The Cats of Ulthar
It is said that in Ulthar, which lies beyond the river Skai, no man may kill a cat.
In Ulthar, before the
burgesses forbade the
killing of cats, there
dwelt an old cotter
and his wife
who
delighted
to trap
and slay
the cats
of their
neighbours
But the villagers
did not discuss
such things with
the old man
and his wife.
In truth, as much as the owners of cats
hated these odd folk, they feared them more;
and instead of berating them as brutal assassins,
merely took care that no cherished cat
should stray toward the remote hovel
under the dark trees.
One day a caravan of
strange wanderers
from the South entered
the narrow cobbled
streets of Ulthar.
Dark wanderers they were.
What was the land
of these wanderers
none could tell.
but it was seen that
they were given to strange prayers,
and the leader of the caravan
wore a head-dress with
two horns and a curious disc
betwixt the horns.
There was in this singular caravan a little boy with no father or mother, but only a tiny black kitten to cherish.
The plague had not been kind to him, yet had left him this small furry thing to mitigate his sorrow.
On the
third morning
of the wanderers’ stay
Menes
could not
find
his kitten
And as he sobbed aloud in the market-place certain villagers told him of the old man and his wife, and of sounds heard in the night.
And when he heard these things his sobbing gave place to meditation, and finally to prayer.
He stretched out
his arms toward
the sun and prayed
in a tongue no
villager could
understand
though indeed the villagers did not try very hard to understand
since their attention was mostly taken up by the sky
and the odd shapes the clouds were assuming.
As the little boy uttered his petition there seemed to form overhead the shadowy, nebulous figures of hybrid creatures crowned with horn-flanked discs.
That night the wanderers left Ulthar
and were never seen again
The householders were troubled
when they noticed that
in all the village there was
not a cat to be found
One person swore that the caravane had taken alle the cats away in revenge for the killing of Menes’ kitten
Another declared it that the old cotter and his wife were more likely persons to suspect; for their hatred of cats was notorious and increasingly bold
Still, no one dared complaining to the sinister couple.
Even when one of the neighbours vowed that at twilight he had see all the cats of Ultar in that accursed yard und the trees
pacing very slowly and solemnly in a cirlce around the cottage—as if in performance of some unheard-of rite of beasts.
So Ulthar went to sleep
in vain anger
and when the people awaked at dawn
behold!
every cat was back at its accustomed hearth!
Very sleek and fat did the cats appear
and sonorous with purring content.
The citizens talked with one another of the affair
And all agreed on one thing:
that the refusal of all the cats to eat or drink was exceedingly curious.
After a week the villagers noticed that no lights were appearing at dusk in the windows of the cottage under the trees.
Someone remarked that none had seen the old man or his wife since the night the cats were away.
After another week some of the townsfolk decided to overcome their fear and check on the old cotter and his wife.
And when they had broken down the frail door they found only this:
two cleanly picked human skeletons on the earthen floor, and a number of singular beetles crawling in the shadowy corners.
There was subsequently much talk
among the burgesses of Ulthar.
They talked of the old cotter and his wife,
of the caravan of dark wanderers,
of small Menes and his black kitten,
of the prayer of Menes
and of the sky during that prayer,
of the doings of the cats
on the night the caravan left,
and of what was later found in the cottage
under the dark trees in the repellent yard.
And in the end the burgesses passed that remarkable law.
Namely,
that in Ulthar no man may kill a cat.
Imprint
Short Story by
H. P. Lovecraft
Abridged by
David Wiesner
Programming and
Design by
David Wiesner
Typefaces