A Ghost Story (Only It Isn’t a Story)

As promised, the second of my two cat-related ghost stories….

My three cats have very distinct personalities. Since their clowder alpha, poor little mink-furred Belladonna, passed away in 2020, none of the three has assumed that role. Instead, they jockey for an ever-shifting Top Cat position.

But Zoe, at 19 by far the oldest and most frail of the bunch, is definitely the most psychically tuned—the Familiar, if you will. Despite the fact that the two of us merely tolerate one another (she was my daughter’s cat, left to me when my errant offspring moved out and developed a cat fur allergy), I appreciate Zoe’s finely honed ability to sense the Other Side. Over our years together, numerous friends have witnessed this plain little striped alley cat suddenly assume meerkat sentinel stance, her frightened eyes following something unseen as it moves across the room. Occasionally, terrified by the Invisible that she has witnessed, Zoe has rushed to hide beneath the furniture, to be coaxed out only with difficulty.

Lilith, on the other hand, is the Scaredy Cat. The Growler. From the moment she was rescued as a feral kitten, she has trusted no one or nothing but me. She is my sweet baby who sprawls across me each morning, purring and bestowing tiny kisses. But the moment anyone else walks into the house—in fact, the moment that anyone even walks by the house—Lilith becomes her alter ego, The Invisible Cat. Growling, she scurries as fast as her fat little legs will take her, rushing up the stairwell to crouch at the back of the closet or under the bed.

Puffy Socks, though, is the Greeter. So friendly that he would hold a flashlight for the burglar, Puff assumes that everyone who enters our home has come to see him, and does his utmost to welcome the guest. Crawling unbidden onto laps, kissing noses and licking cheeks, Puff is ever The Cat Who Thinks He Is a Dog.

So, it was bearing these three personalities in mind that I pieced together a strange encounter on a hot, sticky night in August.

Now, Puff’s preferred nightly resting place in the summer months is the living room couch. He condescends to saunter upstairs and sleep on my bed only if the night is cool enough that I’ve opened the upstairs windows and turned on the big box fans to send cooling draughts across the room. Lilith, on the other hand, prefers sleeping in the bathroom sink. She enjoys the cool porcelain, and since I always make at least one, if not more, nocturnal runs, she can chirrup at me to be petted. Zoe, frail, as I mentioned, sleeps away both nights and days curled into the rocking chair in the corner of my bedroom.

That is why, on this very hot night, with not a window open or a breath of air stirring, I was startled as I lay in bed, reading before bedtime, when Puff rushed up the stairs and plopped himself on the foot of the bed, angling his body to look at the doorway. A moment later, Lilith, eschewing her sink, rushed in and huddled on the bed beside him. And Zoe, sound asleep on her rocker, woke to lift her head and assume an alert stance. All three stared at the apparently-empty bedroom doorway.

After a few moments, uneasy, I watched as Puff hopped off the bed, and, carefully edging out the door, proceeded to his food dish in the hall. I followed him, switching on the light, and watched as he looked upward a few times before finally eating a few munchies, arching his back as he would if I had stroked him while he ate. Then he ambled downstairs. Puzzled, I returned to my bed, but had just picked up my book again when Lilith, hunched and nervous, began to growl…to growl and glare at the doorway. And Zoe, the somnolent, jumped from the rocker and onto the foot of the bed, assuming meerkat stance as she scanned the doorway.

At that point, I’d had enough. I felt no threat, no uneasiness, but I was terribly unsettled. “I don’t know who You are or what You want,” I announced loudly, “but You’re upsetting my cats. You need to leave. Now.” Then I marched into the hallway and switched on the salt lamp. Looking over the balcony railing, I noted that Puff had not gone back to sleep, but was sitting up, attentive and watchful. From his vantage point on the hassock downstairs, he could view the whole upper hall.

Perhaps five minutes later, the whole crew suddenly relaxed. Zoe climbed back onto her rocker cushion and settled down to sleep. Lilith marched into the bathroom and hopped into her sink. And, downstairs, Puff curled up on his favorite couch cushion.

Greeter, Growler and Familiar. Each of them sensed, reacted to, something I could not see, just as they would react, individually, to any other person who entered my home.

As I said, I felt no threat, no coldness—nothing, in fact, that would usually be associated with an Otherwordly Visitation.

But I left the salt lamp burning all night, just the same.

If you liked this tale, you might also enjoy the fictionalized story of the real Ghost Kitty who has always lived in my home. You’ll find the poem, Ghost Kitty Walks, in the Archives, published October 30, 2017.

Belladonna Night Moon

I invite everyone reading this essay to tell me, in the Comments section, about their own very best pet ever…because our beloved fur friends deserve to be remembered.

On a wall of my upstairs hallway hangs a framed poster from the 57th Annual Halloween Festival in Irvington, Indiana.

Irvington is a most unusual place.  Named for writer Washington Irving, author of  “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, the entire town is one large historical district.  Among its many claims to fame are the home where Sojourner Truth once spent a week as a guest; the building that housed a pharmacy which John Dillinger robbed; a stop along the route of the Lincoln Ghost Train; and the house where America’s first serial killer, H.H. Holmes, dismembered and buried a 10-year-old child.

With these and a dozen other tales of ghosts and fame and antiquities, Irvington, with some justification, goes a little bit nuts at Halloween.  Even during pandemic, Irvington’s famed Ghost Walks were held—somewhat subdued, but ending, as always, at the Lincoln Ghost Train corner.  And each year the festival sponsors a contest for artists to design the official Halloween poster.

Before it, regrettably, became a banal chain pancake house, I’d eaten at Dufours, the Dillinger-robbed-pharmacy-turned-café, and seen these Halloween posters adorning the walls.  All were marvelous, but my unquestioned favorite was the almost-photographic likeness of a black cat peering out from a background of orange-red sky and leafless black trees. Poster (3) It caught my attention because my own cat, Belladonna Night Moon, might have modeled for the painting, so much did she resemble the cat in the poster.  I yearned to own it, but the Halloween poster prints were always of a very limited run, expensive and rarely available.

But one spring my sister-in-law declared her preference for a birthday afternoon spent combing the fascinating small shops of Irvington.  In the midst of that expedition, I came across one of the last framed posters of the black cat.  With some trepidation, I asked the price.  Forty dollars.  Forty dollars?!  How could I justify spending that much money? I didn’t even have a place to hang it! But…it looked just like Bella.  My precious Bella, my best cat ever.  And the poster was a collector’s item.  How could I not buy it?  Fighting a swiftly-losing battle with the remnants of my common sense, I slapped down my credit card.

Hauling my prize home, I discovered the perfect space waiting in my upstairs hallway, and proudly hung what I now thought of as Bella’s portrait.

The real Belladonna Night Moon had come to me as a porch rescue: a half-starved, lost kitten found by a friend one cold November night.  After some minimal arm-twisting, I agreed to take the kitten.  It was a decision I would never regret.  Although not the brightest bulb in the shedBellMimi (2) (“The only thing she knows is, My name is Bella,” my daughter joked), Bella brimmed with good nature and sweetness…unless she was angry with me.  Then she would jump up on her back feet, and, displaying ‘jazz hands’, smack me on either side of my knee and run like hell.

She was a cat who came when called; who saw me to the door in the mornings and met me there when I came home at night.  When I could not sleep, she would lay stretched out beside me, my hand gently stroking her fat little tummy, until we both drifted off to dreams.  Despite her lack of brainpower, she ruled my other three cats as alpha, and they all but bowed to her.

But as time went on, it was obvious my little black cat wasn’t completely well.  Repeated bouts of respiratory infection and pneumonia robbed her of her meow; “Gak!” was the best she could manage.  Eye infections followed, and anorexia.  At last I received a diagnosis: FHV.  Feline herpes virus.  A disease which would flare any time the animal was stressed.  A disease for which there was no treatment, and no cure.

But I was not about to give up on my best baby cat, not without a fight.  Nursing her through repeated bouts of the virus, tempting her with exotic foods for the anorexia, we struggled on together for close to 18 years.  But thyroid disease and renal failure compounded her ailments.  Time after time in the final two years of her existence, I was sure that I had lost her.  Each time, valiant, determined, she rallied to experience months, then weeks, and finally days, of seeming wellness.  But at last, her strength failing, I knew it was time to give my sweet little friend rest.

I knelt beside her as, at the hands of an experienced and kind veterinarian, Bella went ever so gently across the Bridge. To the Ancient Egyptian afterworld of Amenti, I whispered to her, stroking her mink-soft fur; to the great Golden City of the Cats, Bubastis, where she would rest at the feet of the Goddess Bastet.

The next morning, heartbroken, I stood before my familiar Irvington Halloween poster and, perhaps for the first time, noted the date at the bottom of the print.  October 25, 2003.  Fifteen days before a starving kitten struggled onto a friend’s porch, and so into my life.  Perhaps the very day that she became lost—or went in search of me.

For any animal lover, there is always that one special pet who holds our heart cupped within their little paws.  On my wall, then, painted by the hand of an artist who never knew her, hangs a portrait of my little soul-mate cat, Bella.  Belladonna Night Moon, who sits at the feet of Goddess Bastet in the everlasting grainfields of Amenti.

Belladonna Night Moon
2003 – 2020

Again, I invite you to tell me in the Comments about YOUR best pet ever.  And if you enjoyed this post, you might also like “The Cat Who Thinks He Is a Dog”, which can be found in the archives from June 15, 2018.

Lilith, the Invisible Cat

§  Since beginning this blog, each year near Halloween I’ve shared a poem, always supernatural or otherworldly in nature.  I had a tough time continuing with that tradition this year!  §

Since the start of this blog in 2017, it’s been my custom to include some ghostly little poem for Halloween.  I began that tradition using a mysterious story poem that I’d written for youngsters, my great niece and nephew, titled Ghost Kitty Walks.  (They were thrilled when I sent them a print of their homemade storybook, now published on my blog.)

The following year, I continued with my “Second Annual!” Halloween tradition, using another story poem, one that I had written decades ago.  Struggling Home told an engaging supernatural tale.  But it also (as poetry often does for the soul of both author and reader) exorcised some old uneasiness and personal angst.  I’ve always thought it fitting that I began composing that poem to the rhythm of my steps one dark afternoon as I fought my way home through a torrential rainstorm, walking from a distant bus stop to my house.

Bearing those two posts in mind, in 2019 I sifted through my hundreds of unpublished poems  for a verse that I recalled having penned many years ago, Alicia Walks Softly.  This was yet another story poem, the tale of a ghost who walks nightly to weep at the site of her own grave.  It seemed appropriate for Halloween.  I wasted an hour or more poring through old ring binders and loose sheets of paper and computer files, but, unfortunately, could not find it.  I stumbled across countless verses that were indescribably awful (which sort of explains the “unpublished” part). Despite finding all those sad attempts, though, I also discovered a few poems that I had written well at surprisingly young ages.  Nevertheless, hunting for Alicia Walks Softly proved fruitless, and I realized I must have discarded it.  Sadly, I could recall only the first stanza and the final line of the poem–far too little to reconstruct it, even had I the impetus to do so–though perhaps I might, one day, attempt to do just that.

But as I sifted through reams of my old poetry, I came across one that, while definitely neither a story in verse nor a ghost poem, seemed to fit the bill for my 2019 Halloween-themed blog.  Certainly, it spoke to the seasonal topic of Halloween with its references to demons.  This time, though, the poem, Rooms of Darkness, spoke of true demons: the inescapable demons and devils of one’s heart and mind and soul; the demons that can, if we do not grapple with them, haunt us throughout our lifetimes.

Now the Halloween season of 2020 has rolled around to find me once more turning the pages of old-fashioned ring binders and searching through faint memories for something appropriate to this most disturbing of years.  I know very well that I’ve never written anything on the subject of plague…or riots and looting…or the horrific deaths of individuals at the hands of law enforcement…or entrenched racism…or wildfires burning through thousands of acres, leaving whole populations homeless and the earth scorched…or world leaders who threaten the 244-year-old history of the peaceful transference of power. Frightening as those subjects are (and they are a thousand times more terrifying than any supernatural story I’ve ever encountered), I have nothing in my accumulated verse that even remotely touches them.

In consequence, and perhaps hoping to escape some of the dreadfulness that has comprised this sad year, I find myself turning once more to a lighthearted story poem written for my great niece and nephew when they were small.  After all, The Invisible Man was once considered quite a creepy tale, wasn’t it?  So here, to give you a perhaps just the slightest smile in the midst of so much world-wide awfulness, or to provide a little story that you might take pleasure in sharing with the small children in your family is,

Pretty LilithLilith, The Invisible Cat

Lil2Small Lilith is a pretty cat,
Impeccable in grey.
Her white shirt front’s immaculate.
She’s dressed up every day

But Lilith is invisible.                Invisible.                                         Invisible.

LilithhidesSmall Lilith is invisible.
She hides herself away,
When people come to stay.
When children come to play,
Small Lilith goes away.
She hides there in the closet.
She hides there all the day.

Lil6

Small Lilith is a fraidy cat.
She doesn’t understand
That she could get soft pets and pats
From gentle, loving hands.

Lil7

And so she hides in corners dark–
In closets, under beds.
And shivers, shakes and trembles there,
And hangs her little head.

So Lilith stays invisible.             Invisible.                                       Invisible.

LilithhidesSmall Lilith stays invisible.
She hides herself away,
When people come to stay.
When children come to play,
Small Lilith goes away.

Lil8She hides among the pillows.
She hides there all the day.

The End

May your Halloween be free of both
imagined and this year’s frightfully true terrors.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “Ghost Kitty Walks”, published 10/30/2017, “Struggling Home”, from 10/31/2018, or “Rooms of Darkness”, to be found in the Archives from 10/30/2019

Rooms of Darkness

§  This year my annual Halloween poem speaks of true demons: the demons of one’s heart and mind and spirit…  §

Since beginning this blog in 2017, it’s been my brief tradition to include a ghostly little poem for Halloween.  I began with a sweet but mysterious story poem I wrote for my great niece and nephew, Ghost Kitty Walks, and continued in 2018 with another story poem I had written decades ago, Struggling Home–a work that, when written,  told an engagingly creepy ghost story while actually helping me exorcise some old anguish.

Bearing those two blog posts in mind, I searched through my hundreds (no exaggeration, this–quite genuinely several hundred) of poems for a verse also written many years ago, Alicia Walks Softly.  This was another story poem, about a ghost who walked nightly to weep at the site of her own grave.  It seemed an appropriately seasonal subject!  Unfortunately, I could not locate the poem.  I wasted a somewhat-pleasant hour sifting through ring binders and loose sheets and simply scads of poems, amusing myself,  reading a number of verses that were quite frankly awful (why in the name of God did I write that, and–bigger question–why on earth did I ever keep it?!), and astonishing myself with works I had forgotten and had, unbelievably, written, and written well, at very young ages.   Hunting for Alicia Walks Softly proved fruitless, though.  It was simply nowhere to be found.  And, sadly, I could recall only the first stanza and the final line of the work–far too little to reconstruct it.

But as I sifted through my poetry–so much written, so few (only six) ever published–I came across one that, while definitely neither a story in verse nor a ghost poem, seemed to fit the bill for my Halloween-themed blog.  Certainly, it spoke to the seasonal topic with its references to demons.  This time, though, my poem speaks of true demons: the demons and devils of one’s heart and serveimageES3CCUHSmind and soul.

And so, for this Halloween blog, I offer you Rooms of Darkness.

 

Rooms of Darkness

I sleep in rooms of darkness, no longer needing light.
But in my distant childhood, I feared the coming night,
for ghosts and devils, demons, each eve awaited me,
with caves formed by my covers the only place to flee.

No more such childish tremors.  The shadows of my room
mold not the shapes of devils from shades within the gloom.
I’ve not the indecision to open or to close
my eyes–to face the horror, or hide in shammed repose.

I am adult.  My demons stand squarely in the sun.
I’ve even less escape route.  There is no place to run
where heartache cannot conquer, nor need not locate me.
From loss, distress, confusion, there is no place to flee.

I vanquished childhood’s demons, I thought, but did not know
that creatures forged in sadness will follow where one goes.
The shades and shapes of sorrow still rule my troubled heart.
I’ve never quite forsaken my demons of the dark.

May you have a fun, happy and ghost-free Halloween!