By Richard Paolinelli
© 2019 RICHARD PAOLINELLI . ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO COPYING OR ANY OTHER REPRODUCTION OF THIS STORY IS PERMITTED WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.
When the sun rose the next morning its rays fell upon a slight dusting of snow that had fallen during the early morning hours. Aspinwall arose and went through his morning routine. Once washed and freshly shaven, Aspinwall inspected his best suit to make sure it was immaculate before putting it on. His mind was still on his plans for this house as he made his way down the first flight of stairs. He pulled up short once he reached the landing: seemingly every cat in the house had gathered in a pack at the head of the next flight.
“I think I’m going to very much enjoy bundling the entire lot of you in burlap sacks and hurling you all into the river,” he muttered under his breath. He’d make removing this infestation a top priority once this house was his.
He started to shoo the beasts out of his way when a sudden sound from behind made him turn quickly. He barely had time to register the blur of orange and white fur—Mortimer—hurtling toward him when the large tabby landed on his face, all four sets of claws digging deep into his flesh. The force of the impact made him stumble back into the railing; he tumbled over, plunging downward, screaming in pain and terror as he fell to the first floor.
Aspinwall’s body slammed into the very same large oak table he’d dined on the night before, his shoulders striking near the edge so nothing was there to stop his head from continuing along on its journey. Aspinwall heard a hideous snap and suddenly lost all feeling from his neck down. He found himself completely unable to move. It took everything he had within him just to keep breathing.
His head dangled slightly over the edge of the table, which he realized seemed to be slightly tilted, with the high end of the slope at the other end of the table. Out of the corner of his eye he noted the presence of an empty metal tub that looked capable of holding five gallons of water. Before he could begin to puzzle out the configuration of the tub and table, Tessa walked into the room, her right arm concealed behind her back. She seemed remarkably unconcerned with his present circumstances.
He tried calling out, to ask her for help, but he couldn’t force the air from his lungs to form the words he wanted to say. He could only gulp in enough air in short, halting gasps – like a landed fish on the riverbank – to stay alive. Several of the cats, including his attacker, gathered on and around him.
“Goodness,” she said, looking down at Aspinwall. “Still alive, Mr. Aspinwall? I am quite afraid, sir, that this simply will not do at all.”
With that she raised her arm above her head, revealing the large meat cleaver, and swung it downward. Aspinwall’s last sight was that of light reflecting of the sharpened blade; then darkness.
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Tessa swung the blade a second time and her boarder’s head tumbled free, falling into the tub. The blood from the severed neck flowed into the container beneath it. Some of the cats began sniffing and licking about the open wound.
“Not yet my pretties,” Tessa said, shooing the cats off of the corpse. “Let me put my bird in the oven, and then I’ll properly prepare him for your feast. This will truly be a fine Thanksgiving for us all.”
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Palmquist Manor now lies deserted, an empty crumbling shell of its former glory, uninhabited for all of the decades since Tessa Palmquist’s death. The old spinster was found long dead of natural causes after nearly a full month had passed with no sign of her in town or outside the mansion. Her cats had been gnawing on her and had nearly stripped all of the flesh from her bones. Every single cat was put down.
No member of Tessa’s family ever came to claim the property, and it was eventually sold at auction. But no owner ever spent more than a single night within its walls. It was said that at night you could hear the yowling of cats throughout the house. And on Thanksgiving Day itself, more than one passerby has claimed they thought they heard the unholiest moaning, of a human being in supreme agony and terror. A few swore they heard a woman’s voice, too, softly humming an old tune . . . and the thwack of metal cutting into wood.
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This short story was originally accepted for the My Peculiar Family, Vol. 2 anthology a couple of years back. But the anthology was never published so I decided to share it here as part of my weekly serial series. I hope you enjoyed reading it.
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NEXT WEEK: Chapter 1 – The Monster In The Second Reel.
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