The News that
By June Driver
If a white cat crosses your path…
How you died:
In the empty night, you were walking through
the shadowed streets of downtown. You’d just been kicked out of a diner because
it was closing time. No stores were open at that hour. Nothing was happening;
nobody walked the streets. Loneliness had long buried your heart. Desperately,
you wanted to catch a cab and rush back to your apartment and sleep the night
to death, and hoped that when you woke the next morning the emptiness would be
gone. You had spent the night on the town in hopes of meeting that special
How empty your life was.
Alas, you had ventured into the night and met
not a single companion. Once again you retreated into facing your dreams alone.
You walked through the grim puddles and gloomy garbage of the streets alone;
you would catch a forlorn taxi alone, sleep in your cold bed alone, and, if you
were to wake in the middle of the quiet night, would lie there alone. You
imagined yourself dying alone. The night tortured your heart because it was,
like your heart, so empty and still. Only sleep might miraculously soothe the
pain, desperation, and discouragement by sending the saving solace of dream
You had to find a payphone to call a taxi.
You passed many stores on your way—vintage
clothing stores, record stores, and costume stores with nightmarish mannequins
standing in the windows…and a few strange, unexplained stores. Blue moonlight
shone upon them, making each one look like a building from another world or
time. On the walls in the alleys, graffiti spoke of old times and other worlds
and desert hotels; painted, glowing faces of frightening aliens and beasts
illustrated their stories. Downtown at night, you came to realize, was more
Just ahead of you, you saw a white cat approach
a store. It looked up into the window and remained still, staring as though in
a trance. As you approached the cat, it didn’t acknowledge your presence and
didn’t budge, but only continued staring into the window. A flashing yellow
neon sign engulfed in fog announced the store’s name: ELECTRONICS MAN AND
You saw what held the cat’s attention:
Televisions, thirteen of them, all showing a similar program: the Channel 000
“A person was killed downtown tonight,”
anchorwoman spoke on each of the television sets. “The identity of the victim
is not yet known, nor exactly how they were killed.”
appeared on TV—all thirteen screens.
“The person had just been kicked out of
and was apparently looking for a payphone, when an electronics store attracted
their attention. All they did was stare at the thirteen televisions displaying
sad news inside the store window.”
You looked around, and then back at the TVs.
“The person looked around, probably feeling
watched,” the anchorwoman continued.
On the televisions you saw yourself look around
just as you had only a moment ago. Confused and paranoid, you backed away from
the window, tripped on a curb, and fell backwards onto a steaming sewer grate.
“The person, probably feeling nervous or
endangered, backed away and, apparently, tripped and fell.”
On the televisions, you did as the anchorwoman
said, exactly the action you had just
taken. You hurried to your feet. The white cat continued to sit completely
motionless, staring blindly up at the televisions. Frozen with paranoia, you
continued to watch along with the white cat,
“The person continued to watch the televisions
in the store window. Let us now cut to a different zone of the downtown area,
where we can see the person’s killer walking the streets.”
What you and the cat saw inside the window of
that store was thirteen reasons why you should have run right then and there:
thirteen killers dressed in long black trench coats, their twenty-six hands
hidden in deep pockets, their heads tilted down under wide black hats hiding
“The killer was headed directly for the
You immediately looked both ways down the
street, but saw no one.
“The person, afraid, checked their surroundings
for the killer, but found no one. The streets that night were eerily empty. The
only action came from this person and the killer.”
Once again the program cut to the shadowy
stranger. You strained to identify the location of the killer, planning to run
in the complete opposite direction. But the area on the televisions was
unrecognizable. After all, downtown at night was more than downtown.
“The person could not locate the killer.
every minute, every second wasted on waiting at that store window only meant
that the killer drew nearer. Here we can see the killer again, picking up
You had to flee. But in which direction?
You should have run immediately, but wasted
more time deciding where to go. Run
anywhere. Wasn’t it more fatal to linger around the store? Run. You
tried to figure out what to do,
whether to head back towards the diner and hope someone was still inside, hide
in a dark alley, wait at the store and face the nightmare, continue on towards
a payphone...or…simply run.
You ran off into the darkness, hoping to find
phone. The stores flashed by so rapidly that you felt you were in some kind of
music video. All you could hear in the city was the echo of your running feet
and your breathing. Over your shoulder you saw the cat only as a small white
speck which continued to watch the televisions. Now without the news broadcast,
you wouldn’t know of the killer’s progress. Your death could have been waiting
in any alleyway, around any corner, on any roof, or even right behind you.
Moonlight cast a shadowy chiaroscuro. Some
shadows moved, creeping around in the concrete jungle and looking like people
hustling and bustling about. But the people weren’t there. Nothing was anywhere,
save rampant shadows, some of which assumed the dimensions of human beings.
Your own shadow surprised you when it snuck up from behind and passed you as
you ran. It looked as though your shadow was more frightened than you. Other
shadows remained still and behaved, but even they looked like they belonged to
things which could have been watching you from above. Any one of this
assortment could have held the shadow of a knife or a gun, a needle or rope, or
whatever device the killer favored. And worse than the moving shadows and the
still shadows were those which occasionally disappeared altogether.
You could barely see in some places, thanks to
whispering fog that floated through the streets, hiding such things as garbage
cans and fence railings.
Suddenly you tripped on something and flew
face-first into a mailbox. You spun around in horror and saw in the fog, in a
shadow, a black figure lying on the sidewalk. An arm reached out for you.
You stumbled backwards, barely escaping the
long fingers, and struggled to your feet. Your heartbeat quickened to highway
“Got any change?”
You let out a sigh. “S-sorry, no,”
you said. “Have
you seen a person in a trench coat walking the streets?”
“Have you got any change?”
“Sure,” you groaned. You gave the
“Haven’t seen anybody. Everybody’s
“Can you tell me where a payphone might
The beggar pointed up the way to an alley
beside a restaurant, and you saw a payphone. Half hidden in the darkness of the
alley, half exposed in the streetlamp light and the moonlight, it was
surrounded by graffiti and trash and silence. The darkness just inside the
alley was perhaps the darkest black yet.
You didn’t want to approach. But you had
And you wanted to get off the streets. So you ran down the sidewalk, and, when
you reached the corner of the restaurant, cautiously peeked around the bend for
a second and peered into the alleyway.
You couldn’t see a thing there. Pulling
packet of matches from your pocket, you struck one up and tossed it in. But its
timid glow could have lit up only a face. You were wasting time worrying about
the alley; the killer could be drawing nearer.
Fumbling for your last quarter, you dialed for
a taxi cab. You told the driver your location and that you would pay twice the
cost if he doubled his speed.
“I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
So you waited. Tapping your foot and pacing
back and forth, you prayed the cab would get to you before the killer; if the
killer arrived first, you’d have to flee, and would miss your ride and have to
find another phone. And you might not make it a second time, and…oh no! You’d
given the beggar the rest of your change!
One minute passed by, which felt like an
eternity. A second minute passed by. You waited. A third minute. You perked your
ears in hopes of hearing a distant car engine. But so far you heard nothing.
The tap of a footstep suddenly came from inside
the alley. You spun around to face it, but, of course, saw nothing but the
black. A second step came. You backed away. A third step came, and this time
you couldn’t move, for fear had paralyzed you the way it had so often done in
your dreams. A fourth step came, and you could do nothing but move your eyes.
You strained to see who it was and knew it was a person because of the crunching
sound a boot makes. Slowly again came those footsteps.
You listened for a car engine, but only heard
silence and another boot step. You opened your mouth to call out to the person,
but felt you could barely breathe. This person did not utter a word, only took
another step forward. Another step. How close the sound of the boots was
coming, you could not tell. Another crunch. Another. You thought of striking
another match, but couldn’t move your arms, and couldn’t even remember where
you had put the match packet.
Another step came…and the person now stood
before you, but you couldn’t see a damn thing—not the person’s boots, not the
body, not a face.
“Don’t be afraid,” came the
careful whisper of
the stranger. “I will not kill you.”
Then you heard a sound so loud in the silence:
a match being torn from a packet, torn like a limb. You heard the harsh scrape
of the match head. The match burst into timid glow and illuminated only a wide
black hat. It was the hat of the killer, and the head was tilted down just as
it had been on the thirteen televisions back at the electronics store. But when
the killer raised their head and looked up at you, you were instantly
overwhelmed, not by fear, but...by beauty. Speechless, you stared into the
stranger’s eyes, in which you saw stars reflected from the dark sky above.
Nobody had eyes like these. Never in your life
had you ever seen a face so expressive of the bearer’s spirit, so powerful and
otherworldly. And never in your lonely life had you ever been approached by a person
whom you felt could be destiny. You looked down to try to see what the stranger
was holding, what weapon was chosen to take away your life. But you saw nothing
but a lit beeswax candle in the left hand. You inhaled honey-scented relief.
The stranger reached for your own hand, took it,
and said, “Don’t worry, I’m not here to kill you.”
Before you could reply, the engine sound of a
taxicab approached from behind. “You called for a cab, man?” the driver yelled,
leaning out the car window.
You looked back at the stranger before you. In
that moment, the two of you exchanged something which you would later do so
well: you two smiled. Turning back to the cab driver, you waved him away. He
cursed, and then hit the gas and squealed off down the road. You and the
stranger were left in silence again.
“Would you like to accompany me on a walk?”
You would, you said, and let the stranger lead
you out onto the street.
Across the night you walked with your newfound
companion. Soon the two of you came to Electronics
Man and Electronics Girl, and the
white cat was still there, in the same spot, in the same position. As before,
it was transfixed by the news broadcast.
“Police found the person dead beneath a
payphone beside a restaurant,” the anchorwoman declared on the thirteen
televisions. “An investigation will take place as to who murdered the person,
but police doubt they will find anything. Now we will go to our next segment,
about the tragedy that struck a person reading a story…”
What had appeared on the televisions was your
very dead body, lying on the ground before the payphone, half hidden in the
darkness of the alley and half exposed in the streetlamp light and the moonlight.
Your eyes stared blindly up into the infinite stars and your mouth hung open as
if you were in awe of the mysteries before you, of space, of existence, of love;
your arms were spread out and your hair a mess.
The white cat sitting before the store window
its head up to space, and then, with the cold wind blowing on its thick, plush
fur, turned and stared at you and the stranger. Its eyes reflecting the
candle’s glow, the cat lifted one paw, the right, but did not take its eyes
editor’s favorite this time with BP #89’s
“The News that
Night,” is a horror writer from West Virginia who lives in a cabin in the woods
with her cat Mexie. She (June) likes to sleep during the day (like Mexie) and
to write at night...with no sounds except for the insects at her front screen
and the wind in the trees outside the window.