Within the dark laundry room she stood to the side of the door's narrow glass, where she would not be seen from the street, stood looking out into the night. The black sidewalk and the leafy growth across the street in the neighboring yards formed a dense tangle, a vague mosaic fingered by sickly light from the distant streetlamp. Pale leaves shone against porch rails and steps, unfamiliar and strange, and beneath a porch roof hung a mass of vines, twisted into unnatural configurations. Beneath these gleamed the disembodied white markings of the gray cat, where it crouched staring in her direction, predatory and intent, waiting among the black bushes for her to emerge again into the night. She stepped aside, not breathing, moving farther from the glass.
But the cat turned its head, following her movement, its yellow eyes, catching the thin light, blazing like light-struck ice, amber eyes staring into hers. Shivering, sickened, she backed deeper into the shadows of the laundry room, clutching her voluminous black raincoat more tightly around herself, nervously smoothing its lumpy, heavy folds.
She couldn't guess how much the cat could see in the blackness through the narrow glass; she didn't know if it could make out the pale oval of her face, the faint halo of gray hair. The rest of her should blend totally into the darkness of the small room, her black-gloved hands, the black coat buttoned to her throat. Even her shoes and stockings were black. She had no real understanding of precisely how well cats could see in the dark, but she imagined this beast's vision was like some secret laserbeam, some infrared device designed for nighttime surveillance.
She could only guess that the cat had followed her here. How else could he have found her? Somehow he had followed the scent of her car along the village streets, then tracked her, once she left the car, perhaps by the smell of the old cemetery on her shoes, where she had walked among the graves earlier in the day? Such skill and intensity in a common beast seemed impossible. But with this animal perhaps nothing was impossible.
Earlier, approaching the house, she hadn't seen him, and she had watched warily, too, studying the bushes, peering into the late-aftemoon shadows, then had slipped in through the unlocked front door quickly. Not until she had finished her stealthy perusal of the house, taking what she wanted, and was prepared to leave again had she seen the beast, waiting out there, crouched in the night-waiting just as, three times before, it had waited. Seeing it, her mouth had gone dry, and she had wanted to turn and run, to escape.
But now the sounds behind her down the hall kept her from fleeing back through the house to the front; she was trapped here. She was terrified that someone would come this way, step from the brightly lit kitchen, down the hall, and into the laundry room, switch on a sudden light. She could hear the little family, gathered in the bright kitchen, preparing supper, the clang of pans and dishes, the parents and the three children bantering back and forth with good-natured barbs.
Stroking her bulky coat, she fingered the hard little lumps of jewelry and the three small antique clocks, the lizard handbag and matching pumps, the roll of twenties and fifties, the miniature painting, all tucked neady away in the hidden pockets sewn into the lining. She should be on a high of elation-the day had been unusually profitable. She should not be shivering because a cat -- a common, stupid beast -- waited for her to emerge into the night. Yet she had never felt so helpless.
The cat moved again shifting among the shadows, and for a moment she saw it clearly, its sleek gray coat dark as storm clouds, its white parts stark against the black foliage. It was a big cat, hard-muscled. The white strip down its nose made it seem to be frowning, scowling with angry disapproval. Am easy cat to identify; you would not mistake this one. This cat had no tail, just that short, ugly stub. She didn't know if it was a Manx or if it had gotten de-tailed in some accident. It should have been beheaded.
It was the kind of big, square beast that might easily tackle a German shepherd and come out the winner, the kind of cat, if you saw it slinking toward you through a dim alley, ready to spring, you would turn away and take an alternate route. And the creature wasn't a stray -- it was too well fed, sleek, and confident, nothing like the thin, dirty strays her friend Wenona used to feed down around the wharf.
She would not in her wildest dreams ever be a person to get friendly with cats; not as Wenona had. Wenona had seemed drawn to cats. It was Wenona who told her about this kind of beast, told her years ago that there were unnatural felines in the world, sentient animals that knew far more of humanity than they should, knew more of human language and of human hungers and human needs than seemed possible. The tales of those creatures even now terrified her.
Now again the cat's eyes blazed directly at her, its narrow face and hot stare burning into her, shaking her with its strange, unreadable intent. What did it want?
Three times just this last week the cat had tracked her as she approached other houses, had trailed her as she searched for an unlocked door, and had watched her slip inside -- had been waiting an hour later when she came out.
The first time she saw it, she assumed it was some neighborhood cat, but days later, when she saw the same distinctively marked tomcat in a totally different neighborhood, following her again, she had thought of Wenona's stories. Cat Raise the Dead
. Copyright © by Shirley Murphy. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.