Was that Them? the cat wondered after settling down again. He had just leapt up a good foot in the air from the noise ricocheting in the night. Supposing that the commotion was worth investigating, the cat climbed down from his perch made of cardboard coated in this raggedy fluff he hated but They kept buying for him. As an act of love, he guessed, although he had no idea for sure what went through Their minds when they bought anything for him.

His name was something he regretted. They called him Nero. He refused to think of himself by this moniker. “Nero” meant nothing to him, other than a vague sneering quality rang in his ears whenever he heard Them refer to him by that name. The people in the place with all the other cats and the howling dogs had called him by another name, back when he was a kitten, but he couldn’t remember it. Something told him it was a better one than Nero.

Squirming through the flap door–another purchase by Them that Nero despised because the door’s limpid plastic brushed up against his back fur–the cat made his way over to the big bay windows in Their living room. Plush curtains blocked him, but he used his paws to pull them apart.

Street lights twinkled back at him their harsh white-yellow glow. Shadows covered the concrete slabs the lamps were arching over. There were two figures scampering down the street. One was laughing a sing-song chortle.

The same sound that had awoken Nero earlier rang out again. Ears flapped backwards on his head, Nero ducked beneath the curtains and waited in tension for another repetition of the noise. Part of him wanted to flee back to his room, but this feeling vanished as soon as he froze when he heard the living room door swing open.

There They, the two of Them, stood. But in the room’s darkness, to Nero They were almost shapeless. Just more shadows to blend in with the rest.

The first figure, the shorter one, broke into a run as soon as it made its way past the doorway.

“Hey, get back here!” the other figure said as Nero watched the first form disappear into the kitchen. “I thought . . . I thought we were just having fun.” The figure paused before rushing past the living room as well.

Blinking to make sure that what he’d seen was real and not some tuna-inspired nightmare, Nero scurried back into his room, the cat flap banging behind him, and he curled into as tight a ball as he could make. More noises. Just like the ones he’d heard before. Then different ones. High-pitched. Like the strings of a musical instrument being pulled apart. The cat cowered and began to purr.