Bud Smith lives in NYC, and works heavy construction in New Jersey, building and maintaining power plants and refineries. His books are the novels...read more Tollbooth and F-250, the short story collection Or Something Like That and the poetry collection Everything Neon.
I DIDN'T GET ALONG WITH HER CAT, Onion Ring. I didn't start it. The first time I came into contact with him, he hissed at me. He attacked my feet. We made light of the whole thing. I said to her, "Your cat is pure evil."
"He's just getting used to you."
Sure, I could understand that. She was just getting used to me too. We had been seeing each other for a little while and it wasn't too long before we decided that we wanted to live together. Just the three of us in a small apartment.
Onion Ring was a white cat with eyes that could easily become red. She had rescued it from a shelter when she was in college. You and I both know how sinister a white cat can be. They have lousy attitudes. They often just sit there in a miserable ball, it's eyes in tight slits of hate staring at the rug with it's paws tucked under itself like it's sitting on a demonic egg.
For the first few weeks of us living together, the cat stayed clear of me. After an adjustment period it decided that every time I got out of my chair at the kitchen table to get a new cup of coffee or whatever that it was going to make itself comfortable in my spot. I would turn back and there he would be.
"Get out of my chair, cat." I would say.
"He's just keeping it warm for you." She would say.
Sure, funny at first. Look at the cute old cat licking it's ass on my chair. After a steady never ending routine of this, it quickly became annoying. There was never a break from it. The cat would be vigilantly waiting unseen in the shadows for the slightest chance for it's opportunity to steal my chair. Now, don't think that I came into the house and stole his favorite spot. I said to her, "Did he always like to sit in that chair?"
"Only since you got here."
Of course, it goes without saying, Onion ring never took her seat when she got up for a moment. He only took mine. Also, initially, I would always find the spot open. He would wait for you to sit there. I suspected that he took great pleasure in this. He also took great pleasure in ripping my hands and arms to shreds when I tried to pick him off of the seat.
"You should feed him." She said. "That would make him like you more."
"I'm not feeding that cat." First of all, why would I give sustenance to a creature that hated my guts down to its very core. Also, the wet cat food, that she insisted on giving him (because it was chock full of essential nutrients) really made me gag. I would practically dry heave when I had to smell her opening up a can for him. Just the thought of having to do it myself made my stomach sour and my mouth sweat.
So I never fed him.
Something of a wedge was placed between me and her because of this cat. My lack of an attempt to compromise with the animal and meet it on friendlier terms was driving me and her apart. "What can I say, your cat is an asshole."
"So are you."
There was no arguing that line of defense.
A series of random attacks were always in line for me. Nothing major. I mean, it was just a five pound cat but nonetheless, I would be walking around the house in my socks and the cat would latch onto my feet and bite the living hell out of me through my socks. I'd actually leave a blood trail on the living room rug. Once, I was crouched down in the hallway getting some new sheets out of the closet and here comes her maniac cat, he jumps up on my back, digs his claws in and bites the hell out of the nape of my neck. Before I can even react, it bounces away, practically running up the side of wall, disappearing behind the couch.
What are you gonna do? I didn't like her fucking cat. Cry me a river. It wasn't a deal breaker. I wasn't going anywhere. Me and her had a good thing going while the cat was asleep, which was most of the time.
This went on for a year like this. It was a slow year. Then, one day I came home and she was crying. Her cat had died. He died in a ball with his paws tucked under him staring down at the rug. His little tongue was hanging out, which he never did.
We buried him in the park because we didn't have a yard of our own at the time. She was upset for a few days. I was happy to be able to get out of my chair and go and get a cup of coffee and return to an empty chair.
"What would you think about getting another cat?" She asked some time later.
"I don't think I would like to have a cat."
"Really?" She looked hurt. "Why?"
"I think of myself as more of a dog person."
I tried to change the subject. She got right back on it.
"I think I'd like to get another cat."
"Please don't." I said.
"It's too quiet around here."
"I'll get a better stereo." How much noise did a cat make anyway?
She laughed at that, but I could see that she was hurt. She had loved that cat and she wanted another pet. I understood that, sure.
"Let's compromise." I said, "Why don't we get a small dog?"
She just nodded and then the phone rang. It was an important call. Somebody wanted us to book a free vacation to Florida, with no strings attached except they wanted our souls.
The next day she came in the door with a little thing rolled up in a blanket.
"I got us a puppy!"
"Whoa!" She sat down on my knee and opened the blanket just a little bit. I peeked inside.
"What kind of dog is this?"
"I'm not sure. I was coming out of Food Universe and there was a lady giving them away. I asked her, she said that it was just a mutt."
"It's weird looking, but I like it."
"You want to keep it?"
I couldn't tell her no. Plus I don't want to be the kind of person that says no. I would let her do whatever she wanted. "Yeah, we can keep it."
"What do you want to name him?" She said.
I shrugged. I tried to think.
"When I was a little girl we had a dog named Scout. Let's call this one Scout."
Scout was a good enough puppy. He caused a little bit of trouble, not much trouble. It didn't take very much effort to house train him. He was good to have around the house and had a good demeanor. Sure, he liked to play a little too much. I never seemed to get a moment to myself but I was enjoying having a new animal in the house and like I said, she was happy, so I was happy too.
The problem began about two months after Scout was around.
I was sitting there looking at him as he was laying on the rug. He was getting big fast. His paws were getting fat and heavy. His tail was getting thick like a vine. Sure. You can get a small dog... It occurred to me for the first time that this mutt wasn't going to be a small dog at all.
Then, really looking hard, the way the light was hitting him from the window I could have sworn...no, it couldn't be.
I called my girl into the room, "Hey, look at the dog, tell me if this looks funny?"
"Doesn't it look like he's got a mane?"
"Yeah, like he's starting to grow a fucking mane?"
"I don't see it." She said.
I pointed at the tuft of dark hair coming out.
She just shrugged. I felt sick. "I think we have a problem."
"This isn't a dog. It's a fucking lion."
"A lion!" She said, throwing me a look like a kick in the ribs.
"Yeah, a lion."
"You are really losing your mind." She said, walking out of the room. Ignoring me.
I looked down at Scout laying there on the rug. He lifted his head and opened his mouth and made his first light roar.
From the other room, she called Scout, "Come here boy!"
Scout got up and sauntered his way passed me as if I didn't even exist anymore.
As these things go, they escalated quickly. As the lion grew exponentially his dealing with me became more and more cold. I thought I had it bad when her house cat had taken my chair in the kitchen and nibbled into my sock, now I had a god damn jungle monster to deal with.
It was not concerned with my kitchen chair. Before very long, in the space of six months it had suddenly taken taking to settling right onto my leather couch on opening day of the football season. I walked into the living room with a cold beer, looking forward to a comfortable Sunday spread out on the couch, flipping back and forth between broadcasts.
That was apparently not an option.
"Scout, come on, get off the couch."
A horrible rumble came from his throat as he lifted his head up and fully exposed his teeth (which were now about as big as my whole head). When his jaw dropped open and he let out a roar that made the mirror fall off the wall behind me, I knew that the couch was no longer mine and that I would just have to please myself with simpler means.
I went into the kitchen and sat in my wooden chair and listened to the game on the transistor radio.
My complaints to her were met with baffled looks.
"You told me to get a dog. I got a dog."
"A dog? You're looney toons. Does a dog weigh 250 pounds?"
"It's probably got some Great Dane in it's family tree."
"And some lion."
"Here we go again. Are we going to get into this delusional nonsense again?"
"Maybe I should go and get us another pet." I said.
"Sure, if that's what you want."
"I think I'll get an aquarium."
"That would be nice."
"By aquarium, I mean a whole team of crocodiles to drag that fucking monster off of my couch!"
"You are so hard to live with. You can't get along with anybody! First you couldn't get along with my cat and then predictably you can't find a place in your heart for my dog and then, I wonder, can you ever get along with me?"
She called Scout off of the couch and he came prancing through the hallway, knocking me into the wall as he passed. God damn it. She shut the door to our bedroom and I knew right away that Scout was snoozing in my bed.
My bed had just become his permanent bed. I was allowed on the couch again. Sure. When he was sleeping in my bed and not on the couch. You try to get a lion out of your bed, let me know how you make out.
Now, this will make you laugh. Where I never got the impression that Scout would out right eat me. Bite my hand off or take a hunk out of my back. I started to worry because he had begun to take swipes at my ankles with his heavy paws, his claws exposed. I mean, he wasn't really trying to get me. If he was trying, I would have never stood a chance.
All it took was a couple of these swipes at my ankles and I knew that for my own good, I had better protect myself a little better.
She got a kick out of it, "Knee high cowboy boots with spurs! YOU ARE TOO MUCH!" I stood there in the kitchen buttering some toast and every time I walked across the tile, the boots would make heavy clicks. "Hey Sheriff, where is your silver star?"
"I gotta wear them! You're buddy has decided that my ankles are his new play toy. I'd rather look silly then be a cripple."
"I really wish you would make an effort to get along with him." She was sincere. Hr big eyes were welled up. She looked like she was gonna cry. "Will you try? I don't even think you've tried at all?"
She was half right. I hadn't really tried. I was beginning to feel like we were at a point here where it was either going to be me leaving the house or the lion. The lion was getting bigger every day. Soon he would weigh over three hundred pounds. It was a lot easier for me to think about leaving than it was to think about removing a three hundred pound lion with a crappy attitude.
So, I tried to make friends. My girl is very important to me. She may be bat shit insane and she may think that a quarter ton jungle cat is just a big canine who likes to sleep 20 hours a day in my bed, but I loved her.
That day, determined to at least try to attempt to solve this impasse I went out in my pickup across town and got on the highway. I Headed out of the boxy suburbs and into the green west of the farmlands.
When I returned home, it was late in the evening. I came into the house and there was Scout staring at me as I walked in the door. The house was dark and his eyes were lit up sinister like two glowing green orbs of certain death. A low rumble came from his throat.
"Hey, boy, wanna go for a walk?"
I never took Scout for walks like she did. Scout edged closer to me. His growl increasing in volume. I grabbed his heavy chain leash off of the hook. "Come on, let's go for a nice walk!"
I put the chain around his massive head and expected to have my whole arm cleanly removed. Instead, the growling ceased and a gentle humming of approval came from the animal. Holy smokes!
I led him down the front steps and into the yard around the condominium. The moon was very full and there was a lot of light thrown across the grounds. A car pulled into the lot across the street. A lady I didn't recognize was giving me a worried look as she went into her condo. She didn't have much to worry about. I had this friendly death machine on a tight leash.
"I got a treat for you." I said, petting his head.
He hummed a little more. His big body vibrating.
I took Scout walking past the parking lot and into the little park that all the joint tenants shared. It wasn't much of a park. A small set of swing sets and a slide. A few benches. Sometimes some teenagers were there partying. I didn't see them there tonight. Good. This needed to be a quiet, private thing.
I led Scout through the park towards the dark edge of the tree-line.
It was back there that I had buried Onion Ring after he had died.
I was taking Scout to almost the same spot.
Even though the moon was high, you couldn't see hardly anything in the trees. You could hear a slight shuffle and sense a little bit of movement. As my eyes adjusted again, I saw the first white flash of the creature.
Earlier in the evening, I had left in my truck and driven to see a man who had a something that I thought would be a sort of peace offering between me and this animal. I bought a goat from the man and took it back across the green farmland and back into our suburbs. I chained it right here to this tree.
And it said, "Mehhhhhhhhhh." Just like it's supposed to. It began to tremor in absolute horror. Just like how it's supposed to.
Then I let go of Scouts chain and let him get into his work.
It was something horrible to watch. He smashed into the thing with the full weight of his body, bringing its heavy paws down on it, knocking it over on it's side. Then he set about the slow strangulation with his wide jaws clamped down. After the death he ripped the goat apart like it was about as solidly constructed as a birthday cake.
I half watched this from out in the moonlight. The sound of the massacre was unavoidable. The sight of the thing was. All you had to do was turn your head.
While my lion ate, a new problem reared it's ugly head.
A few teenagers pulled up to the park in a crappy red Nissan. They were drinking from a brown paper bag that they passed back and forth. They were just trying to find a pleasant enough place to smoke a joint on a Wednesday evening. They hadn't anticipated that there was something going on out of the reach of the moonlight, in the shadows of the darkened tree-line.
Fuck. I cursed the timing.
I was worried that this was going to develop into some complete nightmare.
The three teenagers went and sat down on the swings and I walked into the shadow of the trees, impatiently watching my lion devour chunks of the goat. The kids went on talking, muttering about this and that and Scout went about his joyful business of bloodying his muzzle with fresh unexpected meat.
For the briefest moment, he looked up at me with pure love. Then simply continued. Like it was Christmas morning and he was opening up a much deserved present.
It didn't take long for the noise to carry. The kids on the swing, attempting to get high found themselves mid-joint, getting curious about the sounds coming from the trees. They began to talk about it. About the ghosts in the forest. Aliens. UFOs. Narcs crouching in the limbs...
"Shut up, you're paranoid already?"
"I'm not. Dude, there's totally something back there."
"I hear it too." The girl said. All three of them were in hooded sweatshirts.
"Forest gnomes want to hit this shit."
They smoked the rest of the joint but couldn't possibly hope to ignore the CRUNCH! that echoed through the trees as Scout broke the ribcage open and started to mess around with the entrails.
Now, the kids were off the swings. One of them was going back to the car, the other two were coming closer to the trees.
"Where are you going?"
"I want to catch me a gnome."
"Shit." She said, "LET'S GO! I'm serious."
They were serious too. They kept coming towards the trees. This was shaping up to be the single worst moment of my life. Here I was stuck between a feasting lion and some innocent stoners.
I told Scout, "Come on, boy..."
He ignored me. I told him more sternly that we had to go. He was no longer lying on the goat. He was slowly circling, "We'll come back later..." I said to him.
I had my hand on his chain, gently tugging it. "Let's go!" I tugged a little harder. This broke his spell and he followed my command. At that moment I was so glad that my girl had trained him so well to be good on a leash.
As we walked out of the darkness of the treeline and into the full moon flood of the grassy field, the teenagers standing there got a sight that almost made their hearts explode. Here, at my side, was an almost full grown lion trotting out of the trees covered in gnarly hunks of viscera.
For a brief moment they stood there frozen then they turned on their heels and sprinted back towards the red Nissan. If it wasn't for my tight grip on the chain and for Scout's heavy belly full of goat, he surely would have downed them and at least knock them around like it was a game.
Instead they made it to the car.
They couldn't get it to start right away and it sounded like they wouldn't get it started for awhile. My understanding was that in their terror they had flooded the engine. I took the long walk around the swings and popped out of the trees on the other side of the lot, not too far from their vehicle.
"I'm sorry if my dog scared you!" I called.
They didn't respond.
"He's friendly." I said.
Scout just stood there licking his chops.
The kids didn't respond. The driver went right back to trying to start the flooded engine. Pumping more and more fuel into the block. To no avail.
"Have a nice night." I told the kids then I crossed the street and walked down the sidewalk out of their view.
As we walked my hand was inadvertently hanging near Scout's mouth and he nudged it with his nose just to remind me that he was there. I rubbed his ear a little bit (the only spot of his head not thoroughly soaked like a sponge with slimy blood). He rewarded me with a small lick from his sand paper tongue. I will say this, the sand paper of this thing's tongue was much more severe than that of a house cat
I went around back of my condo and hosed Scout down with the garden hose. He seemed to like it. He seemed to have enjoyed the whole ordeal. After a time, he was dry enough to take back into the house and like a good friend he made a spot for himself on the living room floor and my side of the bed was open again for me to climb in with my girl, where I belonged.
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