AWAY FROM HOME by Marj Charlier
Lexie crouched low under the car, squishing her body flat against the pavement. She was undiscoverable, just a dark spot on the asphalt.
But the hunter was unshakable. He squatted and peered through the shadow. He cooed, a fake-sweet smile plastered on his hairless face.
Lexie had met his kind before. They had caught her, promised her shelter, affection, but then they had turned her over to one family after another, to imprisonment, hunger, and pain.
This time she would not be caught.
She’d learned much over the past six months on the streets. She found the driest rain sewers, the sweetest-smelling dumpsters, the quietest corners where a body could curl up and get some unmolested rest. But she had made a mistake, wandering too far, and now she was trapped, blocks from familiar territory.
Lexie crawled on her belly, slowly. In the dark, perhaps the man couldn’t catch her tiny movements. When she reached the far side of the car, she jumped to her feet and sprinted across the street toward the alley on the other side. A car screeched to a stop within an inch of her nose; she swerved out of the way.
The hunter ran around the parked car into the street after her and swore at the stalled driver. “Get out of my way, asswipe!” He vaulted over the car’s trunk, and Lexie heard him land hard, stumbling as he entered the alley.
She ran through the narrow passage to the next street, but its heavy traffic repelled her. Better to hover in the darkness than to try to dodge through that. Quickly, she slipped under a heap of paper and cardboard overflowing from a pack of trashcans at the corner. The man ran past her into the street.
Under the cardboard, the smell of rats and molding paper turned her stomach, and Lexie shot out of her hiding spot and sprinted back the way she came.
The street was no more familiar now than before, so different from her neighborhood. Even the smells were wrong. More garlic, more urine, more men’s cologne. She darted down the sidewalk toward home, clinging close to the buildings, hugging the dark shade of the street lights, dodging out of the way of the homeless men bedding down for the night in the doorwells.
She focused on the ground ahead, swerving around litter scattered on the sidewalk. Nearing the next street, she looked up to time her escape through the sparse traffic.
There he was! The hunter, reaching out with a biscuit, his lasso held out to the side. Did he think she wouldn’t see the net, the wire housing, the long handle? She cut left and felt all four paws slip on an oily flow in the gutter.
She sprawled, and the net came down over her head.