Cat Call

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"Cat Call" by Kat Heckenbach

(originally published in There Was a Crooked House antholoy)

The mewing came distorted and musty. I lifted my gaze from my laptop and tuned my ear toward the fading sound.

Skittles, is that you?

I squeezed my eyes shut and shook my head. Of course not. The old tabby died long ago. I glanced at the now-empty windowsill behind my desk, then returned my attention to the computer. I’d only imagined it.

“Mew.”

This time it was louder, insistent. Could someone’s cat be inside the house? I stood and crossed the room, opened the door. The crying intensified.

My heart thudded against my breastbone. With the door shut, I hadn’t heard the distinctive upswing at the end.

“Mew-a.”

“Skittles?” The word creaked out, rusty from disuse.

I shuddered. A memory played in the back of my mind. We’d been telling ghost stories at a party, when a girl I’d never met before—black clothes, chalky white skin, silver cross dangling from one ear—gazed at me through wispy, black bangs.

They say you hear the voice of the dead just before you are about to die,” she said, and then one corner of her mouth lifted into a smile that sent shivers down my spine.

Could it be? Am I hearing Skittles because I’m going to die?

I skulked across the carpet of the hallway. “Skittles, is that you?”

“Mew-a.”

I stepped to the top edge of the staircase, heart pounding.

“Mew-a.”

I lowered my foot to the second step. My heartbeat steadied. Maybe the girl had it wrong and the voice of the dead is warning you, calling you to safety?

I took the third step down.

Fourth.

A strange shadow filled the corner of the window at the base of the stairs…misty-gray, with pointed ears and a flicking tail.

Fifth step…

My toe caught the edge of the carpet. As gravity snatched my upper body, I realized the snag in the carpet was where Skittles had clawed the pile loose.

My knees hit first, jarring me and knocking me sideways. I grappled for the handrail, fingernails clawing against the wall, and then the world became intense light and electric pain, as walls, stairs and ceiling whirled in a spherical blur. Sharp corners bit into my arms, back, legs…and a final concrete thud slammed through my skull.

Colorful mosaic tile came into warped focus in my periphery. Something dark and viscous flowed across it, away from my face. My body refused to obey my command to move. Even my lungs rebelled, releasing air but not taking in more. My eyes, despite my attempts to shift them, remained fixed on the bottom edge of the window. A gray mist of a tail flicked against the wall below the sill.

“Mew-a.”

And then she disappeared as one last thought trickled through my brain....

They say you hear the voice of the dead just before you are about to die. But is that only because hearing it brings you there?

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