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Margaret L. Carter

Short Stories
- Prowler

Prowler (41 ratings)
         by Margaret L. Carter
Page 1 of 4

   She leaped into the cat when she saw Ralph coming down the cellar stairs with her food. Ralph, the skinny one with straw-colored hair, always pinched her cheeks or prodded her bosom when the other two men weren't looking. The husky, mouse-haired thug, Bert, had ordered Ralph not to "damage the merchandise." Ralph seemed to think any act that didn't leave marks didn't fall under the heading of "damage." Bert and the third man, whom she didn't see very often, mostly left her alone. Only Ralph harassed her, and fortunately just twice a day, when he brought her meals and emptied the chamberpot. Bert must have kept him busy the rest of the time.
   Emily closed her eyes and thrust the sound of his footsteps into the background. Leaping into animals took concentration. She'd discovered this talent ten years earlier, at the age of six. She had told the nurserymaid, Brigit, about her first faltering attempts. Brigit, who knew the ways of the Fair Folk and the charms practiced by country witches, had helped Emily master her gift. When Emily had babbled to her mother about the thrill of seeing through the eyes of a bird or squirrel, Papa and Mama had sternly pronounced her stories "nonsense." And a few days later, Brigit had been replaced by a new maid. After that, Emily had kept her adventures to herself.
   Without the cat's thoughts and sensations to share, Emily felt she might have gone mad from terror in the first few days of captivity. How long had it been since Bert and his two henchmen had snatched her? For a second her heart raced with panic, fearing she wouldn't be able to remember. Five days. Good, she hadn't lost track of the outside world yet. From the narrow cellar window, cracked open only a few inches, she could see nothing but the bottom of an alley and hear only the rattle of an occasional cart along an adjoining street. Her world consisted of a narrow bed with a straw-filled mattress, a chamberpot, a flight of stairs leading up to a locked door, and damp walls festooned with cobwebs.
   Now, as she drew long, deep breaths, the odor of mildew and the tromp of Ralph's boots faded from her awareness. She mentally reached out for the cat's mind. Groping around the alley, she found the scruffy calico asleep in her usual spot. Like smoke, Emily drifted toward the animal and seeped into her brain. Emily spared a second to wonder how her deserted body appeared -- merely asleep, or unconscious and deathlike?
   The cat opened her eyes and stretched. Emily smelled horse droppings, stale urine, and rotten food. The dimness of twilight looked like a sketch in luminous pastels. When the cat trotted into the street, tail high and curled at the tip, Emily luxuriated in the sleek grace of the creature's limbs.
   As usual, the cat first circled around to the front of the house. She sat on the stoop and meowed until Bert opened the door. When in a good mood, he would feed her scraps. This time, the man grinned down at her and said, "You again? Got something for you." He vanished inside, then came back with a chipped saucer bearing two fish heads. "You better find somewhere else to beg, old girl. We'll be gone soon. Rich blokes don't live in a place like this, eh?" With a rumbling laugh, he shut the door.
   Hungry as always, the cat gobbled the fish heads with rapid efficiency. Merged with the animal's sensations, Emily didn't gag on the taste as she would have in her own body. She enjoyed the warmth spreading through the empty stomach, while a corner of her thoughts meditated on Bert's last remark. If he planned to move out "soon," he must have arranged to collect the ransom from Emily's father or at least be close to an agreement. Before she'd started escaping into the cat whenever Ralph came near her, he'd given her daily bulletins. For the first couple of days, the kidnappers had sent no word to her family -- "soften 'em up, like," as Ralph put it After that, they'd planned to drag out the negotiations, raising the price several times.
   It's almost over now, Emily reassured herself. Papa will pay whatever they ask, and I'll be free. She returned her full attention to her feline hostess.
   The cat leaped off the stoop and retreated to the entrance of the alley, where she washed for five or ten minutes. The rasp of the tongue on the cat's pelt sent shivers of pleasure through Emily. Finally content with the smoothness of her multicolored fur, the cat began her nightly patrol. She dodged a vegetable cart to cross the street to a stable where a few scrawny cab horses lived. Smells of hay, horses, and mice tickled Emily's mind. The cat crouched in a deeply shadowed corner, safely distant from the hooves of the one inhabitant of the stable who remained in his stall this evening. Emily marveled at how long the cat could remain still, watching for prey.
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Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001 Margaret L. Carter, All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author. The author has submitted the work in accordance with and in agreement with the following Submission Guidelines.

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