I’m stalking the ledge, staring into The Alley below. The sun’s going down and I can hear the kittens mewing for supper. Furball is tired from the climb up here. He’s not as spritely as I remember.
“How long have I been gone?” I ask.
“Long enough,” Furball says. “The Alley’s different now–there’s order to things. It’s not like it was before.”
“Your ear says otherwise,” I say, nodding towards the bald stump on Fur’s head.
“I knew you’d go there, Tabs, I knew you’d say something about it,” he says casting his eyes back to The Alley. It’s going to rain. Furball should get back to his where he’ll be dry and warm. “Look… accidents happen, y’know? But, Boots is fair most of the time, alright? Yeah, he’s still… like, got issues or whatever. Yeah, sometimes he calls in Puma and Puma’s got his maulers, but it’s The Alley. That’s how it goes in the Alley.”
“How long have I been gone ?” I ask again.
“In cat years or human years?”
Furball doesn’t look at me when he says: “I stopped counting.”
“Sounds like things haven’t changed that much,” I say.
I still remember the way down: hop from the ledge to the window sill, zig-zag until the fire escape is within distance. Drop quietly. From there: the lids of the trash cans make a good landing spot.
I keep my tail moving like Poppy taught me. I can already feel the eyes around me: yellow and black slits peeking out from the dumpster, the trash can lids, the cardboard boxes.
I move forward. The Alley has two openings: one way leads to the street, with its cars and trucks and a sure-fire way to get your belly crushed. The other way is to the vacant lot. Judging by how even the kittens are scrambling for a shelter, Boots probably had Puma and the maulers drag every halfway decent shelter back there, set up a nice manor.
I jolt as a little white and silver Ocicat dashes out from under some newspaper. He cuts a swath of brightness through the dark. He’ll tell the first mauler he can find that I’m back. They’ll come for me.
“Oh, Bast,” I hear Furball say. “This is bad, Tabs, real bad.” He must’ve followed me.
“Get to shelter, Furball.”
“Oh, Tabs, you should just go. Maulers’ll be here soon. They don’t like you. They don’t like anyone.”
Furball’s a German Rex. He’s small and can hide anywhere. But he’s not moving. I look over my shoulder. He’s standing on the closest fire escape. No dogs through the window that I can see but he still shouldn’t be talking.
I’m half-thinking I should hop up there with him. But I don’t move. I keep my tail calm, like Poppy said.
Then I hear: “Well, look who’s back in town.”
Poppy used say: To win a fight, you need to know two things: 1. Get the other cat on the ground.
I know this cat, but can’t remember his name. He’s a Havana Brown and last I saw him his coat was luxurious and dark–to the point where you’d forget that he wasn’t pedigree. Now, he’s more scar than fur: bring pink streaks across his back are the sure-fire sign of a mauler. He’s missing claws on his front right paw and his tail is little more than stomp, but it still twitches like a deranged snake.
“For an Alley Cat, you are, paws down, the worst slinker,” he says.
I force my tail to move again. Side to side. Nice and calm. The Havana moves closer and I wait. Poppy taught me to wait.
“What’s the matter? Silent treatment? What’s the matter? Cat got your–,”
I see it. I see it just like Poppy taught me. His tail stopped twitching. He’s scared.
And if he’s scared then I’ve already won.
To win a fight: get the other cat on the ground. I bound up to a dumpster, and right back down, tackling the Havana, pinning him. My tail doesn’t break its rhythm: side-to-side. Match my heartbeat.
I step on the Havana’s throat and extend a claw so he can feel it on his jugular.
“I need to send a message,” I say to the Havana. “I need Boots to know.”
The Havana stopped squirming. From this close I can tell he’s nipped out of his head.
“What? What do you want?” he says.
Poppy used say: To win a fight, you need two things: 1. Get the other cat on the ground.
And 2: don’t let him get back up again.
I extend my claws completely into the Havanas throat and pull.
The rain starts. It will wash away the blood.