Chapter 1:


Emil's Night

Emil couldn’t sleep. The light of the Moon illuminated his face through the open window and he was covered in sweat yet neither of those were what kept him awake. He tossed around in the bed yet somehow his hands were never quite comfortable. Just as he began drifting away he suddenly heard the horrific wails of a cat once more. He could never understand why those small creatures made noise as if they were in a deathly agony. He groaned and put his fingers to his ears. It was way too hot to close the window. Deep inside he came to a decision and calmed down.

He woke up with his early alarm. A piece of music that was once soothing now grated and agitated. The truncated sleep did not help his already pale complexion though it provided a strangely humorous contrast with the dark circles underneath his blue gray eyes. The raven hair was the same as always, which is to say neglected and dishevelled. He got dressed and ate some of the leftovers straight from the fridge. As he went for his bag his hand stopped in mid-air. He turned around and rummaged through his drawer. He found his reserve of money and added a couple of banknotes to the wallet in his pocket. He left the old apartment building, which was as run down on the outside as it was inside.

He made his way towards the park and performed his daily ritual of cursing the day he decided to study mathematics at the university. This walk was the only exercise he ever got and it showed. Even without the blazing early morning Sun he always arrived out of breath and with aching legs. Being sweaty on top of that wasn’t something to look forward to. He continued through the small residential area and an old part of the city, now populated by many small shops, bars and restaurants. The way was paved with stones which then abruptly ended on the asphalt covered main street. It took him just over half of an hour to reach his destination. An abomination of ancient Greek columns vaguely attached to an old building in the style of rationalism. He entered the faculty of mathematics and collapsed on an old leather sofa in the hallway, out of breath. The peace lasted only a few minutes as both the students and professors started arriving at the last minute to the lectures.

As he stood up and made his way towards the classroom his vision went blurry and he nearly fainted and had to catch himself on a pillar in the middle of the hallway. He took a deep breath, yawned and continued. He sat at the edge of the middle row. The seats were uncomfortable with little room for knees and the depth of the desks was lesser than a normal A4 notebook. His favourite feature of the class were the enormous windows which were pretty much always open and let in a gentle breeze of warm fresh air. The professor entered the classroom exactly at the second the lecture was supposed to start. He began talking as if the sentence resumed seamlessly from his lecture from last week. Lectures in complex analysis somehow felt like speed writing competitions.

Despite his exhaustion Emil kept up and felt the burning in his wrist. However when the professor went on a tangent about holomorphic functions and he could relax his arms the exhaustion crept right back. He decided to rest his eyes for a second. As he nodded off he could feel the soothing darkness enveloping him. Just a moment later he could see green circles shining in front of him. His head dropped forward and the was roused from his sleep with a jerk of his shoulders. Looking down he saw he stopped writing in the middle of a word and from there half of the page was marked by a vertical line from when he woke up. The lecture went on and he tried his best not to fall asleep again.

During the break the professor disappeared as suddenly as he had arrived. Emil stretched and yawned. He moved to the window and looked at the other students. Most of them were in groups of two or three, except one procession of girls who flocked around their leader Estera. She wore colourful clothes all the time and was consistently covered in makeup. She always seemed very cheerful and friendly. She was the type of person that Emil instinctively hated, despite not ever doing anything to deserve it. On the other side were two people who got along with Emil. Tobias who was friends with him since high school and Kasia, who they met while browsing books in a local library. She had the natural complexion to rival Emil’s when he was sleep deprived and dressed in black as if to contrast that. To most people she seemed silent and withdrawn, but of course most people never really attempted to challenge that hypothesis.

“Hey, how are you?” Tobias began as the two of them joined Emil.

“Fine, just didn’t get enough sleep.”

“Yeah you look horrible today,” Kasia joined in.

“Even worse than usual that is. Have you been reading or playing games?” Tobias added.

“Thanks guys. First I was up studying and then some cat kept screaming under my window.”

Tobias bursted out laughing and Kasia just let out an interested “ooh”.

“Hahah, again?! Anyway I can’t believe you are already studying. The tests will begin in almost four weeks from now.”

“Well Tobi unlike you I realised last year that I need to study more if I want to have even a slim chance of passing these tests. Besides there are four exams in the span of two weeks, so even you should probably think about starting soon.”

“Hmm, I suppose. Where do you stand on this Kasia?”

“I review what we did in every lecture the same day or at least week, so I’m pretty much always ready for exams.”

“Oh wow, my hat off. In that case I will start today. Can’t have you nerds outdoing me. Or … maybe tomorrow.”

The lectures resumed and Emil struggled onwards. Later on the trio went to a cheap sandwich place they frequented and even more lectures followed. In the end Emil decided to just take pictures of notes that his two friends made. When the ordeal finally ended Emil left immediately. He made his way back into the old part of the city. He found a small hardware store that sold small farming equipment. He bought himself a cage trap. On the way back home he felt giddy and a bit sick.

As he returned he immediately started practising the violin in order to calm his nerves. He made an effort to always play at least three Kreutzer’s etudes to stay in shape. Playing this early was also the only way his neighbours wouldn’t want to murder him for being so loud. It was hard to concentrate as his mind kept drifting to his plan. When he finished he took the trap outside and set it up beneath his window. He went back and turned over the meagre pantry. A dented old can of mackerel turned up. He put two of them inside the trap and returned and ate the rest himself.

He tried studying and then reading a book but despite his best intent he could not calm down so he ended up drinking most of his reserve of cheap store brand beer. This continued late into the night. It was just past midnight when he heard the infernal screams that were now so familiar to him.

“Shut up,” he muttered. He stumbled outside and took a sack with him. Inside the cage was what seemed like not only darkness as you see it in the night, but the very absence of everything. From the middle of that void shone two green circles slashed vertically by a narrow black line. This sight made Emil recoil in fear and then inspired even greater irritation and anger inside Emil. The cat stared into his soul silent and motionless save for the eyes following him as he walked. He took the sack and emptied the cage into it. The cat showed no resistance.

Emil wobbled along the road towards the park. He followed a path that led him into the forest. Further on he arrived at the stream. The sack still felt like dead weight. He used a large stone to weigh it down. He looked at the sack one last time, his eyes full of malice. He tossed the sack into the water. It made a splash and sank into the dark. Emil watched for a minute. He suddenly let out a cackle. Another followed right after. Soon he was roaring in hysterical laughter, illuminated with the moonlight. He had no idea that there was an expression of utter despair on his face and tears streamed down his face.

Emil awoke the next day with a splitting headache. Looking around he realised he overslept and was late for his lectures. He got up in a panic and immediately fell back down as he fainted.

When he got up he suddenly jerked in terror. “Did I really? Was it a dream?” He looked around. He couldn’t see the cage.

It was another hot and sunny day but on his way to the faculty Emil shivered many times. He made it time for the second lecture. He remembered that it was useless to panic since attendance isn’t obligatory. It was just part of him that remained since the days of high school. Even though he overslept and despite the excitement and restlessness the deep warm voice of the professor and the hot breeze lulled him to sleep. As he dozed off he was once again faced by complete darkness and out of the abyss two green circles shone. Only time he could also make out the narrow black slits fixed on him. He woke up with a start, adding another vertical line to his notebook.

The uneasiness continued to escalate and as soon as the lectures were over Emil practically ran back towards his apartment. That is until he was out of breath in a couple of minutes and then he just walked as fast as he could. He looked around bellow the window of his room and went white. The cage was laying on its side behind a shrub. He felt as if his breath was knocked out of him and then he started sweating. He couldn’t believe what he had done. He remembered that as a young boy he loved cats and even feed a stray that wandered in the backyard back home. And now this. He felt the tears start to well up in the corners of his eyes and he felt a lump in his throat.

He tried distracting himself by studying, playing violin playing games and reading, but none of those kept his attention or made him feel any better or even just less bad. He tried eating, but he felt sick. In the end he went out for a walk and tried to empty his mind completely. Without realising the road took him back towards the park and into the forest. He ended in the exact spot where he committed his crime the night before. With a dejected spirit he surveyed the riverbed and saw nothing. He ended up wading up and down the stream without even taking off his shoes, though he didn’t even notice it. There was no sign of the feline or even the sack for that matter. He turned back without ever finding what he was looking for.

Joe Gold