Scenes that didn't make the final cut #1
The Rats by James Herbert is written largely as a series of vignettes.
Herbert uses them to depict a number of people who are ultimately devoured by the rodents after which his novel is named.
The method is highly effective because it practically forces the reader to feel an emotional bond with the victims, and to be sorry for them when they go (usually in cruel and violent ways).
I wanted to emulate Herbert’s approach in my novel Zomcats, so I wrote much of it as a series of vignettes just as he’d done with The Rats.
For reasons of length as much as anything, not all of my vignettes made the final cut.
Here’s one of the ones that ended up on the cutting room floor.
I hope you enjoy it.
It wasn’t a back garden as such, although Guthrey Wallace called it a back garden. It was a yard behind his house about fifteen foot square, with a high wall around it.
The wall had a door in it, which, if it had been open, would have led to a dark alley. But it was never open; it was always bolted shut to keep people out. Guthrey didn’t like people. He didn’t like children either, or animals for that matter, especially cats.
In fact, he had a particular problem with cats.
They were always walking along the top of his wall, and sometimes they even had the temerity to jump down from it into his back yard.
Well, he was going to show them.
He was going to put a stop to all this cat malarkey with the aid of hundreds of glass bottles. He’d been collecting them for months.
He placed them on a blanket on the ground and folded it over them, and then he smashed them with a hammer. The result was a blanket full of razor-sharp shards.
When he'd done that, he mixed up a tub of mortar, climbed on a stepladder, and applied a thick layer of his mortar to the top of his wall. Then he filled a bucket with the glass shards and stuck them in the wet mortar, so that the sharpest, pointiest bits were sticking upwards. He did this several times until he’d covered the entire length of the wall and converted it into a death-trap.
After he’d finished, he inspected his handiwork and smiled.
If anyone or anything tries to walk on the top of this wall now, he thought to himself, they’ll get a right bloody shock.
Palk Ghosht was exhausted. He’d spent the evening working as a waiter at the Bombay Mix, Huddersfield’s premier Indian restaurant, and the effort had drained him, as it always did. His job had always been hard, but since the bombing of Huddersfield had reduced the restaurant to a rubble, it had become harder still.
Only a week after the bombing, the enterprising owner had re-opened his business in a giant marquee. The marquee had to be put up and taken down every night of the week. Even with the extra staff the owner had recruited to help with the task, Palak had been forced to work longer hours than ever before.
Nevertheless, weather permitting, he always walked home to his house in Birkby, rather than drive or take a taxi. His work made his head spin, and the walk home helped him to relax. He always slept better after a walk.
It was 2.00 a.m., and the town was in total darkness.
The Marquee was all packed up apart from the final piece, a support strut, which Palak put into a van.
“See you later this morning bright and early, eh Palak?” Said the driver of the van with a grin, as he shut the doors of his vehicle.
He knew that Palak worked every hour God sent and then some.
“Very funny,” Ghosht replied. ‘Night Brendon.”
The driver started the engine and headed along what was left of John William Street.
Palak walked in the opposite direction towards Birkby where he lived. The other staff had already left; he was always first to arrive and last to leave.
He took a short cut home by turning into the narrow alley at the back of Guthrey Wallace’s house.
The alley was about the width of a small car and had high brick walls to either side of it. As it lacked street lights, Palak found it difficult to see where he was going, but he knew the area so well that he was unafraid.
When he’d gotten about a hundred yards along the alley, he rubbed his eyes, as he didn’t quite believe what he was seeing.
It looked as though the surface of the ground ahead was moving. He wondered if he might be hallucinating because he was overtired, but when he looked again it was still moving, and somehow it seemed to be coming towards him. He forced his eyes to focus and saw that it wasn’t the ground that was moving, it was something on the ground.
That’s what it was: a horde of cats, hundreds of them, walking slowly, deliberately, towards him.
He’d encountered dog packs before, but cat packs? This was beyond his experience, beyond anything he’d ever even heard of.
Surely they couldn’t be dangerous, he told himself. Cats weren’t dangerous.
All the same, he stopped.
The animals continued to advance his way. Some instinct made him turn his head, and he saw that behind him, coming from the other direction, there was a second horde of cats. To either side of him were brick walls that were at least eight feet high, trapping him in the alley.
There was no escape.
What should he do?
They were only cats, but still, Palak decided that discretion was the better part of valour, so he took a step sideways so that he was next to one of the walls, jumped, and grabbed the top of the wall with his hands, intending to scrabble to the top of it and climb over.
But he wasn’t able to do any such thing.
Instead, he screamed, let go of the wall, and dropped back to the ground.
His hands were wet with blood. The skin on them, and even the flesh, was in shreds. There had been something unbelievably sharp on the top of the wall that had sliced the up like joints of ham in a meat slicer.
“Fucking hell,” he said, holding up what was left of his hands and doing his best to inspect the damage in the poor lighting conditions. “What kind of a fucking nutter sticks broken glass on the top of a fucking wall? And what do I do now?”
The cats were, by this time, much closer.
Perhaps they are nice pussycats; or perhaps they can be persuaded to be nice, he thought.
He crouched low.
“Here, kitty kitty kitty,” he said.
Unfortunately for Palak, the pussycats were anything but nice that night.
Palak’s screams disturbed the sleep of many of the householders who lived nearby, but only one of them could be bothered to get out of bed to investigate: Guthrey wallace. He armed himself with a baseball bat and went outside into his yard.
By the time he got there, Palak’s cries of distress had ended.
Wallace was about to open the door that led from his yard onto alley when he saw something that made him forget about the blood-curdling noise he’d just heard: a cat.
It was walking along the top of his wall, bold as brass.
“What the?” He gasped. “That’s impossible. That glass I put there should have cut your feet to ribbons by now. Still, if that hasn’t put you off, I know what will.”
He went up close to the cat and struck it a mighty blow on the side of the head with his baseball bat. The animal went flying into the alley on the other side of the wall.
“Let’s see how you like them apples,” he said.
Then he heard a noise.
It seemed to be coming from a point directly on the other side of the door.
“Think you can get sassy with me, do yer, yer little bugger?” He said. “Think again.”
He unbolted the door, opened it, and held his baseball bat up high, ready to belt the cat to Kingdom Come as soon as it came through.
But it wasn’t just one cat that came through. There seemed to be hundreds of them:
Poe, Greenan, Barker, Wheatley, Howard, King, Herbert, Lovecraft, James, Bloch, Levin, Stoker, Koontz, Shelley, Matheson, Sturgeon, Straub, Bradbury, Stine, Shan, Brooks, Palahniuk, Dahl, Bradbury, Horowitz, Walpole, Saki, Campbell Henderson, Goliath, Stump, Oscar, Tiddles, Sally, Becky, Florence, Bernard, Clarence, Fluffy, Puss-Puss, Felix, Tigger, Scoundrel, Macavity, Old Possum, Smokey, Choo-Choo, Olive and a great many more.
It wasn’t long before Wallace had gone the same way as Palak Ghosht.