by Randall Rader

In my dream, it’s always darkest midnight as I stand watch outside my master’s home. The house itself is a fantastical affair, a futuristic castle, really, carved from pure obsidian and perched atop a mesa as if defining the absolute edge of the world. “Beyond here there be monsters.”

At this hour, the house is visible mostly as a profound blankness against an overgenerous display of clear desert sky.

In a sharp wind, the dark glass of the castle’s twin spires sings in an impossible register like a chorus of falling angels, and the sheer agony of its cries sets me to howling in despair. But tonight, the breeze is gentle, and the harmonics merely leave a persistent itch at the base of my spine.

It’s a good breeze for scent tracking, and as the pungent brew of a recent desert rain steams the dust from my nostrils, I catch the first whiff of trouble.

The master’s cat is here. Somewhere.

The cat is an awful beast, whose primary joy is to taunt me from atop the nearest fence or precipice. His Modus Operandi is the sneak attack, followed by the inevitable chase to high ground. At which point the fish-bait typically attempts to spray me from on high.

In my own defense, that trick rarely works, being effective only when I am so close to catching him that the snap of my teeth surely leaves a crease in his fur even as he lets fly.

He’s close. I sniff warily from point to point across the drive, triangulating on the wicked source. But as I close in, a thin band of clouds conspires to mask the stars from the earth. In the hungry shadow of the great, black house, there is no shape left to the night. I am blind.

The cat is here.

I spin.

He is not here.

But he is here!

I spin.

He is not here.

I reverse direction, contort, bend nearly double in my frenzy to catch the beast before he can set on me from behind. In this unnatural darkness he can strike and flee with impunity.

I have him. The wake of his passing parts the air, tickling the hairs on the end of my nose. I stretch my jaws wide and pour everything I have into one desperate lunge as the tip of his tail brushes across my face.

I bite down.

Randall B. Rader lives in the Seattle area, where he works as Director of Technical Publications for a leading Internet/media company. Randall’s current projects include a collection of poems due to be published in the next Exquisite Corpse (Issue 10, Fall 2001).