So I decided to work on a short story for Halloween — its a good excuse to write something dark. I’ve had this idea for years, ever since I first heard a news report about a cat living in a nursing home that seemed to be able to predict the resident’s passing. So, since I’m waiting to begin NaNoWriMo anyway, I decided to work on it as a short story.
Here’s an excerpt from “Milo Knows” [Working Title]:
Adrian Jabez arrived late for his first day of work at the Concordia Meadows Home for the Elderly.
At the employee entrance he stopped to check his reflection in the glass door. He supposed he ought to make an effort to look professional.
Jabez was not a particularly good looking, a man of modest height, with blonde hair made brown by grease. He was nearly thirty, and his face still showed the evidence of a bad and ongoing bout of adolescent acne – compulsively picked at and left to scar. Jabez wore his pock-marked face like a badge of honor, like he did most of his flaws. He pushed his thin, oily hair out of his eyes and inspected his ghostly double in the door’s dark glass.
While checking his appearance, he noted a small beetle making its way across the glass. Its brown and green iridescence sparkled in the bright sunlight. Jabez stared at the creature, mesmerized.
“Hey, where are you going little guy?” Jabez said, his voice both pleasant and quiet so as not to startle the creature.
Jabez moved slowly, laying his open hand over the bug and trapping him in a dome of fleshy darkness. Jabez could feel the tickle of the beetle’s wings fluttering against his palm. He smiled, enjoying the sensation of the little life held in his hand. Still smiling he slowly flattened his palm, pressing the beetle against the glass. With no room to move, the wings ceased trembling; the beetle became less a living thing and more a hardened pebble.
Or maybe a grape, Jabez mused, feeling distinct pop beneath his fingers. Hard, wet, warmth combined together over the surface of his palm. He let his hand slide against the glass, leaving a long smear of lifeless goo, more than he might have imagined from such a little bug. He could still see minuscule flecks of iridescence in the streak, catching and shining back the sun’s rays.
Remembering himself, he found the handkerchief he always carried in his pocket, and wiped his hand until it was clean. He glanced again at the glass, finding his reflection now merged with the artful remains of the beetle. Beautiful.
“Looking good,” he said, and meaning it.
He opened the door and went inside.
“You’re late,” Munroe, the fat, annoying lady said. Munroe supervised all the orderlies here, and was the one who had hired Jabez. She was also his mother, though he never thought of her that way. Fat. Annoying. Lady. That’s how he thought of her.
“Yeah, so?” Adrian said, “it’s not like they’re goin’ anywhere.”
An undignified snort escaped Munroe’s bulbous jowls. She shook her head, both in disgust and- resignation, maybe? It didn’t matter anyway.
“You’ll be working with Sorkins today. He’ll take you on his rounds so you know what to do,” Munroe said. She nodded meaningfully at a young man at the lockers on the other side of the room.
“Yeah, ok,” Jabez said, already heading over to Sorkins.
Sorkins was crouching now, as Jabez approached. Jabez thought he was tying his shoe, but as he got closer he noticed Sorkins was petting a very large, sleek, black cat.
Jabez stopped abruptly in his tracks.
“That’s a good boy Milo, that’s a good boy…” Sorkins cooed at the cat, scratching his chin and ears. With closed eyes, the cat butted Sorkins’ hand again and again for more attention.
“Alright, alright, that’s enough. I’ve got work to do.” Sorkins attempted to nudge the massive cat aside, though it hardly moved. He stood then and addressed Jabez, who still maintained some distance.
“Hi there, I’m Sorkins,” he said, extending a hand.
“Yeah, I know,” Jabez replied. He made no move to shake.
Sorkin lowered his hand, but remained pleasant. Looking from Jabez to Milo the cat, and then back to Jabez, Sorkin said, “Allergic?”
“Something like that,” Jabez muttered.
“Well, no problem. Milo pretty much keeps to himself, though he seems to have taken a liking to me,” Sorkins added, “you probably saw that.”
“Yeah,” Jabez said.
Sorkins shooed a perturbed looking Milo out the door into the hall. Jabez’s eyes widened.
S “Oh don’t worry, its completely fine,” Sorkins said. “Milo kind of has the run of the place. He’s been here as long as I can remember.” Sorking stopped to think. “Let’s see, I’ve been here for five years now, so he’s got to be older than that.”
“I didn’t think animals were allowed in, you know,” Jabez paused lamely before continuing, “…sanitary places.”
“Oh cats are very clean animals you know. And, Concordia Meadows isn’t like a hospital or anything.”
Jabez wasn’t so sure about that.
“Anyway, I think Milo belongs to the owner or something. So, he stays.”
Jabez swallowed uncomfortably.
“Ok new guy, first things first.” Sorkins pumped the handle of the hand sanitizing dispenser, smoothing the pungent smelling gel over his hands. Jabez wrinkled his nose, but did as Sorkins asked.
“Let’s go,” Sorkins said, grabbing the clipboard and cart, and heading out into the residence hall. Jabez followed him.