I am having a long weekend, Dear Reader. I spent yesterday daytime making final edits to stories in the soon-to-be-published ‘Underdog Anthology V: Six in Five in Four’. Leggy has a preview, in which he includes one of his stories from the book…
*/grins… How peculiar, Clicky… /lights up…*
mid-15c., “belonging exclusively to one person,” from Latin peculiaris “of one’s own (property),” from peculium “private property,” literally “property in cattle” (in ancient times the most important form of property), from pecu “cattle, flock,” related to pecus “cattle” (see pecuniary). Meaning “unusual” is first attested c. 1600 (earlier “distinguished, special,” 1580s; for sense development, compare idiom). Related: Peculiarly.
*’Also KT and KH’…/drags… No shit! …/streams smoke… *
Then last night Cade and I resumed his introduction to Doctor Who, and also caught up with Leggy and Poppy… Les amis…
*/flicks ash… Knot a favourite episode, Clicky… /drags… although, excellent use of a jammie dodger… /blows smoke rings… I’d forgotten about that…*
*Like the villain, House, in The Doctor’s Wife, Clicky, Daleks are a bit like a sea anemone… /puffs… “hard on the outside, squishy on the inside”… I hadn’t made that connection before… /taps teeth…*
Anyhoo, in honour of Old Peculier’s neighbour’s cat, Dear Reader, and seeing as a ‘cat‘ won today’s Grand National, I thought I’d take a leaf out of Leggy’s book – pun intended – and post one of my stories from UAV. It’s short and called ‘Nine Lives’. The Knot-Sew confidential making of it can be found here. Enjoy!
Karl sat at his kitchen table, smoking and observing the tendrils of early morning mist gently tickle the tops of the garden hedge, before continuing their soft creep to the ground. It was dark outside but the lawn glittered with stars; pregnant dew drops nestling in the grass caught the thin, amber light that spilled from the kitchen window. He stubbed out his cigarette and gulped back the last dregs of cold tea from his mug with a grimace. Not long now, Karl thought, she’ll be home soon. Outside the mist started to swirl and pool.
He stood up and stretched, bones creaking and knees popping as if to salute the end of his vigil. He fleetingly considered that he was getting too old for this malarkey, but she needed a watcher – someone to light the way back. He could bear the discomfort; it was only for the night. Karl rubbed his eyes under his glasses, and dragged his hands down over bristled cheeks to wipe any tiredness away. He contemplated putting the kettle on when he heard the first high pitched bark puncturing the dark. The second got him moving. “Not the foxes again!”
As he opened the back door, the wet slap of morning air to hit Karl’s face was accompanied by a rude crash and skitter of a dustbin lid falling, somewhere in the mist. She’s coming from the right, he thought, opening the door wider to peer out into the murk. More barks, louder this time, and a fiery hiss, were followed by the sound of clambered wood, as the garden fence shook violently. Karl held the door further ajar, and a white streak shot out of the mist and between his legs, into the kitchen.
Karl closed the door on the mist and the foxes who, by the sound of it, were now rummaging through next door’s bin for tasty scraps. He turned to the slight figure, lying on the kitchen floor. “For goodness sake, Lara, do you have to tease the foxes? It upsets the neighbours.”
“It upsets the bins,” Lara replied, lightly panting as she rolled over and attempted to sit up. “No, they were waiting for me. Foxes are not called cunning for nothing, Karl.”
“Yes, but they usually leave you alone when you’re hedge riding.”
Lara sighed. “It would seem witches aren’t held in much esteem these days. Not by people or wildlife.”
Karl surveyed the flush in his wife’s cheeks and her glittering eyes, and thought she still looked pretty formidable considering her advanced years. He also noticed the shudder in her arm propping her up. “You should get off the floor. What would you like, sofa or chair?” he asked, scooping her up, with barely a tremble from his own geriatric limbs.
“Sofa,” Lara replied with a wan smile. “Thank you, dear. And a cuppa and a ciggie wouldn’t go amiss either.”
“Funnily enough, I was just about to put the kettle on,” Karl replied, before lowering his wife, so she could reach out and pluck the cigarette packet and lighter from the kitchen table. A fat bead of blood splashed onto the surface below, quickly followed by another. “You’re injured?”
“Damn foxes.” Lara winced and drew her arm back toward her chest. “One of them managed to get a mouthful of armpit. I don’t think it’s too deep. Just stings a bit.”
“But you’re bleeding,” Karl said gruffly. Too gruffly, he feared, from the look his wife shot him. “Okay, let’s get you comfortable and then I can clean that up,” he continued in a more conciliatory tone, before carrying her through to the front room.
Karl noticed that Lara was already on her second cigarette when he returned five minutes later, to set out a bowl of hot water, soap, flannel and towel on the carpet before her. “Kettle’s on for tea,” he said kneeling down. He adjusted his glasses and gingerly started to lift Lara’s elbow. “Can’t let it get infected, how would we explain that to Dr Patel?”
“I can always change back so you can take me to a vet,” Lara replied sharply, pulling away from his grasp.
She must be in great pain, Karl thought. “Come now, dear, we don’t have pet insurance. We don’t own a pet.” Lara’s eyes briefly flashed at his riposte, but her body relaxed and she allowed him to lift her arm. “So apart from getting into a fight with some foxes…”
“Ambushed by some foxes,” Lara quickly corrected him.
“Sorry, ambushed by some foxes on the way home, how was the rest of your night?”
Lara took a deep drag from her cigarette. “Well it started off okay,” she said, billowing a great cloud of smoke. “I went to see Annie and girls down at Saint Michael’s.”
“And how are Annie and the girls?” Karl asked as he cleaned her wound of blood.
“Naturally.” Any bleeding seemed to have stopped, but the swelling around the punctures had already started to bruise, turning an angry black mauve that only truly flourished on elderly skin. Karl stopped himself flinching at the sight. “You’d think they’d get themselves a spirit cat.”
“They’ve got a spirit cat,” Lara gently rebuked him with a chuckle.
“A ghost cat, then.” Karl smiled at her mirth. “You know what I mean.”
“Oh a ghost cat would be just as stuck as they are. Graveyards are lonely places, Karl. The residents like the company and the gossip. Especially the newly interred. Once the funeral is over, they rarely get more than a yearly visit from any family. If that.” Lara finished her cigarette and stubbed it out in the ashtray perched on the arm of the sofa. “How’s it looking?”
“Ugly but clean. It’ll need some arnica,” Karl replied, rising carefully to his feet. “That’s in the kitchen. Besides, the kettle must have boiled by now. No, no. You stay there. I’ll go.”
Lara laughed and shooed him away with her good arm before reaching for the cigarettes and lighter.
Karl could hear swearing from outside the back door; Jim must be up and found the aftermath of the fox fracas. Karl popped the kettle on and grabbed the arnica and some aspirin from the medicine cupboard, chuckling at the string of expletives emanating from over the garden fence. He glanced out the window to see that sunrise was already burning off the mist that had been so thick an hour or so ago. It looked like it could be a lovely day.
The sound of the front doorbell caught him off guard. Who would be calling at this hour? Karl wondered and went to open the front door. Through the frosted glass he could make out the shape of a woman in a bright pink dressing gown. What could she want? Karl thought as he unlocked and opened the door. “Morning Celia. Is everything alright?”
“Oh Karl,” his next door neighbour cried, her face puffy and contorted with distress. “Karl, I’m so sorry if I’ve woke you,” Celia started to apologise. “There was some trouble with foxes in our garden last night. I don’t know if you heard any of it.”
“No,” Karl lied. “But I heard Jim swearing earlier. Did they make much of a mess?”
Celia looked distraught at the suggestion. “Well yes, but…” she trailed off with a sob. “Karl, it’s Lara. I’m so sorry. They killed your cat.” Celia had not come empty handed; she held out a bundle, wrapped neatly in a towel, out in front of her.
Karl felt an icy chill bloom from the crown of his head and cascade down his body. “Thank you,” he said numbly, taking the bundle from Celia’s shaking hands.
“I’m so, so sorry,” Celia continued but Karl had already shut the front door. He felt the lightness of the bundle in his arms. It felt so slight.
“Lara?” Karl called as he carried it through to his wife, but the front room was empty. He laid the bundle on the sofa and sat down next to it. A spiral of smoke floated up from the ashtray perched on the arm. Karl turned and picked up the last of the burning cigarette and with trembling fingers, finished his smoke.
I’m off now to introduce Cade to Thoughtful Man’s favourite companion, Dear Reader…