Read The Black Cats Online

Authors: Monica Shaughnessy

The Black Cats

 

 

 

 

An Apology

 

Depending
on which version of
The Tell-Tail Heart
you read, the spelling of Eddie’s name may have changed to Eddy. While
researching this book, I found that some historians referred to him as “Eddie,”
while others called him “Eddy.” This, too, could be said of Cattarina. I found
three different spellings of her name. Misinformation about the past is
rampant. Even tour guides were mistaken about the historical name of the street
where Poe lived (I caught this one!). To quote Cattarina, “It was enough to
drive a cat mad.” So I picked the most logical spelling of Mr. Poe’s nickname
and proceeded with
The Tell-Tail Heart
.

 

About
a month after publication, I stumbled onto a source document—a letter
written by Mr. Poe himself. And he’d signed it “Eddy.” This piece of
information haunted me throughout the creation of
The Black Cats
. Should
I risk the ire of readers and do justice to the past? Or ignore this trifle and
spread more misinformation?

 

In
the end, I sided with historical accuracy, inasmuch as this is possible. Please
forgive my need to make this small but important change.

 

Monica

 

 

To F &
G

My greatest sources of
inspiration

To my
critique group

The people who make me
reach higher

To Edgar
Allan Poe
A true literary genius

***

Other
Books in the Cattarina Mystery Series

 

The Tell-Tail Heart

 

To
the River - Rescue by the Schuylkill

 

Adult / YA
books by Monica Shaughnessy

 

Season of Lies

 

Universal Forces

 

The
Trash Collector (Short Story)

 

 

Children's
books by Monica Shaughnessy

 

Doom & Gloom

 

The Easter Hound

***

Acknowledgements &
Foreword

 

This
book is a
complete work of fiction
. However, it
does
reference historical figures. Whenever possible, the story
remains true to the facts surrounding their lives. Edgar Allan Poe did, indeed,
own a tortoiseshell cat named Cattarina. While I can only guess she was his
muse, I feel rather confident in this assertion as cats provide an immeasurable
amount of inspiration to modern writers. If you would like to learn more about
his life, several excellent biographies exist. I hope you enjoy my little
daydream; life is wonderfully dreary under Mr. Poe's spell.

 

 

><

Philadelphia, 1843

><

 

 

The
Black Cat

THE BODY HANGING FROM the tree spoiled
our glorious constitutional. While Eddy and Sissy abhorred the discovery, it
enraged me, filling me with desire for revenge. During my last adventure, I’d
become accustomed to the transience of human life, perhaps
too
accustomed, developing a relationship most informal with Death.
So much so that when our neighbor, Mrs. Busybody, swallowed her false teeth and
expired last winter, my whiskers barely registered the passing. But this
morning’s butchery shocked me more than the ones that plagued Philadelphia last
fall. Why? Because a fellow
cat
had
been murdered.

I
shuddered at the black tom overhead, at once suspicious of our new neighbors. Eddy
had insisted on moving, and I, fulfilling my role as feline companion and muse,
had followed him on his quest for
new air
.
We’d settled apparently, in the darkest, cruelest part of the city. Though I
had no idea how dark and cruel when we set out this morning.

Shortly
after breakfast, Sissy, the lady of the house, summoned Eddy to the kitchen and
uttered one of my favorite phrases. “Let’s go for a stroll,” she said to him.
“I am in need of a breeze, and from the snap of bed linens on the clothesline, God
has provided one. The market would be lovely today. Besides, Mother’s out of
rosemary.”

Eddy
rested his fingertips on the windowsill above the sink and looked into the side
yard. I hopped to the table for a peek myself. Muddy lingered near the
clothesline with a basket of laundry and a mouthful of clothespins. One by one,
she removed the little wooden teeth from her lips, using them to peg the
sheets. “I suppose your mother will be busy for a while,” he said. “Join us,
Catters?”

He
meant me, of course. Eddy seldom used my full name, Cattarina. I wasn’t sure of
his question, so I gave an all-purpose meow that meant both yes and maybe at
the same time. Catspeak is not without subtlety.

Once
Sissy changed into her rose-print
town
dress, we left to marvel in the ripe delights of summer. Such a merry prelude
to murder! In this new and strange part of the city, Spring Garden Street unbuttons
down the center into an outdoor market filled with fish, hot corn, pickles, gutted
pigs, fish, paper whimsies, tobacco products, tin wind-up toys, and fish. Yet I
grieved for the wide-open fields of Fairmount. Nothing could replace the tickle
of Indian grass beneath my paws.

Entering
the market before Eddy and Sissy, I wound this way and that between their legs,
guiding them without suspicion while they chatted. When humans are preoccupied,
directing their actions is mere kitten’s play. So it took little effort to steer
them to the appropriate stall. “Get my fish! In yer dish!” the monger shouted.
“Shad enough to grant yer wish!” His sign held the usual marks: FISH. From my tenure
with Eddy—a preeminent man of letters—I knew these squiggles
communicated
something
. But I doubted
they adequately described the striped bass, walleye, and catfish heaped on the
counter, their scales glistening in the sun. Flies, too, had arrived in great
number to admire the merchandise.

Sissy
waved them from her path with a copy of the
Gazette
she’d brought along. She opened the newspaper and examined the contents. “Three
thefts, two beatings, and not a single murder,” she said.

My ears
swiveled at
murder
—just one of the
many human words I knew. Some, like
breakfast
,
lunch
, and
dinner
, could stir me from the deepest slumber; others, like
no
,
out
,
and
that damnable cat
, had little
effect on me despite their obvious meaning. And while a great many remained
beyond comprehension,
murder
had clawed
its way into my vocabulary. I found a piece of discarded fish skin and chewed
it thoughtfully as I listened to Sissy’s voice. When she spoke, her words came
out in a whisper. I imagined them floating from her lips like dandelion puffs.

“It’s
been so hot lately,” she said. “You’d think the heat would send
someone
on a killing spree.”

“Peace
and tranquility are most troubling, aren’t they?” Eddy said.

“I am
reading the news for
your
benefit,
dear husband, not mine.” She folded the paper into a fan and waved it to cool
herself. “I know how you love crime stories. I could scarcely keep you from that
wretched eye business last October.”

“Am I
the only one with an interest in murder?”

Sissy
pursed her lips and fanned harder, fluttering the strings of her bonnet.

Murder
, the liveliest, most
oft-discussed topic of the Poe household. After I nabbed the Glass Eye Killer
last autumn, my deeds inspired Eddy to write “The Tell-Tale Heart.” He then
penned “The Gold Bug,” a second tale for which I take full credit. I am still
not sure how Muddy found my beetle collection between the couch cushions. Now,
with the passing of the seasons, life had dwindled to a predictable series of
events for this tortoiseshell: breakfast, nap, lunch, nap, dinner, nap, repeat.
How I longed to chase human quarry again! Alas, murderers were not as plentiful
as mice.

Sissy
took Eddy by the arm and led him from the fish and flies. I shadowed them, pausing
to smell the cat spray on a nearby lamppost: male, geriatric, failing kidneys. Fiddlesticks.
This was no way for a huntress to live. We stopped at a table stacked with
herbs and assorted cut flowers where Eddy bought a spray of rosemary from a
roundish woman in an apron. She rolled the green twigs in a cone of old
newsprint and secured the bottom with a piece of twine. Once finished, she presented
the bundle to Eddy, who in turn presented it to his wife with a flourish. “For
you, Sissy,” he said to her. “May our love be ever green.”

She
smelled the herbs and coughed into her handkerchief.

Moving
from western to eastern Spring Garden District to sample
new air
had not been therapeutic enough for Sissy. Eddy’s health had
declined these last few moons, too. Was it any wonder? How disheartening to
know that despite one’s best efforts, one’s beloved had no chance of surviving.
And while Eddy’s appetite had only recently resumed, his thirst for spirits had
remained steadfast through the winter. I turned and licked my shoulder, biting at
a gnat. In truth, I blamed the drinking more than Sissy’s ailment for his malaise.

I
pushed through their legs and headed for the gate, cutting our ramble short. Eddy
had spent the dawn hours sipping black tea and pacing the floor—a
preamble most familiar. He needed to write, not parade about the market. The
humidity, too, had taken a toll on Sissy’s lungs. I turned and paused, fixing Eddy
with a stare he could not ignore. The slight downturn of his mouth told me he’d
received my message.

He
touched Sissy’s arm. “Let’s leave for home, dearest.”

“But we
were having such a grand time,” she said. “I thought we might stop by—”

He took
the makeshift fan from her and laid it on a nearby stall. “You need to rest,
Virginia. Your cheeks are positively flushed.”

She
offered no resistance, and we retraced our steps to North Seventh, turning left
on Minerva in front of our home. Before we could enter the front garden, voices
rang out near Franklin, the neighboring intersection to the west. Eddy led us
down the street toward the commotion. We rounded the corner to find a pawful of
men in front of Mr. Fitzgerald’s hardware store. Rather, they’d gathered in
front of its sprawling sassafras. The colossal tree grew in the unpaved courtyard
between his shop and the next, rising up and obscuring the buildings behind its
canopy.

“I
say!” Eddy called to them. “What’s the trouble?”

“Someone’s
hung a cat!” said one of the men.

“God in
Heaven,” Eddy said under his breath.

Naturally,
with the mention of
cat
, I thought they
referred to me. When we arrived, however, I realized they spoke of a different
feline: an unfortunate with matted black fur. The tom swayed from a limb, a
rope strung round his neck, one eye gouged from its socket. The Glass Eye
Killer came to mind, yet Constable Harkness had locked
that
murderer in Eastern State Penitentiary. I sat on my haunches
and studied the gruesome sight with equal parts anger and sadness, my tail tapping
a pattern in the dust. I don’t know what devastated me more—the senseless
death or the sullying of my favorite, nay, my
only
climbing tree. Furthermore, someone had nicked the bark in
several places. The marks looked like failed attempts to chop the tree down.

“It’s
horrible!” Sissy cried. The spray of rosemary trembled between her hands.

Eddy
held her by the arm, steadying her. “Look away, my love. Look away.”

Mr. Fitzgerald,
the latest entry on my list of tolerable humans, scratched the top of his
balding head as he considered the scene. He’d run from his shop without a
jacket and stood before us in his waistcoat and bare sleeves. I hadn’t realized
before how thin a frame he possessed. I’d seen fatter scarecrows.

The
wind blew, swaying the carcass like a bell clapper, disturbing the flies that
circled. I dug my claws into the earth. Was the victim my old pal, Midnight? I
circled the trunk and examined the fur on the cat’s chest. It held no white
mark like his. Their eyes were different, too. Midnight’s irises were buttercup
yellow, much lighter in color than the tom’s lone eye. I purred with relief.

“Who
has done this?” Eddy asked the man next to him.

The
gent wore all black like Eddy and carried a book, which he held to his chest. “The
supernatural is at work here,” he said. “I fear we’ve been visited by the devil.”

The
word
devil
sent a murmur through the
crowd. Strange. The only deviling I’d encountered had been that of an egg, and
with delicious results. I scaled the trunk, casting bits of bark to the ground,
and walked along the branch in question to the knotted piece of rope. A unique
piece of workmanship, the cord had been coiled from lengths of brown and tan
jute, the former dyed with a bitter solution that smelled of walnuts, the
latter left
au natural
. I sniffed the
air. Decomposition—a distinct and unmistakable odor—had not set in.
One had only to keep an expired mouse too long beneath Muddy’s bed to
understand these things. So the cat had been murdered this morning. I turned to
the scents on the rope, learning two things: the killer was male, and he wore a
nauseating amount of cologne. If humans bathed as often as cats, there would be
no need for copious amounts of lavender and citrus oils.

On the
hunt for more clues, I cast my gaze upon footprints below. The courtyard had
not been paved, and loose dirt preserved the marks. These prints traveled from
the sassafras’s trunk to the steps of Fitzgerald Hardware then disappeared into
the alley between his shop and Tabitha Arnold’s cobbler shop next door. I
cocked my ears at the curious sound arising from her establishment.
Brush, brush, brush. Brush, brush, brush.

Eddy handed
Sissy off to the man in black before addressing the crowd. “If anyone knows who
committed this atrocity, please step forward. You will face no quarrel with me.”

“Or
with Constable Harkness,” someone shouted. “If you can wake him from his nap!”

The crowd
tittered with uneasy laughter.

I
settled on a higher branch away from the dead cat and the flies. Just thinking
about the cruelties my fellow feline suffered churned my stomach. I watched the
men through the mitten-shaped leaves. Having moved here three moons ago, I’d encountered
most of the humans in the neighborhood and recognized all but the gentleman soothing
Sissy. He patted her shoulder and said, “Take comfort in Isaiah. Woe unto the
wicked! It shall be ill with him: for the reward of his hands shall be given
him.” I lifted my head and peered between the leafy branches to spy another
unfamiliar face—an old man with a bent spine. He scratched his rear then
his elbow then his long, white beard. Fleas. I made a note to avoid him in the
future. He loitered between the buildings, away from the turmoil.

“Come
now,” Eddy said, “surely one of you saw something?”

Brush, brush, brush.

“Not me,”
Mr. Cook said at last. A blustery fool who lived around the corner, his large
protruding eyes reminded me of peeled onions. “Ask ol’ Eakins. Cats are his
business.”

At Mr.
Cook’s utterance of
Eakins
, the flea-ridden
oldster scurried the way of the footprints and disappeared between the shops.
Not a soul noticed—not a human soul, at any rate.

“Eakins?”
Sissy asked. She’d recovered from the earlier shock and stood near her husband.
“I don’t recall anyone by that name, and I’ve met most everyone on our street.”

“He
stays to himself,” Mr. Cook said, “for our comfort as much as his.” He surveyed
the diminishing crowd. The onlookers had begun to wander. “He was here a minute
ago,” he said. “I’m sure of it.”

When
the street had emptied of everyone except Mr. Cook and Mr. Fitzgerald, Eddy
drew Sissy and the two men to the threshold of the hardware shop to discuss the
event, speaking the phrase “killed the cat” more than once. Every so often,
Sissy would glance at the tree and shake her head. Soon, the talk turned to
lighter subjects, for the men began to chuckle and gesture with their hands. That
was when Sissy left their company for mine, the dear girl. She stared up at me
with a mournful expression, the rims of her large eyes wet. “Who would do such
a thing, Cattarina? And why?”

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