The Cat Came Back
By Jeff Baker
I’d never slept in a church before, especially not a deserted one, but it beat spending another night on the street. Anyway it was cold in the city and I didn’t want to get picked up by the cops as a runaway which technically I was, as a sixteen-year-old whose parents had bailed on him. I’d been lucky; I looked older than I was and I’d found some places to work and live over the last few months. But I kept out of trouble; a youth center was no place for a gay teenager in 1977. Which brings me to the church.
I’d been warming my hands over a fire in a trash can under a bridge, feeling uncomfortable about the way a couple of the bigger guys were looking at me when I overheard somebody saying something about the old church on Haley Street. It was closed up, I knew that, but someone else had told me earlier that people stayed away from the church and that it wasn’t a church anymore, and that “it wasn’t a place where anybody would go, not even the cops.”
I wandered away from the fire; the big guys didn’t follow me. I guess they just wanted the fire to themselves. I looked around and walked down the street, turning a corner and taking a zig-zag route in case I was being followed. It was after midnight when I found the church, a one story building in a run-down neighborhood. The street light in front of the church was burned out or shot out. The only light was another streetlight a block away. I looked around again and climbed over the sagging wire fence that someone had put up a while back. There was dead, brown grass about a foot tall around the little building which was about the size of a convenience store. I kept imagining giving the cops my usual spiel: that my name was Bryce Going, that I was nineteen and seeing the country and that somebody had stolen my wallet with my I.D. and cash.” I shuddered and felt my way around the building. The back door was boarded over, but I pulled at it and I could crawl through into the church as the board snapped back into place behind me. I looked around; most of the windows were boarded-up too. I pulled out the little pocket flashlight I’d bought months ago (thank God I had a warm jacket!) and flashed the beam around the room. Floor solid; some broken glass around the edges of the room: pew toward one end, a Christmas decoration hanging lazily from a beam in the ceiling. A couple of worn, felt banners hanging on the wall. When I was sure I was alone, I turned the light off, dusted off the nearest pew and lay down, using my gym bag as a pillow. I started to doze, glad at least that the church was sealed-off from the wind and open air and was somewhat warmer than the outside. I was falling asleep, hearing my own breathing in the quiet and the far off sounds of the highway.
There was a noise in the church, a rustling sound. I sat up, wide awake, breathing hard. I fumbled for the flashlight. I saw movement on part of the floor dimly lit from the light from between the boards on the windows. A small, grey-white kitten crawled from under a chair. I could hear the purring in the quiet of the church. I smiled and sighed with relief.
The purring grew louder. It filled the room, it filled my ears. The kitten began to puff out, swell and then grow. In instants it was the size of a horse, and then its ears brushed the roof. The purring was deafening, its eyes glowed like moons. Its teeth were bright and sharp.
I grabbed my bag and ran, I wasn’t sure where. I found myself at the back door and slammed against the board, falling outside. I was halfway down the street when I realized the purring was gone. And that I had been screaming. I ducked down a side street and made my way downtown. I spent the night walking in and out of convenience stores and the bus station, eating my last candy bar. Tomorrow I’d find a job, get some money. I kept remembering what the man had told me about the church on Haley Street: “It ain’t no place where anything holy lives anymore.”