My cat is haunted. I don’t mean that Marmalade is possessed, demonic, or evil (well, he does have an evil streak, but within the normal feline parameters). Rather, a ghost attached herself to him, the same way they often stick to specific houses or places.
The first time I saw the phantom, I froze. “What’s wrong, Christine?” asked my husband Jim. He looked up and gasped.
A floating figure — a short woman about my age, colored a translucent star-yellow — appeared to be connected to the cat by a yarn-like thread.
My husband and I nearly fell from our chairs. In contrast, if Marmalade noticed our guest, he didn’t seem to care.
The woman waved, and both Jim and I ran from the room.
After a few tense moments spent around the corner, we peeked back in. Marmalade rested in a chair, looking annoyed at the disturbance. The woman had not moved. When she noticed us, she waved again and, opening her mouth to mime talk, pointed at her throat.
“What do we do?” I asked Jim.
“Call a priest?”
I gave him a look.
“Okay, okay. Um, use a folklore cure? My grandma used to tell a story about a man who exorcised a ghost using salt, garlic and wine.”
We assembled the ingredients. Both cat and phantom looked on curiously.
The only wine we had was a sunset-pink rosé, which we emptied in a circle around the woman. White chunks of chopped garlic and salt soon also decorated our floor. The ghost tilted her head in confusion.
“There,” said Jim. “The ghost shouldn’t be able to leave that border, Christine.”
“But how do we get her to leave Marmalade alone?”
“There was something about a chant…”
Our cat had had enough of our antics. He jumped down and left the room. The ghost was pulled past our border via the thread as though the circle wasn’t there.
Jim and I stared at our ridiculous mess.
“I’ll get some rags,” he said.
“What do we do now?” I asked before answering myself: “We call a priest.”
Jim and I had gotten Marmalade a year ago. A coworker of my husband had found him, a ragged stray with his orange fur tangled and matted. Attempts to contact the owner had failed, and the coworker couldn’t take him — children, allergies — so he asked around and we adopted the cat.
At first, he was a timid cat, hiding himself away except for when he wanted food. Gradually, however, he got used to us and spent less time in the shadows and more time on our laps. Judging from his docile attitude, I didn’t think he had been on the streets for very long.
Overall, he was the perfect feline companion. “What kind of person,” I asked Jim, “would just leave Marmalade out on the streets like that?”
The priest who came to our house was a short, fat man. He sat in our living room, clutching a rosary. “So, Christine,” he said, “show me this cat.”
As if on cue, Marmalade stuck his orange face out from around a corner. The ghost also peered out, and smiled at the three of us. Marmalade still hadn’t shown any shock about his follower.
The priest jumped, his eyes widening as if in revelation, and muttered a Latin prayer. “I’m glad you called me. This is quite serious.” He nodded to himself “I’ll have to begin immediately.”
“What will you do, Father?” asked Jim.
From under his robe, the priest drew a wooden cross. “We’ll have to corner the cat so it can’t escape.”
Jim and I nodded, although we both knew that was easier said than done — Marmalade could be as slippery as a fish.
For the next hour, we tried to sneak up on Marmalade. He gave us angry looks and sprinted off, pulling his spectral guest with him. She always sported a warm grin.
“That,” said the priest, “is a ploy. The ghost may look affable, but I’m sure she belongs to Satan.”
I mouthed to Jim, “You sure about this guy?”
“Nope,” he mouthed back.
Finally, I had a chance and scooped Marmalade into my arms. The priest wasted no time, raising his cross and chanting Latin. The specter’s color began to change, turning from a moon-yellow to a faint red, like a flame. She noticed and gasped. Her face turned into a pained expression.
“It’s working!” said Jim.
I stared on uneasily. Ghost or not, she hadn’t actually caused us any harm, and the priest’s admonition that her friendly exterior was a façade hadn’t convinced me that she harbored any evil ambitions.
Marmalade meowed. I looked down at the orange fluff in my arms and noticed him gazing at the ghost. And I realized why he had never worried about her.
“Stop,” I cried out.
Both Jim and the priest looked startled. “What? Why?”
I spoke to the phantom. “You’re Marmalade’s old owner, aren’t you? No one put him out on the street. You had an accident, he got out, and you’ve been looking for him ever since.”
The ghost panted and slowly regained her star-like color. She glanced at me, and for once she didn’t smile. She frowned, as though remembering something painful, and nodded.
“Yes, but, well, this changes nothing,” said the priest. “I still need to perform the exorcism and rid this—”
“No, you don’t,” said Jim, half-leading, half-pushing him out the door.
The next few months took some adjustment. We eventually figured out a system to talk to the ghost using a Ouija board. Her name, we learned, is Stephanie. She had a serious accident, and during the funeral preparations, when family came in and out of her house every day, Marmalade had gotten out.
“Don’t worry,” I told her. “No more exorcisms. You can stay with Marmalade — and us — for as long as you’d like.”
Will Shadbolt has been dreaming up stories for as long as he can remember. His short fiction has previously appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Nanoism, and other venues.