All's Well in the End

Submitted into Contest #30 in response to: Write a story about someone who loses their cat.... view prompt

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General

“Have you seen Nyx?” Amanda asked.

James was about to burp, but stifled it with a second swig of beer. “Who?”

“The cat.”

Amanda had barely touched her dinner.  She kept casting expectant glances over her shoulder, staring through the sliding glass doors at the patio.

“Cat?” James asked while he aggressively carved a chunk of his steak.  “You mean that stray?

Amanda nodded.

“You named her?”

Amanda gave a faint smile.  “She’s been coming around so often.  I got tired of calling her ‘cat.’ It seemed rude.”

“So you gave her a shitty name like ‘Nyx’ and thought that was better?”

Amanda pursed her lips and stared down at her uneaten mashed potatoes. “Since she only ever comes around in the evening, I thought it would be appropriate.” 

James stuffed his final piece of steak into his mouth and washed it down with another gulp of beer.

“But she’s stopped.” Amanda continued.

James wiped his mouth on his napkin.  “Stopped?”

“Showing up.  It’s been a couple of days now.  I leave food on the porch, but she never shows up.”

James could see the genuine concern on his girlfriend’s face and he felt a twinge of jealousy.  “I’m sure the cat’s fine.” he said dismissively. He pushed his chair back and stood up, crumpling his dirty napkin and dropping it on his plate.  “Maybe she’s gone on a trip. Cats like to explore, right?”

“I guess,” Amanda said.  “But there’s not much worth exploring.  All that’s out here is our house and miles of trees.”

My house,” James corrected.  “Don’t even pretend like any of this is thanks to you.”

Amanda got quiet.  Then, quickly, she said,  “Right. I’m sorry. Your house.  And the trees. That’s all there is.”

“A lost cat...,” he continued.  “Maybe she’s dead.”

James watched with sick delight as Amanda covered her mouth and stared even deeper into her uneaten plate of food.  “Dead?”

“Plenty of animals bigger than a cat in those woods.” he said with a twisted smile.

Amanda fell silent.

Pleased with himself, James strolled to the fridge and began rummaging for another beer.

“Damn it.” He said, after a few noisy seconds of shuffling, “That was the last one.”

“I can drive to the store if you want.” Amanda chimed.

James closed the fridge door and turned to face her.  “Amanda,” he said softly. “You know I can’t let you do that.”

The hope in her eyes faded away like a dying flame.  “Right. I know. It’s just...it’s been so long since I’ve gone into town, I thought---”

“You don’t need to go into town.” He interrupted, sauntering up behind her and resting two heavy hands on her shoulders.  “Everything you need is right here.” He paused for a moment, studying the silence, before giving a squeeze. “Or am I not enough for you?”

She winced but couldn’t pull away from his grip.  She shook her head. “Of course you’re enough. It’s just---” she sampled the words in her mind and proceeded cautiously, “When you’re not here...when you’re at work or out with friends...I get lonely.  I don’t have a phone or a computer. I don’t have anyone to talk to.”

He frowned.  “You did have those things, but then you violated my trust, remember?”

 “I know.” she said, her tone flat and emotionless.

“Besides,” he continued, releasing her and walking into the center of the kitchen.  “Your friends weren’t good for you. For us. You don’t need unsupportive people like that in your life.”

“I know,” she said, “I don’t want them in my life anymore.  Really. But there’s still a void. I think Nyx can be the thing that fills it...but now she’s gone.” She turned again toward the sliding glass door, the empty stone patio illuminated with no cat in sight.  “I’m worried she might be in trouble.”

James rubbed his hand across his stubbly chin, deep in thought for a minute. He looked over at Amanda who continued to stare outside woefully.  He sighed. “Fine.”

“Fine?”

“I’ll go out and take a look.”

Amanda’s eyes reignited with hope. “Really?”

“Yeah,” he said, “Not for long though.  It’s going to be dark soon, and I don’t want to get turned around out there.  I grew up here, but it’s still easy to get lost.”

His girlfriend nodded.  “Right. I understand. Just walk a little ways.  You can call her name.”

“She already knows her name?”

Amanda gave a proud smile.  “She’s a very smart cat.”



James donned his mud-caked work boots and pulled on a light jacket.  He pocketed his phone and, just as he reached the door, doubled back to the kitchen counter and retrieved the key to his truck.

“Don’t want you to be tempted.” He said.

She shook her head.  “You can trust me. I’ll stay put right on the porch, making sure you find your way back okay.”

As James stepped outside, he was immediately reminded why he loved living out in the middle of nature.  A symphony of crickets filled the evening air and a cool autumn breeze blew steadily through trees. Leaves and underbrush crunched beneath his boots as he left the property line and walked deeper into the forest.

After about five minutes, he decided to start his search in earnest.

“Nyx!”  He called out.  “Nyx!?”

Nothing.

“This is stupid.” James grumbled.  “The cat’s probably dead.”

Regardless of the obvious futility of his trip, he pressed on into the forest, bathed in the golden light of the evening.  As the sky shifted from pink to red to purple, he knew that he was running out of daylight. James was about to turn back around when he heard a soft cry in the distance.

He froze.  “Nyx?”

Silence seemed to descend on the forest.  The wind died down to a barely perceptible breeze;  the crickets finished their steadfast chorus. The world was quiet.

Then, there came a second cry, this one clearly the sound of a cat.

“Nyx!” he gasped enthusiastically.

Barreling through the underbrush, James struggled over downed tree branches, gradually becoming less visible in the dying light.  After he forced himself through a thicket, he stumbled headlong into a clearing, landing on a surprisingly soft bed of grass.

He stood up, brushed off his pants, and looked around.

The clearing was oddly geometrical, a perfectly carved circle in the forest overgrowth.  At the center of the clearing, weathered and worn, was an old well made of large, flat stones stacked carefully one on top of another.  It looked like there had once been a wooden awning overhead, but it had collapsed and now lay in a rotting heap beside the stones.

James had grown up on this property, but even as a curious child, exploring the surrounding woods from sunrise to sunset, he had never stumbled upon anything like this.

It was getting darker now, so James took out his phone and turned on the flashlight.  He approached the edge of the well carefully, watching his step. He held his phone overtop the opening of the well and tried to cast a light to the bottom.  Nothing. The pathetic light of his cellphone was easily swallowed up by the darkness.

“Nyx?” He whispered.

Suddenly, he heard a cry from the belly of the well, distorted with its own reverberation, but James was positive it was the sound of a cat.  Leaning forward and studying the well more intently, he noticed two small yellow eyes. They reflected the light of his phone just enough to be seen against the inky blackness.  As he adjusted to the dark, he could make out the small black frame of a feline, it’s tail flicking back and forth. For being trapped, James observed, the cat seemed remarkably calm.

“How’d you get down there?” He asked.

The cat didn’t answer, but continued staring upwards, unblinking, into the light of James’s phone.

“Guess you’re not as smart as she thought.” he sneered.

Night was falling fast. If he didn’t wrap things up soon, he would have a hell of a time finding his way back to the house.  Then, a thought came to James’s mind.

“Now that I think about it,” he started, smiling down at the helpless creature.  “She won’t ever really know if I found you or not.” He picked up a stone off the ground and held it over the mouth of the well, moving his phone to his offhand.

As soon as James released the stone from his fingers, the cat closed its eyes and vanished into the darkness.  The rock landed with a harmless thud against the bottom of the well. James waited, but there was nothing: no cries, no sound of shuffling, no glowing yellow eyes.

“Where did you go?” He asked.

With no warning, a blast of cold wind erupted from the well, knocking James’s phone out of his hand.  He frantically fought for it midair before it went tumbling into the blackness.

“Shit.” He said, breathing fast. “What was that!?”

The forest was once again alive with noise.  The crickets' song was now louder than before, but transposed to something deeper and more ominous.  The wind howled through the trees. The darkness was oppressive, and James struggled to judge his surroundings using only the dimly lit stars overhead.  Disoriented, he spun around, trying to keep a watch over the clearing. He heard light-footed animals dashing through the grass, getting closer, then farther, then circling him.  He felt helpless and lost, sometimes convinced that creatures with small hands were reaching out and touching him, searching his pockets and tousling his hair. He tried to grab at them, claw at them, but they were always too quick.  As he wrestled with this untouchable foe, he was surrounded by the sounds of the forest, all cheering on the seemingly endless struggle.

Finally, he cried out for them to stop just as he felt his legs back into the stone lip of the well.  Unsteady on his feet, he fell backwards, plummeting into the abyss. As James sank into shadow, time slowed.  He didn’t hit the bottom of the well like the stone or his cellphone, but instead he just kept falling. Staring upward, he once again saw the cat, now perched comfortably on the edge of the well, framed by the starry sky above.  Despite the absence of light, her eyes still sparkled with a malevolent golden glow.



After an hour of waiting, Amanda had grown tired of pacing on the back porch.  She felt anxious, but now that anxiety was slowly being replaced with sleepiness.  She had set up a lawn chair, draped a blanket around her, and sipped a mug of coffee, trying to stay awake.  She was beginning to nod off when she heard a rustling of leaves. 

Her eyes widened.  Chills ran up her spine, and she held her breath.  A familiar black shape trotted up confidently from the treeline and into the pool of porch light.

“I’m happy to see you,” Amanda said with a sigh of relief.  She patted her lap; Nyx accepted the invitation.

“Did it work?” she asked, running her hand slowly down the cat’s ebony back and scratching behind her ears.

Nyx looked up, a car key dangling from her mouth.  Amanda smiled, taking the gift and slipping it securely into her pocket.

“And James?”

Nyx started to purr as she kneaded Amanda’s legs before curling up to fall asleep.

“Thank you.”



February 29, 2020 03:21

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2 comments

Lexi T
03:25 Mar 06, 2020

Oooh I really liked this story!! You were able to establish the characters and their personalities quickly, and it was really satisfying to see James's ending, along with Amanda's. The sort of supernatural twist added a lot (i mean, magic, vaguely malicious cats are the best), and overall it was just fun to read!!

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Trent D.
02:16 Mar 11, 2020

I'm glad you thought so. I wanted to keep the story moving at a pretty brisk pace. I don't have much experience with short story writing, so I struggled with making the characters likable (Amanda) and unlikable (James, obviously) in such a short period of time. I'm a big Murakami fan, so I knew I wanted to tackle the "lost cat" prompt; I also threw in the well because Murakami always seems to have mysterious wells in his stories.

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