Editor’s Note: “Scenes from the Multiverse” is a new project that we’re launching in collaboration with Magic lore expert Orcish Librarian. Drawing inspiration from Magic’s multiverse, he has crafted a series of stories based on card art and flavor text; this month, in honor of Halloween, we’ll be publishing three stories set on Innistrad. These stories are original works of fiction and are not endorsed by Wizards of the Coast or the Magic: The Gathering brand.
The whole thing began with an accident.
It happened when Lara was carrying the washing downstairs. The linens were piled so high in the hamper that she couldn’t see where she was going, and the first clue she had that she had trodden on anything was when she heard a yowl and a snap. The next thing she knew she was falling forward, and she only avoided tumbling headlong down the stairs by dropping the washing and grabbing the banister.
She slid down three stairs before she came to a stop, and it was several seconds before she could catch her breath. Only then was Lara able to take stock of the damage.
The linens were everywhere. Her ankle felt broken. The cat was dead.
The poor black cat lay motionless where Lara had trodden it, its eyes glassy, its broken back at a horrible angle. Lara had never felt much patience for the cat – a mangy, disagreeable beast, and completely worthless as a mouser – but there was something so pitiable about its expression in death that Lara made the sign of the angels, and whispered a half-remembered prayer.
“What’ll we tell Dilly?” was all Lisl could say, when Lara showed her what had happened. “Dilly loved that cat.”
“Oh, angels,” Lara said. “Dilly.” She had not thought about that. Their daughter had indeed loved the cat.
“It’ll break her heart,” Lisl said.
“I’ll think of something,” Lara said.
She hid the cat’s body under the stairs. Dilly asked questions, which Lara deflected by saying the cat had gone out, which was credible enough – the cat had free roam of the farm, and would often vanish at whim.
Then, late that night, under cover of darkness, Lara had taken the small, broken body out past the edge of their land, and buried it out on the moor.
It was hard work, between her swollen ankle, and the haunted darkness. Lara had not dared to bring a lantern, lest Dilly see her through the window. But she got the job done.
The grave was shallow – barely a scratch in the peat. Lara wrapped the cat in one of Dilly’s old blankets. She did not leave a marker.
As she made her way home through the ripening fields, leaning on the shovel for support, Lara crafted the explanation she would offer next day. These things happen, she would say. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s okay to cry – I’m sorry, too.
The next morning, at breakfast, Dilly once again asked where her kitty had gone.
Lara closed her eyes, and she took a deep breath, and she steeled herself for the pain to come.
Then she lied, and said the cat had run off.
* * *
It was three weeks later. The harvest had come in.
The apples were sauced, and sealed in glass jars. There were stewed peaches, and strawberry jam. Dilly had regained some of her spirit.
Lisl had saved enough wheat for the next year, and gone to the mill with the rest. The barley they kept in burlap, and stored in the granary in stacks.
“It’s the oddest thing,” Lisl said to Lara, wiping sweat from her brow as she spoke. “The other day I was thinking, we ought to get a new cat, given the trouble we’ve had with those rats.” She wiped flour from her hands on the sides of her britches. “But I was just in the granary, and it’s the damnedest thing.”
“What’s the damnedest thing?” Lara said, looking up from her boiling preserves.
“The rats,” Lisl said.
“Are there many?” Lara said, now sounding concerned.
“That’s the thing,” Lisl said, and she shrugged. “On the whole farm, there’s not a damn one.”
* * *
Lara came back from the market one day to find the door standing wide open, and the sound of crying coming from inside. She dropped both her baskets right there in the lane, and she ran the last hundred yards.
She ran into the washroom, which was where she found Lisl – solemn-faced, with rolled-up sleeves – mixing some essence of silver. Dilly was sitting in the bath barrel, crying her eyes out. The water in the basin was red.
“What happened?” Lara said, as she stood in the doorway, her face flushed, still catching her breath.
“Dilly had an accident,” Lisl said, as she picked up the girl’s arm and scrubbed. “She was playing in the woods, and she fell into some brambles.”
The tone of Lisl’s voice was unmistakable. She summoned Lara to come look.
The crying girl’s arm was raked by long, jagged scratches. The wounds were swollen, and red, and Dilly winced whenever Lisl touched her with the cloth soaked in silver.
“A bramble patch?” Lara said.
“That’s what Dilly says,” Lisl said.
“Dilly?” Lara said.
The little girl did not speak, only nodded her head.
Later that night, after Lisl had given Dilly some cider, and put her to bed, Lara cornered her partner in the kitchen.
“No bramble patch made those scratches,” she said.
“You think I don’t know that?” Lisl said, throwing her hands in the air. “You think I don’t know claw marks when I see them?” She took a deep breath, then appeared to count ten. “Besides, Dilly wasn’t playing in the woods. She was out on the moors. I saw her when she came running back.”
“The moors?” Lara felt her body go stiff. “You know she’s not allowed out there!”
“I know she’s not allowed,” Lisl said. “And she knows she’s not allowed, too. But, apparently, she doesn’t listen.” Lisl saw Lara open her mouth to speak, but held up a hand to forestall her. “And, before you say what you’re going to say, I can’t spend all day watching Dilly.”
Lara sighed, and shook her head.
“I know,” she said. “I’m sorry.” She took Lisl’s hand. “But why would she lie?” Lara said.
“I don’t know,” Lisl said. “Probably because she thinks that, if she tells me the truth, I’ll lock her in her room.” Lisl shook her head. “And she might not be wrong about that.”
“Those marks, though,” Lara said. “What could even have done them? They’re too small for a wolf or a dog.”
“I don’t know,” Lisl said. “A weasel, perhaps? Or maybe some kind of fox? We both know how Dilly loves foxes.”
Lara sighed, and nodded. She pressed Lisl’s hand, and felt Lisl press back.
“I washed the cuts out with silver,” Lisl said. “That’ll have to be enough.”
“Yes,” Lara said, without believing it.
* * *
Something had been bothering Lara, just below the level of consciousness. Something was unnerving her, though she could not say why, or what.
There were moments when the feeling came close, when she thought she was on the brink of understanding. They would come in the middle of the night, and she would sit up in bed, and stare expectantly at nothing, until Lisl stirred next to her, or Dilly cried out, and then the spell would be broken. Or it would come during the day, when Lara was washing up dishes, or out in the garden pulling weeds, and she would have to stop what she was doing – stop right there, in mid-motion – and stand still as a statue, while she waited for the insight to come. But no matter how still she stood, or how long she waited, or how urgently she searched all of her senses, no answer ever came, and she was left just to stew in her worry.
It was only on the day of the equinox, when she was out staking scarecrows among the pumpkins, that Lara finally realized what had been bothering her for so long.
It was the birds.
Normally, at harvest time, the fields were filled with birds. Crows, grackles, and ravens perched in the trees like specters, and picked over the fields for their leavings. The grackles would scream in the morning, and the crows would caw out at night.
But as Lara’s mind raced back through the memories of that autumn, she realized with a vague but growing sense of dread that she had not once seen a bird in the fields, nor once had she heard one crow. The farm had grown eerily silent.
Lara put up the scarecrows as fast as she could, then hurried straight back to the house. Although she could not have said why, she felt an urgent need to be inside by dusk.
* * *
Lara woke up from a deep, dreamless sleep, to the feel of a tug on her sleeve.
Sitting in bed, she wiped the hair from her face – her whole forehead was slick with cold sweat.
There in the darkness, she saw the outline of Dilly, standing at the foot of the bed.
Feeling groggy, and dazed, Lara twice shook her head. Dilly was speaking, and tugging her sleeve, but Lara had missed what she said.
“Sorry, angel, sorry,” Lara whispered, not wanting to wake Lisl. “Angel – angel! – what’s the matter?”
Dilly spoke again, more clearly this time.
“Mama, you lied,” was what she said.
Lara shook her head “no,” thinking that nothing made sense. “No, angel. How did mama lie?” she said.
“Mama, you lied,” Dilly said again. “You said that kitty ran off.”
Oh, angels, Lara thought, as the haze started to clear. Oh, angels, not this, not right now…
How could Dilly have found out? Could Lisl have told? And what would Lara say to her now?
“You said kitty ran off,” Dilly said, “and would never come back. But you lied, because kitty came back.”
Lara felt her blood run cold. “Angel, what did you say?”
But before Dilly could answer, from somewhere very close by, a loud, mewling yowl split the air.
“Kitty came back,” Dilly said once again, and reached up to take Lara’s hand.
Moving as though in a trance, Lara stood up from the bed, and followed Dilly out to the hall. And it was just out there, standing perched atop their wardrobe at the top of the stairs, that Lara saw the dark silhouette of a cat.
Even lit by the moon, the cat was blacker than night, and Lara saw the broken crook of its back. The cat’s hair stood on end, its tail bottle-brush straight, and its eyes smoldered dark, ember red.
“Kitty changed,” was all Dilly said.
Lara tried to step in the direction of the wardrobe, but the black cat bared its fangs and hissed. It was a strange, hollow hiss, like a dying man’s rattle, and it cut to the core of the soul.
Lara froze in place. Her feet would not move. The cat, crouching low, hissed again.
“Angels, help me,” Lara said.
The cat yowled. Lara screamed.
That was when the cat pounced.
As the night-black cat flew straight at her face – its long claws flashing, teeth red – Lara started back more than she meant. She teetered there for a second – one foot half on the stair – until the cat hit her, and she toppled over back.
Lara grabbed for the banister, but her hands closed around air.
And the last thing she heard, as she tumbled down the stairs, was a yowl, and a loud, final snap.
“Black Cat” and forthcoming “Scenes from the Multiverse” are unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Fan Content Policy. Not approved/endorsed by Wizards. Portions of the materials used are property of Wizards of the Coast. ©Wizards of the Coast LLC