All I heard was, “… going to die…”
Beads of sweat erupted and slowly trickled down my body. All I could see was a coffin being lowered into the ground and a cardinal watching from his perch in a maple tree.
As I stood up, the doctor handed me an envelope before I could escape into what was left of the afternoon. It was August 17th, two weeks before my 36th birthday. I didn’t even know if I was going to make it that long. Either way, I had a lot to think about, so I tucked the envelope into my back pocket and hustled down the street. In midstride, a black cat darted from behind a car and ran right by me, disappearing down a darkened alley. I froze in place, fearing that if I walked across its path, it might make my bad luck even worse. So, I turned around and headed the other way.
Jogging to the beat of my heart, I must have gone close to a mile before fatigue set in. I sat down on the nearest bench, leaned back onto the wooden slats and closed my eyes. As my body and breathing relaxed, my mind began to spin, stopping here and there to allow a film clip to play inside my head.
The first one was of Halloween, when our father took my sister Kate and me trick or treating when we were about 9 or 10. Dad was such a good sport. We walked from one side of town to the other, hoping to fill our pillowcase sacks with candy. After two hours, Dad told us it was time to go home. We immediately began to grumble, but within moments, a black cat sauntered by and slowly rubbed its body over our ankles. We reached for Dad’s hand and walked home as quickly as we could without saying a word.
The next clip began with a panoramic view of my college, focusing on the beautiful fall foliage, athletic fields and educational buildings that dotted the landscape. Zooming in, I could see myself leaving my dorm as a black cat, hissing loudly, darted in front of me.
The final film began with my sister Kate waving and hollering, “Hey Rachel! Hop in!” My sister had gotten a brand-new car and wanted me to enjoy the first ride with her. The radio was blaring and we sang along with the music. Two blocks later, a black cat ran by, causing Kate to swerve onto the shoulder of the road.
Sitting straight up I couldn’t help but mumble aloud, “What’s the deal with the black cat memories? Is it a coincidence or a warning sign? Maybe I’m going to die sooner than I thought. Damn!”
I watched the world pass before me for a while, and then, it happened again! A black cat sped by, hugging the inside of the curb to avoid being hit by passing traffic.
Shaking uncontrollably, I called my sister and begged her to pick me up as soon as possible. My legs felt numb, so I sat and waited impatiently. I couldn’t help but think about what dying might be like, before realizing I didn’t even have a will.
“I’m here Rachel! What’s going on?” yelled Kate from halfway down the block.
Sitting down as close as she could, Kate hugged me and said, “I got the feeling you needed me to be with you for a while before driving anywhere.”
“You’re always right,” said Rachel, squeezing Kate’s hands.
Kate knew her sister well enough to know it was better to wait for Rachel to tell her what was going on rather than push for answers. However, ten minutes seemed long enough to hold her tongue, so she asked, “Rachel, what’s going on?”
Standing up, Rachel reached out her hand and said, “Walk with me.”
Without speaking, Rachel and Kate strolled from block to block. Eventually they noticed a group of people standing in front of a pet shop widow smiling and pointing at a group of playful puppies. The next window was filled with cat toys, scratching posts and climbing trees. One black cat paced back and forth as if modeling on a runway.
Rachel stared in disbelief, before yelling, “That’s the sixth black cat that’s crossed my path today, either right before my eyes or in flashback memories. Get me the hell out of here! Where’s your car?”
“Right across the street,” answered Kate.
While Kate drove, Rachel rocked in her seat and wrung her hands.
“You need to calm down Rachel,” said Kate.
“CALM DOWN? CALM DOWN? You have no idea what’s happened to me today,” shrieked Rachel.
“Then tell me,” Kate replied quietly.
“I saw Dr. Moore this afternoon. At the end of the appointment, all I can remember him saying was, I was going to die,” Rachel disclosed.
Kate immediately pulled over to the side of the road, looked at Rachel for a moment, then gently said, “What?”
“That’s what I think he said, and I’ve been freaked out ever since. To make things worse, as soon as I left the office, black cats started to appear. And you know what that means,” said Rachel.
“You’re right. Dad died two days after we saw that black cat on Halloween,” Kate acknowledged sadly.
“And before I left for that college class, a black cat scared me so badly I tripped and dropped my books. When I got back to the dorm, it was engulfed in flames,” Rachel noted.
Then Kate added, “I’ll never forget taking you for a ride in my new car. Within two miles, that black cat ran in front of us. I swerved onto the shoulder of the road and crashed into a tree. Luckily, we were ok, but the car was totaled.”
Kate let a few minutes go by before asking, “Can we get back to what your doctor said?”
“That’s all I remember him saying. I don’t have any other details since I flew out of the office as fast as I could,” answered Rachel.
“When’s your next appointment? I’d be happy to go with you,” stated Kate.
“That would be great! Next Wednesday at 1:15 pm,” Rachel responded.
“In the meantime, do you think you’re making too much of this black cat thing?” questioned Kate.
“Are you kidding me?” Rachel hollered.
“Look, you know you tend to be on the anxious side. Maybe I should just get you home so you can relax,” suggested Kate.
Rachel shook her head and said, “Step on it!”
Before pulling out, Kate checked her side mirror. The road was clear, only noticing a man on the sidewalk walking his dog.
Driving in silence, Kate was startled by a dog running alongside the car dragging its leash. Just ahead was a large black cat. Kate slammed on her brakes, watched the dog chase the cat across the street, then looked at Rachel in amazement.
“Maybe you’re right Rachel. This is starting to feel creepy,” squeaked Kate.
“Get me home as fast as you can!” ordered Rachel.
“I’ll do my best,” said Kate, but not before having to stop behind a rusty pick-up truck at the next red light.
At the exact same time, Kate and Rachel screamed. Then Rachel said, “Holy shit! There’s a black cat walking back and forth on the back of the seats in that truck! This really can’t be happening!”
Kate stated, “I’d better pay attention so I don’t get into another accident.”
Within a mile from home Rachel started to thank Kate for the ride, but stopped speaking when she watched a really big black cat cross the road in front of them.
“Now I know it isn’t a coincidence! Someone or something is trying to send a message that something bad is about to happen. Do you think I might have a heart attack? I am feeling palpitations in my chest,” Rachel said in a shaky voice.
Crossing her fingers, Kate directed, “Take a deep breath. I’m sure you’re going to be fine and there’s a logical explanation for all of this.”
“Talk to you tomorrow Kate,” Rachel said as she bolted out of the car.
Rachel turned on every light in the house, sat down on her recliner and thought about the black cats that had crossed her path that day. Counting the three flashbacks along with the rest, there was a total of nine!
Maybe the cats were sent to distract me from learning I was going to die, thought Rachel. She couldn’t come up with any other possible reason, but soon remembered the doctor had given her an envelope that she had been carrying around in her back pocket.
Pulling out the crumpled packet, Rachel slid the paper out of its cover and placed it in her lap. She opened the folded page and began to read:
I was sure you wouldn’t remember everything we talked about today as well as the important message I gave you at the end of our session, so I outlined them below:
We are all going to die someday.
I know you still believe in superstition, and that you might die young because your father did.
Your anxiety has been getting worse, which doesn’t help you think rationally.
We’ve talked about this before, and I again encourage you to get a pet.
Owning a pet is known to help people live healthier and happier lives and, in your case, reduce anxiety and stress.
The best part of t his suggestion is that it can easily be reversed if it doesn’t help, because you can find it a new home.
“Oh…. That’s what Dr. Moore said about dying. And then, that stupid suggestion again! It’s tough enough taking care of myself,” grumbled Rachel.
Throwing the papers onto the floor, Rachel got up and went outside to get her mail.
“Ugh! Bills, junk mail and election flyers. I’ve filled out hundreds of Publisher’s Clearing House forms. It would be nice to hear back from them,” murmured Rachel.
Turning back towards her front door, Rachel came face to face with another black cat. She stared at Rachel through golden eyes and purred softly. Without thinking, Rachel knelt down as the cat walked back and forth before jumping into her lap.
Rachel stroked her soft fur and said, “I finally got the message! Black cats aren’t always bad luck, and you’re just what the doctor ordered. I’m going to call you Angel Number 10 because it means opening the door to a new life.”
Angel purred as they went inside together.