Death has been visiting Kate all of her life, leading her to imagine she has nine lives, like a cat.
With nothing to live for, no family, just a brother she hates, she waits for death to take her away when her lives run out.
Death continues to speak to her, teasing her, yet will not come for her. When people around her begin to die at the hands of a serial killer, she hopes to be next.
Has she finally run out of lives? Will she find a reason to live after all, before it is too late?
Kate tried not to think about Dylan that evening, and it was hard. He had been such a comfort for so many years; the thought she may never see him again was creating a big dark hole in her life, one she could not afford to fall into.
She made a start on the first canvas, but instead of the tranquil moonlit scene, she had planned, angry waves were starting to build, almost without her permission. Like any artist, Kate firmly believed the materials she used controlled the magic. Writers say the pen almost seems to write on its own and Kate understood why this happened more than most people. There were days when she knew something had taken over the brush and done its own thing, something for which she was eternally grateful.
The evening was turning out to be one such occasion. The hours flew by and before Kate was aware of it, it was late. Her body was aching and she knew it was time to stop. In her youth, she had sometimes painted all night, and Kate knew from experience her old bones would not let her do that anymore. She put down her brush and focussed on the canvas in front of her.
What she saw made her gasp. What had she done?
The image in front of her was quite dark, the ocean at night. Instead of the calm moonlit scene she had envisioned, the waves were churning angrily. There was no moon, so the tips of the waves were just visible. You just knew something was lurking and you had the distinct impression a storm was brewing. Did the painting need something else, like a lighthouse?
It wasn’t bad, she thought; but was it good enough for Sam? She cleaned her brushes, determined to save the final judgement until the morning. Closing the studio door, she checked all the other rooms for Dylan but he was nowhere. She checked there were enough food and water in his bowls just in case he came home hungry.
Wednesday morning arrived, and Dylan had not, his food untouched. Kate made her way to the kitchen to put the kettle on, conscious of how empty and hostile her safe haven was becoming. The urge to run away had not diminished, and she kept pushing it to the back of her mind. She had so much work to do for Sam’s new gallery, any thoughts of moving house would have to wait. There was always the possibility she was too old to run away anymore.
It was getting harder to think outside the box and she seriously wondered if she had the energy to do anything other than paint.
She took her coffee to the studio and put a fresh canvas on the easel. She was in no mood to be objective, so decided to tackle another seascape and see what happened.
For some reason, the thought of running away made her think about Jack. He had come into her life at another turning point when she had finally convinced herself she had to move out of John’s house. She was bored with being an unpaid housekeeper, bored with wondering whether Michael would turn up again.
Michael had turned up on two more occasions, using every trick in the book to try to seduce her into running away with him. She was flattered and tempted, and something always held her back.
On that last visit, John had come home from work and found Michael sprawled on the carpet, playing with David. Kate had never seen such anger in any man and remembering that day she felt scared to death. It wasn’t directed at her, just his son. The older man never said a word, just grabbed Michael by the arms and tried to evict him from his house. They fought like madmen and Kate had to grab David and retreat to the comparative safety of the kitchen.
It was terrifying and heartbreaking to watch a father and son in such a battle. John didn’t speak and Michael kept saying ‘dad’ and ‘please?’ over and over again but it wasn’t having any effect at all.
There was an almighty crash and the sound of glass smashing. Kate didn’t want to look but knew she must. John was standing by what remained of the living room window and there was no sign of Michael. There was a sound at the back door, and Kate turned just in time to see a dishevelled Michael stumble into the kitchen. There was blood on his face and she took a step towards him, but he put his hands up and shook his head as he walked past her, not stopping until he slammed the front door behind him.
John had never spoken of it, and the incident with Michael had made Kate more uncomfortable than ever. So when she met Jack again he managed to convince her that life would be so much better if she was with him.
She had originally met him at her old friend Eileen’s wedding. She was instantly attracted to him, probably because he was so different from Michael. He had blue eyes too, and that was where the similarity ended. His hair was a dark blonde and he reminded her of a young Clint Eastwood. He was also charm personified and seemed to adore David. Kate was glad to have found someone who seemed too good to be true, someone special. As their relationship grew, he convinced her he would take care of them both and be a proper family.
He was true to his word, at first. She left John’s house one day when he was at work. She didn’t want to experience any more of his bad temper. It had been incredibly sad to be leaving the first home she had ever created, the house that was full of her endeavours and experimentations.
Her failures were there too, the cupboard that never did stand straight and the carpet stains that refused to come clean, along with the bitter memory of Michael’s betrayal. She had considered leaving John a note, and there was nothing to say. Goodbye was inadequate, for there was nothing good about her leaving, even though she was supposed to be moving on to better things.
Her life didn’t settle down to a perfect existence, and she kept the fact she still loved Michael a closely guarded secret. She had married Jack, knowing she was jumping from the frying pan into the fire. What had made her disregard her misgivings and ignore the warning bells?
Kate put down her brush and stretched, realising she was starving. It was time for a break. Before she could move, the voice filled her head and she sat where she was to listen. It was going on about making yet more mistakes, and it was right, of course. It was always right, but that didn’t mean she was about to toe the line this time. It kept nagging at her to leave this place, to forget everyone and everything, but it didn’t feel right.
Kate knew it couldn’t hurt her, if it could it would have done it by now.
Sometimes she managed to convince herself that none of it was real and she was going mad. In the cold light of day, there had to be a logical explanation for the fact she accepted this voice as a natural part of her life. It had always been there and it would be impossible to imagine something for so many years, wouldn’t it?
If it was real, what did that make her?
The fact she might be special in some way never quite managed to be believable. Surely, her life would have been different? Hell, her life should have been wonderful, shouldn’t it?
Her stomach grumbled, making her glance at the clock. It was past lunchtime. Where had the morning gone? At least this canvas was a bit more promising than the last one. It could have been a photograph of the Cornish coast with rocky cliffs and wild outcrops; with wild grasses and those little tufts of pink Thrift that seemed to pop up everywhere. The sea itself was relatively peaceful, with gentle white tipped waves and a couple of seagulls gliding across the view.
Kate wondered again, how she came to paint scenes like this when her mind was usually miles away on something else. She stopped for a quick lunch of a toasted ham and cheese sandwich and when she sat down to eat, her mind went straight back to the problems she had with Jack. When she had married him, she finally seemed to get a family of her own and someone to take care of her. What a bitter disappointment it turned out to be, for she hadn’t expected to discover all the petty arguments and the anger. Something had to be wrong. Hadn’t he promised everything would be different with him?
She remembered her old friend Eileen’s family. They argued all the time, but you never had the feeling they hated one another, quite the opposite in fact. She always thought the way they were together was touching and the perfect definition of a family. Whenever one of the children was old enough to get a job, the first thing they did was to treat their mum to something special. They would usually do some DIY in the house too. So whenever a spring clean and decorating session was going on, you just knew it was because another youngster was spreading not just their wings but a lot of human kindness around too.
That was the advantage of having so many children, and it worked well.
Eileen’s mum and dad never seemed to be overly affectionate, but then there was no discord between them either. Kate remembered thinking there was a lot to be said for peace, for too much emotion seemed to lead to an equal amount of trouble in her experience.
Her relationship with Jack was a case in point. She thought he was the perfect gentleman, but he turned out to be a control freak. It was remarkable how quickly the romance wore off once the wedding and all the promising to love, honour and obey were over.
Were all men Jekyll and Hyde in disguise?
Kate laughed softly to herself, remembering the handsome waiters from yesterday’s lunch. What would they be like, she wondered, once you took the time to get to know them?
The voice interrupted her thoughts, going on about Kate needing the right sort of company. She just knew it was referring to Dylan being missing. Did it have something to do with the cat’s disappearance?
She shook her head. No, that wasn’t possible. It couldn’t do anything like that; it was just a voice in her head, wasn’t it? But her brain thought differently, coming up with incidents it might have had control over. There were so many inexplicable times, far too many to be a coincidence.
The thought it might not be just a voice was making her edgy, almost scared. She remembered all the comments over the years about her not dying. Sometimes it had sounded annoyed, almost angry as if it knew it couldn’t do anything about it, and that was good to know…
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