Every muscle was stiff and every joint ached as she eased herself out of the chair in the morning. After the cats and creature fight last night she hadn’t left her seat and eventually fell asleep there. Now, of course, she regretted it.
She moved slowly through her routine, abandoning all but the very essential activities of coffee, breakfast and a shower. She couldn’t bring herself to look out the window but when she did she froze in surprise: There was a large puddle on the brickwork around the picnic table and it had a very distinctive oil slick on it.
She filled her thermos, threw on her coat, made sure the battery on her phone was fully charged for photos and hustled down to the yard in her slippers. Once there she tried to remember what it was like to visit the yard when all she did was examine her flowers, make sure the bird feeders were full and the bird baths clean. She wanted to look that nonchalant again should a neighbor see her walking around the yard.
She thought she was succeeding until she saw her downstairs neighbor crawl out from the bushes where she was sure the creature hid. They locked eyes for a moment and his quickly slid away from her surprised stare. He muttered something about seeing an injured baby bird but as he tried to leave she grabbed his arm. He slowly raised his eyes to hers. He knew! She wasn’t alone in her terror, he knew!
That afternoon they compared notes about everything; from the first time they’d seen the creature to the present oily puddle. He hadn’t gone as far as to purchase a gun but he was involved in amateur athletics and had both a hockey stick and baseball bat at the ready. He was such a nice young man; however, she wasn’t certain he’d be able to use the weaponry.
She offered up her theory about the baby and the look of revulsion on his face confirmed he hadn’t thought of that.
Ideas of how to get rid of the creature were plentiful and most of them rejected. She mentioned the oil on the leaf disappearing in the sunlight and wondered if that’s what would happen to the creature. Obviously man-made light didn’t bother it. The first night she’d seen it it got along fine in the glow from the motion sensor lights. So it had to be sunlight. They had a few moment of silly giggling imagining the creature melting into the ground like the witch in The Wizard of Oz.
The problem of getting it into sunlight wasn’t lost on them. Finding a way to keep it in the yard until morning wouldn’t work; at this time of year the sun didn’t reach the yard until mid-morning. Trapping it and not being noticed for hours by other neighbors would never happen. And, of course, the puddle was gone with no trace now that the sun was out.
Finding a way to drive it from the area presented more questions than just “how?” At the head of the queue was “where?” Driving it away only meant it became someone else’s problem and neither one of them wanted that. It wasn’t that they were magnanimous in their concerns for others, they plain out didn’t want the guilt of knowing that by driving it away it might inflict harm on someone else.
Now that there were two of them who knew it existed – and who knew there might be others – maybe now was the time to call the authorities. But whom? The police surely wouldn’t listen to them. Nor the fire department. City Counsel people? Ombudsmen? Were there even ombudsmen anymore? They went through the list of every city official they could think of and rejected each one. Until, almost at the same time, they both said, “Animal Control.”
And promptly rejected that idea, too.
Animal Control was made up of people who were flummoxed when they had to face anything other than an old lady’s cat up a tree or a mama duck teaching her little ones to play in the local city fountain. No: Animal Control would be useless against a hissing, angry – quite probably deadly – creature of unknown origin.
Very quietly the young neighbor stated that they had only one of two options. Kill it or capture it. Neither option instilled enthusiasm. However, they knew that that was what they’d have to do, especially since the baby would be back by the weekend.
In addition to not having the proper equipment, they were clueless about how to capture the creature and, frankly, the problems presented by capturing it certainly made killing it the easier of the two options. Plus they had the methods – if not the willingness – to kill it.
But one thing was easier: Facing these problems with someone and not alone. And for that they were both grateful. Maybe that puddle, even though it was gone, could give them some ideas.
“You ready?” the text read.
She typed back, “Yes,” and settled in for the nightly vigil. For the first time since this all started she felt a little relaxed. Knowing her downstairs neighbor was also watching made such a difference she could hardly believe it.
Tonight’s plan was to do nothing but observe. Not that that isn’t what they had been doing, but this time, with both of them focusing at the same time they hoped to come away with enough matched observations that they could actually formulate a plan as to the best way to kill the creature.
She sighed, in her old age she had become a killer.
The little old neighborhood lady who fed the birds and squirrels and found homes for stray cats was now a stone-cold killer.
The thought did not sit well with her.
What if the creature was a mother and had babies? When she’d asked her neighbor that, he’d asked her if she’d ever seen the movie Aliens. She sighed; she had. She understood: kill or be killed. Or allow something else to be killed, perhaps even the baby in the next building. Not on her watch.
But the armchair scientist/archeologist in her pointed out that to kill without 100% reasonable reasoning was wrong, too. After all, the theory that the creature was after the baby was just that: a theory.
They had no real proof the creature was a killer. Just because it was terrifying in appearance didn’t mean it was a killer. It might be a vegetarian. Then again, even though the garden had a frequent hawk visitor the current abundance of rat bones and tails in the neighborhood said something else was an active hunter in the area.
She wondered why the tails escaped consumption.
Her phone pulsed in her hand. “Bogie at two o’clock,” read the text.
She decided her neighbor had seen too many old World War Two movies. But she looked in the direction just the same.
The bushes weren’t just moving, they were slamming back and forth with the strength of an F5 hurricane.
She tensed. She realized she wanted this to be over. She didn’t want to kill anything and she just wanted her life to go back to its old, plodding pace where she sometimes had to ask her voice activated doo-hinky what day it was and to tell her a joke rather than if it could play some of her favorite music. Surely the bushes were being ripped apart.
The creature ran from the bushes, a snarling stray dog behind it, snapping and growling. There was no way for it to turn and fight off the dog. Fast behind the dog was one of last night’s cats.
Her phone pulsed and she barely glanced at the text “OMG OMG OMG.”
As quickly as they entered the yard, they were gone, the creature howling in fright and the dog baying behind it.
The tentative knock on her door startled her and sent her own cat racing for its safe spot under the couch. She heard her name whispered and realized it was the neighbor. She knew what he had in mind before she opened the door. A walk in the yard. As much as she thought she didn’t want to go out there, she felt compelled to do so. She chalked it up to morbid curiosity and the fact that she hadn’t felt this alive for a long, long time.
The next morning her neighbor found her bundled against the dawn chill, thermos at hand with two mugs and a sterile sample bottle her doctor had given her for one of “those” samples. Last night, when they’d inspected the yard she’d scraped some “oil” slick off the patio bricks and this morning – after carefully dividing up what she’d salvaged – she had a portion of that slick in the bottle ready to pour into place for a proper viewing of what would happen to it in sunlight.
He sat next to her and poured himself a cup of coffee all the while peering into the darker corners of the yard, not really expecting to find anything.
“It appears,” she finally said, “that the local animals have had enough of the creature.”
He nodded, readying himself to say something but no sooner had he opened his mouth to speak than the door across the yard opened and the tenant who’d tossed water on the creature vs cat fight of the other night stepped into the yard. In his bathrobe, jammies and rabbit-eared slippers he looked more like everyone’s favorite pudgy uncle.
Funny, she didn’t figure him for someone who’d like rabbit-eared bunny slippers.
He strode to them, as well as you can with over-big slippers, and sat down at the table. She didn’t have any extra cups, but the thermos had its old built in one in the top so she poured coffee into that and offered it to him.
They sat like that, three neighbors, at dawn, in various forms of dress, drinking coffee and not enjoying the painfully awkward silence.
Finally the bunny-slippered man cleared his throat. “You two have any idea what the hell that thing is?”
Before they could offer up any diversionary type of animal such as a large raccoon with mange he stood and faced them, arms crossed and rocking back on his heels. Unfortunately when he rocked back it made the ears on the bunny slippers wiggle and she had to force herself to look away.
“I know you two know what I’m talking about. I’ve been watching you watch it. You with the night glasses and the glitter that’s not going to tell you a thing, and you,” he pointed at the young man, “you sit too close to the window, your breath fogs it up.”
They didn’t answer.
“What’s the plan? Catch it? Sell it to the highest bidder? Put it on display? Give it to a museum?”
Still no answer.
“You’re going to try and kill it, aren’t you? Yeah, that’s where my money is, you’re going to try and kill it.”
He sat down and all three of them found themselves starring into the bushes as if just looking at them would produce the dog and creature again.
“I saw an oil slick on the paving stones the other night after the fight with the cat but it was gone in the morning. I checked.” Bunny Ears said.
Her neighbor sighed. “It disappears when the sunlight hits it.”
The man looked at the dark bottle on the picnic table and then at the old woman. “Is that what’s in there?”
She nodded. “I want to try and figure out why it disappears in sunlight but not in artificial light.”
He looked at her and shrugged. “UV rays.” He said.
“UV rays. Most artificial lights don’t have it. Except black lights. It’s good for sterilization, too. Hospitals use it.”
And just like that, they had a plan.
For the next two days they worked. They bought, rented and borrowed every UV light they could find. They hung out together so much other neighbors noticed and the whispers started. Bunny Ears pointed out that the bubbling cauldron of gossip was a good thing. Neighborly attention was focused on their coziness, not on speculation for its cause. This allowed for the stream of purchases to their apartments to flow past everyone without notice.
Behind closed blinds they set their traps. Every window facing the courtyard contained a bank of UV lights. Three-quarters of them pointed directly into the yard. The rest pointed out and upward should the creature manage to step out of the main concentration of light.
At some point her downstairs neighbor muttered something about “All we need now is a disco ball.” The old woman gave an embarrassing snort of amusement. There was a surprised moment when both men looked at her, eyebrows raised, then the laughter rolled out of them in a giant release of tension.
The neighbor with the baby was back from their trip. The creature would return soon and renew its efforts to get in the building. With the baby gone it had done little but prowl the yard, if the stray dogs or local cats allowed it.
They felt they were ready for it. They discussed the importance of each one of them turning on the lights all at the same time and they rehearsed it several times with their blinds closed so only a faint glow shown and neighbors weren’t alerted. In addition to getting the timing right they tested to make sure turning on the extra lights wouldn’t blow a breaker. The breaker box in each apartment was in another room and the creature might be able to escape if the lights went down and one of them had to leave to turn the breaker back on. But everything worked well so that was another worry gone.
They discussed everything they knew about the creature trying to prepare for every contingency. They toured the yard during the day, checked out where he came from and discussed what he sounded like, how he moved, how fast or slow he moved and if, when startled, he jumped up or crouched down. She hadn’t thought about that but Bunny Ears pointed out it was important when configuring light distribution. If he crouched down they were covered but if he could jump high they needed to make sure the light coverage could take care of that, too.
The fact that they were planning the creature’s death caught her by surprise at the oddest times. On an intellectual level she knew that’s what they had to do. But on an emotional level it shook her and she would find herself paralyzed with the realization that no matter what she was doing; from drying dishes to scooping the cat litter. All of a sudden she would stop and think we’re going to kill something.
At 75 years of age – a person known for her nurturing spirit – was going to commit a premeditated murder. And there was no way out of it that she, or her neighbors, could see.
They wanted the creature gone. Not simply driven away, but gone for all time.
She prayed that if the lights worked like sunshine worked on the slick the thing left behind the creature would poof out of existence. One minute there, the next gone. Her biggest fear was that something would happen that would leave it yowling in anguish on the courtyard ground. She didn’t want to cause pain. It made her queasy realizing she was willing to inflict death but not pain.
Finally they were ready. The creature hadn’t appeared for two nights. The glitter – once a smug idea – had been washed away by a rain and rendered useless. The baby had been out in the yard that day. Surely the creature would make an appearance tonight.
She sat in her window, the blinds up. She glanced across the yard and could see that Bunny Ears’ blinds were up, too, but his apartment was dark, like hers. The scaffolding they’d rigged inside to hold all the UV lights couldn’t be seen, but she knew it was there. Just like in her place and her neighbor’s below her.
As if to confirm this knowledge both neighbors texted “in position” and she replied in kind.
Now they waited.