SIXTEEN – GHOUL’S NIGHT OUT
Stephanie Gould thought it was her cat, Felix, making the clattering noises in her cellar. She hadn’t seen the animal for most of the day, and the noise downstairs made her relatively sure she knew where he was.
“Now how in Hell did you get down there?” she asked, opening the kitchen doorway that led into the basement. She knew the answer, of course. Felix liked to follow her downstairs when she did the laundry. He’d sneak down quietly and find a warm place near the furnace to curl up and fall asleep.
Only much later, when he wanted companionship, would he come scratching around the door, begging to be let back into the main house.
“Felix, c’mon up, you old louse,” Stephanie called down the darkened stairs.
Stephanie frowned. “Shit,” she muttered, “you’d think with a master’s degree in counseling and psychology I could get one stupid cat to listen to me.”
She picked up the hem of her pink bathrobe and made ready to go downstairs to fetch the animal. Her right hand darted to the wall just inside the door and found the light switch. She flicked it on.
“Fuck!” she moaned in exasperation. “Of all the times for the fucking light to go out.”
Stephanie hated doing home repairs. Even something as menial as changing a light bulb bothered her if she had to get a ladder to do it. She didn’t relish fumbling around in the dark at the bottom of the stairs trying to fix it without electrocuting herself.
“Felix, you little shit, come up or you can stay down there all night,” she called down at the cat.
“Meoooowrrrr…!” came the reply.
Something in the cat call didn’t sound right to Stephanie. It sounded strangled, and the pitch was somewhat too high.
“Felix, are you all right?” Stephanie asked, concern tinting her voice. “Did you hurt yourself down there?”
No reply. No sound at all.
“Fuck!” said Stephanie. It was more a plea than a curse.
For just a moment she wished that Joe was still living with her. Joe had been an asshole in a lot of ways, but he’d also been good at doing the menial tasks that Stephanie hated—like fixing light bulbs or taking sick animals to the vet.
He was also good at drinking up your liquor and never showing up on time, she reminded herself. You’re the behavioral specialist. You know you’re better off without him. He wasn’t even that good in bed.
Stephanie went to the kitchen drawer where she kept miscellaneous pieces of hardware and pulled out the flashlight. She flicked on the switch, but nothing happened.
“Shit!” she said, banging the cylinder with her hand. “Of all the….” Despite her careful ministrations, the light still refused to come on. She screwed open the cap, dropped the batteries out, looked at them, and put them back in. The surgery yielded no results. The patient lay dead in her dishpan hand.
“Fucking cat,” she said, pulling the belt of her bathrobe tight around her waist once more.
“I wouldn’t do this for just anyone you know,” she called down at the wounded animal. She put her hand on the railing and tentatively placed one pink-slippered foot on the top stair. Succumbing to no disasters through this action, she put her other foot below it and continued down into the darkened basement.
“Felix,” she said, peering into the gloom, “where are you? Give me some kind of sign, dammit.”
The pale glow from a streetlight down the block filtered into the basement via a small window. Gradually, Stephanie could make out dim, grey shapes. No sign of the cat, though.
“Shit. Did I leave that window open?” she asked herself. She crossed to the casement and took the lock in hand. As she twisted it, the whole mechanism came off.
“Shit!” Another thing to fix! “Felix, where are you, Goddammit?!”
As she turned, her foot hit something soft and wet. Some of the moisture seeped through the fuzz of her slipper and onto her foot.
“Oh, what now?”
She reached down and immediately wished she hadn’t. Even in the darkness she recognized the texture of the cat’s fur. But the fur was wet, and only slightly warm. Stephanie’s nostrils picked up the metallic smell of blood.
“Oh, God!” she blurted, her voice almost catching in her throat. “Felix, what happened?” But the body was limp and far too cold in her hand.
“What’s the matter?” said a cloying voice from somewhere in the darkness. “I’m sure you’ve lost patients before, Miss Gould.”
The sound froze Stephanie where she stood.
“Cat got your tongue?” asked the voice. “Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot… I’ve got the cat’s tongue.”
Stephanie tried to scream, but no sound came out. She turned, bolted for the stairs, but something caught her foot.
She tripped, and her head slammed into the bottom stair.
“Ouch! I’ll bet that hurt!” said a voice that Stephanie now found vaguely familiar.
She tried to get up, but a heavy weight landed on top of her. She turned, but could only catch a glimpse of her assailant. What she saw made her blood run cold.
“Surprised to see me?” asked Tammy, her voice dripping with venom. “Bet you thought you’d buried this mistake once and for all. Well guess what? I didn’t stay buried.”
Something rapped on the casement window and a voice called in from outside. “C’mon, finish up and get back in the hearse. We’ve got things to do.”
“Be right with you!” Tammy called out brightly. “The counselor and I are just finishing our session.”