Darkness descended on our suburban landscape as Saturday drew to a close. I flipped on the floodlights and peered out the back door’s window, searching the yard for the hundredth time. Nothing.
The fall leaves whirled and crackled as the wind blew them into a dance on the deck. I didn’t want to panic, but I tried in vain to push down the gurgling fear in my stomach. Our cat Dexter went outside every day, and sometimes he didn’t come home until dinner time. But it was nine o’clock and no Dexter. Where could he be?
I’d heard talk of some goth teens who held clandestine meetings in the woods behind our street, but surely they wouldn’t harm animals. Or would they? I gulped. Telling myself Dexter had probably chased a squirrel up a tree or something, I sighed and turned away from the door.
“Honey, he’ll be fine. He’s a cat, for Pete’s sake.” My husband Tim’s casual remark did nothing to assure me. Instead it both angered me and firmed my resolve to find my fluffy baby.
“No, I’m going out there. Something could’ve happened.” Dexter was just a cat to Tim—to me he was part of the family. While Tim stayed with our sleeping toddlers, I grabbed a flashlight then donned my jacket and shoes to hunt for Dexter around my neighborhood.
I crossed our own yard, scouring every inch. Aside from too many weeds and not enough grass, I didn’t see anything amiss. When I visited several neighbors, all I got was, “Sorry. I haven’t seen him today.”
So I continued, calling Dexter’s name, not too loudly lest I wake any young children or unfriendly dogs. I peered under cars and in trees, expecting any moment to spy bright yellow eyes belonging to a ten-pound ball of black fur.
Suddenly movement flashed from the corner of my eye. I sprinted, following it around the corner into a small bed of flowers. Only a toad. Maybe if I kissed it, it would turn into Dexter. Oh wait, toads only turned into handsome princes. I pondered that for a split second then reminded myself I had my own prince at home. This was no time for humor or marital doubts.
Desperate now, I ventured several more houses down, wondering again about the wayward teenagers. A light turned on, startling me. Mr. Bickler appeared at the next home, taking out his garbage.
I rushed over. “Excuse me, have you seen a fluffy black cat around here?”
“Nope. Maybe he’s prowlin’ the woods. You watch yerself, though. I think I heard them kids what’s always wearin’ black out there, chantin’ some mumbo jumbo.”
My throat seized in alarm. Somehow I found my voice again. “Oh. Well, thanks. I’ll be careful.” As much as I loved Dexter, I didn’t want to brave a pack of Wiccan-wannabes, or whatever they were. Anyway, I had no proof of illegal activity.
So I sulked, ready to give up, and turned toward home. A faint scraping-scratching sound emanated from behind a house two doors closer to me than my own. Steeling myself for another wild animal discovery, possibly a raccoon or possum this time, I rounded the corner to find two trash cans—one knocked over and one upright with the lid still intact. The stench assaulted my nose while I aimed the flashlight’s beam back and forth. Torn open bags littered the sidewalk with wrappers, cans, fish bones and other debris. A muffled “meow” emerged from the second garbage bin, causing my heart to jump with hope.
“Dexter?” I said, gingerly lifting the lid of the can while I shone the flashlight into it. There sat my now scraggly baby, in a menagerie of fish bones and burnt hush puppies. I kicked myself inwardly for not remembering. The Armando’s held a fish fry at their home every Friday night and the leftovers must’ve drawn Dexter inexorably to them.
Relief flooded me and I smiled. “Whew, you need a bath. Bad kitty.” My tone must’ve sounded brasher than I meant it, because Dexter looked severely chastened. Having drawn Dexter up out of the refuse, I grasped his collar to prevent a further escape.
When I stepped through the front door with my disheveled bundle, Tim just shook his head. “See, I told you he’d be fine.”
Instead of conceding, I just rolled my eyes and marched by him, happy to have the family together again.
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