The Writers Voice
The World's Favourite Literary Website

Seven Lives


Mircea Pricăjan

I’m hot. I’m sweating. I can feel a drop of sweat making its way from the temple to the left corner of my mouth. I try not to breathe too much. Although it’s difficult. My heart beats so fast and my lungs seem to scream so greedily for air, that breath regularization is now perhaps the most tormenting exercise. But I have to do it. I have to breathe more rarely. Not only because this way the temperature would get lower, but also because this would set me at ease. And ease is what I crave for. And ease is what seems to be the most difficult thing to achieve.

My heart stopped. And so did the breathing. I think I heard something. Maybe it’s only my imagination. I hope so. Look, slow but steady, the heart beatings start again, more and more frequent. Breathing I don’t let go for now. Because it I can control. The heart, on the other hand, I can’t. For a fraction of a second I think I heard a scratching at the door. That kind of sound a woman makes when caressing a smooth surface with her nails. A sound neither acute, nor muffled, a sound at the border of audibility – frightening.

I would wipe my forehead, but I can’t move. One of my hands went numb under my head and the other I don’t even feel. It might be somewhere lower, keeping a grip on the blanket. No thread of air enters here, under the blanket. It’s made of heavy, beaten by usage wadding linen – I think I’ve been using it since I was fifteen – and, if you’d want, you could happily use it as a rain tarpaulin. Neither rain nor air has any way of getting through it. And this is what worries me. What’ll happen when there won’t be enough oxygen? What am I going to do? I would have to set the blanket aside. To expose myself! No, never. Better die here of asphyxia. No way am I setting the blanket aside.

A drop of sweat has entered in my eye. Maybe I’ll go blind. Maybe…

… the one who recommended him the apartment knew something. It was above all he was expecting for that price. If what he had told him was true, and if he had heard it well, it was extraordinary.

‘It’s mine!’ he had shouted not even a minute after he had entered.

It had three rooms, all spacious. The living room alone was as big as a whole apartment of the kind he'd already visited. The bathroom had faience on its walls and grit stones on its floor – the bathtub was big; he would surely sit comfortably in it, without his legs hanging outside. The kitchen was already furnished, air-conditioned and the cooker was connected to the city’s gas system. The hall walls were draped in wood and there were mirrors everywhere you turned your head; the floor was covered with moquette or parquetry, the walls were just painted. A dream!

‘It’s mine!’ he had shouted once again, and again, and again, at precise intervals, after he threw another glance around, after he touched the walls with the tips of his fingers, like to convince himself this wasn’t a dream, and then breathed satisfied. ‘It’s mine!’

And his it was.

He had moved in immediately. Right after the paperwork was over – as quickly as possible, because of the euphoric haste that wrapped him up – he brought with a faculty friend’s car the few clothes he had, the blanket, the CD collection, the music-station and other trifles he couldn’t convince his heart to get rid of, and turned the new apartment into the place he had no intention to ever move out of.

When this luck turned to him, he had just graduated faculty and his imagination was still swarming with the host of plans natural for his age. He had his whole life in front of him. He was negotiating a cultural reporter position with a local newspaper; he was working on a translation from a fairly well known English author, and still had to write a quarter of what he planned to be his first novel. And this was only the beginning. He had other higher stakes.

But he wanted to take it slow, well-balanced, step by step. There was no rush. The final goal was about becoming a university professor. If he eventually would do better, he won’t be sorry. For the time being, he had made the first step. – The apartment.

He was sick and tired of the provisional state the tenant position provided him with. He felt the need to be the owner of the house he lived in. He didn’t want to find himself face to face with the landlord whenever the wind changed. He wanted his privacy. He wanted to be sure that when he locked the door, there wasn’t any other person on the face of the earth who had the key to unlock it. This was, fairly speaking, a natural claim. Owing instinct isn’t to be blamed, that is. For him, this apartment’s acquisition was like…

…a dream I wake up from in the morning, breathing jerkily and sweated to the bone, but happy it was nothing but a dream. Oh, it would be a bliss! To wake up and draw the blinds, to open the window and breath deeply, starting to come back to the real world, smiling. It wouldn’t matter if outside rain was pouring, or it snowed, or what I saw would make another leave that spot. I would fix myself a couple of fried eggs, which I would eat along with some toast, and I would drink natural coffee with milk, while I would listen to the radio. After that I would dress up and start for the University. Everything would be wonderful.

But that’s the problem: it would be! I’m sure, though, it’s not a dream. It couldn’t be. Everything I feel is so tangible, so real; no dream could have this intensity. I had dreams, sure I had, but not one resembled what I’m feeling right now. In those dreams I mentioned, an impending shadow was following me, I could feel it coming closer, I could hear its deaf tramping behind me. I wouldn’t turn my eyes, afraid of what I might see. I would go on running, baffled, hampered, like when you run on a beach and it seems you don’t even advance. My heart would thump as it does now, but there was no way I could master my breathing, and when the beast was closer than ever, ready to seize me, a black gulf would open underneath my feet. I would fall into the void, surrounded by nothing more than my own fear. It was a comforting feeling. You don’t learn that fear can be a comforting feeling until you have such a dream. It was a relief to stop feeling you’re being hunted; to know that what was chasing you can no longer touch you. I wouldn’t even think that the menace was now coming from a different direction. I wouldn’t realize that the gulf had to have a bottom.

Then, when I could discern the earth coming towards me with a bewildering speed, and when I could finally understand that this threat I could no longer escape from, I would scream. And I screamed so loud that my own voice woke me up. Well, that I was happy of. Instead of going on screaming, I would burst into a frantic, reckless, foolish laughter. I was saved; I could ease my mind and body with the help of some fried eggs, toast and coffee. Reality’s never so sweet for me than in those moments.

And reality never frightened me so bad than it does now. Now…

…everything worked according to the plan. It didn’t take long and he was giving an interview for a job at the best-sold newspaper in town, a newspaper that, happily for him, housed a cultural column as well. It didn’t take a hard work of convincing; the detailed curriculum vitae he brought with him was enough. After not even a week’s time, he found himself in a theatre seat, taking notes for his first review. In the next day’s newspaper, his name could be read at the bottom of a fairly long column. The second step was taken.

It was a real beatitude for him to come home from work within beautiful weather, the sky shining red at sunset. And it was a real beatitude to have an apartment of his own to wait for him. Once arrived at home, he turned on the blue shaded lamp; played one of the Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos CDs and sank into daydreaming. The music played in sourdine and the imponderable atmosphere helped him follow his thoughts far, far away. He stayed like that till late into the night.

At the beginning it all seemed like a happy dream, after a while, though, everything turned into routine. And like any other routine, it bored him; the same way home from work, the same house, the same music. He started feeling the need for another soul.

Then, as if the gods had read his thoughts, he stumbled into Pisu.

He was coming back from the newspaper’s office like always: dull spirited and bored at the prospect of another night spent in solitude, just him and his big house. The tomcat was jumping and scratching its fur against the door and mewing. It was a feline of noble race, heavy white furred. It was very energetic. Maybe that convinced him. Maybe he absorbed a drop of the tomcat’s energy; it gave him a lungful of air, just in time to save his life, as he was feeling as if he was choking of boredom. He took it in his home, he fed it, and as a reward the tomcat gave him a reason to live for. Nothing made him happier than watching Pisu play, hide from him, leer at him from behind the furniture, urge him to come after it. Other times, it fell asleep in his arms, while he was listening to Bach or Beethoven or Dvorak at the CD-player. It dutifully waited for him in front of the door in the evenings. It eye-talked to him. It somehow cheered up his deserted apartment’s life.

Not even once he wondered whom might it have belonged to. All that he did was to…

…try to sleep. Yeah. This seems the only solution to the problem. If I fall asleep, I forget, and I’ll wake up in the morning if not rested, at least restful for the darkness had dispersed itself into light. And tomorrow I could do something to fix this situation. Definitely. If I escape this night, there won’t be a similar one again. Surely. So, go to sleep, sleep, sleep… One sheep, two sheep, three sheep, four…


What? What was that? Oh, my own voice. I’ll have to be more careful in the future. Otherwise…

… the tomcat gave him for a while what was missing. But shortly after that he realized it was only a palliative treatment.

The real cure for him came later on.

They met through the telephone. He woke up one night to the prolonged shrill of the telephone and, nervous and mumbling swears of all kinds, he threw a tetchy ‘Hello!’ into the receiver. The voice at the other end was even angrier. She had read his review in yesterday’s newspaper and thought it was an insolence. The play he so disrespectfully talked about was, in her opinion, a masterpiece. She couldn’t abstain herself from giving him a call and letting him know. Who he did he think he was?

They talked for more than an hour, at the end of which he came to give her justice, and, for being excused, he invited her to a movie. The rest came naturally.

What gained her complete sympathy was the cat. Linda liked it immediately. A person who owns a cat can’t be a bad person.

His life – he knew it well – started on a new stage. The emptiness was filled; nothing could stay against his happiness. Linda was…

… gone. If only she hadn’t had to leave… Why did she leave?? She abandoned me here, a prayer for my own imagination. – I mean, I hope that’s it. I hope my long practiced imagination is to be blamed for all this. This imagination, out of which seven novels were borne, haunted by at least the same number of ghosts. Oh, Linda, come back, come back now; I can feel it devouring me. It devours me from within. It comes slowly, meticulously, down on me, starting from my brain. It’s a disease. A tumor. It went on growing inside me, inside this house, inside this town, waiting for the right moment to come back… to claim its rights: inside the house, inside me. What have I turned into! To believe a poor blanket can keep me safe from what’s out there, from what’s inside here! I’ve lived all these years here inside (—me, inside the house), without even realizing what… why…

… he picked up the newspaper from the table. When he entered his apartment, he didn’t even notice it. His first concern was to eat something, as he had eaten nothing but a shrunken doughnut all day long. Linda being at her parents', there was no one to see for his nutrition. He found some eggplant salad at the bottom of a bowl in the fridge and ate it without bread, only washed with a bottle of Bergen bier. After that he poured a cup of milk into the cat’s dish and took a shower. When he came back into the living room, he saw Pisu caterwauling and raising its fur at something on the table. He stayed between the door folds, afraid of the cat’s behavior.

It was already pitch dark and only the feline’s eyes were shining cunningly. He turned the light switch and when the light flooded the room he heard a lugubrious shriek and Pisu rushed out between his spread legs. He almost fell down. He went to the table and found the newspaper. It seemed old. It was torn at the margins and the yellowed paper would have turned to dust at a stronger grip. He lifted it carefully; a few yellowish paper flakes came off and dripped on the floor. The newspaper was covered with a thin layer of dust. He lifted it to his mouth and blew strongly. A dense darkish cloud raised into the air. The room stank of dust and age. He read the date written in the up-right corner. September 2nd, 1989. He was astonished. Today was September 2nd. Just that it was 2000, not 1989. The newspaper was folded in two, at the fifth page.

At the head of the page reigned a title written in huge capital letters: “CORPSE DISCOVERED AFTER A WEEK’S TIME,” and lower, in smaller fonts, it continued: “into an advanced stage of decay”. The article stretched across the entire page. There were photographs as well. Three of them. The first showed a man’s face, about thirty of age, artificially smiling on the steps in front of the block of flats he was living in. To his utter amazement, he recognized the block of flats as being the one he also lived in. The second photo was a jumble of lights and shadows. At first it was hard for him to distinguish anything.

Then he understood it showed a room, a darkened living room. The place where the body was found. A white spot in the middle stood for the bed sheet that they used to cover the dead man’s body. The third photo was only partially on the first half of the page; the rest was on the other part of the bend, on the second half. But what that bit showed were the ears of a cat. He didn’t turn the newspaper for fear he might disintegrate it and began reading the article:

“Vasile Meza’s inanimate body was found today, 2nd of September, around 9 o’clock, by Călin Terţa. The body was in an advanced stage of decay. After the coroner’s exam, the police came to the conclusion it stayed there, exposed to the light and the heat of the sun, for more than a week. Vasile Meza, according to the neighbor’s statements, was a strange person. He lived alone and rarely left his residence. Gabirela Pop, his floor neighbor, declared nobody really knew him. “He was more an absence than a presence in our block”, she said. “That’s why no one even noticed anything. And if it wasn’t for Mr. Terţa, the ground floor neighbor, maybe it wouldn’t have been discovered at all.”

Mr. Terţa had to leave town for a while and asked Mr. Meza to look after his cat, considering he was always at home. When he came home after ten days and wanted his cat back, he got scared as nobody was answering the door. After he insisted a while, he tried the knob. The door was unlocked and inside he discovered the body – mutilated. Taking into account the appearances, the starved cat feasted on Mr. Meza and ran away. Mr. Terţa regrets his neighbor’s horrible death, but he still…

… can’t believe it. He lived right here, he died right in my living room! That’s why it had cost me so little… I feel my heart jumping out of my chest. And this sweating… What am I going to do now? If only Linda was here… Where did that newspaper come from? 1989? September 2nd? The cat!

I think I heard it again. It’s no imagination. It scratches at the door. Wants to come in. Wants to devour me. The memory of human blood drives it crazy. It would jump at me and it would tear my eyes out with its claws and then it would eat them. Like it did with poor Vasile Meza. It would slash me until it would reach the heart. It would get all smeared on my blood. That would make it happy. When I think that I’m the only one to blame… I should have known better when I saw it fawning upon the door. I should have known it only came back where its savage memory brought it. If it comes in, it’s only my fault.

Oh, God, why doesn’t it let me be? It scratches, and scratches, and scratches – it drives me crazy. Nothing can stop it. Not the punch I hit it with, not the bathroom door I threw it behind… nothing. Not even death. For it has seven lives. And it probably wants to take away seven as well. Me, what number would I be? Only the second? It scratches. I can hear pieces of the door coming off. There’s nothing much left. How am I going to defend myself? I can’t do it. I can’t even move. I’m paralyzed. Only this heart goes on beating. What’s the time? Is there long left till morning? It seems like everything turns back on me. I have scared a lot of people with my writing and now it’s my turn to get scared. I deserve it. It scratches. It tears apart. First the door, then me.

It’s so hot in here! I feel tired. A lousy torpor wraps me up. I’ve closed my eyes, so that the sweat won’t get in, and this urges me to sleep, urges me to the impossible. From time to time I feel cold shivers down my spine and the torpor leaves me. Only from time to time…

How long have I been hiding here, cramped? Die, cat, once and for all, die, damn’ you! If you don’t die… I’m shivering… I didn’t even notice it. My teeth are chattering.

And I don’t even have air. I’m choking. Maybe it’s better this way.

Breathe, stupid, more slowly! Or even at all. See, you can do it! And it seems to also ease my mind. I can’t hear the scratching anymore, just the thundering of my heart. But this grows weaker, too. Very well. Soon enough it will be quiet. That’s what I desire.

Bump… bump… bump… bump!



Don’t breathe. Stay still.

Bump… bump…

Go on, it’s working! Slow, slow… like this. I don’t need oxygen. I don’t need to come out from the blanket. I don’t breathe – and it doesn’t scratch any more. Simple.

Just a little more…

Good… It’s all over:


* * *

“With grievance I announce the unexpected death of my beloved husband, Alex. The Kingdom of Shadows steals you away from me much too soon. I will never forget you. May that all you have meant – for me and for the others – live forever. In God, may your soul rest in peace.

I love you!


… In God, may your soul rest in peace, Pisu, also, our most devoted friend.”



Special thanks to Craig Hale, a valuable friend and a good writer (unfortunately still undiscovered), who helped with this translation.

I’m counting on your help for the next projects as well!

This short story was published only in Romanian, as follows:

First published in “Familia” Cultural Magazine, Oradea, Romania, No. 11-12/2000.

A second publication was in “Luceafărul” Literary Magazine, Bucharest, Romania. No. 25 (517)/ 2001, pp. 8-9.

Critique this work

Click on the book to leave a comment about this work

All Authors (hi-speed)    All Authors (dialup)    Children    Columnists    Contact    Drama    Fiction    Grammar    Guest Book    Home    Humour    Links    Narratives    Novels    Poems    Published Authors    Reviews    September 11    Short Stories    Teen Writings    Submission Guidelines

Be sure to have a look at our Discussion Forum today to see what's
happening on The World's Favourite Literary Website.