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April 22, 2024

Tales No Taller Than Ourselves

By Sand Pilarski

In 1978, I was living in half of a duplex in Lewistown, Pennsylvania, with my husband, a daughter of two years, and an exceptionally mean cat named Percy Vader. The house on Valley Street was a clapboard three-bedroom on each side, and a bargain-basement rent, and I was well pleased to live there until the night something walked through the house.

I had been watching Johnny Carson, enjoying the quiet of the house while Baby was asleep and husband was at work, him having drawn the night shift for a while. The house was three rooms downstairs, in the style of the early 30's -- a living room, separated by a wide arch from the dining room, and then, past a stairwell to the upstairs, a kitchen.

Percy, a large black hateful feline of 20 pounds, and three feet from nose to tail, came slinking suddenly into the front living room, glancing back over his shoulder worriedly. He spun around and crouched on the floor between me and the TV, his tail tucked and somewhat fluffed, his ears dropped to the sides of his head, not in anger, but in fear.

A cat will flatten its ears against its head when angry, but when the ears drop to a kitten position on the sides of its head, something is terribly wrong. I got up and looked at my nasty yet beloved cat, and in addition to his dropped ears, the prominent expression in his eyes was abject terror. The dark pupils of his yellow eyes were so dilated that you could not have told the color of the irises.

Percy Vader

I bent down beside him, putting my face beside him to see what he was seeing. I saw a skifting of cigarette smoke floating through the downstairs -- not unusual, in those days I smoked like a stack. I looked back at the cat, still frozen in the terrified position, unresponsive to my presence. "Vader," I said, putting my hand on his back and rocking him a little to break his concentration, "you're scaring me." Perce didn't acknowledge my touch, and then I began to be alarmed. Was he having a seizure? I put both hands on his body and rocked him back and forth, but he returned to his same bunched crouch, eyes focused on -- the stairwell?

As I crouched there, staring at his handsome face, now drawn by fear, I watched the focus of his eyes change. He was watching something -- something! -- cross the dining room from the stairwell towards us. I looked, saw nothing, and bolted for the couch where I sat, legs curled up tight against my chest, and began to pray. I gabbled Hail Mary, full of grace, please show whatever it is where it is supposed to go, the Lord is with thee, take it away, pray for us at the hour of our death...

And the focus of Percy's eyes changed again, and his ears came up a notch. I swear he watched the 'something' go back across the dining room towards the stairwell, and then watched it turn right as it left the house by the side door. As it went, he craned his neck to watch it go, and then shook his fur-on-end into place, gave his shoulder a few licks, and then, relaxed, came to sit on the couch beside me, casting only an occasional look toward the dining room.

I could dismiss it as a cat's brief mental lapse, except that Percy Vader never did that again in his life. Nor did he before or after tolerate being grabbed and rocked back and forth without following up with a very big biting. And how could a cat know that there had been a door to the outside on the side of the house, when it had been panelled over on the inside, and sealed with aluminum siding on the outside?

When my landlady, who lived in the other half of the duplex, confided in me that she was concerned about her elderly husband, I began to pray fervently that we could find another place to live. For her husband was hearing strange movements in their house, and had taken to keeping a loaded pistol beside the bed. I knew what he had been hearing, and I was less afraid of the pistol than of what was walking about the house late at night.

This is not fiction, my friends, and nice as the landlady was, after we moved from there in a blessed two months more, I never went back to say "Hi" or visit, not even once.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2002-05-20
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