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.