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Issue number five




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The cat who waved by Bob Thurber

You wake in blue darkness and there are two--two black cat-shapes curved against the glass, two sets of cat eyes shining. You count them to make sure. In poor light you're prone to seeing double, and you've had this dream before; this time you must be certain.

So you squint, and focus, and hold your breath. The thermal glass is two layers thick, and tinted. You've seen its illusions before. Plus you've had alcohol, more than enough. And for a moment it is almost enough that, despite the glare of cat eyes, despite the perfect cat shapes, these could almost be pigeons, mere pigeons, just pigeons, because you are after all nine stories up, with a full moon painting shadows across your panoramic view.

It takes you nearly a minute to know for certain that they are cats, two cats on a ledge nine stories up, and how can that be? Whose cats?

Hoping to clear your head, you look away. You close your eyes for a three count, and then focus on the woman curled beneath the covers. You read the numbers on her clock, glowing like hot coals: 4:42. If you wake her, what could she say? Cats are climbers, dear, but nine floors, really? So you squint in the darkness, wondering if perhaps, just perhaps, they could be owls.

Owls, you've read, prefer to hunt from high places. They wait and watch for hours, then swoop down, talons splayed. They snatch their dinner on the fly and carry it back. They swallow their prey whole. Alive or dead, they don't care. Hours later, they cough up the gooey sacks of feathers, bones, fur.

You slide out of bed, tiptoeing like a thief. You require a much closer look. Your eyes aren't what they used to be. You tap the glass, trying to get them to turn, these two dark shapes. Owls can turn their heads 180 degrees. They have to. Their eyes are so large they have no room left for eye muscles. Barely room for brains.

For a brief instant four almond-shaped gems reflect moonlight. Then one cat turns away. The other, the smaller cat, stretches and drags a lazy paw against its side of the window, as if waving hello. You bang the glass with your knuckles, whispering, "Shoo, shoo!"

When the larger cat, without looking back, leaps, moving so fast, so catlike, that you don't see it go, you feel the air rush out of you. One moment there are two cats, now, only one. Your breathing stalls, stops, then starts as the cat who waved turns its head, looking for the other, bending its neck to peer over the ledge. Then it stretches again, spreading out, front paws extended, arching its back. It looks at you and yawns a great cat yawn. You press a hand to the glass. Then both hands. Then your face. The cold glass stings your forehead. You make a sound, not very loud, but loud enough that the woman stirs, wakes, sits up. But she is too late to see the second cat drop from the ledge.

"What is it?" she asks. "What's wrong?"

You step away from the window, studying your handprints in the fogged spot your breath has made. You tell the woman, "Go back to sleep. It was just two owls," believing that's what you saw, what you must have seen.

As you move toward the bed, straining to see her tousled hair and droopy bedroom eyes, you add: "But they flew off. They're gone now."

"Owls?" She yawns. "You were dreaming, honey. Come back to bed. There's not an owl within fifty miles of here." And she yawns again, and she moves her pillow, and she lowers her head. And you give her a minute to settle into sleep.

When she props herself up to turn on the light you've already got your pants on, searching on one knee for your other sock.

"Now what's wrong?" she says. "It's five a.m. Where are you going?"

"Home," you say. " And you stretch, straining the muscles in your arm, wiggling your fingers at something just out of reach.

Bob Thurber lives with his wife and children in Southeastern Massachusetts where he works full time at writing and part time at not much else. He is currently working on a collection of short stories and a novel. His work has appeared in Zoetrope All Story Extra, ELIMAE, Z End Zine, The Melic Review, The Providence Journal, In Posse Review, and Linnaean Street, where he received the Linnaean Street Award for Excellence and Clarity in Writing. Upcoming publications include Winedark Sea, Blue Murder and a fiction anthology from Agony Press. He co-edits GargoyleDaily.Org with Andrew L. Wilson.

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