The furnace kicked on and the warm air blew over her—striking her at the line where her tabby fur and orange stripes blended into the brown and gold of her tortoiseshell markings. Mitzi yawned and opened one eye to check the dining room. If she was going to wake up, it would be for a reason worthy of her attention.
Not a creature was stirring. The streetlights shone on the wall and when she opened her other eye, her pupils widened from slits to ovals. Rising to her feet, she stretched to her full length and stopped to wash a patch of itchy fur. Time to do rounds, she thought, something might not accept her ownership.
She padded into the kitchen, found a morsel of dropped food under the edge of the kitchen island and tossed it into her mouth. Mmmm. Chicken skin. There was dry food and water near the sliding stairway door to where Soft Bed slept every night. Mitzi ate enough to satisfy her tummy and walked into the hallway.
The usual line of upstairs cats slept on the floor—it was always warm there for some reason. She was no scientist, but she was aware of her world and took advantage of its natural phenomena every chance she could. Old Girl and Meat Loaf lay on one side of the hall and Stripe-Tom on the other. From behind the door of the bedroom, Shoulder-Girl and Poppa snored, the latter shaking the door when he inhaled. All was as it should be for an early morning.
The living room was different than usual and had been for days now. She, like most of her kind, hated change with a passion—all her walking and jumping routes were altered and anything out of her control bothered her. The new tall object, many cat-lengths high, was covered with shiny things. More change—ewwww—now there were boxes under the tall thing. They weren’t there when she fell asleep. Should she be afraid? Should she run forward and attack? None of the boxes moved.
She launched herself onto the couch, hit a cushion and rebounded onto the arm of the chair. From there, it was simple to walk across the side of the wall, moving from window-sill to window-sill. She paused alongside the tall thing to bat at a round ball with a cat inside of it that moved when she did. The inside cat hit back at her each time she made a move. She hit the ball hard and it came loose and bounced against the wall, dropping into the pile of boxes below her. That’d show the stupid tiny cat!
When she got to the end of the windows, she leapt to the speakers, to the box with pictures (black at the moment), and then to the floor, arriving right next to an unsuspecting box. She put her paw forward, poking it against a ribbon. The box did nothing. Was it asleep or dead? Dead things were sometimes edible like the food in the kitchen, nice to sleep on like the furniture, or fun to play with. The box was none of those, so she dismissed it. It was time to go back to her warm spot and sleep.
There was a smell here, though—one that taunted her when she tried to ignore it. She drew in a deep breath. By Tuna, it smelled better than anything she’d ever smelled before. Where was it coming from?
Mitzi stepped up, climbing even higher onto the pile of boxes. There was a gap between them and she slipped her head into it. Aha! At the bottom of the pile was a box with the yummy smell all over it. She pushed the top box over and it slid down the pile. The white tip of her tail lashed as she pulled at others with her front paws.
She didn’t see the black streak as Demon Black Fluff, her feline nemesis, flew from her hiding place near the wall. Fluff landed on her, biting at Mitzi’s fur and pulling at it with her teeth. Mitzi let out a howl of anger, pulled away from her attacker, and somersaulted into a clear area. Both of the cats arched their backs, sang their warning songs, and snarled. It was a standoff. The Demon was willing to maim with her teeth, but lacked the front claws that made Mitzi so proud. Mitzi didn’t fight with other cats except to play, so she lacked the aggression of her opponent. They sang louder, filling the living room with noise.
BANG. The bedroom door opened and then slammed shut. Poppa’s footsteps came down the hallway and into the living room. He made some not-cat noises and picked the Demon up in his arms, carrying her away into the kitchen. Mitzi heard the sliding door and knew she didn’t have to worry for a while. Having a peaceful reputation was useful, if nothing else.
Once Poppa had returned to bed, she resumed her project—the buried box. It smelled wonderful for a dead thing. She pushed boxes off of it until its entire top was visible. It wasn’t square like the other ones and it was soft and rolled into a cylinder. There was a ribbon around the center with a piece of paper attached. She chewed the paper in two bites, spitting it out when she realized it had no taste.
Mitzi looked around carefully. Sometimes she was punished for using her claws on dead things. No one was visible in the living room—not even White Old Lady, who often slept by the corner register to ease her arthritis. Safe. She tore the paper wrapping on the box into tiny bits within seconds. They flew around her, landing a full cat-length away in some cases. Inside was not a box at all, but a clear bag with something inside—something that smelled like heaven.
The plastic didn’t last any longer than the paper had. Her claws shredded the bag and the plant bits inside fell out. They smelled even stronger than before. Her eyes watered, her whiskers twitched, and her tail stuck out so straight she almost pulled a muscle. Joy! The room swirled—even things that were dull a moment before were mesmerizing. This is what the other cats must mean by “catnip”, she thought. She couldn’t imagine anything else that would do this to her.
The silver tinsel on the tree called to her, teasing. There were many more balls hanging on the tree than she had seen before and each one of them had an inside cat that looked just like her. She would have reacted to their challenge, but her back legs weren’t working right and she fell over on her side in the shredded paper. For some reason, this was the funniest thing that had ever happened to her. Moving quickly just resulted in her writhing on the wrapping paper.
When she got onto her feet again, the ribbons on the other packages were moving. Snakes! She crouched and waved her tail in the air, ready to kill. These ribbon-snakes, like all snakes, were a natural enemy. Her pounce took her over the pile of boxes onto a larger one with a deadly-looking ribbon. Her teeth were like blades, ripping the ribbon into bite-sized pieces that she swallowed. Ugh! Nasty thing.
Now, the wall of boxes moved, taunting her. She leapt onto it, striking out with her front claws against the top one and then falling down into the center. She grabbed a small box with her front paws and raked it with her back claws. Again and again she struck, first against the boxes—then moving fast against the tinsel and ball-cats. When she finished, exhausted, she had killed everything infesting the tall thing. The bodies of the offenders were at her feet. She lay, nose in the heavenly-smelling plant bits, and fell into a near-coma.
Tall-Chair came through the back door of the house and was most of the way through the dining room before he saw the carnage beneath the Christmas tree. Presents were unwrapped, boxes had their tops torn off, and ornaments lay in pieces around the base. Lying beneath the tree, holding the bag of organically-grown farm catnip up to her face, was Mitzi, unconscious, with a long strand of tinsel wrapped around her back legs.
He was laughing while he walked through the kitchen on his way to the back steps, dodging other cats along the way—they’d need everyone to get this cleaned up before company came over. “Hey,” he called out the back door to Table-Feeder—who was busy walking Barker—“next time we’ll have to double-bag the kitties’ present.”