Gerald Duncan was down on his luck, again. Just out of prison and found himself standing in front of a convenience store.
With a gun in his pocket.
I don’t want you to feel sympathy for him. Because he doesn’t deserve any.
You don’t know him like I do. I know him from deep within his darkest recesses. Those places even he doesn’t talk about. The things he has done. The lives he has ruined.
Why am I telling you this, you ask? Because it’s what I do. I redress balance in the Universe.
I am a Black Cat. Not impressed? I can understand, you walk by black cats every day, I imagine. But I am not one of those. I am a Black Cat.
You may have noticed the capitalized B and C in my nom de plume. I am a black cat in appearance, yet so much more than that.
I am completely black, both inside and out. From the tips of my ears to the souls on my feet. Yes, I walk on souls, not soles. You see, I am a Shinigami, a death spirit. I address the balance of souls and their placement in the Afterlife.
Not a job for any ordinary black cat.
You may call me Ink. My friends call me Inky.
We aren’t friends yet.
But we could be. If you come to understand why I do what I do.
Black as in evil, you ask? That depends. I like to look at it as using fire to fight fire. I recognize evil because I am, in theory, evil. I recognize how desperate and crazed evil can be, because I was once just like that. Cowardly, just the tiniest bit craven. Everyone has to start somewhere.
Those were the bad old days. We are a few centuries past those. After living my nine lives, I was content to go to Purgatory, as is the wont of most animals to be recycled into soul-stuff and returned in some hapless litter to be thrown into a river and recycled again until someone deemed me worthy to keep.
Don’t make that face. You people do it all the time. Drown kittens in bathtubs, throw them in rivers, shoot them in front of innocent children, and you send them to veterinarians by the truckload. Who gets the dirty job of putting them to sleep. What a euphemism. Sleep is nothing like Death.
Sleep is enjoyable, relaxing, refreshing, something to be sought after and savored. Death is none of those things. Humans.
Anyway. I was offered an opportunity to lay judgment upon the worst of you lot. I didn’t ask any questions because I was unique among cats. I remembered my lives. I remember being recycled, time after time. I bore the history of my existence and the humans who lived with me, treated me well or ill and I remembered them all perfectly.
I could see into their souls and knew which would kick me and which wouldn’t. And why.
I agreed to the job of judging human souls and came back to the world ready for work. Let’s just say the first years didn’t go so well. We’ll get into that some other time.
Suffice it to say, I got better at the job and now do a bang up operation and brisk business improving humanity. Like this fellow we started talking about Gerald Duncan. He is about to rob a liquor store.
I am not certain I should allow it. Technically, I am not supposed to interfere with what people do to other people. The Union of Souls does not particularly care about their mortal frames. They are concerned with their spiritual development.
I disagree strictly on principle and meddle whenever it suits me. How can a man improve if he is never given the opportunity, I have always said.
My handlers disagree but don’t seem interested in stopping me. Perhaps they would like to do what I do, avenge and correct, and their hands are tied. Not sure. Don’t care. Duncan is moving.
Time for work. He is a wretched thing. He reeks of his fear and his frustration since leaving prison. He hasn’t been able to find work and though he claims to be clean when he talks to his probation worker, he hasn’t actually been able to stop using which has been affecting his judgement.
I found him three days ago, mugging an old man. He hit the old man in the face and stole his wallet. I sat with the old fellow till he passed away. I shepherded him to his final resting space and by the time I returned, I had lost Duncan in the process.
I picked up his trail several days later and wanted to understand him before I Judged him. Now I understand he is in the throes of drug use and hasn’t been in his right mind for weeks.
He will not murder anyone else tonight.
I slip into the store behind him. He never sees me. I see a camera in the corner of the store and it will malfunction during the two minutes he and I have a conversation.
He is nervous and agitated. He has already drawn his gun on the young woman working the counter. I run past him between his legs and scratch his ankle deeply to get his attention. It appears neither socks nor washing have been part of his wardrobe arrangement for some time. I will have to wash for a bit to get the smell off.
While he is hopping around I jump up to the counter and politely ask, “Please put your gun away. I don’t want you shooting anyone.”
“What the fuck? You tripping, yo. Now I’m seeing talking cats.”
“Language, young man. You do speak English…yo?” I see the confusion building up on his face. With his limited capacity, it can only lead to one conclusion. I turn my head nearly all the way around and yell at the young girl behind the counter. “Duck!”
With the sense a mother gifted a cat with, this young woman vanished from sight as three rounds from the rust-encrusted .38 exploded in my general direction. I say general because, even though I could have dodged the bullets, even at this range, I didn’t have to.
Let’s say his aim was addled by drugs, lack of sleep, an involuntary detox and a firearm the last time it was shot Eisenhower was President. Any one of these would have been an impediment. Collectively he had a better chance if I was hanging from ceiling as a pinata the size of a Buick.
Shame, really. I didn’t want to go here but he didn’t leave me any choice. “Repent.”
I lock eyes with him. The sorcerous green of mine, turning fiery red, grab the limpid pools of waxy chocolate he called eyes in a fervid embrace. He struggled to break contact, his eyes frantically moving, trying to pull away.
“Repent, ye sinner. Know the suffering of those you harmed, feel their collected rage, stored forever by the Earth as a testament to human cruelty. See thy works and despair!”
We break contact as the air thickens with smoky fog, the lights in the store momentarily go dim as the doorway to the Suffering Wastes opens and the collected harms caused by Gerald Duncan all come forth. He breathes them as a smoker would in reverse. Each sin entering him, through his mouth and nose. As each fills him like a breath, he spasms as if the sin took up new residence in his limbs.
It is over in a moment. No one who was in the store was able to remain awake as this glimpse into the beyond overtook them. Few Shard dwellers ever truly understand there is anything beyond there, there.
“Young lady, it is over. You can come out.”
The clerk who was wearing a badge that said Maggie, stood up, looked at the cigarette boxes with bullet holes and first says, “Mr. Minette is going to kill me.” A momentary pause and her eyes widen for the realization. “You can talk.”
“You are astute, young woman. You should call your authorities, let them know they will need an ambulance and a conveyance to a mental institution for Mr. Duncan.”
Gerald Duncan, writhed in an internal pain, his body consumed by the sins he had committed. “Maggie, he is becoming a Penitent. In a few weeks, the pain will have swept his body clean of drugs or the need. It will refocus him on finding a way to do right by the people or their families he has harmed.”
“How do you know that?”
“I did it to him.”
“What happens if he doesn’t do right. My ex was a dope-fiend and he always promised he would do better when he kicked, but it never lasted. What if he slips?”
I jumped up onto the counter as the police arrived. They awaken the two or three customers who hid quietly as mice when the firearm was used. I suspect it’s a survival instinct in this neighborhood. Be invisible, stay alive. They were none the worse for their exposure to the Suffering Wastes.
A nightmare or two tops, unless they’re really bad people, then a bit of the Waste might have gotten into them. A couple of weeks of terrible dreams, waking nightmares, hallucination and other assorted afflictions. If they have enemies, this might be the time when the lambs make a rug of the lion.
She hadn’t said anything about the talking cat part and told the police the man fired his gun and had a seizure. What kind of seizure? What do I look like? A doctor? Wait, let me go in the back and check my PhD and they left in a hurry kind of statement. A fiery young thing. I like her.
I hadn’t decided to leave yet. Watching the young woman close up, I sensed there was something about her that was different. “I’ve decided, you are going to take me home and find me a bowl of milk and something with some texture on it. A nice steak, rare, sounds good.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Because, my dear. Unlike the other five people in this store, you were unaffected by my spell of Penitence at close range. That makes you a curiosity worth investigating.”
“Compelling reason, but no. I don’t see why I should. Besides my mother always told me to avoid talking cats.”
“She was a wise woman. How about I just saved your life?”
“Rib-eye sound nice? Remember, I am only a store clerk.”
I followed her as she started the long walk to the market. I faded into the shadows as we walked. I could sense something evil flickering around the streets, each taking an interest in Maggie, store clerk, from a small city, in the middle of nowhere.
I think I will be needed here for some time. I hope Maggie can cook.
With Just a Spot of Darkness © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved
Brilliant!! I was glued to this without stopping!! Love the concept, the concise writing, the raw imagery. Excellent work.