The Order of the Cat
Gravel crunched under the wheels of the blue Saturn as it pulled away from the stop sign, turning left down another unpaved road. In the nearly empty field, a massive harvester stood motionless like a lone sentry.
“I don’t think these back roads are saving us any time.” Jessica said, her blond hair falling over her face as she texted back and forth with one of her friends.
“We’ll be fine.” The man took a long drag off a cigarette and blew the smoke sideways out a partially rolled down window. “I bet the highway is only a couple more miles down this road.”
“Well, you could look it up on the map and see.”
Lisa grunted but kept typing on her phone.
“Where is Felis?”
“That sign said we were in Felis.”
Jessica looked out the window, as if the sign would still be there, but the cleanly cut golden fields and blue sky were all she saw. Dropping the cell between her legs, she opened the glove box to grab the map. She unfolded the pamphlet, draping it across her legs and the dashboard. “Where are we?”
“Come on, Lisa.” He slowed as they approached the town, passing a towering grain elevator, streaked with orange rust and then a dirty building with dark windows that looked like eyes. Hanging off the screen door was a dull mustard colored sign that read “Floyd’s Guns”.
From the rambling overgrown grass in front of the building, a large black cat darted out onto the road.
Lisa screamed. “Look out, Marc!”
Marc saw the black blur out of the corner of his eye and swerved. The cat vanished from view under the hood.
“Did you hit it?”
“Stupid cat.” Marc felt his heart beating. He glanced in the rearview mirror, seeing a long black lump in the road, not moving. “Nope.”
She started to turn around, but Marc spoke up. “So, where are we exactly?”
The car rolled past a tiny, unmarked gas station with a single island. From what Marc could see, the pumps didn’t even accept plastic. He glanced down at the needle still sitting at over half full then shifted his eyes to the rearview mirror again, hoping the cat had shook it off and wandered away—instead he saw whirling sirens. “Shit.”
“Cops.” Marc looked at the police car again. “I’m not speeding.”
Marc came to a stop and rolled down his window, warm wind blew inside the car. Across the street a large church, neatly painted white, sat at the top of a short hill. He turned his attention to the approaching officer, in his side view mirror.
“Howdy officer, was I speeding?”
“No sir, you were not.” Not leaning down at all, Marc could only see his high gloss utility belt and pressed tan pants. “Please step out of the vehicle, sir.”
Marc looked over at Lisa but complied. “What’s the problem?”
On the street, he faced the officer. He was much taller than Marc with broad shoulders and wore mirrored sunglasses and a Smokey the bear hat. Marc stepped away from him.
“Sir, be careful of traffic.”
“Oh.” He moved closer to his car, feeling the wind all around him.
“The problem is that you ran over a cat back there.”
“You said you missed it!” Lisa’s voice shrilled from inside the car. Her door swung open.
“Stay in the vehicle, ma’am.”
Down the road, Marc could see an ambulance and two men, dressed in white, kneeling. What the hell?
“You called an ambulance for a cat?”
“Place your hands on your vehicle, please.”
Lisa emerged from the car, her face red with panic. “What are you doing to him?”
“Ma’am, I suggest you leave before I change my mind.”
The officer handcuffed Marc’s wrist behind his back, grabbed his bicep and instead of walking him back to the car, he guided him across the street.
Marc swiveled his head and made eye contact with his wife. “Go find a lawyer or something!”
The man shoved Marc along.
“Where are you taking me?”
“To meet the judge.”
Marc looked up and saw they were moving toward the church looming on the hill.
As they made their way up the steps, two large black cats ran in front of them and disappeared inside the thick rows of shrubs.
A third cat raced up ahead of them, vanishing through the open door at the top of the steps.
The officer forced Marc inside and they made their way into the sanctuary. Marc stared at the far end of the church in disbelief. Covering the wall behind the altar was a mural of a gigantic black cat, regal and poised, with yellow eyes glaring out at the rows of plain wooden pews.
White linen covered the flat-topped surface. Suspended high above the table by thick chains was a wooden chandelier decorated with flickering candles.
A short bald man wearing white robes was standing behind the altar; Marc hadn’t noticed him when he came in, so he wasn’t sure how he got there.
“A pastor?” Marc asked, struggling to break free from his captor.
The officer leaned in close to Marc’s ear. “The pastor is the judge, now shut the hell up.”
A black cat jumped on the altar, arching its back while dragging its claws through the cloth.
The pastor grinned, revealing more than one black space that should have held a tooth, and stroked the cat’s smooth fur. It purred loudly. “Son, I hear one of our cats was slain by your careless driving.”
“How could you already know that?” Marc looked back at the officer, who was still wearing his sunglasses. “What is going on?”
“Do you deny this charge?”
“It ran out in front of me, I had no choice.” Marc was practically in tears. “I tried to avoid it.”
The cat hissed madly at him.
“In accordance with the ancient laws of the Egyptian gods, the punishment here in Felis for killing a cat is death.”
“What?” Marc gasped, voiding his lungs of air. He bucked against the policeman, who stumbled backward. Marc took off running.
The squealing scream of chains echoing through the sanctuary distracted his retreat; looking back, he saw the chandelier slowly lowering.
A rope dangled below it.
“Screw this place!”
He tripped, smacking his nose on the hard ground, hands still cuffed behind him. The officer grabbed Marc by the waist, hurling him over his shoulder and marched back to the altar. Hanging over his back, Marc stared helplessly at the butt of a pistol.
The room spun as he was dumped onto the table. Flat on his back, the intricately carved chandelier was only a foot above him. The noose was swaying like a pendulum and rubbing his nose.
Marc’s face was bloody and his head throbbing. The minister appeared blurry, but Marc could feel him fitting the coarse rope around his neck.
The lanky cat strutted up Marc’s stomach and then onto his chest, until it towered over him, licking at the blood drying under his nose. It stared into his eyes as it fed.
“The cat has taken possession of your soul. May the goddess Bast have mercy on you.”
The squealing chains began to echo through the church again, lifting Marc’s back off the altar. As he rose, his eyes fluttered open. Lisa was standing in the doorway at the far end of the building screaming and the officer was running down the aisle after her.
Marc scrambled to keep his feet on the altar, but as they lifted off the surface, his head jerked back.
Word count 1279