Attack of the Wolf/Cat Hybrid, Part 6 [read part 1!]
The backyard sky was bald and blue. Señor Wolfcat stretched himself into a cursive letter C and gave his crotch a furious snouting. At first he didn’t seem to notice the dirty white shoelace suspended in the air above his right ear, bouncing and swinging. Then the lace’s plastic cap touched one of his eyebrow whiskers. He lifted his head. The gold-rimmed pupils dilated to black orbs. The black lips brightened in a show of fangs.
Hopeful, Peter continued to work the string, make it bounce and pop. Sure to keep it always just above where Señor could grab it, he began to back himself towards the woods. “That’s it boy!” he said. “We have to get under cover! It’s not safe!”
Swoosh swoosh! Wolfcat took a series of motion-blurred paw swipes at the dancing string. But when Peter moved just outside the wolfcat’s sphere-of-nap, the animal lost interest and reverted back to the business of cleaning himself ragged.
Peter slumped his shoulders, drew a deep breath. This wasn’t going to work. “Señor!” he said, “We need to get on the same page here or you’re dead! They’re coming!” He turned his head and focused his eyes on the line of pine trees, half expecting to see George Sprint himself perched in the branches, gun at the ready, murder in his close-set eyes.
The sun had crossed its zenith and started its descent into late afternoon. Long purple shadows stretched across the backyard like sinister fingers reaching for Señor, who had settled down near his old friend from the first chapter of our story: the headless garden gnome. The buzz of distant helicopters played against the sound of swishing branches, flapping chirping bluebirds. Sometimes the helicopters—undoubtedly lousy with dangling combat boots, swiveling binoculars, and high-powered rifles—seemed to wane into the distance. Other times, the propellor sounds seemed just over the hedges.
Peter’s heart skipped a beat as he heard one of the helicopters change course and make a pass no more than a few miles off. Loudest yet. No doubt about it. Sprint was executing a methodical, sector-by-sector search, and the choppers had already cleared much of Dewey Mountain—nowhere left to look except here. Each minute brought Sprint and his hunters closer to the Crisper residence. Judging by the search pattern heretofore, Peter gave himself maybe ten minutes tops. Then this bittersweet boy-meets-wolfcat story would come to an abrupt, bloody end.
Peter turned back to Wolfcat. Groaned. At his feet—and elsewhere in the yard—lay sad evidence of his failure to win influence over Wolfcat’s behavior.
A metal laser pointer keychain. A major disappointment. Yes, the cat-side of Wolfcat had gone absolutely berserk over the gleaming red dot zipping in the grass. The eyes dilating, the head pivoting left-right-left like a jammed oscillating sprinkler. But when Peter tried to subtly migrate the laser to the woods, Wolfcat decided there just wasn’t enough actual meat involved in the whole enterprise to warrant pursuit. Wolfcat’s wolf-side had intervened, decided to pull the plug.
Peter’s eyes moved to the half-empty box of beef-jerky dog treats, the cardboard soggy from the grass. Yes, the little pellets of dried meat had riled sedentary Wolfcat to attention. Ears pricked, breath held, eyes mega focused. But when Peter tried to walk backwards using the treat as a lure, Wolfcat merely watched him for a few moments, confused, then lost interest completely. Wolfcat’s cat-side had intervened, decided relaxation > food.
A lonely soccer ball in the woods attested to Peter’s most pathetic attempt of all. See this ball? Go get it! But both the wolf-side and the cat-side seemed in perfect accord on this one—What am I, your little bitch?
The nearest helicopter made another, closer pass. Within a mile now.
A thrill of urgency spiked Peter’s bloodflow, warmed the pain in his ribs. He stomped the grass. Think you fool. Think!
Back at Amalgamaker Labs he’d seen what the wolf-half of Wolfcat could do obedience-wise. Sit. Heel. Roll over. All the classics. But that was for George Sprint, who had the cruel, godlike ability to withhold meat and pillows. There was a begrudging, hateful respect there.
Frustrated, Peter squatted on his haunches to get right up in Wolfcat’s face. “You listened for that tub o’ lard,” he complained. “And he was a jerk to you!”
At last, Señor snapped from his torpor, rose to full height, his large paws squelching into the muddy grass.
Peter’s eyes brightened. His chest swelled.
But Señor was only looking to make himself still more comfortable. Following a slant-eyed, ear-folding yawn, he rotated his body counterclockwise a good 180 degrees, then settled back down into the mud.
The helicopter noises reached a new height. Peter lfited his eyes to the swaying pines. Between gapes in the foliage, a single black dot hung motionless in the blue sky. Rotor noise rose steadily. The chopper was coming straight for the Crisper residence. Minutes.
In despair, Peter lowered his eyes to the grass. Time was running out. He’d already tried all his best ideas. He could feel the helicopter’s motor through the ground, feel it in his wet sneakers, in his bones, in his bruised ribs. Very soon the chopper would emerge from behind the trees. And what do we have here! The hunters would have to be blind and mental not to spot their quarry. Bullets would rain. Mud would patter in vertical columns. Wolfcat, lazing in the open yard, wouldn’t have a chance.
Only one thing left to try, Peter thought. Just to say he tried it.
Peter squatted, fished his arms under Wolfcat’s warm, suddenly purring midsection. He clasped his hands together under the animal’s navel. Gritting his teeth like an olympic deadlifter with eyes on the gold, he attempted to physically shift the animal towards the woods. Yeah right. As expected, his rib injury denied him the ability to exert himself physically. Any attempt to tense those muscles wracked him with unspeakable pain. Wolfcat might as well have weighed two tons.
In heartfelt surrender, Peter transitioned his weightlifter clutch to a sorrowful embrace. He let his chest settle onto Wolfcat’s back. His eyes moistened.
“Why wouldn’t you obey?” he whispered into the thick coat of black fur. It smelled strawlike and pooplike and good. And though Wolfcat increased his purr amplitude by a good 60%, he didn’t even think about budging.
Then this happened.
A chirp. A flapping of wings. A whoosh of wind. Unnerved by the thundering helicopter noises, our old friend, Irksome Bluebird, dove from its tree and landed smack in the middle of the yard.
Boom. Peter felt like he was hit by a car. Wolfcat had launched upright, thrown Peter flailing backwards to the ground in a ploop of muddy grass. Then the animal melted into lupine hunter configuration, commenced its deathly quiet approach toward the center of the yard—more open to the sky than ever. Amazing. The situation had managed to get worse.
Gasping for air, the pain in his side throbbing like a fresh axe wound, Peter tried to climb back to his feet. Nope. He fell back into the damp grass. “No!” he managed, his eyes flicking from Wolfcat’s prowling length to the treeline beyond. “That’s the wrong direction, stupid! Never mind that friggin’ bluebi—“
Wolfcat pounced. And like so many times before, the daredevil bird exploded skyward at the last possible second. But hold on, this time was different. Wolfcat must have clipped the bird’s wing, because its ambitious flight plan quickly leveled out. It was flying horizontal to the yard—directly towards Peter!
Reflexively, he shot his hand upward. He only wanted to protect his aching ribs from possible avian strike. But his splayed fingers lined up just right, he felt an impact like when you catch a baseball without a glove, and the next thing he knew he’d captured the bluebird by the neck. It fluttered desperately in his hand, its wings tickling his face and neck. But he had it nice and tight and it wasn’t going anywhere. And when the initial wing-flutter had settled, he looked down and saw Wolfcat was already sitting at his feet, panting with reverent hunger, the dark eyes electric with expectation.
Give me that delllllightful aerodynamic meat, the eyes seemed to say. Give it here and I will respect your authority henceforth. Oh I promise. I will obey. I will follow you to the ends of the Earth! But the organism. I want it.
The trees at the yard’s south end rustled violently with helicopter turbulence. The sound of the engine thundered in Peter’s ears like lawnmower noise.
He dangled the bird about Wolfcat’s head, squeezed its neck to make it flap some more. Subtly, he began moving sideways to the woods. This time Wolfcat followed. Peter’s first idea was simply to keep going, to lure Señor to the covering of woods, much like he’d wanted to do with the jerky dog treats. Better bait, better results! But then he wondered: what if Wolfcat loses interest like before? There’d be no time for a second attempt.
A better, bolder idea popped into Peter’s head. He needed to use this fleeting moment of maximum cathartic hunger-stimulation to break Wolfcat’s will once and for all. Irksome Bluebird and Wolfcat had some history, after all. It had gotten personal. Peter stopped, turned back to Wolfcat, presented the flapping bluebird as if this were the Home Shopping Network. “So you want this little bird, huh?” he said, teasingly.
Wolfcat’s tail wagged violently. He shuffled his front paws. He made pained whelping noises. Licked his jowls.
Peter’s smile flattened. “Well too bad!” he said, and he clamped other hand to the bluebird’s neck and, cringing in advance, he snapped the bluebird’s neck. It felt very much like snapping a twig wrapped in two socks.The worse part? The broken bird flapped its wings a few additional times before realizing it was dead. Despite what he’d done, Peter played it cool, shrugged his shoulders and even took his time stuffing the entire bird into his pants pocket. “I think I’ll keep it for myself,” he said. “For a snack.”
Wolfcat shimmied with heartbreak, issued a series of squeaky high-pitched sighs that were cleanly audible even above the roar of the helicopter. Incensed though the animal was, Señor’s eyes clung to Peter’s, now afraid of his power. Reverent. Yes. Peter had influence over him now. He now wielded the power of food/no food.
Look to the rustling trees, the blue gaps between. The helicopter had ballooned to the size of a minivan.
His heart blasting in his ribs, Peter shed his sinister persona, returned to frantic reality. He shot his arm, pointed to a particularly dense section of the woods. “Run, damn you,” he screamed. “Run!”
Whoa. Wolfcat bolted into the woods in a mad blur of black and grey and mud. He ran so fast his own head could barely keep up with the rest of his body. And then the helicopter cleared the treetops and blasted by overhead, high-caliber automatic rifles protruding from both openings. Peter’s messy brown hair breakdanced in the vortex as he raised his eyes and forced a big white smile at the blonde-mustached pilot. Nothing to see down here, pal. And then the helicopter was gone over the house.
Success? Terrified that someone in the chopper had caught a glimpse of Wolfcat before the animal disappeared beneath tree cover, Peter shut his eyes and held his breath. Counted to ten. He stood there in the grass and listened as the southbound helicopter flew further and further away. Then it was too far to come back any time soon. The threat had passed—the hunters hadn’t seen him.
Relieved beyond measure, Peter turned to the section of woods to which he’d dispatched Wolfcat. And there the hybrid was, his yellow eyes aglow in the patterned shadows. Señor sat there with damn good posture, waiting for the food/no food dictator to issue his next command. Peter’s lips quirked with affection, then he started toward his friend. Grimacing. The activity of these last few minutes had really tweaked his injury.
Wolfcat grew larger in his view, but slowly, like approaching a distant island in a sailboat. “I’m coming, Señor. Gimme a sec.”
As he limped onward, he watched Wolfcat grow from a puppykitten to a mid-sized, tongue-dangling wolfcat. The coat of uniform black turned to pettable fur. Almost there. A few more yards.
But something seemed off. The world, riotous with noise just minutes before, had settled into a worried silence. Even the faraway chopper-roar seemed to disappear. In the trees the bluebirds quit their nervous flutter.
“Wolfcat…” Peter started.
Then a shot rang out, echoed to infinite feedback through the mountain air, and with a hideously brief whelp, Wolfcat was down.