Fear Conditioning: A Love Story

Fear Conditioning: A Love Story

A Story by ZackOfBridge

A couple go to extreme lengths to keep their beloved cat home bound



Fear Conditioning: A Love Story


Don’t look out that window. A pack of dogs are tearing a couple of firemen to pieces in the flooded street. A patrol car posted by the curb is firing at the dogs from behind the cruiser door and need back up. Like right now right now, God D****t. Meanwhile, an entire bureau of federal investigators and a man in a marshmallow bomb squad get-up is sniffing around and trudging through the water trying to uncover the culprit in the recent acts of extreme vandalism that verge on domestic terrorism. If I ever decide to go on record, I want it to be clear that Frankie and I are not terrorists. We are simply loving pet owners.

 A busted water pipe.

An explosion. No fatalities (thank God) but temporary hearing loss for those of close proximity. It did however damage the mailboxes qualifying as I don’t know, a double federal offense.

A broken window at the local animal shelter as well as the unlawful release of 132 caged dogs. Some without any rabies vaccine.  

Multiple car fires. I don’t even know how that started. It for sure was not me. Still no fatalities so we can be glad about that.

The only thing unknown is intention. Were these random acts of vandalism and anarchy? A political message? Foreign or Domestic terrorism?

Frankie, my fiancée and Pickles, our cat, sleep on the couch together. Her light snoring is matched by his content purring. This was the intention. I am sorry some got hurt. I am sorry some were torn to pieces by unlawfully released dogs. I’m sorry too for the dogs that were gunned down for tearing the people to pieces. I am sorry to the people who now have to buy new cars after the fires, but again that wasn’t me so I’m actually not all that sorry. My apologies to the suspects brought in for questioning and mild water boarding in my place. My genuinely real legitimate apologies. But seeing Frankie at peace and the cat content makes the constant whir of the overhead helicopters and the gunshots worth it.


Pickles, the cat, made two escape attempts before we decided to do something. Frankie, my fiancée started to ache in the stomach over it. She couldn’t sleep knowing that Pickles would leave if he could just get past us. His desire for the outside world was a direct insult to all we had done for him. All the toys we laid before him, the cat tree we assembled and the daily need for me to shovel his sand covered waste meant nothing compared to the prospect of smelling grass and being run down by a car.

We decided the only thing to be done were scare tactics. A sort of fear conditioning performed out of love. If he were afraid of the outside world, his curiosity would pass and be replaced by gratitude for shelter and a place to curl his tail. Spray bottle in hand I stood outside the apartment waiting for Frankie to open the door. If he sprinted for the door he would be promptly spritzed in the face and taken back inside. If he refrained, Frankie would give him a treat. I would scratch him under his black and white chin. Extreme measures, even cruel you might say, but the both of us were sleep deprived. The image of Pickles run down by a car or mauled and shaken by a rabid Pitbull haunted Frankie. Her sensitive stomach forced her to wade on her knees by the toilet for hours. I sat with her, running my hands through her hair and cringing at the sound of the cat pawing at the kitchen window.


Spraying the cat was inevitable, but we took solace knowing eventually he would get the treat and scratch under the chin. We really wanted to give him those treats, but every time the door opened he plunged toward the light  and received only the cold mist. Frankie couldn’t look him in the eye anymore. I wanted to say that line you hear on television all the time, “You’re killing your mother, Pickles!” The treats in her hand were soggy with nervous sweat. Inedible even by Pickles’ standards

            “He’s not learning,” Frankie said, her hands trembled. I watched her head sink down. I brought her to me and held her small body. Her voice trembled and so did her hands. “He doesn’t want to be with us anymore”

Pickles scratched at the window and called out to the world. His nose dripped with beads of water. The spray bottle was empty. I zipped up the bag of treats. “We just gotta keep trying.”



The next attempt was explosives. Low grade, but effective. Quiet a distant leap from spritzing, but a sound leap. Cats do not like loud noises. That’s why they have big ears. I set charges around the mailboxes as Frankie strapped him into his Adventure-Kitty harness. He was so silly the way he bit and tugged at the blue harness straps. He was feeling especially frisky today. I laughed about it to myself as I dropped one of the homemade pipe bombs into the garbage can beside the apartment mailboxes. Honestly at the time I forgot that tampering with mail counts as a federal offense. Had I known, I would have tucked the bomb under someone’s car or in a bush or something. With the charges set I gave Frankie the green light, a thumbs up to bring Pickles outside. On the porch he smelled around in our small garden. He sneezed onto a bell pepper and Frankie laughed even with the tears bubbling in her eyes and the red rims screaming out with sleep deprivation. My eyes were red too, I could feel them and my hands cramped and almost useless from piecing together the explosives.

            I said, Frankie, you are going to want to cover your ears this is probably going to be totally loud. No one was checking the mail so I detonated. All the car alarms burst with noise. Pickles, startled, climbed up my entire leg, claws and all. The mailboxes had been reduced to scrap metal and torn and flaming envelope papers fell to the ground like feathers. Every door was open and everyone was crying or looking at each other like did you see that? One of the traveling God salesmen had caught a jagged strip of shrapnel in his leg and was showing his bloodied hands to God. His partner had unraveled his tie and strapped it high up on the bleeding leg and read to the screaming man from their brochures. A woman said that’s my car! She pointed to the car with all the disfigured metal protruding from the shattered windshield. Pickles looked so wild in the eyes, so betrayed by the world, that Frankie and I started to celebrate right there. After this he won’t even look out the window! Frankie said in a squeal of joy. 

But then a f*****g bird landed on the porch banister and Pickles, in an instant, forgot all about the orchestrated chaos and clicked his mouth and swept forward to get the bird. I hate birds.


The first day we brought Pickles home from the animal shelter we attempted to bathe him. For months before we got him, he’d been cooped up with God knows how many other cats with God knows how many diseases. Cats can get AIDS, did you know that? Its called Cat AIDS. No s**t. It seemed the responsible thing to bathe him. God, what a mistake. For a week after that I had claw marks all about my forearms. The lady at the pet store said cats don’t like water, but jeeze, you know?

            I thought, hey maybe Frankie and I were on the right course with the spray bottle. Obviously Pickles was not fond of being sprayed with water. We just needed to scale upward. I still had an extra pipe bomb and at this point I was itching to get rid of it considering the squad of investigators loitering about the apartment complex, taking pictures, making calls and tearing people out of their homes for questioning. There was talk of evacuation. I needed to get rid of this last pipe bomb, but its not something you just toss in the trash or stuff into the garbage disposal. I did some research, found the nearest water valve/pipeline. If Pickles didn’t like water, what would he think of a world when it was all water? My bet was he wouldn’t care for it much. I left the apartment with a pipe bomb in my pocket and a plate stacked with a pyramid of bagels for the investigators. They said thanks for the bagels, much appreciated, but you should stay indoors. It isn’t safe until the assailant or assailants are caught and brought to justice.

What stay inside? I said in disgust. If I stay inside out of fear, the terrorist scum win. Again. Not going to happen, officers, I said and spat on the ground.  

They said well we aren’t sure if its terrorists or�"and then they said they couldn’t talk any more about the investigation. I walked on, feeling safe for myself and for Frankie knowing that if anything ever happened for real, a team of professionals would come out to catch whoever was responsible.

            I didn’t want to admit it to myself and I was certainly not going to say anything to Frankie, but it was understandable that Pickles would want to leave the apartment and be free. To hear those birds singing in the branches over the police and fire sirens and feel that sunshine. To be part of the world rather than a spectator from behind the glass. As I laid out the pipe bomb on the water valve I thought how wonderful it was to be part of the world, making things happen. On the walk back I detonated and after the initial blast heard the gushing of water, and its continuous flow like a river in spring. Back by the mailboxes, the investigators all had weapons drawn from holsters and were all crouched as though bullets were flying just overhead. Get inside! They shouted at me to which I complied figuring I’d get the bagel plate back later.

            The flooding was reported on the news. Normally, a water leak could be fixed before any serious flooding could occur but due to the present circumstances, a bomb squad would first have to sweep and clear any potential threats to the area before proceeding with the repairs. We were advised to stay indoors, this area and possibly the nation as a whole was unsafe. That’s when the chopping of helicopters started in the air. I wished that Pickles could speak English and take heed of the newscasters’ warnings, but of course he does not speak English. He doesn’t even respond to his own name.

Pickles Pickles Pickles Pickles. I know you can hear me, Pickles.


            I joined Pickles at the kitchen window, the water had risen well above the curbs by now. Anyone on the streets, by foot or by car were stopped by police and advised to return to their homes or offer any information they could, any at all.

            I got Pickles back into his harness. I would like to again stress how difficult and silly he is when being harnessed. He nibbled at my hand and laid down in utter defiance. It was silly and cute and Frankie and I laughed and laughed which felt good and then we kissed and that felt better.

            I took another plate of bagels out with Pickles and I, just in case the officers were hungry. The ground at the bottom of the steps was all water. Pickles stopped right at it, hesitant and confused, dipped his paw in and drew it away.

            I said to him, what Pickles? You don’t like the water? Don’t you want to splash around a little? I picked him up to place him in the water but he crawled up my torso and stood, hissing at the water from my shoulder. I was just about to text Frankie the good news, that we had done it and done it well when a row of baby ducks floated by. Pickles propelled from my shoulder right into the water like he had forgotten how much he loathed wetness and tried desperately to nab one of the ducklings. When the little ducks are out of reach he starts drinking the water, all like oh its just water, nothing to be scared of, like what the hell right?

            I ended up ripping up the bagels and feeding them to the little birds before trudging back up the stairs with Pickles fighting me on every step.


          The entire night no sleep came to me. Helicopters whirred in the night and Pickles scratched his paws on the window glass. Letting him go became a serious consideration of mine. Yeah it would be tough on me and devastating for Frankie, but eventually she would move on. Maybe we could get a goldfish or a chinchilla or even an iguana. That was when she rolled over and whispered in her half-asleep voice, “what are you going to try next?”

            I knew then that I couldn’t quit. I was in it now and would not stop until the cat was petrified of the world outside, not until the world beyond the door was a place of fear and certain death.

            Early that morning, before the sun was on guard I left the apartment and made certain to sneak around the posted officers. Not easy really with all the water sloshing around with each step, but they were pretty preoccupied with all the spontaneous car fires. Again I had no part in the car fires. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Shove a blazing towel into the gas chamber? Who knows? Down the street was the animal shelter where we had gotten Pickles. I had a hammer in my sweatshirt pocket. I spent all hours of dawn releasing caged dogs with the certainty that they would find their way into my neighborhood. Later I think the approximation of unlawfully released dogs surpassed 100. I rushed back to the apartment and called out to the officers that a pack of dogs were heading straight this way. The officers and firemen seemed groggy, inattentive with the sheen of the  car fires glowing in their sleepy eyes. They probably hadn’t had anything to eat all morning. Later, maybe I would try to bring more bagels out for them after the dog business was settled.

            The dog bit was the major success. The gunshots followed by dog howling really put Pickles on edge. On a hunch I opened the door without putting him in his harness and he took one step out and ran back inside far into the apartment and under our bed. Frankie spent a full 20 speaking real soft and loving to him, even mewing like a mother cat while she crouched on the ground and reached under the bed frame. Finally he let her pull him out and they curled up on the couch together. They’ve been there since. The gunshots are like rain, that constant, but the two of them sleep through it. Frankie could sleep for years and as for Pickles, I hope he sleeps as long as he likes and when he wakes up I can give him a treat and maybe even scratch under his black and white chin.


© 2016 ZackOfBridge

Author's Note

How's the ending? I have an alternate ending if this one doesn't work.

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Added on March 23, 2016
Last Updated on March 23, 2016
Tags: cats, satire, terrorism, vandalism, pets



Camarillo, CA

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A Story by ZackOfBridge