Category Archives: Fantasy Shorts

The Invisible Man

By William David Baker

2700 words

Just look at him. Doesn’t look much does he? Slouching, humped over his lab bench. God-knows-what chemicals splattered down his what-used-to-be white lab coat. Snot on his sleeves. Half eaten ham sandwich on the side. Scruffy bastard. Who’d believe he is one of the biggest names in the 21st Century? The whole world wants Professor Mungo Cameron? Yes. He could name his price, his employer, his passport.

Cameron is a chemist, but no ordinary chemist. Cameron is an inventive obsessed genius. And prolific too, churning out successful new drugs and medicines like some people shell peas. Yes, to many, Professor Mungo Cameron is a hero. The many are a particular segment of society: the adolescent, and in particular those adolescents who suffer the angst that usually goes with that most feared of teenage scourges – facial acne.

Cameron is also a fraud. His peers believe his obsession stems from his maybe suffering the same angst when he was a teenager as those who now hero-worship him. They could not be more wrong. They also believe that the miraculous lotions he creates, remedies that actually work, – a rare event indeed in the cosmetic ‘medication’ industry – are the results of deliberate and painstaking research and experiment. They are only partly correct.

True, this gaunt chemist is haunted by obsession. Not with acne, but with his own baldness. His hair began to recede when he was just twelve years old. By the age of thirteen he was left with a tiny wisp of red above each ear, which he stubbornly refused to shave off despite his father’s promise to buy him the best hairpiece that money could buy. When Wayne Rooney was laughed at for getting hair implants Cameron consulted an implant specialist but found he was not a ‘suitable case for treatment’ so he opted for a baseball cap instead, ‘Imagine, Invent, Inspire.’ See, he’s wearing it right now.

True, his obsession drove him to try every hair gain product ever launched on a highly gullible marketplace. He soon realised that the industry was full of crooks and charlatans. Nothing worked. The industry still blossomed. His red wisps did not. All this did was to drive him to become the great undeserving chemist he is now.

After years of study in which, fair enough, he excelled, he was head-hunted by one of the largest of the pharmaceutical giants. They offered him the best research facilities money could buy, staffed with all the help he could ever need. He would have none of it. He asked instead for a small well-equipped lab and insisted he could only work alone. After some debate, the company decided the risk was small, and the benefits potentially massive, so they let him have his way, but monitored him closely. Their instinct proved to be sound as in quick succession he presented them with effective patent medicines for indigestion, heartburn and trapped wind. After that, they felt there was no longer any need for close monitoring and left Cameron pretty much to his own devices. How easy he found it to manipulate them.

He was then able to spend most of his time doing what he wanted to do: find a real cure for male baldness. That is where fate took over. Because, try as hard as he surely did, as great a chemist as he surely was, he failed every time. Failure force-fed his obsession so much that he ran a real risk that his employers would find out what he was actually doing, except that fate again took a hand. There were bi-products from his undercover work, things that he threw out in temper, that others in the company thought might have promise.

Their first reworking of his rejected compounds produced a wrinkle cream that actually appeared to work. The improvements they found in volunteer complexions were small, certainly, but nonetheless measurable. They were also if not quite permanent then very long lived. A new range of creams was launched and, for the first time in their long history, the company did not have to concoct spurious misleading advertising claims, saving them millions. When Cameron found out what they’d done he was furious. How dare they steal his work? How dare they deceive him? They tried to compromise with him. Mungo Cameron does not compromise. He sued them, successfully, and almost bankrupted the company. Hundreds of people lost their savings and their livelihoods. With the proceeds from his successful lawsuit, he bought a sprawling farm in Devon which he let go to rot. But he invested heavily in extending the farmhouse itself and building his own laboratory.

He continued his research into male baldness, but, following his earlier experiences, learned not to throw away potential bi-products of his failures, the first of which was his to-be-famous preparation for teenage acne. This proved even better than the wrinkle cream. It provided an overnight, 100% guaranteed permanent cure. Cameron became famous and very rich. He also quickly ran out of new ideas and became a frustrated lonely recluse. To cure his first problem he became a welcomed Professor of Chemistry at his local university, where, completely without remorse,  he stole the best ideas from his more talented students. To cure his second problem, he flew to Thailand and brought back a thirteen year old bride. That’s her, Ha.nhQui, now a young woman. She is taking him drinks on a tray.

Cameron presses the record button on his digital recorder. “December 20th. Sample #7452. Failed.” He smashes the on key off.

Ha.nhQui shuffles nervously over to Cameron’s bench, trying not to look at him. She places a cup of tea, as quietly as she can, close to the dog-eared sandwich.

Cameron looks up. Though he is still unable to grow hair on his head he is sporting a three day stubble. His face is drawn and tired but his dull brown eyes are wild with anger. He sweeps the tea and sandwich from his bench, smashing them to the floor, only just missing Ha.nhQui, who does not flinch.

“Not while I’m in the middle of something, woman,” he screams. “How many times must I tell you?”

He raises his right arm back and goes to strike her with the back of his hand. He stares right through her, looking for a reaction, daring her to defend herself. She does not, and he drops his hand.

Hit him. Hit him. But, she won’t.

“At least have your whisky, and then come to bed. It’s getting late.” She pours a drink from a decanter on the tray and leaves the room.

Cameron picks up a sheaf of papers and reads through them quickly. He stops, and quickly leafs back a few pages and re-reads them, more intently this time. He snatches up a single sheet and leaps up from his chair like he has just been passed the Olympic baton. He downs his whisky in one triumphant gulp. He works in a fury, setting up equipment, measuring and mixing chemicals, and within three hours he produces a blue liquid which he siphons off into a large syringe. He injects the liquid into his scalp, and waits for one hour. He grabs a hand mirror from a drawer, and adjusting it to an angle that works for him, studies his scalp intently. He is sure that his usually downy skin is looking darker. He gets a scalpel and takes a small slice of skin. Strange. I thought it would bleed profusely. Head wounds usually do. But  he doesn’t bleed at all. He places the piece of skin under a powerful microscope. Yes, the down appears to be red in colour, but it hasn’t grown any, it’s just got darker. He refills the syringe and injects his head again. Suddenly looking very tired, he falls asleep.

Cameron wakes. He goes to pick up the mirror. He fumbles it. Why is he so bloody clumsy? He realises why. It’s not easy to pick something up when your fingers have disappeared. No, they’re still there. He can feel them. But he can’t see them. He manages to grab hold of the mirror. He looks for his reflection. Great chunks of his face are eaten away. No, not eaten. His fingertips find where the missing chunks should be. He undresses, and puts his clothes in a locker. He is becoming invisible throughout his body, and it’s spreading rapidly. It isn’t curing his baldness, but what a discovery! His body itches all over. He scratches violently at his skin, howling like he’s being stung by a swarm of bees. There’s a gentle tap on the lab door. It is Ha.nhQui.

“Mungo. What is the matter? Are you alright? What is that noise?” She tries to speak respectfully, but finds it difficult to be heard through the shut door, and remain dutifully quiet. His almost empty chair swivels and Cameron snarls like a wounded animal. She gasps.. “Mungo. It’s very late and I’m tired. Can you please come to bed. You are working far too hard, you know.” She again chooses her words and tone with great care. He flings what is left of his head back, and opens his mouth to abuse her but collapses, unconscious, back into his chair.

Morning. Ha.nhQui enters the lab, but stays close by the door. She looks around. Mungo has gone. It’s not the first time he’s turned down her bed for another, I know. He likes to brag about it when he comes back. Every dirty detail. Bastard. She looks confused. She shudders, but she must be happy he’s gone, surely? One less night with him has got to be a blessing. She sees the mess on the floor from last night. She goes to clean it up. The summer sun is heating the lab nicely, but making it feel stuffy.

A dog comes trotting in. It’s Mungo’s. It’s a hound of sorts – allsorts. The animal looks around nervously. Its master is as likely to kick it as he is to roll on the floor with it, and it never knows what to expect. It stops to satisfy an itch on the patch of skin its master has been recently applying chemicals to. It sniffs the air, then trots over to Mungo’s bench. It sniffs the air then stiffens and growls and drops to the floor, flattening out all four of its legs. It growls, keeping its stare on the empty chair. It crawls in a belly-wobble towards Mungo’s chair, staying flat to the floor. After a few moments, its flopped down ears flick up. It sniffs the air again and gets to its feet. Turning its back to the chair, it cocks its leg and pisses on the chair legs. The yellow stream seems to hang momentarily in the air before cascading onto the hard wooden floor, where it pools thinly between the joints in the floorboards. The dog shakes itself and trots off.

Near the chair, a shape forms out of the edge of the yellow pool. It looks a little like a footprint. Tiny waves speed across the pool. The pool is already evaporating in the growing heat. She stares at the drying pool. She clears up the broken crockery and food, and leaves. Later that day, there were visitors.

“Mrs Cameron. Sorry to disturb you but it’s really important we see the Professor. Zoey and I need our data back for our revision.”

“I can’t let you in, Ethan. You know the rules. Professor Cameron sees no-one without an appointment.”

“Sod that. Come on, Ethan. Let’s go get our stuff.” The students brush past Ha.nhQui before she can stop them and they head straight for the professor’s lab. She rushes after them and reaches the door first.

“At least let me check first to see if he’s come back yet.” Ha.nhQui opens the door slowly and looks around. Still no sign of him. Zoey pushes past her and rushes over to Cameron’s desk.

“Hang on, Zoey. There’s no need to push Ha.nh –  er, Mrs Cameron like that,” She ignores him and rifles through a pile of papers. Ethan hangs back outside the lab.

“Sorry about this. You know what Zoey’s like. Hard to stop her sometimes, when she gets going.”

“A little like you.” Ha.nhQui pushes Ethan against the wall and kisses him, smothering anything else he is going to say. He can’t stop his hands grabbing her small buttocks. She shudders.

“Not here. She’ll see us.”

“Ethan. Here, quickly. I can’t believe what I’ve found!” He breaks away and joins Zoey in the lab. “Sorry, Ethan. Here, read it for yourself.” Ethan does as he is told.

“I don’t understand. It’s got his name on this, not mine.”

“Exactly. I told you not to trust the bastard. He’s been ripping your work off as his own.” Ha.nhQui joins them.

“Did you know about this?” Ethan is losing it. He is screaming his words. His face is full of pain.

“No, Ethan. I did not.” She does not sound convincing. Ethan is almost in tears.

“I know. I know. Come on, Ethan. We’re taking this to the authorities.”

Ha.nhQui tries to answer but is flustered. The students dash off with a large pile of papers. She stamps her feet and screams. “I warned you, Mungo. I warned you you’d go too far one of these days.”

The empty chair moves almost imperceptibly. She hears it scrape first before she sees it wobble. She is silenced immediately. She looks puzzled.  She takes her mobile out and dials it.

“Hi, John. It’s me. Can you talk? Good. No, don’t worry. Wasn’t your fault. I understand it was awkward for you to get out last night. Yes. Me too. Yes. Your loss. I was going to fuck your brains out.” The chair trembles again. She looks up and smiles, looking a little less puzzled. “Listen. Any chance you can get away tonight? Make up for lost time. You can! Yes, come over. As soon as you can. He’s away for a few days. By the way, that stuff you gave me to knock him out last night. Yes, I know it was wasted. No matter. How long was it supposed to last? Well it didn’t stop him from sodding off last night, did it? What would have happened if I’d made a mistake, say I’d increased the dosage? Oh, is that all? Temporary. Perhaps he’s in some brothel sleeping the effects off then.  What was that you warned me about? Not to put the stuff in a syringe? What?  Permanent loss off motor function. No means of communicating? Good job I got it right then. OK. See you soon. Yes. Can’t wait. I’m keeping it warm for you.”

She walks over to the lab bench and pulls a large syringe from a drawer. She takes a glass bottle from her pocket and fills the syringe with its contents. She turns to the empty chair which trembles again. She pats the nearest arm of the chair and her hand stops, suspended a short distance above it. She pats along towards where a wrist ought to be. She opens her fingers, grasping at thin air, and twists her hand ninety degrees. She feels a little further up with her sensitive fingertips, searching for something. She launches the syringe at the spot she has found. The needle disappears. The chair jumps. She presses the plunger, dispensing its complete contents.

She walks away from the chair then turns and spits at it. “Bastard.” Then she thinks about all the years he’s denied her use of her own language. “Con de hang.”

She leaves the lab and returns a few minutes later struggling with a large duvet and matching cushions. She makes a bed by the side of the empty chair, “Maybe John will find this interesting. Fucking the great man’s wife in his own laboratory.”

I should show some sympathy toward you, Professor, I suppose, but I won’t. I should try to help, but I can’t. Why should I? You did, after all,  kill me.

OK, so you didn’t exactly put the rope around my neck. I did that myself, fair enough. But it was you who cost me my job when you sued the company. It was me that couldn’t keep up the mortgage payments on the house. It was me that couldn’t keep my wife and son. And I’ve been waiting all this time just to see you get yours. I only wish the world could see me laugh.

Bus Stop

By William Baker

1840 words

Frank Kendrick had no need to be standing at the bus stop, at the rear of the small queue that waited in silence for the 8:15. In fact, when the bus eventually reached the bus station in town, Frank would – as he always did – exit the bus, walk to the return stop, and wait for an hour to be taken back home. Only once had he ever diverted from his routine, when he tried a coffee in the station cafe, but the coffee was poor, and he never bothered again.

This bus used to be Frank’s commute, until he was made ‘voluntarily redundant’ by the bank. Then, when his wife died, unexpectedly, just as they were beginning to enjoy his forced retirement, Frank took to taking the bus again, thinking it would ground him in some sense of normality, and maybe help to stop the constant rocking motion that he’d begun to suffer from, but that no-one else seemed to notice. That interminable rocking motion; forwards, backwards, just like he had felt after their ‘retirement ‘ cruise was over, when he couldn’t find his landlubber’s legs for days. The motion sickness had lasted the whole two years following Jenny’s death.

The make up of the queue rarely changed, except that some members might disappear for a short while, and then return carrying a few more pounds in weight, and with darker complexions. From time to time, a stranger might join the queue, and be scrutinised though rarely spoken to, except perhaps by a nod of the head, in answer to the question ‘Is this the bus into town?’

In the absence of any personal knowledge of who his fellow travellers really were, Frank had invented, and pursued, an imaginary game for him and them to play. He devised names for them. He gave each player a life. Who would he pick today to play with, on their journey into town?

Would it be Patrick? Patrick, the University Lecturer, who Frank had named because of the man’s obvious obsession with a strange TV serial from the Sixties called ‘The Prisoner’ that very few, Frank included, had ever properly understood. Patrick only ever wore one jacket. It was a tight fitting, white trimmed black blazer, complete with an Official Replica Number 6 badge. Frank had checked this out. £149 it cost, and it was an officially recognised exact replica of that worn by Patrick McGoohan, Actor, the original Danger Man, Prisoner Number 6, and he of ‘I am not a number’ fame. The original jacket could still be found displayed in the Prisoner Shop in the Italianate Welsh village of Portmeirion, the backcloth to the serial.

Frank had made him University Professor of Literature, as Patrick always carried with him a dog-eared copy of Dostoyevsky’s Demons. Now, Patrick would be a good choice today, because Frank had left him the previous day on the horns of something of a dilemma, and Frank had yet to decide which horn he would have him wrangle. Should Patrick accept the flattering invitation from the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia to accept their ‘Zasluzni Profesor’ in recognition of his extraordinary achievements in his field, or would that serve only to offend the Hollywood moguls who were sniffing at his latest historical tome, ‘Henry 8, and his First Husband.’ Yes, with such a quandary to solve, Patrick, the University Professor, was a definite possibility, but there was no great imperative to rush at a decision, as it seemed the bus was running late again.

Would it be Mercury? Mercury, the White Witch. Mercury was named, originally, because she was constantly either texting or phoning, and Frank knew that Mercury, the Planet, was, astrologically speaking, the Planet of Communications. Further weight was given to Frank’s choice for Mercury, because of the capricious and often volatile way she spoke, to men especially, on her telephone. Then one day, she came to the bus stop with a lightning grey streak through her electrified black hair, and immediately the picture was fully complete.

Frank had enjoyed many adventures with Mercury, and though he did not let on to the others, Mercury was a favourite. He could return to Mercury, and claim the prize she had offered up to him at the end of their previous game, when he had rescued her from the Dragon Fire Pit, after he had bested the Black Wizard of Firis Wolds. Images of heaving bosons, ripped bodices, fulfilled lusts, and heavy seas crashing onto deserted shores occupied him for a while. What has happened to the bus?

Would it be Dotty Dee? Dotty Dee, the Librarian. Nominated librarian because she was Frank’s epitome of what a Librarian should be. Petite. Demure. Thin pointed face, with very little make-up. Hair in a bun, with two chopsticks holding it up. Horn-rimmed spectacles at the end of her pretty button nose, with silver chain keeping them safe. Sober beige dress. Sensible shoes. Leather briefcase.

Named Dotty Dee simply for the light green sparkle of other-world mischief in her eyes. Frank wished that Dotty Dee would transfer to his library and replace the bearded, chunky-cardigan wearing, curry burping, stale-beer smelling oaf who worked there.

He could return Dotty Dee to the battle she was having with her bosses who wanted to extend her library portfolio to include the likes of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ ‘Leave me Breathless,’ ‘Over the Knee,’ ‘Shoe Leather,’ and many other titles in the same genre that Dotty Dee had been trying hard to resist. Would she win? Frank was certainly rooting for her, so she might. But, in the face of rising costs and budget cuts . . Not today, though. Frank was not looking for a fight today.

Would it be DJ? DJ, the DJ. Frank was still unsure that this one was going to prove a runner. DJ had been the most recent to join the queue, and Frank wondered if he had perhaps rushed to judge a little too quickly. He should have realised that, to make these characters work hard, required hard work itself, and DJ had been, in retrospect, far too easy. The gangly youth, the hoody, and always the music. The godawful tinny buzzing from his ears. He would not pick DJ today. Instead, he marked him down for a possible re-write, which he’d do as soon as DJ did something new to trigger Frank’s imagination.

Choices. Choices. Choices.

#

There he goes again, the dirty bugger, the Prisoner thought. Look at the way he’s ogling her all the time. And she doesn’t seem to mind, the cow. Completely blanked me when I tried to chat her up. Altered her hair just after that. What was she thinking of? That I wouldn’t recognise her, or something? Christ, where’s that fucking bus?

The Prisoner knew he must get to his mate’s gaff soon, pick up his guitar, amp, bedding and dog and claim the best spot before the other bastards beat him to it. He clenched his book close to his chest and chuckled at the idea that the coppers would ever think to look inside it for his stash. Nah, not much chance of being caught he thought. Half of the bleedin’ coppers had never heard of a book, and the other half that had, couldn’t read. It had taken him hours to dig out the hole out with a blunt Stanley knife.

#

Dotty Dee wondered who was up first today. It would probably be Mr Tomkinson, the manager who had replaced the Thinker, when he was sacked from the bank. Mr Tomlinson had told him a little abut what had happened, but she suspected he’d left out the really juicy bits. Hush, hush, and all that he’d told her. Had she put his special cream in her briefcase? Didn’t matter, she had spares at the ‘studio.’
While she waited for the bus, Dotty Dee reflected on how her life had changed so dramatically in the last two years. She reflected on those pivotal moments that had wrought the changes.

Like when Li first came into the chip shop in town where she worked part time.

Like when they had scraped enough money together for that incredible first, and only, boyfriend/girlfriend holiday in Bangkok.

Like when Li suggested what a laugh it would be to go visit a brothel in the Ratchadaphisek entertainment district in Bangkok.

Like when Li forced her to watch as this beautiful, wordless, tiny Thai woman undressed him and bathed him in fragrant oils and soaps, and then climbed, gracefully, on top of him and used her own tightly towelled body to brush his skin until he was dry.

Like when Li did not have to force her to watch as the woman then loosened the towelling from her body, letting it fall from the table to the floor, leaving Dotty Dee mesmerised, needing no compulsion to watch this expert perform her duties, with the finest of delicate dedication.

Like when Li decided that she would stay in Bangkok, alone, until she became as learned, as dedicated, as skilled as her teachers, and she would take that teaching back home with her and change her life.

#

The White Witch watched the Thinker, from the hooded corner of an eye. When is he going to find the courage to talk to me? He’s had enough time now, surely, to have mourned his wife’s passing? But, she quickly forgave him, because it was his adoration, a legend in the village, that had made her sell up her town flat and move to the village in the first place, so that she could be nearer to him, and for once a day, at least, be close to,him, in the queue for the 8:15 into town. She had followed him a few times from the station, but apart from one occasion he seemed to be taking the ride into town simply for the sake of the journey alone.

How she longed to help heal him. Yearned to end their loneliness. What would it take for him to notice her? Even the crazy streaks in her hair hadn’t generated the interest and the contact that she craved. And the ridicule, behind closed doors, that she knew she had suffered for it. And would suffer again in an instant to get what she wanted.

Today would at least go mercifully quickly for her, bringing tomorrow morning that much closer. The interviews for the Chief Inspector vacancy were scheduled to start at nine. It wouldn’t do for the Deputy Chief Constable to be late. Just enough time to pick up her freshly laundered dress uniform, and change out of her civvies. And as for that stupid little beggar in the hoody was concerned, did he not think that coppers had any sense of smell? Skunk. Yes. He smelled just like one. She’d send a patrol round town to sort him out.

The bus arrived.

#

DJ thought ‘Wish those two would get a room.’

End

Murdering Melissa

image

William David Baker

2000 words

I murdered Melissa, yet I broke no laws. She begged me not to do it, but I ignored her pleas. Yet I still I go unpunished; unpunished by man, that is. The Gods will have their retribution. Melissa’s Gods will make me pay for what I’ve done.

My name is Thomas Harken. Only hours ago, I was the happiest man in Cornwall. I had a job as a tree surgeon that I loved. I had the house I’d always wanted, ever since I’d delivered newspapers there as a kid. I had good friends and, most important of all, I had Melissa.

I bought the cottage in what was quite the strangest auction I’d ever experienced. I opened with a cheeky bid right on the reserve, yet in a room full of big spending bidders I was allowed to buy the cottage unchallenged. I hadn’t even viewed the cottage before the auction, as I would have bought it, whatever its condition, whatever its price. When I got the keys and took my first view inside, I could hardly believe my luck. Not only did the cottage need no remedial work doing at all, it was also decorated and completely furnished exactly as I would have wanted it to be. Quite miraculous. So much so, that I was able to bundle my closest belongings, and clothes, into my car and send in house-clearers to take away everything that remained in my Truro flat. The easiest move I’d ever made.

As there was nothing for me to do inside the cottage, I turned my attention to tidying the gardens. It’s large lawns and borders, front and rear, occupied me for a short while, but I soon found my professional eye drawn to the European Ash that dominated the front garden. Common or not, what a magnificent specimen it was! I love all trees, but the Ash was always my favourite, especially for it’s almost unique multi-leafleted leaf system, where each leaf comprises between four to six opposing pairs of narrow leaflets topped with a single. The Ash features opposing branches too, and even under my closest inspection, I was quite unable to find a single branch on this tree, young or old, small or large, without its opposite member. Very unusual, considering the ravages of disease and damage that the ancient tree must have suffered over the centuries.

It was after I’d had a couple of glasses of scrumpy, as I lay dozing in the summer sun, with my back against the tree, that I first heard Melissa speak. Well, not quite speak. Not yet. To begin with there were just whispers. I sensed they were human in origin, probably female. I remember jumping up and looking around to see if I had visitors, but there was no one there. I shrugged it off, blaming the scrumpy, and thought no more about it.

Work was thin that week, so, being at a loose end the next day, I repeated the scrumpy treat. As I dozed against the tree again, the strange sounds started as they had the day before. But this tine, the sounds began to form words. I could not describe the voice, and the words were only just audible, but repeatedly I heard “Thomas Harken. Look after my house. Look after my tree. And I will soon come to thee.” I had another good look around, but again could see nothing that would explain this phenomenon, so I promised myself I’d leave off the scrumpy for a while.

I took a closer look at the Ash tree, and thought the leaves looked a little under par. It had been a long hot dry summer, so I thought I’d give the tree a helping hand. I dug away the parts of the lawn that were stealing life from the tree’s wonderful thick roots. I then gave it a nourishing feed of an Ash fertiliser, one I’d developed myself, made up of organic macro and micro nutrients. I gave it a good watering, and finally protected it with a thick layer of damp mulch. While I completed my work, I stopped from time to time to listen, but heard no more sounds. No more words. Not until bedtime.

Melissa entered my dream. She was tall and slim, with long red hair that curled around her back and shoulders in large ringlets. Her face was small, her features tiny and delicate. Her skin was a pallid green, and below her impossibly long thin neck hung a garland of living flowers. Her dress looked like silk made from bark and hung loosely around her, revealing more pallid green skin. She flicked twice at her shoulders and the silk bark rustled smoothly to the floor.

“Thomas Harken. I am Melissa,” my dream girl said, in a voice that was like the wind brushing over dried leaves. “I am here for you. I will be here for you as long as you continue to protect my house and my tree.” With that, Melissa climbed into bed. I expected her skin to feel warm and was surprised to find it, not cold exactly, but cool certainly. She made love to me till I slept. I had not had a wet dream since I was a teenager, but when I woke the next morning the evidence was plain enough.

I had the exact same dream every night for a week, before it began to dawn on me as being a strange obsession for a thirty year old. I determined that I had to break the cycle, or I’d end up being sectioned. That night, as soon as Melissa appeared, I leapt out of bed. Her hands were already at her shoulders. I placed my hands on hers and said. “Melissa. I hate to stop the fun. But this is crazy. How is all this possible? Tell me.”

Her green eyes, usually small dots, suddenly grew big and dark, and I sensed as much fear behind those black orbs as I suddenly felt inside me.

“It is not allowed. I must not speak of it.”

I held her tight. It – she – felt so real. I could even see her pallid green skin turn grey where I gripped her. I don’t know where the thought came from, but I just blurted out “If you don’t explain what’s happening to me, I’ll chop down that Ash tree you seem so all fired up about.” She went rigid.

“You must not harm the tree. It has been my soul tree since it was a sapling. Without it I will die.”

“Explain,” I demanded. She hesitated, then began to shiver.

“I am Melissa of the Meliai dryad. My mother was Alecto, she of the three Erinyes. My father was Cormaron, the Cornish Giant. I was their child – a hamadryad, bound to my soul tree, the Ash, from birth.”

I didn’t know what to think. Was this real? Or was this still just a dream? All I knew was that I wanted her. And this time, it was I that loosened Melissa’s dress. I led her to the bed where I made love to her till I slept.

The next day, I decided to do some research. I found the legend surrounding the three Erinyes. It was typically Greek. They were a triptych of divine vengeance, who had short shrift for homicides in particular. Better known as the Furies. Their story went that when Cronus, the Titan, killed his father, Uranus, by castrating him, his blood that spilled on Gaea, the earth, created the three Erinyes. All very interesting, but where the hell had I got it from? I’d slept through most of my classics lessons at school.

And still the dreams continued, blossomed in fact. So much so, that I stopped worrying about it, and just enjoyed them for what they were. Then two days ago, I found myself drawn hypnotically to the tree, and noticed that the Ash looked sickly again, and this time it could not be drought. Large patches of leaves were wilting, curling like badly arthritic fingers. I pulled the damaged branches back and saw small lens-shaped dark-coloured lesions running along the bark. I pulled myself deeper into the tree and found larger lesions on its thicker branches, where the bark was already beginning to split and peel. I heard Melissa calling. Pleading. “Help me. Help me.”

I recognised the problem straight away. The Ash was suffering from an incurable fungus attack which was a little like ‘English Ash die-back,’ a problem we had suffered from for many years. This was much worse. I’d read the reports from Eastern Europe. Eighty percent losses were common, and in some regions they feared the demise of the specie altogether. The fungal spores responsible, and mutations of it, spread like wildfire on the wind. As in any science, there were different viewpoints on how to handle the disaster. Some experts advocated destroying every Ash in the areas affected, healthy or diseased. Others argued that destroying healthy trees meant destroying good fungal resistant stock. I’d only heard of one remedy, an experimental treatment that involved cutting out damaged branches and grafting in new, healthy branches.

When I went to be bed that night, Melissa was fearful. I explained the problem to her, and she begged me to help. She reminded me that she couldn’t live without the tree. I told her I’d do what I could, and she seemed content with that. We made sombre love that night till I slept.

Yesterday morning, I had another look at the tree. It was worse than I’d first thought. Nearly all of the tree’s branches were now infected. Grafting in new wood was out of the question. There were several vulnerable tree nurseries within a few miles of the cottage, and I knew I had no choice, dream or no dream.

I made a couple of calls, and pulled in a few favours, and within an hour I had a gang of fellow tree surgeons on site, with all the equipment necessary to do the job. Only a tree surgeon knows how difficult it is to kill a mature tree.

It was vital that we first remove as much infection as possible, and burn it. We attacked the tree with pruners, stripping off as many of its squeaking leaves and green stick branches that we could, laying it bare. It was dirty squalid work. In no time, the air was filled with the stench of fruity sap, and we and our clothes were turned ochre. We only found respite from the stench when we lit the fires and fed them. We attacked the near naked tree with screeching chainsaws. Limb after severed limb fell to the ground, to be to be further hacked and fed to the fire. The once mighty tree slowly became a residual skeleton. To finish it off, we gouged two thick concentric circles around its base. No tree survives such callous treatment. To kill it below the gouges, we hammered in long copper nails. And all the time we worked I heard Melissa’s cries. No one else did.

Melissa was waiting for me last night. She did not speak. The instant I touched her she turned to grey. She became dust in my arms and then was gone. I cried, but eventually I slept.

When I got up,this morning, I found the bedroom floor covered in a thin layer of fine grey ash. Only then did I truly understand what I had done. And I knew immediately what I must do.

So I stand here in my garden, naked in the rising sun, a knife in my nerveless hand, ready to sever my manhood and spill my blood to re-seed Gaea, the earth. I pray Melissa’s Gods accept my sacrifice and give me absolution for the life I’ve so savagely taken.

It is only the sun’s reflection on steel that makes me squint as I slash downwards.

End

The Maine Coon (A Cat’s Tale)

By William D. Baker

12300 words

George Finsbury first met Edna in 1952, when he visited the smart apartment block her father had just had built on a bombsite he owned in Usk Street, Bethnal Green. Edna was the receptionist for the modern concrete apartments, and George was looking for somewhere to rent that allowed tenants to keep a dog, as his landlord had taken the hump with him and his beloved Spaniel, Rover.

Edna had explained to him, very sweetly, that a dog would not be a problem, and that he could have the ground floor flat in the East wing, which was next door to hers. She had a cat, so she sympathised with him about the trouble he’d had with his landlord. George would even have the advantage of having his own garden, if he liked that sort of thing.

Edna’s father died before George moved into his new apartment. Within a month, George and Edna had fallen in love. Within two months they were married. Within three months George began to have serious doubts, and soon came to the realisation that the decision to pop the question had been, at the very least, rash, and, at the very worst, quite the most awful decision he had made in his entire life. Three years later, George was well into his third year of spending most of the little free time he had trying to think of a foolproof way of murdering Edna, and getting away with. It occupied him. It nurtured him. It gave him a reason to go on. Though he never once attempted to put any of his ideas into motion.

George Finsbury relished Saturday mornings. Saturday was confirmation that he had managed to survive yet another humdrum week. Saturday mornings were superior to Sunday mornings being that precious one day further removed from the start of his next week of humdrum. George’s midweek routine, unvaried for three long years, would begin with a five-thirty muffled alarm call. He allowed the hammer to rattle the bell, with an old sock laid between the two, for five seconds only, never more, or he would risk her waking. Edna must not wake. Not until after he left for work. Must not. And then there were the others to consider too. Same thing. Please let them all sleep

George Finsbury’s culinary skills were poor, despite his lion’s share of that particular domestic chore, one among many one-sided domestic divisions. He was not allowed to experiment or deviate from: wholewheat toast, one slice; Stork margarine, the new yellow coloured one, scraped on then off; watery marmalade, one level teaspoon; one cup of Brooke Bond tea, leaves only twice used; sugar cube, one half, carefully sawn, and sterilised milk, plastic thimble from an old Christmas cracker full.

George was once quite a good cook, before he married, thanks to the teachings of his beloved Mother. How she could cook! He told his bride so, and promised that he would make breakfast for her every day of their long lives together and had planned their first week’s menus as an homage to the wonderful recipes his beloved mother had left him. The breakfasts, he proudly told her. would begin with salmon kedgeree on their first Monday morning together, then Craster kippers for Tuesday, jugged to avoid any lingering fishy smells, then for Wednesday scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and chives, then chasse with devilled kidneys on Thursday, then creamed Finnan Haddie on Friday, and for the weekend, first a full, full English breakfast and on the last day the full, full Scottish version, to finish the week off. The salmon kedgeree had hardly hit the rubbish bin before all hopes of further culinary extravagance were forever dashed, and George forevermore denied control over the provisions orders with the grocer, butcher, fishmonger, baker, and milkman.
His breakfast forced down, George could focus on his Saturday. None of that horrendous midweek hell for him today.
This morning there would be no encounter with Timpson, the awful doorman in Reception. The doorman who called himself a commissionaire. Pompous ass, thought George before his thoughts drifted.

“G’morning George,” idiot commissionaire/doorman Timpson would say from behind his imposing reception fortification every morning that George left for work.

‘What’s good about it, you silly old sod,’ George would think.

“Morning, Timpson, and less of the George. Mind your place, if you want to keep your position,” George would reply with a look capable of curdling gin.

Timpson, having once reached the heady heights of Acting Sergeant in the Army Catering Corps, would cough three times to show his colours. “And how is the lovely Mrs Finsbury today? As beautiful as ever, dare I say, Mr Finsbury, Sir?” Timpson would ask, unsuccessfully hiding more than just a hint of lecherous intent underneath his kowtowing.

‘You perishing idiot,’ George would think. ‘If you believe Edna’s that beautiful, then you are damned well welcome to her. My pleasure. Please.’

“Couldn’t be better, thank you, Timpson. She sends you her very best,” George would lie, his lips still curdling gin.

George would pop on his trilby. Timpson would dash around from his counter, put on his peaked cap, and open the glass door to allow George”s egress from the apartment block, doffing his cap as George left, before dashing back to his counter and his latest copy of Razzle, and Brigitte Bardot.

There would be no ten minute trudge to the railway station for George today. No friendless twenty minute train ride to Holburn, to Edna’s Letting Agency. She had insisted, before agreeing to marry him, that he prove his devotion to her by selling his laboratory, giving up his silly ideas about integrated printed circuits, and join the family business. After he had made the jump, George was not allowed to rise above the tank of lowly clerk.

There would be no eight hours of routine form filling and form filing. The highpoint of George’s day at work was always the visit from the tea trolley. Good coffee and tea, good milk, all the sugar he could manage even though he normally preferred his tea with just a scrape from a sugar lump. and his coffee without sugar altogether. And, using the few precious coins that he managed to keep secret from Edna, he would linger a while looking over Warty Mary’s enticing display of chocolate delights, buns and pastries, before choosing just one. He would drink and eat alone, and had done so ever since Edna had once surprised him with an unannounced visit, and caught him in innocent parley with Joan from Accounts, over coffee and Ovaltine biscuits. Edna had dismissed Joan on the spot and had the biscuits replaced with Rich Tea, their being much less exotic and less likely therefore to lead to such liaisons again. The scars from that episode had never properly healed. At five thirty, precisely, George would reverse his journey, stopping only to call at the butcher’s for Edna’s daily order of fifteen pounds of prime chicken livers.

But, today was Saturday, and George’s thoughts turned back to the present. He had already enjoyed the absence of early alarms ringing, though he had still risen at six ten exactly. He’d endured breakfast, and now relished in the pre-storm calm, as he lay peacefully in his room.

“George. Are you awake?” The calm broke. Edna had woken.
Edna’s shrill call easily penetrated the thin walls separating their rooms. It was rare for Edna to address him by name. When she did so, George knew that he would need to call on all of his reserves, that his full attention would be required. George paid full attention.

“Yes, Dear.”

“Hm. . . .Are the chicken livers ready?” Edna asked.

“No dear,” he replied. “But, I’m doing them right now,” knowing that he just had time to sprint down to the kitchen before he might be caught out.

“A good thing too. It’s half past already and they’re waiting.”

“Of course, Edna,” he said, raising his voice enough to reassure without appearing to disrespect. “Three bags full,” he whispered, deliberately relishing every smothered syllable. “What I would give to fill three bags full of your precious little ones, Edna. And weigh them down with something suitably heavy, Edna. And drown the bloody lot of them, Edna.” He wondered then how much Edna herself might weigh, and if bags came in her size too.

“Are you mumbling again, George?”

“No dear,” he replied in alarm, leaping from his bed and into his dressing gown and slippers. He tiptoed towards the stairs, and took a deep breath before descending, hoping his way was clear. It was not.
As he turned to make the final descent he saw the trap was set, they were waiting for him. The remaining staircase was carpeted with cats. The others. Like the birds in du Maurier’s novel, menacing in number, malevolent in intent.

Edna kept at least thirty of the beasts, though it was impossible to be certain of their true number as there were many comings and all too few goings. Every new furry acolyte added both to the brood and to his misery. George hated the creatures; mutely, but nonetheless with a will. Though Edna’s favourites were always immaculate he hated the smell of them. He hated the fact that roses would not grow any more in his garden. He hated the chicken livers which he was forced to boil up and serve to them every single day. He hated their fur, and way it relentlessly got into his clothes, into his bed, and into his nose, the cause of his permanent sniffle. He hated the way it had become the only condiment to his meals. They were an abomination that deserved only total extinction.

George had always been a dog man. His last pet, Rover, a bouncy black spaniel, and he, had been inseparable. Until their unfortunate separation.

#

It happened on George’s first day at work after the wedding. It was summer and he was looking forward to perhaps a gin and tonic with Edna in the garden after dinner, and then he would take Rover for his usual constitutional across the common. He should have been forewarned that something was wrong when he managed to unlatch the back gate to the garden without being bowled over by a boisterous Rover. Instead a tearful Edna ran to great him. He asked her whatever was the matter, and where was Rover, and she sobbed even more. Then Edna told him how Rover had, somehow, gotten loose from the garden and had completely disappeared. She’d looked everywhere for him, squeezing his favourite squeaky toy all around the local streets and the common, but with no luck.

George didn’t know what to think at first. There was his new pretty young wife all in a tizzy, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, the cause of her anguish was his own pet dog. Hadn’t he done enough to upset his poor lovely Edna with his clumsy breakfast surprise the week before? He held her at the elbows and pulled her towards him to offer comfort, but Edna pulled away asking him to stop as she was dirty from gardening. George could see that now, and despite the terrible situation, had to smile at her cute button nose with the smudge of dirt on it, and her oversized pink rubber garden gloves flapping at the end of her delicate arms as she sobbed.

George couldn’t understand it. Rover was not the kind of dog to go off wandering. There were a couple of bully dogs in the street that had been quite a nuisance, and Rover was always wary when George took him out. He didn’t even enjoy being let loose on the common, but would lie cowering at George’s feet if he tried to let him run free. George tested the gate to make sure the latch wasn’t broken. It worked fine. Edna was at a loss too. She had remained at home all day, either in the apartment or working in the garden, and she had not used the gate. There’d been no visitors. Not even the postman had called. The gate was just open and Rover gone.

Edna’s tears had almost washed away the delightful smudge on the end of her cute button nose, but George still had to take the starched handkerchief from his breast pocket and dab at Edna’s nose till the button was restored to its former perfection. He told her not to worry; that he would have go look for Rover himself while she finished her garden tasks. Edna stopped crying straightaway, and returned to a small mound of earth by the side of his potting shed, picked up her spade and continued the chore interrupted by George’s homecoming – pounding the mound flat. Moles, she’d told George later, when he asked, and he’d agreed with Edna how important it was to deal with pests early, before they became a real problem.
George returned from his search but without Rover. A thought struck George as he trudged disconsolately indoors. He wondered when Edna had bought Rover a squeaky toy because as far as he could recall, he certainly never had, because squeaky toys were another of poor Rover’s unfortunate phobias. He never saw Rover again. The second of Edna’s cats arrived the next day.

#

As if to an unseen and unheard command, the cats turned as one, and stared at George. He could feel their impatience, and their contempt. He also feared, for a brief moment, that they might be able to sense his hatred for them, but with some relief, he relaxed as they turned their gaze away from him, again as one, To put them off his scent George tried to disguise his animosity with a few well placed but nervous ‘Here, Kitties,’ which were totally ignored as he threaded his way through the furry maze. He was finally able to relax and breathe properly when he reached the kitchen.

George boiled up the chicken livers in an enormous aluminium stockpot, stirring constantly with a long wooden spoon to stop the meat from burning, and keeping a close watch on the timer and thermometer to make sure he followed Edna’s recipe precisely. She would know if he didn’t. Satisfied that the sickening concoction was ready, he piled it piping hot onto a square silver salver, so large that he could only just grab the sides by stretching his arms as wide apart as he could. George thought that if Edna adopted any more cats, they would have to again look at installing a dumb waiter, though the last time he’d suggested the idea Edna simply told him to shut up, and then joked about how she’d just made her dumb waiter even more dumber.

George struggled with his heavy load up the stairs, past the cats, who took a little more notice of him on this trip, and then gratefully placed the load onto a food trolley left for the purpose outside Edna’s bedroom. A crystal bell stood by the still steaming meat. George, with a degree of ceremony, knocked the door, waited for permission to enter, and then wheeled the trolley up to the side of Edna’s bed. She sat up and was completely surrounded by cats. Those who could find no room on the bed lay around it.

Except for Edna’s horrible quilted pink bolero-style bed jacket, and her hair rollers, the size of cardboard tubes found in the centre of a toilet roll, and her thick black hairnet, hiding her platinum blonde curls, and her overnight facial with cucumber eyes, and her angelic winged spectacles, Edna was as lovely as the day they first met. She peeled off the cucumber, and revealed sparking eyes that were so blue that George thought they might be electric.

The cats had got the scent now and the room quickly became filled with noises of purring and miaowing, and sharp claws plucking at the carpet. Like a clever magician, Edna produced a long handled fork from thin air, lifted a morsel of chicken from the pile and gently rocked it under her pretty button nose. George steeled himself.

“Is this meat fresh?” Edna demanded to know. “Or is that man, Jackson, palming you off with any old rubbish again? . . . Eh?”

So much menace in such a simple word, and from such a pretty mouth, George thought. He winced even though he’d heard it all before, many times over. “Yes, my dear. I checked it myself before Mr. Jackson packed it.” Bad move. Too late. Damage done.

“So, you checked it, eh? Well, if the meat was fresh when Jackson packed it, then you must have taken your own sweet time bringing it back home. That’s all I can say. I know it’s not right. . . . Well?”

George began to stammer and splutter. Edna’s ‘Well?’ was much worse than even her ‘Eh?’

“Oh, be off with you,” Edna ordered. “I’ve got no time for your blubbering right now. There’s my lovelies to look after. We’ll return to this later.”

George managed another weak ‘Yes, dear’ and, keeping his eyes fixed firmly on Edna as she picked and tossed juicy morsels of chicken to her writhing coven, he slowly backed out of the room.

After breakfast on Saturdays, George was allowed two hours freedom in his potting shed, before resuming his other duties. George potted about the shed, making sure there was enough evidence of honest activity to fool even Edna, then reached up to his secret hiding place and brought down a dusty old old wooden box with a peeling label that once said ‘First Aid.’ He opened the lid and removed a thin layer of dusty loose plasters to reveal the true nature of his first aid box. A quarter bottle of vodka, chosen for its vapid qualities; a packet of extra strong mints, in case the vodka proved a little more piquant than usual; a tin of Villiger Vanilla Cigarillos, chosen for their pleasant masking bouquet; a box of Swan Vesta, and a trashy whodunnit with a picture on the front of a woman cradling a smoking automatic pistol between her over generous breasts. George estimated that he had time enough to polish off a third the vodka, a whole cigarillo, and maybe four or five chapters before Edna stirred from her bedroom.

George was quickly into his tawdry reading, and had enjoyed some good nips of cheap vodka and smoked most of his cigarillo, when he suddenly shot up from his potting table, punched the air and shouted “Eureka!”

George had read many similar trashy novels, but never for titillation, nor for any horrible vicarious excitement intended by their authors, but purely for research purposes only. As much as he still, in many ways, adored her – George was still obsessed with the notion that Edna had to go. It was the going that was his problem. How to achieve her demise in a fitting, yet foolproof manner? He was looking for poetry and perfection, to give Edna a poetic ending and him the security of committing the perfect crime. Oh so often in his research, he’d found solutions to one problem but not the other, or often neither. Even in this novel the villain had made a fatal mistake and paid the ultimate penalty at the end a rope. But, it was clear to George, that the author had missed a trick. A perfect modus operandi spoiled by a stupid error. Well, George was not that stupid. The modus operandi he could easily engineer. The error he would not.
Electrocution. That was the key. Accidental electrocution. None of that melodramatic nonsense he’d thought about before like shooting, sharp object trauma, blunt object trauma, poisoning – natural or chemical, lethal injection, hammering, hanging, strangling, garrotting, suffocating, crushing, drowning, explosion, fire, induced medical emergency, pushing from height, flying off in a balloon, RTA, hit and run, contract killing, animal or insect attack, voodoo, mesmerism, scaring to death, explosive decompression, not shouting a warning when the bus came around the corner.

Some of them good ideas, no doubt, but all of them flawed in one way or another. Many of them were far too interesting or bizarre and would attract investigation. Some of them were too personal and in your face and therefore too indicative of motive. Some left far too much evidence behind to worry about, though George had once thought a hammer or a knife made from ice might work quite well. Most required the purchase of tools, weapons or equipment, and all of these left paper trails for investigators to follow. Many involved being out and about where there were far too many uncontrollables to manage. Most left a body behind, and what a bagful of evidence that could prove. No. Electricity was the key. He’d heard that more people died at home in accidents than for any other reason. And that electricity was high on the list of culprits. If he was clever, and if he engineered his plan in as simple a way as possible then another accident at home would not raise much suspicion at all, he would have no worries about leaving incriminating evidence, he would not have a body that required any other disposal other than its due burial, and he was certain that he could act the grieving widower, with a little rehearsal.

His thoughts then went to the mechanical. How to deliver the electric shock, and make it look like an accident. Tossing a live electric fire into Edna’s bath would be a quick and easy solution, but how would he explain that? He liked the bath idea, but having discarded tossing in electric fires he then thought about Edna’s brand new portable transistor radio. Battery powered, so no use there. Wouldn’t even tickle her toes. He’d have to make sure her precious new Raytheon transistor radio was out of action. She’d hate that, he knew. She would not tolerate any break in her routines. She had to have that musical accompaniment to her bathing. He would sympathise with her, naturally. How he would fuss and fret. He could do that, alright. He would suggest Edna use the mains radiogram from the drawing-room until he could get hers repaired. But surely it would be far too heavy for George to carry upstairs? No, he would manage, and nothing was too much trouble for his dearest Edna. But surely the cable was too short to run into the bathroom? No problem, he would run an extension cable for her from the socket on the landing at the top of the stairs. But didn’t that seem like a lot of trouble to go to? Tosh! No. It would be his pleasure. George reigned himself in a little realising he was slipping into the realms of fantasy. Edna would snap up his offer, no questions asked. Well, maybe just one. She might ask if there was any danger, she may have heard that water and electricity don’t mix well. He’d try to put her off by saying that there was only risk with large mains ring electrical items like washing machines or cookers, and if she still showed concern he would volunteer to fit the new circuit breaker, the one he’d just bought from the advertisement in the August Railway Modeller, into the socket, before plugging the radiogram in. She would insist George do it properly, maybe even supervise him, so he might have to come up with a contingency in that event. George would place the radiogram teetering on the very edge of the shelf above the bath, but first of all make sure the shelf was liberally greased with soap and water. Clumsy Edna! For Edna’s safety, he would insist she get in the bath, while he switched on her radiogram so that it would warm up ready for her. He would make sure that the radiogram was tuned just off-station, and turn the volume knob down too low for her to hear properly. One way or another he’d get her up and standing in the bath, touching the mains. He would also make sure the bathroom floor was liberally wet too, just in case she stepped out of the bath to adjust the radiogram.

He would dash off leaving Edna to her fate. He would ride his cycle like fury, a mile down the road, to see Kenneth at the cat sanctuary, and call in on the pretext of needing some cat flea powder or something. Wasn’t it so right how everything was slotting into place? He would pretend to have forgotten the exact one that Edna wanted. He would ring her from the Sanctuary, Kenneth would not object, and if she hadn’t touched the radiogram yet, that might trigger it. The phone would ring and ring. He would try again. Four times would probably be enough. He would express growing concern to Kenneth. He would hope Edna hadn’t slipped getting in the bath, or something equally horrid. In the end he’d be really worried. He’d even get Kenneth to go back home with him. Throw the cycle in the back of Kenneth’s Austin A30. Good old Kenneth. Kenneth, the alibi.

And they’d find her scorched dead body in the bath, the radiogram probably still clutched in her spasming hands. George smirked. Her body would be horribly contorted, maybe even have fractured bones, or joints dislocated by her terrible convulsions. George’s smirk turned to a smile. Her face would be fixed in a contorted scream. Smiles turned to chuckles. He or Kenneth would see the cable trailing to the landing socket. George would be irreconcilable. Hadn’t he promised her that he would get her transistor radio repaired or replaced as soon as he went to town? Hadn’t he argued with her when she suggested using the mains radiogram in the bathroom? Hadn’t he warned her of the dangers in doing so? Had he not refused? Oh, why did Edna have to be so stubborn? Wouldn’t Kenneth agree that it was just like Edna to have things her own way?

George, laughing like a donkey, pulled down a dog eared notebook from a pile of similar looking notebooks hidden behind two large brown bottles of Boric Acid. He took his favourite fountain pen from his inside pocket, and scribbled down a few notes on electrocution, while it was fresh in his mind. George checked his pocket-watch, slipped it back in his waistcoat, packed up and hid the first aid box, and returned to his chores indoors.

#

As he plugged his extra powerful vacuum cleaner into the socket in the hallway, extra powerful to cope with those awfully persistent cat hairs, he could hear Edna chirping away in the bathroom, as she listened to music on her brand new portable transistor radio.. George always admired Edna for her encyclopaedic knowledge of modern music. There was not a song lyric old or new that she did not know, and not a single note that she couldn’t crucify. He was happy to switch on the cleaner. As he pushed and pulled, his thoughts settled on Edna and her morning ablutions, and her singing, and her portable radio, and the trashy novel, and things began dropping nicely into place for him. He was now getting to the stage where he needed to apply as many ‘what if’ scenarios to the emergent plan forming in his head to try to cover all possible eventualities, and protect him from suspicion. As he neared the front door he could just make out a persistent knocking. He opened the door and his spirit fell. The obese, sweaty individual, in Sally Army type blues and cap, augured only one thing as far as George was concerned. Another acolyte to Edna’s brood had arrived.

“George, old bean. Just the ticket. Is Edna available?”

“No, Kenneth. She’s not. And what can I do for you? – as if I need ask.”

“Good old George. Sharp as a button as always. Here, Old Man, can I put this down? It’s fair killing my back.”

George was brushed aside, while his visitor struggled through the doorway, twisting and turning to manoeuvre an over-sized cumbersome cat carrier through the gap. As he entered the apartment, a ferocious hissing and spitting erupted inside the box, followed by frantic scratching. With alarm all over his reddened face, George’s visitor lost control over his load as it it began to wobble in his arms, just as if contained a giant Mexican jumping bean. The carrier hit the floor with a thud.

“Have a care, Kenneth,” George yelled. “That’s an expensive carpet you’re messing with there.”

Kenneth removed his cap, mopped his brow, and panted till his breathing eased. “It’s like this, my man,” he said to George eventually. “We’re getting short of space down at the Sanctuary. Had a bit of a rush on – no room to swing a cat, as one might say.” Kenneth paused, waiting for a reply to his little joke. When it wasn’t forthcoming, he broke the silent pause with a short staccato cough and said “We were wondering If dearest Edna wouldn’t mind helping us out again – for a short while, that is, of course?”

George sighed. “I know your short-whiles, Kenneth,” he said pithily. “We must have twenty of them ensconced here right now. And, do not let Edna hear you talk about swinging a cat anywhere, or it will be you that ends up swinging.” He relished the effect his words had on Kenneth, the self-appointed, self-opinionated, self-serving petty volunteer from the local cat sanctuary, Edna’s sole charitable cause. Nice to see someone else squirm for a change. However, he also knew not to milk the situation, as Kenneth was more than capable of reporting his behaviour back to Edna. George also knew that it was impossible to put Kenneth off, in any case, so thick was his skin.
“What is it this time? A mountain lion, I dare say, by the size of that box,” George said, becoming quite alarmed to see sharp hook-ends of blackened claws slicing through the box”s substantially thick cardboard.

“This is a rum one, really. You remember that fire in town, at the students’ house? Well, when the Fire Brigade eventually got the blaze under control, and they brought out what was left of those three students, they found this poor perisher. A little singed around the edges, and with a slight cough, but otherwise Okey, Dokey. Pretty damned lucky, really. Eh?”

George remembered the incident, vaguely, and wondered just how lucky Kenneth thought it had been for the three students, never mind the damned cat.

Kenneth began to unlatch the carrier’s hinged lid.

“Stop that” George ordered, halting Kenneth in his tracks. “You know Edna insists on first lookings.” Kenneth opened his mouth to speak, but George took him forcibly by the arm and pushed him back out through the threshold.

“But I was going to tell you about the Ouij – ”

George slammed the door shut, and leaned back against it in case Kenneth tried to barge his way back in. He heard footsteps retreating and was satisfied Kenneth had gone. He studied the box, which had thankfully quietened a little. His attention fell on the clasp. Kenneth had left if not quite closed, not quite open. It began to vibrate as if a stiff breeze had caught it, then it sprang fully open, the box lid falling slowly like a castle’s drawbridge. A long, shaggy thickset forepaw extended experimentally from inside the dark recesses of the box. The paw was blue-grey in colour, with thick black hoops around it. Large tufts of grey fur protruded from between the toes. Another identical forepaw appeared. batting the carpet, looking for trouble. Then two whole shaggy legs were out of the box. George saw a white shaggy chest, and a neck ruff so thick, that he thought his jibe at Kenneth about a mountain lion was coming home to roost. He was even more convinced when a great head, with Lynx-tipped ears, and large green-gold eyes appeared and he started to back off, seeking the safety of the vacuum cleaner to hide behind. The cat slunk its way out of the box. It seemed to take ages as, nose to the end of of its long and incredibly bushy trailing tail, the cat was over three feet long. No, it was almost four four feet nose to tail tip and had to weigh the best part of twenty four pounds. Not that it looked fat. It was a stone and a half of rectangular solid muscle. George was fascinated. It’s black hooped forelegs and haunches were mirrored on both sides of its body by wide slashes of black that met in a wide line along its spine.

George was impressed. He knew pedigree when he saw it, and he knew his cat breeds too. He had tried desperately early in his marriage to share Edna’s love of all things feline, but gave up, after her rejection. He recognised the cat to be a mackerel tabby Maine Coon, a cat breed born to the cold snowy winters of New England. The State cat of the County of Maine. How strange, those Americans. Ah well, Dick Whittington had his Tommy, so why not?

The cat looked straight through George’s vacuum fortress and fixed him with a green-gold stare. George had only seen pictures of the breed, never the real thing. The Maine Coon is not a cat, he decided. It is a lion, and not a female lion either, but an almost grown full-maned moggy lion cub. Bigger than Georges’s Spaniel Rover and looking not unlike a large rectangular ottoman with a lion’s skin thrown over it. Heavens! The cat’s face was certainly expressive, but what the expression meant, George could not quite fathom. Curiosity, perhaps? No. More than that. Anger, perhaps? Could be. The cat clearly had a dignity about it that surely must have been sorely dented by his being thrust into a cardboard box and taken off to Heaven knows where. Hatred, perhaps? George felt animosity from the cat, certainly, but there was no need for the cat to hate George. He hadn’t kidnapped him, had he, after all was said and done? There something else, something hidden, something malevolent, something terribly wicked. Such nonsense, George thought. Pull yourself together, man. It’s only a cat.

The Maine Coon went down and dug its front claws into the carpet. Uh,oh, thought George. He really does not look happy. George could see it building resistance into Its muscles, getting ready to launch its attack, when a bunch of Edna’s cats came bounding in alerted to the scent of a newcomer. George was impressed with the immediate effect that first sight of the Maine Coon had on the others. Those that could, juddered to a stop. Those that couldn’t, lost grip of their hind paws, which caught up with and then passed their front paws, and they bowled over until they could get a grip and stop. They were all stopped now. They stood on all fours, arching their backs, hissing and spitting, their lips drawn back baring their teeth, and then ran back to Edna to tell her about the strange new arrival.

Edna arrived shortly. George still cowered safe behind the vacuum. The Maine Coon still watched George. Edna clicked her mouth at the cat four times. His long whiskers twitched the air and he turned his attention to her. “Here, Pussy,” she called sweetly, while George cringed, wondering whether Edna would be eaten alive, not that it would have been a bad thing; but, George detested the sight of blood, and had long discarded that idea as a modus operandi for his perfect murder. The cat shrank to half its size. It chirped and trilled as it approached her, then wrapped itself in and around her pink fluffy slippered legs, purring louder than any cat George had ever heard before. George shrugged and lost a little of his growing respect for the beast but was at least grateful that it was unlikely he would hear from Edna again that day, as she would devote all of her time to getting to know, and getting to name the newcomer. George returned to his chores.

Sunday came and little changed, at first, that was until George entered Edna’s bedroom with the chicken liver laden trolley. There was only one cat on her bed, despite the fact that there was room for many, many more of them. The Maine Coon sat on its haunches at Edna’s side enjoying a gentle brushing with a steel comb. The other cats sat on their haunches on the carpet around the bed, lined up like soldiers on parade, three rows deep. None of the cats moved as George parked the trolley as best he could. They only seemed to have eyes for Edna and the new arrival.

“Ah, George. About time, too,” Edna said, pausing her grooming. The cat hacked at her, and she resumed its grooming straight away. “You’re one minute late. But I’ll forgive you that for now as I’m in such a good mood. Look at him. Isn’t he a handsome beast. Aren’t you a tiny bit curious about what I’m going to call him? I’ve two names in mind. Perhaps you can help me choose. What do you think? I like Ajax and I like Himesh. I found both names in my book of names and they are both kingly names. Quite appropriate the way all the other cats are treating him, don’t you think.?”

“Himesh has an interesting ring to it. What exactly does it mean?” George asked.

“Snow king! Very appropriate. Hm . . . . Ajax it is then.”

George was quite pleased with himself especially as he had used a little reverse psychology on Edna to ensure she chose Ajax. I mean, Himesh! What on earth is that all about? he thought
Edna reached down the side of the bed, and picked up a small cardboard box, tied with a blue pink silk bow.
George knew what was coming and for the first time felt sorry for the animal.

Edna lifted out a pet-sized tuxedo and a miniature blue tinsel lined top hat, which she proceeded to force onto the cat. “Look, George. Ajax has his christening suit on. Does he not look a picture? ”
George and Ajax exchanged glances for a moment, and he could swear he saw tears in the cat’s eyes. Then Ajax’s eyes seemed to lose their green-golden glaze, as the vertical dark shaft at their centres slowly ballooned out to the sides leaving its eyes fully dilated in black. Looking into those malevolent black abysses unnerved George and he shuddered.

“Have a care, Edna? I don’t think he likes it. Please take those things off him.” George cut himself off in a gasp.

“What did you say, . . . George?” Edna growled. “You don’t think! You don’t think! I don’t pay you to damned well think. Now get the hell out of here before you and I both begin to really regret it.”
The cat kept its dark stare fixed on George for a moment, then just for a very brief split second George thought the cat winked at him. He shuddered again and backed out from the room. As he closed the door Edna said “No, on second thoughts, I’ll call,him Himesh.”

George kept returning to what had happened in Edna’s room, especially Ajax/Himesh’s strange behaviour, as he washed up and then completed the daily hoovering. It was making his skin creep and his head whirl. He decided he needed to clear his mind so he then decided it was time to revisit the potting shed where he could gather his thoughts, re-read the chapters in his trashy novel that had excited him so much the day before and begin to put his master plan in order. He would bally-well enjoy a well-deserved nip or two of vodka, and a good cigarillo, too.

#

George opened the door to his potting shed and went to march in, but stopped suddenly. The dimness of the light inside was playing some kind of trick with his eyes. There seemed to be a large oblong shape on his potting table that had no business being there. George looked overhead to see if anything had fallen from the shelves above that would explain it. The thing moved. It was alive. George sprang back, and hit the door wide open, throwing more light into the shed. A small blue-tinselled top hat wobbled on top of the moving object.

“Hey, Daddy-O. Don’t flip. Don’t want any old sewer eyeballing me in here, rapping me to The Man, before I even get started.” The hat spoke.

The hat spoke? Impossible! What the deuce was going on? No, not the hat. The cat! George felt his head swim, and his legs buckle. A voice in his head said “Oh, no you don’t, Daddy-O,” and he instantly felt his spinning head brake to a stop, and his legs stiffen making it quite impossible for him to faint. The door slammed shut behind him and George could swear the latch latched itself shut. The shed gradually became lighter inside as it filled with a dull yellow light. A vague, unpleasant smell also began to make itself noticed in his nostrils. Ammonia? Sulphur? Brimstone?

George walked stiff legged up to the potting table, quite certain that the movement of his legs was absolutely involuntary. Yes, it was clear enough now. Himesh, the Maine Coon, lay spread out on his bench, still wearing its tuxedo and top hat, with George’s bottle of vodka clutched between its two front paws, taking a long drink. By its side, burning a hole in the bench, was one of George’s cigarillos. By the side of the cigarillo was an empty box of Swan Vesta and a small forest of broken spent matches. George thought well, he’s managed the vodka alright but he’s had a real problem lighting the cigarillo.
“Yeah, man. You dig that OK.” The cat spoke again, losing a trickle of vodka from the corner of its mouth, which it let fall on its paw. It put down the bottle and licked at the vodka soaked into its fur. “Had to magic up a cool spell in the end so I could light up one of these boss weeds of yours. Sorry about the smell.”

George picked up the burning cigarillo and took in a lungful of warming familiar reassuring smoke. The cat flicked him a nod, and raised the corner of its mouth. George got the message and, in a haze, passed the cigarillo from his lips to the cat’s. George could not help notice that several of his dog-eared notebooks, or what was left of them, lay on the floor, and loose pages, torn from his how to get rid of Edna and get away with it notes were pinned around the walls of the shed.

George thought that maybe he’d tripped and hurt his head on the way to the potting shed, and felt all around for any lumps, dents or signs of bleeding. There was nothing, and he couldn’t remember having fallen.

“Here, Daddy-o. Let me see if I can get you all hopped up so you can dig me better.”

George felt no pain, though he knew an invisible claw had reached deep into his cerebral cortex, and was squeezing its way through the labyrinth of different lobes and organs that combined to make him who he was. Snip. Snip. As sharp as hairdresser’s shears the claw carved this bit out here, this bit off there. At one point George’s eyes snapped shut, albeit briefly. He developed a twitch in his left eye that switched to the right and then stopped altogether. His nose was suddenly filled with the stench of rotted elephant droppings. Just as suddenly it changed to jasmine and that too soon went. He felt the buttons in his flies start to strain against a totally unexpected erection. He blushed, then the next moment the blush went and he felt like he didn’t give a hoot.

“That’s your motor all cranked up, George, my man.” Himesh said, still chewing on a particularly tasty morsel from George’s hypothalamus. “It’s what I call my Doubting Thomas adjustment. You may find there are some side effects, some cool, some not so.”

George was no longer confused, no longer afraid. Edna’s new cat, Himesh, was in his potting shed, talking to him, drinking his vodka, smoking his cigars, oh, and picking up his trashy novel and reading it, and reading his mind, and that was all fine. Tickety-boo, in fact.
“Help me get these fucking threads off, George. There’s buttons at the back even I can’t reach. Think I’ll keep the chapeau, though. It’s kinda cool.”

“Of course, Old Man,” George said. “You might want to just pop the book down a minute while I do this.”

The tuxedo came off easily enough. Himesh stared at it lying on the table, then in lighting quick movements, shredded it to pieces, four sets of claws working in unison like some mad piece of farming machinery.

“That freak bitch of yours gets a big flip outta chrome-plating us poor animals, don’t she? Well no one makes a goof outta me. I’m almost inclined to lay on this one for you for free. I’ll give it some smarts and let you know. Now, about these ideas of yours. Ice them, man. They won’t work.” The cat pointed at George’s notebooks and the pages pinned to the walls. He shook the trashy whodunnit at George. “And this one. Electricity in the bath? That’s pure Hollywood, man. First thing that happens is the fuze blows. If you’re real lucky, and I get the kinda feeling that lucky you ain’t, you might stop her heart. Might. Now, I’ll tell you how we’ll ditch the bitch. Give me five to seal the deal.” With a little coaching, George and Himesh, went through a convoluted ritual involving certain arcane hand motions that seemed to make sense to the cat only.

#

It was Monday evening and George had just cooked the day’s chicken livers for the cat’s evening dinner. Two of Edna’s cats followed him as he carried the food to the foot of the stairs. He then turned his back to the staircase, as the cats looked on, and tipped the livers onto a pile on the carpet, which the cat’s ignored as they seemed to have eyes for him only, and smashed the empty platter into the wall with a clatter, finishing off the choreography with a blood curdling scream.

Edna appeared at the top of the stairs, resplendent in her curlers and ankle length dressing gown.

“What on Earth do you think you are playing at George?”

“It’s these bloody cat’s of yours, you stupid woman.” He knew that would bring her down to him. “Tripped me up. Think I’ve broken my damned ankle.” Edna stood nose to nose with George. He could feel the heat of her rage from her face.

“How dare you talk to me like that,” Edna screeched, snatching the tray from his hands. She stood back and smacked his stomach with the flat of the tray. “And how dare you blame my poor cats four your own asinine clumsiness, you great oaf.” She bent down to pet the cat’s that still stood around watching events unfold. She knelt in front of the mess of chicken livers on the carpet “I’ll deal with you in a minute. You’ve still get one good ankle. Now get over here and see what you can retrieve from this debacle.”

George pretended to hobble over and started scooping pieces of slimy chicken onto Edna’s tray. Clockwork, he thought. Clockwork.
“Not that piece, you idiot! It has hairs all over it. Oh, for Heaven’s Sake, that will have to do for now. ” She got up and walked up the stairs, carrying the tray. The two cats followed her. “And that mess on the carpet had better be gone by the time I’ve finished feeding my cats. And if I find as much as one mark – ”

Just as Edna’s eyes reached level with the top of the landing, a blue tinsel top hatted cat’s face suddenly leapt out and snarled at her. Edna screamed in shock and started to totter backwards. Her right foot rose from the stair and she started to lose her balance. Her hovering foot was tantalisingly close to making a safe landing on the next stair down when one of the cat’s following her, as if to order, sacrificed itself silently under her descending foot and she wobbled and screamed a little more. Her left foot rose from the stair and she her balance became even more precarious, but Edna again came close to saving herself as her left foot hovered close to the where her right foot lay sliding in squashed cat. The other cat, following the same sacrificial order as its partner, leapt under her left foot. Edna slid from side to side for a second or two. She just had time to look up and see Himash descend the stairs towards her face.

“Boo, Bitch!” Himesh rasped.

Edna emitted a long ‘Oooooooohhhhh’ and fell backwards down the stairs, landing heavily on her back in the hallway.

George stood watching it all happen, breathless at how things had gone so much to Himesh’s plan. He watched Himesh trot over to Edna and sniff at her face.

“George. The bitch is still kicking. Get over here and do your thing.”
George walked over to Edna who looked up at him, unable to speak, but with eyes so big he could guess what she was thinking. He took off a slipper and hovered a bare foot inches above her slender neck.

“Hold it, Daddy-O,” Himesh ordered. The cat picked up an especially large chunk of slimy chicken and dropped it into Edna’s gaping, soundless mouth. “OK, bud. Your move.”

George, his bare foot still suspended above Edna’s neck, hesitated. He looked down at Edna, and saw her for the first tine in many years frightened, vulnerable, helpless. “I – I can’t do this,” he said, turning to the cat. “Please, Himesh. She’s suffered enough. Lets stop it – now.”

“No, George. Here, let me make it a little easier for you. I could do with a little snack in any case after all this excitement.”

For the second time, George felt an invisible claw painlessly probe its way into his skull, this time through to the Frontal Lobe of his Cerebrum. Snip. Snip. George immediately forgot why he had objected so much to Himesh’s perfectly reasonable request to finish the task he’d been given, though his foot still hovered uncertainly. The indivisible claw moved to his Parietal Lope. Snip. Snip. George’s foot, no longer under his control, stamped hard across Edna’s neck, snapping it with ease. Tears fell from George’s face, splashing Edna’s reddened neck. The claw moved back to the Frontal Lobe. Snip . Snip. George’s tears dried.

“Now, that’s a plan, buddy,” Himesh said, clawing out a piece of Frontal Lobe stuck between his teeth. “Nice and simple, see. We’re gonna make a good team, me and you, pal. Now go give the fuzz a bell. It’ll be better coming from you.”

George shuffled off to the telephone, his shoulders drooped, and with any light that he’d had in his face gone.

An ambulance soon arrived. The crew checked Edna over, and said sorry to George, but there was nothing they could do, as his poor wife had plainly broken her neck in the fall downstairs. The Police arrived soon after. They listened to the ambulance crew say their piece again, and asked George a few questions to find out what he knew about what had happened. They arranged for Edna to be taken to the local mortuary, and said they would notify the coroner. They made notes in their notebooks, most of which centred on what a weird place the apartment was being full of cats, one of whom was wearing a small blue tinsel lined top hat, and seemed very attached to Mr. Finsbury as it never left his side, and how upset the poor fellow clearly was, hardly able to speak, and with a look of horror on his face they’d never forget. You cannot fake that. And that seemed to be it.
After they had gone, and Edna’s body had been picked up, George was washing up the pile of tea cups and saucers his many guests had used, when Himesh came walking in to the kitchen.

“That’s the idea, buddy. Life has to get back in the groove.” George turned to face Hamish, and the saucer he’d been washing slipped from his fingers and broke into pieces as it hit the floor. “Hm. Mebbe I overdid the fine tuning, man. I’ll see what I can do about that later, but right now, Daddy-O, I got some chores for you to do. Go to the potting shed and bring in the rest of those cool cigarillos. I’ve snuck out a great single malt Edna had stashed away in her closet. Oh and next to it, there’s a box I think we should check out. Legal papers by the smell of them. Bring them down.”

George and Himesh sat on separate sofas. The drawing-room was full of dense tobacco smoke, and between them they had drunk three quarters of the malt.

“Shnysh Scotch , thish,” Hamish said to George, with doubts rearing up in the back of his mind that maybe he had backed the wrong gee-gee. That Edna had real,good taste.

George struggled for a minute, but then felt something very close to annoyance, or as near to it as he was likely to ever be again. The document case was opened by his side and papers from it were strewn around the floor. He picked a large Manila envelope from the box and broke open its red wax seal. Inside there was a sheaf of papers strung together with red treasury tags. George quickly read through the sheets, his expression growing ever more grey at each turn of the page, till by the last it had become almost black.

“Ah, the Will,” Himesh said, suddenly sobered as he read George’s thoughts.

“Some grand plan, this has turned out to be, old sport,” George said, in a voice not quite devoid of emotion.

“That chick of yours was some clever dude,” Himesh said. “Giving everything she hat to the cats. But at least you get to stay in the apartment, man.”

“Only while there’s a cat still alive,” George said. “That gives me twenty years at the very most. Then I’m out on my ear. Nice retirement that, don’t you think?”

“I think if you read it again, Daddy-O, you’ll find it’s even worse than that. Page seven, paragraph three.”

George turned to the page, and read it twice more before it properly sank in. He had been made executor of Edna’s will and custodian of her properties and cats. That he got. What he was only just appreciating was that he was to get the tiniest of stipends to live on himself. Also, all annual profits from her affairs were to go straight to supporting the cat sanctuary. That meant her estate was never to be allowed to grow. Worse than that, every time one of her cats died, her solicitor would ensure that he sell off an appropriate proportion of her assets so that by the time the last of her cats remained, only a fortieth or so of her original fortune would remain. Every year he would watch, helpless, as her estate slowly disappeared to nothing, with the only beneficiary bring the Cat Sanctuary.

“And I thought I was supposed to be the demon?” Himesh said.

“That’s about as evil an act as I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard some, man”

“By Jove. Is that all you have say? Is there nothing you can do for me? I thought you told me you were the all-knowing, the-all powerful, the highest and damned well mightiest demon that ever existed, who could make all of my wishes and dreams cone true. Looks more like a nightmare to me. What can you do? There must be something.”

“I’m not getting into any rodeo with any lawyers, you can take that all the way to the bank. I’ve had tussles with those evil bastards before. No way, Jose. If I were you I’d go out and buy a big box full of kittens to boost the brood, is all I got.”
About a week later, and staying well clear of the cat sanctuary, George had managed to get hold of another ten cats. He also bribed Himesh with a case of assorted single malts, and got him to scour the local area and put the evil eye on another dozen who soon trooped in after him with their eyes glazed over. That made fifty one cats in all, not counting Himesh.

George then received two telephone calls. The first was from Edna’s solicitor, who insisted on calling that afternoon to establish the parameters for Edna’s will, including an inventory of cats, which put on end to any further ideas of cat rustling. The other call was from the local police station, telling George that Edna’s body had been examined by the Pathologist, who was satisfied that Edna’s death should be treated as accidental, so the case need not go to the Coroner’s Court, especially as there seemed no reason to suspect any foul play, as their investigations showed Edna only held nominal life insurance, and their neighbours had never even so much as heard George raise his voce to Edna, oh, and that her solicitor had told them she had left everything she had to the cats, anyway. They said George should arrange for a funeral director to pick up Edna’s remains from the mortuary and go ahead with the funeral.

In the afternoon, Mr. Goodison, Edna’s solicitor, arrived, but he was not alone. Kenneth, from the cat cat sanctuary was with him. After the usual commiserations for his loss, Mr. Goodison explained he had asked Kenneth, in his professional cat expert capacity, to help him complete the inventory of the cats. Kenneth was also to fit a tamper-proof leg tag to each cat they registered to stop any hanky-panky on George’s part in influencing the outcome of the will. George managed a modified chuckle to himself that they were a week too late for that. Then, Kenneth dropped the real bombshell for his presence.

“It’s like this George, old man. The Maine Coon I brought round is not to be included in the inventory. It’s all been agreed with Mr Goodison here. You see, the Parson has lost his beloved Jules, and when he heard about poor dear Edna, and the Maine Coon, well there seemed to be a natural solution emerging here. And you know what it’s like up at the church – it needs a good ratter.”

Himesh fell off his sofa and squashed his top hat. He was unhappy enough with the idea of rats for his future diet, but as for entering hallowed ground, who the shucks did these dudes think they were playing with? Hamish slinked away, while the humans talked.
A few minutes later George heard a whisper in his head. It was Himesh. ‘Tell those dudes that they can take me for the Parson, when they’ve finished. That’ll put them off the trail for a while. I’ve left the door open and a few cats are hanging around the lobby. I want to lure those two guys out of the apartment. I’ve got a little surprise for them.’

George let Himesh know that he understood. Mr Goodison and Kenneth seemed pleased at his sudden cooperation and went off to look for the cats, Kenneth starting with the upstairs rooms, Mr. Goodison downstairs.

“George, Old Man,” Kenneth said, when he returned to the drawing-room a few minutes later. “There are no cats upstairs at all. You haven’t done anything silly I hope?”

George shrugged.

“Strange,” said Kenneth. “Too many strange things happening recently for my liking. Like I was trying to tell you when I bought the Maine Coon around. Remember? When you were in that all-fired hurry to see me out? Well, after the fire brigade put out the fire out they didn’t find a single thing in the house that wasn’t gutted, except one. Sitting on this pile of ashes that they thought was probably a coffee table, was this Ouija board, but the thing is it wasn’t touched. Not a mark on it. In all that conflagration. Doesn’t make sense, does it, George? Makes you wonder what those students were up to. Makes your blood turn to ice, doesn’t it?”

George had no time to answer as Mr Goodison cane into the drawing-room and repeated what Kenneth had just said about the missing cats. George shrugged again. He got another message from Himesh.
‘Tell,those dudes you’ve seen cats by the front door.’

George did as he was ordered, and all three went off to the hallway and found the door open, with several cats making their escape. They followed on the trot. The cats ran along the open air corridor towards the central lift column that joined the two apartment wings together. The cats went inside the open lift and Mr Goodison and Kenneth followed.

‘George. Stop, dude. Stay where you are.’

George stayed outside the open lift.

“it’s awfully dark in here, George. Has the light bulb gone?”

“Must have, Kenneth. I’ll have a word with Timpson.” A cat mewled in protest at being picked up.

“Not to worry. Ah, Mr Goodison, I’ve got one of the perishers. It’s awfully scruffy in here for a lift floor, George. You need to speak to your cleaning staff, old boy. Ah, here’s another of the perishers. Here, Mr Goddison, have this one, while I grab the other one. Go on – he won’t bite.”

An ear splitting mechanical screech filled the dark where the two stood, and in in seconds the real lift, which was parked up on the fourth floor now parked itself in the space they had previously occupied. There was a resounding crash, with no time for any sound from either of the two of them, or the several cats with them at the bottom of the lift shaft.

George watched in amazement as two large pools of blood spread from underneath the dust and dirt billowing in front of him. Himesh turned the corner, his long bushy tale held high, and grinning like, well, George thought he knew, but couldn’t quite remember what it was. And he always had such a reliable memory.

“Jeez, George. What kinda operation you running here? Your elevator’s shot to hell. Better get someone in.” He trotted off back to the apartment.

Timpson, the commissionaire/doorman was first on the scene. As an ex-solider, a quick assessment told him what he needed to know. He’d seen enough blood before, even though it was mostly on the kitchen floor. People were pouring from their apartments, looking around, puzzled at the commotion. A lone scream was heard.

“Mr. Finsbury. What on earth has happened here?” Timpson asked.

“What’s all this blood on the floor?”

George’s eyes turned to saucers, his face stretched in fear. “It wasn’t me,” George screamed. “I didn’t kill them. It was the cat. The cat with hat.”

Timpson, lifted his cap and scratched his head. He then went over to one of the other tenants and whispered in his ear. The man went rushing off. A chair was brought for George, who was forcibly pushed into it, still ranting about the cat with hat whose fault everything was. Two beefy tenants were given the task of holding George down in the chair.

The fire brigade were the first to arrive. They managed to set up a temporary winch in the lift shaft and slowly the lift was pulled from the floor.A bloodied cat ran from the open shaft. A woman screamed. A fireman shone his torch into the dark chasm, and was instantly sick. The woman screamed again. The Police arrived, and after a quick chat with Timpson and the Firemen, and a quick peek in the lift shaft, into which one of them was instantly sick, two of them, the burliest of them, took over the watch on George, who was still muttering his innocence and blaming a red tinsel top hatted cat for the accident.

After w while, three men arrived. Two were dressed in orderly whites bearing the name Long Grove Mental Asylum, one of whom carried a straight jacket. The third, had a stethoscope hanging around his neck and carried a large battered brown leather medical bag. He introduced himself to the Sergeant who had taken charge of the scene, and Timpson.

After a short briefing, the doctor went over to George and spent ten minutes talking to him. He then rolled up George’s sleeve, made up a syringe from his bag and gave him an injection, while the two burly policemen stopped George from squirming. After a few moments George went limp and quiet. The doctor left George and went over to Timpson and the Sergeant. He took out a pack of cigarettes and handed them around.

“The man has clearly lost all contact with reality. I’ve given him some Thorazine to calm him down a bit, until we can get him back to the asylum.”

“Seems a long way to take him, North of the City.” Timpson said.

“Policy, old bean. Policy. Keep them isolated, that’s the ticket. None of this community hospital nonsense they are pouring money into like confetti right now. Mark my words. It will only take one of these to escape and cause mayhem, and they’ll soon change their tune. I’ll say.” The doctor nodded to the men in white coats who were easily able to strap George in to his straight jacket in his newly quiescent state. He was lifted to his feet and escorted, his feet dragging along, to stand by the others. “Well, look at that lads,” the doctor said to George’s escorts. “He’s developing the Thorazine Shuffle already – after just one jab. That’s got to be a first.” The three laughed.

“What’s going to happen to Mr Finsbury,” Timpson asked, in genuine concern.

“Well the chemical lobotomy I’ve just given him is only a holding shot. We might follow that up with Sodium Amytol – you know, – the Yanks call it the Truth Drug, but it can be quite effective.”

By this time George had started to recover a little but, for some reason that he couldn’t explain, was quite unable to move his arms, and his chest felt unusually tight. He listened to the conversation without protest, thinking he needed more intelligence as to his new predicament before deciding what to do or say next.

“The man has some deep obsessional disorder. Might be schizophrenia, might be anything really. We’re still pretty much in the dark ages when it comes to problems with the old noggin But ay least we can keep the public out of harm’s way.” The Sergeant nodded sagely.

“Will there be any further treatment, any hope for him at all?” Timpson asked.

“Hm. Might be. You never know your luck do you? Doctor Kruger used to advocate the old full lobotomy as the best solution, but I notice he’s been trying out Cingulotomy recently. It’s a little less intrusive than lifting a lid on the cranium. He inserts an ice pick just above the eyeball and twists it about till he finds the correct brain fibres to slice through. Can be a tad hit and miss.”

George felt a grating scream begin to well up in the back of his throat. His attendants, sensing his reaction, held on to him tighter.

“But our proffered main treatment is usually Electroconvulsive Treatment. ECT. Despite reservations from some ne’er do wells, we find that it’s quite effective in some cases, sometime. Fascinating history to the technique, though. This Italian,Cerlorti, was watching pigs being pacified prior to slaughter in an abattoir in Rome when he noticed how calm and docile the pigs became before the chop. So he experiments on some no hope lunatics, and found that controlled electrical shots to the brain calmed them down too. He did singe a few along the way, but you have to learn these things, don’t you know?” The Sergeant nodded sagely.

George began to laugh. Oh, the irony of it all. Hoist by his own petard. He was to see his days out undergoing the same kind of treatment he’d dreamt up for poor Edna.

“We will attach electrodes to, probably, both side of his skull, and give him about seventy five to one hundred and fifty volts for up to half a second at a time.”

“Won’t there be convulsions running electricity through Geo – Mr Finsbury, like that? Timpson asked.

“Oh yes. Bound to be. Without the four – err, nurses we call them, but most of them are ex wrestlers or something – Without them holding the patient down there’d be broken bones and dislocations galore. And you could imagine the risks to the patient too, can you not?” They both nodded sagely. George’s laugh grew loud enough for them to finally take notice. The doctor reached into his bag. “Yes, we’ll do that for this fellow every other day, for about a thirty minute spell each time.” George mixed a scream and an enormous laugh together, and let go his bladder. “Better give him the the Amytol now.”

George went quiet again, and was dragged, shuffling and giggling to the waiting ambulance. Timpson noticed a small tinselled top hat crushed under foot. He picked it up, looked at it strangely, shrugged and then put it in his pocket muttering something crude about partygoers and their nonsense.

The solicitors handling Edna’s affairs got in touch with Timpson, first to reassure him that they would continue to manage Edna’s affairs, despite the awful death of their founder, so Timoson’s job was secure, but they also wanted him to,keep an eye on her apartment, until a new tenant could be arranged. Timpson needed no further excuse. He quickly found the spare keys from his spare key wall, and dashed off to Edna’s apartment.

He’d been there before, on the rare occasion that both were out, and a number of times when Edna had been in alone. it seemed strangely quiet to him without the cats. He knew where Edna kept her very best malt, and quickly retrieved a bottle of something nice. He made his way to the drawing room where he could enjoy it in comfort.
As he entered the room, he noticed the curtains were closed. Unable to remember quite where the light switch was located, he put the malt down on a low table he had just bumped into, and gingerly felt his way over to,the curtains and drew them wide open, flooding the room with light.

When he turned around he saw one of the largest cats he ever seen in his life. Looked like a lion. And what on earth was it doing? Holding the malt under its own arm? Unscrewing the cap? Taking the bottle in both paws? Taking a long nip? Sighing and wiping its mouth? This is a good trick. What’s it going to do next? Talk to me?
The cat turned around to Timpson, who had begun to notice a strong smell in the room. Ammonia? Sulphur? Brimstone?

“You puny humans. You are so easy, man. Kinda takes all the fun of outta things, sometimes. Like those goofy student eggheads a while back. Man, it’s basic stuff. If you’re gonna conjure up a demon, ya just gotta have the smarts to know how to send it back to hell,” Timpson opened his mouth. Snip. Snip. Then he quite forgot what was just about to do.

“Your timing is good, too,” continued the cat, sucking on its teeth. “I’ve just run out of smokes. But before you scoot off and sort that out for me I would like you to tell me all about the other twenty three apartments in the block, and their residents. Oh, and show me where you keep the spare keys. And give me my hat back. I can see it sticking out in your pocket and, believe me, bud, I know ya ain’t that pleased to see me,”

End