The October month evokes images of falling leaves, orange and brown, slow signatures of the season’s turning, and that mystical night of the thirty-first with its tricks and treats, disguises, revelry, and jack o’ lanterns with strange smiles. Decorative renditions of ghosts under white sheets, witches with pointy hats and broomsticks, and black cats abound.
Many of these images stem from the legends and folklore surrounding the origins of the occasion. In some cases, as with the jack o’ lanterns lit by flickering flames, they represent traditions muddled by time.
Witches were distrusted and feared throughout crucial points in history, which in turn gave rise to the caricature of a crone garbed in black, often unpleasant in demeanor, who became the staple of numerous tales intended to frighten and horrify. Likewise, the black cat, declared by its appearance as a creature of darkness to the superstitious, became included in many of these tales as the witches’ familiars. In some stories, the witches themselves possessed the ability to shift into the forms of black cats.
The black cat has found its way into many subsequent horror tales, classic and modern. The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe is widely recognized, and black cats went on to make appearances in numerous horror films, including Roger Corman’s Tales of Terror (1962) and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), both adapted from Poe’s works and featuring the legendary Vincent Price.
While I can appreciate their resulting place in the horror genre, I have never lent a molecule of credence to the aged superstitions deeming their presence as unfortunate. As it happens, black cats cross my path every day. I have two: BearCat and Thirteen, the latter of whom gained his name as a jab at those superstitions, in part, and also because his birthday falls on the thirteenth of April.
Tripping over a black cat isn’t a matter of misfortune. If we watch our steps, it shouldn’t be an issue.
As Groucho Marx once said, “A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere.”
Should we celebrate black cats’ place in horror, Halloween, and the month of October? Certainly. It’s been earned. Besides, October 27th is National Black Cat Day.
As the world turns and learns, tired old biases fading but ever-present in the yellowed pages of history, the black cat prances on, head high, eyes sharp, the cautious mascot of the misunderstood, the disparaged and beautiful, the transcendent.
Tommy B. Smith is a writer of dark fiction, award-winning author of The Mourner’s Cradle, Poisonous, the short story collection Pieces of Chaos, and the coming of age novel Anybody Want to Play WAR? His presence currently infests Fort Smith, Arkansas, where he resides with his wife and cats. More information can be found on his website.
Following the Quake of ’79, a terrible force came to the city of St. Charles. This was the Living Poison. In Lilac Chambers, it may have found the perfect host. As she finds herself changing, becoming increasingly dangerous to everyone around her, it becomes apparent that her state of being is no accident of nature. She is becoming a prime vehicle for the Living Poison’s destructive swath through the streets of St. Charles. Detective Brandt McCullough has seen the Living Poison’s brutality. John Sutterfield, ringmaster of Sutterfield’s Circus of the Fantastic, is discovering its malignancy festering within the very circus he founded. These two are the only ones who might stand in the way of a force greater than anything they have ever known, one which threatens to wash the streets in red and swallow the city into chaos, but the stakes may be higher than either of them can imagine. St. Charles—indeed, the world—may tremble.