A cold, wicked October wind whistled around the eves of my house. I pulled on a sweater and poured myself a cup of tea. The wind… I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It had been the first thing I heard upon waking. As I lay in the gray dawn half-awake and half-asleep, my inventive mind formed the fanciful notion that it’s high pitched moan was the collective voice of all the women that lived before me. They seemed to be calling, “Clean…clean your house…clean your house now…winter is coming!”
The strange urge to scrub and scour my house from top to bottom was overwhelming. I shivered. This wasn’t something I normally longed to do. Straightening the jack-o’-lantern centerpiece on my dining room table, I forced myself to think about making pumpkin bars.
Outside my kitchen window, the heavy-handed autumn winds made the skeletal branches of a flowering crab tree twist and gyrate. As if in a hypnotic trance, I stood transfixed, unable to take my eyes off the wild bark-clad dancer. Under my breath I groaned, “Oh…I hate…wind! I might as well clean the basement and get it over. I won’t feel right until I do!”
I spent the next few hours down in the cellar, deciding what to keep and what to toss, wiping down cobwebs, and straightening the canning shelves. Those hours ticked by like minutes. As I began sweeping the floor under the steps, I noticed a dark stain in the cement. I stared at it and the gruesome memory of how it came to be there flooded into my mind.
My pretty black and white cat, Oscar-the-beautiful-one sidled up to where I stood and rubbed against my legs, begging for attention. I rubbed my broom over the stain and said, “Look at that Oscar. When we remodeled the backside of our house, the basement was open to the outdoors for a week. One night Barry, your big-bad-kitty-friend, caught a rabbit, dragged it down here and tried eating it.”
Remembering how I had found the carcass made me shiver. The bloody remains had been that of a full-grown rabbit, and our murderous cat hadn’t even attempted to eat more than its favorite parts. Arnie laughed at me when I wailed, “Block up the basement wall TODAY! I can’t stand having wild life killing and eating each other every night right under my feet!”
A low growl coming from the backside of Barry’s throat interrupted my thoughts. I looked up and saw the cat sitting on the fourth stairway step. He was staring into the shadows below and his hackles were raised. Oscar stopped rubbing against my legs. She let out a shrill creature-in-distress yowl and shot past Barry up to the entryway.
Barry quickly slunk up the steps after Oscar, nearly colliding with Blossom, our longhaired black and white cat who acts like the proverbial blond. The goofy, amiable cat peered down at me. Suddenly she turned into a puffball warrior…all teeth and claws. She hissed, turned tail, and disappeared like a wrong answer under an eraser.
Long after the cats disappeared, I stood looking up the steps with my mouth hanging open. “What was THAT all about?” I finally asked the empty basement. I didn’t expect an answer so I went back to work. A pale shaft of sunlight filtered through a casement window. In its rays I saw particles of dust swirl and follow a draft. A dust bunny rolled out of the path of my broom.
The stain under the steps bothered me. I knew bleach wouldn’t whiten the spot…I’d tried that shortly after the renovations to our house had been completed. How long ago was that…about five years?
As I worked, a macabre thought occurred to me, one that fit the season, since Halloween would soon be here. Perhaps the bloodstain would stay under the steps until the ghost of the murdered rabbit is avenged. Until then it hops the earth looking for vengeance, crying out, “Death to the cat that killed me for the mere joy of killing. Death to the cat who left my body to rot… Oh, to have died at the paws of a beast who wasn’t even hungry…DEATH!”
I didn’t know what had scared my cats earlier, but these thoughts were making goose bumps run up and down my back. I tossed my broom into a corner and flew up the stairs. The basement was clean enough!