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vol vi, issue 2 < ToC
Unfamiliar
by
Harris Coverley
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The QuintetPetitions
Is Ready
Unfamiliar
by
Harris Coverley
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The Quintet
Is Ready




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Petitions
Unfamiliar
by
Harris Coverley
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The Quintet Petitions
Is Ready
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The Quintet
Is Ready




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Petitions
Unfamiliar
 by Harris Coverley
Unfamiliar
 by Harris Coverley
Ellsworth Melkin cast his eyes about his front room for something long, an object that could be held in one hand and thin enough to slide easily underneath the settee. He first considered rolling up a copy of the Daily Express, but decided this would not be nearly long enough, and would most probably leave his hand open to attack, like his face had been ...

Oh god his face! He hadn’t even dared to look yet. He had repeatedly wiped the blood from his cheek with tissues after trying to wash the wound in the kitchen sink, but he didn’t know how long or deep it was. And although the vision in his left eye was perfectly clear, he was terrified she had just been able to catch the white, even though the eyeball was painless.

Gently, but with a reserve of energy to leap out of the way, Ellsworth put his hands on the carpet and leaned down to view into the darkness below the settee. At the back, towards the wall, two green and vicious eyes greeted him, and he shuddered. She was still there, alert, waiting ...

He got up and went to the hallway mirror.

The damage was bad, but not too bad: the eye itself was fully unharmed, but pulling down the eyelid he saw two red scratches that proved she had come close to blinding or retarding his sight. The cut was around three millimetres wide and nearly three centimetres long, across the maxillary bone beneath the eye socket. A scar would be inevitable, but it was just a surface scratch.

As he poked his cheek, a trickle of blood exited and he reached for a new tissue to wipe it away. There were already enough rouge stains on his sleeveless jumper to resemble an eclectic pattern.

“Little bitch,” he growled, looking back to his front room and wincing again.

The mackerel tabby, barely a teenager, had appeared in his back garden two weeks ago, thin, dusty, and collarless, as he had been dealing with his rose bushes. He had attempted to greet the cat, but she had shied away. She came back over the next couple of days, each time getting a bit closer to Ellsworth, until he had the notion to wait outside with a few cuttings of corned beef to tempt her to his feet. As he got in a stroke or two, he found she was fuzzy as opposed to fluffy—not like Toby, his mother’s last cat before her death, a long-haired black tom who was an utter prostitute when it came to whose bed he slept on.

Over a week Ellsworth softened her to his knee while he sat in the garden chair, and just three days after that he brought her inside and set to the task of making her a house cat. It was the kind of thing mother would’ve done, and he so wished to remain in her good books even now. He purchased a new basket and a month’s worth of dry food, and had a card on the fridge door of a man who installed cat flaps. The little girl-cat, whom he christened Blanche, a classic old lady name, had at first seemed so scared of everything, but she quickly settled in. In fact, she did not merely settle in—she took over the house.

However, Blanche soon became unreceptive to tickles and the ball he had got her with the bell in. She skulked around like she was in a prison and defecated in the hall, even though Ellsworth was sure to keep her outside while he was at work to do her “business.” One of the worst incidents came two nights earlier, when, impatient, Ellsworth had picked her up under her protests and carried her to bed for a cuddle. Such impropriety on his part led to three cuts on his chin and puncture wounds on his hand, one of which still stung.

In spite of all this abuse and obvious unhappiness, she did not run away, and he still let her in. He was certain that she would domesticate, that she would get used to him, that he would not be so alone ... but this new assault was a step too far. All he had wanted to do was put her outside for a while, kiss her on the head on the way to the backdoor, a little bonding, a little signifier of affection ... but Blanche was having none of it.

She had to go. Right now. There was no other—

There was a knock at the front door that broke his chain of scheming.

He went down the hall and opened the bent plastic door with an awkward movement that suggested long-term experience with manipulating a faulty mechanism.

On the pavement stood a woman in her early forties, dressed in a black blouse with a short red skirt, dark leggings going down to black boots. Her hair was brunette, wild and frizzy, her face heavily made up with white foundation. She had a toothy smile that reeked of false sincerity.

“Hello there,” she said in a dark voice. “I believe you have something of mine.”

Ellsworth, feeling exposed with his wound, stood aside to let the woman in without questioning her statement.

After he shut the door they looked at each other. Never had two otherwise heterosexual people of the opposite sex and similar age been so unattracted to each other. He immediately found her common and grim, so unlike mother. She found it oppressively weird that a fortysomething man would dress like a geriatric from the 1950s, nor did she in any way find balding men with wire-framed glasses virile or temptingly mysterious.

“I’m sorry,” Ellsworth said. “Your name ...?”

“My name is Edna,” the woman said. “And you have my cat, yes?”

“How ...” started the confused man, but the woman walked past him and through the door into the dining room.

“The front room, right?” she asked, as if she needed confirmation.

“How did you know she was here?” asked Ellsworth, following after her. “I didn’t tell anyone, or put up any posters, or anything.”

“A good mother always knows,” replied Edna.

Ellsworth internally agreed. His mother would know ... but this well?

Edna got on her knees and looked under the settee without prompting, Ellsworth no longer able to question it.

“Hello my baby,” she beamed, and the cat meowed in appreciation. Within a few seconds the striped beast was in the woman’s arms and being transported down the hall.

“Thank you, Mr. Melkin,” said Edna, the cat under her chin, purring away like the nightmare was all over. “I’ll take her out of your hands ... I can see she’s already given you enough trouble.”

“But ... what?” Ellsworth stumbled, wiping his untorn cheek. “How do you know my name? I don’t understand any of this ...”

The woman paused and turned to him.

“Mr. Melkin,” she began, stroking the animal, “are you acquainted with the concept of a familiar?”

Ellsworth shook his head, totally confused.

“Well, Mr. Melkin, people in, shall we say, my line of work like to have on staff a creature, usually a cat like this, to act as a familiar, that is, a companion, an assistant, maybe even a spy ... it’s just that this one got a little bored in her youth and wandered away on an adventure.”

“She’s so violent,” he said in pathetic complaint.

Edna laughed. “She will be with people not skilled in arts such as mine, Mr. Melkin ... well, toodle-ooo!”

Edna reached for the door, but Ellsworth put his hand on her shoulder and a chill went through him.

Edna halted and said with a matching iciness, “Don’t touch me, Mr. Melkin ... what would your dear mother say?”

Fighting his fears, Ellsworth stammered, “How do I know this cat is yours? Is she chipped? You can’t just take her, it’s not right!”

In his mind his pride was at stake. Even if the cat was awful and despised him, she was by all custom, without proof otherwise, still his.

Edna turned, and her cool eyes met Ellsworth’s dread-filled ones.

“I wanted to do this nice and cleanly,” she said. “But since you’re clearly not going to let me do that ...”

With a sharp movement, she swung her right hand, thumb and index finger in a loop, before Ellsworth’s face, the cat remaining comfortably cradled as it gave him a final moan and hiss.

He took a step back, but felt angry at what seemed a feigned attack. As he came forward, though, his wound suddenly burned like it was being seared and he yelped. He put his hand to his cheek and the blood was flowing again, worse than before. It was like a tap had been turned on and then the knob broken off. He looked at his crimson-soaked palm and wailed as Edna wished him farewell and slammed the door behind her.

It took another hour before the bleeding stopped, but the throbbing pain carried on through the night until at daybreak it at last dissipated.

Over his morning porridge, groggy and grey-faced, Ellsworth decided against cats permanently. He would try a dog instead. Perhaps something like a Yorkshire Terrier, or maybe a Japanese Chin. He knew mother had been fond of those, he was sure of it.

A knock came at the door.

Ellsworth’s whole body shook with fear. But he calmed himself quickly—what was there to worry? It was probably just the postman with a package, hopefully the new interchange for his model train set in the attic.

He got up stiffly, wearied, went down the hall, and opened the door in the old awkward way.

There stood Edna holding a dark wicker basket by the handle, a look of indignation on her face.

“You’ve ruined her!” she almost yelled.

Ellsworth backed up against the wall to his right, almost breaking down in tears.

“Oh god,” he cried. “Not more! Please, leave me be!”

He slipped down the wall and his backside struck the uncovered floor with a thud, his head in his hands.

Edna came in and pushed the door shut.

“Oh shut up, you sad git!” she snapped.

She held up the basket and through gaps in the weave Ellsworth could see a set of angry green eyes he was well acquainted with.

“Oh no!” he moaned. “You’ve brought it back to kill me!”

Edna rolled her eyes and put the basket on the floor before him.

“Her time with you has ruined her link with me,” she began. “I am supposed to train her from the earliest possible age ... it seems that when she got out on her own, she was still too young for the link to remain unbroken.”

“But, but, but ...” Ellsworth stuttered, his nose running. “But she recognised you! She got into your arms.”

Edna shrugged: “Simple reflex of familiarity ... any given cat will do that. But her ability to listen to direct commands has gone, and look at this ...!”

She held out her right hand to Ellsworth: a long red score went down the back from the knuckle of the middle finger to the rightward bone of the wrist.

“She’s never done this before ... it’s obvious: she’s useless to me now, so you can have her.”

Ellsworth trembled. “But can’t you use your, erm, skills?”

Edna shook her head. “No. There may be others with such strength of power to correct such things, but it’s not in my fiscal means to seek such wielders out, nor in my best interests given how they can be.”

“But I can’t have her! She hates me! Look at my face.”

Edna walked up the hallway, looking at the pictures on the walls.

“Even at this age it’s rare to lose a link,” she continued, ignoring the slumped man on the floor. “There must be something about you that ...”

She stopped and asked Ellsworth, “What was your mother’s maiden name? I can’t quite catch it in my mind ...”

“Erm, it was, it was Parkhurst, Susannah Parkhurst.”

Edna considered this and suddenly snapped her fingers. “Of course! I thought I’d sensed something, but I’d believed it just a crossed wire! Do you have a picture of her?”

Recovering some strength, Ellsworth managed to get up.

“The top drawer, the bureau,” he said, stretching his neck.

Edna opened the drawer and removed a cracked leather-bound book labelled Memories.

“Why don’t you have any pictures up?” she asked him.

“Her presence is already everywhere here,” he confessed, coming to her side. “I don’t need the physical reminders.”

Edna opened the book and there on the first page was a family picture: little Ellsworth and his sister Margaret, seated beneath the stern expressions of John and Susannah Melkin.

Edna squinted and turned the page, whereupon was a portrait of a much younger Susannah Melkin, when she was still a Parkhurst.

“Yes,” mumbled Edna, considering the grey visage, still tinged with the possibilities of adolescent hope. “It all makes sense now ... she was one of us.”

“One of you?”

“She was a powerful soul too. And her abilities, in spite of an obvious lack of nurturing, are present within you, in some way, raw and formless, but there.”

Ellsworth struggled to process this new information, but Edna had already turned to leave.

“Wait!” he called out as she moved towards the door. “I can’t do this!”

“It’s all in you, Ellsworth,” said Edna, turning to look back at him. “You just need to listen carefully to your inner wisdom.”

Edna came back to him and patted him on the head with a, for once, genuine smile. “Take it easy with her. It’ll come. Good luck and goodbye.”

She moved fast down the hall and out the door, saying something about him being able to keep the basket, and was gone, the dust moving in the morning light with the closing of the door.

Ellsworth looked down at the basket. A small meow came from within.

He unlatched the lid, lifted it up and over, and it clanked to the floor.

There was the banded face of Blanche, Edna’s original name for her still and forever unknown to Ellsworth, staring up at him.

Leaning in, he stroked her once, twice, and no more upon on the head, withdrawing his hand gently. That would be enough interaction for the day. Afterwards, she put her paws on the edge of the basket and leapt out, balling up in one of her previous primary spots under the hallway chair as though nothing at all had happened.

Ellsworth checked his watch and saw that it was time to go to work.

He looked at his face to see that the cut was fine and moistened with antiseptic, the best way for it to heal, then gathered his keys and wallet, and put on his coat. As he left, he bid the cat farewell and locked the front door.

He walked down the street to the bus stop, the cold breeze irritating the open cut, but it did not concern him.

The revelation had fully come to him: he at last had a task in life to concentrate on that really meant something. He would tame that damn cat, and it would be but the first step towards reclaiming a legacy he had never known he had.

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