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The Skoffin

It happened one day that a girl found a fluffy little white kitten while she was herding sheep. She picked the kitten up, tucked it into her skirt and brought it home with her as a pet.

But the cat would not stay indoors for long and kept itself outside, even over night. The people on the farm wondered a little about this, but in time, came used to this quirk of the small animal.

Feeding the cat, also, seemed to be unnecessary. Never did they see it eat, not even a mouse, it did not bother the chickens.

Later in the year, the cat disappeared completely. The people did not much worry, as a cat was easy to get, even one that will stay indoors and hunt mice as cats are supposed to.

So they got themselves a striped cat, and their varmint problem subsided.

* * *

The local priest was called one day to lay to rest an old parishioner who had passed away a week earlier. He was approached by the man who oversaw the burial-ground. He claimed the cemetery was infested by rats, big ones.

The priest asked how he figured that, and the groundskeeper said he had found a complex network of tunnels when he was digging a grave, tunnels that were at a variety of depths, and lay in all directions.

The priest went to confirm the groundskeeper’s story and saw that he was right. The grave was riddled with holes. But on closer inspection, the priest noticed that they were all pointed towards the surrounding graves.

The priest ordered the groundskeeper to dig up a nearby grave. It was a recent grave, the coffin not rotted through yet, and they both feared it would contain a squirming mass of rats.

The groundskeeper held his breath as he opened the casket, and found: dust.

* * *

The governor was sent a message about the rat problem in the cemetery, and he sent two agents to look into it. He figured that maybe it was okay, as long as the rats were happy to eat the people after they were dead.

The agents rode to the parish, having with them a musket and some poison, just in case.

* * *

On Sunday the priest held mass as usual, with the addition of the casket of rat food ? I mean beloved departed parishioner.

And the parishioners sat under him, some quiet, some sobbing their loved one. And they droned their psalms as usual when that was called for.

And as usual they looked relieved when the mass was over. The casket would go out first, and the parishioners waited courteously while it passed by them.

And the casket was carried outside. But now it so happened that all who carried it fell down like stunned when the sun shone on them. And the people were shocked, and ran out to see what had happened. And as they exited the church, they too fell down dead.

The priest noticed what was happening, and forbade anyone to exit the church.

* * *

When the agents arrived at the priests house, there was nobody there, but looking toward the church, they noticed a funny-looking mound on the church’s front steps.

Additionally, there was a white animal perched on the roof over the door, like a gargoyle, looking down. It appeared to be a shabby cat.

The agents came closer, and an evil feeling grew in their hearts as they did. The mound they saw was composed of bodies, men, women and children, piled up on and almost covering a casket. And they made sure to always keep track of where the white cat was, but it just kept staring at the pile.

The two men thought that maybe the cat was in some way responsible for this, and brought the musket to bear on it. They shot a load of rusty nails at the cat, but it only hissed evilly before running away.

And the agents chased after the cat, but it ran away. They figured that since the animal was most likely demonic, they would need to fire a silver bullet at it. They had not had the foresight to bring silver bullets. But they did have silver buckles.

The senior agent took the junior agent’s buckles, and loaded them into the musket, and fired them at the cat, which had taken up position on a mound and was staring evilly at them.

The cat was thrown off the mound by the impact of the buckles, and disappeared behind the mound.

The agents loaded up the musket with the other buckles still remaining on the junior agent’s clothes, and went to examine the prey. The cat still lay where they figured it would be, dead. It had been a direct hit.

The agents bagged the animal, after retrieving the buckles, and the junior agent put it with their luggage while the senior one let the people out from the church.

* * *

The agents brought their prey back to the governor with the information they had gathered about it, and the governor had a learned man examine it. He told them it was most likely a skoffin or even a trench-cat, a cat who lived on human corpses and would burrow in graveyards to feed on them. Both these animals had a gaze so evil it could kill. The only way to avoid this evil fate was to spot the cat first.

As for the twenty or so people who had been killed by the cat’s gaze, they were to be logged in the church books as plague victims. Luckily, a plague was scourging the land at the time, causing ample damage to hide a few odd deaths.

But it happened, as with most amazing stories, that it travelled by word of mouth from farm to farm. So if your cat ever stares at you evilly, you’d better hope it hasn’t been feeding in the graveyard.

Copyright © 2005 by Bewildering Stories on behalf of the author

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