Friend

"Come with me if you want to live." says Patches, watching you from the top step with his round golden eyes: "Always wanted to say that."

 

Patches watches a lot of teevee at night when the house is asleep, but he's an honourable old cat you trust with your life, and you follow him down into the basement -- even as part of you notes uneasily the first established fact: that the basement is THEIR front door.

 

"Shut the door, Kiddo. Always shut the door." -- sounding like Daddy.

 

You shut the door. Click on the one yellow bulb down there. Start down the stairs after Patches.

 

"The light, yes -- You should see about getting cat's eyes sometime -- I see perfectly fine, even without the light."

 

Then -- KRKKK! -- and shuffling, to and fro, at the door in the dark at the top of the stairs.

 

"So, Kiddo, can you tell me...What are the Thirty-Nine Steps?"

 

"Dunno," you say, not really into Patches' movie trivia at the moment.

 

Quiet again up by that door.

 

"Couple nights ago, I was getting to the best part, but then your Daddy couldn't sleep and turned to the Weather. And sat there, watching that weathergirl who wears the short skirts. And by the time he fell asleep, Hitchcock Theatre was over -- and now I have no clue just what the Thirty-Nine Steps are. But it's interesting that these basement stairs have thirty-nine steps. Ever count them?"

 

Inexplicably, the basement feels deeper than you remember.

 

"Warm yourself by the furnace, Kiddo. Can see you've had a shocker tonight."   

 

It's always a shock when your parents get themselves eaten. Every kid it's happened to will tell you that. If you survive yourself, you know you'll have one for the home-room history books. Your account joining the whispered litany before Miss Patterson takes attendance: the horror of it, the grossness, the for-real-enough adventure you now embark upon to fight this monster, maybe also its buddies, and survive this – and return your Momma and Daddy, somehow. The fact that all those other parents did come back from being dead reassures you you're not Don Quixote, and it is possible.

 

Patches, your patchwork cat that looks like he's made up of at least six different cats, settles on his paws at the bottom of the stairs. He's watching the door in the dark at the top.

 

"Momma...Daddy...It ate them."

 

Patches doesn't turn his head, doesn't look at you, doesn't shift his attention from the door in the dark at the top of the stairs -- "You have to hold it together, Kiddo."

 

"How do I get them back? -- How do I fight that monster? -- I'm only nine years old! -- Can it all maybe just be a real bad dream? -- Momma and Daddy and Everything back like it should be in the morning and I go to school! – And there really AREN’T such things as monsters at all?”

 

"Try. Curl up on the laundry. Maybe it is just a bad dream. I don't have your answers, Kiddo. I know your dreams can be...nice, like a picnic can be nice, or not nice, like a picnic gone wrong can be not nice. Or, gone very wrong, gone terribly wrong, like they like to say at six-oh-three on the news. I know, Kiddo, your dream can be useful even, or make things even worse. Try, for here you are safe. For I am waiting. Make a plan and we'll try it together."

 

Who’re you waiting for?

 

“A friend.” says Patches. You forgot he can hear your thoughts, sometimes as far as your bedroom.

 

Suddenly he blurts – “Wait…What’s that?”

 

Instantly – and ready more to run than fight – your heart beats it way up your throat – even though you hear nothing, not yet anyway.

 

“Don’t you just love it when they say that? – All that…anticipation.”

 

Then you do hear it.

The End

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