03/06 – Sunday
Horrifying screams are coming from my front garden, pulling me away from a 4 a.m. parade of job ads and LinkedIn scrolling. Squinting past my reflection, out my bedroom window, I can make out a cluster of shadow writhing next to the driveway, which seems to be the source of the hideous, pre-dawn-chorus screeching. The other houses are curtained; the only light comes from an electrified ‘For Sale’ sign halfway up the hill.
The screams end. Silence engulfs the street. Another shape splits off from the dark mass—lighter in colour, mottled, slinking away and up the hill. I think I’m the only person to have heard the whole thing.
People in this neighbourhood have morbid curiosities. Whenever there’s a car crash down on River Road, all of us (the old ladies, the mums, the children, and me) will emerge from our houses at the sound of collisions echoing off the cliffs.
—Oh, that’s a bad one, I can tell.
—Hear any pileups?
And then the dogs will start making trouble, or one of the kids will start whacking the buds off flowers.
—Get inside, Max!
I suppose that’s why, now that the screams have died down, I’m toeing into some Muji slippers and heading outside.
Phone light reveals everything; a Brushtail and its Joey. The tiniest puncture wounds—needle incisions—on their necks, droplets of glistening blood. The Jill’s claws are hooked out, still defending its baby.
I dig a little hole for them in the back garden.
24/06 – Sunday
Since the night of the scream, I haven’t stopped thinking about cats.
Online, I find out there are 15 to 23 million wild cats living across Australia. I notice their victims every week; the lorikeets that fill the branches, they’ve been getting picked off; the frogs have been plucked from their water features, and the surviving skinks have hideous stumps where their tails used to be. More possums are left rotting in people’s front gardens.
It isn’t enough to slap down suburbs over ancient bushland, we have to fill them with our own vicious animals.
08/07 – Sunday
Start talking to the neighbours about the local feline population. The matriarch of my street, the one who, comfortingly, still smokes cigarettes, tells me that the area has always had ferals.
—But they’ve been getting worse.
She hides her cigarette behind her back when she speaks.
The lady next door, whose husband used to do the crosswords—I mean he devised and constructed the crosswords for one of the major papers—tells me that no one around here bothers putting bells on their pets.
—Should have bells. Dirty, rotten things.
I get bits and pieces from others, avoiding the neighbours ‘up the hill’ at 1A, because no one likes them. One neighbour tells me:
—Seen cats around the lolly shop.
It hasn’t been a lolly shop since long before I started living here. It’s now a row of residential buildings that sound like arguments and smell of cooking. There are a lot of cats there.
Most of them are fat, domesticated, curling between your feet as you walk towards the highway. But there’re newcomers, the ferals. They congregate on top of a boat in an over-grown yard. They’re quick, they’re intelligent. Their eyes glint like razors at night, watching you from behind car tyres.
One of the residents, with a 12-week-old puppy scampering around her feet, gives me a run-down on cat politics. Apparently her neighbour has started feeding local cats, which explains the influx of ferals. They’ve called the council, to complain, organising cat traps. But their first attempts didn’t do much.
The woman who looks after the overgrown yard has no idea why the ferals have chosen the boat as their haunt. They just sit there, staring at her while she works.
And apparently I shouldn’t trust the lady with the puppy. She’s a terrible gossip.
09/07 – Monday
Keep thinking about the possum’s scream. How human it was.
15/07 – Sunday
Find the corpse of a Black Cockatoo in the garden.
My research tells me some councils have already put in culling measures. Banana Shire Council, out in Queensland, offers $10 a scalp for adult cats and $5 for kittens. Imagine collecting that check: Instead of Centrelink I could turn up with a sack of cat skins.
There are anti-cat efforts occurring all over Australia—poisoning, fences, baiting. Someone designed an infra-red camera that distinguishes cats from native species and sprays poison onto their fur. Due to their ‘fastidious’ nature, the cats ingest the toxins while cleaning themselves. It’s like a Looney Tunes ACME device—some Wile E. Coyote contraption.
22/07 – Sunday
I join a lot of groups on Facebook. It’s a whole ‘nother world out there. Animal rights groups are condemning the brutal cat-removal methods, claiming that culling, ironically, boosts their population; when food sources rise, the cats begin breeding more.
Also, I apply for job after job and there’s nothing. Keep thinking about the possum, screaming, giving everything to protect its Joey and I can’t stand it.
So I plan, research the best methods.
One man out in WA fills a wheelie-bin with water and then drowns cats in it. This seems fine in theory—quiet, and it keeps your hands clean—but my house regularly fills our bins with rubbish. It also necessitates trapping the cats in the first place.
An eco-warrior in Alice Springs just sits around, sees cats, and shoots them with a rifle. Maybe the most direct method is best, but the noise would surely draw the ire of my neighbours.
—Good morning Susan! Don’t mind me. BAM!
23/07 – Monday
Genius. I’ve decided to break out the old bow and arrows from the uni archery team. Long-range, cost-effective, and quiet. I knew they would come in handy again, but I couldn’t have guessed in what way.
02/09 – Sunday
September already. I’m spending my weekends at the archery centre at Olympic Park, hitting the bullseye nearly every time.
23/09 – Sunday
It takes far more skill to hit moving targets. I stop going to Olympic Park. Takes too long to get there and my student Opal card isn’t working anymore. Set up a can-based pendulum out in the local bush, which swings about as low to the ground as your average cat prowls. I also practice with distance, from a crouching position, leaping out from behind trees.
Each night more animals are brought down by the ferals; lizards eaten, possums brutalised. I’ve been dreaming about glinting, razor-yellow eyes, while Greg Hunt tells the ABC that cats are ‘tsunamis of violence and death.’
I think my mother is worried about me.
01/10 – Monday
I have it all planned out: find a secluded spot along a sloping street which gives me a view of the whole cat ecosystem. They’re well in range, and—I think—easy pickings.
Every arrow misses its target.
The cats are too slinky for my amateur archery skills, too malinky to be caught unawares; the night is too dark, their stealth too effective. I decide not to try again until I improve my methodology. Cats are intelligent prey, too used to being predators to fall for the same trick twice.
14/10 – Sunday
Buy camouflage gear from a military surplus store; spend a few nights listening to the possums, learning how to mimic the sound of a Jill in distress. Get some ‘fox-scent’ to close off some streets. During the day I patrol my neighbourhood, distinguishing the movements of domestics from ferals.
Will try again tonight.
15/10 – Monday
I find my vantage point and wait for the inky darkness that cats prefer, before drawing them as close as possible with a possum call.
A cat—my first cat—goes down silently with an arrow between its eyes, yellow glint extinguished. Another cat yowls, just for a moment, before my arrow punctures its heart. The others, wary now, start slinking off to the edges of the street where my fox scent herds them into a pre-determined kill-zone.
Pick off some more; the slower, the inexperienced, the young, but one of my shots goes wide and its target cries out. The cagey ferals skulk off into the bush.
Seven cats in all; seventy bucks by Queensland standards.
I collect the corpses in a gym bag and chuck them off the cliffs at the end of my street, where their bodies can contribute to the bush re-gen area down below.
11/11 – Sunday
Up until now I’ve been learning as much as I can about my enemy—for instance, on average, a feral cat in Australia kills up to 225 reptiles a year. I think I’m getting better, winning even. But it isn’t enough. I just make them stronger, culling the stupid while the cunning survive. The fewer the cats, the more food for the strong, and now I’m contending with the wiliest ferals on the North Shore.
Buy a compound bow, which helps me hold the draw for longer without straining my shoulders.
18/11 – Sunday
Really should be looking for work: My bank account is running slim after all the archery lessons and equipment. But I haven’t had an interview in months; I can hardly tell potential employers what I’ve been doing.
I still hear the possum screaming. Screaming. Screaming.
25/11 – Sunday
Find out it’s not only ferals that are killing natives. Domestic cats, allowed to walk free, without bells, contribute to the deaths of 649 million reptiles a year. The bodies pile up in my nightmares, the birds, the frogs, the mammals. A drought hits NSW, devastating farmers across the state.
What’s more, in drier weather, cats start hunting more animals to survive. So I expand my efforts, target both the ferals and the domestics without bells—the DWB’s. The neighbours start talking.
—Craig ran away!
—The kids are devastated.
02/12 – Sunday
The local council is forced into action. I see re-gen officers going door to door, measuring the disappearances of family pets. Triangulating their data, converging on my location. A couple of them snoop around my place with surveys on the cat population—an obvious trap.
I lie, tell them I’m fine with cats.
—Man’s real best friend if you ask me.
16/12 – Sunday
Must diversify my efforts into other areas, to mess with their data. The locals start a night-watch after realising a neighbourhood’s worth of cats doesn’t just run away. I volunteer to lead the patrols, steering them in the wrong direction. It even earns me a few references for the resume.
—Taking responsibility for my local area.
I go out every other night—after my mother has gone to sleep. I’ve memorised the patrols, one step ahead, slipping through their net.
My archery is impeccable: I can put an arrow through the eyes of a domestic shorthair at 30 meters. There are still 15 to 23 million cats in Australia, but I count a few hundred fewer than before. I stop counting by Queensland standards.
01/01 – Tuesday
On the news there’s talk of the ‘Croydon Cat Killer’, over in the UK. The investigators say the killer might ‘graduate’ to humans, particularly women and girls, once the allure of feline victims fades. The CCK has been mutilating their animal victims, not just cats, but other pets too. A real sicko. Although, I’ve learned from the police reports that the killer might be using pet food to lure out their victims. I wonder why I didn’t think of that myself.
13/01 – Sunday
The world’s become a harder place for honest eco-warriors and cat murderers alike. Animal rights groups start gaining traction, with a slew of ‘pro-cat’ articles scattered throughout my Facebook feed. The neighbourhood watch expands into different units. It’s much harder to keep up with their patrols.
There are a few close calls, but if there’s anything I’ve learned from cats, it’s how to slip away in the dark.
27/01 – Sunday
The ABC says Australia has the worst rate of mammal extinction in the world, losing 30 species in just 200 years.
My bank account fades into embarrassing territory; can’t sleep from the stress. I can feel the noose tightening as the rangers triangulate their data.
Workers keep coming around with more of their ‘surveys.’ Not long now.
I vow to take as many with me as I can.
31/01 – Thursday
Near miss with the patrols. Forced to leave behind the body of a tortoiseshell.
The police send in forensics. Their media release says thin, long-range piercing objects—most likely carbon-fibre arrows—are the murder weapons of choice. I have to answer a few awkward questions from my mother, who remembers buying me some archery lessons last year. The local paper is warning pet owners to keep their cats inside.
03/02 – Sunday
The police are watching the sporting goods store. I’m forced to sharpen and re-use arrows. Soon I’m taping up the broken ones, and they shoot crooked.
04/02 – Monday
The Croydon Cat Killer turns out to be a skulk of foxes—another introduced species in Australia—hunting the local pets.
08/02 – Friday
A police dog sniffs out the body of a cat from the bush re-gen area under the cliffs. It brings back another, and another, and another. The neighbourhood gathers around to watch, hands held to their mouths in disgust.
No one notices how many birds have come back to the area, how many lizards are sunbathing on rocks.
10/02 – Sunday
In my dreams they come for me at night, bursting through the front door and scaring my mother half to death. I roll out of bed, skitter into a crawlspace in my closet, into the walls, following the hidden pathways through my house.
I leave my bow—there’s no way, even now, that I’d ‘graduate’ to human victims. I won’t prove the papers right.
The crawlspace stretches off into darkness. Behind me, I hear the yowling of my pursuers. The cats have come for revenge—my tripwire unleashes fox-musk into their faces. Their screams are familiar, senses flooded with mammalian terror.
But they keep coming, footsteps thundering across the roof, from all directions. I call out into the night and see a sky of glowing razor-eyes. The police focus their torches. I wake up to the sounds of possums in the walls.
Five hundred cats. More than the Croydon Cat Killer ever achieved, even if he was just a pack of foxes. The newspapers will print a photo of me. My eyes will be glinting in the dark. I’ll scream like a Jill who has lost her Joey. I’ll scream and wake up the whole neighbourhood.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Harry Goddard is a Sydney-based short story writer. His stories have been included in Going Down Swinging, The UTS Writers’ Anthology, Spineless Wonders, Andromeda Spaceways, and other publications. When the Sydney lockdowns lift, he plans on getting married to RS, and together escaping into the bush.
You can read more of Harry’s work at: https://www.