Scrabble Goes to the Vet
by Jacob Austin
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
After some surface level questions — whos, whats, wheres, whens — the detective got down to specifics.
“So, this puts you in the office right around the time of the alleged murders,” he said. His tone had started out conversational, but was becoming formal. “Did you know you were the only booked appointment that morning? The office rescheduled all other appointments that day and told the other patients it was because of renovations.”
John frowned. “No, I didn’t know that.”
“Got it,” the detective said, frowning himself. “So, with the office that quiet, you surely must have heard something.”
The pencil snap sound rang in John’s ears. The scream. The second scream. The noises he had heard in his dreams every night since the incident.
“No,” John said, grinding his teeth to accept the lie as it left his lips. “No... I didn’t hear anything. I gave up my cat, my cat was put down without my knowledge, and... I was asked to leave.”
The detective nodded and was quiet for a moment. Then he said, “I’m sorry for this, John, but for context: it was a bloody, bloody scene in there. Gerbera was beheaded when they found her. Stacey was gutted. Body parts are missing, John. They’re still missing.”
“Bloody... hell!” John said with genuine repulsion.
“This was a very violent act, John, and all the building’s cameras were off that day for some reason. So I’m asking you: you’re telling me you heard nothing at all? Because something like this doesn’t just happen in the blink of an eye.”
John fought a wave of tunnel vision and, then, only half within himself, he said, “I can’t speak to that. I already told you everything I know. It must have happened after I left.”
The detective pondered on this for a moment. “And Tim Lepp? He never mentioned you when we questioned him, you know. Why would that be? If he says he’s innocent and you say you weren’t there when it happened, then how did Patrick and Gerbera die?”
“I... I don’t know. I can’t speak for Tim either, detective. All he did was... sign me in and ask me to leave.”
“Okay, and afterwards, why didn’t you call the police to make a report? The story is all over the news. You have to admit, that’s a little suspicious.”
Butterflies ignited in John’s stomach. He clenched one hand into a fist. “Excuse me?”
“I’m just saying that, well, it’s a little suspicious you just... left and never made a report, considering—”
“Detective,” John said, “with all due respect, I’m exhausted. That monster murdered my cat. I don’t have any real friends right now — just that damn cat! I couldn’t even get her body to bury her. Everyone seems to have forgotten that part of the story! Well, I haven’t! I haven’t been able to function normally since it happened! So maybe I just wanted to be as far away from it all as possible!”
He took a sputtering breath and lowered his voice, swallowing his shame. “I told you what I know for sure... so if you want to chase some other narrative, I’ll happily get a lawyer involved.”
The detective’s voice loosened. “John, relax, we’re just talking here, okay? All I know is I currently have a bloody knife, two bodies, and two people who left the scene alive: our primary suspect and you. I’m just working with what I have. Okay?”
Neither of them spoke for a moment. “No,” John finally said. “I’m sorry. It’s just been hard.”
He provided a longer — albeit incomplete — account of what transpired at Gerbera’s office. He again went as far as his interactions with the deceased, the instances of abuse he had overheard. But he could not bring himself to relive the screams, the crashing sounds, the blood. He withheld these details; in the past few days, he wondered if he had imagined them.
Afterward, the detective said, “Thank you, John. This makes a lot more sense now, and I’m sorry about your cat.”
He paused. “That said, I want to mention one other detail before I go: you do appear to be Dr. Gerbera’s last patient, like I said, but... we found the physical records of your appointment, the only records... we found them in the trash at the office. That’s pretty much the only reason I’m here right now.”
John scowled at him. “Wait, what?”
“Yeah, we found them in a trash can at the front desk. And you had been deleted from the computer system. The file in the trash said ‘VOID: DEVIL PROTOCOL,’ written with a red marker. Do you have any idea what that might mean?”
“I... I have no idea.”
In the ensuing silence, John became aware of a sharp scraping noise coming from inside the house, which had been going on for several minutes, but had only just become loud enough to distinguish itself from the home’s typical settling sounds.
Crsshh.... crsssshhh.... crsh-crsh-crsh... crsssshh.
“Detective, I’m sorry. I... have to get back to my dinner.”
“That’s fine,” the detective said, seemingly not noticing the sound. “I think we’re done here anyway. Have a good night, John. We’ll be in touch.”
He moved to the stairs, then said, “and John, I’ll see what I can do about getting you your cat’s remains. They didn’t report finding anything the first time, but... obviously it wasn’t the main focus. I’ll have them look again. It only seems fair.”
John nodded and closed the door, instantly throwing his attention to the noise, which had grown louder.
“Who’s there?” John winced at the sound of his voice breaking the fresh silence. “Is someone...”
The noise stopped.
Didn’t I put my address on that new patient form? What if—
He closed his eyes. “Stop. Stop it!”
He stepped into the kitchen and almost tripped on Scrabble’s rabbit toy, which had remained where he dropped it after returning home from the incident. Rather than moving it, he had covered it with the blanket from Scrabble’s carrier, a pitiful makeshift memorial. Someday, when he owned property, he would bury it and make a proper grave.
John regained his balance and immediately noticed the marks on the back sliding door; they shone in the reflection of the kitchen light. Long, jagged scrapes. Deep ones. As if the glass had been keyed in the same spots again and again and again. Tiny shards glistened on the deck like morning frost.
John was two steps from the glass when he froze and held his breath. There was something out there. Something low to the ground with hunched, rigid posture. Some sort of animal.
“Hey!” He yelled with restored confidence, lifting his fist to knock on the door. “Hey, get out of—”
The shape stirred and seemed to merge with the night around it. Then it reappeared much closer to the glass, and a pair of fiery orange eyes opened. They panned the kitchen, swelled, then squinted.
For several seconds, John remained locked in catatonia. He had left his body to observe himself alongside the visitor on the deck and, from this perspective, he watched himself transition into reluctant clarity. “That’s... impossible.”
He re-entered his body and swung blindly for the door’s handle, blinking away tears as they formed. “That can’t be possible.”
The shape drifted to the door as John pulled it open. A body was coming into view, but John remained locked on the eyes, those piercing eyes that almost looked backlit. “There’s no way... no way that you—”
Then Scrabble took her first step into the light, and John clenched all the muscles in his chest, neck and face to stifle a scream. He stumbled backward, grabbing a chair to keep himself upright.
The cat had changed. Her face was now completely devoid of fur; it had fallen slightly inward — except for her chin, which protruded to a point. Her nose was more pronounced and beaklike, and her remaining whiskers were much longer. Her mouth, a fanged, dripping maw, was stained in brownish red.
John fought spasming breaths as he reached for the door again, but Scrabble, who was now roughly the size of a coyote, used her head to force her way in, revealing more of herself. A fresh wave of vertigo pushed John into a seated position on the floor.
She had wings, which bloomed from the knobs on her shoulders. They were vein-infested and bat-like, devil-like — spanning at least seven feet — and they flapped aimlessly as Scrabble huffed and took another step forward. She was straining to pull her backside through the door, as if she had snagged herself on something. Then there was a segmented rolling sound — fwump...fwump...fwump-fwump — and when Scrabble finally lurched the rest of herself inside, John unleashed a wail he could no longer suppress.
“Dear God! Help! Some...somebo...HELP!”
Scrabble’s tail — which had become a prehensile, insectoid abomination of a fifth limb — was dragging the partially skeletelized head of Haley Gerbera. It was only distinguishable thanks to a patch of skin still bearing her heart tattoo.
John tried to cry out again, but could only manage a moan. Scrabble’s ears twitched at the sound as she crept toward him, her pupils swelling to oviform, shark-like voids of nothing. She flinched at a creak in the floorboards, then gave another huff and continued forward. John could hear her breath’s density.
“Please... please, God...”
He closed his eyes and finished his prayer in silence. Scrabble’s paws were soon upon him, starting beside his shins, then moving to his knees, and finally positioning themselves on either side of his pelvis. John allowed his eyes to open in a squint, but he pulled them shut at first sight of Scrabble’s ghoulish face, which was now inches away. He caught a glimpse of a gash on her cheek.
Scrabble leaned closer. Her breath was sewage and burnt flesh. John felt her whiskers first, moist needles with a slight bend. Then her nose, a cluster of jagged cartilage. Her intermittent fur was softer than expected, but the hairless patches were its antithesis. She moved over him until her head was resting on his shoulder.
Don’t move... don’t breathe... don’t...
Suddenly, she jerked her body and rolled off of him. Then there was a new sound, similar in cadence to the one from earlier. Fmp. Fmp. Fmp-Fmp. Fmp.
Then silence. John kept his eyes closed, but could feel temptation tickling his eyelids. “Please, God... help me... please... just —”
He stood and opened his eyes quickly, to get it all over with and, though his heart continued to hammer away at his ribs, he was overcome with confused relief.
Scrabble lay sprawled across the kitchen floor, her wings retracted and her front paws wrapped around the rabbit toy, which she had pulled from under the blanket behind John. She was making a strange noise; at first, it sounded like gargling or choking, but a closer listen revealed a familiar noise, the same one made by the hopeful cat that had waited for days on John’s front steps.
The cat, or whatever the hell it was, was purring.
Scrabble returned to her feet with a flap of her wings. She positioned herself beside Haley Gerbera’s head and gazed up at John, squinting and continuing her ungodly purr. There were more gashes on her abdomen, most of them healing. She licked at one of these wounds, then bent over and nudged Gerbera’s head with her own. It rolled forward until it came to a rest against John’s shoes.
John took a deep breath, unable to look away from the horrific gift staring up at him — one of Gerbera’s eyes was missing, the other was a rotting grape — and then, impossibly, he felt his mouth form into a smile. “This... this still doesn’t impress me... you know.”
He started to laugh uncontrollably. Maybe in subconscious defense of his sanity. Maybe out of relief that he was still alive and intact. He would spend the rest of his life wondering.
He picked up Gerbera’s head by a clump of hair, moved it to the corner and covered it with the carrier blanket. Then, after his retching had transitioned back to laughter, he grabbed the rabbit toy and ran into the living room. Scrabble chased him eagerly, her claws ruining the floor, and they played there for the next 20 minutes. Five picture frames and a lamp were broken in the process, but John did not care.
When they were both out of breath, they sat next to each other on the floor. Scrabble rammed her head affectionately against John’s arm and, after a quick flinch — he was still adapting to her face — he looked into her eyes and stroked her chin.
Slowly, his mind returned to the problem in the kitchen, the decaying horror under the blanket. Scrabble squinted at him as he stood and paced, the rabbit toy wedged in her fangs. She could have shredded it in 10 seconds flat.
“I’ll be right back, okay? You just hold on to that for me.”
When he returned a few minutes later, Scrabble had fallen asleep beside the wood stove; she now dwarfed the space she had previously occupied there. Her wings were folded tightly against her torso.
John reached down and scratched her ears, carefully avoiding her tail’s stinger where it lay point-up. “I’m glad you’re back, sicko.”
Then, making as little noise as possible, he opened the wood stove door and dropped Haley Gerbera’s head inside.
Copyright © 2020 by Jacob Austin