“What are you doing?” Lou asked as I picked her up to carry her over the threshold. Her graceful limbs wrapped around my neck.
“I am carrying my bride into our home. Isn’t that what one does after the honeymoon?”
“I married a romantic!” she jokingly cooed and kissed me, taking off my glasses, while I struggled with the front door. “You got it?”
“I got it.”
We laughed and stumbled inside. I set her down and we both took a moment to look around. We’d lived in this, our dream house, for two years; and though we’d only been gone two weeks, it felt different now that we were married.
Lou walked to the sliding doors leading to the large deck of the four-bedroom, modern, glass structure on the edge of the canyon, which sat on stilts. Her favorite thing was opening the doors and windows and letting the breeze in. We loved this house and the solitude it provided. Our closest neighbors were the wild cats, coyotes, and an assortment of small wildlife that called the woods below home. And beyond that the luminescent grid of the city. Perfect for sunset dinners and entertaining. Which we did often.
As she slid the door open one such furry bit of wildlife darted inside and ran under our mid-century credenza. Startled, she turned to me, “What was that?”
“A cat, I think.”
I got down on all fours, really hoping I was right. A cat would be a lot easier to deal with than a racoon. Sure enough, a large, black, adorable, short-haired fur ball with intense green eyes peered at me. He cocked his head to one side as if questioning my intentions. “Yup, cat. A big one.”
Lou joined me on her hands and knees. It stared at us with those sparkling eyes and slowly let out a pitiful meow. We looked at each other with silly grins. We both knew, at that moment, we were hooked.
It didn’t take much to coax him out from under the credenza, and he turned out to be quite the lover. He jumped on my lap and allowed me to pet him. Xibalba was his name. At least that is what the tag on his collar said. Lou called the number listed, assuming someone was missing their beloved companion. He was clearly well cared for. But the number was no longer in service, so we settled in for a relaxing night with our house guest. Curled up together we fell asleep watching an old movie. Xibalba nestled in my lap, purring loudly and comfortably.
Later that night I woke up to Lou straddling me, her body rhythmically swaying over me. She threw her head back while keeping a steady pace. The light coming through the window lit up her beautiful face and her perfect breasts. I reached up to take them in my hands, but she held my arms down with a strength I didn’t know she had. This loss of control drove me closer to climax. Her long brown curls spread over my chest intensifying my desire to take control. I lifted us both and without missing a beat I laid her on her back which curled with a new wave of pleasure. I buried my head in her breasts and pumped as if life itself depended on it. At last, she screamed, her pleasure no longer contained. Her wetness spread over me, and I released my own.
A moment later I’m on my knees, mud covering my hands and arms up to my elbows. I’m digging in the ground. I don’t know how I got there. An impossible amount of blood flows from two gashes the length of each of my forearms. My digging reveals a body. From the center of her cracked-open chest, filled with soil and blood, white orchids grow in spidery vines that wrap themselves around my throat, choking me. I struggle to breathe. From her hands, two identical newborns spring, their umbilical cords attached to her palms. They reach, hungrily, toward the roots of a giant tree that rises from the netherworld through the Earth and into heaven. She turns her head toward me, it’s Lou! She laughs cruelly with dead eyes. I scream but the twins’ cries drown out the world.
A dark figure approaches, soothing the babies as he nears.
I woke up, terror invading my mind. Xibalba sat next to me. His cat eyes, a glowing green, circling red pupils. Lou peacefully sleeping completely unaware.
We spent the next day contacting the shelters and rescues and putting up posters with his picture around our hilly neighborhood. We got a call from a neighbor a few streets over telling us X, as we came to call him, lived next door to her with a sweet, elderly woman who had recently passed away. Rumor had it she had been “going through some things” toward the end and committed suicide. But that was all it was, a rumor.
“Well, that’s a morbid story,” Lou said after she hung up. “But I guess this means we can keep him. Right X?” She nuzzled him. As she did, X stared at me with those intense green eyes, and I could swear there was a hint of a smile which I took to mean he understood that he had found a forever home. But when I reached out to pet him, to let him know he was welcome to stay, he turned his body away from me as he continued that stare.
We both doted on X. This beautiful black cat became the center of our lives, and he loved us. Evenings were spent playing with him and petting him. He purred constantly but after a short time it was obvious, he preferred my wife. He would cuddle with her more often than with me. He would always lie on her side of the bed and seek her attention more than mine. I started to feel a bit jealous, but of course, I dismissed it as silliness. It was just a cat after all.
The nightmare repeated itself nearly every night. Some nights more vivid than others. The blood gushing from my arms, the flowers choking me, the dark figure… I often woke feeling there was more to it than I recalled. I dismissed it as stress. Several times when I woke up, X would be sitting next to me, watching me. I began to get the feeling he was the author of my nightmares.
A few weeks later, I received a promotion overseeing the creative of our largest global client. This required me to travel more than before, and late nights at the office became more common. This left my wife alone with X and their bond grew in my absence. Often when I came home, Lou would have already gone to bed. She had morning classes and liked to arrive early to meet with her students beforehand. He was my only companion on those late nights. He greeted me at the door and wound his little body between my feet, purring loudly. In my exhaustion from work and a lack of restful sleep, I mistook this for love. Every time I came home, he was always there to greet me. Regardless of the time.
Sometimes he would trip me or walk in front of me and nearly cause me to fall.
One morning, I got up to make breakfast before Lou woke up. X bounded past me as I went down the stairs causing me to miss a step and fall hitting my head. I began to suspect he was purposely trying to make me fall. I voiced this idea to my wife, “You’re not serious, are you?” she asked, laughing. “You don’t really believe X is trying to murder you?”
“I know it sounds stupid,” I admitted while icing the lump on my head which had turned a vicious purple, “but I swear he waited until I was at just the right spot to trip me.”
“Well, maybe you shouldn’t have abandoned us. Right X?” she said in the baby voice she reserved for him.
“Abandoned?” I snapped back. “This job pays for this house, the cars, the vacations, the cat food! I do this for all of us!”
Lou stared at me, stone-faced, and kept petting X. Slowly she stood, gently put the cat down, and walked out of the room. I tried to think of something to take the sting off the remark but all I could come up with was “C’mon Lou!”
She didn’t look back. X hopped on her chair, his tail waving back and forth. He looked at me and I could have sworn he smirked before hopping off and following my wife out of the room. The craziest thought popped in my head: he wants me out of the picture. I sat there frozen, terrified that I was losing my mind, and my wife.
Weeks went by. On the nights when I wasn’t haunted by the creepy twins, the dead eyes, or my soundless scream, I would be startled awake, trying to catch my breath, and would find him sitting on my chest. The beast would randomly bite or scratch me, but nothing would convince Lou there was something wrong with her beloved X. We began to fight about it and if things got heated enough, she would banish me from our bedroom.
On one of those nights, I walked into the guest room and before I could turn the light on, I saw a man, all in black, sitting on the chair in the corner. His eyes glowed and he cocked his head as if thinking about something while he stared at me. I blindly searched for the light switch, confused by what I saw. Terror gripped me followed by an odd sense of familiarity. When I finally turned the light on there was no one there. X walked past me, out of the room and down the hall. He stopped and looked back at me before entering the bedroom to join my wife in bed. I stood there for I don’t know how long. My mind reeling.
During a business lunch, a few days later, I saw that same man, black suit, black shirt, and black tie, sitting at a table. He stared with those intense green eyes and a hint of a smile played on his lips. I looked away and from the corner of my eye saw X in his place. Just as quickly he and the man were both gone. I knew at that moment something evil was following me.
At that point, my exhaustion and distrust of the cat grew to the point where I had to get rid of it. I was desperate to find a way to get this creature away from my wife and out of our lives. Any chance I had I put X outside, hoping he would be taken by a coyote. Could I give him away? Drop him off somewhere far? What’s far enough? The desert? The mountains? The freeway?
No matter what I tried, he never resisted. He was always docile and somehow, he always managed to find his way back to Lou’s lap. She did not believe, as I did, that X was evil. She defended him at every turn.
“He’s just a cat Smith! X isn’t trying to hurt you. Maybe if you were around more you wouldn’t feel this way!”
“What way? Isolated? Left out? Alone?”
The more this went on, the more I questioned my sanity. I took solace in the bottle. Scotch. A habit I had given up years before I met Lou. This only served to create a bigger wedge between us and further secured his place in her heart. I became irrationally jealous. I knew it was insane but I was convinced the cat wanted me out so he could have Lou all to himself.
The more friction between us the more intense the nightmare. The dark figure morphed into the man I had imagined in the guest room, at lunch, in a parking lot, on the deck. He was tall and thin, but muscular, with black curly hair that hung over the collar of his black suit. His green eyes were accented by red pupils. The same as the twins’. The same as Xibalba’s. Remembering this in the morning when I awoke put me even more on edge. I had to explore the connection. I decided I need to know where this word, Xibalba, came from.
I had my assistant do some research. The following day she had several archeological articles and a few history books she’d borrowed from the library. I took these items home and pored through them. I needed an answer.
Later, when Lou came home, I confronted her with my findings. “Xibalba, it turns out, is the Mayan word for underworld. Roughly translated as ‘A place of fright’. A place ruled by several gods which sometimes come to this realm to spread misery and disease.”
“Have you been drinking?”
“What? No!” Then, “Yes, but I’m not drunk! You need to read this! The twins from my nightmare, the flowers, the tree, it’s all in here. Thirteen levels in hell—”
“Smith, I think you need help. Professional help.” She took my face in her hands and looked deeply in my eyes. “And maybe a new job. Something less demanding. You’re exhausted and imagining things. Making strange connections where there aren’t any. I don’t know why you’re fixated on the cat. I love you and I miss you. Please fix this.” She kissed me tenderly, let go, and walked to the bedroom, quietly closing the door behind her.
I sat on the deck for a while, Scotch in hand, looking at the lights in the distance. Debating if she might be right. Is this all stress? Could I just be imagining all these things? Should I see a therapist?
An hour passed, may be longer. I don’t really know. I refilled my glass, and headed to bed, but at the last second opted to bring the bottle.
I had consumed quite a bit and when I stumbled into the guest room, I caught myself on the dresser. I put down the glass and the bottle. I examined my haggard face in the mirror. One half in darkness, the other lit only by the light streaming in from the hallway. Finally, I noticed the reflection of the man, again sitting on the chair, waiting for me.
“Who are you?” I asked, turning toward him in a panic. Nearly falling in my drunken stupor. “Are you here to spread misery? What do you want?”
He rose, without a word. I crawled along the wall toward the door. He approached the mirror and with his back to me, straightened the knot on his tie. He then looked at me through the mirror and smiled. “I want nothing from you. I’m just an observer.” He smoothed an errant curl.
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Hell. A human construct.” He turned to me.
I recoiled slightly.
“It is quite fun to watch you all turn yourselves inside out to avoid something you claim not to believe in,” he began pacing, his arms clasped behind him like a professor delivering a lecture, “and yet that abstract idea, for many of you, is the compass by which you live your lives. The possibility of punishment and torture after you die. Of a god that would care what you do in this realm.” He laughed softly. “The gods don’t care. All they want is to be entertained.” He walked to the window and looked out to the city lights. “Oh! But you do it so well, with your jobs, and your quest for wealth, for fame, for love, for a legacy…” He turned back to me.
My hands gripped the doorframe.
“Don’t you see? None of it means anything. Most of you will be forgotten. As if you never existed.”
“Why are you here? What do you want with my wife?”
“Nothing. Your wife will complete her time here and she will move on. You on the other hand, you will continue to perform and to suffer because you just don’t understand. That is your lot.”
“Why tell me then?”
“Why not? It will make no difference. I will continue to observe. You will continue this path.”
But he was gone. I looked around and found myself utterly alone. Down the hall, the door to the master bedroom opened a crack, X strolled in, and the sliver of light disappeared. I rushed to the dresser, emptied my glass, and poured another.
The following night I came home to find Lou was out. She’d left a note that she would be having dinner with friends. Our friends. Friends I hadn’t seen since the promotion. Once again, I’d been left out. I punched the refrigerator door leaving a sizeable dent. Now my hand hurt and I was furious. But my choices were what got me here, right?
As had become my ritual, I poured a drink and sat on the deck overlooking the city. For the first time since he came to us, I hadn’t seen X anywhere in the house. Good. Our mutual hatred had grown exponentially.
I poured another drink and spotted the imp watching me as he sat on the railing. We stared at each other for a long while. I slowly sipped the brown liquid.
I poured another, and when I looked up again, he was gone. This gave me a very uneasy feeling. I looked around but he was nowhere to be found. I sat there a bit longer staring into the night. It occurred to me; I could have pushed him over the edge of the railing. The drop was enough that he may not be able to turn himself upright in time to avoid injury. What’s that theory? A five-story fall can be deadly for a cat. The deck was high enough. But how to get the beast to sit on the railing again?
Just as the thought entered my mind, he appeared on the opposite corner, staring. I swallowed the rest of my drink and casually walked to the table to put the glass down.
I stared back. I made my way toward him.
He remained on the railing daring me to approach. As I got closer, he started walking in my direction. He came to a stop and sat, waiting for me to come closer.
Finally, I was within arms-reach. We stared each other down. In one fell swoop, I pushed him off the edge. He didn’t try to avoid it. He went over, silently. A few seconds later, a light thump, then nothing.
That’s when I heard the front door open. Lou was home. I looked over the edge and panicked. X’s small body just laid there, not moving. Not making a sound. What the hell had I just done? I just murdered my wife’s cat. She loved him as much as, if not more than, she loved me. How could I possibly explain what I had done? An innocent creature had been killed because I was irrationally jealous of it. I had to compose myself and act normal. I looked over the railing one more time. He was still there, not moving.
I went inside and closed the sliding doors. “How was it?” I asked as I leaned in to kiss her.
“X?” She kissed me back absentmindedly. “Have you seen him?”
“I haven’t. I figured he was napping on your side of the bed as he always does.” This came out sounding whinier than I had intended.
Lou gave me a look, the one she’d been giving me since this whole thing started. The “you’re acting like a child” look. She said nothing and went on to check all the rooms around the house to no avail.
Of course, X was outside, several stories below, dead. I feigned concern and helped search for him.
She thought all those times he’d disappeared were because he’d escaped to go exploring. “Could he have gotten out again?” She was becoming distraught. She was so careful to make sure he didn’t get out. “Did you leave the screen doors open?”
“No. Of course not.” I lied. “He’s got to be around somewhere.” I put my arms around her and offered, “I’ll walk the neighborhood and see if I can find him.” I kissed her forehead and started for the front door.
That’s when it happened.
X came strolling out of the bedroom, stretching as if he’d been napping the whole time and hadn’t heard my wife come home. She was so relieved to see him that she did not register my terror. She picked him up, “X! You gave me such a scare! Where have you been?!” She sat on the couch petting him and nuzzling him as he stared me down while purring loudly, delighted at her relief. I poured another drink.
Later, I lay in bed, trying to wrap my head around what had happened. Didn’t I see the monster lying at the bottom of the canyon, dead? Did I imagine it? How could the cat have been in the bedroom the whole time? Was I losing my mind?
I got up for some water. As I walked into the kitchen, X darted between my feet, and I tripped over him hitting my head on the countertop. I was dazed, angry, bleeding and combined with the alcohol I was having trouble seeing and thinking straight. I grabbed a knife from the butcher block and chased X into the bedroom. He jumped on the bed, and I jumped after him, blindly stabbing and screaming like a madman. The demon needed to die.
According to the coroner’s statement, there were thirteen stab wounds. The first one was fatal; she didn’t wake up. That is my only consolation, that my wife never knew what happened. X was found hiding under the couch. Not a drop of blood on him. I don’t know how much time passed between the attack and the hospital, handcuffed to the bed. I don’t know what happened to him. But I am sure Xibalba will find another forever home.
Maria Lorenzana is a Guatemalan born Chicagoan currently residing in Santa Monica, CA. As an Emmy nominated Costume Supervisor, she earns her Duckets in the Entertainment industry. The writing bug began several years into this career when she felt the unrelenting need to write a screenplay about her grandfather. That screenplay earned her a “Best Short Screenplay” award in 2016. Maria went on to write several feature screenplays. A desire to take advantage of the down time during the pandemic to improve her skills led to the exploration of on-line creative writing courses. There she found a community of talented writers that encouraged her to develop her fiction writing, which is her focus these days. That is not to say that the screenplays are a thing of the past. Maria is a firm believer that all experiences come together at some point. Currently she is working on two novels, a non-fiction piece, and several short stories.