The loud peals of thunder had stopped, but the rain continued to lash against the windows. My sole agenda for the evening was reading and sleep. I grabbed the latest Dianne Emley thriller and sank into a deep armchair with a mug of hot cocoa. In moments, I was lost in the mystery.
“Eeeeeeee!,” a scream pierced the air. The mug of cocoa fell out of my hands, staining the blanket over my feet. Was the scream real? I picked up the book to check. The book did not mention any scream. It must have been real.
Outside, everything was deadly quiet except for the pealing rain, which now hit my face with great force. I beamed the torch into the yard, but all I could see were raindrops, now fogging the thin glass covering the torch bulb.
I walked into yard. There was nothing, save sandy mud and the sea. The foamy white waves seemed dangerously high and bent on destroying the little beach. To the right, a trail of jagged rocks led upward to a cliff, but my humanitarian instincts were overcome by another instinct: fear.
As I turned back towards my cottage, I wondered who could have screamed. The beach was deserted and there were no neighbours for miles.
Who could have been foolish enough to venture out at such an unearthly hour on such an awful night? Someone contemplating suicide? Or murder? My imagination was now running wild, as nervousness clawed at my throat. The thriller was having its effect.
Wait, was that a footstep? I whirled around and beamed the torch in all directions. No, just rocks tumbling in the waves.
By now, I was certain someone was nearby. I felt the chilling sensation of being watched. I looked again towards the trail to the cliff. I was sure that the scream had come from that direction. Should I risk it?
My debate ended when—”Eeeeeeoooow!”—another scream ripped through the air. I rushed towards the trail and made my way up the slippery path. It leveled out at the halfway mark, and I paused to beam my torch all around.
No one. Nothing. Just wet black skies pounding me with rain. Still, I was now certain a murderer was lurking and that I would be his next target.
I wished that I had brought a knife or something to use to defend myself. The murderer could still be around. Maybe I was being watched right now. I again shone the torch upwards and all around, but there was…no one.
That’s when I heard a faint moan. The victim was alive! I must do something! I continued upwards, keeping my torch trained on jagged stones.
As I cautiously made my way towards the sound, the rain suddenly stopped. All I heard was waves crashing and my own pounding heart.
And then the low, terrified whimpers.
I rounded a boulder and came upon it. A sight that stunned me for a moment and had me laughing the next. It was a cat, the large tomcat who wandered in and out of my house several times each day. The victim was a soaking wet, scared cat.
I was so relieved that I nearly lost my footing on the trail. He offered no resistance when I picked him up, I carried him back to the cottage where we both settled in for the night.
The next morning, I went for my daily walk and breathed in the fresh salty sea breeze. The sands were still wet after last night’s double onslaught by rain and tide.
As I reached the cliff where I had found the cat—I’d named him “Pookie”—I looked up and shuddered. The cliff looked even more intimidating against the grey pallor of the sky. But now the trail was dotted with men.
“Hey you!”, shouted a voice. A portly woodentop descended the trail towards me.
He had many questions—and some answers. I learnt that last night a woman had been raped and killed. A jogger had discovered her body. I described what I had heard and even led him to the cat.
The police officer jotted down the details and mentioned that I had been lucky. Had the rapist seen me, perhaps there would have been two bodies. Who knows? I shuddered at the thought.
As I laid out some milk in a little dish, I wondered if the cat had saved my life after all. Or whether I would have been able to help that woman.
Two days later, a newspaper article reported the victim had been raped and killed in her house, and the killer had thrown the body off the cliff that rainy night, hoping that her death would appear to be an accident.
So it had been the cat after all, and not the woman. I still do not know whether to be relieved or worry about any future attacks.
Today, the cat—my Pookie—is still with me. He loves to curl up with me in the large armchair as I read yet another thriller. But when it rains, he hides under the chair.
© Copyright 2009 Karuna Sanghvi. All rights reserved.
Karuna Sanghvi has worked with design in e-learning, creative thinking, and general education for the last thirteen years. Each new project presents different challenges, and she has emerged from each with more experience and fresh understanding. This is her first flash fiction story.