A New Familiar
by Eric Neher
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
It was finally back. Carol Roberts watched from her kitchen window as the black cat squeezed through the white pickets that separated her house from her enemies, casually sniffing its way through the yellow roses and tulips that she had planted just two weeks before.
“Come on, you little snot!” she whispered. The cat took another couple of steps and then stopped. Carol felt her face begin to heat up as she watched the cat lift its tail and squat back. Normally she would have rushed out of the door with her broom in hand, but those days were over. A blue plastic bowl was still sitting where she had placed it earlier that morning and, besides the few unlucky birds that had managed to grab a quick bite, it still held enough to do the job.
She adjusted her horn-rimmed glasses and leaned towards the pane of glass. The cat was only a few feet from the bowl; surely it could smell the food from that distance. But what else could it smell?
She had gone to the store the day before for a can of cat food: a chunky, beef-flavored meal that looked like it could be served at a restaurant. Karl Jenkins was working the register and congratulated her for getting a pet, no doubt assuming that she was trying to fill the void that had been left after the death of her husband.
Well, let the idiot high-school dropout think what he wanted; the truth was that she was done. No more would she try and reason with her nutty neighbor, not that she really ever had, unless you consider calling the police extending an olive branch. Of course, the police were just about as helpful as orange juice was for cancer and had only pleaded with her to try and get along with the young, big-boobed woman next door, actually quoting the Good Book to her.
Once back home, Carol grabbed the Rat-X out from under the sink. She took the bowl from the cupboard and opened up the can, pouring in the cat food while stirring in a spoonful of poison. Carol had waited until just before sun-up and then crept out into the flower garden, placing the bowl where the cat couldn’t miss it.
It was only fair that her neighbor should suffer, especially after what she had put Carol through. The lady had moved in two years before. She was young and blonde, built like one of those beach-volleyball players that Jack had liked to watch sometimes on the sports channel. That had mattered very little to Carol; she only hoped that the new neighbor would finally do some work on the house. It had belonged to Mr. Carter, a World War II vet who had outlived every member of his family and whose concern for neighborhood appreciation had died along with his wife.
For fifteen years, the house had sat neglected; its paint went from faded to chipped while the winds tore at the three tab shingles on the weathered roof, sometimes flinging them into Carol’s yard. Once the old man died, the house was given to some distant relative living in California who wanted nothing to do with Noble, Oklahoma and immediately put it on the market.
* * *
As time went by it became very clear to Carol that the new neighbor cared for the upkeep of her house even less than the old man had; at least he had mowed the lawn. She seemed content to let it grow until it resembled a Kansas prairie. Plus, the lady was probably a lesbian; why else would she have all these young women coming in and out of her house at all hours? That was what her husband Jack had said only a few days before he had died, and she was sure that he had been right.
“She’s probably paying them for sex,” he had said. “Or maybe they’re a cult, I mean just look at them.” And some of them did look downright scary; tattooed and sporting hair so short that you would think that they were marines, but it was what they did there that Carol found most alarming. It wasn’t something that she would ever admit to, no, sir, not even if she was forced to put her hand on the Bible but, one night, after Jack had gone to bed, she did creep over to the neighbor’s house just after a couple of those ‘girls’ had arrived. The curtains were closed except for where a low orange glow flickered through a small sliver in the center.
Carol had paused a few feet away, her heart pounding. She heard a sudden burst of laughter, which could only have been drug-induced. For a moment, she considered going back to get her cell phone; one good video and their problem would be solved, but it had taken all of the courage that she had to get this far. Instead, she slowly made her way up to the window and peered through the gap in the curtains.
The room was mostly dark, except for a few candles burning here and there. The three women were sitting at a round table. Carol put her face close to the glass, trying not to breathe. She could see her neighbor with her head tilted slightly back and her eyes closed and noticed that they were all holding hands, just like lesbians would do, and she could hear them chanting.
Carol pressed her face even closer, trying to make out what they were saying; it sounded like a foreign language. Just then something crashed against the window, knocking the curtains open. Carol let out a startled scream and stepped back. A pair of yellow eyes glared at her with viper pupils slit razor-thin; it was that damn cat, growling at her like some kind of watchdog.
“Good boy,” said a voice from inside.
“What was it?” said another voice.
“Just my neighbor,” said the first voice. “She’s been there a while.” Carol turned and fled across the yard without looking back. Once inside, she locked the door and made her way upstairs to the bathroom. She quietly shut the door behind her and sat down on the toilet seat, placing her head into her shaking hands.
How did that woman know? Maybe she had security cameras in place and Carol hadn’t noticed them. But that cat? What cat does that? She sat there for a few more minutes willing her heart rate down and waiting for the trembling to subside. Finally, she stood up and opened the medicine cabinet, grabbed her trusty bottle of valium and took two.
Later, she lay next to Jack, his snoring all but silenced by the thoughts thundering in her mind. For a moment, she considered telling him what she had seen and quickly decided against it. Carol had been trespassing, and she was sure Jack wouldn’t like that; besides, she wasn’t sure he’d believe her.
The next morning was like every other morning, with Carol cooking the bacon and over-easy eggs while Jack sat at the table reading the sports page, his coffee steaming from the Oklahoma City Thunder cup that she had bought him for his birthday.
Jack finished his breakfast and stood up, giving her his ceremonial peck on the cheek and headed for the door, leaving his plate for her to pick up. She grabbed the dish and made her way to the sink and began to scrub. Suddenly a high-pitched scream ripped through the room. Carol dropped the plate, shattering it on the tile floor and rushed out to find Jack leaning against the front doorway.
“Look at this!” he said, his face flushed. A dead blue jay had been left on their porch, its head separated and propped up on what was left of its neck.
“What the hell?” he panted. “What would do that?”
“It’s gotta be the neighbor’s cat,” she said.
“Why would it leave it on our porch?” said Jack. It wasn’t so much that there was a dead bird now spread out in pieces at his feet as it was the initial shock. Jack had been flirting with hypertension for years, and it didn’t take much to set him off.
“I don’t know,” said Carol but the image of that cat growling at her from the night before played back in her mind. “It’s a cat, Jack. They do things like this.”
“I know that,” snapped Jack. “And that’s why I hate them, I mean look at this poor thing.”
“It’s just a cat,” she said.
“Well, if I see it, I’ll kill it,” he said and looked over at the neighbor’s house. “Do you hear me?” he yelled out. “If I see that cat, I’ll kill it!” Carol thought she saw the curtains shift, but couldn’t be sure.
The next morning Jack was greeted by a disemboweled mouse, its guts were strewn across the doorway.
“That’s it,” he said, the vein in his head pumping through the skin. “I’m going over there and putting a stop to this right now!” Carol reached out and grabbed him by the shoulder. Jackl looked back at her, his eyes filled with a rage that she hadn’t seen since his drinking days, back when he wasn’t afraid to lay down the law. She drew back her hand.
Jack stood rigid for a moment longer, his breath coming out like an overheated steam engine, and then his shoulders suddenly slumped. The flame died down in his eyes, and the pulsating vein slowed until it was once again mostly hidden under his blotchy skin. “We can’t keep letting it do this!” he moaned.
“We don’t even know for sure if it was that cat,” she said. “I mean we need proof.” Jack rubbed the bald spot at the top of his head and said, “We need cameras.”
“For a cat?” said Carol. “I’ll just stay up tonight with my phone and record it, then we can call the police.”
Jack looked at her for a moment then gave her a quick hug. “That sounds like a plan.”
* * *
That night she waited up with a fresh cup of coffee in hand. Jack had gone to bed a couple of hours before. Thirty years they had now been married, not all of them good. There were times when Carol had questioned herself, especially during Jack’s violent episodes often fueled by Wild Turkey. But time seems to always find a way of solving such problems, one way or another. With Jack, it was the death of their only son.
Colby was only seventeen when he took the bottle of whiskey out of his father’s liquor cabinet. He was supposed to be going over to a friend’s house to study for finals but boys will be boys, they say. They had received a phone call at three the following morning, the kind that no parent ever deserves to get. Colby had gone off of Thunderbird Bridge and was most likely killed on impact. It was the first time that Carol had seen Jack cry. She had been sitting in her recliner, watching but not really seeing as he cleaned out every bottle of alcohol from the cabinet. Jack never touched a drop again.
Carol looked at the clock on the stove, 2:00 a.m. The cat wasn’t coming.
The next night, she waited again, turning out all of the lights, and still, the cat never showed. After the fourth night, they decided that maybe it was over.
For the next few days, all was quiet. Carol would occasionally see the feline lying on their neighbor’s porch, its tail whipping around while it watched her planting her early spring flowers, its yellow eyes narrowed like it was taunting her. What kind of cat does that?
Then came that Friday morning, and the final twenty-four hours of Jack’s life. Carol was again in the kitchen, and the cat was almost forgotten, when suddenly a shout echoed through the house and it wasn’t at all like the startled cry from before; this was more like a war cry.
Carol dashed out of the front door and found Jack standing with his hands clenched into bone-white fists, the vein in his head now bubbling under his skin. Carol followed his gaze and let out a gasp. A large brown turd sat on the polished red hood of Jack’s brand new Escalade.
“That’s it!” he yelled out. “That bitch is paying for this!” Carol watched Jack march across the lawn like a Spartan soldier and begin to pound on the neighbor’s door. The woman opened the panel and immediately tried to close it, but Jack put his foot into the doorway blocking it, his face glowing red as he screamed at the cowering woman.
Carol stood there watching it all from her driveway, a smile now plastered across her face. Jack’s temper was fierce and, although it had simmered with age, it was still a force to be reckoned with. She was sure that would be the end of the cat, but she was wrong.
The next morning was Saturday, Jack’s day off, and he was sleeping in. Carol decided to make a quick run up to the market to grab some cherry-filled danishes, Jack’s favorite. She grabbed her keys and opened the front door and let out a shriek.
Every night since that day, she lay alone in bed waiting for the pills to kick in and wondering what would have happened if she had just stayed quiet, but how could she have? The shredded opossum, with its eyes littering the threshold, its bloody jaw and severed placed on the handrail of the steps, was enough to make a Spartan squeal.
It was during these late hours, the hours when the loneliness finally caught her because there was nowhere left to run, that Jack’s last moments replayed in her mind. The sound of his heavy footsteps echoing down the stairs, his face going from crimson to purple as he pushed past her out the door. He would have killed the cat right there and then and, most likely, the neighbor as well, had his brain not suddenly hemorrhaged while taking his first step off of the porch.
It was always during these shadowed hours that the sound of Jack’s skull cracking against the concrete step hit her like a shot of adrenaline, causing her eyes to shoot open while his final gurgling exhalations vanished into the barren bedroom walls.
* * *
“Go on,” said Carol, watching the cat finish its dirty business in her flower bed. “Eat the food.” The cat suddenly looked up at the window. Carol felt a sudden bolt of fear and stepped back. Did this beast from hell see her? Impossible: the blind was mostly drawn and the sun was shining into its eyes, but still, she couldn’t be sure.
The cat began to move slowly forward taking swipes at some of the flowers as it did. Carol watched this without noticing that her hands had begun to shake. She was just about to give up and grab the broom when the cat stopped at the bowl. It sniffed at it for a moment, and Carol was sure that it wasn’t going to take the bait. The broom sat just a few feet away in the corner by the back door. She might not be able to get to the cat before it fled across the lawn, but by God, she would certainly try. It was then that the cat took its first bite. Carol stood watching, a smile cracking its way across her otherwise stone-like face.
* * *
Copyright © 2019 by Eric Neher