With a cruel purpose, it sliced its way through the darkness. No matter how fast Bobtail ran the water was faster, it reached him in moments and swallowed the little cat with ease. Bobtail’s already aching chest burned with the need to breathe. The water squeezed tight, forcing him to open his jaws, gasping for air when all there was, was water. Bobtail fought the tide knowing he could not win.
Bobtail woke from the nightmare gasping for breath. The stink of car exhaust, sweat and rest stop food turned his already tense stomach. He looked rapidly around the car to see where the water was, his whiskers twitching. The car bounced over a pothole, and he leapt to his paws and stumbled into a half full box.
“Hey buddy, calm down, it was just a little bump.” A large human hand rubbed over Bobtail’s ears, pushing his fur into his eyes. His panic eased. Bobtail looked up at his human as he clambered out of the box and mewled softly, embarrassed by his own fear at the nightmare.
Settling on top of another box and pushing thoughts of the nightmare from his mind, Bobtail looked out at the road as the car puttered down the duel carriageway. Bobtail’s human, Steven, put his foot down hard on the accelerator and groaned with disappointment as the caravan he had been racing for the last twenty miles overtook him.
“Bloody Madman,” Steven said. “Oh well, we’re almost there lad. I told you I’d get us out of that flat.”
“Wonders will never cease, my friend,” Bobtail muttered to himself, knowing that Steven couldn’t understand cat-speak.
Licking his paws, he tried to stop the shiver that was working its way up his back. Cleaning distracted him and ground him firmly into reality. There was nothing like picking grit from your claws to help you distinguish reality from dreams.
“Want some, boy?” Steven ripped open a packet of cheap, processed meat with a single hand and his teeth. Pulling a slice free, he dropped it in front of Bobtail.
Bobtail sniffed at it, his stomach clenched at the stink of it. Ignoring the meat, he hopped onto another box and looked outside at the passing woodland. The sun was starting to set, and the trees looked like thin charcoal statues, casting long pale shadows. The window was open a crack, and the wind whipped at his fur, carrying new and unusual smells. Bobtail put paws on the glass, his nose to the wind and inhaled the scent of the land mixed with the spice of the humans and animals that lived here.
He continued to watch the surroundings trundle past, and within minutes of his watching they turned off the dual carriageway onto a smaller road. The trees were gradually replaced by stone houses and the long grass by concrete streets.
“I think this is it,” Steven sounded pleased. Bobtail tried not to let his disappointment show. The town was like most others Bobtail had seen on his travels with Steven, who rarely remained in one place longer than a year.
A fresh breeze wafted into the car, Bobtail took a deep breath and frowned. Sitting up straight he sniffed harder. Something wasn’t right. He looked out of the window at the bland buildings and cracked streets and tried to put his paw on what he was smelling. He licked his nose to clear it and opened his mouth. The air tasted familiar, and a cold sense of dread washed over him as he realised the scent blood was in the air, faint but distinctive. Bobtail’s ears flattened back against his head.
“Nice huh?” Steven reached over and rubbed his ears. Bobtail felt a growl start in his throat and swallowed it.
“Stop it,” he muttered to himself. “The move, the nightmare and the summer heat have addled your brain, there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
The car drove through what might have been the village centre and out into the estates. “Aww that’s cute,” Steven smiled as he drove up to a humped wooden bridge.
“It looks like it’s going to collapse,” Bobtail grumbled and looked to the sky. “Great Goddess Bastet, I prey unto you, please don’t let me die in this car.” The bridge held. “Thank you, mother Goddess.”
The road became narrower, and Steven turned left into a Cul-de-sac. The houses loomed, tall and dark at the side of the road. A few were clearly empty, but some had faint light peaking out around the curtains. Steven turned into a steep driveway overgrown with weeds and stopped the car. For a moment, they started to roll back, but with a quick hard pull on the handbrake, Steven managed not to embarrass them.
“Come on, we can unpack the car later.” Steven’s big hands slipped under Bobtail’s chest and lifted him. He jostled Bobtail until the cat was pressed against the man’s chest. Bobtail dug his claws into Steven’s jumper when Steven let go with one hand and grabbed his overnight bag. He took a deep breath and tried to fill his nose with the scent of his human. Together they made it to the front door which Steven opened without knocking.
“Steve?” A human voice called.”That you down there?”
“Hi, Mike,” Steven called back unenthusiastically and stopped to put his bag down. Bobtail took the opportunity to jump down. “Hey,” Steven said, Bobtail looked up at him. “Don’t go far; I don’t want you getting lost.”
“It is a house,” Bobtail muttered, “it is not the Labyrinth.” Steven reached down and ran his hand down Bobtail’s back, which Bobtail endured before setting off to stretch his legs after a day cooped up in the car.
The house was old, the bare wooden floors were rough under his paws, and the wallpaper was peeling at the edges. But Bobtail was never overly concerned about his home’s appearance. What had his fur rising again was the smell.
The house reeked of blood and death.