On the corner of Main Street stood an oak tree!
In the oak tree sat Cat.
Cat was known throughout town and treated like any other townsperson, recognised greeted waved to looked out for. If the weather was too much dogs would be brought in so porches made available, even doors would be opened and Cat welcomed in.
Cat was liked you could say even loved!
That was until last Thursday!
It was a day like any other. The sun was out it was a fine summers day and people were out and about doing what they needed to do.
Cat had been walking down the street, some would say not as relaxed as he normally would, his tail flicking from side to side he’s posture poised but tense his eyes narrowed, fixed, focused.
Walking the other way on the same side slowly approaching was the frail demure figure of Granny Watts, her walking stick click clicking on the pavement as she moved.
Cat saw Granny, Granny saw cat.
If Ennio Morricone and his orchestra had been in the park that day, they would have struck up quite a tune!
Cat paused, Granny paused. Time stood still but life moved on around them.
It was at that moment that if there had been a band playing, the band stopped!
Cat was a blur, Granny moved a bit sharpish as well but it was the noise that made everyone turn! Cats yowl could have come from the mouth some beast straight out of the gates of hell [just a few miles down the road, take the left fork, down the hill, through the wood look for a crack as a dark as night in the stone on the side of Hoof Hill], Granny’s scream was shrill and sharp, she swung her stick but Cat was already there with claws out teeth bared, drawing blood, deep scratches on her face and neck.
Granny fell stick waving uselessly in the air yelling murder most foul cursing and turning the air blue as a crowd rushed to her aid all with a shocked air and directing confused and very angry stares to Cat – who sensibly had not waited around but had taken to his paws.
That was, as I said, last Thursday! Cat had suddenly become the town pariah and now here he sat, out of the way, up a tree, keeping a low profile but keeping a very watchful eye on Granny.
And from the kitchen window of her little run down clapboard house Granny saw him watching.
Granny washed the dishes, Cat swished his tail, Ennio Morricone was, once again, sadly unavailable.
The scratches on her face and neck we deep, vicious, but healing quickly, unusually so for a woman of her years it could be said. Callers came and went all concerned neighbours that still damned Cat for such disgraceful behaviour. She accepted her visitors graciously, quietly, politely but with a tension that her visitors put down to “still in shock! Poor dear.”
The cause of Grannies tension in one part was sitting outside high in the branches of a tree, the other was higher up. Hidden now and then from clouds that moved, drifting, dancing, changing shape, gathering, dispersing but behind them bright and silver gleaming was the moon days away from being full.
Across town, Sherriff West finished talking to The Brothers Spencer. Strange pair, old school cattle men whose herds were now more pets than livestock. They had been called in over gun ‘concerns’ . Some of their neighbours had seen then walking around, rifles and shotguns at the ready, cruising around their ranches. There was tension between the two beyond the normal rivalry! Each one blaming the other for the carnage found some weeks back.
He hadn’t mentioned it, he didn’t need too, word was already getting around but it wasn’t the first reports he had of such attacks. Admittedly, first on livestock, first time close to town, the other reports had come in from the woods, near the lakes. He hadn’t worried about it. Put it down to come drifting animal, probably a stray dog, maybe a coyote, lynx, fox or mountain lion – possibly even bears but no one had seen any wildlife like that for years. Hunters here normally brought cameras rather than guns these days. He struggled to think of the last time anyone asked for a licence to hunt.
It was Carl who had given him the heads up. The gun shop was mainly used for its range, target shooting. But he’d popped by, told him about the requests for hand guns, one or two asking for something larger, normally all went away when informed they needed to go to the sheriff’s office first. Authority, permits and such like were great dissuaders and the sheriff knew it. Gun crime was low around the county as gun ownership was close to non-existent. It was a safe town, he argued, why do you want a gun?
But, the problem of The Brothers Spencer and that of Granny and Cat? He scratched his nose. Sighed. Could Cat have been responsible? He smiled, yeah! Cat taking down a tonne and a half of prime beef not once by 9 times! No way. And he went through the list of possible suspects again. Shook his head. Dismissed them all.
This was something else.
And it was something else that happened three days later.
A patrol car on the edge of town called it in first then the department switchboard lit up. Word went out, the deputies got the call and Sherriff West was tearing back into town from the lakes, Deputy Benton in the back seat of the squad car getting back into her uniform, Sherriff West still half out of his. When he reached the edge of the Brother Spencers ranches he killed the siren slowed the car to a quiet crawl, wound down the windows and heard it.
He pulled over. Benton stopped mid button. The listened. Hot blood ran cold.
The howl hung on the air and the darkness parted, the squad car became bathed in silver light. Sherriff west had pulled over in a layby near the edge of the woods. It was dark. Darker than he would have considered normal but he chided himself, told himself not to be so over dramatic, in the back seat Deputy Benton finished dressing, straightened out her uniform, her hand reached for the back door handle ready to open it so she could get back in the front. She went to smile at West.
His face was pale. He was sweating. His gaze fixed on the edge of the woods. His hands gripped the steering wheel his knuckles pure white. She was about to say something but her head moved, her eyes looking into the darkness to see what held his gaze.
At first she didn’t see it. A cloud had come over and darkness took away her sight, briefly, the moon shone down on a form, a shape, a huge sized thing, moving slowly, slowly, red eyed in the silvery light, grey coat glittered as if it were covered in glitter. Its teeth! She swallowed. Suddenly felt the need to urinate.
The bang on the car bonnet made them both scream and turn their gaze and it seems Sherriff West had been sharing the same thought as Deputy Benton. Cats’ hellish yowl almost completely emptied the bowls of the hapless duo.
Cat jumped onto the roof of the squad car, his hackles raised, eyes full of anger, hatred. They heard his yowls, his movement on top of the squad car and very un-cat like, heavy, pounding.
Cat growled, wolf growled – Ennio Morricone didn’t want to know at this point but John Carpenter considered getting involved.
All Sherriff West and Deputy Benton wanted to do was get out of there.
Then came other sounds, lights, in front, behind. Sirens, screaming tires, red and blue and white glows getting brighter, wolf threw back its head and howled, Cat screamed and jumped, wolf turned and plunged into the woods, Cat close on its tail.
Five minutes later and the layby was full of police cars and ranchers trucks, West and Benton wrapped in blankets minus trousers, pale shaking, drinking hot boozy coffee from illicit thermos flasks banned from being carried by whilst on duty, but what the hell, there are always exceptions. Some officers were separating the Brothers Spencer from punching each other’s lights out, each still blaming the other. West looked at Benton, Benton looked at west, both said nothing. Which was a concern to their fellow officers.
When they heard the sound that came from the woods they all stopped. The Spencer Brothers mid punch, some officers mid sip, any fun that was due to come Sherriff Wests’ and Deputy Bentons’ way was immediately forgotten. Cups were dropped, hands automatically reached for side arms.
The night held its breath!
Then howls, snarls, growls and a sound that made the police department moved as one, guns suddenly drawn, even the Spencer boys set their disagreements aside and grabbed their riffles side by side. The layby became tense with bodies propped, leaning against squad cars with arms outstretched various sized barrels pointed at the woods ready and waiting. Brows became sweaty, tension ran high and bladders ran loose.
Clouds moved and the moon came out once more, a sound, somewhere in the undergrowth, trigger fingers got itchy.
Cat meowed from behind an unlucky officer who in his sudden fright let off a shot that blew the light off his squad car whilst some officers turned to face Cat who, wisely, took to his paws and hobbled off as quickly as his paws would carry him into the night, a few hapless trigger happy officers fired in the shadows of the wood.
A little while later, back in the safety of town and the security of the police station with sheriff West and Deputy Benton (now both in fresh uniforms after quickly showering), they all sat with pale and sombre faces drinking old style Irish coffees. No one said anything. No one wanted to say anything. No one wanted to say what they had seen, what they had heard after Cats disappearance and the one sided fire fight.
So there they sat.
Cat, on the other hand, struggled to get back into the tree and finally had to concede that it was not going to happen. He was hurt. He was tired. He was watching Granny knitting on her front porch swing. Cat huffed. Dark eyed he hobbled across her lawn.
Granny saw him. Stopped her knitting, saw the state he has in.
Cat settled down, lying on the lawn, licking his wounds.
Granny went to get up, Cat stopped, Granny sat down again, Cat continued.
Clouds continued to move through the sky hiding the slowly sinking moon every now and then as the eastern sky began to glow.
Granny stopped her knitting, put down her needles and her wool. The scratches in her neck and face were all but gone; she played with a ring on her finger, a pale band of silver. They heard the sound together!
He stumbled out of the shadows, scratches and bruises fresh over his face and body along with a bullet wound in his left shoulder. Cat struggled to get up. They looked at each other with hateful tired eyes. Granny got between them and He fell into her arms. She sat him down on her lawn, reached into a pocket and pulled out a sturdy silver necklace. A ring hung from it, a twin to the ring on grannies finger.
Granny looked at Cat, Cat looked at Him, He looked at Granny, Granny put the necklace around his neck making sure the clasp was secure then helped him inside her house. Cat saw the door close, heard her lock the door, drive a bolt across, then another, the lights went out.
Cat closed his eyes.
Two months on, to the surprise of her neighbours Granny and nephew moved out to a shack on the outskirts of town. When asked her reply was that both she and the boy wanted to be close to the woods, return to nature was a phrase she used. Sherriff West heard this and visited Granny more than once, warning her and saying that being close to town was a better thing.
Most of the towns folk couldn’t quite get why the towns police had become so jittery, especially when the sun when down or why the seemed to travel in twos and threes now rather than out alone.
Concern was again raised by the neighbours of the Spencer Brothers who, although no longer squabbling against each other both had now seemed to go a little bit gun crazy with most considering them to have gone a little bit survivalist.
Cat seemed to have disappeared completely! Deputy Benton had gone house to house asking after Cat, but no one had seen him and he was absent from his usual haunts. His pariah status replaced by one of concern and as time when by one of sorrow, people quickly forgetting his behaviour toward Granny, after all they had said, the scratches weren’t that bad – they had healed quickly enough! Something must have spooked him!
Sherriff West, when the next full moon had come and the moon after that, with great discretion enforced a curfew. The sun when down and he made sure no one was out. One or two towns folk he couldn’t persuade, the Librarian for one, the owner of the antiques shop for another! But he wasn’t overly concerned; somehow he knew they’d be ok. Each of those nights nothing had happened, nothing had been heard and the woods had seemed quiet, better still, no attacks on livestock or wild life. Even better, one or two folks had reported seeing wildlife returning to the woods.
By the third full moon things were starting to return to some semblance of normality.
With one exception!
In the depths of a cave deep in the side of Hoof Hill laid a sleeping cat. To look at one could have mistaken it for Cat, but, look closer! Look at the fur, the build, its size! If, if? If it had been Cat something must have happened, something extraordinary! Outside of the cave a storm rolled in a worm breeze whistled softly through the air disturbing dust ruffling coarse grey thick grey fur tinged with ginger flecks.
Lightning banished the shadows. See the cat sleeping, look at it closely, the patches of missing fur on its flank! A bite mark?
Thunder rolled echoing loudly through the hills, through the woods across the lakes.
The cat(?) opened an eye as the other was missing its face scarred by a deep slash, its eye burned with a golden fire.
In a shack a few miles away a plate smashed loudly on a dirty stone floor! Granny looked at her nephew, her nephew looked back, their eyes wide, fear filled.
The thunder rolled.
John Carpenter suddenly decided (somewhere) to play some music.