Sidney bulled his way in from the farmhouse porch, slamming the screen door, ignoring Maggie’s protests.
She backed away from his advance, across the room to the very sofa she and Delia had occupied in peace, moments before. When her legs touched the aged velvet surface, Maggie plumped back down. She laid her hand upon Delia’s sleek head, seeking and offering comfort.
“I told you not to come here again, Sidney!” Maggie said.
“I have nowhere else to go, Aunt Maggie,” Sidney said. “I need a loan.” The fine, white hairs on the back of Delia’s neck stirred; the man had a dreadful voice.
“No!” Maggie said. “Not one more cent.”
Delia pressed tight against Maggie’s hip, eyes wide and ears flat, as Sidney loomed closer and thrust one finger at Delia. Her nose wrinkled; he smelled of new anger and old fear. Delia considered paths of escape.
“I swear,” Sidney said. “You care more for that damned cat than you do for me. If you — ”
He peered at Delia, lost from the world for the moment. Delia shrank away, eyes widening; it took all of her composure to remain upon the sofa.
“Sidney?” Maggie said. He glanced at her from the corner of his eye.
“Is that the key to your safe on her collar?” he asked. As he reached for Delia, Maggie smacked his hand away; just as she had done when he was a boy and had tried to snatch an extra cookie.
“You leave that alone!” she said.
Sidney’s meaty left hand snapped out, engulfed Maggie’s right arm and squeezed; bones crackled. Delia leaped from the sofa and backed against the wall, tail in the air, pupils wide, watching, as Maggie stretched her free hand high and raked manicured fingernails across Sidney’s face.
He gasped and jerked Maggie from the sofa, holding her in the air before him, shaking her as if she were a wrinkled piece of clothing. More bones snapped. After a time, he dropped her to the floor, where she lay, loose and broken.
“Don’t you ever touch me again,” he said.
He was panting, his fear was gone. All Delia could smell now was anger.
“Aunt Maggie?” He pushed at her with the toe of his shoe.
“Hey! Old Woman!”
He kicked her this time. When Maggie did not move, he turned upon Delia and she scrambled from the room with as much speed as her arthritic limbs would allow, keening her dismay.
Some time later, in the barn, Delia’s eyes flicked back and forth in counterpoint to her tail. She considered the distance from the highest loft, where she had taken refuge among the bales, to the stone floor. Old bones and long jumps were just not suited to each other.
“Delia?” It was Sidney, at the barn door. “Come and face the music.”
Hay tickled Delia’s nose; she fought back a sneeze, as she curled her lip, baring fangs, ready to make a stand. Sidney would shinny up the ladder soon and she had nowhere else to run. Leather upon wood caught her attention; she crept forward to peek over the edge. Sidney was standing at the base of the ladder, clapping one of his boots upon a rung! Their eyes meet and he grinned.
“I see you, Delia.” Oh, that awful voice!
Sidney dropped the boot and scuttled up the ladder. Delia burrowed back between the bales, as he crawled over the top of the ladder and started across the hay.
She held her breath, waiting for him to stumble by, but his hand shot between the bales and fumbled at her. She tried to squirm away, but his fingers raked along her spine, found purchase on her tail and hauled her from hiding.
“I’ve got you now!” Sidney said, so pleased. He hoisted Delia into the air before him and moved toward the loft’s edge.
“Damned old cat,” he said. “I’m going to drop you, see if you land on your feet. I figure you’ll splatter like a rotten melon.” Spinning, disoriented, Delia caterwauled defiance; Sidney paid no heed.
“But first, I want that key,” he said. He reached toward Delia’s collar. “If Aunt Maggie had let me have it, when we were inside, she might still be alive.”
A red flood of anger swept away Delia’s arthritic clumsiness. She lashed out with her claws; it had been months since Maggie last clipped them and they were daggers. The glee in Sidney’s voice jumpcut to surprise as Delia snagged his shirt sleeve; pinpricks of crimson dotted the white cotton above the wrist and his hold on her loosened.
She twisted free and slashed her way up his arm, tore across his face and head, and dug through his shirt again to the skin of his middle back. Sidney jerked about, shrieking in pain, flailing his arms to dislodge her. No luck; her claws had found purchase in his hide. In an instant, he lost his balance, fell onto his face and began to slide across the hay.
Delia crouched tight against his back, ears flat and tail down, riding Sidney as if he were a surfboard. They shot over the lip, howling in counterpoint, and Delia clung to him as the stone floor hurried toward them. She eyed the closing distance again; perhaps she had a life or two left, after all.
Sidney, she prayed — to whatever god cats worship — would not be so lucky.
K.C. Ball is a retired newspaper reporter and media relations coordinator. She lives in Seattle, a stone throw from Puget Sound and she writes because if she doesn’t, she’ll just burst. In addition to Every Day Fiction, her flash fiction has been accepted for publication in Boston Literary Magazine, Fear and Trembling, Murky Depths and Morpheus Tales. K.C. blogs at nowplayinginseattle.blogspot.com.