This story can be read without it’s earlier parts.
The plot references past events. To see the series
in its entirety – see Burlap Cat – on the categories
Joanne came home from the mall with more questions then answers. She opened her computer and pulled the list from her pocket, the list of towns and cities a local railroad once connected. It would be Joanne’s Job to learn as much as she could about each of these places, because Joanne had no idea what it was about them she needed to know.
The list was nothing so innocent as a homework assignment. The names had come from an ancient bulletin board buried in the wall of the shopping center she had just left.
Someone or something had torn through the wall when no one was looking. It was the same something that had been haunting Joanne ever since a tattered stuffed cat arrived anonymously on her doorstep.
The cat seemed to want something from her, crazy as it sounded, and now it had led her to an old departure board in a mall that had long ago been one of the area’s largest train stations.
Joanne wanted nothing more then to have the burlap cat and it’s secrets out of her life and it was only when she had followed it’s apparent instructions that the thing had decided to vanish.
Perhaps if she could figure out what the cat wanted, it would stay gone.
Joanne typed one town after another into a search engine. Most were so large it would take forever to research them. Joanne focused on the smaller towns and learned that most of these were remote outposts containing no more then a hundred people. Some, no longer existed at all.
Quite a few of these places were ghost towns, groups of empty buildings standing out in the middle of nowhere. Many of these towns had been no more then stops on the route to other places and when the trains stopped running through them, people simply picked up and left.
Now that everyone owned cars, people were starting to visit these ghost towns again. Mostly just to take pictures of the buildings before they fell apart. Joanne didn’t find any of this especially interesting her thoughts ranged from bored to creeped out, and she seemed not an inch closer to finding out what the old departure board was supposed to tell her.
She brought up pictures of some of the ghost towns on her list and found that many were taken by the same person – Shadow Wrangler 360 –
Quickly she brought up their website.
Shadow Wrangler was a photographer who obsessed over abandoned buildings as evidenced by the pictures on the site – cobwebby chandeliers, wilting ceiling fans and rusted cars laying in fields of tall grass.
Joanne was no stranger to the internet and knew there were far worse things to obsess over. She probed this Shadow Wrangler for every ounce of data.
Judging by the comments this Shadow Wrangler was a guy. He wasn’t opposed to trespassing to get the best pics. His twitter feed was full of obscure historical factoids (Snore). He tweeted often, several times a day, but his last tweet was from several days ago. Joanne shrugged – perhaps he was taking a break.
Joanne brought up another post and checked the comments. Someone named Femmbot appeared to be Shadow Wrangler’s girlfriend. Femmebot kept whining about Shadow never answering her comments.
Joanne snorted, “He’s over you, take a Hint!”.
Joanne suddenly noticed a reflection on the black plastic framing the computer screen. She turned and screamed. Sitting on a book case directly behind her was the burlap cat.
The cat appeared to have been made by tying off the corners of an old sack and adding a head. There was no tail, though it might have had one at one time. If it wasn’t for the one remaining pointed ear it could pass for a bear, a bear with a missing button eye.
“Honey what’s wrong?” said Joanne’s mother as she opened the door of Joanne’s bedroom. “Nothing!” said Joanne, grabbing the cat and hiding it. “I thought I saw a spider but it was only a cricket.” “That’s good” Joanne’s mother said as she closed the door “Cricket’s are lucky.”
Joanne sat the cat on her keyboard it’s face to the screen. “Well?” she said to it. “Am I getting warmer or colder? Last time you left when I got warmer.”
The cat said nothing – it never did – it’s only ability was to move effortlessly from place to place when no one was looking.
Joanne put the cat on her lap and noticed the recent comment that filled the screen. Femmbot really seemed to think Shadow Wrangler was in serious trouble. Joanne brought up Femmbot’s face book page. Shadow Wrangler, it seemed, didn’t have one.
Joanne left Femmbot her e-mail address and a message expressing concern for Shadow Wrangler as well as a request for more information. It was all Joanne could do until morning the next day.
The next day Joanne received an e-mail from Femmbot. It was a long one, for it seemed Femmbot had prepared a statement for anyone seeking to aid in her search.
Shadow Wrangler’s real name was Ted Cassidy. He had requested two weeks vacation from his day job and left on one of his ghost town exploring adventures out west.
He was last seen buying supplies for his journey at a gas station in Montana. Femmbot, who’s real name was Kate Day, had received calls from Ted till roughly a week ago.
Normally Ted would bring Kate and a few of his fellow ghost town groupies on his wild photographing excursions in the American back country. In fact, it was a rule among them that you never went exploring by yourself. Another rule was that you always told people where you’d be. Yet another, was that you would keep in touch with the outside world.
Until recently, Ted had followed all of these rules, but a few month’s ago, Ted started to distance himself from his friends. Kate added that he seemed paranoid. Ted had begun to leave without telling anyone where he was going. He only called Kate because she begged him to.
Ted’s parents disapproved of his hobby and were used to not hearing from him for days at a time. Ted’s friends were aware of the sudden change in him, but at the moment swore he would come back. Kate called the police but they told her that Ted was an adult who was allowed to disappear if he wanted to.
Kate listed the dangers of derelict buildings and wild nature.
She claimed to be staying in a motel near the last place Ted was seen but was running out of time. Kate said she had explored some near by ruins but wasn’t sure exactly where Ted had gone.
Joanne quickly replied to the e-mail listing all of the towns from the departure board.
Joanne preyed she wasn’t wasting the lady’s time.
Not ten minutes later, Kate sent a response.
Ted had already explored all the ghost towns on the list and quite a few that were still around. Kate claimed that Ted seldom returned to a place he had thoroughly documented and asked Joanne where she had gotten the information.
“What do I tell her?” Joanne said to the cat. Just then the door bell rang. Joanne’s Mother had changed the tone to Auld Lang Syne – for New Years.
Joanne’s friend David burst into her room and shoved a smart phone into her face.
David was the only other person on earth right now who was aware of the burlap cat and it’s powers. Joanne had dragged him into this when she thought the cat was one of his pranks.
David handed his phone to Joanne and smiled smugly. Now that it was becoming clear to him that the burlap cat wasn’t going to kill them (at least not yet) David the U.F.O nut was beginning to enjoy himself.
Joanne put down the cat and examined the picture on David’s phone. David was startled to see the cat again but kept quiet when Joanne gasped “This is it!”
On David’s phone was a fuzzy black and white photograph of a little girl sitting in a chair holding what could have only been the burlap cat in it’s younger days.
David began to explain – “This photo was taken by Miller Mans. He was a photographer in the late eighteen hundreds. Miller liked to travel around and photograph nature but earned his living taking pictures Of People and their kids. Not many people know about Miller. He is kind of obscure, but his family has a small museum dedicated to him. The Lady who runs the museum saw my picture of the cat on Face book and sent me this. She says it was probably one of Miller’s unclaimed commissions AKA – a picture he took for someone who never came to pick it up after it was developed. They keep a lot of his commissions in the attic because people will only pay to see his skulls – hipsters call him the Georgia O’Keeffe of the Camera. No one who doesn’t work at the museum would have ever seen this picture. I asked them who the little girl was and they said they didn’t know. The back of the print is only labeled “Macon Montana, 1884.” David tapped his phone and showed her the back of the print.
Joanne suddenly consulted her list. Macon Montana wasn’t on it. It didn’t matter. Joanne grabbed her computer and sent Kate a message. It said “Did Ted ever go to a place called Macon?”
“Friend of yours?” said David when he noticed Jo typing. Jo Told him about Kate and David’s Mood sobered. “Jo you should have called me the instant you discovered this Ted Cassidy guy!” Jo huffed. “and how would you have handled it!” David leaned on a wall and sank to the floor. “It’s just that two heads are better then one Jo.”
They sat together in silence until David got up and left, taking the cat with him. Though Joanne knew it would almost certainly come back.
Joanne didn’t hear from Kate again until the next week, when she received a news video.
Ted Cassidy was found, exhausted but alive, after being trapped for eight days in the forgotten basement of a leveled building. The basement was all that was left of the town of Macon Montana. Ted had lost his phone eight days ago when the ground he was standing on collapsed sealing him in a small space under a ton of rotten wood and brick. This had happened on the nineteenth, the same day Joanne had only looked at the cat on a corny occult website – only have it arrive anonymously in the mail. Fortunately Ted’s pack had been full of water and food, and he was expected to make a full recovery.
Kate had not mentioned Joanne, only said in an interview that a mysterious person had contacted her via the internet, and mentioned Macon. Kate had never heard of Macon, but a local police officer who’s grandparents used to live there, recalled how to find it, and drove Kate Day out to the site of the old town.
Ted was soon heard calling for help and was rescued from what the reporter described as an old photography lab, frozen in time.
After watching the video, Joanne saw there was a message from Kate.
Ted wanted to speak to Joanne – soon and in person. He insisted that she not contact the media.