Fiction Monday: “While the Cat’s Away” Part Two

When I first started this blog, a blog-savvy friend told me, try not to write any blog over two thousand words, because people won’t read it.  I’ve tried to stick to that maxim.  But this installment of April Tyree’s adventure is running longer than that and has resisted all attempts to trim it back.  So I’m skipping the niceties and pushing right on to the reason you’re here.  Without further ado…..


When the Cat’s Away

An April Tyree Story
by
AJ Clarkson
Part Two

I fought against the ropes holding me down as Patty, her eyes glittering that bizarre black with seemingly no whites at all, raised the knife over her head, ready to plunge it into my chest. She began to chant words that didn’t make any sense to me, but obviously meant something, because the air vibrated with energy.

This wasn’t just about the crazy. There was real power being summoned. Great. Just great. Crazy is easier than the spooky stuff.

“Wait! Wait!” I shouted.

“Too late!” hissed Patty. Her eyes flickered from black to gray to black again. Her posture and facial expression changed in time to the color changes in her eyes. That was a clue, I know it was. But I was too freaked out by the sharp death above me to put it all together.  I couldn’t breathe; fear was a weight on my chest, killing me as quickly as that kris knife would do when it struck home. I jerked hard on my left arm, where the ropes were starting to loosen. That was my only chance, to get that arm free and maybe stop that knife from driving into my chest.  It didn’t work, mostly because of the robed creep holding tight to my arm.

“Hemet Nesu Weret, look!” said one the fellow holding my other arm.. Patty flinched, her eyes narrowing to a scowl at the interruption.  That was when I finally started to notice that the Patty’s devoted followers weren’t focusing on the task at hand.  Their attention wasn’t on me or on Patty; it was on the altar table.  I followed their gaze and when I saw what had distracted them, I couldn’t keep a grin from crossing my face.

“Well, look at that!” I said.  “Not exactly the cavalry riding to my rescue, but points for being adorable.”

“What are you babbling about?” said Patty.

I nodded toward the altar table.  “You’ve got company.”

Finally Patty seemed to register that something was disturbing her ritual and that her own people weren’t focusing on the task at hand.  With a sigh she lowered the knife — Hallelujah! — and turned to see what the fuss was about.

A red squirrel had found its way onto the altar. I’m not that surprised; these woods are alive with wildlife, squirrels being one of the most prolific, what with all the trees surrounding this pyramid. Heck, I’m surprised it took them this long. This particular squirrel was holding what looked like half a hazelnut shell in its mouth as it used its paws to scamper through the various bowls, candles and other artifacts currently laid out on the red-clothed table.

As we all watched, mesmerized, the squirrel threaded its way to the center of the table.  It sat up on its haunches, took a second to shake and fluff its ginger tail to maximum puffiness, and then pulled the hazelnut shell from its mouth.  Its shiny black eyes darted here and there, but seemed to feel no fear as it started to nibble at the fragment of shell.

In case you don’t know, squirrels are like a lot of the smaller animals: they like shiny things. In this case, all the gold and silver amulets and tokens lying on the red cloth.  The little visitor dropped the shell and, with the darting quickness typical of its kind, the squirrel picked up one of the amulets and began to examine it, rolling it over in its paws, sniffing it, even tasting it once.

This brought a collective gasp from the robed followers.  “The Cartouche of Anubis,” said the fellow by my left arm.  “We can’t complete the ritual without that!”

The words seemed to shake Patty back to reality.  “Quit whining, Brian, and get rid of that nasty creature,” she snapped.  “We can’t afford another interruption.”

The fellow positioned at my feet turned approached the altar table.  The squirrel watched, unfazed, until he was almost within arm’s reach.  Then it bolted.

Did I mention it took the amulet with it when it ran?  Brian didn’t even get to begin the move to grab for the cartouche but the little squirrel was on the move, the shiny golden amulet clutched in its teeth.  The amulet’s braided gold chain bounced and jangled, sparkling in the light of hundreds of candles.

Patty used language that I can’t repeat in mixed company.  “Brian, go!  Catch it before it gets out of the temple.  Georgia, go with him.  Retrieve the cartouche,” she said.  Brian scurried out the door, followed by another, smaller robed figure who stood by my right knee.  That only left four here with Patty and me.

I turned my head to look at Patty.  “With Brian and Georgia gone, you don’t have a quorum.  I guess we’ll have to leave this sacrifice business ’til the next meeting.  Sorry about your luck.”

“There won’t be a next meeting.  Not for you, at least,” said Patty.  “So we’ll just wait until my faithful followers return, if it’s all the same to you.”

“Crap,” I sighed.  “I was afraid you were going to say that.”  I looked up at the robed figure standing at my right elbow.  Though the hood cast the face into shadow, I could see the glittering eyes and narrow bone structure of a young woman hiding in there.  I say “woman” loosely; she was barely more than a girl, actually, probably a college freshman at best.  Certainly younger than me.

“So tell me, hon — wait, what’s your name?” I said to her.

“Silence,” said Patty.

“What?” I said, exasperated.  “You said yourself we’re on recess until your flunkies — oops, I mean followers — come back after waging war on the squirrel.  My union doesn’t like me playing the sacrificial victim while I’m on official break time.  So you just cool your jets.”  I turned back to the robed girl.  “Where were we?  Oh, yeah, your name.”

The girl looked to Patty, who scoffed in exasperation and waved her hand.  “Go ahead.”

The girl hesitated a second longer, then pushed back her hood to reveal a startling pretty woman, around nineteen, with light brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, and light blue eyes. “My name is Mercedes.”

Mercedes?  She’s named after a car? Her parents must have been hippies or whatever the early 90’s equivalent was for hippies.  New Age loonies.  Then again, my parents named me after a month (btw, I was born in September, so how I ended up named April is a mystery even I can’t figure out.  Parents can be weird.)

Maybe I thought all that, but I’m not fool enough to say it out loud.  “Hi, Mercedes, I’m April.  Too bad we couldn’t meet under less, well intense, circumstances.  I mean, what with you being an accessory to kidnapping, torture and murder.”

“What?  I mean — what do you mean torture?  We haven’t tortured anybody,” said Mercedes.

“You mean this big bleeding slice in my arm was foreplay?  ‘Cuz I don’t play those kinds of funtime games, especially not with an audience,” I said, rolling my eyes around to indicate the other three figures and Patty, still standing at my left.  “Tell me Mercedes, why are you doing this?”

“Because Hemet Nesu Weret wills it,” said Mercedes, as though that were obvious.

“Really?  I don’t see any ancient Egyptian princesses lurking around upstate New York.  Even if you did build her her own pyramid,” I said.

“Hemet Nesu Weret speaks with the voice of Patricia Blumenthal.”

“How can you tell?” I said.

“Patricia channels Hemet Nesu Weret.  She invites the spirit into her body.  Then Hemet Nesu Weret speaks with Patricia’s voice, moves with her body,” Mercedes said.

“So? I know all the words to Blue Hawaii and I can do a mean pelvic thrust.  That doesn’t make me Elvis.”

“Huh?” Mercedes’ cocked her head like a puzzled puppy.  It might have been adorable under other circumstances.

“What.  If.  She’s.  Faking,” I said, biting off each word.  Sometimes you have to slow down and spell it out.

“Why would she do that?” said Mercedes.

Was this chick serious?  I started to answer, but I made the mistake of glancing at Patty.  Her eyes had gone from gray to black again, only this was scarier than the last time.  Her whole eye had gone black, including the white part.  They looked dead, flat and shiny, like doll’s eyes.  Her face was contorted into a rictus of rage.  The skin on her cheeks and forehead started bulging in places, pulsing slowly in and out, as though something were underneath the skin, trying to get out.

“What the hell?” I breathed.

But just then a muffled BOOM! exploded shockingly nearby.  I jumped and looked toward the doorway.  Mercedes and her fellow cult members all did the same.  When I looked back, Patty’s eyes had gone back to normal and her face had stopped that freaky bulging thing. But her face was still twisted in rage.  She sheathed her kris knife, laid it on the table beside my head, and walked to the door.

“Brian!” she shouted into the corridor.  “What in the name of everything holy are you doing?”  She disappeared out the door, and I could hear her footsteps echoing on the wooden floor.  A few seconds later came the sound of people talking.  I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but Patty was definitely pissed off.  I did catch a few words, like “amulet” and “shotgun.”  Best I can figure out, Brian had gotten a shotgun from his car or someplace, and was trying to bring down the squirrel in classic redneck fashion.  There was some more shouting, a few swear words, and then multiple footsteps echoed through the halls again, this time growing softer as the walkers moved further into the pyramid.

Not that I care one way or the other.  Patty the Freak was out of the room, and Mercedes and her buddies were distracted.  Now was my chance.  I jerked on the loosening loops of rope on my left arm.  It hurt the deep cut Patty had carved in my forearm, and the blood started flowing more openly.  The warm blood seeped into the ropes, making them slippery.

One more tug, and my left hand was free!  I instantly grabbed the kris blade Patty had abandoned by my right ear, and started sawing on the rope holding my right arm.

This didn’t go unnoticed.  I had not yet freed my right hand when the robed cultist standing to my right shouted, “Hey!” and tried to grab the blade from my hand.  I slashed blindly at him with the knife, just swinging it in a long, sloppy arc.  The tip caught him across the chest, slicing through his robes and the t-shirt underneath; a stripe of blood appeared on the pale skin peeking through the slashes.  The man looked down at the blood and then looked back up at me.  Under his hood, his shadowed face looked stunned.

I didn’t have time to explain the facts of life to him.  I went back to slicing the ropes holding my right arm.  Now Mercedes other companion noticed.  It didn’t take long until I fell into a rhythm:  slice at the ropes, slash wildly at robed idiots, go back to slicing rope.  Why the four of them didn’t attack en masse is beyond me.  Scared of  losing the luck lottery and being the one who ended up on the wrong side of that kris knife.  In my opinion, they’ve been indoctrinated by too many chop socky movies.  Sensible bad guys don’t wait their turn to attack the hero; sensible baddies realize they’re going to get cut eventually, suck it up, and dog pile the hero.

Kids today, right?

Finally I sliced my way free, and, still using the kris knife to hold Mercedes and her buddies at bay, I slid off the sacrificial table.  “Look at the time, my word, it’s been a really sucky party and I must be getting home,” I said.  My hosts looked at me, blankly; nobody gets my sense of humor.  One of the robed figures sat on the floor, holding his hands to a hole in his side that was oozing blood at an alarming rate; I may have cut him a little too deeply, sorry about that.  The other three had various shallow slashes on arms and chests.  They didn’t advance on me as I eased toward the door.  “Any of you care to tell me where Charity is being kept?”

No answer.

“Oh, well, it was worth a try,” I said.  “You just sit tight, look after your friend.  Somebody will be along directly to take you to get stitches.”  I sidled out the door, keeping that blade between me and Mercedes the entire time.  As soon as I was out in the hallway, I closed the door.  The door opened in, so I couldn’t barricade it, and I didn’t have a key to lock it from the outside.  So I used the blade to slice a fairly large splinter of wood off the corner of the door.  This I wedged between the door and the door frame, jamming the door.  It would take all four of them to force that door open from the inside; they were stuck, unable to get out and backstab me, or to carry news to Patty.

Now I was free for the moment.  I looked up the dark hallway, seeing doors and chambers opening off both sides.  I looked the other way and saw the same thing.  I had been unconscious when they brought me in here, so I had no idea which way was the exit, much less where Charity might be.  But I had to make a decision, because Patty would be back any minute.

“When all else fails, use the scientific method. Eeney meenie miney mo, out goes Y-O-U,” I muttered, pointing back and forth down the hallway with each syllable.  The last syllable ended with me pointing to my right.  So I turned to my left, squared my shoulders and said, “Here goes nothing.”

And away I went, hoping I’d find Charity before I ran into trouble.

To Part One

To Part Three


Whoo!  That ran a little long!  But it was fun, no?  Part Three will be up next Monday, no playing hookey this time, I promise.  in the meantime, tweet, share, comment, and/or write, let me know what you think of things thus far.  Also do contact me if you have any suggestions for the next Fun Friday.  I’ll be back Wednesday, bright eyed and bushy tailed.  In the meantime, be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

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Categories: Pulp, short fiction | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Fiction Monday: “While the Cat’s Away” Part Two

  1. Go, squirrel, go! Oh, and April. Go April. But mostly go squirrel. 😀

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