Whiskers sat on the porch rail, still as stone.
Nothing moved but the tip of her tail.
Without a blink, she stared at the small statue
in the neighbor's front yard. A new statue.
The evening breeze blew a leaf across the lawn.
A butterfly jiggled through the air within reach.
Mouse feet scrabbled beneath the porch,
but Whiskers didn't stir.
A mutt trotted by, slowing its pace to sniff the air.
When it homed in on the gnome, it whined,
tucked its tail between its legs and scuttled away.
Human folk strode past on the sidewalk,
even blinder than the dog.
The sun sank at last to perch on the horizon.
Whiskers gave one slow blink. It was time.
She leapt to the grass and stalked across the lawn.
Parting her mouth, she sniffed
the frozen, brightly-colored features of the gnome.
No doubt about it.
As the sun settled to half a disk,
Whiskers circled the gnome statue three times counterclockwise,
faced the culprit, then yawned wide.
Aiming straight at the gnome, she sneezed.
The gnome's grin melted into a fanged grimace.
The chubby cheeks turned hollow.
The snowy white beard twisted straggly and gray as lichen.
Whiskers stood on tip toe, arching her back,
fur bristling to double her size.
She hissed at the shape-changing imp.
The creature shrieked.
It bolted for the rhododendron hedge
and dove into a hole between two gnarly roots.
As twilight settled deeper, Whiskers sniffed at the opening.
It smelled of lizards and snakes
and slithery things with no name --
a curdled, rotten odor.
She turned and scratched at the dirt, filling the hole,
then tramped it down with velvety paws.
Purring an enchantment, Whiskers sharpened her claws
on the trunk and branches above the spot.
Slivers and curls of bark sprinkled
the fresh dirt, sealing the spell.
By morning, the leaves on this rhododendron
would begin to curl and turn brown,
and the neighbor would curse
that stupid, useless cat next door.
Whiskers would yawn -- a yawn of the everyday variety --
and in humor twitch the tip of her tail.
What wizard expects respect or thanks
from the silly creatures she guards?