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Sunday, 22 May 2016

PAWS 1 --by Nickz

(Image source: bundlr.com)

The paw prints were there on the soggy earth. Tonia could see the marks cutting into the wet mud and the wide sole, bigger than that of any dog or cat she’d ever seen. It looked wild and dreadful. She was a strong girl but the strange events that she’d been experiencing–the midnight mews of the strange black cat, the dead animal by her backyard in the morning–were causes for concern. Now, there was another source of panic to it; the footprints of a strange creature. Tonia was a tough girl, a hell of a kind. The fact that she left the heart of town where her family was, to live in the wood house in the rural community, was a confirmation. The wood house was her father’s property where they usually spent special times like Christmas. Her Mom was the most worried about her travelling there and staying on her own for days. But she was a young lady of 21 who knew what she wanted. She had begged for permission to stay in the wood house for a week so she could gain access to the materials she needed for her art project. Her younger sister, Precious, 19, had promised to be driving down and be checking on her every two days. When Tonia arrived at the wood house, she called her Mom and has been doing so very often, assuring her of her well-being. There was food and everything stocked in for her. She really needed the distance and space.

But the truth remained about her desire to be alone: Tonia needed a break from her parents. She didn’t like the way things were going between them recently. It was driving her mental. How could they be pretending to be one sweet couple outside but when home, it was cat and dog? The other night, it was lipstick stain. One time, it was smell of alcohol in his breath—one problem or another. Her Mom and Dad had been together for more than 22 years but he started giving her reasons to doubt her trust in him. Each evening after work, it was verbal war. Her Mom was secretly worried it was because they didn’t have a male child. Tonia could not gain peace of mind. Even Precious, the nonchalant-in-nature-type began to fret and would try her best to play mediator. It started to look childish. She needed to clear her head. She needed the break and only one place she could think of possessed the necessary tranquility.

The wood house bore the solitude and calmness she needed; far from the usual hustles in town–the nosiness of blaring horns, the sight of hundreds of commuters and pedestrians–she just felt more at home in this isolated crib. Her nearest neighbour was about a football field away, an elderly man of about 70 whose only company was a small white cat. So far, it was her fifth night in the wood house. She had acquainted herself with the few in the environs. She even went to their cultural masquerade dance and filled her phone with shots of masquerades and their unimaginable stunts. It wouldn’t make meaning if her stay was not enjoyable. She had once stopped by the old man’s house–her neighbour–to hail him, but he was not the talking type. “Hello Sir, good afternoon. I’m Tonia.” He only stared at her like she was the reason for his missing teeth. His bald-headed face was all saggy and his thin, bent frame relied on his walking stick. He had yawned and rose inside with his cat following him. She had left, feeling the old man needed his space. There was something strange about him.

Again, she had heard the cat mew continuously by her window. It had been that way the past two nights, just an hour after midnight. Like other times, she cut her sleep and picked up her flashlight. She was pissed that she couldn’t have her sleep in peace. It was always by the back window of the kitchen.  Walking to inspect the cause of alarm, from her window, she saw the shiny eyes of the black cat fixed offensively at her window. It ran away when she directed the flash beam at it. It was all weird. Every other thing seemed normal but there were some patterns on the earth which her flashlight revealed. She couldn’t see clearly through the kitchen glass so she went back to bed, having difficulties relaxing her mind. About an hour later, she found favour in the sight of sleep as it overshadowed her till dawn.

Very early in the morning, Tonia went out to check around the house. She could see the imprints of the paws. This was far from the imprints of a cat or dog. They had told her there was no such thing as wild animals in the community. She bent over it to have a closer look. She tried to trace the path the steps took, if the prints would vanish somewhere into the surrounding bush but strangely, the prints always ended just by the steps to her back porch. How could it be? Should she inform her mother? No. she wouldn’t. That would be an abrupt end to her stay. Her mother was already having her heart in her mouth about her safety. Such news to her would be disastrous.
She made up her mind to observe for one more night. Maybe it was the old man trying to scare her with whatever means so she could leave the house. While she was casually contemplating his involvement, she looked up and saw the old and bald-headed man was standing on his lobby, staring at her. She could see him clearly. He stared offensively at her too, just like the black cat stared at her. He was a suspect. Instinctively, she started moving across the shrubs to meet him. He must have something to say this time. But as she got closer to the old man, she noticed he was moving back into his mud house. On getting to the old house, the old man had completely retired inside. Her anger began to grow. For a moment, she felt like bringing down the door and going in to confront the wicked monster who was most likely the man behind her torment. But she won’t–not just yet. She would do it the right way. When Precious visited her tomorrow, together they’ll go to the Community Head and make a complaint of threat.

It was exactly 1am when she heard the mews again, very wild and bizarre. It was like the sound of a million cats. It came from her backyard as usual. Tonight, there was something more unusual which almost made her heart jump out of the cage. The kitchen door was wide open in the middle of the night. She can swear by any god she had locked the door–she clearly remembered doing that after taking her dinner of milk and cornflakes. The dirty plate was still in the sink. She had left it there because water wasn’t rushing from the tap. She recalled clearly. Her steps became stone-frozen, her pupil dilated, adrenaline pumping into her bloodstream. Her flashlight started to shake in her hand as the beam landed on something in the doorway: the strange paws marks, in blood, inside her house. Now, she was sure she was in real danger. Her movement began to reverse slowly, in the process, causing her to bump blindly into a huge object. Her torchlight fell from her grasp and turned off, leaving her in panic. Groping on the floor, she found and picked the torchlight. She had bumped into the fridge. She wanted to run out of the house but where would she run to? Her only closest neighbour was probably responsible for her affliction. She rushed to the cabinet and pulled out a knife, just in case something popped from anywhere. By now, the sounds of the cat had died out and everywhere was dead silent, except for the nocturnal sounds of crickets. She took in a lungful of breath and tried to calm herself. She listened carefully. There was no movement in the house. That meant whatever had got in had probably left. It was what she wanted to believe. The bloodstained footprints were still there which sent fresh chills down her spine. She steadied the knife in her hand, still anticipating a hostile. With the torch in one hand and her weapon in her right, she searched the house, room by room but found nothing threatening. She returned to the kitchen.

The night breeze gradually increased speed and started to blow heavily. A heavy fall was imminent. Leaves and flying debris were getting into the house and she quickly gathered strength to reach to the door. She slammed it shut and to her shock, discovered the bolts and locks were not broken—it was not a forced entry. She had no time to think that out now, her major concern was safety. She engaged the locks again, wedging the door with a locker as an additional measure. Tonia retired to her bedroom. She switched on the bed lamp and sat on her dressing chair–knife in hand, keeping watch till daybreak.

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