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Friday purred gently, looking up at Trixie with adoration as she stroked under his chin and around his ears. He was certainly aware of his luck at having her as his person. She smoothed his glossy coat and kissed his nose, to which he responded by bumping his head against her face and rubbing against her hair.
“The workers will be working on the road again tomorrow, I suppose. It’s so noisy and dusty though… I had a terrible headache all day. I think I will go out early and find somewhere quiet to spend the day. I do hope they finish the job soon!”
True to her word, Trixie was up and dressed to head off well before the council workers arrived. As she left, Friday slipped out the door and headed into the back yard where the morning sun warmed his glossy black coat as he stretched out on the garden wall. His peace and quiet was disturbed, however, by the sound of banging and clattering from the street.
Friday twitched his tail as he considered his options. The churchyard at the end of the block might be quieter. He could use the time to hunt for mice or lizards. Or he could have some fun trying to spook a council worker or two.
His mind made up, he headed into the front yard with his head high, his steps deliberate, and his tail held straight behind him. Leaping onto the top rail of the front fence, he yowled loudly and angrily, arching his back and puffing out his tail.
The nearest worker jumped instinctively at the sound, then turned to see the black cat staring at him. His workmates roared with laughter at his fright.
“Aw, poor Stan. He’s had a scare!” Mock sympathy from George only added insult to Stanley’s injured pride.
“‘Ere, that’s not a good sign, you know. Black cats are bad luck!” Stan protested, much to the amusement of his mates.
Friday repressed his delight at Stan playing so naively into his paws. Things were already going better than he had anticipated.
“I don’t believe in luck, it’s all rubbish,” the foreman growled. “Get back to work, scaredy cat. Come on, you lot. There’s work to be done.”
A low growl rumbled in Friday’s throat. ‘Scaredy cat’ was the ultimate insult, as far as he was concerned. His tail waved against the fence with a very decided flick at the end of each pass, and his eyes tracked the movements of the foreman, who made himself busy inspecting and criticising the work of each of his crew in turn.
“Good grief, man! Do you think you’re going to dig a hole using that thing as though you’re afraid of it? You’ve got to show that jackhammer who’s boss!”
The hapless workman looked up in dismay as the foreman berated him, the noisy jackhammer still working at the asphalt until he lost focus on how it was moving. The powered chisel jumped along the road’s surface until it struck his foot, biting easily through the leather of his boot and the flesh and bones within. In no time at all, the blade had severed the front of the man’s foot and boot, leaving it hanging out of the toe of the boot, chopped unevenly and bleeding. The foreman paled at the sight of blood pouring from the worker’s mangled foot as its owner screamed in agony.
Stan rushed to get the first aid kit as George, the occupational health and safety officer, lowered the injured man to the ground. Together, they elevated the limb, cut off the remains of the boot from around his ankle, and bound the foot tightly to stem the loss of blood as the foreman called for an ambulance. Stan looked for the severed part of the foot to preserve it for the medical team, but it was nowhere to be seen. Casting his eyes further afield, he spied a stray dog running down the road with a trail of fresh blood spattered behind him, already too far away for pursuit to be beneficial.
“I’m afraid your foot is gone,” he said to his mate in a very somber and respectful tone.
“You don’t say, Sherlock!” His mate spoke through gritted teeth.
“Me name’s not—no, I mean— oh, never mind…” Stan stopped and looked at his shoes, having decided there was no reason to make things worse now. His head spun slightly as he moved. His eyes swam with tears as he swallowed back the vomit that just had risen in his throat, yet he couldn’t complain – he still had two feet.
He looked up when felt a hand squeeze his shoulder. It was most unexpected of the foreman to be offering him any comfort, but he was glad of it.
“ ‘Ere, boss. ‘Ow long’s that ambulance gonna be?”
“I’m not your boss…” a deep, guttural vice said. Stan started at the coldness that pervaded his body when he heard the voice, and wondered if he was imagining things or just in shock. He inspected the man beside him closely, stunned to discover that his appearance wavered slightly as though he were made partly of shadow, and not completely solid as a person should be. Yet, the hand on his shoulder had felt real enough. A prickly sensation, hot and cold at the same time, spread over Stan’s skin and he felt his hair stand on end. Aware that he was staring and his mouth had dropped open, Stan tried to collect his thoughts. He lowered his voice respectfully and exclaimed, “Struth! You look just like ‘im!”
“Yeeeessssss,” breathed the figure, “It’s how we know who to look for. We wouldn’t want to get the wrong one.”
“N-n-no,” agreed Stan, suddenly very glad that this unexpected visitor did not look like him.
Greatly relieved to see the paramedics arrive, Stan tried not to think about the apparition standing nearby.
“Where’s the rest of his foot?” asked one of the paramedics.
“Stray dog took it. Ran off down the road, that way.” Stan pointed hopelessly.
The paramedic shook his head. “Unlucky bloke!”
“Yeah, he is a bit. Will he be alright?”
“Probably, but not today…”
“Right, Stanley, get back to work. You’ve been sitting here with this bloke long enough!” announced the foreman before he stopped abruptly beside Stan, confronted suddenly by his lookalike.
“Wha— what’s… going on here?” he asked, sounding much less confident than he had just before.
“What’s the matter, Cyril? You look like you’ve seen a ghost!” The doppelgänger’s guttural, grating words cast a chill over the scene despite the broad mid-morning sunshine.
“Cyril! Is that your name? No wonder you’ve been in a bad mood for the last thirty years, then…” snorted Stan, causing the paramedics to chuckle as they bore the patient away to their waiting vehicle.
“Shut up, Stanley, you useless—“
“Enough!” roared the spirit. The colour drained from the foreman’s face as his doppelgänger reached out and clamped a cold, clammy hand over his mouth. “There will be no more judgement from you, Cyril! Your time has come!” Terror filled the foreman’s eyes as they began to bulge out of his reddening face. A horrible groan of pain like a living death rattle burst out of him as the air was forced from his lungs when the spirit stepped right into his body. A damp patch on his trousers and the stench of strong urine as it trickled onto the ground by his foot sealed the foreman’s final humiliation before the spectre took complete possession of his faculties and his body. In an instant, both man and spirit promptly disappeared from the scene.
Stanley and George stood quietly, staring at the empty space before them until Stanley broke the increasingly awkward silence.
“‘Ere! George! Did you ever see anything like that before?”
“No, Stan, I never did.”
Stan looked around him, reassured by the fact that things seemed to have returned to normal. A thoughtful expression settled on his face when he met Friday’s gaze.
“I guess Cyril will never disrespect another black cat again.”
“Neither will I, mate. Neither will I.”
“And?” Stan’s question hung in the air as George thought about the morning’s events.
“I’m sorry for laughing at you. Alright?”
“Apology accepted. And seeing as ‘ow the others ‘ave nicked off, I suppose we should get back to work.”
The two men repaired the hole in the road without speaking, and put their tools in the truck. As George climbed in behind the steering wheel, Stan gave Friday a nod.
“‘Ere! I swear ‘e winked at me! That cat winked at me!” he exclaimed.
“After everything I’ve seen today, Stanley, I don’t doubt it.” George shook his head and drove away, wondering what on earth he was going to write on the reports that needed to be filled out, and how he might possibly get all that paperwork done by five o’clock.
Friday was sleek and glossy. He took pride in the smoothness of his black coat and the perfect length of his whiskers. While most of his feline acquaintances were content to sleep for 22 hours of the day, Friday was a cat who often happened to be watching when curious things happened in the world around him.
Friday lazed in the garden on the sunny October afternoon, confident that he could not be seen by passers-by. He liked to watch them, but rarely appreciated it when they returned the favour. It was easy to conceal himself underneath the bushes, enjoying the filtered sunshine while he preened or dozed.
The sound of sing-song chants became louder as a young woman and two children approached, walking along the sidewalk. They seemed happy, content in each other’s company and enjoying their time together.
As they drew nearer, Julia called out to her children with a sense of urgency in her voice. “Kids, come back! I’ve left my phone at home! We have to go back and get it!”
“Aw, man!” the boy said. “All that way?”
“It’s half a block, and you’ll survive!” his mother said with frustration in her voice.
“Can we wait here for you, Mama, while you run back?” asked the little girl, hopefully.
“No. We don’t know these people. You wouldn’t be safe!”
“Hmph!” thought Friday. “Not safe here, eh? How rude!”
“I’d be with Robbie. He’s my big brother. He’ll keep me safe.”
“Robbie is nine years old, Nina. I’m glad you trust him, but you have to stay with me.”
Nina understood that there was no room for argument, but her disappointment was clear. Her bottom lip threatened to tremble before she pulled it into a pout. “Why did you have to leave your phone at home anyway?” Nina grumbled.
“I didn’t have to, I just did. And if I had realised I was going to, I wouldn’t have done it! Honestly, I’d lose my head if it wasn’t screwed on. You know that!”
“But… Mama! Your head isn’t screwed on!” Nina observed sagely.
The woman stopped and gave her daughter a horrified look. Her eyes bulged, her mouth opened and her hands flew to her throat. Unable to speak, she made only a ghastly choking sound.
“Oh Mama, you’re such a joker!” Robbie laughed as his mother gripped her neck.
Luaghter turned to shrill screams of rising terror. Friday moved closer to the fence and craned his neck to watch as blood poured from between the young mother’s fingers, pulsing from open vessels as she clutched at her neck, trying desperately to stop her head from ripping itself off her body before it fell to the ground with a sickening, squelching thud. Her hands worked furiously as they tried to staunch the flow of blood from her gory neck while her head lay on the cement, eyes open wide and staring at the bloodied body from which it had fallen. The mouth drooled as it lolled open, emitting an eerie whistling sound as the breeze blew through it and out of her severed trachea.
“Mama!! Your head!” Robbie screamed as he hurried to pick up his mother’s head and dust it off. He lifted it up to her body and placed it on top of her bleeding neck, which instantly sucked the head back onto it. The bleeding stopped and the skin healed over again, leaving the confused woman whole but drenched in her own blood.
“I guess we’ll really have to go home now!” Nina grumbled. “But I did tell you Robbie was good at saving people.”
Friday twitched his black tail as they walked away slowly toward their home, leaving the sidewalk behind them a sticky and bloodied mess. It occurred to him then that, apart from the trauma their own mother had caused, those children had been perfectly safe the entire time they’d been standing outside his yard.
©2017 Joanne Van Leerdam
Friday was sleek and glossy. He took pride in the smoothness of his black coat and the perfect length of his whiskers. While most of his feline acquaintances were content to sleep for 22 hours of the day, Friday was a cat with a purpose.
He yowled at the door early in the morning, impatient for Trixie to let him out into the garden. There were things that must be done.
As she opened the door for him, Friday shot out into the yard. Looking back as he darted behind a low, dense bush for privacy, he saw her eyes had followed him and were now fixed on something beyond his concealed position. Trixie’s eyes were almost as wide open as her mouth.
Urgent business completed, Friday turned to see his beloved Trixie’s husband in the neighbour’s front yard, hastily removing his arms and lips from their neighbour. Both were red-faced and speechless, now aware that they had been witnessed not only by Trixie, but also by other neighbours and the teenager who delivered the morning newspapers.
In the next instant, the earth shook and split open with a thunderous sound so loud that everyone turned to stare. Rooted to the spot in fear, the colour drained out of their faces as the embarrassed lovers were swallowed by the earth beneath them. Red-hot flames leapt out and the pungent smell of brimstone pervaded the cool morning air as the deep pit belched before it closed up seamlessly, leaving no trace of any hole in the ground, nor of those who had fallen into the abyss.
Friday bolted across the lawn and rubbed against his person’s ankles. Absentmindedly, she picked him up and carried him back indoors.
As Trixie went about her morning routine, he was surprised that there were no tears or bad words. She forgot to feed him before she left for town, but that night they both dined on smoked salmon.
A bit like me. I’m just going where the wind takes me. Don’t know what else I can do. Wait for the pain to stop, I suppose. Blinking back tears again, Phil pondered Caitlyn’s words. Talk to her. Seriously! I don’t believe in that stuff. You’re here, and then you’re not. That’s why it hurts so much. She’s gone.
Still, the more he tried to dismiss the idea, the more he began to think maybe he should try it. Okay, Caitlyn. I’ll give your weird therapy a shot. He stood and stretched, then set off at a jog towards the cemetery, which lay just a few blocks away. At least I’m not likely to run into anyone else there at this time of night, he thought wryly.
©2016 Joanne Van Leerdam
This poem is published in Nova.