The Man Who Didn't Like Cats
by Frank Roger
As Herbert came home from work and slammed the door shut behind him, he saw from the corner of his eye how a familiar black shape leapt out of the window, and thus out of his range of vision.
Damned creature, he thought, anger welling up inside him. He put down his briefcase and hurried to the window the black shape had escaped through. So old Mrs. Clarence's cat had gained entry to his apartment once again. Dammit, he thought, what has the creature been up to this time? He quickly completed a tour of inspection of his apartment. Yes, indeed, as he could have guessed the wretched animal hadn't spent its time idly here, hadn't limited itself to casual sightseeing. Not that he expected anything but trouble from the black monster.
He cursed when he noted a curtain had been torn, a wire connecting his stereo rig had been bitten through and a cushion on his couch was spreading the distinct odour of cat's urine. He hated the damned cat - and judging from its activities in his apartment during his absence, the feelings were very much mutual.
He considered his options.
One : go and talk about the problem with Mrs. Clarence.
Two : go and talk about the problem with the landlord.
Three : to hell with the old bitch one floor down and the not-so-old-but-equally-hopeless man two floors down and take drastic measures himself.
The first option had little going for it, he realised. Mrs. Clarence kept repeating that cats were extremely careful and clean and easily house-trained animals, and that her cat in particular would never do the horrible things Herbert accused it of. Knocking down glasses and vases and messing up his rooms? Urinating on the couch? Ripping curtains and blankets and clothes to shreds? Out of the question! The poor animal never even left her own apartment, so where did he get the idea it was responsible for all that went wrong over at his place? No doubt he was just looking for a scapegoat to blame everything on : his ramshackle equipment that kept breaking down, his worn-out clothes and stuff, the leaks in the ceiling and his own spilled drinks forming puddles everywhere. He ought to get his act together, and stop drinking and imagining things, instead of blaming a poor woman's innocent cat, her only companion and solace in the loneliness of old age. He ought to be ashamed of himself.
Discussions with the landlord, who lived down on the first floor, tended to lead to absolutely nothing as well. Yes, the man invariably replied, nodding in agreement, there was no need to remind him of the fact that the tenants were not allowed to keep pets, he knew very well it was explicitly stated in the contract, and yes, he would definitely talk about it with Mrs. Clarence, and settle the matter once and for all. No pets were allowed and there was no reason whatsoever to make an exception for the old woman's cat. But of course the man never broached the subject with the woman on the second floor, or if he did his efforts remained without effect. Probably the man was one of those goddamned cat lovers himself and didn't really mind Mrs. Clarence keeping a pet, even if it was against the rules, and presumably he didn't want to admit to Herbert that he was giving the old woman some leeway in this respect, considering the fact she had lost her husband a long time ago and didn't he understand she needed the company and comfort only the heart-warming presence of a cat could provide? Anyway, cats were harmless creatures, so why would they take away what was essential for Mrs. Clarence's happiness and well-being, and so forth and so on.
That left him with option number three. He would start work on a strategy soon. It wouldn't be easy, he would have to be extremely careful, and a wide variety of elements had to be taken into account, but it should be possible to work out a plan with a reasonable chance of success.
One night's sleep would be well worth the sacrifice, provided his second stratagem proved more successful than his first attempt at cat hunting. The dish of poisoned cat food he had left on the floor, close to the window left invitingly ajar, hadn't been touched - although there were traces of a nightly cat's visit. It was as if the damn creature had wanted to make it clear to him that his attempt at poisoning it were totally ridiculous and absolutely futile. It had knocked down a few baubles on his bookcase, slid a magazine from his coffee-table onto the floor, and left a latticework of scratches on his fake mahogany desk, like signatures in a visitors' book, proving at once it had put in an appearance and found, examined and rejected the poisoned food. Herbert knew cats were choosy and had a highly developed olfactory sense, so he had opted for a colourless, odourless and tasteless poison. It hadn't fooled the cat, however.
So this time he had prepared a dish of pure catfood, not tampered with in any way, totally harmless. He had even added a few extra ingredients he knew cats were very fond of. This gourmet cat meal should be absolutely irresistible to any normal cat. Only this time he would be waiting for the uninvited (but not unexpected) guest - armed with a spraycan that should blind the creature and turn it into a helpless prey. He would be out of sight, yet close enough for the fatal blow. He had rehearsed the ambush and his subsequent attack a few times in his mind, had tried to foresee what could possibly go wrong and how to remedy those shortcomings in his strategy. He was convinced he hadn't overlooked the slightest detail and success could not elude him anymore.
So he waited, darkness completely enveloping him, with only the sounds of the night coming through the open window rupturing the peace and tranquillity. Time went by. The cat didn't show its face. Herbert forced himself to stay awake, and remain motionless and silent in his hiding place. Every now and then he took a sip from his bottle. More time went by. The night seemed endless, a period of absolute emptiness stretching into infinity. He didn't care how long he would have to wait. All that mattered now was the realisation of his objective : getting his hands on the cat and finishing it. Yet more time went by, teasingly slow.
Dammit, he thought, suddenly alarmed. He must have dozed off for a while there, because now he could see the first signs of approaching dawn in the night sky, and the last moment he remembered it had still been completely dark. He shook his head, casting off the sleep threatening to jeopardise his mission. He took another sip from his bottle, noticed it was half empty. Was the drink perhaps responsible for his dozing off? Impossible. He had been known to drink more of the stuff without growing sleepy. He was quite used to a little liquor; maybe he simply hadn't slept enough the past few days. As the night slowly turned into morning and the darkness dissipated, he noticed the cat food had been eaten. The dish was empty, had even been licked clean. A wave of despair washed over him. Had it been pure bad luck that the cat had entered his apartment when he had dozed off for a few minutes? Or, he hated the very idea, had the cat been patiently waiting outside for exactly that to happen, then rushed inside at the proper moment, gobbled up the delicious meal he had prepared, and left without a trace?
Well, not quite without a trace, he remarked as he noted the little puddle of what could only be cat's piss... right in front of him, within reaching distance. Frustratingly close to his hands. He threw the spraycan aside, rose to his feet, tried to loosen up his cramped muscles. He looked at his watch : still an hour and a half before he had to go to work. He would try to get some sleep before he left. And try to come up with a better method to get rid of his mortal enemy. Something told him that wouldn't be so easy. He had underestimated his enemy once, but that wouldn't happen twice.
He would make sure the third blow would be the fatal one.
Herbert yawned. Catching up on sleep might be a good idea for tonight. He had prepared a quick dinner, downed a few drinks (well, more than just a few, to be honest), watched TV for about fifteen minutes, and decided to call it a day. All his plans would have to wait - and that included the Great Plan To Solve The Cat Problem Once And For All.
So he retired to bed early, determined to let nothing get in the way of a good night's sleep.
Only he hadn't counted on one contender in the great man versus feline sweepstakes, he realised as he heard the meowing in his living room. At first he decided to ignore the damn cat. He needed his sleep, and anyway he hadn't worked out his tactics for his final and decisive onslaught yet. He would let the cat get away with one more nightly rampage, if grudgingly.
But the meowing grew increasingly persistent, and when he heard the sound of a vase that was knocked down to the ground and ended up shattered into a million fragments, he knew he was being called to battle. Sleep seemed to recede into the distance; it would have to wait until this matter had been settled. There was no way he could afford not to rise to this challenge. More disturbing sounds, coming from his living room, reached his ears. He worked himself into an upright position, sighed deeply, and cast off the last vestiges of sleep. He just had to pick up the gauntlet. Sleep would be his reward, when he returned victorious from the battlefield. A good night's sleep, and waking up in the knowledge that no unwelcome visitors would ever invade his privacy and do unnameable things during his absence again. He gathered his strength and jumped out of his bed, ready for action. He would show no mercy.
His living room was shrouded in semi-darkness, transformed into an eerily shimmering chiaroscuro each time the clouds obscuring the moon parted and allowed the moonlight to blend with the pale shine of the street lights spilling into the room through the windows. For a moment Herbert considered switching on the light, but decided against it. A well-lit room might make it easy for him to follow the cat's movements, but it would be a distinct disadvantage in that the cat would also clearly see him. It would have no trouble parrying his (sadly unprepared) attacks.
He waited for his eyes to adjust to the murk, then stepped forward, casting glances in all directions, concentrating on any sound that might help him in determining the cat's whereabouts. Silence was complete. Had he dreamed the cat was roaming around here? That would seem hardly likely. He bumped into his coffee-table, and an empty glass clattered to the ground. There was no reaction. The cat should have been at least as startled as he and should have yelped at the crash so unexpectedly rupturing the silence. Still, there had been nothing. Clearly, the cat must have left. Or had never been in here to start with. He was about to return to his bedroom when he heard the meowing in his kitchen.
He quickly strode into the kitchen, fury welling up inside him. In here it was completely dark; no light spilled this far inside his apartment. There! Cat's eyes. Cats did have red eyes, didn't they? Or... was it merely some reddish glow or reflection, a fluorescence on a display panel on some of his electronic kitchen equipment? There was no way to tell, of course. But the cat just had to be here. He'd heard the damn creature. But right now he neither heard nor saw a thing. No doubt it was hiding someplace, closely watching him, preparing its next move.
He cursed as he heard a shriek and a series of dull thuds coming from his living room. The damn cat was driving him crazy. Was it doing this on purpose, in an effort to send him into a raging fury and render his attack less effective? He would have to control his emotions, keep himself in check, and stay level-headed, or he wouldn't stand a chance against this agile and quick-witted opponent.
He rushed back into the living room, thought he saw a black shape move towards his bookcase, and darted in that direction. Before he could get there, he tripped over the empty glass lying on the floor, smacked his knee painfully into the coffee-table and went down, thrashing wildly about. He tried to hold on to what appeared to be a line of books, which came crashing down onto him. He lay there for a while, sprawling, gasping for breath, recovering from the shower of books and baubles that had hit him. The throbbing pain in his knee made him crawl into an upright position and take stock of his admittedly rather deplorable situation. He tried to ignore the pain and rose to his feet, his face a contorted mask of fury and frustration. There was no way he would let the cat get away with this. He would not allow it to get the upper hand. Or paw.
He leaned rather heavily against the bookcase, and more books came tumbling down. He steadied himself, knocked a few more baubles down and froze when he heard the cat meowing, clearly now, unmistakably, mockingly. The creature was enjoying its successes. He would make sure its joy would be short-lived.
A dimly visible black shape darted between his wobbly legs, and, completely taken by surprise, he lashed out at it, lost his balance and struck the only bookcase still standing. Another paperback cascade was the result. Furious now, he cursed and slammed his hand against the wall. The cat was teasing him, playing with him as if he were a mouse, wearing him out as a matador would a bull. A long drawn-out meowing filled the room... or was that the sound of squealing tires on the street outside? One moment he was confused. The two sounds were so damn similar. He would have to listen very carefully. If he mistook sounds coming from outside for the cat's noise, it might foul up his plan of action.
There! The black shape had passed before the window, and it had definitely possessed the forms of a cat. It had only been a glimpse, of course, but he was pretty sure he'd seen a cat outlined against the backdrop of the night sky, faintly illuminated by the street lights. He blinked a few times, tried to see more clearly. His vision got rather blurry at times, and his legs grew more wobbly with each passing moment. Of course, he badly needed sleep. And maybe he shouldn't have drunk that much. But how was he to know this night would be the Night of the Battle? Anyhow, it was now too late to change any of that. He had a job to finish here. Better get it over with fast, so he could get back to bed.
He kicked a pile of paperbacks aside, and nearly fell down as he saw the black shape darting past once again. This time he reacted promptly. He hacked and slashed, but only hit thin air. The sound of objects tumbling down to the floor reached his ears... or were those sounds coming from outside again? Never mind all that now. He had to concentrate and ignore any distractions that might interfere with the job at hand.
When he noticed two reddishly glowing eyes in front of him (or were they rather greenish? hard to tell, the colour shimmered, seemed to change hue constantly), mocking him, teasing him, defying him, he lunged forward and started kicking and tearing and hitting everything that came within range. If you're not a sharpshooter, you might as well produce a shower of lead shot you couldn't miss your target with. He cut his hand on something, and pain flashed through his arm and went straight up to his brain. It infuriated him, drove him into a frenzy that made him forget the pain and allowed him to intensify his mad thrashing and milling.
At that point everything became a blur, a whirlpool of sensations perceived too vaguely to fully register, a wildly spinning vortex of shrill sounds, amorphous shapes dimly visible through the murky twilight, acrid smells and sudden jolts of pain. His apartment seemed to flicker in and out of existence, as he caromed from wall to wall, splintering furniture he found on his path, ripping like a tornado through his books and CDs, a puppet whose strings were pulled by a puppetmaster torn apart by spasms, a wrecking ball swung by a seizure-stricken demolisher. I'm dreaming all this, he thought in a far corner of his mind where a fragment of cold reason still lingered. This is a terrible nightmare. I must be delirious. This can't be real.
It was a relief to feel the cool night air, the sense of total freedom as he felt himself floating, freed of everything that bound him, detached from the real world that had seemed so suffocating just there. Floating. Or was it falling?
Clipping from the Westport Gazette, April 14th, 2010:
"Yesterday morning Mr. Herbert Carruthers was found dead on the sidewalk in front of 47 Coverdale Street, where he lived in his apartment on the second floor. The man apparently fell off his balcony at night, although there are indications he may have been pushed. The autopsy will doubtlessly shed some light on the actual cause of death. It has been confirmed by a reliable source that Mr. Carruther's apartment was trashed, although it is as yet unclear whether burglars were involved or if the victim inflicted the damage himself prior to his fatal fall. His downstairs neighbour, Mrs. R.C., told us confidentially that Mr. Carruthers had a drinking problem which "may well have been responsible for whatever happened on that fateful night." She added, "He was a strange man. Always complaining, always blaming others for his own blundering. He really shouldn't have drunk so much." Despite this rather harsh criticism, Mrs. R.C. appeared quite smitten with grief at the death of her upstairs neighbour, her voice on the verge of breakdown, tears welling up in her eyes, her cat clutched against her bosom. The sight of the cat, gently purring, with a defiant and even triumphant look in its eyes, clashed rather vehemently with the overall atmosphere of mourning."