Follow The Cat

Summary: A Halloween trip to elsewhere for Virgil and Alan.
Fandom: Thunderbirds TV-verse
Characters: Alan Tracy, Virgil Tracy
Rating: K
Original publication date: October 31, 2003

Notes and disclaimer: This was written for a Halloween fanfiction contest which, alas, I did not win. However, I hope you enjoy this bit of Halloween furriness. It is fondly dedicated to two of my cats, Ink Jet and Cotton.

I didn’t create them; Gerry and Sylvia Anderson did. I don’t own them, ITV/Granada does.  I’m just writing about them.


“Are you sure there are people in here, Scott?” Virgil asked. Thick black smoke filled the corridors of the old house and the two International Rescue operatives, Virgil and Alan, could hardly see their hands in front of their faces.

“The thermal imager says that there are, Virg,” Scott replied from his post at Mobile Control. “Problem is, we have no blueprints for this house. So I can’t tell you where the people could be.”

“Great!” groused Alan as he listened in on his brothers’ conversation. “We’ll never find these folks at this rate.”

“Hey, at least the fire is almost out,” chimed in Gordon, hard at work in the Firefly. “The smoke should start clearing out soon.”

“It’s not, Gordon. If anything, it’s getting thicker and blacker!” Virgil complained.

“Yeah. If it were white, I’d think it was fog and full of ghosts,” Alan scoffed.

The old house on the nearly barren hill had looked like a proper haunted house on this particular Halloween. International Rescue had been called in when the local rescue units had discovered that the owners were trapped somewhere below ground and they didn’t have the equipment to locate or extract them. The fire that was left had been quickly dealt with, and the thermal imager enabled Scott to determine at least a general idea of where the victims were located, but no more than that. So Virgil and Alan were inside this old house, heat resistant suits and respirators on, moving around while Scott basically did a high-tech version of “hot and cold” with them.

“You’re getting closer, Virg, Alan. Off to your right and about twenty feet ahead, I’d estimate.” Scott encouraged them.

Virgil muttered under his breath.

“What was that you said, Virg?” Scott asked.

“Nothing, Scott. Nothing.” Virgil answered. Scott smiled. He had heard every muttered syllable.

Despite the hood of the heat suit, Virgil could still hear the creaking of the floorboards beneath his feet. He held his arms out to either side, trying to see if he could feel the walls that he knew must be there somewhere. But he encountered no resistance. The oily black smoke continued to surround him, keeping him from using his eyes to see where he was going. Only once in a while did it thin enough to offer him a tantalizing glimpse of wall or ceiling or door frame.

“You with me back there, Alan?” he asked, halting his progress.

“Yeah, Virgil. I’m with you,” the blond said, bumping into Virgil from behind. “I can barely see you, though, and there are times I lose you entirely in this mess.”

“Why don’t you take hold of my suit?” Virgil suggested. “Then we wouldn’t lose each other.”

“I guess so,” Alan replied, turning the idea over in his mind. “As long as Gordon can keep from teasing me.”

“Tease you, Alan? Moi?” Gordon’s voice sounded out. “Whatever for?”

Alan groaned. He had heard that tone before, the tone of voice that meant Gordon was looking for a way to do just what Alan didn’t want him to do. He knew he was in for an awful bout of teasing once Gordon could find an angle to use.

Virgil suddenly stopped and listened intently. “Alan, did you hear something?”

Alan, who managed to keep from bumping into his older brother, listened as well, “No, Virg. I don’t hear anything.”

“Funny.” Virgil said seriously. “I could have sworn I heard a… cat!”

“Virgil, any self-respecting feline would have been out of here as soon as this pea-soup smoke started,” Alan chided. “We need to keep going and find the owners of the house.”

Virgil shook his head beneath the hood. “You’re right. Scott, how much farther?”

“You’re nearly there, Virg. Just a few more yards.” Scott’s reassuring voice said. Virgil nodded to himself and began to move forward again, stepping carefully on the old floorboards.

Suddenly, he found himself off-balance as… something wound itself sinuously between his ankles. He stumbled, falling forward, pulling Alan off-balance with him. But instead of meeting the wooden floorboards, he kept falling, down, down, Alan’s cry of surprise ringing in his ears. Then he made contact with cold stone and knew nothing.

———————————–

Wha…?

Alan Tracy felt a rough… licking on his cheek. He opened his eyes slowly, groaning as he did. He turned his head and found himself suddenly looking into the slitted yellow eyes of a cat. A black cat. The cat continued to lick his face, bathing him in saliva, until he finally moved up off the rough, bumpy surface on which he had fallen. He got on his hands and knees and looked down to find the bumpy surface was his brother, Virgil, who lay sprawled on the floor.

“Virg!” he cried, realizing that his brother was unconscious. His hood and respirator had fallen off, and now the cat was working on bathing Virgil’s face with its wet, rough tongue. Alan checked Virgil’s vital signs and found that his pulse was strong and steady and that he was breathing normally as well. He shook Virgil’s shoulder.

“Come on, Virgil, wake up!”

His brother moaned beneath his hands. His eyes opened and as he moved, the cat moved away. Not far away, just far enough that it could sit down and groom itself, licking its paws and passing them over its ears.

“Ooh. Watch that first step.” Virgil sat up, rubbing his chest. He looked around. “Where are we?”

For the first time, Alan took stock of their surroundings. A stone corridor, dimly lit, what light there was flickering. The black cat was visible only because its fur was darker than the surrounding gray stone.

“This is weird, Virg. This can’t be the basement of that house,” Alan said, a shiver running up his spine.

“How can you tell, Alan? I seem to remember the foundation was made of stone,” Virgil challenged him.

“Yeah, but not stone fitted like this. Besides, look up,” Alan explained. Virgil followed his brother’s gaze and frowned.

“So?”

“So, if this is the basement of that house, where’s the hole we fell through?”

Virgil looked up again, the realization of his brother’s words hitting him full force. For indeed, the ceiling above his head was whole. It was made of a white stucco type material and was held up by dark beams of wood.

“What do we do now?” Alan asked.

“Try and contact Scott, that’s what. There’s got to be a logical, reasonable explanation for this,” Virgil responded. He lifted his telecomm watch and spoke into it. “Virgil to Mobile Control. Come in, Mobile Control. Do you read me, Scott?” There was no answer, not even static.

“Try yours,” Virgil told Alan. Alan repeated his brother’s actions. “Alan to Scott. Do you read me, Scott. Come in, Mobile Control. Come in Thunderbird One. Alan to Gordon. Come in, Gordon.” He looked over at Virgil. “No response at all.”

“Looks like we’re not in Arkansas anymore,” Virgil quipped, trying to lighten the mood and failing.

“You’re right, big brother.” Alan shivered again. “I guess we need to check this place out.”

“Mrrraow!” came a voice from another throat. Virgil and Alan both jumped, startled by the loud cry of the black cat. The feline was on its feet and slinking down the corridor, looking more like a miniature panther in its stride than like any ordinary house cat. It went a few yards, then stopped to look back at them.

“Mrrraow!” it cried again, its yellow eyes shining in the gray light.

“Do you think it wants us to follow it?” Alan asked, incredulously.

“Whether it does or not, it’s going the way we have to go,” Virgil replied. He got stiffly to his feet, feeling a sharp pain in his side as he did so. He swallowed hard.

“Alan, I think I might have a cracked rib here,” Virgil groaned, his voice strained.

“What?! Let me look.” Without waiting for permission, Alan unzipped his brother’s heat resistant suit and opened it up. He pushed up the t-shirt on the side Virgil was holding and was dismayed to see a dark bruise forming on his brother’s side.

“Looks like you’re right, Virg. We need to bind it up somehow,” Alan said, commiserating with his brother as Virgil winced when Alan touched the area.

“Mrrraow! Mrraow!” the cat’s cries sounded more insistent. Alan spun to look at it and yelled, “Keep your shirt on, cat!” The fact that the cat had no shirt to keep on wasn’t lost on Virgil, who chuckled, then groaned as the laugh aggravated his injury.

“I could use my t-shirt; tear it up,” Alan suggested, but Virgil shook his head.

“Thanks for the offer, bro, but unless you could tear it crosswise, it would be no good. The strips would be too short.” Virgil began to shiver. It was only now that Alan realized how cold it actually was in this stone corridor. Virgil could go into shock if I don’t get him some medical attention.

The cat, impatient to leave, made a tremendous leap and climbed onto Alan’s shoulder. It pawed at Alan’s cheek, claws retracted, as if to get his attention.

“Hey, you! Get down from there!” Alan writhed as the cat moved from one shoulder to another climbing over his head. Finally, the feline walked down his back and jumped off as Alan bent over double to try and dislodge the cat.

“Whew! It’s off! What a relief!” Alan sighed. Virgil gave a little smile.

“Him.”

“Huh?”

“Him. The cat is male.”

“How do you know that?”

“I saw his… equipment when he was walking back and forth on your shoulders.”

“Oh.”

Once again, the cat had moved forward a few paces and was looking back at them, his yellow eyes gleaming from the surrounding black fur.

“Let’s follow the thing, Alan. It seems that’s what he wants, and at this point we’d be going in the same direction anyhow,” Virgil stated. Alan nodded reluctantly.

“You lean on me if this gets to be too much for you,” Alan said, slipping a supporting arm around his brother. “Promise?”

“I promise,” Virgil vowed. The two men slowly moved down the hall in the wake of their furry guide.

The light grew as they transversed the hallway, trying to stay as quiet as the cat before them. The feline would go a few yards, then look back as if to see that they were still following, then go ahead again. At one point, Virgil groaned and Alan looked over at him in worry. When he looked back, the cat was gone!

“Where is he?” Alan asked.

Virgil moaned again.

“Where is who?” he rasped.

“The cat.”

“Don’t know. Aren’t black cats supposed to be unlucky?” Virgil muttered, leaning on Alan.

Alan looked around for a place to set Virgil down so he could look at his bruises again. He was about to lean him against a wall when the shadow in an alcove began to move. Alan looked as the shadow seemed to pour itself out into the hallway, taking on the shape of the cat, who looked up at Alan with those incredible yellow eyes. The cat came fully into the fitful light, looked at Alan, and turned to become part of the shadow again.

“Mrrraow!” came a commanding voice.

“Virgil, I think it wants us to follow it in there.” Alan said. Virgil nodded, and leaned more on his younger brother.

“Lead on, Macavity,” Virgil mumbled. Alan guided his brother into the alcove, pushing open a wooden door he found ajar in the shadows.

The darkness was not complete in the room for there was a tall window and through it the stars and a crescent moon shone. Alan could see enough to make out the rough form of a bed, and he steered Virgil over to it, carefully making him lie down on his uninjured side. Virgil breathed a sigh of relief and closed his eyes. Alarmed, Alan checked his brother’s vitals again, and the strong, slow breathing told him that Virgil was fast asleep. He covered Virgil with a rough blanket he found on the bed, then stood by the bedside, unsure what to do next.

The black cat had disappeared into the shadows of the room for a few moments, but reappeared, as if by magic, in the dim shape of moon and starlight on the floor. His yellow eyes, the only feature of the cat’s face that could be seen, glowed as he looked at Alan. He stretched, tail rising into the air, then he put his forepaws on Alan’s leg. Alan looked down. Having gotten the man’s attention, the cat resumed his position on the floor and let out with another loud, “Mrraow!”

“Look, cat. I can’t leave my brother here alone. He’s hurt.” Alan kicked himself mentally for trying to reason with a dumb animal, but the thing seemed to want something from him. Suddenly, he saw movement out of the corner of his eye, a lighter shadow among the black ones that surrounded the patch of night light on the flagstones. The light shadow became a shape, the shape of a dainty white cat. Even without looking, Alan knew that this feline was a female. She let out a soft “Meuw,” and jumped up on the bed, sitting by Virgil’s head, looking at Alan intently with her green eyes.

“Oh, you sent for someone to watch him, huh?” Alan asked the black feline.

“Mraow!” was his strident answer. He reached up with his forepaws, stretching until he could pat Alan’s hand with a velvety paw. Then he resumed his alert stance on the floor, yellow eyes peering up at the man.

“Okay. I’ll follow you. God only knows why.” Alan stopped to brush Virgil’s chestnut hair back. His brother’s forehead was sweaty and Alan’s heart squeezed a bit. The white cat came around from behind Virgil’s head and began bathing Virgil’s face with her pink tongue.

Alan huffed, then turned to follow the insistent black cat, reluctantly leaving his brother behind. The cat hugged the walls of the corridor and Alan followed his lead, staying in the shadows as much as possible. The light grew brighter again, and Alan could smell pine pitch and a light smoke. Rounding a corner, he saw the torch, set in an iron sconce high up on the wall. There were more alcoves visible now, each with a wooden door.

Now I really know I’m not in Arkansas anymore, he thought grimly. He looked for his shadowy guide and saw the yellow eyes peering back at him from several yards down the new passageway. He shook his head and hurried to catch up.

——————————-

Virgil became aware of a wetness on his face. He opened pain-dulled eyes and found himself looking at a woman. An older woman dressed in white, with long white tresses falling smoothly over her shoulders and beyond. She was patting his face with a small wet cloth.

“Who’re you?” he slurred. Why am I so drowsy? And what’s wrong with her eyes? They’re such a strange color….

“My name is unimportant. I was called here to look after you while your brother went to the aid of some strangers that found their way into our abode.” Her voice was soft and high-pitched.

“Alan? Where’s Alan?” Virgil tried to get up, but cried out at the burning pain in his side, and lay back down on the bed. He closed his eyes again, feeling the minute swipes that the woman was using to wet his face and comfort him. Within moments the rhythm of her ministrations had him slipping back into sleep.

———————————

Alan kept a sharp eye on the black cat as he slunk from shadow to shadow. The bright yellow eyes would look back at him from the blackness and guide him on in the maze of corridors. Torches would appear along the wall at regular intervals.

For a haunted house or castle or whatever this place is, it’s remarkably clean. No dust on the floor. No spiders’ webs on the walls, Alan observed as he walked along. He looked at the doors. They were all wooden, a smooth dark wood that looked aged. They all look alike, too, Alan thought with a touch of panic, I hope I can find the room where I left Virgil in all this maze.

“Mraow!”

Alan’s thoughts came crashing back to reality at the sound of his companion’s voice. He looked ahead of him to see the first real obstacle to his trek, a barred door across the passageway. It had a little window in it with a criss-crossing of metal obstructing part of the view.

Just like some medieval dungeon, was his thought as he approached the door to look through the aperture. He saw nothing but a near pitch blackness, on the floor a partial square of light from the torch behind him. He turned and grabbed the torch, extricating it from its sconce and moving it closer to the tiny window, using its light to see as much as he could, and nearly singeing his hair in the process.

“Mrraow?”

Alan was sure that the cat’s tone was a questioning one. It moved to his side before the door, stretching up as far as possible toward the bar. Alan looked at the elongated feline and at the door.

“You want me to open it?”

“Mrrraow!”

“Well, okay.” Alan looked closely at the bar across the door. It was fastened to the door itself with a long bolt around which it revolved part way. If I take off the bar, then I won’t get caught inside the room. He looked around for a tool to remove the bolt. There was none. Alan drew in a breath and let it out in a frustration. Then he got an idea.

Turning the bar so it was at an angle (and so the door would open), he slipped his fingers as far as he could under the smooth wood and gripped it as tightly as he could. Then he put one foot on the door beneath the fulcrum of the bolt, bent his knees, and pulled with all his strength. The wooden plank refused to move at first, but as Alan increased the pressure with his raised foot, the fastening began to move out of its socket. He stopped for a breather, repositioned his hands, strengthening his grip with the space he had gained, and pulled again. The slat moved back towards him more.

He rested again, then muttered, “Once more into the breach….” and resumed his task. This time the bar let go and Alan tumbled head over heels on the stone floor from the force he used to free it. The door swung open with a loud BANG! and swung back to almost the closed position.

Alan levered himself off the floor, looking around first to see if anyone was lurking nearby, then looking for his furry companion. He saw the cat, looking like half a cat, his dark furred backside within the shadows of the door and his front quarters sticking out into the lighted passageway.

“Let me guess. Mrraow!” Alan said in a fair imitation of the cat, who merely stared at him then turned back into the darkened room. Alan took a torch and followed him.

The room they entered was huge and swallowed up the torch’s light after only a few meters. Alan instinctively raised the torch higher to see if he could find the outlines of the room. A few shadowy beams high above his head marked the ceiling. He reached the torch out perpendicular to his body as far as his arm would allow and was able to make out some far-flung walls. Then he turned his attention to the floor, noticing the bright mosaic tiles in a definite pattern on the floor. He took a few steps to his right, looking intently at the pattern, then back to his left, past to the point where he had first stood.

“The pattern seems circular and it’s very intricate. I bet that it’s gorgeous when the daylight shines on it,” Alan mused aloud.

“It is,” came a deep voice from behind him. Alan jumped, turning and holding the torch out in front of him as a shield.

“Who are you?” he asked the man he now faced. A tall, thin man, with long, jet black hair swept back from his pale brow. His thin face had a supercilious smirk on it and one of his arched eyebrows was raised in amusement.

“My name is not important. The reason you were brought here is. Two people accidentally entered our abode and need to be rescued and returned to their own place. We brought you here to do that.”

“You can’t do it?” Alan asked skeptically. There is something familiar about this guy, something about his eyes…..

“Unfortunately, no. They do not trust me or mine. But they will trust you. Because of the badge you wear.” He reached out a finger, touching Alan’s IR logo with an absurdly long fingernail.

“Okay, where are they?” Alan asked. The man pointed to a place in the darkness and Alan swung around to follow his pointing finger.

“Do you know…..” Alan swung back around to find the man gone. He blinked several times and shook his head. Great. He could have helped me out. How am I gonna find these people? As he groused internally, Alan became aware of something winding itself in and out between his ankles. He looked down and saw the cat again.

“Can you lead me to these people, boy?” Alan asked the cat.

“MRAOW!” the cat said emphatically, his cry echoing in the vast room.

“Okay then. Lead on… Macavity.” The cat turned in the direction that the man had indicated and started across the floor. He kept to the shadows just outside the torch light’s limit so that all that Alan saw of his feline friend was a tail and the very edges of the cat’s hindquarters. But every so often the cat would look back and Alan would see the bright yellow eyes staring at him from the gloom.

At last, the cat stopped and sat at what seemed to be the edge of a pit. What part of it that Alan could see was ringed by neat tile wedges that defined the outer limits of the hole.

“Eleanor, honey,” a male voice said from within the pit. “Someone is here. Hey! Halloo! Who’s up there?” The voice sounded older, perhaps a few years older than Alan’s own father. Alan got down on his belly and shone the torch over the edge of the hole in the floor. At the bottom of the tile-lined pit were an elderly man and woman, both of them shielding their eyes against the comparative brightness of the torch.

“International Rescue at your service, sir, ma’am,” Alan said, smiling down on them.

“International Rescue? How did you find us?” the man said increduously.

“Well, I…. “Alan stammered. “Well…. it’s a long story, sir. Let’s just concentrate on getting you and the lady out of there, okay?” Alan judged the depth of the pit. About 3 meters deep. Not deep enough to seriously hurt yourself if you fell in right, but too deep to climb out. He looked at the couple. “Are either of you hurt?”

“Just a few bumps and bruises, son,” the elderly man said, automatically lapsing into a familiar speech pattern. “We just can’t get out, that’s all.”

“That’s where I come in, sir,” Alan said. He thought about the possibilities of how to get this couple out of their predicament, and finally settled on one.

“I’m going to get a tool to help me get you out of here,” he explained. “Sit tight and I’ll be back in a few minutes.” He turned away, taking the torch with him.

“Uh, young man? Do you mind leaving the light? We’ve been in the dark so long….” the lady sounded scared and frantic.

Alan looked at the torch in his hand. If I leave it, I won’t be able to find my way back to that slab of wood I took off the door. He felt a patting on his hand and looked down to see the cat, stretched up his leg, velvet paw on his hand.

“Will you guide me back, cat?” Alan asked, looking at the golden glowing eyes.

“Mrrraow.” An affirmative answer if he had ever heard one. He came back to he edge of the pit.

“I’ll leave the torch over here on the tile floor. It won’t hurt the floor much and will give you the light you need.”

“But how will you find the tools you need, young man?” asked the older man.

“I have a…. guide,” Alan explained. “Now sit tight. I’ll be right back.”

Alan put the torch down on the floor as promised, and took a deep breath. “Okay, Macavity. Let’s go.”

The trip back to the doorway seemed to take forever. Alan would go a little, get disoriented, and then the cat would look back, the glowing eyes fixed on him, and he would be able to follow some more. The eyes became his anchor in the quiet darkness surrounding him.

Finally, a dim light from the open doorway greeted his light-starved eyes. He hurried out into the corridor to find the sturdy piece of wood that had barred the door, then turned to re-enter the room and stopped. He instinctively recoiled at immersing himself in that blackness again. He looked back at the corridor to see another torch, much farther down the hall.

If I take that one, I’ll have light in the room, but it will be harder to find the doorway again with any precision.

“Mrrraow?” the cat asked, having turned back towards the dark room. Alan walked up to the door. He couldn’t seem to see the light of the torch he had left. But looking down, he could see the glowing eyes.

Alan took a deep breath, let it out, and said, “Okay. Let’s go.”

Once the torchlight became visible in the distance, Alan hurried towards it with the board in his hands. He stopped just at the edge of the pit and got down on his belly again. He handed the board down to the man.

“Just lean that up against the wall, sir. Now, I’m coming down.” He turned his body so that he could lower himself down over the edge, dropping the few feet that remained between his feet and the floor. He approached the couple and explained his plan.

“Sir, I’m going to give you a boost up by making a step with my hands. Will you be able to pull yourself up over the edge if I do?”

“Sure. I can do that.”

“Then, I’ll do the same for the lady here and you can help pull her up.”

“Then how will you get out?” the lady asked, concern in her eyes.

“I’ll use a launching ramp,” Alan grinned as he hefted the board that had barred the door. “I’ll lean it up against the wall at an angle and get a running start. But you folks will have to help pull me up. Can you do it?”

“Oh, yes. Anything to get us out of this horrid hole,” said the woman. Alan nodded and moved close to the wall. He made a cradle out of his hands. The man put one foot in, pushed off with the other, and was soon at the top and over the edge. He lay down on his belly, and reached for the lady as Alan did the same for her. Soon, she too was out of the hole.

Now, let’s see if we can get this in firmly. Alan propped one end of the board on the wall and placed the corner of the other end between two tiles. He looked up to see the faces of the couple watching him. He smiled at them then backed up to the opposite wall of the pit.

“Here I come!” he said loudly as he ran across the pit. He put one foot, then the other on the board and sprang upwards, catching the edge of the tiling and starting to pull himself up. The older couple helped him, and within minutes he was out and standing up. He picked up the torch and automatically looked for the cat.

“There is a door over that way that enters a series of corridors,” Alan told the older couple. “When we get into it, we’ll need to find my br… my fellow operative. He was hurt when we, uh, fell into this place.” He watched as the cat’s tail once again was basically the only thing that stood out in the torch’s light.

“Come with me.” Alan started across the huge room, the older couple in tow. He kept the cat’s tail in sight and soon saw the outline of the open doorway. “Here’s the corridor. Let’s get to my friend and then we can worry about how to leave this place.”

“You just show us the way, young man. We’ll follow you.” the lady said.

Yeah, and I’ll follow the cat, Alan thought, as he watched the black form move from shadow to shadow again.

The cat disappeared entirely when they reached the door to the room where Virgil lay sleeping. When Alan entered the room, the white cat was nowhere to be seen either. Alan gently shook his brother’s shoulder.

“V? Wake up, V,” Alan called. The couple stood at the end of the bed watching one young man try and wake up the other. Virgil stirred.

“Ow! My side hurts,” he said as he gingerly sat up. “Where is she?”

“Where is who, V?” Alan asked puzzlement and concern vying for space on his face.

“The lady in white,” Virgil answered groggily. “She was just here….”

“She’s not here now, V,” Alan explained. “But I think I’ve found our homeowners.” He turned to the couple. “Do you own an old house on top of a hill in War Eagle, Arkansas?”

“Why, yes. We do. What’s this all about?” the man asked.

Alan opened his mouth to say something, but closed it. There was no way he could adequately explain what had happened to any of them.

“Here, V. Let me help you up.” Alan put Virgil’s arm around his shoulder, and placed his hand on his brother’s side above the injured rib. Then he led the way out into the corridor.

“What the….?” Alan exclaimed. The darkened hallway was now darker than ever. The black smoke that had surrounded the two IR operatives in the old house now filled the space outside the side room.

“Get back in the room,” Alan ordered. The older man tried the door, then looked at Alan in shock.

“It’s locked!”

Great! Now what do we do? Alan asked himself. He was about to turn to the right when he heard a loud and insistent, “MRRROAW!” to his left. Okay, cat. You’ve led me right all this time. Now, I’ll follow you again. He turned to the left, calling to the older couple, “Follow my voice!”

The clingy black smoke got thicker and thicker as the four moved down the passageway. The older couple began to cough, bending over with their deep hacking. Virgil began to cough as well, and soon, Alan joined them. Virgil slipped from his brother’s grip and fell to the floor. The older couple were already overcome by the smoke. Alan stayed upright as long as he could, hobbling along, until something wound itself around his ankles and he fell atop his brother. His last waking thought was, Damn that cat…..

—————————–

“Alan? Come on, Alan. Wake up, kid!” Gordon’s voice held more than just a modicum of concern as he held an oxygen mask to his younger brother’s nose and mouth. Scott had a worried look on his own face as he ministered to Virgil. Suddenly, Alan started coughing and opened his eyes, sitting up on the grass outside the house on the hill. Gordon put the mask over Alan’s face again, and encouraged him to breathe deeply.

“What happened? Where’s Virgil?” Alan wheezed out. Gordon turned and showed Alan where Scott was working on Virgil, who had yet to come around.

“We lost contact with you and Virg. After about 10 minutes, Scott and I went into the house ourselves. The black smoke had cleared out and we found you and the couple who own the house lying in the hallway near the back on the first floor. The paramedics have already taken the homeowners to the hospital,” Gordon explained as Alan breathed in the oxygen. “We’ve been trying to rouse the two of you for the past fifteen minutes.”

Virgil began to cough and sputter, then moaned with pain, rolling over to one side.. Scott pulled away, a look of consternation on his face.

“Scott, Virg has at least one broken rib,” Alan rasped out.

“How do you know?” Scott asked as he pulled up Virgil’s t-shirt to see the bruising on his brother’s side.

Alan sighed. “It’s a long story, and I’m not sure you’d believe me if I told you.” He propped himself on one elbow, still using the oxygen mask, and watching as Gordon brought the medical kit over to Scott so the two of them could deal with Virgil’s injury.

After a few moments, he dropped the mask and looked around. The day had segued into twilight with the last few strands of sun-painted sky quickly darkening in the west. The moon, full, huge, and orange, was just above the horizon and the old house was silhouetted in its orb. Boy, that’s a Halloween image if ever I saw one, Alan thought. Was it all a dream? Or did it really happen? It felt real enough. I’ll say one thing: I’ll never see a black cat again without thinking of this night.

As he scanned the darkness of the foliage surrounding him, Alan’s eyes grew wide when he saw, or thought he saw, two pairs of feline eyes, one green and one amazingly yellow, staring back at him from the gloom. He blinked; he was sure that one yellow eye had winked at him. And from the bushes he could have sworn he heard a soft and gentle “mrrraow”.

feline finis