In a Cat’s Eye (1444 words)
He lurched out of bed at the incessant sound of his phone beeping, stumbling across the room to rip the offending device from its charging cradle and shut it off without ever glancing at who had dared to bother him at this hour. Through the open window he could hear the dry susurrus of the chill night air toying with late summer leaves, starting to yellow upon the branch, and the gentle bubbling of his rock-pool fountain in the garden below. And then, as he let the sounds of the night wash over him, he heard a faint rustling. The sound of some one, or some thing, clawing, scraping through the rubbish sacks. Again.
Slamming open the window, he poked his head out to, hopefully, see a glimpse of the creature that had plagued him and his rubbish sacks for the past few weeks, but as he craned his neck to peer into the alleyway that detached his two bedroom semi-detached from its neighbour, he saw nothing but darkness. He stomped downstairs and headed for the kitchen, the house illuminating room by room as he flicked lights on as he passed. Peering through the glassy gloom of the kitchen door, he was sure he could see dark, inky shapes moving about amid the blackness. With a turn of the key in the lock, he opened the back door and stepped out in to the cool night air.
With cautious paces he softly rounded upon the alley, ready to boldly assail whatever intruder lurked within, but found only the tattered and distended remains of his rubbish sacks. With a silent curse spat through gritted teeth, he stormed back to his house, leaving the mess for the morning. As he went to close the door behind him, he noticed two gleaming points piercing the gloom, two amber ovals reflecting the light back at him, advancing slowly toward him through the darkness. He felt an involuntary start of fear, while the ovals pulled up a few paces short of his door, eyes framed now by a distinctly feline face.
He thoughts then sped unbidden back to his youth, and time spent with his Grandma in her little house by the seaside, listening to her talk about the land and the folk that dwelt there. He had inherited his hatred of cats from her. She detested them leaving their muck in the flower beds, and yowling and swearing at all hours of the night. If she caught sight of one in her garden, she’d set the hose on it quick, sending it scrambling for cover. But there was this one cat, a big, fat black and white tom, that would boldly walk around as if it owned the place. He never once saw his Grandma turn the hose on that cat. “Never cross a black cat” was her explanation, even though the cat was only mostly black.
The cat staring at him now was all black, and looking into its dark, amber eyes, he had the sudden sensation that much time had passed since their eyes first met. Shaking his gaze away from those eyes, uncaring and cold, he turned to the sink, pouring out a glass of water that, he hoped, would deter the cat from returning again to savage his rubbish sacks, but upon turning his gaze back outside he found that the feline intruder was nowhere to be seen. With a shrug, he threw the water onto the paving stones, as if to emphasise what would have happened, had the cat deigned to stick around long enough. Glancing at the clock, he again cursed as he noticed the time. Half way to morning already, he thought with a yawn as he trudged back up to bed.
His dreams were fraught with half-seen visions of dark and grim creatures that lurked in the shadows of memory, of the tales his Grandma would tell, about Woden and the Great Hunt, about the first kings of the lands, about the mischievous Billy Blind, or the dream-assailing Mare that caused havoc to sleeping minds. These stories,which had so enthralled him as a child, so sparked his imagination, now sent it into a terror, causing him to toss and turn in his slumber. But it was not long before dawn rose to claim him, sliding its tendrils beneath the curtain to dazzle his bleary awakening eyes.
The day that greeted him was not a kind one. Grey, listless skies bristling, even at this early hour, with the sort of insistent, humid heat that could send a man stark raving mad, given enough time. He made himself a hasty breakfast and took a brisk shower, only to be horrified to find that he had somehow wasted an hour and would be late for work if he didn’t get a move on. Predictably, the car didn’t start. Nor would it, even after much cajoling, tinkering, pleading and cursing. Finally, he called a cab, which was late and reeked of cigarette smoke, depositing him outside of his offices nearly a full half hour late.
After the savage remonstration he received from his boss, his ear drums were left ringing. He’d practically had to get on his knees and grovel just to keep his job. He booted up his computer only to be greeted by a litany of driver errors. He sighed and wearily dialled the number for technical support. The line was engaged, and continued to be engaged most of the day, while his luck only continued to get worse. He returned home, many hours later, soaked to the bone and now lacking for gainful employment, his boss having fired him upon the discovery of a number of particularly malicious porn-site viruses littering his hard drive, that he had sworn blind weren’t his doing.
Five years in that place, gone. All for nothing. His feet hurt, squelching with every step, and he cursed the dozens of empty taxis that had sped by as if he were invisible. Finally, blissfully, he saw his house rise in the distance through a haze of smog and rain. His house, lacking a car parked out front, and with the door yawning open lazily on its hinges. He ran inside, a panic rising that only grew as he checked through the rooms. Everything of worth was gone. Raising a hand to his giddy head, he felt a sob of helplessness well up in his chest, but choked it down as his thoughts returned once again to his Grandma’s words.
“Never cross a black cat” she would say between puffs of pipe smoke, “And I don’t mean, ‘don’t cross their path’ as people prattle whenever they see one nowadays, no. Cats aren’t no malevolent demon to be run away from. They’re just creatures, and small ones at that. Nothing a cat could do that a short, sharp kick up the backside wouldn’t soon dissuade. But they see better than us, and hear better too. The ancient Egyptians believed that cats eyes caught the light of the setting sun, and by keeping the cats content and healthy they would ensure the sun’s rise the next day. They also believed cats could see beyond where mortal eyes can peer, beneath the veil of time and death. So think about that next time a cat stares at you, especially a black one. They have something of the sphinx about them still, even after thousands of years.”
Her words resonating in his mind, he strode with trepidation towards the kitchen and up to the back door, peering fearfully into the gloom so that he could confirm what would be there; nothing. He let out a wordless cry, sprawling upon the counter top and beating his fists bloody against the cupboards. He returned to his living room, now bare of the gadgets that marked twenty-first century life. For all humanities advancement, for all the wealth of information and entertainment available at their fingertips, why are we so hasty to dismiss the unknown, to say that it’s ‘childish’ or ‘idiotic’ to hold true to superstition and belief, he wondered. He had believed once, and a part of him continued to do so, even after society told him to grow up and stop being foolish. But, evidently he hadn’t believed enough to never forget that you shouldn’t ever cross a black cat.
Later, much calmer and with saucer in hand, he stepped out in to the cool night air. He placed the saucer down on the grass, careful not to spill any of the ice cold milk that lapped about the saucers edge, and waited.
“Here, kitty, kitty…”