The Curse Of The Unkilled Cat (A Christmas Story?)
I have come to relate a strange tale, as is my wont and my talent in
this life. Many things around us are not to be understood. We just can't
grasp them. Maybe on the other side of the dark glass we will, but in
My tale involves the night I was driving at fifty miles an hour, the
legal speed limit, along a major highway here in Birmingham. Everything
was just peachy! Driving along, listening to The Clash on my CD player,
looking forward to dinner...peachy. Suddenly I see a police car sitting
in the median ahead. No problem, I'm going the speed limit. So I don't
even take my foot off the accelerator or touch the brake. No problem?
Ah, the problem.
Suddenly from my left a black cat squirts out of nowhere and directly in
front of my car. There's a lot of other traffic on the highway, and I
realize that if I swerve suddenly the police officer in that car is
likely to light 'em up for me, or I might bash into another vehicle. So
before I could slow down a single mph, I have hit a black cat. I hear
and feel the thump on my right tire. I glance back in my
rearview mirror and see the cat stumbling off the highway, so I know
I've not killed it—let's just say it's not yet
dead—but it seems to be badly injured.
Okay. Life goes on, right?
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. In the last couple of months I
have had a virus winnow through my anti-virus program, destroy my hard
drive and nearly destroy part of The Providence Rider, as well as
mangling other important programs I need to keep. I was able to transfer
some work to a second computer. Within several days of working on that
rig, the hard drive crashed. I luckily have a third computer tucked away
in a closet. When I plugged that in, the power pack instantly blew up.
I'm not talking a quiet pop, folks. I'm talking fire and smoke shooting
out of the vents in the metal box.
On a more personal front, there are things going on I can't even begin
to relate. One thing I will say is that I very much enjoy running. I run
every day if I can. Well, someone advised me that I'd been running wrong
for years and I should be running "heel to toe" instead of
"toe to heel". Good enough. I go out and buy two pairs of
very expensive running shoes. I'm ready to go. I decide to run on an
indoor track to get used to my new running style. Yeah, let's go!
Four strides in, I take a curve, my right foot crinks to the side on the
new tread of my exprensive running shoe, and suddenly all my weight is
on my ankle and my foot is turned beneath me at a right-angle. I flew
toward the railing and nearly brained myself. The upshot of this is that
I wound up limping into my neighborhood pharmacy at about eight that
night to ask if I could rent crutches. No, I was told, but I could buy
crutches if they had them...but they did not, and I might try another
pharmacy several miles away.
Bear in mind, I am walking now by dragging my right foot and my speed is
somewhere between snail and death. I never knew pharmacy parking lots
were so huge. Okay, I should have gone to the doctor but I didn't. I've
had sprains before and gotten through them, but this was Pretty Ugly. I
recall breaking out in a cold sweat when it happened. Anyway, major
damage has been done and...guess what...I am supposed to go for a trip
to Cozumel, Mexico over the holidays...and I'm leaving Tuesday the
21st, and I'm writing this on Saturday the 18th and my foot is still
mucho swollen. So the time is ticking.
Anyway, I get my crutches and I go on from there. My situation does get
a little better. I'm able to get off the crutches, though now the pain
is so severe I can't drive. Do I hear a black cat laughing? What would
that sound like? I think I know.
Okay...I have run out of food. Did I tell you I am separated from my
wife and I live alone in an apartment now? Another tale...but I have to
make myself drive and get some food. So I force my foot into an old
beatup running shoe and I head to the grocery store, where while I'm
tottering around trying to choose a jar of grape jam for my
peanut-butter-and-jam sandwiches an elderly lady asks if she can hold my
Well, I relate all this in a late night conversation to a friend of mine
in Vancouver, the excellent writer KC Dyer. She says, "Rick, this
is the curse of the unkilled cat. You have to appease the Cat God to
have this curse removed."
"Okay," I say. "And how is that going to happen?"
"You go to the grocery store..."
OMG! Not again, I think.
"Go to the grocery store," she says, "and buy the most
succulent seafoody catfood you can find. Then you take that catfood to
the nearest animal shelter and donate it. I think it will work, and I
think something will happen to show you it's worked."
Well, that day becomes one of the most stormy and rain-filled days in
Birmingham history. I have a small car—a Pontiac Solstice, long
live Pontiac (sob)—and I'm fishtailing around in the rain like
crazy. No way I can get way across town to the nearest animal shelter!
Another call to KC. She says, "Take the food to the nearest vet,
and make sure it goes to the cats or kittens that need homes."
Okay. The nearest vet is right down the street. I take the catfood and I
tell my story to the people at the front desk, and thank God I know them
because my story is weird. But they listen and they understand
because they, too, have some black cat stories. Anyway, the time comes
to feed one of the needy cats and see what happens.
This particular cat has run into the bathroom, where it drinks water
from the faucet yet they tell me it doesn't like to have water dripping
on its head. So I cup water in my hand and lo and behold the cat drinks
from my hand. And...and...after all the water is gone it
continues to lick my hand. A sign? I don't know. But I do know that cat
enjoyed its seafoody lunch. It almost ate the plastic dish. So I left
feeling lighter, and feeling that a unkilled black cat's curse might be
loosened from my shoulders. A little bit, maybe. But in this case a
little bit is a lot.
Now...you may be asking how in the world this is a Christmas story?
I have had a very difficult and tough last few months. Well...last few
years, really. Okay...ever since I wrote Boy's Life things have
been tough, because I walked away from genre horror work and I wasn't
supposed to do that, according to the corporates. They were investing in
a horror writer. That's what I was supposed to be for the rest of my
life, no matter what else I wanted to write. And guys, the corporates
can make life Hell for you, in ways that an unkilled black cat could
But I'm here. In a different place now. I've been in my apartment since
August. I'm pretty much on my own.
A Christmas story? Well, listen to this.
One night I was sitting on my balcony and I had a thrill of happiness.
It just came on me. It was a thrill of happiness that I haven't felt for
a very long time. I recall feeling that kind of thrill on Christmas
morning when I was a little boy, with the tree and the presents waiting
under it to be unwrapped. I felt that thrill, and I knew...the world is
my present, waiting to be unwrapped.
I have determined to travel more, to get out in the world and enjoy life
more than simply being a solitary hermit creating fantasies. I will
certainly continue to work because I love to work and I love the family
of my characters...but nothing beats real life, guys. Nothing beats
getting out in the world, meeting people, going places and having new
experiences. That's why on Christmas Day I'm going to be swimming in the
clear blue water off Cozumel. It will be my baptism into a new life.
I have experienced that thrill of happiness several times since. It is
the kind of happiness that can not be bought. It can not be
manufactured. It can not be written about. It must be experienced to be
known. I intend to find more and more of it, as time goes by. I think at
long last I have earned it.
I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I wish
you happy times with loved ones. Never take them for granted. Never.
I wish you peace and kindness, and I wish you freedom from black cats of