by Will Raven
In the spirit of the Halloween season, here’s a new short story about the full moon and witches.
I don’t have much time left. The full moon will rise soon, and I feel compelled to share my crazy story. Not that you’ll believe its unseemly narrative. Nevertheless, this ghastly tale is true and its telling may save lives.
It all began about a month ago on my first day on the job. Fresh from journalism school, I landed a gig as the police and courts reporter at the Times-Monitor. Some people call it the Daily Rag, but the small town paper actually has a history dating back to the Civil War.
On the weekend before my start date, I found a place in town to live, renting the upstairs level of a Victorian-style home on Augusta Street. The house had a narrow, wooden structure with faded yellow paint, eye-like windows, a tilted roof, and a wraparound porch. Best of all, it was cheap and close to the newsroom.
The catch was its eerie location directly across the street from Markham Cemetery, a small graveyard with mostly locals buried there. A black wrought iron fence, capped with ornate spearheads, encircled the grounds covered with a mixture grass, ivy, and weeds. The cemetery was nearly full and only relatives of current occupants are permitted for future burials.
A bearded biker with a rose tattoo lived in the downstairs unit. Every time I saw him he had a beer in one hand. And at nights he loved entertaining the ladies. The walls are thin and he made lots of noise on the weekends. We had separate street doors so I seldom mingled with “Wild Bill.”
On Monday morning, I reported to work at eight o’clock. The editor showed me around the newsroom and handed out my first assignment to cover a murder trial over at the county courthouse. A waterman allegedly killed his wife after he caught her in bed with the owner of Gotley’s Pizza. The juicy gossip was everywhere and in such a small town everyone heard it.
The courthouse was only a few blocks away so I walked. As I turned a corner, I saw a dump truck that had slammed into a telephone pole at the corner of Nimitz and Maple Street. A crowd gathered at the scene.
A young man perhaps in his early twenties was apparently dead on the sidewalk. Blood dripped out of the corner of his mouth. He suffered internal injuries and didn’t look good.
“What happened?” I asked an old woman gawking at the accident.
“I saw the whole thing,” she said. “A black cat darted out from under those parked cars and the truck swayed to avoid it. The truck was rumbling along pretty good and lost control. It flattened poor Jimmy Mecklin like a pancake.”
“How terrible,” I said.
“Yeah, Jimmy was crushed and that cat ain’t no where in sight,” said the woman somberly.
“My name is Peter Winslow and I’m a new reporter for the Times-Monitor,” I said. “Do you mind if I take down your name for a story?”
“I thought you was a stranger,” she answered, smiling. The silver-haired lady was missing several teeth. “I reckon that’d be alright. It’s Harriet Smith of 3566 Marlboro Place.”
“I sure do appreciate it, Ms. Smith.”
“You know that old cat seemed to enjoy what it done. It danced around in the middle of the street like it just won the lottery.”
“That is very peculiar,” I said, stuffing my notebook in my coat pocket. I then whipped the camera out of my bag and took a few pictures of the dump truck and Poor Jimmy Mecklin.
A deputy pulled the driver aside so I never got a chance to interview him. From a distance, I saw he was clearly shaken by the incident.
I spoke to another deputy, who seemed annoyed at my presence. I sensed he didn’t like speaking to reporters, especially new out-of-towners. He confirmed that the driver evaded a black cat and ran up on the sidewalk striking Jimmy Mecklin. I had enough information and could dig for more, if needed, in the morning before deadline.
I went on to the courthouse to cover the trial, but kept thinking about what Ms. Smith said. I debated writing about the cat dancing in the street but the story seemed far-fetched and the woman was quite old.
A small story ran the next day on the inside with a picture. The headline read, Truck Driver Avoiding Black Cat Runs Over Man. I got a rush out of seeing my first bylined article for the paper.
Three days later, Jimmy Mecklin was buried in Markham Cemetery. He was just 25-years-old. That night, I felt restless and looked outside my window across the street at the graveyard.
Under the glimmer of a full moon, I saw the black feline dancing on Mecklin’s grave. It was a perverse sight indeed. The foul creature seemingly found delight in dancing a little jig as though it delighted in the death of its latest victim.
The next morning, I did some research at the newsroom, looking for stories mentioning cats, especially black ones. I found a clip from two years ago that reported eyewitnesses saw a black cat run out of a burning house. A mother and her child never made it out. Another article noted that a black cat was also spotted lying next to the body of a suicide victim who had cut her throat. According to the report, the cat was not the women’s pet.
I checked the dates of each death and they coincided with the cycle of the full moon. I sensed something sinister was at work, but what and why?
I’m not any more superstitious than the next guy. In fact, I wore number 13 for my high school basketball team and we won the Division A title.
But black cats are different. I dread a black cat crossing my path.
Surely the fury demon spooked the dump truck driver. So why didn’t he die instead of Jimmy Mecklin. Talk about bad luck.
Nothing made any sense from that viewpoint. I didn’t have any real evidence to substantiate my hunch that this particular feline had an evil agenda. So I crammed the articles in my desk and went about my work.
Nearly a month passed and I started thinking about the cat again. I feared it would strike once more. Friday night came and so did the full moon. The usual bunch, mostly high school students out for kicks, drove their muscle cars and pickup trucks along a circular route around town. Sometimes they’d drag race down Augusta Street along the cemetery. It approached midnight and I’d grown weary of the weekend follies when suddenly I heard tires screech, followed by a woman screaming in agony.
“No, no, no, please! Not my baby!” she wailed.
I got dressed, grabbed my notebook and rushed downstairs to see what happened. I broke into the mass gathered around the woman. It was Wanda Cox, a cashier at Haley’s Market. She’s was a single parent and her ex-husband used to beat her.
“My little Joey is gone,” she cried. “He’s dead!”
Two police cruisers pulled up and broke up the crowd of spectators. In the confusion, I glanced up at an old oak tree in front of Wanda’s house. Lying on a limb outside an upstairs window was the black cat. Its yellow eyes, with black polished pupils, glowed in the night. Impulsively I picked up a stone and hurled it at the beast. It hissed back and leaped to the ground before escaping into the darkness.
It all happened so fast I didn’t have time to get pictures. An ambulance arrived and a few minutes later the boy’s body was carried out on stretcher. A white sheet covered him. Police took Wanda away for questioning. I hung around long enough to chat with a detective. He confirmed my suspicion. The baby apparently died of suffocation. But it wasn’t Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDDS).
Joey Davidson Burr was just four months old. They found him lying face up in his crib. His milk bottle was empty. I suspected the cat had entered through the window, slid silently into the crib, and sucked the air out of Little Joey’s lungs. But how could it be proven? I suggested to police that they check the crib for cat hairs. They looked at me strangely, but said they’d check it out.
I am convinced that the infant was murdered and I had to learn more. It appeared the cycle of the full moon triggered the cat’s deadly actions. But the murders were all randomly committed and there wasn’t any apparent connection among the victims. Worst yet, no one but me suspected the black cat was a killer.
Then I got a wonderful, devilish idea. After Joey’s burial, I sprinkled rat poison around several bushes in the cemetery. More than once, I saw rodents scurrying along the street into the graveyard.
I hoped that more than the rats might nibble that night. The full moon rose and like clockwork the cat appeared. I grabbed my camera with the zoom lens to get a closer look and snap some pictures. The feline instinctively went for Little Joey’s grave.
The creature was visually stunning with a shiny black coat of fur. It moved precisely and with great confidence. The feline began frolicking on the dead boy’s final resting place like a possessed demon. The ritual continued until a small cloud drifted in front of the moon breaking its glow and the beast’s rhythm. A ground mist began creeping through the graveyard.
The cat vanished into the evening shadows. I watched intensively for over an hour, but it never returned. I felt tired and decided to call it quits for the night.
The next morning I found a dead, half-eaten rat outside my doorstep. It was no doubt a ghastly gift left by the black cat. I felt a tingle run up my spine, and I violently heaved the dead rodent by the tail. It landed in the gutter near the cemetery where it belonged.
I drove the short distance into the paper thinking the cat was out to get me just as I was out to get it. When I arrived at the newsroom, my phone rang.
“This is Sheriff Murdock,” said a voice gruffly. “Is this Peter Winslow?”
“Yes, it is.”
“I just want to let you know that we found cat hairs in the crib,” he said. “Black cat hairs.”
“I thought that might be the case,” I said, gripping the phone tighter.
“What do you know about a black cat?” Murdoch questioned.
“I saw a black cat prowling around the neighborhood,” I said. “Do you know the old tale that cats will suck the breath from a sleeping child.”
“I ain’t buying it,” Murdoch snapped. “We’re bringing in the ex-husband for questioning.”
“Didn’t that dump truck driver run over Mecklin after seeing a black cat?
“Pure coincidence,” Murdock barked.
“I’m not so sure about that.”
Murdock hung up. The rest of the day I couldn’t think straight. The dead rat on my doorstep kept playing over and over again in my head.
When I got home that afternoon, I visited the cemetery again. I wanted to see if the cat took my bait.
Perhaps 50 or 60 rows of tombstones lined Markham, with many markers standing erect for hundreds of years. Some were crumbled by many a harsh storm and still others with relatively new occupants were shiny and smooth in comparison.
The dirt over poor Little Joey’s gravesite was still fresh. And just five rows over someone placed flowers against Jimmy Mecklin’s tombstone. I thought there might be more of the cat’s victims buried in Markham.
Then I discovered about a half dozen dead rats scattered at various spots in the cemetery. The vermin had eaten the poison. But there was no sign of the cat. The place started giving me the creeps so I hurried back across the street to my unit and locked the door behind me. Night came and I started getting a knot in my stomach. I kept staring out the window at the cemetery, wondering what the cat might do next.
My senses sharpened and the slightest noise amplified a thousand times. I heard a pitter-patter that got louder and louder. I imagined the black cat climbing the long staircase to my entry. Terror seized me.
Then suddenly the pounding stopped. I feared the beast was now parked outside my door. I could hear its heavy breathing penetrate the walls with a sickening air.
I quickly grabbed a knife from the kitchen and waited for the beast to make its next move. I cringed as it began scratching my door repeatedly.
I loathed the horrible sound and threw my dagger at the entrance. It lodged partway into the wooden panel. But the clawing persisted, driving me mad.
I pulled the knife from the door and opened it ready to stab the feline to its very death. From out of the darkness, the cat pounced on my chest. I immediately spun around shaking it free.
The monster landed on all fours atop the couch. In the light, I saw my tormentor face-to-face for the first time. It must have eaten one of the poisoned rats or perhaps the poison itself, for it had matted fur and drool dripped from its fangs.
The cat arched its spine and stared at me with devilish yellow eyes. The creature hissed, releasing pent-up aggression. Its pungent odor smelled like a rotting corpse.
I swirled my knife side to side, looking for a clear angle to wound the beast. But the cunning cat leaped onto the end table busting the lamp. It now had an advantage in the darkness, but I could still see its yellow eyes.
The supernatural beast jumped off the sofa and began circling me. My heart pounded in my throat and I erupted with rage. I lunged at the ghoulish cat, managing to grab it by the tail. The filthy animal twisted around and with its sharp claws ripped into my left cheek. I winched in pain as blood flowed down my face.
I lashed the cat’s right eye and kicked it hard in the ribs. It hissed and squirmed, breaking loose from my grip. The killer gave me a death stare with one eye as blood oozed from the other.
I ran for the door and the cat pursued. I dashed partially down the steep staircase when the ghastly beast sprung to my back. The force sent me tumbling down the steps. I didn't remember anything after that.
I awoke in the hospital the next morning full of bandages. A doctor greeted me, explaining my fate.
“Wild Bill” found me unconscious lying at the stairway landing in a pool of my own blood. It took 45 stitches to close up lacerations to my face and limbs. But then came the shocking news.
I was paralyzed from the waist down and will likely never walk again. I was bedridden in the hospital for at least a month as my wounds healed. I went into a deep funk for days knowing that my life as I knew it was over.
I told police my attacker was a black cat, the same feline that killed Little Joey. But I knew Sheriff Murdock and his deputies weren’t going to spend a lot of time and resources searching for a possessed cat. They didn’t want to be the town’s laughing stock.
For that very reason and perhaps for my own sanity, I am getting my story down on paper so at least it’s on record. But who would believe such a crazy tale?
Day and night, the black cat haunted me. Each night, it showed up on my window ledge, waiting for the full moon to rise so it could finish the job and put me six feet underground.
The beast tapped on my windowpane with its paw, beckoning me for a final battle till death. I was ready like a gunslinger about to engage in a climactic final duel.
Then, on the eve of the full moon, I got a surprise visitor. It was Harriet Smith–the old lady and eyewitness to the dump truck accident. She wobbled in holding a cane. She wore a black patch over her right eye.
“Why, Ms. Smith, what brings you here?” I asked.
“So you remember me?” the woman said surprised.
“Certainly, I do.”
“I heards on the radio that you was in the hospital on account of that black cat.”
“That’s right,” I said. “So what are they saying about me?”
“Peoples is laughing at you for letting a pussy whip your butt,” Smith said with a cold, sly grin.
“Oh, really,” I said, shocked by her crude comment. I began to have suspicions about Ms. Smith.
“You look like a mummy with all those bandages,” Smith observed with her one eye.
“Let’s just say that fiendish cat got the best of me,” I said.
The old woman smiled, showcasing her missing teeth.
“Look, I is here to help you, as we both knows that old cat is bad news,” she said, putting her hand on mine. It felt lizard-like and rough like tattered leather.
“How exactly can you help?” “Supposing I puts up some signs around town, saying, Beware of the Black Cat!”
“That’s very kind,” I said. “But that feline is far too clever to ever be caught. Someone’s going to have to kill it.”
The old woman leaned in closer. Her face was far more wrinkled than I remembered during our first encounter.
“Say, Ms. Smith, what happened to your eye?” I asked with a cat’s curiosity.
“It’s just a little infection,” she said.
One of the nurses on the night shift poked her head in my room, signaling visiting hours were over.
“Well, Ms. Smith, I thank you for stopping by,” I said.
“I’ll be seeing you,” she said walking out.
She limped gingerly to the doorway holding her left side with one hand and the cane with the other. Suddenly, she started doing a little gig with her feet. The same cocky dance I saw the black cat do on Little Joey’s grave.
My jaw dropped. I only half believed what I just saw. But then I put it all together—the patch over her eye, the limp, and the way she covered her ribs. And her sneer when she saw me wrapped in bandages.
Harriet Smith was not the sweet little old lady she pretends to be. She must be a witch who transforms into a ghastly cat and stalks her prey with the cycle of the full moon.
Although I found the thought incredulous, it’s the only explanation that fits. And I was next on her list.
Perhaps, in a perverse moment like a serial killer begging to be caught, the witch let me in on her murderous ways during the interview at the dump truck scene. And perhaps now she regrets having uttered a word at all.
This evening, I ate steak for dinner. It wasn’t bad for hospital food. I tucked the knife away under the edge of my mattress. The nurse stopped by later and took my tray. She didn’t notice the missing knife. I asked her to keep the window open so I could feel the breeze and see the full moon rise.
Of course, what I really wanted was to leave an opening for the cat. I loathed the beast and wanted to rip it apart. No more rapping, tapping on my windowpane.
I was ready for war, an all out blood bath until death. I couldn’t walk anymore, but I could still wield a knife and I could still strangle the cat by the neck if I got the chance.
I stood upright in my bed, watching the full moon rise like a giant glowing pearl, florescent and bright. At midnight, the cat appeared outside my window once again. I could feel its sinister force as it stared at me with its evil, luminous eyes. The stage was set for our final battle.
I must put my pen down now and replace it with the knife. Should I not live to tell more, you now know my story as crazy as it may sound.
In a few days, the beast may be dancing on my grave. But then again I might just send that old witch to hell where she belongs. My advice to all.
Beware of the black cat!
Copyright © 2018. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events are either products of the author’s imagination or, if real, used for fictional purposes.