Showcase *EXCERPT* // The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution by Lisa de Nikolits
My husband has fallen overboard into the black sea of the Sydney Harbour. Panic stops my breath as if a cork has been shoved down my throat and I run from one side of the ferry to the other and back, but, just like the last time I checked, he’s not there.
It’s close to midnight and the Sydney Harbour is a tar pit of roiling waves, churning and chopping. I lean over the railing, trying to see him in the water, searching for an outstretched arm but the ferry is moving too quickly. Half a dozen people onboard look at me curiously and I can see them thinking nuts, she’s nuts, don’t make eye contact. I can’t breathe for panic and I am panting like a dog, making horrible sounds.
I grab the deckhand by the arm. I try to form words but I can hardly talk and all I can say is husband, gone, must have fallen overboard and I point towards the thick molasses water.
The deckhand is kind. He doesn’t call me a raving lunatic. He helps me check the ferry from stern to bow, starboard to port, not once but twice. He asks for my husband’s cell phone number and he dials it on speaker. It goes straight to messages. I’ve already tried, with the same response. Hiya, Lyndon here, do the necessary or forever hold your peace.
“He’s fallen overboard,” I say. “We have to send out a rescue party. We have to find him.”
I’m driving on the wrong side of the road. Except of course for them, it’s the right side. I am driving a stolen car and I must concentrate, I can’t afford to get into an accident.
For the most part, this car just about drives itself. I got lucky, what kind of idiot leaves a brand-new Jeep running while she gets a coffee? I was standing there, about to sip my skinny flat white when this rich suburban ditz comes along, parks right in front of me, leaps out and rushes into the coffee shop. It’s not like I was looking for a car to steal, of course not, but when she showed up, I knew what I had to do.
I sidled around the car, opened the door and shot into the driver’s seat, quickly pulling the door closed. The air con was an arctic blast and I was chilled in seconds. Where was the off-switch? But more importantly, I had to get the hell out of Dodge.
I pulled out into the traffic, bracing for sirens, flashing lights and my imminent arrest but there was just the usual Sydney gridlock. I threaded in between the cars, glancing in the rearview mirror and looking for a furious blonde in hot pursuit, shaking her fist and dialing 911 but there was no sign of her.
I fumbled with the car’s buttons and levers, driving with one hand, and I managed to turn off the air con. I opened my window and let the warm summer wind blast into the car, washing it clean of the cold, burnt air.
But where was I going? A quick decision was necessary. I called up a map of Australia in my mind. I’d studied it long enough before this trip, losing myself in the tongue-twisting Aboriginal names like Woollara, Woolloomoolo and Wollongong and wishing that I didn’t have to go at all. But, here I was, and I had a choice. I could go northeast or southwest. But the northeast Gold Coast sounded cheap and nasty so Melbourne won the coin toss.
I was about to take the turnoff for the Hume highway when I realized that highways might have cameras, whereas the smaller roads would not and I decided to navigate by the compass on the dashboard and stay off the radar as much as possible. I had the sudden worry that the car might have a tracker but I figured that if it did, there wasn’t much I could do about it. I felt strangely free and yet resigned at the same time.
I checked the gas tank. Full. I didn’t have to worry about that. In fact, for the first time in ages, I didn’t have to worry about anything at all. I was free. Free from all the societal and familial shackles and manacles. I pounded the steering wheel with my fist and I grinned a Jack Nicholson crazy-man smile – yes, I’m doing the Jack-man proud! I’ve been bowed and beaten and nearly broken but not for one second longer! I’ve finally taken control.
I released all the windows in the car to get the full volume of the sweet-scented, hot Australian summer and I leaned back in my luxurious seat to savour my moment of triumph. I didn’t let the bastards grind me down!
I reached for my skinny flat white and took a satisfying gulp. Say what you will about the Australians, they make great coffee. I took another slug and nearly choked because at that moment, a scream pierced my eardrums and my scrotum clenched so far back in my body I was convinced I’d lost my balls for life. I choked down the mouthful of coffee and shoved the cup into the holder.
Another ungodly ear-piercing howl filled into the air and I nearly swerved off the road. I white-knuckled the car into submission and tried to steady my heart which was pounding so hard that my eyeballs were popping. What in god’s name was that? There was a demon in the car? Oh my god, don’t tell me it’s a baby. I stole a car with a baby in it, didn’t I? I glanced into the back, fully expecting to see a baby staring at me with accusing eyes. It’s one thing to be a car thief – which, I’ll have you know I am not – but a kidnapper? My insides sloshed back and forth as if I’d swallowed the green mush that Margaux made me eat instead of breakfast, hoping to get my weight gain under control. I have that same bitter taste in my mouth now as I prepare to meet the gaze of the stolen baby. The baby strapped into the car seat, pursing its little Chuckie-doll monster mouth and getting ready to let loose another of those horrifying screams. But there is no baby. There is no car seat. No Chuckie. Relief washes over me and my balls ungrip a millimeter. At least I am not a child thief, I am not a kidnapper. I can breathe again. Thank god. There is, however, a large grey box on the back seat. A cat box.
I take my eyes off the road for a moment and swing around to look at the box. Yes, it’s a cat box. I have kidnapped a cat. I have catnapped. I am a cat-thieving felon. I am sixty years old and I am a cat thief. It is one thing to steal a car, but it is quite another to steal a cat. You do not steal cats. Top of the range Jeeps, yes, that is somewhat acceptable, although of course, I am not a car-thief by profession or nature although deep down, I must be one, since I appropriated the car with such natural ease. I have been a car thief for my entire life, only I never knew it until now. But I am not, nor ever will be, a cat thief.
Thoughts fill my mind like dust devils and whirling dervishes and I force my eyes back onto the road. I must focus. Self-recriminations and internal philosophical debates are of little use to me now, I must think. But another eardrum-destroying howl fills the car as if a hundred geese are being mauled by a pack of wild dogs. And then, pigs are tortured and they squeal and honk and attack each other in a frenzy and it’s all I can do to keep the car moving in a straight line. My hands are shaking and sweat pours off me and I am stuck to the leather seat I was admiring only moments before. What in the blazers is that box? Is a cat even capable of making sounds like that? I need to pull over and dump the box. Nothing in the world should make a noise like that, not even Lizzie Borden’s family as they were chopped up by her nasty ax-wielding little hand. And why is the cat suddenly so distraught when it was utterly silent when I made off with the car? Why is it howling now, a good half an hour later?
I scramble for solutions, which is pretty hard to do when devilish sounds are turning the mushy insides of my bowels to ice despite the summer heat which is flooding the car. Ice… which in turn which makes me recall the air con – the car was like a refrigerator when I took it – could it be that the creature wanted the air conditioning back on?
Another yowl fills the tiny area and I’m about to pull over and pitch the box out but there are cars in front of me and behind me and I can’t stop – where did all this traffic suddenly come from? Pulling over is not an option.
I fumble with the buttons on the steering wheel and manage to close the windows. I punch the air con up to the max, full blast. The cat is still squealing and hissing and I pound the steering wheel with my fist.
“Shut up, shut up, shut up, cat,” I shout into the back of the car and I give a low growling moan, trying to quell the beast into submission. I can’t count the years since I’ve raised my voice. I’ve never raised my voice to my children, or my wife and certainly not my staff members. “Shut up! Shut up!”
I increase the volume of my chant and my growl turns into a scream which sounds rusty at first, a bit squeaky and I’m certainly no match for the cat who is still putting me to shame. “Shut up! Stop it, eyyyyyyy yayyyyy!” I put some force behind it and soon I am reaching down into my lungs and my gut and it feels fantastic and I grin like Jack while I scream. It takes me a while to notice that the cat has gone quiet and the only sound in the car is coming from me. Feeling remarkably stupid, I stop shouting and all I can hear is frigid air blasting into the confines of the car. I am covered in goosebumps but the cat is silent. I was correct. The cat loves the air con.
I clear my throat and readjust my body in the seat and try to reorganize my thoughts and myself after my unexpectedly exhilarating screamfest. I wonder if I should carry on screaming for the fun of it but I have lost momentum.
The car is as cold as mortuary’s freezer. That’s why the woman left the car running when she went to get her coffee. To keep the cat happy. That must be some cat.
Excerpt from The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution by Lisa de Nikolits. Copyright 2019 by Lisa de Nikolits. Reproduced with permission from Lisa de Nikolits. All rights reserved.
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Lisa de Nikolits is the internationally-acclaimed, award-winning author of nine novels: The Hungry Mirror, West of Wawa, A Glittering Chaos, The Witchdoctor’s Bones, Between The Cracks She Fell, The Nearly Girl, No Fury Like That, Rotten Peaches and The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution (all Inanna) No Fury Like That was published in Italian in 2019 by Edizione Le Assassine under the title Una furia dell’altro mondo. Her short fiction and poetry have also been published in various anthologies and journals across the country. She is a member of the Mesdames of Mayhem, the Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, and the International Thriller Writers. Originally from South Africa, Lisa de Nikolits came to Canada in 2000. She lives and writes in Toronto.
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