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Dan Conradt: Cat, what are you staring at?

August 19, 2018

He could have chosen to sit anywhere in the house, but he chose to sit in the middle of the living room rug.

Moonlight was trickling in through the bedroom window, leaving a blue-white rectangle on the floor. It would have been the perfect place to sit. The sound of crickets was drifting in through the window in the den. Perfect!

But no, he chose to sit in the middle of the living room rug … close enough that I could hear him breathing, far enough away that I couldn’t prod him with my toe.

I tried to ignore him, but that’s not easy to do when you feel like you’re being watched. The more I tried to not think about it the more I thought about it. I suddenly couldn’t remember what I’d been reading, and had to backtrack 11 pages to get to something familiar.

I’d been holding the book in my lap, and I raised it so it was in front of my face, a 374-page shield between me and that piercing green stare.

Okay, I remember that part. Louis Creed, you’re messing with things you don’t understand …

I slowly lowered the book. It was just after midnight; ordinarily he’d be asleep by now. For that matter, ordinarily I’d be asleep by now. But this darned book! I’d pulled a dozen books off the shelf and given up on the others after a page or two. But this one grabbed me from the beginning. That was three hours ago, and I knew I wasn’t going to get to bed without finishing it … and might not get to sleep if I did.

I really thought he’d be gone.

I peeked over the top of the book, and those unblinking green eyes bored into mine. He tilted his head slightly, and the light from my reading lamp reflected off the backs of his eyes in that creepy cat way. The eyes changed from Irish Spring green to bottomless red. Blood red.

Did the temperature in the room just drop by 20 degrees?

I swallowed past the lump in my throat.

I picked the wrong time to read “Pet Sematary.”

The logical part of my brain tried to put me at ease: “He’s just a cat. You’ve had him since he was a kitten. This is the same cat that discovered a mouse in the basement and hid under the bed.”

The part of my brain that is fueled by imagination … especially while reading a horror novel in a quiet house in the middle of the night … wasn’t convinced. “Louis Creed thought the same thing,” it said. “But the cat is just … not … right.”

The cat was still staring at me.

“Stop it,” I whispered in a voice that was embarrassingly hoarse.

His eyes were laser beams.

“What do you want?”

Nothing.

I shifted slightly on the couch so we weren’t facing each other; maybe if he has to stare at my shoulder he’ll lose interest and move on to other things.

I turned the page.

No! Don’t go in there! That whole place is evil!!

The sound of a far off train whistle echoed through the still night air and crept in through the living room window. Any other night it would be a comforting sound. Wistful. Vaguely romantic. Tonight there was something different about it. Something menacing. The sound of an unstoppable force.

“Now you’re just making yourself crazy,” the rational part of my brain said. “It’s just a train. Just a cat. Nothing more. Don’t let your imagination …”

“NO! Don’t take your little boy there! Everything that goes there comes back as a MONSTER!”

I really didn’t mean to say it out loud … especially not at 1:15 in the morning.

Guess I startled the cat, too.

“Meowwwww!” he said in an anguished cry that reminded me of the time I accidentally stepped on his tail.

The sound that was kind of like the cat’s, only three octaves higher? That one was mine.

The cat bolted from the living room, and without his eyes fastened onto mine the spell was broken. I dog-eared my page and closed the book. From around the corner I heard the cat scratching in his litter box. Through the open window I heard the sound of a train whistle, farther away this time. More wistful than menacing.

I set “Pet Sematary” on the end table. Maybe I’ll finish it tomorrow when it’s light outside. But maybe not.

I sorted through my stack of books and finally settled on one, smiling in agreement as Robert Fulghum explained how everything he really needed to know he learned in kindergarten.

“Share everything.” That’s a good one.

I wonder when he learned that you shouldn’t read Stephen King once it gets dark.

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