I used to have a good friend some time ago named Kevin and as is often the case with my friends we lost contact over the years. We worked for the same company as traveling insurance salesmen; he being the senior representative. I think I will always remember him for a bizarre story that he told me one day while I was driving us to a work function in Charleston.
“Did I ever tell you about the time my grandmother’s cat killed her pastor,” he asked. I looked away from the road at him and responded with surprise, “No, you didn’t!” With a contemplative look he said, “Yeah, it was really weird.”
And so he began the story about the cat, pastor, and grandmother. His recollection was fuzzy on the details because it had happened so long ago and he had heard it “third hand.” How much was embellishment and how much was truth is hard to tell. Apparently his grandmother, who remained unnamed, had lived on a small farm well outside of Charlotte and had acquired an old, tortoiseshell cat many years before named “Zero.” How and why he had this name will be explained shortly and was actually given by grandpa.
I was told that one time grandpa was foolish enough to try to feed and water Zero even though it was a long and honored tradition that grandma did this. Even worse, he added to his sin by putting water in the food dish and food in the water dish. No sooner did he stand up after setting the dishes down on the kitchen floor than a furry ball of hatred leapt across the kitchen counter and pawed the unsuspecting face. From then on grandpa bore three white claw marks on his right cheek to remember him by.
And so we arrive at the moniker “Zero.” The old man was an American fighter pilot in the Pacific theater during WWII. Certain Japanese planes, which were formidable in direct confrontations, were known as “zeros.” So naturally this feline monster took on the name of those mortal enemies of old. I doubt that the Japanese ever caused the fear in grandpa’s heart than did that damned cat.
But Kevin spent a great deal of the story narrative upon the particulars of Zero, which I will do as well. The animal was the size of a small dog, it being naturally large but also overweight. A tortoiseshell, he was black with orange hair dispersed throughout. I was assured that his features were tattered. His whiskers were all broken off or curled at their ends, his left ear was torn and folded back onto itself, his tail was shortened by a dog which decided to “take a nip,” and he had a limp caused by an engagement with a raccoon, which was promptly dispatched to the promised land with vengeance.
His manners were most unusual. For instance, he never acquired that feline habit to clean his fur so years of dust had accumulated on his hair. This condition was of such an advanced state that if grandma patted his back (and only grandma could venture such an attempt), a cloud of dust would disperse from that precise spot. Also, his meow was not at all like other cat’s. He would open his mouth as if to meow but only a low gurgling sound emitted. It was suspected that this behavior was the result of some battle wound to the throat but on this point Kevin seemed hazy.
Next, the cat slept at least 23 hours a day. Not that this is unusual, but when Zero slept his body was absolutely motionless for stretches of ten minutes or more. He gave not the slightest indication of life: no breathing, no twitching; nothing. What is more, he would cork his head up as if looking to the heavens. If he were in one of his “deep sleeps” he wouldn’t awaken under any conditions I was told.
His temperament was stormy and foreboding. He had lived long and hard so no one attempted to engage Zero on any level and certainly not as a pet, except grandma. It would seem that he tolerated her well, perhaps due to her rescuing him many years ago from a back alley or maybe it was from an abandoned house (even my recollection fails). It goes without saying that this is the only indication that Zero had a grateful bone in his otherwise spiteful body.
Next, he related that his grandfather had passed away and Mr. Skivvers, the family pastor, officiated. Skivvers was short and balding with a ring of black hair around his otherwise shiny head. His face was full with rosy red cheeks and a permanent expression of seriousness. His hands were at all times kept motionless by his side (even when walking) with palms facing behind him and his shoulders sloped forward. The result was a sort of “caveman-shuffle.” This cavemen was of a far more brutish and resentful sort, his vocation notwithstanding.
So he came to console grandma over the passing of grandpa and gave the scriptures and interpretations in a matter-of-fact way. After about twenty minutes he left her to contemplate his words of profound wisdom and shuffled to the kitchen from the living room to help himself to some vittles.
Well, none other than Zero was perched atop the refrigerator looking down angrily at Skivvers. The poor pastor, not realizing the immediate danger that he was in, reached for the refrigerator door when three lighting strikes of a razored paw grazed the top of his bald head. Stunned that the animal was so aggressive and in order to retaliate, he reached up to grab the cat when his forefinger was chomped by a set of equally sharp teeth. At this point Zero stood up and was ready to go for Skivvers neck when grandma, hearing the commotion, intervened and scolded the pastor for disturbing Zero. The pastor was shocked and humiliated that a man of the cloth could be treated in such a way. He snatched up some paper towels from the kitchen counter to stanch his bleeding head and swore that he would live to see that cat “dead and buried.” He further swore that he would live to officiate Zero’s funeral. Unfortunately, grandma’s came first.
Friends and family gathered from all over the countryside to come and pay their last respects to grandma. Her eldest son was given the distinct privilege to execute the meager estate of his mother. He was the one that called Skivvers to arrange the funeral oration at the farm. The conversation went something like this:
“Pastor Skivvers, would you be willing to give the funeral oration at the family farm?”
“That all depends. Is the cat gonna be there?”
“Yes, but he’ll stay out of the way.”
“Then no, I won’t.”
“OK, then, what if we get rid of the cat by tomorrow morning? You can come that afternoon. We bury mom on Sunday.”
“Fine, but if that cat is there when I come then I’ll leave.”
“Thank you, Pastor Skivvers. You’re a godly man.”
Well, little more attention was given to how the family could get rid of Zero, especially with all of the preparations for the memorial service. Of course, the next day pastor Skivvers came and stood at the front door of the house and inquired about Zero, only to find that the cat was still there. After many threats from the pastor, the family agreed by council to take Zero to a far away country road and leave him there for good.
After a short search of the premises, Zero was found in one of his favorite sleeping spots in the basement on top of the furnace. The discovery itself caused quite a stir amongst those gathered because the cat must have passed away at some point in the last twenty-four hours. The news delighted Skivvers who called for an impromptu burial for the animal. Kevin’s memory became very sharp in explaining the following sequence of events, even though he was not a direct witness.
One of the teenage grandchildren was given the task to dig a hole in the backyard between the house and the woods. A short time later Zero was covered with only a few inches of loose soil in a small indentation in the ground. The dark colored dirt made a shallow grave under which Zero had been laid just as he had been found; curled in a ball with his head corked up. About seven members of the family gathered about the hole and looked bewildered as Skivvers gleefully shuffled with extra speed to the head of the gathering to give his speech.
With the following words his serious face smiled for the first time that anyone could remember: “This cat, this animal, while beloved by the deceased, was not worthy of life. He was downright evil.” With his voice rising in pitch, his eyes rolling, and his breathing becoming labored, he said further, “‘What a man sows, this he will also reap.’ It’s no different with animals! No different! No different!”
Now he was violently shaking his head from side-to-side in unison with the syllables “no different” in a sort of self-righteous wag. Suddenly Skivvers stopped his head wag after the fifth recitation and clapped his now saucer sized eyes on the grave in front of him, his smile now gone. The others, formerly transfixed on this dumpy figure of a frenzied man, traced his hard stare to the same place. After a few seconds, various people gasped these lines while Skivvers remained stunned:
“Oh my God, what is that?”
“The ground’s moving!”
“Is that a paw reaching out of the dirt?”
First one paw, then another, reached out and clawed the firm earth at the edge of the hole directly in front of Skivvers. Pulling his upper body out, Zero looked directly at the pastor, the rest of his body still submerged in a premature grave. His fur was clogged with dirt and his left eye was plugged with a clod. The pastor, whose breathing had become extremely shallow, lost all of the ruddiness from his corpulent cheeks and stood rigid from fear.
After what seemed an eternity, Zero, still staring at Skivvers, gurgled that long, low-pitched, ominous meow. It seemed otherworldly. But the pastor fell over backwards, his heart having had enough excitement for a lifetime. At once everyone rushed to give attention to Skivvers. The pastor himself passed away three days later in an intensive care unit from a heart attack caused by the ordeal.
“So what about the cat,” I asked as the story seemed over without that detail being given. “In the commotion no one paid any attention to him but he got out, all right. One of the bystanders said that they saw him sitting and observing at the edge of the crowd. Zero watched the ambulance take Pastor Skivvers and then stood up and walked off into the woods.”
“And so that was that,” I said.
“That was that.”?