The first time, it was nothing more than a strange coincidence. She didn't think much of it. It was just a cat; it didn't mean anything.

She didn’t even stop to look at it, just continued along the sidewalk. She had long ago perfected the walk of not too fast and not too slow. Fast enough to seem like she belonged, like she had a purpose, but slow enough so as not to appear as if she were running from something, as if she had something to hide.  

She didn't smile at anyone, but she didn't frown at anyone either.

She stuck her hand in the pocket of her big coat, running her fingers over the smooth box nestled there. A triumphant smile threatened to break through her mask of polite disinterest, but then she saw the second cat. Slightly unnerved, she unconsciously quickened her pace, the urge to smile disappearing.

It's fine, she told herself. And then she felt something soft brush her leg. She looked down and began to tremble ever so slightly. Her fingers tightened around the box. "It's a coincidence," she said out loud. She moved one foot over the cat and then the other, resisting the urge to step on its fluffy tail.

She came to a crosswalk and stopped to wait for the light. Her skin felt prickly, and she wanted to cross the street now, run straight through the traffic and get far, far away. The light seemed to be taking an abnormally long time to change. Stop being so irrational, she told herself. Nothing happened. You saw a few cats. So what? They don't have time to train cats to follow you. They don't even know who you are.

The light turned. She started to cross, and then she saw another cat waiting across the street. She stopped abruptly, unease crawling down her throat and into her stomach like spiders.

Everything would be fine. She'd just go a different direction. She turned back the way she had come and ducked into a side street. 

She found herself on a narrow path between two rundown apartment buildings. Clothes hung from the windows above her, and weeds snaked out of cracks in the pavement, crawling up the crumbling brick walls of the buildings. The apartments blocked the sun and somehow the shadows seemed to be watching her. She walked faster, beginning to feel claustrophobic. Suddenly, a meow pierced the air. Heart stuttering in her chest, she looked up and saw a cat perched on a window ledge. "Coincidence," she whispered, but she began to run. 

As she ran out of the alley she crashed into an old lady, knocking both of them to the ground. She picked herself up and opened her mouth to apologize but her voice stuck in her throat.

"Oh, I'm sorry dear," said the old lady, "are you all right?"

She didn't respond, staring at the cat in the old lady's arms, head spinning.

"Dearie?" The old lady looked concerned.

"Is that your cat?" She choked out.

"Oh, yes, this is Timothy." The old lady smiled. "Would you like to pet him?"

"NO!" She jumped back. Her lungs didn't seem to be working. She gasped for breath.

"Sweetie, you don't look very good." The old lady looked worried again. 

The cat was staring at her. And then she noticed the other cat creeping up behind the old lady. Could seven cats still be a coincidence? Panic slipped into her bloodstream and filled up her brain, coating her organs with slime.

"They're after me," she gasped, eyes wide and crazed, chest tightening.

"Who is, darling?"

"The Black Cats," she whispered.

"Honey, black cats can't hurt you. I promise Timothy is completely harmless." The old lady reached out as if to comfort her.

She jerked back. "No. Not black cats. The Black Cats. Don't you understand? The Black Cats! THE BLACK CATS!" She was sobbing now, hysteria pumping waterfalls out of her eyes.

"Okay, dear, just calm down. I'm going to call somebody to come help you. Do you have any family I can call? Dear?"

She felt a scratch on the back of her leg. There was another cat behind her. A scream tried to escape her throat but got stuck in the panic slime. The old lady was still trying to talk to her, but she couldn’t hear anything over the incessant wailing in her head, shrill like the sirens of an ambulance. She couldn't stay here. She pushed past the old lady and started to run. Maybe she could still make it if she ran fast enough.

She squeezed her eyes shut and ran and ran and ran. She didn’t feel the ground under her feet or the bite of the cold wind or the tears wet on her cheeks.  The panic made her numb, like when she’d had to have a tooth removed as a child and couldn’t stop crying until the tongue inside her mouth no longer felt like an imposter. She ran. And she ran. And then she tripped. She hit the ground with a thud, pain suddenly exploding, firecrackers in her skin, and then disappearing just as suddenly when she saw what she had tripped over. "No no no no no no no," she gasped. The cat licked a smudge of dirt off of its paw.

The pain seeped back, a slow ache now; smoldering bonfire rather than explosive firework.  She dragged herself to her feet. She was so close. She could still make it. It wasn’t too late and the cats were just cats and nothing bad was going to happen.

But then she reached into her pocket and her fingers closed around empty air. The box was gone.

She felt the explosion before she heard it, her bones cracking, fragile as tissue paper crowns.

Years later, but really only seconds, the sound reached her, masking her screams and turning everything around her dark and fuzzy.

The last thing she saw was a cat, the tenth cat she had seen that day. It sat in front of her, silent and unmoving, green eyes staring into her very soul.  Only after the last beat of her heart did it move, a blink of the eye and a twitch of the tail and a soft meow indistinguishable over the sound of burning and terror.

October 31, 2019 23:24

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RBE | We made a writing app for you (photo) | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

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