"Howard Phillips Lovecraft did not believe in reincarnation." The tone was irritable, but Price let that pass. Augie, he knew, had many worries - his business, his house, his children. It was why he had suggested the circus as a diversion. They wandered among the gaudy striped tents as April and William ran ahead, clutching cones of cotton candy.
"E'ch-Pi-El did not believe in many things," Price agreed. "A confirmed materialist, utterly refused to acknowledge the supernatural. Not even astrology or telepathy."
"Natural telepathy is possible," Augie grunted, and shelled a peanut.
"But that does not mean the universe is restricted to what Lovecraft believed!" Price said. "And I ask you...if Howard did come back...what would he come back as?"
"Allowing your argument - just for the sake of fun! - I would say he would reincarnate as a man. Certainly, Lovecraft was a high-grade human being, and would not have come back as a lower form."
"I wonder..." Price said, and then they stopped.
The bars of the cage were about as thick as a man's thumb. The stripes that moved back and forth behind them created a strange, contrasting pattern. Price could well imagine the creature in a canebrake, the flash of black stripes against the tall grasses giving just such an effect. Muscles rolled beneath the fur, and the creature stopped and fixed its great yellow eyes on the pair. Even Augie was fixed by that stare.
"Do you suppose..." Price began, but his voice failed.
Augie had paused, a peanut crushed in his hand. "No." he said. "Not possible."
"But it makes perfect sense!" Price hissed. "You know how much he loved and admired cats. Just look at him!"
There was something regal in the tiger as it cooly surveyed them. Circus animals can be mangy beasts, but not this one - not yet. It relaxed into the attitude of the Sphinx, the patterns of stripes around its face seemed to draw them.
"We have to get him out of there," Price said, quietly.
"What?" Augie broke the tiger's stare. "Ed, we can't do that."
"But he's in prison!"
Augie opened his mouth, but whatever argument he was about to make was halted by a sudden, soft meow.
Both men stared at their feet. A piece of the night lay there, in an attitude of solemn attention. It's ears forward and attentive, it stared up at them with green eyes. The black fur was, just visible, crossed with sable stripes, blue-black when the light struck them just right. As they watched, it sat up on its haunches, and held up its right paw, the left forelimb held against its chest, so that the right forelimb seemed to wrest on the paw of the left.
"That's...that's..." Price started.
"Dunsany." Augie confirmed, voice hollow. "Time and the Gods." Then he began to quote, in a soft Wisconsin accent: "For the cat is cryptic, and close to strange things which men cannot see. He is the soul of antique Aegyptus, and bearer of tales from forgotten cities in Meroë and Ophir. He is the kin of the jungle’s lords, and heir to the secrets of hoary and sinister Africa. The Sphinx is his cousin, and he speaks her language; but he is more ancient than the Sphinx, and remembers that which she hath forgotten."
The tiger in its cage bowed its head, and the night-black tom cat resumed the attitude of its species, fled off into the circus.