Attack of the Wolf/Cat Hybrid, Part 4
Peter’s prevailing emotion–besides abject, piss-pants terror–was exasperation. He simply couldn’t believe that his fate had been determined by something so trivial–so STUPID!–as leaving the house sans car keys. Or maybe he could believe it. Maybe it made perfect sense. Peter always knew his wonky memory would one day bite him in the ass.
Today it would bite him in the ass. And the face. And everywhere else.
One-on-one with the abominable splice-beast, Peter knew it was only a question of how soon he wanted to die. If he threw himself sideways away from the window? Wolfcat leaps into the car. If he clenched a fist and decked Wolfcat in the nose? His fist becomes a meatball orderve. Peter stilled his body to buy himself a few more seconds.
Señor, for that is the name Peter had begun to associate with the beast, glared at the leaky food-humanoid. The fur of his snout was matted with dried blood and streaks of mud. Señor’s dispassionate, unmoving expression shared something in common with that of a king cobra snake risen-per-flute from the gypsy’s basket. The stillness. The failure of empathy. Yet somehow the gold-ringed eyes spoke of complex, active intelligence.
A minute passed. Then two. Three. A Mexican standoff. With Señor. And the seconds dragged like fortnights.
Peter couldn’t figure out why the wolfcat was holding back.
Let alone that Señor was a hunter programed by millions of years of evolution to maul or be mauled. The boy and the wolfcat had already fought each other. Why the hesitation now? Hmm. Could it be that the animal respected Peter’s prey game? Appreciated that he had once—against all odds—managed to escape a direct attack from a master hunter?
In a strange way, Peter felt grateful for the vote of confidence. He unfroze his right hand and it bounced noiselessly onto the carseat, his fingers brushing against a long inkless Bic ballpoint pen. What’s this? A old school classic: no cap, white body, blue cone, bit marks warping the open backend. And just like that, Peter had a weapon.
Señor gave a twitch of his whiskers. For the first time since his arrival, his glassy eyes showed movement, pivoted a good 10 microns. The long nose crumpled into a defensive wolf-snarl. A terrible, terrible growl, low and maddeningly, murderously steady, rose from Señor’s deepest depths. The sound transmitted through the metal of the car door, buzzed into Peter’s kneecap.
He knows I have a Bic-lance. He can smell it in my pheromone exhaust. Peter tightened his lower lip. So why do I still have a face?
Well out of the wolfcat’s view, Peter fixed the pen’s orientation, made a poker of it. His only hope, he believed, was to robo-pivot and execute a direct eye-popping brain jab. Severely retard the creature’s ability to retaliate. No mistakes. Hit the skull and it’s all over.
The wolflike growl rose in intensity while at the same time lowering in pitch. Señor’s shiny nostrils flared as his breathing quickened. He seemed to understand that, despite perfect implementation of its finest dual-species hunter strategies, its mortally wounded prey had somehow gained the upper hand and now controlled the engagement. Behind the growl–a series of high-pitched, desperate whining.
His eyes crinkling with grim, nauseous reluctance, Peter quietly maintained the delicate equilibrium. Even with his life hanging in the balance, he empathized with Señor. Things were about to get nasty for the wolfcat. To have a real chance, Peter would have to out-savage the savage beast. Go medieval. The wolfcat had no idea what was coming.
A shudder ran through Pete’s arm, his hand, the hollow Bic pen. He imagined the physical sensation as the pen-tip burst the eyeball. The pen’s rude plunge through unreceptive textures. The horrid whelp of brain pain! Peter crinkled the bridge of his nose, hoping to wring some courage from the skin of his pale, sunken face.
And still Señor deferred to Peter to make the first move. Very odd. The pupils had dilated, but not so much as to undermine the animal’s curious sweetness–another of its many weapons. A glint in the beast’s trim irises communicated vulnerability, fear. Yet a steady trembling visible beneath the black fur suggested Señor would launch into a raving blur at the slightest change in status quo. The tension had reached an apex.
Yet when he looked back into Señor’s wide glassy eyes, Peter found he didn’t have the courage to draw first blood. Though it would likely mean his own demise, on some level he wished the wolfcat to force the issue, make the first move.
And the animal seemed to understand this. Señor was frozen much like Peter, even the tail unmoving. And with every minute Señor failed to strike, Peter’s “kill or be killed” resolve weakened.
Desperate for stab-courage, Peter closed his eyes and forced himself to relive the bloody scene at the lab. Señor throwing back his head in a spray of blood—much as a supermodel throws her hair in a spray of surf—Peter’s father’s intestines a’twirl in the wolfcat’s clamped snout. Pale, death-dopey Father waggling like a catfish on the tiles.
The gruesome memory which was meant to motivate Peter to action instead paralyzed him with an even purer indecision. Peter’s stomach plunged as images of an even earlier vintage flooded his thoughts. Just really nasty stuff. Things you probably won’t want to read. But must!
Fourteen years old. His father tip-toeing into his bedroom at 2 a.m. sporting a warm pair of yellow-white, suspiciously taut Hanes briefs, a creeper grin on his long ferrety face. Father insisting on sponge-washing Peter in the shower before his 7th grade band recital. Father lifting his leg and intentionally farting at the dinner table, scandalizing pretty Ruth Jenkins and, thusly, torpedoing Peter’s one attempt to normalize a life already caught in a sort of dad-smacks-your-ass death spiral.
Hot tears pooled in Peter’s eyes. His father–genius or no–had deserved to die. Deserved to die by fanged evisceration, even! So good. When the man exploded like steamy soup over the laboratory tiles, had Peter not experienced a rush of relief? Even in that moment of grand terror? He had.
You idiot! Peter told himself. Señor is merely waiting for you to drop into unconsciousness via blood loss. This is the strategy of a duel-species mega-hunter. Soon comes the fiesta!
Distraught, hopelessly confused about his options, dizzy from the pain in his bruised ribs, Peter loosened his grip on the Bic pen. It dropped, sank once more into the soggy carseat groove. He couldn’t bring himself to destroy that clever, endearingly unemotional face.
Señor’s emerald eyes again shifted. Like fish eyes when you tap against the fishbowl. The snarl eased from his whiskery snout. Surely this was a ruse. Clever wolfcat. The steady growling continued.
“I won’t brain you,” said Peter aloud. Stupid! Shocked at his own boldness, he shrank back into himself expecting a swift claw-swipe to the face for rudely shattering the delicate morning silence. He carbon-froze his body.
Señor’s pupils seemed to shift once more, now aligning perfectly with Peter’s own. Incredibly, all tension in the wolf/cat face softened away. Señor cracked his muzzle just enough to let his wolf tongue flap over the side. Strangely, the growling persisted. Or did it? No. It didn’t. Sometime over the last few minutes the wolf-growl had nonchalantly morphed into a similarly vigorous feline purr.
And just like that, Peter and the human-killing wolfcat were friends.