Nathaniel Tower | Sayantan Halder
“Private Scruffles reporting for duty,” the fluffy yellow cat purred.
“Don’t you dare purr at me, you pussy,” General Worm Face replied, a long brown worm dangling from his puffy pink left eye.
“Then what am I supposed to do, sir?”
“You meow when you speak to me. You’re late. Where’s your salute, Private?”
Private Scruffles licked his left paw. General Worm Face licked his left paw. After several moments of licking, Private Scruffles fell into line. General Worm Face stood before his battalion, admiring the dozen soldiers standing before him.
“Alright, you pussies,” he began while pacing up and down the line, “we attack at Sixteen Hundred Hours.”
The soldiers all purred in agreement, licking their paws at the General. “Now here is the plan,” he whispered, trying not to be distracted by a nearby nest of blue jays.
Lisa Marengue pushed the shopping cart to her shiny green Jaguar, trying to manage the new Blackberry glued between her shoulder and ear. “Stupid handicapped people,” she shouted in the phone as the rain dropped down on her new Prada heels. “Those bastards get everything. Yeah, dinner will be ready before—watch where you’re going asshole!—you get home—Jesus, why does it have to rain every time I go to the store?—see you in a few hours.” She shifted her shoulder to slide the phone into her palm, but instead the polymer shell crashed to the asphalt. In the middle of the parking aisle, she pulled the cart to an abrupt halt, bent down without bothering to use a proper ladylike stance, and retrieved the damp cell phone while an SUV behind her honked its horn. “Be patient, you ass,” she screamed as she stood upright, placed the phone in her Coach purse, and pushed the cart out of the way of traffic. She glared at the man behind the wheel of the car as he passed, but her glare did not stop him from mouthing, “Nice ass, sugar tits,” through his rain-soaked window. “Go to hell, pig,” she shouted just as she arrived beside the Jag.
Lisa heaved the bags out of the cart and into the trunk. She shoved the cart into the open parking space beside her, slammed the lid shut, and tugged at the door handle, the rain swarming her all the while. The door did not budge.
“Dammit,” she swore at the door. She pressed a button on the tiny black key pad, then tugged at the handle again. This time it opened, and she skirted her body into the driver’s seat, shaking the water droplets out of her long blonde hair as she sat. She started the car without fastening her seatbelt, threw the shifter into reverse, and began backing up before the steady howl of a horn instinctively forced her to slam on the brakes. Like an owl, she turned her head almost fully around, yelling, “Crazy bastard,” to the elderly woman driving the blue Oldsmobile that rolled slowly through the parking lot. When the Oldsmobile had given her plenty of clearance, she lifted her foot from the brake and tapped aggressively on the gas pedal, jerking the wheel to the left as she did. “Those damn stray cats better not be congregating outside begging for food when I get home,” she shouted as she put the car into drive and flipped on the wipers.
“Why are we hiding in the bushes, sir?” Private Scruffles feebly asked General Worm Face.
The general stopped pawing at the worm dangling from his eye socket. “Because we want the element of surprise, you stupid fur ball,” he scolded his inferior rank. “And we have to protect ourselves from that crazy selfish woman in her steel cat. Now be silent.”
“But this is boring,” Lieutenant Dust Mop whined through muddy whiskers.
“Then go lick yourself,” the impatient general barked.
Dust Mop slurped rhythmically at his white paws.
Major Mittens, his golden slit eyes menacingly eyeing the driveway, prematurely pounced out of his bush, scratching one of his fellow predators in the process.
“Dammit, Mittens,” the general roared. “We need to have patience.” Worm Face revealed himself, swiped at Mittens’s tail with a ferocious claw, and beckoned the insubordinate beast back to the camouflage of the brownish shrubbery. “We’ve been planning this mission for weeks. Let’s not blow it now.”
“The General’s right,” Private Scruffles purred.
“What the hell did I tell you about purring, you maggot-infested feline?” the General hissed, the worm bouncing like a yo-yo around his face. He swatted at it a few times and began to roll around on his back in a desperate attempt to capture the invader.
“Uh hmm,” came a mischievous voice buried deep in the shrubs. The army of cats glanced around, peering out of curiously slanted eye sockets.
“Who was that?” Major Mittens inquired.
“Silence,” the General hissed. “I’ll take care of this. Show yourself,” he demanded of the shrub.
Slowly, the shrub rustled until a long nose and two beady black eyes appeared. The cats, General Worm Face included, all stepped back a tail’s length to make room for the visitor.
The visitor flashed his full rows of sharpened teeth and swung his bald pink tail like a lasso in the air.
“Wh-wh-who are you?” Private Scruffles asked from behind the General.
The General turned quickly and shot him a vicious look, the worm almost detaching itself at the violence of the motion. “I’ll do the talking,” he reminded his soldier.
“Who are you, and what is your business here?” the General demanded.
“I am a possum,” was all the possum said.
“I am General Worm Face, and you will answer my questions.”
“I did,” the possum said, his eyes of coal staring deeply into Worm Face’s festering eye.
“Don’t toy with me, Possum. You are invading our territory, and we clearly have the numbers.”
“Relax,” said the possum calmly. “I’m not here to threaten you. I’m here to lend a hand. I’ve been observing your mission for some time now, and I’d like to offer my assistance.” His beady eyes did not blink.
“Our plan is rock solid. What assistance could you possibly offer?”
“My specialty is distraction.”
“Hmm,” the General said as he licked his front right paw. “I suppose we could use a distraction. You’ll need a name and rank. What should we call you, Private?”
Private Scruffles shot his general a hurt look, his eyes growing to the size of cookies. He couldn’t believe that this possum that had done nothing had already earned the same rank that took him months of loyalty.
“No need,” said the possum.
“In this army, you need to follow orders,” the General demanded.
“That’s swell, really, but there’s no need for that. I try not to take myself that seriously. After all, I’m just an animal. Besides, in my line of work, there’s no reason to get too attached.”
At the risk of looking powerless, General Worm Face insisted. “Private Possum, you must have a name and rank for this outfit. Your rank is Private. Now what is your name, soldier?”
“Very well, if I must. Private Possy will suffice. Now, I must suggest that you call your men into place. The green Jag is approaching.” Private Possy whispered so as not to upset the General.
The army turned their heads in unison, spotting the green car rolling smoothly down the street. With a silent order, the General commanded them into the bushes.
Without a turn signal, Lisa slowed her car and pulled into her driveway. As she reached to the visor to activate the garage door, a blood curdling scream escaped her mouth. Everything went into slow motion, but her nerves were frozen in terror, her leg incapable of pulling her foot off the gas pedal and onto the brake.
“Attack!” shouted the General.
The cats forced themselves through the bushes, their fur protecting them from the prickly needles.
“Retreat!” the General cried, and the cats turned in unison without thought back into the bushes.
Before they were hidden from sight, Scruffles purred out, “No, Possy—” and lunged toward his new comrade in arms lying frozen on the driveway
Before her eyes, the giant rat-like beast rose with a smile shining across his jagged teeth and scampered away just as a fluffy yellow cat darted in front of the tire. She felt a gentle bump as the car glided through the driveway and collided into the white garage door, causing the air bag to inflate and her body to lurch forward. She threw the shifter into park, pulled her face off the already-deflating bag, and leapt out of the car, fearing the worst had happened to her own precious cat.
“My Jag,” she sobbed. As she stared at the crumpled hood, a giggling voice said, “There’s no reason to get too attached.” A bald tail slithered into the bushes, away from the carnage.