Aaron Steinmetz

...be very still...the bird's angry...and I think he can see us.

Cocoa Tales: Episode Two

The pleasure didn’t last long, though. Night fell quickly and so did the rain. It made rivers of streams and lakes of drainpipes, and the cars, brazenly cutting a path through the puddles, sent even more water raining down on Cocoa. She scowled at the automobiles, hissing at them as they casually, unknowingly drenched her fur even more.

Buenaventura Boulevard wasn’t lit well, so she had little worry of being found. Not that she was afraid of being found. No, not Cocoa Tael, she had been trained by the order of the Felidus, the feline assassins tasked with the sacred duty of ending the scourge of the human race.

She breathed deep with pride at the thought of her order returning to the top of the food chain, to control of that wondrous world the humans called Earth.

They had another word for Earth. When humans try to pronounce it, it sounds like "Ur-ow" but then most feline words sound like that when humans try to pronounce them.

Silly humans.

Shaking her fur did little good. The rain came in buckets, drenching her fur mere seconds after she shook it off. Cocoa needed to find shelter, and she couldn’t consider crawling back to the Felidus her first night out. Something would have to suffice.

Squinting through the rain, Cocoa saw a faint glow on the side of the road. She continued her sad, sodden march. 

It was a coffee shop. Cocoa stared up at the sign which read Daily Ground. Inside, the owner was adjusting his shirt. The name tag read Marley Bean, and he was indeed the proud owner of Daily Ground, a coffee shop successful enough to warrant a new flat-screen television mounted on the wall. Marley Bean was beaming as he watched the news on it, blissfully unaware of the feline menace scurrying through a window on the floor and into his coffee shop.

The black vaulted ceilings rose to an ‘A’ above them with tiny lights dangling from them. The dark red carpet was warm to Cocoa’s wet paws as she snuck behind a potted plant. The chairs and stools were empty then, and Marley Bean didn’t mind one bit the break in busyness that had plagued Daily Ground those days. He enjoyed an evening to himself. The potted plant didn’t care one way or another.

Cocoa tried to lick herself dryer than she had been outside. The taste of road tar in her mouth made her give up and curse again the damnable automobile for spilling the road water on her.

"And now," came the voice of the news reader on the television, "we go live to President Winchester as he speaks about the rising feline problem in this country."

Cocoa turned slowly, peaking her head around the potted plant.

"My fellow Americans," President Winchester said, "the felines have claimed another victim. Today, I make it my solemn oath that this office will not rest, will not stop until every cat has been destroyed."

Smirking, Cocoa quietly whispered, "I’d like to see you try."

"As we understand it, this ‘Felidus’ will not allow a new cat to join its ranks until it has killed a human being. I say this day, no new members!"

Applause silenced the President and Cocoa’s eyes narrowed. "They’ll have a new member," she said quietly.

Speaking over the applause, Winchester continued: "There are reports of Felidus enclaves all across this country! We will eradicate them! We will decimate them all!"

"I’ll eradicate and decimate you, Winchester," Cocoa hissed.

"We will prevail!"

"You will fail."

"We will succeed!"

"You will bleed."

"We will destroy you, Cocoa Tael!"

Cocoa’s eyes narrowed. "You will fail!" she shouted.

Marley Bean looked up from drying his coffee mug while the President continued on quietly talking about the economy. Shrugging, Marley returned to his dishware.

Eyes red with fire, Winchester points at the screen and says, "Cocoa Tael! You will not join the Felidus! Your death will come with cinders and singed fur!"

"Perhaps you will be my first, Mr. President."

Sneering, Winchester says, "You don’t have the claws."

With a howl, Cocoa lifted the potted plant over her head, her hind legs precariously balanced beneath her, and she heaved the plant into the air. It sailed toward the television, shattering the screen, destroying all two million, seventy-three thousand, six hundred of its plasma pixels.

Marley stared at it in shock as glass, rounded clay and potting soil rained down on the floor, covering the remains of the potted plant, turned, and saw no culprit for the assault on his television.

The rain battered down on Cocoa’s fur, silver in the lamplight. She laughed as she crossed the street. A high school spread out beneath her as she marched downhill, laughing louder and louder as she moved.

And by morning, the rain was gone. The sun rose over the wet streets as steam rose from the concrete. The sun, unimpeded by clouds, illuminated the gymnasium, the office buildings, the pool, the classrooms all filled with desks and dry erase markers and apples for the teachers. The explosion consumed it all.

Racing back to Daily Ground, Cocoa skid to a stop behind the potted plant, which had narrowly survived its repotting process. Now keenly aware of the danger Cocoa Tael posed both to high schools and decorative vegetation, the potted plant tried desperately to get help, but a plant’s only way to communicate is to sway gently in the breeze, and that didn’t get Marley Bean’s attention.

The news reader on the newly replaced television was saying: "As we’ve been reporting, an explosion at Shasta High School has left it completely in ruins, but we’re happy to report the explosion has claimed no lives."

"What!?" Cocoa exclaimed.

"Yes, the school was unoccupied at the time of the explosion. Police are looking for any witnesses who may have–"

The potted plant smashed into the television for a second time as Cocoa stormed out of the coffee shop. Marley Bean, hands on his head, exclaimed, "Not again!"

Later that morning, around noon, children were playing outside a preschool, and they didn’t have a care in the world. Sure, their teachers were all aghast about the horrors that had befallen the high school, but the children? They paid it no mind. They ran across the playground, leaping from swings, dangling from monkey bars. They were gleefully unaware of the danger that lurked in the shadows.

Yes, Cocoa Tael sneered at their joy, their unabashed pleasure at hiding in giant truck tires and playing in sand boxes. Cocoa held her breath as she pressed her nose against the button on the detonator and her face lit up as the explosion decimated their beloved preschool.

Back in Daily Ground for the lunch rush, Cocoa hid behind the plant watching as Marley Bean finished mounting the third television as the news reader on it was saying, "The bombings continue, but so does our lucky streak. Nobody was killed, or for that matter even harmed when the preschool was destroyed by an explosion, despite the entire playground being engulfed in flames."

The plant, aware of Cocoa’s presence, didn’t bother trying to get Marley Bean’s attention. No, the plant, during the second repotting process, had spontaneously mutated to gain an oil-based defense mechanism, similar to poison oak, ivy or sumac. Yes, the prospect of itching rashes surely would keep Cocoa from disturbing the plant, would it not?

As it turned out, it would not. The plant realized as Cocoa lifted its pot above her head, the slow onset of an oil-based defensive mechanism would not actually prevent being thrown through the air. The plant considered the viability of thorns as it smashed into the television for a third time.

It was a dark day for Redding, my friends, a dark day indeed. As Marley Bean cleaned up the remains of his plant and television for a third time, Cocoa was already on the way to the post office which had recently been refurbished thanks to a donation by Montgomery Gerald who wished to see the post office return to its old glory. The flames of its explosion were reflected in the glass of three neighboring buildings.

Shortly thereafter, a lovely two-story home with dual decks overlooking a valley with a beautiful sunset view exploded in a shocking blast that appalled and terrified all but one resident on the cul-de-sac. He had never much liked that two story home. He, as a matter of fact, was quite pleased to have his view of the mountains back.

As he sat on his front porch sipping a scotch and watching the sun set behind the smoke rising from the remains of the salmon-colored home, his church across town was also in flames, but this also proved to be a benefit to him as he had been tasked with demolishing the church to build a newer, nicer one. Between the cost savings of not having to tear it down and the insurance money he would eventually claim, the congregation would be able to put in that pool after all.

But Cocoa didn’t know any of this. She was just panting, out of breath in the dark of the evening behind the plant and its newly sprouted thorns. The newsreader on the television was saying, "...police believe the explosions, which have yet to kill or even injure a single person, are the work of local teenage hooligans listening to rock music. They’re calling for a vinyl-burning hoe-down and weenie roast in the Downtown Redding Mall parking lot, and they’re encouraging all who come to bee-why-oh-are."

The newsreader next to him asked, "Would that be ‘bring your own records’?"

"That’s right," the first replied, and they both laughed.

Cocoa Tael sighed. Perhaps things would look better for her by morning.

She turned and walked out of Daily Ground, squeezing through the floor window with a whine and an exhausted whimper as Marley Bean stood beneath his new television, clutching a bat, trying hard not to scratch the rashes on his arms and hands. The television was mounted behind a steel cage with thick bars, attached to the ceiling with a mount drilled into what Marley thought was a cross beam. He realized, too late, it was mere drywall when the cage tore loose from the ceiling and smashed to the ground. His face reddening, his hands turning first red and then white, he snapped the bat in half with a roar of frustration.

The plant, meanwhile, had fallen asleep.