By Patrick O’Connell
“THAT FUCKING CAT IS IN THE FUCKING GARDEN AGAIN!”
The very loud and very angry voice from the kitchen belonged to my housemate Alan. He had his shirt pulled up to his nose and was wielding a fork with the air of a fencer, pointing out our back door into the garden. Beth and I were in the kitchen too, wincing. I looked at the human loudspeaker.
“You are ridiculous.”
“I’m not ridiculous, I’m allergic. Deathly.”
“Nobody is deathly allergic to cats,” I said; then I glanced at Beth. “Are they?”
She shrugged, adjusting her position on her chair so she could draw her knees up to her chin.
“Dunno. Natural selection if they are, I suppose.”
Alan made a face at her through the fabric of his t-shirt. “Look, please can one of you kick it out of here. Please.”
I glanced at Beth, who was suddenly extremely engrossed in her phone, and sighed, before stepping out into the garden to confront the befurred intruder. I knelt down, and the animal rose its head up to meet me with a rumbling purr, rubbing against the back of my hand. Suddenly, he pulled back, flattening his ears and hissing with beastly vitriol. I fell backwards, planting my palms painfully upon the gravel. The cat stared over my shoulder with twopenny pupils.
When I wheeled around to look, I saw a hulking shadow in the corner of the yard, a shadow that belonged to nobody but was unquestionably somebody. A cold settled upon me, and the hairs on my neck rose with primitive fright.
Then I blinked, and it was just a corner.
When I turned back around, I caught only a glimpse of black tail disappearing over the fence.
The next time I saw the shadow was at the self-checkout in the supermarket. A figure, leering and close, reflected in the glass display. I started seeing it on my ceiling when I fell asleep, and watching me from the foot of my bed in the morning. I figured I was just overtired.
About a week after I saw him in my garden, I was returning home from a fruitless late-night session in the Billy B, jamming my hands into my pockets. On my front step, leaning her back against the door, was a woman I’d never seen before. She wore a hat and scarf, and a purple cardigan that seemed way too thin for the weather.
“I’m sorry, have we met?”
“Not yet.” A familiar, bushy shape slunk between her legs and assessed me with yellow eyes.
“Oh, is that your cat? He’s been in our garden quite a bit.”
“He doesn’t belong to me.” The woman moved down the steps at a leisurely pace, and I took a step back – you know, social distancing and all that. Not because I was shitting myself a little bit. “The time will come – rather soon, in fact – when you will need my help.” She reached into her bag and withdrew an envelope, crisp and a little yellowed, and handed it out to me. “This is for you. It’s important.”
Apparently deciding to make a habit of accepting random objects from potential asylum escapees, I took it, and tucked it under my arm.
“Yeah, I’m really sorry, but I don’t…”
She shook her head, and held up a finger. “No, no, I’m busy right now. Absolutely up to my neck in it, I’m afraid, so I can’t give you any more than that, for now.”
“I don’t think I want more than that.”
At that, she chuckled, then brusquely moved past me onto the street. The cat gave me a pleasant meow, then trotted after her.
When I tipped the envelope onto my bed, I found three items.
A postcard of the market square, that read “Almost as interesting as Newcastle!”
A key with an odd pattern.
And, most alarmingly, a recognizable harmonica. So crazy person #2 was a bin diver?
Drawn in red ink on the other side of the postcard was a rectangle, a series of numbers and a note which altogether read:
2 1 3 1 4
Play it again, Bill.
What did I do with all of this? Was this the kind of thing you got in contact with the police over? Weird notes? Unlikely. Potential stalking and trashed-instrument returning? Maybe. Either way, it was too much for my silly little mind to handle at that point in time, so I decided that the most responsible course of action was probably to sweep everything onto the floor and forget about it.
I was woken up at one in the morning by creaking footsteps in the corridor. Not inherently strange, perhaps, until they stopped outside my door. My room was pitch dark, but the corridor light was on, and it cast a dim yellow line under the doorway, broken by two foot-shadows. Pointed inwards. I felt myself tense involuntarily, the same eerie, primal sense of danger overtaking me as it had that afternoon in the yard. It’s nothing. You’re being stupid. It’s just-
The handle began to turn. The bar made a slow quarter circle, and clicked against the lock. There was a pause, before the handle moved in reverse, letting out a soft creak.
I wanted to say something. Even a “hello” would have been preferable, but my throat felt gripped by fear. Whatever words I might have uttered crumbled to dust in my voicebox. The silence didn’t remain unbroken for long. A thick, wet hissing noise like a leaking inflatable became audible around the edges of the door. Barely regaining control of my body from the fear that gripped it, I crawled across the bed. From the vantage point of the edge of the bed, I could see something leaking under the door, a globular mass of shifting colours, like petrol on a summer pavement.
As it made its way onto my floor, the alien liquid started to bubble and curdle. Lumps of rainbow coalesced and rose, rippling and stretching upwards. The colours started to settle, turning first to the deep red of meat and then fading to a subtle, fleshy pale. They pulled together into a shape that was undeniably human. And then the glow faded, and we were plunged back into the black.
There’s something about a person’s eyes in the dark that makes them far scarier than any animal. They aren’t reflective but are nonetheless absolutely perceptible. Two human eyes hovered in the dark a foot away, and they were watching me. I felt held, frozen by that gaze, and I would have stayed that way if it hadn’t spoken.
“Going to die.”
I threw myself back, sending the bedsprings acreaking and bashing myself against the headboard. I knew that voice, just barely. I’d met its owner once before.
“You. Going to die,” said the Elvis impersonator, and then the two eyes lunged towards me.
Image via @yourlocalbreadman on Instagram