She sat still in the corner of the bedroom, her knees pulled up to her chest. Her breaths had been coming in ragged gasps for quite some time now and though her skin tingled, and the corners of her vision were etched in blackness, she fought the urge to surrender.
Though all she could hear was the thundering of her heart in her ears, she was sure that she had heard a creaking floorboard nearby. Unable to formulate a plan, she clenched her eyes shut and began to silently pray the Our Father. The words slipped past her lips but were not enough to stifle the odious aroma of rotting eggs and spoiled meat that was beginning to encroach on her nostrils.
With the ancient invocation completed, she was no longer able to repel the compulsion to open her eyes and scour the room. Her eyelids began to part, then clamped shut.
A ball of unbridled energy formed in her gut and forged its way up her esophagus until it came pouring out of her mouth in a blood-curdling scream that bounced off the plastered walls.
“Oh God, no, please no!”
She didn’t want to see it again but could not deny the compulsion to look. Through bloodshot eyes, she peered up at the old man. His head was completely devoid of hair, no brows, or lashes either. His irises were black as coal.
“What are you going to do with me,” she asked in a small and trembling voice.
The cantankerous old man stared down at her, his lips twisting into a sinister grimace and his eyes mocking her.
“Why I am going to devour your fear darling,” he answered her with a cackle.
“No … no … no!”
With a roar, he pounced on her, and the television screen faded to black.
I too was ready to let out a primal scream of my own, but instead, I reared up and was about to jump into Mommy’s lap, but a big orange scaredy cat beat me to the punch.
So I did the next best thing. I glanced over at Daddy, but there was a white beagador puppy already on his lap, staring back at me with a sheepish grin on his face.
“That was a good movie, wasn’t it?”
Daddy looked over at Mommy and reached out to take her hand into his. She gave him one of those goofy romantic smiles.
“It was, but I am tired. Let’s go to bed?”
That was all she needed to say. I took that as my cue to hop off the sofa and race up the stairs.
Mommy tucked the three of us into bed and flipped the light switch off. Stillness fell over the house, except for the hum of Daddy’s CPAP machine and Mommy’s snoring. At the foot of the bed, a nightlight shone through the room, casting shadows on the ceilings and walls.
“Look at this, guys,” I whispered.
I stuck my paws in the air, then began to maneuver them in front of the night light. A dark blob formed on the ceiling, then with a few more movements, it transformed into the shadow of a bird that flapped its wings and floated across the ceiling.
“Holy cow,” the chubby orange cat squealed.
“Cool, right Rapi,” I asked the cat, who nodded eagerly back at me.
“That was awesome, teach me, Cindee” the puppy barked.
“I will show you Mylo, but you need to be quiet!”
It almost sounded like a whoosh of air, but the sparkle in his eyes and the animated smile on his face told the story of an eager puppy.
I scootched close to Mylo and reached out with my paws to guide his. It took him a couple of tries but he quickly mastered the awkward way that he needed to hold his paws and soon a disfigured bird appeared on the ceiling.
“You did it!” Rapi shouted.
“With a little more practice, it will be perfect.”
Having offered my words of encouragement, I laid my head back down on my pillow and Mylo soon followed.
“That was a scary movie,” Rapi finally admitted.
“Do you think there really are monsters,” Mylo asked.
“I sure do,” Rapi and I said at the same time.
“I don’t, I think it is all in our imaginations.”
“How can you be so sure Mylo? I mean didn’t you think It was scary how it made the people afraid, then ate their fears?”
The puppy studied my face in the darkness. He looked so sure … so confident of himself. I didn’t think I could ever be that way.
“It’s okay Cindee, it was just a movie,” Mylo said, finally breaking the silence.
A hush fell over the room. I glanced outside at the moon, which was full and still hovering over our home, before checking the clock one last time. 12:34 it said.
“One, two, three, four, pretty cool,” I heard myself mumble quietly. Then as if by magic, my eyes suddenly grew heavy and slammed shut before I could even wish my friends a goodnight.
The sun showed his golden rays through the window and across her face. Cindee’s eyes cracked open a little. The intense light burned setting off a flood of tears in her eyes. With a little more effort, she forced her eyelids to open. Her head popped up and swiveled around.
“Oh my gosh, we have been robbed!”
The sight of the empty room shook her to the core.
“Rapi, wake up, we have been robbed!”
She winced at the sound of her words pinging around the empty house.
“Maybe they are upstairs,” she whispered, her voice still hoarse from sleep.
The brown labmix padded up the steps until she reached the landing. Her mouth dropped open at the sight. Everything had been cleaned out upstairs too. Plus, no sign of the cats or Mylo.
“What’s going on?”
She felt her tail creep between her legs and the unmistakable taste of bile in the back of her throat.
A car door slammed, bringing her to full alert. Then another. Her head swung towards the sound and her legs propelled her to the window. Outside in the driveway, Daddy was sitting behind the wheel of a moving truck, and Mommy was parked next to him in the car.
“That’s everything!” he shouted to her, then put the truck in gear and began to pull away.
“Not everything, you forgot about me!” Cindee barked at the window. With her heart pounding in her chest she pivoted and took off down the stairs and out the front door, arriving just in time to watch the vehicles start to move down the street.
“Oh my gosh,” she gasped, then broke out in a full sprint towards them. Try as she might, she just was not able to keep up with them. The truck, then the car rounded the bend in the road and faded out of sight.
Cindee collapsed in the middle of the street. Tears cascaded down her cheeks in a small waterfall.
“They abandoned me,” she sniffed.
Her eyes remained focused on the horizon, all her hopes pinned on Mommy and Daddy realizing she wasn’t with them.
“Please … please … please,” she chanted with her eyes shut tight.
An unexpected tap on her shoulder startled her back into the moment. Her eyes flew open, and her jaw dropped. Standing in front of her was an old man, his clothes ripped and torn, his face covered in stubble. He reached towards her ear and pulled out a cookie and began to munch on it.
“Mmmmmm, this fear tastes good,” he said with a smile that looked more like a sneer.
“Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!” Cindee screamed.
She bolted upright, and her breathing came in short gasps. Cindee scanned the dark room frantically only to find that her friends were both sound asleep next to her on the mattress.
“Thank goodness, it was just a dream!”
She glanced in the direction of Rapi and smiled at her chubby friend, whose little legs were moving a mile a minute.
“Oh, how cute, he must be chasing a mouse in his dreams!”
Convinced that all was good with the world, she rolled over and drifted off to dreamland
“Faster! You can do it, go faster!”
There was no doubting Mommy’s enthusiasm. The way she leaned forward and the excitement in her words conveyed her belief in the cat. He was doing his very best. The way his short stubby legs were churning on the treadmill was a testament to his effort.
“You gotta lose that weight!” Daddy cheered the tabby on.
Rapi could feel his body going numb, and he knew it wasn’t just from the exercise. His eyes darted around the room, searching for an escape from the spinning tread beneath him. In his mind, he was replaying the last summer Olympics he had seen, trying to mentally calculate the timing and angles he would need to make a dismount like one of the champion gymnasts. The problem was, every time he planned to jump, his tummy would sway in the wrong direction. His legs would wobble, and the world would begin to spin out of control. It was all he could do to regain his balance and not tip over.
A Facetime alert pinged on Mommy’s phone. Her eyes bounced from the cat to the device on the desk and back to tabby again. Rapi could see the struggle in her eyes. The iphone was her nemesis, and she could never overcome the challenge to ignore it.
“Hello,” she said, choosing the phone.
Doctor Bob, the veterinarian’s face filled up the screen.
“How is our portly little friend doing?” he asked.
“He’s working pretty hard on the treadmill,” Mommy answered, updating the doctor on the cat’s progress.
“Hmmm, let me check the sensors. Ah just as I thought, he needs more speed!”
The cat’s heart rose to his throat and a look of terror grew on his face.
“No more speed, please?” he begged.
Before Mommy had a chance to answer, Doctor Bob remotely increased the tempo and raised the incline to boot.
“I will check in later,” the vet answered then hung up.
The cat’s eyes burned. He wasn’t sure if it was because of tears or sweat, but what he was sure of was that he was not going to last much longer.
“How you doing, Rapi?”
The cat glanced over his shoulder at the big brown lab mix who was standing in the doorway looking concerned by what she was witnessing.
“Hi Cindee! I’m … I’m …” that’s all that Rapi was able to get out.
Now his tongue was swaying from side to side, but in the opposite direction of his tummy. He stumbled a little, then regained his composure, but only briefly. In the next breath, he stepped on his own tongue. His body tumbled over on its side coming to rest on the rapidly spinning tread.
“Oh no!” Cindee yelled before dropping to the ground.
The treadmill shot Rapi’s limp body off the back end. Like a heat-seeking missile, he flew over Cindee’s head and crashed into Daddy. They both tumbled to the ground with a thud.
“Oh, my poor baby,” Mommy came over and picked Rapi up and cuddled him.
“Let’s get you some food!”
“What about me?” Daddy said, still rolling around the floor in pain.
“You can get a snack too if you’re hungry,” she called over her shoulder while descending the stairs.
In the dining room, Mommy had food all prepared for Rapi. The orange cat’s eyes were all aglow when he spotted the bowl.
The familiar sound of the phone pinging filled the room.
“It’s Doctor Bob,” Daddy yelled down from upstairs.
Mommy placed Rapi down on the table and ran up the staircase to talk to the old vet. While she was gone, the tabby stared at the bowl with a gleam in his eyes. He licked his lips, like a parched cowboy who just spotted an oasis, then darted over to the ceramic container and peered over the edge. Staring up at him were three small pieces of kibble.
“They are trying to kill me,” he grumbled.
The voice startled him. Rapi jumped into the air and landed on all fours. Behind him stood an old man, eating tuna straight from the can.
“This fear is delicious,” he said.
“I wish I could share with you.”
Rapi glared at him.
“Why you son of a …”
His eyes popped open.
“It’s okay, it’s just a dream,” Cindee whispered, trying not to wake Mommy or Daddy.
“Sorry,” the cat mumbled.
“It’s okay, go back to sleep,” the labmix whispered, then took her own advice.
The orange cat looked around the dark room at his friends. Thankful that they were here and that they accept him for who he was, with excess BMI and all. Glad that the nightmare was over, he curled up next to Mylo and fell asleep admiring the growing smile on the puppy’s face.
“As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death …” Coolio’s voice boomed. Mylo danced throughout the house shaking and contorting his body in strange ways to the beats of Gangsta’s Paradise while he belted out the lyrics along with Coolio. It was one of the beagador’s favorite songs. He tended towards music that had a heavy bass influence, saying he liked the way that it felt when the floor vibrated against his paws. It put him into another zone, he liked to say.
His zone was interrupted by a loud roar coming from a truck outside. Though he wasn’t a cat, Mylo had the curiosity of one, or at least that is what Mommy had always said about him, and he put that curious nature to use by dashing to the window and peering outside. A big white delivery truck with blue and red letters on the side pulled to a stop right in front of the house. The puppy watched with the same deep intensity he puts into everything.
The driver exited the truck and stared at the address on the house for a moment before grabbing a package and heading for the door.
Mylo’s mouth dropped open and a tiny squeak emanated from deep inside him.
“Holy guacamole!” his eyes went glassy.
“It’s Noah Syndergaard!” he shouted.
Cindee came dashing down the stairs at the sound of the doorbell.
“The door, someone is at the door,” she barked at the top of her lungs.
“It’s Noah Syndergaard,” Mylo repeated to the older labmix.
“What’s a Noah Syndergaard,” Cindee asked?
“He is the best pitcher the New York Mets ever had,” Mylo responded, as if everyone should know.
“He is the greatest… ever,” he added.
“Huh?” was all Cindee could muster.
“It would be a dream come true to have him toss a ball so that I could chase it down,” the puppy rattled on.
Cindee rolled her eyes and went back upstairs.
“Come in,” Mylo yelled through the door.
“Package,” the delivery guy said.
“Hello Mr. Syndergaard!”
“Hello sport,” he said.
“Why are you delivering packages,” Mylo asked, not once thinking about whether it was polite to ask such things or not.
“Well, um, what’s your name little one?” Noah Syndergaard asked.
“Mylo,” the puppy said, smiling proudly.
“Well, you see, I wanted a good way to get out and meet my fans and delivery drivers are in demand, so I thought … why not?”
“Oh, I see. Can you wait here for just a second Mr. Syndergaard?”
Without waiting, Mylo turned and tore up the stairs and into the spare bedroom. The baseball pitcher turned delivery man gazed around the room while he waited and was quite thankful that the wait wasn’t a long one, after all, he did have a lot of packages to deliver still.
Mylo returned holding a Noah Syndergaard signed baseball.
“Can you throw this for me?” the puppy asked.
“Sure,” Noah Syndergaard said, taking the ball in his hands and gently tossing it across the front lawn.
Mylo raced past his idol, dashed across the lawn, and returned with the ball, dropping it at the baseball player’s feet.
“Thank you, Mr. Syndergaard, you made a dream come true,” Mylo said with a big smile on his face.
“No problem, glad to do it. You have a nice day!”
“You too Mr. Syndergaard. I hope you are back playing ball soon!”
With that, he was gone.
Mylo stood at the window and watched Noah Syndergaard, pull away in his big white delivery truck until he had disappeared around the corner. The puppy’s moment of bliss was short-lived. A rustling caught his attention and the pooch’s ears perked up instinctively at the sound of kitchen drawers being opened and slammed shut.
Intrigued, he trotted through the dining room to investigate. It was in the kitchen where he found an old man rifling through the cupboards and cabinets. Mylo tilted his head to the left and watched him open and close each door.
Having explored every square inch of the kitchen, the man turned and looked at Mylo, his face mired in frustration.
“Your cupboards are empty,” he said.
“So?” Mylo responded.
“So, where do you keep your fear?”
“What fear?” he asked, but without waiting for a response the pooch went on to tell the man all about his idol.
“Did you know that Noah Syndergaard was born and grew up in Mansfield Texas? Well, he was and he began to play baseball when he was just a little boy. Did you know he hit his first home run when he was just seven years old …” Mylo went on and on.
The old man plopped down in the middle of the kitchen floor, put his head in his hands, and began to cry.
“ … was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the first round. He was …”
“That was a rough night. I had this strange dream,” Cindee said, arching her back in a big stretch.
“Was there an old man there?” Rapi asked.
“Eating your fear?” the dog inquired with a tilt of her head.
“Yup, just like the movie,” the tabby answered.
“Me too,” Cindee said, her voice awash in amazement.
“What about him? Should we wake him up?”
The labmix looked in the direction that Rapi’s paw was pointing until her eyes came to rest on a white puppy lying sprawled out and sound asleep, his face adorned with a smile that spread from one cheek to the other.
“Nah,” the big brown dog replied.
“Looks like he is having sweet dreams,” Rapi said, his paw in the air ready to bring it down on the puppy’s face.
“…then was traded by the Blue Jays to the Mets. Thank goodness for the Mets that those Blue Jays didn’t know what they were doing. After that …” Mylo kept going without stopping to take a breath.
“What did I do to deserve this,” the old man said. He embraced his legs with his arms and began to rock back and forth desperately.
Mylo stopped just long enough to grab a bag of potato chips and began to crunch on the crispy potatoes.
“Yummy. This fear tastes great. Nothing is tastier than the fear of being outsmarted by a puppy, right!?” he said munching away.
“Anyway, back to Noah Syndergaard …”