Revenge of the Black Cat
Maybe it was the season. Halloween is known to mess with the minds of men. But this wasn’t the first time.
Cold, crisp air, the still quiet of the night interrupted only by the sounds of crunching leaves with every footstep. The old fashion streetlamp at the corner gave the moon a nice assist as a cloud lazily drifted by, making sure Carl would get a good look at it…again.
The cat was small in size and never threatening in demeanor. In fact, it never even moved. It just looked, stared with piercing grey eyes. Carl wasn’t superstitious, so the jet black color didn’t bother him. It was the look, the eyes, the stare that kept bringing him back to that terrible night so long ago, a haunting memory he couldn’t escape.
He had seen it everywhere, out his kitchen window, looking down at him as he drove beneath an overpass, in the parking lot at work, in a tree at City Park. He once caught the glint of its sinister eyes in the corner of his darkened bedroom. Carl spent the next three nights in a motel.
Halloween gave it added effect. It was in its usual posture, sitting, motionless and staring. Carl froze for a moment, backed up a few steps, then turned and ran. The passage of time and the frequency of the visits did little to diminish the terror Carl felt at the sight of the menacing black cat. He raced home, slammed the door behind him, and made the usual phone call.
“Frank! I saw it again! I know it was him. Why is this happening?”
“Dammit, Carl, this is crazy. You’re seeing things. You need to see a shrink.”
Carl had seen a psychiatrist, several in fact. The same cat appearing countless times in multiple states over a period of five years was not possible. The professionals were, of course, unanimous in their opinion that the cat was a creation of Carl’s imagination, and that Carl was, in layman’s terms, “off his rocker”. But treatment was challenging as Carl could never divulge the origin of the visits.
They never meant it to happen. It was supposed to be a simple burglary with a big haul. Carl and Frank had scoped out the house, a three story mansion at the edge of town. Carl even followed the limo to the airport to make sure the owners left town. No cars in the garage or driveway, no movement, no lights. Frank was a real pro so entry was a snap. First stop, the master bedroom, searching for valuable jewelry. The flash of light in the hallway shocked both of them.
“Hey! Who’s there?!”
The mission was quickly aborted. As they fled the room, Frank ran right into him, the elderly uncle of one of the owners staying there for a few days to take care of their…cat. The old man stumbled backwards and flipped over the railing. His screams echoed throughout the house for the entire three story flight, ending with a predictable crash landing on a grand piano. The house reverberated with the thunderous off-key sound of the piano as his two hands remarkably tickled the ivories upon landing, a curious final opus for the once aspiring musician.
Carl and Frank raced down the three flights of stairs, and Frank headed straight for the door. A pang of conscience hit Carl, and he stopped to check on the body of the old man, well, at least the half that was sticking out of the piano. He didn’t need to check for a pulse as it was obvious there was no life left in mangled mess of the former cat caretaker. Carl could only look and contemplate the seriousness of the moment. They had caused the death of another human being, the most regrettable consequence of one’s actions, and Carl was paralyzed by the sight.
“Carl! Let’s go! We gotta get out of here!”
There was no reason for Carl to turn to look toward the far side of the room. An unknown force turned his head like the magnetic pull on the needle of a compass. It was sitting there, elevated on the arm of a sofa, staring, accusing, prosecuting, imprinting the images. The act had a witness, a baleful black cat.
Cats cannot report or relate a story, yet the moment shook Carl. The black cat was a messenger of guilt, shame, remorse and fear. Carl ran out of the house leaving the cat behind, but the cat would never leave Carl.
“I’m telling you, Carl, it was the same cat that has been tormenting me all these years. I can’t live with that damn cat showing up everywhere. It brings back the terrible memory. I can see it sitting on the sofa. I can’t take it anymore.”
“It’s all in your head, Carl. Forget that night.”
“I can’t. God knows I’ve tried. I can’t live with the guilt.”
“It was an accident, Carl. We never wanted to have the old guy take a swan dive off the third floor balcony. It was his fault. The guy was a complete klutz. Tripped over his own feet. But he did stick the landing.”
“Not funny, Carl. We’re responsible for a man’s death.”
“Well, there’s nothing we can do about it.”
“Maybe there is something.”
“Frank, I think we should turn ourselves in.”
“What?!! Are you out of your freaking mind?”
“We’ll explain it was an accident. We’ll get hit with the burglary, and that’s all. We can put it behind us.”
“It’s already way behind me! That case is closed. They’ll never pin anything on us as long you don’t go stupid on me. Forget it, Carl, it stays in the past.”
“Ok, then I can tell them I was alone that night. I did it, and no one else. You’ll still be in the clear, and I’ll get rid of that damn cat.”
“No way, Carl. They know we did a couple of small jobs together way back. They’ll be looking at me too. No, I can’t let you do that, Carl. Forget it.”
“I’ll try, Frank, but that damn cat…”
Carl saw a new shrink with a new approach. Carl could see the black cat, but he wouldn’t let it bother him. This nugget of psychological wisdom resulted in more cat sightings, and every appearance brought the same level of fear.
The conflict and conversations between Carl and Frank intensified. Carl’s brain was becoming more fried with every encounter, and the ensuing conversations were wearing Frank thin as he could feel his own butt getting closer to the fire. Frank’s one time partner was now his number one liability.
“Gee, Carl, I wonder why you’re calling. Could it possibly be about that stupid freaking black cat again?”
“Don’t mock me, Frank. The cat’s real. I don’t think I can take it anymore. My nerves are shot. That cat keeps bringing that night back. I can see it as clear as if it happened yesterday, the light in the hallway, the old man falling backwards over the railing, the horrible screams, the wood splitting crash, and the dead man, with that hideous trickle of blood at the edge of his mouth. And the cat, still as a rock, staring at me. The cat knows, Frank. It knows.”
“Jesus Christ, Carl! The cat doesn’t know shit. It’s a freaking cat! And probably a dead cat by now. You’re nuts, Carl!”
It continued through the seasons. New Year’s Day Carl saw the black cat out his living room window, its coal black fur mingled with white flecks of snow. That spring the cat looked like a figurine tucked in between the blooming flowers in his neighbor’s garden. One cloudless Saturday in July Carl quickly pulled up anchor and ended his day of fishing when he saw it sitting at water’s edge. Each sighting brought Carl a step closer to a complete breakdown, and the subsequent phone calls added to Frank’s concerns that Carl would someday fess up and put them both behind bars. And the most challenging of times was approaching- Halloween. That got Frank to thinking.
Frank had done time in the past, and he couldn’t risk a return visit to prison. His plan was not to minimize the risk; he would eliminate it.
A good coach attacks the deficiencies of his opponent. A creative crook with no conscience will likewise use his victim’s weaknesses to his advantage. After years of troubling phone calls from Carl, Frank was well aware of his psychotic obsession with the black cat. Carl’s fear of the feline would be the cornerstone of Frank’s plan, a plan so treacherous, so diabolical, so laden with betrayal that it made Brutus, Benedict Arnold and Ephialtes look like faithful friends to be trusted with your life.
It was simple arithmetic. If one cat drove Carl to the brink of madness, a hundred of them could push him off the edge. Frank was downright giddy as he searched the locations of Animal Shelters throughout a five county area.
“What? You’ve only got three completely black cats?”
Not a problem. A little touchup black paint would give Frank the numbers he needed.
Step #2, prime the pump of fear. Halloween night would be the perfect time.
“What’s up, Frank?”
“I saw it , Frank.”
“The cat, Carl, the black cat.”
“Oh my God. You saw it?! Are you sure it was the cat from that night?”
“It was the same cat. I could feel it. I saw it three times yesterday, on my front lawn, in the backseat of a car on the freeway, and in the parking lot at work. I’m scared, Carl.”
“I’ve been trying to tell you, Carl! Did the cat do anything?”
“Nothing. It just stared at me. It knows, Carl, it knows.”
Carl was about to lose his grip on the phone.
“And the worst part, I had a nightmare about it last night. It was terrible, Carl. I’m afraid to go to bed tonight.”
“What kind of nightmare?”
“The black cat was looking at me. It just stared. Then I heard that terrible sound from the piano when the guy hit the keys. The cat started walking toward me, slowly, steadily. I tried to run, but I couldn’t move. I was frozen with fear, Carl. You were right.”
The call didn’t bring vindication. It only amplified the terror.
“I was looking down at the cat. It sat motionless for a moment, then it sprang right into my face. It sunk its razor sharp teeth into my nose and then started clawing at my eyes. It tore my eyes out, Carl!”
Carl was shaking, sweating. He wondered if nightmares would soon be visiting him.
“Oh my God! That’s terrible, Frank. I haven’t had any nightmares over it…yet.”
“ I’m pretty shook up. I don’t want to go through what’s been happening to you. And I’m scared to death I’ll start having those nightmares.”
“I’m scared too, Frank.”
“Listen, Carl, you once said turning ourselves in might get rid of the demons. Maybe we should talk about it.”
“I think we should. I know I can’t take it anymore. When do you want to get together?”
“Away from everyone and everything. How about on the Old Mill Bridge at midnight?”
“I’ll be there.”
Preparation is important in all things, but critical in the world of the demonic double-cross. Carl had a lifetime of planning nefarious deeds, and tonight would be his masterpiece.
The setting was perfect, a full moon, a touch of chill in the air, and absolute quiet. Frank was already standing at the center of the bridge when Carl arrived.
“It’s pretty spooky out here, Frank. Maybe we should have met somewhere in town.”
“We need privacy, Carl. Hey, I’m sorry I doubted you about the black cat. I can see why you were so scared. I’m terrified after just two days of it.”
“I can’t get away from it, Frank. I’m at the end of my rope. We’ve got to figure this out.”
Frank pulled out a cigarette. The flame from the match did more than light the cigarette. It was also a signal to two unwitting accomplices, one at the end of each end of the bridge, to unleash the secret weapons, and leave the scene. Black cats, fifty at each end of the bridge, were turned loose and herded toward the two men. They hadn’t been fed for three days so they would immediately be attracted by the scent of the fish oil Frank had sprayed around the center of the bridge.
Carl was the first to see the approaching army.
Frank turned to see the threatening hoard.
“Oh my God, Carl! Let’s get out of here!”
They turned to run to the opposite end of the bridge only to see another mass of menacing felines coming toward them. Their heads spun back and forth to see both armies quickening their pace. The tape recorder Frank had placed under the bridge hit its mark right on time, and the discordant chord of a piano pierced the air as Frank struggled to conceal his smile.
“It’s that piano, Carl! He’s hitting the piano again!”
Carl was terrified. He was shaking so hard he could hardly get the words out.
“What do we do, Frank?!”
Frank looked over the bridge railing at the railroad tracks below.
“I think we jump, Carl. It’s not that far. I think we’ll make it.”
Carl peered over the railing.
“Are you crazy? I can’t jump.”
The sound of hissing, growling cats filled the air, interrupted every ten seconds by the blast of piano keys. The black cats hastened their pace as the aroma of the fish oil grew stronger.
“Do you want your eyes ripped out?! Jumping is our only chance!”
Frank was already standing on the railing. The visibly shaking Carl climbed up to join him. The look down scared him to death, but the cats, the hissing, snarling, approaching black cats were more terrifying, and every sound of the piano shot right through him. The threatening mass of black fur now swirling beneath him was all the motivation Carl needed to make the leap.
“Ok, Frank, I’m ready.”
“On the count of three. One, two…three!”
Both men flung their bodies over the side of the bridge. The flight of one was abruptly halted by a harness concealed under his coat and secured by a rope, an extraordinarily thick one, which was tied to the bridge. It would be said that the screams of the other could be heard in the next county. Carl reached the final destination with a thud.
Frank peacefully hung in midair, taking a few moments to appreciate the fruits of his labor. The smile underscored the callous cruelty of the man.
“Nice job, sucker. At least you stuck the landing.”
Frank’s mood quickly changed when he heard the moans from below.
“Jesus Christ, a forty foot drop onto railroad tracks, and the son-of-a-bitch is still alive.”
Unfortunately for Frank, Carl had survived the fall. Fortunately for Frank, he had a backup plan. The shriek of the whistle told him the “Ten-thirty” out of Cincinnati was right on time. A quick look down at the position of Carl’s body told him the train was also on target.
Though his body was racked with pain, Carl was still able to hear the train’s whistle, and to understand its implications. He struggled to get his body off the tracks, digging his fingernails into the gravel to pull himself along, inch by inch, in his desperate battle against time. Frank, hanging in the air like a puppet, could only watch…and hope. It was going to be close.
They say there wouldn’t have been enough of those little jewelry boxes in the entire state to bury Carl if every piece of him had its own packaging. Frank breathed a sigh of relief and began his upward ascent. His smile turned to laughter as he lavished praise upon himself for flawlessly executing his plan.
Frank hopped down from the railing, and began to remove the harness. He stopped at the shrill sound of the piano, and then he noticed. One hundred black cats, two hundred menacing eyes staring at him. The hissing began, and then the snarling. At his first step, one black cat leaped into his face and sunk its sharp teeth deep into his nose, while the front claws furiously dug into his eyes. Frank’s screams traveled even further than Carl’s.
Hungry cats were jumping onto Frank from every direction, digging their claws through his clothing and tearing into his flesh, snarling, biting, scratching…eating. Frank was covered with cats. From a distance he might have looked like an animated manakin at the House of Furs, or perhaps a man in a gorilla costume dancing to the occasional sounds of a piano. Up close, it was a disturbing, horrifying, gruesome site.
One hundred starving cats can do a remarkable job on the edible portions of the human body. Frank’s skeletal remains were first thought to be a discarded Halloween decoration and were placed, in a sitting position, on the bench in front of the Town Hall where it stayed until being replaced by a large turkey made by local school children. From there it was put in storage in the basement of the Town Hall. The skeleton was so lifelike that it is brought out every October and placed on that park bench as the exclamation point on the Town’s Halloween décor. The insensitive among us might be tempted to say Frank had given up his life of crime and was now, albeit unwittingly, a contributing member of society.
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I would be quite happy if a random cat showed up in my house, there are some strays that live on my street that never let me close. A cat burglar haunted by a cat? Grand piano at the bottom of the stairs? Wealthy people, will they ever learn? I can see how a cat watching that would haunt him. Pretty epic that it follows him, whether it’s literary or a hallucination. Wow, Frank is cold, the joke about the landing. He has a few pieces missing. “As long you don’t go stupid on me.” *as long as. Are they going to be caught because of their ...
Appreciate it...missing a word...this proofreading is a bitch. Writing is the fun part; proofreading is the work part. I seem to lack the discipline and patience required. I was never fond of cats. One day my wife brought my young daughter home from a friend's house. They brought a little kitten them. I thought it wouldn't that long of an ordeal as cats had a reputation for wandering off or getting run over by a car or something- the damn thing lived forever. Ok, we made our peace and he earned a place in the family. I loved coming home fro...
Cats can be very foolhardy, my last one tried to face off with a horse when he was just a kitten, only realised his mitsake just in time to leap out of the way. They are funny creatures, dignified and majestic even when they're being idiots. It takes more to earn the love of a cat and they're not afraid to go looking for a better deal.
Yeah...I guess I would have put my money on the horse. Ok, I'm ashamed to admit it but.... I'm in a temporary living situation with my son before I relocate to be closer to my grandkids. The manager across the hall has a cat...very skittish. The thing took off whenever I approached. It took months before it would let me pet him. Now we're buddies. He actually comes to our door and meows his brains out until I come out. Don't tell anyone.
No need to be ashamed of that. These are tough times everywhere. Sounds nice. I miss having a cat. I grew up always having a cat. It’s still one of the most soothing things for me to just sit with a cat. Purring is said to have health benefits for a human they’re sitting on.
I really enjoyed this! I have a black cat myself, so reading all these stories on Halloween night is quite entertaining. I especially liked the lines: "There was no reason for Carl to turn to look toward the far side of the room. An unknown force turned his head like the magnetic pull on the needle of a compass. It was sitting there, elevated on the arm of a sofa, staring, accusing, prosecuting, imprinting the images. The act had a witness, a baleful black cat. Cats cannot report or relate a story, yet the moment shook Carl. The black cat...
Thanks. I appreciate it. The space at the end...likely a result of my poor computer skills. I'm an old guy- looking back at life, that's what I wish I had done- taught English in high school or a college. A buddy of mine was a college English professor- it sounds like a pretty nice life...a really nice life. You'll get there.
Haha, thank you for the kind comment! I just enjoy the thought of reading and reviewing lots of work from students and meeting like-minded people along the way. Of course, I'm also of the mind that it's never really too late to do most things within reason; if it's within your means, go for it!
Murray, I kind of guessed that this plan of Frank's would backfire on him. I thoroughly enjoyed the story. I particularly liked the descriptions as they were vivid. One small maybe error? even further that Carl’s. - maybe should be than Carl's? You never cease to entertain with your stories. Thank you for a great read. LF6