By Jeffrey Bishop
Tell Time: 7 minutes
Scare Rating: 3/5 Ghosts
Baby Becka was asleep for an afternoon nap and Mom and Dad, new parents, were enjoying a rare, quiet moment.
“Too quiet,” said Mom. “Did you hear that?”
“No.” Dad didn’t look up from his newspaper.
“I know. That’s not good. I can’t hear Becka at all!” said Mom.
Now Dad lowered his paper, but only to raise an eyebrow at what seemed to him to be an absurd observation. Of course a sleeping baby wouldn’t make noise.
Listening hard, Mom suddenly sprang off the couch and toward the nursery.
“Somethings wrong!” she exclaimed.
Sensing real urgency, Dad followed close behind as Mom burst into the room. There, they found Racine perched heavily on their baby’s chest, gently kneading the child’s chest with its paws. The jet black face of the cat was pressed up close to a very blue Becka.
“Get off her! Get out! Scram!” Mom screamed, running to the crib and her baby. The cat stayed where it was for a moment, intent upon some strange chore, and finally escaped only when Mom leaned over the crib rail to swat it away. The cat seemed to shake off a trance state before it slinked between the bars of the crib and ran out of the room between Dad’s legs.
Becka started to whimper and cough as Mom lifted her from the crib and patted her on her back. Awake now, she broke out into a deep, pained cry that quickly returned oxygen and vitality to the infant’s frame.
Tragedy had been averted, but Mom and Dad remained shaken.
“I think she was trying to smother her,” Mom said. Becka was back to sleep behind the now firmly closed door of her bedroom, and Racine was in her traveling case.
“I’ve heard of cats doing that — especially black cats like Racine,” said Dad. “But don’t you suppose she was just checking her out? Smelling her baby’s breath. After all, she is still new to her.”
Mom threw a hard stare at her husband. Had he missed that their baby wasn’t breathing when they found her? Dad definitely got Mom’s message, but he remained skeptical, and continued to advocate for the devil.
“Could it be that Racine sensed trouble and was trying to save Becka’s life? It kind of looked like a kitty version of CPR to me,” he said.
Mom considered it.
“Well, maybe we need to get rid of Racine,” offered Dad.
Mom wouldn’t consider that.
“No!” she said. “Racine was our first baby; she charmed us from the moment we saw her at the shelter. Sure, she’s terrible — she’s always into trouble, breaking something or tearing up the furnishings or biting me. But I don’t think she’s evil.
“We’ll just have to keep a close eye on both and make sure that nothing like this can ever happen again.”
And nothing of the sort did happen again. Indeed, from that day forward, Racine was a kind, affectionate, attentive pet. Conversely, Becka, previously a sweet, good-natured infant, became a colicky and angry baby and toddler, and grew to be a sullen terror to her family, schoolmates and the general community as she entered her primary school career.
“Grounded on my 13th birthday. What the heck?” screamed Becka as she stormed into her bedroom. “What’s the big deal about setting a wood fence on fire, anyway?”
She slammed the door so hard that it bounced all the way open again. On the back swing, Racine sauntered in behind her and sat square in the middle of the room. Normally fearful of the human, she did enjoy seeing her suffer justice at the hands of her parents.
She smugly looked up at the girl; Becka noticed in the cat’s expression what passed for a smile, and didn’t like it one bit.
“What the heck are you looking at, beastie?” shrieked the tween. “I can … I will put a hurt on you!” Racine didn’t budge, even when Becka threw her snow globe at her, a near miss.
“Whatever. Stay if you like. I won’t be dealing with you, or with Mom and Dad, after midnight tonight!”
Becka knelt on the ground in front of the cat.
“They don’t know what to do with me; their shrinks don’t know what to do with me,” the girl hissed her vile message at the cat. “That’s because they’ve never seen the wiles; the anger; the hatred … and the power … of a 400-year-old witch!
On hearing this revelation, Racine’s ears turned back and her dark hair stood on end. A low growl rumbled out of her chest and she instinctively struck the girl’s face with an open paw lined with razor-sharp claws.
“Beast!” Becka screamed, and made a grab for the cat with one hand while tenderly touching her raw wound with the other. Racine escaped to the safety underneath the girl’s bed and growled again.
Seeing her own blood on her hand and feeling the pain of the wound made Becka smile; a warped, narcissistic smile, and she continued her hate-filled rant.
“It was enough to have spent nine lifetimes pent up inside the prison that was a dirty, shabby cat-skin … the prison you now find yourself in. Yes, that’s right — I pulled your soul out of your body when you were an infant and I took over your human shell.
“Those Puritans, those white witches, thought they were so smart, trapping us in the bodies of black cats. But they’ve come and gone, and here we are yet, one by one making our escape by swapping vessels with babes in swaddling clothes.
“If you hadn’t come along, I might have died a final death, used up that ninth life, waiting,” the girl continued ranting. “Now my prison is yours. My miserable fate has been yours for these past 13 years, and now you are at the twilight of your ninth life, and I’m at the zenith of mine!
“And at the stroke of midnight, when I’m fully 13 years old, I’ll have all of my dark powers back. And this time, I’ll take over the world. After I rid myself of you and this horrible, peaceable family I’ve been cursed to dwell with all these years!”
Fearful, Racine shot out from under the bed and darted to find a new hiding place, a place of safety where she could think about everything she’d just heard. And plot.
A storm was brewing outside as the clock began to toll the midnight hour. A low rumble from the west mingled with the deep somber tone of the heirloom wall clock in the foyer. Becka emerged from her room into the dark second-floor hallway wearing a deep black robe lined with red velvet. She clutched a gnarled stick in her left hand and almost seemed to parade herself down the hallway to the second-floor landing that overlooked the rest of the house.
“Tonight, on this dark night, I am a dark debutante!” she announced. “On the twelfth bell toll of my thirteenth year, all the dark powers I developed through the centuries return to me. Then, nothing can stop me!”
Racine was the only witness to this dark mantra. She crouched in the darkest shadow of the hallway, her mind and spirit convicted of what she must do, despite the risk.
Caught up in her ceremony, the witch didn’t see the cat’s back-end raise and wriggle; it’s tail whip in the darkness. As the girl raised her arms and took her first step down the tall flight of stairs, Racine shot out from the shadows. She hit the girl’s raised leg with all her weight, knocking it to the side and into its twin. The cat then twisted and wrapped herself around the other leg, holding it firmly in place.
The girl tripped and fell like ancient timber. A high, primal scream escaped from her dark core as she crashed, hard on to the steps beneath her. The witch-girl’s neck was instantly broken, and what rolled down the rest of the steps was simply a lifeless human shell.
Racine watched the body fall down the stairs, and saw an acrid, green mist escape from the girl’s limp, falling form and dissipate into the dark night with a fading moan. The nightmare was over.
Becka’s parents had heard the ruckus and quickly arrived at the scene of the tragedy. They didn’t understand why their daughter was dressed so strangely, and weren’t sure if Racine had anything to do with her mysterious death.
Mom and Dad were naturally heartbroken. With the passing of time, however, they came to take great comfort in the love and attention they received from Racine, who remained a young and lively cat for a long, long time.