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Daily Science Fiction :: The Cats' Game by Michelle Muenzler
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The Cats' Game

Michelle Muenzler, also known at local conventions as "The Cookie Lady," writes fiction both dark and strange to counterbalance the sweetness of her baking. Her fiction and poetry have been published in magazines such as Star*Line, Crossed Genres, and Daily Science Fiction, and she takes immense joy in crinkling words like little foil puppets.
My hands won't stop shaking.
Over the cheap toddler's tic-tac-toe board, my opponent stares with smoke-rheumed eyes. She's iron, my great gran, like an old battleship. She's already dropped my niece, the pigtailed doll with her once candy-red cheeks paling against the linoleum, and my second uncle on my father's side who swore in Russian as soon as he figured out how badly he'd screwed himself.
"Hurry up," my great gran says, delivering the words with the mechanical ratta-tat-tat of a machine gun. "We haven't got all day."
As if on cue, a yellow tabby rubs against my leg. I freeze while cold sweat limps down my face. Even my great gran seems to pause.
The tabby purrs and moves on.
With a relieved sigh, I press my plastic O to the board, eager to end my turn before one of our judges ends it for me. Despite my rush, it's a good move. A thorough gutting of my great gran's line of attack. Then her mouth tightens, and I feel the first flicker of shame.
"I'm sor--"
She snaps up her last X, cutting short my apology. And really, I've nothing to apologize for. She did the same thing to my niece two games ago. And just like my niece, she knows now what part she must play.
Crammed into every nook, some sixty-odd cats lick their wet red paws while watching us, the rasp of their tongues the only sound in the room. My great gran studies the board with her lips pursed tight, but there's nothing to study. Only one move will disrupt my victory--all the others are safe for her to take.
And then--much like my second uncle--I realize how screwed I might be. My great gran has survived more wars than I can name. Twice she's crushed lung cancer into submission, and during her twilight years she injected enough experimental life-extending drugs into her switchblade frame to purchase a small dictatorship.
She is not the sort of woman who accepts defeat, even when defeat is inevitable.
Atop a cabinet, a tiger-striped tom mewls, plaintive and hungry.
She glares at the tom, daring it to act. "Moxy beast," she spits, and with a firm hand sets her last X onto the board.
My heart lumps into my stomach with the rest of my organs.
Somewhere behind me, a low moan of disbelief whistles from my wife's throat, but there's no time to say goodbye. As one, the cats rise from their sticky haunches and surround the table, not even waiting for the placement of my final piece to officially declare the game a draw.
It's the cats' game, after all, and they already know they've won.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, October 21st, 2015


Sometimes writing exercise prompts from friends result in the most bizarre creations. In this case, "write something about a high stakes game" becomes tic-tac-toe horror with a terrible pun based off common terminology for a tie within the game. My writing friends may disown me yet....

- Michelle Muenzler

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