Manual Labor

Jasper’s eyes shot open and he sat up in bed cradling his right hand. Burning pain on his wrist woke him up and he searched the room, from the bed, for any sign of the cause. He saw nothing threatening in his room and turned his attention to the throbbing pain.

“Ahhhhh hell,” he sighed. “Careful what you wish for, ‘fella…” he mumbled to himself then got out of bed. Jasper recognized the colorful tattoo. He’d seen the same red scythe with a cat’s paw on the blade in unsolved murder cases going over a century back. The most recent one took place 27 years ago, two years before he was born. Jasper had been secretly hoping for a fresh lead lately. He let his mind sort through the details of the case while he showered and picked out a few leads. By the time he stepped out of his small, red-brick house he knew where to start.

Jasper got into his car and snapped a picture of the tattoo with his phone. He sent it to his boss and drove to his first lead. He only made it a few blocks before his phone rang; his boss’ grimace told him who was calling. Jasper touched the docked phone to accept the call.

“Tell me you’re not taking your obsession with the Kitty Murders too far,” the chief said before Jasper could say ‘hello’. His gruff voice filled the car’s interior. “You’d better have a very sane reason for getting that tattoo.”

“Or what?” Jasper chuckled while driving. “You’ll send me on a vacation? Take my badge? It doesn’t matter, Chief. It’s real. I’m dead in 24 hours.” Jasper worked on the cases on his own time and managed to put enough pieces together to find some patterns.

The victim always died 24 hours after the mark first appeared. Several victims that reported a mystery tattoo to the police, but it was always chalked up to drunken nights out. Jasper went through the few reports he could get his hands on. He found statements that mentioned the same searing pain he felt that morning. They also mentioned a strange black cat talking to them, but that only added to the “drunken” theory.

“You’re serious?” The chief asked.

“Yeah. Listen, I’m gonna figure this out today. If I don’t, take care of everything for me.”

“This is how you’re spending your last day?” The chief asked.

“I already told my only friend,” Jasper said. “We’ve never been sentimental,” he shrugged to himself. “It’s too late now.”

“Good luck out there, Jas,” the chief said.

“See ya later, Chief.” The call ended as Jasper pulled up to his first stop. A vacant mansion that technically still belonged to the Belle family. As far as Jasper knew, no one had lived in the mansion for over 100 years. Despite that, the property taxes were paid from a trust every year. Every single body with the scythe tattoo had been found outside the mansion’s front gate. Police and Jasper himself investigated the mansion several times but never found anything. He let himself in through the gate and into the mansion. Jasper felt thankful for the early morning sun streaming in through the windows. The light made everything less creepy. He stood in the foyer trying to decide whether to take the bright, dusty hallway to his right or the darkened, shadowed hallway to his left.

“Nothin’ to lose,” Jasper mumbled to himself as he turned left. The hall was dim, but he spotted a door on one side at the end of the hall.

“Don’t go in there. It’s dark,” a woman’s voice said behind him. The sudden noise startled him, but he recovered quickly and turned around. A small black cat with a red skull pattern coloring the top of its head sat in a sunbeam in the foyer. Jasper had been expecting the cat to show up at some point, and his mind adapted quick enough to keep him calm. The cat stared at him waiting for a reaction.

“I was looking for you,” Jasper leaned against a dirty wall and crossed his arms. “Thanks for saving me the trouble.”

“I’ve been waiting for you too,” the cat said. She remained seated on her haunches as she looked up at him. Jasper lifted his wrist and showed his tattoo to the cat.

“If you wanted to talk you could have stuck around when you gave me this.” The cat nodded with human-like intention.

“I could have, but I’m a cat. I like playing with my prey,” the cat replied. Jasper crossed his arms again. This time he reached for his gun with one hand and his phone with the other, both hidden under his arms. He got a firm grip but did not pull the gun out yet.

“What’s your story then? Alien? Shape-shifter? Witch? Hallucination?” he asked.

“It’s complicated. Although, I can change shape.” The cat stood on its hind legs, then it stretched upward as if it was pulled by an unseen force. The black fur receded and in moments Jasper was staring at himself. The likeness was almost perfect except for the fact that the cat’s impression of Jasper was bald. Jasper’s chestnut, hair was nowhere to be seen. A red skull pattern decorated the top of the bald head. After another moment the bald Jasper shrunk into a cat again. “But I prefer not to.”

“And why are you killing people? What’s this mean?” He nodded his head down at his wrist without uncrossing his arms. He kept hold of the gun and his phone.

“I killed them because they weren’t you. That tattoo means I chose you.”

“I…,” Jasper faltered. He was trying to make sense of what she was saying, and trying to ignore that she was a cat. “I’ve already accepted my fate, but can I get a better explanation before you kill me?” His thumb disengaged the gun’s safety in his coat, under his arms.

“I’m not going to kill you,” the cat said. “If you work for me.”

“Did this just turn into a job offer?” Jasper said. The cat nodded.

“Short version: I killed everyone because they weren’t right for the job. You are right for the job. It’s up to you if you want to take it or die.”

“What’s the job?”

“Does it matter?” the cat asked. Jasper sighed.

“I guess not. Okay, I’m in.” The cat swished her tail at the air and opened a black portal tall enough for Jasper to walk through.

“Come meet your new boss,” the cat said. It walked into the black hole and disappeared. Jasper released the gun but pulled his phone out. It was still recording.

“I’m gonna see this through, Chief. Take care of things for me,” he said. He stopped recording, dropped his phone and badge on the floor, then followed the cat through the portal.

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