Saturday, October 19, 2013

An Ordinary Black Cat (Short Story)

As promised, I'm posting a short story to battle my fear.

I saw a black cat one day and this short story sprouted from my overactive mind.
The first time I saw the cat, I was walking back home from work. I wouldn't have paid any particular attention to it, if not for its black velvet fur and bright yellow eyes. It was not often I saw a cat like that. The kind of cat featured in folktales about witches or the devil. The kind of cat that people believed brought bad luck if it crossed the street in front of them. That kind of cat.

But truth to tell, I thought it was probably just an ordinary black cat.

It sat still on the lawn of someone’s front yard with its head turned the other way, ignoring the people who walked by, just a few feet away. After that one time, I never expected to see it again.

However, when I stepped out of the house to get the mail on the very next day, there it was. Almost as if waiting for me to notice it. It crossed the front yard and paused to look at me for the briefest second, before it was on its way.

And then I started seeing it at the most unexpected times. I would gaze out of the kitchen window in the middle of doing the dishes and it would return my gaze from the backyard, before jumping the wooden fence to the other side. I would randomly look out of my bedroom window and see it perched on the charcoal-tiled roof of my neighbor’s house and it would turn its head to look at me at that exact moment.

The days stumbled after each other. It became a little game of sorts. I would spot it and it would pause to acknowledge me, before running along. Not a day passed without our unspoken exchange.

Until one day, a full fortnight after I’d first seen it, it came treading along as I stepped out on the front porch on my way out. This time it stopped and sat a couple of yards away from me, waiting like it wanted to tell me something. Unfortunately, I didn’t speak cat.

It turned out, I wouldn’t need to. I’d barely locked the front door when I accidentally dropped my keys. I cursed, bending to retrieve them. But the cat swooped over them and scooted away in a flash.

“What the–?” I turned around to find the cat standing several yards away, with my keys firmly held in its maw. I cursed again.

This was new. I tucked long wisps of my golden brown hair behind my ear, muttering to myself, “Today is not your day, Blake.” They hadn’t called me Calamity Blake back in college for nothing, I decided.

Holding out my fingers, I eased toward it carefully and crooned. “Here Kitty Kitty, gimme my keys. I’ll give you a bowl of milk when I get back. Promise.”

To my growing alarm, it treaded a few steps further away and threw me this look over its shoulder. “Come and get them,” its yellow eyes seemed to say. A challenge.

I groaned. The last thing I needed was for the cat to make off with my keys for whatever reason. I wondered what I would tell my boss. “Sorry, I’m late. A black cat ran away with my keys.” Oh, man.

The more I tried to get closer to it, the further away it ran from me and soon I found myself jogging along behind it, feeling more than a little silly. I noticed that it would stop ever so slightly to check on me from time to time as if to make sure I was still following.

I chased the black cat all the way through the suburban neighborhood where I lived until we reached a memorial park, some fifteen minutes' walk away from my house. At that point, I was out of breath and patience.

“Just give me my goddamn keys,” I hissed, when the cat finally stopped next to an old fountain in the middle of a cedar grove. It settled back on its haunches, dropped the keys and fixed me with innocent golden eyes.

Breathing a sigh of relief, I snatched my keys back, before it could change its mind. “What is up with you?”

It simply gave a meow in response. I sighed. Silly old me. What had I expected? For it to grant me three wishes like some sort of magic cat from the fairy tales of days long forgotten?

Part of me was disappointed. But the other part of me was also giddy. This entire crazy episode had brought me back to the carefree days of my childhood when I didn’t feel afraid to wander under bushes to see what hid under there or climb a chain-link fence just to see if I could.

Glancing around, I wasn’t sure where exactly in the park we were, for having never wandered in this area before. My gaze stopped on the fountain. Green slime coated its gray stone and the trickle of running water was clearly missing. It was obvious that the fountain had known neglect for quite some time now.

I noticed the cat’s gaze was now fixed on the fountain and this was when I saw the inscription that was carefully engraved in the rim of the fountain’s lower tier.

Kneeling down, I crawled forward to get a closer look at the inscription, which turned out to be written in French – I knew all that French I'd learned in college would pay off one day.

“La Fontaine des Souhaits,” it read. The Wishing Fountain. And below in smaller letters, “Quel est le desir de votre coeur?” What is your heart’s desire?

A wistful smile tugged at my lips. Such a silly whimsical question. What was it that I wished for more than anything else? I’d always dreamed of travel and as yet unlived adventures, of going wherever it pleased me to without a care for the world.

I ran a finger over the question and sighed. It wasn’t as if I could leave everything and just go off to wander around the world to my heart’s content. My hand dropped to my side and just at that moment a third line appeared.

I blinked and suddenly my temple began to pound. I was pretty sure the third line hadn’t been there a second ago. I raised a hand to my throbbing temple and made out the bonus words.

“Que le desir du coeur soit le votre pour le prix d’une larme et d’un sourire”, it read. Your heart’s desire shall be yours for the price of a tear and a smile.

I frowned. What did it mean? I had a bad feeling about this. I turned to the cat then and saw a single tear roll down its furry face. That was the last thing I saw before I blacked out.
###
When I came to again, I found my surroundings blurred. It took me a moment to get my bearings. My vision cleared somewhat and I raised my head to find the fountain looming above me. I must have fallen down, I realized.

“I owe you one.” It was my voice, except I hadn’t spoken.

I turned my head in the direction of the voice – my voice – to find…myself, dressed as I’d been this morning in a white-cotton shirt, skinny jeans and ankle boots. The image of me stared back at me, dark eyes dancing with mischief and rose-colored lips stretched in a mocking smile.

I tried to speak, but all that came out of my throat was a strangled wail. An inhuman one. I tried to get up and crawl toward her, struggling to control shaky muscles and legs that were not mine to begin with. I felt the hairs on my body rise. Not human hairs. Fur. Black fur.

And paws. And a tail. And whiskers.

The young woman that had been me gave a full-throated laugh then, the sound rich with joy born from newfound freedom.

“Thanks Caitlin Blake…wait, no that’s not right…I meant, thanks Kitty,” she purred and then turned my own back on myself, tossing my long golden brown hair over my shoulder.

Horror bloomed in me as I watched her – through the golden eyes of a black cat – walk away in my body, dressed in my clothes, wearing my face and my smile. And off she was to live my life, bearing my name. Caitlin Blake. All for the price of a smile and a tear.
###
As for me, I’d gotten my wish to wander freely without a care for the world. And ever since, I may or may not have escaped the cages of my heart’s desire. Maybe I’ll even tell you one day.

If you ever come across a black cat with golden eyes, don’t be afraid. Chances are it’s just an ordinary black cat. But take care, for the heart is a fickle thing and the path to its most secret desire is winding and filled with wishes you might live to regret.

Now tell me, what is your heart’s desire?
The name Caitlin supposedly means "pure" and Blake means being "dark haired/complexioned". I originally mistakenly thought Blake meant "black". I wanted the name of the main character to mean something along the lines of "pure black", but oh well, you can't always get what you want, right?

And the name Blake is also a reference to the English poet William Blake. I was never into poetry, but for some reason, I connected with some of his poems in the Songs of Innocence and Experience.

Oh and I just love this quote from one of William Blake's poems:

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

2 comments:

  1. I used to have a black cat, once upon time. He was fat, and his name was Bubba.

    What I love about your writing is the clarity. You don't overwrite, put a lot of adjectives and flowery prose, so the story moves at a fast clip.

    I also loved the French. Mostly all that I have learned has slipped away, but surprisingly I can still read it decently well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! When I first started reading Harry Potter (a long time ago), what marked me was the simplicity of its language. I learned that the most basic words can be used to weave a story into pure magic.

      I think when the story is easier to read, this in turn makes it easier for the reader to drink it in.

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