Mercer stared at his alarm clock.
“Marwoah?” Kevin called in the darkness.
“Hello?” was what Mercer heard.
He sat up, eyes searching for the sound.
Mercer couldn’t unhear it.
“David,” he demanded. It was Friday, and Kevin had been driving Mercer crazy all week.
“What?” David asked. The weekend was officially here, and he was taking advantage. The beer at his side was the third of the hour, and he had just finished packing the bong.
“What the hell is up with your cat?”
“Oh shit!” Jack Shelton pointed. “I told you!”
“What?” David asked again, honestly confused.
“He doesn’t drive you batshit crazy?” Mercer asked in earnest. “I’m thinking about murdering him.”
Jack Shelton laughed and slapped his knees.
“I had to get two fans to drown out the noise and get some sleep.”
“What?” David repeated, unbelieving.
“You seriously can’t hear him meowing at night?”
“I fucking told you!” Jack Shelton clapped.
“I’m telling you,” Mercer pointed at David, “last night, I almost opened the door and let him wander away.”
“The neighbors’d give his ass back,” Jack Shelton said.
“Fuck you, man,” David fired at Jack Shelton. “He’s a little chattier than usual, but, I mean… He’s a cat.” He shrugged. “I’m sorry he meows.”
“I’m going nuckin’ futs, dude, for real,” Mercer said. “I’ll send you the bill.”
David laughed and shook his head.
“You’re overreacting,” he said as he acquiesced and passed Mercer the bong, “but this oughtta cover it.”
Mercer grinned. “It’s a start.”
Barry called that Saturday, which was odd. He was usually busy trying to get laid or playing poker on Saturdays.
“Did you hear?” he asked.
“Did you?” Mercer replied.
“What?” Barry was caught off guard. “What do you mean?”
“I’m having a perfect week,” Mercer said in his gameshow voice.
“At work? Or did you join Tinder like I said?” There was a grin in Barry’s question.
“At work. This will make seven days with no sales.”
“Oh, shit.” The grin died. “Is it slow or…”
“It’s that fucking cat, dude. I can. Not. Concentrate.”
Barry gave an empathetic laugh. “That’s it, man. I gotta meet this thing.”
“Seriously. I recorded some of the meowing. I’ll send it to you.”
Barry laughed again. “Cool.”
“Uh,” he began and stopped.
“You know what? Nevermind, man. I’ll talk to you about it later. It’s…”
“Come on, B. You can’t just –”
“Gretchen’s getting married. She popped up on my recommended friends. I had to look.”
Stunned, Mercer didn’t breathe.
“Merc?” Barry said. “Hey, man, I’m sorry. I should have waited, but you were gonna see it anyway, and I didn’t want…”
Mercer forced an inhalation. Something deep in his brain exploded.
“Talk to me, bud,” Barry said after a time.
“I’m fine,” Mercer said coldly. He stood and began pacing. “I gotta go.”
Barry huffed at his friend. “Hey, Merc, don’t –”
“MEOW!” Captain Meowsington bellowed in triumph. Pecking order roasted on a spit, and his remaining captives dangled from meat hooks. They weren’t dead yet, but they were frozen in horror.
“Here, kitty kitty kitty,” came a new voice.
Mercer flipped the page and sketched a gorgeous blonde wearing typical Halloween witch’s garb. Below the image, he wrote, “Bitchella.” He then sketched a human heart in her hand, blood dripping from her knuckles.
“Shit,” Mercer muttered. “Fuck you.”
He tore the page from his book, crumpled it, and tossed it into the bin.
Getting to the garage was all that Mercer could think about when he got home. He downed three beers standing in front of the fridge, then grabbed a fourth to take with him. He stepped through the smoking entrance, snatched up the nearest implement, and took a seat with a plop.
“Careful,” Sandy said dreamily. “The chairs are our friends.”
Mercer took a hit from the pipe and looked at his smokemates. David’s pupils had eaten his irises. Sandy’s had too.
“I’m in the garage…” he said to himself as he studied them. His head was swimming.
“You’re in the garage,” David assured him.
“He’s in the garage,” Sandy confirmed.
“Dude,” Jack Shelton pointed. “Dude, hey, you’re totally in the garage right now.” He then exploded in sharp laughter; David and Sandy slowly diverted their gazes toward him, slack-jawed amusement creeping in.
“… and the kids are on acid,” Mercer finished and gulped his beer.
“Acid,” Sandy parroted.
“Trippy juice,” David confirmed.
“Hey,” Jack Shelton interrupted with arms flung wide. “Hey, I’m not on acid, man. I’m not on acid at all. I haven’t taken a single solitary dosey dose of trippy juice tonight. No sir!”
David pointed at Jack Shelton.
Sandy stared at nothing.
“He’s,” David said, “right.”
“Yeah!” Jack Shelton exclaimed. “Yeah, I’m just zeeked.”
“Zeeked?” Sandy asked the air.
“Zeeked!” David declared.
“I need another drink,” Mercer said.
David slowly handed him the bong instead.
“Meow,” Kevin meowed.
“Zeeked before zooked,” Jack Shelton explained as Mercer came out of his thoughts and paid closer attention.
“Then you’re zonked!” David concluded.
“Zook,” Sandy said. “Zook suit. That’s something. Is that something?” she asked Mercer as she sat down. “What was I just doing?” she asked.
“Zoot Suits?” Mercer asked. “Those were a thing.”
“No,” said Jack Shelton. He held up his dukes. “It’s zooked.” He punched the air to emphasize each syllable. “Zeeked, Zooked, and Zonked!”
Sandy stared at Mercer. David laughed at Jack Shelton. Jack Shelton snorted some more Adderall.
“Meow.” Kevin stated.
“Meow,” David was saying when Mercer started paying attention again.
“Meow,” Sandy repeated.
Mercer was dizzy from the booze and the smoke. His face was numb, and his ears were popping and ringing. In the distance, someone was tuning an analogue radio; the sound of it filled his skull to bursting.
Then it was gone.
“Meow! Meow, meow meow meow meow,” Jack Shelton insisted, bouncing in his seat.
“Meow!” David confirmed.
“Meow!” Sandy joined in.
“Meow!” they cried in unison, Kevin the cat sitting in the middle of the circle, the loudest among them.
“WHAT!?” Mercer barked at the cat, the sharp tone snipping the threads of conversation.
“What do you want?” he asked again, desperate for an answer.
“Meow,” Kevin answered.
“You little shit,” Mercer said and stomped a foot in the cat’s direction. It darted toward the safety of Sandy’s lap.
“Mercer?” David asked.
“Are you just fucking with me?” Mercer demanded. “Do you have something to say? Say it already!”
“Dude,” Jack Shelton said.
“Hey, hey. Shhh,” Sandy said. “It’s alright. It’s alright.” She patted the air between them.
“No!” Mercer yelled. “It’s not fucking alright!” He looked to them and pointed accusingly at the animal. “No cat meows this fucking much.” He turned his gaze back to meet Kevin’s. “What is it? Just tell us what you want!”
“Mercer,” David tried again.
The static again. It was making it hard for Mercer to think.
“I’m sorry,” he said, all at once snapping out of it. “I’m sorry.” He blushed and shrank in his seat.
They were overtaken by the hush. Jack Shelton’s knees bounced, and the other two experienced time in eleven dimensions.
“I’m sorry,” Mercer muttered again and closed his eyes. “I’ve had a shitty day.”
“It’s alright,” Sandy cooed. “It’s okay.”
“Work is shit,” Mercer explained, “and I just found out my ex is getting married,” He took a couple of deep breaths.
“Your ex? You never said anything…” David said.
“He’s not over it,” Jack Shelton said. “He’s still working through it. You’re still working through it, huh, dude? You’re not over it yet? How long’s it been? When’s that bitch’s wedding?”
Mercer let out a small laugh at Jack Shelton’s zeeked concern.
“About a year,” he said, “and I don’t know.”
“Dude, I’m sorry,” David offered as he swatted at a swirl of universe in front of him.
“No,” Mercer said, collecting himself. “No, it’s cool. You guys are having a fun time, and I just came in here and ruined it.”
“No,” Sandy insisted.
“No way,” David said.
“It’s all good, brother,” Jack Shelton chimed it.
“Yeah, we’re here for you,” Kevin said.