It was the cat. And its evil eyes were locked on mine as I remembered that day two years before with sickening clarity. I had the same bat in my hands and it was as if the beast knew it.
The coach helped me to stand up and brush the dirt off and kept saying things like "Ya'll right? Ya'll right?" I told him I was but I wasn't. The coach took me aside and tried to bring me out of my daze but even as he stood there giving me one of the world's best pep talks, even better than the one he preached to me before I went to bat, I couldn't focus on him. All I could feel were those evil eyes drilling into my back with all the pressure of the world.
I nodded and said things like "Yeah, coach" and "I'm good" while all I could picture when I'd looked down at the piece of wood in my hand was what I'd done with it. It didn't matter that the cat never looked like it'd gone through the incident in the woods, it didn't even have a slight limp! It was that the evil beast haunted me.
The coach trotted back to the dugout after getting the eye from the umpire and before I stepped back into the batter's box, I glanced one more time over my shoulder. At the black cat with the snow white paws. I swear that at that very instant, as our eyes met in a rivalrous stare, I heard it purr its gravelly engine for the second time ever! Its eyes bore right through the blacks of my pupils and into my very soul and he purred; purred with the conviction and malaise of a demon enjoying his work. The huge crowd that had gathered for the game was on its feet yelling and screaming for their teams, wanting me to either pop a homer or strike out. But the sound that filled my ears was that incessant buzzsaw floating from the throat of the black cat as it stared at me with its depraved eyes and indifferent expression.
I tapped the bat on my shoes because it was one of my habits, choked up slightly like I thought the coach told me to, took in a deep breath and let it out as I looked up at the opposing pitcher. He shook his head once, then again, then nodded and drew the ball up to his chest. As he checked all the runners, carefully calculating their distance from each of their bases, the buzz of the cat's purring raised in volume. The sound was deafening in my ears.
The pitcher looked back at the catcher, who I saw was giving some type of signal between his legs, and cocked his head downward. He paused a split second and then twisted at the hips, threw his left foot forward and swung his right arm over his head quickly. The baseball spun with a fierce rotation as he snapped his wrist and it flew in my direction. It was a gorgeous pitch, right down the pipe, one I would've sold my first kiss with Jenny Mossman for at any time.
The purring intensified and from that moment until the ball reached me, I saw not a baseball but a giant emerald cat's eye. An evil, immoral eye. And the will to swing the bat was instantly sapped from my soul. I heard the sound of leather on leather as the ball smacked tartly into the center of the catcher's mitt. The crowd exploded into a riot. I slowly looked over my shoulder toward the cat and it was no longer there. It had disappeared. Everyone thought the brush-off pitch had shook me, rattled my nerves, but it didn't. And I couldn't tell anyone what had psyched me out. The cat was pure evil, I thought to myself, as the opposing team all gathered at the pitcher's mound to jump up and down, trade high-fives and try to outyell the crowd.
And so it was that later that day, left to myself as though I were a leper, I decided to terminate that evil once and for all. Where I hadn't succeeded previously, I would conquer beyond all doubt. I would rid the world of that foul little creature.
I didn't even change clothes after the game, deciding instead to keep the smelly uniform on me to remind me and keep me focussed on my goal. I grabbed my fishing gear and headed out to the pond behind my Grandma Ruth's house. I walked through the meadow of tall grass and looked back; the cat was following me as I had expected.
I set down my fishing gear by the pond, took out my little pen knife and cut the netting away from my fish net. I walked around and found some large rocks heavy enough for what I had in mind. I laid them down inside the net and grabbed my extra fishing line from the little blue tackle box I always took with me. I was ready.
As I glanced toward the cat and began approaching it, it sat as cats do and looked up at me with innocence laced in its mischievous eyes, as if it had nothing to do with my humiliation earlier that day. The hatred burned inside me and I picked the beast up by its scruff and brought it over to the net. It didn't struggle or try to scratch me or even mew with resistance. I dropped it in the net and brought the edges together and sewed them as quickly as I could, tying the fishing line in a couple knots. It was trapped.
The cat still made no sound, even as I picked the netting up with my fingers. I whirled myself around in a circle twice, swinging my package as fast as I could, and then let go with glee and watched it sail out into the depths of the pond. It sank quickly; a few bubbles floated to the top and little waves tippled outward from where it entered the water. A few seconds went by and a few more bubbles floated to the top of the brackish water. At one point, I even thought I heard one of the larger air pockets emit a gravelly mew. Or had I imagined it?
I stayed there, sitting on the bank of the pond for the better part of an hour, just waiting and watching. Part of me wanted to be sure the foul thing was truly gone; the other part of me was terrified to return home and once again find it waiting for me. Had I finally rid my life of this cankerous clinging evil? Or had I simply wasted an hour of my life?
I picked up my fishing gear and began walking away from the pond. Once, I looked back over my shoulder, just to check. Nothing was there. If I never went home, I thought to myself, it might never find me again. And for a brief second I considered running away from home for that very reason. But something deep inside my soul told me that I couldn't escape it that easily.
And the feeling was right. The vile creature was waiting for me on the front steps, like nothing had ever happened. Why had it chosen me? Why did it haunt me so? Those were the questions I would be stuck with for the rest of my life.