John quickly rolled over and jabbed his fingers down on the snooze button, shutting off the loud, irritating buzz of the alarm clock.
"God," he thought, his heart pounding like a jack hammer, "I'm going to replace that damn clock," but he knew he wouldn't. Experience had taught him that if the alarm didn't scare him awake, he would just sleep right through it -- no soft beeps or music for him.
Toby examined the object in front of her with the intensity and curiosity only an 8-week old kitten can bring to bear. Tapping lightly with a paw elicited only a slight metallic "chink." After a moment's consideration, Toby tried to pick up the collection of keys with his mouth. They were too heavy. Toby stared at them a little more, then seized the key ring and began backing up, dragging them with her.
It wasn't until her back legs went over the edge of the counter that Toby realized her mistake.
He looked over his shoulder at Susan. Still asleep, curled up with her back to him. For a moment he thought about rolling back over, snuggling up to her and going back to sleep. Instead, he cautiously slid out of bed and carefully laid the covers back down to prevent a cold draft from disturbing Susan. She hated getting up early almost as much as he did. Fortunately for her, her first class today, Cold Fusion Physics, wasn't until eleven. Unfortunately for him, he had to be at the job site by 7:15 AM.
And luck, for once, was with him. None of those damn feline abortions Susan called pets were in the room!
Normally all three clustered around Susan; sleeping like the little angels they weren't. Usually the alarm would wake at least one. Whichever cat woke up first would begin marching from one end of the bed to other, demanding, in that irritatingly high-pitch noise called meowing, for breakfast.
Susan thought it cute. He, on the other hand, had to exercise great personal restraint to resist pitching the cat through a wall when it stomped over his forehead while he was trying to sleep. Or doing worse when one of the cats decided to use his stomach as a landing pad as it bounded across the bed.
Moving as quietly as possible in the dark 6 A.M. twilight winter morning, he moved into the bedroom's walk-in closet. He closed the door and turned on the light to dress. They had wanted a two-bedroom apartment, but had decided that this one-bedroom apartment so close to campus was a better idea.
The apartment was roughly squarish in shape. A quarter of the back was the bedroom, twenty feet wide by fifteen feet deep. The other quarter was split equally between the bathroom and the closet. Directly in front of the bedroom was the livingroom. Beside it was the eat-in kitchen. Separating it from the front door of the apartment was a breakfast bar. Its only real perk, and the deciding factor, had been the huge closet, almost a second room in itself. It allowed him to dress without waking Susan, no matter how early he had to get up. It also kept the cats from clawing up his clothes. Never her clothes, just his.
Although her landing was ungraceful, the keys did land beside her instead of on top of her. Toby shook her head, staggered a little bit, then resumed dragging the keys.
She almost gave up halfway across the rug. It just wasn't easy dragging those keys. They were heavy, awkward, and hurt her mouth, but she persevered.
Simka, Susan's fat, 15-year old Persian Blue, watched from underneath the chair beside the front door.
Turning out the light John paused briefly to get used to the dark before opening the door and stepping into the bedroom. There was just enough light creeping around the drapes for him to slip through the room to the door without bumping into the furniture.
Closing the bedroom door firmly behind him, John headed for the kitchen.
His luck was still holding, no sign of the cats anywhere! There wasn't even a sign that any of the disgusting creatures had been on the counter. (His rule: no cats on counters or tables.)
They seemed to delight in sitting by the sink until he was almost in sight, then jumping down. His first knowledge of them was the THUMP as one of them hit the floor. Unfortunately, unless he actually SAW one of them on the counter, he couldn't punish them (HER rule). And they never, ever did it when Susan was around.
He slipped a new filter in the coffee maker and put in the grounds. He poured a cup of water in the opening on top, flipped the ON switch, and headed for the bathroom to shave.
Toby was underneath the middle of the couch when John entered the kitchen. At John's appearance, Toby froze. Simka, still under the chair and unseen by John, opened his mouth in a silent hiss. Bunny, the 6 year-old black-as-night mixed breed, now on top of the refrigerator, followed Toby's example and remained unmoving until John left the kitchen.
As John left the bathroom, he heard a thud come from the kitchen. As he expected, a cat came flashing out of the kitchen as he entered. He struck out with his foot, but Bunny, expecting the move, easily dodged it as he headed for the brick-and-pineboard bookcase on the wall between the kitchen and the front door.
John hated cats. They were sneaky, aloof, and wouldn't come when called. They were untrustworthy. And every cat he had ever met had tried to claw him when he went to pet it. And their litter boxes! God, how he hated that smell. Dogs, now there was a real pet!
So now, when a cat cut in front of his car or truck, he aimed for it. When walking, if a cat cut across his step, he couldn't resist swinging his foot a little bit faster, trying to catch the animal in the stomach and boot it across the sidewalk, road, room, whatever.
Naturally, living with two -- no, now it was three -- of these fiendish felines led to a state of continual war. They had learned the hard way to stay out of his reach, off his things, and to watch out for thrown items; or at least during those times when Susan wasn't around. She objected to his using them for target practice.
They retaliated as best they could, clawing his clothes, tearing up his magazines and papers, and coughing up hairballs in his bureau drawers, but he was bigger and had better methods of enforcing his will. Emptying the water dish and not refilling it till Susan was due home was his favorite revenge. Dumping glasses of water on them when they were sleeping was his second favorite tactic. Locking Toby in a small cabinet for the day was another. Nothing, however, that left evidence.
"Damn cat," John muttered as he poured the coffee and fixed a quick breakfast. Next time Bunny came close he was going to get smacked silly.
It wasn't until John started looking for the truck keys that he realized something was wrong. They weren't on the breakfast bar where he had left them last night. Walking into the livingroom, he couldn't see them on the coffee table, either.
Only after a careful reconnaissance of the kitchen counters, and a quick tiptoe trip back into the bedroom, did he began to get mad.
"I know it's the cats," he murmured to himself, "I know one of you bastards has my keys." He went back into the livingroom and started taking everything off the couch and coffee table, piling the stuff in the middle of the floor. Only after removing and checking under the cushions did he concede that the keys weren't there.
Next, he checked both end tables, the lounge chair, and the occasional tables between the two chairs. He even checked both bookcases; the one between the breakfast bar and the front door, and the big one up against the bedroom wall.
"Damn, damn, damn!" This was going to make him late again. If he were late again, his boss had told him last week, he was out of a job.
Now he started checking the floor; nothing but cat hair and dustkitties in the three-inch gap under the bookcases. Looking under the lounge chair he traded glares and hisses with Simka.
"I bet you took them, didn't you," he hissed at Simka despite the obvious fact that Simka was far too fat to make the jump to the counter. "You old, fat piece of garbage." This last statement accompanied a hard swat at the cat.
Simka dodged the blow and maneuvered to a new position under the front bookcase, close to the breakfast bar. It was a tight fit, surprising John that she made it.
Nothing was under the Canadian glider-rocker in front of the livingroom window except Bunny, just out of his reach.
He got up and went into the kitchen. Returning with a yardstick, he poked at Bunny to make him move. Hissing loudly, he did, revealing that the keys were not under that chair.
This left the couch. At first he saw nothing under the couch, it was too dark. Another quick trip to the kitchen for a flashlight was a big help.
The first thing he saw was Toby at the back of the couch, by the wall.
John, swinging the yardstick in the space available, slapped the kitten on the head several times. The kitten retreated down the length of the couch.
With each smack Simka and Bunny flicked their ears and tails slightly and stared at John's backside with hatred. Finally, both cats hissed loudly.
John looked back at Simka. "Watch it, fatso," he snarled, "or I'll stuff you in the garbage disposal."
Seeing the opportunity, Toby darted out from under the couch and stopped underneath the livingroom bookcase, by the bedroom door.
The positions of the three cats formed an isosceles triangle. Simka was at the top, underneath the entryway bookcase; Toby was underneath the other bookcase; and Bunny was directly opposite Toby, below the Canadian rocker. Blocked by the kitchen breakfast bar, Toby could only see Bunny.
After exchanging a slow blink to signal all was ready, both cats turned their heads and stared at a spot underneath the couch. Simka stared at John.
With that stupid cat finally out of the way, John could see his keys back against the wall. They were just out of his reach. He breathed a thankful, "At last!" A quick look at his watch showed he could still get to the job on time. If, of course, there wasn't too much traffic.
After a few tries, he managed to get the yardstick to push the keys sideways and toward himself. He had moved them only a few inches when they suddenly disappeared.
He looked again. No sign of the keys, although there now was a shiny white spot where they had disappeared.
After a short burst of expletives, John stood up, grabbed the coffee table, and moved it into the middle of the livingroom. Then he grabbed the lower edge of the couch and dragged it up against the coffee table. Cussing accompanied each move.
With the furniture pulled out, John leaned over the couch and looked down. At the almost geometric center of the couch's former position was a small white paper plate, probably left over from their last party, but no keys. The plate appeared to be about three inches in diameter.
John was more puzzled now than upset. What had happened to the keys? Moving off the couch, he again grabbed the coffee table and dragged it over to the kitchen. He now had enough room to pull the couch sideways. This put the couch against the bookcase instead of at right angles to it.
He walked over to the couch's former position. No sign of the keys, but the white disc was now about six inches across. That was impossible, of course. He must have been mistaken about its size.
Maybe the keys caught on the couch legs when he moved it, he thought, but nothing was under the couch or caught on its legs. Looking back at the disc, he thought, "Damn, it's bigger."
Indeed, when he examined it more closely, it WAS bigger, easily a foot across. And it definitely was NOT a paper plate. It wasn't concave in shape and it didn't have fluted edges like all paper plates normally had. It looked like a flat, white disc of some kind.
Down on his hands and knees, with the light of the morning sun shinning on it, he noticed that the disc wasn't really a plain white in color, it was a milky-white. And, oddly, the disc appeared to be IN the rug, not on top of it. Leaning right down to it, with his nose almost touching the floor, he saw that the edge of the disc was actually BELOW the rug, at floor level. As he watched, he could see rug fibers disappear as the disc expanded. And expanding it definitely was.