Mrs. Sharpe has lost her tomcat. Where oh where could he be?
|Mavis Sharpe hobbled around her cluttered living room, poked behind the threadbare couch with her walking stick, and then tapped the coffee table. Where was that damn cat? She straightened and rubbed her arthritic back. There was no way she could get down on her hands and knees to look underneath the furniture. Not with her knees, she couldn't.
“Thomas, it's time for your dinner,” she shouted.
After getting no response, she frowned. It wasn't like her tabby to go missing around dinnertime. He must have gone out into the yard to relieve himself. At least, she hoped that was the cause for his absence. Even out here in the country, those rowdy kids with cars faster than their brains tore along the roads as if God Almighty had blessed them with immortality. He wouldn't be the first cat from this neighborhood flattened under a rubber tire.
A flash of pink caught her attention, and she turned back to the couch. Squinting—her eyes weren't so good as they used to be-—she examined an object lying on a cushion, which she soon identified as Thomas’ flea collar and attached, cat-shaped name tag.
It was her fault he'd lost his collar again. With her arthritis, she couldn't fasten it tight enough, and it hung around her cat’s neck like those lei garlands handed out to tourists at the airport in Honolulu. That's where she and Ken spent their honeymoon four decades ago. She smiled as she recalled warm beaches and aquamarine seas. They were such a well-matched couple, both blue-eyed and golden-haired, but now he was gone and she was gray.
She forced herself to focus on the present. With the arrival of fall, the nights were rapidly drawing in, and poor Thomas was probably out there in the cold, dark night. Mavis scooped up the collar in her gnarled spare hand, intending to put it somewhere safe until he reappeared. She sighed. It was at times like this that she really missed Ken. Life just wasn't as easy without a man to help take care of things. Curse that evil cancer.
A bright light flashed in the bay window, and there was a tremendous crashing noise outside that shook the entire frame of her antebellum farmhouse.
“Lordamercy, what was that?”
She bet there hadn't been a ruckus like that around here since the Battle of Nowhere during the War Of Northern Aggression. She had been reliably informed her great-great-great-grandparents hid away in the root cellar until it was all over. Sensible folks, her ancestors.
She limped as fast as her rickety legs could move assisted by her stick, out the front doorway, and onto the wooden porch. There she halted, leaning against the carved handrail. The chilly breeze lifted the hairs along her arms, and there was a smell like cordite in the air. She peered into the darkness. The branches of the trees lining her driveway swayed like zombies' arms in an old B movie. She trembled. Something in the pit of her stomach-—some primal instinct-—said she should be afraid.
She shook her head and broke the spell. Mavis had been in that yard a million times, and there was nothing to fear. She hobbled down the steps into her front yard. There, right in the center of her lawn, was a blurry disc of something metallic. Of course, it was only blurry because it was so dark and her eyesight was poor. Should she keep her distance? It could be something planted by one of those Jihadi Johns she'd read about in the National Enquirer, the ones who bombed shopping malls and rock concerts. Then she chuckled to herself. Why would some A-rab come all the way here to Nowhere, Louisiana just to bomb an old farmhouse occupied by a retired elementary school teacher?
Feeling braver, Mavis dragged herself across the turf until she stood over the object. She tapped it with her stick, and it made a solid metallic sound. Then she berated herself for being so stupid. If it were a bomb, what she'd just done could have triggered an explosion.
Now that she was close enough to make out its actual appearance, she realized it was shaped like a teacup’s saucer, made of shiny metal, and had what looked like a clear glass bowl upturned on top. Her first irrational thought was that it was a flying saucer-—an honest to God UFO. Before panic had a chance to raise its ugly head, she squashed it with reason and logic. She'd seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Independence Day. Whether little green men came in peace or to conquer, they'd come in something a mite bigger than this. Why, the space inside that bowl was barely big enough to hold a small rat.
She reached to scratch her head with her free hand, then wondered what she was holding that hindered her so. Oh, she still had Thomas’ collar. She peered around. If he'd wandered off, he likely wouldn't go far beyond this yard, especially around dinner time. But the shadows between trees seemed darker tonight, as if someone has turned down a dimmer switch on the moon, and she could barely see a thing. An owl hooted atop the old barn. Mavis jumped. She clasped her chest, her heartbeat thumping. Then she silently cursed the bird.
She glanced back at the mysterious object, and the light dawned. She'd read about these things in The Enquirer. It was one of those pesky drones some nosy folks used to spy on others, like the one that landed on the White House lawn. Well, whoever was flying it, it was surely a well-made piece of technology. Even after such a heavy landing, there didn't look to be so much as a scratch on its smooth surface. Most certainly, this hadn't been made in China. Why somebody wanted to spy on her out here in the middle of nowhere she couldn't fathom, but she sure as the Gospel’s Truth was gonna report this to the sheriff.
A soft meow alerted her to the presence of another living being, and she glanced down in time to see Thomas thread his way between her legs in that way he sometimes did, like he was tying a yellow ribbon ‘round the old oak tree.
“Why there you are, you mischievous tom.”
Thomas hopped on top of the drone, which brought him up just high enough that she could reach down and slip the collar back over his head and onto his neck. She didn't bother trying to tighten it; perhaps she could ask the sheriff to fasten it better when he came to talk to her about this drone. She scratched Thomas’s neck till he purred and then patted him on the head.
Returning to the house, trailed by an unusually clingy Thomas, she hobbled into the hallway and carefully lowered herself into the chair beside the telephone table. Her eldest daughter had moaned at her for years to get one of those new fangled cellphones, but how in tarnation did she think Mavis could handle the tiny buttons?
After being put through to the police station, she found herself speaking to young Caroline Beaufort. She must work there, Mavis supposed, though it was difficult to take somebody serious when you'd once spanked them after catching them playing doctors and nurses behind the school bike shed. But then, wasn't it young Billy Griffin that she'd caught her with, and he was the sheriff now.
“Mrs. Sharpe! What a pleasure. What can I do for you today?”
“Caroline, I got me a flying saucer in the front yard.”
Thomas jumped up onto the table and rubbed his head along the cord linking the handset to the telephone. Well, as long as he didn't knock the buttons, Mavis didn't mind.
“Er… are you calling to report an alien invasion?” asked Caroline, sounding mighty skeptical.
“Naw. I mean one of those fancy flying drone things that reporters and such like use to snoop on decent, law-abiding folks.”
“Oh, wow. And you say it landed in your front yard?”
“Yes, it most assuredly did. Crash landed, in fact, though I can't see no damage.”
Thomas rubbed his cold nose and warm, furry muzzle against Mavis’ knuckles where she gripped the handset. She ignored him to focus on the conversation; he must be hungry, but she'd feed him after she finished the call.
“Well, I'll get William to come straight away. That sounds like something he'd find real interesting.”
“Thank you, Caroline. I'd appreciate that.” She leaned forward across Thomas and replaced the handset on the receiver.
Suddenly, Thomas lashed out at her neck with his front paw. Sharp claws tore into her flesh. The pain was instant and intense. Her pulse raced. How was that possible? She regularly took him to a veterinarian to get his claws clipped. Thomas arched his back and hissed. She gazed into his eyes, and her bowels turned to water. This wasn't the house cat she loved and pampered. This creature, this thing, looked like Thomas, but evil shone out from its eyes.
The monster opened its jaws impossibly wide. Its teeth were twice as long as Thomas'. She attempted to stand. It sprang onto her chest, knocking her back into the chair, and gripped her tight with its claws. Its fangs sank deep into her neck. Mavis was in agony. She used both hands to try and prize it off, but it was like trying to lift a car with one finger. Blood squirted out and splashed across the wall. Her vision darkened, and her muscles turned into jelly. She blacked out.
William Griffin adjusted his sheriff's hat and knocked on Mrs. Sharpe’s door. His teenage daughter said the hat made him look like Rick Grimes. He wasn't sure if that was supposed to be a good thing or a bad thing, but he was certain it would make little difference to his old elementary school teacher. To her, he would always be little Billy Griffin. He at least hoped that she didn't remember the time he and Caroline got into trouble together. He didn't think the fact that they'd been married for over twenty years would count for much in Mrs. Sharpe's books.
Waiting for her to answer the door, he once again shone his flashlight around the lawn. He soon spotted a round patch of scorched grass, but there was no drone in sight. That was disappointing; he'd always wanted to see one. He guessed that the owners had come along and claimed it before he arrived.
The door opened, and he turned with a smile. Then he blinked. For the past ten years, he'd seen Mrs. Sharpe totter around town with the help of a stick, but this evening she stood straight and unaided. She wore a flowing summer dress, the kind he couldn't remember her wearing since she'd retired from teaching. He supposed she must have a wardrobe full of the things, but he would have expected the cold to trigger her arthritis in such light clothing.
“Why, Billy Griffin,” she said. “How kind of you to come to my aid.” She stepped back, without a hint of a limp. Perhaps she'd had one of those fancy hip and joint replacements; it was wonderful what modern medicine could do. “Why don't you step inside for a moment? I'll fix you up some cherry pie and an ice cold Bud while you listen to my tale.”
He wouldn't have imagined Mrs. Sharpe to be the kind of lady who kept beer in her cooler, and he was on duty, but he supposed one wouldn't cause any harm. “That sounds like a mighty fine idea, ma’am.”
As he stepped past her, he noticed something strange. Fastened tight around her scrawny neck was a ribbon, the kind his daughter's friends occasionally wore. He didn't find it unusual because she was wearing what he'd come to think of as teenage fashion. The really weird thing about her accessory was that the material used, and the cat-shaped pendant hanging from it, made it look exactly like a cat’s flea collar.
Word Count: 2050
Cover image photographed by and copyright of David Corby (User:Miskatonic, uploader)