Terence felt like his brain was turning into Swiss cheese. There were so many gaps―so many holes in his memory. The body of Alabaster Bloom. The removal of Alabaster Bloom. Who was Alabaster Bloom? Terence couldn’t fit a face to the name. Was he old? Was his family present for the removal? Was he at his house, open-mouthed and bundled in diseased sheets? Or crammed into a stuffy hospital room? He could ask Paul. Somehow his platinum-haired associate seemed to know of the man, along with the mayor and the disheveled physician. Terence could still see the browning certificate of death flaking in his fingertips. What sort of lengths would someone go through to fake another man’s death?
The pills clacked pleasantly in the plastic bottle. Terence spilled two capsules into his palm and cascaded them down his throat. He felt crazy. Unstable. The confusion, conspiracy theories, and never ending questions made his Swiss cheese brain bubble and pop behind his ears. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw death. It swarmed and plagued his mind like flies on a corpse.
Terence rested his head against the back of his armchair. He could feel the purr of his cat vibrating against his legs. Just as he was beginning to succumb to the heat of his fireplace, the screen on his phone lit up and buzzed dully on the side table next to him. When Terence saw it was Ash Wilson, he wanted to hurdle his phone into the crackling fire.
“What do you want, Wilson?” he snarled.
“I need your help,” Ash whispered. It was as if he didn’t want someone to overhear him.
“Let me guess, a body has been found a soupy decomposed mess and you need me to complete the removal because your little stomach can’t handle it.”
“What? No.” Ash’s voice grew more hushed. “It’s my lady, Carina. I think there’s something wrong with her. Lately she’s been ignoring me. I need to know how you care for Anubis.” Terence groaned in response. “I’m not interrupting anything am I?” Ash asked after hearing Terence’s disgruntlement. “Is Anubis there with you?”
Terence placed his hand on the cat’s warm belly. “Yes, she’s on my lap.”
Ash gasped, “Is she naked?” He asked the question delicately, as though it was a sin for Terence’s sphinx cat to be hairless.
“Of course she is, you idiot!” Terence shouted in frustration. “Why the hell would she be wearing clothes?!”
“Carina wears clothes,” Ash mumbled.
“Well, take the damn things off!” Terence shrieked. “What kind of lousy pet owner are you?!”
“Pet?! Wow, she really lets you dominate her like that?!”
“I’m her owner, Wilson! I feed her, I bathe―”
“How do you bathe her?” Terence took a deep breath to calm himself down. Wilson’s line of questions regarding his sphinx cat, Carina were moronic. So much so, Terence felt like calling the animal abuse number on him.
Through gritted teeth, he responded, “You take off those ridiculous clothes, you bring her to the kitchen sink and you rub her down with a dish brush, soap and water. It’s not frickin’ rocket science!” Terence hung up the phone before Ash could get out another ignorant word.
Anubis stirred on Terence’s lap. Evidently, she was disturbed by his haughty conversation.
“It’s alright, Anubis,” Terence reassured her, “Daddy was just talking to a very stupid man.” Anubis yawned and flexed her claws. A little cat sigh escaped her muzzle before she rested her head on Terence’s knee and fell asleep. The warmth of his cat and the fire made Terence’s head swirl with exhaustion. Soon enough, he too fell asleep.
Terence was awakened hours later by a clamoring at his door. It was 10’o clock. Who would want to see him at 10’o clock? The knocking grew more and more urgent. Terence yawned and pried his cat from his lap. Fearing the cops may be pursuing him, he stood shakily and took a peak behind the curtains of his living room windows. The silhouette of what looked to be a witch lady stood at his door. Terence cursed. He’d forgotten it was Halloween. Those little pukes always terrorized him. Last year one freckle-faced youth had the audacity to ask Terence if he was the spawn of Dracula.
“Bugger off, I don’t have any candy!” Terence declared loudly as he opened the door. He was surprised to see not a pouting little girl dressed as a witch, but a full grown woman. Her wild black hair was plastered to her cheeks and her mascara was running down her face, leaving behind a trail of grimy streaks. Terence crossed his arms, scrutinizing her under his dull porch lights. He could hear hurried footsteps and ragged breathing in the distance. Glimpses of a man blinked in and out of existence under the flickering street lamps.
“I was unaware adults participated in this juvenile holiday,” Terence said to the rumpled woman. The comment seemed to enrage her. Her fists were balled and her long slender neck shimmered with a sheen of perspiration. She had on a black silk evening gown and a pair of heels so high she practically stood nose to nose with Terence.
“What are you supposed to be anyway?” Terence clucked. “An undead hooker, or a celebrity cave woman?”
“You bastard…” the woman breathed. The words were choked. She was so angry she could barely speak. The background pattering of desperate feet came to a closing standstill at Terence’s doorstep. It was Ash. His expression showed warning and by the time Terence looked back at the woman standing on his welcome mat, it was too late to stop her attack. Shrieking herself hoarse, she violently thrust her head into Terence’s gut. Terence crumpled like a dried flower, clutching his stomach and gasping for air. Once he was down, her fists and nails bombarded him from either side. She split his lip, broke his nose, bruised his cheekbones, and tore at his hair. Terence was sprawled on his floorboards like a wounded animal, the blood from his nose and lip pooling beneath his fingertips.
“You’re a monster!” the woman wailed, finally backing away from Terence. “Tell me what you’ve done with that woman or I’ll call the cops!” Terence sat up gingerly. He gagged on a mouthful of blood.
“There’s been a misunderstanding,” he told her. “Right now, you’re the only woman in this house.” The woman shook her head.
“Don’t give me any of that innocence crap!” she hissed and kicked Terence in the ribs with her pointy-toed shoes. Terence cried out in pain. Ash stumbled into the house just as the woman was about to give Terence another bout of pummeling.
“Oh, God,” Ash exclaimed when he saw his employer beaten and bloody. “Carina, what have you―” His eyes rolled back into his head and he fainted.
“Serves you right for taking advice from a sick rapist!” Carina shouted in Ash’s direction. Terence couldn’t help but chuckle. He stood and winced, leaning against the wall for support.
“You’re clearly not a sphinx cat,” Terence said.
“What?” Carina flared her nostrils at him.
Just then Anubis pounced from the shelf from which she was hiding and hit Carina square in the chest. The woman flailed and screamed wildly as the bald creature spat and tore at her face.
“Anubis! Heel!” Terence commanded.
Anubis hissed and reluctantly backed away from the crumpled woman. Carina stood slowly. Her frizzy hair stood up on end and her tanned skin was laced with angry weeping scratches. Terence felt bad. How could he have been so blind? His coworkers weren’t interested in sphinx cats, they were interested in women.
“That was my naked cat. I bathe her in the kitchen sink,” Terence explained. Carina nodded in disbelief. Her eyes were like grapefruits―big, wet grapefruits. There was a silence.
“Is this some sort of sick joke?” Carina finally asked. Terence shook his head slowly. “Your cat just turned me into a human scratching post! She ruined my dress, ” Carina wept, tenderly touching the frayed lines in the satin.
“You ruined my nose,” Terence responded.
“Stay away from me!” Carina yelled. As she spun to leave, her dress billowed around her like a mushroom cloud. Before slamming the door, she growled and spat in the direction of her boyfriend. The wad of phlegm spattered sickeningly against Ash’s closed eyelid.
“She’s a real keeper,” Terence mumbled to himself and then limped toward the bathroom to clean himself up.
He returned with a cloth under his nose and a bag of ice propped against his cheekbone. Ash stirred on the floorboards.
“What happened?” he groaned. His face warped in disgust as he wiped the back of his hand over his eye. “What’s on my face?!” he cried. Terence needed to sit down. Without an explanation, he trailed off into the fireplace room around the corner. He could hear the frustration in Ash’s footsteps as his employee pursued him.
The fire made the room stiflingly hot. Terence extinguished the heat and collapsed into his massive squishy-looking armchair. Wooden shelving units stood on either side of the stone fireplace. Their shelves held faded books, candles, clay pots, wooden chests, and other antiques Terence collected. He liked old things, they made him feel a sort of pleasurable sadness. Ash took a seat in a matching chair across from Terence. All that separated the two was a cluttered coffee table.
Ash cleared his throat, uneasily. Terence noticed him eyeing the china faced doll that sat watchfully amongst the other oddities on his shelves.
“Her name’s Amelia,” Terence said, nodding his head toward the doll’s cracked face.
“Pardon?” Ash nervously wiped his palms on his jeans.
“Amelia. She was my mother’s doll,” Terence repeated.
“Okay.” Ash licked his lips. Another nervous action. Terence wasn’t sure if it was the heat or the pain induced serotonin flooding his brain, but he started to laugh uncontrollably.
When the fit passed, Ash was holding onto his chair. He looked both confused, happy, and frightened all at the same time.
“My Anubis,” Terence began, catching his breath, “is a bald cat.”
“You’re kidding?” Ash leaned forward in his chair, his fingers clutching his curls. Terence shook his head. His ribs ached, both from being kicked and from laughing. “This whole time you thought I had a bald cat named Carina?!”
“Wow,” Ash chuckled. Terence removed the blood soaked cloth from his nose. Ash stopped chuckling as soon as he caught sight of the red blotches. “My girlfriend really did a number on your face.”
“She broke my nose, was attacked by my cat, and then left traumatized,” Terence recalled to him. He crossed his legs casually. “Oh, and she also spat a big one in your eye,” he added.
“I noticed that.” Ash dabbed the corner of his eye, his lip curled in disdain.
“You have a blood phobia,” Terence stated.
“You have a germ phobia,” Ash replied. Silence followed the declarations. Ash leaned back, studying Terence’s face as though it was a portrait hanging in an art museum.
“I like it,” he finally said.
“The dent in your nose. I like it. It makes you look more distinguished.” Ash grinned and started toward the door. Terence followed him out into the clear night. The stars were like bright eyes in the sky and the moon was whole. Ash bid Terence good night and then walked off down the road, disappearing on the other side of the hill. Everything was still.
“How does he know where I live?” Terence said quietly to himself. He closed the door, locked it firmly and shuffled soberly off to bed.