October 29th, 1.17am
by Sheila Armstrong
Someone found the cat under a park bench, fur flat against its back, wet-sleek from an oily stain. Someone said it had probably been up under a car, that they go for engines because they’re warm, that they fall asleep and either wake up in pieces or in another county. Someone said that this one looked like a badger. Or a skunk. It stinks enough, someone said. Mangy, too.
Someone said it was drain-water, not oil, because it had been raining earlier, and the thing had probably been chucked out of a car straight into a puddle. There was laughter. There was silence. Someone said there was one way to find out, and lit a match with a careful wrist-twist, then flicked the stick of wood forward, so it tumbled, arcing skywards, fanned brighter by the night-time breeze.
Someone started forward, mouth full of a swallowed shout, but stopped as the screech began. A shriek that crawled inside the eardrum and beat its tiny fists against the surface in agony; that writhed, pain pouring from every crevice; that clawed at every nerve. Someone cursed, a chain of words stitched together into a high-pitched shout, and fumbled with a scarf, grasping at the fur, fanning the singe-smell into little circular orbits. Someone flung a can of beer in a hopeful spray of amber foam that slowed and stretched out the time into puddles that clamoured to be allowed to pass.
Then the seconds broke free, and spilled all at once, and the cries began to drop back down the register. And someone turned and ran, skittering across the gravel, then another someone, and another, until all the someones were gone, but the weak and soft noises continued, spiralling in on themselves until they spluttered out with the last of the flames.