“Controlling a demon is not so very different from training a cat; you can’t, though it can be interesting to try.
It comes as no surprise to me, especially now, that witches were so fond of them; the cats, I mean. When you deal with devils daily, felines become as familiar as family…”
Seraphina hadn’t been able to throw out the strange card. In fact, she had become so attached to it after her encounter with the man in the basement that she hadn’t been able to remove it from her pocket, checking on it every so often to make sure that it was still there.
This is dangerous. Her rational mind insisted. It’s a gift from some demonic creature you don’t understand. And to those sorts of things the amazed curious part of her would wonder, is he a demon? He said there were more. What are they like? What do they want? Will they be leaving gifts too?
It was almost too much to contemplate. She stuck a hand in her pocket and ran a thumb over the parchment once more as her stomach growled. She realized she hadn’t eaten anything all day, her otherworldly tenant distracting her from her appetite. She washed her hands in the kitchen sink before preparing herself a meal. She had all the fixings for a roast beef sandwich; once it was made, she balanced the giant sandwich and a mason jar of iced tea on a tray, shoved a couple napkins in a pocket, and made her way out the back door.
Sitting on the steps in the chilly evening air, she sighed around a mouthful of sandwich. “I live in a haunted house.” She said aloud after swallowing. The declaration felt good on her tongue and she continued. “I live in a haunted house and there are monsters in the basement.” This was harder to say; leaving her feeling particularly uncomfortable as it conjured the memory of the earlier screaming. The ghost man had been talking to something else down there, fighting something else. She spared a moment to wonder if he’d survived and then common sense took hold of her again and supplied more logical thoughts. If he didn’t survive, then there’s something else down there more terrifying than him. The rational voice said. If he didn’t, then it’s only a matter of time before that beast comes hunting for something else to destroy.
That train of thought made her lose her appetite.
Suddenly, a rustling in the bushes at the edge of the property drew her attention to the tree line thirty feet away. Her eyes narrowed and she tensed, ready to bolt if some horrible thing decided to come charging out of the woods. The bushes rustled again and she saw movement, plucking a chunk of brick from the uneven back pathway, she said aloud, “Who’s there?” She was answered by silence. “This is private property. I don’t want anyone traipsing around behind my house!” The thick blackberry bushes rustled again, much closer than she anticipated. She hurled the chunk of brick towards the noise, it was met by the distinct yowling of a cat soon after.
“Oh shit!” She rushed into the brush, following the noise. A freakin’ cat? Of course it would be a cat! She felt like an idiot. The last twelve hours had put her on serious edge, enough that she’d foolishly assumed that a rustle in the woods would be an enemy and not, oh say, a rabbit or a raccoon or anything else that might live in a forest. Like a damned cat!
She found the poor thing in a nest of brambles so thick it wasn’t able to flee like it clearly wanted to. It was a big, smoky Persian, with wide orange eyes, and a scrunchy nose that made it look like it was perpetually smelling something nasty. It yowled and spat at her as she shuffled around the bush trying to get a better look at it. The thing was in horrible shape, but it didn’t seem to have any recent visible injuries, so she couldn’t have hit it. The brick must have just scared it half to death.
“Hold still sweetie, I’m here to help!” She pleaded, reaching down into the bush to fish out the mangy creature. This decision rivaled the stupidity of her last, and the realization struck home when the cat whipped around and lashed out with lightning fast paw.
Seraphina cried out, snatching her hand back and gripping the back of her now bleeding hand. “Damn it all!” She shouted, thrusting the hand into her pocket for her lunch napkins. “I didn’t mean to piss you off!” She continued dabbing the side of her bleeding hand with the tissue before applying pressure. She’d needed to clean it well. She had no idea where the cat had been. “I thought you were a demon, okay!”
The cat, still trapped in the bush and frantic, continued its yowling. Seraphina turned to make her way back to the porch, wondering how the thing had gotten itself stuck so thoroughly in the first place. She pulled apart her previously forgotten sandwich, snatched up the stack of roast beef slices, and headed back for the trees where the cat was still screaming.
“Look.” She instructed. “I bring an offering of peace, okay?” She tossed a slice of beef down into the brambles. The cat stopped yowling immediately, but not because it was eating the food, as she’d hoped. The slice had landed to drape over its head like a little bonnet and the cat, a male she could see now that his hind quarters were raised to the sky, had his nose in the dirt and his front paw swiping at the beef. “Sorry…”
When he successfully pulled the meat off his head, he stayed silent, sniffing it. Distress forgotten for the moment, he started to devour it and when he was done he looked up at Seraphina through the nest of brambles.
“You want another one?” He let out a little noise that was more of a low shout than a meow and Seraphina obliged him, dropping another slice down to him. While he ate, she dropped the last of the beef beside the bush and very carefully lifted some of the winding blackberry vines to make a little pathway to freedom.
When the cat finished his current serving, Seraphina clicked her tongue and crooned softly for him to come through the path she created and after a few moments, he darted passed her snatching the beef on his way.
He was bigger than she’d thought. Looking at him unimpeded by the brambles, she noticed the crook in his tail and the way his long bottom fangs protruded from his mouth, even when it was closed. There was a patch of bare skin near his tail bone that looked as if it had been burned long ago and his left ear wasn’t whole, like something had nibbled it. He looked like a furry, miniature orc, or war hardened Ewok.
“You should have an eye patch.” She chuckled. A deep growl started low in the cats throat. He sat, orange eyes glaring as he licked his lips and then he trilled at her as if to say, “Now what?”
“You can have another piece if you’re still hungry, but you’ll have to come up to the house.” If he was brave enough to follow her she could even get him some water. She also needed to clean her hand. She headed back to the house and set out a bowl of water and some more beef on the porch before calling to the cat across the clearing.
She left the cat to decide if he wanted her hospitality and went back in the house, up to the master bathroom, and dug the Hydrogen Peroxide and bandage kit out from under the sink. She pulled away the bloodied napkins, tossed them into the trash, and surveyed the damage more closely. Three slashes ran from the side of her hand and down her wrist. Seraphina took a deep breath, held her arm over the sink and poured the peroxide over the wound. It burned, badly and she hissed in pain. After patting it dry, she applied some ointment, and a large bandage.
When she returned to the porch the cat was nowhere in sight but the water looked as if it had been sloshed and the meat was gone. “You’re welcome!” She called out into the silence and then went inside, locking the door shut behind her.
Later that night as Seraphina prepared for a shower, she set to emptying her the pockets of her sweatpants. Her stomached plummeted as she rediscovered the hellish business card that was now stained with smears of her blood. She realized she’d bled on it when she’d fished out the napkins after her scuffle with the cat and the prospect of it coming in contact with her blood unnerved her. She scratched at the rusty splotches with her thumb but it was useless. The blood had sunk into the parchment permanently as if it had been made that way. Seraphina placed the card in the bottom drawer of her dresser reluctantly, wanting it far from her, yet aching to keep it safe at the same time. She was unwilling to make the trip down to the basement so late and store it in a box like she’d previously wanted to. It would have to sit tight until morning came and she could decide what to do with it.