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Here kitty, kitty, kitty… NOT!!!!



Bart Stewart


        “So beautiful to see so many of our wonderful ladies of the area here today. Jill Rawlings of the Carolina Traveler is here again today. Always so fine to see you, Jill. And Millicent. Hi, Milli ... And to all of you touring the estate for the first time, welcome.

        I grew up surrounded by masterpieces of art, as well as just ... pieces of art. It was only in my late teens that I began to take some interest in what my forebears have established here at Black Pines. Since my teens were not so long ago, I hope you will forgive my occasional lapse into ignorance about our collection. You see, I spent most of my life out on our lake, fishing! It’s true. I have logged many years searching for those little creatures, hidden just below the surface Oh well. I thought before we got preoccupied with the art we might have some of this fine Cabernet I picked up on the West Coast. We might as well, right?”

        Gentle, approving, feminine voices filled the air around the finely dressed young man, as so often they did. Women always greatly outnumbered men on the invitation list for these private showings of his family’s formidable art collection. With fine wine being served to this gathering of art writers in the main hall of his family estate, Teddy Harnes settled back in a throne-like overstuffed armchair and steadily inhaled the bouquet from the glass he held to his nose. Aspiring journalist Milli knelt by his side, gushing platitudes.         

        In his lavishly embroidered jacket, he looked a bit like the 18th century dandy who gazed out from the wall in a nearby oil painting. With his long wavy blonde hair and dark mustache, he was reminiscent of a face on a playing card. The Jack of Hearts come to life for a little wine tasting with the local damsels. The year was 1967, and Teddy and his younger sibling Lisette would represent the highpoint of fashion for five hundred miles in any direction.

         A massive television camera was wheeled in to bring a glimpse of the Harnes art hoard to North Carolina’s educational TV. It was not their first broadcast from the Black Pines Estate, and familiarity meant the producer and cameraman needed very little time to get the lighting just right. They knew they could count on the academics and art gadflies to drift by and offer up interviews to fill out the program.

         Ted remained seated, sizing up the people in the scattered crowd around him. Some nominal rivals in the art collecting world were present; those with the most unctuous smiles were the most envious of his holdings. A few of his outside friends and clinging vines from the local music scene had shown up. Some rich old clods he had to invite sat on the settee. His sister Lisette was talking to some strange mousey girl in a bargain store dress. Apart from that, he was rankled to see that a guy he didn’t know was openly flirting with one of the finer women in the room.              

        Then there was the Rubenesque Mrs. Eddens, with her pure white angora cat on a leash. A family friend from the old days, she probably knew the art collection as well as he and Lisette, but there was no way to have an exhibition without the presence of her and kitty. She took a whopping goblet of wine and drifted off on her own, not waiting for the official tour. 

        Ted spoke up, directing his voice to the retreating form of Mrs. Eddens, “We certainly won’t hold anyone to the guided tour! You are welcome to make your own way around if you wish!”

         She neither broke her stride nor acknowledged him in any way, which tickled Millicent intensely. As Mrs. Eddens disappeared down the hall, he went on, “You’ll see brochures in every room. Just confine yourselves to the first and second floor of this wing, please. I think the rest of it is locked off. Right, Liz?”

         His sister was still talking to that frail young woman, the one who looked so uncomfortable and out of place. Lisette suddenly stepped away from her and said, “That’s right, love. And if everyone will come this way, I will begin the guided tour in the tapestry hall. Remember to be back here at two, when we’ll have a nice lunch for you. Afterwards, I’ll open up the strong room, and we’ll view the Vermeers.”

         She gave an exaggerated wink to no one in particular, which went over big with the assembled art fans. The unknown waif came back, insisting on handing Lisette a large manilla envelope even as she was trying to assemble guests for the tour. Finally Lisette took the package from the awkward lady, and folded it so it would fit in her handbag. The whole maneuver was just odd enough that it caught Ted’s notice.       

         Newcomers took the guided tour. Old friends of the Harnes family made their own way around the two floors of grand galleries, laden with 18th and 19th century oil paintings, colossal tapestries, and ancient bronze and stone statuary. Eclectic was the

word for this sprawl. There was very little in the way of a central theme. Unkind writers had called it an accumulation, not a collection at all. Antique musical instruments with forgotten names were on display, and framed autographs of long gone authors turned up among other unexpected items. 

         Mrs. Eddens was unconcerned about getting cat fur on her gown, or on anything else, and carried her long-haired pet in her arms as she made her way up the grand staircase to the second floor. She knew the layout well. She had known not only the parents of Teddy and Lisette but also Miles Harnes, the grandfather, in his final days. It was Miles who had established their vast fortune through currency trading and land speculating after World War I. She paused at the top of the stairs and looked across the hall to the sunlit room of French doors that had been his office.

         The door stood half open. Down the hall the familiar galleries were spilling over with the voices of guests. She peered inside the old office. No one there. This space was not usually part of the art tour, she knew. Its artifacts were of more sentimental than aesthetic value. These were the trophies and personal effects of Miles Harnes, including souvenirs of his extensive travels during the 19th century. There should be some interesting items here, and some of no small value.

          Elaborately carved Maori canoe paddles were crossed on the back wall. The massive stuffed head of a broad-lipped white rhinoceros jutted out above them. One wall was mostly made up of draped French doors. Mrs. Eddens stepped inside, stroking her cat’s chin until he closed his eyes and purred.       

         Magnificent old Moroccan rugs covered a marble tiled floor. There was an ornate oak desk, seemingly quite old, that dominated the far end of the room. Display cases covered the walls on three sides around the desk, their shelves crammed with curiosities.

         The items on display were pleasing to the eye, but Mrs. Eddens had no idea what many of them were supposed to be. The fading, typed labels placed in front of the various objects were not always comprehensible. There were some odd juxtapositions here, too. A display of Japanese netsuke sat next to what looked like old machine parts. The label said only, “Gearing from the Morgana.” 

         A leaf of incunabulum sat in its frame. Proclamations from governments of certain defunct nations were waiting to be read. The silver plated skull of an infant had a label written by hand, in ideographs she had never seen before.

         She passed along, left to right, and came to where the glass door of a case was standing partially open. She raised her left index finger, touched her long red fingernail onto the glass, and pushed it closed. Its magnetic catch clicked shut and Mrs. Eddens saw what was stored inside.    

         A pair of nearly identical seated cat figures, each nearly three feet in height, dominated the display case. She gasped slightly on seeing them. They were carved from some kind of black stone, possibly onyx, and seemed to be lightly glazed. The eyes were done in a different stone, a cloudy quartz. There was an old label for them, too.

         “Statuary Cats. Ancient. Variations on Bast? Acquired Ankara, Turkey, 1902.”

         They were reminiscent of the Egyptian cat deity, Bast. But Mrs. Eddens’ familiarity with art was enough to know that images of Bast usually featured a ceremonial pendant

around the neck, and would likely have more decorative features in the Egyptian style. These figures were not on pedestals, or bases of any kind. They were merely sitting side by side on the shelf. They had a certain regal, imperious effect, with their heads held high and ears swept back. They were distinctive. The longer she regarded them, the more evocative they seemed.

         From his place snuggled at her breasts, Mrs. Eddens’ cat abruptly stopped purring.            

        His green eyes popped open wide, and his head made an instantaneous pivot to face the artworks. Mrs. Eddens glanced down to see his head moving slowly down and back, as he began recoiling. His white fur flared out, and now he was a squirming, growling armful of energy.

        “Stop that!” she cried out.

         Her cries turned to shrieks as the animal dug its claws into the bare skin of her upper chest, and powered itself over her shoulder and off to the floor. The leather leash was still wrapped around Mrs. Eddens’ wrist. He nearly pulled her over from her high heels as he struggled to run away. Then he was on his back, chewing the leash in a frenzy.

          Halfway up the staircase outside, Ted Harnes and a young woman were stopped cold by the screams. They watched, wine glasses in hand, as the white angora shot out of the office, skidded on the hard wood floor, and hit solidly into the wall at the top of the staircase. Trailing his leash behind him, apparently dazed, he staggered past them down the steps. A sound of muffled sobbing grew louder, and Mrs. Eddens appeared at the banister. Ted’s eyes fell onto her upper chest and shoulder, which trickled thin streams of blood.  

         Several hours later, Lisette Harnes had finally bathed the stresses of the day out of her system. She lay across her bed, wrapped in a terrycloth robe. A television had been blaring in her expansive bedroom, but she shut it off, and now the silence was such that she could feel the blood circulation of her inner ears. She was not sleepy, and considered setting up the film projector and watching one of her movies. But the silence was better, so she lay still instead.

         Later she noticed the corner of a manilla envelope sticking up from her handbag.

         This might be a good way to cap off the day, she thought. The lady who foisted it on her had certainly been eccentric enough. Most likely this would be fairly funny. “Researches of Mindy Linton,” it said on the flap in tiny handwritten letters. Mindy was the same age as her, and lived in town, but their common ground ended with that. It was only because of the persistent calls and nuisance appearances at the front door that Lisette had agreed at last to meet with this woman, who had been so reticent about explaining her business up front. She invited Mindy to the art show, spoke to her briefly, took her material, and still could not be sure what was the point of the matter with this whispering, self-effacing little soul.    

          She opened the envelope, and spread out typed sheets and photocopies of photographs across her bed. It all seemed fairly well organized, not a scatterbrained effort. Lisette began reading. It didn’t take long to see that numerous paragraphs dealt with the Harnes family, primarily her father and grandfather, and their art collection. The papers contained pretty detailed information on their personal histories. She skipped ahead. There were cryptic pages of what seemed to be science material photocopied from college biology textbooks, with diagrams that left her baffled. Grainy copies of photographs showed State art museums in Europe and Russia. Shots of individuals she did not recognize followed, and numerous pages were taken up with photographs of carved stone animal figures. Some of these were clearly views of the seated cat statues in her late grandfather’s office, downstairs!     

          Lisette returned to page one and began reading carefully. Fifty three pages of single spaced text melted away in just under an hour, after which she had to get up and pour herself a large glass of wine. She went back to flipping through the photos for a moment, sipping her wine, deep in thought. She then shoved all the papers into the envelope, placed it in her desk drawer, and took the key and locked it. 

          In bathrobe and bedroom slippers, wine glass in hand, she left her room and made her way down the hall to a closet where a large storm flashlight was kept. Checking that it was powered, she proceeded in silence down the carpeted staircase to the second floor.

          The old Miles Harnes office suite was cold tonight; the heating vents were kept closed in this rarely used room. Lisette turned on what lights were available, and went to the desk. She sat her wine down and turned her attention to the center display case. The Statuary Cats sat side by side on their shelf, staring straight ahead in stony majesty. She regarded them silently for a long moment. There had always been something about them.   

          She considered calling a housekeeper to hold the cats while she examined them. They were sure to be heavy. But as late as it was, it would mean rousing someone. And she would tell them - what? She herself was not entirely sure what she was looking for.

          A door of glass was held closed with a magnet. She pulled it open and leaned in for a close inspection of the stonework, first of one cat then the other.

         Great detail was visible throughout. Muscle definition was clear to see. All over the glazed surface faint etchings represented fur. The black stone had a vague swirling pattern in it, which the ancient artist had apparently followed to set the pattern of the fur. Bearing in mind what she had read in the Mindy Linton papers, Lisette squatted down and tilted one of the figures. She aimed her flashlight at its underside and saw that this area was not smooth and flat as she had assumed it would be. Each of the cat statues had carved representations of genitals. Lisette was amused to see that they were a male and female.

          It was so strange to learn something new about items that had been sitting around her home for her entire life. She rose and took a long pull from her glass of wine and thought it over. Turning back, she lifted out one of the weighty stone figures. It was not as cold as she expected. Hefting the thing up and down in her arms, she guessed it weighed forty pounds. She turned it upside down and looked at the remarkable attention the artist had given to a side of the object that no one was ever intended to see. Who could know what religious trip had motivated that, she thought.      

          She turned the statue upright again, cradling it in her arms like a baby while she passed the flashlight beam over its various features. The nostrils and ear openings penetrated deep inside the head, out of sight. And those eyes ...  

         Where did the artist find stone like that? Curving striations made for a whirlpool effect in the quartz, if it was quartz. The eyes were fascinating. She had never examined them this closely before, and had never guessed that these old souvenirs, as they were called, could have such stark beauty. She held the beam near to the brilliant eyes.


          She drew in closer, and then pulled back with a start. It looked as if a bug had gotten into the figure, in back of the quartz eyes, and had moved suddenly. She looked again more closely, and squinted in the dazzling reflection of the light on the stone until she had to pull back, blinking.

          It was then that she saw its mouth was open.

          The lips had parted, as though they were flesh. The mouth had opened. Black fangs pointed downward from behind the upper lip. Lisette froze at the sight and took in half a gasp. She felt her fingertips sinking into the back of the cat, which was now pliable, no longer as stone.

          Its jaws shot open wide and a long hissing breath streamed out against her face. As she wavered, its arms whipped around her neck, and it pulled itself with irresistible power toward her face. The compact, fanged jaws slammed shut on her nose and lip.

          She roared in terror and agony and struggled to pry off the unreal creature. But it bit down again and again, and ripped at the back of her neck with its black claws. The cat was viciousness incarnate. It could not be dislodged. Lisette collapsed. Seconds later, she moved no more.

        On the shelf of the display case the other cat sat immobile, staring straight ahead. Then, slowly, it relaxed. It shifted its jet black head downward and gazed with gleaming eyes at the scene on the rug below. After a moment or two, it leapt deftly down and sidled up next to its mate to feed.    

        A lone harpist played softly as two hundred people filed in and took seats at the outdoor funeral for Lisette Harnes. The grounds behind the Black Pines estate house were bordered by willows and dogwoods and consisted of nearly as much acreage as what separated the front side from the road. The air was cool today, but the angle of the sun made for a harsh and oppressive light from a cloudless, vivid blue sky. 

         Inside the wrought iron fence of the family burial plot, well removed from the rows of mourners, Ted Harnes sat next to his frail, encumbered father, who had been driven up from his home on the coast. He would have to get back to that sea air as soon as possible, for psychological as much as respiratory reasons. Ted shifted his gaze from the ground long enough to look him over and wonder if the old fellow was going to survive the stress of this day. Ted’s mother and four grandparents were in this ground before him. And now, Lisette.                     

        Sobbing from a nearby section of family servants caught his attention for a moment. They might well weep, he thought to himself. They knew the killer must be sitting amongst them in their row. Every valet, housekeeper, butler, and gardener was under suspicion by the police. Ted himself might have been, but he had been out on the town with friends that entire night, and thus had an alibi. These people had been in their beds asleep, or so they all said. Not that there was the slimmest rationale for anyone to have hated Lisette. The whole thing was unimaginable. Through his bottomless heartache, all he could grasp intellectually was that one of their trusted servants was leading a double life as a monstrous psychopath.

        Well, by God, that person would be found, he swore. But so far the police had been surprised by a number of factors that made no sense. Not least being the absence of any trace of blood anywhere outside of the immediate murder scene. Ted had been processing this and some other uncanny facts for the past five days, to the point he thought he might lose his own sanity.              

        When a news helicopter came clattering overhead, he stood up and let off some steam. He summoned the closest usher, pointed up at the thing, and let go a verbal barrage. Only the usher heard exactly what he said, but by the way the old fellow took off running to the house, all the guests understood it was about getting a phone call made regarding that chopper. Ted returned to his seat and placed his hand over that of his father.

        Too many speakers spoke, and then, after the lowering of the flower-heaped casket, Ted and his father endured an endless receiving line. 

        Mrs. Eddens spoke at great length to Ted, assuring him that an eternal bond existed between their two bloodlines. Teary-eyed people who Ted barely knew turned up to squeeze him to their bosoms. When it reached the point that he feared for his father’s life in the crush, he yelled out orders to some of the servants. They circled around him, and politely held off the guests. Wheeling the old man in his chair before him, Ted grimly led a procession back toward the family home.

        In the weird light of that freakish day, the securing ring of servants parted suddenly, and a dubious looking young woman in wrap-around sunglasses gained access to Harnes.

        “I knew your sister,” she said to him bluntly, as they walked along, “I will be talking to the police this week about what happened. First I think you should hear what I have to say. It can wait until tomorrow, after you have things settled here.”

        Ted looked at her, in an almost helpless silence. It was the oddball lady Lisette had spoken to the day of the art show. He was somewhat shocked that she had gotten this close to him, whoever she was, and he only stared and said nothing to her.

        “I won’t ask admittance to your home. I will meet you at the gazebo there.”

        She gestured across the lawn to a little rise where there stood a picnic table sheltered under an elegant round roof.

        “Twelve noon, please.” she said, and broke away from him. He watched as she retreated across to the car park, climbed into a rusty Volkswagen Beetle, and rolled away.

        The Beetle was back at precisely twelve o’clock the next day, and parked in the same spot. Ted watched from a first floor bay window as she climbed out and retrieved a large portfolio bag from the back seat. He tossed back the last of a Bloody Mary, pulled on a denim jacket, and strode with a darkening expression out the front door.

        They were in view of each other but made no greeting, even when reaching the high roofed gazebo after a walk of some distance.

        “My name is Mindy Linton,” she said then, “I should only require ten or fifteen minutes of your time, Mr. Harnes, if you will let me speak.”

        Ted leaned up against one of the support columns and folded his arms. He made a shrugging gesture, and said, “You say you have information about Lisette. My afternoon is yours.”   

        “It’s only that I have tried to talk to you before, over the years, without much success. Maybe you don’t remember. You are a hard one to get to see. Lisette was more open to talking with me. Anyway, I should start at the beginning. And I should tell you up front that for some time now I have been working on a book about your family.”

        He did not look especially pleased at hearing that, and his suddenly glowering countenance threw her a little. She nervously said,

        “The book is about ... what I am coming to, directly. But I should start at the beginning.”

        “By all means,” Ted said.

        Mindy Linton said, “I first visited your home twelve years ago. I was a Girl Scout at the time. Your mother had invited a big group of scouts with artistic interests to visit and view the artworks. She was a very sweet person. She let us roam around everywhere. You were there, too. Maybe you don’t remember.”

        Ted shook his head.

        “Anyway, that’s when it all started, Mr. Harnes,” Her voice began rising, as she continued, “I want you to know that there is something in your art collection, on the second floor of that house, which has been the preoccupation of my life since I first set foot in there. For half of my life, I’m saying! It is what my book is going to be about. It is why I am here again today. It is something that has cost me, enormously, in money and time researching it over these twelve years. And it is directly related to what happened to your sister last week. So, I am going to hold you to your word that you will hear me out today, and let me speak my piece!”        

        Ted glanced at his watch and said, “I wouldn’t dream of stopping you.”

        Mindy slapped her canvas portfolio on the picnic table, and pulled out a large sheet of sketch paper.

        “This is an ink drawing I made that day twelve years ago, in the old Miles Harnes office suite on the second floor. I was immediately attracted to the cats. I started sketching them right away.” She placed the sheet on the table, forcing Ted to sit down to have a look. It was just an ink study of one of the stone cats, adequately capturing the proportions and details.

        “Very nice.” he said, flatly.

        “Thank you. Well, later that day, when I was home, I was comparing my drawing to a photograph of the cats in this book they gave me ...”

        She pulled out a dog-eared copy of a decades-old Harnes Art Inventory, which fell open to a full page photo of the two Statuary Cats. She positioned it next to her childhood sketch, and waited for any reaction. But none came.

        She said, “It didn’t hit me right away, either. But look at the feet.”

        Ted immediately saw what she was talking about, but did not see any great significance in it. The legs and feet were positioned slightly differently in the drawing than in the photo.

        “Okay.” he said, “One foot is a little forward of the other in your drawing.”

        “That’s just it,” she said, “It’s not only in my drawing. I could not see how I would draw the feet askew if they were perfectly straight. I was always very meticulous as an artist. I wrote to your mother and pestered her for another photograph of the statues. She finally sent me one. And, here, you can see it ... I think you can see quite clearly. The right foot on the right cat is exactly as I sketched it - about a half an inch forward of the left foot! Noticeably different from how it is in this 1928 photograph! ”

        She triumphantly placed the recent photo next to the older one, and her ink drawing.

        “I was more puzzled than anything.” she said, “I wrote back to your mother to ask if you had any other Statuary Cats sitting around. She wrote back one more time and said those were the only ones in the collection. Of course, it has to be the same cat in each photo; you can tell by the little etchings of fur. They are as distinctive as fingerprints.”

        Ted looked at the pictures in silence for a long moment.

        “It’s an illusion.” he said at length, “It’s a trick of the camera angle.”

        But as he said it he could see that the angles of the photographs were fairly similar. It was mildly intriguing. He could not immediately understand how there could be this variation in the positions of a stone figure. But the mystery only held his attention in the most fleeting way. He shrugged, and shook his head. Mindy quickly spoke up.

        “I was sidetracked with school at the time. But I never forgot about the Statuary Cats. I was able to visit here once again before I graduated from high school. I broke away from a tour group to dash in and look at them for a few seconds. They looked exactly the same as when I sketched them years earlier ...”

        She drew herself up, bracing for any reaction before she continued.

        “Five years ago, when I was a freshman at UNC, just before your mother died, I was able to get myself hired for summer work on your housekeeping staff. Only twice in those three months was I able to slip inside the old office. I was able to view the figures for only a few minutes. But in that time I could see that the positioning of both cats was slightly different, measurably different, from how they appeared the time before.”

        He looked up from the picture and met her eyes. She held the eye contact and said, “There is so much more I could tell you. But at the root of it all is an unavoidable fact about those two figures. Ted, from time to time, on very rare occasions ... they move.”

        She could not tell what he was thinking. His eyebrows went up a little, and then they went back down. She pressed on with her point, urgency rising in her voice.                                                         

        “I have evidence to back up what I am saying, sir. You are looking at some of it, but there is more. How much do you really know about them? They are not part of the regular art collection. How much time have you ever given to studying those cat figures?” she asked.

        “I know enough about them to know that they are nothing all that special.” Ted said, “Granted, I have never seen them get up and do anything. I guess that would be noteworthy.” He shook his head, and said, “I’m not sure what to say about your ... belief, Miss Linton.”

        “So, you have not done any special study of the cats.” she said, “I have.”

        Ted said, “The Statuary Cats are old. That is their main attribute. But antiquity alone is nothing exciting. There are tons of old knock-offs of Egyptian artifacts. Very little of such stuff is important, Mindy. The cats were carved by some ancient unfortunate with a thing for Egyptian deities, and my grandfather received them as gifts, or bought them or stole them around the turn of the century. That’s about all there is to say about them. I would not keep half of what’s in that office if it were not for a clause in the old man’s will that says we are to leave that one room just as it is, as sort of a shrine to him.”  

        “Are you aware that there are others just like them in other collections around the world?” she asked.

        “Yeah. That’s mentioned in the Harnes Art Inventory.” Ted said, “They were made by an ancient school or cult, and there are hundreds of them floating around. As it says, they were undoubtedly religious fetish objects, modeled after Bast. There is no shortage of such junk on the antiquarian art scene, Mindy.”

        She returned to her portfolio and pulled out more photographs.

        “After your mother died I lost my access to your house. I shifted gears and began researching the other examples of this kind of statuary art around the world.” She held out a photo. “This is a private museum in Amalfi, Italy. They have a pair of the cats. Did you know that they are virtually always found in pairs?”                                     

        Ted sat in silence and glared at her.

        “I spoke to the secretary of the museum on the phone. She told me about the antiquity of the cats, and how it is unknown where they were made. Then she said that she wished the museum would deaccession them, because she felt so ill at ease around them. I got her talking about that, in spite of the transatlantic charges, and she told me that a janitor had once been murdered in the museum, right in front of the display of the Statuary Cats!”              

        Ted loudly cleared his throat and said, “Cursed artworks, then. At last I am getting the drift of where you are going. Well, I can’t say I am with you on it ...”

        Mindy placed a grainy black and white photograph in front of him. It was a police photo of the upper portion of a man’s cadaver. Little chunks of his throat and face were missing. An eye was missing. A man attacked by piranha fish would not have looked worse.

        Mindy said, “I flew to Italy and researched this murder for ten days. That was all the time I could afford to give it. It remains unsolved, as far as the police there are concerned. I am going to see what the medical examiner working on Lisette’s murder thinks of this picture.”

        She did not ask, “What do you think of it, Ted?”  There was no need. He was suddenly drained of all color. This photograph was a minor personal earthquake for him, having viewed his sister’s remains. The marks were not identical, but there was no escaping the similarity. He wanted to look away, but instead found himself drawn in, studying the shape of each little wound on the dead Italian. Could there really be something relevant here?

        Having successfully played her ace, Mindy relaxed a bit, but kept talking.

        “You spoke of cursed artworks.” she said, “That was never my theory. But ironically, I came to a conclusion on all this after I had been reading up on just that very subject. There’s not much written information about the Statuary Cats themselves, but there is an endless pile of books about cursed artworks, and haunted artworks, and statues that come to life. You may be surprised at what a huge vein of folklore that is.”

        She mercifully covered the police photograph with another image, a photocopy of an old woodcut book illustration showing a medieval peasant being menaced by a huge black cat with glowing eyes. The caption said, “Devilment in Hereford.”

        “It is astounding the correlations I have found between the Statuary Cats and old stories from folklore and mythology. I have located over fifty stories involving statues suddenly springing to life. Always they are in pairs, jet black, and just about waist high. They are usually cats, but not always. Some describe hounds, falcons, and dragons. Shape shifter myths are almost universal, you know. You’ll find them in mythology all over the world, including the tribal cultures.”  

        “Shape shifters.” Ted said, wearily.                

        “In essence, shape shifters.” Mindy said, “But not of a supernatural origin. There was such consistency in those fifty stories of moving statues that I mentioned, and such wide variation in the other mythical monsters I read about. I think only those very consistent myths were based in reality. Well, I told you I had arrived at a theory on all this. Being convinced that the statues move, I have a conjecture of what they are.”

        Mindy gestured with open palms, as if parting a fog, “Imagine an unknown phylum of biological life. That is, a kind of animal, as different from all others as insects are to mammals. This would be a kind of creature entirely unknown to science, and for good reasons. They are extremely rare, for one thing. For another, their survival strategy is one that prevents recognition of their being alive at all!”

         The eerie woodcut illustration began to bother Ted now. He reached under the pile of papers and pulled out the bottom sheet.  It was the ink drawing of the Statuary Cat. This he placed on top.

        Mindy said, “I envision a life form that survives by exerting control over its body down to the molecular level. It can alter its body chemistry at will, into that of a solid. In this ossified state it can remain in suspended animation for extended periods of time, possibly riding out whole centuries. Shaping its appearance after that of another animal would pose no problem to such a creature. It would awaken at times and look around, and de-ossify to feed and reproduce when it saw an opportunity. This would be the perfect life form, and certainly the perfect predator. There would be zero warning of its attack, and zero chance to fight it or flee from it ...”

        Ted was still giving her time to speak, so she went on, “In my book I am going to state my case for the existence of these animals. I think humans would be their ideal prey. Imagine how a prehistoric human would have reacted to finding a pair of stone animals in the forest. He would likely have carried them straight back to his village, or brought the villagers out to the stone animals. Maybe sacrifice a virgin to them from time to time. These creatures may be the root of the human trait of worshiping idols. Then, when civilization came along and people started collecting artworks, well, the future was set for these predators.”

        Ted finally said, “You’re telling me that my sister was not murdered, but was killed by wild animals, unknown to science.”

         “If I’m right, and I know I am right, she was one of thousands of their human victims, down through the ages.” She leaned forward, imploring him to believe, “Can you imagine it, the same scene repeated time after time, in modern homes and ancient, candle-lit bedrooms?   Unsuspecting people, all comfortable and relaxed, suddenly witness the movement of objects that had been sitting for years as decorations on a shelf? Most of them probably died of coronary arrest from the shock.”

        Ted mumbled, “An animal that can turn to stone.”

        “And back again, at will.” Mindy said, “In my book I call it an Ossifier.”

        A light breeze lifted the old ink drawing of the cat, and made it undulate on the table. Ted muttered to himself, “An Ossifier.”

        “And I think you have a couple of them in your house.” Mindy said.

        The two fell silent for a moment. They began looking off across the rolling lawn to the stone facade of the four story mansion. Both focused on the same second floor balcony, with its row of French doors.

        She saw he had finally digested all she had told him when he looked up at her and broke into a broad smile. Just the break in the tension had her smiling back at him.

        “Mindy, Mindy, Mindy...” he said, “You are different. That is for sure.” He reached out and patted her hand. “Mad, mad, Mindy. You go ahead and write your book. I don’t mind. I guess the big question for now is - What do you want of me? What can Teddy do so that there need be no further meetings with our own Mindy Linton?”

        She kept a smile in her voice and said, “First you must secure the cats in a strong box. A safe would be ideal. I am guessing you have one big enough to hold them? Good. Then put them in it, and leave them in it! That is the main thing I ask. Later, they can be studied in the proper surroundings, if we can work that out with you. I guess that’s all I have for now.”

        As she spoke, something occurred to him in a flash. What was really the most believable scenario for Lisette’s death? An “Ossifier?” A long-time family servant suddenly turning homicidal? Or, an attack from a very strange and eccentric woman who suddenly shows up out of the ether, expressing a deep interest in the family and its art?

        “Mindy!” he said, “I am so glad we could have this talk.” He shook her hand. She was tiny, too small to have overpowered Lisette. Unless it had been a sneak attack.            

        “It just so happens that there is an old safe on the second floor. I am going to put the cats in it right now, just to put your mind at ease. In fact, since we have been denying you a chance to see them all these years, why don’t you come with me? They are too heavy for one person to lug them both. You could carry one of them down the hall with me.”

        “I don’t know if I should.” she said.

        “Well, why not? Won’t they be hibernating for the next hundred years?” Ted said.

        “Probably so. I don’t know.”

        “Are you nervous about being in the room where Lisette was killed?” Ted asked.


        “It is all perfectly clean and tidy now.” Ted said, “You would never guess what happened in there. Come on, I need you to help me. I gave the staff the day off for mourning.”

        He kept insisting until she went along. With Teddy making glib chatter it seemed to take only a short time to traverse the lawn, enter the house, and climb the stairs to the second floor. But on entering Miles Harnes’ office there came an oppressive sensation of time decelerating. The light was dim. Specks of dust hung motionless, twinkling in sunbeams at the French doors. Ted stopped talking, and the silence became leaden and disturbing.   

        The rhinoceros stared down at them. The Moroccan rugs were gone. Marble floor tiles gleamed from a thorough buffing. The display cases looked much as she remembered them from the last time she had been here. And there in their regal dignity ...

        The beasts.

        Ted casually walked over and pulled open the glass door of their case. He gingerly lifted out one of the Statuary Cats and looked it over. Sitting down on the oak desk top, he placed the cat next to him on the corner and put his arm around it.  

        “It may blow your mind to know that I used to play with these when I was a boy.” he said, “Sure! Grandpa didn’t mind. Of course he was a little old and out of it by then, so maybe that’s why. They seem to have survived me, and the centuries, rather well. They’re in better shape than I remembered. Well, come on! Don’t be stand-offish. I doubt you will get a chance to see them this closely again! You’re not uncomfortable being in here, are you, Mindy?”

        “No.” she said, “Well, maybe just a little. It’s kind of dark. Is that a flashlight?”

        Ted reached across the desk and picked it up.

        “That’s right.” he said, “So, they left it in here. They have cleaned it quite nicely, I see. This flashlight was found in here, next to Lisette’s body. It was drenched in her blood.”

        He flipped the switch back and forth a couple of times without result.

        “I guess they took the batteries out.” he said.

        “She was in here, inspecting the cats with that light.” Mindy said, in a pained voice, “She had read my essays, and she came down here right away to look them over. I guess that part of it is only hitting me just now! It’s like I am somewhat responsible ...”

        “Are you now?” Ted said, drumming his fingers on the side of the cat. “Responsible? That’s a heavy word, Mindy. Especially in light of what happened. I mean, it was the cats that killed her. Right? And yet you have this sense of responsibility.”

        “Just a feeling,” she said, “There is that feeling of partial responsibility. Well, we should be locking them away now. Let’s get them into that safe.”

        “How late did you stay the night of the art show, Mindy?” Ted asked.

        “How late? I don’t know. There were still crowds of people here when I left.”

        “Where were you that night? Say, late that night?” he asked.

        “Sleeping.” she said, still not following his meaning, “Tell me, was there much blood on the cats when they found her?”

        “Mindy, there was blood on the cats, blood on the shelves, blood on the rugs ... much, much blood ... all over this area.” he said grimly, “And I am going to make sure that whoever was responsible gets busted for it, and gets what’s coming to them. Just so you know.”

        “I can imagine how you must feel.” she said softly, “Well, let’s get them put away.”

        Ted was looking at her in a cold way that ought to have made it plain he was not happy with her presence in this situation, but she was still oblivious to it. She was more interested in the stone cat at his side. She had always felt a mild hypnotic effect when she had been in this room, in the presence of the cat figures.

        Ted said, “I don’t want to rush you out, after all the times we have denied you a chance to see them. I am sorry it’s so dim in here.” He stood up, and beckoned to her, “Come on! I’m right here with you. Come look at them!”

        She drew closer to the desk, and looked into the crystal eyes of the figure. Ted opened a desk drawer, plucked something out and moved over to Mindy’s side.

        “There have been a lot of cigars smoked in this room.” he said, and held up an antique cigarette lighter, “Let’s see if there is any fluid in this thing.”

        After a couple of strikes an inch wide flame appeared on the old silver lighter, and the face of the cat was bathed in wavering yellow light.

        “That’s better.” he said, “There’s your kitty, Mindy. I have to tell you, it doesn’t look like much more than carved stone to me.”

        He turned to look closely at Mindy, examining her narrow, pallid face in the same flickering light, searching for any signs of emotional abnormality that might be showing.

        She whispered, “It is no work of human hands.”

        Obsession was plainly evident in her squinting eyes. One of them was having a bit of a  nervous tic just now. As her eyes lost their squint and opened wider her pupils contracted in the harsh light of the close flame. She had that look of inner turmoil, of psychological instability. Her eyes were widening further and moving rapidly in a tight pattern.

        “Mindy ...” he said.

        Her mouth flew open and she took in a sharp gasp. He turned to see the left arm of the cat had risen up, away from its body. In an instant it drew up higher, and then slashed across frontally, striking the back of his hand like a small baseball bat. The cigarette lighter shot to the wall and clattered on the marble floor.              

        Ted and Mindy took three slow steps backward, as the cat remained seated on the desk. Its eyes no longer looked like quartz, but instead seemed clear, and liquid. It sat motionless, facing them. The office door was several long steps away behind them.

        Apart from severe trembling, they did not move. The frozen moment dragged on to an excruciating length. If it had not been for the egg-sized bruise swelling up on the back of his right hand Ted might have been able to tell himself he had imagined the snap of movement from the cat. Apart from its eyes,  it looked much the same now as it had looked all of his life, just sitting there, facing forward. And then, as Ted was about to speak, a black, snake-like tail curled into view from behind the cat and slapped down heavily against the side of the desk.

        The tail curled upward again and came down on the other side, onto the desk top. It made a sharp knocking sound, and it looked as if the last quarter length of it was still solidified. It was as if the cat was working out the last petrified segment of its body. When the tail curled upward again, it seemed entirely flexible, and alive.

        The creature leapt onto the floor and stepped forward. Ted and Mindy held each other in a tight clinch and reflexively staggered back. The cat looked steadily up at them, rolled back its lips to bare its fangs, and released a long, dry hiss. It moved closer, then diverted left and went past them. It ended up by the office door, where it lay down and stretched out. Casually it rolled over on its back and stretched some more, as if it had just awakened from a long refreshing nap.

        Under his breath Ted said, “It’s blocking our way out.”

        A light thumping sound threw their attention back to the display case. The other black cat had leapt down to the floor. It sauntered toward them, stopped, and sniffed the air.

        For a long, agonizing moment it stood there, regarding them with its glassy eyes. The ghastly images of Lisette and the police photo from Italy whirled through Ted’s mind. Then the big cat shuffled on toward its mate.

        The creature by the door was pacing in a slow, tight circle. It leaned in to rub its shoulder against the door each time it passed by, and the door was gradually being pushed closed, whether intentionally or not.

        “They’re going to kill us.” Mindy sobbed softly.

        Though Ted’s mind was seized in the most withering fear of his life, he frantically cast about for a solution. There were objects in the room that might serve as weapons against the animals, but fighting them had to be the last resort. Their strength seemed out of proportion to their size. His right hand felt like it was broken. They were pacing around near the door, and it seemed only a matter of time now before they turned on him and Mindy. Their otherworldly strangeness made it all the more grotesque to contemplate death and becoming their food.

        Just then the weirdness escalated to another level. The cats had been pacing around together, one behind the other. Now the lead cat slowed down and stopped. Her mate playfully batted her tail a couple of times. Then, he was up on her. Growling and panting, the two horrors mated. After a long minute they were finished, and were rolling together, play fighting. They seemed to rub noses for a moment. Mindy was becoming faint by this time.

        Ted was going to slap her face but feared to make any sound. He shook her and said, “Brace up. We’re getting out of here.”

        When he saw she was listening, he said, “The French doors are locked. I’m busting through. You follow me out. Get over the banister and drop to the ground. Just follow me.”

        “Drop? How far?”

        “Hey, it’s about ten feet! I don’t know!” Ted said, “Do you want to stay in here? Just follow me.” 

        He took a final look at the cat creatures playing on the floor across the room, and then in three long strides he had reached the closest of the glass doors and crashed right through.

         He stumbled onto the iron railing that enclosed a small decorative balcony outside and pulled himself over it for a second story drop to the ground. Lurching forward, he was just in time to miss being hit by Mindy, who landed immediately after him on the same spot. He glanced upward to see two black heads with pointed ears appear through the railing, looking down at him from above.

         “Come on!” he screamed.

         She stumbled along after him, her knee and ankle suddenly throbbing from the fall. He was bleeding in places from smashing through the glass. Adrenalin drove them forward as they saw the black cats moving out across the grounds in a flanking maneuver to their left. The floral wreath on Lisette Harnes’ grave was plainly visible in the family plot in the distance, as one of the cats crept rapidly along in a low crouch - the classic stalking pattern.

         Ted reached the corner of the house, lunged around it, and made a break for his black Corvette convertible parked not far away. He dug into his pants pocket as he ran, retrieving his key ring, which was fully crammed with keys.

         He jumped in over the door and searched for the ignition key. Then a cat was all over him. Its claws ripped into his scalp as needle sharp teeth penetrated the collar of his denim jacket. He turned into a punching, screaming, fighting fiend and threw the cat out of the car. He jammed the key into the ignition and the cat was back on him again, snarling and slashing away at him. He fired up the car as Mindy vaulted into the back seat followed by the other cat.

         With both hands Ted threw off the cat, and slammed the gear into reverse. The Corvette shrieked off the paved driveway and out onto the lawn where Ted executed a hard turn that pointed it toward the road. This had the added benefit of ejecting the cat off of Mindy, who was herself slammed hard into the side panel of the car but remained inside. The car fish-tailed across the lawn and reclaimed the long rolling driveway, bottoming out a couple of times before reaching the road. Mindy held on, but dared to rise up and look back behind them. The two big cats were running along in pursuit for a moment. Then they slowed and turned back.



         The return of Ted Harnes and Mindy Linton to the Black Pines Estate took place after a passage of several hours, and involved a procession of four police cruisers with blue lights flashing. When they pulled up to the front door, no one immediately got out. There was radio communication between the squad cars for a minute. Then, all the doors opened at once.

        Teddy emerged with extensive head and shoulder bandaging, carrying a shotgun he had stopped to buy at a K-Mart on the way back. He carefully looked through the shrubbery before entering the house. Mindy limped along on a crutch, staying amongst the group of police officers who followed Ted inside.


        At first there were some harsh words for the butler and housekeeper he met on the first floor. But in a discussion refereed by the police, he soon satisfied himself that there had been no good reason for any of them to have been close enough to the office to have rendered assistance. Unfortunately none of them had been outside when Ted and Mindy peeled out in the Corvette. None of them had seen any unusual animals.

        With the Deputy Police Chief among several officers in tow, Ted strode up the grand staircase to the second floor. He kicked open the door of his grandfather’s office and stepped inside. To him, it was like re-entering the bad dream all over again. Because, as he suspected, there sat the two Statuary Cats, side by side in their display case, gazing out into eternity. They were solid, inanimate, lifeless stone.

        “Oh no you don’t!” Ted bellowed at them, as loud as he possibly could, “You’re finished! It’s over!” The room reverberated as he continued on that way for several seconds. The officers’ faces reflected astonishment, and pure sadness at the apparent psychological collapse of someone who had been an important citizen in the locale until now. The heir to the Harnes Estate was screaming denunciations at a pair of stone statues. When Ted raised his shotgun at the cat figures the Deputy Chief stepped in and grabbed the barrel.

        “We’re going to do some calming down before we go shooting up the place.” he said, “Yeah, I insist, Mr. Harnes.”

        He took the gun away and handed it off to one of his men.                                 

        Ted looked to Mindy, and said, “That’s all right. We’re going to do this the way you wanted, Mindy. I’ll need a couple of your men to help me for a moment, Chief. There is a safe down the hall. I want to wheel it in here.”

        The Deputy Chief nodded his consent, and two officers accompanied Ted toward the door. But before he stepped out he said, “If you see any movement in either of those cats, shoot them both. And I mean let them have it.”

        A police sergeant who remained in the room turned to Mindy Linton and said, “I hear that you are backing up his story about the statues, ma’am? Is that true?”

        She said, “I was here for every bit of it, sir. What he said is true. Those are two extremely dangerous wild animals right there. They are what tore Lisette Harnes to death.”

        Ted and the two cops returned, pushing a large antique safe on wheels. He squatted down and began working the combination, twice looking over his shoulder at the Statuary Cats. He turned the latch and pulled open the heavy steel door.

        “All right. You. Pick up that first one there and bring it over. If you feel anything unusual, throw it down and back off. Okay, let’s go.”

        Suddenly nervous, the officer transferred first one and then the other of the stone figures into the safe. Ted slammed the door, threw the latch and spun the dial. He then slumped across the top of the strong box. Mindy released a long sigh of relief.

        “It’s all right now,” Mindy said. “Now, they will be studied. All the facts will come to light. We can’t expect you to understand now, but soon it will all be resolved.”

       “I hated telling you a story that I knew you wouldn’t believe,” Ted said, “But I wanted you to know the truth. Now we will get the right people to work analyzing them, like Mindy said, and you will have all the facts. I’m sorry if I have caused you any trouble today.”

        The Deputy Chief said, “It’s no trouble to me, Mr. Harnes. It’s just that I hope you understand that nobody but nobody is going to believe something like that without seeing it. You don’t have an atom of real evidence.”

        “What do you call this!?” Ted cried, pointing at the slashes on his denim jacket.

        “Mr. Harnes, by your own admission you threw yourself through a glass door!” the Deputy Chief said. “I can see blood streaks on some of these shards that are still in the frame.”

        “How about the fact that there are two of us making this claim?” Mindy asked.

        “That’s stronger than one person making a fantastic claim.” the Deputy Chief said, “That’s about all I can say about it for right now.”

        “And for right now that is fine with me!” Ted said, “First thing in the morning my attorneys start making arrangements for the state crime lab to do a thorough examination of these two creatures. It is as good as done. Sir, I thank you for your assistance and that of your men.” He turned to Mindy and shook her hand, “Thank you for all your hard work, Mindy. We will be in touch soon. Get some rest now.”

        Attorneys were indeed mobilized at the opening of their offices the following morning. Ted’s family political connections were invoked in a series of phone calls to the state capitol, and by that afternoon a prominent North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation van had pulled up to the front of the Harnes mansion. Ted supervised as the safe was rolled out of the house and loaded for transport. He had typed a letter which he sent along taped onto the top of the safe.

        By the next morning forensic technicians were puzzling over the letter in a basement lab at the Bureau’s main facility in Raleigh. In the letter, the combination to the safe was followed by a statement typed in all caps and red ribbon which implored them to have armed guards standing by when the door was opened. Armed officers were not hard to find at this facility, so it was easy enough to honor this plea. The safe was opened, and two stone statues were lifted out of it.

        Ted’s letter described in a rambling way his experiences of that day, and something of Mindy Linton’s theories on the Statuary Cats. It was apparent that whoever wrote this had just been through a wrenching experience, possibly one that had temporarily unhinged his mind. The lab was being asked to determine it these statues were anything other than carved stone.

        The Bureau’s technological resources were cutting edge for 1967, but the technicians still needed a directive that made sense. They were unsure about just what they were supposed to be looking for. Their director had said only to read the letter and examine the items. Such vagueness was outside of standard procedure, and the lab techs were sharp enough to surmise that some political pressure was being applied to the Bureau in this case. It would not be the first time.

        X rays seemed a logical place to start, so they conducted a long series of them. 

        The cat figures under x-ray were revealed as a wispy swirl of solid material, similar to the faint swirling pattern on the exteriors. There were no bones, organs, or anything to hint that there had ever been an animal inside. The stone was solid, and apparently a composite. There were no hollows except for entryways at the ears and nostrils, which penetrated some distance into the head before narrowing to a close. The eyes were not just balls of quartz, but featured slender extensions on the inner side that went back several centimeters into the head.

        The team took a rubbing from the cats, tested the material chemically, and studied it under a microscope. The sample contained silicon, carbon, calcium, sodium chloride, ferrous oxide, and manganese. No radiation or magnetism. No unusual properties. The team was able to detect minute traces of human blood on the figures, but this was understood.  

        From these few facts, a voluminous report was prepared and sent to the parties concerned. Carbon dating might be possible but would require the removal of a significant chip. An address was requested for the return of the figures.

        Angrily dismissing these results, Ted Harnes next had his team of attorneys arrange shipment of the statues to the FBI’s National Crime Lab in Quantico, Virginia. Here they were received, in their antique safe, but investigation did not immediately proceed. Ted’s people had enough clout to get an agreement from the FBI to study the figures, but no specific timetable was offered. The job was not high priority for the FBI, particularly after they reviewed those lab findings from North Carolina.

        Months passed.

        Ted’s  father died suddenly, leaving him sole ownership of the Harnes Estate. He had not slept a single night there since his sister died, and had lost all of his former love for the place. The horrific memories overshadowed all else. Ted set in motion the complete liquidation of all of his family assets, and relocated to a private island in the Caribbean. Shortly thereafter, he began what would become a lifelong exploration of the bars of Europe.

        Mindy Linton found a small press that took a chance on her book, The Strangest of Life. It had all the impact of a marble tossed in the sea. Mindy never wrote another one. Eventually she married and found modest success as a portrait painter. She also began receiving a monthly stipend check from the Harnes estate, with no explanation from the accounting firm that sent them, other than they would be coming to her monthly for the rest of her life.

        When the FBI’s National Crime Lab finally decided they had studied the cat figures long enough to satisfy the request of a certain North Carolina Congressman, they contacted the attorneys representing Harnes to ask where to return the items. Ted’s instructions had been for the statues to be destroyed after the investigation. But the statement from the attorneys to the lab was phrased, “Dispose of the statues.”

        This instruction percolated through the layers of the lab’s administration, and for months nothing happened. When space limitations forced a decision to be made, the items were shifted over to General Services Administration with a document describing them as artworks of ancient but uncertain origin. A new president was elected not long after that, bringing with him some shuffling and reorganizing of the federal bureaucracies. Then it happened again, with the next president.  

        Today the Statuary Cats sit side by side, heads held high, on the top shelf of Rack 12 in Storage Room D-41 of the Antiquities Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.



A cat and her sorcerer, a beautiful dream weaver, an evil voodoo priest, a bunch of man-sized rats, an army of really big bugs, a crazed randy rabbit, some dwarves, dragons and angry three-toed sloths, New York City, the woods of Maine, the sands of Arabia and the mythic lands of Avalon all come together for the wildest most epic adventure you’ve ever read!!!!

The Sorcerer's Song and The Cat's Meow is an author's triumph and a reader's delight... What a wonderful, free-falling storytelling ride to get to the end of a fantasy that's about as close to purrfect as you can get.

M. Wayne Cunningham - ForeWord CLARION Reviews

A well-plotted story with vivid and riveting description of characters and settings, as well as an intense page turning battle, the book is a delight to read.

Tracy Roberts - Write Field Services

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