Despite the light beneath the black streetlamps, the night was dark, dismal, and full of the eeriness of fall. Beneath a starless sky lies a tall, thick cement wall separating a stack of oak trees from the large backyards of the old houses. A young cat, woeful and abandoned, silently came into view on the opposite corner across a narrow, darkly paved street. The cat had found temporary concealment and shelter between the bases of two recycle bins left up against a raised curbside for Tuesday morning’s six o’clock pick-up. The cat’s tail lay oddly, straight and stiff, like a stick of dry gum. Its ears pointed sharply at the cap, crinkled all around the edges, and soft, like that of South American vampire bats.
Already, the cat was missing several whiskers in the center from a couple of claw swaps from another presumably female cat. The cat had gotten worse because it also had a significant limp on its left hind leg. It had only been a few weeks since the cat named Aubrey had been tossed from the driver’s side window of a car at the first stop sign into the town of Paskly.
The cat was left to manage on its own in an unfamiliar place, a decision not lesser worse than dropping it at the county pound. The cat’s distressed appearance had only a few glimmers of domestic grooming at the nape of its neck. The dark fur only had one spot smoothed down and glossy by its continual nervous licking. The cat’s spine appeared unnaturally visible while its belly hung loose, empty, and relatively low, nearly touching the cold pavement.
Merva Suthers, twenty-one, reached the end of the lighted sidewalk and stopped abruptly, unaware of the black cat. She pulled off her green-colored cap, slightly scowling and momentarily blemishing her otherwise very alluring face. A pile of hair, hue of sable, fell damply around her slender shoulders.
She was angry because she had to stop in her nightly run a second time to allow another break. It had become a chronic occurrence after the ankle injury on her last day camping at the nearby lake at the end of Labor Day. Aubrey, not yet a year old, came toward the center of the broad street. Merva was still breathing fast and became aware of Aubrey and her bad limp about three yards away.
The terrible clatter of an old car’s engine approaching the streetlights two blocks away pulled the cat’s attention in its direction. Merva, unalarmed, briefly looked, but not immediately, because she was already focused on her usual leg stretches. Merva could make out an off-white painted Volvo coming up along the empty road.
The driver kept the speed slow and measured, and it traveled up in a crooked fashion in their direction. Merva finished stretching, and her long trim arms fell to her side as she continued watching the Volvo drive up onto the next block. The cat gave a fierce and bleak meow, and Merva’s blue eyes instantly came onto the cat that had reached the clean, wet gutter. Although the sprinklers had been shut off a while.
Merva stepped forward, closely observing the unwell condition and somberness of the cat. She squatted down to the cat’s level and whispered, “Oh, poor kitty. Cannot you find any cheer tonight?” A pair of dogs immediately started barking, startling Merva, who stood up quickly and looked behind her. The dogs came from the most prominent houses and belonged to the house owner, a hostile older man in the twilight of seventy. It was unusually late for the German Shepherds to be still out, but they always stayed within their fenced yard covered with yellow. The cat ignored the aggressive dog’s barking. Unafraid and lying on its right side in a slight curl in front of Merva.
The dog’s wet noses remained up and against the octagons of the fence, pressing on the thin vines of morning glories with their flowers tightly closed. The dogs were intelligent enough to escape but always remained despite noise or scent. The dogs’ barking increased, the cat’s head raised slightly, and peered past Merva.
Merva noticed the cat’s eyes were bright green, the perfect shade mirrored artificial grass.
In the darkness of the advanced night, Merva watched Aubrey’s eyes gleam straight at her. For those few moments, Aubrey did not look starved for scarce leftovers, and Merva imagined the only close source of some must come from the children that were often brought to the nearby community park from specific mothers in total despair. The dogs’ barking got louder as the car came down onto their block. The car’s path often leaves the white guidance line and then sluggishly returns.
Merva looked back down at the cat’s eyes which now seemed ghost-like, and dread filled her and caused her to gasp. She looked away and down at the orange walkmen fastened on her gray sweat pants and heard the eerie noise of the car’s engine as it approached closer. She accidentally pressed on her player, and her attention came upon the last lyrics of her favorite song, “Metro,” by artists Berlin. She pulled the end of the wires, and the tiny speakers fell from her ears.
She tightened her cap again, ready to turn and run to the path through the community park that leads to her townhouse, as the car came beside her. It jumped the curb, ran over the cat, and nearly hit her. The car reversed slowly, rolling into the wet gutter with tires stained with the cat’s blood. Merva hesitated; she glanced at the cat’s eyes one final time. A flash of bright green glistened before its small lids quickly closed like a camera lens. The driver fiercely engaged the engine, and Merva started dashing away while the mysterious driver drove the car. Merva ran into the darkness, passing all the oak trees before she turned around to observe the vehicle, slowly turned off, and then disappeared.
Merva’s legs began stiffening like the cat’s tail, and she started walking. A sharp pulse near her ankle returned from a former fracture from falling off a six-step ladder during the last week of summer when she tried to put a camping tent in the rafters of the car garage. She lied for a couple of weeks in horrible pain. She turned the player on and pulled the volume up until she could crisply hear the next song’s tune.
She took out her gloves from the side pockets of her red windbreaker. She tugged them on as her fingers shivered from the chill through her gloves. Merva heard a noise and pressed the button to an F.M. signal to hear the noise again, slightly louder. Merva’s stopped walking and touched the station buttons of her walkmen. The sound of claws and growls in the bushes and trees.
She pulled out the speaker plugs from her ear to hear it more precisely, and as she continued walking. She recognized animal claws mixing in with the bleak night sounds. A cold gust of wind blew her cap off and scattered many leaves across the lawn of the community park. She slowly walked in horrible pain, the acorns cracking underneath the weight of the rubber soles of her gray running shoes.
The night sounds grew more dire and loud.
She hastened her steps and prayed the clawing noise would cease or at least become faint. But the sound continued. She came to the giant tree near the middle of the community park and stopped. She forced herself to look behind and found an adequate but distant light illuminating the older man’s house.
Her blue eyes were drawn back down to the sidewalk, then just ahead of the sidewalk were tiny oval-shaped animal prints. The gloomy gust increased, sweeping the acorns into the empty corners of the frigid night.
Merva was afraid because she sensed something stalking her, waiting for her, and as the minutes passed, the danger. She needed to reach the safety of her townhouse; she measured about a mile away. She decided she could still run without permanent injury. She did not want to confront whatever was making that eerie noise. And she somehow knew that would be a mistake.
She needed to run despite the danger and hard throbbing in her ankle. She looked up at the giant moon above her and followed its illumination down the sidewalk. A vast cloud was reaching closer to the edge of the gigantic mass and soon would obscure its light. She must run before the night becomes pitch black. Her blue eyes filled with unease as they searched for other lights, but there were none natural or otherwise.
She had gone down this path across the community park only once in the daylight. It was filled with dog walkers, cars passing, and a group of city workers. The park seemed melancholy, far from that experienced she had recalled, and she knew it was the fear that was tangled in her thoughts. She kept her gaze straight ahead into the gloomy distance that yielded to illuminated townhouses.
She managed to pick up her pace, motivated by worry to escape the mysterious noises she wished were only in her mind. She pulled down her sleeves when the scratching came back loud and vile. But she was not prepared for this—. The tiny keychain pocket knife she carried seemed useless as if the blade was made of plastic instead of steel.
She wasn’t prepared for anything coming out of the shadows to find her alone in the total vulnerability of night. She couldn’t outrun anything or fight anything, she thought. Merva felt the stalker was still close, and this caused her to panic. She finally noticed a gravely long cast in the grass from the abandoned solar lanterns that hung high between the bushes that led off the park into a vacant property and two empty houses because they were still unfinished. The houses were only dire shells and would remain so.
She finally reached the street where her townhouse sat. She turned around and then stood frozen as she stared out into all the bright green eyes, all the shade of artificial grass starring out from the cryptic darkness.
Dozens of cats with dark fur curved like a steep wave, and their claws were abnormally larger than their paws. A large cat dropped from within the thickness of the branches falling with several acorns onto Merva’s back, ripped open the back of her windbreaker, drawing blood that spotted her white t-shirt with her high school’s name. It came down to her ankle and bit it. She kicked it in extreme pain, feeling terror.
The cats gathered in from every side and started moving in through the inky mist of the night’s freezing layers lying in the townhouse. Just alongside the countryside landscape.
She called into the darkness, and nothing but dreadful screeches and growls replied. She turned around and started running first, carefully feeling the intense pain. But the cats kept up were running behind her. If the wild cats caught her, she knew the numbers alone would put her in danger. She pushed into a sprint through the grass, cutting across it to the stretch of bare ground that outlined the park. She could hear the paws of the cats.
The shadow followed behind them all in the impenetrable darkness. Her injured ankle caught a shallow recess in the earth, and Merva almost came back down. But she balanced herself and found her pure speed again that training couldn’t get but natural ability.
She stood behind the front window of her locked, alarmed, and lit-up townhouse, unaware the true terror was waiting inside.