Arnold never slept well away from home. He laid in unfamiliar darkness as long as he could, listening to the even breaths of a sleeping companion he scarcely knew. Silently extracting himself from twisted sheets required pausing every few seconds, to keep her from waking. The last thing he wanted was to have to talk to her.
Cold linoleum stuck to his soles as he navigated the dark room with shuffle-steps, looking for his pants and underwear. Pay dirt and a remarkably quiet bedroom door latch granted him freedom to an equally dark hallway without causing her to stir.
As he stumbled through uncharted territory to the bathroom, he silently berated himself for being there at all. He knew better than to sleep with a girl on the first date, but it had been so long, so very long since he’d had a regular release. And she was so pretty and so willing. He hated himself for not having the restraint to get to know her better and explain some things to her before having a sleepover.
Wishing he was at home, Arnold closed the bathroom door before illuminating the room with brazen fluorescent light he wished he didn’t have to use. He certainly didn’t want to take a piss in her laundry hamper. His pupils adjusted just in time to realize it wasn’t a laundry hamper at all.
It was him.
Fortunately, instant terror and hatred were tempered enough by anger for him to keep from screaming. A sibilant whisper he didn’t even recognize as his own sliced the startled silence. “What the hell are you doing here?”
The tiny 2,000-year-old Pygmy Warrior stomped his foot and shook his miniature bone-encrusted battle spear, making an unbearable amount of noise in the silent apartment. “Aah-nald! I am wit you always! You cannot banish me!”
Tight black skin stretched across his ancient tiny skull split to reveal a horrifying smile. “She had de cats, Aahnald. You know we cannot have de cats.”
Ice ran through Arnold’s veins when he realized the use of “had” instead of “has” in the Pygmy’s maniacal statement. “Oh God. You’ve already done it, haven’t you? Ohgodohgodohgod — I liked her, I think she would have understood! Now you’ve ruined it! We have to leave … now.”
A deep, bubbling chuckle erupted from the tiny one. “No Aahnald. You go I never go. I yam eternal.”
His laughter pissed Arnold off enough to make a grab for the Pygmy’s neck. Arnold knew if he could just catch the little freak once, and squeeze the life out of him, his troubles would be over.
Leslie rolled over groggily, and realized she had the bed to herself again. She couldn’t remember if she’d let the cat out, and was a little miffed that Arnold had left without saying goodbye. They’d had a great first date, he seemed like the sweetest guy ever, and the bottle of wine she drank at dinner helped ease things into a more “personal” mode afterward. She blindly patted the night stand until she found her phone, and checked to see if he’d left her a message.
4:21 AM: You were sleeping so well, I didn’t want to wake you — I’ll call later. I had a great time.
She smiled, set her alarm for eight, and sacked out for three more hours of much-needed sleep before work.
Arnold made it to his car without waking her. That little jerk had done it again. The moment Arnold lunged, and actually felt his hands connect with something solid, he instinctively squeezed the life out of it. Once again, when he examined the limp remains of his brief fugue, they were not those of the intended pygmy warrior. The little menace had been following him around, showing up unannounced, and making his life miserable for almost 18 months. In that span of time, Arnold had inadvertently murdered a stray cat, his next-door neighbor’s cat, and now, Leslie’s cat. Her cat that she had 12 framed pictures of on the various flat surfaces of her tiny, immaculate, apartment. He had killed her cat. And he really liked her.
He had every intention of throwing the lifeless feline on the road somewhere close to Leslie’s apartment, and running over it, so the death was considered “accidental.” He found a good spot, pulled off, and reached over to grab the dead cat. Instead, he grabbed the point of a tiny spear.
“Ouch! Goddammit! What the hell are you doing here?”
“Aahnald. Less be reasonable, sahnnnn. Don’ leave de girl dead cat in de road, boy.”
“You just want to eat it! That’s why you’re making me kill all these cats, you horrifying little jerk! Why don’t you just go away? Why are you screwing with me?? I’m a nice guy!”
“I yam wit you always, Aahnald. Bring de cat home, boy.”
After considering how distressing it might be for Leslie to find her companion squashed in the road, Arnold reluctantly threw his car into gear, and took the cat corpse and pygmy warrior home with him.
Leslie awoke amazingly refreshed, considering the wine and late night she’d had. Make coffee, feed the cat, quick shower, dress, and work by nine — she ran through her auto-pilot list as she mindlessly scooped fragrant mounds of black gold into the paper filter.
“Kitty kitty, here Monkey, kittykittykitty!” She sang out the back door for the Maine Coon she’d had since her last year of college. He was elderly and huge, but still preferred to go outside and sit under the bushes in the evenings, napping and patrolling the premises. She usually ushered him back inside before going to bed, but even when she didn’t, he never failed to show up for breakfast. Monkey would spend the day sleeping on the couch, while Leslie worked. He was her boon companion, and had been her patient, purring, tear-soaked pillow for many heartbreaks.
She continued to go through the motions of her morning, setting out his food and moving on to the shower, confident he’d show up eventually.
Monkey didn’t show up because he was in Arnold’s freezer. And he was the only thing in Arnold’s freezer, because he was freaking huge. Arnold had removed ice trays and vodka, moved the meager frozen goods he had around, and still ended up cooking three frozen pizzas and a bag of petrified chicken wings before he could fit the giant feline corpse into his freezer.
He sat, morosely chewing cardboard pizza in front of a PBS documentary about hummingbirds, and allowed himself to calm down enough to consider the situation he was in. The most reasonable thing to do would be get rid of the cat corpse and never call Leslie again. He still couldn’t entirely account for why he had stuffed the damn thing in his freezer in the first place; it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Crap. He really couldn’t trust his own judgment anymore. He was seeing and talking to a 2,000-year-old pygmy warrior on the regs, and killing helpless animals because of it.
“Aahnald, you worry too much, saahhn.”
The little turd stepped in front of the television, obstructing his view of a Ruby Throated mating pattern.
“Screw you, guy. I’m not your son. Leave me alone.”
“Dat angeh Aahnald, it take you places. Places I like.” The pygmy shook his bone spear approvingly.
“Really? Well just to prove I’m not an angry guy, here’s a tray of … cat paws. Just for you.”
Arnold slid the dry, leathery wings down-table to a bemused entity. The tiny warrior cautiously sniffed the wings, poked at the cardboard tray with his little weapon.
“Dey smell like de bird, Aahnald.”
“Yeah, well cats and birds are closely related on the evolutionary scale. You’d know that if you weren’t 2,000 years old. Eat it. It’s good stuff.”
Again, the tiny black head split into a gaping maw, and the entire tray of wings, bones and all, were crunched up and devoured in a matter of seconds. When the smacking stopped, the Pygmy warrior stomped his foot and screamed, “Get me more of deese cat feet, Aahnald!”
“You like those, hunh?”
“I demand more of dees feet, Aahnald.”
“Oh, you bet, guy. I’ll get you more. You just wait right here, OK?”
“I’ll stay Aahnald, but you bring me de feet.”
“You’ll get the feet, man. You’ll get em.”
Arnold dashed off to buy wings and antifreeze so quickly he didn’t notice leaving the 2,000-year-old pygmy warrior with his phone, and even if he had, he never once thought the little turd could use it.
At 8:45, Leslie called her supervisor to tell her she’d be an hour late. Monkey still hadn’t returned from his nightly outing, and she wasn’t going to work until she found him. He hadn’t missed a morning meal in twelve years.
She knew something was wrong.
She called Arnold, on the off chance he had seen Monkey on his way out. She didn’t really expect him to answer, and was doubly surprised when what sounded like an old Jamaican man picked up the call.
“Aahnald is not here, he gather de feet. Call back.”
“Wait, what? Is this Arnold’s number?”
“Yesss cat gurl, he gone. Call back.”
“How do you know who I am? Who are you?”
“I am with Aahnald always. Your cat is in his freezer.”
“What the hell? Where are you?”
The call was terminated.
Arnold found everything he needed at his local WalMart.
Cooked wings from the deli, antifreeze from the auto department and a little honey barbecue sauce from grocery, to top everything off. He wondered how much antifreeze it would take to kill a three-foot-tall pygmy, and reckoned it wouldn’t be much, especially if he could get him to shovel in a plateful of poisoned wings as easily as he did the freezer-burnt offering earlier.
He took the wings, antifreeze and barbecue sauce to his car, where he hastily mixed equal parts of liquid in his “special sauce,” so the wings would have a chance to absorb the maximum amount of green death on the ride home. He zipped the baggie, and tore off toward sanctuary, on a mission to take his life back from the maniacal, cat-killing pygmy.
It took Leslie about 20 minutes to find Arnold’s home address. It helped that she had a friend in Public Works who didn’t mind giving information once in a while, especially if it was “clarification” on an address she already had. A quick Google search and phone call and she was out the door to find out if the nutbag who answered Arnold’s phone had him hostage, or if the guy she thought was so nice and spent the night with last night was really freaky enough to now have her cat in his freezer. Either way, she was going to find Monkey, no matter what.
Arnold screeched into his garage, threw the car in park and left it running. He grabbed a cardboard tray from the kitchen closet, poured the golden, gooey wings into it and marched into the living room, with his freedom and victory on a paper platter.
He sang out to an empty room, “I have your cat feet!” The echo of such a strange phrase both frightened and angered him. The pygmy warrior had disappeared. Arnold’s phone lay flashing on the coffee table. He scrolled and froze in terror when he saw an answered, forty five second call from Leslie 10 minutes earlier, when he was still en route from WalMart. “Ohmyfreakinglord. He answered my phone.”
“I tol her, Aahnald. I tell de cat gurl she cat in de freezer.”
“Great. I have your cat feet. Eat them. Now.”
Arnold was panicky, he didn’t care about anything other than killing this little beast.
“I will not Aahnald. You get de feet of de cat in de freezer, mix them in, I eat all de cat feet at once, Aahnald.”
Arnold didn’t even care anymore. He knew the law, or Leslie, or the psychiatric police were on the way, but all was not lost. He had a few minutes left, and if he could just get the pygmy to eat the poisoned wings…
Wrestling the wedged, frozen cat body out of his freezer was a lot harder than lopping off the paws with a meat cleaver. They crunched off like four furry Popsicles, and a desperate Arnold quickly mixed them in with the tainted wings. He paused briefly, to consider whether or not he should return the remainder of the corpse to the freezer, and decided against taking the time to do so. Monkey’s pawless body stared at him like a dead fish on the cutting board, so he draped a dish towel over him and hurried back to the living room.
“Eat them. For the love of God, please just eat them.”
“Aahnald, you worry too much saahnn.” The pygmy snatched the tray and devoured it. His hideous smacking was the last thing Arnold ever remembered hearing, before he passed out and began vomiting on himself.
Leslie knew instinctively to call the police when she got to Arnold’s house thirty minutes later and found his car in the garage, running. She knew better than to go in the wide-open side door, and follow the trail of weird green sauce into the kitchen. She knew better than to lift the towel on the cutting board, and she certainly knew better than to continue on past the carnage of her longtime companion into the living room, where Arnold lay face-up and dead on the floor, in a puddle of hairy, bubbly, vomit. Unfortunately, Leslie didn’t heed her instincts, and it was a neighbor who called the police when she heard screaming from the house of her “very nice young man” neighbor, Arnold Gathcome.
The very nice police officer who finally got Leslie calmed down asked her to sit in his patrol car “for her own safety” while his detectives cleared the scene. He had the reporting neighbor bring her a cup of coffee and a blanket to wrap up with. She felt remarkably calm when he returned to ask her some questions 45 minutes later.
“Ma’am, how long had you known this guy?”
“Not long. We had our first date last night, he stayed over … late. I called him this morning to see if he had seen my cat on his way out. My cat never misses breakfast.”
“And he told you to come over?”
“No, he didn’t answer the phone. Some weird Jamaican guy answered.”
“Yeah. He had an accent, like ‘guurl’ instead of ‘girl,’ and called Arnold ‘Aahnald,’ and he knew who I was.”
“As far as we can tell, Mr. Gathcome didn’t have any roommates. He’s lived here alone for almost two years.”
“Well, someone answered his phone and told me he had my cat in his freezer.”
“And you came alone to the house to investigate this claim?”
“My cat didn’t come home, and he could have seen him … I was upset. I never considered…”
“Ma’am, with all due respect, this guy choked to death on his own vomit, induced by ingesting a mixture of chicken wings, barbecue sauce, anti-freeze and your cat’s paws. You are clearly very lucky he expired before you got here. I’m going to need you to fill out some paperwork if you want to claim what’s left of your cat when the investigation is finished. I’m sorry for your loss, but you should be more careful in the future.”
Later that evening, after calling off work for the day due to the fact that her new boyfriend ate her cat and choked to death, Leslie lay in a Xanax-induced feather sleep, slipping easily between real world and dream world. She felt her cheeks get wet, but didn’t remember crying about the loss of her buddy and longtime companion, Monkey. She was traumatized deeply, but refused to break. She was angry such a weird and random thing happened to her. The more she thought about it, the angrier she got. Her happy little dreams took a dark turn, when she heard a familiar voice in the dark that not only scared her, but made her angrier.
“Dat angeh, cat gurrl, it take you places … places I like…”