There was a soft scrape across the hardwood floor, and then silence. Monty looked up from his seat on the corner of the couch, licked his lips, and slowly let his head fall back along the cushions. He was not fond of being awoken in the middle of the night, not in the heat of Summer, and certainly not when he was comfortably asleep on the couch. He stretched, yawned, and licked his lips again. The taste of his dreams was drifting away. He vaguely remembered a yard with high blades of grass, a chipmunk on the edge of a high wood fence, cracking an acorn, almost chuckling as crumbles of the shell fell across his paws. Laughing at Monty.
There it was again, like a nail along the floor. Monty hated the hardwood flooring in the living room. But it was useful. In his old age, his ears had started to fail him. It had always been beneficial to hear approaching footsteps, or the patter of rain along the windows to warn him not to go outside. The best warning of all was the metallic creek of the gate on the box. The box was a horrifying place, smelling faintly of urine and vomit, and though the constant motion was sickening enough, the usual destination at the sterile office where a woman in a white coat poked and prodded Monty was enough to make his insides twist about.
As if the movement would push away any lingering dream artifacts, Monty stretched out his body, feeling the cool fabric of the couch underneath his paws, along his cheek. His tail flickered and caressed the back cushion of the couch, tough and static, a good rock against which Monty could confirm that his comfortable life was real, and satisfying.
He stood, looking about the dark living room. The only lights were the glow of the digital clock on the wall, and the moonlight pouring through the skylight. Monty knew there was a full moon because his hair was standing on end, full of life and energy. This happened once a month, and on this particular night he was glad for it. His senses usually increased under a full moon, and it was a good thing. He could almost see the creature before the next scrape, which wasn’t a scrape at all but actually a soft pitter-patter, so rapid that it had fallen together as one single note of noise. A scrape. Monty felt duped.
He leaped off the edge of the couch, over the coffee table and leftover glass half full of water, landing on the hardwood floor. There was no scrape or pitter-patter from Monty’s clawless paws, however. He’d been deprived of his defenses years ago. He trusted this home well enough to think he’d not need them anymore, that he could cope. But once in a while, on a lonely night and in a situation like this, Monty wished he had at least one claw he could extend to instill fear in whatever this creature turned out to be.
Monty licked his right paw, then his left. In all his years without claws, Monty tried to act tough, like he’d be ready to fight at any moment. This tongue ritual was a way to stay clean, sure, but it also showed his enemies that he was prepping for a brawl, a throwdown. Everyone knows a wet paw means a stinging blow.
The room remained quiet. Monty’s soft footfalls barely echoed in the room. The swish of his tail fell on little more than air particles. He let it softly rest on the floor. Lowering his head, Monty sniffed, eyes sinking lower to the ground, to peer under the coffee table. There was an unfamiliar scent, dirt and a little stickiness. Unfamiliar, yet evident throughout the darkest corners of the house. He allowed every last ounce of darkness into his eyes, trying to get a good look under the coffee table.
Not coming closer, only side-to-side, but definitely under the table. Monty sniffed again, swished his tail, eyes focused under the table, near the far right leg that was closest to him on the couch. He crouched, shook his rump, ready to pounce. The moment of truth, Monty breathed in, then out, loudly and deeply. He bent to look under the table —
And LEAPED back as a critter with a small body and tiny legs dashed forth, full steam ahead, its’ eight legs pitter-pattering along the floor, nearly silent but still ringing through Monty’s perked ears.
It was a creature unlike any he’d seen before. Dark body, small, about the size of one of his toes. The creature’s head, with little beady eyes that barely reflected the moonlight, glared at Monty as its’ eight thin legs propelled him forward with lightning quick speed, bending in awkward directions.
There was a symbol on the back of the critter, much like the object that Monty’s owners used during nights when friends would come over, when sugar would pour from one side to the other, over and over again. Monty once dreamed that this vial was full of catnip, and thought that if that were true, he’d probably never sleep until he could crack it open.
Though he’d jumped back about three tail lengths, the critter kept running at him, so Monty decided it was now or never – he must defend his turf and send this monstrosity packing. He swatted at the creature, the first bat of his paw missing by inches, but his second swipe knocking the creature onto its’ back. Before Monty could get closer for another swipe, the critter righted itself and then the unthinkable happened — it jumped, mere inches, but enough to surprise Monty into stepping back and falling to his side.
There was a sharp sting in Monty’s armpit, the likes of which he’d never felt. What he did feel, a familiar thump, was his body hitting the floor. Countless occurrences of trying to jump straight from the window to the couch cushion, only to miss and land hard on the floor, left Monty very familiar with the feeling of his body crushing against the floor. Usually, he would stand, shake his head, and look around to make sure no one noticed.
But now, he couldn’t stand. He couldn’t shake his head. Monty couldn’t even lick his lips. Instead, he gazed longingly at that couch cushion, just beyond the cursed coffee table. He watched the creature with eight legs tumble off his own paw, felt a faint, distant sting where his claws should be, and the creature meandered, as though drunk, back under the couch, into the shadows.
Monty’s eyes grew heavy, and though the idea of returning to his dreams actually began to frighten him, he allowed himself to be carried away. Numbness surrounded him, and he felt his chest grow heavy as he tried to breathe. He started to drift away to his dreams once more, back to the yard full of luscious, tasty green grass, and numerous mice and chipmunks. They were no longer laughing but instead running away in fear.
Monty overtook them one by one, then chewed some grass and rolled in the yard, and stayed there. This was a good yard, and here he at least had claws. He did not realize how his claws could’ve grown back, but he was happy to have them again. He tackled a chipmunk with ease — no doubt the same that had laughed in a dream long ago — and thought he smelled something distant and familiar. Wood. Hardwood. He vaguely imagined what it would be like to feel his fur and his body hit a floor made of wood, then shook away the thought as he licked his lips and rolled in the dirt and the grass of this living, breathing yard around him. The earth was his cushion, his rock, and there were no critters here to harm him.
If this was a dream, Monty hoped never to awaken.