I was raised in the country, and with that came certain morals that were taught to me. I come from nine generations of farmers, people who lived off the land and its animals in order to ensure their survival. We hunted, farmed, and fished, and the animals that died to keep us fed in alive were honored with great respect. I remember when I was old enough to string my first fishing rod, my Grammy pulled me aside to tell me a story.
Us folk didn’t believe in lectures or scoldings, but we tended to follow Aesop in that lessons were taught through stories and fables. So such consequences we learned were easily remember and passed on. So I listened carefully as my elderly Grammy sat me down upon a chair in her comfortable living room, handing me a tall glass of cider. It was time for me to be taught a very important lesson that any country person worth their salt would know. Animals, from the small little ant to the strong bull must be treated with compassion and kindness. They must be respected and if you do have to take a life, to do so because you must do so to live. Or else.
“Or else what?”, I could only ask.
She gave me a knowing look, and at once began her tale.
Matthew Sherpton was a simple man who lived a simple life. He lived in a relatively comfortable house on a small plot of land in Pennsylvania, where he kept a small chicken coop and a pen with a single pig in it. There he’d come home from a long day working as a gas station attendant, fiddle with his truck for a bit, feed the animals, and then sit in front of the television before trudging up to bed, to repeat the same thing the very next day. The routine was simple and effective, and rarely did anything come amiss. But amiss it did, for one day he came home to find one of his hens missing. The only thing he could find was small drops of blood and a scattering of white feathers near the coop. The other hens huddled together, frightened, and he regretted not buying a rooster to protect his girls. Grabbing his rifle, he roamed all around the property, but never found any clue to who killed his chicken. When it turned dark, he gave up and simply went to bed.
When he awoke the next day, he groaned and stretched out of bed. His stupor was interrupted by a sharp squawk and sounds of a struggle. Immediately he bolted upright and raced to the window, to see a large cat grab one of his hens around the neck. The cat was pitch black in color, and its green eyes glittered like little jewels in the sun as it grabbed the poor bird and began to choke it The hen fought back valiantly, but she was no match for the strong jaws and sharp fangs of the cat. When she fell silent, the cat began to drag her off into the woods. Filled with anger, Matthew grabbed his rifle and a bag and quickly raced down the stairs and out of the house, vowing revenge for his felled birds.
He followed the cat at a distance, even though he was angry, he wanted to see just where the cat was taking the bird. If the cat belonged to someone he would demand the owner pay to replace the chickens their cat killed, but he doubted it, not seeing a collar on the dark feline. He was correct in the assumption, as the cat eventually reached an old rotten shed in the woods. Such structures where common in Pennsylvania. Often people built secret sheds, often to store hunting supplies in, or even an illegal moonshine still, and would simply move on, allowing the structures to rot away as the woods reclaimed it. What surprised him though, were the four little kittens that tumbled out of the structure, squeaking loudly at what he realized was their mother. He watched as the cat set the slain bird down before the kittens, and began to tenderly pluck the feathers with her teeth to allow her kittens to feed easier. Matthew’s eyes however, were clouded with anger and rage over the loss of his property. So he raised the rifle and aimed it at the cat, but was startled when she suddenly looked up from her stolen meal to stare right at him with those big green eyes. Sensing a threat, she opened her toothy maw and hissed loudly. Matthew did not hesitate and simply fired off a single round. His aim was poor however, and it struck the cat in the side with a loud crack. She and her kittens screamed as she fell, their pain and confusion eminent. Matthew did not want to waste a bullet on what he believed to be lowly creatures, and came over and opened his bag. In his eyes, the kittens were just as guilty as the mother, and he grabbed them all, including the still alive mother cat, and threw them in the bag, tying it shut. As least then the horrible cries were muffled through the thick fabric. His prey in hand, he made his way to the road, where a bridge lay nearby.
It was just as easy for him to throw the wiggling bag over the bridge and into the cold water. He watched as the bag sank and the bubbles grew less and less until they vanished completely into the darkness. Satisfied that such creatures will never bother him again, he walked home where he proceeded to cook a nice meal to celebrate, and then settled on the couch with a cold beer and some television. Eventually the clock drew to 10 pm, and decided to go to bed. After changing into a shirt and boxers, he set his alarm and climbed into bed, ready for a good night’s sleep. He lay in the comforting darkness and drifted off to sleep…
Matthew was awaken by an obnoxiously loud dripping sound, that seemed to drill down into his brain with each droplet of water. He groaned and shook off the warm covers, arising to find the source of the interruption. He found it alright, the faucet in the sink was dripping. Frowning, he twisted the knobs, perhaps he left the tap on? Twisting the knobs did nothing, the faucet continued to drip into the sink, splashing Matthew’s hands with the fat droplets of water. It was odd to him, he had just replaced this faucet only weeks ago…perhaps the replacement went bad? He decided to check in the morning, for now he needed to sleep. Shrugging, he left the room to crawl back into bed, but the dripping noise made it impossible to sleep. As soon as he would drift off, the loud sound of water striking porcelain would jerk him awake. Still he tried to sleep, fruitlessly, as the dripping continued all the way to the ringing of his alarm.
5 hours, he couldn’t sleep for 5 hours, because of the dripping! He was going to raise hell at the hardware store, for selling him a defective faucet. Groaning and feeling tired, he gingerly made his way downstairs and into the kitchen, only to freeze.
The kitchen sink was dripping too.
He frowned deeply, this couldn’t be right. No way could two faucets leak like that just out of the blue! He resolved to fix it as soon as he’s had his morning coffee. He took the pot and opened up the tap and filled it to the brim with clean water, before pouring it into his brewer and leaving it to steep. He set about making breakfast as the coffee begin to bubble and drip into the pot. He set a plate of eggs and bacon on the table, and poured himself a cup of coffee. Sitting down, he took a sip of the steaming hot coffee….and promptly spit it out.
“Uhg!” he cried in disgust. The coffee tasted like a rotten piece of meat left out in the sun for way too long. It couldn’t be the grounds, he just bought them! He grimaced from the taste, and poured the coffee out in the sink and examined the liquid closely. He froze.
Floating in the liquid were short…black…hairs.
He gagged and poured the rest of the pot down the drain, his appetite lost. He decided to go work on an empty stomach, the sheer memory of that taste killed any desire to put anything into his mouth for a good long while. His work went by slowly, he was constantly distracted by the thoughts of the strange things going on in his house. He thought about the hairs in the coffee…it looked like the hair on the cat he killed, but how could have it gotten in his coffee? Perhaps he merely tracked it into the house and it ended up in the pot somehow. It was a long shot…but that has to be the only rational explanation for that, right?
His shift ended at 6pm on the dot, he was sick with worry and filthy from a long day of cleaning off gas pumps and scraping up oil. He drove home quickly, eager to wash away the grime of a days work. Arriving home, he counted his chickens. No more missing birds, he noted with a grin. Seems like they were safe for now. He opened his front door, only to step into a puddle of water. He cursed loudly and followed the puddle to the kitchen, where the sink was full and overflowing. More curses streamed out as he quickly ran over to twist off the tap, momentarily easing the cascade of water. Puzzled he looked into the drain, to see nothing. There wasn’t anything obviously blocking the drain, and the plug was resting on the counter where it always stayed. There had to have been something deep in the drain…only something that a cleaner would get. He was pissed, he was lucky he had a well, or he’d have a hell of a water bill. The whole kitchen was soaked all the way to the carpet at the front door. Knowing he was about to get dirty again, he sighed and fished out a mop from the downstairs closet, and set to work cleaning up the water all over the floor. The carpet he could only blot dry, he hoped it wouldn’t mildew or anything before he could fully dry it out. Putting away his cleaning tools, he slowly made his way upstairs and into the bathroom.
Thankfully, there was no disaster upstairs, though the sink faucet still dripped obnoxiously. He quickly pulled off his damp and dirty clothing and threw it on the floor, twisting on the hot water tap in the tub. As the tub filled with water, he grabbed a fresh bar of soap and a washcloth, and sank into the delightfully warm water once it was halfway full. He sighed with relief as the water soothed his sore muscles, and he began the process of soaping up his weary body. As he bathed…he couldn’t help noticing that the sweet smell of the bar of soap was doing nothing to over power a scent that seemed to pick up in strength in the room. It smelled….like old water….the water that often had bugs floating in it….dead water. He looked down into the water to see it was now an odd greenish shade.
He went to try to get out of the water, but a sudden loud feline scream echoed out of the water, bubbles rising to the surface of the water to burst, releasing more of the rank odor. He could only watch in horror as bright green eyes looked up at him from under the water…..along with four sets of tiny little blue ones. His heart clenched tight in his chest as he kicked into the water. The eyes stayed precisely where they were and the pitch and volume of the screaming increased as his kicked. Suddenly the faucets began to gush water with a force he could never consider them doing. Slipping and screaming himself, he launched himself out of the tub and grabbed the door knob. The water continued to rise up to his ankles as he struggled to open the door. He looked back in horror to see the waterlogged black shape begin to rise from the tub, the screams continued to echo as though it was coming from deep underwater. With a burst of adrenaline Matthew threw open the door and stumbled into his bedroom. The water was already soaking the carpets, and looking out into the hallway only made an block of ice drop into his stomach.
The stairs. Oh god…the stairs…the water from downstairs….it was already to the top of the stairs! He ran to a window in his bedroom and tugged on the glass, he had to get out of here! The window refused to budge, and in desperation he looked for anything heavy he could use to throw through it. Just as he was about to grab something, a tidal wave of rancid water slammed into him with the force of car, sending him screaming to the floor. Now sobbing in pain and fear, the crawled his way up to the top of his bed, the water now high enough to reach halfway up it. He lay on the bed, dazed, looking towards the bathroom. Out of the room, the black ghostly shape walked towards him atop the water, surrounded by four tiny little blurs.
The green eyes glinted at him in the darkness.
“Oh god…I’m so sorry.” Matthew begged. “I’m sorry!”
There was only a sound of rushing water, and then everything went back.
As Grammy finished her tale, she looked at me with eyes that has probably seen the crimes she had just finished telling me. “Do you understand why I told you this?”
“One must always remember that when you do a good deed, it shall be repaid. An act of kindness now will bring kindness in turn. Same with an evil deed. For what you sow you will have to harvest.”
I could only agree. I often thought about that story as I got older. I didn’t know if it was made up, like the aforementioned Aesop, or something that really happened. But how could it? I knew from then on I did my best to be kind to animals. Spiders in the house were gently scooped up and placed outside. Mice could be driven away with peppermint oil instead of inhumanely trapping them. Grammy’s lesson stuck with me for a very long time.
By chance one day, I scrolled through some old newspaper scans at the local library. I took an interest in the history of the town where I grew up in, as it was once a colonial town. I stopped through, at a very particular news article dating from 1985. As I read it caused my heart to beat and my breath caught in my throat.
POLICE BAFFLED AT LOCAL MAN’S DEATH
JULY 7TH, 1985
Local police were astounded this morning when they investigated a local man that has not shown up to work in over a week. The gas station where Mr. Matthew Sherpton worked became worried when the normally punctual employee did not show up for several days and did not answer any phone calls. When the employer called the police, they were dispatched to the man’s house to find the door open and a foul stench emanating from the house. One Office on scene reported it as ‘unbearable’ and the unit was forced to don masks before stepping inside. The house was severely water damaged, but yet was dry on the inside. The man’s decomposing body was found on the top floor in his bedroom, where he lay almost like he suffered a seizure or some other malady. A coroner on scene examined the body before proclaiming that the victim drowned to death. Police are now expecting murder as there was no evidence to support a suicide. The Police wonder why someone would drown their victim and place them back in their own beds. The Force has requested that anyone who knew the victim to step forward as they try to piece together what happened in the house. For now they fear a potential murderer may be living in town, and any suspicious activity should be reported immediately.
The farm animals on the scene were hungry, but no worse for wear. They were sent to the local humane society to be adopted out.
I looked closely in the grainy photograph of the dead man on his bed, surrounded by police officers. I zoomed in and swallowed the nervous saliva in my mouth. In the photograph, imprinted on the obviously soaked and dried again carpet, was a set of cat paw prints.
Followed by four sets of tiny little ones.