Its not really halloween themed — its just kind of horror-ish and so in honor of Halloween, here it is:
Title: Milo Knows
by Anastasia Betts
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 little 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 smear 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 boy. 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 friendly hand.
“Yeah, I know,” Jabez replied. He made no move to shake.
Sorkins lowered his hand, but remained pleasant. Looking from Jabez to Milo the cat, and then back to Jabez, Sorkins 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 gaze darkened.
Seeing his look, Sorkins said, “Oh don’t worry, its completely fine. Milo kind of has the run of the place. He’s been here as long as I can remember. Let’s see, I’ve been here for ten 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.
Weeks passed and Jabez settled into a routine he detested. Empty the bedpans. Change the diapers. Spoon the food dribbling down the chin. Wipe away the drool. Drag the lump from the bed to the chair. Sometimes it was like moving a sack of potatoes, and Jabez had to strain to keep from dropping the resident on the floor. Still others were light as feathers. He found himself clutching madly to keep a hold of them, lest they manage float away like bubbles on the wind.
It wasn’t that he detested the job so much, it was the people. Were they people? Didn’t much look like it to Jabez. Rheumy milky eyes sunk into pasty white wrinkles of skin, gnarled arthritic claws, bony-knock-kneed, wiry-haired vestiges of a human existence long past its expiration date. Why didn’t they just die already? Jabez had a hard time believing that anyone would want to live like this. He would shoot himself long before he aged into one of these pathetic things.
He pulled his cart into room 21A. A placard next to the doorway read Ms. Abner Collins. Ms. Abner Collins, he thought. He knew her name was Alice, but she kept her husband’s name on the door.
He parked the cart next to the doorway and began to pull the fresh toiletries from the labeled bins.
“I’m here to change the linens,” he called over his shoulder without preamble.
“Oh that’s lovely dear. Feels so nice doesn’t it.” Her voice warbled up from her bed.
Jabez paid her no mind. He took toilet paper rolls, bars of hand soap and fresh towels into the small adjoining bathroom.
She continued talking. As if he cared.
“It is such a beautiful day outside, don’t you think? Oh, it would be such a delight to go for a walk in the nice, warm sun, wouldn’t it my dear? Wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it?”
She sounded ridiculous with her singsong voice; she probably thought he was her grandson or something. That happened all the time. No, I’m not your grandson, he thought. You’re grandson has sense enough to stay away from this place, you crazy bat.
He grabbed the sanitizing wipes and began wiping down the bathroom surfaces.
She began humming a little tune to herself.
“You like that song don’t you sweetheart? Its you’re favorite, I know,” She said softly, cooing to him now.
His favorite song? She really was delusional.
His head jerked, his hand stilled mid-swipe. He leaned back slowly, angling his head to look through the bathroom doorway into the main room.
There on the bed, Mrs. Abner Collins was petting and cuddling that wretched black cat. The cat lay on his side, underbelly exposed, as the old lady scratched and petted and hummed away at her stupid little song.
Jabez stood abruptly knocking over his basket of cleaning supplies. The contents spilled loudly across the tile, startling both the cat and the lady out of their sickly sweet moment. Standing atop the bed, the cat stared curiously at Jabez.
“What?” Jabez said, sounding anxious, even to himself.
“Oh dear, Milo, look who it is? Its that the nice young man who cleans our lavatory.”
She stroked a clumsy withered hand down the cat’s back, who arched to make maximum contact.
The cat continued to look directly at Jabez.
There was something about the cat’s eyes. Something provocative. No not provocative, provoking. Scheming eyes. Jabez wanted to throw his shoe at the damn animal. The cat watched him carefully, sizing him up.
“What’s your problem?” Jabez said, flinging his arms out at the cat.
Ms. Abner Collins shrank back into her pillows. The cat didn’t flinch.
“Problem?” She asked. “Whatever do you mean?”
Mrs. Collins had lost a good deal of her eyesight, but she had seen Jabez’s gesticulating well enough. She had a worried look on her face.
“Is everything all right my dear?” she said to Jabez.
Jabez pulled his broom from the cart and swung it at the cat, “shoo -shoo I said! Get out of here.”
The bristles made brief contact with the cat’s body just as he leaped to the floor.
“Oh!” The old lady gasped, fanning herself with her hand, “Oh my goodness!”
“Just what are you doing?” said Sorkins. He stood in the doorway, a furrowed brow and frown marring his otherwise pleasant face.
Jabez imagined Sorkins was taking in the scene before him, Mrs. Abner Collins hyperventilating, seemingly trying to push her self deeper into the pillows and comforter, Jabez standing there, broom raised, face flushed red. Jabez thought quickly.
“Its that cat; it was bothering Ms. Collins again,” Jabez said.
“Um, excuse me – no he—“ Mrs. Abner Collins began to interject.
Jabez cut her off with some force, “I said that cat was bothering her and that’s exactly what I meant.”
The old lady stayed silent then.
Jabez wanted to wipe that dumb look off of Sorkins’ face.
“Jabez, could I please see you in the hall for a minute?”
Jabez shoved the broom back into its holder on the cart, and stomped out after Sorkins.
Once in the hallway, Sorkins pulled the door to Mrs. Abner Collins’ room half way closed. He said in lowered tones, “Hey, I don’t know what was going on in there but you need to leave Milo alone. He is very important to the residents here”
“He’s just a filthy animal,” Jabez countered. “He’s not sanitary.”
“Look, I can see you don’t understand, so I’m going to fill you in on something,” Sorkins looked very serious as he continued, “Milo has been spending a lot of time with Mrs. Collins lately. A lot.”
“Yeah, so?” Jabez said impatiently. So what if the cat was in there a lot? All the more reason to get rid of him.
“Milo only spends a lot of time with the residents that are ready to, you know…” Sorkins let the words hang there meaningfully. He gestured to the air as if the rest of the sentence could be found there.
Jabez was getting impatient with this game, “Ready to what? I can’t read your mind.”
Sorkins leaned even closer and whispered, “Ready to pass.”
“Pass? What, like die?” Jabez said, not bothering to be quiet.
Sorkins gave him a look that said shut up dumbass, but Jabez could care less if the old bat heard him. She probably couldn’t even hear that well anyway. And what did he care if she heard if she was on her way out?
“So what are you saying? Like that cat can predict the future?” Jabez asked. A psychic cat? Sorkins had to be messing with him.
“No, not exactly. We think Milo just knows they need company, and so he stays with them until the end. Its not that hard to believe, actually.” Sorkins looked at Mrs. Collins through the crack in the door, and smiled softly. “Milo has been spending so much time with Mrs. Collins lately, we think maybe her time is coming.”
He looked back at Jabez and the smiled disappeared.
“So leave Milo alone,” he finished.
“Yeah ok, whatever. Sure.” Jabez said. He could feel himself shrinking a little under Sorkins’ uncommonly stern gaze.
Three days later, Mrs. Abner Collins was dead.
Jabez reported for work that day only to discover her room empty and being prepared for the admission of another new resident. Good riddance, he thought. The cat gave him the creeps.
Jabez went about his duties in a perfunctory manner in the months that followed. As orderlies go, Jabez was not good at his job, nor did he care to be. He ignored the patients and when he wasn’t ignoring them, he was mistreating them. Soiled clothes and linens often went unchanged until they absolutely had to be. Requests for water were promptly forgotten. The temperature was regulated to suit Jabez instead of the residents, who were often left freezing under the constant flow of central air-conditioning. His coworkers complained to each other about him, but since he was Munroe’s son, the complaints never became more than water-cooler gossip.
Jabez cared about only one thing. Avoiding the cat.
Whenever he noticed the cat in a room, he refused to clean it. If he encountered the cat in the hall, he would walk the other way. If it had been any other cat, he might have just boxed it up and left it on a dirt road somewhere. Or tossed it in the river. But no such luck. He was leary of getting too close to the cat. And, Sorkins was watching him, he knew. It irritated the hell out of him, realizing he was afraid of a stupid cat.
And so it was that on the day he entered room 37B to clean the room of Mr. Maurice Gallardo, he came face to face with the enemy. Mr. Gallardo seemed to be sleeping easily despite the oxygen mask attached to his face; the tank whirred rhythmically at his side. The cat laid pleasantly at the foot of the bed. He raised his head to look at Jabez -curious, but unconcerned.
Once again, Jabez froze in his tracks, paralyzed by the site of the furry black demon. For a split second, Jabez considered leaving the room, just like he always did. But then his pride rose up and smacked him in the face. Why should he leave? It was just a stupid animal. And what did Jabez do to stupid dumb animals? He got rid of them.
“Bet you think you’re pretty clever don’t you,” Jabez said with a sneer. “You’ve got a pretty sweet deal here, is that it? You get whatever you want? People treat you like you’re special?”
Jabez moved slowly into the room, pushing his cart in with measured steps. He didn’t want to startle the cat.
“You think you’re smart?” Jabez said, carefully pulling one of the pillow cases from the bin in his cart. “We’ll see about that.”
A gravelly snore rumbled from somewhere deep in Mr. Gallardo’s chest. The cat’s gaze followed Jabez. He blinked his eyes impassively.
Doesn’t suspect a thing, Jabez thought. So much for ESP.
“Not so good at predicting death are you?” Jabez said stretching the open end of the pillow case wider and wider. “Can you even see your own end coming?”
The cat looked away from Jabez now, oblivious. He began licking his paw.
“Oh? Not scared of me are you?” Jabez said, stalking the cat on the bed. “You should be!”
He slammed the pillow case down, but the cat was quicker. It scrambled away from Jabez, over Mr. Gallardo’s rotund body and toward the headboard. Jabez followed, knocking the food tray table aside with no small amount of racket. He managed to get a hold of the cat’s thick tail and began pulling him backwards. But the creature sunk his claws into the oxygen mask and held on for dear life. Jabez started punching the miserable thing, forcing it to defend itself. Dislodging its claws, it rolled over and focused its razor sharp talons on Jabez’ hands and arms. Jabez threw himself on top of the devil, pinning it between Jabez and Mr. Gallardo, who never stirred from his deep sleep. Jabez worked the pillow case beneath him, and around the helpless animal who continued to hiss and spit like a kettle of boiling tea.
Jabez squeezed closed the pillow case and carefully raised himself off the bed. He could feel the cat tumbling round and round inside of the fabric, looking in vain for a way out. But it was no use. Jabez grabbed the duct tape from the maintenance bin on his cart and wrapped it tight around the cinched opening of the pillow case. The cat had ceased struggling and was now howling loud enough to wake the dead. Jabez could already hear footsteps in the hall; he needed to do something quickly. Seeing the open window, he tossed the bagged cat out to the ground below. He would just have to pick it up later, after his shift. That cat was bagged up nice and tight and was going nowhere in any case. Jabez pulled the triple glass pane closed to shut out the pitiful wails, just as Sorkins and June, another orderly, entered the room.
“What’s happening?” June said, out of breath as if she had run down the hall.
“We heard crying and commotion – is everything ok?” Sorkins asked, concerned.
“Um yeah, everything is fine, I uh, just uh, dropped the maintenance bin,” Jabez said. He gestured to the floor where an array of tools had spilled out in his haste to get the duct tape. The roll of tape laid atop it all.
Sorkins face relaxed. Relief flooded through Jabez.
“Oh no!” June exclaimed, “Mr. Gallardo!”
All heads swiveled in unison.
“He’s just asleep,” Jabez insisted. “He was snoring – I heard him!”
June was leaning her face down over the old man’s mouth. “I can’t feel his breath. His chest isn’t moving. It looks like his oxygen mask got moved somehow,” June said. Her voice sound anxious, agitated.
Sorkins looked hard at Jabez.
“What? I didn’t do anything. I swear the guy was snoring away just a minute ago. Maybe it was just his time, you know?” Jabez said, sounding defensive.
“And besides, that stupid cat was in here. Maybe he moved the guy’s mask.” Jabez finished.
Sorkins looked at June.
“He’s right,” said June. “Milo has been in here every day since Mr. Gallardo arrived.” Though she confirmed Jabez’s statement about the cat, it didn’t stop her form eyeing him suspiciously. Something wasn’t right here and both Sorkins and June could sense it.
“Jabez, go continue your rounds. June and I will handle this. I’m sure you’re right, it was probably just his time.”
Grateful to be dismissed, Jabez gathered his things and made to leave the room.
“He Jabez,” Sorkins said. “Where’s Milo now?”
“He ran out when I dropped the maintenance bin,” Jabez said without a moments hesitation. He was proud of how truthful he sounded.
Sorkins nodded and Jabez left to finish his rounds.
The minutes to the end of Jabez’s shift ticked by, and all the while Jabez relished plotting the end of that devil’s spawn. He imagined the creature, imprisoned in its bag, baking in the hot, unrelenting sun–it’s cries growing weaker. Maybe it would already be dead by the time he went to retrieve it. That would save him a lot of trouble, but wouldn’t be half as fun.
Five o’clock came at last and Jabez made his way to the west side of the residential building. He whistled a merry tune as he walked along. He hadn’t felt this happy in a very long time. He rounded the corner just before the window to room 37B, and pulled up short. He had expected to see the lump of a pillow case there, lying in the dirt. But nothing was there. Nothing but a mark in the dirt where the pillow case had landed. He jerked his head left and right, looking frantically for something, anything that would indicate where the cat had gone. Maybe the groundkeepers had picked it up as trash. Jabez ran up and down the west side of the building, but he could find no clues. Not one.
He walked slowly around the array of buildings, back inside through the employee entrance. Maybe someone saw the pillow case and thought it was laundry. But he didn’t want to ask. If anyone found that duct taped pillow case stuffed full of cat, they would know it wasn’t an accident. There would be no getting out of this one. How could he have been so stupid? He should have just left that cat alone.
Not sure what else to do, he went to his locker to get his jacket and wallet. He slammed the locker door shut and leaned his forehead heavily against the cool metal. His head was starting the throb painfully.
“Oh hello there boy, you’re such a good boy, aren’t ya?”
Jabez head snapped up. There in the doorway was June crouching down, petting that cat. He could hardly believe his eyes. It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t. He squeezed his eyes shut tight. Maybe he was hallucinating.
“I’m taking off,” June said. “Have a great weekend!”
He opened his eyes and watched her walk out the door. Maybe he had imagined it after all. He turned to look at the doorway to the residence hall, and saw… nothing. Nothing was there. He exhaled in relief. He seriously needed to get out of here and get a drink.
He turned in a flash. It sat there, on top of one of the break tables. Its black fur glossy in the artificial light, its yellow eyes glowing like two unholy halos set in a sea of pitch. Jabez could feel his heart thumping hard in his chest. He swallowed convulsively, his flesh plumping into goose bumps. The air felt charged with an electromagnetic hum. All he could think about was getting out of there.
“Oh good you’re still here,” Sorkins was talking to him from the doorway. “I know your shift is over, but Miller went home sick and we need someone to finish his rounds.”
He was kidding right? There was no way that Jabez was sticking around now that the cat was back. But he just stood there looking at Sorkins, and said nothing.
“Besides, after what happened today with Mr. Gallardo, I think you would want to help out as much as possible, am I right?” Sorkins stared pointedly at Jabez.
“I would do it myself, but I have a prior commitment,” he added.
Did he know? Did Sorkins know what Jabez had done? Did he know what Jabez had intended to do with the cat, or that Mr. Gallardo had likely died as a result of the struggle? Jabez pushed those thoughts out of this mind.
“Do me a favor, would you? Lock up when you’re done,” Sorkins said, tossing the late shift keys to Jabez.
The keys landed on the floor at Jabez’s feet.
“Uh, yeah. Sure,” he heard himself say as he retrieved the keys from the floor.
Moving automatically, Jabez put his jacket and wallet back in the locker, and walked stiffly through the door to the residence hallway. He grabbed Miller’s cart and began pushing it down the hall to the first room on the list.
Jabez looked around nervously. About twenty feet down the hall from him, sat the cat. It didn’t move. It didn’t stand. It just sat there as calm as you please, looking mutely at Jabez.
“Go away!” he said..
But the cat didn’t move.
“I said – Go. Away!’ he yelled. Jabez grabbed a roll of toilet paper and hurled it at the dark spector. The cat ducked. The toilet paper flew down the hall, unravelling as it sailed past.
Jabez could feel his temper rising. Heat radiated off of his skin in undulating waves. The cat started walking toward him. He lobbed a soap bar. It landed wide, and the cat kept walking. Jabez reached for the broom but found it wasn’t there. He started pulling bins out of the cart, looking for something, anything to heave at the cat. He reached for a pumice stone, but upended the tray of individual shampoos and hand soap refill bags. They scattered and slide across the floor. He clasped the pumice stone at last and charged the cat– running through the obstacle course of shampoo and soap, which squirted onto the tiled floor under each footfall.
Jabez loosed the pumice stone, letting fly through the air. It closed the distance between Jabez and the cat in milliseconds. Again the cat ducked, effectively dodging the projectile. Still the cat came, walking calmly toward Jabez who stood huffing and puffing– his panic rising irrationally.
“You think you’re gonna get me? YOU THINK YOU’RE GONNA GET ME???” Jabez screamed. The cat blinked.
Jabez grabbed the cart. His aim may be worthless, but he would just mow that sucker down with his metal battering ram. He positioned himself behind the cart and gave it a push. His legs pumped, working up some speed. The cart twisted and turned out of control, not meant to be moved so fast. Jabez had the cat in his sites – it had stopped. Was that a worried look on its face?
“That’s right! You freak of nature! Jabez is coming for you,” Jabez cried like a maniac. His sneakers beat a rhythmic tattoo on the tiled floor as he advanced on the cat. He got maybe ten feet before the cart wheels jammed up on bottles of shampoo. The cart continued to move over the floor now slick with soap. Jabez’s feet slipped too, right out from underneath him. The last thing he saw before he hit the floor was that damn cat, staring at him.
The sickening sound of his skull crunching on tile. The world spun away in a kaleidoscope of black fog and flashing lights, and at the center of it all were two glowing yellow orbs.
“Do they know what happened?”
“What does it look like? The schmuck spilled hand soap everywhere and slipped. Hit his head on the concrete.”
“No kidding,” came the sarcastic reply. “I mean do they know how the soap got spilled all over the floor?”
“Nah, just some careless idiot. His supervisor over there told me that he wasn’t an employee of the month type. Cut a lot of corners. Half-assed job, that sort of thing. He was probably drunk or high.”
“Well, get toxicology in here for a blood sample then.” The detective finished jotting down the officer’s information and folded his notebook closed. He stared at the body and shook his head. What a waste of human potential.
He was sliding the notebook in his blazer’s breast pocket when he felt a gentle rubbing against his ankle.
He looked down to find the biggest, most beautiful black cat he had ever seen.
“Hey there, buddy,” He said, reaching down to give the cat’s head a scratch.
The cat nuzzled the detective’s hand, eager for more attention.
“Ahh, you’re a friendly boy aren’t you?” He said, working his fingers behind the cats ears and under his chin.
The officers zipped up the body bag and wheeled the gurney away.