Black Petals Issue #91, Spring, 2020

The Cat

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BP Artists and Illustrators
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
A Hole in the Somewhere-Fiction by Richard Brown
Everything Echoes-Fiction by Todd M. Guerra
Exit to Dove's Tail-Fiction by Ken Goldman
I Dream of Fire-Fiction by Matthew Penwell
Living Doll-Fiction by Carl Hughes
Angelika's Tough Decision-Fiction by Roy Dorman
The Cat-Fiction by Chris Alleyne
The Demon-Fiction by Misty Page
The Run-Fiction by Thomas Runge D'Amore
We Are the Monsters We Seek-Fiction by Karen Heslop
Brother of Mine-Flash Fiction by D. C. Plump
New Terror-Flash Fiction by Denis Alvarez Betancourt
The Flapping Thing-Flash Fiction by Robert Masterson
The Clown Loved Cherry Lipstick-Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Ganymede-Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Space Probe RH 120-Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
The Buffoon-Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Just Another Day in My House-Poem by Tom Davidson
Blue Bell Hill Beast-Poem by Richard Stevenson
Plum Island-Poem by Richard Stevenson
The Thing in the Woods-Poem by Loris John Fazio

91_bp_thecat_keithcoateswalker.jpg
Art by Keith Coates Walker 2020

The Cat

A short story by Chris Alleyne

 

          It’s hard to know when I first started to understand that there was something in my mind that perhaps is not present in everyone’s.  I’ve tried to pin it down to a particular time but haven’t been that successful. I think it goes back as far as the morning when I watched our neighbour’s cat choke to death on something she had swallowed, while I sat there on the step, barely hidden by the Hibiscus bush that seemingly grew at random out of the cracks on the back steps of the old plantation house where I grew up, but I’m not sure.

          I guess I must have been 11 or 12, maybe 13.  I had just returned home from wandering around the 150 or so acres that made up the plantation.  I would have been out, perhaps shooting monkeys with an old .22 rifle – unlicensed as it was – or even just rambling the cane-tracks, living out some fantasy or the other in one of the several gullies on the plantation.

          We lived in St. Peter. Not quite, but almost the most northerly parish of the island, where hardly anyone else lived. Or so it seemed. For me back then, life was really simple; there was no-one of my age for at least a mile in any direction – my brothers were 5 and 7 years older, my sisters 8 and 9 years younger than me – I could as well have grown up as an only child.  At the time, it seemed like I had been sentenced to live my life alone.  Looking back on my childhood, I have come to realize that, for me anyway, it was only a fraction short of perfect;  I could be – and usually was – whatever and whoever I could dream up in my agile, imagination-flooded brain.  I didn’t realize this until several years later.

          These years, the constraints placed upon me and, yes, the opportunities offered by my environment, played such a significant part in my development and, although I didn’t realize it at the time, was a situation for which I was envied by many of my schoolmates, who lived lives much more restricted and ‘managed’ than mine.

          My typical weekend or holiday day would go something like this:  I was an early mover, so I’d usually be up by 5 AM, before most of the household. I would grab a half-gallon jug from the kitchen, wander outside while the grass was still wet with dew.  I would walk around the croquet lawn and through the plantation ‘yard’ where the trucks and other equipment would spend their life; finally winding up in a large cowshed, the home of the few cows that lived on the plantation spend their nights.  There I would meet our groom, who would fill my jug with warm, fresh cow’s milk, and send me back to the house.

          One morning, after I had finished, I was sitting on the step when I heard an animal coughing out in the gravel.  Curious, I stood quietly and walked softly around the hibiscus bush.  There, just in the gravel yard, sat a rather large, black and ginger cat which I recognized as being a resident of one of the houses which lined our half-mile driveway.

          The animal was clearly in some distress and was trying to remove some object stuck in its throat.  Windpipe, as I later discovered. I must admit that I was at a loss for what action to take. I suppose I could have run upstairs and got my parents to handle the matter. As it was, I sat there, morbidly fascinated by the drama unfolding in front of me, and watched the cat slowly choke to death. As it happened, I had moved ever closer until, when the choking animal was about to expire, I was close enough for it to fix me with a soulful, baleful stare, as if asking me if I would just remain there and watch it die. Which I did.

          After breakfast, everyone went their own ways.  Once old enough and employed, my brothers would head off to their jobs, one as a car salesman and the other selling real estate, my mother was a hairdresser and off she would go for the day, my stepfather ran the plantation, so he was usually somewhere around, and my sisters had a nanny who used to keep them out of trouble.

          I had no such restraints. Some days I would pack myself something for lunch and roll out to the stable, find a cooperative  horse, saddle up and climb aboard for a day rounding up the cattle herd, or chasing imaginary rustlers or Indians off the ‘ranch’, or just cantering out to a nearby hillside with either the .22 or Winchester 30-30 and wait for the occasional monkey.  Government was paying a bounty of $5/monkey tail, and this was a useful source of pocket money for an unemployed youngster.

          Boredom wasn’t something that ever entered the equation; there was always something to do. When I got older and discovered the cache of old 00 Buckshot black powder cartridges in an old vault in the garage, things really started to heat up. But that’s a story for a different day.

          Throughout the years, I was haunted with visitations from a large black & ginger cat.  As I got older, the cat seemed to get bigger, its eyes became more malevolent and colder, until it seemed like the animal held me personally responsible for its death years earlier.

          I remember waking one night, convinced that there was a warm, furry body stretched out along my side.  I was almost sure that it was purring rhythmically.  While still half awake, I froze.  A chill swept over me – we had no cat, only 7 dogs ranging from a Dachshund up to a half-breed Great Dane/Ridgeback, none of whom would have tolerated an extended feline presence in the household. I knew immediately what it was.

          I carefully eased my left hand down alongside my body, insinuating it between me and the foreign entity sharing my bed.  Taking a dep breath, I swung my arm violently away from my body, hoping to propel it from my bed.

          There was no noise, no physical movement; just the sudden sensation of an icy chill replacing the warmth to which I had awoken. It was gone, whatever it was. I reached over and turned on the light, but there was nothing other than a slight indentation along my side, which was still faintly warm to the touch.

          Needless to say, I didn’t sleep any more that night.

          Next morning, my brother with whom I shared a large bedroom, turned to me over breakfast and asked “So what was the commotion last night?” 

          I mumbled an indistinct reply and changed the subject.

          I had passed the entrance examination for one of the island’s secondary schools some years before, and had been rewarded with a large, cubical Kodak Brownie camera. A few years later, around the time of the first ‘cat’ episode, I had repurposed the 4’ x 4’ x 4’ cube that made up the enclosed area of one of our dog kennels as a (very) basic darkroom.  I had 3 trays for paper developing chemicals, a red-bulbed nightlight which was my safelight, and another lamp with a 100-Watt incandescent bulb for making the exposures.  I had no enlarger, so was limited to producing contact prints the size of the negative.  Since the Brownie’s negatives were 2.25” x 3.25”, it wasn’t that much of a restriction for the level that my photography was at.

          The strange thing was that, from time to time, something would manifest itself in my prints, apparently only visible to me. I would see some shape of light and shadow, usually shaped like some sort of a feline anatomy, seemingly either materialising in a bush, or disappearing around a corner.  When I pointed this out to anyone, the usual response was something like “It’s just a weird bit of light and shade.  Your imagination is playing up!”

          By the time I was twenty, the cat seemed to have given up; no more manifestations of his presence.  I did notice, however, that I seemed to have developed a magnetic attraction for almost any feline which would cross my path; it was as if they just couldn’t get enough of me.  They would rub on my shins when I walked past or, if I was seated, my lap seemed to be fair game, even to cats who had always shown an aloofness, excessive even for their kind.

          This was actually good timing. At nineteen, I had left home and went to diving school in Florida for 3 months. I started to think about more ‘mature’ things; girls, parties, a job, and the cat faded slowly from memory. I hate to think how it would have been if it had still been around. Prior to that, there was t least one incident that left me a bit shaken and trying to work out how I would explain it to my parents.

          I had passed my driver’s test a few months before my eighteenth birthday. I had also been blessed with an old Opel station wagon that had been a plantation vehicle and was well past its ’use by’ date. What did I care?  I now had wheels!

          This was the end of the nineteen-sixties and it was as if we had suddenly discovered new herbal and pharmaceutical enhancements to life.

          Having never been one to shy away from new experiences, I dived enthusiastically into the world of marijuana; what delights this magical weed had to offer!  Fortunately, I never fried my brain on anything much harder, so I can look back on that time as being a ‘pleasant’ period.

          Except for one thing.

          I had spent the evening and most of the night with a small group of cronies, playing music, drinking beer and yes, getting comprehensively stoned. And now I had a half-hour drive home, with my head floating somewhere above the horizon.  When I got home, the moon was setting, but the sun had not yet made an appearance. Snuck into the house and crawled into my bed just as I heard one of the roosters starting to tune up – he was late this morning.

          It seemed as if I had just shut my eyes when my mother was by the bedside, shaking me vigorously.

          “What happened to the car?” she asked. It took a while for the words to register but, when they did, I came instantly awake, pulling on a pair of shorts and charging past my mother and down the steps, out to the garage.

          The car sat there, at first looking ok but, on inspection, I saw that the right headlight had been shattered as if it had been hit by a rock, right there in the garage.  The glass shards from the broken lens lay on the ground beneath.  Then I looked down the right side of the car, the side where I sat.  Etched into the old white paint were four lines, about an inch apart.  They had been applied with such strength that, in some places where the metal was mainly rust, there were long slits in the metal, as if someone had taken a knife and gone to work on the side of the car. I felt cold.

          Heading back into the house, I brushed it off by saying “I guess I took a corner a bit close. Don’t have a clue what happened to the light.  I think it must have happened when I drove in.  I was feeling a bit ragged last night

          “I’ll deal with it. No big thing.” Please don’t ask what I was doing so far over on the right side of the road.  We drive on the left here.

          I had a cup of coffee and two eggs and said, “I’ll see what I can do with it now.” Then beat a hasty retreat out to the garage.

          I collected a strip of fiberglass cloth, resin, hardener and some sandpaper. I figured that I could patch the scratches well enough that, with a coat of white, it would look okay. The rest of the car didn’t look much better anyway. Got to the car, pulled up a bench and decided to turn on the ignition and play a tape of folk music that I had been collecting.

          Opened the door.

          And was hit by a wave of pungent cat pee odor that seemed to permeate everywhere inside the car.  Shut back the door, checked the windows, all rolled up to the top, not even enough space for a lizard to gain access. Sat on the bench and as if nothing was awry, started sanding the edges of the scratches to get my fiberglassing started.  The broken headlight would mean a trip to a nearby parts supplier (if they had one in stock).  Two hours later, a raw strip of fiberglass cloth ran the length of the car.  Still needed to be sanded, but I had other things to deal with.

          I got into the car, wishing I had a clothespin for my nose, reversed it carefully out of the garage and drove it around the back of the house, parked under a big mango tree with lots of shade.  Jumped out of the car, almost gagging.  I opened each door, including the tail hatch and grabbed the hose lying there. I swear I heard a cat’s meow.  It sounded almost gleeful, but a quick search around the area turned up nothing.

          Everything in the car was vinyl, so I turned on the hose and soaked the entire interior of the car until the acrid smell was at least bearable.  Left it all wide open and hoped that it wouldn’t rain.

          I was sure that something watched the whole process.

          By now it was after 2 PM, and I was starving, and almost falling asleep on my feet. I shuffled into the kitchen, made myself a sandwich and poured a glass of lemonade, crawled up the stairs with my drink and sandwich, put it on the bedside table and collapsed onto the bed. Dreamt I was being mauled – and peed on – by a large orange and black cat.

          No fun.

          Fast forward 40+ years.  I’ve been married, fathered 2 boys, young men these days, been a moderately successful businessman and now in the throes of managing a small web advertising company of my own, serving the real estate market. In recent years I acquired, firstly, a rescue dog of indeterminate age and breed and, secondly, a neutered ginger cat named Rubio by his previous humans.

          In addition, along the way, I have amassed huge collection of digital photography, published two coffee-table books, and discovered that I could paint my photographs to a surprising level of detail. People have had trouble selecting the painting when it’s paired with the photo of the same subject.

          At some point, I decided that painted pet portraits would be an interesting exercise. My dog, whom I had unimaginatively named ‘Dog’, was a happy mass of aging energy who, even though he was getting on in years, could still raise enough enthusiasm to greet me effusively on my return home. Rubio, on the other hand, ignored Dog for the most part, stalking haughtily by, nose in the air, any time they came closer than six feet.

          Four feet or less was greeted with hissing and spitting, but no physical violence between the two.

          Dog lived within the confines of my walled garden, apparently happy just knowing that he had food to eat and a place to sleep.  Even if I left the gate open, he wouldn’t step outside the boundary.

          Rubio, on the other hand, was all cat.  Condescending, aloof and cold to all approaches – unless initiated by him. He bore no resemblance to the other cat in my life.  Rubio was a light ginger, with white, and no black anywhere on his body. He was definitely an outside cat.  I left one of my windows open about 4 inches, and that was enough for him.  On his first day with me, I introduced him to his entrance/exit route, and that was it. He came and went at will

          I had decided that I would photograph the two of them separately – there was no other option really – and perhaps do the two portraits on a single canvas. 

          Once decided, the steps seemed fairly simple. Photograph both, make selections, buy the canvas and start the painting. In reality it was a bit different. Dog was completely cooperative, yielding a good, if uninspiring photo and ultimately a respectable rendition in acrylic. With Rubio, to begin with, I would have to follow him around the house for hours each day just to get a reasonably acceptable photo.  He was singularly uncooperative; he would lie on my coffee table, looking calm, serene and decidedly un-cattish, until I reached for my camera.

          At that point, one rear leg would reach above his head and he would immediately start his cleanup - as only male cats can do.  Decidedly unphotogenic. Or he would sit aristocratically, in a perfect beam of subdued sunlight, looking as if he was just waiting for a passing paparazzi to pass and snap his photo. That is, until I showed up, then he was off to explore. A few days later, I managed to get one of these regal poses, and I was thrilled – until I stuck the card into my computer and got the dreaded “This file is unreadable.  Please copy and try again”.

          No photo.

          A futile week later, I decided to go with one of my less appealing shots. If I had known where this would lead, I would have stopped there.

          Once I had set up the canvas and laid out where he would go, to the left of Dog looking slightly to his right, Rubio suddenly became very interested in my actions.  He would follow me around the house, meowing raucously, until I wandered into the studio and sat before the easel.  He would then climb carefully onto the table, avoiding things like my  open palette with wet paint and  water jars, gingerly (no pun intended) position himself on the table between the tubes of paint, and settle down to observe, almost as if he was there to ensure that I produced a decent painting of his magnificence.

          I am not a fast painter, my attention to detail – coupled with my lack of technical knowledge – made sure of that.

          One night, after I had finished my night’s artistic endeavours and topped it off with a long rum cocktail, I was  lying in bed, getting slowly in a Stephen King that I had received for Christmas (Outcast, I think it was) I heard this distraught yowl, and Rubio arrived in my bed, shaking and visibly upset by something.  Then, as if he felt he need protection, he crawled between my left arm and body and lay there quivering.

          This really confused me.  Here was a cat who had, on at least two occasions, taken on and bested mongooses, perhaps the most aggressive and violent of the rodent family resident here.  One morning he had strolled into the dining room with a dead mongoose 14” long hanging from his blood-stained face. The second one I found in the yard equally dead. He was obviously scared and refused to move until I went to sleep.

          I don’t remember much of the night but, when I awoke the next morning, made coffee and walked into the studio., I almost dropped my coffee-cup in shock.

          I had, by now, roughed in Rubio’s shape and features and was working on the facial details and colours.  This morning instead of my cat’s ginger and white visage, I was greeted by the eerily familiar face of a cat that I hadn’t seen in decades;  the right side of this cat’s face was ginger and white, in a slightly different pattern and, as if some strange artist had picked up my brushes during the night, the left side of its face bore a distinctive black  patch, covering the left eye, jaw and throat of my painting.  It was as if my neighbour’s dead cat had suddenly been regenerated and had pasted its own portrait across my canvas. Complete with its accusing death-glare as it left this world.

          I felt as if the Arctic had opened up all around me, and I was engulfed in a stream of icy wind which enveloped me from head to toe.

          Carefully, I turned slowly in a circle, observing the entire studio without moving from where I was standing.  Everything looked as it should have; no unopened paint tubes, no paint-encrusted brushes.  I slowly pulled my stool up to the easel and, with ever-quickening strokes, I painted out the swathe of black fur that had so exactly replaced mine.  An hour later everything was as it should be, and Rubio stared out at me from the canvas once more.

          Needless to say, I spent the whole of that day trying to work out how this could have happened. Was it possible that I could have awoken in the night and, in some half-asleep state sat at the easel and made the changes that I saw that morning?  I didn’t see how I could have done. Remembering the details of an animal dead nearly 50 years ago seemed beyond the capabilities of my 60+ years-old brain. I knew that, supposedly our subconscious remembers everything that we have ever experienced, but that seemed a stretch in this case.

          Nothing that I could imagine gave me enough of a plausible explanation that I could hang onto.

          The next few days passed without incident, although Rubio had continued to attach himself to me, particularly at night when he crawled into my bed and snuggled up to me as if he couldn’t bear to be separated from me.

          On the fifth night since the original incident (I still have no reasonable explanation) we had a repeat.  I had made fairly good progress with the painting, and the cat in the picture was now clearly recognizable as Rubio. I was feeling good about it.

          At about 11:30, as I was lying there reading, I was again treated to a horrific howl, followed almost immediately by a ginger-coloured flash that took refuge in my bed, this time forcing himself under the covers along my side.

          Tonight though, I was ready.  I had secreted the only firearm which I owned as an adult, an old Colt 1911 that had seen much better times, in the drawer next to my bed and, reaching for the weapon, I was immediately out of bed and up the stairs to my studio. As I burst into the room, I was greeted by another freezing blast while, outside on the lawn, Dog let out a howl of obvious pain and terror.

          The room was otherwise empty, and everything seemed untouched – except for the portrait of my cat.  Except, again, it wasn’t my cat, but the one from my childhood, but with much more detail in the painting than I had included in my Rubio portrait.

          I rushed back downstairs, nearly coming to grief on the second landing but, somehow managing to negotiate the 180 degree left turn required to point me in the right direction for the front door, and rushing outside onto my patio – and into a pool of glutinous dark liquid, in the middle of which lay Dog, seemingly still conscious, but clearly not long for this world.

          I tried to stop. It didn’t work, my feet slid out from under me and, with a horrendous crash, I hit the ground, crashed the side of my head into the step down to the patio floor, and everything went black.

          I wasn’t out for long. I have no real way of knowing, since I hadn't looked at my watch when I made the rush upstairs. It couldn't have been more than a few minutes, though; the blood on the floor had not completely dried, and Dog still lay there, breathing shallowly.

          I carefully got to my knees and crawled over to where the stricken animal lay. In the dark, his body shape seemed slightly distorted. It wasn't until I say on the floor in the drying red pool that I realized that he had been effectively gutted by something that resembled a flensing knife; his underside had been sliced cleanly through and the distorted shape that I had seen was the darkness of his internal organs as they had slipped from his abdomen onto the tiled floor.

          He had been slashed either by a hand skilled in butchery, or by the claw of some beast of prey unlike any that I had ever seen here.

          Sitting on the top of the step where I had almost crushed my skull, Rubio appeared as concerned as I was, as I cradled my dying Dog's head, whispering I can't remember what into his ear, trying to reassure him that everything would be alright. Of course, nothing would be. He lay there in my arms, his breaths growing weaker and weaker until he just stopped breathing, and he was gone. In the limpid light of the almost full moon, his eyes were deep, dark pools of sadness, and they will stay with me forever.

          By the time Dog died, his blood was dry and tacky, and I was covered from head to foot. I crawled to the edge of the patio and delicately puked my guts out, feeling as though someone had reached down my throat, grabbed the lining of my stomach, and pulled it out through my mouth until it was completely inverted.  When there was nothing left, I dragged myself upright using the patio rail, and I and my cat stumbled into the house leaving a trail of red until I reached the shower. Once there, I turned it on and slid down the wall until I sat on the floor under the cold water sluicing down from my rain-shower head washed me slowly clean.

          I climbed slowly to my feet and stepped out of my shower stall, surprised to find that Rubio had joined me in the shower at some point and was now standing, dripping and forlorn, but clean, beside me in the bathroom. I grabbed a towel and carefully wiped him down, until he was respectably dry.  Surprisingly, he just stood there mewling quietly as I gently rubbed him down.

          I had never seen him like this, and it was clear that he was as shaky as I was.

          When I was dry enough to don shorts and a T-shirt, I dressed and, bracing myself for an unpleasant job which would probably take up the remaining hours of darkness, headed out to the garage to collect a mop and a bucket.

          First task was to mop up the blood trails which Rubio and I had left as we trudged to the shower.  Half hour later, the water in my mop bucket was a deep red, and it sickened me as I again realized what had just happened.  I dumped the bloody water and refilled the bucket.  Snagged a fork and garden spade from the garage and steeled myself to the task of burying my first pet in years.  I remember realizing that he had been much more than a pet since he had adopted me; he had become a true friend.  And now he was gone.

 

          As carefully as possible, I gathered him up in my arms and walked out into the garden, laying him in his favorite spot under a small Ficus tree.  Again, time ceased to have meaning, as I dug, first with the fork to loosen the hard-packed soil of the lawn, then used the spade to make straight sides to a hole about 4 feet x 2 and about 3 feet deep. At one point, I had to return to the house for a cutlass to cut some roots out of the way. By now it was into the early dawn hours; the western sky had started to lighten, there was a bit more traffic on the road, and I was exhausted, both physically and mentally and totally at a loss as to what my next steps should be.

          I returned to the kitchen, picked up a 3-ounce glass and a bottle of 12-year old rum, and returned to the garden to sit at the side of the hole.  Actually, let’s call it what it was – the grave – and poured myself a stiff 3 fingers of Barbados’ finest. The first one burned all the way down; the second less so and, by the time I had finished the fourth, it wasn’t that hot anymore.  Again, as gently as I possibly could, I cradled the body, placed it carefully in the bottom of the hole, and covered him with an old blanket that he had slept on for the last few years of his life.

          Then I filled the hole with everything that I had dug out of it, eyes streaming to the point that I could barely see.

          Returned to the garage, refilled the mop bucket, and set about mopping up the last vestiges of 4 years of unconditional love and companionship, most of which I had taken for granted. I felt a wave of guilt.

          Again, poured out the mop bucket, rinsed the mop and headed to the recliner in my living room.

          Realized that I had forgotten my glass in the kitchen. Said “Oh, to hell with it”. Put the bottle to my head and sucked on it until it was dry.

          It was almost midday when I came groggily out of my stupor. Rubio was curled up on my lap, leaving me with a warm, sweaty spot across the tops of my thighs. As I stirred, he stepped from my lap to coffee table and sat there looking at me quizzically, as if asking “What next, Boss?”

          I wished I had a clue. The night’s events seemed far away, almost like a dream.  Any thoughts of that were immediately dispelled as soon as I stepped outside.  There were still small patches of dried brown in places that I had missed, and the pile of raw earth drove it all home like a sledgehammer.  The Colt was sitting there, having slid partly under a plant pot when I had knocked myself out, and I picked it up, dusted it off and stuck it into my waistband.

          Taking a look at myself, I realized that I had washed clean and then proceeded to cover myself in blood and soil all over again. I repeated the shower, this time with hot water and what felt like a pack of pygmies with jackhammers working overtime in my head.

          I didn’t even set foot back in the studio, I didn’t want to see what I was sure I would find. Somehow, I managed to pour several painkillers down my throat, and then stagger to my bed. All the hounds (or feral boar cats) in hell could have roared into the house and carried me away without a protest.

          It was dark when I woke. Rubio was clearly hungry; he was sitting on the bottom of my bed, still looking perplexed.  I suddenly realized that I was hungry too, having not eaten in twenty-four hours. I pulled myself into a sitting position, then stood shakily; dressed, and we went in search of sustenance.

          I found a can of cat food for Rubio, poured him some milk and refreshed his water, then looked across the patio where Dog’s bowls sat, as if staring at them would make it all go away.  It didn’t. I scrambled three eggs (of the six remaining in the fridge), and poured a glass of orange juice, headed to the table, sat and wolfed it down hungrily.  The sugar in the orange juice started immediately to work on my throbbing head, now down to about a 7.5 on the Richter scale of headaches.

          I got up from the table, passed by my recliner and collected the Colt, which had been left on the coffee table, locked the front door – which I had neglected to remember earlier – and returned to the bathroom for another handful of painkillers and to try to brush away the foul taste in my mouth.

          Making sure that I was armed, but not knowing what for, I climbed the stairs to the attic studio.  As I had surmised earlier, the cat portrait was now essentially complete, and it was definitely NOT Rubio.  In what felt like a fit of wild desperation, I grabbed a bottle of Gesso, poured more than I needed into a plastic plate and did what I had done to only a few canvasses in my life; I grabbed a large brush and turned what was a perfectly good portrait of an evil creature into a pristine, white sheet of canvas.   As I turned away to go back downstairs, movement caught my eye.  I could have sworn that I saw a long black and ginger tale disappearing behind a stack of finished pieces along the far wall.

          I grabbed the gun from my waistband, pulled back the slide to make sure that there was a shell in the breech and, in 3 huge steps, I wrenched the pile of canvases onto the floor, ready to blast whatever it exposed. Nothing. I picked up the canvases, one by one.  It was as if I was checking between every pair for a paper-thin creature which could flatten itself at will to fit like a sheet of paper between the paintings.

          Rationality slowly kicked in, and I realized that I seemed in danger of turning my back on reality.

          Things settled a bit after that.  Life still had a surreal quality that never allowed me to forget those few days. I spent my nights in my bedroom, behind a securely locked door now.  The mound in the garden, now covered with new grass still keeps that night fresh enough in my memory for me not to become complacent.

I have said that Rubio was an outside cat.  This meant that almost certainly, he would eventually wind up with FIV, the feline equivalent of HIV.  He would lose weight for three or four days and, just as I started wondering if he was suffering, he would start eating again and, within a week, he would look as healthy as he ever had done.

 

          In fairly short order, he was diagnosed with leukemia and, one morning, after an absence of three days, I walked outside to find him dead in the yard. He looked like he had been savaged by dogs, but this had been my mongoose-killer cat.  As I buried him in the garden near – but not too near – to Dog’s grave, a chilly breeze seemed to sweep across the lawn. I retreated to the house and, just to be certain, checked that the Colt was loaded and where it should be.

          I decided that it was probably ok to restart my Rubio portrait.  Sitting in front of my easel, I sketched an outline and started to rough in some splashes of paint.  In a couple of hours, I had a reasonable starting point, a cat’s head which reminded me vaguely of Rubio, but could have been any cat with similar coloration.  I could add the personality later.

          It had been a while since I had visited my office.  Fortunately, like many Internet-based businesses, most of the work could be dealt with from anywhere there is an Internet connection and a computer.  I had been keeping up with the critical stuff from home, but it was definitely time for a physical visit.

          The next few hours were consumed by office time, collecting cheques to deposit and bills to be paid, returning a call to an aggressively arrogant person who couldn’t understand that we were like a classified business; if you need more information, you contact the person who listed the property. “Yes sir.  The contact information is found in the box labelled ‘Contact Information’.  That’s right, that one.”

 

Asshole! I wanted to add but heard my son’s admonishing voice in my head, so I just said “You’re welcome, sir.  Good luck with your search.”

          Paid two bills online, wrote one cheque, filled out my deposit book and got out of there before the phone rang again.

          Next stop groceries.

          Bought some food. Only me to feed now. Relatively simple.  A pack of hot dogs and rolls, a loaf of bread, some cheese, a dozen eggs. Oh, and a 1.75 litre bottle of rum; I’m down to drinking the cheap stuff now.  At my current consumption rate, I find that I must economize.  Or go without, which isn’t really a serious option.

          I returned home, packed away my groceries, poured myself a stiff one – it’s 5 o’clock somewhere - and went upstairs to the studio where my work in progress, a large piece with a fishing-boat floating peacefully at anchor, sat waiting.  I hadn’t returned to my Rubio portrait since I had restarted it.

          I knew that I needed human company but, to be honest, after losing both my pets in a span of 4 months in such strange circumstances, the idea of trying to make light conversation turned my stomach.  And besides, there was no-one who would understand. To hell with that.

          By now, the sun was setting. The light was fading and, rather than continue to work by artificial light, I decided to call it quits for the night.

          I had made good progress today and decided to celebrate with some food; three scrambled eggs with cheese, two slices of toast, a hot dog and, of course, a good rum to wash it all down. I had meant to buy milk, but it had slipped my mind.

          There was a new show on Netflix that I had started watching a few days earlier, so I sat there with the rest of my drink and turned on the TV. In a few minutes I was deeply engrossed in Season 2, episode 3 of some stupid US ‘comedy’.  Which are great if you have the mental capacity of a 12-year-old.

          In a lull in the dialogue, I heard a sound which sent shivers down my spine.  There was an animal on my patio; and not some benign little pet.  This creature was snuffling around the edge of the door, with strange feline sounds emanating through the solid wooden door that I had built several years earlier. I muted the TV sound to hear better, and immediately wished that I had turned it up. The snuffling had been replaced by the sounds of nails, claws more likely, scratching more and mor insistently, obviously trying to gain access.

          Turning off the lights, I tiptoed carefully into the kitchen, from where I would have a restricted view of the patio. As I looked outside, a figure slipped through a sliver of moonlight.  I caught a glimpse of black fur, with a slash of orange at one edge. 

          It was back.

          But this was no house cat.  I could see that it stood close to two feet tall at the shoulder.  It padded on feet slightly smaller than a saucer for a teacup. And its breathing was a raspy purr that almost vibrated the crockery in the kitchen cupboard. It passed through the moonlight and disappeared. Then, suddenly, one evil yellow eye peered through the leaves of a patio plant.  I didn’t think it could see me, but it certainly felt as if it knew I was there.

          It hissed, flashing a pair of 2-inch yellow fangs, then turned its attention back to the door.

          My blood ran cold. I knew that this thing couldn’t exist on this planet, yet here it was almost within the reach of an outstretched arm. I moved, slithering stealthily back towards my bedroom.

          I quickly moved into the room, and locked and bolted the door behind me.  It was a flimsy cedar thing, and I had little confidence that it could keep anything out for any length of time.

          I turned on the flashlight on my phone and pulled the Colt from the drawer.  Checked the breech – and then had a thought.  I hadn’t used the gun for some time.  I withdrew the magazine and saw that there we only 3 rounds left in it.  Damn! Why hadn’t I reloaded it?

          My thoughts were interrupted by the crash of glass. Like a window being broken by a large rock – or a large feline body bursting through the glass.

          I backed into a corner and waited.  It wasn’t long before the same snuffling and scratching sounds that I had heard earlier started again. Then there was a thumping sound as if the creature (I couldn’t think of it as a cat) was throwing itself bodily against my bedroom door. Then it stopped, and everything was quiet.

          I wasn’t concerned about access to the bedroom except through the door; the bedroom windows were all covered with iron grillwork, and I didn’t see anything short of a tractor making any headway there.  I realized that I had been holding my breath and started to breathe again. Things stayed calm for about 5 minutes.  Then there was an almighty crash against the door and I clearly heard the wood crack.

          I panicked. Leveling the Colt at the door, about 18 inches above ground level, I fired 3 times, spaced across the door.  There was a yowl of either pain or surprise, or both, and everything went quiet as the echoes of the gunshots in the enclosed space sent my head off on another spinning journey to nowhere.

          There was one round left.  Morosely, I wondered whether I should put it through the door as well, or perhaps save it for myself.  I’m not going outside to check.

          After a few minutes, I crept to the door and put my ear against it. Heard nothing. Repeated this five minutes later with the same result.  Then, something moved outside.  I rushed back to my corner, but nothing further ensued.

          Then I had a thought.  When I had come down from the studio, I had gone to the computer room and updated this narrative, then sent it to my phone so that it would be with me if I had any thoughts that I wanted to add.

 

          It’s now been over two hours since I heard the last set of noises from outside, and I have spent that time completing this.

          I’m emailing this out to as many people as I can think of for two reasons;  One is that, if anything further happens to me, people will know and, two, I don’t plan to step out of this bedroom for a few days, at least.  If anyone knows someone in the police force who might be capable of doing something, please pass this on. I should be able to last a few days. There’s water in the bathroom; I just have nothing to eat.

          Ohshit! It’s back.  It just hit the door again and I heard another crack.

          No matter what happens, please take that unfinished cat portrait and burn it until there’s nothing left.

          I’m sending this now.

 

 

 


 

Chris Alleyne is a native-born Barbadian who has been involved in creative activities all his life.  He is a photographer, a painter, a woodworker and has also written unpublished poetry and published 2 coffee-table books of Barbados landscapes. He has been divorced for over 15 years and is the father of two young men and grandfather of two.
The Cat is his first foray into fiction.