The Weird Cat

She’d been a weird cat since she’d first arrived, squeezing her way past the children’s legs one day as they came in from school. “Can we keep it?” they’d begged their mum, but she’d told them that this was somebody else’s cat and lifted it out onto the path, where it sat until the door was opened again before attempting entry once more. The girls had made posters advertising ‘FOUND CAT’, complete with a photo, but it’s hard to tell one black cat from another, especially in a grainy print. No owner had come forward and, day after day, the cat came back with little encouragement from the girls’ mum but secret treats and lots of cuddles from the youngsters. Eventually, it was tacitly accepted that she was now the family cat; a bed was bought and two bowls for food and drink. They named her Clinker and they loved her.

There was no doubt that she was getting on in years; her belly was flabby, the tip of her tail was flattened and hung at an odd angle, she had strange flecks in both eyes and she never meowed, although she often purred. The whole family made a fuss of her, but nobody pretended that she wasn’t weird. She would sit on the window sill, her back to the outside world, watching the room like a small, furry guardian. If anybody got up to leave, she would watch them until they were out of sight before resuming her original stance, rarely blinking, even more rarely sleeping. Most un-cat-like.

Clinker wasn’t very graceful for a cat either. She had an ungainly walk and would frequently fall from the furniture, righting herself as she hit the floor and continuing as though nothing had happened. The one time she displayed anything like the expected amount of feline agility was when she did the weirdest thing of all; whenever she crossed from the rug in front of the fire to head into the kitchen, she would walk in a wide arc, hugging the furniture until she reached the chair closest to the door, whereupon she would leap delicately as though she were clearing a small hurdle. The first time she’d done it, the family had laughed at her odd ways and had subsequently tried to fathom what made her do it. They’d tried moving the lamp in case a stray shadow was causing the cat’s confusion but it made no difference; over time the furniture was rearranged slightly, but she still followed roughly the same path and always ended with a little leap. It was part of her charm.

As the girls grew older, Clinker’s fur sprouted stray white hairs and she looked a little scrawny about the haunches, but she would still sit and survey the room with her almost unblinking gaze, never once facing the outside world. She enjoyed curling up in a lap, rumbling like a fur-covered Geiger counter and there was never a shortage of willing laps. All in all, it was a good life.

It was approaching winter when the burglary happened. As the family lay sleeping, their mother woke to a strange sound. Somewhere, a cat was mewing loudly and a bitter draught rattled under her bedroom door. She thought the girls might have left a window open, as they sometimes did; perhaps a local cat had climbed in, but as she opened her door to go and check, she saw a dark figure halfway up the stairs, or down – it was difficult to know which way they were heading in the gloom – and she cried out and flailed for the light switch. The burglar ran down the stairs and headed through the dining room and into the living room, making for the open back door through which he had forced an entrance.

He’d clearly spent some time in the living room, looking for valuables that didn’t exist, as every drawer of the dresser had been emptied onto the floor and the cushions from the suite had been tossed, as though someone might hide money or jewels in the furniture. The burglar stepped onto some letters and skidded a little before taking a wild step to try and right himself. He hadn’t accounted, however, for the now silent black cat prowling in the only spaces left unsullied and as his foot landed on the flattened end of her tail, she hissed and lashed out with deadly accuracy, raking her claws across his leg. He fell with a crash, catching his chin on the dresser and was already unconscious as he hit the floor. As he lay like a dead man near the kitchen door, Clinker sidled up to him and leapt in a graceful arc over the vanquished intruder, as though clearing a small hurdle.

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The Long Job

It was my last job of the night.  Of course, I didn’t know it was going to be my last job when I started, but that’s how it ended up anyway.  It was just before Christmas, my busiest time, and the weather was on the turn; there’d been a bit of snow and there was one of them cheeky winds that takes a shortcut through a bloke instead of going round.  He was an old codger, this pick-up; smelt a bit funny!  You know the type – didn’t seem like he spent too much money on soap, if you get my meaning.  He seemed a bit touchy and rambled a bit.  Half the time I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me or to himself and some of what he said was just rubbish.  It’s sad when they go like that, but he was getting on.  Looked as though he’d had a good innings even if it wasn’t a happy one.

He didn’t look all that well when I picked him up and, if I’m honest, I didn’t think he was long for the world and I was worried his heart might give out during the journey and then I’d be stuck answering a load of stupid questions.  It’s happened before; the other bloke had that same grey look that this fella had so I made a mental note to keep a close eye on this one.

It had to be one of the longest journeys I’ve made since I started doing this job .  We bounced all over London and stopped off at quite a few places: we went to see his sister, who didn’t look too good herself to be honest; we went to some place he used to work, which is not something I’d fancy doing if I didn’t have to, and then I took him to see his ex.  I’ve made that mistake meself before.  Never go to see your ex when you’re feeling a bit low; it never ends well.  They hadn’t parted on good terms, as it happens, so he was pretty emotional by the time I dropped him back off at his, but at least he was still in one piece, so to speak, which meant he would be somebody else’s headache if he croaked.

Not that I was unsympathetic!  I’d been in his shoes meself.  You take a wrong turn and before you know it you’re headed into all sorts of wrong and sometimes you just can’t see how to get out of it.  In fact – and again, I’m speaking from personal experience – it’s easy to get so far down the wrong road that you don’t even recognise it’s wrong and you start to think everyone else’s way is the mistake.

I was pretty young when I strayed.  I’d been a bit of a shy kid and didn’t have many friends so, when some lads who lived by us started showing an interest, talking to me, sending me on messages, sticking up for me and that, well … I suppose I was just trying to make them like me.  When they started to ask me to do things that I shouldn’t have – a bit of nicking and suchlike at first and then worse stuff that I don’t rightly like to think of now  – well I didn’t want to say no.  And if I’m being honest with you, I liked doing it!  It made me feel like someone important, seeing people scared, and I was good at it.  I had more stuff than I’d ever had, better clothes, even a decent place to live.  It was hard to see the downside even while I still knew I was out of order.

In the beginning I was telling myself it was just until I could move away; until I’d made enough money to tide me over until I could find proper work, like.  Not that there was much I could do, with me not having been all that clever and not really having a trade to fall back on; sort of felt like crime was the best option, or the only option.  As the years went on and on, I forgot I’d ever even thought about stopping and then I got into a bar fight and some big fella put a bottle through me and it was too late.  I was dead!  So I ended up doing this for me sins; taking people – like old Ebenezer there – to see their old Christmases, to try and get them to see the error of their ways before it’s too late.  Fingers crossed it works out for him; he seemed an alright sort before he got greedy.  Let’s just hope I’ve scared him straight, eh!  I wish someone could have done that for me.

Sensitive

I’ve always been sensitive.  Not ‘can’t use soap’ sensitive or ‘cry at Christmas adverts’ sensitive.  Just ‘knowing things without a proper explanation’ sensitive.  Don’t get me wrong; I can’t tell you what the lottery numbers will be.  Do you think I’d be here if I could?  As if! I’d be lying in a hammock on my own island with an endless supply of fresh fruit and the occasional pizza.  I’ll tell you the kinds of things I know: what sex the baby will be, the fact that there will be a baby (before the bump appears or else it wouldn’t be ‘knowing’ so much as ‘seeing’), what clothes people will have on, even if I’ve never seen them before, who’s calling when the phone rings.  Boring stuff, mostly.   Occasionally I know weirder stuff, like when somebody is going to get hurt or die or when they’ve done something terrible.  That’s the stuff I hate because there’s nothing I can do about it, except … know.

The reason I’m telling you this is so you’ll understand why I instantly knew I was being followed.  There was no doubt in my mind; it started when I was on my way home.  I was tired, wet and hungry; I had no hope of a hot meal or a warm bed for several hours and I was in my own little world of irritation, but I felt that buzz … maybe you’ve felt it too … it’s the unmistakable touch of another person’s gaze.  When someone is looking right at you, it can be as though they reach across and lay their unwelcome fingers right onto your skin.  It creeps me out.

Whenever this happens, I try not to be too obvious about looking for whoever’s watching me.  There are some bad types out there and if they know you’ve spotted them, well … that could end very badly.  So, I was discreet and just stopped to look in a couple of windows to check out the reflection of the street behind me.  It didn’t help, to be honest; I couldn’t see anybody who looked dodgy, so I tried that thing where you stop as though you’ve forgotten something and turn around as though you might be planning on retracing your steps.  That tactic bore fruit immediately.  As I turned, I clearly saw a figure come to an abrupt halt and step back into the shadow of a hedge – very suspicious behaviour.  Definitely my follower!  I rummaged in my bag for a moment, watching the shadowy figure from under my dripping hood and then acted as though I’d found what I thought I’d forgotten and resumed walking in my original direction.

You’ll probably understand why I didn’t want to lead this character to my home, yet they showed no sign of dropping back, always close to the shadows, always stopping to wait if I went into a shop or stooped to ‘fasten a shoe’.  What was worrying me most of all was that we were coming to a place where I’d almost certainly be alone for five minutes or more if I continued towards home and I didn’t want that to happen if I could avoid it.  There was a brightly lit road with a steady flow of foot traffic just around the corner and I could head in that direction rather than back myself into the corner of isolation, but it would mean going much closer to the dark figure and I didn’t really feel comfortable about that.  I knew for certain that something really bad would happen if I confronted this disturbing admirer: I could feel it as surely as I could feel my feet making contact with the hard pavement.

Looking ahead, I could see the turn-off that led to the dark little bridge over the railway, which would then lead to a series of small, quiet roads which housed an empty old schoolhouse, some abandoned shops and some severely neglected houses that rarely betrayed any signs of life within.  At the rate I was walking now, I would reach the opening in two minutes at the most and the follower could be across the road and at my side thirty seconds later.  On the other hand, I could veer towards them right now, in full view of other people and cars that were passing by.  There were few areas of shadow as the shop fronts on both sides of the road spewed their lights into the world.  In a way, I felt tempted to risk passing the person more closely for a better look; at no point had I had a clear look at a face and I couldn’t even see clearly enough to say if it was a man or a woman.  Or neither, I suppose.

In a split second, my feet made the decision for me and I swerved toward the bright lights and the shadowy figure at their edge.  Making a point of looking up and down the road, I crossed at an angle that would leave me ahead of him or her by at least ten yards; the largest distance possible.  I didn’t want to get too close.  I could sense the malicious intent building now and as I swept my eyes across the figure’s face, I caught a glimpse of light, reflecting from dark eyes and it sent a deep shudder down my spine.  My reaction would pass for the effects of the cold, I was sure, if it had been noticed at all.  But now, we were on the same side of the road and I didn’t like that; it made me feel weak, vulnerable, controlled.  No!  I didn’t like it at all.

The feeling of being watched was now so much more than a buzz … it was a weight, a heat, a force and I could tell without looking that the distance between us was decreasing steadily.  There was no way I could turn around now that we were on the same side; it would be too obvious and I just didn’t want to look into the glinting eyes of this being who meant me harm.  In a panic, I veered into a cafe and stumbled to the counter.  I bought some tea and sat at the back of the shop, looking towards the street.  I couldn’t see the figure now but I knew they would be out there … waiting.  I could feel a draught on my cheek that seemed to come from behind me and I turned to look at the toilet door.  Next to it, was an open door that led into the kitchen … the empty kitchen.  Could I get out that way?  Even if I couldn’t … I had to try!

Heading towards the toilet, I walked steadily, swerving into the kitchen at the last minute and went straight for the back door.  I glanced over my shoulder to see the back of one of the women who was behind the counter; she was talking and unaware of my actions.  The door was unlocked and I was able to close it quietly behind me, but when I tried to leave the small yard I found the outer door was bolted and padlocked.  I looked around for inspiration and saw a large wooden planter, but it was too far from the wall to be of any use.  Pulling at it, I was surprised at how heavy it was, but in my desperation, I was able to drag it close enough to use as a boost to climb up onto the wall.  Unfortunately, the noise it had made as I had dragged it had attracted the attention of one of the coffee shop workers, who opened the door and began shouting and screeching.  I could hear footsteps running through the shop so I launched myself from the wall into the darkness of the alley, jarring my knee as I landed.

Blindly, I ran along the alley, heading back towards where I had come from, hoping to find a way back onto the street and into the light and, hopefully, far behind wherever my pursuer was now waiting.  But I quickly realised that wasn’t going to happen!  I felt his presence before I ran into him.  Definitely a ‘him’.  Strong hands grabbed me and rotten breath drove into my face as I saw in sickening HD everything he wanted to do to me … had done to the others … but as my twitching claws shredded his stubbled face and my growing fangs sank into his bitter-tasting throat, the tears of shame poured from my eyes and onto my fur before I lost all sense of self … again.