Friday 3 August 2012

#FridayFlash - No Cats

It took Henri sixteen minutes and thirty four seconds to decide which mask to buy. Marc stood by the door, checking the football scores on his phone, while she deliberated over feathers, glitter, metal filigree or Swarovski crystal. He'd already bought his souvenir mask the day before, a dark red leather affair designed to look like the type of Christian devil you'd seen in a medieval engraving.

"OK, I've decided on this one."

Henri led Marc out of the shop and into the narrow street. She ignored the tuts from passersby as she stopped to pull the package out of the carrier bag.

"Why don't you leave it wrapped up? It'll be easier to get it home in one piece," said Marc. He pulled on her handbag strap, trying to urge her towards one of the large, and less crowded, squares.

"But I want to show you now! Honestly, it's so cool, I'm going to have to find some kind of excuse to wear it when we get home."

Her fingers tore through the many layers of paper, and she shoved the ball of protective tissue back into the bag. With a cry of triumph, she held out the mask towards Marc. He gave it a glance as he steered her along the twisting alleyways. It seemed Henri had finally gone for her original choice, a half-face mask sculpted to look like a cat, complete with ears, feline nose and plump cheeks. The mask was a patchwork of gold, white and faded sheet music.

"Ah, that one. I told you that was the most 'you' mask they had."

"I know but I needed to be sure. It's not like we'll come back here, is it?"

Henri held the mask up to her face, peering through the eye holes. Marc looked away, unnerved to see his girlfriend's eyes and nose disappear behind the paint and papier mache. She mewed at him and Marc rolled his eyes.

"Do you like it?" she asked.

"Yes. It's very you. Now come on, there's that bridge we have to cross to get back to the hotel."

Marc gestured ahead to the bridge. Wide stone steps led up, away from the busy pavement, and carried the street over the canal. A warren of passageways lay on the other side. He still couldn't get used to the canals, with their bright green water and faintly fishy smell. Marc couldn't guess at how deep they were - or what lurked in their depths. He'd said as much to the hotel owner this morning - Signor Spavento laughed, mumbled something in Italian, and then asked "Why else do you see no cats in Venice?"

Henri scampered ahead and peered over the side of the bridge. She held her hair back with one hand, and the mask to her face with the other. She admired her reflection in the canal.

“Oh wow, I love it! Maybe I’ll wear it at Halloween. I could be, like, a Venetian Catwoman, or something.”

Marc darted up the steps to avoid a tourist with a camera, and stood behind Henri. She looked good, but she was no Michelle Pfeiffer. Not that he’d ever tell her that. Instead he focused on the mask and thought about the fact they’d seen no cats in Venice.

A dark shadow rippled beneath the surface of the water. It lurked beneath the bridge, formless and waiting, like an ink stain caught in time. Marc looked around but saw nothing that could cast the shadow. Henri continued to primp and pose, trying out different facial expressions with the mask, oblivious to the fact that only the lower half of her face could be seen.

“Henri, we should go.”

Marc backed away from the side of the bridge, keeping his eyes on the shadow. Henri mewed, and the water below erupted upwards. Henri shrieked as Marc pulled her backwards, but the cold canal spray caught them with a jet of briny water. Tourists at either end of the bridge squealed in both delight and surprise, and the sound of camera shutters filled the air. Marc ignored it all – he’d caught a glimpse of a shadow within the impromptu fountain. A shadow with grasping hands, and something shimmering entwined in its claws.

Henri pulled a packet of tissues out of her bag and began wiping herself dry. Marc ignored the proffered tissues and stepped forward. He looked into the canal, its waters settling to a gentle motion, lapping at the boats moored either side. There was no sign of the shadow.

“Can you see anything? What the hell was that? Seriously, I’m soaked now.”

Henri appeared at his side on the bridge and looked into the water. They gasped in unison as only Marc’s reflection gazed back.

“No cats in Venice,” murmured Marc. He looked down at the mask in Henri’s trembling hand, and back into the canal.

No shadows, no ripples…and no reflection.

* * *

This is my second Venice-themed #FridayFlash, following last week's Tourists. Some more photos from my trip can be found in this blog post, which includes a photo of the mask I bought (which takes my tally of Venetian masks up to four). Now, it has to be noted, I have no idea if anything weird does live in the canals, but during the whole four days I was there, I only saw one cat. So you never know.


Anonymous said...

Awesome, Icy. This one had me guessing at every turn. It didn't go where I thought it would, and then the last sentence—I'm still not sure exactly what it signifies, but it's weird and it'll stick with me and keep me thinking. Venice, it seems, is a good source of inspiration. I want more!

Larry Kollar said...

It took her reflection??? Wow, that's some nasty canal critter there! No need to worry about this one, it rawks!

Anonymous said...

Creepy story. It had a lot of atmosphere. I could almost hear the eerie movie music playing in the background. Very nicely done, Ms. Icy.

Carrie Clevenger said...

Venice doesn't seem to like cats and the one you saw was probably "next"! Great story, Icy!

Katherine Hajer said...

Spooky... there's something out there that resents tourists more than native Venetians...

John Wiswell said...

Not a Venetian Catwoman, but a Bat-man? Ha!

Icy Sedgwick said...

Travis - A lot of the weird stuff I saw or heard hasn't even fully sunk in yet so there will probably be a few more Venetian flashes for a while.

Larry - It's funny, that wasn't even the story I'd intended to write.

Danni - Yeah, Venice seems to be both beautiful and vaguely sinister at the same time.

Carrie - Everyone seems to be a dog owner! We saw one dog that looked like Einstein from Back to the Future. Sadly it was not accompanied by Doc Brown.

Katherine - Hahaha not sure that's possible!

John - Not sure I fully understand that comment.

Sulci Collective said...

Venice is such an evocative place. It never struck me about cats there, but then cats don't particularly like water, unless it has fish in it (we had to protect our childhood pond fro our various moggies helping themselves to lunch) and I can't imagine those polluted waters in Venice bearing fish

marc nash

Unknown said...

Very nice piece...very emotive. My husband had been to Venice (he said it stank!) but i haven''s on my list of places to go. Not sure i understood what happened to Henri but i think that's the beauty of the's mystery.

Daezarkian13 said...

Haunting. I love your descriptive prose, Icy. Terrific stuff.

Steve Green said...

A strange, and eerily compelling tale Icy.

I don't know whether there are cats in Venice or not, but if there are not, then I suspect it must be something in the water. (Groan.. Sorry) :)

Tim VanSant Writes said...

That was a much creepier ending than I expected. Nicely done.

Peter Newman said...

I'd agree with what's been said. Good and creepy, like the last line. Here, Venice feels like a place with its own laws, one that Marc and Henri will never be able to understand.

G.S. aka paperandhand said...

Great story!
I was brought here by the title because I thought "what the heck are they writing about Venice now!" so I got a really nice surprise.

FYI I live in Italy, and I've been to Venice many times and there I always saw several cats (mostly plump tabby or ginger cats), dogs are much rarer in my experience :)

Icy Sedgwick said...

Marc - I think it comes down to what people keep as pets and it seemed to me that dogs were more popular.

Susan - Glad you liked it!

Steven - Well you know how much I like description.

Steve - There probably are, but I literally only saw one in four days, and that was after tramping all around the place, even into the quiet residential back streets.

Tim - Thanks.

Peter - Yeah, it's not like anywhere I've ever been.

G.S. - I'm sure there are plenty of cats, it's just I only saw one. Everyone else seemed to have pet dogs! Spaniels and dachshunds were the most common breed but I saw a Newfoundland, a Bernese Mountain dog and a dog that looked like Einstein from Back to the Future.

liminalfiction said...

Never been to Venice, but if I ever go, I'll keep an eye out for cats and let you know how many I count. Fun story, Icy!

Cindy Vaskova said...

Good one Icy! I was unsure from where the twist will come, but when it did, it was brilliant and creepy!

I've too had wondered what hides in the deep , muddy waters of the Venice canals. Riding the gondola that's pretty much the main question.

Again, great story :)

Stephen said...

Hi there Icy -- great story. I love those masks and the fact that a sparse number of cats on your trip led to a creative piece of writing. What is that lurking thing? Run kitty! St

PS: I may have, uh, nominated you for a couple of blog awards:

Lee-Ann said...

Vivid, chilling and unexpected. Great writing, compelling story.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Richard - Thanks!

Cindy - We never managed to ride a gondola due to the price but I think I'm quite glad about that!

Stephen - Oh thank you!

Lee-Ann - Glad you liked it!

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