Rubber Horsey Heads

By Luke Rolfes

April 26th and things began to get bad, bad. Two men in folding chairs, wearing rubber horse masks, sat and played accordions in the parking lot. They didn’t want money, but several passersby dropped change into a discarded box that was sitting close to the men in horse masks. Some people thought it a joke. Smart ones kept their distance.

The first feral cat could have been an anomaly. Out my window, I watched an orange tabby with fur missing on one hind leg slink around the green dumpster by the old freight house and present itself to the horse heads. The cat stood in front of the musicians for what seemed a small eternity, back bunched like the silhouettes my kids and I hang from the ceiling at Halloween. And then the cat lowered its head. I hesitate to say the cat bowed—even now—because it wasn’t exactly a bow. But there was something unnatural about it. Intentional.

More cats appeared from the alley. Out of the storm drains. Emerging between the tires of parked cars.  Five or six black ones. A gray. One Siamese. Two pure white. One Tom so dirty, a walking dust bunny. The cats stood in front of the horse heads, arching their backs, and then ducking in submission. Soon the handful of cats became a small army. Hundreds. Cats everywhere, bowing to the horse heads. Congregating atop the curb stops, benches, and parked cars. Two perched on each arm of the fire hydrant. One straddling the one-way sign at the edge of the lot. All the while, the horse heads continued to play their accordions.

I called for my children to come see this strange gathering. That’s when the first cat presented a gift. I think it was a dead mouse. The cat dropped it on the pavement in front of the horse heads. A small orb of blood and fur. And then, the next cats offered their gifts. Song birds. Voles. A pigeon. A garter snake. Squirrels, their tails torn off. Chipmunks. Mice. Rats. A pile of dead things grew in front of the horse heads. By the end, it was three or four feet high.

A big ugly cat, missing an ear, came forward. The cat had something in its jaws, long and pink. It strode past the pile of corpses and placed the trophy at the feet of the horse heads. Then it climbed onto the lap of the left one.

I pressed against the glass of my window, trying to tell what it was. It could have been a weasel. Even a small, hairless dog. It looked, more than anything, like a person’s forearm.

One of the horse heads stopped playing. He patted the ugly, one-eared cat in his lap, and then the horse snout turned toward my window. By the time I noticed he was staring, the one-eared cat was also staring. Soon the entire herd of feral cats had their necks craned and eyes fixed on my bedroom window.

My lights were off. The sun was out. If I didn’t move, they couldn’t see me. I told myself that over and over.

Luke Rolfes teaches creative writing at Northwest Missouri State University. His book Flyover Country was published by Georgetown Review Press, and his stories and essays have appeared in numerous journals including North American Review, Bat City Review, Connecticut Review, and others. He co-edits The Laurel Review and serves as a mentor in AWP’s “Writer to Writer” mentorship program.

Art by Lesley C. Weston (Mixed Media)

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