I’m not a superstitious person by nature. I don’t think of black cats or the number 13 as unlucky. I don’t knock on wood to ensure things go well. When my right eye twitches, I don’t believe there’ll be a birth in the family. And if a candle suddenly blows out, I’m certain it doesn’t signal spirits will come calling.
Except (maybe) sometimes. Because something so bizarre befell us one long ago Halloween night, people have been brushing the residue of salt off my left shoulder ever since.
It happened up north, in a time when the holiday was still animated by moms making scrap cloth costumes for their kids, then letting them run, unassisted, through neighborhoods where every house had someone eager to marvel over foil-winged angels, feathered fairies, eye-patch pirates, sheeted ghosts, and comic heroes in tinted tights wearing scarlet skivvies and donning pillowcase capes.
Liz and I had just such a home that omened October, numbered 13 Cheshire Street, set back on a cul-de-sac, with its vintage wraparound casements porch facing north, and attached deck laundry facing south.
Why we’d decorated both rooms that year remains baffling, but we did, with every accordion-style paper ghost and goblin we could find at the five-and-dime. We tied dried cornstalks around the doors, and scattered straw over the floors. The sidewalks were lined with jack-o-lanterns lit by three inch sabbath candles. A witches silhouette swayed on the front door with tiny plastic bats dangling from her broomstick. A black cat cutout hung on the back door, over a “Scat!” sign scribbled especially for the occasion.
Inside, candied and caramelized apples, pink popcorn balls, teal blue bubble gum cigars, white powdered donuts, and warmed cider in fold-out handle paper cups were arranged on a long linen clothed table, free for the glee of anticipated trick-or-treaters.
Who never came.
Nary a one.
Instead, a moonless, tempestuous, indigo sky of four winds spewing sleet descended, making mayhem before depositing a gravestone cold in its wake.
Wiser women would have felt a sense of foreboding.
We just went to bed.
“Wake me when it’s over,” Liz said, dispirited. “And not a second sooner.”
Around midnight, I heard howling; intermittent at first, but gradually growing into a wail, like death scratching at the door. I slipped out of bed and felt a shudder when opening the window to spot a solitary candle still flickering within a collapsed blackfrosted pumpkin. Soon, that lone light in the night died.
“Power’s just out,” I whispered to myself while creeping blindly down the stairs and through the house to the kitchen where I felt around to find a flashlight; still fearful of the steady, doleful crying.
Nevertheless, I unlocked the kitchen door leading into the laundry room, then mustered the courage to cautiously crack open its backyard door, illuminating the deck steps.
There sat a black cat, yowling through frosted whiskers.
“You’re quite the screamer,” I hushed, ushering him in.
After wrapping the cat in a towel grabbed from the hamper, I fashioned a bed from some leftover straw, placing it, and him inside the dryer before cracking the door and returning to bed.
At half past four the caterwauling began again. This time, a flashing clock dial signaled the power was restored. Exhausted, I staggered up and stumbled down to the yard door, only to find Liz had put the screamer back outside.
“How could anyone be so callous?” I asked the cat while scooping him up and carrying him — this time to the basement, where I hid him in a corrugated box filled with my best cotton rags. During my sleepwalk back to bed, I fashioned the tongue lashing I planned to give Liz for her indefensible bad behavior.
The scolding wasn’t to be.
Well-rested and up early, Liz was already at the sink making coffee when I hurried past her heading down the basement stairs, shocked to find the screamer, smug as a bug in a hug while nursing six newborn kittens.
“Egad, I’m in for it now!” I surmised, way-way too loud.
“In for what?” Liz called back.
I didn’t answer. I couldn’t. Instead, I sheepishly carted the box of kittens up to the kitchen with momma cat in tow.
“Wait until you see what I’ve found in the basement,” I ventured.
But by then, Liz was hunting dish towels in the laundry, yelling, “What’s this cat doing in our clothes dryer?”
“Cat?” I asked — you know, all innocent-like.
“Cats!” she replied. “A black cat with five kittens.”
So, there you have it. Do the math. Thirteen cats came calling in the span of one Halloween night, half of them pitch black, and the rest of them might just as well have been.
Because, we kept them.
It was just my luck.
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This freshly edited, updated essay was first published in 2011 in Kissed By Venus Magazine. Copyright by Marguerite Quantaine © 2011 & 2013.
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