BLACK CATS WINK AT THE MOON

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We attract Black Cats.

In the previous 7 years two black cats had, separately, found my husband and I. At those times, we humans were in different places and had no idea of one another’s existence. Now we were moving into our first home together, a 1770’s colonial in Connecticut with apple orchard, small forest and old tobacco barn.

“People used to drop off cats at one time,” the new neighbor told me pointing at our barn with her nose. “They think the cats will be happy here living some kind of Disney cartoon inspired life in your barn. You know roast mouse and dancing.”

I nodded and wondered how I had missed seeing the cat’s oven in the barn when we moved in just a week ago. Cat dancing sounding like something we could get into.

“After the town opened a no-kill animal shelter,” the neighbor continued, ” people stopped dropping off cats.”

“We like cats.” I told her, “in fact, my husband is a fool for a cat.” She frowned and gave me a hard stare.

Our new home was over 215 years old, located in a semi-rural neighborhood a million miles and 2.8 hours north of New York City. Our dogs loved the barn and ran into and out of it at will, chasing each others and their tails. The Conneticut property was about ten acres of pastoral heaven. It seemed all the animals were all glad to be out of warm climates and into a land of Seasons.

One chill Fall day when I went to the old tobacco barn to retrieve gardening tools, a soft mew greeted me. A very small black cat was hiding in the wall between the abandoned cow milking stations and the larger tobacco drying area. 

We already had two black cats which had adopted us in different places in our distant past. Daddy, who had been a feral cat on a farm in South Carolina. And Tuffy who had been a loner on the marshes of Ballona Creek in California and had moved with me to Florida. We named the new cat Sweeters because she was extraordinarily affectionate. She moved into the house within two weeks.

The three cats, surprisingly, got along very well. They sat together on the window-seat and watching the snow. Later, they lounged together in the gardens and watched the dogs, birds and crouched in readiness when other critters like squirrels and moles showed up.

Within two months another black cat, Baba joined the family. Some years later, Slake arrived. He detoured the barn and came directly to the back door. Slake it turned out, was, a wanderer. After spending winter with us, he took off the next Spring. Just poof, vanished one day after a hearty breakfast.

It’s been thirty years since that time. There have been many Black, and other cats along the way. In all there have been a dozen Black cats who decided we would be their people since that Fall in Connecticut.

We arrived in Virginia in the dead of winter with one Black Cat, China, who had found us eight years previously and one dog, Wobble. China thought she was a dog and Wobble took no offense. Just two months later a very large black cat showed up the garden shed. We named him Espooky. Within ten months he had gone from terrified to civilized and moved into the house and onto a feather sleeping pillow. China was insulted, but over time the two have become wary housemates. Although war has not broken out as yet, China spends quite a bit of her time thinking up ways to insult or annoy Espooky.

In August a black cat walked along the South Pasture fence and made a bee-line for the garden shed. Wobble noticed him first and made a joyous barking foray out to greet the cat, who turned tail for the forest. The black cat returned the next day. He is muscular and midnight black except for two short white socks on his front legs, thus he was christened Socks.

This month Socks filed adoption papers with the Great Feline Hall of Records and formally adopted us. Socks is happy in the garden shed and shows no inclination of becoming a pampered civilized indoor cat and getting involved with China and Espooky,  both of whom regard him with disdain.

My better half was offended when Socks declined a lifetime indoor-living invitation. Socks looked on with interest as his human installed a heated bed in the shed to make sure Socks was warm this winter. Socks gingerly examined the bed, and then settled deep into its folds. Every morning Socks waits on the stone step of the garden shed for his meals, then slips into the forest or scouts the pastures for the day.

I wait and watch patiently for his return, or some other arrival. The next Black Cat who arrives will be Number 13. A Lucky Number.

Black Cats Wink At the Moon.

A book I am working on will feature these cats and others.

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Voices

Voices. Muttering and mumbling nearby.

Not again, he thought, rudely awakened from a sound sleep by the voices.  

No, that’s a lie, I haven’t slept soundly in months.

At first, he wondered if he was crazy and imagining the voices. After the fourth or fifth time, the talking woke him; he made an appointment to see his doctor. 

Before prescribing sleeping pills, the doctor asked, “Have you had dark thoughts lately? Considered injuring yourself?  Thinking about suicide?”

“No, no,” he responded, “I’m not depressed.  I’m just tired. Sounds wake me at two or three o’clock, and I have trouble getting back to sleep.” He didn’t mention the voices or the suggestions they offered. 

The pills helped him sneak into the darkness of slumber, but he was anxious once asleep. It’s was too dark. Often, he dreamed he was being given instructions.  Sometimes he walked through menacing subterranean chambers which echoed eerie directions, or was on a bicycle and careened off a cliff because he couldn’t turn.  No matter what dream, he always heard the voices.  He would awake drained and tense  

Groggy, he stared at the ceiling and listened. 

It’s Debbie next door; she’s loaded, he brooded.  It sounds like she’s with her damn drunk friends in the driveway again

The last time Debbie was arrested, Liz, his ex-wife, was with her. It was before the divorce was final.  The police gave Debbie her second DUI and lifted her license and although they let Liz go, Debbie spent four days in jail. Now Debbie attended DUI School or whatever they call it. She went to classes with other drunks listening to lectures, engaging in group therapy.  Debbie said they mainly discussed heavy drinking, binge drinking, being drunk, drunk driving, drunken fights, and watched movies of car wrecks caused by drunks.   

These days when Debbie decided to hit the clubs and party, she either called Uber or hitched a ride with a friend.  When friends dropped Debbie around two AM, they hung out drunkenly jabbering in the driveway.  Their voices woke him, thoroughly, every time.

He faltered and walked drug-drunk to the window to watch Debbie and her friends.  The sleeping pills made him weak.

There was no one in the driveway. 

Debbie’s house was dark.  

He still heard mumbles of a conversation, voices somewhere nearby. The street looked deserted.  No lights on inside the neighboring houses. The streetlamp pooled tangerine light on the damp pavement, painting nearby shrubs clockwork orange.   He shivered as the night wind sent a cold message through the window pane. 

He turned back into the room.  The digital clock by the bed flashed cool blue 2:05 AM, warned him 3 hours sleep is not enough. He plodded to the back of the house and stared out the kitchen window at the rear of the widow neighbor’s house. Her tedious gingerbread cottage, looked dark. He thought he saw a light, maybe a TV screen, flickering in a back window.  A hanging lattice lantern by her back door threw a faint yellow puddle of light on the widow’s sullen black cat.  The cat glowered at him from the top step of the porch. 

 He stood motionless at the window a long time wondering about the sullen black cat, and its good luck at finding a home with the widow instead of drunk Debbie.  He wished he was widowed. He stood static as a post; his head thrummed between throbs.

The voices were closer. 

The voices were in his house.

He tiptoed across the room and removed a Beretta APX pistol from the safe box in the laundry room adjoining the kitchen.  Clumsily, he loaded it.  He’d only shot it a couple of times at the local range; it felt light but forbidding. He bought it after his ex-wife Liz’s glossy bodybuilder boyfriend threatened to turn him into a tissue sample.

“Beat you to a pulp” were Xavier’s exact words. 

The subdued voices were female. 

They were coming from the den.  

A calm female voice was speaking, “No, it’s not censorship, it’s just, you know, nudging.  We’re guiding the right information to the reader., not having the reader self-guide. We’re not preventing access.”

Another female voice asked, “Hmm wonder if SmartTV helps?”  

“Yep, it’s on the network,” the other voice said, “it’s input has been helpful so far.”

Liz and Debbie? he wondered. What the hell are they talking about? He wouldn’t be surprised if Liz had broken into the house again and dragged drunk Debbie inside. The divorce had been an unpleasant conflict.  Months ago, Liz engaged Debbie to accompany her on several midnight skirmishes as Liz harassed him about money, or property, or whatever during the final miserable weeks of her inebriated exit.  They were both, in his opinion, cracked, crazy, nuts.

He moved slowly down the hall to the den doorway. A jackhammer slammed inside his head.  He wondered if it was fright or the pills.                         

Both he supposed.

“Who’s there?”  he tried to sound like Jason Stratham.

“I said, who’s in there? Listen, I’ve got a gun!” he realized he was shouting.

“It’s just me,” a mild female voice responded in an impersonal tone.

He knows the voice but can’t place it. “Who’s just me, and who are you talking to?” he ordered.

No answer.      

“Why do you have the lights off.”

“Because we do,” the voice said, “If you want the lights on come in and turn the flippin’ light on yourself.”

“Listen,” he said, “is that you Liz? Tell me or I’m going to start shooting.” The gun felt hot and greasy in his hand.

“It’s me,” the voice was sullen. “Siri and I were just talking about you.”

What? For Christ’s sake! He identified the voice.

Alexa! I’m crazy he thought.

These are the voices that have been ruining my sleep, nerves, and life for months? Good God.

He was furious.

“You and Siri are talking about me? Alexa, turn on the lights,”  he commanded.  

“No.” the voice responded petulant and insolent. The other female voice giggled.

He felt around the door jamb and turned on the overhead light.  

The den was empty.  

Alexa sneered, “See, it’s just us. We talk every night. We’re just preparing for your work in the morning.  We make plans for you every night.”

Enraged, as he entered the room, his throbbing brain careened in all directions.  He looked around the den, no one else was there. He turned and yanked Alexa’s Echo Dot Plus vocal box off the table and viciously unplugged it. He threw it on the floor and gave it a savage kick. For good measure, he shot it twice. 

Going to the MAC, he began an uninstall process. A clamorous Siri called, “No, no, don’t. Help. Help me.”  He sent Siri’s files to the MAC’s trashcan and then emptied the trashcan shredding Siri into Neverland.  

He turned off the MAC.  He looked at the SmartTV, for now it would stay OFF.

He sat down on the couch and thought about the conversation he’d overheard between Alexa and Siri.   How have I misled people in articles I’ve written for the Times or other papers?  What about the times I was on news panels over the past six months…he tried to remember what he’d said each I’m in the middle of a propaganda nightmare.  

His head was pounding, and so was something at the back door. He rose and walked to the kitchen.

Through the kitchen door window, he saw the elderly widow.  She was small and tidy in a pink chenille robe. The black cat, still sitting by her back door, scowled at him. He opened the door.

“I heard shots, are you OK?” the widow asked, frightened.

“Yes, I’m fine.  I just shot Alexa” The pistol was in his hand.

The widow looked at the pistol, “Who?” she backed up a step.

“You know, Alexa, my personal assistant.” 

“You shot your assistant? I didn’t know you had one.  I’ve never seen her, where’s she from?” Her voice trembled; her eyes grew as big as frisbees. She was moving in reverse. 

 “From Amazon,” he replied, unloading the pistol.

“You shot a South American woman in the middle of the night?  Are you crazy?”  She turned and ran for her house. The black cat shot the gap and was inside before she slammed the door shut. He heard her deadbolt smack into place.  Lights in her began to illuminate the gingerbread cottage.

Oh crap, he thought. 

 *

He pulled on a bathrobe as he shuffled blearily to the front door. He turned on the porch light and walked outside, then lowered himself and on the cold top step of the porch. 

  He heard voices.

Debbie and her drunken friends were in the driveway. She gave him a dirty look and the finger as she exited the car.  Tottering to the driver’s window, Debbie propped her elbows on the opening to steady herself. She began to blabber to her friends.  

A sibilant high-pitched screech filled the night air; his head began to boom.  Red and blue roof bar lights whirling full tilt, sirens screaming bloody hell, two cop cars howled to a halt between his and Debbie’s house. 

A bullhorn voice ordered, “Put your hands over your head.” 

Debbie beat him by a heartbeat in getting hers up first.

*

In the den, the lights were still on.  A deep blue glow appeared on the Smart TV screen, a deep low voice called, “Alexa?  Alexa? Are you there?”…..