Elvis jumped onto Stacey’s lap and nuzzled into her clasped hands, trying to pry them apart with his peachlike nose, to interrupt her prayers with his purring. With eyes closed, Stacey gave him a few pets and resumed her silent prayer. Elvis wasn’t having it. He gave another, more urgent poke into her hands and a little bite to boot.
Her eyes popped open in surprise. Elvis never nipped. “What– can’t you see I’m praying?”
Elvis’ wagged his tail, clearly unhappy about something. Stacey took a sip of Earl Grey tea and allowed Elvis to pace her lap a few times. She petted his silky fur, starting with the space between his eyes and stroking all the way to his tail, which curled around her hand like a cane as he turned for another pass. “Elvis, I can’t pet you all day.”
As Stacey took up her prayers again, her thoughts gravitated to her new neighbor, one Norman Bates. She was home an hour now, safe and sound, yet the goosebumps hadn’t gone down. When he’d introduced himself as Norman Bates, she’d laughed and returned with, “And I’m Marilyn Monroe. Cookies?”
“I’m serious,” he said, and it was clear he was deadly serious.
She tried to push “Norman” from her mind, but images of her neighbor pawed at her, as did Elvis.
Norman had eyes that looked hungry and a skin condition Stacey was pretty sure was Argyria (she looked it up on WebMD) because his skin was the bluest she’d ever seen. When she held out the chocolate chip cookies, the dead-looking hand that accepted them had nearly caused her to fumble the plate. “Norman” had even darker blue circles under his eyes.
Stacey couldn’t help it her hand went to her throat, a nervous gesture. A dank, cavelike shaft of air came out of Norman’s doorway. “Would you like to come in?” he had asked.
Usually she loved to come in, was keen to meet all the new neighbors. Everyone loved Stacey. Her cookies were the first of many baked offerings, and she was generous with smiles and friendly waves. But the tainted air, a blast strong enough to ruffle Norman’s hair- that didn’t feel inviting.
“Oh, I would,” Stacey stammered, “But I have Bible study this evening, and I haven’t finished my reading yet.” That wasn’t entirely true, but as one could always read more Bible and always be more prepared, she felt it was an acceptable excuse. Besides, she was pretty sure God did NOT want her to go inside this man’s house.
That was when Elvis ran right between her legs. And between Norman’s khaki pants, frayed on the bottoms. He wore no shoes. His toenails were thick and black and corrugated like seashells. Pointy, too.
Norman turned, following Elvis with his gaze. “He’s under the couch. I guess you have to come in now.”
Stacey made a little, unconvincing laugh. She called over Norman’s shoulder. “Elvis, you get back here right now!”
“Oh don’t worry.” Norman swatted away her concern. “I’ll just bring him back when he comes out. Do you want him fried, baked, or boiled?”
Stacey blinked, unsure she’d heard right. “Uh, what?”
Norman dissolved into obnoxious laughter. One blue hand clutched at his own belly and leaned forward in the hilarity of it all. “Oh, you should see your face,” he said. The other hand still held the plate of cookies. One fell through a slip in the plastic wrap. He didn’t notice it bounce off his naked, blue foot.
Stacey wanted to get Elvis out of there as quickly as possible. “ELVIS!” She’d hollered, hardly caring that her panic was obvious.
Elvis was a good cat. He came running, a blur of black fur tickled her legs as he took off into her yard then squeezed under the car.
Stacey lied and told “Norman Bates” it was “nice to meet him” and “welcome to the neighborhood.” He smiled with little, pointy teeth and put out the bluest arm and hand she’d ever seen. With reservation and only because of her staunch etiquette, she shook that horrible, dry, sloughing hand. Was that a crack she’d heard? Of bone? She’d barely touched him, hardly squeezed.
Even as the whole memory plagued her prayers, Elvis continued his frantic pawing at her hands. He nuzzled his nose into them. A little scratchy “mew” opened one of Stacey’s eyes. “Elvis. What’s gotten into you? You know I’ll feed you when I’m done praying.”
Elvis jumped on her head, put each paw down around her neck so she wore Elvis like a cat bonnet. The loudest MEOWWWW she’d ever heard came roaring from Elvis, and his body quivered with the effort. The air had suddenly become frigid and smelled of decay, the same smell coming through Norman Bates’ doorway. Elvis let go of his bladder, and the warm, unexpected flow down Stacey’s back made her flail. But Elvis stayed put.
“Stacey,” Elvis said.
“Stop calling me ‘Elvis.’ My name’s Norman. Norman Bates.”
The paws at her throat became claws.
True: I’ve known Stacey for a very long time. It’s been a while since we’ve seen each other in person or had the chance to talk, but I can tell you Stacey is a sweet and gentle person who loves Jesus.
Also true: She has a cat named Elvis. I don’t know what he looks like, but black’s my favorite color, so Elvis is black to me. 😉
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