The Happy Hunting Ground


“It was the darkest night I had seen since I was a kitten. Mother would leave us on such nights. Each time, I feared she would not return from her hunt, and each time, I swore I would never do the same when I was a mother. But this night was warm and the air was rich with the scent of prey. So I left the safety of under-the-dumpster to hunt. I have my own kittens now.

“The tall lights along the street were the perfect illumination for me but did little for the humans walking by. I frightened one as I darted out from the alley beside it. I usually allow the young to stroke my fur, but they almost always pull my tail. I grinned to myself as the small human wailed at my passing, and I continued full speed across the empty road.

“The alley behind the human food building was ripe with garbage. My kittens have asked me repeatedly why we do not live under-the-dumpster there, where prey is so easy to pounce upon. I have tried to teach them that to live where one’s prey lives means the prey lives elsewhere, but they are too young to understand. All they know is that Mother leaves when it is dark and they fear she will not return. This time, I licked their heads and told them I would return soon. The smell of spoiled meat and rotten vegetation and chocolate—everything my prey loves to eat—was strong. It would be a quick hunt.

“If the rat was aware of my presence, it did not show it. The rancid food it gnawed was a fatal distraction. One well-positioned leap onto its back and it was mine. I offered up a prayer of thanks to the Huntress as my teeth sank into the rat’s lifeless neck, securing the meal for the short trip home. It was the largest and easiest catch I had ever made. My tail lifted proudly as I emerged from the alley and stepped into the street….”

tick, tick, tick

“And?”

“And now I am here.”

“And?”

“I had hoped you would answer that.”

“You were hit by a car. It wasn’t your fault. They were speeding and drunk, if it makes you feel any better.”

“Yes?”

“And now you’re dead.”

“Oh.”

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“What is this place?”

“I think the humans call it ‘heaven’. It’s where you go when you die. An eternal paradise—fun and games forever.”

“How did I arrive here?”

“By car, technically speaking.”

“I do not understand. This is the same city, but it is much bigger and also much smaller from above. I have lost my bearings. Where are my kittens?”

“Under the dumpster where you left them.”

“Are they safe? I cannot smell them.”

“For now. But not for always. They’re tiny and adorable, though. Someone will find them.”

tick, tick, tick

“What did you do to my tail?”

“Nothing. That’s always been there, you just couldn’t see it. It’s your biological clock.”

“I see. And the numbers?”

“Your lives.”

“Surely I have not used all nine already. I have only birthed my first litter this season.”

“You’ve lived a dangerous life, my furry friend. Nine of them.”

“What does a fish know of a cat’s life, except perhaps what it is to be the victim of one? I demand an explanation.”

Sigh. “Very well.

“Your first life ended before your eyes opened—stepped on by the little boy who lived with your mother’s family. Not his fault, really. Fresh kittens are hard to spot in a pile of laundry. Your second life went to a batch of contaminated food in the animal shelter. Super embarrassing—death by diarrhea is never cute. Lives three, four, and five are all chalked up to attempts to escape the people who adopted you—miscellaneous accidents. I hope you’re at least a little ashamed of that, by the way. That kid loved you, you know? Six is my favorite—fell down inside a wall and got trapped. Not even sure how you did that. Eight was on your first day as a free cat. Unfair, in my opinion—that possum should’ve found his own trash can to sleep in. And then tonight’s car makes nine. Quite a rap sheet for someone who’s only a year old. Well, was.”

“What of the seventh life, fish? I believe you forgot to include that tale.”

“I didn’t forget. Just conveniently left it out. I didn’t want this to get awkward.”

tick, tick, tick

“I am waiting.”

“Ugh, okay, fine. You drowned in a fish tank for your seventh life.”

“Why would that information make me uncomfortable?”

“Because I was what you were fishing for.”

tick, tick, tick

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

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“You are also deceased?”

“Yep.”

“And I ended your life.”

“Correct.”

“But I also perished, meaning I did not eat you.”

“You got it.”

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“Can I?”

“Can you what?”

“Eat you.”

“What?! No! Why would you even ask me that?”

“It is only polite to ask, given our friendly conversation. Since we are both dead and in paradise, and since I am a predator and you are prey, I must assume you are here as a reward for my hunting prowess during my nine lives. An eternal quarry for, as you said, ‘fun and games’. It is a generous welcoming gift.”

“That’s insane. I talk to everyone who comes in through the ‘Small Animals’ door. I’m literally the least terrifying thing you could see when you die. I’m a greeter, that’s all.”

tick, tick, tick

“Seriously, cat, stop looking at me like that. That smile is creeping me out.”

tick, tick, tick

“Hey, don’t come any closer. I mean it!”

tick, tick, tick

“Security! Security…!”

 


Story content © Ellie Di Julio 2017
Art: To Catch a Moonfish” by Qinni