Authors: Gary Brandner
A novel by Gary Brandner, author of The Howling
Based on the story by DeWitt Bodeen
The ultimate in sensual horror
A beautiful girl with a terrifying past.
A murderous wild leopard stalking the city.
Driven by bizarre desire, the girl begins to change...
—Now a major motion picture from Universal
Luna faced the animal without fear. She marveled at its grace, even at rest. Its glossy coat shimmered in the fragmented moonlight. The paws, each of them as big as a man's two fists, were braced on the ground. The killing claws were sheathed and out of sight. It was a thing of deadly beauty. Black leopard.
The beast's mouth opened and dosed once, and again. From the muscular throat came its soft growl....
The eyes of the woman filled again with tears. They were not tears of sorrow and loss, but of joy. She took a step toward the big cat and opened her arms to it.
With a cry almost like that of a child, the leopard was upon her.
A CHARLES FRIES Production
A PAUL SCHRADER Film
Screenplay by ALAN ORMSBY
Based on the story by DEWITT BODEEN
Special Visual Effects by ALBERT WHITLOCK
Music by GIORGIO MORODER
Director of Photography JOHN BAILEY
Executive Producer JERRY BRUCKHEIMER
Produced by CHARLES FRIES
Directed by PAUL SCHRADER
An RKO-Universal Picture
"CAT PEOPLE" theme sung by DAVID BOWIE
Lyrics by DAVID BOWIE
Music by GIORGIO MORODER
A novel by
Based on the story by
FAWCETT GOLD MEDAL • NEW YORK
Copyright © 1982 by MCA Publishing, a Division of MCA Inc.
All rights reserved.
Published by Fawcett Gold Medal Books, CBS Educational and Professional Publishing, a division of CBS Inc.
All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Printed in the United States of America
First Fawcett Gold Medal printing: April 1982
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An S522 Ebook Conversion
The woman, Luna, stood outside her hut in the heat of the midday sun. She gazed with worried eyes down the slope to where the men of the village were holding council. The men squatted in a circle at the edge of a field of parched brown stubble, a field where once grain had flourished. Beyond the circle of men was a flat patch of hard, cracked mud, with only a shallow pool of brackish water at its center. This had been a broad, clear watering place shared by man and beast.
Behind her, the trees at the edge of the jungle, once green and lush, had withered into grotesque dead shapes during the terrible drought. Far across the plain, the snow on the peaks of the great mountains mocked the village's thirst.
Luna turned away from the men and stood for a moment watching her little boy at play. The child held a rock in his tiny brown fist. He made it hop along the dry ground, making happy little chirps with each hop. Feeling Luna's eyes upon him, the boy looked up and smiled. His teeth were white and even, his brown eyes clear. Luna returned the smile, but her own eyes were moist.
"Dog," the boy said in the language of the village. He held the rock out to Luna in the palm of his hand.
"I see," she said gently. "It is a fine dog."
The boy returned to his play. The woman said softly to herself, "Play your little games while you can, my son. Play and be happy today."
The council of the village men came to an end. Luna watched their faces as they rose and turned away from one another and walked silently to their separate dwelling places. Her heart turned cold when she saw the face of her man, Darak, as he came toward her. She turned away from him and, pushing aside the animal skin over the entrance, went into the hut.
When Darak entered he found her squatting before a clay bowl, stirring a thin mush for their evening meal.
"It is decided," he said.
"The giving of the children?"
"Is there no other way?"
"You know there is not."
"Can it not be delayed?"
Darak swept aside the animal skin at the entrance. The flat, hard heat blasted in at them.
"Delayed? You have eyes, woman. You have seen our animals die, our crops shrivel and fall away to dust. There is no water. The very jungle shrinks from our village like a poisoned thing."
"The rains will come again."
"The rains will never come while the dark gods are angry. Our village has offended them. We must pay the forfeit or we will all perish."
"But the children ..."
"It is the law. It has always been the law."
Luna searched her man's face for any sign of hope, then she dropped her gaze.
"Our son?" she said, although she knew the answer.
Darak nodded. He pulled the animal skin back to shut out the sun. His face was unreadable in the shadows. "He is one of those chosen."
"Our only child," Luna said.
"He is innocent of any offense to the dark gods."
"That does not matter. The decision is made. It cannot be changed."
As the sun began to sink behind the far mountains the children selected were gathered in the clearing at the center of the tiny village. There were two little girls and two boys. One of the boys was the son of Darak and Luna. The children looked around at the unsmiling faces of the people. They were puzzled, yet excited by this new adventure.
Luna, as the mother of one of the chosen children, was allowed to stand at the inner circle, and was not shunted to the back with the other women. Her little boy saw her and smiled.
"Game?" he said.
With an effort Luna kept her face empty. "Yes," she said, "it is a game."
"No. I cannot come this time."
"Your father will be with you for a little while."
"No. It is not allowed."
For a moment the little boy's face clouded. Then he forgot about it and joined the other children in giggling and acting foolish, enjoying the attention they were getting.
The last red sliver of the sun winked out on the shoulder of the highest mountain. Darkness swept over the plain and the village and into the jungle.
"It is time," said the Leader of the village.
The women stepped back, and the men moved in around the four children. Darak looked back for an instant at Luna, then quickly turned away lest he betray some unmanly feelings.
One of the men began chanting an ancient lullaby. The children quickly took it up. They walked through the village and across a strip of dried grass to the edge of the withered jungle. Luna stood silently with the other women and watched them go. The sound of the children's voices was clear and bell-like in the evening air. When it was too dark to see the men and the children any more, the women turned silently away and walked to their huts.
The men of the village brought the children to the edge of the jungle and walked twice a hundred paces more. Gradually the dry brown trees and the crackly brush gave way to the moist green of the old jungle. When they had left the blighted area they stopped. The children were taken to the base of a gnarled old tree. The men placed them in a circle with their backs to the tree and had them join hands. Then their wrists were bound with a tough, fibrous vine. Each of the four fathers was charged with seeing that the wrists of his child were securely bound to the next.
Darak knotted the vines that held the wrists of his little boy and was satisfied that they were tight. He glanced back over his shoulder at the dark figures of the other men. When he saw that the Leader was not looking his way, he brushed his lips across the silky hair of his son's head.
"Game, Father?" said the little boy.
"The time of games is over. Now you must be very brave. Sing your song, my little cub."
At a gesture from the Leader the four men stepped back from the tree, leaving their children bound there. The son of Darak sought his father's eyes.
"Sing," Darak told him in a whisper.
Obediently the boy began to sing the lullaby in a piping voice that quavered at first, then grew stronger. One by one the other children took up the song. The men of the village moved silently away from the tree, and soon were lost in the darkness and the night sounds of the jungle.
Lying alone on the pallet she shared with Darak, Luna heard the distant singing of the children. She fancied she could clearly make out the dear voice of her little boy. Alone in the dark, she allowed the tears to come. They filled her eyes and rolled down her cheeks and made little dark spots on the hard dirt floor.
Luna wanted her man with her at this terrible time, but she knew that could not be. The men of the village would spend this night sitting wakefully around a fire in the clearing. They would be very careful to display no emotion, for to do so was to admit weakness. For a woman it was allowed, especially if she were alone. So the woman Luna sobbed quietly as she listened to the far-off singing of the children.
Then abruptly the little voices were silenced as though sliced off with a blade. Luna sat up on the pallet, her dark eyes staring into the deeper darkness of the night.
Then the screaming started. Screams of fear. One of the little girls first, then the other girl. Next the other little boy. Finally her own baby.
Luna caught her lip between strong white teeth. Blood trickled unheeded down her chin and spotted her breast.
The next sound was worse than the screaming. A gruff, snarling challenge. Then the full-throated roar of a beast about to feed.
The cries of the children became screams of pain. Mercifully, the screams did not last long.
Luna sat in the darkness of her hut, hunched over, her fists clenched and pressed against her ears. She tried to shut out the tearing, gobbling sounds of the beasts as they fed. It seemed a very long time before the night was silent again.
The next day it rained.
In the weeks that followed, the rains came with their old regularity. The watering place filled and the animals came again. The crops sprouted and grew with vigor. At the edge of the jungle the trees revived and spread their lush new foliage toward the village.
The weeks grew into months, and the months stretched into years, and the people of the village lived with peace and plenty. Once again they were a happy people. Most of them.
The woman Luna grew older, but she remained straight and handsome. Her black hair was threaded with gray, and there were lines of sorrow around the eyes and at the corners of her mouth. She was a woman alone now. When it became clear that she would bear no more children Darak took another woman, as was his right. Luna understood. She felt no bitterness. This was the law.
Sometimes in the evening when her work was done Luna would walk alone at the edge of the jungle. At these times she would let her thoughts go back to the way it had been when she and Darak and their little boy were all together. The times had been hard then, with the drought. Often there was not enough to eat, and there was illness in the village, but there were times of happiness too. Luna liked to think about those good times of being together, as she walked among the cool shadows in the evening.
On one such evening, as she bent to inhale the fragrance of a night blossom, a sound reached her from the jungle. A sound like nothing she had ever heard.
She straightened and held her breath, listening.
The sound came to her again. It was like a voice, yet not a voice. A soft rumbling, something between a murmur and a growl. And it was calling to her.
The plains dwellers of Luna's village never went into the jungle without a compelling reason. The jungle was filled with things that could hurt and kill. But on this evening Luna did not hesitate. She walked into the thick growth of the rain forest and picked her way through the heavy brush and tangled vines toward the gentle growling voice that called to her.
She fbund it under the tree of the sacrifice, the tree where the children were left long ago to appease the dark gods. There by the twisted trunk was a huge shadow shape, darker than the darkness of the night. It sat up on powerful haunches, the broad head erect on ebony shoulders. The glowing yellow eyes looked at her.
Luna faced the animal without fear. She marveled at its grace, even at rest. Its glossy coat shimmered in the fragmented moonlight. The paws, each of them big as a man's two fists, were braced on the ground. The killing claws were sheathed and out of sight. It was a thing of deadly beauty. A black leopard.
The beast's mouth opened and closed once, and again. From the muscular throat came its soft growl. Then, visibly straining, the leopard shaped its mouth so the growl came out in a semblance of human speech. One word.
The eyes of the woman filled again with tears. This time they were not tears of sorrow and loss, but of joy. She took a step toward the big cat and opened her arms to it.