Attack of the Wolf-Cat Hybrid, Part 3
Rigid with fear, Peter made his way down the front steps and onto the short walkway. Though he tried to lighten his footsteps, he found he didn’t have the strength to lift his feet as high as necessary. His bloodstained Reeboks scraped along the bluestone pavers hockey-pucking damp twigs and pebbles along the rough concrete surface.
Peter flicked his eyes to the front yard, where the wolfcat lay coiled asleep in the rustling shade of the stocky oak tree. He moved his eyes along the escape route.
A cool, easy breeze played through the wall of cypress that closed the yard from narrow Garlic Road. Somewhere at the base of mountain—so far away—a police siren wailed in the valley like some distant, foggy memory. Otherwise Dewy Mountain stood devoid of human activity. Oh crap. A rustle in the yard’s central tree: a bird exploding into an avian tantrum, promptly sending a pinecone bombing to the grass. It bounced near the sleeping beast.
Peter froze. He could hear the blood thrumming through the veins of his temples. He studied the sleeping splice-beast. It gave a twitch but didn’t wake. The thick damp grass had softened the pinecone’s impact. Peter gulped, then proceeded. It occurred to him that in his present state of unmitigated terror he might pop a brain vessel, though he had little idea of what a brain vessel actually was, or if they were poppable.
The clunker Malibu Classic inched in his direction. The old vehicle had a starring role in Peter’s unlikely escape plan. A mess of caked white bird poop gave relief to its coat of sun-faded black. Here and there dried leaves from last fall had fused with the grime like miniature islands of teenage neglect. And this just in: the drivers side window was completely open.
A bolt of despair rioted on Peter’s face. The car’s cabin would offer him no immediate shelter against attack. Any attempt to roll up the window would produce a characteristic blackboard screeching noise that would undoubtedly summon the wolfcat. Therefore the window must be left open during the pivotal—and noisy!—attempt at ignition.
Start start you’d better start, he thought, his gaze shimmying from the ancient car to the driveway and turnoff behind it. It would be a tight turn to avoid oak at the mouth of the the narrow drive.
Distracted, Peter allowed his sneaker to rake loudly against the damp bluestone.
The wolfcat stirred. It rose from its nap and unfurled into an arcing stretch which briefly doubled its height. Its lean, muscular body generated a sharp motory buzz as the muscle fibers realigned. Its tail drew into a hook between its hind legs.
Peter stopped, his teeth gleaming in a wash of sunlight. Tear ass for the car? The Malibu sat a good twenty feet away. Too far. Nevertheless, he tensed his leg muscles, made himself ready to spring into a sad, wounded hustle.
But the wolfcat’s eyes stayed shut. This was an unconscious sleep stretch, nothing more. After deflating from its task, it yawned, then calmly rotated 45 degrees and screwing back down into a warm, pulsating coil.
Peter exhaled, then resumed his lurch. Never in his 16 years on Earth had he felt so naked, exposed, killable. He knew now how lightly the hybrid science beast slept, and he cursed himself for forgetting to bring along a hefty steak knife from the kitchen. Peter was a forgetful boy. A physical encounter with the violent science animal seemed a matter of course.
The Malibu teased ever closer. Spots of rust on the metal bumper. A miscellaneous beard of fuzz and bug-garbage and caked dirt crusted the radiator, where colonies of ants lived rent-free in multi-tiered 3D luxury. The vehicle was old and dead, a great brick of steel leftover from the time of Peter’s hotrod, spunky grandmother. A bluebird—surely the same one who’d thrown a tantrum earlier, and possibly the same seen in the previous chapter—descended from the heavens and clonked onto the car’s roof.
Peter’s eyes bulged from their sockets. Cringing, he pivoted sideways to assess the wolfcat’s reaction.
Once more Señor Wolfcat stirred. His scooplike ears stiffened to acknowledge receipt of uncharacterized auditory stimulation. His long tail flopped twice into the wet grass. Whoop whoop. Abruptly the creature folded on its side and commenced scratching its neck with a turbo-motorized hind leg. But, quite miraculously, Wolfcat’s eyes remained closed, and soon he settled back to the grass.
Didn’t matter. Anxious about what the heartless bluebird might do next, Peter plunged headlong onto the actual driveway, now dragging his feet behind him as if actively trying to make as much noise as possible. This was it. The car rushed to meet him. He committed to a terminal momentum that would deliver him to the driver side door in a brutal thump, but would at least do so as quickly as possible. Damn that bluebird!
Impact. The Malibu rocked on squeaky decades-old shocks. The bluebird fluttered away. Peter thudded his hand into the door handle and yanked with all his might. The massive door screeched open and the world around him sped into a blur of motion as he threw himself into the driver’s seat. A familiar atmosphere of mothballs and moldy carseat enveloped him like an old relative.
The rebounding car door crashed shut before he could offer his elbow as a noise buffer. Damn. Out of the corner of his eye, through the disastrously open door-window, Peter sensed movement at the center of the lawn.
His chest thundering, his open wound trickling blood into the car’s velvety red upholstery, Peter clamped one clammy hand onto hand on the rubber-sheathed steering wheel. He jabbed his fingers into the chipped-chrome ignition switch a good two seconds before realizing that, yep, he’d forgotten the car keys inside the house. Lol. So yeah, never mind that whole bit about the dead battery. It didn’t matter. Peter was a very forgetful boy. And soon he would be a very dead boy.
He felt twin shoots of bacterial ass-breath, warm and strong, tickle the skin of his neck. With a gasp he turned and found himself face to face with the wolfcat. It was already there.
Eyes gleaming, ears cupped and hollow, crusted mouth clamped teasingly closed, revealing only the gleaming white canines. An antagonistic purr. The animal had employed every nuance of its dual-species hunter heritage to close the distance between sleep-spot and Malibu as silent as death. Its shiny gray nose inched inside the vehicle while its body settled into a sitting position.
The way it sat there and waited, you’d think it had come to deliver a tray of hamburgers and sodas and was merely waiting for credit card payment. Its large amber eyes shone unblinking and full of empty, cruel predatory assessment. Here’s what it seemed to be thinking:
The geneticist’s pup! My foe! Pre-wounded and contained and ready for mastication. He escaped before, but now he has cornered himself. Charles Darwin doesn’t have anything good to say about this one. Too weak. Too dumb. And now there are no holes in which to ferret. Puurrrfection!
Peter felt weightless. He didn’t scream. Didn’t widen his eyes. His death was too near. On some level it had already occurred. He merely turned his head and traded a calm, dispassionate gaze with the splice-beast, its breath stealing the moisture from his eyeballs.