October’s Showcases are introduced by Pen to Print and Write On! regular Michelle Sutton.
As October nears its end, so does my time as Write On! Extra’s Showcase editor. My last Showcase falls on a very special day, besides it being the day before my birthday: ‘Black Cat Day’.
Beliefs and superstitions involving black cats can be either good or bad, depending on culture. The majority of Europeans believe black cats are bad omens and associated with witchcraft. In Celtic folklore, however, they are considered good omens. For example, a black cat’s arrival at a new home in Scottish lore is a sign of prosperity. To some people, a black cat crossing their path is good luck, to others bad and sometimes it depends whether they cross left-to-right, right-to-left or they’re walking towards or away from you.
Cats Protection designated 27 October ‘Black Cat Day’ in order to celebrate the virtues of black cats and encourage people to adopt them. Black cats seem to be more difficult to home and in 2014, the RSPCA reported that seventy per cent of the abandoned cats in its care were black.
With Halloween just around the corner, I thought it would be nice to highlight this particular day and encourage readers to share pictures of their cats with us – especially if they are black!
So, we kick off this Showcase with a beautiful black cat art piece by Patricia Bidi and a short story by myself.
(c) Patricia Bidi, 2021
I nearly caught a butterfly yesterday. It eluded me, though, and flitted away without a care in the world. I tried to chase it but I can’t fly, or jump that high. It’s getting too cold to be out this late but I was in the way indoors, again, so was sent outside to play… I suppose. That was ages ago, I tried calling but nobody heard me – they must be busy or have the TV too loud. I tapped on the window, I know someone looked, because the curtain twitched but the door remained closed.
I tried to ask a woman walking by to knock for me, but she only scowled and flapped her bag at me. A man came next, all long-limbed and speedy, but he shouted nasty words at me and I jumped out of the way. The light was fading and I could hear yaps and growls that made me shiver. I hid under the bush again, like last night and the night before, and the night before that. It’s colder tonight, though.
The butterfly was back the next morning. I tried to catch it again, but still no luck. The door was open, so I darted inside and greeted everyone happily. But they weren’t happy to see me: they shooed me back outside, shouting and waving arms at me. I’m confused. Why don’t they like me any more? What did I do wrong? They used to love me when I was little.
Back outside, a group of children screamed at me. One tried to kick me and another hissed that I was bad luck. I ran away and hid under a bush that wasn’t my bush, and cried myself to sleep.
Someone found me. I cowered away from them but they spoke softly and held the back of their hand out, waiting, until I touched my nose to it. They picked me up and stroked me. They told me I was safe now.
© Michelle Sutton, 2021
I don’t know about you, but I started watching scary films the first week of October to get me in the mood for Halloween, so I had to include some spooky stories, of course!
Here, we have a short 50-word ghost story from Eithne Cullen.
No chains rattling, no visual manifestations: her presence in absence.
A month after my loss, she called.
The pink clock glared 20 past eight. My mother in bed: “I wasn’t dead, Edie. It was the clock. I was supposed to get up at four but look at the time now.”
© Eithne Cullen, 2021
You can connect with Eithne on Twitter: @eithne_cullen
The next story is by Deputy Editor Claire Buss.
She broods. Sat by the window, staring out at the bleak landscape before her, not watching the birds that fly in dazzling patterns. She doesn’t see the stars that fill the evening sky, or the full moon with its blood ring. A portent of dangerous things to come. She sees nothing.
A cold breeze makes the curtains ripple but still the girl sits, goosebumps peppering her exposed skin. Her mind is consumed with memories, rose-tinted and golden in recollection. The way his smile followed her across the room and the heat of his gaze, unbroken, unwavering. The way they would sit for hours, idling the time away, talking of everything and nothing. Just being with each other.
When he moved, she moved. Like a symbiotic dance to music only they could hear. He was her oxygen, the reason her heart beat. Without him, there was no meaning to anything.
The night darkens outside her window, yet still she sits. A small candle on the sill gutters in the wind, fighting to stay alive, but the wind doesn’t care and snuffs it out.
Night draws on. Laughter dances through the air as, in the distance, friends and lovers leave the pub, glad to be in company, bathed in each other’s vitality. Still she sits, claw-like fingers curled around a crumpled piece of paper with a note written yet barely legible, its message diluted with tears and disbelief.
I am leaving. I won’t be back. Don’t look for me.
Not even a name or a hint of feeling for the girl left behind. Just a scrap of paper, easily mislaid, almost missed entirely. Their entire relationship dissolved as if it had never existed.
First had come the disbelief, then the tears, then the rage and now, now there is nothing. A yawning chasm of emptiness that tears her asunder, letting the pieces fall into the abyss.
The cold invades her bones, setting them in ice. Her blood crawls sluggishly, faint breaths of air escape her blue lips, but still she doesn’t move. Instead, muscles stiffen and lock into place. Time passes.
The children don’t like walking past the house at the end of the street late at night. Some claim to have seen a figure sat in the window. A woman cast aside with eyes that burn through your soul. Some say she walks with the wind, screaming her pain and cursing lovers.
A new family moves into the house. Then another. And another. Relationships shatter and always, always the man leaves a broken shell of a woman behind. The house is cursed, they say. More time passes. Generations forget the house at the end of the street as apartment complexes get built on the scraps of greenery left. The building becomes quaint, a leftover from a nostalgia-filled generation. There is talk of a museum.
Staff bustle, spiders are dislodged and tours are given. Yet the room at the top of the house is always cold and the chair by the window refuses to move. The museum becomes listed as haunted and teams of ghost hunters investigate, squealing loudly as the temperature drops and the curtains rustle in the darkness. Lovers dare each other to spend the night. It never ends well.
Finally, on a cold winter’s afternoon, he returns. He is bent double with age and struggles to climb the stairs to the room, but he has heard the stories and wants to make peace with his ghosts.
He wheezes and shuffles to the chair by the window, gradually sitting, and begins to stare out at the view. It has changed. But the cold breeze still blows and he is consumed with gut-wrenching guilt for what he did. He sits, staring at nothing, arthritic fingers curled into claws, laying useless in his lap. He has no defences left. The cold invades his bones, setting them in ice. His blood crawls sluggishly, faint breaths of air escape his blue lips, but still he doesn’t move. Instead, muscles stiffen and lock into place.
The museum is closing. No one thinks to check the room at the top of the stairs. After all, no one ever stays in there.
© Claire Buss, 2021
You can connect with Claire on Twitter: @Grasshopper407
I chose to include this one because it reminded me of a ghost story attached to Eastbury Manor House, which is only around the corner from where I live. In fact, I can see the old Tudor mansion from my bedroom window. Some people might know of this story, or may have ‘seen’ the ghostly woman that’s believed to stand at one of Eastbury’s upper windows at night, staring and waiting for someone – possibly her lover gone to war – to return. I believe it’s said she hung herself from the chimney and that she can only be seen by women and children (unless that’s a different ghost?). When I was in primary school, a group of my classmates supposedly ‘saw’ her fall down the fireplace before disappearing. I was in a different room of the house at the time. Whether this was true or not, it has stayed with me all these years and has continued to fuel my creative mind. One day, it might even make it into a story.
Finally, I end as I started, with a short piece of my own. I hope you enjoy it!
A soft rustle came first. Then the clack of something sharp against stone. Short bursts, some kind of rhythm – almost a hop and a scuttle more than a walk. A metallic, coppery tang filled the air, then a sweet scent that stuck in the back of his throat, like the dead beetles he worked with in the lab.
Something soft, yet also scratchy, brushed against his neck and he jerked backwards, arms wheeling to keep his balance. A raspy chattering echoed against the walls and it took him a moment to realise… It was laughing at him.
A harsh croak was the reply, followed by more chattering. He squinted into the shadows: the single alley light above him glinted off something pointy and sharp. More short bursts of clacks echoed as something emerged from the gloom.
It loomed above, long-limbed, with razor-like claws instead of fingers and toes. A ruff of black feathers hung around its neck. Ruby-red eyes sparkled with malice and a long, sharp beak snapped at a large moth as it fluttered by.
He had a deep sense of dread and déjà-vu. The memory of a nightmare he’d had as a child after he had watched a group of mates shoot BB-guns at some crows. He could still hear the cracks and the cries of the birds that had been hit; see the spatter of their blood on the ground. A shudder went through his lean frame.
“It wasn’t me! I didn’t do anything!”
It spoke in pauses, as if it were testing the word, inhaling and exhaling at the wrong times. As though its mouth and tongue weren’t built for speaking but it had adapted, learnt, from observing. Its beak clacked on the “T”.
“Wh-what do you want?”
“*You. The… hrr… las-t…” the glow of its eyes intensified… “thhrr… wa-tch-err…”
The last thing he heard, as the alley light snuffed out, was its chattering laughter.
© 2021, Michelle Sutton
I hope you’ve enjoyed the October showcases and you can connect with me on Instagram: @msuttonartwork and Twitter: @MSuttonArt or @LM_Towton
If you’d like to see your writing appear in the Write On! Showcase, please send your short stories, poetry or novel extracts, to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can read more fiction, poetry, interviews and author advice in the latest issue of Write On! Issue 10 of Write On! is available now. You can see it here.