Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Cat, Crosses, And Moonlight

I wasn't going to tell this story, ever, I banished it more than 30 years ago. But last week at dinner, I told S. we had gone to a restaurant that felt haunted, which shifted the talk to ghost stories. J. tuned us out, so there it was, without warning, looming in my mind's eye. The old resistance was abruptly worn away.

So I'm sitting now with the filmy shawl I wear when I need comfort draped across my shoulders, skimming my bare arms, partly wrapped around my wrists. I rustled around searching for it before I started the telling. Even though I wasn't cold. I needed it because I was beginning to shiver just a bit, a fine, barely perceptible tremor in my very core.

This story happened in college. Sophomore year, a late fall night, but still so humid it felt like the middle of summer. I was alone in the dorm room. I hadn't seen much of my roommate for a while. We had active social lives. Plus, I didn't care for her boyfriend one bit, and she knew it.

Then she came back to the room. She was rattled. Accustomed to her dark moods, I spoke, but mostly ignored her, probably studied or pretended. It had gotten late and I remember getting ready for bed.

She didn't want me to turn out the light.

She was leaning back on the bed, chain-smoking. Her mile-long legs pulled up, clasping her knees close to her chest with her arms. We had the mattresses on the floor, as was the custom then. I sat on my bed, which was near hers. And asked her why.

"It's not good," she said, her deep voice cracking. Too many long, thin Kools. It was then I noticed. She pushed her long, thick black hair away from her face with a thumb, dark eyes glittering, her face even paler.

She told me she'd spent the day at a farm with the boyfriend who gave me the creeps. "You're not going to believe me," she said, but the stress pushed her thick drawl into a jittery pace I had to strain to understand. "I swear I met a warlock."

I took a deep breath. Okay... here we go. We'd talked about this kind of thing. Laughed about it. We both had messed around with Ouija Boards as kids, scared ourselves at sleepover seances. But she been raised in a fundamentalist household like mine. We ditched those churches the second we got to college. But still, we didn't believe in witchcraft. Did we?

Then she started to talk.

The warlock was real, she insisted. He focused on her like a laser. He lived at the farm with a woman, a witch. He kept talking to her, though. She was special. She had talent, potential. He wanted to see her, to spend time with her. She felt like he was seeing right through her. Like he was hypnotizing her. He was mesmerizing, and she couldn't turn away, from his eyes. He was charming and hypnotic and at the same time horrifying and evil.

She felt as though she was in the room with the devil himself.

Whoa, hold on, time out. She kept talking fast, dropping to a whisper, and I was having trouble keeping up. But I told her that could not be real, the warlock thing. He was making it up, having a laugh on them all, making fun of the girl from the country. He was not for real.

Then she told me something she had not shared in all our late-night dorm talks. Her dabbling had been more than sleepover fodder with girlfriends. She'd gotten in deeper, with other friends from school. She asked did I remember a murder a couple of years back, strange circumstances? Yes, of course I did. Well, she wasn't there, she had nothing to do with it. But that girl got in even deeper than all of them, died in a spell gone bad.

She was crying then. And suddenly I was cold, freezing in fact, and aware for the first time in a very long time that I was so very far from home. I could see the newspaper in my mind and remembered the story, the girl my age, her body found cold and alone in a dark shed. Candles, there were candles surrounding the body. Black candles. Her boyfriend had been arrested. Case closed.

I reminded her of that. Humans, not the supernatural, were involved there. And she had encountered the same situation out at the farm. All she had to do was not go back. Simple. Another case closed. Time for bed.

And then I heard it. A cat. Meowing loudly, yowling. Just outside the window. I could not believe what I was hearing. It just could not be. I got up and ran to the window.

And there it was. In the light of a nearly full moon, a large black cat, glowing green eyes, sitting underneath our dorm window howling at us.

"Get away!" I hissed through the screen. "You get away! Scat!" The cat didn't move. "I MEAN IT GET AWAY!" The window was open. I slammed it shut. The cat hunkered down. It was uncanny. I pulled the drapes. V. was in a panic, again she was crumpled against the wall on her bed, face in her hands.

"It's him, he's here, he's come for me," she whimpered.

"The hell he is," I said. Some words to that effect, I don't remember exactly because I was furious. I didn't really believe the cat was, well, him, the warlock, or whatever. But she believed the warlock had somehow appropriated the cat's visage for the evening. Or become one, or something, I'm a little fuzzy on that one still. But I definitely was spooked by her reaction. I also was sleep-deprived. And I was (am) superstitious enough to not want to take chances.

So I knew exactly what to do.

I had a small cross necklace in a jewelry box. I dug it out. I placed it on the windowsill. "Good trumps evil," I told her, looking grave for the first time that night. "Always. You know that." I knew K. would not be home (they didn't call her "late date K. for nothing). But she never remembered to lock her door. So I ran up the stairs and nosed around. She's Catholic, I knew she wouldn't let me down and she didn't. I found several armaments.

I placed those crosses on the windowsills too. And I dusted off the bible my mother sent me to college with and read from it: "I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety." Psalm 4:8

I didn't believe the cat was a warlock, I told V., but I was cloaking us in the Lord's armor so she could sleep. She wrapped herself in her long back cape and stretched out on her bed. I slept in my clothes, ready to throw out another layer of prophylatic spiritual fencing, if need be. But I remember sleeping hard, unaccosted by cats or warlocks or bad dreams.

My roommate and I did other some strange things as we grew up in the coming years. But we never warred against alleged witches-warlocks-cats or even talked about that night again.

Yet, to this day, I've given cats a wide berth. I don't for a second think they are evil. But now and then a certain black cat will remind me of that night. Often, the cats just hate being ignored and make a beeline for me. And I like to one up them at being, well, cats.

Thinking about that night, I watch them from the corner of my eye until I'm absolutely certain we've not made acquaintance in another time and place, under an almost full moon.

Certain we haven't, my hand moves toward my neck -- is the cross there or in my purse? No church owns me, I don't even go now, but the weapons and armor were burned into me decades ago. If something scary ever decides to show, I'm up for the fight.


  1. Wow. Creepy, and very well told!

  2. I had to put on a second shawl! I'm done with spooky stories, for the month anyway.

  3. Very interesting story, Glimmer. Thanks for sharing it. I have 5 cats I live with and fortunately they appear to be anything but evil. Mean-spirited occasionally--yes--but not evil.

  4. I know, S.B.! I didn't make clear that the cat part of the ending was really tongue-in-cheek. Because I didn't believe the cat out the window was the devil or whoever, even though it was very strange. But I can't help but remember that night when I see a spooky kind of cat.

    I do, however, ignore cats without fail because I like to one up them at their own game. It drives my husband and son crazy because they like them, want to pick them up, etc. And guess who the cats are obsessed with? Like with my friend K's adorable little orange cat, I ostentatiously pretended it was not there as it checked me out, climbed into my lap, purred loudly and fell asleep, to my husband's (fake) outrage. I was smiling the whole time. HA HA, got ya!

  5. Dear Lil Gitar: Stop pretending you don't like spooky stories, big guy.

  6. Glimmer,
    You've got it right. Cats most love those who ignore them. They are like tiny little men. Ha.



  7. You are hilarious, SB! Never heard it put quite like that, but has a certain ring of truth to it.

  8. I believe that Evil does exist in this world. But I've not found it to reside in animals but in human form. Animals soothe me and have no hidden agendas that I can find. Humans are a different story.

  9. I edited a couple of sentences in the post to make myself clear. Because I wasn't and I'm glad you and SB pointed it out. A cat can sometime remind me of that night sometimes and give me a chill. The night, not the cat.

  10. You're working our way into short stories. Why don't you do one and publish it on your blog in segments. Thanks for the comment on my post about plants talking.

  11. I hadn't really thought about that. Do you have a link to people who do that, Mary? I'm a bit slow on the uptake with this kind of thing.

    Maybe it would be better to start a new blog for that. Two blogs, same profile. I don't want to confuse my ownself!

    I appreciate the suggestion, truly.

    And I loved the post on "Do Plants Talk?" As I said that is right down my alley.

  12. Wow, what a story. Chilling. Well told and remembered. I know what you mean about not ever wanting to talk about it. I hope it helped to just tell it, maybe take some of the power away. Yikes.

  13. I heard a cat rescue person on the radio the other day saying people don't like to adopt black cats because they think they're spooky. Which made me want one! I think they are the most beautiful cats, in fact.