by Stephen Faulkner

Shady was a black cat. The extreme dark colour of her fur was a clear indication of the personality of the animal. She was exceptionally ill tempered and given to fits of hissing rages at less than a moment’s notice. She also enjoyed lying hidden in wait for an unsuspecting victim—human or animal, it did not matter—so as to pounce as soon as the innocent passer-by came within range. Many of the neighbour children bore the painful marks of Shady’s claws and fangs on their ankles and calves as evidence of such surreptitious attacks by the marauding kitty.

The black cat’s owner was the only person on the block who did not incite Shady’s hair trigger wrath. In Caitlyin Drether’s arms Shady did nothing more threatening than flex her paws in feline bliss while at the same time purring loud enough to vie with a tuba for the volume and thrumming depth of its pitch. Caitlyn, a sweet natured though facially plain child, would hum tunelessly as she rocked her contented pet like a babe in her pale arms for long stretches of time. The end of such pleasurable interludes would never happen at either Caitlyn’s or Shady’s instigation; they usually only quit their mutual enjoyment of one another when the girl was called into the house either for her to eat her supper or finish her homework for school. Since the two were never left to themselves without being bothered by obligations, the question of how long they would have remained so lovingly entwined with one another without parental intervention was never answered. It was something that Jeffy, Caitlyn’s kid brother, continuously wondered about from the time he first spied his sister so sweetly cuddling with her cat when he was only five years old and Caitlyn was seven.

At the time this story takes place Jeffy had celebrated his twelfth birthday only a few days prior. He was still wondering, even after so long, about the apparent love his sister shared with her evil natured feline friend.

His friends in the neighbourhood shared his wonder. “How come the cat doesn’t tear her to shreds?” Billy Delton once asked seriously. “Is your sister a witch or something?”

The idea caught Jeffy by surprise. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I think she would have shown some kind of sign about that if she was, don’t you think?”

“Not really,” Shelly from next door said. She was Jeffy’s and Billy’s one real girlfriend in their gang of cronies from school. “Not if she means to keep it a secret. Witches can be real sneaky about stuff like that when they feel they have to.” 

“If she is a witch,” Billy added, not wanting to be bested by a girl, “then the cat liking her makes sense. It’s something called a familiar is what it is. It acts as her agent in getting things done magically. Maybe that humming she does that the cat likes so much is her way of communicating with it, letting it know what she wants to have done.”

“Yeah?” Jeff said derisively. “Get done, like what?”

“Like getting you sick last year when you had to miss a week’s worth of schoolwork,” suggested Shelly. “Or your Dad coming home early from work that one time so he caught Billy and me in the bushes behind your house where we were peeking in the window to the downstairs bathroom while Caitlyn was getting ready to go somewhere.”

“We didn’t see anything,” said Billy in their defence. “She got the room all steamed up from her shower. But your Dad yelled at us like we’d just robbed a bank or something just as bad.”

“We were both scared sick and silly that he’d go and tell our parents,” said Shelly. “Mine never said anything to me about it, so I guess he didn’t let on to them about what we did. I’m still worried, though, that he just might take it into his head to blab about it later on. Then I’ll be grounded ’til I get married or go to college.”

“Don’t worry about stuff like that,” said Jeffy. “If my Dad was going to let the cat out of the bag about that—so to speak—he would have done it right after he caught you, maybe even with you right there when he made the phone call to your folks. If this happened a while ago…” Jeffy shook his head knowingly. “He’s probably forgotten all about it already.” 

“You really think so?” Shelly asked hopefully. 

Jeff assured her that there was nothing to worry about from his old man.

“But what about the witch thing?” Billy asked. “Are you sure your sister isn’t part of a coven or something like that?”

“Coven?” Jeffy said. He stopped to think for a long minute before shaking his head. “I don’t think so. I mean I don’t know many of her friends but the ones I do sure don’t seem anything like the witches you hear about in stories.”

“Maybe today’s modern witches are different,” Shelly offered. “And if so, how can we be sure of anything? I mean be certain whether she is or isn’t.”

Jeffy shrugged. “Caity and I get along really well and she’s pretty easy to talk to,” he said. “Best I can think to do is ask her. I’m sure she’ll tell me the truth.”

Neither Billy nor Shelly was quite convinced. However they both assured their friend that what he had proposed seemed to be the best plan under the circumstances. Each of them hid their right hands behind their backs so Jeffy wouldn’t see their crossed fingers.

Shelly still couldn’t get the idea out of her mind that Jeffy’s sister might be a witch or something equally as bizarre. As she walked the few blocks with Billy to his house before heading on home herself, they talked things over until Billy felt it was all totally futile. There was no way they would come to an agreement about the subject just by talking about it. What they needed was definite proof about the girl.

“Did you say girl?” Shelly asked accusingly. “Caitlyn turned fourteen two months ago. She’s a woman, my friend. A full-fledged, menstruating wom…” Right then in the middle of a word in the middle of a sentence, Shelly had an epiphany, a leap not of faith but to a sudden understanding of what might be the crux of the matter. It concerned Caitlyn’s starting having her period, her menses, puberty, the beginning of sexual maturity. She told Billy that she recalled reading somewhere that some ancient wisdom ascribed magical properties to the time in a girl’s life. “That’s when she’s most open to spiritual manipulation by the powers of good and evil,” she said as if it was a truth that she had intensely studied until she was due accolades for her research. 

“Like being open to a spiritual awakening,” said Billy uncertainly, “through her cat?”

“Well,” Shelly said, quickly coming to a stop since she and Billy were now directly in front of his house. “Maybe I make it sound a lot simpler than it actually is. But, yes, I guess that’s the main gist of it.” 

“And you think Caitlyn has been in communication with Shady from who she gets the power to do.... Well, stuff I guess is all that we can call it. Is that what you’re telling me?” 

“That’s it in a nutshell,” said Shelly. “But it’s only a big maybe right now. I can’t be really sure that’s what this is all about.” 

Billy stood silent for a moment, thinking. “Are you old enough to have had your first period?” he finally asked.

“About the same time that Caitlyn did, and I’m a year younger than she is,” she said proudly. Then, after a moment her demeanour changed from pride to something worrisome as the memory of that event washed over her. “Freaked me out like nothing else I’ve ever gone through ever did. Scary as hell.”

“And did your becoming a woman give you any special powers like we’re saying that Caity might have? You know—witch powers?” 

Shelly laughed as if Billy had just told her the funniest joke. “First of all,” she said, “I don’t have a cat. And secondly, when the freakiness of it wore off I got too busy checking myself out naked in the mirror to see what other changes my body might have in store for me.”

Shelly’s very personal admission made Billy’s whole body redden and go hot in embarrassment. He stuttered that he thought he heard his Mom calling even though Shelly hadn’t heard anything of the sort. Hoping that that excuse was sufficient he turned and rushed up the path to his house and slammed the front door behind him. It was only when he caught his breath that he realized his friend had given him an opportunity to ask what she saw when she studied her naked body in the mirror. He figured that no matter what answer she gave him it would surely have been enough to fuel his fervid imagination for days to come. 

“Witch, witch, witch,” Jeffy said aloud to himself behind the closed door of his bedroom. And then: “But which witch is which?” That little piece of wordplay made him laugh for about a second, then his mind got serious again. Caity, a witch? he thought. Yeah, that should make me laugh, right?

The answer to his own question should unquestionably have been in the positive. Still, there was at least some evidence to bear out the idea that she maybe possibly could be a practitioner of the dark arts, using Shady as her familiar to help whatever spells she wanted to cast. But what kind of magical mayhem would his sweet and gentle natured sister need to perform?

At that moment there was the subtle sound of someone or something scratching at his door. When he was only five years old or so he and Caitlyn used just such scratching at the other’s door as a code for who was there and to please be let in. Assuming it was his sister playing some kind of childish game he went and opened the door, ready to hear what she had to say. 

There was no one there, at least not at eye level. A low rumble emanating from near floor level drew his gaze downward. There was Shady and she was looking at her mistress’s brother, right in the eye, giving him a chill of something akin to fear but less intense. The cat vocalized a three note muttered yowl that Jeffy took as a warning. 

Shady then squatted and peed on the floor in the hall in front of the boy’s bedroom door. She then hissed loudly as if for effect and then sauntered away towards the stairs leading to the living room on the first floor.

Later that day Jeffy and Caitlyn sat on the couch in the living room, reminiscing on how Shady had come to live with the Drether family. He knew that Shady had appeared on the deck attached to the back of their house one rainy afternoon. He also knew that Caity had opened the sliding glass door only to be surprised by the cat coming in and affectionately rubbing her whole body against the girl’s legs. That was when Jeffy came on the scene. The cat purred loud enough to be heard by the boy, several rooms away in the kitchen. He tried to stroke the animal as it cozied up to his sister’s leg. All he got for this friendly action was a nasty scratch on the back of his hand. The line had been drawn; the cat had showed its preference for Caitlyn over Jeffy without any doubt about it whatsoever. Later the black feline made its choice of humans even more apparent when it swatted at both Mr. and Mrs. Drether. She coupled this with a deep throated warning growl and a snarl that one would assume to have come from a much larger member of the family Felidae of which Shady was definitely a significant though much smaller example. There was no doubt about it; Shady belonged to Caitlyn and to no one else.

Jeffy usually loved to hear his sister laugh, her pure alto voice rising in an inimitable trill of sheer delight. This time, though, he shuddered at the note of derision her laughter held. “A witch?” she asked, still tittering happily. “Are you serious?” She then checked the mirth in her voice and looked her younger brother in the eye. “And if you are, then tell me this: Are you out of your flipping mind?”

Jeffy blamed the notion on Billy and whose mere possibility was seconded by Shelly. He had promised his friends he would look into the matter and get back to them with what he found out. “I knew from the start that it sounded stupid,” he said sheepishly. “But a promise is a promise and, well…” He let the words hang there, a subject and verb devoid of an object to make the sentence whole and actually say something.

Even so, Caitlyn caught on to what her brother was trying to say. 

“Only a novice,” she admitted with a sigh. “Not a real witch in any sense of the word, even though my familiar has found and claimed me.”

“Shady,” Jeffy whispered and his sister nodded. 

“Anyway, whatever I am I really don’t know what to do with it. With Shady’s help I turned one of the lab frogs at school into a turtle but it died before I came home. So, if I’m a witch, I’m not a very good one.”

“I guess it takes a lot of practice,” Jeffy said, trying to sound like he understood more than he did. “You’ll get better at it the more you try.”

“That’s just it,” she said with a tinge of sadness informing her tone of voice. “I don’t even know if I want to be better at it. Or even if I really want to do whatever it is that witches do at all.” 

“Well,” said her brother, still feeling like he had something profound to tell. “Then you’ve got a lot of thinking to do before you say yes or no to whatever it is you’re trying to decide about. To magic or not to magic—that is the question.” 

The melodramatic way that he made his silly proclamation caused his sister to laugh the way he loved to hear; her being honest, happy and fun loving and letting the laughter just pour out of her like a sonic fountain of delight. Just hearing it made Jeffy shudder with an unrelenting tide of glee cascading through him

“I’ll leave you to your decision making,” he said as he left the room. As he walked through the door he passed Shady coming in from the hall. The door to his sister’s bedroom remained open. He slowed down and then stopped in the middle of the hall as he heard her talking to the cat. “What do you think I should do, Shady?” she asked seriously. Shady rattled off a series of vocalizations that sounded like an alien language. He was surprised when, after Shady stopped “talking,” Caitlyn said, “Oh, you really think so?”

The cat then spoke one quick, elongated meow which elicited the reply from the boy’s sister, “Well, I guess there’s only one thing to do, then.” As he resumed his sauntering way down the hall to his own room his mind raced in several directions at once. Nothing he thought, assumed or seemed to understand made any sense to him now. His mind was a ship without a tiller or a sail. He was foundering in a sea of thoughts that seemed to be created within whose only purpose was to drive him crazy if he would only let them. Before they could do their worst to him, though, he heard a loud crash come from his sister’s room accompanied by the terrified and anguished shriek of a cat in great pain and peril.

When he raced back to Caitlyn’s room he found his sister with a bloody pair of scissors in one hand and a dead, disembowelled Shady dangling by its tail in the other. 

“No more familiar,” she said breathlessly and shook her head. “Not a witch. No, no, not a witch and never will be.” 

Luckily Caity and Jeffy had been left alone. Their father was at work and their mother had to do some last minute grocery shopping for a few missing ingredients for a recipe she was intent on trying out. Had either of them been home when, as Jeffy later thought of the incident, Caity temporarily lost her mind and offed the cat, then there would have been an immense degree of drama punctuated by much screaming, yelling, crying and the slamming of doors as both the Drether children were relegated to their rooms for much of the foreseeable future. 

As it was they spent their free time in the productive pursuit of a much less negative existence once their parents got home. This pursuit consisted of them digging a four foot deep hole beneath the ancient maple tree whose thickly leaved branches shaded a good two thirds of the backyard. It was the shade underneath the canopy provided by this tree that had given Caitlyn the inspiration for the name for the black cat whose grave they were presently digging. 

The job took less time than either of them thought it would. As they went back into the house they talked about what they would say to their folks about the absence of Shady. It was quickly decided that they had discovered Shady missing when they Caitlyn got home from school. They would also make sure that they were both present when the initial lie was told so that both of them would later know what was said and thereby avoiding the possibility of their individual stories about what happened to Shady not agreeing. Jeffy recalled such a disastrous thing happening in a novel he read that was geared toward middle schoolers and he was determined that such circumstances would not happen in this very scary instance in his and his sister’s lives. 

Jeffy’s fears never came true. His and Caitlyn’s folks bought their story at face value. Jeffy was sure that this was partly due to Caitlyn’s pitiful crying jag as she recounted coming home from school to a silent and empty house. Her tears flowed even more freely as she described the shock at not being greeted by Shady’s calming presence and mewling insistence that she be picked up and cuddled. 

“I looked everywhere,” she blubbered. “Everywhere! I ran up and down the street calling her name. That’s when Jeffy came home and I told him what happened and we both looked high and low, each of calling Shady! Shady! Shady!”

The melodrama continued for some time thereafter as their parents did their best to comfort the girl and calm her down. Caitlyn allowed them to be parentally concerned and caring as her apparent distress lessened to a point where they could cajole her into having something to eat, seeing that it was dinner time, and perhaps go to bed a little earlier than usual, maybe with the help of an over-the-counter sleep aid to minimize the sting of loss.

Yes, Caitlyn played her part very well, indeed.

Both Drether siblings were very circumspect in how they spoke to their parents when the subject of Shady came up. To the relief of both of them such nervous conversations only happened twice, both times happened individually with their mother. Their precaution of being sure that their individual versions gelled to such an extent that there would be no question that they were telling the truth turned out to be a stroke of adolescent genius. Their mother’s questions about the loss of the family (or, at least Caitlyn’s) cat were the same for the both of them and their answers were so close that, in essence, their mother really had only one conversation on the matter—times two. 

The feeling that they had gotten away scot-free with a horrific secret was a heady experience for Caitlyn but a nerve wracking one for Jeffy. “You know we’ll have to play up our not knowing what happened to Shady to the hilt for the rest of our lives,” he said to her with a bit of a tremor in his voice. “Like, we’ll be living a lie until mom and dad both pass away. Doesn’t that bother you in the least?”

Caitlyn didn’t even bother to think about how to answer that question. She immediately shook her head and said, cavalierly, “Nope. Not in the least bit.”

Her brother was floored by the admission. Pragmatically he understood the attitude behind what she said. He just couldn’t fathom her being so cynical about the whole thing that something so horrifyingly gory didn’t seem to bother his sister at all. She killed her own pet kitty, for God’s sake, he thought. Something like that has to have some kind of adverse effect on a person. Doesn’t it?

In his sister’s case the tacit answer to that question was apparently not. 

The incidents and decisions and gestures of life all moved smoothly along as such things often do in the course of the passage of time. Such was the case with summer inexorably leading into autumn that year for the Drether family. Caitlyn had already graduated from middle school and, in collusion with her parents, the decision as well as the arrangements had long since been made that she would attend a boarding prep school some seventy miles away for her high school work. She would return home for all major holidays as well as her and her brother’s birthdays. As was traditional in the Drether family, neither parent expected gifts on either Mothers’ or Fathers’ Day; such tangible expressions of love and affection would only be presented on each parent’s birthday and neither to exceed ten dollars in expense. 

The weekend before Caity’s exodus from the homeplace her folks threw a sort of a bon voyage party for her in the form of a meal of barbecued meats and grilled vegetables served around the picnic table that was the centrepiece of the back deck. Decoratively balled watermelon waited in the refrigerator in the kitchen to be served as the dessert course. All the food was simple and unadulterated by much in the way of seasoning or added flavours. That, however, was the way that each of the Drethers liked their food, so everyone was satisfied and pleasantly stuffed when the meal was over. 

As he was scrubbing out the charcoal pan of the grill before covering it for later use, Mister Drether’s attention was drawn by an unusual feature of the backyard that he hadn’t previously noticed. “Jeffy,” he said. “Why is there a big patch of grass under that tree that’s so much lighter in colour than the rest of the lawn?”

Jeffy was nervous as he answered this question with a statement he had long ago prepared for just such a contingency. “It was a bare patch that I noticed a while ago,” he said. “I reseeded and watered it, made sure the seeds took and so now…” He purposefully let the final sentence lapse to silence, hoping that his father would understand the implication of what he had just told him.

There was no further discussion. The explanation was accepted and the reason for its being given quickly forgotten.

That, though, was hardly the end of the matter. Several weeks after Caitlyn had left for school Jeffy was mowing the lawn one last time before the chill of autumn swept in to claim its right of being. As he approached the patch of lawn that was now evenly coloured with the rest of the grass an increasingly unnerving feeling of doom rose in him. The air around him seemed to buzz as if with ill heard voices until he was at the periphery of the grave itself when what had seemed to be many voices suddenly coalesced into one angrily whispering susurrant tone hanging at the farthest edge of his hearing. The first word he thought he heard was either “betrayer” or “betrayal.” The second one was the one that really frightened him. Though it was still whispered, it came through loud and clear, accompanied by the vision of the bloody face of Shady, spitting blood as she hissed the word, “Revenge!” 

Later, when he called Caitlyn at school and told her of this unsettling experience, she laughed. “You’re letting it get to you,” she said in a placating tone one might use to comfort a child who has been frightened by thunder. “It’s your nerves getting the better of you,” she rationalized. Then, after a heartbeat of a pause, her voice lowered as she asked, “Are you feeling guilty about what happened to Shady?” 

When he muttered a non-answer she told that she was the one who shouldered the blame for how Shady died and that Jeffy had nothing to concern himself in the matter. His sister’s acceptance of the truth of what had really happened, of what she had done, comforted Jeffy to some extent. As he hung up the phone, though, he could not help but come to the conclusion that he had at least some degree of culpability in the cat’s unnecessary demise.

Caitlyn was nearly in tears as she stood dead centre of Shady’s now invisible grave. 

She was home for Thanksgiving break. Her brother had waylaid her at the front door before their parents were even aware of her arrival and led her out to the backyard. He chattered nervously all the way about how he was so glad to see her, was her trip back home easy and uneventful and there was something he just had to show her right away.

“I guess so,” she said semi-sarcastically as she felt his tight grip on her hand in order to lead her to the place she was sure he was aiming for. “But couldn’t it wait until I said hello to Mom and Dad?” 

Jeffy shook his head as soon as he stopped her at the exact point in the backyard lawn where he had placed her. She did not recognize the spot since she was expecting a bare or, at least, a spot sparsely covered in grass. She looked down and could not see her feet; the grass was so dense and overgrown at this spot as it was throughout the entire lawn. “This is it?” she asked. “I would have never known.”

“You will soon enough,” he said, not meaning to sound mysterious even though the way he couched his remark had a rather enigmatic ring to it. “Just wait.”

It did not take long. Caitlyn’s and Jeffy’s parents came out into the backyard to welcome their daughter back home after being away so long at school. The young woman they found, slumped forward into their son’s arms, was a teary eyed, blubbering mess. 

Caitlyn later explained away her little breakdown at Thanksgiving dinner as a result of her talk with Jeffy about the boy at school who she thought was interested in her but who instead had said some really nasty things about her behind her back. The story was true but it wasn’t something she had confided to her brother. It was only an excuse so she wouldn’t have to tell her folks why she was crying so piteously when they came out to greet her. Her mother commiserated shamelessly as she recalled having gone through something similar with a boy when she was in college. Her husband eyed her suspiciously since this wasn’t a story she had ever confided to him in all their years of courtship and marriage. 

Later, when she and Jeffy were alone she told him that she couldn’t talk about what had really happened in the yard. It was too gruesome and heart-breaking. The only real clue he had to what she was talking about was when she sighed deeply and muttered something about “That poor, poor kitty.”

It was deep in the night-time and the rest of the house, as far as Jeffy was aware, was all asleep. He, however, could not seem to find that familiar solitude in his own unconsciousness, no matter how intently he stared at the gloom shrouded ceiling of his bedroom. He tossed and turned, went to the bathroom even though he didn’t really need to, punched his pillow as if it was the bed’s fault for his frustrating bout of insomnia. His last idea to help himself into the land of sleepy rest was to open his window in the hopes that fresh air would help him slumber. It was the least helpful idea he had all night.

Not only was the air too chilly to be conducive to lulling the mind down into its own dreaming depths, there was also the high pitched murmur of a female voice out there in a one sided conversation with an unseen someone. Of course it was Caitlyn, talking to the air. As soon as he saw that it was her and there was no one in the yard to join her in her chatting, he knew right away who she was talking to.

Shady. Or at least the supposed ghost of the deceased kitty with love only for his sister and the wrath of the devil for everyone else. That, however, was when the cat was alive. Now Caitlyn’s fluttering voice told a much different story.

“You see, don’t you?” she said to her unseen audience of one. “I simply had to do it. You were the one thing that stood in my way of being a normal girl. Everyone pegged me as being a witch and…”

There came a short burst of hisses, growls and the tuh-tuh-tuh sound of feline expectoration all jumbled in a seemingly random pattern. It was a pattern, it became clear, that Caitlyn understood without any trouble at all. “Well, yes,” she said, “You were my familiar and you were a very good one, too. You did everything that I asked of you. But don’t you see? I was done with all that and you wouldn’t let go... You wouldn’t let me go or let me let go of what I once was and didn’t want or need to be anymore…”

Jeffy was tired. He lowered the window sash so that it remained open only a few inches to let in some fresh air with a minimum of cold. When he got into the bed this time he slipped away from reality and fell asleep in only a few minutes.

He was awakened not long after that by a rapidly frantic knocking at his door. In a sleep-muffled voice he told who was there to come in. Jeffy was had only just come out of an unsettling dream about Shady approaching him with hatred in her ghostly eyes, ready to envelop him with her ectoplasmic corpus and so have him become an intrinsic part of her. With those images still instilled in his mind he was quite unprepared to see his sister come through the door holding out her badly scratched, bitten and bleeding arms to him. “See what she did to me,” she said fearfully. Seeing her thus and hearing the terror fully implicit in her voice, he was jarred to the sharpest attention to his surroundings he had ever experienced. 

“Shady?” he said, finally finding his voice, though it was barely a whisper. 

“It was terrible, Jeffy,” she said, near to tears. “She came at me again and again, each time either biting or scratching, all the while her thoughts accused me of murder and black magic and being the main inspiration for the evil she’d become.”

It was then that Caitlyn broke down into a prolonged fit of sobs and stifled wails as her beleaguered spirit let loose its anguish.

As he embraced and comforted his sister, Jeffy also worried at the fact that all the physical torture Caitlyn had endured had been caused by a ghost, a wisp of what had once been the essence of the personality not of a human being but a mere cat. A cat of a particularly evil mien, it was true, but just a cat nonetheless. A cat’s ghost had done all this, he thought, trembling as he murmured consoling words into his sister’s ear. My God, what do we do now?

He did the only thing, at that very moment, that he could think to do. He slathered triple antibiotic ointment on Caitlyn’s pinhole bite marks and the shallow as well as the deep scratches on her arms, chest and face. He understood that his dear sister had been so freaked out by her experience in the backyard that she was now almost totally incapable of making the simplest decision. It was up to him, then, to lead her, zombie-like, to her bedroom and help her strip down to her bra and panties before turning to leave her to, hopefully, a good night’s rest.

“Jeffy, no!” she said. “Please, I can’t be alone.”

Jeffy started to protest with the lame rationalization that he had his own bed to go to. Seeing the look of abject terror on his sister’s face changed his mind and so he said nothing. The compromise was that he would guard her door so that no ghostly kitties would come in to do her any harm that night. 

Needless to say neither Drether sibling was able to get a restful sleep that night. 

Almost all of the clothing that Caitlyn had brought home with her from school was in three drawers of the dresser in her old bedroom. To pack her stuff in order to be ready to go back, all she had to do was pile that three drawers’ worth of stuff into her suitcase and the task would be mostly done. As simple as that tidy little chore was, she never had a chance to start. She didn’t even begin the first step of the process by getting her suitcase out from under the bed.

Her mother’s terrified shriek coming from the backyard changed all the girl’s carefully laid out plans in a single split second. 

She met Jeffy in the hall and they nearly knocked one another over in their rush to get downstairs and out into the backyard to be of whatever help that they could. What they saw as they came through the back door onto the deck stopped them dead in their tracks. Jeffy ran into his sister, nearly knocking her over as he braked to a skidding halt right behind her.

Their mother stood transfixed before the hovering, smudgy visage of what looked like the hissing face of a black cat. She held her left forearm with blood oozing from between her fingers. Both Jeffy and Caitlyn looked from their mother’s wounded arm to the thick tendril of blood dripping from the mouth of the ghoulish kitty. “Leave our mother alone!” Jeffy shouted at the thing, trying vainly to draw its attention to himself.

Caitlyn then shouted something that her brother couldn’t make out; as if it were in some language he had never heard used before. It was thick and guttural, sounding as if it was meant to express concepts no longer understood by the philosophies of humanity. It was this, then, that made the apparition turn away from Mrs. Drether and direct its maleficent glare at Caitlyn. It only studied her for a moment before letting out a terrifying yowl that hurt Jeffy’s ears. 

Then, just as suddenly, it pounced, its smokelike body enveloping the girl until she disappeared in a swirl of thick, putrid dust, still chanting imprecations in the ancient language that she only knew and but which, it was evident, the ghost of Shady understood all too well.

From Jeffy’s point of view it seemed that the spirit of Caitlyn’s erstwhile familiar was devouring its former mistress. Soon, though, Caitlyn pulled free of the dark maelstrom and landed with a wind stealing thud on the hard ground, unconscious and unmoving.

The apparition, then, quickly disappeared as if a wind had come along and dissipated the darkness and rage in a single blow even though no one in that yard felt any gust of air at all. Jeffy and his mother ran to Caitlyn. Mrs. Drether, whose arm was still coated in a patina of blood, prattled on about her own experience at the mercy of the devilish thing and how she thought that she was losing her mind. 

Jeffy was left to deal with both females of his family. He did his best to console his mother while at the same time trying to revive his sister with the skills learned in a poorly recalled course in CPR. “Please, Mom,” he said, annoyed at her constant jabber and inability to be of any assistance. “Let me... Let me do this…”

Caitlyn coughed and moaned, then blew a long sigh in her brother’s face. She looked at him for a moment in confusion, then smiled brightly and coughed again as she tried to get up. 

“Be careful,” he told her, noting in his mind that their mother’s running commentary had ceased. “You took a pretty heavy hit when you fell.”

Caitlyn nodded and moved more carefully as she got to her feet. 

Jeffy rose and hugged her, asking, “What the hell was that?”

His sister shook her head. 

“I mean, does this mean it’s over?”

She looked at him enquiringly. “Over?” she said in a raspy voice that sounded to Jeffy as if it had a weird undertone of a purr in it. A light came into the girl’s eyes as if she suddenly understood what this boy meant by his words. “Oh yes, it’s over,” she said earnestly. 

Then, after a moment’s pause, she said something that made Jeffy shudder in realization of what had just happened. “And now it’s really just beginning, too,” is what she said.

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