Victor removed the cloth covering the frame.
The portrait cat sneakily gestured at everyone. No one saw its penetrating stare regarding them with apprehension. Instead, the crowd saw nothing but a cat. Many resisted the urge not to laugh, but the rest just stared waiting for something—anything—to happen. They saw nothing
The portrait’s cat dominated its poster-sized frame, but was clearly visible in its entirety thanks to the painting’s icy blue background, which matched the feline’s eyes. The beast was sitting upright, staring deeply at whoever looked into its eyes. In all, it was a beautifully eerie, yet simple oil painting that did not seem to move.
Victor could not believe it. He was sure that the cat moved its visible tail and blinked during the night, turning him into a raging insomniac. Seeing as it did none of that in front of the crowd, Victor decided to tell them the story that kept him awake all night. As he’d rehearsed in his mirror, he summed up the whole thing in a single sentence:
“I have reason to believe,” Victor said in a booming salesman’s voice, “that this painting has a strong connection with Edgar Allan Poe’s Black Cat story.”
Victor’s expression deflated the moment half of his crowd burst out laughing and left. It’s like they knew he only wanted to get rid of it. Only a few stayed, presumably to wait for Victor to shame himself further. The ones left standing there were all looking at Victor and not the painting. None saw it blink.
“Look at this,” Victor continued. “This cat has the same white spot described in his story.”
The only person in the crowd still invested in Victor’s words was awestruck by this fact. She was a small, wealthy and English girl of fifteen named Edith. Even though Victor began to stutter an abridged version of Poe’s story, Edith stayed. Everyone had left by the time he reached the ending. Edith interrupted him before he could say the protagonist’s last words.
“How much do you want for it?”
Victor blinked. He was instantly torn between keeping the portrait to save the girl from madness, and saving himself from it. This always happened and it did not feel any less different from his previous four attempts. Both choices always ended up ringing true to him, but managed to disgust him just the same. For the fifth time that year, Victor gave in to his selfishness.
“It’s not much,” said Victor. “Just ten dollars.”
Edith’s face brightened, took out a pristine ten dollar bill and handed it to Victor, who took it with a shaky hand.
“Do you need help carrying it?” said Victor.
“No,” Edith said as she grabbed the portrait with care and pulled it from Victor’s makeshift display stand. “I can manage.”
Victor watched as the girl walked away with the painting, finding it odd that there was no kitten talk. Usually, whenever people look at his painting, they approach him to ask whether or not he loves cats. Over the last few weeks, his answer has gone from yes to a very firm no. He loathes those fiendish beasts to the point that he would give anything to get rid of it, but he’s always unsuccessful.
Over the next few weeks, Victor hoped to hear the news to pop up. It only took a month longer than usual for him to hear about it. Victor had already gotten used to sleeping up to five hours every night, slowly starting to forget what it was like to have insomnia. One afternoon, he picked up a newspaper from the street and found Edith’s sunken face in the front page. The heading read:
Teenager Butchers Her Baby Brother And Her Pet Collection.
Victor decided to forget about that day’s routine, and even his own hunger, in favor of reading the article. It detailed how Edith’s parents woke up earlier that day and found her twisting the head of her last living cat—out of five—as her bedroom flooded with blood from each of her beheaded cats and her little brother, whose eyes had been wrung out. After reading it, he pictured the entire scene vividly enough to make him vomit his breakfast and early lunch.
After a long barfing session, Victor went back home, hating himself and everything in the world. He regretted ever having painted the damned thing. He’d given himself up entirely for his first and only work made of oil paint. He had officially done everything in his power to rid himself from that thing and now there was nothing else to do. By the time he opened his front door, Victor was dehydrated and feeling worse than he had in the past few weeks. He’d spent the whole walk home crying for the girl, for his stupidity and for everything he knew to be guilty of his crimes.
Victor’s endless emotional waves only increased in strength and intensity when he entered his bedroom. Right across from his twin-sized bed, hanging on the wall, was the cat’s portrait. The cat gazed at him, almost as if sneering. It then blinked, and remained motionless as it stared at the opposite wall.
It took several minutes for Victor to regain his willpower and ability to move. When he did, Victor lunged at the bedside table’s top drawer and took out the .45 revolver he had bought so long ago to end everything. Instead of blowing his brains out, Victor pointed the gun at the portrait in a mad fit. The cat looked as he pulled the trigger. Even if it was for a fraction of a second, Victor knew the bullet would ricochet off the painting and come back to his face. He didn’t confirm his hunch, as he was too busy tainting his bed sheets with red.