A black cat for Halloween.The rest is on my website at www.MaryMarvella.com
Maybe Hell would have been better than this non-existence. Here there was neither dark nor light, neither cold nor heat, only gray, swirling fog. He had been excluded from life and death, exiled, without the human contact he needed to feel alive.
Here he knew neither Heaven, nor Hell. He did not deserve to be in Heaven. Nor had he earned eternal damnation. Almost anything would be better than two hundred years of frustration and nothingness with no end in sight.
Sorry, I didn’t mean it. Lord, I didn’t mean it. Hell is forever. This state of limbo would finally end someday, if he could only make people understand why he appeared as he did, what he was trying to do. He had to keep trying to reach Sabrina. She was his chance for salvation. He had no choice.
“Granny, I saw the Demon Cat last night.” Sabrina Louise Boyd paced the bright, spacious old kitchen. Flour sack print curtains stirred through open windows bringing fragrances of honeysuckle and wild flowers with the warm, late spring night air. She stopped to clear plates from the scarred plank table.
Granny Pearl rose to help. “Where’d you see him?“ The tiny woman patted Sabrina’s shoulder. Granny had moved in with Sabrina’s parents to tend the children, just as she had tended
Sabrina’s mother as a child. “Tell Granny everything.”
“I left the hospital after my shift, and stopped in the parking lot to look up at the stars. I was thinking about Mama and Daddy looking down at me. I still miss them so much it hurts.” Sabrina urged Granny back to her seat at the table and refilled her iced tea glass.
“I know Baby, I miss them, too.” Granny’s gnarled fingers stroked Sabrina’s hand. She lifted her glass, still looking into Sabrina’s eyes, sipping her tea.
It was eerie. “You know how you can feel someone watching you?” Sabrina rubbed her arms, shivering at the memory of slanted, fiery green eyes staring at her.
“And you just see’d that black devil? How did he look?”
Sabrina sat across from the old woman, watching the back and forth movement of the Butler Funeral Home paper fan on a stick. Granny didn’t pause, even for a second while she sipped.
“At first I saw nothing unusual, then he appeared from the shadows, this huge black cat. He strolled up to me, all silent, like he wanted something.“ She could barely breathe. “He didn’t look quite solid. Neither of us made a sound. He just stared at me. Then he vanished into the dark.”
“Did he touch you, baby?” Granny frowned, her agitation evident as the pace of her fan sped up.
“No, and I don’t think I could have touched him. He was almost like a ghost or a spirit, but he acted like he wanted to tell me something. I didn’t know what to do. What if I see him again? Should I try to talk to him.”
“Nothin’ you can do, child.” Granny Pearl shook her head, still stirring the air with her fanning. The red bandanna she favored had allowed wisps of stiff, gray hair to peek around its edges. “It ain’t up to you, honey lamb.” Her small hands touched Sabrina’s. “When that cat shows hisself somebody dies. That’s the way it is. That’s the way it’s been forever. Nobody gonna to change it.”
“I don’t believe there’s nothing we can do. I‘ll find a way to stop him.” Fear threatened to choke Sabrina, but she spoke around the ache in her throat.
Granny’s health was fair, but at her age she could be easy prey to the evil cat. “There’s got to be a way to find which of us he's targeted.”
She helped Granny Pearl from the kitchen to her favorite living room chair. Granny smoothed her gnarled hand over the crocheted doily on the faded chair arm. Like the plank table, it was old but treasured.
“I won’t let it happen.” Sabrina clinched her fists together so hard they ached. There was nothing scientific about the way fear griped her insides now. As a nurse, she realized there were things science couldn’t explain. Superstition influenced her life as much as it did anyone else’s around this part of south Georgia.
Then she leaned over to hug granny. She’d fight the devil himself to save this ancient woman. No one loved her more than Granny Pearl and there was no one Sabrina loved more.
“Don’t know, baby, don’t ...” The small grizzled head nodded as Granny drifted off to sleep. She’d done that a lot lately. When evening came she was worn out. Granny's going to have to see Doctor Joseph soon. I'll make the appointment and I'll take her to his office, even if I have to drag her there.
For two weeks the flu epidemic had been running them ragged. The old and the young suffered the most. There were days when Joe was the only reason Sabrina could work so hard at the hospital. When she thought she would drop, Joe challenged her to work a little more. If he could work extra shifts, so could she.
Though they’d known each other forever, something changed after Sabrina became a nurse. Doctor Joe began to treat her as an adult instead of the bratty twelve-year old girl who'd followed him around in another lifetime, looking moon-eyed at the seventeen-year old jock.
Since he'd returned home from his residency in the Medical Center in Macon to work at their small community hospital, he’d teased her with his sexy smile since then.
Sabrina had suffered during her teen years as her crush on him had grown. She'd followed him around and fantasized about kissing him, believing one day he’d realize he loved her and they would be together forever.
Then he’d become engaged to her older cousin, Charlotte while they were in college, killing a young girl's hopes. For years since Charlotte’s death, Sabrina had comforted the man she'd once wanted for herself, the man she had loved once upon another lifetime.
Well, he’d finally asked her out today, but she hadn’t accepted his offhand invitation. He was probably just being nice inviting her to hospital Confederate Memorial Day picnic. She’d be there like everyone else in town.
Being in the room with him was paradise and torture. How could she compete with a ghost, especially one whose blond beauty had made her the town princess and the envy of a gawky teenager? What would Granny think about Joe’s interest?
Sabrina pulled a blue and yellow crocheted afghan over the tiny lady who had been her salvation since a boating accident had claimed the lives of her parents and her brothers and sisters. That fateful day she’d been sick and stayed home with Granny Pearl.
She stroked the wrinkled, caramel-skinned face, afraid she would lose her soon. No one knew Pearl Edwards’ birth date but she’d lived through a world war, losing her husband to pneumonia and her son in World War II. An aunt and uncle had provided food and shelter, and even a college education for Sabrina, the orphaned relative. Of course the money had come from her parents’ life insurance. Since then, Granny Pearl had given her love and devotion. No real grandmother could have loved her more. Nor could she have loved a grandmother by blood more than she loved this little black woman. ##
The black cat sat on the grass under an oak tree, watching Sabrina’s front porch. The tree had been there as long as he had been around. A smaller house had actually stood here when he’d lived.
He had not meant to frighten when he had appeared her earlier. At first he had not realized he had taken his cat form. He had just needed to be near her. But she had seen him. For a second she had seemed to know him and he had felt the excitement of her recognition. But that feeling had been so brief it had been more than he wanted to feel. He had heard her heart beat a painful tattoo and smelled her fear. That was not possible. He was not alive to hear or smell or feel anything.
Temptation urged him to follow her inside and watch her cooking, eating, sleeping. He could listen to her tonight without her knowledge. She would not see his spirit form. He wandered the streets instead, marveling at the changes he had seen over the centuries. Many he did not understand. A few structures from his lifetime had survived. Homesick for the world he had left behind so long ago, he missed what he could never have again.
Doctor Joe held a purple dinosaur tongue depressor toward the six-year old tracing the Barney figures on his lab coat. “If you open your mouth wide and say ah-h-h-h real loud I’ll tell ya mama to get you a big ole ice cream cone. Can you that for me, Caleb?”
“Two scoops?” The boy tilted his head at the doctor and bargained with his endearing lisp.
“Two scoops and dipped,” Doc countered.
“Double dipped?” The snaggle-tooth trader squinted. He stopped tracing and put his chubby finger on his lower lip.
“Yes, if you do it now.” Caleb opened wide and a-h-h-h-ed so loudly he gagged on the intruding stick. Joe swung the brave child from the examination table and settled him on his lap. With the patient on his knees Joe wheeled his rolling stool to face the waiting mother.
“Tonsils gotta come out so the sore throats will go away. I’ll schedule surgery for day after tomorrow,” he told the mother who had watched him charm her son.
Turning the child so they could see eye-to-eye Joe was all doctor. “I’m giving ya mama some medicine that tastes like grape gum. She needs to see you take it so she won’t be scared. Mama’s are sissies, like girls, when it comes to taking medicine.”
The brave soldier looked skeptical at his mother.
“That would make me feel so much better,” she said.
Joe loved to reel the kids in. He spent an hour explaining about the surgery in kid-talk, which included lots of promised ice cream for Caleb.
The kid was smart and all boy. “Dr. Joe, will Nurse Sabrina be at the hospital when I have my operation?“
“Nurse Sabrina works at the hospital and I’ll let her know you’ll be there.” Joe grinned. “I’m sure she’ll want to look after you.”
“She makes me feel better when I break stuff.” He held up the tiny arm to show off his orange cast. “Or when I get sick and go to the ‘mergency.” He handed Joe a green marker.
Joe took the marker and signed the cast. “She makes me feel better, too.”
By the time the last patient left the clinic Joe felt drained. He removed the blue lab coat he wore when treating adults and tossed it aside. He sat at his desk and sipped cold stale coffee. At times like this he missed having a doctors’ lounge with plenty of doctors, justifying fresh coffee made every hour.
He leaned back in his worn chair, rested his eyes and thought about the lovely Sabrina. He’d finally found the courage to ask her out, but she’d said no. He could tell she liked him. The attraction was still there with a vengeance.
Every night since he’d returned home he had dreamed about her. He had dreamed of doing things to her that were probably still illegal in most states. His dream Sabrina had lounged on his bed, covered by a rainbow of silk scarves that hid without really hiding in their sheerness.
In his dream he had removed each scarf, using his teeth. She’d moaned with each love bite. His body was at full sexual alert as it often was when he saw Sabrina. Her lush body had been designed by the goddess of love and lust. He could smell her arousal, or at least he wanted to believe he could. She knew he was available now, he had made that clear. She knew he was available now, he had made that clear by inviting her to a public function where everyone else would know about his romantic interest in her, like declaring his intentions. He’d ask her again soon since she hadn’t said she would go with someone else.
Could she have turned shy while he was away becoming a doctor? He missed the cute middle school girl who had dogged his footsteps and flirted with him through her glasses, flashing her braces at him with grins of adoration.
He’d make the grown up Sabrina comfortable with him, then he’d make her want him. Then he’d make her moan, using the scarves he’d buy so he could live out his fantasies. His imagination could be such a tease.
Day after day Devon followed Sabrina to the hospital where she tended the sick, watching the way her touch calmed children and grown up people. But today she took the path to the road which lead to the Faith Baptist Church. Tall pines towered overhead. Though there were bushes and wildflowers on both sides of the road, they were sparse compared to foliage of Devon's time.
Each time he came here nostalgia over whelmed him. Melancholy weighed him down. Parts of the wooden structure were old and familiar, like the small chapel and its steeple. It had survived so much. He had watched generations of local people enter this place of worship. Though the cat did not come here, Devon needed to be near Sabrina in spirit.
During two centuries he had spent hours hovering above the crude benches, sometimes listening to ministers preach to congregations about the love of God and damnation for sinners. Sometimes he listened only to his memories. He and his father had helped cut the trees and make those benches. Then they had sat in the back of the sanctuary with his mother, the squaw.
She wasn’t full-blooded Indian since her father had been of French descent. Devon had looked more like an Indian than his mother had, but that had not kept her from being shunned as that dirty Indian to the people of the community. His white father’s money had been able to buy much – land, a big house, and pretty tings, even a piano shipped hundreds of miles, but not respectability for the Indian squaw. Centuries later Devon still felt the shame of not belonging.
Sabrina and an older woman talked in a small room in a newer addition to the church building, one he remembered seeing built before Sabrina’s parents had married. Devon didn’t listen to the women's words. They moved to a lower level. In a large, shelf-lined room the woman pointed out a stack of books that looked like old journals with years printed on their spines. He had not come here before. He had no reason before now.
There were small windows and ceiling lights that had not existed when he had lived. The candles and lamps he had used gave out softer light, though less of it.
Sabrina dusted and opened the book labeled “In the Year of Our Lord 1790-1794.” He and Lou had died in the year of Our Lord 1786 but she didn’t take that book. He had not become the cat yet. Looking over her shoulder he read about births and deaths and baptisms of people he had known. He recognized some of the deaths.
His family members were not listed. One entry mentioned that his family had stopped attending services because some members of the congregation had made them feel unwelcome. Had they even felt too shamed to sit in the back anymore? Such a sad thing, since his mother had loved church. How many people had he and Lou hurt by giving in to their love? He was older and had known the white daughter of a plantation owner was forbidden to him. He had not been able to make her stay away from him. He would have left her untouched if he had used his head instead of his heart.
Sabrina turned pages quickly but carefully, running her finger down each yellowed page as though looking for something specific. What could she hope to learn? She opened and scanned book after book. When the light from the window faded Sabrina stopped and called the woman who had helped her. The woman and Sabrina performed some ritual that made no sense to him. They put the open book on a glass, then covered the book. A light moved under the book. How strange. What caused the light to pass under the book? There was no candle.
The woman took the cover off, then put the book away.
This they repeated until they took down the fifth book, marked “In the years of Our Lord 1810-1814.
Devon followed her up the stairs. He wanted her to see the car again, but not tonight.
Sabrina couldn't believe she had found the reference to a sighting of a large black cat no one recognized. Some church members at the monthly business meeting said the devil had sent one of his evil spirits but others had suggested there must be a witch nearby. According to the minutes there had been much gossip but it had multiplied when a death followed two days later. According to the page she had the secretary copy, there had been a special meeting to discuss how to deal with the gossip and fear it caused. The minister and deacons had made a point of putting a stop to the unofficial community witch-hunt.
Two nights later Sabrina curled in an over-sized chair in her home office. Rubbing a shaky hand over her eyes, she opened another journal from the trunks she’d discovered in the attic last year. Last night she had pulled them from the glass-doored bookcase where she now kept them.
She sensed the presence of someone she couldn’t see. The short hairs on the nape of her neck stirred but the journal beckoned.
The gold leaf binding showed signs of use and age, as had the other five she’d found. The spidery script was difficult to read, the language from a time long ago. The eerie sensation Sabrina felt as she read the inscription on the first fragile, yellowed page stunned her.
To Sabrina Louise McKeown on her eighteenth birthday, on this 19th day of May, in the year of Our Lord, 1785.
Sabrina Louise. There had been another Sabrina Louise those many years ago. She couldn’t explain why, but she knew information to help her find the answer to the riddle of the black cat and the deaths he caused lay with her namesake. Could she count on Sabrina Louise, a relative she had never known existed, to help her rid the world of the menace? After all, they were both of the clan McKeown, the American branch.
With each turned page the eerie feeling that she’d come home assailed Sabrina. The writer had ended each entry with a scribbled S. Louise or Lou.
If Sabrina guessed right, there would be no need to return to the volumes of church records or the public library to pour over histories of Yerby County or news articles for the past two hundred years.
I need to refresh my memory. Strange thought.
But she had grown up with the stories of Demon Cat, the curse on the Yerby County McKeowns. Maybe it wasn’t such a strange thought, after all. Maybe the demon cat really had been around forever.
Unseen, Devon watched the auburn haired beauty. He hated being a cat. He wanted to touch her. Her scent made him ache in places he hadn’t felt for scores of years. He knew her skin would feel like warm silk. It would smell of violets and rosewater. Frustration filled him as he fought his needs, carnal and frightening in their intensity. She was called Sabrina, unlike his Lou. It was difficult to separate the two women in his thoughts. He had been alone so long.
Devon had made love to her in his thoughts, as the man she could not see. He had to forget the needs he could not hope to appease. It would be wrong to use Sabrina just to make himself feel alive again. He had watched her disrobe. Her breasts beckoned in their innocence, their roundness enticed. Exquisite. This was no time to torture himself with desire he could not satisfy.
But he could not stay away from her. He had to warn her. Would she understand? Sabrina had to be tired. He’d watched her all day as she traipsed from the Salvation Presbyterian Church to the Haven Methodist Church to the Faith Baptist church. Reading over her shoulder he had relived years of McKeown family history. Today he had read of his own family. His parents and his brothers and sisters had outlived his shame. Somehow he must make her understand he was not a threat to hr or anyone else.
“Sabrina, it’s late. ” Granny Pearl whispered. “You need to get in bed and lie down for a while.” A gnarled, brown hand smoothed auburn curls from Sabrina’s cheek. God she loved the comforting feeling of affection. Many times that same motion had calmed her after nightmares or the upsets of youth.
“Yes, Ma’am, five more minutes. I’ll get up, I promise.” Sabrina stretched and winced at the stiffness in her neck and shoulders. She had fallen asleep reading, again.
“Purty darlin’,” Granny crooned. “just like ya’ mama was. Got her blue eyes, you do. She and that handsome daddy of yours would be right proud to hear you sing in church. Like a angel, you sings just like a angel.”
Sabrina grinned. Granny’s eyes were as bright as onyx, dark to the point of seeming black, sometimes bottomless in their ageless wisdom, always loving when they met Sabrina’s own blue eyes.
“I have to keep reading until I find out how to prevent other McKeown deaths. I'm sure Sabrina Louise has the answer. I just have to find it.” Sabrina worried her bottom lip with her teeth as she looked up at Granny. Please let the diaries give me some clue about the legend.
“Baby, you ought to take a nap, at least. You gonna make yourself sick if you don’t slow down. You can’t keep working a full day and reading all night. How you gonna stop what’s been goin’ on for as long as I heard tell? Doctor Joe needs to talk to you about taking better care of yourself.”
“I will, if you will,” Sabrina sing-songed.
“What you talking ‘bout, girl?” Granny asked.
“I’ll talk to Joe,” Sabrina pointed her finger at the older woman. “if you’ll go see him for a check-up.”
“That young pup? All I need’s a special Spring tonic from Spellcaster. He’ll fix me right up”.
Funny how Granny put respect in her tome when she wanted Sabrina to see the doctor but scoffed when Sabrina suggested Granny visit him.
“Now Granny, you need a real medical check-up.”
“We’ll get you a tonic and a sleeping potion, too, young lady.”
“Whatever do you mean?” Sabrina raised her brow.
Granny pointed a finger back at her charge. “I know you aren’t sleeping. What’s keeping you up so late, girl? You lovesick?” Granny grinned. “It’s about time you got together with Joe. He’s been grieving long enough.”
“I’m fine, Granny. I really want to finish reading these diaries.” Sabrina held open the leather bound book. "Let me read some of it to you." She adjusted her glasses. “This entry was written by Sabrina Louise on her nineteenth birthday. She sounds so young and in love. Listen."
He is the handsomest man I have ever seen. His eyes look right to the deepest part of me. I feel we were destined to be together. I dare not tell mama or papa. They would never approve of Devon. But he makes me warm all over when he looks at me with those black as sin eyes. His flowing straight raven hair begs for my touch. It would take little to make me forget that I am supposed to be a lady. Lou.”
Sabrina smiled at the private words of the young woman who had poured her heart onto the page, like so many girls had over the years. As a teenager Sabrina had written many pages about her crush on Joe.? Some things never change. She still thought the man was a hottie and a fantastic doctor. But Joe had loved her beautiful cousin and lost her to death. How could a living woman follow such an act?
“Sounds like she thought she was in love with that Devon fella, all right. It sho’ does.” Granny shook her head. “Young people, always fallin’ in love with a purty face.”
"Isn't that the truth." Sabrina muttered.
In spirit form, Devon had watched over Sabrina for days. She could see him only when he became the Demon Cat. It wasn’t how he wanted to be known, but everyone had called him that since he had first appeared in cat form.
Maybe I am a demon, but my Lou loved me. I just don’t know why she betrayed me. I would have loved her forever. I have loved her forever.
Devon needed to know whose life was in danger this time. He wished he had been able save Sabrina the pain caused by the deaths of her family years ago. No one had understood his mission then, either. The boating accident and fire could have been prevented. It wasn’t his doing. He hoped there would be no more pain in her life.
A black cat for Halloween.The rest is on my website at www.MaryMarvella.com