To meet the latest Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge, the dice of destiny have chosen: Post-Apocalyptic Horror, A Nevada brothel and Talking animals.

They’ve been gone a long time.

I’ve got my back to the wall as I sit facing the door. The beaded curtain on the inside of the doorframe catches some of the light from the lamps we moved in here. The subtle mood lighting of the room hadn’t been enough, and since it was the easiest room to secure, it had kind of become our base of operations. The lack of a back way out still bothered me, but a look at my leg was a good reminder that a back way wouldn’t do me much good right now.

It wasn’t a bite, thank God. I’d fallen during our last food run a week ago. Something was probably broken. Lori, a nursing school student before this all happened, had done what she could for the swelling and set the leg so I wouldn’t make things worse. I felt terrible, like a burden, but both Lori and Amber assured me that I was doing fine, and considering how hard I’d been going just to get us here, maybe some time off of my feet would be good for me.

I get a little more worried every day, though. No sign of other survivors, no National Guard, no radio updates, nothing. My watch is one of those self-winding models, and I give my wrist a shake and check it now and again. It’s been hours. They wanted to scope out a store a bit further out, see if they could find fresh medical supplies along with the usual food and water. I’d shown them both how to use handguns a couple weeks ago. They’ll be fine. Probably. Maybe.

Pearl’s cat opens one eye. This had been Pearl’s place, according to the sign out front. Lori hadn’t been terribly keen on holing up here, maybe because she thought I had something not related to survival on my mind. She’s pretty and all, but she has a kid out there somewhere, and I promised her I’d help her find the child and her dad, if they’re still out here somewhere. I wasn’t sure how Lori would get along with Amber when we found the call girl huddled under one of the beds, but so far they seem okay together. And I haven’t made any moves on either of them. Not yet, anyway. There’s a time and a place, and this isn’t the time, really.

The cat gets up and dismounts from the pile of clothes she’d been dozing on. I’m sitting with my back to the wall, rifle across my lap. For about the thousandth time I take a mental inventory: Four rounds in the rifle, eight more in my pocket, a full clip in the 9 mil and another in my pocket. I take my hand from the rifle’s lever and pick up the bottle of water. It’s almost empty. I may have to limp out and get another one soon. I haven’t heard the outside door or any glass breaking, so it’s likely safe in the rest of the cathouse. Probably. Maybe.

“You’re all going to die, you know.”

I look down at the cat. Long, black, and lean, she’s got large yellow eyes and a swishing tail. She’s pleasant enough, but I’ve never heard her speak before. Her voice is low, scratchy, like Kathleen Turner with a sore throat.

“Come again?”

“You heard me.” She sits herself down and start bathing herself. “You can only keep scavenging for so long. You’re either going to have to move on or start rationing more. And you’re hungry as it is.”

My stomach growls. I briefly entertain the notion of making kitty stew, then lean my head back against the wall. I’m just tired. My mind’s playing tricks. I check my forehead with the back of my hand. Do I have a fever? Hard to tell. Pearl kept the place well insulated to make her guests more comfortable. It can get pretty warm in here when we get our little propane stove going. I find myself remembering the last time I was making dinner, and Amber got so warm she took off her sweatshirt.

“Males are all alike.”

I smile. “That’s proof that you’re just a hallucination. Or at least the talking is.”

“For all you know, cats are psychic.”

“Fair point, but you could have told us we’re doomed at any time. Why wait until I’m alone?”

“Maybe I can only speak to certain humans. Or maybe I just like making your life difficult.”

She does have a tendency to bat at my face at night for my attention, when she’s hungry or something. “Could also be that you’re jealous of the attention I give to the two non-cat females in here.”

“Oh, yes. I can resist it no longer. You’ve uncovered my shameful desire. Take me, take me now.” She yawns to punctuate her sarcasm.

“Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not into beastiali-”

The sound of Pearl’s front door coming open jolts me upright. The cat turns towards the door to the back room and then darts behind the pile of clothes. I pick up the rifle from my lap. Four rounds in the rifle, eight more in my pocket, a full clip in the 9 mil and another in my pocket. The handgun, formerly a cop’s sidearm, is within easy reach of my right hand if I have no time to reload, or worse, the rifle jams. I think of Amber, again, this time standing behind her to shoot at cans in the back alley.

Keep your eye on your target, aim carefully, take a deep breath, and hold it when you squeeze the trigger.

She’s a decent shot, and the memory of her leaning into me is a nice one. I put it from my mind, though, as I hear shuffling in the hall. I put the rifle’s butt against my shoulder, and line up the sights.

The door handle rattles. My leg aches. I take a deep breath, and hold it.