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 this realm…forgettaboutit!
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 basket.
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 never imagine.
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 all kinds.