Fluffy slinked the edge of the pond, peering through the net of algae looking for a shimmer of scales, when she spotted Whiskers. He floated in place, orange fur gently swishing around him under the murky water.
Fluffy yowled in terror and immediately jumped in, not caring about the slimy green algae or the icy water soaking into her fur. She awkwardly swam through to Whiskers as quickly as her paws could paddle her, nudged his body onto her back, and clambered back to the grassy shore. Once her paws were standing on solid ground again, she eased down her drowned rescue from her dripping back.
Upon hitting the grassy earth, Whiskers wildly flopped around, limbs and tail flailing and body convulsing. Oh Bastet, he's having a seizure! Fluffy thought, and not knowing how else to help, pinned Whiskers's shaking body beneath her own and batted hard across his face.
Whiskers immediately stilled and howled. "Hey! Get off!"
Fluffy jumped back, green eyes wide and back hunched. "You're alright!"
"I was," he grumbled, frowning under the wet fur hanging in his eyes. "Until you interrupted me." At the other cat's head tilt, Whiskers explained, "I'm going to become a fish. I was practicing in the pond."
Fluffy stared, white head still tilted to the side.
Whiskers stretched his lean body along the earth. His orange fur was slicked smooth and dripping. A strand of algae wrapped around his ear and dirt clung to his body from his rolling around in the dirt.
"My pet humans bought an aquarium yesterday. And I'm going to live there with my fish friends."
Fluffy eyed Whiskers's furry head closely as he meowed on and on about his "fish friends." She couldn't see any cracks or blood. His eyes weren't bloodshot or dilated. And he didn't smell like catnip either.
"…and then my humans saw me wearing the salmon skin from their dinner and—wait! You can help! Give me gills!"
He sprang up, vivid yellow eyes gazing at Fluffy earnestly, as he nodded his head at her front paws. "Scratch gills into my neck so I can breathe underwater!" Whiskers held her gaze and blinked slowly to show his trust, sunny eyes gleaming with excitement.
Fluffy stared for a long minute, before turning and sprinting away.
A week after the fish fiasco found Fluffy sprawled out on the stone steps in front of her human woman's house. Her eyes closed, Fluffy enjoyed the warmth of the sun's rays on her white fur, the distant chirping of tasty birds and the smell of freshly cut grass. She felt herself drifting further and further into sleep, not noticing the soft steps padding nearer or the shadow blocking the warmth of the sun.
A bellowing "Fluffy!" right in her ear jolted the dozing cat upright, ears flattened and claws raised to strike, when she saw Whiskers an inch away from her face. His ears perked forward and his whiskers twitched. Faint lines traced each side of his throat.
"I've been looking for you! I want you to meet my new friends!" he trilled. Whiskers stepped forward onto the lawn, craning his head back to check if she would follow.
Fluffy sighed. Eh, I've got nine lives. And then tailed her possibly unstable neighbor across the wide green yard, past the blooming lilac bushes with their pretty scents and the cracked garden gnome and jumped through the open window into the Schrodingers' living room.
At the far end of the spacious room, between a red velvet sofa and an ornate nightstand, was an enormous water-filled glass box with blue stone sculptures scattered throughout the inside. A small wooden ship broken in half and a miniature brown wooden chest laid on the bottom of the tank, which was covered with pastel blue pebbles. Bubbles floated to the surface near a black humming box. A glimmering goldfish and a pale green swishy-tailed guppy the size of a paw leisurely swam around the blue statues. A brown catfish suctioned against a clear wall while an odd balloon-cheeked goldfish circled nearby. Inside the front of the broken ship hovered a regal blue fish with yellow fins and tail.
"There they are," Whiskers whispered reverently, gaze bright and intense on the tank.
He moved across the soft carpet like it was a hot tin roof. Fluffy followed a few steps behind, warily watching her neighbor. The two felines climbed the velvet sofa, balancing themselves on the armrest next to the left side of the tank. Whiskers placed his front paws on the glass and peered in. "Hey guys, I'm back! And look what I dragged in!"
As soon as Whiskers spoke, the guppy and glimmered goldfish darted to the opposite side of the tank. The regal blue fish huddled further into the broken ship while the puffy-cheeked goldfish's eyes widened even larger at Whiskers as it frantically tried to join its companions. The catfish descended behind one of the blue statues.
Whiskers frowned. "I know you're all shy, but this is rude. Fluffy is a guest."
The fish didn't move.
Whiskers turned to Fluffy, offering an apologetic smile. "They're not used to strangers. But I'll get them to open up with our favorite game!"
With that he bounded off the sofa, ran and leapt up onto the nightstand bordering the right side of the tank where the fish were currently hiding away. "Here I am!" Whiskers meowed, sending the fish into a frenzied dash to the left side.
Whiskers chirped gleefully as he rushed back over to the sofa, pressing his furry face up to the glass as the fish again jettisoned to the right, only to reencounter Whiskers' fanged Cheshire grin. Fluffy wordlessly observed the bizarre tag as the fish desperately sought to escape the relentless Whiskers. Eventually, they gave up and chose to huddle towards the middle. Whiskers purred, looking like he had just captured the impossibly elusive Red Laser Dot.
"All better? Now introduce yourselves to Fluffy!"
Fins drooping, the fishes' unfocused eyes stared straight ahead.
"Aww, still shy? I'll do it then."
Whiskers gestured his paw at the glimmering goldfish ("Goldie") to the guppy ("Moby") to the catfish ("Wanda") to the puffy-cheeked goldfish ("Flounder") and then pointed to the regal blue fish as he exclaimed, "And that's my gorgeous girlfriend, Doris!" He threw the unlucky blue fish a loving gaze and then head-butted the glass wall in an affectionate bunt. "Hang on honey, I'm coming!" he meowed, and then dove into the aquarium with a splash.
Whiskers circled the fish, orange fur a cloud and tail swishing side to side. He nuzzled Doris, who was grasped between his paws and struggling to break free with her feeble fins. The other fish watched the scene with large unblinking eyes.
Fluffy was done.
Yeah, Whiskers was sort of her friend, or at least he used to be. But then all cats were gray in the dark until the light revealed their true fur.
Apparently Whiskers's true fur was crazy.
Fluffy crept across the soft carpet to jump onto the windowsill where she poised for a moment, craning her head back to catch sight of Whiskers batting the small wooden ship where Doris had escaped with an eerily sharklike grin. He didn't notice Fluffy.
She vaulted outside and sprinted across the picturesque lawn. No more. Trying to help Whiskers would be like mice trying to bell a cat.
"Stop staring, Fluffy. I'm not giving you any of my sandwich."
Fluffy didn't break her gaze away from her sitting human woman from her spot down by the kitchen table.
Her human, Mao, shook her head, black stick-straight hair swinging with the movement. She lifted the tuna sandwich…
…and dropped it back on the plate as she rose to answer the door.
Purr-fect, Fluffy thought as she climbed onto the tabletop and pushed aside the bread to reach the tasty defenseless tuna.
"Dinah? What's wrong?" came her human's voice from the front door.
"Felix and I returned from Kuching today," a high, wobbly voice answered. "And we expected everything would be fine! I made sure to call Leo to check up on the pets but, but, but…"
"But what? What happened?"
"Whiskers died!" Fluffy froze mid-chew. "I found him drowned in the aquarium! Oh, Mao! Oh…" Dinah's words trailed off into muffled crying. Fluffy snuck by the embracing women as nimbly as a cat burglar escaping the police.
Yet again she crossed the Schrodingers' lush lawn and leapt through the open window. The living-room looked the same as before. Same sofa, same nightstand, same glass box. The only thing missing was Whiskers. Fluffy had half-expected to find his body floating above those beloved fish of his.
Those beloved, unguarded fish.
In an instant, the white cat leaned over the side of the tank. Her pale reflection licked its lips. There they were: the royal blue, the brown catfish, the swishy-tailed guppy, the puffy-cheeked goldfish, and the orange catfish with gleaming yellow eyes.
Fluffy peered closer, nose an inch away from the gently rippling water.
All the fish swam for cover—inside the small broken ship and beneath the ridges and outcrops of the strangely-shaped stone sculptures. Except for the orange catfish. He swam to the surface and lifted his head out of the water, yellow eyes staring unblinkingly into Fluffy's blue ones while his mouth gaped open and shut, open and shut.
Could it be…?
Open and shut, open and shut while sunny-yellow eyes glowed with excitement, with madness, with familiarity.
"Whiskers?" she whispered.
The yellow eyes shined even brighter, like twin flashlights. For a long moment, fish and cat studied each other, hearing nothing else but their breathing. The tank's undulating water, nature's birdsong and rustling wind, the humming of mysterious household machines all slipped away. The air stilled, its summer warmth hovering. Every color that didn't belong to their eyes faded into the background.
Then Fluffy ate him.
Hey, what did you expect? She's a cat.