“Kate, where the hell did all this blood come from?” Nate yelled as he bolted through the front door hard enough to rattle the glass in rear of the house. He had seen the first spattering of blood like an errant childs finger painting on the concrete walkway to the porch. The droplets became heavier in volume the closer they got to the smeared hand print on the wide open door handle.
Nate had heard the scream echo over the whirring buzz of the wood chipper he had been feeding brush into. An early spring thunder storm had littered the property with several large limbs torn off the maple trees in the expansive back yard. A hand shake deal sealed with a quart of moonshine distilled by an unemployed cousin had let Nate rent the wood pulverizing beast for the entire long weekend for the single day price as long as he made sure it was ready for pick up first thing Monday morning. He had just fed a particularly leafy branch into the teeth of the beast when he heard the high-pitched wail. He had left it running as he bolted for the house.
The drops became smears across the hardwood floor in the entry way as he followed the trail into the large country kitchen. Kate was slumped over on the floor clutching a bloody mess in her fists and sobbing. Her body racked with hitching cries that shook more blood from her hands giving the kitchen a crime scene appearance.
Nate crouched down beside Kate and stroked the back of her hair. The bristle short hair at the nape of her neck tickled his palm as he tried to get her to look at him. His eyes welled up with tears but he knew if she was hurt then he would need his wits about him to deal with it until help arrived. He had just reached into his pocket for his phone to call 911 when he heard Kate croak out a mumble.
“He’s dead.” Kate groaned. Nate shook his head in confusion before looking closer at what was in Kate’s cupped arms. A disjointed mess of fur and protruding bones encircled my a pink collar inset with gaudy fake diamonds. The grey tiger-striped body of Kate’s beloved cat Maxwell Smart covered in blood and the detritus of the last bird it had obviously eaten on the side of the road.
A wail ripped from Kate’s throat and Nate sat down on the floor beside her. He sighed and wiped the sweat that had stuck his shirt collar to his neck. He reached a hand out and stroked the back of Kate’s head again. Her glasses had fallen off in the stumbling trip across the kitchen. Blood had smeared the lens and Nate cleaned them off with the hem of his shirt.
“You know what we have to do now don’t you?” Kate asked as she put her glasses back on. A large droplet hung from the one arm like a dangling ruby earring. With all the blood already every where Nate didn’t see the point in worrying about it. Not with what Kate was talking about.
“No way,” Nate replied with an emphatic shake of his head “There is no way in hell we are doing that.”
“We have to. I can’t live without him!” Kate screamed afresh and jumped up from the floor spraying another swath of blood across the tile floor.
“I am not burying that cat in the pet cemetery.” Nate said gruffly with more force than he intended. He stood and took a step between Kate and the door still hanging open from where he had just burst through. Her attachment to her cat extended back long before they had started dating and had gotten worse since he had moved in. It was like she was protecting that last little piece of her life that he hadn’t been a part of.
“I need him.” Kate sobbed as she slumped back down in a heap of fur and offal. Fresh droplets of cold blood dribbled onto the floor to join the congealing puddles. Max’s fur was matted with it and the sticky mess had suctioned him to Kate’s chest. She stroked him with a fierceness that drove her fingers through the indented lines that the tire had left behind. Her breathing coming in such painful gulps of air that her face showed the purple tinge of oxygen deprivation normally reserved for children holding their breath for the candy they were just denied by a mindful parent.
Nate ran a hand over his prematurely balding scalp and wiped the cooling sweat on his palm down the front of his damp shirt. He had heard the same rumors everyone that lived around them had. That tree choked path that led behind the church cemetery was the entry way to a much more sinister place. That anything buried there came back. Anything. He laughed when Dale Wilkens said they had buried their young daughters goldfish there only to wake up the next morning to it swimming back in the same bowl she had won it in at the State Fair. He had to walk away when Dale remarked that no matter how many times they flipped it over, the fish would continue to swim belly up.
“If you won’t take him up there, I will just do it myself.” Kate huffed as she pushed herself and the mangled feline off the floor. The blood had already congealed into candle wax droplets on the floor but smeared as the incensed woman stomped towards the door.
“In flip-flops?” Nate yelled incredulously as he stepped in front of her.
“If I have to. I need him.” Kate replied with the same nose up turning tone she used when she informed him she was painting the living room gold. It was yellow despite all her assertions it wasnt and she would not back down from it.
“It’s fine.” Nate sighed as he mentally ran through the fight that would take place in the next half hour if he didn’t take the flattened animal across the river to the cemetery. Kate reverently handed him the dripping remains and clasped her hands over her heart. The echoing clap of her sodden palms spraying a fresh connect the dots pattern on the floor. Nate heard fresh wails of anguish as the door banged shut behind him and sighed at the lack of sleep he knew he was going to get over the next few nights. He looked down at the rictus face trapped in mid hairball hack and hoped whatever voodoo was running around that gloomy copse fixed the cats desire to vomit on the floor in front of the shower.
The wood chipper was still belching out exhaust where Nate had left it. Cold black blood had caked his hands despite him holding Max by the few patches of fur he had left but he didn’t care to have to pay the extra charge for them to clean the machine when it got back to the shop. He turned towards his truck and spyed an empty bucket he had for the few times a year he actually washed the worn out beast. With a flick of his wrists, he flipped the cat’s corpse end for end to a resounding clang as it fell neatly in to the bucket.
“Two points.” Nate cheered softly before he walked across the yard to shut down the foliage destroying device.
The ominous pathway cast a pale on the surrounding area deeper than the clouds threatening more rain as Nate pulled his truck to a slow creeping halt. The small rusted fence around the church property line parted just enough to glimpse the hanging branches forming an opening. He forcefully cleared his throat to free the saliva that had pooled there when he forgot to breathe announcing to whatever spirits haunted this desolate place that he was only half sure they existed.
With a groan, Nate realized he had forgotten a shovel our anything with which to dig even the shallowest of graves. He laughed slightly as he stepped from the truck and saw the now completely stiffened cat sticking up from the bucket. The idea quickly dawned on him that he could use the bucket and failing that the felines own board hard body to dig with. He whistled a tuneless note as he swung the bucket over the side of his truck in a vain attempt to bolster whatever good humor he was feeling over the cats death into courage to walk through the grim wooded area.
The dampness swallowed him the instant he moved past the edge of the tree line. Looking back over his shoulder to his truck sitting in full sunlight he felt like he had stepped into the looking-glass. The thick canopy choked out all but the thinnest of light as he picked his way down the mossy path. He seemed to be holding his breath in the deathly silence. Afraid to let out the slightest of sounds. A slight rise gave way to a small clearing dotted with grave markers. Crude crosses fashioned from sticks and painted rocks decreeing undying love. The stones had decayed but not enough to wash away the script on them. Nate’s eyes roved over them as he looked for a decent place to dig a shallow grave.
“Rex – You were our pride and joy until that oriental kid asked to wok our dog”
“Here lies the last cat that pooped in our yard”
“Snowball Number Six – It’s hard to feel sad any more”
The deeper Nate looked, the more desiccated the markers became. A chill crept through him as the sun seemed to completely disappear as he spotted a space between two loam covered stones. He swung the bucket to the top of one and cringed as the handled clanged loudly enough to wake the dead. His heart was hammering at the lump in his throat. Using his hands, he quickly clawed enough earth up to provide the most rudimentary of graves. The chill of the damp soil began to invade his bones and with shaking hands he plucked the now more than shovel worthy cat from the bucket. His breath stopped for a moment as he layed the oozing animal into the earth. He stood and using his boots kicked just enough dirt back on the animal to cover most of its body.
The first rumble of thunder broke his reverie. Fat droplets of rain began to drizzle off the bare branches around him. He knew he should likely say some sort of prayer but couldn’t find the words. Neither he nor Kate attended church outside of the spectacular brunch put on by Methodist Church around the corner from their house. All you can eat was hard to pass up even if you had to get little Jesus on the side. A sizzle of lightning arched across the leaden sky and had him scurrying down the path without so much as a “Go fuck yourself, cat.”. His feet slid through the slick slopes and he felt the cold rain spread the chill from his bones to the rest of his body. His teeth were chattering like a wind up toy when he finally burst out of the pathway and spotted his old truck. He yanked the door open and pulled it shut behind him much like a child running across a dark room and pulling a blanket over there head to prevent the monster in the closet from seeing them.
No sound he could remember was quite as good as the engine starting up and the dash display coming up in Spanish. It was yet another thing he hadn’t bothered to fix with the truck when he bought it. There was a lot you could live with in a truck that cost less than three pay checks.He rumbled out of the grass filled parking lot and drove the short distance home listening to the radio warn of three solid days of rain. A great way to spend a long weekend, he thought, and even worse considering he had the wood chipper to finish using. He shrugged off the dark feeling he still had from burying Max and focused on the task of cleaning all the blood off the floors and doors. He might even build that porch swing he had been promising Kate for the past couple years. The box had only been sitting on the porch for twenty-nine months.
Kate was waiting for him on the steps as he pulled up the gravel drive. The stones popping under his tires the same way Max’s vertebrae likely had. She had washed the blood off her hands and was wiping the rain from her glasses as he rain the damp distance between the truck and the porch.
“Is he okay up there?” Kate asked in a tremulous voice as she placed her glasses back on to see they had already been spotted with rain. Her hands slid to the hem of her shirt and reflexively clenched. Nate’s eyes rolled involuntarily rolled when he noticed it was her ridiculous off white sweat shirt she bought from the State Fair in Oakwood. “Love me, Love my cat” was emblazoned across the chest in a NASCAR rainbow of airbrushed redneckery.
“As alright as all the other animals up there.” Nate replied as he turned Kate towards the door. His boot heel caught the corner of the porch swing box and he realized that with all the rain they were calling for that it might be best to wait till next weekend to do it. Or the one after. It was always hard to plan for the weather.
The morning dawned bright despite a few lingering rumbles of thunder in the distance. Nate had left the warm confines of bed and Kate’s snoring form lightly drooling on her pillow to get an early start on what seemed like the never-ending pile of brush. He had lightly kissed her troubled forehead before slipping out to the kitchen. They had spent over an hour cleaning the cold remains of Max’s blood off all the surfaces it had splashed on. The air still held the chemical tang of bleach and Pinesol but was soon joined by the rich earthy coffee aroma. The first sip of normalcy shook the remnants of the day before from Nate like a snakes skin. He sat on the small bench beside the door from the kitchen to the backyard and had just slid his foot in to his boots when he heard it.
A rasping scratch he had heard a hundred times over.The same thing every time Max had wanted either in or out. Claws lightly raked over the fading paint on the lower half of the door. His heart froze in his chest. The scratching became much more insistent with every passing second. Its cadence now matched by the thumping of Kate’s feet down the hallway towards the door. Her eyes were as wild as the hair plastered and flattened to her skull. She flew across the room and grabbed the door only to have Nate grab her wrist as it turned on the handle.
“What are you doing ?” Kate almost laughed with an incredulous gaze at him. She was tugging at the door but Nate held it firm.
“Are you sure this is the best thing for him?” Nate answered the question with one of his own.
“Of course it is.” Kate replied with an aloof flipping of her free hand at him “He just needs to be with me. We belong together.”
Nate sighed and released her before taking his seat on the bench again. He had slipped his foot into the other boot as Kate flung the door open. The shuffling pad of paws on the floor echoed in the frozen moment as Max slunk into the silent room. Kate’s hands flew to her mouth and she sobbed with a hitching whisper. Nate sat up straight and felt the skin on his arms instantly prickle. His own voice unable to articulate what he was seeing.
With a warbling gargle, the cat shuffled towards it bowls beside the sink and looked back over its shoulder. The fact it only had one eye not stopping it from fixing Nate with a cold stare. Its bones still twisted and mangled in the exact same fashion they had been when he had been laid to rest in that awful place. It fur ripped down its side exposing the shattered bones and shredded muscles. It sniffed at the empty and cleaned dishes before looking to Kate. It meowed with a sound so low and gravelly it caused her to instantly pale.
“This isn’t how it was supposed to be.” Kate breathed as Max turned in a half circle towards her “We can’t let him suffer like this.”
“Suffer?” Nate choked out as he shot to his feet.
“Yes, suffer. We should just do the humane thing and put him in a normal grave. Maybe in a nice spot down by the creek.” Kate said wistfully.
“You have got to be fucking kidding me.” Nate barked as the cat sat on its haunches and began to lick the black blood and darker dirt from its fur.
“No,” Kate replied to his implied question “Max is already dead. I just need to let him go.”
“How exactly do you want me to kill an already dead cat?” Nate snipped at her as she began pouring herself a cup of coffee from the pot as if it were a normal weekend and not one started with a zombie feline prowling around the kitchen.
“I don’t think he will feel any pain so just hit him over the head or something.” Kate answered from behind her coffee mug. She hadn’t noticed or chose not to notice the swipe Max took at her as she stepped around him to get the creamer from the fridge. His teeth bared in a menace that promised pain for anyone he turned his remaining milky eye towards. Max growled a predatory noise at Nate that had the man bolting out the door to the garden shed in an instant. He covered the distance between the doors in a half a heart beat as he pulled the doors open and found what he had needed the day before.
Kate sat at the table lazily thumbing through the latest in a stack of paperbacks she had purchased from the book sale at the library as Nate burst through the door. Max had ascended the fridge and was coiled like a snake. He pounced with a snarl and was aimed directly for the soft flesh of Kate’s neck when Nate swung. The blade of the shovel hit the animal flat in the face. Bone shattered with a sickening crunch. The remainder of its dead blood arched across the floor in a rainbow of cold. Kate’s scream reverberated off the ceiling as she pushed herself out of the range of the shovel. No sooner had its body careened off the silver ware drawer did Nate swing again and smash the still agile corpse into the floor.
Over and over Nate pulverized the reanimated animal. Each swing punctuated by a fresh scream from Kate. The hammering blows had turned the zombie cat into a mass of gelatinous bones and fur-lined organs. The stench that wafted up from the oozing viscera was that of an open grave that someone had dumped moldy diapers in. Nate was gasping large swallows of air as he dropped the shovel with a clatter.
“Why? Why would you do that?” Kate screamed as she wheeled at him. Her eyes blazing with her anger as she looked from Nate to the ooze on the floor.
“It was going to attack you!” Nate shot back as he tried to wipe the scent of death from his nostrils.
“There is no way he would ever attack me,” Kate screamed as she stepped towards the now rotting offal “And now we have to fix this.”
“You can’t be serious.” Nate was dumbfounded.
“I most certainly am. You must have screwed it up the first time you buried him up there so you will just have to try it again.” Kate said matter of factly as she combed her fingers through her hair trying to pull it into some semblance of control.
“There is no fucking way I am ever going back up there again.” Nate Said as he began to back away from both the woman and the feline Jell-o on the floor.
“Fine,’ Kate huffed “I will just go myself.”
Her first step towards Max stepped around an eyeball that had popped loose but landed squarely in the remains of what must have been a liver. Her feet slipped out from underneath her in an almost clownish prat fall manner but did nothing to take away the shock Nate felt crash through him as her head hit the tiles with a stomach flipping crunch. Her cry was cut off in mid shriek and her eyes snapped open in a glazed over sheen. Nate shot across the room on his knees and reached under her to lift her head up to his lap. He could feel the flattened dent in the back of her skull and felt her life running out on to his fingers.
“Kate! My God, Kate!” Nate screamed as he held her cooling form to him. He looked up and saw the remainder of Max still glistening in the early morning sun. He knew immediately what he had to do.
He didn’t have much time.
The wood chipper had to be back in the morning.