He was an evil little dog, one of those shivering little Chihuahuas you squeeze in the middle so the poop pops out, those ones that always wanted to start a fight. He controlled the neighbourhood corners like a 1920s gangster, humping dogs twice its size, biting all the kids and running between the old people’s legs so they would trip and fall and break their brittle hips. He had one really big ear and one really small one and he walked with a limp like a pimp with a cane, all bad-ass and what-not. The kids called him Yappy because that was the sound he made as he whizzed up and down the street, racing after anything that moved. YAP-YAP-YAP-YAP until his teeth got whatever part of you was hanging loose. He would rip you to shreds, if he could.
This one kid, Max, he’d had enough. Since Old Maisie picked up that wicked little rat dog three years prior, Max couldn’t play in his own back yard or ride his bike on the cul de sac without Yappy nipping ferociously at his heels and aiming for the fleshiest part of his butt. Max would run screaming in terror back into the safety of his house, staring wistfully at the sun-soaked grass he would prefer to be having adventures on, while the beast snarled and drooled and patrolled the street.
Max had gotten a whole new set of toy trucks for his birthday. He wanted to race them up and down and around and around on the backyard deck. He spent the whole morning peeping out the window but there wasn’t a Yap in sight, so he crept quietly outside like a little marmoset and lost himself in his own little world. So loud was the VROOM VROOM VROOMing of the trucks in his head that he didn’t hear the Yapster come yipping at full speed down his driveway, running so fast his feet barely touched the ground. It was the stinging heat of teeth on his skin that jolted him out of his reverie, the shock of having a mouthful of needles lodged in his butt that made him cry out, the indignity of lying on the doctor’s table for a tetanus shot, his ass on full display, that made him decide once and for all: this is it. This is the end of that holy horror. He figured there was one thing that could save them all.
Max got a cat.
He put up an ad on the signposts one day when Yappy was at the groomers. Neighbourhood kids seek feline hero, it read, and two days later, Bluebell turned up. She was a fat tabby with a permanent look of disdain upon her face – so, just a regular looking cat. She walked up to Max’s house as calm as you please and rang the doorbell and looked up expectantly when Max opened the door. Max explained the situation to Bluebell, who said she would fix that Yappy for good in exchange for three cans of sardines and almond milk cream every other Tuesday but to be sure it was almond milk because she was lactose intolerant. Actually she’d only said meow but Max knew what was up.
The very next day, Bluebell was sunning herself in the garden and Max came outside to play. Not two minutes later, Yappy came racing up like a speed racer, YAP-YAP-YAP-YAP-YAP-YAP-YAP! until even Mr. Thompson three doors down rolled his eyes and turned his hearing aid off. Yappy lunged after Max in a frenzy as Max sat wide-eyed and quivering and Bluebell licked her right leg provocatively. Just as Yappy was descending onto Max, Bluebell grew to the size of a panther and swatted Yappy so hard on his tiny ass that he flew through the atmosphere and landed on the moon, yap-yap-yapping the whole way. To this day if you look through a telescope on a clear night you’ll still see him there snarling like a beast and chasing his own tail in frustration at no one else to yap at.
Max spread the word that Bluebell had saved them all and that the neighbourhood kids were free. The kids rejoiced and brought the sardines and came every Tuesday with litres of almond cream they’d pinched from their kitchens after telling their parents that almond milk was the new trend. They brushed Bluebell’s coat and stroked her behind the ears and ran their hands down the beautiful gray hair on her back.
Bluebell loved this life of luxury because she is a cat and therefore feels entitled, and eventually she wanted more. Why have sardines when you could have sea bream and snapper and caviar on toast, she thought. Why have almond milk cream only on Tuesdays and not every day of the week? Why catch your own mice when the neighbourhood kids, indebted to you as they were, could catch them for you and deliver them on a plate with a dash of tamari and a squeeze of lemon? And certainly her coat would gleam in the sunshine if it was brushed all day every day?
Bluebell told them of her new demands (actually, she only said meow but they knew what was up). The kids were bewildered. What is caviar? they thought, and how were they supposed to buy all these things with their very small allowances? Max, as representative, explained gently to Bluebell that what she wanted was impossible but they would be happy to ask their parents for more sardines, but Bluebell grew into the size of a tiger and snarled and slashed at them, the drool dripping in torrents from her great, big tiger teeth, and said she wanted what she wanted and she didn’t care how she came by it.
The kids all peed themselves. And when Bluebell reverted back to a tabby and commenced licking herself as if she hadn’t just threatened to eat them all, they scampered away to the safety of their homes – even Max, who simply gave up on ever being able to enjoy his backyard. But Bluebell was no Yappy, she was a cat, stealthy and dangerous and drunk on power – and very, very quiet. She began to stalk the neighbourhood kids one by one. She squeezed into their windows at night and lay on their chests breathing mouse-flavoured breath into their faces until they woke up with a big wild cat face just inches from their own. She snuck up on them as walked home from school and swiped her tabby cat claws, leaving burning, bleeding marks on the backs of the their thighs. She ate their pet gerbils and chinchillas and hamsters and threw them back up on their pillows – while they were sleeping on them. There was no refuge from this silent feline terror.
Eventually they gave in to her demands. They stole money from their parents’ wallets to buy caviar and sea bream and litres and litres of almond milk cream. Each day, one of them pretended to be sick so they could stay home and groom Bluebell. And all of them always smelled like fish.
The kids began to think of Yappy. On clear, still nights, they’d look up at the moon, tears streaming from their eyes for the devil they knew. At least, they sighed, you would have heard him coming.