As Hal wheeled his shopping cart past the beeping cash registers, he told himself that he wouldn’t meet the greeter’s friendly gaze when he went past the security posts. The greeter looked old, decades older than Hal’s own sixty-three, and the thought of being like him, having to make a living by standing in front of a goddamned Wal-Mart bellowing insincere bullshit at people all day long scared the hell out of him.
Language warning: NSFW.
The photocopied sign tacked to the bulletin board by the exit brought him up short. It said in Comic Sans capital letters, “HAVE YOU SEEN MY CAT?” Below was a blurry photo of a sleeping tabby. No contact information was provided.
“Thank you for shopping at Wal-Mart!” the greeter yelled at him, grinning broadly.
Suppressing a start, Hal grunted, grabbed his bags, and left the cart in front of the door on the way out. There’s something for you to do, old-timer. Keep you from getting varicose—
“Motherfucker.” Another lost cat sign, twin to the one in the store, was stuck in his Camry’s windshield. He dumped the bags in the trunk, snatched the sign, and crumpled it into a ball. “Fuck your cat,” he muttered, dropping it on the ground.
Getting out of the parking lot was always a bitch: an obstacle course of speed bumps, crosswalks, and pot holes. Scowling at the pregnant, tattooed bimbo pushing a stroller across his path at a speed a snail would find interminable, he noticed that there weren’t lost cat signs on the other parked cars in the lot. Just his. They must have all blown away.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Pulling up to his house, he found a third lost cat sign taped to his garage door. He ripped the paper down, balled it like he had the other, and carried it into the house with his groceries.
Later, the harsh burr of the phone jerked him out of a Judge Judy-induced doze, and he answered it with an irritated, “Yes. Hello.”
Nothing on the other end. Then, breathing.
“Yeah.” It was a woman’s voice.
“Yeah? What’s this yeah? Who is this?”
Clenching the handset hard enough to make the plastic creak at the seams, Hal barked, “You called me, remember? Who are you?”
“I said—“ he started to shout, and stopped himself. “You’ve got the wrong number. Bye.”
“Have you seen my cat?”
Anxiety pooled in his stomach like hot lead. “Are youthe one leaving signs everywhere?”
He hung up. A prank. A fucking prank, that’s it.
The doorbell rang. Through the peephole, he saw the across the street neighbor. What does he want? He yanked the door open and looked at the man, lifting an eyebrow in inquiry.
The neighbor just stood there, saying nothing and smiling. In one gloved hand was a garden trowel, caked with fresh dirt.
“Can I help you?” Hal asked, with exaggerated politeness.
“Have you seen my cat?”
Hal’s angry denial didn’t make it past his lips. What did was a gush of blood and dirt and half-digested potato chips as the neighbor plunged the filthy trowel into Hal’s gut to the handle.