You can’t hear another heartbeat.
The beat you feel is the one in your chest. The beat you sense lies in a cat’s rib cage. There she is, sitting on the edge of the bed.
The beat between the two isn’t there.
The cat jumps to the floor with a soft thump-thump. You hear the crinkle-scrape of paper inching across the floor, one cautious paw-tap at a time.
Paper scrapes across the floor and you close your eyes. Paper scrapes across the floor and you open your eyes. You open your eyes and there’s a cat watching you. It looks a little like your cat. From the floor, the paper crinkles, stops.
The cat on the bed doesn’t have a heartbeat. She places one paw on your leg, then another, her feet sinking into thigh flesh. She’s walking up your body. You haven’t blinked. Neither has she. Her eyes on yours. Your eyes in hers…
The bed rises above the cat on the floor. Your cat. Your eyes in hers. A piece of crumpled paper close by. You can’t hear another heartbeat. The beat you feel is the one in your chest. The beat you sense lies on the mattress above you.
The beat between the two is under the bed.
It looks a little like…
You blink. The second cat is on your chest. She’s watching you. They’re both watching you. Paws tuck neatly under her body as she settles. When you exhale, the cat inhales until all the air is gone. Until you feel empty and flat.
The cat does not exhale.
There’s nothing left to breathe.
You can’t hear another heartbeat, but you hear your cat hiss. Something slides across the floor. When it stands, it’s a corner-eye movement, a crinkling sound. You can’t turn your head. You don’t need to look. There’s the ceiling, the second cat, and you can’t breathe. You can’t… When it leans over the bed, it’s all you see.
It looks like… it looks like…
It wheezes as it loiters over you, head swaying. The second cat pins your body down. You feel the lines of her leg bones as she shifts. The thing that looks like… that looks like… it takes another gasping suck for air. And another.
You can’t breathe. It’s all you see. It looks like… it looks like…
Head swaying, the thing pulls out of view.
The second cat exhales and you choke down a breath, then another. She looks a little like your cat. She dismounts from your chest, jumps to the floor with a soft thump-thump. A beat. You feel a light bounce on the mattress. The beat you sense lies in a cat’s rib cage.
There is nothing under the bed.
Your cat lies next to you and purrs.
Brianne Battye (she/her) is a writer, poet, and narrative designer. She’s the author of the chapbook wholehearted (845 Press) and contributed to the short story anthology, Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights (Tor). Her work has appeared in Lida, deathcap, antilang, and elsewhere. A video game writer by day, she has worked on multiple titles for BioWare. Brianne likes to write in a cozy corner nook. Her cat likes to look for ghosts in the walls.