Tuesday, 2 June 2009

THE CAT'S AWAY - by Lee Hughes

The Cat's Away

The gray of dusk was backing down to darkness proper. The shadows that had grown long at lunch were now shrivelled and dying in the sable hours.

James knew he was going to be late home, but he wasn't that fussed. For when he did finally make it home he knew he'd just end up looking after his ten year old brother Matthew. It seemed so pointless, he was only two years older. How much difference could that make?

He dragged a stick along the railings outside a house knowing the racket would annoy one person or another. His phone's message tone aired. He read the message. Just his mother informing him that there was a change of plan and that Matthew was going to be staying overnight at his friend's house.

James grinned. He knew why Matthew had angled to stay over at Paul's house. For over at Paul's house Matthew would be out of reach of his torment and torture. It was all in the name of fun. Well it was for James so he really didn't understand what the big deal about it was. Especially when the little shit went running to mummy in tears and with tales to tell every time he gave him a dead arm or smashed up his stuff.

James shrugged. The planned Saturday night entertainment might have been quashed but there was an upturn to the situation. He had the house all to himself and he knew just where his father's 'special' movies were stashed.

James opened the door to the townhouse and sloped over to the alarm panel and turned it off with only a couple of warning blips left. He smiled as he took in his castle. He tossed a pizza into the oven and went for a mooch in his father's study. The study was where all the cool stuff was kept, the stuff that their mother definitely had no idea about.

James stuck the DVD on in the lounge and leered as the woman in the summery dress turned up at the makeshift garage where a mechanic with a strategically smudged face was trying to undo a bolt with a screwdriver. On screen they started talking, it bored him so he thumbed fast-forward until she started to get her clobber off.

Panic and guilt flashed through him as he heard a crash from within the house. He fumbled like he was all thumbs for the remote control and stopped the porno as fast as he could. The noise sounded like a window being broken. He quickly glanced to the alarm panel down the main hallway and cringed. His parents had obviously wasted their breath having told him a thousand times to always activate it when he was alone in the house.

There were heavy footsteps from up on the first floor landing. James ran for the phone. He hoisted it and slapped it to his ear. All he heard was his own panicked breathing. He replaced it back onto its dock and made for his father's study. He closed the door behind himself. The phone in there was lifeless too. He hitched in hungry breaths and his body shook like he was on the verge of sobbing. James searched his jeans pockets for his mobile phone and instantly saw its location in his head. The scuffed phone sat beside the oven.

The heavy steps were thudding down the stairs. James grabbed the key for his father's desk from behind the family photo-portrait. His hands trembled as he removed the service revolver from within the folds of its silk wrapping. It was illegal for his father to own it but his father the politician was a staunch believer that every home was a man's castle and it was his God-given right to defend it in whatever manner he saw fit. His father had never been in service, it had been handed down to him by his own father who had known the trenches and death.

James had played with the gun on numerous occasions after stumbling upon it the previous summer on one of his many foraging expeditions. On that day he had made Matthew wet himself by aiming it at him and pulling the trigger. Matthew had cried and screamed himself dizzy even though the revolver hadn't even been loaded, what a little pussy was James' judgment.

It was unloaded now, just as it always was and in that state it was of no help to anyone. He tipped the ammunition from the box, broached the cylinder and fed it a bullet.

At that moment the light in the study went out. Everything shifted to midnight.

He was blind and so were his fingers as they patted nothingness instead of bullets. He gave up and slapped the cylinder shut. He raised the gun, his hand shaking so violently that he was sure he could hear his bones in his hand rattling against one another.

The door creaked open.

Meagre light journeyed in from the lounge down the hallway. There was barely enough light to show the outline of the intruder. Its head was misshapen like ugliness gone wild. The intruding shape grew an arm. Its shadow stretched further than was possibly natural. It had a gun of its own in its dirty-shadow grip.

James quivered and tried to keep the revolver level. He found words of warning in his head but they didn't have the bravery to march to his tongue.

The thing spoke. Its voice deep, cumbersome and alien in resonance, "Tell me where your parents are and I might let you live."

James' knees went weak as did his bladder and he pissed himself. James could only shake his head in the negative. He knew where they were but he was too terrified to say anything so it wasn't through any bravery that he kept his silence.

The thing tipped its head from one side to the other and asked, "Do you want to die?" Its shadow gun took aim.

James kept shaking his head in the negative.

"Good. Now take out all but one of the bullets." It demanded.

James' legs were locked at the knees in a bid to stop himself from pissing some more,
"There's only one in it!" he sobbed,

"Then roll the cylinder," voiced the intruder.

James just wanted all of this to be over. For his mummy and daddy to come home and save him, to hold him and to tell him that everything was going to be okay. He managed to get the cylinder to spin a little and prayed to a God which he was starting to think didn't exist that doing this would be enough for the thing.

"Now put it to your head." The thing's voice was calm yet stern.

James shook his head violently. The intruder trained its gun at him and didn't say anything else. James lifted the revolver. The end of the barrel played at his temple like a drum and his fear kept the beat.

"Now pull the trigger!" growled the thing,

"No!" James' words were wet with spit and sticky from the snot that had ran down from his nose,

"One in six chance of bad luck, you hear a click I leave and you live." The sound of the thing echoed with a perverted joy at the torture, "I'll make it easier on you, I'll count to six: one..."

That set James' panic into overdrive, he closed his eyes and he pulled the trigger.

The thing in the shadows didn't move as James applied pressure on the trigger. The thing didn't flinch as thunder exploded throughout the study and the air became thick with burnt cordite. The thing aimed its gun at the still body of the boy and squeezed the trigger.

The gun was silent and it shot bullets of water. The intruder left the doorway and went to the fuse-box, flipped the trip-switch back on for the hallway and the study. The intruder plugged the main phone-jack back in. The intruder was no longer a shadow monster. The grotesquely shaped head was rubber based. Nothing more than an alien voice changer mask borrowed from Paul. The thing removed it, Matthew was glad to escape its cloying confines.

He walked past the study and glanced at his brother sprawled in death upon the floor. Matthew thought he would have felt relief at finally being free of the bullying tyrant. Truth was, he felt nothing, just a quietness. Matthew went to his room and put the mask in the cupboard along with the water-pistol. In the spare room he picked up the drinking glass that he had smashed for effect and dumped it into the bin.

In the lounge he went to the film shelf and took down 'The Deer Hunter' and switched it for the porn in the player. And with the same slim gentile fingers that he had used to text James from their mother's phone earlier he dialled the emergency services to tell them in-between fake sobs that his brother had shot himself playing a game that he had seen in a film.

He ended the call with a smile and a final lie for good measure, telling the calming woman at the other end that, "I was supposed to go next."

Lee Hughes lives and works on the Isle of Man with his wife and two fish. He is currently putting the finishing touches to his first novel. His short fiction is to appear or has appeared in the upcoming Cern Zoo: Nemonymous 9 by Megazanthus Press, Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers and A Twist of Noir.


  1. Now that's redemption!
    Nice use of The Deer Hunter, too.
    Good stuff, Lee.

  2. A corker, Lee!
    Faultlessly narrated, the tension built remorselessly - I found myself holding my breath as I read. Boys will be boys indeed!

  3. Thanks for the kind words. If it flows faultlessly then it's through a lot of help from Col's editing lol

  4. Hey, Lee, another great, well-written piece here. Loved it.

    By the way, I left a comment at your last story as well. Hopefully this will clear up a thing or two for all our writers/readers.

    If I wasn't being too cryptic!

  5. Loved it, Lee. I sort of had an inkling it might be Matthew getting a bit of his own back but had no idea you'd really write James' death in! Crikey - that was a shock, as was the cool way the younger brother was about to get himself out of trouble. Great story.

  6. Wow, that really was thrilling, Lee! I had to read faster and faster to keep up and actually gasped when James was dead. Anything that makes me do that is a damned good read, in my opinion!

  7. Lovely tension, Lee, like a guitar string tightening until it breaks.

  8. Thanks for your comments, glad you enjoyed it.

  9. cool story, agree with the comments above - nice build-up of tension and satisfying ending :-)

  10. Tight, tense storytelling. Triffic.