Calico Calamity — Atonement

Calico Calamity, Excerpt — Atonement, Tennessee

This excerpt, this calico calamity, leads the heroine of “Atonement, Tennessee” into a tense situation.  Lilith the cat has a knack for finding those, and a few such are told from her point of view in the novel.  I use the calico as a device to let you know about things that Ralda (our heroine) can’t see.  However, Ralda tells about a strange encounter that happens when the capricious cat gets outside.

Scroll down and enjoy,

teagan

…I was sheltered by a big clump of tall bushes of some sort.  I thought it might be mountain laurel.  I could see the broad side of the mausoleum from there.  Shadows lurched violently against the stone crypt.  Big shadows.  Reflexively I drew back into the concealing vegetation.  Then I heard a loud avian-like screech and realized that the shadow shapes might have been wings.  My heart hammered.

The noise escalated.  It definitely sounded like more than one creature was causing that ruckus.  Then I heard the cat hiss.  I ran toward the sounds; ready to use the flashlight as a club, and wishing I had something more effective.  “Lilith!” I called.  Oh, let’s face it – I screamed.

As I ran out form the concealing mountain laurel a gust of wind buffeted me.  I tripped and fell on the uneven pavers of the path, just as the wind blew my hair, along with some dirt, into my eyes.  I couldn’t see at all for a moment, but I heard a lot of heavy rustling, scraping, shifting sounds.

Every time I thought I had half way cleared my eyes, the wind blew something into them again.  I struggled to my feet, desperately wiping my stinging eyes.  I heard soft footsteps coming toward me.

“Are you hurt?” he asked.

With an electric jump I gasped.  The calm kindness of the words did nothing to ease the added fear of knowing there was a person there.  A stranger.  In the dark.  In the graveyard.  I was pretty sure it was a large man too.

However, in the way of a panicked brain, I thought of the irrelevant – I couldn’t begin to place his accent, but he certainly had one…  I could still barely see, and couldn’t gauge how much of a threat he might be.  The night had also gotten cloudy, and therefore darker.  If I thought my heart was beating hard before, it was about to explode by then.

“Here,” he said mildly, putting a silk handkerchief into my hand, and taking my elbow to help me stand.

No doubt I should have run, coming upon a scene that seemed violent, running into a stranger in the dark isolated spot.  But his voice was gentle and comforting.  Besides, he already had my arm in a firm grip, so I wouldn’t be going anywhere if he was a criminal or psycho or something.  Shaking with reaction, I used the handkerchief to wipe my eyes.

I looked up at him.  He was tall and well built.  Rudely I pointed the flashlight on him, but I tried not to shine it directly in his eyes.  I just needed to see him, that stranger there in the dark, so I wouldn’t panic.  Then I realized he held something in the hand that wasn’t holding my elbow.  I heard loud purring.

“Lilith?” I cried.  “I don’t know how she’s been getting out.  I was so worried,” I babbled and tried not to give in to tears.  “What was all that commotion?”

Thankfully, he knew what I meant, and handed my cat to me.  “A very large bird,” he said after a minute hesitation.

For some reason, I felt like he wasn’t being truthful, but Lilith was still purring.  Did that mean this man was okay; that he was not a threat?  She had let him hold her, and purred rather than try to get free.  Usually the cat didn’t even like for me to hold her.

Considering the shadows I saw, and the sounds I heard, I couldn’t disagree with his explanation of a bird – but how large would it have to have been?  Wouldn’t it have to be enormous?  It seemed impossible, but I had seen the shadows, heard the screeching, and felt the wind from its passing.

Perhaps sensing my doubt, he went on to explain, “I’ve been watching it ever since I moved into the house.  It only comes out at night, so I haven’t seen it clearly.”

“Where did you come from?  I mean, how did you get here?” I asked, realizing that I still wasn’t making a lot of sense.

“Pardon me,” he said in a gracious voice, seeming to understand my rattled state.  “I came in at the eastern gate,” he turned and pointed gracefully as he spoke.

“From there I have been observing the large bird.  This night I decided to try to get closer, for a better look.  Apparently the kitty had similar ideas.  Since she is clearly your cat, are you the owner of this place?  If so, then we are neighbors of a sort.  I live across the road from the eastern gate.”

He paused and I felt his intent gaze on me.  I shifted nervously.  That was definitely a foreign accent.  The words he chose were unusual.  The accent was more apparent on some words, especially the way he said “kitty.”  However, I couldn’t place it.  How would such a person wind up in a tiny town like Atonement, Tennessee?

“Thank you for getting Lilith.  I’m Esmeralda Lawton,” I said, and immediately wondered why I had used my given name.  It was something I rarely did.

“Thank you,” he said in a way that made it seem like I had given him something beyond my name.  It also seemed strange that he should thank me like that in this situation.

“I am called Cael Adriel.  Would it be an imposition if I continue to observe the bird?  As I said, it seems to only come out at night.  I have not seen it anywhere else,” he requested with a note of childlike excitement.

It seemed like such an odd thing to want to do… but who could say with birdwatchers from unknown countries.  Maybe wherever he came from, hanging out in cemeteries at night, watching oversized birds wasn’t unusual.  I shushed the sarcastic part of my head that said that.

He seemed like such a little kid about it, all innocence and fascination, yet all wrapped up in an exterior of big scary sexy.  It took a moment for me to find my voice.  I realized I was staring at him.  I cleared my throat and said, “I um, I don’t suppose it would.  Be an imposition, that is.”

He smiled and inclined his head.  “You have my gratitude.  I believe the,” he hesitated fractionally, “the bird has gone.  I don’t believe it will bother you tonight.  However, I will see you home if you like?” he made the statement a question.

“I don’t think you need to do that,” I said, feeling very uncomfortable and distrustful, and something else that I wasn’t ready to define.  “But I appreciate the offer.  It’s very kind of you,” I added.

Where was the strong intuition that I had come to rely on when meeting new people?  Apparently it was off somewhere being unreliable.  In any case, it wouldn’t do to be rude, not to a new neighbor.  I wished him a good night in as pleasant and unconcerned of a voice as I could manage.  Then I turned to go back to the house.

I walked a few feet away and looked back over my shoulder.  He was still standing there, as still as any of the cemetery statuary.  I gave a little nervous wave, and kept walking.  When I thought I was out of his sight, I walked faster and faster.  I didn’t exactly feel threatened by him.  It was just that the entire situation had been frightening, and I was a little rattled.

I let myself in the backdoor, and slumped against the kitchen wall, still holding the cat.  I told myself to stop shaking.

 ***

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