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.




Sorry about A Model Employee –

I’ve got some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that I’ve turned this two- paragraph flash fiction into a twelve thousand word fantasy adventure.

The bad news is that an electronic publisher I’m currently negoatiaiting with – tells me this story has to be unpublished before they can except it.

(Blogging is considered published, it seems – so to all of my fellow bloggers – congradulations, your published.)

If this deal happens, Sam the Zombie will make his new home at Mind Wings Audio – If – for some unforseeable reason – Mind Wings

changes it’s mind, I will post the story here.

I notised it had gotten some views recently – so instead of simply making this brief character study dissappear,

I decided to inform you of what was going on with it.

Once again, I hope you are not too dissappointed,

and will continue to follow Sam’s adventures – should they

instead be sold by Mind Wings.

Thank you for reading.   

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.


Chapter One

Quincy’s Notes – Day one.

The ferryman has reluctantly agreed to take me out to Oscura.

They call it the island of ghosts.

I asked him if Oscura meant “dark” or “obscure”.

Instead of an answer I was shot with a cold stare – and warned – not to say the island’s name too often.

Both in my hand and back at the cabin are copies of a contract promising more money then I’ve ever seen.

The task is simple, spend a week on the island and live to tell the tale.

This sounds crazy but actually makes a lot of sense. A company called the Salmon Bird Group is licking it’s chops at the thought of developing the island, but wants to quell rumors of a curse before the big purchase, least the investors pull out.

Sand, palm trees, thicker growth further in, nothing unexpected. I’ll set up camp and spend the night.

Day two.

It is a beautiful morning. The wind off the sea drives the jungle bugs away. I can go pretty far in before the flies become a problem.

Some animal seems to have made off with my food supplies. I hung them from a tree but returned to see the bag tangled high in the branches. I pulled it down and found it empty. Perhaps it was the work of an unusually large monkey. No matter, I still have my water and there are signs of wild pigs. I’ve never been one to eat fish when pork is available. I figure there will be one less to shoot when the island is cleared of vermin.

I found a small bore just in time for lunch. It showed little fear of people. A sign, I hoped, that this island was truly uninhabited.

A rock struck me as I took aim.

When I turned there was a basket of fruit and sliced tubers.

I accepted the gift, though I will taste it with caution.

The Salmon Bird Group will not be pleased if some elusive native tribe is discovered squatting on their prospects. The tribe’s claim would trump all others, and I would be the one to deliver the news.

Day three.

I caught a young girl as she was attempting to leave me some breakfast. Thankfully, she appears to be a castaway from the mainland. Save for the remains of a swim suit she is mostly naked. I have given her some of my clothes.

The girl doesn’t seem to be able to speak. She has made no attempt to communicate in any language. I feel she may be mentally challenged. Perhaps she has run – or more appropriately swam – away from home.

Her survival here is a good sign. If Oscura can support one lone human so easily, then it is definitely not the death trap the locals think it is.

Day four.

My new friend has many skills. When we are forced to part, I will certainly miss her cooking. I plan to take the girl, if possible, to a specialist on the mainland, to help her learn to speak and perhaps find her family.

I requested a tour of the island and she seemed to have understood me. We went for a long walk down an almost invisible trail in the bush.

There are sines of habitation here, several ancient ruins of the type usually encountered on the mainland. There is some kind of military installation too but it is long abandoned.

Day five.

Almost bagged a goose today. It seems the girl is overly fond of the island’s animals and will not permit me to hunt them.

The girl lead me to a new location after the incident with the goose.

One of those small stone temples belonging to the islands ancient inhabitants was filled to the brim with bleached bones.

I noticed the skulls of wolves, falcons and small jungle cats.

The girl clearly treats it as some sort of animal grave yard, but it is unlikely she could have gathered all these bones herself. It seems that until recently, someone was making ritual sacrifices here.

The location of the temple suggests people may have come from the main land to leave offerings. Understandable. If the island was feared, people would want to appease the spirits.

Day six.

All in all I can’t seem to find signs of anyone else. A more throughough search will be needed before going ahead with any plans, or at least that is what I think. The ruins should be left intact to avoid controversy. It’s possible many may worship this place as well as fear it.

Since I was asked to confirm the island’s relitive safety and not advise on legal or moral concerns, please consider these to be merely suggestions.

A stock of the native wildlife should be taken into account – both for reasons of conservation and as a possible draw for visitors.

Several feral species have moved in but can be eliminated easily.

The ruins can be a blessing or a curse depending on how you handle them, see that they are preserved and studied if better press is necessary.

Day seven –

The girl has joined me as I await the ferry. She seems eager to be on her way. This is a beautiful place shrouded in the myth and mystery of its mountains and waterfalls. Many will flock to these misty shores if the island can be made habitable. It is practically habitable now.

It has been left vacant out of respect I believe.

People will resent the group for claiming to posess it.

I would recommend making a large portion of it public, and being lienent on any tresspassers. “We are just making a good thing better.” Is the message I wound send to the locals.



* * *

The small, leather-bound book was slapped shut and handed back to it’s owner,

Mr. Quincy McClain.

He stood in the office of Edward Fallows, chief legal advisor to the Salmon Bird Group.

In the corner sat Kirin, Quincy’s silent souvenir from an otherwise routine adventure.

Quincy had chosen a name for the girl after all attempts to find her family had failed. His friends told him to dump the liability in one institution or another. Yet save for her apparent inability to speak, Kirin was no trouble at all.

Edward poured himself another drink and swallowed it.

No cigars, just liquor, lots of harsh brown whiskey. The good stuff was for celebrating, the cheep stuff was a painkiller.

“Quincy.” He said. “We were lead to believe the island was uninhabited.”

Quincy crushed the journal between his fingers. “There is no way one person could have confirmed that in the span of a week. I told you to search the place.”

“We did.” said Edward. “It was all clear but . . . ”

Quincy never cared for dramatic pauses.

“Well, go on.”

Edward sighed.

“Sir, something is killing people!”



Small Wonders.

I wish I had taken this. Thanks Wikipedia.

Blue Brick posted a beautiful series of bird photographs.


She described them as elusive. I recalled a chance encounter with a least bittern and was reminded just how elusive our fine, feathered friends can be.


The Least Bittern is native to large marches in the Americas. They are not uncommon in the swamps that define much of the gulf coast, yet I was seventeen before I saw my first one. Now I am nearly thirty and have yet to see another of these small wonders. I am starting to doubt that any known species is more elusive.

The story began when my nine year old neighbor came to my door claiming to have seen a flat bird. I had gained a reputation among the local children for being the closest thing to an animal expert on the block, often being called in to identify road kills and assist in impromptu dissections. (Kids in my neighborhood were weird.)

Not wanting to play “Poke the Maggot Infested Carcass With a Stick” (I was about to eat lunch.) I declined the invitation, only to be assured that the creature was still alive. Thinking it might be injured, I followed her to the back yard of one of her friends.

A folded lawn chair rested against the brick wall of the house. Perched atop this lawn chair was something that must have come from outer space.

Take me to your leader.

Viewed from the side it was a tiny stork, some seven inches tall. Viewed from the front it was a straight line. None of the pictures I have found of this bird seem to properly illustrate  its vanishing act.

As I circled the little bird, its eyes never left mine. Though its beak was pointed skyward. This gave it the appearance of a thin little man with a pointed hat. It would reposition itself so I was always looking at its less visible front, perhaps, a survival strategy. We all had a staring contest with it until we were forced to blink and, just like that, it was gone.

I later found the name of the bird but no picture has ever done it justice.

Descriptions of its behavior though, make me certain that it was a least bittern. Many color morphs exist, much like humans I suppose, and not all of these morphs are known.

This bittern spends most of its life standing perfectly still, snapping up any flying bug that wanders too close. It hides in tall masses of reeds, pretending to be a grass leaf. It hunts and breeds in these reeds, likely never emerging unless the reeds are disturbed.

Despite all I have learned, it’s still hard to believe these birds are not magic. I feel like I have seen a yeti.

Scattered Skull Canyon.

Buzzards circled the ledge where Lynx lay sleeping. He wasn’t dead yet. Those birds should really learn some manners. He stood up and chucked his hunting stick. It missed, bouncing of the walls of Scattered Skull Canyon.

“Go, Hurry!” The village elder had said. “Everyone and everything will be fine. All that time you waste playing amidst the rocks will finally pay off, you will be able to show us what a great hero you are! The greatest, mightiest climber!”

Lynx wondered if the old woman had gone mad, raving about his climbing skills as the shadows of Dragon wings passed over their heads. She promised him, swore to him, that it all would be fine. Lynx new better.

It was the dawning of the spring festival. Long ago, it had been a day of rejoicing. Fat elk were slain and roasted long into the night as they celebrated the breaking of the winter fast. Then the dragons moved in.

The dragons had their own spring festival. They ate nothing but elk the rest of the year, along with mountain goats, and the odd cave bear. They steered clear of humans most of the time, but at the spring festival, all bets were off. Men were taken because they were meatier, women because they were mild, children because they were tender. Every one of the beasts had a preference. The people would fight but none could deny the Dragons their traditional holiday feast. None save Lord Amberheart, who just so happened to be a dragon himself.

Depending on who you asked, he was either the best dragon who ever lived or the worst.

Ten years ago, his fire filled the sky. All other dragons gathered for the feast fell to their deaths with tattered wings. The village ate roast dragon that day, cooked in the breath of the magnificent turn-coat.

Several years passed with peaceful springtides. All wanted to believe Lord Amber Heart was a friend. Yet some wondered what a beast who mass-murdered its own kind would do if approached by a human. Lynx was about to find out.

In Dreams Begin Insanity

Sterling recently posted a very interesting article or dreams.


Once in a blue moon I’ll have an extremely complex and vivid dream. Sometimes I’ll even realize it’s a dream. Some people like to look for meaning in their dreams. Perhaps because their dreams make sense. No rhyme or reason seems to exist in any mine. Perhaps I should go ask Alice.

I do find them funny though. Here is one I’d like to share.

The Purple Llama Adventure.

       I was making my way out of a crowded theater, looking for my brother and my cousin. Cars were lining up outside to pick up movie-goers. I heard someone shout my name. My brother Eli held open the door of a white Volkswagen Bug hung with oversized Christmas ornaments. A smiling man in dreadlocks welcomed me in as Jamaican music blared on the radio.

      I had never seen this man, let alone his strange car but my brother seemed to know him so I squeezed past the mass of people in my way. Too late! My ride was forced to retreat down the line by the idiot directing traffic.

I waited and waited for them to come back around. I suddenly had to pee. Surly a quick trip to the restrooms wouldn’t cause me to miss them again.

I meandered through the maze of humanity – past the buffet of donuts and other treats put out by the staff. Never once did I wonder why a theater would even have a buffet.

I asked an attendant where the restrooms were. She pointed to an unmarked door in the back.

I figured the restrooms were somewhere behind it and stepped through into the longest hallway I had ever seen.

Stained wooden paneling lined the walls, the floor and the ceiling. Bright light shown behind me, and ahead of me. I couldn’t see where either path led.

Still thinking I was in the quote-unquote “real” world, I soldered on – for what felt like miles. There were no doors or windows on either side, just the endless stretch of brightly lit hallway behind and ahead of me. I started to wonder where the crowds had gone, why this hallway was so deserted.

A man carrying a small child on his shoulders walked by. He said Hello as if it was nothing out of the ordinary. I decided to ask him what the heck was going on.

“Isn’t this neat!” He said. “I thought my boy and I were the only ones who knew about this place. We come here all the time and explore.”

I asked him if they had ever discovered a restroom and he nodded. “Just turn around.”

Right behind me was the open door to a toilet.

It was as if angels were singing as I – wait a minute.

It began to dawn on me that this might be a dream.

I could feel myself waking but fought it.

There was a mountain of glazed donuts in the lobby.

I could stuff my face without consequence.

I backed away from the toilet (that action would have consequences) and raced back to the lobby. The donuts were still there but the crowds were not. An attendant informed me that they were free. I dipped a pastry in cinnamon roll sauce and took a bite – It was every bit as good as I had hoped. I ate until I got bored.

Again, I could feel myself waking, but I had to find my cousin and my brother. This may have just been a dream but my sleeping brain seemed to think that something bad would happen in real life if we remained separated.

In the parking lot was a man selling giant bibles out of his equally giant red pickup truck. He claimed to be a preacher and informed me that the robed figures riding in the back of the truck were his choir. Knowing that church folk tend to be charitable, I told him of my predicament and was allowed to come along. I climbed a ladder into the front seat and discovered that everything about the truck was giant – even the steering wheel.

It was so high up, the man could barely reach it, let alone see where he was going.

Things were crushed beneath us and people on the ground ran screaming as the preacher struggled to maintain his grip on a wheel he could barely reach. I climbed the dashboard and was surprised that he was managing to stay on the road, though everything else in the way was getting flattened.

We reached a town where there seemed to be a parade going on. The streets were lined with young girls in wedding dresses standing beside purple Llama-like beasts. I asked him what was going on and he mumbled something about heathens.

It was in this town we stoped for gas, and narrowly missed the white volkswagon as it pulled out of the station. The Preacher offered to chase them down in his truck but I feared he would crush them. I decided to call my brother on my cellphone instead.

That is when I noticed one of the Llama girls staring at me. “My spirit animal will help you find your friends.” She said, handing me the reins of something that was more like a hump-less camel then the Llama it resembled from a distance.

Up close, it was big enough to ride.

I only had to hang on as it carried me across the country side with lightning speed. It’s purple fur smelled like grapes. Not a smell I usually like but it wasn’t intolerable.

We soon caught up to the white bug. It stopped. My brother Eli got out and laughed. “Where the heck have you been?”

I tried to climb off the grape camel but the beast had other ideas, tearing across the horizon and forcing my companions to keep up.

The ornaments were torn off the little white bug as we raced each other through a brick-red desert, Jamaican music blaring from the open windows of the car. It was around this time I awoke. Wondering if there was something in the water.

Red House Part 2

I carefully wrote this story so that it would be easy to understand without it’s earlier part. If you want to read part one, it’s under short stories. Thanks for reading and do tell me if there is something I can do to improve it.

         Lisa took a big bite of her Italian vegetable sandwich and patted the white, metal body of her Bobcat E32 Excavator. She’d never done demolition before and was looking forward to it.

        The ancient, brick mansion was mostly the work of much larger machines but daddy had promised there would be some left for her.

       “Hey you!” said one of the guys handling the beehive under the eave. “Who me?” “Yeah you, stop stuffing your face and knock that door in.” She swallowed. The sandwich was delicious. Ordinarily it peeved her to be distracted at lunch but today was special. There was building on the menu and she’d just been ordered to take the first bite.

       Her fellow workers scattered to an unnecessary distance as she eased the unit into position. They yelled things like – “Clear off! There’s a woman in this one!” She swore back at them as was expected. Lisa was willing to bet she had twice the experience of all of them. Such shouting matches were the required social niceties in this crowd.

      She studied the door in question. It appeared to have been beautifully decorated at one time. Now it was covered in the scratched names of children who had knocked at midnight to prove their courage. There were other scratches too; the usual occult symbols meant to keep bad stuff in or perhaps sick it on your enemies. Old houses just did that. People thought they were magic.

      She raised the arm of her machine and dragged it across the weathered wood, leaving the largest scratch of them all. This would be nothing. She placed the tines of the shovel near the top. She would either tear the door off its hinges or peel out a hole big enough for the bee wranglers to step through. She wondered if the floor would hold, and for a brief instant was thankful she wasen’t the one going in.

She eased the arm ever so slightly forward . . .

           The crew dropped their coffees as a loud crash shook the earth under their feet. A long column of opaque, white smoke billowed sideways from the south face of the old mansion. Quickly, they rushed to the aid of their friend.

        Her excavator looked to be covered with a coat of thick, gray paint.

       A rag was rubbed across the window. The glass was cracked but not broken.

       The woman inside was sitting up straight, eyes wide.

      She stumbled out when they opened the door. “What the hell!” She cried. Lisa turned to the door she’d been told to knock down, the frame was gone also, along with a significant portion of the wall around it.

        The bees were in a panic. The humans sought the safety of their vehicles. The swarm was not of that murderous breed and calmed down after only a short while. Lisa then made for the bee keeper’s truck, intending to make one thing clear. “That wasn’t me.” “We Know.” said a guy in a dark blue business suit. They told her his name was Dale Winter, THE Dale Winter. He raised a bullhorn to his mouth. “Everyone go home! That’s enough for today!”

           As soon as Lisa left, a man in a bee suit came forward. “We’ll have to call in a bomb squad. Something exploded in there.” “Don’t remind me.” Said Dale, curling his lip at the house. It had been an eyesore on the block and a thorn in his side since taking office.

   He did not consider himself to be the superstitious sort but upon pursuing what little records existed on the place he had noticed a pattern. It seemed that the Red House attracted trouble. More so the longer it remained in it’s owners possession. As a former lawyer Dale knew a liability when he saw one, and as a current mayor he knew it was his duty to take it down.


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.