|Autumnal Equinox 1998|
Andrew lives and writes in Georgia. Those who know him call him Tank, but we can't get him to tell us why!
Gary Forsythe hopped up off of the couch with a grunt, zipping up his previously loosened trousers. Again! The cats were fighting in the alley again!
Bad enough that they had a terrible knack for knocking over the garbage cans in their frenzy, even worse that he had to hear that screeching. Gary swore, the way cats yelped when they fought, it sounded as if someone was twisting them out like a wet dishtowel.
It was his neighbor's fault. The way he left his garbage piled up in the alley, it was no wonder the cats kept swarming it. Christ, it was as if he wanted the cats out there, screaming and fighting and copulating all night. Bloody irresponsible, that's what it was.
"Mr. High-and-Mighty," Gary sneered, storming over to the coat closet and snatching up the baseball bat secured there. He wasn't going to take this anymore, even if his neighbor did happen to be the mayor of Polk, the small town Gary had been doomed to live in for the past six months.
"Fucking jerk," Gary snarled, removing to the kitchen and searching through the drawers with overenthusiastic pushes and pulls that turned into slams. "I didn't vote for your garbage-dumping ass."
"Gary!" his wife, Angela, called in from the upstairs bedroom. "What are you doing! Come to bed!"
"I'm ... doin' somethin'!" Gary yelled back impatiently. It was as good an answer as any; he wasn't entirely sure what he was doing.
"Ha!" he cried triumphantly, once he'd found the fat black and green plastic flashlight he'd known was cleverly hidden in one of the kitchen drawers. "Now you pussycats are gonna get somethin'!"
Gary strode to the side kitchen door, baseball bat clenched in one fist like a Neanderthal's club, and practically leapt into the alley, as if plotting to take the mewling and pewling cats by surprise. He clicked the flashlight on, swinging its wide beam back and forth across the dark alley.
There was garbage piled everywhere, overflowing out of the cans lined up along the Mayor's residence, lying on the ground, torn up and flung about. It had always been this way, ever since that lousy day they'd moved in. Even then, the damn cats had come, every night, despite Gary's attempts to clean the alley up, despite his pleas (and threats) with His August Presence, the Mayor, to stop piling the garbage up.
Six months, he'd put up with the cats' screeching and yowling and hissing. Well, no longer.
"Here, kitty, kitty," Gary grinned mirthlessly, stepping carefully around the garbage. "Here, kitty kitty kitty..."
Movement flashed briefly through his flashlight beam, and Gary set the light directly on it, hoping to dazzle the cat until he could get close enough to whack it. Whack it, and leave it on His Majesty's front porch as a reminder to clean up his fucking garbage.
"Hel-lo, kitty-witty!" he cooed, stalking closer to the cat. It was a great fat tom, yellow with slightly darker yellow stripes running along it, staring at Gary with baleful eyes reflecting the flashlight beam. It was a good ten feet away, but didn't appear ready just yet to abandon its newly-found feast bursting out of a torn garbage bag.
"Aww, is kitty-witty hungwy?" Gary sweet-talked, stepping oh-so-carefully towards his nemesis, bat held high and behind him. He wanted to sprint forward and dash the damnable cat's brains out, but he had to be careful, take his time, keep his cool, so he could get close.
Five feet now, and his grip began to get sweaty in anticipation. I'm going to get him! Gary nearly giggled aloud. I can't believe it, I'm finally going to shut one of these mewling motherfuckers up!
"I've got something for you, kitty-witty," he grinned, his tone starting to turn murderous. "I've got--"
<!- changing -> Another flash of movement, and the cat shrieked and seemed to leap into midair and hover there. It happened so fast, all Gary could do was shout "Gaa!" leaping back reflexively, tripping over one of the countless garbage cans, and landing on his ass in a pile of squishy rubbish.
Rather than cursing and climbing out of the garbage, Gary found himself transfixed, paralyzed, rendered incapable of anything but slack-jawed spectating by what he saw in his flashlight beam. The cat wasn't hovering in mid-air; it was being held.
Held by a tentacle, to be exact.
<!- look again at this paragraph -> Not your average, ordinary tentacle, either, but a foot-thick, green, and God-Only-Knew-how-long tentacle, which had wrapped itself once around the tom and was now waving it about like a strand of wheat waving in the wind. The tip, which was bluntly pointed, flicked along the struggling cat's length, as if licking it, tasting it, savoring it.
<!- changed three years to six months -> The cat let out a yowl of terror, hideously similar to the screeches Gary had endured over the past six months, and raked its back claws across the tentacle, drawing blood (or some sort of yellowish ichor Gary took for blood). The tentacle twitched once in response, and then flexed with tremendous strength, squeezing the life out of the tom. Gary could hear bones crunch and grate together and the cat flailed about wildly, its last screech cut off piteously.
"Wha da fa ...?" Gary stammered at last, unable to stop staring at the sight of the squished pussycat.
Then the tentacle was gone, retracting between a pair of garbage cans against the Mayor's wall with the cat corpse in tow. Gary sat dazed for quite some time in his personal little garbage heap, until the soppy wetness soaked through the seat of his pants. That unpleasant sensation jarred him out of his hypnosis and sent him leaping to his feet, cursing and remembering, just for a second, the anger which had brought him out here in the first place.
His anger was quickly replaced with irresistible curiosity. What on Earth was that thing?
Who cares? his wiser side suggested. Get the hell out of here!
"Yeah," he agreed with himself aloud. "Gettin' outta here. This freaky crap is for the cops or somethin'."
Still, despite his trepidation, Gary found himself taking uncertain, tiny baby steps towards the spot between the garbage cans where the tentacle disappeared. His mind was mostly numb; no further warnings screamed in his cerebral cortex to stay away, stay away, get back inside and get some help. Instead, he found himself staring down at the twin garbage cans hiding the tentacle's exit, like cheap, Polk versions of the statues guarding the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs.
Gary scratched his belly idly and adjusted his grip on the baseball bat. What could that tentacle belong to? Did the Mayor know about it?
He extended a foot towards the trash can on the left, leaning and grunting a bit to slide it to the side. It only occurred to him afterwards that probably wasn't a good idea; that tentacle could come back, grab him by the leg, and haul him into ...
... what looked to be a window into the Mayor's basement, set into the wall right at ground level. It was two feet by two feet in dimension, but wasn't covered in glass; rather, there was a little wooden door, hinged at the top, covering the alley window. It looked very much like one of the doggie doors conscientious pet owners put on their front doors to allow Fido unfettered access to crap on their neighbors' lawns.
Do not open that door, Gary, his mind ordered. Repeat, do not open that door. It's not too late -- you can still walk away, still go back to your couch and drink a whole shitload of beer and find some way to explain or ignore what you saw in the alley just now. But if you open that door ...
"Right, right," he nodded to himself, but found his hand reaching for the door anyway, fingers sliding along the unhinged bottom in an attempt to find a decent grip there.
What if it comes back out right now, right as you're staring in its door? he wondered, finally deciding he would simply have to push the door inwards to get it open. What then? It could just grab your throat and ...
Then the door swung open, and Gary's flashlight beam snuck into the half-open basement window. It searched left, searched right, and finally settled on a thick green tentacle, which snaked across the dirty cement floor like a vine from some colossal, carnivorous plant. Gary followed its length with the flashlight, and one tentacle intersected with another, and another, and another, until the twisted multitude of limbs resembled a complex root system.
The "roots" began to converge, and for a fraction of an instant, Gary hesitated, as if unsure he wanted to go on, as if perhaps he regretted coming this far. However, the flashlight beam moved on, seemingly of its own accord, and Gary's eyes came to fall on the beast who sprouted the tentacles splayed about on the floor.
It was green, and roughly the size and shape of one of the garbage cans lined along the alley. Around the 'rim' of this organic trash can was a ring of thin, foot-long tentacles, which were currently transferring the squished pussycat from the large tentacle Gary had just seen into the creature's mouth. The mouth itself was two feet across and beaked, located in the center of the tiny tentacle ring.
As Gary watched, the little tentacles held the dead cat directly above the beak, and then SNAP! The beak drove directly into the cat's belly, tugging downwards with violent jerks as the little tentacles pulled upwards on either end. Once the creature had thusly torn the cat in two, the little tentacles pitched first one, then the other half of the tom into the waiting maw of the beast.
"God damn," Gary breathed, still staring in shock, as a satisfied belch erupted from the creature.
Okay, Gary! his mind shouted, as the creature's single eye (at least, the only eye Gary could see) swiveled up towards him and narrowed in response to Gary's flashlight beam. Time to go! You've seen quite enough!
Still, he kept staring, even as the large tangle of tentacles began to move, undulating about like sea kelp in a strong current.
Go, Gary, go now! he told himself, fruitlessly willing his paralyzed legs to move.
One of the tentacles raised up slowly, waving back and forth like a hypnotized cobra. It seemed to regard him for a moment, the blunted tip pointed at him like a finger, and then it froze completely still.
Okay, I think I'm going now, Gary decided, staring at the tentacle a mere three feet from his face.
The tentacle flew, moving with blinding speed, and Gary leapt back again, reflexively. He was almost surprised he managed to fall on his ass; he'd felt the tentacle yank on his arm, and he could've sworn he was about to go flying facefirst into that basement window.
However, once he'd plopped on his ass into a newer, sloppier pile of filth, he realized the creature hadn't grabbed his arm at all, merely yanked the flashlight out of his hand. It waved the light around once, sending the beam swinging about blindly, and then smashed the annoyance into the ground, splintering it.
Gary assumed the tentacle went back into the basement, but he couldn't be sure, because he hauled his soggy butt out of the garbage and sprinted top speed back into his kitchen without so much as a glance backwards. Once he was inside, he locked the door and set his back against it, then decided that wasn't such a good idea after all. What if one of those tentacles was long enough to punch through one of his kitchen windows? He'd be much safer if he got upstairs.
"Gotta call ... vet, maybe, or a zoo." he mumbled to himself as he trudged up the stairs, until a green-skinned monster leapt in front of him, drawing a shrill shriek from his lips.
"Honey, what is wrong with you?" his wife demanded, moving her lips as little as possible to avoid cracking the green mud-mask facial she'd slathered on a moment ago. "You scared the ... you stink! What is that smell?"
"I ... there's a garbage, and the cats, and I think the Mayor knows it's there." he tried to answer.
"What the hell are you talking about? Gary Forsythe, answer me!"
"There's an octopus in the Mayor's basement!" Gary finally screamed, quite unhinged by the evening's ordeal. "A big, giant octopus, and it eats cats!"
There was dead silence from his green gook-smeared wife. She didn't need to say a word. After all the senseless years of their marriage, Gary could read the sneer on her face like the morning newspaper.
"You've flipped," she finally said, but he barely heard her, simply pushed past her and walked the short distance down the hallway to their bedroom. He was exhausted, spent, and couldn't resist plopping down on the bed, garbage-soaked pants and all.
"You get off my bed in those disgusting clothes!" Angela began to splutter.
"Octopus!" Gary shouted abruptly. "There's an octopus in the Mayor's basement ... and ..."
"It eats cats, yes, I heard you," his wife spat. "You make me sick. I mean, what was I thinking, marrying a used-car salesman. What happened to the man I married right out of high school? You're a total loser. You get drunk, you don't come to bed and take care of me like a man should, and then you wig out after dragging me to this Godforsaken shithole of a town!"
"Oh, fuck this!" Gary declared, leaping up with a snarl. "I've had enough! You can't keep a thing like that in your basement! It's unsanitary!"
He stomped over to his closet, and rummaged around for a moment. His wife stood a good distance away from him, a trickle of fear in her eyes betraying the contemptuous sneer cracking her mud mask It didn't help when he pulled an ancient, cut-down double-barreled shotgun out of the closet with a satisfied grunt.
"What are you --" she began.
"What happened to me?" he asked, still rummaging until he found his stash of twelve-guage sheills. "What happened to you? What happened to the wonam who preomised to love me "for richer, for poorer?" What happened to the woman who used to be supportive? She got replaced by a woman who feels the burning need to point out my faults on a daily basis. I don't need that garbage, Angela. I'm not living like this for another second.
He shoved two shells into their respective barrels, and closed the gun with a manly snick! After dropping the remaining shells into his pocket, he scooped up his trusty-dusty baseball bat and nodded to himself, believing he was well-armed and ready for his imminent duel.
He shot a look at his wife, who cowered in the corner, groping blindly for the phone with one hand. "I'm ... calling the police. I am," she stammered.
"You go ahead and do that, bitch," Gary nodded, teeth glittering in a maniacal Jack Nicholson grin. "I've got to go kill me a giant octopus."
"By the way," he added, pausing on his way out the door. "Just in case I don't make it back, it's time you knew the truth. Your ass does look bigger than in high school. It's huge, actually."
With that, he left his wife to her 911 call and headed for the alley. It would be dark; he'd lost his flashlight, but he could turn on all the lights on the first floor, and the spilloff from the windows would hopefully be enough to get the job done.
Once this preparation was accomplished, he stood by the side door, one hand on the knob, the other cradling both of his weapons clumsily. He took a few deep breaths, trying to firm up his resolve.
Are you nuts? his mind managed to sneak in. You're not really going to do this, are you?
Damn straight I am, he found himself answering. I'm sick of that bitch calling me a loser. I'm sick of the garbage in the alley. I'm sick of those cats getting scrunched every night. It's time to take out the trash.
Manliness firmly in place, he yanked open the door and leapt into the alley, shotgun in one hand, bat in the other, like a modern-day Polk version of a two-sword-slinging samurai. His eyes scanned the alley, slowly acclimating to the darkness, until he could pick out where the trash cans stood.
Gary stepped around the rubbish with care, using his feet as a sort of probe to determine where the piles of trash lay in wait. After all, it wouldn't do for him to fall on his ass into the garbage again, now that he was set out to become a Hero.
There was a sound reminiscent of a cabinet door slamming, instantly identified in Gary's hyped-up mind as the tentacle doggy door slamming open. The fight was on.
He reflexively pointed the sawed-off shotgun in the direction of the noise and fired, the recoil nearly tearing the gun from his grip. Instantly, he went deaf from the thunderous explosion resonating throughout the alley, and a large purplish spot sat in the center of his night vision from the flare of the blast.
Idiot! he cursed himself, trying to get a better grip on the shotgun with his now-numb hand. You don't even know if you hit it!
He swung the bat around wildly, blindly, hoping to keep any unseen tentacles at bay. The purplish spot stayed stubbornly in place, and the ringing in his ears certainly didn't seem to be going anyplace fast. Gary began to consider retreating to his kitchen, when something large moved in the far-left reaches of his peripheral vision.
He swung savagely at it with the bat, connecting with something yielding, largely by chance. Gary shouted in triumph, swinging again and again in the general vicinity of his enemy, but unable to follow up his first blow. Finally, he found himself backed up against the wall of his own house, below his living room window. A large square of light shone into the alley from it, banishing the purple spot from his vision at last.
A hint of movement to his left again; but Gary controlled the impulse to blaze away at it with the one shell still left in his gun. Instead, he took a firmer grip on the bat, intending to daze the tentacle, if that was possible, and then blow it apart once it was down.
Something large loomed towards him, and Gary swung at it, connecting with a metallic clang. He took a step back, confused, swinging out at a second tentacle, again producing the tinny clang. The twin tentacles strayed just far enough into the light for Gary to reveal that each gripped a trash can lid like a medieval warrior's shield. The tentacles themselves were difficult to see, but the dull metallic glint off the two lids was easy to pick out, and the way they seemed to float about, they looked like giant cymbals preparing to be banged together by an invisible poltergeist.
The lid on the left swung in, and Gary smacked it, but that left him open, and the lid on the right swooped and cracked him across the side of the head. Gary spluttered and swore, feeling a slow trickle of blood oozing down the side of his scalp.
"Oh, so that's how it's gonna be, hunh?" he grinned murderously, raising the shotgun. "How about -- dah!"
He grunted as both lids flew in past his guard and cracked him on either side of his head, boxing his ears with a gonging sound. The shotgun fired off, almost by itself, sending its charge uselessly into a garbage can and rendering Gary freshly deaf and blind. The hapless used-car salesman swung his bat feebly, hitting nothing but the air, until the lids battered his arm, knocking the club from his fingers.
He staggered dizzily for a moment, the ringing from the shotgun blast combining with the ringing from the double lid-smacking to create a veritable symphony in his ears. This thing is kicking my ass! he thought crazily, as he stumbled for the mouth of the alley.
He was actually rather surprised he made it. Perhaps that second shotgun blast had clipped one of the tentacles after all; whatever the reason, Gary finally came to his senses on his front lawn, swaying unsteadily on his feet. He still had his empty shotgun, but he'd left the bat lying back in the alleyway.
Of the tentacles, there was no sign. The dark mouth of the alley seemed to gape wide, however, practically daring him to come back in, try his luck again, and Gary would have, if it weren't for the flashing blue lights that suddenly seemed to surround him.
At first, he thought he was hallucinating, but then a megaphone-enhanced voice cut through the ringing in his ears. "Mr. Forsythe! This is the Polk Township Police Department! Put down your weapon and put your haEEEEE...."
"Damn it!" an un-amplified voice swore, once the sudden flare of feedback from the megaphone was cut off. From the sound of it, the voice was only a dozen or so feet away anyway.
He couldn't be sure, though, because three spotlights and several flashlights were shining directly in his face. They seemed to move and bob about, will-o-wisps orbiting the swirling blue lights of four police cruisers, as the entire Polk Township police force deployed onto the lawn to surround Gary Forsythe, used-car salesman and would-be monster killer.
"Put the gun down, Mr. Forsythe!" a voice hidden behind one of the spotlights ordered.
"It's empty!" Gary shouted. "But there's a ... a thing in the alley, it's..."
"There isn't anything in there, Mr. Forsythe!" the voice disagreed. "Just put the gun down and we can..."
"Listen to him, Gary!" his wife screeched from between several lights, reminding Gary of the feedback from the cop's malfunctioning megaphone. "Listen!"
"But that thing in the alley, it's like a giant octopus..." Gary stammered, realizing how ridiculous he must sound. Still, he had to convince them. Had to! With all of this firepower, they could surely kill whatever was in the basement!
His eyes began to adjust, and he was able to pick out a half-dozen or so uniformed cops surrounding him. Standing behind a police car, next to his wife, was the man with the megaphone, who Gary took to be the police chief. He was fat, and bearded, and inexplicably still talking into the inactive megaphone.
"I'm not going to tell you again!" the police chief demanded into the mute megaphone. "For your own good, put the gun down and step away from the alley!"
"But..." Gary stammered, helplessly unable to think of a way to convince the police of the existence of the octopus.
"Mr. Forsythe! Listen to me carefully!" the police chief said loudly, finally setting down the inoperative megaphone. "There has been a gas leak! If you were in the alley, you have inhaled toxic fumes which may have caused hallucinations!"
Gas leak? Gary wondered, as the policemen finally got between him and the alley. Hallucinations?
"I repeat! There is no monster! You have taken in toxic fumes and are hallucinating!"
Gary thought that over a bit. His head did hurt, but whether it was from fumes or a bonk on the noggin from a pair of trash can lids, he couldn't tell. He'd hate to think he'd been in the alley alone just now, swinging his bat at the air and shooting his shotgun at a fantasy, but it was a more logical alternative, wasn't it? He'd heard of people taking LSD and seeing freaky shit like potatoes playing the banjo and walls melting; wasn't it possible, even likely, he was experiencing something like that, courtesy of some sort of gas leak?
"Honey, do what he says! You're hallucinating!"
"She's right, Mr. Forsythe! There is no..."
"Ahh!" the policeman nearest the mouth of the alley shrieked at the top of his lungs. Everyone -- Gary, Angela, and all of the police -- spun to see the hapless patrolman caught in the grip of a great green tentacle, waving slowly back and forth a good four feet off of the ground.
"Oh, shit," the police chief sighed.
"Help me!" the patrolman cried, flailing his limbs about wildly, reminding Gary eerily of the cat squished by the tentacle just a bit earlier. "For Christ's sake, hel...akkk....akkk..."
Gary saw it coming before the others, by virtue of his experience with the tom in the alley. The tentacle flexed around the cop's waist, splintering the bottom of his ribcage with audible pops and crackles. It began to shake him vigorously, tossing him about like a rag doll, sending frothy blood slinging out of his mouth in string-like red streams.
"Oh, my..." Angela gaped, before dropping to her knees and vomiting all over the lawn.
"You see!" Gary cried triumphantly, as the tentacle began to smack the mortally wounded policeman against the side of the house. The dying cop let out a hollow 'oof!' with each hit, residual air being forced out of his lungs.
"It must be pissed," the deputy police chief nodded to his boss, shuddering when the patrolman's head connected with the wall, producing the sound of a sledgehammer smashing an overripe pumpkin. "It never goes for people unless it's pissed."
"Or really hungry," the chief agreed, sighing again and scratching his chin idly when the body of the mangled patrolman was dragged into the shadows by the tentacle.
"You see!" Gary screamed again, barely registering it when one of the cops relieved him of his shotgun. "It is real! It is! You all saw... come on, Angela, get up, you've got to see this!"
"Jeesh," the chief shrugged, trading a knowing look with his second-in-command, "I really wish you folks wouldn't have seen that."
"Wha... hey!" Gary stammered, when two of the burlier cops grabbed him forcefully by either arm. Two more picked up his wife, after lightly shaking her, as if trying to determine if there was any vomit left in her.
"What are you..."
"Really wish you folks wouldn't have seen that," the police chief sighed again.
"What the hell are you... you mean you knew about it all along?" Gary blustered.
"Well, yeah!" the chief laughed, trading another look with his second, indicating Gary was obviously quite the ignoramus.
"But... how? You let it live in the Mayor's house?"
"Oh, it's not just living in the Mayor's house. It is the Mayor."
"What? That's not possi... I've seen the Mayor. He's human. Ugly, but human."
"That guy," the chief snorted. "He's just some schmuck we use for public appearances. The Kreigel is the real Mayor of this town."
"The ... Kreigel?" Gary stammered unbelievingly.
"That's right, Kreigel," the chief nodded, then, upon catching Gary's stare, added defensively, "Well, what would you call it, smart guy?"
"We worship it," the chief nodded matter-of-factly. "Yep, we've got a whole big pagan god-worshipping cult thing going on in this town. We were sort of feeling you out over the last few weeks, seeing if you might want to join up, but you folks aren't really the pagan religion type, are you?"
"No," Angela somehow managed to answer. "We're Catholics."
"See, there you go," the chief shrugged. "Yep, real shame you saw it, though. Guess we're going to have to feed you to it now."
"We won't tell!" Gary shouted quickly. "Really, we--"
"Yeah, right!" the chief barked, trading yet another look with his second. "That's what they all say! Then you get something like that National Enquirer article back in '88. Jeesh! No, it's better this..."
"Wait a minute!" Gary cried. "Why did you even let us move in if you knew your big secret was next door?"
"What can I say?" the chief apologized. "Nobody else would buy that property; the owners kept bitching at every cult meeting how nobody would buy it, and when you folks actually offered to pick it up, we got so excited. I guess we just didn't think ahead."
"Ahh!" Gary's wife screamed, as one of the patrolmen cracked her in the kneecap with his nightstick, producing the sound of a snapping branch.
"Jesus! What is he doing?" Gary shrieked.
The chief rolled his eyes and shook his head, as if to say, these outsiders sure are slow on the uptake. "I said, we have to feed you to the Kreigel. He's breaking your kneecaps so you can't run away once we throw you in the alley."
"Help!" Gary's wife screamed, once she found her voice. "For God's sake, somebody help us!"
"Lady, please!" the deputy chief scolded, as one of the patrolmen stuck a hand over her mouth to quiet her, "People are trying to sleep! Besides, folks aren't likely to look kindly on your calling on that other God."
"You mean they all..." she stammered as the patrolmen began to drag her towards the alley.
"Careful, boys, not too close; he's pissed," the chief warned, indicating to his henchmen that Gary's knees needed whacking.
Oh, my God, Gary thought desperately, imagining what it was going to be like to get crushed to death by the giant tentacle.
"Wait! I have an idea!" he shouted, trying unsuccessfully to shrink away from the club-wielding policeman approaching him.
"Look, Mr. Forsythe..."
"No, wait, really!" Gary insisted. "We could feed it!"
"Gary!" his wife yelped nervously, as the patrolmen prepared to toss her into the alley.
"We are feeding it," the chief answered simply.
"No, I mean we could feed it, my wife and I, on a regular basis!"
The chief held up a hand to halt Angela's imminent sacrifice. "What do you mean?"
"I mean," Gary said, pulling himself slightly closer to the chief and speaking conspiratorially, "look at the system you have here. Big bunch of reeking garbage, to lure an uncertain supply of tomcats to feed the Mighty Kreigel?"
"Almighty Kreigel," the chief corrected.
"Almighty Kreigel," Gary assented, mind racing to think of the right words to save his life. "But, let us live, like...caretakers! Caretakers, and we'll feed it regularly."
"Gary!" Angela shrieked again. "What are you doing?"
Gary bit his lip and ignored her. "And not just cats," he continued quickly, sliding into his Salesman tone of voice, "No, sir, eating the same thing every day is no good for a human being, much less a pagan god. We'll feed it a variety: cats, rabbits, squirrels..."
"Possums?" the chief asked.
"Sure!" Gary nodded. "You name it!"
The chief sucked on his teeth in thought, nodding to himself. Gary had seen this look a thousand times; it was the look that meant his customer was about to buy the deal. The chief's eyes suddenly narrowed, however, and he eyed Gary sternly.
"No skunks, though. Stink up the place worse than it is now."
"Absolutely not. C'mon, what do you say?"
"Gary? You're not trying to help them, are you?" his wife shrieked.
Not now, bitch, he groaned inwardly. I'm trying to save our asses here.
"Your wife don't seem too thrilled about this," the chief stated warningly.
"Don't worry about her," Gary said quickly, even more conspiratorially, flashing a grin and a wink as he added, "If she doesn't come around, we'll feed her to the ... Almighty Kreigel on one of your special holidays."
The chief frowned in thought for a second or two, then his face brightened and he clapped Gary on the back with a smile. "You've got a deal, Mr. Forsythe! We'll give it a try for a couple of weeks! But if it doesn't work out..."
"Into the alley I go," Gary shrugged with an aw-shucks grin.
"Boys!" the chief called out. "Get Mrs. Forsythe over to a squad car and get her knee looked at. We've got ourselves some Caretakers for the Kreigel!"
"Yeah, babe," Gary answered, staring out of the kitchen window into the alley. The garbage was gone, cleaned out weeks ago, and there was a large stretch of chickenwire covering either end of the alley. There was no way in or out, except for their kitchen door, which Gary now opened slightly, reaching into his Pet Travel Case to draw out a big gray and black striped cat. It squirmed a bit in his arms, and for a second, Gary thought he might lose it, but he managed to toss it into the alley and shut the door on it.
"Rabbits?" his wife asked, limping into the kitchen with the aid of a cane to stand by his side. "Oh, Gary! A cat again?"
"Couldn't find any rabbits," Gary shrugged, "so I stopped by the SPCA and picked this guy up. Big 'un, isn't he?"
"I guess," his wife sighed with a bemused smile at her husband's overenthusiasm. "I think you just like to hear them yowl."
"Heh-heh," Gary laughed, still watching intently as the pussycat meandered carefully throughout the alley, sniffing cautiously hither and yon.
Be as careful as you want, he grinned devilishly. You're still lunchmeat.
"They're saying they may make me a Grand Kagoona at the cult," Gary mentioned offhandedly.
"Honey!" his wife beamed. "I'm so proud!"
She meant it, too. The last several weeks had seen a dramatic shift in their marital relationship. He was a changed man; position and responsibility had taken quite a shine to him. As he came to have respect for himself as Kreigel Caretaker, and perhaps soon Grand Kagoona, his wife came to have respect for him as well.
"There!" he cried happily, as the green tentacle shot out of the basement window and caught the hapless cat in its grip.
His wife sighed again, a sigh of love and contentment, and he glanced into her eyes to recognize affection and adoration he never would've thought possible a few weeks ago. Husband and wife looked back into the alleyway, and as they watched the Kreigel's tentacle crush the life out of the squirming pussycat, their arms slipped around each others' waists with the tenderness of brand-new lovers.
"Sweetheart," Gary smiled warmly, as the screeching of the cat was replaced by the musical crunching and crackling of snapping feline vertebrae, "I think we can make a good life here."© 1998 Andrew C. Piazza, all rights reserved
RETURN TO ARCHIVES
Premier Issue 1998, Updated March 13, 2002
BLOOD ROSE is Copyright © M. W. Worthen.