The Cat was Not a Firefighter

In Which Doug Vows Vengeance

By MCKENNA TEIGLAND

DOUG WAS not sure when he first became concerned about his cat’s relationship with fire. Perhaps it had been the time when he logged onto his computer only to find that his search history included such entries as “combustible compounds,” “arson DIY,” and “napalm for dummies.” Doug had given up the idea of setting his crazy uncle’s boat ablaze after The Incident, so he knew that those corners of the internet had not been traversed by his own self. He remembered getting up from the computer and roaming his house (which had been red long before the flames took over that fateful Wednesday) in search of his cat.

“Hello, Dave,” Doug had said when he found the black feline suspiciously curled up underneath his four-poster bed. Dave had slowly blinked back, his orange- yellow eyes staring down his human counterpart. “What have you been up to?” Instead of providing an answer (because he was only a cat, and therefore could not talk) Dave had reached out one padded paw and slid a book of matches underneath his short fur. The most alarming part, Doug had – and still – thought, was the fact that Dave did not seem to be attempting to hide the book of matches; he had taken deliberate care in noisily dragging the package across the carpet.

That had been the very day Doug had brought Dave home from the shelter. At first, these incidents had appeared to be adorable quirks. It didn’t take long, though, for Doug to adopt an indifferent cynicism to the matter. But the cat was his pet, and Doug took that union just as seriously as he took marriage or any other legal binding between two parties. Sometimes Doug liked to pretend that he was the estranged father and Dave was his ill-begotten son he was forced to pay child support for.

But this was years ago, and right now, at that very moment, Doug’s house was still burning, and he still needed to talk to Dave.

So, Doug walked up to Dave where he sat in the pathway, black tail gently nestled around his front paws. “Hello, Dave,” he said to his cat. It was much hotter here than it was at the curb. “I’m impressed, but not surprised,” Doug continued, crouching down to be more on Dave’s level. He did not reach out to stroke his soot-covered companion. Dave’s whiskers twitched, seemingly in annoyance at that last. “I saw the receipts for the lighter fluid and lighters in the trash from when you bought them a week ago. It just became a matter of when, Dave. I also noticed the stolen twenties from my wallet.”

For a moment, Dave stared back up at Doug’s impassive face. He licked his nose and flicked an ear in an attempt to dislodge some soot that had settled in it. Dave then turned and stalked away, tail jauntily swishing from side to side. He climbed the neighbor’s nearest tree and watched as the burning house began to crumble in on itself.

“You win this round,” Doug mumbled as the cat departed, “But I can keep the faith, Dave. You just wait. You’ve got another thing coming.”

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