Cat food is a peculiar sort. Briny mush caviar they love so much, but not Moufee. This particular cat had a tang for fresh blood. Dripping down his fangs like an oil slick spill this was how he’d protect his kill: with a vicious hiss to expose the butchery of his most recent victim. Gooey, messy and warm. A connoisseur’s palette. Dead birds and strangled rats: the cat clues of a serial animal murderer.
He was a sophisticate among felines, his subtle grace and reticent wisdom venerated street-wide. His territory was Lanewood, the street of pines. Here the vermin population paid respects, the naive humans like silly clowns scratched and begged affection from the cat, and the forlorn female pussies fought amongst themselves at the chance to swoon after the Mouf. His elegance and refinement were, though, a facade. No one could see beyond the luster, for to do so was to glimpse beyond the cat’s renowned stare. That penetrating, ill-effecting, de-humanizing, soul-consuming glare that was as charismatic as it was malevolent. Past this was something else entirely, though none had dare question nor venture there.
The superstitious gave wide berth to the Mouf, him being a cat of black. Tales have been related one to the other of how the mysterious creature happened upon Lanewood. Some say he had come from Jersey as the accompaniment of a budding filmmaker who had left the east coast to escape the creative oppression of Edison’s MPPC, but as soon arrived the filmmaker had taken to poppy and had soon forgotten the cat. Some say this neglect was the reason the cat had trust issues.
Another tale tells that he had been a “morale” animal in the Virginian coal mines and that the soot had permanently covered his coat black, given the years spent sojourning the caverns. But the story most knew to be true was that he in fact had once belonged to the man who lived at Lanewood Manor.
I wish it weren’t so, but yes, the accounts are true. The Manor that had began as a brothel, had became an orphanage that then housed lepers, which became a church that cared for lepers who were in fact orphans of the many whores that had once procured employment from said brothel. As is with most things in life, the Manor could not escape its scandalous past.
This, however, was before Mr. Johannes Blasco acquired the church. (Through which unscrupulous means he did so is not for the author to promulgate.) Soon thereafter the Manor, and consequently the entire block, was free from all forms of miscreants including the “religious oppression of sick old prigs” as Mr. Blasco was often heard saying. The church having thus thereafter being turned into a residence of striking grandeur was celebrated with a drawing-room ball for both the proletariat and the bourgeois. Mr. Blasco did so in this manner to showcase his willingness for neighborly do-goodery and of course to hush the chatter of what became known as the “Manor Massacre”, whereby many suspected him of ridding the previous inhabitants through imprecations of only the foulest maledictions.
It was on this eve that the residents of Lanewood first encountered the black cat. They say he was as keen as a hawk and as slithery as a snake. All night he wound himself up and down the rows of legs beneath the banquet table, rubbing his body against the grains of cloth. When finally he joined his master at the head of the table, he refused his plate, instead forgoing the feast in order to carefully clock the master’s guests.
Eyes like a snake, he watched. As one can imagine this made many guests disagreeable as neither was one used to eating tableside with a cat, but to be hounded with serpent eyes as fork reached mouth, few had never known a more uncomfortable dinner. But Moufee cared not, for he was a cat.
When it was time to go the master bid farewell to his guests. But one remained. A curious young girl who had found herself intrigued by the master and his cat. She was fair with skin of milk and a bright rosiness to her youthful cheeks. The master likewise was absorbed and invited her to stay. He gave her a tour of the halls and the rooms. Then the stairs, down they went into the ground. It was there that he most eagerly opened the storage door. All the while, the cat watched.
The next morning the girl had gone. No one knew to where. It was as if she had disappeared all together. A report was made and as was such so often in those times, the investigation returned nothing. Throughout the street a young boy shrieked for his friend and on account of him being as irregular as he was, his tears were affected as an admittance of guilt. He was shunned like the sun on a cold blizzard day, afraid to even show his face at his friend’s memorial. A painting of the pastel young beauty was on display, the blush of her cheeks not recounted upon the portrait; only the color of a corpse portrayed. After the crowd had taken leave and with not a single discernment from another, the boy approached and placed his hand on the girl’s face, whispering a promise. Shortly thereafter the boy left town, and as so happens in life, the people moved on.
Mr. Blasco, having as well been seen last that fateful night, was said to have left town on business-related matters, (though he has yet to be seen again) leaving the cat to guard the manor. But the cat had little interest in guardianship, and was never seen venturing back to live among the ghosts of the past. But if you listened, in the darkest of nights when the wind would snap at your neck and whistle in your ear the most chilling tune, you could hear the voice of a man. A calling for something. A low, haunting groan, like bone on sandpaper, calling out to the night.
The tale goes that the master was calling out to his cat. To come home, to tend to the keep, to keep company. But the cat never answered the call with anything more than a disinterested glance towards the manor. The manor itself was forgotten. No one had been known to go in and certainly not one living soul came out. It was as foreboding as it was inconspicuous. And the cat that once belonged to the master of the Manor had since become the master of the street.
Now, dear Reader, I wish this simple biopic of the infamous black cat of Lanewood was enough backstory to then relate the actual story I am meaning to indulge, but first I must inform you of one more character and a light history on his misfortune.
He arrived in a white van. Carlos was his name and produce was his trade. He had one arm which housed a two-pronged hook as a hand. His other arm was chopped at the elbow from an ill-advised run-in with a bear. With the physique of a Russian ballerina and wearing the skin remnants of a pox-eaten face, he was given nary a thought from neither human nor dog and therefore paid no mind.
But this was only because much time had passed since the man had last seen Lanewood. Otherwise I imagine (though they not be considered convivial) the street folk would have been downright hostile toward him. You see, before the man arrived in his questionable white van as a late-aged produce dealer, he had once lived on Lanewood as a young child. It was those many years ago that he suffered a most devastating childhood loss: the disappearance of his best friend, the fair young maiden. Being that they had spent so much time together and Carlos was such an odd child, he was blamed for the girl’s disappearance. The subsequent harassment had forced his parents to send the child away to Humptulips, Washington to live with his uncle Smoot.
His uncle was mostly sympathetic to the boy and taught him how to till the land. They grew mungbeans like it was nobody’s business. (Truth be told it was in fact nobody’s business as no one even knew what a mungbean was.) With the corner on the market Smoot and the boy produce and sold a magical mung elixir designed to be a cure-all for everything from the minor headache to more serious ails like cholera and meningitis.
But uncle Smoot had a drinking problem, and one day whilst driven by a moonshine binge he forced the poor boy into hand-to-hand combat with a bear that had raided the mung patch. Although the boy lived to tell the tale, he did so less one arm and two hands.
The boy became as morose and melancholic as was his uncle an alcoholic. However, even the limitations brought on by his amputations couldn’t stale the boy’s burning obsession: to uncover the truth behind his friend’s disappearance. As the years passed he honed his skills. Tracking, baiting, lying, stealing, shadow-hiding. Absorbed by his own deceit he became convinced of a new identity and aimed to shed himself of his deplorable existence. Being that he lamented his birth name he figured it was time to bestow upon himself a most effulgent moniker and thus became known as the “no-handed bandit.” But when he wanted to name his produce truck No-handed bandit produce his uncle near smacked his eyeballs outside of his head. And so he settled for Carlos Produce.
Years and years went by. Uncle Smoot and the boy, now a man, grew old, like old men do. Then one day his uncle contracted a serious case of cholera and hoping to prove the efficacy of his product, chose to drink only the magical mung elixir. He died shortly thereafter from a thirty-two-hour bout of painful diarrhea. The man with no hands buried his uncle and figured this was a sign that now was the time to fulfill his destiny. He hopped in his van and set off for Lanewood.
Once back on his birth street, the man smiled and sold his finely-grown mungbeans but every now and then he’d sell more common vegetables like bok choy and watercress. Since he didn’t sell much (if at all), he was left to his own devices. People got used to the fact that when the sun rose, the man in the van would peddle his produce. And when the sun went down, the van would disappear, but not the man. For at night he took to the streets, looking for clues, slinking in the shadows, whispering to the ghosts on the wind. And all the while a black cat observed him, the way a scientist observes a schizophrenic rabbit.
But sadly this sort of “detective work” would be his undoing. The man in the van therefore lived on Lanewood for only a short time before the rumors began. Tree-snoodling, doll-stealing, rat-emboweling, bird-fluffing and the list went on. He was thought to be a man of most base desires, indeed so base, that once the rumors began to spread he was soon thereafter known as none other than ‘Base’. Even now it is still sad to think how misguided the street folk were about this good-natured albeit misunderstood man. But names have a way of sticking and so stuck with Base he was. Even to this day I can hear him screaming, “My name’s not Base!! I’m the no-handed bandit!!!”
It turns out the residents of Lanewood didn’t take lightly to hook-handers slinking in shadows fluffing birds on a whim. One evening they formed a mob and surrounded the produce van. Torches lit up the night. Stones flew. The horde demanded a public execution. And up in a tree, a cat with menacing eyes just watched.
The man hunkered down inside his van amidst his vegetable delicacies. It was during this moment of extreme anxiety that he looked up and set eyes upon the cat and had an epiphany. That cat…is that the cat from Lanewood Manor all those years ago? he thought. No, that isn’t possible, he’d have to be gone on fifty years old….
And that’s when it struck him: Lanewood Manor. The answer was there! Why had he not thought to go there before? With renewed confidence and an immediate threat to his life, he fired up the engine and roared away in a haste, never to return. Or so the residents of Lanewood would have liked to think…
He quickly became an urban legend and as the years passed tired mothers would invoke his name to scare their children straight. Even the author D.T. Jr wrote a fictional biography of the man entitled Where the Base goes the children don’t grow. Sadly, none of these fables touched on the truth that was the man and only served to add to the nefariousness behind the hook-handed produce dealer.
Years again passed, as they do, and none had heard any verity to the legend that was the man…but as one would never come to expect, in the most unexpected moment, he did in fact return, to fulfill his destiny….
It was a dreadfully chill night in the dead of winter when nay a leaf was green nor grown. The cold was crust upon the bark of the trees and the blades which were frozen from the ground, much the crunch was like walking amongst upside-down icicles. Through the frigid air one would discern an electric buzz of a lone streetlamp. The lively incandescent glow from the bulb belied the impression one would have after closer inspection. Reminiscent of the reaper’s sickle, framed hauntingly in front of Lanewood Manor. And beyond, where light meets dark meets form, one would have seen the silhouette of a familiar creature.
A black cat on the prowl. Senses like a sensei, sharp as wit and cool as calm, like the eye of Sauron: he sees all. A glide to his stride, paws as silent as the grave, his stare as cold as his heart, he’s on the hunt. In the distance a mischief of rats up to no good. Dinner has never looked so delectable.
He plots his kill.
That greasy, plump, half-tailed sod looks tasty, he thinks. In contemplation of death the cat becomes bewitched. His eyes glow, his pulse lays still, his fangs shine, salivating at the prospect of fresh blood. He will take a life tonight. He will be death to those that should want of life. And he will revel in it.
The four-legged angel of death bounds off the roof in a single leap, landing with the grace of a ghost. Off he runs towards a kill so sure he already tastes of it in his mouth. But then a shadow in the light shifts. The rats are forgotten as he becomes beholden to this new curiosity. To dally with a half-dead rat is half as much fun as a toying with unfamiliar prey. For he knew the shades on this street, and this obscurity was new, no, not new, just old, very, very old.
He turns to see the phantom of a one-armed, hook-handed skulk cast upon the pavement. The cat watches as the shade fades to the black. But that’s when he hears it: the gate of the manor alley being unlocked.
The man with the hand of hook never really learned to pick locks. In many regards a master burglar, hereso he was quite the novice. But as limiting as his limbs had become, he learned to use them well. He could climb, scale if you will, any wall, fence or mountain before him. And so he did with ease. Up and over the gate he goes.
A trail of small mammal bones leads down the alley. He follows the clues and finds himself below an open second-story window, the glass punched through by forces unknown. He scales the wall, hook by foot by elbow by hook he goes until he climbs through the window and drops to the staircase inside, cut by shards and bleeding with fervor.
The manor is vast. The large, empty silence sends a chill up his phantom arm. He gropes for his flashlight and turns it on, revealing a chandelier so immense, that should it fall, it would consume him bone and being. The man stands and paints light upon the empty chamber before him. And that’s when the stink strikes: moss-covered mildewed cloth. The smell fills his nostrils like inhaling sour milk. He takes in the ruin of furniture, noting the grand hall where he shared a last meal with his childhood friend.
The banquet table has rotted through, the chairs mounds of soggy wood. Tapestries of once magnificent appeal have become breeding grounds for moth larvae, as the many holes’ attest. Chaise lounge, gossip chairs and finely crafted Victorian sofas sag from the weight of gravity and time. Yet on the largest wall at the end of the great banquet table sits an enormous frame and within it, the illustrious painting of the master and his cat, untouched by decay.
The cat shines in all his gloriousness. A sateen and lace ruff hug his neck, slick and shiny red like the blood running down the man’s leg. The cat’s eyes stare intently, piercing the man’s resolve, making him question every decision he made in his life that led him to this place. The man on the stairs stares in slack-jawed awe, frozen like a mung crop in a cold snap.
With much effort he finally manages to avert his eyes to gaze upon the likeness of the master. What a sad sight he is. The master, though proportionately portrayed, lacks any semblance of vigor or vitality. That is to say he is as pale and lifeless as a fresh-bleached skeleton. Though the cat looks as robust and vibrant as ever, the master looks as though the life has been sucked right out of him. The man has never seen anyone so pallid…. save for the memorial photo of his childhood friend.
With a firm hand on the dusty banister railing the man reluctantly forces his fear-inundated self to continue down the stairs. Dread of what awaits him overwhelms, yet, he is convinced of his resolve. He reminds himself that he stood tall against a bear, and lived to tell the tale. And so he ventures further, down another staircase into the ground he goes, step by dusty step.
A cat leaps through the window. Before him, a small pool of blood from where a man once stood. Though it is different, in taste and texture, one that is such as this cat has few scruples of the origin of the irony red liquid. It’s delicious. Velvet blood like silk on the tongue. What a treat, he thinks. He follows the trail, one delicate and deadly paw in front of the other, leaving not a print.
The man finds himself in front of a door. Storage, it says. He grasps the handle and turns. A soft breeze of musty death blows out from the room. He gasps. Then a sound. A screech. Like a hissing wraith come to exact revenge. The noise is at the top of the stairs. khhhhhhhssssss…it starts off low, slow. But it’s getting louder….Khsssss…Until it seems like it’s right upon the navel of his neck….KHHHHHSSSSS!!!
Eyes wide like prey the man darts into the storage room and closes the door, sealing his doom. Among him lie the remains of those unfortunate souls that had dared to venture to this dark hell. Skulls of man, woman and child lay strewn about the ground. The man collapses, the horror before him too much to bear. But then he sees her, his childhood friend, dressed in white, white as brilliant white light, shining like a savior upon his face. He smiles and reaches out to the ghost of his friend, the ghost of his imagination. A warm and hopeful smile returns him. She reaches for his hand as he tries with all his might to get closer, closer, and then, just as she came, she is gone. And now before him, where the likeness of his friend once stood, is the cat, his tail swinging sharply, side to side. The cat with fangs like shiny silver daggers, daggers that in one sudden movement latch onto and pierce the man’s neck, a deep well of lifeblood gushing forth. The cat drinks deep, a temporary satiation for his eternal thirst. The man’s life slips into dark, his eyes forever frozen with the terror of a blood-lusting feline come to devour his soul. Now he sleeps with the others. He, the master, his friend. All just food for a peculiar cat.