The Eyes of Kretes
October 1, 2013
I slip through glass doors into the library, with nothing but a backpack of books and a bottle of vodka. Living like this, the way I’m living now, it’s good to be at the Stratford Library. The comfort of solitude can be found in these quiet isles and corridors. Nobody speaks much, but we all share that unified understanding of the importance of silence; it feels like being part of a secret society.
Part of something, anyway.
I find my usual spot on the second story. It’s near the back of the building, in an alcove with a tall window, occupied by two leather chairs and a low table. From here, the city seems more distant, somewhat robotic. And yet I feel like I’m sitting on a runaway train, going faster, faster, and faster, and I haven’t got the slightest idea of what the hell is going on.
I unzip my pack and take out my copy of Stoker’s Dracula. It’s a hard read, it really is. But it’s great. If I get anxious, I can always drink and stare out the window, people-watch. The view’s good for it. I can see all the way down Queen Street, parts of Confederation Park, and right into the front yard of the Orthodox Church next door.
Sunlight comes through the window with much needed warmth, chasing away my morning chills. There’s supposed to be clear weather today with lots of sunshine. At this time of year, in this town, there is so much beauty bursting out of everything, and you feel guilty if you’re not out there enjoying it. But for the past few years, nobody’s been going outside much. Not even during the day. Especially not at night. It’s all wrong.
Nothing I can do. Right now the most important thing for me is to forget. I’m thinking about how there’s hardly anyone to watch and then I think about the last time I had basic interaction with another person, a hello or a handshake or a hug, and my heart sinks.
I do a decent slug of the vodka, and relief washes over me like warm water.
My spot would be perfect except that she lives just down the street. I can see her entire house from here, though just barely. Some days I can make out her distant shape as she’s getting out of her car and into the house. Sometimes she’s with someone.
I think back to when we were together, and how I found out what she’d been up to. That’s when I really started drinking heavy. I thought it would help me bear it. It only drove everyone further away. That’s both the pleasant and tragic thing about relationships, I think; after enough time, they can pull a complete one-eighty.
I shake my head and go back to reading. I’ve got a good buzz going and I don’t want to ruin it.
Horror is good to get the adrenaline pumping. I read a lot of it nowadays. The popular stuff, the classic stuff, doesn’t matter. I’ve read everything by Harris, King, Rice, and it’s all good to me. My favorite writer though, the best, is James Hammet; his writing is so real, so on-point, you think the guy was actually there.
It helps pass time anyway, and I have too much of that. The week extends on ahead of me, one-hundred-sixty-eight hollow hours to endure.
I get home and immediately my mother knows I’m drunk. I think I’m hiding it pretty good, but she says she can see it in my eyes.
I think she suspects I’m not going to school anymore. I come home late, and I’ve been spending what’s left of my loan on booze. I can see sheer disappointment in her face whenever she looks at me.
She’s letting me go on with the charade. Maybe she still somehow trusts me. Or maybe she simply doesn’t want to confront me.
I’m hurting her by what I’m doing, but I can’t stop. It makes me despise what I’ve become.
October 2, 2013
Today I see something strange.
I’m sitting at my spot in the library, book’s open, vodka’s flowing, when I see something crawling at the edge of my vision. I look to see what it is: a whitish cat, out in the churchyard.
It looks impatient. It’s going back and forth across the yard. It looks just like it’s pacing, waiting for some appointment.
A cat with a date—how cute. I grin and I wonder where its ‘girlfriend’ is.
I feel loneliness coming again. I need to sleep.
I wake up to the sound of a distant scream.
I sit up and look out the window: that cat again, still there in the yard. It’s looking at the entryway to the church cloister. It creeps along in super-slow-motion.
It’s a bit closer than before. I peer over the window ledge to get a better look at it. It’s silvery white, save for a thin grey stripe along its back, which goes from the tip of its tail all the way up to its head, splitting into a kind of Siamese pattern around the face, only it’s darker around the eyes, black, and gives the impression of thick eyeliner. Its eyes are maroon.
It hangs around the cloister gate, moving slow, slow, slow. But its interest is fixed on cloister. It never swats at falling leaves. It never faces any other direction.
Quite a critter.
Another shot of vodka. A deep breath. The next page.
It’s darker out now, and I hear something that fills my veins with something stronger than the alcohol: pure dread.
Again:screaming, but louder now. A woman’s. I’m absolutely sure.
My head snaps to the window. I sit up and focus.
Sure enough, there’s the cat, sitting just in front of the cloister entrance. I can’t see much else—sky’s just hanging on to deep navy-blue—but its attention seems locked onto something; something beyond the gate.
Then more screaming. I hear it. It’s definitely not right; it’s too exasperated, ragged, drawn out. The pitch starts high and then drops gradually into ... moaning?
The cat’s back arches and its ears fold back.
I’m literally hands and face against the window now. The cat’s head bobs left, then up, its vision still fixed. No matter what angle I try, I can’t get a better view to see what it sees.
The screaming stops abruptly.
The cat assumes a low posture, slinks passed the gate, and then disappears into darkness.
I pack up my stuff and exit the library. I’m going to the church.
The sky is dead-black now and I’ve only got the dim city lights to guide me as I walk over to the churchyard. I jog across the yard and along a concrete walkway, until I reach the cloister entryway.
The cat’s silhouette is right in front of me, on the other side of the wrought iron gate. It’s sitting upright and ears perked at attention, as if guarding it. I can hear some kind of scraping coming from somewhere behind it.
... scrip! ... squish! ... scrip! ...
Normally, I might investigate. But everything about this feels so unnatural and strange that I’m overcome by this feeling of I should not be here. I have the impression that if I do stay, something bad will happen. Actually, I knowsomething bad will happen. Here’s why:
The cat’s eyes are glowing red. They are like two ruby coins with a halogen light behind them. They pierce into my vision like laser-sight.
I’m blinded. I shut my eyes and stumble backward, falling to the ground. I quickly roll over, pick myself up, and start running.
I don’t look back once.
October 3, 2013
I don’t learn. I wake up with a headache and the crushing feeling that I’ve done something very stupid. A vodka bottle lies empty on my bed.
What was it? What did I do this time?
I struggle to think of what happened last night: I heard those awful screams, saw that cat and went over to the church. There is was, looking demonic. After that, I got scared and started running, and then ... and then ... and then what?
My memory of it is a complete vacuum; every time I get a hold of a thread it gets sucked away.
Then I see my laptop.
The screen is still on and I can see that I sent about twenty messages—‘I miss you’ and ‘I still love you’—all to Jessica Lafore.
I sit up on the edge of the bed muttering the word ‘no’ over and over and I place the laptop on my lap. I scroll through the pitiful messages and each one punches a small hole into my chest.
It occurs to me: what if I went to her house? Oh God, what if after I saw that cat, I started drinking, went down the street to her place, and told her a liquor-fueled story of what I saw?
I literally cringe at the thought.
I’m scared too, because Jess could go to the cops and get restraining order. Since she lives on the same street, I might not even be able to visit the library anymore. And never mind jobs, criminal-background checks, applying for credits ...
I bunch my hair into my fists. I’m a wreck of worry. But I have no reliable memories to go on. What did I do afterseeing that cat? What ... ?
I try to reconstruct the night and the pieces just crumble every time.
I’m still on the computer, just sitting there thinking of ways to undo the mess I created. Jess hasn’t responded.
It’s not long before I catch wind of it. It’s all over social media, news, every webpage I visit. If I was worried before, now I’m downright terrified:
A woman was killed last night. At the Saint Joseph’s Orthodox Church. The one I visited. They found her dead in the cloister.
They haven’t released a name yet, but an investigation has started.
It’s not the first time. No doubt the work of that psychopath who’s put a quiet shadow over our town for the past few years. Kill-count’s estimated to be twenty now, seemingly random selection of victims. They’ve named him ‘The Phantom’; reason being there’s never any useful trace left behind. They figured out that he’s male, but other than that, no closer to catching him.
The latest victim was beaten to death. And—like five other bodies recovered previously—her eyes and brains were missing.
Did I see anything while I was there, any clue? All I saw was the cat. A cat can’t give a testimony, but it saw something. Absolutely it did. Did it see the killer’s face? And where did I go that night? And who was the victim?
I flop onto my bed in defeat. It’s here that I get a thought that makes my blood ice-cold.
I pray the victim wasn’t Jess.
October 4, 2013
It’s raining and everything’s miserable. The church is surrounded by police tape and barriers, with two small crowds of people standing around in raincoats and under umbrellas, watching, murmuring, crying, and some being questioned by officers.
I approach, trying to hide my stagger as best I can. I want to help. I can help. I can be useful.
But I’m already drunk and it’s barely passed lunch. And what would I tell them? ‘A cat saw! It knows everything!’
Forget it after all. I turn to go home when over some onlooker’s head I see it, in an ironwood, perched on the lowest branch: the silver cat with red eyes. Its large irises are gleaming sanguine in the sunset, but they’re not as strong as before. It’s looking straight at me.
Curious, confident, and feeling a little secure in the crowd, I meet its gaze.
It doesn’t react. It just licks its lips and keeps staring. If only I could talk to the thing. If only.
I’m swaying a little and my mind is fuzzy. I get the brilliant idea to imagine a telepathic conversation with it, what we would say:
Hello? You, yes cat, what’d you see? Hello? Can you understand me?
Then a voice, like a hand bell:
I saw what happened.
Yes! You saw! Can you tell me?
You mean ... The Phantom.
At that, it leaps off the branch and scurried away into an alley.
I don’t catch up to it. Only my imagination. Or the vodka.
October 8, 2013
I’ve had enough. I’m telling the police.
Jess hasn’t responded or otherwise shown herself since the murder. I’ve been spying on her house, from my little window-spot in the library all week. She’s gone.
So I called them in. I hear them downstairs now, speaking to my mother. She sounds troubled. Probably talking about me.
She calls me to come down, and I do.
There are two of them sitting in the living room. One of them is big, broad-shouldered, in his late forties, and beside him is a much younger one, carrying a notepad.
“Hey, bud,” the older one says. “So—your mom says you want to give us some information.”
“That’s right,” I say, “about the murder last week. Hey, do you guys have a name yet?”
“No. We’re not at liberty to reveal the victim’s name quite yet.”
This only tells me that their investigation hasn’t gone anywhere. I can help. I can be useful.
“Alright,” he says, “whaddid you see?”
“I saw a cat.”
“A cat?” He leans in and squints slightly. I see his big shoulders rise.
He smells vodka. I didn’t shower or prepare for this at all. I know he can smell it. “Yes,” I say, “Whitish silver cat. It was at the church, I got close enough to see it.”
I’m a complete idiot. It’s after I say this that I realize what a stupid thing it was to say. I can’t mention Jess. If it’s her, and I mentioned her, they’d have me: a drunken ex at the scene of the crime.
“So you were there,” he says.
“Well yeah—but I was only there to see what the cat was looking at.”
“And? Did you?”
“No. I saw nothing.”
He leans back and his eyebrow furls. “Did the cat belong to anyone?” he asks. “Anyone else there? Did it have a collar?”
“No. No, nothing.”
The other guy scribbles something on his notebook. They exchange glances. His expression changes from inquisitive to concern. “Look, Christopher—were you drinking that night?”
“Yes. I was.”
“Have you been drinking today?”
He sighs heavily. “Your mother, she says you drink on a daily basis.”
“Well, yeah, pretty much, but not as much on weekends—”
He gets up and thanks me and hands me a white card. After a moment he says gravely: “Expect to hear from us.”
On their way out the door, they both give a nod towards the kitchen.
My mother is there, leaning against the doorway looking like she is just about to cry.
I look at the card he gave me:
THERE IS A WAY OUT
I almost cry too. But I’m more interested now about how I’m going to get that cat.
October 11, 2013
I didn’t drink for two days. I’ve been forgetting to. I’m obsessing over this murder. I have to know what happened. I screwed up with how I handled the cops. But I can still help. I can still be useful.
At the library, I look through any related literature. As far as I can tell, that cat is the only thing right now that actually saw what happened. The cat is the key. I need to understand it.
I find one book that looks promising, Guide to Animal Superstitions, and I make mental notes of some excerpts:
‘... Animals left with a corpse might maul it is some way, or worse ... If a cat or dog jumped on to a body, it was immediately killed ...’
Interesting, but doesn’t tie much together. Another passage:
‘... Cats were valuable, however, as able to forecast approaching death. When a family cat refused to stay indoors, then it was certain that someone would soon die ...’
So, our feline friends are the harbingers of death. Tell that to a cat owner.
An article, unknown author:
‘... A white cat usually indicates some kind of spiritual or emotional awakening, that it’s time to let go of the emotions holding you back ...’
It’s not much to go on. But if this cat is tethered to death—if it cansense death—then whatever presence I saw in it means that there will be danger.
At the very least, I think, I can take comfort in the knowledge that the next time I see it may be my last.
October 13, 2013
I’m dry as a bone. This is the longest I’ve gone without a drink and I’m agitated. But I have to experience whatever will come with my own mind and my own vision; I can’t let anything obscure my account.
I’ve come here day and night, with no signs of the strange cat.
But then, out from the dark: the two red ruby eyes like before, beaming two pink dots onto me, darting up and down my chest like it’s examining it with x-ray.
Fear instantly overwhelms me. I didn’t expect this much fear. Looking at the animal close, it’s got this jagged feral look to it like it could just leap up and kill me. I’m shaking. I wish I had a drink. This is a bad idea. I should run. I want to run.
The red light flickers and a voice enters me. I’m not imagining this. I can hear it in my head, sweet and feminine, like a song, a soothing sound of musical wineglasses:
I attempt to respond, just as I did before:
That is for later. Follow.
It trots along, down Queen. I can only see it when it enters the circular orange light of the streetlights. It doesn’t wait.
I stay a moment, let the fear fade, and then catch up to it.
I feel like I’ve never been here. The cat leads me through the Gardens, across Lake Victoria, and then out of town, through a forest along the Avon River.
Whenever it gets too far ahead it stops, looks over its shoulder at me, pointing those crimson dots, and once I get close again we carry on. Her eyes are literally illuminating the trees around us with a dim scarlet.
After about an hour, we arrive at a long driveway leading to a massive house surrounded by tall trees, gothic style with arched windows and a pointy roof.
This is too far out, isolated, eerie. I feel vulnerable.
But I need to know. I imagine Jess in there at The Phantom’s mercy. I look around and the cat is gone. It’s only me. What I would do for a drink.
I approach the black house, listening for clues of life. There’s nothing. I wonder if anyone’s home at all, and I begin dread what I might find inside: a family of strange cats with red eyes; piles of corpses; something else entirely, not even of this world?
But I need to know.
I push on the front door and it surprisingly opens without making a sound. I look inside.
It looks normal, if antique. It smells of cloves and fresh smoke. There is no one around the entrance area and the only light comes from candles that are set on tall candelabrums.
I step inside.
“Hello,” I say.
The only response is a small sound, a faint tapping; inconsistent, with pauses, but it never stops.
... tip-tap-tap ...
I follow the noise, into the living room, and I just catch the sight of the cat. It quickly glides along, hugging the wall, and goes into the next room.
... ta-tip-tap-tap ... tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap ...
It’s much louder now. I inch forward to the section of the house the cat went, and peak into the room:
I see a man near an open window, smoking a cigarette, hunched of an old typewriter, punching away at the keys.
... tick-tack-tap ... ca-clack! ...
He stops. He doesn’t turn his head. Then he smiles and says, “Hello.”
I don’t say anything.
He puts his cigarette in an ashtray. “Say hello to Kretes,” he says, and tilts his head toward a couch behind him.
The cat—Kretes—is lying on it. It’s just staring into me with the neon-red orbs.
“What is all this?” I say. It’s just what came out.
He gets up, still smiling, and faces me. He’s healthy-looking, mid-thirties, wearing black jeans and a black-shirt. He looks too happy. “What’s what?” he says.
I’ve made a huge mistake. He’s The Phantom. I’ve walked right into his trap, his game, whatever it is he does. I know that I’m going to die.
I want to run. Itry to run. I will my legs to move, but they don’t; I search my mind for the command, the trigger, the impulse that was only a moment earlier so natural, but it’s not there.
“You didn’t say hello to Kretes,” he says. “She’s a very charming pet.”
I can see her, Kretes, staring into me, eyes wide, gleaming that vibrant red. My heart-rate shoots up as I realize that my coming here has possibly been part of some charm, hypnosis, and now there’s nothing I can do.
But I still find I can talk. “What is—going on?” I say.
He chuckles. “Fine, fine. I’m an author, you see.” He waves his hand in a this-and-that kind of motion. “I write stories about people who disappear and never come back. Vivid descriptions. Best sellers.”
My lips are quivering. “You’re ... James Hammet?”
“Yes! Well done. You see, it’s my cat. Kretes. Whoever she lays eyes on belongs to her. They’re totally under her spell. She brings me the victims, I go about the dirty work. Then I write about it. The only thing she asks in return is that she’s allowed to...” He glances at Kretes. “... feed on their organs.”
Kretes licks her lips.
“H-how? How is—how can—”
“Hm. Don’t fret thinking about it. I can’t figure it out either, I’m afraid. All I know is that she eats the eyes and brain and somehow her body can absorb their experiences. Easy as our bodies absorbing vitamins. Then, she tells me in some sort of telepathy what kind of life they lived, down to impossible detail, and it all goes into a new book.”
“Everyone she brought to me was better off dead. Kretes can sense things, emotions, thoughts. Mostly, though, she senses pain. And those who are full of pain she brings to me. You were spotted a mile away.”
“You have some lover, Jessica, I believe. You want to know if she’s okay. You are willing to risk your life for her. You still want her back.”
“And now you’re curious if you were involved. Don’t hide it. Kretes saw.”
“Do you ... know what I did? That night?”
“Of course—precisely nothing. Did you think a degenerate drunk like you—no future, living for the moment—would be capable of something like that? Don’t be ridiculous. That was my work. There’s a murder in this story that takes place at a church. And anyway, I didn’t kill your woman. She’s off somewhere else, moved away. Though she might as well be dead—to you.”
“Dead to me? Why?”
“Kretes looked into her too. Some time ago. Jessica has seen you many times. She’s seen you sulking around town, or in the library window looking sad and lonely and depressed, and she can’t stand it anymore. She’s tired of your drunken e-mails and messages and snooping and clinging. She wants her life, and to get as far away from you as possible. She wishes you’d drink yourself dead already and spare her.”
Disgust overtakes my fear. “No,” I say, “that can’t—! She wouldn’t want that. She’d—she’d still want to know I exist, at least.”
He shakes his head. “Listen to me. Kretes saw the minds of many people, my victims, and owns their memories. She has told me stories, late into the night, about the human psyche. Do you know what she saw?”
I try to shake my head. It doesn’t happen.
He answers for me: “Each was stuffed with the same object of obsession—that atavistic desire to preservethemselves. To propagate their line, their culture, their race. This is the fact of the species. We own the selfish gene. We are unwell, do you understand? The moment we come into this world, we bring pain and misery to others. All people come built-in with the ability to harm—it’s inside you too. It is behavior bred in our bones. You must accept it. Humanity is simply diseased. Poisoned.”
“No. There are good people.”
His expression quickly becomes a scowl. “Idiot boy! Think of how many people are murdered on a daily basis. Think of war. Think of the last act of terror you saw and think of how many people were affected by that hatred, how pervasive is was, the mass consciousness, mass vengeance, even mass empathy it caused. Love cannot achieve that level of permeation. And it never will. No—to deny it is childish. That’s the reality.”
I say nothing. I can’t think of anything to say.
He nods and resumes his smile. “Enough time-wasting. I’ve got to write a kill-scene. I’m sort of using myself as inspiration, so I want to make this one really just wicked.” He pulls out a fine steel dagger and breathes in sharply giving into a hissing sound. He approaches me with eyes full of purpose. “Ready to become the inspiration?”
I struggle, but it’s utterly useless. My limbs are plastic.
He’s face to face with me. The tip of the dagger enters my vision.
Then, all at once, it plunges into his own eye.
A shocked grunt: “Erh—!”
He leans backward and goes still for just a moment. Then he begins shrieking, louder and hoarser as blood starts spraying out of his head. The knife is wedged in, sticking out while his hands grope around feebly.
Kretes is looking at him. Her head tilts left and right as she watches. At first I think she’s watching him, simply following. But soon I realize that her eyes keep focus on certain parts of him, and when she does this, he moves that part; somehow she is controlling him.
He looks like a puppet on taught strings. His arms contort, his fingers tense crookedly, and with these irregular movements he grips the blade that’s in his face. With a heave, he tears it out. Eye-matter dribbles off his shirt and onto the floor.
He lifts the blade, and begins to stab himself in the chest, over and over, while he cries protests.
“Nn—! No, NO!!”
... schick! ... schick! ... schick! ...
“Why!? WHY!? Please! Kretes, PLEASE!!—Nnh—AAAUUUAAAGH!!”
In and out goes the knife, into his belly now, quick jabs, over and over, like a sewing machine needle.
Then, onto his face.
... splip! ... schlick! ... splip! ...
I can hear the metal blade clinking against his teeth as he gorges his own mouth. He’s cutting off so much flesh you’d think to see his skull soon. There’s blood splattered all over the floor, wide arcs of it on the walls, and lumpy giblets around his feet. When he screams he can hardly enunciate due missing pieces: “KRETHESH!! PLEASHH!!
Eventually, mercifully, his arm stretches out, leading his whole body by the knife, then it comes swiftly back and into his remaining eye, with such force it breaks bone.
... CRUNCH!! ...
He spins around and then thumps wetly to the floor in a puddle of his own fluid. His terrible shouting ceases.
Kretes licks her lips and looks at me. I’m speechless, baffled, scared.
But before I can even form a cohesive thought, I hear her voice enter my mind:
That is the greatest weakness of your kind. Naïvety and pessimism.
My temples are throbbing, but I find the will to return communication:
Please don’t kill me.
I will not.
What are you?
Of what? Why? Why are you collecting?
It is not important. Not yet.
No! Tell me. Why? Why, why?
The sleek white cat slowly closes and opens her eyes, and then looks down at the mess of a carcass before her.
And if I told you? If I touched you with knowledge, as I have touched him, how would you use it?
I don’t know.
She looks back to me. Her eyes are much dimmer.
This is a hungry and sad world. Sad things happen here. This world eats your family, eats your friends, eats everything that makes you happy. And then you become a ghost. And this world will just keep on eating.
I don’t understand.
You do not need to. There will be no consequences.
But why would you spare me?
I am overburdened. I have never seen such powerful emotion in the creatures that I encounter. I have gathered deep sorrows. They have touched me and now they are mine, such deep sadness, and I see much worse in you. I cannot take anymore. So I will return home.
She simply hops onto a nearby windowsill and turns to face me once more.
I will recover in the north, where the wolves sing and the aurora dances. This city is a blight. You have a planet that is suffocating and starved, and your kind is unequipped to save it. But you are young. There is always time. Take care of yourself.
Kretes leapt out the window. I would never see her again.
My body becomes mine. Tears well in my eyes. I collapse to my hands and knees.
January 1, 2014
I still visit the library and I still read horror. Just not James Hammet.
I told the authorities only what they needed to hear. I left out the inexplicable. Some things are better left out.
More interesting, however, is the fact that I haven’t had a drink for over two months. It really comes back to what happened on that night, in October.
There was more to it. But then there’s always more to everything. I often wonder, now, if other animals can see our souls, like Kretes, as clearly as we can see colors. Maybe they just choose not to share. Maybe what they see is too ugly or sad. And really, are people ready for that? Would we use it to heal all the wounds that we’ve caused to each other? Would we renounce the unfavourable truths of our existence and tread lightly upon the Earth, hand-in-hand with all of its inhabitants?
The fact of the matter is there is too much we don’t know. I may never know what Kretes was. I still don’t know why she killed James, or why she even brought me to him.
But with time I’ve had to think soberly about what she told me, I came to a bit of a realization: if one condemns their own, they condemn mankind. Humanity is young. Even if we aren’t built to extend altruism to those around us right now, we are ultimately connected.
People, and their view others, change in time. And if humanity is diseased, if we inherently bring misery, then we must make ourselves well with strength from within. Nobody is perfect. Everybody can learn. We may not know much now, but we will. Maybe we have to take time and resources to care for ourselves—so that one day we may have the time and resources to take care of others.