Sunday, September 8, 2013

Story F: Cat Scan, by Katje Sabin

Mist and shadows ahead, which might be what they call atmosphere in another place, but here it seems almost greasy. Garbage used to mean a meal, but now it mostly means cover and scent camo. Great fun when you have the nostrils of a virtuoso, let me tell you.

Clomp, clomp. For once, the moon is actually visible through the sulfurous cloud cover, and I can see it's time for the new guy to show up. I get settled on my perch to watch the fun.

"Hey, Rhonda. How's it going?"

"Hiya, Seb. Been a quiet night so far. Fine with me."

"Have you done your rounds yet? I need to finish cert on the bioscan."

"Oh, right." She digs into her hip pack. "Here, go for it."

She's tall and reeks of coconut oil. He's trying to act like she's a buddy, but he's easier to read than a newborn kitten: she's the boss and he desperately wants her to like him.

"So how long have you been on this route? What kind of stuff do you normally see at night around these parts?"

"Lost count. Couple years, I guess. We get the odd drifter out here, and gangs of tweakers trying to find windows to break, but the smell drives most folks away."

That's not an accident. Rot and urine and insects create such a lovely bouquet. He fumbles with the device while she smirks at him. He doesn't have a chance with her, but he doesn't know it.

“Picking anything up yet?”

“Nothing human. Coupla cats.”

“How do you know they’re cats?”

“How do you know they’re cats? If it looks like a cat and meows like a cat, it’s a cat. These guys think like cats.”

“And different from dogs, yeah?”

“Just like the difference between red and blue. Besides, they’re both normally like, uh, I dunno, a soft glow ... until something lights ’em up. But it takes different things to do it. Cats light up when they see some kind of small critter they can chase, but dogs only do it for people. In f.... Oh, wait! What’s that now?”

Whoops. His show-off jabber reminded me of the crunchy bug I had for dinner, and I must have dropped my lids for a second. Quick quick, pay attention. She leans over to check his screen.

"What the hell is that?"

"I was hoping you knew."

I catch a whiff of it. The night has just gotten a lot more interesting...

"Didn't you read the manual?"

"Who reads the manual?"

She pulls something from her belt and whirls around, very quietly. He wets his pants, very quietly. I decide that "interesting" and "losing one of my lives" are not the same thing, and silently back into a pile of soggy cardboard.

When the noise dies down, the coconut scent has moved far away. But the remains of the damp khakis tell me there will be good eatin' for the next few days.

I lick my whiskers.