It’s Halloween, but I don’t have anything prepared. No costumes for the kids, no candy for trick-or-treaters (somehow it was already eaten…seriously, I have NO IDEA what happened to those fun sized Butterfingers!), not even any decorations are up yet. But I figured you wouldn’t mind too greatly if I recycled a short story from a few years ago. My apologies to those who have already read it. Happy Halloween!
Velvet Cat (2007)
I stood behind my mother on the third stair as she opened the front door. The wood expanded in the humidity, so she had to pull it hard enough to rattle the glass pane a little. Anytime the door bell rang, my brother, sister and I felt compelled to stand on the stairs behind Mommo and peer around the banister. I would say it was just the curiosity of small children, but I still do such things to this day. The moment the door was pulled open, I knew I would never forget that day. Our neighbor stood framed by the door jam on the porch with the bleak grey backdrop of the street behind her. She had a halo of frizzy, peroxide blonde hair that stuck out in all directions. She hadn’t yet gotten dressed for work. She stretched out her arms to show my mother a balled up bath towel.
“Is this your cat?” she asked casually.
“Yes,” Mommo said quietly as she took the bundle and shoved us back up the stairs. The wood creaked and the glass pane rattled as she pushed the door shut with her butt. I peaked at the cat wrapped tightly in it’s colourful shroud. She had been wrapped in an old beach towel that was deep blue with brightly coloured hot air balloons in alternating patterns. But it was old and had a couple of holes in it, either from mice or from hanging on a nail for too long.
The cat was my sixth birthday present. She was more than a kitten, but less than a cat when she was brought to our house. She was very scared that day, and I tried to trap her in a red milk crate to look at her. I had many stuffed toy cats and my favorite one was Figaro, who had been stitched together out of pieces of velvet cloth. I had always wanted a real cat and had a hard time convincing Daddo that I really would take care of one. But now I had one and I was elated. I named her Velvet. Eventually she became accustomed to me and the house on Mountain Road. She remained an outdoor cat and acted more like a stray than a permanent resident. She never allowed us to capture her, so she was never taken to the vet. She had had several litters of kittens and always allowed me to look at them before anyone else.
She was never afraid of anything, least of all the street. The cat had been hit by a car, probably the night before or early that morning. A lot of people sped on our road, and since it had been raining, they probably weren’t going to risk skidding to a stop for a cat. Her grey fur was clumped into tufts by the grime from the street. I don’t remember thinking anything, just how strange and inanimate she looked wrapped up in as a soggy bundle.
Mommo didn’t want her in the house, so my brother and I buried her in the back yard. It was barely spring time in Connecticut, and being the small children that we were, we found it very difficult to dig a hole deep enough to bury her in. My brother made a small indent in the firm ground just beyond the property line and I laid the tiny corpse inside. Then we gathered up stones to cover her. I found a large flat one that sealed her up inside like a headstone to a tomb. The rain picked up and we ran inside. The burial that my brother and I had performed earlier that day had been more than something routine for me. It ended up meaning something.
I don’t remember going to sleep that night, but I do remember dreaming. It was so vivid and terrifying. I was dreaming that my cat had not died and Velvet was an evil individual. She had blades for claws and used them to try and remove my baby sister’s scalp. I picked up a chair from the dining room and threw it at Velvet, hitting her on the head. She screamed like a banshee then spoke with a hiss. Her tongue was forked, like a snake.
“Yous ssshould not haves-done sssat!” She narrowed her eyes into little slits, then, with her claws stretched out, she leapt into the air toward me. The baby’s screams woke me up.
I put my hands over my mouth to stop the sound coming from my throat.
It wasn’t dark in my bedroom. The street light emitted an eerie yellow glow across my bed and on the wall. Long dark shadows stretched across my room and snaked over my bed covers, over my pillow, over me! Shrieks from cat fights filtered in between windy gusts that shook window panes and creaked tree limbs. I was terrified, but not turned to stone. I was afraid that my cat would find me in my bedroom and I longed for the comfort of my parents. I had never gone to my parents’ bed because of a bad dream before, but I had heard of other children doing it.
Tentatively, I set a cold, bare foot on the bottom of the attic steps. It creaked loudly under my weight. My father snored at the top. Each stair groaned as I cautiously made my way up. The risers were missing on the attic stairs and the gaping empty holes gave my imagination yet another play thing. I thought I could feel damp, furry paws reaching through the dark and grabbing at my toes. I wanted to scurry, but it made too much noise. By the time I reached the landing my heart was pounding so hard that it made me deaf to all but the rushing in my ears. The furniture, bookcases, oversized dolls’ house, and sheer lace curtains made ghastly shadows that slowly crept across the floor and walls, following me as I made my way through the clutter of their attic bedroom.
The attic was a large open room with two big windows, one at each end. The window at the top of the stairs looked out the front of the house onto the rainy street. The other, which loomed over their bed, looked out to the backyard and over Velvet’s shallow grave. The first portion of the room that was closest to the stairs was used as an office/sitting room. A tall metal bookcase was used as a divider between this portion and their sleeping portion. On the other side of the bookcase was an old upright piano with many dings and scratches in its ebony finish. An antique dresser and writing desk stood against the wall and alongside the window like a sentry, fearfully guarding against something in the treacherous night. The double bed sat in the middle of this scene with my parents sprawled out, arms and legs poking out from the corners of the covers and my mother’s mess of curly red hair splayed all over the pillows.
A free standing close rack leaned a little to the left next to the piano. I clung to the hanging dresses feverishly as I stared at my slumbering parents. Would they be angry if I did not sleep in my own bed? Would they think my dream was silly? Exhaustion and fear battled it out while I wiped a frustrated tear on the sleeve of one of Mommo’s dusty garments.
Cautiously, I approached the bed. I wondered how she could sleep through the reverberating wheezing and snoring of my father’s slumber. The wooden floor whispered out a soft groan as I quickly climbed into the bed next to my mother. I was cold without the comforter, but could not weasel my way under it. There wasn’t much room and I didn’t have a pillow. I thought about my green cuddle blanket that was still in my own bed. Despite my discomfort, this had to be better than my own room. I abandoned the idea of retrieving the green blanket and inched closer to the edge of the bed; I did not want to disturb Mommo.
When thunder crashed, the dresser-sentry did little good. Garish trees made claw like shadows that ran across the room, reached across the bed, and grabbed me by the wrists. I stifled a shriek as I fought to get lose from the cold grip. I twisted and turned, but would not wake up my parents. They would be so angry to know that I was out of bed. When I finally broke loose from my assailant, my mother shifted position, which ejected me from the mattress. I tumbled through the clothes, ripping them from their hangers, and knocked my head on the peddles of the piano. The strings vibrated deep within it’s throat and a calamitous note mingled with the sound of bare tree limbs scratching window panes.
A snuffle and a grunt was my father’s only response.
I lay on the floor beneath the piano, clutching the fallen dresses to me, fearful that I had disturbed someone. I gazed in horror at what I thought was the back of Mommo’s head. I was mistaken; it was not her beautiful curly red locks, strewn about on the pillow. Instead it was the distorted face of an angry lion-cat bearing it’s fangs. It’s eyes lolled around in it’s furry head until it found me staring at it. It locked eyes with me and laughed.
“Do you want to die?” it hissed, softly at first. “Do you want to die, do you want to die,” it kept repeating, louder and louder until it was a roar that filled the entire house. I wanted it to stop. It was going to wake up every one if it kept screaming like that. I begged it in tearful whispers to be quiet, but it was unrelenting. Three kittens jumped up onto the bed and were prancing around on top of the covers, scratching at the pillows, and throwing down feathers into the air. When they had thoroughly destroyed the bed covers they began scratching at each other and each piece of flesh and fur that came off between their claws morphed into a new kitten. Twenty or so angry, biting kittens scattered around the room.
My father never wanted the animals in the house, and I knew that he would be very angry if he woke up to find that I had brought this many kittens into the house, especially into his bedroom. I wanted to take them outside, but I was afraid that if I came out of hiding from under the piano, they would tear me to bits as well. They were all yowling and hissing, making such a racket, but somehow they did not disturb my family.
A beautiful, sleek Siamese stepped in from the rain and between the lace curtains onto the sill, then gracefully leapt to the old sentry-dresser top. She tactfully licked her paws and flicked her tail. All the kittens puffed up their tails and seemed to have grown twice their size, but at least they weren’t fighting or hissing anymore. They stared at the Siamese and threw out arched postures like they would attack her. Though she looked more like a shadow on the wall than a real cat, her eyes flashed green. Her presence was unmistakably real. She let out a low moan, like a deranged animal in heat.
I curled up into the fetal position and pulled more clothes off their hangers. I tried to cover myself with sweaters and suit jackets to hide my presence, but I still couldn’t look away. I left a little hole in the pile so that I could peek out. The Siamese was now standing on all four paws with her tail straight out. It was pointed and sharp. Her green eyes scanned the room from side to side even though her head did not move. White glowing teeth curled up into a sneaky smile. Her moaning sounded almost painful and was getting louder. All the kittens with their spiky fur rallied around her with the same terrifying grin. The red lion that had been in my mother’s hair also joined them. They formed a freak parade of mangy cats around the ceiling, chanting and hissing, “Do you want to die, do you want to die!” Their screeching and wailing grew louder and louder as they slowly crept and circled their way around the whole room.
A car drove by outside and the headlights lit up the whole room for a moment. In the light I saw all the cats in fine detail; the colour of each one’s fur, their markings and stripes, the dirt and water from the storm, their extended claws. These cats were not shadows. They pranced about on the tips of their claws as if they were wearing cleats. Their teeth and claws glinted like metal. Their mouths were gaping open in chant and all their razor teeth were exposed. They circled in closer and closer to the piano. I could smell their wet fur and I could feel the first kitten prick my skin through the clothes.
I had to wake up my parents.
I screamed for Mommo.
I had pink and blue floral patterned curtains in my bedroom and a pale blue carpet on the floor. There was a square of weak sunshine on the carpet that made an even paler patch of blue. I shoved my face between the curtains and found that the street light was out. My green blanket was still over my head, causing my hair to tangle. My stuffed toys were still at the foot of the bed except for Figaro, the velvet cat. He stood on all four paws in the center of the patch of sunshine in the middle of my bedroom. His thin shadow reached to the edge of my bedskirt.