An Older Tale short story from before the world of The Rising Tentacle.
There has always been something about cats that disturbed me. Kittens are cute, they are soft, balls of playful fluff but there is a certain time when the playful aspect turns. They become well, serious. The time cannot be defined, there is no specific point in time that we can discern. It just, happens.
I had known people with cats and had never given them a thought. To me, they neither positively or negatively impinged upon my day to day conscious. That was until I moved away to the outskirts of that little town where my studies had taken me. I took up lodgings alone, in a small house that sat disjoint from the rest of the town, out over a small bridge that straddled a stream. It was old, ran down in some respect but perfect for the seclusion of my needs. I had no requirement for integration into community and should I require the need of company, the small trek over the bridged stream would no doubt afford me endless discussions with shop owners and passers-by eager for knowledge of my past, present and future.
I may have seen the cat, days before but without actually registering its existence but I recall it was the Wednesday of my second week on a July morning as I had awoken and come down stairs to boil the kettle. Casting a glance out of the window whose curtain I had not bothered to close the previous evening, I caught sight of the black cat. It sat, proud and erect on the driveway down to the road. It’s air subtly confirmed my lifelong belief in the superiority of cats. It neither looked, nor did it not look back at me. It just looked. I turned for some reason of domesticity and turned back but the cat was gone. Walked its way away as is the want of cats I thought, then thought no more about it. That day I had decided to go into the town to purchase provisions and see one or two people who would no doubt want to pass the time of day with me and ascertain information for barter in the way of small townsfolk. I washed, dressed and readied myself and set out, through the small garden and out of its gate, down the path and on to the road that passed over the bridge. A pleasanter day could not have been called for and as I walked on, the black cat I had seen earlier stood as if waiting by the stone of the low set bridge. I smiled at its shining black coat and as I footed the bridge, it turned and followed at a step behind. I stepped out on into the town.
I had thought the town teaming as I had closed the door but upon arrival, much seemed in quiet. There was the occasional movement and sound but all was not as I had expected. I made my way toward the bakery to purchase bread but upon passing the neighbouring butcher I could see a cold, cutting look from the proprietor. No matter, I put this down to the outsider concept and was confident in my own abilities to win over the townsfolk, one and all. However upon approaching the bakery, who I presumed to be the baker turned the sign that hung in the door window to read closed. He stepped from the door and disappeared into the darkness within. I had a mind to try the door but I surmised it was now locked and had to rethink my next step so as not to appear the butt of the townsfolk’s narrow-mindedness. I headed over toward another shop, across the road from the bakery. Its door was ajar and would have taken more purpose than the baker had taken to close, lock and turn the sign. As I approached, it showed no sign of closing. The cat that had followed me remained across the street by the bakery and was licking its right fore paw. I passed over the threshold of the shop door and felt more at ease for having done so. It turned out that the shop was a bookshop that sold what looked like trinkets as well as books. The owner was at the counter and must have had a clear view of the prior proceedings.
Whether or not he understood what had happened was not apparent but became so as he uttered in a deep, slow voice “people are superstitious”.
“What, of the cat?” I questioned.
“Of the cat, of outsiders, of the old cottage by the stream and especially of outsiders from the old stream cottage with a cat” he returned.
“But it is not my cat, I came across it but today!”.
“A person does not own a cat, a cat owns a person” he said and at this point the conversation ended. I looked around what seemed to be an interesting bookshop and made a mental note of several sections I would wish to revisit at some more convenient time, made some audible thank you to the owner who was somewhere but out of view and left. I decided to return home and upon taking three steps in the direction of the cottage the cat made motion and followed. I remember thinking to myself "this is all your fault" but smiled and thought acknowledged in choosing a residence out of main thrall of the town. I reached the gate and by this time the cat had gone. Ah well, as is the want of felines I thought.“A person does not own a cat, a cat owns a person” he said and at this point the conversation ended. I looked around what seemed to be an interesting bookshop and made a mental note of several sections I would wish to revisit at some more convenient time, made some audible thank you to the owner who was somewhere but out of view and left. I decided to return home and upon taking three steps in the direction of the cottage the cat made motion and followed. I remember thinking to myself "this is all your fault" but smiled and thought acknowledged in choosing a residence out of main thrall of the town. I reached the gate and by this time the cat had gone. Ah well, as is the want of felines I thought.
I did return to the town the next day without my feline familiar and it was as if the previous day had not happened. Doors remained open, signs remained unturned and people were courteous to a fault apart from the acknowledgement of the previous day’s rudeness. But I let this pass as I had provisions and would get back to my work shortly. Back in the early evening I saw the cat in the garden chasing a firefly as it flittered about the flower-tops cast in silhouette like some dark fantasy.
The next morning, the sun woke and rose and played its game of shadows as roses, hollyhocks and cornflowers stood their ground. I stepped out into the garden and wandered amongst the players then had a mind to go for a walk in this most pleasant of weathers. I stepped in to prepare a repast of bread and cheese and flagon of water then out, through the gate and went to turn left, toward the wooded path. The black cat sat and watched and waited and as I passed by where it was, I smiled and it stepped up and walked a couple of paces behind me. The sun was bright and approaching its zenith and cast a small but hard shadow to my right and as I looked back to my following companion I noticed its feline shadow in companion with my own. He, or she for I knew not of the gender of my furred friend moved a little closer to my right and there, on the hard, sandy ground we looked as if in a shadow puppet show given freely for an invisible audience. The grass built thicker as we approached the entrance to the wood with its bushes and small Silver Birch trees and it was hard to tell wether the wood was encroaching outward or the path was encroaching inward. I suspected some balance had been universally agreed upon. Cat, as I had named him or her had moved over to my left slightly but had as yet not managed to weave in and out of my legs and feet, brushing up against me as I had seen others of its kind do on many occasion. Our shadows continued their puppetry but were about to reach their finale as we reached the edge of the wood and its shelter from the spotlight of the sun. There must have been parts of a second before we entered the wood’s penumbra which would have rendered our shadow display closed when cat’s shadow crossed mine. Crack! As if struck by lightning, a vision seared across my mind’s eye, burning a scene so vivid and fantastic that I reeled, felt about me and luckily broke my fall as I reached the green, coarse grass. I may have blacked out momentarily, I was not sure. What I do recall most vividly was the face of cat at the side of mine, its white jowl edged with pink that formed a smile as enigmatic as any Mona Lisa. It neither widened, nor narrowed but to my mind, it was a smile.
I got to my feet and at that time had no idea of what had happened. It was only upon reflection that evening back at my cottage that the shadows struck me with their possible significance. I had aborted the idea of the walk and had returned home and cat was no where to be seen. I tried to make import of the vision that had flared across my mind at that moment of exposition but I could not, it was too close, too vivid. Like looking at the sun then looking into shadow and expecting to discern detail in an instant. The next day was as the previous, bright and sunny. The evening’s rest afforded me after my examinations of the event due in some part to a consumption of sherry, had alleviated any misgivings I may have had and I once again let the sunlight stream into the main rooms from the door. The smell of herbs by the door drifted up and in and made me remember fractured memories of other times and places. I sat on the small stool to the side of the door and watched motes drift dreamily in the eye of summer. I stood and looking down the path saw cat. I was a little wary but she was not (it was she, I now somehow knew). She was positioned in the self same place she had been the other day.
“Cat” I called.
She very slowly turned her head not at all acknowledging my call. She stood from her porcelain pose and walked sedately toward me, up the garden path.
“Cat, was it you” I said. She continued to walk toward me. I was wary but also not at the same time and I knelt down to great this cat, for the first time as I then recalled. She continued walking toward me. I remember the nonchalant feline grace, like an imitation big cat in an English garden jungle of Faerie domain. I extended my hand out toward, it was if in a dream, it floated and was followed ever so slightly behind by its attendant shadow. At the same time cat reached me and her tail trailed and in a ballet of unreason our shadows crossed, my arm with her tail. A firing chiaroscuro of diadems shattering into a black oil blasted across my mind followed by searing light that burnt holes through the oil that had acted as some veil. The veil fell away and mould-pervaded scene of dead horror held my attention, gripped my mind and then infiltrated like spores seeking a host. A cloying decay invaded my mouth as I tried to scream and cut the trial in its formation and then, as I could take no more assault on my senses, from across the deadwood plain of vision oozed a presence. It purposed toward me, seeking, reaching out with forming deformities of arms, enveloping the dust and sucking death from the surface as it passed over. But it had sensed new prey. I could feel myself convulsing, the stench of mould, now starting to couple with the hot foetor of the approaching monstrosity, rotting the sinews of my very being. The puss-covered tentacles as they now appeared to be were almost upon me when lightning fired through my brain, burning new pathways through the stored memory of my existence. I remember no more.
I sit in the cottage and remember this to keep me insane for to be sane would be insanity. People shun cats, outsiders, the old cottage by the stream and me. I shun the world.
It was not cat’s fault, there was no fault, she was just, cat. Copyright © 2007, murpworks.com