LYRICAL UNDERGROUND BOOKS are published by
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Copyright © 1986 William W. Johnstone
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First electronic edition: October 2016
It was an ancient rite. An evil supplication to the old gods. The woman was anything but a willing participant. She jerked and screamed and struggled, howling her fear and horror at what had been planned for her; planned by the unseen ones she really did not believe in.
Very soon she would be a believer.
Under dark night skies that had yet to see few examples of a dawning of civilized behavior, the woman was dragged toward the altar. The altar was draped in black, the cloth adorned with savage pictures of a cat. Hundreds of torches flickered dancing light, the leaping flames creating hundreds of shadows, turning the vastness of surrounding sand a deep purple black.
A very old cat sat alone on a large square stone and watched the woman being dragged toward the black-draped altar. The cat’s yellow unblinking eyes stared without visible expression. It yawned its boredom. It wondered if this conception would be the one that would relieve it of this life. It hoped so. The last few had produced terrible offspring; and they had been destroyed. Horrible multi-headed creatures. Some half cat, half snake. Others too hideous to describe.
The old cat was tired. Tired of it all. It wanted its companion. But it knew its companion was dead. Dead now for several years. They had been together for hundreds of years, and loved one another as only sisters can.
Then the cat seemed to smile. It sensed this mating would be successful and acceptable.
The cat knew its life was almost over. It knew fresh-born would soon take its place. The cat knew these things and welcomed them. It welcomed the end of its life and the beginning of new lives.
The old cat turned away from the scene. It was far too old to enjoy the sights and sounds of sexual matters. It could not even mentally recall the pleasures. The cat began its slow long walk down the stone stairs of the plateau.
The woman screamed as she was penetrated. Gruntings filled the hot desert night. The woman moaned as the hot winds blew. Then it was over.
The cat walked down the steps without looking back. Callused but gentle hands picked up the animal and placed it on a silken pillow.
The old cat closed its ancient eyes.
“ ’Tis a foul night out, Love,” the man said, forcing the door closed against the howling winds that blew hard against the cottage on the North English coast.
“Aye, ’tis that,” she said, without turning from or ceasing her stirring of the stew that bubbled in the blackened pot that hung over the fire. She knew it would bring on the ire of her husband, but she spoke her mind. “And them unseen ones is about on this night as well.”
“Bah!” her husband said, giving her a stern look. “I’ll na’ hav’ no more of that talk in this house, woman. The royal messengers hav’ said that nonsense is to cease. All that talk of werewolves and man-like creatures that change shapes is causing unrest among the ignorant. Are ye ignorant, woman? Them things do na’ exist. Now put the food on the table and sit down, ’fore I take a strap to ye.”
The woman muttered darkly, but softly enough so her husband would not hear. She filled the bowls and sat down, paying only scant attention as her husband blessed the food, asked for help in paying the taxes, and prayed for guidance to overcome the babblings of an ignorant woman.
A timid knock on the door could just be heard over the raging of the storm.
The woman paled. “Don’t answer it!” she begged her husband.
“Woman,” the man said, exasperation in his voice, “are ye daft? Hav’ ye lost all sense of compassion? ’Tis not a fit night for any living thing to be out.”
thing,” she said.
“Fool!” He walked to the door. He did not notice that his dogs had not barked. He opened the door, the winds and rain lashing him.
The woman sat on her table bench.
At first the man could see nothing. Then, as lightning flashed, he lowered his eyes and looked at the soaked shape of a young girl. She cradled a cat in her arms. The girl looked to be no more than nine or ten years old. She was very pale. And the cat looked more dead than alive.
The cat stared at the man through cold yellow eyes.
“Child?” the man said. “Are ye tryin’ to catch the death out tonight?’
“If ye’ll give me shelter in your shed for this night, sir,” she said, “I’ll sure clean the house come the dawnin’.”
“I’d be a pinchpenny man to take wages from a child for a act of kindness, now wouldn’t I, girl? Come in the house and sup with me and my old woman.” He waved the small girl inside and once more fought the door closed.
The woman’s fear had left her at the sight of the harmless looking girl and her cat. She smiled as the cat leaped from the girl’s arms and made itself comfortable some distance from the roaring fire. It began licking itself dry, ignoring them all. Aloof and silent.
The woman gave the child a piece of dry cloth with which to dry herself, and an old rag of a dress to cover herself while her clothing was hung before the fire to dry. The child was given a bowl of stew and a hunk of bread.
“Do ye hav’ a name, girl?” the man asked. “And what are ye doin’ wanderin’ about on such a cruel night as this?”
“My name is Anya,” the girl said. Her dark eyes gave away nothing. Never changing. “And I’m traveling.”
“Without neither parent?” the woman asked. “Are ye a runaway?”
“No, mum. I have no parents.”
Suspicion sprang into the woman’s eyes. “Would ye be a gypsy, then?”
The child suddenly smiled, the smile changing her entire face, making her appear much more innocent. “No, mum. I’m just alone.” She cut her eyes to the cat. “Except for my cat, Pet.”
The cat paused in its licking at the mention of its name. It looked up, looking at the girl, then resumed its grooming.
“Are ye travelin’ far, then?” the man asked.
“London. ’Tis there I’m to be in the service of a grand gentlemen and his lady.”
“Ahh. Well,” the woman said. “You’ll rest well this night and come the morrow we’ll give ye food for travelin’.”
“I thank you, mum.”
Later, in the darkness of the quiet, sleeping cottage, on her pallet to the left of the fire, Anya regurgitated her undigested food. The food was not palatable to either female. They would both dine later.
As the rains and winds intensified, the cat and the girl rose from the pallet to pad silently to the bed where the man and woman lay, deep in sleep under the heavy covers.
Anya and Pet shared a secret thought. The girl nodded her head. Anya leaned forward, her mouth close to the man’s throat as Pet leaped onto the bed.
* * *
“A terrible, terrible thing,” the constable said, pushing back the crowds that had gathered around the cottage. “It’s a sight none of you wish to see.”
The storm had blown itself out, leaving in its wake a sky of murky gray. And death.
“It is true?” a man called from the crowd. “Have they both been drained of blood and eaten on?”
“I’m not at liberty to speak of that,” the constable said. “And you’d best hold your tongue of such talk. I’d not be spreading rumors were I you.”
A young man dressed in a dark suit and carrying a small leather bag came out of the death cottage and vomited on the ground. He wiped his mouth with a handkerchief and motioned for the constable to approach him.
“Did the man and woman own a cat?” the young doctor asked.
“No, sir. Dogs, but no cats.”
“Then where did the cat tracks come from?”
The constable shook his head. “I can’t say, sir. And I don’t know where the dogs have gone.”
“I want what is left of the man and woman to be placed in coffins immediately. The coffins sealed. No one must be allowed to see them. Is that understood?”
“Aye, sir. As you wish.”
On the edge of the huge crowd, a young girl with a cat in her arms watched the goings-on through dark expressionless eyes. The cat slept in her arms. Both girl and cat appeared bloated.
The girl’s coloring had improved dramatically.
The girl turned and walked away.