Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” has provided inspiration for writers around the world with its terrifying narrative. The story “Black Cats” by Moroccan writer Samir Salmi is just one such story that invokes the frightening world of the author of “The Masque of the Red Death”. Salimi plunges us into a nightmare world but links it with sacred space when he prevents people from going to pray at the mosque because savage cats will attack them in the street. In the dystopia he creates, Salmi does not allow us to forget that cats have nine lives.
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Translated by: Raphael Cohen
The Imam’s words to me at the entrance to the mosque that night were strange and dramatic. He said that a pack of ferocious black cats had attacked the district and was destroying everything it came across. People had not come to evening prayer because they knew that around here the cats ruled the dark and this had struck terror into the residents. What he said was incredible, but he did not go on for long and ushered me in to pray.
Three of us prayed in reverence and calm: the Imam in his mihrab plus me and my friend Saeed behind him. I stood there firmly with a sense of serenity and confidence as if I had forgotten the frightening words of the Imam. Once we had finished prayers, he asked me to give him a lift home. I agreed, happy at the request, then went further and invited my friend Saeed to spend the night at my house.
The Imam held a large stick, but I did not ask why. I had started to question his sanity. That view changed, however, when we set off in the car and the Iman returned to his topic. I turned to my friend and asked, “What do you think about it, Saeed?” With a serious look on his face, he replied, “Yes, I’ve heard the same thing too. A neighbour told me that a group of cats attacked Mrs Nafisa. She’s pregnant and was on her way home from her parents’ down the road. The cats sprang at her and tore at her long dress. The poor woman froze helpless on the spot. All she could do was scream. She screamed with all her might, which only maddened the cats and they swooped on her. Fortunately, Mr Daniel, the French hunter, came to help her. He had his shotgun with him as well as his three dogs, and they threw themselves at the cats in a gruesome fight. With difficulty, the man rescued Mrs Nafisa from the beasts’ claws. He carried her to his house between life and death, then went back to save his dogs. But he was shocked to see that the cats had savaged them.”
My friend did not finish, for the Imam interrupted him: “Yes, my lad. God Almighty protect us, I heard the same myself and more…” Then he broke off his answer, said, “Here is far enough, thank you,” and got out after making his goodbyes. We continued our way back home, discussing the horrific and dramatic happenings. Suddenly we heard loud noises. Yes, it was them. The meowing was ear-splitting. Then they were running around us. I turned on the headlights and blew the horn. I tried to avoid them, but they crashed like waves towards us. I hit some and the meows mixed with caterwauls. Terror struck our hearts and we felt the night darken, as though the moon had been extinguished or eclipsed. God, O God, how to escape?
I stopped the car in front of my building. I steeled myself and decided to get out whatever the consequences. I opened the door and set a foot on the pavement. I tried to put my other foot down and they hurled themselves at me as one: rabid beasts driven by a fierce desire for revenge. I fell to the ground, flailing with my arms and legs. Saeed blew the horn without let up, and the neighbours hit out with sticks and ropes from every direction.
“Water! Water!” I shouted. “Spray the rabid cats with water. It’ll stop their frenzy. Water! Water!” After a few moments, I was drenched with water pouring down from above and the sides. The cats dropped back. I managed to get away and manhandled my friend Saeed and a neighbour to the house. I insisted on going to the balcony. The night was cold and damp, and the cats were jumping around in pain and fury. I felt raindrops falling. The rain gradually grew harder and the shrieks increased. Water and death spread beneath. The bodies piled up. I decided to go down and get my revenge. I rushed down the stairs and was confronted by a horrific field of death. I insisted on walking over them. One step… another… a screech… a convulsion. The black cats writhed beneath my feet.
I screamed and opened my eyes. I was alone in my room.