Chapter Twelve: Mira.
Niamh was dreaming. Lying on her side, facing the wall, she whimpered as the death of the priest haunted her again. In her dreams, he suffered a variety of deaths, each more hideous than the last. She tried to call out, to bring an end to the phantasm but could not.
The door of her bedroom brushed open and Mira slipped inside. She stood near the bed watching Niamh's travails for a few moments then jumped up onto the covers. She wormed her way into the narrow gap between Niamh and the wall and rubbed her whiskers against Niamh's face. Niamh wrinkled her nose and rolled onto her back. Her eyes fluttered for a moment but she stayed asleep. Mira climbed onto Niamh's chest and padded forward until her nose was level with Niamh’s chin. There she lay down like a sphinx, and stretched her paws out until they were on either side of Niamh’s jaw-line. The cat then pressed her nose into Niamh’s throat and closed her eyes. She started a strange rhythmic purring, almost like a mantra, flexing her front paws very slightly to the cadence of the chant. To anyone looking on, it would have seemed as if the cat was meditating.
It had an immediate and profound effect on Niamh: The muscles in her jaw relaxed and her breathing slowed. The monstrous visions strobing through her head slowed until she was left with a single image; the priest just before he died. He opened his mouth to speak.
In that instant Niamh gasped and sat bolt upright, knocking the cat to the floor. The priest’s words were ringing in her head as clearly as the night she’d heard them. She flicked on the lamp beside her bed and grabbed the poetry notepad she kept on her bedside locker. Freeing the pencil from the loops of the notepad, she started writing.
After several minutes of frantic scribbling, she put down the pencil and read back over the page. Her brow furrowed. She’d remembered what the priest had said but it still made no sense. She read it again, wondering at the strange mix of English, Irish and German. She’d only been studying German for a year, and didn’t even know some of the words she’d written. How was that even possible?
A sudden yawn coursed through her, catching her by surprise, and she realized how little rest she’d gotten from her disturbed sleep. She put the notepad back on her locker and flicked out the light.
I’ll show it to Mark tomorrow and see if he can make head or tail of it.
She yawned again, rolled over on her side and soon fell asleep. This time her sleep was deep and undisturbed. A slight smile flickered at the edge of her lips as she slept.
From beneath the bed, Mira listened as Niamh’s breathing slowed. Once it settled into a steady rhythm, she jumped back onto the bed near Niamh’s face. She watched Niamh sleep for a moment then closed her eyes and rubbed her nose on the girl’s temple.
She didn’t lie down; she didn’t purr. She couldn’t. She was too upset by what she had to do.
Since the night she and Niamh had seen the lights around the Old Lighthouse, Mira’s life had changed. Her life as a domestic cat was over. The activity at the lighthouse signaled the beginning of a terrible chain of events; a day that Mira and generations of felkynd before her had hoped would never come.
But come it had.
Mira jumped down from the bed and padded towards the window. Lights were on in the Old Lighthouse and Mira stared at them for a few moments. Hating the thoughts of leaving, and fearing the hardships ahead, she looked over her shoulder at the sleeping girl. A human-like look of sadness flickered in her eyes.
I’m so sorry, thought the cat. You have been good to me and you deserve better than to be abandoned in the middle of the night. But I have to do this; there’s too much at stake.
Mira slipped back out through the door and down the stairs. She padded down the hall, through the kitchen and into the utility room where one of the window locks was loose. After a few moments of worrying the lock with her paw and teeth the window was open and Mira was out. She padded around to the front of the house and down the driveway to the road. She looked up at Niamh’s bedroom window.
This is going to be hard but one day you will understand. I’ll miss you, Niamh Goldenhair.
With a last look over her shoulder, the little cat headed down the moonlit road and disappeared around the bend.
Mr. McElhinney was too old for this nonsense. He’d had a tiring day with visiting grandchildren and he just wanted his bed but his cats weren’t cooperating. He had called them several times to no avail. Even the old trick of banging their food dishes together had failed to effect an appearance and he was starting to worry.
He stepped down from the porch and down the front lawn towards the road, his slippers scuffing in the short grass.
“Hugo? Jessie?” he called as he looked around the garden. He was about to head back to the front door when he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. Something was moving along the hedge bordering the field next to his property.
“Puss? Pssh pssh pssh! Is that you, puss?”
He saw the movement again and the creature at the foot of the hedge turned its head towards him. Two pure white marbles of light reflected the porch light and the animal’s fur glinted in the moonlight. It was a cat.
“Well, hello Puss! You’re a pretty one but you’re not one of mine. Have you seen my Hugo or Jessie anywhere?”
The cat turned away and burrowed through the hedge into the adjacent field. Mr. McElhinney walked over to where he’d seen the animal disappear and looked over the hedge.
His jaw dropped.
In the field were numerous cats arranged in three overlapping circles.
His own cats turned towards him and held his gaze for a moment then turned away. On some cue imperceptible to Mr. McElhinney's senses, the cats began to walk in perfect unison along the path of the interlinking circles, moving from one circle to the next in a complex interweaving pattern, rubbing noses as they met at the intersections. A rhythmic resonance filled the air as the cats began purring.
The air around the cats started to shimmer.
Mr. McElhinney gasped and took a step back. His own breathing rasped in his ears but the low susurrate cadence of the cats’ purring was growing in intensity and burrowing into his head. The shimmering around the cats intensified and they started to snap in and out of focus. Mr. McElhinney gripped his head in both hands. This isn’t happening. I’m having hallucinations; a stroke, or a heart attack …
The purring continued to increase in volume and frequency until his eyeballs started to itch in their sockets. Just when he thought his head would explode, the shimmering knotted bubble that enveloped the interlinked circles folded in on itself taking the cats with it.
The sudden silence hit Mr. McElhinney like a hammer blow and he collapsed unconscious on the lawn.