The Big White Cat by Bobby Morris.
My name is Henry Cucumber. Im thirty years old. I used to work in a bakery, but for the last two years Ive been a motivational speaker, travelling up and down the country giving motivational talks and seminars. I came to this city to give three such talks in one week on the Monday, the Wednesday, and then the Friday the first two of which have passed, the last of which very probably wont.
Im writing this account in the basement of the hotel in which Ive been staying. I must confess Im finding it hard to motivate myself to do so (me of all people!) because of my conviction that it will be discovered not by a neutral third-party, but by the person or persons who hold the keys to the basement. If its you, Mr Hotel Manager, and I suspect it is, then I hope the sight of my remains puts you off your supper.
The story of how I wound up in this nightmare of a basement starts on the Tuesday. Id risen late, having stayed up drinking the night before, and happened to bump into one of the maids in the corridor as she was doing her rounds. She was a pretty Eastern European woman not much older than me, and I scraped up a conversation with her. My motivation was base.
Whats a girl like you doing in a place like this? I asked.
I work here, she replied matter-of-factly.
I clocked a wedding ring on her finger. Hmm.
She was waiting for something substantial.
Whats the craziest thing thats ever happened in this hotel?
She shrugged. Nothing crazy happens here.
I was about to retreat into my room, but she added: The only crazy thing here is the Big White Cat.
The Big White Cat. In the basement.
I raised an eyebrow.
But its just a story. I dont believe it.
I tried to think of something to say in response to this oddity, but she returned to her errands before I had the chance.
The breakfast slot was nearing its end in the dining area. I went straight to the counter, where one of the chefs served me two hash browns, two rashers of bacon, and some quarters of fried tomato. Little else remained besides these items.
Have you heard anything about a Big White Cat? I ventured casually.
Sure, he said, it lives in the basement here.
So there is actually a cat?
I realised at this point that he was having me on. He was speaking in an insincerely serious tone, as one might to a small child whod asked if Father Christmas was real.
How big is it? I asked. Though I wasnt enjoying being patronised, I wanted to learn more.
Bigger than a St Bernard?
Bigger than an elephant?
He nodded again.
That was far enough. I carried away my tray.
I didnt think much about the purported Big White Cat for the rest of the day, mainly because of a new game Id downloaded into my phone, and also because I had the next days talk to prepare for. It was when I returned to the hotel on the Wednesday that the story resurfaced in my mind. While I was walking along the pavement that led to the main entrance, I happened to glance down the alleyway between the hotel and the adjoining building. A well built, mean-looking man with a cigarette butt in his mouth was on his knees unlocking a hatch. On a whim, I stopped to watch. The thing was covered by an excess of chain, and it took the man nearly a full minute to undo all the padlocks. Once it was open, with the cover leaning almost vertically against the wall, the man turned to a barrel he had beside him. He took the lid off, heaved it round to the yawning cavity in both arms, and tipped the contents in. He had his back to me during the tipping, so I couldnt see what exactly it was that was going down there. I walked on as he was finishing his emptying, fearing that if I lingered too long he might see me.
Back in the hotel, I didnt go straight to my room, but instead wandered around the ground floor. I was mainly thinking about what mightve been in the barrel. Id remembered about the Big White Cat, and it occurred to me that if the story were true, the barrel may well have contained its dinner. I remarked to myself that if I were to ask a member of the hotel staff what was in the barrel, theyd surely say cat-food. This displeased me.
At the far end of the ground floor, beyond a couple of function rooms, I came to a door labelled basement. It was a thick, white-painted metal door, with more chain on it than a centipedes bicycle. I ran my fingers over the links of one of the larger chains.
I turned round and came face to face with the manager, an ugly forty-something in a shirt and tie.
The basements out of bounds, he declared.
I smiled feebly. I dont think I could get in even if I wanted to.
Come on. He led me away from the over-secured door.
Sitting in my room that evening, I considered the facts. Here we had a basement that was excessively sealed up at its points of ingress; into which was tipped presumably on a regular basis the contents of unmarked barrels; inside which there was rumoured to reside a Big White Cat; and on account of which the hotel manager was very defensive and protective.
Somethings going on down there, I decided. Its probably a drug factory. The barrels will contain raw materials, which a team of criminals will process and package. The manager will be the mastermind behind the whole operation. Hell have arranged the barrel deliveries, and hell be the one who lets those criminals in and out of the basement, probably in the middle of the night. And this Big White Cat story is obviously poppycock, invented by the manager to deflect and diffuse enquiry. If anyone hears something or smells something and tells of it, theyll be told it was the Cat, everyone will laugh, and the matter will be forgotten.
I woke the following morning with a burning desire to get into that basement. Though the drug theory was the best I could come up with, I was by no means sure of it, and I was desperate to know the truth. Im not normally one for mysteries, but this one got to me for some reason. I decided that I couldnt possibly get past the padlocks and chains by myself, and that my best hope was to get in via the outside hatch during the next delivery. I resolved to be in the alleyway at the same time as Id been there the previous day, where I would somehow distract the delivery man after hed opened the hatch.
I went there, and he came, five minutes earlier than anticipated. I waited till hed got the hatch up, and then, with my heart audibly pounding, I played my ruse.
Excuse me, mate, I shouted. Is that your van? I pointed in the direction of the van I knew to be his.
He let go of the barrel. Yeah, why?
Some yobs are raiding it.
He charged down the alleyway and past me into the road. I then skipped down to where the hatch stood open and looked down. There was nothing to be seen in the darkness. Well, here goes nothing, I thought. I held my nose with my left hand, pressed my right arm against my side, and jumped forwards like a swimmer into a pool. I passed vertically into the shaft, disappearing from view in a second.
Luckily for me, the shaft wasnt sheer. I slid down its angled side and landed in a heap on the basement floor. My eyes fell initially on the ceiling. It was heavily padded with a grey material that I later deduced was soundproofing, and there were lights dotted about here and there. As I was taking these things in, I became aware of a fishy, meaty smell. I lowered my eyes apprehensively.
And I saw it.
A few metres in front of me.
As shocked by me as I was by it.
I couldnt believe what I was seeing.
It was only the Big White Cat!
It was absolutely massive as big as a lorry. It was normal in every way apart from in size. By God, it was massive. A ridiculously enlarged cat.
It stared at me through its huge round eyes. I stared back, but I was the first to act. I ran blindly to my left, towards three bulky pipes in a corner. The Cat came after me, vibrating the floor as it ran, but I got in behind the pipes just in time. They were lined up against the wall, each a foot wide and a foot apart, with a foot between them and the wall. I was only just able to squeeze into the gap, and an instant after doing so, I saw a big paw thump against the furthest pipe. You can scarcely imagine my terror as the Big White Cat tried for over a minute to extract me from that place, pushing and poking with its claw-bearing paws at the gaps between the pipes.
The geometry of that pipe arrangement saved my life. Bigger gaps, and the Cat wouldve got me out; smaller ones, and Id never have got in in the first place.
It is in that predicament wedged terrified between pipes and wall that Im writing this account. Im using the biro that I always carry around with me, and for the benefit of anyone who one day reads a typed-up version of this ordeal, Im writing it on my T-shirt. I cant turn around, so I had quite a job getting my jacket and T-shirt off and then putting my jacket back on. And Ive got my back to the wall, so Im using the middle pipe as a writing surface.
Right, I think thats enough information.
What I need to decide now is whether to leave the T-shirt here or to put it back on. If I leave it, it should be relatively safe, but it might never be found, whereas if I wear it, Ill have it on me if I escape, but if I get eaten, the account will be lost forever. If I get eaten ! Holy cow
Ive just realised, having written about it, that theres no point wearing the T-shirt because if I do escape, I wont need a written account. I shall therefore be folding it up neatly and leaving it here.
Ten minutes have elapsed since I wrote the preceding paragraph. Ive unfolded the T-shirt to add that the Cat has finally lost interest in me and wandered off. Im going to go out and investigate the prospects of escape at this end of the basement. I imagine the chute will be my best bet. Im actually feeling quite hopeful now, certainly more so than when I started writing all this.
Ive decided to use the T-shirt as a journal of my time down here. The next entry will be my report of the aforementioned reconnaissance.
Right, off I go. Fingers crossed.
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