I’ve never been good at counting or, specifically, keeping track of numbers in my head. I never really had a reason for the absent-mindedness; it’s not like I had pressing matters weighing my mind. My existence was about as easy as it gets, but the information wouldn’t stick. That being the case, I was never quite sure as to how much life I had stored up: 100 or 200 years?
I kept taking more just to be safe. After the realization that the life I took had memories attached to it, I couldn’t help but wonder if those memories were stored up inside of me. If I were to die, would I see hundreds of lives flash before my eyes? Or even worse, are they burning off as I use the borrowed life? Am I being fueled by dead memories? That thought troubled me more than, “How much time do I have stored up?”
That never really matted anyway. Know the number was more of a matter of personal satisfaction. A cat knows if his lifetime is running out. It’s just better to have reserves instead of feverishly dashing around at the last minute, looking for a kill.
Like I said before, none of that mattered if you found yourself on the wrong end of an automobile accident. Any accident for that matter. In most cases death was instant, and if you found yourself in such a case, that would be much preferable. The alternative was horrifying.
Let’s say it’s an accident that occurred that didn’t kill the cat, but left it without the ability to walk or let alone hunt. The cat would continue to live in pain until it healed (which could take years) or some merciful soul put the damn thing out of its misery. It was possible, however, that a large intake of life energy could hasten the healing process. I know this to be a fact, seeing as how I once found myself in that position.
I had been living in the United States for a little over 80 years by the time the 1970s rolled around. I had traveled from the New York harbor to the California coast. New York was fine, and at the turn of the century, there was no shortage of people near death. If there was a dry spell, I was forced to survive off rats. Not really a dream situation. However, in California I could feast on dolphin if I so chose (and if I didn’t have an aversion to water, but it was nice to know the option was available).
The problem with California was the people were so spread out. This made the food tougher to find and the cats of California much more territorial. Within the first two weeks living in the Golden State, I found myself in enough cat fights to find my ear was in tatters and I was missing part of my tail. To add insult to injury: While I was off licking my wounds (metaphorically, not literally), some son of a bitch started taking shots at me. That was the last straw. I hadn’t trekked across the country to have some jackass use me for target practice. No dolphin dinner was worth that. I made the decision to leave, but it was almost too late.
I was dragging my wounded ass through a relatively quiet residential area—making my way to the nearest rail yard—when a group of lice-infested children descended upon me. To be honest: I don’t know if they actually had lice, but the bastards did some really gruesome things to me, so I can take artistic license and inflict them with imaginary insects. It has been my experience that if you give a child something as simple as a rock or a branch, they will suddenly become fabled wild-game hunters. To a child’s untrained eye, every small animal becomes wild game. Such was the case with this bunch of misfits. With nothing more than what appeared to be sharpened broomsticks, they managed to break one of my legs and sever what was left of my tail. When they were satisfied their sport was over, they left me lying in an unoccupied driveway.
I knew it was over for me. There was no way I was going to be able to hunt. Not only that, but who wanted to live in a place like this? In two-weeks time, I had been beaten, shot, broken, and left for dead. I had closed my eyes and accepted my fate when I felt two rough hands slide underneath me and scoop me up. I opened one eye and saw that we were heading toward a house. I could only imagine what further indignities I was going to be subjected to. Somehow I knew that was just me projecting my fears: The hands, though rough, were very gentle. The man laid me down on the kitchen table and examined my wounds.“Well, you’re still alive. You are one tough mother,” he said.
He did his best to nurse me back to health. What really helped was when he would pass out drunk on the couch or in front of his typewriter, so I could syphon off a little life. Soon, I was on my own feet again.
That’s when one of his asshole friends ran me over with his car. Both back legs were broken, and his friends insisted that he do the civil thing and put me down.
“Henry, let the poor thing die. It’s ugly as shit anyway.”
“Then we make the perfect pair,” he replied.
He took me to a doctor who gave him a list of my incurred injuries and a bottle full of pills. Most of the time, he would make me try to move on my own, but when that proved to be too difficult he would dip his finger in water and wet my mouth when the trip was too painful. I had a problem with taking anymore life from him. He was doing his best to save my life and all the time he kept calling me “one tough mother.” I refrained from lifting anymore life from him. His asshole friends were another story.
Luckily for me, Henry had lots of friends who liked to come over, smoke cigarettes and get blinding drunk. When one of these model citizens passed out, I had no problem taking a year or two. I liked Henry: He was a sad, sensitive man who seemed to get a bad reputation. I would have stayed with him longer, but my tail was starting to grow back. Even if I could talk, that wasn’t something that could easily be explained.
One night I slipped out the back door and never came back. I thought about Henry a lot, though, and his life didn’t turn out too bad—not by my standards anyway. I guess your standards drop pretty low when you’re “one bad mother.”
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.”