New York City
Cleo, at least that’s what the two legger called her before she tossed her out into this nasty, cold alleyway, continued rummaging through the steel dumpster for her dinner. These large containers had replaced her dainty little plastic bowl as her food source. There was a time not long ago when she was waited on hand and foot.
Twice a day her favorite two legger with long dark hair would call to her, “Here, kitty, kitty! Come get your breakfast!” or, “Come, Cleo, let’s get your dinner! Yum, yum!”
Most times Cleo would be stretched out in a warm patch of sunlight on a windowsill. She’d make an easy drop to the floor, then an exaggerated stretch giving her best Halloween pose that arched her back before darted toward where her name was being called. As she would round the corner into the kitchen to her dainty food bowl, her favorite two legger would shake that eye-catching emerald-and-ruby-colored bag over her dish, releasing the flow of those yummy little morsels of her favorite chicken-flavored food. The two legger would stroke her back and tail as Cleo dove into her twice-a-day feast. Later she would curl up in the two legger’s lap for more attention as she would purr contently with her belly full.
One day that all changed. Two leggers were everywhere moving all the contents of her home out into a large rumbler. Those rumblers terrified Cleo as they raced around her with their sudden bursts of angry beeps and ear-piercing screeches when they stopped. Her favorite two legger gave her hugs and kisses, then tearfully let her down on the cold, dirty concrete of this alleyway. She turned and left Cleo there frightened. Cleo’s senses were overloaded with her new surroundings. She raced for the shelter of a fire escape platform. She stayed under there for three days, too terrified to move until hunger drove her out. When would her favorite two legger come back? What had Cleo done so wrong to be shunned into this filthy, loud, lonely place? Nothing. Not a damn thing. She was loyal and loving. She had given that wretched two legger all her affection, especially when the wetness streaked down her face, which was so often it seemed. Cleo would run to her and lick the salty liquid with her coarse tongue. The two legger would smile and sniff, then laugh and cuddle Cleo close as she showered her furry friend in gratitude. Cleo was always there. Always loyal.
She continued digging around in the dumpster. Her stomach rumbled as she picked up the scent of something spoiled in a paper bag. She used her claws to tear it open. Inside was about a two-legger bite of a hamburger. To Cleo this was a real feast. She devoured it quickly before the smell found its way to her competition—the huge subway rats. Individually they were weak, but in packs they were vicious. If they saw her hunched over anything edible, they would attack her. Their beady little eyes were everywhere. Even now she could feel them watching her, letting her expend her precious energy to find the food so they could come overtake her and steal it, leaving her tired and starving.
But tonight things were in her favor as she finished the small feast uninterrupted. However, she felt she may regret it. The food was slimy and tasted a bit sour. Sometimes what food she found she regretted eating, but it was either a moment of nausea or the hard pangs of starvation. Nine times out of ten she chose nausea. But maybe she should have passed on this find because her body began to tingle all over. Inside her chest it began to burn, which spread throughout her limbs, overtaking the tingling. She felt faint and thought she might suffocate as she gasped for air. Everything went from one extreme to the other inside her body. She went from near suffocation to breathing more deeply than ever. This increased flow of oxygen made her feel strong and more alert. Her shaky legs grew firm, and she stood tall in the dumpster. She reached up with her front paws with ease, vaulted over the dumpster’s edge, and gracefully landed on the gritty concrete. She stood still, taking in her surroundings with heightened abilities. What had happened to her? Sounds of scraping on the alley wall across from her peaked her now very sensitive hearing.
What is that noise? Cleo thought to herself. Her lean lips curled back in irritation, revealing long double fangs that slightly curled back to a needle’s point.
She jerked her head toward the scraping noise and focused on a small beetle scurrying across the bricks. Its little claws tap-danced across the mortar. She found she could see in beautiful clarity. The beetle’s hard shell shimmered yellow, green, and purple as the light of the brilliantly white moon shined on it. She looked up at the huge, bright moon overhead and let its glow wash over her. She purred a deep baritone sound that reverberated in the alleyway as she relished the powerful sensation it gave her.
To her left she picked up the faintest whiff of the rank odor that always sent her running. This smell meant danger. It meant whatever food she had found she better gulp down quickly and move on. This smell was the smell of the huge subway rats she feared to her core. And by the stench wafting over her now, she knew there were several bogies inbound. But for some reason, tonight she wanted the fight. She desired the confrontation.
“Bring it on, rat bitches,” she hissed. She stood on her strong legs and waited. Her long, thick tail slowly moved from left to right, playfully.
The pack of rats confidently rounded the far corner. More and more came around. The lead rats stopped hard, causing the group behind them to topple over themselves. They all froze as their beady eyes locked with Cleo’s in confusion. She hissed violently. Her lips snarled wide, showing off row after row of razor-sharp teeth. They pissed themselves in fear and scattered in all directions like a dish shattering on the ground.
Disappointed, Cleo contemplated giving chase. She wanted to run and feel her lean, strong body release the tension coiling up inside her body. Just as she was about to take off after the rats, her sensitive hearing picked up another sound behind her, a sound that caused her body to react in hunger. Her enhanced killer instinct took control of her brain, putting her on autopilot. These noises aroused something inside her she couldn’t control. Her body flushed and adrenaline poured into her bloodstream, causing her heart to thump harder in her chest. All of her senses heightened off the charts. She silently crept into the shadows behind the dumpster, sat, and waited patiently for her prey.
“Would you please stop it, Dan?” the blonde woman said as she shooed the man’s hand off her ass for the third time since they left the bar three blocks ago.
“What? Come on. You know you’ve been wanting the chance for us to hook up.” The man pulled her into the alley’s shadows.
“This was just supposed to be Friday night drinks. Not a hookup,” she said, flustered.
“What was that kiss in the office the other day? Huh, tell me?” The alcohol on his breath was strong.
“I don’t know. Really I don’t,” she said as Dan backed her against the brick wall. He pressed himself against her and leaned in for a kiss. She relented as their lips touched, then timidly kissed back.
Maybe not so bad after all, she began to think. She committed her mouth further. Dan moved his right hand up her body and gently squeezed her ample left breast. He moaned into her kiss and squeezed it harder.
“I don’t know about this,” she said, breaking the lip lock and looking around. “We are in an alley, for goodness sake.”
“Just do me a favor. No one is around,” Dan said without even looking to check. “Come on, please,” he urged again. He took her wrist and moved it behind his belt, into his pants.
Her fingers felt his excitement as he pressed it against her palm.
“That’s it. Just give it a rub.”
“Ok, we’re done here. I’m not doing this in an alley.” The blonde lady tried to pull away, but Dan held her hand against his crotch.
“Won’t take but a second. Squeeze it,” he urged.
“Stop it, Dan. You’re drunk and will regret this behavior next week,” she tried to reason with him, but the brain in her hand was in full control of him now. He pressed her hard against the bricks.
“Squeeze it!” he demanded. “Do it for me, please.”
Her head hit hard against the wall and she yelped in pain. This had gone too far. “OK, Dan, easy,” she breathed. He felt her fingers begin to cooperate as pleasure shot up his core. He released her wrist, and thankfully her fingers stayed wrapped in place.
“Oh yes,” he moaned. He leaned back in for those soft lips again.
If he wanted her to squeeze something, then she would. But it wouldn’t be the frank. She would squeeze the beans. With that thought she cupped her hand lower and felt his grapes, swollen with excitement and ready to burst. She found the left one and then squeezed with all the strength she had.
“Aww, shit! SHIT!” he screamed in shock and doubled over, dropping to his knees. He was trying to talk, but nothing came out but painful groans.
“Sorry, but you made me do that. Now go home and sleep this off.” She turned and walked away. Over her shoulder she said back to him, “Sober up and I’ll forget this ever happened. I’ll see you on Monday.” Then she was gone. Dan lay on the filthy asphalt coughing in pain.
From behind the dumpster Cleo watched the event unfold. Her senses could smell the scent of the woman the man seemed to be crazy for. It was revolting and overpowering to Cleo. It reminded her of her favorite dark-haired two legger. She, too, covered herself in such an offensive smell each morning. The man exuded another smell entirely, but she had to search for it through the cloud of booze in the air around him. As Cleo’s keen nose waded in deeper, she detected something more primal. It was a musky animalistic aroma, and that excited her, especially at the moment he screamed out. The smell intensified, and she licked her chops in anticipation. Her hunting instinct held her in place. Patience, it told her. Her chance to roll in his primal delight would come soon enough.
The blonde-haired two legger walked away, leaving the yummy one writhing around on the ground. Cleo positioned her feet underneath her and waited for the perfect moment to pounce. Dan finally raised to all fours and coughed, fighting back his puke. He could still feel the blonde woman’s thumb and forefinger pinch the shit out of his left testicle. He lowered himself down again as if worshiping the alleyway as another wave of nausea enveloped him. He sobbed in pain. He feared she may have torn his precious jewel loose.
Cleo silently stalked forward. She could smell the same salty liquid her favorite two legger used to leak from her eyes. This one leaked it from his eyes too. For a split second she wanted to rush over and cuddle him and use her prickly tongue to lick his face and make it all better. But her lizard brain fought against the urge.
Nah, I need to eat. She let out a low feral growl.
In the alleyway her growl echoed deep. Dan felt it as much as heard it. He looked up slowly. The sound reminded him of visiting the tiger cage at the zoo as a kid. Their growls were rooted in pure strength. As he looked at the animal before him, the pain of his smashed testicle lost its priority. What he saw before him invoked a more powerful grip on his body, one of utter and complete terror. He sat up slowly. Grit and pea gravel stuck to his outstretched palms as he held them out toward the beast.
“OK, fella. Take it easy now,” Dan coaxed. Before him was a cat. That much he could tell, but barely. Its eyes were very large and glowed with a deep golden color like it was staring into a spotlight. Its whiskers were long as they bounced in tandem with the lips sneering hard on its thick muzzle. The teeth had his full attention. This creature’s mouth was full of them. Row after row, razor sharp and serrated to a needle’s point. He slowly stood and backpedaled out of the alleyway. What crushed testicle? Dan’s testicle was fine. Better than ever.
The abomination of a cat shrieked a scream so viciously loud Dan could feel his sprinting heart rattle in his chest. Then quick as lightning, it leaped on him.
Cleo couldn’t resist the need to scream her excitement and have some fun. She leaped at least a dozen feet into the two legger’s face. She pushed out her elongated claws into the sides of his head, and they easily pressed through his skull. The immediate resistance of the bone quickly gave way to warm softness inside. Cleo pressed them deeper until her paws and his head were fused together.
Dan could feel one of the needle-like claws enter through his cheek. The more he screamed, the more the claw sliced his tongue until it severed and flopped out of his mouth. He fell onto his back, kicking and punching the beast. Finally he grabbed its skin under its dense fur and tugged with all his strength. Cleo moved her spine up and down, enjoying the back scratch. Her hind claws gripped the two legger’s rib cage like her old scratching post. It felt great feeling her long claws extending out fully. A low purr vibrated out of her chest. Yes, she needed this. Just as she thought she might adjust her grip to play with the two legger a bit longer, he grabbed her tail and gave it a vicious yank. Cleo screamed and opened her jaws wide and crunched into Dan’s face, removing most of it.
Dan’s reaction was to twist and yank Cleo’s tail like his life depended on it, because it did. Cleo retracted the claws on her left paw, releasing it from Dan’s head, then pushed them out again to their fullest, deadliest length. With speed not of this world, she shredded Dan’s neck until his head disconnected from his body, still stuck to her right paw. Panicked, she shook her paw like it was on fire and hopped around until the head freed itself and bounced off the brick wall. She stood there breathing heavily, gaining her composure. Blood quickly pooled around her. Its coppery smell made her stomach twist in hunger. She lowered her head and began lapping it up eagerly like she loved to do with the occasional saucer of creamy milk her favorite two legger sometimes rewarded her with. After several minutes to get her fill, she sat up and began cleaning the blood off her paws with her long, prickly tongue. She missed this feeling of fullness, contentment. She stood and gave an arched Halloween pose that stretched her back and legs, thinking, That was fun.
Moments later her heightened hearing picked up the voices of more two leggers out in the darkness.
Oh hell yeah. I can do this all night, Cleo thought as she stalked after the voices.
The sun wouldn’t rise for another few hours. Mel yawned into her hand. She was sitting at a large rectangular conference table in a room atop an airport control tower. The tower was built into the corner of the compound they were in called La Casa Ballerinas and oversaw air traffic on its small runway strip. From here they could see for miles in all directions, as the room had thick glass walls on all four sides. On one side of the room, surrounded by glass, was the elevator that served as the only entrance.
In the distance, hung low in the sky, was a huge, brilliantly white shining moon. Even at this wee morning hour, it looked like early afternoon outside. Here and there gunshots popped in the distance, sometimes in rapid succession. Next to Mel, her brother Rob sat slumped in a high-back chair with his head back. His mouth gaped open like a Venus flytrap. A slight snore emanated from his nose. Mel wished she could sleep. She was exhausted, but the events leading up to her arrival at La Casa Ballerinas had her wired. In the center of the table was a conference phone spread out like an octopus. Several voices could be heard from it, conversing quickly in Spanish. Around the phone were large maps of the surrounding counties, and men dressed in navy blue fatigues were bent over them, marking and writing notes as they listened to the voices from the phone.
The elevator dinged announcing the arrival of a guest. Rob jerked awake and blinked his eyes into focus. He wiped the drool from the corner of his mouth as the elevator doors opened and revealed an old woman in a wheelchair. Her lap was covered in a faded blanket that Rob knew was once brilliantly colored. She was pushed into the room by a younger lady dressed like a nurse. Everyone immediately quieted and stood. One man pushed a button and silenced the noisy phone. No one spoke as the nurse-looking lady wheeled the old woman to the head of the table. Missing her ring finger, she rested the other nine on the table’s smooth top. They look twisted and frail from the toll arthritis had taken on them.
Erma Florchett, now pushing one hundred years old, took in the scene around the table. Her eyes were alert as she moved them from one face to another, settling them on Rob and Mel, her reunited grandchildren. A smile slowly creased her wrinkled face, then faded as she turned to the leader in the room. He was a large, gray-haired man wearing paramilitary fatigues with captain’s bars on his lapels. For the benefit of her grandchildren she spoke in English.
“Please sit,” she said mildly to everyone. Once the sounds of murmurs, chairs scooting, and papers being rustled subsided, she turned to the captain and said, “My dear cousin, please bring me up to speed since initiating the Lockdown Protocol,” she said in a voice that was soft but commanding.
The Lockdown Protocol was a series of offensive and defensive measures planned out nearly fifty years ago by a small well-trained and well-equipped law enforcement team called the Rurales. They were headquartered here in the La Casa Ballerinas compound outside of Reynosa, Mexico. Every year since the protocol’s creation, it was practiced and updated to keep pace with advancements in technology and weaponry. Tonight the Rurales top brass gathered around this conference table in semi-disbelief its purpose had manifested itself. However, they were nonetheless still focused on its execution. All officers present were from subsequent generations of the Lockdown Protocol’s founders. Many had not fully believed its reason for existing until witnessing the events of this night. As kids, the stories of El Gallo de Satanás, or Satan’s Rooster, seemed too much like a Brothers Grimm fairy tale to be true. They assumed it was only told to scare children into performing their farm chores. But what was currently transpiring outside the compound’s walls was real. Now each of them was glad the protocol was created and maintained, or death would most likely be upon them and their families within these four walls. The Rurales’ best data analysts discussed sitreps, or situational reports, on the conference phone that confirmed this reality all over the country. Two large flat-screen TVs hung opposite the elevator were split into multiple squares. Each showed newscasts of the carnage this night brought all around the world. This was no fairy tale.
Taking Erma’s cue to speak in English, the captain cleared his throat and began his report to her. “We have confirmations of animal mutations from all over Mexico. Our contacts abroad have confirmed them as well, now that the entire globe has reached 10:00 PM or surpassed it.” He clasped his hands together and continued, “As the supermoon recedes back into its original orbit, we are not seeing any animals reverting back to normal as hoped.” He paused to let the grim information sink in before he continued.
Erma’s eyes remained locked on her cousin as everyone else’s seemed locked on her. What she had endured that night fifty years ago on a tiny scale was unimaginable. Rob and Mel were astonished at how she kept her composure hearing these gruesome details of that hideous night being churned up on a global scale now. An animal apocalypse.
“We’ve lost two men so far and another five injured,” explained the captain. Just as he continued speaking, a huge BANG! slammed into one of the glass windows. It shook the entire room. There were shouts of surprise. The nurse-looking lady shrieked loudly. Rob instinctively ducked, then turned to see what had happened behind him. There was another BANG! The window cracked in all directions.
“What is that thing!” someone shouted as folks began to scramble away from the window. An ear-piercing screech filled the room as huge chunks of glass the size of baseballs exploded in all directions. Two people were struck by the sharp shards, sending them bloodied to the floor. Fortunately, the high backs of Rob’s and Mel’s chairs blocked the deadly objects from hitting them. Mel pulled a stunned Rob under the table for cover from the chaos. Through the window a huge winged beast grabbed an officer in a massive talon and crushed his skull, sending brain matter in all directions. It had a huge serrated beak and used it to slash another officer across his chest, nearly cutting him in half.
Up until a few days ago, Rob suffered from a repetitive nightmare that robbed him from any meaningful sleep, that nearly sent him insane. Under the table he was stricken with fear as he watched this bloody scene unfold. He was completely terrified in recognition of this beast . . . It was the rooster abomination from that nightmare here and now. It had white-and-black feathers with a huge bright red comb atop its head that was razor sharp. Each of its massive claws consisted of six huge fishhook-shaped toes and was slicing through anyone within reach of them. Eyes wide, Rob was paralyzed.
Jose Martenez stood on the first floor guarding the entrance to the elevator bank. Given the highest-ranking officers in the Rurales were gathered upstairs in the conference room and the Lockdown Protocol was in effect, security was at its highest level. His assignment was to stand guard, verifying visitors and reporting anything strange, anything out of the ordinary. He was two hours into his watch and determined to keep alert, but his mind drifted back to when he signed up with the Rurales. Then, he was with a small police outpost outside Mexico City. The Rurales were legendary in their fight against cartel corruption. They were the gold standard in law enforcement within Mexico. As a kid his dream was to join the Rurales and fight corruption for his country.