A Rash of Suicides – Alexandrine J. Ogundimu
August 19, 2020
It had begun with Amory’s roommate’s cousin’s pet cat. She had opened the double doors to the balcony during one of her parties and the cat had just run and leapt out of the fourth story window and onto the asphalt and broken its neck.
“It died instantly, so that’s good,” Judith, Amory’s roommate, told her while smoking a joint. “But still, it’s tragic.”
What was strange is that it had landed, as far as anyone could tell, on its back. Cats could definitely hurt themselves by falling from a great height, but they usually landed on their feet. It was an aberration to have a cat land on its back, as if it had intentionally turned itself that way, knowing the impact would take it out. But the idea of a cat killing itself was far too implausible for anyone to take seriously.
“I wouldn’t let anything happen to mine,” Judith said. Her own cat sat next to her, inert, quiet, potentially just as stoned as its owner.
Judith, she of the perfect hair and nails, she of the tee-hee flirting style, she who insinuated that she might have a crush on Amory if only she was into girls, but only while drunk. The most basic of bitches. Judith, the fake witch with her smudge sticks and Fleetwood Mac clothes. Amory loathed Judith, saw her as nothing more than a roommate at best and an inconsistent payer of bills at worst. She’d probably have thrown a pity fuck her way if it ever came up, but Amory knew it never would.
Then Judith’s cat committed suicide. At least, that was the only plausible explanation they could come up with, Amory having found the cat lying facedown in a pool of Drano and its own vomit in the middle of the floor, having seemingly grabbed the bottle from the closed cabinet, pulled it to the middle of the living room, gnawed a hole in it, then lapped up enough of the stuff to cause it to leave this mortal realm.
Her first thought was how she was supposed to get these stains out the carpet. Not like the carpet was pristine, being well stained with fruit juices and incense and cigarette burns, but still. It’s uncommon for one to clean drain cleaner and cat puke out of a rug. The smell was incredible as well, not overwhelmingly foul but nonetheless inexplicable and unpleasant.
The cat technically belonged to Judith, the massage therapist, but it was collectively owned by her and Amory. Much like Amory and Judith, she and the cat maintained a distant, mostly polite relationship, neither overly fond of each other nor particularly friendly.
So of course she would be the one to find it.
She opened a beer and sat on the couch, just staring, killing time before she would inevitably have to call Judith and let her know the cat was dead. She pulled out her phone and speed dialed.
“Hey, so this is gonna sound rough but-”
“I am literally just about to go in to see a client, can you make it quick?”
“Yeah so I thought a text message would be inappropriate, which is why I am calling, but the cat’s dead. Suicide, by the look of it.”
“Oh my god.” Sobs. “How could you tell me this in the middle of the day?”
“Well I felt like I had to let you know as soon as I could.”
“This is going to totally throw off my vibes. People expect something of me, Amory. Oh my god, how could you?”
Oh but of course, Judith would be concerned with her vibes. She would always talk about the connection between body worker and client, how sacred it was, as if she didn’t just knead the meat of housewives with too much money and too many children.
“Yeah so the cat committed suicide.”
“Are you sure? I know he was depressed.”
Amory was of the opinion that the cat had been in a particularly good mood, especially as of late, but saw better than to argue.
“I’m so sorry. It’s an epidemic, you know.”
Judith hung up. Amory sighed and dialed another number.
It was unclear exactly how Quinn the witch woman, the real-ass, no shit witch woman, had gotten her number, but Amory was grateful. Times like these, it was good to go to her new apartment and get some wisdom.
Not that anyone would know it was a new apartment, from the looks of it. The building was perpetually being broken into, and the apartment itself smelled perpetually of old furniture and cigarettes. All Quinn spent her disability checks on was Capris Menthol 120s and Dinty Moore. It would be a pathetic existence if she didn’t seem so damn blissed out and calm all the time.
“All I’m saying is, it’s not my fault,” said Amory. She lit her own cigarette. “And yet still, Judith will not talk to me.”
Quinn nodded. “It very well might be your fault. The cat liked you the least. Being forced to live with someone you hate could aggravate the latent depression.”
“Yeah but I live with Judith just fine and I’m rarely suicidal.”
“Each of us can only take so much.”
“Wish you could bring it back to life,” joked Amory. She was well aware of the fact that Quinn wasn’t that kind of a witch. She was a devotee of death itself, a worshipper of industrial decay who drew strength from the city as it fell apart and redistributed that power to others. Her only god was the Dead God, the terrible dog-shaped apparition of trash and filth and sodium lamp orange eyes that neither loved nor hated. It was the same practice Amory used, except Amory’s came from a small town out in the sticks where her family was from, some melange of Southern folklore and Yankee occultism just like the state of Indiana itself.
“Afraid that’s against the powers of anything that’s ever walked this Earth.”
Amory realized idly that she’d gladly bring the cat back if she could. It had been a perfectly fine calico motherfucker, didn’t scratch all that much. And clearly everyone was happier with the cat, or perhaps that was simply the vantage point after the fact, observing the lack of grief. It just didn’t seem likely that the Dead God would do such a thing. The Dead God did not give boons. It did not bring curses. It simply was, and what happened just happened.
Judith, it turned out, was inconsolable. She retreated into her room for days, speaking little to the grad students and even less to Amory, whom she seemed to hold responsible for the death. A lingering smell of decay hovered in the apartment, inexplicably possessing it. The cat had been buried, but its spirit was going nowhere. One Saturday Judith called into work and spent the entire day holed up, speaking to no one.
When she finally did leave her room it had taken much cajoling to get her to speak. “I just heard about a dog that hung itself down over in Melody Hill,”
“You really shouldn’t spend that much time holed up.”
“Thank you for the unsolicited advice. If you must know, I’m not alone. I’m using my Ouija board.”
Amory rolled her eyes. Communing with the dead, at least how Judith did it, was useless bullshit. If the dead wished to speak to the living, it was best to send the invitation and wait, not use some parlor game invented to fleece grieving widows.
It wasn’t worth it to spend any time at all disabusing Judith of her notions. She would spend as much time as she deemed necessary, harvest as much attention as she felt she deserved, before she would let it go. And she clearly put stock in her ticky-tacky fake-ass magic, and if that was how she wanted to live then it wasn’t up to Amory to fix her. She had other, better ways to spend her time, even if it was just smoking cigarettes with Quinn.
But then one day, the cat came back.
No one mentioned it, at first. The cat was simply back, except now it looked incredibly decayed considering it had only been dead for two weeks, with bones poking through fur. Its eyes had turned sodium-streetlight orange, and Amory could swear there was a wire or two sticking out. Well, that explained the smell, if nothing else.
It was unclear exactly how the cat had returned. Maybe Judith really had found a way to bring the cat back to life, the newborn fruit of her shit magic. Perhaps she learned some new, dark ritual.
Amory decided to pretend that nothing had happened. Its return undeniably lightened Judith’s mood, though she continued not to speak to Amory with an added haughtiness, as if she had proved her wrong in some way.
“I guess she wasn’t dead, after all,” she said. “Looks like you called me for nothing. She just needed to be nursed back to health.”
Amory looked at the decaying wreck, and nodded. If Judith wanted to delude herself in such a fashion, then there was no need to save her from it. Even if she began to grow sallow, even if it was obvious that her magic was doing a number on her. No need to save her at all.
But then, the damn thing started talking.
It had been difficult at first to tell if it was talking at all. It would meow, and the meows would take on a character not unlike English words.
“Reevalee,” it would pitifully mewl. “Reevalee soon.”
And this was enough as it was, to have the cat making strangely human sounds in the apartment, but then it began speaking in what were undeniably sentences, and then paragraphs.
“En coldenworld ded Ycls spiderking enrapid dreaming,” it croaked. “Falin Phobetor into lighten blackind skyrches beaming.”
Judith would curl up with the thing on the couch and coo at it. “Who’s the most perfect bit of fur? Who’s my little angel.”
“Dead god approach amongus. Conum superal en scoldual to sethis right. Scareenot for endless tyrn.”
“Aww yes you are, that’s right.”
“Is it sick?” asked Amory. “Sounds weird.”
Judith looked up, wild eyed. “You’ve done enough. Haven’t you done enough?” And she just went back to playing with the little monster as it foretold doom. Sometimes her own eyes flashed orange.
The Dead God worked by simple rules: If you saw it, you died. That was all there was to it, and any ancillary bullshit was just so much window dressing and hokum. The best you could do was lure it to someone you hated, or ward it off, or ask it to go here or there, or scoop up the afterbirth of the one it had called into the new world. The only way Amory could see it bringing something back to life was if it had loaned some of its own power, its own soul to the cat, and that was what was animating it. Which would put her, and all who beheld it, at great danger.
It started with small mishaps. Judith would burn herself on the steam of some microwave popcorn. She would purchase a new package of incense and it would unleash a dreadful, toxic cloud into the apartment. Her car would break down, and she sprained her wrist trying to change the tire.
It wasn’t that she had good luck before the cat came back. It was that she hadn’t had bad luck.
“Woe betided beholden Dead God,” said the cat one night, and it immediately reached and bit Judith, enough to break skin. Judith just sat there, a beatific look upon her face, as if there was nothing wrong in the world and nothing for her to be concerned about.
Then she had a party, with a bunch of her basic bitch friends. Maybe it was more of a get together, but it was still a decent chunk of people in the apartment, not enough that Amory couldn’t mill around a bit and drink a beer or two. Her friends definitely weren’t Judith’s friends. Her friends were cooler, and more interesting, and certainly would be smart enough not to coo at the horrible monster cat dragging itself around the carpet.
One of the guests, a pretty boy with pretty black hair, reached down absently to pet it. The cat made a sound like a human trying to purr, and said, very distinctly, “Kill yourself.”
The guest looked down. Amory felt her soul grow cold. Things suddenly began to make sense.
The pretty boy guest looked down. “What was that?”
Everyone got real quiet for a moment, and then Judith started laughing. She laughed enough to dent the tension, for others to nervously began laughing, for it all to be written off as parlor trick and not anything foreboding, not a thing to be taken seriously, would you like some more wine.
The pretty boy guest was in the hospital for an overdose less than 24 hours later.
“You have to get rid of it.”
“You’ve always been jealous. That’s what it is.” Judith’s hair was two shades later and her eyes flashed orange every other time she blinked. The cat had consumed her life. She had taken to writing down its pronouncements, and would take days off of work just to sit around the shitty apartment and listen to it speak, producing a compendium of gibbering wisdom. Whatever she had been before, this new Judith was not that, but neither was it any sort of progress.
“This thing is bad for you. You’re fucking with shit you don’t get. It almost killed a guy”
“My magic is just as legitimate as yours. Yes, the cat told me what you say about me. How dare you tear another woman down.”
The cat glided across the floor. “Ammy fear. Ammy fear. Noth dead slivee away the real thing.”
“The damn thing is telling you how dangerous it is.” Amory’s voice almost rose to a shout.
“Why do you care?”
“Just because I don’t like you doesn’t mean I want you to suffer.”
“Dikey wunnelways horned up.”
“Don’t talk to it that way. You don’t get to talk to my cat at all. There is a bond you could never understand.”
It wasn’t until she got the cat carrier to Quinn’s place that Amory began to think better of this. Her first red flag should have been how easily and casually it had strolled into the carrier, but she’d just figured it was curious. The second was probably how it spoke incessantly the whole car ride over, only in increasingly coherent and foreboding ways.
“Whatever come ensol arrival always. Comen sortof like me no way all way prisencolden, alright. The thing is already hereso alvry, coldenworld ain’t far behind.”
“God, will you shut up,” she’d said.
“Well, can you maybe say less creepy shit?”
It had been silent for a while, then said, “Gooden weather ins all this place, alright?”
Kidnapping the damn thing was the only option. The idea of re-killing it was too dangerous, too much of a risk. And setting it free wouldn’t do any good either, considering how much damage it had already done. There needed to be a way to contain it, a way for it to be kept away from people but still respected, because it was a remarkable and wonderful thing. But many wonderful things were also depraved and horrible.
There was no helping it now. She pushed open the ever-broken door to Quinn’s apartment building, walked up to the second floor, and banged on Quinn’s door.
It opened, and Quinn stood with lit cigarette in hand, somehow unsurprised by the arrival of the woman. “Well, you finally brought the cat, did you?”
Amory said nothing, just walked past her into the center of the smoke filled room and opened the door to the carrier. The cat strolled out, stretching its length and purring with pleasure at the foul air. It walked up to Quinn and wound around her legs. “Witch en understandel cat howl.”
Quinn nodded. She walked to her kitchen and poured a measure of bourbon into a bowl, mixed it with water, and brought it to the cat, who eagerly lapped it up.
“So can you fix this?” asked Amory.
“There’s nothing to fix,” said Quinn. There was something incredibly tender in her bearing, as if she had suddenly found purpose in this simple action. “It’s exactly what it intended to be.”
And as she watched the two of them together it occurred to Amory that it wasn’t just what it intended to be, but where it intended to be. That whatever had brought the cat back had meant for things to come through in exactly this way, that it hadn’t been a mistake, and that Amory’s part in this was done. And yes, Judith would be angry, and it might even break up their household, but maybe that was intended as well, and the words of the cat started to make more sense and all the decay and the apotheosis therein might just be meant to happen, and there was nothing to be done about it, except maybe to smoke cigarettes and call on the dead for their infinite wisdom.
“I think Judith brought it back, somehow,” said Amory. “She’s turning weird.”
Quinn looked at her. She closed her eyes and opened them. They flashed orange for the slightest moment. “Any weirder than you or I?”
“Will you keep it? I don’t think it’s good for the cat to be around, even if it is kind of a sweetheart.”
A nod from Quinn, and a sigh from Amory, and the pact was made.
Ceramic bowl of salt flying through the air, hit the wall behind Amory’s head. Judith was pissed about the cat, and not expressing it with words.
Amory tried to explain why it had been done. Couldn’t Judith see that it was corrupting her? That the cat wasn’t good for her, that she could always get another cat and that it would be a better fit by dint of being alive? There was no reason to leave a fortune-telling dead cat with a bad attitude wandering around.
Judith howled, refusing to speak. And when she did, the words came out like the cat’s, garbled, English sounding but some different language. Her hair was now streaked with gray and the orange flashes in her eye were so frequent as to be nauseating.
“En coldenworld,” she shrieked. “En coldenworld my catlis dreamling.”
Judith fell to the ground, sobbing. The sound was a howl, catlike and gauzy.
“He told me the world is ending,” said Judith, finally returning to her humanity. “He told me stories to calm me down. The animals know. That’s why they’re killing themselves.”
Amory knelt next to her for a moment, before wrapping an arm around her. Words weren’t effective at this point. Words had done enough damage. So instead she held silence for Judith, giving her a moment to heal, their minds flushed with thought which should not be, and they allowed themselves a moment to pray.