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.
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?
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
we just got here,” Justin protested, putting an arm around her shoulders and
pulling her close. “We were gonna get real cozy, remember?”
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
better go. I just got my hair done. Here, you can take the rest of the
sandwiches, all right?”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.
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
he is,” a harsh voice hissed. “Get him!”
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!
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.
Time had a big crowd around it, including Chief Garcia. The compact police
officer was showing photographs to the people waiting to be seated.
you see any suspicious vehicles,” he was saying, “or you remember any details,
call this number. It’s important.”
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.
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.
the street and ducked into the nearest alley. The moment he did, rough hands
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.
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.
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
to him,” the man said. “I like one with spirit.”
give him spirit, Stish thought.
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?
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.
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.”
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.
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.
table was placed in the center of the room facing the goat skull.
girl’s voice screamed. Stish’s ears perked up. It was Maryetta.
back door banged open, and the other two men came in, hauling the teenager by
her wrists. The boys all stared.
are you doing with her?” Justin squeaked, his voice forgetting it had dropped
first man leered. “Ya gotta have an altar. It’s gotta be a virgin. You’re a
virgin, aren’t you, cutie?”
said the first man. “Prepare her.”
the boys asked.
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
“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.
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.
come on, Luis,” one of the boys said.
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.”
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.
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?”
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.
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
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.
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.”
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!”
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
ominum bedinium polianum Satanus meliantum…”
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.
make him shut up!” the Master commanded.
have the sacrifice now,” the second man suggested.
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…’”
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.
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
lands right where he ought to be,” the Master said. “Dumb cat don’t know his
He reached for Stish’s scruff.
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.
backpedaled a little.
bewitched,” one of the boys murmured. The Master was quick to take him up on
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!”
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.
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.
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.
up, let’s cut him. I want a drink,” the third man complained.
up,” the Master commanded, his eyes pinned to Stish’s slender back. “Watch him.”
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.
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
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.
in the air!” he bellowed. “Oh. They already are.”
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.
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.”
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!
Papa!” Maryetta protested, pulling his arm. “That’s Shadow! He saved my life!
You can’t send him away.”
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.
preened. Now, that was the kind of recognition he was talking about!
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.”
adopt him, if that’s all it takes, sir,” Kozlowski offered.
will, no problem,” another officer said. “I think that’s Puffkin. He comes to
visit my grandmother in the nursing home every afternoon.”
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.
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
come on, Papa,” Maryetta said, grinning. “You’re not superstitious or anything,
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.”