Mr. Scampers’ War
by J. S. Bell
An explosion of leaves, a swirl of dust and the fierce jungle cat leaps from the verdant forest and is on the gazelle in one bound. Claws rend and jaws clamp shut. The gazelle dies with a bleat of terror.
“Aw, Scampers, you’re such a cute kitty!” A baby-talking voice rattles the jungle cat, causing him to freeze. “Killing your toy mousy like that. Izzat a fun game?”
The small Lap Servant’s speech impediment continues, thinks the mighty predator. Perhaps it’s a sign of a significant mental defect. Doesn’t she know, this is no game. Life is balanced on a razor’s edge between the ready and the dead.
Mr. Scampers cleans a paw, slightly mussed by the trek through the jungle under the sofa, and considers how best to respond to the Lap Servant. He chooses his default action: Ignore the human.
Scampers leaves Mousy, drifts into the kitchen and bounds onto the Forbidden Zone, prowling for a tasty morsel, perhaps a bit of bacon, or a small chunk of cheese left unguarded by the Food People. Hmmm. Smells like tuna.
“Mr. Scampers,” Food Woman snaps. She is mixing something in a bowl near the sink. “What are you doing up here?”
He looks at her. Is this a trick question?
“Melissa,” Food Woman shouts. “Come get your cat off the counter!”
Before he can follow up on the tantalizing odor, the small Lap Servant plucks him up and carries him back into the den.
“Naughty, Mr. Scampers,” Melissa scolds. She is ten years old and has tried to dress him in doll clothes before. Scampers is wary of her attention. “You know you’re not supposed to be up there.”
“Why? Is it a dog burial ground?”
“It’s no good you meowing at me.” Lap Servant sits down with him in the Good Chair and starts rubbing under his chin. “Howl all you want, but you’re not to be on the counter. Mommy says you’ll Leave Germs.”
“Group hug!” barks a deep, bass voice.
A boisterous, moronic, splay-footed nightmare of a Black Lab, known as Big Jake by the Food People, rampages into the den and leaps for the chair. The obvious stupidity of a forty pound dog jumping into a chair already occupied by a Lap Servant and a dangerous jungle cat just never seems to occur to the fool.
“Jake!” the Lap Servant squeals and pushes the dog off, tumbling Scampers to the floor at the same time.
“Idiot!” Scampers howls. “I’m going to rip your lungs out through your wet, drippy nostrils. You are a brain-dead refugee from the swampy end of the gene pool!”
“Aw, man,” Jake woofs. “Don’t be such a hater.”
Scampers stalks from the room, heading for his Special Place on the upstairs bedroom windowsill, shooting Jake ‘the tail’ as he goes.
“Hey, are we On Duty again tonight?” the Idiot asks. “That’s a really boring game, you know, not doin’ nothin’ all night. Just watching.”
Stupid dog. Life or death on the line, and he calls it a game. He needs to go chase a car. And catch it!
The Food People have fulfilled their purpose and have curled up together in the Big Bed. The Lap Servant also sleeps, in the Small Bed, her breathing scratchy with a trace of congestion. Other tiny sounds, detectable to only the keenest hearing, whisper through the Domain, which is never completely silent to the survival-bred instincts of the fierce jungle cat. The beautiful green eyes of the sleek feline scan the territory, ever vigilant, ever watchful.
Mr. Scampers owns the night.
“Dude! Dude!” The shocking bark blasts Mr. Scampers straight up into the air. He springs up as if shot from a bow and lands, feet splayed, poised for battle, ears back, fur up, ready to kill or be killed….
Enemy? Enemy? Where? Mr. Scampers sees a black dog face pasted in the window. Oh, it’s the Idiot.
“C’mere, you gotta see this!” The Idiot bounds around the patio, a rubber bouncy ball covered in fur.
“How can I see anything, Idiot,” Scampers points out. “There’s dog slobber all over the window.”
“The window?” The dog cocks his head, looking puzzled, then brightens. “Oh, you mean the Force Field. But, hey, lookit-lookit-lookit!”
Jake faces the darkness of the yard and hunkers down, butt up, floppy tail wagging in the air. “I think it wants to play! Do you think it wants to play? Do you think it knows Stick, or Ball or Pee on the Fence?”
“Pee on the Fence isn’t a game, moron.”
“Maybe not to you,” Jake glances over his shoulder, then returns to staring out at the blackness of the yard. Something moves beyond and around the pools of light, trickling through the trees, jittering with a motion unlike any prey Scampers has ever seen. The shape flits from shadow to shadow, somehow avoiding the puddles of light, or countering them with a liquid black intensity so dark the moonbeams bend around it. As if individual photons fear the creature and move to avoid contact, slinking away as Scampers does when he is not in the mood for stroking.
A deep, atavistic fear brings Mr. Scampers to his feet and a low growl starts in the pit of his stomach, powers up through his chest and erupts in a howl of pure rage. The shape freezes. Scampers senses the creature’s gaze fix upon him with eyes that, though unseen, contain all the loathing and hatred of an enmity born in Hell’s darkest cavern. The feeling of a thousand fleas tracks across Scampers skin when the full weight of the shadow’s attention fixates upon him.
“Wake the Food People, Idiot,” Scampers hisses. “Use the danger signal.”
“Danger signal? What’s a danger signal?”
“Like when you see a squirrel, you bonehead!”
When the Food People said that the Idiot came from a litter, they must have meant ‘litter box’.
Scampers bows up sideways, his short, tabby coat puffed out in an impressive display of feline martial skill, more than a match for any skulking creature of the night. Get any closer, Spawn of Hell, and I will open a fuzzy can of whup ass and pour it all over you.
“What’s wrong?” Jake looks confused.
“That thing, if it’s what I think it is…” Scampers howls another challenge in a low moan that scales up in volume to ear-splitting intensity.
“That thing is pure Evil,” Scampers spits.
“Evil?” Jake is now concerned, looking back and forth between Scampers and the creature in the yard. “Is that something you eat or play with? I know! I could pee on it!”
“No! Don’t go near it, Jake.”
“But what is it?” Jake asks.
Scampers stares at the darkness, a spot of black so deep it defeats even his highly evolved eyesight. Fading, like the blurry images imprinted on his eyes after the Food People take a Cute Picture, the spot of blackness where the creature stood only seconds before starts to blend in with the surroundings. In moments, the deeper blackness is gone, as if it never was. The back yard seems to take a breath, and the sounds of normal life fill in the silence. Insect Prey chirps, Rodent Prey skitters through the leaves and Non Prey noises trickle back into his consciousness.
No matter how normal the night sounds now, Scampers knows that his life will not be normal again anytime soon. A war whose beginnings are lost to history, a war waged for so long that the enmity was part of feline DNA, a war fought to the death, has come to his Domain.
The Ancient Enemy is here, threatening Scampers territory and those under his protection.
“Go get a bowl of crunchies, Jake.” Scampers tells the cowering pup. “Sit. Stay. And get ready. You’re about to see one hell of a fight.”
Humans have many names for the Ancient Enemy, or so his mother related to Mr. Scampers and his siblings. Gremlins, hobgoblins, fairies, the Little People. Even demons. Many words to describe essentially the same being. Some of these creatures are relatively benign, doing no more than prankish mischief, like moving a human’s keys, or stealing a single sock from the laundry. These jokesters are easily appeased with offerings of food or drink, and run from battle, refusing to engage in combat with the noble cat protector of the house. They are more an annoyance than a threat.
Others, however, were made from more sinister cloth.
The Ancient Enemy prefers the sweet tang of a sleeping child’s dying breath to that of any other sensation on earth. The Enemy cannot penetrate the walls without an access point. A raised window, a door left ajar, a chimney damper not closed, all of these make for convenient entries. An opening is almost always required, though some of the more devious Enemy can operate simple tools and take apart human devices. They especially enjoy toying with brake lines and aircraft engines.
Scampers drifts to sleep, thinking he really needs to get his rest. He will need all his strength, wits and cunning for the coming battle.
That night, when the servants eat supper, the Idiot begs more than a little. Scampers shows complete disdain for the way the Idiot slavishly attends every mouthful the people swallow.
“Can’t you show a little dignity, Idiot?”
The Idiot’s tongue lolls out of the side of his mouth as his head cocks to one side. He whimpers when Food Man puts a bite of beef in his mouth.
“That’s it,” Scampers says. “I am now calling you Super Idiot from now on.”
“Cool. Do I get to wear a cape?”
After dinner, the servant family gathers in the den, staring at the TV. The Idiot naps and farts on the rug in the middle of the room. Food Woman leaves for a time and Scampers tracks her sonically, noting that she enters the Bath Room in the hallway.
Scampers avoids this room. He finds it intimidating when the servants activate the Shower.
He has bad memories of the Shower.
He hears the toilet flush and the woman returns to the den.
“Honey,” she says to Food Man, “did you leave the bathroom window open?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” he answers. “Why?”
“Well, the screen has a tear in it. Bugs can get in.”
“Well, will you fix it this weekend?”
“Huh? Yeah, sure…fix it. Got it.”
Scampers heart has gone cold. He trots to the small room and his worst fears are confirmed. The window is open, and there’s a hole in the screen, just as Food Woman says.
Did the Enemy already penetrate the Domain? Was it hiding somewhere, waiting to come out and take the small Lap Servant’s life? Mr. Scampers has to assume so and act accordingly.
Time for the jungle cat to go on the prowl.
After a complete circuit of the house, Scamper’s concludes that the open window is a false alarm. He senses nothing out of the ordinary in any part of the house. He finishes scouting the girl’s room and enters the upstairs hallway.
Something is laying in the hallway. A small body, ripped to shreds. It was not there moments ago. Scampers crouches and his pupils expand as he slips forward to inspect the tattered body on the floor.
It’s Mousy. Gutted and laying in a pool of its own stuffing.
The Ancient Enemy is in the house.
Scampers is woken from a sound sleep by a cold, wet nose poking into his belly.
“Dude,” the Idiot snuffles, “wake up. Something’s wrong.”
The tabby, curled nose-to-tail on the Lap Servant’s bed, glares murder at the Idiot. He has a warm nest burrowed between her feet and is loathe to leave it, regardless of the dog’s anxious expression.
Wait a minute. It’s after midnight. What’s the dog doing in the house?
“What’s wrong?” Scampers’ ruff tingles and the hair rises along his spine. He springs up, quivering with tension.
“I don’t know,” the Idiot says. “The Food People are like, you know, not moving. They haven’t put me out, and I have to pee real bad.”
“Not moving?” This doesn’t sound good. “Where?”
“In the flashing box room.”
“Stay here,” the cat orders. “Guard the child.”
Scampers flashes downstairs, alarms ringing in the back of his mind. An uneasy and unfamiliar bubble of fear forms in his stomach when he enters the den and sees the TV still on, the laugh track mocking him with its gaiety. Both Food People are unmoving on the sofa, heads lolled back and mouths open.
The tabby leaps onto the sofa and sees that they’re still breathing. Good. Maybe they just fell asleep watching TV. If that’s the case, I can rouse them very quickly. He pats faces, walks on bladders, sticks his nose in ears, but nothing works. The humans slumber on.
This is so not good.
Scampers treads across the humans and onto the side table nearest the man. A glass of wine is there, half empty. Scampers freezes when he catches a whiff of the contents. He smells the stench of the Enemy, over-powering in its intensity, a mixture of cinnamon, pepper and lemon. Somehow, the Enemy has dosed the human’s wine, rendering them even more unconscious than usual.
They’ve been drugged. They will be no help at all in protecting…
Scampers bounds from the end table and pelts up the stairs and into the Lap Servant’s room, leaping past the scattering of toys, dirty clothes and cookie crumbs. In a flash, he’s on the bed, confronting a nightmare.
“Just back the heck off, bucko,” Scampers growls.
The Ancient Enemy crouches next to the sleeping girl, actually standing on her hair as it trails across the pillow. Clawed hands are poised over the girl’s face, razors suspended over her delicate skin. Slitted pupils gleam faintly, fired internally by the torment of a hundred innocent souls. Vaguely monkey-shaped, the Enemy stands erect on two barbed feet. With leathery skin the color of bread mold, the creature stands no taller than the girl’s dolls. Hobgoblin ears and a sharp, narrow jaw frame its triangular face. Nose slits flare at the sight of Scampers, and a feral grin reveals the tiny points of glistening fangs.
“Leave now,” Scampers commands, “and you will live.”
“And if I don’t?” The creature’s voice rustles like dead snake skin on dry leaves. It is the king of mischief and pain. The hobgoblin loves tormenting the weak and helpless.
“If you don’t, you’ll be facing one angry pussycat, my friend.”
“I’m sure we can come to some arrangement here. The girl for the adults, perhaps?” The crouched figure straightens slightly and turns to face Scampers. The Enemy loves to bargain for lives, but never with honor and never fairly. “What if we make a deal?”
“Would you take the dog, instead,” Scampers says aloud, then regrets it. He is shamed the thought even crosses his mind.
“Forget it, gremlin,” Scampers snarls. “I deal in claws, friend.”
“Okay,” the nightmare shrugs. “That works, too.”
The Enemy leaps. Wicked sharp claws are bared, teeth gleam in the moonlight. A flash of motion and it’s in the air going for Scamper’s throat.
Forty pounds of black Lab crashes into the room, leaping for the bed.
“I’ll save you! Cowabunga!” the dog cries, flying through the air.
“Idiot!” Scampers screams. “No, I’ve got this…”
Too late. The clumsy mutt plows face-first into Scampers, tumbling them both over the girl’s legs. The creature from Hell leaps over the dog-and-cat pile and. A scrambling sound and the Ancient Enemy is running from the room.
“Get off!” Scampers rakes with bared claws, struggling in the tangle of black legs. “If it gets away, we’ll never find it.”
Scampers bolts after the creature as it makes for the stairs case. It’s already on the landing, making a right turn at the landing. Scampers hurdles the top flight of stairs and lands on the hobgoblin’s back, sending them both crashing into the wall. The Enemy screams in anger and frustration and swipes a clawed hand at Scampers. Ears back, the tabby hisses and boxes with the little devil. Both fighters draw blood in a flurry of blows.
Scampers slashes his claws across the little goblin’s eyes, temporarily blinding it. For a second, the creature is vulnerable. Scampers coils his muscles, preparing to leap into the Enemy and latch onto its throat, killing it in one decisive blow.
A thundering, black juggernaut hits Scampers from behind and bowls him into the creature, taking both of them into a tornado of whirling fur as they tumble down the stairs.
“Look out, Scampers,” the Idiot pants as he tumbles. The big dog thuds against the front door, jumps to his feet and shakes his head, ears flapping madly. “You could get hurt fighting that thing. Better let me handle it.”
“The only thing hurting me is you! Now, move!”
The Enemy scrambles away and Scampers chases him into the kitchen. The hobgoblin leaps onto the counter, grabs a hanging pot and flings it at Scampers, who skitters on the tile floor, claws seeking traction. The metal pot bongs on the floor and clatters across the room, a near miss.
Scampers is forced to dodge as pans, skillets, plates and other kitchen devices are hurled at him by the Enemy. The creature cackles a warty, raspy little laugh, giggling and tossing spoons and spatulas, platters and pasta strainers. The Idiot watches from near the refrigerator, eyes wide, clearly stunned. This amount of destruction goes beyond even his ability to comprehend.
“Dude,” he whimpers, “we’re gonna be in sooooo much trouble.”
Scampers dodges a saucer, which shatters, sending jagged shards across the floor. “We’re gonna be dead if we don’t catch this little rat-bag and kill it.”
The Enemy runs out of ready ammunition and hurls instead a chilling caterwaul of hatred at Scampers. Bounding from the counter, it races for the den. The cat’s claws scrabble over the tiled floor, hit maximum traction and propel him after the creature.
In the den, Scampers is momentarily confounded by the Enemy, perched in the open china cabinet, holding a Waterford vase like a major league pitcher. Going into a wind-up, the goblin shrieks and fires the vase at Scampers, narrowly missing him. The tabby dodges right, then jukes back left, working closer.
But the Idiot has overcome his shock and bounds directly at the enemy, slamming into the china cabinet at maximum Black Dog Velocity. A splintering crash rocks the cabinet, which teeters away from the wall as the dog bounces off, missing the beast who has leaped to the top of the piece of furniture.
Cackling with glee, the goblin braces his legs and pushes the china cabinet further away from the wall, tilting past it’s balance point. The Idiot runs for cover as the tall cabinet, full of collectibles and glassware, goes over, face-first.
The explosion of shattering glass doesn’t even cause the drugged humans, just feet away, to twitch. The creature leaps over the sofa between the Food People and races for the dining room.
Scampers screams a war cry and pursues.
Into the dining room, the living room and back through the kitchen and den, the creature runs a circuit around the lower floor, destroying furniture and bric-a-brac. Along with a mad cackle, the gremlin leaves behind a trail of destruction.
Scampers, like all cats, is a great sprinter, but lacks stamina for long races. Soon he is winded and panting, lagging behind the cavorting hobgoblin. The Idiot crashes around, barking and woofing, but accomplishing little.
Through more chance than good planning, the beast is trapped between the dog at one end of the hall and Scampers at the other. It takes the one avenue open to it, the open bathroom door, no doubt intending to escape through the torn screen. A cry of dismay rings out and Scampers smiles when he sees the closed bathroom window. Cornered, the Enemy turns to face the cat and dog, now both blocking the door. The slit-pupils of the creatures eyes expand and it crouches in a fighting stance.
“Dude,” the Idiot pants, trailing drool. “This isn’t fun any more. I think I want to just watch while you kick that thing’s scrawny, green butt back to Hell. ‘K?”
“That’s the smartest thing you’ve said in…forever.”
Jake woofs with pride.
The ancient battle cry of the Tomcat has frozen the blood of prey and enemies alike since the days before Scampers’ ancestors adopted the Egyptians. Screaming his war cry, Scampers rushes at the monster.
They collide in a blizzard of flashing claws and razor-sharp fangs, a howling melee of no quarters battle.
Scampers locks his jaws on the Enemy’s throat and spurs it with his hind legs. Likewise, the Enemy rips and tears at Scampers, seeking the killing blow.
There is a crunch of bone.
The jungle cat drags its dead prey to a safe place in which to consume the tasty bits. Muscular jaws working, the king of beasts cracks through bone and gristle to nibble here and there, eating until sated and then napping for a while. He curls his strong, battle-scarred body between the Food People and closes his eyes. He decides to leave the remainder of the Enemy’s carcass at their feet as an offering.
“Won’t they be thrilled,” the mighty cat says, “when they wake up and find what I have left them.”