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By William W. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 1986 William W. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
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.
It died.CHAPTER 2
The woman died giving birth, as it was planned. As it must be. Her body was thrown into the river and devoured by crocodiles.
She had delivered twins; as it was planned. They were perfect. Animal and human. Both female. The baby girl's eyes were dark, her hair black as midnight. A birthmark was visible on her left arm. It was the shape of a cat's paw. The baby kitten was black, with yellow eyes. The surrogate mother who nursed both the newborn, fearfully, painfully, was killed after two months. Her body was tossed into the river and eaten. All attending priests and priestesses were sealed into a tomb and left to die, forever silencing the secret they and they alone knew.
It was the time when the man called Jesus Christ walked the sands, spreading His message. Only a few years before that man would be nailed to a rough wooden cross to die.
And the girl who was called Anya, and the cat who was called Pet watched it all.
And thoroughly enjoyed the suffering.
Then they were entombed alive, and would remain thus until they were called. As all gods must be. It would be hundreds of years before the archaeologists would come and disturb their resting place, unleashing the horror.CHAPTER 3
"'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."
"Any living 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.CHAPTER 4
Boston police were still baffled and no closer to solving the more than a dozen brutal and grotesque murders that had occurred the past month. Surely a madman was on the loose.
"I'll not have that filthy animal in this house," the matron of the orphanage told the dark haired, dark eyed little girl. "I didn't want you here to begin with. You're a trouble-maker, girl. The other children shun you. But I'm a good Christian woman, and I'll not turn you back out into the street. But you must get rid of that cat. Throw it out. Do you understand?"
"Yes, ma'am," the child said.
That night the orphanage burned to the ground. A dozen children and the matron died in the blaze. The police were able to determine that many of the bodies had been killed prior to the fire. And gnawed on.
Some said that they saw a young girl carrying a cat in her arms leaving the building just before the fire consumed the place. Others said they heard hideous screaming coming from the place before the fire started. But neither could be substantiated.CHAPTER 5
ST. LOUIS, 1915
The killings seemed to be tapering off. But for several weeks the city had been in the grip of a near-panic. While no one had yet to print the word, many citizens believed a vampire was on the loose.
"Where did she come from in the first place?" the director of the orphanage asked.
"She just appeared off the street," the head nurse said. "Three weeks ago. She was dressed in a garment that was out of style twenty-five years ago. She was very pale and sickly. And the cat appeared to be near death. Now both are robust. And inseparable. And we all have reason to believe she leaves the home at night. With the cat."
"And several of the children have become very ill." It was not put in question form.
"Extremely ill. And we don't know from what. One is so weak she can barely raise her head. And she's so pale."
"Are you suggesting this new child has something to do with the sudden rash of illness here?"
The nurse hesitated. "I ... don't know what I'm suggesting, sir. Only that all this illness started after the girl came here."
Neither of them noticed the cat sitting on the window ledge outside the office. Four stories up from the ground level. Had they seen the cat, they might. have noticed its eyes had changed colors. They were no longer yellow. They were dark. Like the girl called Anya.
The cat appeared to be listening. Very intently. Its head was cocked to one side, the dark eyes staring and unblinking.
A knock came at the door.
"Come," the director said.
A large woman entered the office. She was dressed in whites. She had a worried look on her broad, pleasant face. "Mrs. Bradford?" she said, looking at the head nurse.
"Young Missy has died."
Director and head nurse stood up. "Of what?" the man asked.
The nurse looked frightened, confused. "Sir, there doesn't appear to be any blood left in the poor child."
The cat disappeared from the ledge.
Neither the cat nor the girl named Anya were ever seen at the orphanage again.CHAPTER 6
NEW ORLEANS, 1940
The unexplained killings had tapered off, much to the relief of the NOPD, who had, to date, been unable to solve a single one. And they had been more than just killings. These were macabre. Grotesque. Blood-sucking and cannibalistic.
The big street cop stood trying to catch his breath. The little girl sure was fast on her feet. He looked down a dark alley; thought he caught a glimpse of something moving very slowly. There! Right next to that building.
What the hell was it? Holy Mother! It wasn't human, but it wasn't animal. It seemed to be a combination of both.
The cop stepped closer, blinked his eyes, shook his head. Stared.
The cop stepped closer and froze in fright and horror at the sight before his street-hardened eyes. He again blinked. What he was seeing was impossible.
But there it was.
It was a big cat. No! It was a little girl. No ... Oh, my god! It was ... they were ... joined.
The cop had caught the pair in their most vulnerable moment; that instant when cat reentered feline shape and girl was once more taking human form.
They both were covered with blood.
The cat and the girl looked up as the cop clicked on his flashlight, the harsh beam reflecting off bloody teeth that snarled at him.
The big cop screamed in terror and ran for the lighted street. He heard the sounds of feet and paws behind him. He heard the low growling and snarling and fear made him very swift.
The footsteps and paw paddings were getting closer.
The cop said a silent prayer and began really picking them up and putting them down.
"Murphy!" he screamed at his partner, standing across the street, chatting with a lady of the evening. "Murphy! Kill it. For God's sake — kill it!"
Murphy pulled his service revolver and looked wildly around him. The lady of the evening hauled her ass, looking for a john to sell it to.
"Kill what, Rufus?" he yelled. The street was empty.
Patrolman Rufus Gremillion chanced a glance over his shoulder. He stopped in the street and looked in all directions.
There was no one behind him. No creatures. No monsters. Nothing.
Rufus bent over, trying to ease the stitch in his side. He caught his breath. "No more booze for me, Murphy," he proclaimed. "That's it. From this moment on, I'm taking the pledge. No more booze. Ever."
"What did you see back there, Rufus?" Murphy asked. He had almost shit his pants when his partner started hollering.
"A glimpse of hell, Murphy. A glimpse of hell."
And he never spoke of it again.
The killings stopped.CHAPTER 7
NEW YORK CITY, 1965
The girl and the cat were both getting fat and lazy, for food was plentiful in this city, and they were feasting each night. It was well, though. For soon they would have to enter their twenty-five year cycle of rejuvenation. And the time was getting close. And they still had not found a suitable place for their long rest.
It was none too soon. The residents of New York City were getting edgy, even more fearful than usual of traveling alone at night. Too many blood-drained and gnawed-on bodies were being found.
Tonight would be the final night of feasting in the city, and then the child and the cat would move on to find a suitable place to sleep.
The girl had noticed something else, too. As the years rolled by, it was not only customs and language and dress that changed-that was easy to cope with. But it was becoming more and more difficult for a young girl to travel the country alone. Almost impossible unless one moved at night, and even then, one had to be very careful.
No telling what problems the next life-cycle would bring.CHAPTER 8
Ruger County, Virginia. 1985.
"Ummm?" Dan Garrett looked up from his paper at his son. The boy — no, that wasn't correct, the father amended-his son was a young man; junior at the university.
"What were you doing in 1965?"
"Walking the floor at the hospital, waiting for you to be born." He grinned and winked at his only son.
Carl Garrett laughed. "Come on, Dad! Get serious, will you?"
"All right. What, specifically, about '65, did you have in mind?"
"New York City."
"The Big Orange," his father said, his grin spreading.
"Apple, Dad," his daughter corrected. "It's known as the Big Apple."
"I knew it was some kind of fruit." Dan winked at his wife.
The daughter grimaced. "You're impossible."
Excerpted from Cat's Cradle by William W. Johnstone. Copyright © 1986 William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Cat's Cradle by William W. Johnstone has been around since the 1980s and is one of an increasing number of books from that era being made available in digital format. This was an enjoyable read and typical of the books I loved as a teenager. It had literally everything - monsters, flesh-eating bugs, zombies and even the Lord of Darkness himself, Satan. What more could a horror fan ask for? It's certainly not one to be taken seriously and had me laughing out loud at times; especially when Satan uses the telephone to make a phone call. I mean, come on, a phone, really??!!! This book was a fun way to spend a few hours on a rainy day and I'm happy to have had the experience.
This is one of my favorite books. Johnstone's talent in westerns is mirrored by his ability to scare readers while writing a story that a reader can't put down.