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The Nine Lives of Xen Chapter 7: Cats always land on their feet—and other lies

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I messed up. I got greedy and I messed up. Bad.

I was riding high on the prospect of prolonging M.’s life for as long as I lived. I was so focused on staring off into my happily-ever-after sunset that I failed to see the logistical problems surrounding my plan. One -by-one they started rising to the surface, like so many bubbles in a bottle of champagne. Once the cork was popped, a river of doubt and newfound concerns sprayed out.  My dream of a happy ending was drowning, and my misplaced metaphor of celebratory champagne was sobering.

How would her long life be explained? At some point she would have to be moved somewhere else. How was I supposed to pull that off?

I would have to double the amount of life I was taking in, after all, I was reaping for two now. How long could I get away with killing so much before suspicions were raised?

Most importantly, what if she didn’t even want to live forever? I had only considered my own feelings, and communication so far had been impossible.

The thing is cats do understand most languages but lost the ability to communicate outside of our own species. This happened right around the time we lost our god status, but that’s a story for another time.

Sometimes I get so frustrated that I forgetthat I won’t be understood, and let out an embarrassing “Rawph?”  I’ve heard that some cats try and show feelings of pleasure by “purring.” This has to be a myth. I have never been so happy in my life that I felt the need to vibrate my vocal chords. Oddly enough, the closest language any of us have been able to approximate is Japanese.  Don’t believe me? Look it up.

So, until I could find a way to communicate with M., I would have to focus on the problems I had some hope of solving. Then I thought, Why kill more when I could just hit up the geezers that had a bit more time left on them?

That brings us to Mitchell Stone.

Mitchell wasn’t necessarily old, but the cigarettes had made him prematurely frail. I tended to keep my distance from Mitchell; he always had a stench of tobacco surrounding him, bringing to mind images of cartoon clouds of smoke. Despite the staff’s best efforts, Mitchell always found a way to break into the locked door that led to the basement so he might sneak a quick cigarette. His racking cough was constant, but he never seemed to get any sicker. I decided to see how much time he was dealing with, so I waited for him to settle down, held my breath and jumped into his lap.

A year and a half. This walking ashtray still had well over a year of life left in him. Usually that would make him off limits, but I started to justify. If he’s only going to spend that time sucking on those nicotine party favors then it would be just as well that I should take him now. That was the only thought I had time for, seeing as how I was being forcibly removed from a rapidly decreasing lap.

As he stood up, Mitchell yelled, “Get away from me you filthy beast!”

Apparently someone doesn’t like cats.

“Calm down, Mr. Stone,” an attendant offered.

“Filthy animals—smell like death.”

Coming from the human smoke stack that was highly offensive. He just sealed the deal.  Mitchell Stone was going to die that night.

*    *    *    *    *

I slipped into his room around 1 a.m. The snoring emitting from his mouth was deafening. This was going to be even easier than I thought. I jumped up and stalked over, practically licking my lips at the prospect of 18 months of life. There was no need to pry his mouth open as another monstrous roar parted lips. I leaned over and started to will the life out of him. Just as I could see the shimmer in the back of his throat, his eyes popped open. We were eye to eye for at least 10 seconds before he yelled out.

“CAT! This damn cat is trying to kill me!”

I hauled ass out of the room and down the hallway before anyone could see me. Hopefully, they would assume he had had a bad dream. I couldn’t afford to be kicked out, not now. I was cursing myself for thinking I could take so much at once. When life wants to be lived, it doesn’t give up so easily.

The next day in the rec room I could hear him causing a commotion over where he was sitting. “I’m telling you, that cat is evil! It was looking into my soul, I tell you! Like it was hungry. Like it wanted to eat my dreams.”

“It’s just a cat Mitch,” offered a geriatric comrade.

“No, it wanted to eat my dreams, and then kill me. I know it.”

This was a problem. Even if no one believed him I might get kicked out for upsetting the residents. Then I saw my chance.  Ever-predictable Mitchell was making his way to the basement door.

I slipped quietly around the corner from the door so that when he looked around for the all-clear, he wouldn’t see me. He popped the door, and as it was closing I slipped in behind him. He didn’t risk turning on the light, which worked better for me, but instead of lighting up right away, he started down the stairs. This I hadn’t expected and had to think quickly.

“Rawph?” I asked.

“Oh Jesus wept, it’s here to kill me.”

It’s always a little sad when the paranoid are right.

As he turned to rush up the stairs, I darted in between his legs to guarantee a loss of footing. His arms flailed as his tumbled backward. The stairs were stone and made very little sound as his body connected with him.  In fact, the only sound louder than a muffle was when his neck let out a quick snapping sound when his head connected with the basement floor.

The dry twig sound was bad enough, but the groans that followed were worse. He was still alive. I dashed down and stared down his throat willing his life-force out of him. It was bad I murdered the poor bastard; I wasn’t going to let him suffer. The essence slipped out easily this time, and I thought for a second before letting it roll back into me so that it could be absorbed.

None of this could go to M. On the chance that his memories would still be intact, I wouldn’t want her to see me doing what I had done through his eyes. So I had 18 more months all to myself while M. was still upstairs in her chair, fist-clinched tight.

Anthony David Lawson is the author of “Novel,” as well as a local playwright, director and actor. He will write a piece of prose presented in parts every other week in encore throughout 2015, entitled “The Nine Lives of Xen.”

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