The accident that kept me hospitalised for nearly three weeks could have cost me my life. Thank goodness for car seat-belts. My boyfriend – now ex-boyfriend - walked away almost unscathed. A few bumps and bruises and a cut to his left cheek that somehow enhanced his handsome features rather than harmed them were all he took away from the high-speed crash that left me with a left leg broken in three places, internal injuries that resulted in my spleen being removed and multiple cuts and bruises. I was unconscious for almost forty-eight hours and that bastard didn’t even bother to hang around to see if I was going to survive his boy-racer stupidity. Thankfully, when the police prosecuted him for dangerous driving the court took away his license to drive for two years and he lost any chance of claiming on his insurance for his totalled four-thousand pounds of pride and joy. Sometimes, there is justice in the world!
The elderly woman had woken this morning not feeling too well. She had an elevated temperature and felt a little nauseous and dizzy. She managed to complete her morning ablutions and was about to make her way downstairs when another wave of dizziness left her clutching gratefully at the handrail. She drew in several deep breaths as the attack passed. Feeling well enough to continue her descent she stepped down off the upright...
... and placed her foot directly onto the small bundle of fur that was curled-up and fast asleep there. The frightened kitten leapt up, a frightened, hissing ball of fur and claws, which unbalanced the old lady. With a small cry of surprise and fear she fell forward, tumbling down the stairs, scattering more cats as she went.
Her head connected firmly with a step, which rendered her immediately unconscious, luckily for her. She did not feel the pain and agony of her brittle bones breaking as she crashed against the walls and stairs. She lay in an unnatural position at the foot of the stairs, blood oozing from her ears and mouth, her breaths slow and shallow, the sound of mewling cats seeping into her unconciousness.
When I was well enough after my extended stay in hospital I rang Aunt Melody. The first time I rang there was no answer, which didn’t concern me greatly. The second time didn’t cause me any worry either. However, when I called for the third time in the week I returned to my own home, not to my parents’ place, which is where they had insisted I stay when I left hospital, I did begin to worry. It had been over four weeks since I had last spoken to Aunt Melody, the longest time that had happened in more than ten years. Mum was dismissive of my concerns.
"Your Aunt has always been a bit flighty" she said airily, as though gossiping about a neighbour and not her own sibling. "She’s probably off on some cause or other, you know what she’s like" she added.
There was a ten year age gap between my mother and her big sister, a gap that, as they had grown, had become insurmountable. Mum and dad had met at school, married at eighteen and had me when they were barely out of their teens themselves. Aunt Melody’s first marriage was already rocky and headed for the divorce court by the time I came along. When the Grim Reaper intervened and took Dennis Slater at a relatively young age Aunt Melody was left with a large Victorian house, a fully paid-up mortgage and a generous Civil Service widow’s pension, courtesy of the unspectacular years of service Dennis had given to one of the less controversial government departments. It was around that time that her obsession with rescuing her feline friends began to really take root.
"She's eighty-fours years old!" I retorted more sharply than I intended down the telephone handset. I certainly never usually spoke to my mother, either of my parents, like it normally, such was the level of my anxiety. "And you know she relies on her walking stick more than ever these days" I added less stridently". I was using a stick myself by that time, hobbling around clumsily and knocking into things... and people. "I know how she feels" I said, ruefully.
Still sounding unconcerned and unconvinced Mother said that she would ask father to drive around to Aunt Melody's house later that day as he and she were busy in the garden. I wasn't especially happy about it, but it was a compromise of sorts and as I couldn't go myself, I had to accept what was on offer. After extracting a promise from my mother that she would ring me straight away after seeing Aunt Melody we said our goodbyes and I replaced the handset in its cradle. It was time for my medication, which I took with a cup of tea. Sleep took me away from my concerns shortly afterwards.
I awoke with a start, the orange glow of the streetlamps illuminating my darkened lounge. I felt disoriented and confused for several moments until my head cleared and I remembered where I was. I had fallen asleep in my favourite chair and there was slight stiffness in my neck where I had slept awkwardly. I rose carefully to my feet and eased the various aches and stiffness out of my neck and limbs. As I did so my eyes glanced at the beautiful antique pendulum clock that hung on the chimney-breast wall. A shaft of orange light caught the clock-face at just the right angle for me to read the time perfectly.
Almost eleven-thirty! I had been asleep for more than three hours. I had not realised how tired I was. On the heels of that thought came the memory of Aunt Melody and my mother's promise to ring me. The telephone was on a small coffee table right next to the chair I had fallen asleep in so, if it had rung, it would have been near-impossible for me to have not heard it. Even so, I did check to make sure, using the ring-back facility and established that the last call I had received had been a little after nine o'clock that very morning, from mother as it happened.
My immediate thought was not why hadn't mother rung me, but had anything happened to her or dad? Neither of them were youngsters, although both were surprising fit and healthy for a couple of septuagenarians. Even so, things happened, unexpected things so, even though the hour was late, I dialled their number.
She slipped from unconsciousness to eternal rest without regaining full awareness. Brief agony-filled moments sent her body hurrying back to the sancutary of oblivion rather than face the reality of the injuries she had sustained in the fall down the stairs in a vain attempt to protect her from herself. A younger body might have had the reserves of strength and stamina to survive such a fall with its accompanying damage, but her elderly frame was no match for what had been inflicted upon it. Before darkness fell that fateful day the last spark of light left her eyes and the death rattle in her throat sounded obscenely loud in the quieted house.
There was no reply at my parents' house, which was not just odd, it was unheard-of. Mum and dad had for as many years as I could remember retired for the night religiously between ten-thirty and eleven o'clock every night except on those most rare occasions when they went out for the evening. I felt a small bubble of apprehension begin to form in my stomach as I considered what to do next.
In spite of my insistence that they have one, mother and dad refused point-blank to have a mobile phone, claiming that it was an unneccessary expense that was unjustified, and, besides which, neither of them would have a clue how to operate the thing. Even so I had personally bought a very basic model and tried my best to explain how easy it was to use. I swear it was more stubborness than lack of comprehension on either of their parts that left me frustrated with their apparent lack of understanding. However I left the phone with them in the hope that one or other - or both - of them would be curious enough to try to use it. If they had they had never rung me and to the best of my knowledge the instrument was still on the side-table where I'd left it. As I dialled the number I offered up a small prayer of hope that it was switched on and had charge in the battery.
There was no answer, which sent my anxiety level soaring. What to do next? Out of desperation I rang Aunt Melody's number again, not expecting it to be answered, which, of course, it wasn't. I was stymied; not being able to get in touch with my Aunt was one thing, but to not be able to contact my parents was another thing altogether. Something, quite obviously, was very amiss. I sat down heavily in my chair again and as I fought to suppress the rising feeling of panic, I forced myself to think things through rationally.
The death-house was a babble of mewling and cries of a dozen or more feline voices, all raised in protest at their captivity and lack of food or water. The older, more resourceful, animals had learned that they could, if they were careful, drink from the lavatory pan whilst one or two others found the dripping tap in the bathroom more to their taste. However, in all things, they all deferred to the large, mean-looking black-and-white tom, Bruce.
It had been days since any of them had been fed. The two-legged creature that had previously fed and cared for them had lain umnmoving for several days and had taken on the unmistakeble aroma of carrion. Bruce circled the dead body, niffing cautiously at the nose, the mouth and the ears, his pink tongue darting out delicately, like a sommelier tasting a fine wine. He mewled loudly as his empty stomach growled with hunger. The large animal sniffed along the immobile body, his nose twitching constantly. He reached the unshod foot, twisted grotesquely out of its normal position. Another rumble of hunger rippled through his body and he mewled again. Tentatively, he licked the cold flesh, not particularly liking the taste. However, his hunger overcame his reluctance after another lick or two, before he opened his mouth and delicately nibbled at a softened, pale-fleshed bloodless toe.
Mum and dad had probably stayed over at Aunt Melody's, I reasoned, although that didn't explain their failure to answer my 'phone calls. I could not shake the feeling that something was dreadfully amiss and that I was wasting precious time sitting on my butt trying to figure it out. Although I couldn't drive anywhere myself, there were a dozen and more mini-cab services at the end of a telephone line who would, for a fee, transport me anywhere I damn-well pleased. The yellow pages pointed me in the direction of the alphabetically prominent Aardvark & AbbaMini-Cab Car Hire Service which, in spite of my truobled state of mind brought a smile to my lips. A young and chirpy-sounding receptionist promised me earnestly that a car would "surely be with you in less than fifteen minutes, ma'am", which brought a second smile to my face in as many minutes.
I dragged on a pair of house slippers to wear just so that I had something on my feet. The alternative was going barefoot, which was never going to be an option. I pulled a coat around my shoulders and waited looking through the picture window that overlooked the street for the cab to arrive. I heard the sharp toot of the car horn as a sleek-looking car with an indistinct logo drew to a stop at the kerb in front of my home. I made sure I had my house keys in my pocket before tucking a crutch under my arm and hobbling carefully towards to street door.
The handsome black driver courteously held the door open for me as I settled myself awkwardly in to the back seat. He handed me my crutch and smiled pleasantly when I thanked him for his help and gave him the address to which to take me. I'd noticed as I hobbled down my footpath towards the car and the logo I had seen from my window became clearer that it was a stylised representation of an aardvark standing atop a pile of vinyl records, of course. How could I have not guessed?
Once he had overcome his initial reluctance to touch the dead flesh, the cat known as Bruce soon put that reluctance aside as he sated his hunger by consuming two whole toes. Seeing their erstwhile leader feasting on the remains of their one-time saviour more of the mob of felines began to show an elevated level of interest in what he was doing, some becoming emboldened enough to explore other exposed areas of flesh.
The scream that rent the air brought neighbours running from houses several streets away, such was its awful, horrified nature. Several of the men brought firearms and other weapons with which to beat off whatever attacker had caused such a sound to be made by the terrified woman. Her husband, shocked into immobilty and silence by the sight before his eyes and his wife's panicked reaction stood open-mouthed, willing his mind to deny the scene before him.
As soon as the street door had swung open a veritable swarm of cats had fled the house. Unfortunately his wife had taken lead and had seen her sister's corpse lying in an unnatural position at the foot of the stairs. It was not that sight that had prompted her to utter that ear-piercing and terrified scream, however. It was the sight of a large black and white cat perched on her scrawny chest indolently chewing on what could only be a hand: her - Melody's - hand. If he was perturbed by the awful noise he gave no indication of it for the cat, Bruce as was, continued to chew on a mutilated finger.