It’s pretty amazing what a guy will do for a date.
Take Dan O’Leary: it’s Sunday, and the Patriots play a game at two. Any other Sunday he’d be at Davie’s, the best beef-and-beer joint in northern Massachusetts. But this time around, instead of slamming back a shot and placing bets, he’s…
Dan challenged Stacey with his best are-you-serious? sneer. She laughed, tossing a honey-blonde curl off her shoulder.
“Come on, Dan. One afternoon. You know there’s a cat-napper on the loose.”
Dan rolled his eyes. He’d seen the articles; residents in Upton Heights were panicked. Nobody knew what was happening, but Dan envisioned the ridiculous image of some idiot riding around in a van, sliding open the door and snatching cats off the street.
“Cats creep me out. My pop once told me all cats come from an underground city where they’re plotting mankind’s destruction. He was a drunk.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Stacey said dryly. “The neighborhood girl who usually checks on her is out of town. And Susu keeps trying to find ways to get outside.”
Dan and Stacey had worked in adjoining cubicles for nearly two months, answering phones in a computer help center. He liked her immediately; she had one of those smiles that transformed the entire landscape of her face, adding dimples and contours while showcasing luminous teeth and tight, glossy lips.
Stacey raised an eyebrow, upping the stakes: “I’ll make you supper afterwards.”
So now Dan’s sitting in Stacey’s living room, and Susu is watching him like he’s a TV dinner in the microwave. It’s unnerving; the cat is as daffy-looking as her name suggests, with an oversized head and a stubby tale obviously somehow truncated. Stacey had left with only one instruction:
“She loves to run out of the house when you open the front door. So don’t.”
Of course, an hour later, watching the ESPN pre-game breakdown while sipping one of Stacey’s puckering wine coolers, Dan’s already forgotten.
Everything happens so fast that Dan never even realizes nobody is at the door. He opens it, and suddenly Susu whooshes between his legs.
Dan bolts after her, leaving the door wide open. His socked feet slide over the marble-stoned walkway as he struggles to keep up with the little white puffball, which darts across the street. It dodges traffic and disappears down a large drainage opening under the curb.
Dan is less successful crossing the street, and after nearly causing a few fender-benders, he stops by the drain. There’s no way he’s reaching blindly into the darkness; he’s seen that movie about the man-eating rats. But there is a manhole in the sidewalk; opening it could at least give him an idea of how deep the cat is. The cover’s rusted over, and Dan grunts as he pulls on it; finally, just before giving up, it pops loose.
It’s definitely Susu; she doesn’t sound that far away. Dan quickly assesses the options; he can call the fire department and run the risk of Stacey arriving home to witness the debacle. Or, he can grab hold of the little rusty rungs and climb down just a few feet, enough to hopefully scare the cat back up through the drain.
I better get more than dinner, Dan thinks, taking the first few steps down into the hole. The air is hot and stifling, and smells like rotting milk. In the midst of taking a deep breath, one of the rungs wrenches loose; Dan’s hands slip away and he falls a short distance, finally landing on his ass.
It’s dark, but the light streaming in from above is enough that the white blur catches Dan’s attention. He turns his head, realizing he’s looking down a tunnel. Dan reaches into his pocket, pulling out his cell phone; the dim blue display light illuminates the passage just enough so that he can see Susu’s eyes reflected back.
“Here kitty…” he begins, stopped by the realization that there are other glowing eyes watching him. Dan struggles to his feet, almost tripping on the dozens of felines now winding around his legs. They begin meowing, all of them; Dan suddenly can’t feel anything except the slicing of claws up his arms and legs and Susu’s fat, stubby tale knocking against his face.
Paul Milliken is an award-winning journalist by day, horror enthusiast by night. His fiction has previously been published in Byzarium and the anthologies Chilling Tales of Terror and the Supernatural (PD Publishing) and Tainted: Tales of Terror and the Supernatural (Strange Publications).