Boulder thumped onto the foot of the bed, the spring-creaking pounce timed with Polly’s alarm. Rolling onto her back, Polly fumbled for the clock bleating on her side table and found the snooze button without fully waking. In the satisfying silence, she sank into her pillow’s warm dent and squirreled beneath her comforter.
With heavy treads, Boulder padded up the pristine stretch beside her. Instead of curling at her waist, or by her head, and joining her for her extra five-minute doze, his paws slammed into her stomach. A lurch later and his entire weight landed on her chest.
Polly squinted at her cat. “Morning to you too.”
Dropping back, she sought to shift him off her body and gain an easier breath.
Boulder’s claws dug in and his furry mass seemed to gain the density synonymous with his name. Polly’s initial shoves failed to move him and without any additional leverage she lay trapped beneath his bulk. Giving in, she drifted off until the alarm pierced her bedroom’s lull again, the bleat somehow more insistent the second time around.
Polly sighed and stretched her arms. She doused the clock’s call and sunk her fingers into Boulder’s fur, finding his toasted body underneath. “Time to get off.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
Springing awake, Polly stared at the ceiling and then at her chest while the statement echoed.
Boulder gazed back, his pointed ears perked, his feline gaze dotted with amber and emerald, his fiery pelt smooth. Holding her abdominal crunch, Polly searched her cluttered dresser, the piles of winkled dirty clothes, and those clean and folded in the laundry basket for the source of the gravelly bass bouncing between sleep, dreams, and her ears.
No one spoke.
Collapsing into her pillow, Polly scrubbed her hands across her face. A line of daylight crept through her fingers and she noted the beam passing through the curtains draped over the ground floor window, soft yellow strengthening against the four walls of whitewashed brick.
“Wake up, Polly.”
“You are awake.”
At the bass’ return, Polly stilled beneath her blankets. The beat of Boulder’s heart slammed through the comforter as if to replace her own. Propping up on her elbows, Polly stared at her cat.
“No.” She scrubbed through her hair. “I have to be dreaming.”
Boulder’s ears flattened and with a blurred swipe of a paw, he nicked her forearm.
Polly sat up, tossing Bolder from her chest, and pressed against the headboard, clutching her arm. “What was that for?”
Her cat placed himself in the middle of the bed, cocked his head, and gained a feline grin. “Do you believe you’re dreaming now?”
“I have to be dreaming. My cat is talking to me. How is it possible if I’m not dreaming?”
“Perhaps because I can talk.” Boulder’s mouth moved with each word, his whiskers fluttering. “I just never have.”
Polly let fatigue, ire, and the vestiges of last night’s wine, paint sarcasm onto her tone. “But now you’ve changed your mind?”
“Now I have something you need to hear.”
“And what’s that?”
“That you can’t go to work today.”
“You can’t go to work today.”
“No, I heard you.” The angst in her died when Polly spoke the words aloud. She sank against the wooden slats behind her. “This isn’t making any sense.”
Boulder lifted his paw and licked it, his claws catching the growing sunlight.
His voice, the voice of her cat, hung in the room like a wet towel. Massaging the shallow scratch, Polly promised herself an extra drink after dinner. “Fine. Why can’t I go to work?”
After returning his paw to the comforter, Boulder met her gaze. “Because there’s going to be an earthquake.”
Polly barked a snide laugh and waggled her fingers at his plump body. “Next you’re going to tell me you have a seismograph hidden in there somewhere.”
Boulder’s eyes narrowed. “I have my sources. Suffice to say, you humans don’t hear everything the world it telling you sometimes. The ground’s rumbling. We can all feel it.”
“Mr. Gruff, Dotty, Matilda and I all sensed it starting.”
“Do you and the neighbors’ cats get together often to discuss this kind of thing?”
“Do you drink too much?”
Polly balked at the jab but couldn’t bring herself to argue.
Boulder flicked his tail in a pleased swish. “The other critters feel it too. The mice and rats, even Happy, Copper, and Rex noted something rumbling.”
“The Chihuahua, Labrador, and Rottweiler?”
“Yes.” Boulder glanced at his paw as if grime had managed to stain it. “The dogs feeling it says something about what’s coming.”
Her clock gave a third bleat and Polly slammed her hand on the alarm. “What’s coming, is work.”
Before she could yank her legs out from under the blanket, Boulder leapt into her lap, a swath of orange. “You work on the 13th floor with a view of the Golden Gate, Polly. That’s not where you need to be today.”
The details left her stupefied. “How do you know where I work?”
“I’ve lived with you since I was a kitten, I know lots of things.” Boulder adjusted his seat, his newfound position pinning her to the mattress. “You’re way too good for Harold by the way.”
Polly gaped. “Now you’re critiquing my dates?”
Boulder’s ears flatted again. “He smells like kitty litter. Used kitty litter.”
“He’s a nice enough guy.”
“You’re willing to settle for nice enough?”
With a groan, Polly slumped into her pillows. “I can’t believe I’m having this conversation.”
“We can talk about him later, right now, you need to call in sick or take a day off.” Placing his paws on her collarbone, Boulder raised up on his haunches, putting them nose to nose. “Whatever you do, you’re not going to work.”
The sincerity in his gaze chilled Polly’s toes despite the lingering heat clinging to the sheets.
“I guess I could—”
“Not could. Will.”
The day’s tasks perked in her mind, each a red flag of responsibility. Polly shook her head.
“I have a presentation at eleven. The analytics need to be run for the week. Mary and I were going to grab lunch and you don’t cancel on your boss.”
“I don’t care.”
His claws reappeared and punctured her tee shirt with ten tiny holes. The touch didn’t break her skin, but, like a pinch, reminded Polly of her morning’s realities. Reminded her of a speaking cat, one who had broken whatever vow of silence he and his feline kind had taken to warn her of a pending, and not unlikely, threat.
“You really mean it?”
“All right.” Polly’s voice emerged hoarse and soured by morning breath.
In a daze, Polly found her phone beside her clock and dialed, hoping the receptionist’s answering machine might finally wake her from this vivid and foreboding dream. The droning alto solely provided the appropriate extensions, and methodically, Polly pressed each button to reach Mary’s line.
“Mary, I’m afraid—” Polly looked at Boulder who’d curled into a heap. His purr drummed against her calves, mimicking the voice in her head and suddenly her message didn’t feel quite like lying. “I’m not feeling so well today. Matt has everything on the presentation and hopefully you can give me a rain check on lunch.” She stroked through Boulder’s fur. “I think it’s just a 24 hour thing so I’ll hope to see you tomorrow.”
She hung up and stared at the phone’s screen until it darkened. “I can’t believe I just called in sick because my cat told me so.”
“You did the rrrrright thing, trrrrrust me.” Still vibrating, Boulder arched under her caress. “This way you’lllll be safe.”
“I’ll be safe.” Polly gripped his pelt. “What about everyone else?”
With his purr fading, Boulder shrugged. “We’ve told who we can. It’s just about people being smart enough to accept the truth.”
“That their pets can speak and sense upcoming environmental disasters.” Polly chuckled, the bitterness singeing her lips. “And if they don’t have pets?”
His indecision focused her thoughts. “If you’re serious and this is going to happen we have to tell someone.”
Boulder tipped his head, his attention locked on empty air, his ears twitching at the quiet “Trent Drake of USGS has a dog and a cat. Both of them are aware. They’re talking now, and he’ll send out a warning when he comes to his senses.” The conclusion seemed to satisfy him and Boulder returned from whatever place he’d been watching, listening. “There should be early vibrations for all those monitors and sensors to catch too.”
Polly rubbed absently at her arm’s scratch. “What about the others in the building?” She glanced at the walls around her, suddenly uncertain about her basement venue. “The building itself?”
“How do you feel about the Tenderloin?”
The oddity of the suggestion brought her back to the bed. “The park?”
“Best place to be is outdoors and it’s only a few blocks away.”
“I guess so.” Polly glanced at the window and the crease of blue sky.
“Everyone’s making the same suggestion and I have it on good authority that’s where Copper’s taking Patrick.”
She arched an eyebrow and used it to counter her cat’s smirk. “You’re setting me up on a date now?”
“I’m just noting the opportunity.” Boulder leapt from her lap and circled on the patch of carpet covering the cement floor. “Come on, you’ve got about two hours before the fault’s finally going to jump.”
Slipping out from beneath the covers, Polly planted her feet and crunched her toes through the rug’s fluff. Boulder wound through her legs when she stood and a wave of concern bowled into her gut.
“What about you?”
Boulder ceased his twining and stared up from the floor. “The Tenderloin’s one of my favorite haunts.”
“So you’re coming with me?”
Sunlight gleamed in his eyes. “I wouldn’t be with anyone else.”
Polly squatted beside him and he purred when she scratched beneath his chin. “Me either.”
After a butting of foreheads, Polly rose while Boulder trotted toward the bedroom’s closed door. “We should get going. Less wasting time. More effort in finding herbal tea.”
Smothering a yawn, Polly snatched the towel draped on her foot rail and followed him. “Why? I don’t drink tea.”
“You don’t.” Boulder flicked his tail and stared expectantly at the room’s lone exit. “Patrick does.”