The Nail Salon
After breaking my ankle and having to stay home on doctor's orders, the only thing left for me to do was to sit by my window and watch life on the other side. As always, the street was quiet. Right across from my house, Silky Nails proudly advertized affordable manicure and pedicure for all budgets. Although a sign in the window said 'Open' the lack of light inside seemed to say otherwise. Then again, it had always been the same. In the twenty years I'd lived here, I couldn't recall seeing customers. Sure, there were the occasional oddballs but it was not as if the owner, a widow in her late fifties, had regulars. How she made ends meet was beyond me.
It occurred to me that despite being close neighbors, Maddie and I had never spoken to each other. We exchanged greetings but that was it. Maybe today I could fix that. My nails needed work and I could use the company. Without further delay, I grabbed my crutches and my purse and made my way out to the shop.
Inside, a little bell rang and Maddie came out from an adjacent room. "D'you have an appointment?"
"No, but—" I said, looking at the empty place.
"That's fine. I have a cancellation; I can take you now."
She directed me to a chair and by the time my hands were done, we were best of friends. She invited me in her kitchen for some herbal tea and we talked about our lives, wondering why we had never done this before.
All the while, Maddie knitted.
"It's second nature to me. I need to do something with my hands," she said. "All you see here that's cloth, I made: the curtains, the tablecloth, even my dress."
Although it looked strange with its two rows of holes in the length, its intricate design left me speechless. It looked as if it were made out of silk.
"Would you like to see more of my work?" she asked.
"Heck yeah," I said.
The storage room was dark and had a peculiar smell to it.
"Don't mind it," she said, reading my mind. "You get used to it after a while."
She navigated among the bulky rolls of silky material that lay all over the place and fetched a sizeable piece she put around my shoulders. Soft and warm, the fabric clung to my body like a second skin.
It felt icky. I wanted it off. I needed it off…now. The more I tried to wiggle out of it, the more I entangled myself. Sweat dripped down my forehead and burned my eyes.
"Maddie," I called but the only reply was my own heartbeat pounding in my ears. "Maddie?"
Its foul breath announced its arrival. The creature wore Maddie's dress and had Maddie's eyes, four pairs of them. The strategically situated holes in the outfit set its hairy legs free…free to knit—because Maddie always needed to knit.
I was no more than five or six and I was that kind of kid. You know the one; burn the ant with the magnifying glass, pull one wing off a fly so I could watch spin around in pointless circles, and pit assorted insects against one another in a lidded jar. That was the best, especially the wolf spider and the wasp; the battle could last for hours and there was no telling who was going to win. I also tormented my cat.
Nothing outrageous, I didn't break anything or cut him, I just squeezed too hard a few times to hear him growl and hiss. Mind you, I used the magnifying glass on him once when he was sleeping on the porch. His fur had this great smell when it started to smoke, kind of like burning meat, but not quite. It didn't take long before he started doing everything he could to stay clear of me, but I was like a dog on a bone. That cat didn't like dogs much either.
One time, when I was chasing it around the yard with a bamboo stick, it couldn't seem to find any safe place to hide. It started on the old sofa on the porch. He was curled up and sleeping peacefully, twitching every once in a while like he was having a dream or a nightmare. I bellied in close and gave him a good whack with the bamboo. He jumped up with a yeowl dove around the back of a nearby chair in the corner and when I climbed up on it and swatted him from over the back he tried to crawl under it to hide. So I used the end of the bamboo to jab at him. I chased him from one end of the porch to the other before he finally jumped outside and tried to hide in the bushes by the stairs. I found him pretty quick and tried to whack him again but he took off under the porch. I could get in there easy, so it didn't help him much. That's when he took off for the neighbors. I ran after him, but he was way too fast, and the last I saw was his tail disappearing through the opening to the crawlspace under the house next door.
I remember feeling a little bad, thinking I was going to get into some big trouble when Mom or the neighbors got home. If Mom couldn't find her favorite 'Little Kitty', she would blame me, and even if she didn't, the neighbors would probably come over complaining when they started smelling dead cat. I ran over and peered into the pitch-black dankness and couldn't see a thing, but I could hear him. He was growling with those low, rumbled threats and highlighting them with hisses. I needed a flashlight.
After getting the Eveready Mom kept in the pantry, I stuck my head in the hole and shone the beam into the blackness. I could tell immediately that he had moved farther in, probably thinking I was going to come in after him. Smart cat. I crawled in towards some stacked concrete blocks that were holding up a beam 10 or 12 feet away. I was pretty sure he hiding back there, because the growling and hissing was getting louder as I moved in. I see the next bit every night.
Just as I got level with the blocks, I cast the beam around the corner and saw him. He had green fire coming out of his eyes and his mouth was open as wide he needed to show a set of teeth bigger than I had ever seen them, I thought at the time they were bigger than a lions. In that instant he was on me. Teeth, claws and screams were all I was aware of, some of the screams his and more of them mine. I lost the Eveready almost immediately and didn't have much to defend myself with except my arms and hands. He was tearing and biting at everything, I could feeling face bleeding, my hands hurt like hell every time he sunk his fangs in, and my clothes were being torn to shreds. Just as it started feeling like he was going to rip my throat out, he leaped into the darkness and was gone.
Mom came home shortly after I made my way out of the hole. I was still screaming and wailing and it took a while before she could calm me down enough to hear my version of the story of the attack. It wasn't my fault, I was just trying to get her precious 'Little Kitty' of the hole. I saw it go in there and I didn't think it was going to find its way out. It just attacked me for no reason. I knew she was skeptical, she had that look on her face, but how could she favor that cat when her precious 'Little Boy' was scratched and bitten so badly she had to take him in to Doc Alphonse to get stitches. I heeled soon enough, but the cat was banned from the house. She tried to get one of the neighbors to take it, but word got around pretty fast; that cat was a kid killer. It was OK with me, the cat and I had some unfinished business.
He disappeared one day and Mom could never figure out what had happened to him. It wasn't long after that that the nightmares started. Every night, same thing, cat with fiery green eyes and fangs comes out of the blackness and begins eating off my face. I stopped wetting the bed years ago, I don't scream any more, and the sweats are really getting rare, at least that's what the wife says. But its the kids that have me worried, they're starting to scream now too.