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Paws From Beyond

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My new neighbor introduced herself to me by pounding on my door at six in the morning, a situation neither of us agreed with.

“Are you Angelica Nguyen? From Paranormal Preppers?” she asked.

I’d been a featured guest a few times—just gave some basic tips for how to deal with novice and intermediate hauntings, like burning sage and yelling.  “Yeah. But it’s six o’clock on a Saturday.”

Her eyes were red and puffy, and she had the frenzied look of someone who hadn’t slept in days. “There’s something evil in my house—a demon, or a shadow person. Do you think I’m living near a portal?”

“Do you want to come in? I’m mid-coffee and it’s cold out.”

“Sure. OK. I’m Lorinda Rust, by the way.”

Lorinda trudged in, sniffling as she followed me to the kitchen. I poured her some coffee and plopped a box of tissues in front of her. “Why do you think your house is haunted?” I said. “The couple who lived there before never experienced anything.”

“I’m sick,” Lorinda replied, then went through two tissues for her nose and runny eyes. “It’s been weeks. And I hear things crashing at night, and… scampering.”

“Scampering?”

“Like hundreds of feet. It’s horrible.” Lorinda gave her nose one final blow. “And I know it’s not mice or rats. There’s no droppings, or any other sign of them. I’m not making this up.”

“I don’t think you are.” I sipped at my coffee while I ran down possibilities. She might have a flu poltergeist coming from the teenager down the street, or maybe the couple had awakened something terrible and moved to Nevada to escape their dark deeds. It was probably constipated mice, though. “If I find something, I’ll have to charge you for removal.”

“You need to find something,” Lorinda said. “I can’t live with this endless head cold and the damn scampering at night.”

“Nothing during the day?”

“Nope. That’s how I know it’s evil.”

I’d disagree, but Lorinda had enough going on. “I’ll come over after sundown.” 

~

This close to Halloween, it got dark by seven. Lorinda was at the door practically the second I knocked, offering up some funeral potatoes and hot cider.

“Thank you so much for the coffee earlier,” Lorinda said as I stuffed my mouth with carbs.

“It’s neighborly. Not that I’m much of a neighbor, traveling around all the time for ghosts.”

“How do you even get to be a professional ghosthunter?”

“Get a night-vision camera, a blog, and a YouTube channel. It helps if you can find a new angle on things. For a while, mine was having a dog.” Ghostbiter had been a good boy.

“I’ve always liked dogs,” Lorinda replied. “Cats, too, but I could never have any animals because I’m so allergic.”

There was a loud crash from upstairs, making Lorinda go stiff with terror. “It’s here,” she whispered.

I didn’t even have time to set my equipment up—just rushed up the stairs to see if I could catch the thing in the act. The hallway was empty of any sign, and so were the bedrooms. Not even a single hair stood up on the back of my neck. “Please don’t be a raccoon,” I muttered, seeing the dangling cord from the attic storage. I hated attics, because even when they weren’t haunted, something would get you.

As I pulled on the cord and slowly lowered the stairs, I heard the scampering. It sounded like at least eight more legs than I would have liked. I poked my head into the attic, letting my eyes adjust to the darkness rather than send whatever nocturnal creature it was into hiding. There was the usual assortment of bric-a-brac, but a bit neater since Lorinda hadn’t lived here for very long.

More scampering, this time from behind me, and another crash. I jerked my head around to see two floating demonic eyes. My heart leapt into my mouth and I yelped. The thing growled back at me before it bolted, sending a trio of shoeboxes flying.

“Are you OK?” Lorinda called up from downstairs.

“I’m fine. You’re definitely haunted, though.”

“I knew it!”

“Alright,” I said to the darkness. “Terrifying creature, I’m coming the rest of the way up. Don’t eat me, because you’re probably dead and it won’t help.”

The growling became louder, and I could see a growing shadow on the wall, arching its back and shaking its long tail. But now it was starting to look a lot more familiar. The couple who’d used to live here had had a beautiful ginger cat who’d liked to sit in the window every day and chirrup at the birds. He would even occasionally paw at the glass when I walked by, upset that he couldn’t get pets. The cat had stopped appearing at the window about a year ago, and I hadn’t thought of him since then.

“Hey there, little boy,” I said in my best ‘hello pet friend’ voice. “Who’s the good kitty? You must be so afraid up here, all alone after your people left you.”

I sat down on the stairs, making sure not to look anywhere near where the ghost cat was hiding, and pulled out my phone. In silence, I played Historical Farm Simulator and waited. It didn’t take long before the cat padded up to me, his thick ginger coat faded to gray. He meowed, and set his paw on my hand, digging in slightly with his ghostly nails. His meaning was clear: I was not just allowed to pet him, but must. I gently massaged behind his ears and stroked his cheeks, keeping my eye on his tail to see if he was getting ready to run again. He purred just like a living cat, but he felt more like ashes. The cat jumped into my lap, light as air, and started kneading my leg.

“I’m not bread, you silly thing,” I told him, just seconds before Lorinda’s scream ruined the moment. He erupted from my lap in a flurry of sulfur-smelling fur while Lorinda stood in horror at the foot of the stairs. The cat had left a scratch on my hand that I knew wouldn’t heal without getting a minor blessing.

“Sorry!” Lorinda said. “I was so startled, seeing you with that monster on your lap.”

“It’s not a monster,” I replied, climbing down the stairs. “It’s a dead housecat, and he’s why you’re getting allergy attacks.”

“But—it was just this grey thing with glowing eyes that smelled like a sewer.”

“Nope. Just a perfectly ordinary ghost cat. We could look for his bones buried in the backyard, but that’d involve digging everything up.”

“Is he unhappy?” Lorinda asked.

“I think he’s just lonely. Cats are pretty social. The feral ones live in colonies for a reason, you know.”

“Oh.” Lorinda looked sadly up at the attic. “I wish I could keep him. Guess there really is no such thing as a hypoallergenic cat, is there?”

“Poor guy; I wonder if his owners even knew he was haunting them? I’ll come back early tomorrow with what I’ll need to capture him. Then I’ll try a ritual to send him on to the other side.”

 “Does that mean he was unsatisfied in this life?”

“I don’t think there’s any way to figure out what it was, though. Anyway, make sure you get ready to vacuum and wash all the ghost hair off your stuff tomorrow. You’ll feel better soon.”

Lorinda nodded. “I just hope he does, too.”

~

Capturing a ghost was possible, though it didn’t make for great hit counts. Humans could never be held for long, and went quiet as the grave when they were being filmed. The theory behind it was that you had to use what was dead to hold the head. So I bought a cat carrier from a thrift store, then ran it over with my car a few times to make sure that it was figuratively on a spiritual plane. Luckily, it still closed. As for bait, I tried to think of what food would have enough dark energy to attract an undead cat, settling on canned Friskies: Tuna Mystery. Ghostly carrier and hellish cat food in hand, I went back to Lorinda’s attic. There wasn’t any growling as I set up the broken cat carrier and opened up the Tuna Mystery.

“Here you go, my dead ginger dude. Eat up and please ignore the obvious trap.”

I sat next to the carrier and concentrated on my phone again. The cat left me sitting in the evil food stink for twenty minutes before he made an appearance, chirruping once at the food and swishing his tail. As much as I wanted to give him a pet, I kept ignoring him while he sniffed at the carrier. He finally stepped in to take a mouthful of Mystery, and I slammed the busted carrier shut. The cat howled and tried to escape, but the carrier had died well—his ghostly form was behind something just as ghostly. I took the cat downstairs as he kept yowling, sounding about as loud and unhappy as Grendel on the moors.

Lorinda waved us goodbye as we left, rubbing at her eye with a tissue. It looked a bit more teary than mere allergies this time. I went into my house, feeling like it was emptier than it should be. After setting the carrier in the center of a pentagram I’d chalked into the floor, I was ready to light the ritual candles. But I hesitated as the cat went silent in the carrier.

Crouching down, I looked straight at the ghost cat. He was curled up in the back, projecting betrayal. “Um, I can’t really ask you this,” I said, “but do you want to move on? Or do you want to stay here?”

The cat gave a tiny ‘mew.’ I opened up the carrier, and he stepped out with his tail held high, as if I had never cruelly tricked him with Tuna Mystery. He let me give him more head rubs before he climbed into my arms. “Oh, so you’re one of those cats who likes to be carried. Alright, I can do that.”

I brought him into the kitchen and set him down on the table, giving him the best view of the birdfeeder in the house. He chattered his teeth at them and pawed at the window, but the birds ignored the ghost. When he got bored of stalking, he hopped off the table to rub against my legs and generally make a pest of himself.

“Guess I’m your person now,” I said, grinning down at him.

~

I named him Catferatu. He was usually a lazy thing, migrating from sunspot to sunspot during the day and clicking his teeth at the birds in the afternoon. At night, he always scampered like a thousand ravenous hounds, before finally curling up at the foot of my bed. He quietly enjoyed his new life, even the traveling. Turns out most people can’t see a ghost cat in a ghost cat carrier when you sign up for a hotel, or hear when a ghost cat meows for a smelly can of Tuna Mystery. He loved going new places, which was the only thing about him more ghost than cat. After murdering a cat leash by leaving it outside for a few weeks, I was even able to take him on hunts with me.

Catferatu was never alone anymore, and neither was I.