a good boy, Raymond.”

“Okay.” I didn’t know what else to say.

Pop sucked a little air in between his teeth, sniffed a snot back up into his nose, then pulled the trigger.

He wouldn’t let me wear ear-muffs whenever we went out shooting, said it was queer or stupid to wear those things. Of course, he was mostly deaf in one ear. When the shot rang out, I smelled the nose-burning sting of spent powder and my ears were left ringing. (Though I don’t know why they call it ringing, it was more like one of those tones they play to test your hearing in elementary school, except it doesn’t stop for hours.)

The shot missed the cat, but must’ve hit close by. The cat jumped like it had just been bitten on the ass by a little rat, and then lost its footing. Its legs went akimbo and it slid down the tin roof, claws on metal, making a vvviiiiiiip sound.

Followed by a thud.

Monkeyface hit the ground, and contrary to legend, the feline’s internal gyroscope didn’t allow it to land on all its feet. Well. It landed on its feet, I guess. It just didn’t land successfully.

“Scope needs adjusting,” Pop said. “Go get the cat.”

I just nodded, and did what I was told.

* * *

Three of the cat’s legs were broken. It wasn’t hard to tell, because they were bent at funny angles. The cat panted like a dog would, and made this low keening sound in the back of its throat.

“That is an ugly cat,” Pop said, chewing on a thumbnail.

He was right, but I wasn’t going to say so. I felt guilty just thinking it, because here this cat was cradled in my arms, crying and suffering. “What’re we going to do?”

“Set it up for target practice, probably. Nail it to a fence, maybe put up some Ginger Ale cans or beer bottles alongside it.” He scratched the bald spot at the back of his head. “You could go get your .22, I’ll bring the .308, maybe call your uncle see if he wants in.”

“I feel bad.”

“For the cat?” he asked, incredulous. He barely stifled a bitter laugh. “That’s your mother talking, God rest her soul forever and ever. I hear her voice come out of your mouth sometimes. She was a good woman, but you’re not a woman, remember that always.”

“Okay.”

“Still,” he said, pausing. “We could give it to Whats-His-Name, the salesman. See what he does with it.”

“Mr. Carlson,” I said, reminding Pop of his name.

“Right. Carlson. Sure. Take Monkeyface to Carlson.”

I looked down at the cat, who was moving his one good leg as if trying to set an example for the others.

“Okay,” I said.

* * *

Mr. Carlson didn’t look so good. His face was the color of paste, and his lips were chapped like they’d been rubbed with sand. He didn’t even seem to notice me coming at first, but when I got closer and flicked on the cellar light, he jerked his head up, eyes wide. He pulled at the shackle around his right wrist, almost like he forgot it was chaining him there.

“Little Raymond,” he mumbled. His lips pulled back in a mean smile, showing off yellow teeth. “Want to buy some encyclopedias?”

It was his joke, and I never laughed. That’s what he came to our house to do, sell his encyclopedias. Nobody bought those anymore, I said. What with the Internet and all. Pop said we didn’t need them (Pop said we didn’t need the Internet, either), and that the man was trespassing, and you know what he says about trespassers.

“No, sir,” I told him. “I have something for you.”

“What is it? Tell me.” He strained to see what I had in my arms. The smile vanished, and for a second he looked feral, worse than the meanest cat, even one that’s been shot at a bunch of times.

“It’s a cat named Monkeyface.”

“Why would I want a cat?

“I dunno. My Dad wanted me to give it to you, I guess to keep you company.” I shifted nervously from foot to foot.

Mr. Carlson hissed: “Did they get to have pets?” He jerked his head to indicate the other three bodies sitting against the wall. Two of them were all bones, by now, but the third still had a little meat on the skeleton. One of them was real estate agent. The other two were a Jehovah’s Witness and a UPS man that Pop said was trying to steal stuff from our garden. The room smelled bad, but I was used to it by now.

“No,” I said. “Do you need anything?”

“Please let me go,” he mewled.

“Can’t. Pop says trespassers have to learn their lesson. Maybe you want some water?”

“Water’ll just make me have to piss again.”

“I’m going to put the cat down now,” I said. “But don’t grab at me or anything, or Pop will have to take off your other foot.”

I think Mr. Carlson started crying, then.

I laid the broken cat down next to the salesman, and it tried to run away but just plopped down onto its three shattered legs and cried out.

“You two play nice,” I said, and I meant it. I felt bad for what they were going through, but Pop liked things a certain way around here, and I wasn’t going to argue with him.

I turned off the cellar light and went back upstairs. Hopefully, Pop wouldn’t be mad anymore. You just never knew. But I didn’t worry too badly. I was a good boy, and I didn’t abide trespassers either.

© Chuck Wendig 2009

 
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