The August-September Featured Story is by Pranas Perkunas
Please feel free to email Pranas at: firstname.lastname@example.org
SLAYER IN THE SNOW
by Pranas Perkunas
“I’m so happy and grateful that Mr. S is stone, cold dead,” I said aloud. Then I closed the book that instructed me that if I wanted something to happen, I should thank the universe for already granting that desire. Larry, my fat, black cat, whose head rested on my thigh as I sat Indian style in the bedroom of my mobile home, seemed to purr louder than usual, like he knew what the universe was about to do.
The book also taught that visualization followed by joyful emotion were crucial to achieving a goal, so I visualized Mr. S’s lumpy, old carcass lying lifeless in the snow, dead as the trailer park’s abandoned cats would be if I followed the park’s rule prohibiting us from feeding them. Mr. S, and his boss, the park owner, knew that without handouts, abandoned cats can’t survive; still, we residents were regularly sent letters threatening anyone who feeds the cats with eviction. (Presumably, there was also a rule prohibiting the feeding of evicted trailer park people.)
But simply ending his life wouldn’t do—first, the old S—would have to slowly starve, while going from door to door, preferably on all fours, begging for food, any food, even scraps. I smiled at the thought. To see him do that would go a long way toward restoring my faith in justice. Then the old bastard would have to be neutered. After all, I occasionally trapped a homeless cat, took him or her to be “fixed”, then returned the cat to its home. If it’s good enough for a cat, it’s good enough for Mr. S.
But was I really capable of killing a man? I felt I was, but I also realized that in this age of DNA-evidence my chances of getting away with it would be minimal, and there was no one else to take care of Larry. My cell phone/alarm clock went off like a World War II air raid signal, shattering my reverie.
It was 3:00 am and time to feed the abandoned cats, so I forced myself up and into the hallway where the big bag of economy dry cat food stood against the back door. I took a large lunch bag from the cabinet and nearly filled it, got dressed, then tucked it under the front of my winter coat. I supported the bag on my stomach with my left hand inside my coat pocket as I reached for the doorknob with my right. Concealing the bag under my coat this way made it appear like I sported the usual trailer-park beer gut. A guy has to be clever to get away with being compassionate.
I started to turn the doorknob, but something made me stop. It was a low, growling sound, and it seemed to be coming from just behind the door. That would mean from my back porch. It wasn’t unusual for a few hungry cats and even occasionally a raccoon to be waiting for me there, and I had heard raccoons make strange sounds before. This one had to be extra hungry, I surmised. But maybe it was a dog? Several of the residents that lived in the park had pit bulls.
Occasionally one ran loose. I grabbed some baloney out of the fridge and stuffed it into my coat pocket figuring I’d toss it into the yard and that’d keep him busy. My annoyance surged into anger when I thought again that without scum like Mr. S in the world, I wouldn’t have to worry about pit bulls or rabid raccoons. I could simply feed the cats in broad daylight. Anger led me to the top drawer of my bedroom cabinet where I found my old switchblade and stuffed it into my coat’s other pocket.
There was no window on the back door, and my front door was boarded up, so with my heart pounding, I slowly opened the back door. Nothing. Just a porch covered with snow.
Then as I stepped onto the porch, I saw him. A beautiful, long-haired white cat sat on the porch and looked up at me as the wind lifted the long hair fringing his head, like a little mane. I extracted a handful of the cat food and set it down on the snow and he or she started to crunch it down. I tucked the bag back under my coat and started off for the abandoned trailer on the nether side of the park.
I walked down the plowed road, so as not to leave clear footprints, as though I were merely taking a late stroll; but all the while I was casting quick, furtive glances into windows and into the dark spaces between trailers. The wind picked up and howled in my ears. Once or twice my beating heart sounded like footfalls. But it always sounded like that during a feeding; besides, I was just taking a walk. No rule or law against that—yet.
The road snaked, then that familiar, giant satellite dish perched atop Mr. S’s trailer loomed into view. Of course he had to have the biggest one in the park. 999 channels of pure idiocy, I’m sure.
His trailer was painted a bright yellow and the cheery, colorful flowers in his flowerbed swayed in the breeze. If you didn’t know the bastard, you’d think a decent human being lived there. What bothered me was that row of perfectly groomed but massive hedges in front of the sidewalk leading to his front door. I sometimes worried that he might be hiding back there, just waiting to catch “whoever” was feeding the cats, but I assured myself that this was a safe hour, and the years had proven me right.
The wind picked up again, but mixed in with its howling I thought I heard another sound—one that sent a chill through me. It was that growl—the one I’d heard earlier behind my back door. I tried to smile the fear away. “Stephen King, go F—yourself,” I whispered as I increased my pace.
I heard the footfalls again—really heard them this time. I turned to my right and saw another one—a small black cat briskly walking just behind me, its paws pattering on the pavement. “Dinner’s on the way,” I whispered.
As I walked, the cat followed me all the way to the back of the park to the abandoned trailer. Luckily, the trailer directly before it was occupied by a very elderly woman attended during the day by a visiting nurse, so she was unlikely to be up at this hour. I took a last, quick glance into the windows of the trailers I’d past just to make sure no prying eyes followed me, then I ducked behind the wooden fence that separated the old woman’s trailer from the abandoned one.
Tabby cats, black cats, and one gray one huddled together against the cold. They didn’t live here, that I knew. After eating, they’d all slip back under those occupied and heated trailers with loose or missing skirting panels where they lived as uninvited stowaways along with skunks and gophers. The residual warmth there was enough to get them through the winter.
I took the bag out from under my coat and crawled toward the huddled, hungry mass. Beside them was the wide, shallow hole I’d dug out with a trowel long ago. I dumped the contents of the bag in there and started crawling in reverse the way I came. Once out from beneath the trailer, I carefully propped the skirting panels back into place. Fresh, cool snowflakes landed on my head and my hands as I positioned them to leave just enough space for the cats to come and go.
Then I trotted back toward the wooden fence. I walked along the fence then emerged back onto the street, so that if anyone saw me, it’d appear as though I were simply taking a shortcut through from the other side of the park. Just talking a stroll.
That’s when I heard the footfalls again—much louder and more distinct this time, and they were coming from just behind me. With any luck, it wasn’t going to be just another resident taking a walk. I kept walking at the same pace. No point in even looking back, I thought.
“Come here. You know not to be feeding those cats!” Of course it was Mr. S’s gruff voice. The bastard must have been behind the fence.
I increased my pace and my heart beat wildly. I wasn’t afraid of the old man, but I was afraid of eviction. There was nowhere else I could afford.
“I said come here!” He sounded angrier, and his footsteps came more quickly and grew louder. I wasn’t about to run from him, but I wasn’t going to take orders from him either.
“I’m calling the owner,” he said. “You better start packing. You hear what I’m saying, buddy?”
Then I felt a hand on my shoulder and my anger and worry changed to rage at the thought that this old scumbag’s hand was gripping my shoulder. Instinctively, I reached in my coat pocket for the knife, but it was the wrong pocket and I was left with a handful of the baloney I’d put there earlier.
I spun around and without even thinking, I shoved the baloney right into his face, even managing to get a piece in his crusty old mouth. He stood in stunned silence for a few seconds, glaring at me in disbelief, pulling away the baloney slice sticking to the side of his face.
“Now Elmer, don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” I managed to get out between gasps of air.
Then I heard it again, the growl, but louder than before. Yet I was just too busy with Mr. S to worry about some pit bull or hungry raccoon.
Mr. S’s face flushed even redder and he balled up his fists, just like in the cartoons, then he lunged toward me with open hands. That’s when I saw it, out of the corner of my eye. I must be back home having a nightmare, I thought.
But there it was—as massive and white as the pile of snow it emerged from behind, and it was growling.
The cat shook its snow-covered, thick mane of white hair, then crouched and lept at Mr. S, catching the old man’s throat in its jaws. I heard the old bastard’s neck crack. I stood still, perfectly still, as the white lion lifted his head and looked up at me, with Mr.S’s neck still firmly held in its now bloody jaws. We made eye contact, and a confused rush of emotions surged through me.
The lion turned and began dragging Mr. S down the road, past the abandoned trailer, and into the dark woods beyond the pale of the trailer park. A black cat and a tabby shot out from under the abandoned trailer and ran into those same, dark woods.
I was too amped up with adrenaline to think about what it all meant. I started to run, then forced myself to slow to a brisk walk back to my trailer. Somehow I mustered up the presence of mind to stay on the plowed road until I got there. Then I turned onto my driveway. When I got to the end of it, I jumped the small distance onto the paved walkway leading to my back porch.
I rummaged through my coat pockets for the keys, but before I could grab ahold of them something stopped me. It was the growl again.
I heard it coming from somewhere behind me. My right hand found the switchblade in my coat pocket. I slowly pulled it out as I turned my head back toward the porch.
Then I heard it again. I looked down and saw the same little, long-haired white cat I’d fed before. The perfect whiteness of his mane and the shorter fur around his mouth was stained with blood. Then he opened his mouth and growled again and I knew he was still a lion inside.
As I looked down at him, I was amazed to feel my fear ebbing away. I looked away, and when I looked back, the white cat was gone. A small amount of dry food I’d put out for him earlier was still there, along with paw prints leading away from it.
My fat, black cat Larry looked up at me when I entered the bedroom. I fell down, still dressed, on the futon beside him. Larry was lying on the open book I’d been reading earlier, then he started purring, and there was magic in that purr.
Pranas Perkunas (pen name) is an inner-city English teacher at the High School level. He is also working on a novel which he hopes will be very successful, for his ultimate goal is to make enough money to build a no-kill cat shelter and advocate for the betterment of animals in general.
Pranas has previously published a short story in the on-line zine Every Day Fiction. His influences include but are not limited to the following writers: Edgar Allan Poe, J.D. Salinger, Eugene O'Neill, Kenneth Patchen, and Fyodor Dostoevsky.