Earlier this evening, I participated in HalloReads, an online gathering of some of the folks from the Southern California Writers Conference, a most unusual group. We have no official organization, no monthly meetings or dues or secret handshake--all we have are two conferences a year that form lifetime friendships.
Everything my writer friends read was weepingly fabulous. Some horrific, some spiritual, some atmospheric, all leaving me to wonder what happens next. Such good writers. Such good friends.
I wrote a piece specifically for tonight's event. I didn't give it a title, but here it is:
* * * * *
Gillian poked her friend Catherine, jabbing her shoulder with one of her well-manicured nails. “Don’t mess this up for me.”
Catherine flinched but continued to wash her hands at the sink, watching in the mirror as young girls entered and exited the restroom. She splashed cold water on her face, patting around her eyes in an attempt to lessen the redness and swelling.
“I can’t help it, Gillie,” she said, retying her dark ponytail. “I don’t like horror movies. They scare me.”
“They’re supposed to scare you, ya big baby. That’s the whole point.” Gillian turned toward the mirror and applied an extra coat of lipstick. “It’s bad enough you still dress like you’re in grade school. Do you have to act like it?”
Catherine tugged at the hem of her Wakanda tee-shirt. “Sorry.”
Gillian rolled her eyes and pulled her friend outside to join the group. The pack of teens had gathered in an inconvenient clump in front of the theater door. Patrons pushed and excused their way in and around the traffic jam, but no one in the bunch saw any need to move.
“Sorry it took us so long,” Gillian said as she bounced up. “Cat had a hair in her eye. Took me forever to get it out.”
“Yeah, right,” Kyle said. “More like Scaredy Cat was having a meltdown.”
“God, Gillian, let’s go.” Allyson, a coltish blond, grabbed Kyle’s hand and dragged him down the street.
Everyone else peeled off and followed the pair, laughing, shouting, and jostling each other for space on the sidewalk. Gillian scurried to stay in their midst, while Catherine walked behind the crew, rubbing her hands. One of the boys, a tall gangly brunette, slowed to hang back with her.
“How’d you like the movie?” he asked. “Wasn’t it lit when the guy sliced that girl’s head off and she kept blinking and trying to talk?”
“Yeah, it was…lit.” Catherine looked up at him, thinking it was not lit at all. She glanced around, noticing the street for the first time. “Wait, we’re on Ash.”
“So we’re going past the cemetery.” Her eyes rounded and her hands squeezed tighter.
“Yeah?” The boy called up ahead, bounding forward. “Hey, we’re going past the cemetery. We should totally take a detour.”
“No!” Catherine shouted, then quieted her voice. “I mean, it’s dark in there. We’ll get in trouble.”
The rest of the group ignored her, except for Gillian, who turned around and gave her an evil glare. They ran ahead, shouting, while Gillian dragged her reluctant friend to keep up.
“Don’t embarrass me,” Gillian hissed.
“We can’t go that way.” Catherine stood, refusing to move. “I…I can’t protect you there.”
“Protect me?” Gillian dropped Catherine’s arm and pushed her away. “What kind of weirdo are you? Go home!”
“Hey, Gillian!” A short, dark-haired boy walked backward, laughing. “Ditch the loser and let’s go.”
The graveyard stretched out to their right, bordered by wrought-iron fencing with an entrance of arched stone. The primary path ran up to a single mausoleum, a Romanesque structure with the name Pantera across the front in large letters. Auxiliary paths sprouted left and right, leading past the tombstones and grave markers throughout the green grass that blanketed the space.
This was the largest cemetery in town, and the oldest. Dates on tombstones went back three centuries, and there was an entire section in the back where the stones were all etched in Cyrillic characters.
On overcast days, Catherine enjoyed strolling around the grounds and reading the inscriptions. But not tonight.
Six teenagers ran into the darkened cemetery. Laughter rang from the tombstones, flashes of light marking the selfies being taken.
Gillian took a step to follow and was grabbed by her shoulder.
“Please, Gillie-Bear.” Catherine hadn’t called her best friend that since they were six. “I’m begging you. Don’t go.”
Gillian wrenched her body away. “Forget it, Kitty-Cat. Go back to your childhood.” She ran into the cemetery, calling to the others.
Catherine stood under the arched entry, staring after her ex-best friend. Rubbing her face with the back of her hand, she strolled to the mausoleum, expectant. Soon she felt her skin grow thick with fur, and she licked at her paw with a rough tongue to smooth her cheek. Her spine curved and limbs bent, and her sacrum stretched into a long twitching tail. She always screamed when that happened.
“What was that?” Kyle’s voice was faint. The group was moving further into the cemetery. Further away from the entrance.
Yawning, Cat sharpened her claws on a tall silver-barked tree. Her long white fangs glowed in the moonlight. It was a pity about those teenagers, but she tried to warn them.
Now it was time to go hunting.* * * * *
PS, This is what I get for watching a double-feature of HOCUS POCUS and THE CAT PEOPLE.