Chapter 38: The Witching Hour
Marko noticed some of Janet’s blood on his shirt and crossed to the bathroom to it wash out. He stoppered the sink’s drain and turned on the faucets. Over the sound of running water, he heard Janet talking.
“Oh look Andrea. Esmerelda’s strange little cat must have followed us. How did it get onto the balcony? Poor thing is probably scared and lonely. I’ll let him inside. He can sleep with us tonight. Look at his red eyes. Aren’t they freaky?”
“That thing’s not so little. How weird, I’ve never seen a cat’s eyes glow in the light.”
Marko paused, straining to hear over the running water. “Did you say glowing eyes? Don’t let that thing in here!”
“Don’t be stupid. It’s harmless. Besides, Janet seems to like it and she’s been through a lot tonight.”
Marko came charging out of the bathroom with wet hands, in time to see the cat launch itself at Janet’s neck. The attack caught her off guard. Its front claws were anchored in Janet’s neck, by the time she started trying to fight it off. Pulling on the sinewy body only intensified the pain. She spun in frantic circles, attempting to dislodge the beast. Andrea’s attempts to wrench the cat off brought screams of agony from Janet.
Her sister was scanning the room for something she could use to beat it off, when Mark pulled his wet shirt from the sink, wrapped it around his right arm, grabbed the cat by the scruff of the neck with his left hand, and quickly unhooked it. He used his padded right arm to fend off the cat’s scrabbling claws, as it twisted and flailed its arms and legs.
The creature was remarkably strong. Marko could feel his grip slipping, as it whipped its body from side to side. He plunged the cat headfirst into the sink full of water, holding it there until its struggles slowed and then ceased. Marko ignored the sisters’ pleas for mercy. He let the carcass drop to the floor and sat on the lip of the tub to catch his breath. Janet advanced on him.
“You didn’t have to kill it! That poor thing was just scared. I must have startled it or something.”
“That was no ordinary cat.”
“What are you talking about?”
“That thing was possessed.”
Andrea pushed past her sister and got in Marko’s face, “Are you dumb? Maybe you just think we are. How can a cat be possessed? Quit trying to scare us!”
The sisters heard a noise behind them and turned in time to see the cat resurrect and launch itself at Janet. She screamed and ducked. The cat flew past Marko, hit the wall behind him, dropped into the tub, turned and leapt again as Janet ran screaming from the bathroom with her sister in tow.
Andrea grabbed a chair and swung at the creature, striking it in midair. The cat was knocked to the floor. Andrea raised the chair over her head and repeatedly brought it forcefully down on the cat’s head. Janet flinched away at the sound of breaking bones. Marko bent down and grabbed the cat by its tail. He started towards the balcony and paused in front of the sliding glass door, holding the dead creature out in front of him.
“Ahem, where were we? Oh yes, you were saying something about the cat not being possessed?”
“What the hell…” exclaimed Andrea panting.
“You are seeing what happens when an animal is branded with a devil’s mark. It’s the witching hour. That means the veil between the living and the dead is the thinnest and supernatural power is strongest. That is why this thing is able to come back so quickly.”
As if the cat heard Marko talking about it, they heard the crackling sound of bones knitting back together. Before he could react, the cat let out a screech and began flailing about, attempting to scratch him. Marko rushed out onto the balcony, flung the cat over the railing, and slammed the glass door shut.
“Quick, gather up your things. I’m going to have you two stay in that church across the street.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’ll follow that thing back to its master. Something tells me your encounter with Esmerelda was a set up.”
Janet shivered, “Are you saying someone is after me?”
“I think someone other than Charles also wants that talisman.”
Andrea placed a reassuring hand on her sister’s shoulder, “If that’s the case, then wouldn’t we be safer in a locked hotel room in a building full of people?”
“Not with the inhuman things they’ll send. Besides, they know where you are, thanks to the cat.”
“It’s master can see everything it sees. Enough with the twenty questions. That thing down there might have been flat as a pancake a moment ago, but it regenerates quickly. Get a move on.”
Marko hustled them across the street into the church and had just enough time to get them seated in a pew. He concealed himself in the shadows and waited. The cat came back to life with an unearthly screech and made its way back to their balcony. Finding the hotel room empty, it jumped back down and stood stock still, trying to get a bead on their whereabouts.
Marko wasn’t concerned. He knew the creature could not sense anything inside the church. The consecrated structure would shield them from dark forces. When the cat took off, Marko wasn’t far behind. It moved preternaturally fast, arriving a short time later at a trailer park on the outskirts of town.
To the casual observer, it appeared to be a harmless grouping of trailers. Marko recognized it as an encampment of a Roma clan. Ordinarily, he would look forward to the prospect of an encounter with his people. This night, the encounter with their furry little emissary had put him on alert. Marko knew the inhabitants of the trailer park typified every negative connotation of the slur gypsy.
He could hear blaring music and shouting. Upon approach, he saw towards the rear of the makeshift park, a circle of bare-chested men were watching a fight with eager anticipation. One finally bested the other with a bone crunching blow to the jaw with what looked to be a metal pipe. Marko was horrified by the crowd’s delighted cheer, until he saw the devil’s marks on the back of their necks. An image of the cat’s broken bones knitting back together sprang to mind.
They were so intent on their activity that no one saw Marko until he stepped into the dim circle of light. He quickly raised the inside of his left arm over his eyes, to display the evil eye tattoo representing his clan. They responded in kind and their leader briefly stepped forward on the other side of the circle, before moving towards a double wide trailer at the rear of the encampment. Marko followed him inside, declining an invitation to sit.
The interior of the trailer was more dimly lit than the grounds outside. Marko scanned the red and black décor and his experienced eye located the altar with black candles burning, which identified the stranger as a practitioner of sympathetic magic. He turned his attention back to the man and had difficulty making out his features in the shadowy corner he occupied.
“Thank you for giving me audience at such short notice. I’m here on behalf of a woman who was attacked by a cat I followed here.”
“You are referring to the outsider in the palmistry shop?”
“Yes, that’s the one.”
“Forgive the impertinence of the question, but what concern is it of yours what happens to an outsider?”
“If you honestly believe an outsider is your friend, then you’re a fool.”
“Why, because I see all people as equals?”
“You know as well as I do, that outsiders will never see us as equals. She may smile in your face, but that doesn’t mean she trusts you or considers you a friend. This conversation bores me. Why are you here?”
“I want to know why she’s under attack.”
“You’re asking questions to which you already know the answers. If she had handed over the talisman, it never would have come to that. ”
“That’s not what I meant. Who do you work for?”
“You’ve been around outsiders for too long. I work for no man.”
“Well, how did you find out about the talisman? Only a few people knew about it.”
“Then, I’d say one of your ‘so called’ friends betrayed you.”
“I don’t suppose there is any point in appealing to your sense of honor.”
“It is my sense of honor that is keeping you alive. That protection does not extend to outsiders.”
Marko briefly bobbed his head in acknowledgement of the stranger’s show of restraint. He could feel the hatred emanating from him. He took his leave quickly. In his absence, the stranger’s eyes glowed red. An unintelligible order barked to the men outside the trailer, set three of them on Marko’s trail. The stranger had given his word Marko would not be attacked. That promise didn’t extend to not having him followed.
The stranger sat back on the couch laughing, imagining his men being led right back to the outsider with the talisman. He imagined the dumbfounded expression on Marko’s face when they killed her and ripped the talisman from her neck. A moment later, that amusement turned to rage when his men returned shaking their heads.
According to them, Marko had simply vanished right before their eyes. The leader leapt to his feet in a fit of rage and felled the bearer of the bad news with a concussive blow. It suddenly made sense that Marko had politely declined the offer to sit down. He had astral projected his image into their midst! Marko was somewhere nearby in a meditative trance. The stranger couldn’t even be certain of Marko’s appearance. A skilled practitioner could project whatever image he or she desired.