With a satisfied sigh, Helen glanced up from her book. Afternoon sunlight streamed in through the large bay window, dust motes dancing in the glow. “Hello, Patsy!”
Purring, the cat sprang up onto the chair, kneading Helen’s lap and arching her back as Helen’s hand slid along the length of her silver fur. Once they settled in, Helen resumed reading her novel — something about unrequited love — allowing time to spin away.
Maybe the dust motes misstepped, or Patsy cut her purring short. Perhaps the late afternoon light took ill. Whatever indicated the change mattered little. The world seemed off; Helen could feel it in her sinuses. Glancing up from her book, she noticed the living room had somehow shifted to the left. Her stomach felt queasy, though nothing was out of place. No, that’s not right, Helen thought. Everything is out of place, but in the same way.
The living room appeared perfectly normal — the afghan trailing off her lap onto the hardwood floor, the big tabby sleeping in her lap, and the portrait of her late husband beaming at her from above the fireplace. “Jim, what has happened?”
There. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw it. An absence where her tea cart should’ve sat. With a cry, Helen fixed both her eyes…on her tea cart. What was she thinking? There was no gap there. How silly! She resumed reading.
Unease twisted her stomach tighter. Helen looked again, saw nothing. Taking a deep breath, she said, “Some warm milk will do us good. Come along, Patsy. There’s a good girl.” The cat sprang down, shook herself, and minced her way into the kitchen with an expectant meow. Neither one noticed the ball of yarn bouncing away from the tea cart like a ground ball headed to left field.
That Thursday, the Lady’s Society for the Betterment of Newtown just moved on to the allocation of funds for a Medieval Dinner at the Moose Lodge when Mrs. Schwartz let out a low moan. “Ooohhhh, Glenna, did you see that? Tell me you saw.”
“Heavens above, Ruth, you’ve gone pale! See what?”
Helen sat up straighter on the chaise.
“There in the corner. A gap where the room should be.”
The other ladies gathered around Mrs. Schwartz, clucking their tongues and exclaiming, “Ruth, you’ve overtaxed yourself again, haven’t you?” Then in aside to each other, “Such a shame she overindulges on the sherry. Can’t help herself, can she?”
When Ms. Althea mentioned a slight indigestion and a few other ladies agreed to feeling the same, Mrs. Schwartz ventured, “I wonder if it’s the pie. It’s a lovely meringue, but one can’t be too careful when it comes to egg whites, can one?”
“Ladies, I think we’ll adjourn for today, but we’ll be sure to pick up this order of business next week at Mrs. Lockwood’s.”
All agreed, and Helen saw each of them out, complimenting this one on her new hat and that one on how brightly her eyes shone. With many a good luck and goodbye, she was left to tidy up.
Disquiet coiled in her abdomen. And all I ate was one small slice of cake. Taking a deep breath, she glanced at the tea cart, seeing nothing. To help her sleep that night, Helen took something much stronger than sherry.
“Patsy, dear, come get your breakfast! Patsy?” A line of worry formed between Helen’s sculpted eyebrows. I don’t usually have to call her at all.
Even before she knew what she was doing, Helen searched half the house, even opening the doors to the bedrooms now used for storage. Coming up from the basement, Helen, now frantic, called out Patsy’s name one last time before a wave of nausea nearly knocked her back down the stairs. “Ooooooooohhhh!” Gripping the banister with her right hand, Helen panted as she tried to regain her feet, pushing off the top step with her left. She wobbled but kept her balance and plodded into the living room. Something moved in the corner, the tea cart flickered back into existence, and Helen’s nausea lifted. “Patsy!”
The devoted wife, faithful mother, resolute widow, and pillar of the community knelt before the last thing in this world she still loved with all the rigidity her calcium-depleted bones could muster.
The once-beautiful cat lay wheezing, filthy with rust and blood. Her side torn open released viscera and feces; the tail broken neatly in half. One rear leg, now only a stump, looked like it had been gnawed off. The jaw hung by a few tendons, while the tongue sat useless, moving only as air gurgled in and out.
Her eyes! Her beautiful green eyes! Both were gone, ripped out with such force, one could see fragments of skull gleaming within the empty sockets.
Helen’s stomach lurched. Her equilibrium slid to one side — ears popping as the rift yawned open just beyond where Patsy lay, and this time, a stench of death and mangoes filled the room.
The cat’s body responded, it’s back arching backwards, muscles contracting all at once until the woman heard Patsy’s spine break with a moist snap.
Helen flinched then grew still as some nameless goblin reached out to her, feasting on her terror. Her face contorted with the realization she had fallen for the bait and was now being reeled in.
Tears leaked down her cheeks as the creature’s hot breath blew back her hair. Something pierced Helen’s mind. When she felt it sucking at her thoughts, her bowels released.
The radio crackled to life. “Bill, we’ve got a report of a strange odor on Park Street.”
The sheriff heaved a sigh and spoke into his shoulder mic. “Acknowledged.” Looking down, he gave a few shakes, zipped up his fly, and sauntered back to the patrol car. He could always nail some speeders later as most of Tuesday’s traffic had thinned out already. Bill gave a cursory glance down the road before nosing his cruiser back towards town.
Turning onto Park Street, Bill put both hands back on the wheel. The knot of people gathered outside the brick colonial told him all he needed to know. Several covered their noses. When the sheriff forced open the front door, everyone’s hands went to their faces.
“Damn!” Bill’s red bandana came out of his rear pocket to cover his own before he pulled his gun and entered the house. He didn’t see her at first; the stench made his eyes water, and gloom pervaded the living room. After a few steps, a shadow separated itself from the rest of the dark. Bill dropped the bandana and aimed his pistol with both hands. “Don’t move!”
Bill unstrapped his flashlight and directed its beam at the shadow. “Mrs. Hawthorne!”
The smell only worsened as he approached.
“Mrs. Hawthorne?” She knelt by her tea cart, facing the corner, back straight and both arms stiff at her sides.
Touching her shoulder, the sheriff and Helen’s former student went to step in front of her before pulling up short. He stifled a yell.
She stared with empty eyes down at the bloated corpse of her cat now writhing with maggots. Helen’s mouth hung open, a line of drool trailing to the hardwood.
Neither Bill nor the paramedics who responded to the scene that day spoke of what Helen had done to her cat, though rumors circulated. The house never sold, and eventually the town tore it down.
Only the members of the Lady’s Society paid visits at the nursing home. They did well enough when Helen stared off into space and drooled, but even they stopped coming when her hollow voice started describing what it felt to have your memories swallowed whole.