My hand to God, I wrote this story just hours ago at a Write It Up! meeting in Burbank. It was a wonderful experience, and this story is appropriately funny and spooky, since Halloween is just around the corner.
Missing: Cat from the Other Side, by Alexander Paul Willging
Word Count: 850
Whatever was making a racket outside Beth Halloran’s bedroom window deserved to be shot. She turned over and took a long-suffering glare at the empty spot beside her in bed. If he’d still been alive, Frank would have grabbed his Remington and done the job himself. But, ever polite, Beth dragged herself out of bed all the same.
She donned her robe and slippers, looking like some West Texan version of Arthur Dent. Trudging down the stairs, she grumbled a long list of obscenities. And Beth was more than ready to shout them at full force when she got to her front door.
But the stream of “F— you”s died in her throat when she saw the gentleman standing there.
“I’m awfully sorry to bother you, ma’am, I truly am.”
Beth found herself staring into the awkward-smiling face of legendary actor Tommy Lee Jones. For half a second, she thought that he really was that sheriff he’d played in that movie. Oh, blast, what was its name again? The one with Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem, she was positive. But here was Tommy Lee in the flesh, wearing a hideous sweater and blue jeans like it was no big deal. Just another fella out on a walk.
“I, uh… that is, I…” Beth’s brain temporarily forgot to make words happen. She still had enough propriety, though, to tighten the belt on her robe.
“Heh, yeah, I’m sure,” said the actor. He pointed his thumb down the street. “Uh, thing is, I’m in a bit of a pickle. See, my buddy Sean’s throwing a party in your neighborhood? And this here mangy cat breaks in and is causin’ all kinds of mayhem. Well, anyway, the cat’s gone and holed himself up in the old house on your block, and I already told Animal Control I’d go and get it for ’em.”
“Oh… okay?” Beth stared. “Which house did you say it was?”
“The house on the end of your block.”
Beth crossed herself. “Oh, mister, you don’t wanna go in there. That Chesterfield house is haunted!”
But the good Mr. Jones just flashed her a winning smile. “Well, haunted or not, I need to get that cat. Can you help me, ma’am?”
Beth thought very strongly—really, she did—about closing the door in his face. Chalking all this up to a weird dream.
So, naturally, she found herself trudging through a long-abandoned backyard with Tommy Lee Jones an hour later. And yes, she was still in her robe and slippers. They were, after all, the nicest set of clothes that she could find to wear right then.
The Chesterfield house creaked and swayed in the late October wind. Its Victorian lines stood out from the rest of the cozy suburb, from a rusty weathervane that squealed every time it rotated to rotting wooden planks that crackled in the dead of night. Beth watched windows drift open and shut all by themselves, even when the wind wasn’t blowing.
And as she ducked to look around the leaf-strewn patio, she could have sworn that she heard music.
Like someone playing a piano. In a house that had been abandoned for 20 years.
Now she really had to find that cat, if only to get the hell outta there.
“Aha!” Tommy Lee Jones exclaimed. He crouched behind a rosebush. There was a fierce yowl, and a moment later, he came up holding a gray, snarling housecat. It hissed and clawed at the air, but did nothing to break free or erase the movie star’s big grin.
And as Beth breathed a sigh of relief, the lights in the house behind her turned on.
All at once.
She froze. Out the corner of her eye, she saw Mr. Jones do the same. Only the cat moved, still squirming in the man’s grip.
Beth watched as a silhouette of a person appeared in a nearby window. And then another. And another, and another still, until every single window of the house had a ghostly figure standing in it. No faces or distinguishing features. All she saw were shadows. Long, heavy shadows that blocked out the light coming from behind them. And now that piano music was louder than ever.
Loud and persistent.
From the Chesterfield house came a whisper, like a whole bunch of folks talking all at once.
“That’s ours,” said the shadows.
Beth locked eyes with Tommy Lee Jones. Then they both looked down at the cat.
Without a word, he let go. The cat meowed as it landed on the grass and ran straight toward the house. It darted around Beth’s legs and headed through the now-open back door.
When the door closed itself, the lights inside the house turned themselves out again. The shadowy figures vanished with them. A moment later, the music stopped, too.
Beth and the actor looked each other in the eye again.
“M-Mr. Jones,” she asked, “can I, uh, interest you a cup of coffee?”
Tommy Lee Jones smiled, but she could tell that his heart wasn’t in it. “Yes, ma’am, I… I believe I will.”
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