By Sean Greenhill
Through the basement door, Jeremy Langton heard the chiming of the front doorbell. He looked up from the electronic stopwatch and waited for the chimes to end, then cursed under his breath when it started again. Since he was twelve, he’d been taking care of himself while his parents were away on their two week-long sales trips and people had stopped checking on him years ago. It was probably only a charity collector, or a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses wanting to convert him, but he couldn’t take the chance. It might be someone who had seen him come home and he didn’t need any awkward questions being asked.
He glanced down at the brightly lit workbench and pressed the button on the electronic stopwatch that paused the first counter but left the second running. He jogged up the basement steps, unlocked the door and stepped through, then closed and locked it behind him.
The doorbell rang again as Jeremy peered through the security peephole to see his elderly neighbour from across the road standing on the veranda and he forced a smile before he opened the door.
“Hello, Mrs. Gerard,” he said. “How are you?”
Mrs. Gerard shook her head and scowled. “I’m very upset, Jeremy,” she told him. “Archibald, the cat that the Creswick’s bought little Mary to replace Wilhelm, has been missing for almost a week now. I said I would ask if anyone has seen him but I don’t think it’s going to help. Something’s happened to him, I know it.”
“That’s terrible,” Jeremy said, shaking his head. “But maybe he was hit by a car or something and crawled away to die. They do that.”
“I don’t think so,” Mrs. Gerard told him. “That’s the sixteenth one that’s gone missing in the last few years and none of them have been found. Mark my words, Jeremy. Someone’s taking them, I’m sure of it.”
“Maybe it’s just someone who really likes cats,” Jeremy offered. “A lot of people still think cats have special powers. They almost worship them like the ancient Egyptians did.”
There was a pause and silence as Mrs. Gerard studied Jeremy to see if he was being serious. “I don’t think so, Jeremy,” she chided him. “Someone who loved cats that much wouldn’t steal someone else’s cat.”
Jeremy nodded. “You’re probably right,” he agreed. “It’s more likely to be one of those crazy old women that live alone. Like that one they found dead in her house last month. They reckon there were more than a hundred cats locked in there with her and they’d been chewing on her corpse.”
Mrs. Gerard paled and her hand went to cover her mouth. “Oh, Jeremy,” she hissed. “That’s disgusting.”
Jeremy stared at her confused and shrugged his shoulders. “I suppose,” he replied. “But it might explain where all the cats have gone. Maybe you should see where animal welfare is keeping them. You might find some of the missing cats. That’s all I meant.”
The blood returned to Mrs. Gerard’s face and she smiled. “That’s not a bad idea actually,” she told him. “I’ll go and give them a call now. Thank you, Jeremy.”
“No problems, Mrs. Gerard,” Jeremy said, returning her smile. “Glad I could help.”
He stepped back inside, closed the door behind him and watched her through the peephole until she started across the road. “Stupid old bag,” he said quietly as he walked back to the basement. He pulled the basement key from his pocket by the long strap of leather that it was attached to, and he rolled his eyes as he unlocked the door. “Animal bloody welfare! She’d believe anything.”
He closed and relocked the door, still laughing to himself and shaking his head, but his face became serious as he reached the bottom of the stairs and walked to the workbench. He looked down, grabbed the stethoscope hanging from the edge, and put the arms to his ears. On the bench lay a cat; face up, spreadeagled. Although its spine had obviously been broken, and the fur on one front leg was matted with blood, all four legs were pinned out to small stainless steel poles to keep it in place.
Jeremy positioned the bell side of the stethoscope’s chest piece gently against the cat’s body and listened then moved it to another spot and listened again.
“Fuck!” he shouted as he hit the electronic stopwatch, halting the second timer, and ripped the stethoscope from his ears. “Stupid fucking old bitch!”
He ran his hands through his hair, took a deep breath and shook his head. “Okay, Jeremy,” he said to himself. “Get it together! You’ve missed the moment of death but it’s not all pointless. You’ve still got all the data up to then. Follow the routine. Finish the entry and get rid of the corpse.”
He picked up the large, hard-backed black ledger book from the table beside him and opened it almost a third of the way through. On one page, the columns were titled Name, Age, Sex, Weight, Length and De-sexed, and on the other page, the titles were a series of abbreviations. Jeremy pulled his pen from his top pocket and ran his finger down the list of names past Blackie, Spot, Mr Whiskers, Unknown 3, Garfield and Mixey until he came to the last one.
“Well, Archibald,” he said, addressing the dead cat in front of him. “Unfortunately, the bad news is that you only lasted five days, so you didn’t break the record, but it’s still pretty good considering your injuries. I’m sure that if you hadn’t of tried to escape and made me incapacitate you, you would have lasted much long.” He smiled down at the dead cat. “If it’s any consolation, your contribution to my research has been invaluable.”
Jeremy wrote down the two times from the electronic stopwatch, then put on a pair of latex gloves and used a rectal thermometer to take Archibald’s temperature and wrote it in the ledger book. He bent back over the cat’s body and stared into its glazed eyes for a moment, shook his head and made an entry in the final column.
No psychic communication received from subject prior to death.
He closed the book, undid the restraints that held Archibald down and placed the body in a thick black garbage bag, then put the bag into a cheap red and blue backpack. Picking up the backpack, he whistled tunelessly as he climbed the basement stairs, unlocked the door again and stepped through, locking it behind him.
Slinging the backpack over his shoulder, Jeremy left the house and casually walked the two miles to the railroad yards east of his neighbourhood, taking his time, checking every so often to ensure that he wasn’t being followed. When he reached the yards, he wandered between the train carriages until he found one with an open door, then he took the black garbage bag and tossed it inside, deep into the shadows.
As Jeremy turned and started to walk away, he heard a sound behind him and he jumped when he turned back to see a cat sitting on the gravel less than a metre away, staring at him.
“Jesus,” Jeremy sighed, studying the cat. “I thought you were Archibald back from the dead.”
But it wasn’t Archibald. The cat in front of him had silver-grey fur and was bigger than Archibald, at least half as big again as any of the housecats Jeremy had ever taken in. Its dark green eyes bore into Jeremy, moving slowly from head to toe and back again, before it looked up into the open doors of the carriage containing Archibald’s body and then he returned to gazing at Jeremy.
Jeremy glanced up and down the tracks, then knelt down. “No collar, eh, boy? I don’t usually risk taking on another subject so soon, but maybe I can make an exception this time, I’ve still got another week before I have to go back to school.” He reached out to pat the cat and it swayed away from his hand. “Okay,” he said. “You decide.”
He stood back up and looked back over his shoulder as he turned and walked away from the cat. “Come on, boy,” he said, snapping his fingers down by his leg. “Follow me.”
To Jeremy’s surprise, the cat meowed and stood up, arched its back then started to walk behind along him, keeping its distance. When they reached the exit to the railway yards, the cat stopped and sat down, seemingly reluctant to leave.
“Come on, boy,” Jeremy said softly, snapping his fingers again. “Follow me.”
The cat meowed, licked one paw leisurely, then stood up again and began to trail after Jeremy until they came to the next corner where it stopped and sat down once more.
Jeremy glanced over his shoulder and shrugged. “Follow me?” he said, not bothering to snap his fingers.
The cat meowed again, then got up to follow Jeremy and he laughed to himself. “A cat called Follow Me,” he chuckled. “What sort of person calls a cat Follow Me?”
The cat called Follow Me gave him a disapproving look and Jeremy laughed again.
“You’re right,” he told Follow me. “Who am I to talk? Jeremy’s no better is it?”
Follow Me didn’t seem to have an opinion one way or the other about Jeremy’s name and continued to saunter after him as Jeremy led him through the back streets, only stopping to sit down again when they reached the park behind Jeremy’s house.
“It's okay, Follow Me,” Jeremy told him. “Just a little bit further and we’ll be home and I’ve got a big surprise for you.”
Follow Me stared at Jeremy blankly, then made him wait while he licked one paw and ran it over his right ear before he stood up. He shadowed Jeremy across the park and waited while he opened the gate in the back fence then followed him into the back yard.
“This is your new home, Follow Me,” Jeremy announced as he unlocked the back door. “And you’ll never need to find another one.”
He waited patiently as Follow Me stopped at the open doorway, peered into the gloom and sniffed warily before he stepped inside. “That’s it,” Jeremy said encouragingly as he pulled the basement key from his pocket by its leather strap. “Just a little further.”
Jeremy led Follow Me through the kitchen to the basement door, unlocked it and turned on the light switch on the wall at the top of the stairs. “See, Follow Me,” he said. “A nice quiet basement to explore.”
Follow Me ambled forward slowly, stopped at the top of the stairs, sniffed again and then looked up at Jeremy.
“Go on,” Jeremy urged. “I’ll be right behind you.”
Follow Me started down the staircase then stopped on the third step and waited for Jeremy, staring at him intently as he stepped down onto the top step.
Jeremy turned around to pull the basement door closed and put the key in the lock. “It’s almost like you know, isn’t it?” he asked over his shoulder as he turned the key. “Maybe you’re the one.”
Follow Me leapt at the back of Jeremy’s legs without any warning. His front claws cut straight through Jeremy’s jeans and sunk deep into the flesh of his buttocks while his back legs were a blur as they tore into the tendons behind Jeremy’s knees.
“Fuck!” Jeremy screamed as blood cascaded from his wounds. He swung around to punch at Follow Me, his feet tangled, he overbalanced and his hand reached in vain for the doorknob but missed it.
Follow Me leapt sideways away from Jeremy as he started to fall, his paws covered in blood. He watched from the top step as Jeremy tumbled down the staircase, arms and legs flailing wildly, bones breaking as his body bounced from step to step. He came to a stop at the bottom of the staircase, one arm bent unnaturally under him, the jagged bones of his other arm protruding through the flesh.
“My arm!” Jeremy screamed. “Fuck! My arm!” Then his face went white as he stared down his body. “Oh God! My legs! I can’t feel my legs!”
Follow Me sidled slowly down the stairs, then walked along Jeremy’s unmoving right leg, up his stomach and sat on Jeremy’s chest. He raised one front paw to his mouth, licking the remaining blood from it, as he watched Jeremy scream and cry out in pain, tears streaming down his face. When the first paw was clean, he put it back down, raised his other front paw and started to clean it.
“You stupid fucking cat!” Jeremy screeched at Follow Me. “I’m going to fucking kill you!
Follow Me regarded Jeremy for a moment and then used the paw he was cleaning to slash at Jeremy’s face, his claws ripping open Jeremy’s cheek from his ear to the corner of his mouth.
“No!” Jeremy screeched as Follow Me struck again, his claws tearing at Jeremy’s right eyelid and ripping open a large gash on his nose. “No! Please! Please stop!”
Follow Me retracted his claws, then turned and walked back up the stairs to the basement door. Jeremy sobbed; trying to blink the blood from his right eye, then shut it tightly and focused with his left. He watched as Follow Me stretched up to the leather strap attached to the key, hooked his paw around it and with one jerk pulled the key from the lock.
The key clattered down the stairs and Follow Me chased it playfully, catching it halfway down with one claw. He swept it up, tossed it into the air and stretched his head upward out as the key came back down. He flattened his ears as the leather strap landed around his head, and it slid down to sit around his neck like a collar.
Follow Me came back down the stairs, this time skirting Jeremy’s body when he reached the bottom. He padded across the floor, leapt up onto the grey filing cabinet that sat against the wall, then up onto the top of the wardrobe beside it.
Behind the wardrobe was the basement’s only window. Small, rectangular, with an old-fashioned latch, it was almost invisible in the shadow, the glass of the window and the frame painted black. Follow Me put both front paws on the latch and leant his weight against it, pushing down, breaking the coat of paint and the latch spun open.
Crying and whimpering, Jeremy watched with his one good eye as Follow Me bunted the glass, head butting it harder and harder until it popped open. He glanced back at Jeremy, meowed once and slipped out of the window.
Jeremy screamed for help, screamed until his throat went hoarse, but no one came. Eventually he stopped bleeding and he lay at the bottom of the stairs, passing in and out of consciousness, the periods of sleep growing longer as his body deteriorated through the lack of food and water.
Sometimes when he woke he found Follow Me sitting on the floor watching him.
On the first day, Follow Me returned without the key around his neck, and knowing his last chance was gone, Jeremy spat abuse at Follow Me, calling him every name that he could think of, but it didn’t have any effect. Follow Me merely sat impassively until Jeremy passed out and then slipped back out the window.
When he awoke on the third day, Follow Me was there again, but Jeremy’s throat was too dry, too sore for him to rant anymore. Instead, he wanted to beg, to plead with Follow Me get help, but all that came out was a strangled whisper.
Jeremy’s eyes were open but clouded and his breathing was shallow when Follow Me eased through the window on the fourth day. As night fell, Follow Me crossed the basement floor, climbed up onto Jeremy’s chest, looked down into his eyes and stared into them intently as he took his last breath.
But if Jeremy had any extrasensory message for him, Follow Me didn’t get it, and he left through the basement window, in search of another subject.