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Jody Lynn Nye is the author of forty novels and more than one hundred stories, and has at various
times collaborated with Anne McCaffrey and Robert Asprin. With Paul Cook’s retirement as our
book reviewer, Jody and her equally talented husband, Bill Fawcett, will take over the reviewing
chores starting with our May issue.

SUPERSTITION
by
Jody Lynn Nye

The long, black cat with the green eyes watched carefully as the middle-aged woman in the green suit strolled purposefully toward the footbridge. Three, two, one…now! Stish dashed out of his hiding place and rushed across the woman’s path. She recoiled.

“Eee! A black cat!” She stopped walking, and looked around to see if anyone had observed her. Stish sat down on the end of the footbridge and looked at her. Nervously, she backed away, and went looking for another way across the canal. Stish waited for a while, then went back to his comfortable burrow. He glanced up at the clock tower sticking up above the low buildings on the water’s edge. Almost eight o’clock. Where was Murphy?

“Heya, kitty-cat,” the burly dark-skinned man said, driving up in the pickup. “Gonna finish that bridge today. You gonna come and watch me some more?” He gawked. “Hey, what happened to the warning sign? Got to be those damned kids. Good thing no one’s walked on it. They’d have fallen right into the canal.”

Stish squeezed his eyes as Murphy got out of the truck and fondled his ears. “C’mon and talk to me while I work. I got tuna for lunch.”

Murphy did a good job on the bridge. Stish stuck around to make sure he remembered about the cleats holding up the bracers at the far end, too, then sauntered away. The tuna was good, too.

Rossburgh was a great place to live, in Stish’s opinion. The town was growing, but not too fast. The mayor was one of those ‘intelligent progress’ guys, or so he claimed, according to the accounts in the newspapers Stish used for padding in one of his many outdoor accommodations. Prosperity for all, was one of his mottoes. He had lots of social programs in place to make sure that it was decent for everyone. Make everyone happy, get everyone involved in helping to make their lives better, respond to problems before they became problems, and no one would feel the need to commit antisocial behavior. At least that was the theory. So far Rossburgh didn’t have the gang problem that a lot of neighboring cities did, but it was coming. Stish could feel it. Still, the mayor’s plan was working. He had a lot of community grassroots support, and Stish was doing his part. A rising tide lifted all boats, and where people didn’t feel like trapped rats, there was a lot less animal cruelty going around. To do his share, he had to use the tools available to him, as a civic-minded feline-American citizen.

Nearly noon, he noted, observing the clock on the brick tower of what had been a shoe factory and was now a nice mall with shops. Got to get on to his next appointment. He strolled across the park. A couple of teenagers were eating lunch on a picnic cloth. He came by to cadge a morsel or two, and recognized the chief of police’s daughter, Maryetta Garcia.

“Hi, Shadow,” she said, reaching out to pet him. He allowed the caress, in exchange for a small piece of cheese. “Justin, this is Shadow,” she told the boy with her. “That’s what I call him. I don’t know who he belongs to.”

She was a nice girl, but not too wise. Justin was a troublemaker. He and a bunch of his friends had been sounded out by gangbangers from out of town, and they were weak enough to get interested in the talk of money and power. Stish had heard the whole thing from inside a ventilation duct in the abandoned building where the boys hung out. They’d thrown stones at him, and he had not forgotten it. Their eyes met, and Stish puffed up and showed his fangs.

“Oh!” Maryetta exclaimed. Stish thought he had better throw a little more emphasis on getting her out of that park before her father saw them. He backed away from the boy. Though he regretted what it would shortly do to the piece of cheese he had just consumed, he began to eat grass.

“That means it’s going to rain,” Maryetta told her beau. “When a cat eats grass, it’s a sign of rain. We’d better go.”

“Baby, we just got here,” Justin protested, putting an arm around her shoulders and pulling her close. “We were gonna get real cozy, remember?”

Maryetta blushed and looked at Stish, who was vigorously tearing up the turf. Come on, Maryetta, he thought. He knew she never stepped on cracks, and she had a four-leaf clover in a locket. She jerked away.

“No, I better go. I just got my hair done. Here, you can take the rest of the sandwiches, all right?”

The boy, who clearly had more appetite for what was sitting across from him than what was in the basket, got up and stalked away. Maryetta looked after him in dismay. She was too young to be out with boys, Stish thought. Her dad was right. Stish waited around for her and escorted her out of the woods.As soon as he saw her on her way, he was sick in the gutter. Looking after Maryetta made him late for his appointment, but he thought it was worth it.

When he got to the assisted living center, a heavyset woman, the manager of the group home, was looking out the door. “There you are, baby. I was wondering when you’d get here. Mrs. Latrobe’s been waiting for you. You are just the best therapy animal we ever had, and I don’t know who trained you!” She picked him up and slung him over her shoulder. Stish burbled a little and worked his paws as she carried him down the hallway. Her soft flesh was nice to snuggle up with. If he had ever decided to go tame and pick a home, Mrs. Jones was first on his list of potential roommates.

“Mrs. Latrobe, honey, here’s Puffkin!” she announced, as she plopped Stish into the narrow lap of a nearly blind old woman wearing a pink bathrobe in a wheelchair. The clawed hands felt their way to his sides. Stish tucked up his paws and let out the loudest purr he could. The toothless mouth grinned widely.

An hour later he was on his way to the Salvation Army soup kitchen in the middle of the old section of town. He liked to patrol the long, narrow building for rats before they opened the glass doors for dinner in the evening. Colonel Stan Kozlowski welcomed him with a sharp salute.

  “Scout, good to see you!” the tall, thin man exclaimed. “Patrol the premises, then report for prayer services promptly at 1730 hours. Rations will follow.”

“Meow!” Stish replied, sitting down and wrapping his long, thin tail smartly around his legs. It was as close to ‘yes, sir!’ and a salute as he could muster, and it pleased Colonel Kozlowski. Stish could have done without the prayer session, though. He respected the Army, but he didn’t appreciate any belief system that placed him among the lower animals ruled by Man. That wasn’t the way things really were.

After a few ‘hallelujahs’ and a dish of pretty decent beef stew, Stish made a farewell swipe against Colonel Kozlowski’s trouser-stripe and headed out of the door. Two dead rats were in the dumpster behind the old building. Stish had hissed a warning at the other nine he could hear in the walls but couldn’t reach…yet. Sooner or later he’d catch them out.

Night had fallen, leaving Stish a handful of pools of lamplight between him and his early-evening hangout with his cat friends behind the Stay-A-While Bar and Grill. He’d been courting a calico lady named Lurleen for the last few evenings. He and the other males could tell she was ready to go into estrus, and no one wanted to miss it. Stish might have to rip a few ears to get her exclusive attention. He licked his whiskers to clear away the last of the gravy as he trotted along the edge of the light, against the darkened faces of the old shops.

“There he is,” a harsh voice hissed. “Get him!”

Stish turned and stared. Shapes poured out of a parked car across the street from the mission. Who were they after? Not Colonel Kozlowski? Could it be Mr. Iannos, who kept swearing that he was going to give up his gambling habit? His eyes went wide as he realized that the shapes were coming after him!

He didn’t hesitate. As the bulky shadows headed toward him, he turned and streaked down the street, looking for a low hole into which he could duck. Murphy had just repaired and sealed the broken standpipe at the end of the street. That was out. How about the car wash? No, they had started closing early in the autumn. How about the open window on the front of the pizza shop around the corner? Stish raced the much slower humans to the intersection, then ducked rightwards, hoping to lose them.

Pie Time had a big crowd around it, including Chief Garcia. The compact police officer was showing photographs to the people waiting to be seated.

“…If you see any suspicious vehicles,” he was saying, “or you remember any details, call this number. It’s important.”

He looked serious and worried. There was nothing of the usually genial senior city official about him. Stish couldn’t jump into the restaurant looking for shelter, or the employees would get cited for health codes. The cat dropped to a walk and sauntered among the people casually, rubbing a knee here and there. He glanced behind him.

His pursuers rounded the corner. He got a good look. Three of them were strangers, adult males in their thirties, but the other five were teenagers, known troublemakers, including Maryetta’s unsuccessful suitor. Their eyes gleamed when they saw Stish, but one noticed the cops, and pulled on the others’ sleeves to warn them. They turned and ducked back out of sight. Stish stayed among the group as long as he could, before someone decided it wasn’t sanitary to have a cat even on the outside of a restaurant, and shooed him away. Reluctantly, Stish slipped off, keeping an eye out. He had a bad feeling about those humans. It was growing stronger all the time.

He left the street and ducked into the nearest alley. The moment he did, rough hands grabbed him.

Stish let out a war cry that would have had every tomcat in Rossburgh on the run, and started lashing out with every claw. His captor swore.

“Come on, man, help me!” he said. Two of the teenagers moved in from the shadows. Stish kicked and scratched at them, still yowling fiercely. He got a good swipe down the face of the one who had picked him up. He let go to clap a hand to his cheek, but the other two got a hold of his legs and tried to hang on. Stish twisted. He raked a claw across the first one’s wrist, and rabbit kicked the other in the neck. He knew he had drawn blood.

“Ow! Goddammit!”

“Dios mio! This little puta!”

One of the men, a swarthy man with sleek black hair, laughed. In no hurry, he brought off his black leather jacket and swept it down over Stish. The cat fought valiantly to free himself, but the man wrapped him up like a burrito. Stish started growling.

“Listen to him,” the man said. “I like one with spirit.”

I’ll give him spirit, Stish thought.

He kept the warbles and snarls up all the way to their destination. After being carried for blocks on foot, Stish was dumped out of the confines of the jacket into an upended carrier cage that was snapped shut behind him. These people were prepared, Stish thought despairingly, and they knew how to handle cats. Was he going to be used for bait for fighting dogs?

The cage was turned right side down. Stish started throwing himself against the door. Sometimes one could get those plastic cages unlatched by main strength. He meant to try.

“This is so you can see him while we make the other preparations,” the swarthy man said. “Now, hurry up. The moon is full at midnight.”

Stish heard the last word with dismay. He supposed it wasn’t any use thinking the guy was a member of the nature priests, not with the furnishings he was hauling out of a shiny leather suitcase.

They had taken over the break room of one of the local stores, white-painted cinderblock walls and brown-topped Formica tables surrounded by brown plastic chairs. The chairs were folded up, all but one of them, in which the first man sat while he instructed the five boys in hanging up a goat’s skull, a poster with a pair of gleaming, slitted red eyes on it, and a red cloth banner with an upside down pentacle painted on it in blood. More goat, Stish decided, after a sniff through the bars of his prison. The suitcase also contained a brass bowl, a dozen brass candlesticks, and several ugly looking daggers, all of which were placed on one of the Formica tables.

Another table was placed in the center of the room facing the goat skull.

“No!” a girl’s voice screamed. Stish’s ears perked up. It was Maryetta.

The back door banged open, and the other two men came in, hauling the teenager by her wrists. The boys all stared.

“What are you doing with her?” Justin squeaked, his voice forgetting it had dropped months ago.

The first man leered. “Ya gotta have an altar. It’s gotta be a virgin. You’re a virgin, aren’t you, cutie?”

“Good,” said the first man. “Prepare her.”

“What?” the boys asked.

“Forget it.” He nodded sharply to the other two men. They dragged her across the open table on her back. One of them held her arm flat to the table with one hand while the first man pulled long black strips of cloth out of the capacious suitcase. He tied Maryetta’s wrists and ankles down until she was spreadeagled on the tabletop. “And, since it don’t do honor to the devil not to show him what we brought him…” He whipped a knife out of his pocket and slit her clothes up the front.” He pulled the tatters off her body, and left her naked. The boys gawked at her thin little body, the small round breasts, torn between interest and shame.

“Let me go!” Maryetta screamed. “This is wrong, it’s wrong! Jesus wouldn’t…” The man shook his head, and stuffed the remains of her bra in her mouth.

“You can decide what to do with the virgin later on,” he said, lowering his eyelids suggestively, but even Justin looked sick at the thought. Stish realized there was little chance that either he or the girl would leave that room alive. He had to do something fancy to save Maryetta and himself.

“Aw, come on, Luis,” one of the boys said.

The man smacked him in the face with the back of his hand. “You call me Master, you get it, Reynaldo? The rest of you, too. Now, pay attention.”

The men arranged candlesticks at the corners of the room, on the table underneath the goat’s skull, and in between Maryetta’s legs and arms. They put black candles into each one, and set a bucket-sized cauldron on the floor. It stank of cat blood. Stish growled under his breath. Then they shrugged into black robes. The Master handed the boys each a robe.

“Put ‘em on.” When they protested he showed them his knife. “Put ‘em on! You want to be part of Satan’s Chosen, you have to swear before him, and he don’t take no disciples who don’t show him honor. Got that?”

So this was an elaborate gang induction, one with enough trappings and fearsome rituals that the boys would be reluctant to back away from it. Stish sniffed the air. He knew where he was, within a few buildings. The scent of slightly burned beef stew was on the air. He couldn’t be far from the Salvation Army mission. Colonel Kozlowski and his people would be scouring the area for those who needed their help that night. Could he attract their attention? He had to wait for the right moment, or risk becoming a hasty sacrifice.

The boys donned their robes over their blue jeans and rock T-shirts, shooting looks at one another to see if any of them were willing to admit they looked ridiculous. They were too scared. Maryetta was struggling against her bonds, but she was too afraid to make much of a fuss. Her eyes met Justin’s, and he looked away. Stish hoped that meant there was a flicker of decency left in the boy.

A noise came from outside, the sound of someone walking. Stish set up a screech that sounded like a cross between a crying baby and a tortured soul. One of the men flattened himself against the inside wall next to the door and looked out, a gun suddenly appearing in his hand. The Master came and shook Stish’s cage until he stopped yowling.

“Shut up, you,” he snarled, shoving his face down into the grille. Stish took a swipe at him. He ducked back, easily avoiding the pawful of needles. “You’ll be out of there soon, I swear.”

The second man near the door peered out, then nodded to the leader. The Master turned back to the boys. “Form a circle around the altar. Now!”

The boys shuffled into place. A couple of them were starting to get interested in the proceedings. When the third man lit a big black candle and handed it to the first boy in line he looked avidly around for others to light from it. As soon as all of the tapers were blazing, they shut off the lights. With the flickering flames making the goat skull look like it was moving and the writhing girl on the altar table, the room had been rendered suitably spooky. The three men began to chant nonsense words that sounded impressive in the dark room.

“Homina ominum bedinium polianum Satanus meliantum…”

Stish heard some more noises behind the building. He had little to lose now. He let out a caterwaul that went up and down the scales.

“Goddamit, make him shut up!” the Master commanded.

“We have the sacrifice now,” the second man suggested.

“That’s not the way of Satan’s Chosen,” the Master barked. “You boys, first you repeat after me. ‘I solemnly swear, by my immortal soul, that I will serve Satan with all my body, heart and soul…’”

Eyes glinting in the firelight, the boys followed the litany, which began to detail horrible punishments, both in this world and the next, if they ever betrayed Satan, the Master of the Chosen, his assistants or any member of the group, to anyone as long as they lived on Earth. Bright tears dripping down Maryetta’s face caught the light, but none of the boys were paying attention to her, now. She had gone limp with hopelessness.

“…By my immortal soul I swear, which will be forfeit if I defy any of my promises to Satan himself!” The Master concluded the oath with his arms in the air, holding a dagger between his hands. The boys repeated his words, staring at the gleaming knife with interest. “Bring the sacrifice. It has to be a pure black animal,” he explained. “No other color is considered fit. You remember that, and no end to the rewards you’ll get!”

The second robed man came for the cage. Stish had been bunched at the end of the container, his muscles tensed, for just that moment. The moment the door was opened, Stish bounded out, using the man’s shoulder for leverage, and hurtled into the room.

“Catch him!” the man shouted. Stish led them all on a chase around the room. He hoped he could make one of them set his robe on fire, but no such luck. With a leap, he landed featherlight on Maryetta’s bare belly and settled into a compact bundle just under her ribcage. It was heaving with fear. He let out a huge purr to try and reassure her, and turned the green lamps of his eyes at the Master, who was coming at him with the knife.

“So, he lands right where he ought to be,” the Master said. “Dumb cat don’t know his own fate.”

  He reached for Stish’s scruff.

Stish evaded him. The noises outside were getting more distinct; and he definitely heard car tires crunching very quietly over the broken concrete and glass in the alley. As the Master was about to order his acolytes to hold the cat still, Stish rose to his feet and dipped his head and forelegs into an elaborate bow.

The man backpedaled a little.

“He’s bewitched,” one of the boys murmured. The Master was quick to take him up on it.

“That’s right. The power of Satan has taken the soul of the black cat. He’s a good sacrifice! His blood will bring you much power!”

But Stish wasn’t finished. He leaped lightly off Maryetta and onto the floor. He approached the ram’s skull. Stopping before it, he sketched another deep bow, lowering his head and forelegs all the way to the floor.

The Master couldn’t help but gape. Stish knew he had never seen anything like it. His previous sacrifices had never had a chance to help themselves, and the human must be beginning to wonder if he had stumbled onto something really supernatural. The fact that he had not grabbed the cat again and cut his throat meant he was too afraid to mess with forces beyond his comprehension. He had no choice but to let Stish do whatever he wanted.

Stish moved on to the candle in the corner anticlockwise from the skull, and made another obeisance to it. Clockwise was for doing good magic; the opposite was for unmaking. Stish firmly intended that if there was any power beyond him he was going to unmake the influence of these evil men.

“Hurry up, let’s cut him. I want a drink,” the third man complained.

“Shut up,” the Master commanded, his eyes pinned to Stish’s slender back. “Watch him.”

Stish went from corner to corner, bowing. When he got back to the skull, the men made to catch him again. He eluded their grabs, checking with an ear to make sure the outside noises were getting closer. He slipped past the Master to bow to the skull again, then he rose to his hind feet and started to dance.

He had seen enough human dancing to know that ballet came as close as anything to the way cats moved, but that would be too subtle for these characters. He stood on his toes and hopped in a circle, stretching his body to its full length with his forelegs high over his head. Stish danced over to the Master and hopped all the way around him, then glared at him with slitted eyes, as if chiding him for not joining in. The man was just as superstitious as he had surmised. When he began another counterclockwise circuit around the altar, the Master followed him with his arms in the air, hopping in a circle.

“You, too!” he ordered the others. The boys obeyed. The other two men looked skeptical, but even they were impressed by a possessed cat.

Every time they passed the skull, Stish let out a throaty howl. The Master and boys echoed it full-bellied, the men less enthusiastically, until the room was full of howls and shrieks. It was so noisy, in fact, that none of them heard it when the first officer broke the catch of the door and barreled into the room with the spotlight on his machine gun leveled on the robed leader.

“Hands in the air!” he bellowed. “Oh. They already are.”

*

Chief Garcia kept one arm around his daughter’s shoulders as he gave orders to the combined squad and SWAT team as they cleared up the storeroom and bagged all of the evidence. Maryetta was wrapped up in paramedic greens and a Mylar blanket.

“I’m not gonna pretend this will keep the gangs out forever,” he explained to the smartly dressed female reporter, who stood at his side with a tape recorder under his nose. “But we stopped the Satan’s Chosen gang from getting a foothold tonight. These boys are going to have to spend some time in a program, but I hope we can keep them from getting involved in another gang. Don’t forget about all those candles,” he ordered. “And someone catch that cat. He’s gonna have to go to Animal Control. There’s something wrong with him.”

Stish, who had been sitting placidly on one of the tables, arched his back in annoyance. Was that all the thanks he got for the performance of the decade? He helped stop the gang, singlepawedly!

“No, Papa!” Maryetta protested, pulling his arm. “That’s Shadow! He saved my life! You can’t send him away.”

“Well, we call him Scout,” Colonel Kozlowski said. “He comes by our mission every day. We rely on him, Chief. There’s nothing wrong with him. He’s the smartest cat I ever saw. I know his meows anywhere. If it wasn’t for him setting up a racket, I would never have heard them in this building. It’s closed after four. That’s when I called you, and you set up this operation. He’s the reason you caught those criminals.” The reporter turned her attention to him.

Stish preened. Now, that was the kind of recognition he was talking about!

“Well, we can’t let a stray cat go on running around this town without a license,” Garcia said, firmly. “We’re trying to make this a good community, you know.”

“I’ll adopt him, if that’s all it takes, sir,” Kozlowski offered.

“I will, no problem,” another officer said. “I think that’s Puffkin. He comes to visit my grandmother in the nursing home every afternoon.”

“It sounds like he’s a guardian angel to this whole community,” the reporter said, with a little smile. “That’ll make good headlines, chief. Can I get a photograph of you and the cat that saved your daughter’s life?” She signed to the cameraman, who moved in with his apparatus on his shoulder.

Stish knew a good photo op when he saw one. He sauntered up to the police chief and rubbed his cheek and arched back against the man’s uniform leg. The chief looked down at him and shivered a little bit. Stish could see he was afraid. He rolled on his back and stretched out his paws invitingly, showing his belly and neck.

“Oh, come on, Papa,” Maryetta said, grinning. “You’re not superstitious or anything, are you?”

At last, the chief bent down and petted Stish’s long side. “No, I am not. Once in a while it’s a good thing when a black cat crosses your path.”

Superstition purred.

Copyright © 2006 by Jody Lynn Nye

 

THE ARM OF THE STONE
by Victoria Stauss

“Treated with unusual depth.”—Locus
“An intelligent, fascinating novel"—SF Site

TABLE OF CONTENTS

HOME

The Editor's Word

FICTION
The Ties That Bind,
The Chains That Break

by Liz Colter

Johnny Come Home

by Pat Cadigan
Gyre (Sargasso)
by Brad R. Torgersen

Doing Lennon
by Gregory Benford
June Sixteenth at Anna's
by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Twilight on Olympus
by Eric Leif Davin

The Latest One
by Fabio F. Centamore
Superstition

by Jody Lynn Nye
Prey to the Gods

by Kathleen Conahan

INTERVIEW
Jerry Pournelle
by Joy Ward

SERIALIZATION
Melodies of the Heart (Part 2)
by Michael Flynn

COLUMNS
From the Heart's Basement
by Barry Malzberg
Science Column
by Greg Benford

Book Reviews
by Paul Cook

 

 

 

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Copyright © Arc Manor LLC 2015. All Rights Reserved. Galaxy's Edge is an online magazine published every two months (January, March, May, July, September, November) by Phoenix Pick, the Science Fiction and Fantasy imprint of Arc Manor Publishers.