Short Story
                                               Night Patrol
                                                                    By Matthew Nichols


    It started with a house. It was an old two-story farmhouse set away from the road in the rural outskirts
between Harrington and Bell Reach, deep in southwestern Ohio. The previous owners had done a number
on the inside, installing new appliances, new carpeting, and fixing up the walls with a new paint job. The
house wasn’t all that expensive when it went on the market, which is why it attracted the attention of Wally
Breckinridge. He was a horror writer who wanted to live somewhere off the beaten path where he and his
cat, Samwise, wouldn’t be bothered too much by neighbors.

    The house was perfect for his needs. On the first floor, there was the living room, the dining room, the
kitchen, and one of the house’s bathrooms. Upstairs, there were three rooms, plus a second bathroom. He
picked one for his bedroom, one for his office, and one to serve as a guest bedroom for friends and
family. Finally, there was an attic and a basement, the latter of which housed the washer and dryer. Wally
would have preferred that they both be upstairs, but set this aside as a problem for another day.

    There wasn’t much to move in. Wally was a firm believer in the practice of minimalism, preferring to buy
e-books and digital comics rather than trade paperbacks or hardbacks. Because of this, Samwise had a
great deal of space in which to run around and generally be a cat. They hadn’t been in the house for more
than a few minutes before Samwise started moving from room to room, his whiskers twitching as he
sniffed the air and slowly laid claim to his territory.

    Wally was always from the house quite frequently. In addition to writing, he was also a creative writing
professor at Bell Reach State University. He taught classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and also held
office hours on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. When he wasn’t writing prose, he was in contact with
the artists he was working with on a long-running graphic novel series. Wally thrived in his isolation. So did
Samwise. With no other cats to play with, he divided his time between batting around two mice, sleeping
in sunlight, and relieving himself in the litter box Wally had set up near the entrance to the basement.

    It was during one such moment when Samwise was squeezing out his latest offering of stool that he first
heard the noises. His ears pricked up. He looked around the dim interior of his litter box, unsure of what he’
d heard. When he didn’t hear anything else, he finished his business, buried the fresh fecal matter under
the odor-canceling litter, then stepped out. He padded up the stairs to the second floor, where Wally was in
his office making further progress on his novel.

    The noise happened again when Samwise twined around the door jamb of Wally’s bedroom. Samwise’
s sight snapped up to the ceiling. Then to a far corner of the bedroom. Then further down the hall. Samwise
turned out of Wally’s bedroom and ran down the hall, his sensitive hearing picking up new sounds from the
guest bedroom. Because he was a cat, Samwise was not wondering how the noise had moved so fast
from downstairs to up here. If he was human, he might have compared the sound to a pinball machine,
based on the way the noise zoomed to and fro. Since he wasn’t, the noises were a mere curiosity.

    In an instant, Samwise was across the room to the other side, halting an inch shy of the wall. He began
to gently paw at the baseboard. He’d been declawed after Wally had adopted him, so it was with the pink
pads of his paws that he tried to get at whatever was on the other side of the wall. It scratched back at him
with equal fervor. Samwise’s sense of smell told him that whatever was there, it was alive, complete with
frantic movements and frantic, ragged squeaks.

    Samwise had only ever caught a mouse once. That had been in the apartment he’d shared with Wally
not too long ago. He knew what mice sounded like. He knew what mice smelled like, and if Wally had
given him the chance to do what a predator would naturally do in that situation, he would have known how
mice tasted. His senses told him that whatever was scratching at him was like a mouse…but not quite.
The sounds were all wrong. The scent was all wrong.

    Eventually they both reached a kind of détente. Samwise slunk off to other parts of the house to explore
and play. The walls, for now, had fallen silent.

    Two days later, night had fallen, and Wally was once again hard at work on the novel. The deadline was
in a week, but he was close to being done on the final chapter. He was therefore confident that the novel
would be finished and ready for his editor to set on fire. It was a common joke he used whenever a friend
or family member asked about the progress of a novel or short story. To him, it always drove home the
point that first drafts are very rarely the final ones.

    Samwise was patrolling the house. He was on the second floor, perusing the carpet in the guest
bedroom. He’d laid a cursory paw on the closed door to Wally’s office, then decided he had better things
to do. He curled up under the bed for a quick nap, then moved out from under the bed and padded back
out into the hall. His path took him back to Wally’s bedroom, and he was about to turn around and leave
when his ears picked up a familiar sound.

    Something was scrabbling behind the wall at an indeterminate point. Samwise immediately recognized
the sound and went on the prowl, hunting for the source of the strange scent he now detected. His
newfound investigation took him underneath Wally’s bed, atop Wally’s dresser, and eventually into Wally’s
closet after pawing open the barely cracked door with a great deal of effort.

    The scent was much stronger inside the closet. It bore the diseased sweetness of rot. Picking past
some of Wally’s shoes (pausing only once to gnaw on some shoelaces before the activity bored him into
moving on), Samwise found the source of the scent. It was a small hole that had been chewed through the
corner where the walls met. The scent wafting from it was like something otherworldly and foul breathing its
malodorous exhalations through it. It made Samwise wrinkle his nose and retreat a little, his senses rising
to high alert.

    Samwise lowered into a crouch, hind legs tensed, preparing to spring. His gaze fixed on the hole. He
spotted a brief flurry of movement, pale and sickly, before it rolled out of sight. The scent became much
stronger, so potent that it made Samwise sneeze a little. Samwise eased forward a little, reaching out with
a single paw to bat at the edges of the hole. Whenever he spotted movement, Samwise batted at it. The
pattern was consistent for several minutes as Samwise struggled to get at his quarry.

    But then it turned on the tables on him. Samwise felt something pinch his paw, hard, and he yowled as
he tore his paw from the hole and scrambled out of the closet. He licked at two wounds on both sides of
his paw – two neat, side-by-side indentations which filled with blood every time the cat licked at it. At that
same moment, something bulbous and ungainly, gleaming with a diseased sheen, bumbled out of the
closet, then shot for the door. It had barely rounded the corner before Samwise gave chase.

    Despite the pain in his wounded paw, Samwise chased it into the guest bedroom, following it under the
bed and out on the other side, then back out into the hall. Samwise finally caught it by executing a leap on
the stairs, pouncing on it at the landing and rolling onto his back with the creature trapped between his
paws. Samwise’s declawing hadn’t extended to his hind paws. Almost immediately, they were at work,
disemboweling the strange creature.

    A sour stink filled the hallway, but Samwise was too distracted by predatory bloodlust to care, or to
notice that the rat-like creature wasn’t going into shock from its mortal injuries. Nor was it going limp from
blood loss. It still fought, biting and hissing and scratching. It was only when Samwise clamped his blood-
smeared jaws around the rat-thing’s head that it stopped struggling. As its skull imploded under the goad
of Samwise’s teeth, the shredded body of the creature ceased its movements and hung limply from the cat’
s mouth.

    Samwise lowered the body to the floor and let it fall from his jaws. He held it in his paws as he tucked
into the rat-thing’s guts, but ceased eating after a minute or so. Its blood and its soft meats were…sour.
They were all coagulated and clumped together, unfamiliar and ultimately unpleasant. Samwise didn’t
swallow anything he’d pulled from the creature’s innards, choosing instead to let it all fall onto the floor. He
left the now-dead thing where it lay in a mess of blood and viscera and limped off into the house to lick his
wounds.

    The change didn’t take very long.

    Wally had been listening to music through his earbuds when the fracas between his cat and the house’s
unknown occupant concluded at the bottom of the stairs. After looking over the printout of the final chapter,
he decided he would need an epilogue after all. He decided he’d tackle it tomorrow when he was better
rested.

    He saved the document, turned off the music, and shut down his computer. As he laid the earbuds on
his desk and stood up, his nose wrinkled as he caught a whiff of something foul. He wondered if perhaps
an animal had gotten into the walls somehow and died there. He groaned aloud upon thinking of the
expense of extracting it, then decided to save that for tomorrow as well. He opened his office door and
stepped out into the hall.

    Wally rounded the corner and started down the stairs. He stopped short upon seeing the torn remains
of the rat-thing. He jumped, a startled yelp escaping his mouth. He knew that Samwise must be the culprit
in this case, and felt disappointed that his cat had reverted back to behavior he thought he’d trained him
out of. He called for Samwise, and the cat didn’t show himself. Wally checked up and down the length of
his halls and his stairs. He checked across the breadth of his rooms, but the cat was nowhere to be found.

    Wally was not aware that Samwise would have been easy to find. All he needed to do was look behind
him, and perhaps squint a little at the shadows gathered in the corners beyond the lights of his office and
the living room. If he had, he would have seen two eyes glinting back at him, eyes that now shot through
with red and yellow. He might not have recognized Samwise, what with the missing patches of fur and the
gleam of the skin underneath. It probably would have reminded him of the light glinting off the surface of the
cold cuts behind the glass at the deli counter.

    As it happened, Wally never got the chance to see his cat in its new state. He never saw him coming,
either.

    The same was the case for the cashier at the gas station down the road from Wally’s house, though in
his equally unfortunate case, it wasn’t Samwise. The thing that used to be Samwise had escaped through
the open front door, vanishing into the night. The cashier had stepped out behind the store, leaving his
coworker to man the register while he took a smoke break. They’d had little to no business in the past few
minutes, and no one was going to yell at him for taking a few minutes for himself.

    The cashier had barely lit up his Marlboro when the figure emerged from the woods behind the gas
station. At first glance, the cashier thought he might be drunk. He stumbled like a toddler still unsure of his
footing, and he was wheezing like he had emphysema. As the man emerged into the light, the cashier
thought the guy didn’t look so good. He seemed to be sweating, and his eyes were unfocused.

    Low blood sugar added itself to the list of possible reasons for the man’s symptoms, and it was then
that the cashier made the biggest mistake of his life. He flicked away his cigarette and stepped toward the
man to offer assistance.

    “Mister?” the cashier said. “Hey, mister? You okay? Hey…say, ain’t you that writer fella who just moved
in down the ro - ?
About Matthew Nichols
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