The day our cat started talking was the same day the world ended. It didn’t happen the way we had always talked about. It came in the faces of our neighbors. The fear. The desperation laid heavy across their brows warned us of what was coming. It scared me, but not Gen or our cat.
“This is the end,” she said.
It was hard to tell at first what she said. The sound wasn’t meows, but it wasn’t quite words either.
“This is the end,” she said again, reaching her paw up in my direction. “We must leave.”
She banged her head against my partner’s ankles. “Baby, did you hear that?”
Our calico cat purred, its rumble echoing around us in the hall where we sat hiding from the windows. People were leaving in droves, and I couldn’t stand there watching while they left. It stung to watch them abandoning everything they worked for and built to go out there into the uncertainness of the end of the world.
In the hallway, things were smaller.
There was just us and the talking cat.
“Say it again,” Gen said.
“It wasn’t anything, just a hairball,” I pretended.
“Don’t be rude,” our cat Alpha said. “I am trying to save your lives.”
“Is this a dream?” I mumbled, running my hands along Alpha’s fluffy back.
“No,” Alpha said. “It’s a nightmare. We must wait until nightfall, then we must go.”
“This isn’t happening,” I said, closing my eyes and hiding my ears.
Alpha jumped at my face, lightly scratching at my arm to get my attention. “Believe it,” she said, tumbling back onto the carpet. “The world is ending and the only way for you two to survive is by following me.” Alpha purred back and forth between me and Gen.
Gen’s soft brown expression twirled in confusion. “Follow you where?”
“Back home. To where I was born.”
I crept out of the hallway and to the front bay windows. The curtains were slightly see-through, allowing me to witness the exodus of our neighborhood. Cars piled behind one another, honking and revving their engines against the blockade. The traffic moved, but at a crawl. I snuck back into the hallway where Gen was holding Alpha in their lap, stroking her to sleep.
She wasn’t purring any more, but her breath came out raspy locked in a dream.
“Everyone’s leaving,” I said.
“Alpha told us to wait until later.”
“Later we could be dead,” I whispered, sitting down beside them. “Then again, we could be dead now.” I tried to cover Alpha’s ears. “We should sneak away now. Forget the car; we’ll go on foot.”
“On foot? What about Alpha?”
“She’s a cat. She’ll survive out there. We have to take our chance while we got it. Once everyone’s gone, others will come to pick at what’s been left.”
“They’ll pick at you sooner,” Alpha grumbled from Gen’s lap. “Rest, gather what you’ll need, make sure you pack my litter box, shrimp treats, and bed. When I awake again, we’ll leave.”
Gen shrugged and continued stroking Alpha.
I slumped against the wall beside them, eventually succumbing to the darkness of my own dreams.
Gen must have carried me to our small bedroom and placed me down on the twin-size. It was dark when I woke up, Alpha curled at my feet. Somewhere in the house, there was a stirring. Not in a rushed, frenzied sense, but a comfortable and familiar ramble.
“Gen,” I called. “Gen, is that you?”
Gen’s lightly bearded face popped into view with light spilling out from the bathroom.
“Did you call me?”
“I had a crazy dream. Alpha spoke. The world ended. You were there too.”
Gen came to sit on the edge of the bed near Alpha. “It wasn’t a dream, babe. Alpha did talk. The world is ending. I’m packing things up now.”
Alpha stretched up the length of my leg. Her overgrown fluff dreaded and matted. In the dark, she appeared a lion creature from another planet.
Maybe she was.
I scratched her awake. “Hey, are you an alien? Is that why you can talk?”
“I can talk,” she said, arching her jaw against my hand. “Because you have talked to me. You have treated me with love, care, and kindness. All the natural makings for something extraordinary to happen.”
She chirped and quickly leapt off the bed to lick at her paws on the ground. When she was done, she looked up at me and Gen.
“I packed your stuff, Alphie,” Gen said. “It’s in the car. You have your own spot in the back where you can lay.”
“We will not be travelling by car,” Alpha said.
“We’re going out on foot?” I asked.
“Foot for some, paw for others. It is the safest way to travel.”
Getting up from the bed, I went out to the front window. The street was empty. Doors to some of the houses lay open, light painting their front porch from within.
It didn’t look like there was anyone left on the street besides us.
“Our car would be better now,” I said, coming back into the room.
The ceiling lamp blotted the room in white. Gen was packing clothes into a backpack.
“Are we going to stop at any point and ask what the hell is going on here?” I asked, stopping Gen by grasping their wrists.
Alpha popped out from under the bed. “What you once knew has gone away. What more is there to discuss?”
“I’m having a little trouble believing all of it, really. It doesn’t feel like the world is gone. I mean it’s still here.”
Alpha purred. “Just because your world has ended doesn’t mean the world has ended. Things will go on. Humans, in a way, will go on. But your life will be forever different, so much so it warrants being called an apocalypse.”
Gen’s eyes moved between me and our cat. They looked, in a way, hopeful. “Works for me,” they said.
They tossed the zipped bag into the hallway and began loading up another one. “I don’t know how we’re supposed to carry everything.”
“You can leave the litter box if you want, but the treats are a nonnegotiable.” Alpha ran into the hall. “I’ll use it before we go.”
“Gen, this is crazy,” I whispered. “We can’t just listen to our cat. It’s a cat.”
“She’s never done anything before that makes me not trust her. No reason for me to start now.”
“A good cat doesn’t make a great apocalypse guide.”
“Yeah, well, what else are we going to do? We can’t stay here, and Alpha says she knows a way out of this.”
Gen finished packing the bag. “One for you and one for me. We’ll share the load of the heaviest stuff.”
“Gen, I can’t do this. I’m not just going to follow our cat into the night.”
“I’d do it for you,” Alpha said, returning. She zoomed past us and onto the bed. “Without question. I’d follow you.”
“It’s different,” I said.
“Because you’re a human?”
Gen hid their face while they saddled on their pack.
“It’s not like that. I just feel like all of this is really fucking weird.”
“It’s the apocalypse, babe, what did you expect?” Gen said.
“Not a talking cat.”
Making biscuits into the discarded clothes on the bed, Alpha cocked her head at me. “Will you not come?”
“She’s coming,” Gen answered for me.
I stepped back. “I’m not sure.”
Gen’s jaw ran slack. “What are you saying? You’re going to stay here?”
“No … I don’t know. I just can’t go along with this plan.”
“You were the one who said we should go on foot earlier.” Gen approached me.
I shook my head. “Let’s just sleep on this.”
“You’ve already slept,” Gen said. “I’ve been up with Alpha, reading into the shit that’s going on. We’ve broke bad, babe, there’s nothing left. Everyone is getting out of dodge before shit hits the fan. We can either be the people who get out or stay here and die.”
I receded further back into the hallway away from Alpha and Gen. “You know what happened?”
“It’s what we all feared. After years of disuse and weighted actions, the system broke. It’s turning on itself and eating its ass.”
I slid down the wall. “I don’t believe any of this. I can’t.”
“It’s time to go,” Alpha said, strutting into the hall after me.
“Are you coming or not?” Gen asked.
“Will you just leave me here if I don’t?”
“I’d carry you out of here myself if I knew it’d work.”
“You have made your decisions already,” Alpha said. “You will not be coming home with us.” She wrapped her tail around Gen’s calf and chortled. “We must go before it’s too late.”
Gen nodded. “We can’t wait till morning, you sure?”
“I don’t want to do this,” Gen said. “But you’re giving us no other option. Parker, we’re going to go. I’ll try and contact you if I can, but the cell service has been shotty.”
Shaking my head, I reached up to them. “I’ll go. I’ll go. Don’t leave me. I’ll go.”
“No, you won’t,” Alpha said. “Only those who want to go home can. You just don’t want to be alone.”
“Give me a chance to want it, to want to go home. It’s all too much now for me to feel anything but fear right now.”
Gen rubbed the top of Alpha’s head. “Please, Alphie, let her come.”
“You’ll have to prove yourself along the way. The road home isn’t easy, but if you trust me fully, I can get you there.”
I couldn’t speak, so I nodded.
Gen smiled. “Lead the way, girl.”
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Aigner Loren Wilson is a Black SFWA, HWA, and Codex writer. Her work has appeared in Arsenika, Terraform, Rue Morgue, and more. She was listed on the honors list for the Otherwise Fellowship award for 2019. She also writes or edits for Strange Horizons, Nightlight Horror Podcast, Oly Arts, Discover Pods, and more.