by Mary E. Lowd
Originally published in Fantasia Divinity, Issue 9, April 2017
I wake up in a cold sweat, but nothing is wrong. There is no supernatural wailing; no undead yowling; no eerie scratching at my door. Not even an unsettling purr. All is silence. As it has been, for the last several nights. I wrack my memory, but I can’t recall how long it’s been since I heard Cassie, carousing in the dark, haunting my house and keeping me awake.
The fat calico cat had appeared after a big snow storm, nearly ten years ago. Her orange and black splotches were faded like she’d had flour dumped on her, but her face was ghost white. And she could walk through walls. I think she was the spirit of a neighborhood cat who’d frozen to death under my house. So, I called her Cassie, short for Casper.
Uncertain as to whether my personal spook is missing, I can’t get back to sleep. So, I get up, open a can of tuna, and poor the tuna water down the drain. Cassie hates that — even though she can’t lap up the tuna water with her spectral tongue, she’ll yowl at me for hours if I don’t leave it sitting in a bowl on the counter. When pouring the tuna water down the drain doesn’t summon her, I get really worried. I should have cast a binding spell on Cassie when I realized I’d grown attached to her. Somehow, it had never seemed urgent. She was always there. Where was she going to go?
The next morning, I find a few photographs that Cassie had photo-bombed with her paranormal distortion and post them to all the local neighborhood groups. I even print out a few and staple them to telephone poles — old school.
That night, I get my first call.
“Hello? I think I found your ghost? It’s been wandering around my back yard all night.”
I throw a few candles, matches, catnip, and a collar — to function symbolically, of course — into a bag and drive right over, relieved this will be over so soon. I had never realized how much I would miss Cassie if she ever moved on.
The house is on the other side of the hill, and the woman who called is waiting for me on her front porch. She shows me through her house and into the backyard, where I immediately light one of the candles, ready to cast a binding spell on Cassie.
But it’s not Cassie.
“That’s the ghost of a dog,” I say.
“Is it?” The woman peers at the translucent canine and shrugs. “Oh, yeah, I guess there was a dog that got run over down the street yesterday. You want it anyway?”
Over the next few days, phone calls and emails keep rolling in. I keep my bag of candles and catnip in the car so I’m always ready. With each call, I jump and run, ready to bring my friendly spook cat back home, and each time, it’s not her.
Sometimes, it seems like the people who call aren’t even trying. Over the course of a week, I visit the ghosts of a rat, two squirrels, a deer, a Roomba, and a very cranky old man who won’t give up his favorite seat at the local coffee shop. How anyone could mistake any of these ghosts for a friendly little cat ghost is beyond me.
Over the next month, I get to know every haunted house and wandering specter in the neighborhood. There are a lot more spooks around than I’d realized before beginning this search for Cassie. With every phone call that begins, “I saw your ad about the missing ghost…”, my heart leaps, and my tongue stumbles to say the right polite things, wading through the conversation until some clue gives away that, yet again, the ghost is not Cassie. I have to stay polite. The people who call mean well, and maybe someday, one of them will have really found her.
At night, I wander the neighborhood, watching for feline-shaped shimmers and am disappointed every time I see one, only to realize the shadowy figure is opaque, solid, alive.
As the months pass, I start to believe that Cassie has moved on to another plane — finally resigned herself to her horrible death and transcended to a feline heaven or embodiment in a new life. She’d make an excellent raccoon.
Or maybe, Cassie didn’t think I was scared enough by her anymore and has moved on to haunting someone who’s still startled by her piercing yowls and gets too rattled to sleep when she claws at the door.
I miss her restless midnight clawing.
Eventually, I get a kitten — a little orange tabby who I call Ally. He claws at the doors, but he never does it as long as Cassie used to. When he drinks the tuna water, I think about how loudly Cassie would have yowled to see another cat drink her fishy offering.
I dream about moaning spectral meows and wake to silence, Ally curled up peacefully at the end of the bed. Warm at my feet, instead walking through me, passing by like a cold wind.
This is how Cassie haunts me now.