Burlap Cat Part 5

Burlap cat 5 copy

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

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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.

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Burlap Cat part 4

Burlap Cat 4

This story references the earlier episodes.

It may be read with the other installments or by itself.

See “Burlap Cat” under the “categories” widget.

 

 Joanne could do nothing but stare at the pile of brightly wrapped packages. This year, Santa (or a far more sinister force) had brought her something most unwelcome.

That something was an ancient toy cat made of burlap. It had a large head and a small body, a missing ear and a missing button eye.

Joanne kicked the thing under a table when her parents came down the stairs. She was not one to leave her problems lying around for others to see.

Joanne then had a fuzzy moment with her family, opening presents and pretending not to be scared out of her wits.

It was not until her parents had returned to their room, to get ready for the big Christmas party later on, that Joanne was able to collect herself.

She dragged the burlap cat out from under the lamp table and whispered. “What do you want from me?”

Joanne neither expected or wanted the thing to speak, but she hoped for a sign – a clue, as to how she might banish it for good.

It all started a week ago when her friend David had shown her a website that sold supposedly haunted items. Joanne had only looked at the burlap cat, then three days later it arrived at her door, in an open, unmarked box.

David laughed at Joanne and swore it had been a mistake. He named the cat Marvin and suggested they contact the site that was selling it.

The owners of the site claimed they never had anything like the burlap cat for sale, but they offered to buy the thing for fifty dollars.

Before Joanne could ship it off, the burlap cat somehow managed to leave her house.

The cat reappeared in the arms of David’s two-year old cousin Randy as he was getting his picture taken with Santa at the mall. Joanne and David had been the only ones watching him. Randy ran off with the cat when they asked to see it, disappearing into the crowd.

Joanne and David had cornered the boy in a deserted section of the mall. Randy was safe, and willing to give up the cat, which he had also named – Marvin. If David had been playing a Joke he would have admitted it then – instead he took the cat and shipped it himself.

Joanne had been given two days of restless worry.

It was almost a relief to see the burlap cat again. At least now Joanne could know for certain where it was.

The door bell rang – We Wish You A Merry Christmas – and then David let himself in. He was white even before he saw the cat. Joanne feared to ask what was wrong.

Instead of speaking, David handed Joanne a sheet of printer paper. It was an e-mail from the owners of the site, the very people to whom they had sold the cat, the people who would have still had the cat if the world was a place that made sense.

Joanne read the printout. It was very brief and to the point.

“You may keep the item and the fifty dollars paid for it. Do not contact us again.”

Without saying a word, David grabbed the Burlap cat and headed for the door.

Joanne caught his sleeve. “David, no! That thing could be dangerous!”

“I know” He said. “My father has a gun safe. There are no guns in it now so he has left it open. Not even I know the combination. I figure it’s as good a place as any to keep something dangerous.”

Joanne still didn’t let go of his sleeve.

“What are we going to about this? It can’t go on forever.”

David sighed. “I suppose we can start doing some research. A lot of my Face Book friends are ghost and big foot people so I posted a picture of the cat. I figure if anyone knows anything they’ll tell us.”

Joanne smiled. “Ok, but it’s your funeral.”

David smiled back. Then left the house. He had people of his own who expected to see him in good spirits.

Joanne tried to think about what kinds of cookies and pies her aunts would bring. They thought she was too skinny. Joanne took it as a complement, and as an excuse to live a little.

Joanne retreated to the bathroom to fix herself up. To Joanne fancy dress meant blue jeans without holes and T-shirts without wrinkles. Toss in a hat and some cheep plastic jewelry and she would be ready to meet a queen.

“There is my hippie princess!” said Joanne’s Grandfather later that day as he handed her a twenty-dollar bill. “Merry Christmas!” Joanne made her way past her relatives to the kitchen where she started to pile all manner of delicacies on to a paper plate.

A Toy train whistled around the living room, beside enough doll houses to make up a small city. All the younger children had brought their newest treasures, and Joanne recalled how her dragons once rained fire down upon toy land.

A familiar name distracted Joanne from her slice of chocolate pudding parfait. It sounded like “Marvin”.

There seemed to be a fight among her youngest relatives. She hovered behind the couch and listened in.

“He wants to ride the train!” Whined a smaller girl who was clearly feeling left out.

A bossy older boy took the train away from the girl and set it carefully back on the track.

“If your teddy wants to ride, he can wait at the station.”

The little girl whined. “Trains don’t go to the station. They go to the mall!”

An elderly man intervened. “Easy there.” He said to the children. “I told her that the mall used to be a train station a long time ago, I guess she got confused.”

The mall used to be a train station.

Joanne recalled what little randy had been doing when she and David had caught up with him.

“I found a train!” Randy had said as he peeled paint off of a wall to expose an old poster.

Maybe the cat had been trying to tell them something, something about the mall.

Joanne had a bad feeling.

The toy train sped toward Joanne.

Balanced atop the engine was – the Burlap cat.

Joanne knew it would somehow escape David. She didn’t know how the cat was able to travel from place to place. Neither of them had ever seen it move.

The train struck Joanne’s foot and fell over. Joanne picked up the cat. “Marvin likes you.” said the girl who had wanted the cat to ride the train. The girl was the daughter of an older cousin. Joanne wasn’t good with names. Joanne said “Where did you find this?” The girl replied “Under the couch. Is he yours?” Joanne nodded. “Yes he’s mine. Thank you for finding him.”

The girl went back to her own doll.

Joanne was once again disturbed by the fact everyone called the thing Marvin.

Joanne retreated to her room immediately and called David. She almost collapsed when he answered the phone. She gasped “Are you alright?” David answered “Why wouldn’t I be alright?” There was a pause, then he shouted “Don’t tell me the cat came back!”

Joanne didn’t need to answer. David went on. “Look Jo, you have to keep an eye on it at all times. I’ll try to come over as soon as I can.”

Joanne interrupted before he could hang up. “There is something about that old poster Randy found at

the mall. I think we should have another look at it.”

David tried to keep his voice under control. Joanne wondered if David’s parents were nearby. “We can go to the mall tomorrow.” He said. David then whispered. “Stay strong”

Joanne ended the call and pocketed her phone. David never used words like “Stay strong” they seemed far too cheesy. David was too strung out to act cool. This made Joanne afraid too.

Joanne gripped the cat-like she was holding off a Lynx. She looked it in the black, button eye that was dripping dried glue.

“Marvin” she said to the cat. “I will go to the mall and look at this poster. If that is what you want, please behave yourself.”

Joanne woke the next day to find the cat had vanished. The surge of relief almost made her forget that she had made a promise.

“Are you sure it didn’t just fall behind the bed?” said David as Joanne arrived at the mall with her two other friends Shelly and Eric.

Jo would have to choose her words carefully to avoid arousing the suspicions of her friends.

“I looked everywhere for that thing! It isn’t at my house anymore!”

Shelly inquired, “What isn’t at your house?”

“Just some toy.” said David. “I think Randy lost his elf.”

“Good riddance” said Eric. “He probably hit his sister with it one too many times.”

Shelly wanted to shop for shoes and Eric always followed Shelly, so it was all too easy to ditch them.

Joanne never thought she would miss Eric’s lost puppy routine or Shelly’s tendency to shoot down all of her jokes but now they seemed so normal and safe compared to what she and David had stumbled into.

The both of them agreed that they probably had not seen the last of the burlap cat, and that people would think they were crazy if they asked anyone else for help. Given the situation, it was probably in their best interest to learn as much as they could.

The building that contained the mall was huge. Most of it was still empty. The empty parts were roped off, forcing people to crowd into shops in pursuit of post-holiday bargains.

The mall was new but the building was not. As Joanne recalled the place had been saved from the wrecking ball by some historical society or another. More stores were added all the time. Still places remained behind walls and plywood partitions, places not completely given over to the modern world.

It was in one of these places they had lost Randy, only to find him again at the end of a dark, dilapidated hall. Randy was safe but what would become of them if they pushed their luck?

Joanne reminded herself that the only thing to fear was mall security as they slipped unnoticed behind the same partition they had slipped behind in pursuit of Randy.

They were now in the part of the mall that was yet to be opened, the part that was still half-way between old and new. Paint flecks covered the floor like leaves in a forest. Statues and benches were wrapped in plastic and the air seemed even colder than the air outside.

“Do you remember where it was?” said David to Joanne. “Not really” she admitted.

When chasing Randy, it had all been a blur.

They retraced their steps past loose tiles and stacked plywood, past empty alcoves that might someday contain stores.

Something caught their attention from far off.

“Hey cool!” said David. “Their painting a picture on the wall!”

In the gray light of the high windows a detailed landscape came into focus. A railway bridge spanned a ravine, and old-fashioned train engine huffed and puffed across it.

“Wait a minute.” said Joanne. “Look at the edges!”

The edges of the painting were covered up by peeling paint and crumbling plaster. David gasped. “This isn’t new, it’s old! Someone painted over it a long time ago. They must have only just discovered it!”

It suddenly dawned on Joanne.

“David!, Randy Discovered this!”

David nodded. “Randy or the cat, look!”

The train in the painting had seemed like part of an old poster when Randy peeled the paint off of it, but there had been more than just a poster hiding behind all that paint and plaster.

The workers fixing up this part of the building had found Randy’s train. The train was part of a much larger painting that covered the whole wall.

Part of wall was covered in an ancient chalkboard.

Numbers were painted on this chalkboard, numbers and the names of cities.

Some of the cities were places Joanne had never heard of.

“This must be a train bulletin board.” said David. “People would look at it to see when the trains arrived.”

He went on. “The train board looks like it is glued to the wall. Whoever used this building after it was a train station couldn’t get it off so they just painted over it.”

“Maybe they were trying to protect the painting by covering it up.” Whispered Joanne.

“Could be.” said David. He started to take pictures of the old train bulletin with his phone.

He stood on a bench to get a better view.

In their excitement they almost missed the sound of footsteps coming toward them.

“Sssssshh, you hear that.” said Joanne as she dragged David off the bench and into an empty store. The two hid behind crates as a pair of uniformed figures walked slowly past.

“Just what is your problem, Ben.” said one the guards to the other.

Ben hugged his chest. “I suppose you haven’t heard. They found this wall scraped clear last night. No one knows who did it. I swear it’s like the old place is trying to break out of it’s shell. Abby quit, she says she heard scratching noises on her watch. They gave her that job at the old courthouse. The courthouse has some bad vibes, but better bad vibes then something real like this.”

The other guard chuckled. “So your going to join Abby? I hear there is another opening.” “I might” said Ben. “I might.” “Good” said the other guard. “I can use the extra hours.”

The guards retreated down the hall.

David and Joanne sneaked back to the public section of the mall when the guards were out-of-the-way.

David studied the screen of his phone as they sat silently amid the noise of the food court.

There was something about the ancient train bulletin, something they were meant to see.

 

 

 

Burlap Cat Part 3

Yes, I know that Christmas is still a-ways off. I started this serial last year, and mayhaps should have waited for a more appropriate time to post it. It is I feel, not a  Christmas story so much as a supernatural mystery that is currently occurring over the holiday season. I reference past installments so the reader need not start at the beginning . . . None the less – I hope you enjoy this very early present from me to you . . .  (Note – those who do want to start at the beginning will find the other 2 parts under “Short Stories” Just scroll through to find them –

Joanne relaxed in the quiet comfort of the crowded restaurant. Sylvan’s always managed to be noisy and yet somehow serene. There was nothing to do except make conversation and stare at the odd, vintage knick- knacks lined up on shelves nearly hidden by the shadows on the ceiling.

The menu offered every kind of food imaginable, from local favorites, to the exotic and trendy. Joanne always ordered vegan, not that she was a vegan. Saying the word just made her feel hip and sophisticated.

Her parents laughed and joked with each other. This was supposed to be family time but Joanne made no attempt to join the conversation.

Mere hours ago something had stepped – uninvited – into her life.

That something preoccupied her constantly.

Joanne feared her secret might slip if she answered too many of her father’s questions. He was just trying to seem interested in the affairs of an average teenage girl. Joanne could use some advice but hers wasn’t a problem an adult could understand. Heck, hers wasn’t a problem anyone could understand.

Right now she wanted to lose herself in the drone of happy people and the promise of great food, but the jingle bells ring of her mother’s phone brought it all back.

“Joanne?” Mother’s voice was full of concern. “Mr. Bellows says he found your bike smashed to pieces near his drive way. Honey, what happened?”

Joanne told her parents what they wanted to hear. The rain had caught her as she checked the mail. She had run home and forgotten her bike. A car must have struck it. She was given the usual lecture about not going out in rainstorms no matter how much you wanted those Christmas cards (and the cash they contained). Neither one of them seemed to care about the expensive bike she had ruined and were just glad their daughter wasn’t road kill.

Joanne’s problems would rest for the time being, allowing her to enjoy a truly spectacular plate of rice pilaf and the complementary bowl of fried bananas.

They were on their way home when Joanne’s good friend David decided to call. “What the hell Jo! We thought some pervert had gotten you. What were you thinking just leaving that bike in the road and not telling anyone?” Joanne sighed. “My parents already beat me over the head with that, it won’t happen again.” David snorted. “Understood. By the way I wrote to that website.”

Joanne kept a death grip on the phone.

Three days ago David had shown Joanne a website that sold Items reputed to be cursed.

An ancient stuffed cat made of burlap had caught Joanne’s attention. Joanne had made no attempt to buy the thing, yet four hours ago it arrived in a battered, unmarked box.

At first it seemed David was playing a prank. Joanne had forced him to take the creepy thing back, though he claimed the site had just made a mistake. David named it Marvin and had teased her with it until she left his house, hoping to never see the thing again.

Joanne had stopped at her neighbor hood mail box on the way home from David’s.

Joanne had been startled to see the cat resting on a post as if waiting for her.

She ran, just as a truck struck the mail box and smashed her bike.

Joanne had then tucked the cat under her coat and raced home, Not sure of what else to do with a thing that had apparently saved her life.

It was still resting on her bed as far as she knew, having thankfully not followed her to Sylvan’s.

David had promised to contact the site where Joanne had first seen the Burlap cat, if only to prove she was just being paranoid.

What David had to say now, however, did nothing to dismiss her fears.

“The site answered me almost right away. They swear they had nothing like that for sale. I told them what happened and they loved the story. They want the cat Joanne. They said they would give you fifty bucks for it.”

David sounded excited but Joanne was confused. Many thoughts raced through her mind. Would selling the cat really be the end of it? Would the thing be angered somehow? Was it right to simply get rid of a thing after it had seemingly prevented her death?”

Joanne still feared the cat greatly. She would do without hit and runs and burlap cats if she could.

David shouted. “Hello!” “Augh!” barked Joanne. He whispered. “Sorry, but you weren’t answering. So how about it? All the money can be yours. I’m reaping a small fortune this Christmas.” Joanne couldn’t answer. It had all come at her so fast. What she needed was time to think. She ended the call. There was a text but she ignored it. Joanne eventually had to turn off her phone.

David rang the doorbell later that night. Joanne was in her bedroom staring into the cats one black, button eye. Her mother answered the door saying, “Jo it’s David!” Joanne still contemplated the cat. There came a soft knock on her bedroom door. “JO!” said David. “We need to talk.”

Joanne reluctantly emerged from her place of safety. Like it or not, David was the only person who at least partly understood her situation. He turned on the television when she entered the living room, perhaps to mask the sounds of what would be a very odd conversation.

“Jo this thing was sent to your house not six hours ago and already your like a different person. First, you tell me you don’t want it – that your scared of it. You say your going to leave it at my house, but then you take it with you at the last-minute.”

“Dave” said Joanne. “First off, I’m pretty sure I did leave it at your house. Last I remember, It was sitting there on the coffee table. Since I was already out in the rain I stopped at the mail box. You know that yellow post that protects it from the road? Well, the cat was on top of it. Just like someone took it from you and left it there for me to find.”

David smiled at Joanne the way he smiled at old ladies who swore they had seen ghosts. He was preparing his “are you sure it wasn’t your dog” routine.

“Jo, suppose you did take the cat without realizing it. Suppose you took it out of your pack when you checked the mail. I once searched for hours for a pencil I was holding in my hand. It’s the holidays! Your not thinking about dumb things like reality. Your thinking about that twenty-four hour Skyrim binge you’ve been meaning to run for the past two and half months of school.” He winked. “I know I am.”

Joanne turned away from him. “It was a that.” David crossed his arms behind his head. “You were already keyed up over the way it got here, which I’ll admit, was a little weird, but there’s probably a logical explain – ” Joanne interrupted him. “I ran when I first saw it, that’s when a truck smashed my bike, had it not been for the cat I – I – I ”

There was a very long wait before either of them found words. David went first. “Had it not been for the cat you would not have been out there in the first place. Look Jo, regardless of what I believe, according to you it saved your life, which makes it good? Think Jo, your whole life you’ve never been involved in an accident until now?” Joanne was silent. David went on. “I didn’t know a person’s personality could change as quickly as yours has. The Jo I know would not be cowering in fear of a stuffed animal. If there is any proof something isn’t right with this thing, it’s in the fact the great Jo Jonson doesn’t like it. I say, sell the cat.”

Joanne smiled. “I’ll still have to sleep on it.” David headed for the door. “You are probably still shaken by that brush with the truck. I’d wait for the shock to wear off. I’m meeting some friends at the mall tomorrow. A local band is performing. Just throwing it out there in case you feel like you need to get out of the house. Please watch yourself Jo.”

David left and Joanne returned to her room. She threw herself across her bed, right beside the burlap beast that had her so worried. To think she could fall asleep in the same room with it, Joanne really was the great Jo Jonson.

Early the next morning Shelly and Eric arrived with David, David’s parents, and several small, annoying children who seemed to be even less enthused to be there then Joanne’s older friends. “All aboard the Polar Express!” Shouted David as Joanne shrugged into some fresh clothes.

He was waiting in the living room. Someone outside was furiously pounding a horn. “I thought you said we would be going to see a band!” whined Joanne as she trudged down the stairs. “I Did.” said David. “The Sweet Street Carolers!”

Joanne headed back up the stairs. David followed. “Please Jo, don’t throw me to the preschoolers!” David caught her coat. “There are six children out there who’s parents want keepsake photo’s with Santa. My own folks agreed to take them but plan to spend the whole time shopping. There’s a giant sand box full of real snow for the kids to play in. It’s our job to hang out at the food court and watch them. I know It’s going to be a chore but with you around I’m sure we’ll make the best of it.”

Joanne was a sucker for flattery. She left the house and squeezed into the large van waiting outside. A hyperactive two-year old smacked her with an elf doll until she took it away. David slid in beside her. “My cousin’s a handful so we’ll both be in charge of him.” David handed the doll back to the boy. “You like to run off, don’t you, Randy.” Randy smiled, now seeming to be the picture of innocence.

Shelly was present with a niece and two sisters, one of whom was six and absorbed in a video game.

Joanne didn’t know Shelly very well. She was a relative of David’s and a total buzz kill.

Eric was in charge of his siblings, twins that bickered constantly. He was mostly a fun guy, but his insistence on following Shelly around made him less so.

The mall, a monstrous, castle-like building, was every bit as crowded as Joanne expected it to be. They waited for what felt like hours for the stupid pictures with Santa, only to have Randy start crying at the last-minute. Joanne wondered if this was more about having the perfect Christmas card photo then any real fun for the kids.

The snow pit was a hit though, at least with Randy. The other kids complained of being cold and wet and opted to ride the carousel instead, leaving Jo and David to fend for themselves at the less popular end of the food court.

David raised his computer case to block a snowball. “I’ll forgive you if you don’t want to talk about it, but you didn’t happen to see who was driving the truck?” Joanne shook her head. “It was a white or gray pick up. The weather was bad so it was hard to tell the exact color. I didn’t get a license plate either. They probably lost control because of the slippery road. They probably didn’t even know I was there anyway.”

David’s eyes shot toward the snow pit, then he sighed and shook his head. “Jo now ya got me seeing that stupid thing.”

It sounded like a joke but Joanne took it seriously. “Where?” David caught her as she left her seat. “That kid over there, see? It’s just a Hello Kitty.” Joanne shook him off and headed for the snow pit.

It was not just a Hello Kitty.

A little girl sat at the entrance to the snow pit, playing with the burlap cat. Joanne used all of her strength to remain calm. “My, that’s a beautiful dolly.” Joanne said to the girl. “May I see it?”

The girl laughed at Joanne and tossed it to another kid.

Joanne had no intention of joining a game of keep away, so she waited at the entrance to the snow pit. Joanne wasn’t sure what would be the best way to handle this, but one thing was certain. She couldn’t let the burlap cat out of her sight.

The cat was eventually passed to Randy, who seemed to want to give it to Joanne. The boy climbed through the snow in his bulky blue coat, but veered past her at the last-minute, disappearing into the crowd.

“Crap” Said David as he appeared beside Joanne. They ran through the throngs of people desperately searching for the missing boy.

Jo soon caught sight of Randy’s red scarf. He was inching along the wall giggling to himself.

They both raced toward him. Randy squeezed under a partition as soon as he was discovered. David grabbed the large canvas wall (on to which a holiday scene had been painted) and dragged it sideways. Joanne secretly hoped security would come running. They could use extra help catching randy.

Behind the canvas wall was an empty space used for storage. Toward the back was a plastic curtain. Randy pushed past it.

David climbed over covered crates with Joanne close behind him. They emerged into the deserted right wing of the mall. The wing was currently under renovation. Thick sheets of plastic covered everything like ice. Dust hung like mist in the air. Randy’s shadow disappeared around a corner.

Joanne and David tried to keep up but by the time they rounded the bend he was gone.

Joanne caught her breath. “Is there a number we can call for security? Have them watch all the doors or something.” David ran into an empty store and emerged empty-handed. “I’ve got a number for the police – but by the time they – ” Joanne left when she heard a noise. David started to dial. Joanne heard the noise again. Both shouted “Randy!” at the top of their lungs. A small voice called, “Just a minute!” They flew toward the source of the sound.

Randy was standing on a tarp-covered bench, picking peeling, white paint off the wall behind it.

“I found a train.” he said, pointing to part of an old poster somewhat exposed by the paint.

“That you Did.” said David. “The painters couldn’t get it off so they painted over it.” David gripped the boy’s shirt. “Next time just ask Santa for a train, and don’t go wandering off!”

They started to walk back.

“Marvin!” Shouted Randy as he reached for the toy he’d left on the bench.

Joanne had completely forgotten, about the burlap cat.

David was frozen, both by the sight of the cat and the fact Randy had chosen the same name for it.

He handed the boy to Jo, and picked up the cat. “Randy where did you find this?” “In the snow.”said the boy, pointing back toward the lobby. Joanne gritted her teeth, hoping the boy wasn’t too attached to his new friend. “Randy someone lost their teddy. I think we should give it back.”

Randy ignored the tattered, stuffed toy in David’s hands, and started to fall asleep. “Okay.” said the boy, oblivious to the trauma he had caused.

David spoke gravely as they reentered the public section of the mall through the canvas partition, the sleeping Randy in tow. It wasn’t like him to be so serious. “Jo if this is some kind of game you are playing with me, confess now and I’ll forgive you. Face it, you are the only one who could have given this to Randy and told him I named it Marvin.”

Joanne didn’t know what to say.

David spoke for both of them.

“Joanne, I’m selling this crazy thing to the crazies, any objections?” Joanne shook her head, though she felt slightly guilty inflicting the cat on someone else. At least the people receiving it might know what they were dealing with. Perhaps it would be happier with some occult collector, so happy it would leave her, and those around her, alone.

Joanne expected to see the cat waiting on her bed when she arrived home. The weight of the world fell off her back when she saw that it wasn’t. David called that night to say that he had shipped it.

Joanne doubted this was the end of it, but a day passed, then another. The fifty dollars arrived and Joanne soon dared to hope.

Christmas morning however, was not as merry as it could have been, for sitting amongst the presents under the tree was – the burlap cat.

Burlap Cat – Part 2

Since some people have expressed their intention to read more of this, I present to you, Burlap Cat – Part Two. SPOILER ALERT! – scroll down for part one. (You can also find it under short stories.) Please read part one first. As I am very proud of it. Oh, and Merry Christmas.

Burlap Cat – Part Two

Slanting rain drops beat the south side of the house. Wet leaves stuck to the windows. One episode of Unsolved Mysteries after another played on the living room television. Soon the disk menu reappeared but Joanne did not replace it. A tray of holiday goodies was left untouched on the couch.

Joanne sat with her eyes keenly focused. She tossed another peanut at the thing on the coffee table.

It had arrived in the mail only two hours ago. After she had only looked at it on a seedy, occult website three days before. Save for the strange manner in which it had come, the thing was nothing more then it appeared to be, that is, a burlap cat.

Joanne wasn’t sure if it was curiosity that prompted her to actually bring the thing into the house or her irrational fear that it would harm her in some way if she didn’t.

Her telephone hummed in her pocket.

“David!” she said, holding it to her ear.

“Hey Joanne, I was wondering if you have any of my games. Red Dead Redemption has gone AWOL.”

Joanne saw the title among the DVDs on the bookshelf and was quick to slip it out of it’s case. “I do indeed have it. I’ll be right there.”

She hung up before he could talk her out of biking over in the rain. David had been present the night she first caught site of the cat. He was the one who had shown her the website. It had been on his computer.

She unpacked her crinkly blue poncho and pulled it over her head, snapping it across her arms. She dropped the game into her back pack, hesitated, then stuffed the cat in there as well.

A soaking wet wind struck her as she opened the back door. She wrestled her bike out of the shed and struggled to build momentum.

Cars rushed by on the slick streets, spraying water and throwing mud. “What the heck am I doing.” She wondered. Joanne was afraid, but this was no time to admit it.

David’s house was by the *overpass. Joanne often teased him about living under a bridge, but his family was far from poor. Restoring their large Dutch Colonial had been her father’s crowning achievement.

She turned down a flagstone path into a garden darkened by the shadow of the highway, and the walls built to control the noise. David claimed he couldn’t sleep without it. Joanne was not so inclined. She flinched as an eighteen-wheeler blew its horn.

A light came on, revealing a sinister, if not familiar face. “You will have to pay the toll! Sayeth the troll!” “This is why you can’t get girlfriends.” She snapped. Driving the plastic bag containing David’s borrowed game into his chest. “Red Dead!” He laughed manically. “The lady hath good taste, she does.” He stroked it lovingly. “My preecioussssss . . .”

She ignored him, and made a bee-line for the house. David followed, his smile turning to a frown. “Joe what’s going on.” “Nothing. I’m cold and I’m wet, and I do believe you owe me.” “Owe you? I never said you had to return it right this instant, is something wrong?”

“I think your over-reacting.” said David twenty minutes later as they sipped cider and stared at the cat.

“Just tell me the truth.” Joanne insisted. “Are you, or are you not fooling with me.”

“Look Joe, you saw an ad.”

“On a website selling cursed knick-knacks.” She reminded him.

David sighed. “On a website selling haunted nick-knacks, supposedly haunted knick-knacks. Those things were far too cheap to be authentic. You clicked on a blank space and found an ad with a picture but no price, no name, and no contact, then it went to an error message. They were experiencing technical difficulties. Not surprising, considering most of them couldn’t spell. Someone probably thought you were trying to order when the site crashed.”

Joanne crossed her arms. “They would have thought you were trying to order, it was your account.”

David shrugged. “Perhaps you signed in out of force of habit.”

“I would have still needed a credit card number, or at least an address, then there’s the fact it came in an unmarked, open box.”

“A crappy website, a crappy delivery service. All you need to worry about is someone trying to charge you for it.”

“but what are the odds, that I would run into a problem like this on a website like that?”

“Because people who run websites like that still think the world is flat and are consequently, bad with technology, but hey, there’s no reason why we can’t make the best of it.”

He removed a small black box from his pocket and pointed it at the ancient stuffed animal. “I wouldn‘t do that.” said Joanne. David pressed his lips together. “Why?” “You could provoke it or something.” “You’ve explored haunted buildings with me before.” “When I was certain they weren‘t actually haunted.” “You read way too many ghost stories Joanne.” “I’m not the one with the EMF detector.”

David put away the Device. “Look, if it makes you feel better I’ll send an E-mail to the owners of the sight, asking them what happened. If you want, you can leave Marvin here with me.”

Joanne glared at the little brown face, the remaining button eye dripping hardened yellow glue, the black thread mouth seeming to smirk. “Marvin?” David picked up the cat and made it dance on his knee. “It just seems like a Marvin.”

The rain beat Joanne as she sped home. David had wanted her to wait it out, but she told him her family was eating at Sylvan’s tonight and that Sylvan’s was her favorite. It wasn’t a lie, but it would have taken more then great food to push her out into this. David’s casual treatment of the cat was making her nervous. He could do as he pleased with it, by himself. After all, it wasn’t like she didn’t warn him.

She passed the neighborhood mail box and decided she might as well. She parked her bike near one of the yellow concrete posts that sheltered it from the road. The box was covered by a tin awning, but the slant of the rain made it useless. She held an umbrella in one hand while she fished for the key to her family’s compartment.

The Christmas cards, bills and random junk, fell in an avalanche at her feet.

As there was no way to tell them apart she would have to collect all of it. She dropped her phone. There was a text from David.

“Hey, I thought you were going to leave Marvin with me.”

Joanne saw something out of the corner of her eye and snapped to attention.

Balanced atop the yellow post where she’d parked her bike was

– the burlap cat.

Forgetting everything else she screamed, and ran.

A loud squeal of tires was followed by a crash.

She turned to look, and saw a damaged pickup truck backing away from the crushed mailbox, swerving back on to the road and, speeding away. Her bike had been folded around the post, yanked free, and left with the front wheel bent skyward and spinning.

The cat lay at the base of the post, face down in the mud.

Joanne didn’t want to think about what almost happened. What would have happened, if the cat had decided to remain at David’s house like a good little inanimate object.

Joanne tucked it under her poncho, and began the long walk home.

*(Note – to my friends across the pond, an overpass is a flyover.)*

Fictions and Depictions: The Burlap Cat.

The Burlap Cat.

     A bolt of lightning split a tree in the field behind Shelly’s house. Joanne had just finished her ghost story and could never have expected such epic timing. Male and female voices were raised in high pitched squeals as the deafening crash shook the earth and rattled the windows of the living room. “Bwha ha!” cheered Joanne over the pounding rain, knowing that the ears of her three friends were still ringing, and that her cheesy, triumphant laughter would go unnoticed.

“Holy – ” Shelly remembered her parent’s were home and quickly changed the word to “Fudge.” It would be another minute before the others were up to speaking.

“Dude!” Eric let go of his head and opened his eyes. “That was awesome!”

“You know what else is awesome?” said David, reaching for his computer.

“No! Don’t!” Screamed Shelly. “It’s a thunder storm, lightening is attracted to electronic devices!”

David switched on the monitor and pointed it at Shelly “Pew! Pew!” Everyone laughed, except Shelly.

“Alright.” said David. They all gathered around the screen. “I found this website that sells ghosts!” “Those aren’t ghosts!” Laughed Joanne. “It’s just a bunch of random junk.” “Junk that’s haunted.” He whispered. A gleam in his eye. “Dude, you are the very definition of lame!” Crooned Eric, tossing back the long bangs of his mullet. “I know.” said David. “but you have to see this, it’s hilarious.” “Give it here.” said Eric. David was forced to let go, least his expensive Mac Book be damaged.

“Listen to this Idiot.” said Eric, always yearning to be the center of attention. “He calls himself ‘The Lord of Lancashire.’ and he is a selling a – ‘Very magic, rare warrior sword’ that is – ‘powerful spirit of Scottish Kilt King.’ I wonder if that’s Baron von Man dress? Dude, he can‘t even spell.” “I’m sure he meant Celt King.” said Shelly. “and Barons are German.” Joanne had warned Eric that Shelly was no fun, but Eric had a nasty habit of never saying no to blonds.

 Shelly took the computer with intent to return it to David, shaking her head at the screen. “Voodoo doll, possessed painting, candle stick supposedly used to murder ancient Egyptian duchess, cursed ring that slowly kills its wearer – this is stupid.” Joanne intercepted Shelly and laid claim to the device. “Your doing it wrong.” Joanne cleared her throat. “Ahem – ‘Ancient, Pirate, Murder, Chest!’” She searched for another dubious pitch. “ ‘Medieval torture brush.’ How do you torture someone with a brush?” Joanne smiled at Eric, knowing he always had a come back ready. “First you’d have to make sure their hair was really badly tangled.” he said. “You speak as if from experience.” Observed David. “Is that extra long douche – do biting the hand that combs it?” Eric laughed hysterically, far too fond of jokes at his own expense. This drew the attention away from Joanne and she used the opportunity to try and top that last one.

Ugh, nothing else seemed to be worth mentioning. She scrolled down past the usual china dolls and clowns. Things that were understandably scary ghosts or no, and came upon an entry that was blank. Joanne was fairly sure that it was impossible to place an item for sale on this or any other site without at least some identifying code. She clicked on the empty space. Only a picture came up, a photograph of something propped in a dark corner covered in cobwebs.

 A stuffed bear, made of, burlap? No, it was a cat. It’s one remaining ear was pointed. It appeared to have been hand made from an old sack, and repaired clumsily over many, many years. The smile had unraveled on one side. Two black threads hung like limp whiskers. One eye had gone missing, the other was a button, crudely glued to the side of it’s head. Surplus glue had leaked down it’s face.

All in all it looked like the thing would crumble if anyone so much as breathed on it. Let alone tried to ship it. It was all so perfect, this Madam Mumbo Jumbo, certainly knew what she was doing. She checked for the seller’s screen name. There was no name either, no price, and no way of contacting said seller. This was not the kind of funny Joanne had wanted to find.

 “Let’s see what you’ve found.” Eric reclaimed the computer and snorted at what he saw. “Error message – ooooohh, scary. Hey Dave, looks like they might have sold you a lemon.” Joanne snatched it back, reset the page, and searched again for the Burlap Cat. The blank space she’d first clicked on no longer existed. She decided to just forget about it.

   It was still raining three days later, when Joanne went home to the barn her father had converted into a two-story house. He was off on another construction project. There was a note on the refrigerator saying he’d be back by the weekend. Joanne’s mother occasionally weighted tables in the restaurant that was her pride and joy. Now that Christmas was on it’s way she’d be in her elf suit greeting the afternoon crowd. There was no school, no homework, and Joanne would have the place to herself.

  She pulled out her box set of Unsolved Mysteries. She slipped a disk into the player and made herself a mug of hot chocolate. On her way back to the couch she turned on the tree. It was a jungle of angels and fairies, knights and fair maidens, topped by a gleaming golden griffin she had made herself. The wind howled outside, rattling the wreath attached to the door.

   She carefully set down her mug, and the tray of snacks she figured wouldn’t contain too many calories, and threw herself across the couch. She stuffed a cookie into her mouth and raised the remote.

Something struck the door – hard.

  Slowly, cautiously, she made her way to the window, peering out at the front porch. Her parents did a lot of shopping online, so she wasn’t surprised to see a damp cardboard box laying next to the mat.

She unlocked the door.

 The box was open, laying on it’s side at an odd angle, as if someone had thrown it. No effort had been made to tape it closed. No markings indicated what company had sent it. She turned it over with her foot. Nothing was on the side facing the ground save a few water stains. It fell upright, so that the contents were exposed. Smiling up at her, was the burlap cat.