The Mark of the Cat
by Linda Sparks
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I have to admit Clara was beautiful with her black hair and green eyes. I admired her but did not wish to emulate her, and I believed we had become friends, if that is at all possible in my world. I guess I allowed emotions to interfere with the vibrations I was receiving. As an empath, I understand people more than they realize, but Clara was adept at shadowing her real intent.
I invited her to share an apartment with me as it seemed a good way to fit in, and, above all, I wanted to appear as though I was just one of the college crowd, despite the fact that I sometimes forgot to suppress my brilliance and received odd looks from the professors. It is true, I knew more than they did, but I had the advantage of time on my side. A great deal of time.
To appear to be a part of the younger scene, I even acquired a boyfriend. Jack was the typical jock and a bit impulsive. He drank too much, and had terrible grades. But he was good eye candy and I showed him like a prize feline. I did find it curious that there were dog shows for best in breed and other things, but I had not yet found a feline show and I much preferred cats to canines.
How stupid were they? Did they believe I was blinded by puppy love for this brawny jock whom I touted as feline? I had even helped Clara with a few of her exams in order for her to keep from dropping out for failing grades. Isn’t that what friends do?
Even if I decided to blind myself to my suspicions about the time they spent together, it seems they had forgotten my amazing ability to smell. Hyperosmia. He reeked of her perfume and she collected the nasty scent of him as well.
Decisions. Decisions. I had to decide if I would arrange a terminal end to their affair or apply a more fitting if not lasting punishment. I opted for the latter. I had the time. After all, I had been around since ancient times and had learned the craft well.
I considered my choice of species very carefully and felt an overwhelming sense of justification if I chose the rat, fondly remembering James Cagney in those gangster movies and how he punished his traitorous rats with machine gun fire. I was going for something with a bit more finesse. After all, she once was allegedly my friend.
I had the slithering patience of a serpent and so I waited for the appropriate opportunity. I invited Clara for a girl’s lunch where we could be seen by multiple witnesses and it would be obvious that we were besties.
Due to her beauty, Clara had quite an entourage and a following of admirers, male and female, yet she had chosen me for her friend. I connected with the thoughts of those fawning over her, then understood the overwhelming opinion was that Clara was being nice to me, out of kindness. I was a geek and my intelligence had collected a lot of resentment from those students who were flailing and failing in the university system. It wasn’t my fault they preferred to party over revving up those brain cells and studying a great deal more.
Not that I wasn’t beautiful in my own right. I just chose to alter my appearance in a way that made me appear to be bland and unnoticeable. My own form of camouflage which kept disturbances at a minimum. I was here for one purpose and that was to gather all the available knowledge that this educational system had to offer to me, and then I would move on. I did note that, particularly in the teaching of historic events, it was significantly flawed. I had lived during those times and what they were teaching was definitely written by the victors, and the slant told the story without much relation to actual historical events.
During our lunch, Clara was picking at her food under the pretense of not wanting to get fat. She didn’t want anyone to see her scarfing down a bunch of empty calories. Since she roomed with me and our food supply disappeared rapidly, I was confident Clara was not starving herself.
I ate exactly what I wished to eat and did not care who watched me. In fact, I had a great hunger for delicious things, food being one of them.
“I cannot eat another bite,” she sighed and pushed her nearly full plate away, surreptitiously glancing about the café’ to see if anyone noticed. Then she tensed, and I realized she had spotted him. I had already smelled him.
Jack was scrunched back into a corner seat, out of the way, but it was impossible for him to hide, large physical specimen that he was.
I had already cleared my plate and decided to finish Clara's meal as well, especially those morsels which I knew that she loved to eat. I detected the pattern of her breathing as it changed and knew I was pushing her buttons.
“Why did you want this special lunch today, Zelda?”
I smiled sweetly at her. Something I had practiced for a very long time. I cannot say that it was charming, but it did make me appear benign and gentle. All because of the position of the mouth. Remarkable.
The café’ was beginning to clear out as classes would begin soon and Mr. Jock in the corner would have even more difficulty maintaining his pseudo-invisible status.
I laughed softly. It must have startled her as she caught her breath and stared at me carefully, almost with a sense of alarm. Her biddable roommate was laughing strangely?
“I have a special girl secret to share with you,” I whispered and scanned the nearly empty room. Apparently, Jack had moved to the hall that led to the restrooms but he was still watching us.
She giggled. I now realized how much I hated that sound. She often used it like an expletive when she was trashing another downtrodden female who, of course, she claimed to pity.
Ah, so that’s how it is. I’m one of those girls to you.
“It’s about Jack,” I said.
She leaned in closely and I caught a gleam in her eyes. Was she really so certain about what I would tell her? Did she anticipate that I would spill tears over my broken heart because Jack had found me less desirable? Then would she sympathize and cluck her tongue and make nice with her bestie?
“Is everything okay?”
I watched the thoughts flash through her mind as she tried to assemble her facts, and it was obvious, she was having difficulties reconciling what she thought she knew with what I was possibly going to tell her.
“He asked me to marry him.”
A subtle sound came from the restroom area and I nearly smiled because I had not anticipated that Jack possessed such acute hearing.
“Really?” She nearly choked but managed to control herself at the last moment.
“Yes. I’d like you to be my maid of honor.”
I could feel the intense heat emanating from her body and the anger rushing to her cheeks, harsh words forming at the tip of her tongue. But she held her peace, just barely. I was impressed as she had rarely revealed such self-control.
I came to a conclusion that surprised me. Was it possible that she really cared about Jack? I had thought it was but a game to her, to steal her friend’s favorite shoes, her lipstick, and then her boyfriend.
She reached for her glass of water and then gulped it down. Then she grabbed her plate back from me and began devouring the remnants of her meal. I watched her in silence. I possess incredible patience.
When she had finished, she held the fork tightly in her hand and stared at it, as though deciding whether or not it would make a suitable weapon.
Deep breaths. She was either going to spill her guts or continue this charade. As an observer of human behavior, I was fascinated.
Another deep sigh as she struggled to control her response.
“Exactly when did he ask you to marry him?”
It sounded like an accusation and I was amused. Was she expecting me to haul out my date book where I might have logged time and date of this event? Perhaps share with her a clip from my diary?
“Right after I told him I was pregnant.”
Now she was choking and there was no water left in her glass so I slid mine over to her and pasted a concerned look upon my features. I could play this game too.
I watched carefully to see if steam would come out of her ears as she was definitely fuming hot.
“Oh? Because he got me pregnant? I don’t mind. I love Jack,” I said.
She choked again. I grew bored.
“He said that you wouldn’t put out. He said you were a virgin.”
I laughed softly. After all, we were friends and we had shared many confidences with the exception of this important one.
“I was,” I said.
She took my half full glass and threw it in the direction of the restrooms. It shattered. The café’ staff rushed to assess the commotion, but she waved them away and screamed at them to get away. They skittered back to the relative safety of the kitchen, ready to dial nine-one-one if necessary.
“Why would he be discussing that with you?” I asked, deciding to move things along. I deliberately furrowed my brow, to show how perplexed I was that my boyfriend would cross that line with my friend.
“Because he was sleeping with me,” she screamed. This time she threw both of our plates and they crashed spreading pieces all over the café’. Fortunately, all the other customers had left the scene.
“Clara? You’re my friend. Why would you sleep with my boyfriend? You know I am crazy about him.”
She turned to glare at me and her fists were tightly balled but she did not have the courage to strike me. That would have been an incredible mistake and perhaps she had enough survival instinct to realize that.
“Why would he choose you?” She spat out the words and spittle sprayed across the table hitting my skin but I did not brush it away as body fluids were essential ingredients in my plan.
“Why not?” I asked, and allowed my lip to tremble slightly.
“You are a geek. You dress terrible. You are smarter than the professors and no man wants to feel stupid. You demean people because you feel superior to them. You think he is just an ignorant jock who smells nice. And--you are ugly.”
I allowed a small sob to escape my lips knowing this might be expected of me in such an emotional situation.
“Look at me,” she said, and her eyes were fiery with her rage, as she gestured silhouetting her hair, her voluptuous body and her fabulous appearance.
Admittedly, she was beautiful, on the outside, but I understood that was not true of her interior and my assessment had just been confirmed. She was shaking with rage but there was nothing left to smash or throw so she stood up and flipped the table. My reflexes are excellent and I was able to move away.
I needed to work quickly now as an employee might well be dialing for the police.
“Let me give you an option here, Clara,” I said in a very calm voice. It must have jolted her back to reality because she stared at me in shock. Obviously, I was not presenting with the correct reaction she had anticipated. It was certain, she thought I would be a sodden mess right now, weeping at the betrayal by my boyfriend and my best friend.
“I don’t understand. You should be crushed. Yet you are calm and logical. I can tell you now, if he does marry you, which I very much doubt will happen, then it will not work out. You are cold, Zelda. Stone cold.”
“You have no idea,” I said, and I smiled but this time my mouth was more of a grin. Gone was the sweetness of the geek girl.
“You are crazy,” she said and she was shaking with rage again. She was accustomed to controlling people and I appeared to be beyond her talents.
“I will ask you only once. It is a choice I am giving you. Would you prefer a lizard or snake?”
She was totally baffled. A bead of sweat trickled from her forehead and I was warmed by her growing sense of alarm.
“Stop it! You are behaving like a fool. Why are you asking me about creepy crawly things? You know I hate all of them.”
“Then I shall make the decision for you if you do not choose,” I said.
She was shaking now. That instinctual thing again. I gathered the droplets of spittle from my face and I poised them on my fingertips and then I slipped those fingers into my mouth and swallowed the fluids. It was enough.
With my dominant left hand, I cast out, using that limb as a powerful wand and I looked into her eyes as the terror filled them.
An explosion of light and sound and she disappeared. My best friend altered.
Almost tenderly, I gathered the green lizard up from the floor and set her in the pocket of my coat where she would be secure.
There were screams coming from the kitchen so I knew I had to move quickly now. I slithered towards the restroom where I found the super jock, wide-eyed with shock and shaking his head in disbelief. He had not missed the magic show.
His face was ashen and drool oozed from his mouth, and just a little blood where, I suspect he had bitten himself. I reached out and gathered that blood with my finger and put that digit into my mouth, consuming his fluids. The big bad jock was trembling now. I have to admit this was my favorite part.
I hadn’t really expected begging. The man had no decency or pride.
“What are you?”
I did not have to explain myself to him. After all, he was the one who cheated and it is never a good idea to cheat a witch.
Snap! In an instant his large body had been transformed into a serpentine creature that was coiled but trying to stretch out as though he intended to make a run for it. Of course, he was totally incapable of running in this particular form, but he was, with his insatiable appetite, capable of performing the job I had planned for him.
I rustled in my pocket and brought out the brilliant green lizard. She was still wide-eyed and not yet acclimated to this new lifeform. Ha, ha, ha, I cackled. She would need to adapt quickly.
When she saw the snake, her instinct kicked in and she was flat out running in an attempt to escape.
For being newly changed, the serpent reacted well and swiftly glided across the floor after the fleeing lizard.
No need to prod him, as undoubtedly, he had missed his lunch while he was surveilling us.
She beautiful green lizard was very fast and chirping in a high-sound that revealed her panic, but, as I said, he was hungry.
He caught her and neatly devoured her.
Then he was moving sinuously toward the street in this open-air café, with great hopes of escaping into the natural world and perhaps finding himself a new mate or two.
“We cannot have that, Mister Jock,” I said, knowing full well he could understand me, even in his snake form.
He made it to the underbrush.
I, too, had not eaten enough at lunch.
I touched the small black mark upon my wrist, gently, lovingly, and then morphed into a my exquisite black feline self.
The sounds of sirens screamed in the air as the police officers neared the scene, not knowing what to expect.
They saw a black cat savagely shaking a snake to death before devouring it.
Linda Sparks is a poet and writer who has been published in various anthologies as well as online publications and podcasts. She has 21 published books. She also served as Editor for Valkyrie Magazine. She prefers writing horror including what she terms as horror poetry which is included in a few of her books. She also writes science fiction, dark fantasy and paranormal mystery. She enjoys her group, "Cemetery Squad" and they explore cemeteries and graveyards everywhere. Her children have told her one of the highlights of their childhood was having cemetery picnics. She grew up in Southern California and now lives with her family in Florida and uses the hurricanes as writing material.
Linda Gould hosts the Kaidankai, a weekly blog and podcast of fiction read out loud that explores the entire world of ghosts and the supernatural. The stories are touching, scary, gruesome, funny, and heartwarming. New episodes every Wednesday.