Mrs. Kramer comes down the stairs in robe and slippers, settles into the easy chair, nods slightly to her husband. That’s my cue. Off the back of the easy chair, up the stairs, and through the slightly ajar door into little Janet’s room. One leap onto Barney the German Shepherd, who is dozing and barely grunts. One more short leap from Barney unto the bed, and pad over to Janet, who is asleep. Curl up tightly right on top of Janet with head raised and eyes wide open. The night watch is on duty.
My name is Inky, from the color of my fur. The Kramers brought me home three weeks ago mostly because Janet wanted a kitty, but also because they are gentle people willing to give a shelter animal a place in their hearts. They think I sleep with Janet every night because of affection. But the main reason is not that I am fond of her, although I am. I guard her.
You probably already know this much: In the beginning, the Creator made paradise and invited Man to live there with Him. But Man was sure he could do better by himself and went off to do so.
But by himself Man was almost helpless against the beasts of wood and field. He was weaker, slower, naked, dull of senses. And against the things of the night, Man had no defense at all.
But although Man had abandoned the Creator, the reverse was not true. So to protect man from the beasts of wood and field, the Creator sent Dog—himself a creature of beast and field but with infinite loyalty to the Creator’s work. To protect Man from the things of the night, Man was given Cat. More intelligent than dog--far more, actually. Not quite a thing of the night, but comfortable there. In particular, possessing an independent will capable of resisting any seduction of evil.
That’s what it boils down to. I’m a cat. I keep little Janet safe from the night things. I take care of the older Kramers too, but children are more vulnerable, which is why I stay with her. Most of the time it’s boring. All there is to do is to listen to Barney snore. Occasionally a car passes, or you hear people go by, or something like that. I shift positions. But I don’t leave the bed all night long. I Watch.
For exactly things like this! A wraith! You couldn’t see it, but you don’t have cat senses. There it is--a slight fuzziness just outside the window, almost part of the mix of half light and shadow on every residential street at night.
It’s only a small one--not dangerous in the sense of permanent harm. But if it touches her, she will have nightmares tonight. That’s what I’m here to stop.
Easy. All it takes is a hissing challenge. Wraiths aren’t intelligent in any meaningful sense, but they will instinctually avoid a cat--at least a small one will. The thing hovers in the air for a moment as if deciding. Before I actually have to do anything, it zips away, passing right through the trunk of the tree in front of the house. Janet will sleep safe tonight.
Once again, the only thing to do is to listen to Barney, the canine chain saw. I speculate: does he fall under my protection? At least compared to cats, dogs are about as dumb as it is possible to be, and they have the most disgusting personal habits imaginable. But, they are very good at what they do--physical protection. I know Barney isn’t too thrilled with a new animal in the house, but cooperation may be in both our interests. Thinking about it is something to do.
In the hour before dawn, something comes.
The wind picks up. I can make out flashes in the sky that suggest lightning, but I can’t hear thunder. The leaves in the tree outside the window start to rustle and swish. The noise evolves into more of a click hiss, which almost sounds intelligible. Picture a snake talking in a language you don’t speak. But, this sound also has a grating element. On the tree leaves move in and out of shadow to make increasingly complicated patterns. Again, one has the feeling there is almost something you could make out. A face? But it either won’t quite come together or it has come together but the mind rejects the pattern.
I know what is happening, but humans don’t even have words. The closest you come is “Clinical Depression”. All that proves is you have no knowledge about the things of the night. The cat term doesn’t translate fully, but is better than yours: “Soul Killer”. If it gets into Janet, first the Kramers will wonder what happened to their happy little girl. Then they will talk of antidepressant medications and therapy. But sooner or later--there is no doubt--people will wonder why the young woman took her own life. And on the night that happens, Soul Killer will grow.
Few cats ever encounter such a challenge. It would be stupid to face it alone out of pride. “Barney, wake up,” I hiss and then yowl. Nothing. Not his fault, he is under a spell. To be honest, I’m not sure what Barney could do anyhow.
I ‘m not too sure what I can do. Soul Killer surges into the room. Like the wraith, you can’t really see it, but you know something is there--like looking through clear water. Technically, it can’t go through solid objects—it has to find a crack. But Soul Killer can always find a crack. Like some noxious gas it billows in between window and sill. Heat must go out the same path in winter.
I take a swing, a little tentative. Cat talons tear it, at least a little. I can hurt it! Soul Killer draws back, slightly. But my front leg is aching as if I had held it in ice water. I know I have gotten the worse of the exchange.
Soul Killer comes again, more determinedly. I go at it with everything. We retreat from each other again. I have hurt it a little worse this time. But I am in much worse shape as well. I feel I have been submerged under ice and broken through to air at the very last possible moment. I am shivering, gasping, weak. Soul Killer doesn’t really need to defeat me, just get past me, wait until Janet breathes, and be drawn in. I can’t stop that much longer.
Without thinking, I retreat to the night table. Backing up, I brush Janet’s lamp--the one Mrs. Kramer always yells at me to stay away from. She’s afraid I’ll break it. The lamp!
Humans are weak and the things of the night are strong. But the weak always have strengths, and the strong always have weaknesses. The human ability to manipulate electricity is one of your strengths. Soul Killer is said to be vulnerable to electricity. I don’t know much about it, but I know what to try now.
Soul Killer advances. Over goes Janet’s lamp.
My weakened condition doesn’t help--but the aim is good enough. The lamp falls right through Soul Killer, onto the window sill. The shade lands first, crumbles, bounces back just a little. As it does, the base hits comes down and shatters. The shade descends again, and collapses in toward the bulb. I hear the bulb smash. The process has taken a few seconds.
Now comes where I’m gambling. I once overheard electricity works when a switch uses a piece of metal to close a circuit. I’m hoping the nature of Soul Killer itself will close a circuit. I’m also betting that will be damaging.
I win the first gamble. There is snapping and flickering under the collapsed shade; a burning smell. But nothing else. Soul Killer pauses its flow toward Janet as if curious, but seems unharmed. Fear and incredible disappointment well up. I hadn’t been sure the electricity would come, but had been hopeful if it did, something would happen. Is there not enough? What if...? Cats never get hysterical--but now I understand why humans do.
But even the deadliest poison needs time to work. After a heartbeat, Soul Killer screams. A human could not hear it. But have you heard a steam kettle beginning to whistle? Picture that cutting off with a dead stop. That’s how Soul Killer’s agony sounds to me.
The room fills with light--it’s like looking directly at a lightning bolt or a camera flash. For a few seconds there is nothing but the pure hard blue of clear sky over snow. My eyes feel like they were slapped. But before long I can see outlines again.
Soul Killer is gone. My magical sense convinces me, not my physical ones. It’s not dead or destroyed, of course. Death is a human myth. Like everything else given existence, Soul Killer was supposed to foster the cause of creation. Now it will face the Creator and—in a manner of speaking---explain how it has.
The rest I leave to your imagination.
By the time I can really see, Janet is crying, Barney barking, and Mr. and Mrs. Kramer are in the room trying to figure out what happened. Janet spends the rest of the night with her parents, Barney and I spend it in the kitchen. That morning, there is a family meeting.
There is a little talk about sending me back to the shelter, but only a little. There is a lot of talk about animals not sleeping with children. But Janet cries and insists Barney and I make her feel safe. It helps that the Kramers don’t know who is responsible for the broken lamp. They are reluctant to punish both dog and cat for the offense of one. In the end, Barney and I are permitted in the bedroom ‘for now’.
That night when Mrs. Kramer comes down, I go up and slip through Janet’s door.
The giant pink object is on me with no warning, envelops me, threatens to suffocate. No! Sticky fluid covers my fur, seeps toward the skin.
Barney has licked me.
I hiss and bat. but it’s only gesture. He is paying me the greatest honor a dog can--welcoming me to the family. Could he know anything? Is he smarter than I thought?
I don’t know. He just lays down. I could use him for a step, like always, but tonight hop directly onto the bed, and assume my watching stance. It will take half the night to get off Barney’s gift. Sometimes I wish I had something besides my tongue to use for cleaning. But, things like that happen when you’re part of a family.
In a little while, I start to purr.
Curled up tightly right on top of Janet with head raised and eyes wide open.
The night watch is on duty.