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My Familiar

Posted on August 9, 2010 at 2:32 PM

            The old guy upstairs ran over my cat on the twenty-third of June.  I saw it happen as I was walking back from the shops, I couldn’t have been more than fifty feet away.  I don’t know if he saw the cat but he did see me running along the road, shouting and waving, the beer and crisps bouncing into crumbs and fizz in my backpack.  He looked at me and I swear he smiled before reversing the rest of the way out of his space, the left front wheel finishing the job the back one had started.  I had time to bang on his boot and kick at the bumper before he sped off down the road. The children on the swings across the road, the ones who normally laugh at me and call me names because I never respond, looked at me with surprise as I used a string of words not even their reprobate parents used.


            Marvin, Marvin The Paranoid Feline to give him his full name, was a burst and flattened mess of guts and tabby fur in the middle of the road.  His back legs and tail were still intact and so was his head, the yellow eyes glazed and missing the slightly frantic look they’d had since he was a kitten.  It was that look that had inspired his name; it had never really suited his personality. 


            “I’ll get you,” I promised, emptying my back pack, shaking the crumbs lose before picking up the corpse as gently as I could and slipping it inside.  I got blood all over my hands, ruining the white shirt I was still wearing from the office, and the six pack when I carried it inside but I didn’t care.


            “I will get him,” I promised again half an hour later as I buried Marvin, the backpack acting as coffin, in the small patch of garden I had by dint of living on the ground floor. “I’ll get him this time.”


            I meant it.  After three years of low-level, inter-neighbour warfare I really meant it this time.  I wasn’t going to tell myself that I’d phone the council the next time he turned his television up so loud I could mute mine and watch the same channel without missing anything.  I wasn’t going to meekly keep my music down at three in the afternoon just to avoid another call about the noise from the housing officer, or ask my friends to start whispering after eleven pm to avoid annoying him.  I wasn’t going to clean up the mess on my lawn when he let his dog crap there, the dog he wasn’t even supposed to have in a second floor flat but was allowed to anyway – ‘They keep an old man company’ was the response I got from the housing officer the one time I brought it up, ‘are you sure it’s even his dog leaving the mess?’.


            Old man!  He’s not even sixty, and I don’t believe that shit about his leg being bad.


            I wish that’s what I’d said, instead of admitting I’d never actually seen his mutt relieve itself on my lawn and agreeing to just try and get along with the pointless, balding bastard.  That’s bastard with a short ‘a’, it’s one of those words that sound better with a Northern accent.  Sometimes the Geordies get it right.


            There’s a host of other things, the type of petty gripes that escalate into hatred between even the best of neighbours. When I was little my Dad fell out with our next door neighbour after a friendship of thirty-odd years in a dispute over a garden boundary: the world is full of pointless and pathetic arguments. 

Little things I could just about live with, but killing Marvin?  Killing my cat?


            That’sbeyond the pale.


            “I’ll gethim,” I promised again and again that evening, drinking my blood-stained beerin my blood stained shirt.  I promisedthe air, I told Facebook and Twitter.  Ieven used MySpace to let the world know, and I haven’t been on MySpace inyears.  My mother told me to call thepolice and I told her that there was no point, it isn’t illegal to run over acat and they still don’t like me.  Onedrunk and disorderly charge, one beautifully phrased and profane rant eight yearsago and they still treat me like scum.


            My mothersaid I was being paranoid and asked if I’d remembered to take my pills thatmorning.  I told her I had, the same wayI do everyday when she finds the opportunity to ask.  I hadn’t taken them in three months, but Istill knew I wasn’t being paranoid.  Notthis time.  The bastard – short ‘a’ – didit on purpose.


            “I’ll gethim, one way or another. I’ll drive him into his grave,” I promised one lasttime before opening the whiskey I’d been saving for my birthday and drinkingmyself into a stupor, leaving a long list of drunken status updates and videos onFacebook for my handful of friends to ignore in the morning – their loss, Ifound some really obscure punk videos that night.  Except for my cat dying there wasn’t anythingparticular unusual about any of it.


            Griezzelwas waiting for me when I woke the next morning, painfully hungover and latefor work.  I didn’t recognise him then; Iwas too busy getting ready for another pointless day selling airplane ticketsto people with better lives and more money than me.  I just saw a flea on my arm as I was brushingmy teeth and brushed it off, briefly thinking I’d have to get Marvin treatedagain when I got paid next week. Remembering his damn smile as he drove away I almost lost the will tolive, but my student loan still needed to be paid and cats die, that’s whatthey do.


            I settledfor not shaving or taking my medication and went to work, treating myself to afew extra toilet breaks when I got there so I could sneak out forcigarettes.  It was my best day at workin over a year, without even trying I talked half my sales into first-class andwon that day’s prize for best sales.  Itwas only Thursday and I don’t like chocolate, not even Belgian, so I gave themaway to the prettiest girl in the elevator as I was leaving.  You get a bottle of wine if you’re the beston a Friday.


            None of itmade me feel any better, my cat was still dead and the murderer had smiled atme as he drove away.  I decided I wasgoing to skip work the next day, I was on my last warning for absenteeism but Ididn’t care.  I bought two cans of beerat the train station and drank them on the way home, part of my mind debatingwhich pub to drink the last of my paycheque in and the rest concoctingextravagant ways to get my own back, to make the old man upstairs suffer.


            “I’ll makethe bastard shite glass,” I said to the empty train-carriage before drainingthe last of the second can, in my ears I sounded like a terrifyingly vengefulUlsterman.


            I thought Iwas dreaming later that night, stumbling home with a quart of whiskey in mypocket and a kebab in my hand I wasn’t really interested in eating anymore,when the rat stopped in front of me, bathed in the orange glow of astreetlight.  It reared up on its hindlegs and spoke, his voice as deep and human as mine.


            “I can helpyou get him back. If you really want.”


            “Huh, yeah,how’s that?” I laughed, drunk enough to play along with this latest twist of mymind.  The small, sober part of mepromised to start taking the medication again. I didn’t want a relapse, those NHS mental wards are grim places to livein.


            “I’m real,ask me to do something and I’ll do it. Just to prove myself to you.”


            “Kill hisdog,” I replied, scooping a handful of kebab meat into my mouth, dropping halfof it.  A slice of jalapeno caught me bysurprise and I coughed my next words, spraying half-chewed spiced and processedlamb over the pavement. “Kill it like he killed my cat.”


            The rat wasgone by the time I brushed the loose strands of meat from my shirt, another oneruined, and I stumbled on, laughing at the conversation I’d just had in my headand glad there was no-one around to see me start my latest breakdown.  I’d have forgotten about it except for what happenedwhen I got home, if Griezzel hadn’t kept his first promise to me.


            I live in afour storey building block of flats, I’ve always wanted to take the Yankees’lead and call it an Apartment Block, but that just wouldn’t be British.  There are four flats on each floor, twoeither side of a central stairwell – the ones on the first, second and thirdfloors have balconies to make up for their lack of a garden.  I’m not with the Yankees’ when it comes tocalling the ground floor the first floor; that just doesn’t make sense.  There’s an intercom system and since theyevicted the smackheads on the top floor the stairwell doesn’t smell like piss,although the lift never works.


            As I lit acigarette, standing at the bottom of the path and gearing myself to enter aflat without my cat, vaguely wondering what to do with the weeks worth of catfood languishing in a cupboard, I saw Griezzle spring to the railing of the oldman’s balcony.  Twice the size he hadbeen back in town I knew it was the same rat, the glint in his eye was thesame.  Then he spoke, words only I couldhear.


            “I can takerevenge for you now. Will you let me in?”


            “I’ll letyou in,” I mumbled, dropping the last of my kebab on the path.


            Griezzlearched on his hind legs to hiss at the lit window of the old man’s flat andsprang into the air, transforming into a bat before he was half way to theground.  Through the open balcony door,interspersed with the sounds of whatever cop show he was watching, I heardbarking and swearing, the old bastard trying to calm his dog.


            A secondafter that the dog, an affable Border Collie I never hated in it’s own right –there are no bad dogs, just bad owners – launched itself over the balcony,chasing Griezzle’s shadow.


            I heard thesound as it’s neck snapped on hitting the ground, barely a foot or two awayfrom Marvin’s grave, and I looked up to see the old man’s shocked face lookingdown at me. 


            I took adrag on my cigarette, smiled at him and passed him in the stairwell as I wasletting myself in and he was running outside, screaming that I was responsible.


            Griezzlewas waiting on the kitchen side when I got inside, cleaning his tabby fur withthe disdain only cats can manage.


            “I got hisdog. Will you feed me now?”


            “Of course.”


            “We can domore tomorrow.”


            “Let’s waituntil next week. He is just the start.”


Categories: Christopher Law, Short Story, Horror

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Reply Phil Neale
6:15 AM on August 10, 2010 
Grabbed me from the outset.

Great setting, and the psychological stuff was really good.

Formatting isn't your fauit - happens to me too.
Reply seb
2:36 PM on August 10, 2010 
Great story, Chris. I enjoyed it from start to finish. So there could have more reading to come. If so, I'm looking for it.

Well done!
Reply jipper
3:20 PM on August 13, 2010 
Enjoyed this a lot, Chris.
A second chapter coming maybe?
Reply Christopher Law
3:21 PM on August 16, 2010 
There is half a second part written, but it's utter pants - completely fails to keep the same feel this one has, in my head at least.

I'm going to make a stab at it, just as soon as I'm done answering the e-mails I've been ignoring for the last week.
Reply C.M. Marcum
8:15 PM on August 16, 2010 
Rat to bat to cat, my familiar, I get it. Oooh, I hate your neighbor with the first sentence. Good opening. And I want to kill him, myself, by the end of the first paragraph.

This is the kind of story that I could really dig my teeth into. I especially like the way you slip in the part about his medications. Puts a question in my mind.

Hanging out with you Brits, I'm learning some new vernacular: I had by dint and beyond pale--what does that mean, exactly. Sounds cool.

I could spin this story three ways to Sunday. Ah, that's some American lingo. But what does it mean?
Reply Christopher Law
4:41 PM on August 20, 2010 
Thanks CM

Beyond the pale means somethings gone too far to be accepted/believed. It derives from the old fortifications around walled towns, the pale being the area of cleared land outside the walls.

It's one of my favourite phrases - which has nothing to do with the song by The Mission I loved when I was fifteen. Nothing at all.

I've not heard three ways from Sunday, but I'm guessing it's the same as five ways from Sunday. Another great phrase which I'll shoehorn into something one day.
Reply C.M. Marcum
11:47 AM on August 25, 2010 
Okay, just to be clear: I think your story has a touch of brilliance. I love this genre. Your MC is alive. I feel like I can see him and I know him. And I love your British diction, in fact, I say the more the better. I can even see the apartment and the parking lot.

The only thing I'm thinking is some of the transitions need a little ironing. And the end doesn't quite wrap up the story. I was thinking, what if...the guy turns out to be a warlock after all, the original cat comes back to life and takes his vengeance out on the neighbor , and momma turns out to be a witch, and it isn't the dog that gets killed, but it the mean old coot who gets carted away in the meat wagon. Maybe you could make me (the reader) think that it's the dog that the familiar kills for a while, but for a twist ending--no, it's the old man. (Never cool when animals die. I want the cat and the dog to live. What'ya think?)
Reply Christopher Law
1:27 PM on August 26, 2010 
It would be nice to bring the pets back, particularly the cat (I've never spent more than a few months without at least one pet cat) but I think that would detract a little from the nastiness of it - don't forget one of my main goals is to make people say 'eww, that's horrid'.

I do like the idea about the old man falling from the balcony, it's not too dissimilair to what I've got planned.

The problem I've got at the moment is I don't usually write in the first person and I'm having a really hard time getting back into the flow for the second part, I've made four attempts so far and just can't get it right.

Ah well, I'll keep trying. It's got to work eventually. Right?