The Cats in the walls
by avra margariti
The dulcet sound of Anna’s chubby fingers on the piano keys drifts inside the mansion’s skeleton. It surrounds me like the gauzy shroud I wore when my body was tucked within a wall cavity after my death. My girl is gifted: piano, violin, cello. Changed three tutors in a year because nobody could keep up with her.
“The Great Darkness is coming,” a voice squeaks.
With a swift sweep of my paw, I scoop up the mouse who dared to interrupt the best part of my day. As it dangles by its wormy tail, it trembles right down to its bent whiskers.
“Who sent you?” I snarl, baring my teeth. I can’t consume the mouse in terms of taste, nourishment, and digestion. Regardless, one snap of my jaws would be enough to kill it, its small corpse residing in my xylophone ribcage until it, too, dried up. I consider it. The crunch of bone, of gristle, the memory of spicy meat.
“Misty did,” the mouse pipes. “She said—she said it was urgent.”
“Yes,” I say. “The Great Darkness usually is.”
The smell of the mouse’s fear is overpowering. I don’t enjoy torturing the poor creature. Yet I crave that heady scent—the scent of life, so closely linked to the threat of death.
“You can go now. Pick a crumb from the kitchen for your troubles.” I release the mouse. It scurries away, through the gaps in the brick and mortar, to alert the rest of the neighborhood cats. Everyone will have heard about this alleged Great Darkness by nightfall, and the walls will thrum with their panic.
Us mummified pets don’t like leaving our households behind for too long. We prefer to communicate with each other through the mice. However, I’ll make an exception for Misty, my closest confidante.
I crawl inside her shrine in the walls of the neighboring manor. She lounges on a pile of her favorite toys and pillows, now moldy and damp. Her leathery tail rubs against mine in greeting. When Misty was alive, her charcoal fur was always brushed to a velvety sheen, and a bell hung from a pink ribbon around her neck. Now we’re only bones clad in thin yellow-gray skin.
“What was that about a Great Darkness?” I ask.
Misty lifts her head from her satin pillow. “I heard there was a séance happening in the Edwardson manor last night. Peeking through the cracks in the woodwork seemed like harmless fun.”
“A séance?” I scoff. “Please.”
Misty should know better than most that there’s no escaping death.
“It wasn’t a mere séance. You know how the Edwardsons’ dog died last year in that carriage accident? The Lady of the house was mad with grief. Headed to Bedlam for sure, we thought.”
If my eyes hadn’t melted away, they would widen in realization. “She tried to resurrect Spots?”
“She did. But this thing… It’s definitely not Spots. I think Lady Edwardson invited back something else. Something bad.” A shudder runs down Misty’s vertebrae. “There was something in the wall with me, a presence. I swear I’ve never felt this cold before, not in life and not in death.”
Misty is a glutton for histrionics, who once got spooked by a mourning dove. However, I keep this detail to myself.
I slink back until I reach Anna’s music room. Despite my disbelief, I feel unsettled; off-balance. Anna’s playing was always enough to lull me into a soft purr. If I position my empty eye socket over a tear in the floral wallpaper, I can see her at the piano bench, her whole body alive with her music.
The footfalls are almost soundless at first, indiscernible over the flowing music. Darkness clouds my vision, thicker than fog, more chilling than the recollection of my death. The pitch-black shadow twists and eddies until it resembles a giant dog. And the voice, like the smoothest, deepest musical note. “I’m coming for all of you tonight, and I’m taking everything you hold dear.”
My bones rattle like distorted wind chimes. My dried hide barely holds my body from flying apart. Before I can lunge forward and shield Anna, the shadow dissolves.
Night falls, and the clock’s hands shudder forward. Anna is sound asleep in the nursery upstairs. I think of her precious fingers stroking my fur or sneaking me buttery treats during afternoon tea.
I crawl out of my wall cavity and stand in the middle of the music room. The grand piano is a hulking silhouette in the dark. If my heart hadn’t shriveled up, it would be beating like a metronome in my concave chest.
My family put my dried body in the walls to ward off evil. Yet I don’t know if I can fight the demon and drag it back into whatever Hell it came from. Will I disappear for good if I fail? Once, I used to believe in our nine lives. Humans, too, all seem to trust in the existence of Heaven to keep the fear of the void at bay. But even an afterlife trapped inside walls is better than nothing: no more music, no girls like my Anna, no companions like Misty.
“There’s still time to hide,” Misty’s messenger tells me as he and the rest of the house mice scamper away.
Pushing my shoulders back, I gnash my teeth. The cuckoo clock chimes twelve.
The frigid shadow swirls and darkens.
Avra Margariti is a queer Social Work undergrad from Greece. She enjoys storytelling in all its forms and writes about diverse identities and experiences. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Flash Fiction Online, The Forge Literary, The Arcanist, and other venues. You can find her on twitter @avramargariti.