The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
Not Enough Cat Whiskers
by Angela Yuriko Smith
“Grandma, why are those people angry?”
The old woman stopped her knitting and came to look out the window with her grand daughter. At the edge of the forest, a small group of towns folk had gathered and they were stabbing crude wooden signs into the ground to face her small house. Messages were painted on the boards, the words of hate made rougher by the crude strokes that created them.
“Oh, because we don’t go to their church,” she answered. She moved away from the window and went back to her knitting. A calico cat yawned in the basket of yarn next to her.
“Why don’t we just go to their church then?” asked the little girl. The old woman unraveled a few loops of yarn and then reformed them with her clicking needles.
“Because they don’t want us there. Your mother tried and you know how that ended.” The little girl thought about the answer for a long minute.
“Why do they hate us?”
“Because they are brittle and broken people. Any love they ever had has leaked out through all their cracks.” The little girl squinted at the few people that had gathered there.
“They don’t look brittle and broken,” she said. Her grandmother stopped her knitting and looked up at her.
“Would you like me to show you what they look like inside?” The little girl nodded.
The old woman got to her feet and took a scarred bowl down from a top shelf. It had been made from a tree struck by lightning, the charred wood grain glossed to a shine from the many hands that had held it over the years. Some of the hands she knew intimately—her own mother, her daughter—some she just knew from history.
She passed her hands over her face, gathering her thoughts, a tear and the light shimmer of sweat that had formed on her brow. She polished the bowl, fingers familiar with each scratch, knowing each story.
She pulled a hair from her head, and then one from the girl and dropped them into the bowl. A blue robin’s egg, petals of a lily and dried evergreen from last solstice followed. She opened tins and sprinkled fragrant dust over the concoction. She uncorked tiny bottles and set drops in patterns like the stars.
Finally she set the bowl on the floor next to the cat and stroked his back. He arched with pleasure and purred. When he closed his eyes, she plucked a whisker and dropped it in. A puff of powder rose up from the bowl, spinning softly with the sound of a whimper. It began to spin faster, becoming larger than the bowl and then the old woman.
“Open the door!” she cried out over the growing wails. The Dust Devil spun free and began to meander across the rug. The cat stared at it, hissed again and ran behind the cupboards. The old woman began singing.
“Fat flesh hides fear and fears makes tears
where sadness follows and swallows years
that fall forgotten, and leak from the cracks.
Sometimes the only way to stop it
is to take the flesh back.”
The Dust Devil had stopped wavering and spun solidly in one place, listening and making circle patterns in the carpet. The old woman pointed at the open door, and the Devil screamed and shot out and into the clearing. The little girl and the old woman ran to the window to watch what would happen.
At the edge of the woods the small group of angry people froze, mallets raised over posts, and tried to make sense of what they saw. The Dust Devil, fed by the meadow soil, grew larger and darker as it approached them. The small group tried to scatter then and run back to the protection of the trees, but the Devil was already upon them. They vanished into the maelstrom, and were consumed.
Too late, a woman fell to her knees, a whisper of repentance vanished into the wind as her lips were stripped from her face. The storm fed on their bitterness and anger. Every pretense was sucked off their frames, leaving only the empty vessels, cracked as the old woman had said.
Satisfied and fulfilled, the Dust Devil whipped skywards and dissipated in the sunlight. A subtle glitter filtered to the grass, making it shine lightly. In the window, the little girl let out her breath. The cat came out from behind the cupboard with a complaining mewl.
“Grandma, why don’t you just do that to all the brittle people in the world? Everyone could be happy then.” The old woman kissed the little girl and sat back down to work on her knitting. The cat settled back into his place in the yarn.
“It wouldn’t bring your mother back,” said the old woman. “And there’s not enough cat whiskers in the world for all that hate.” The little girl nodded and looked back out into the clearing where a small group of brittle and broken people began to crumble in the summer breeze.
Fiction © Copyright Angela Yuriko Smith
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from Angela Yuriko Smith:
Mae was small town newspaper reporter with bigger dreams. Her life’s passion was to find the ultimate story. When the local homeless start vanishing, her community puts the blame on the Jersey Devil legend. Excited at the prospect of finally uncovering a big story, she spends the night in the woods with a homeless woman. Mae discovers that the whispers are true — there is something sinister wandering the Whitebog area at night. Little did she know that the ultimate story would be her own… and she’d by dying to tell it.