It’s just a cat. That’s what I kept telling myself, but even the first time I saw him, ghostly white along the side of the highway, a creeping chill seized my spine, panic seized my suddenly taught muscles, and fear seized my imagination. It was a particularly dark night and overcast, after a nearly windless and solemn rain had been falling steadily over the valley for several hours. I was nearly home and feeling sleepy when the sudden sight of a large white cat sitting like some kind of sentinel of doom on the side of the road, almost glowing supernaturally, was inexplicably there. I gasped and then laughed nervously, shaking my head, saying, “it’s just a cat.” A rather large, all white cat with a strange aura and presence about him. I drove home with a lingering sense of panic and fear. I had a dream disturbed night of sleep, dreams of frightening large cat’s eyes staring with uncanny penetration, as if right into my soul.
The next morning driving by the same spot, I couldn’t help but look to where I’d seen the ghost cat the night before. My heart seemed to skip a beat, and I drew a sudden breath: there was a cat’s body on the side of the highway, crumpled and broken. But it was not a white cat, and it was not a particularly large cat. She was a smallish tabby, and my fear flowed into sadness, my eyes tearing up for this unknown kitty. But soon I could only think about that other cat, the ghost cat haunting my mind.
I don’t know why I didn’t tell anyone about the ghost cat at that time. Gradually, the fear and the memory subsided, blurred. I imagined more and more that it was just my imagination, that there had not really been any white cat. It was so fast, almost out of the corner of my eye. It could easily have just been my eye and my mind playing tricks on me. I could have been, but it wasn’t.
A couple months later I woke up in the middle of the night, uncomfortable for some reason that I couldn’t figure out. I walked to the kitchen but I wasn’t hungry. As I turned to head back to bead, a frozen hand seized my heart, chilled my lungs. Out the window, jus beyond the patio, was that horrible white cat, staring directly at me, green eyes blazing and piercing deep, as if to my soul. I couldn’t move. I don’t think I took a breath for over a minute; I was just frozen in place by fear. I turned to look down the hall, and when I turned back, the cat was gone. My shoulders dropped and I just stood, bracing my arm against the wall, gasping for air.
Then I noticed that our little cat, Felicia, a beautiful, sleek black queen with a diamond of white on her chest and a constantly happy mood, with little chirps of joy at petting, playing with string, getting her snacks, was curled up in the corner by the couch, her breathing labored. On my knees by her side, I looked into her eyes that were clouded over with pain. I did not know what could be wrong with her, but I knew it was serious, very serious. I looked up to think and almost pressed against the glass right in front of me saw the glaring green eyes and monstrous head of the ghost cat. I screamed. I did not shout or gasp, but screamed like a little girl. This of course woke my wife, who came out sleepily but alarmed, and within minutes we were on our way to the emergency vet. Dear Felicia died on the way. She had a heart defect and her lungs had filled with fluid. As her heart failed, she got less and less air with each breath from the increasing fluid in her lungs, an ever tightening circle of symptoms that each made the other progress increasingly rapidly, until she just expired, unable to circulate enough oxygen any longer. That was the vet’s conclusion.
But I knew something else had killed little sweet Felicia. In my mind, the terror of the ghost cat was growing into something demonic, something more terrible and evil than the dark hound of the Baskervilles. I knew now that I had seen him that night after the rain, and he had taken that poor little tabby, and now he had taken our Felicia from us, too. Dark hatred mixed with fear cast a gloomy shadow over my days. I began to talk about the ghost cat, the demon cat to some people, who all concluded that I was grieving Felicia, that it would pass, that I was always a bit over sensitive.
Although I did not see the ghost cat again for a couple of years, my life and my perception had changed. I was watching for the cat. I don’t know what I thought I could do. It was a supernatural fiend; I was sure of that. What power could I have over it? Then, one night as I was scanning the yard before bed, as had become my custom, I thought I saw a white shadow, a large white cat. But it was gone. Again that night like many others, I had dreams of white demons with dark hearts and penetrating green eyes.
The next morning, I noticed that our dearest cat, Kikichan, was not feeling well. She didn’t eat her breakfast, was not responding much to anything. She was just curled up in her little kitty bed by the fireplace, looking miserable. When she still hadn’t eaten a day later, we took her to the vet for an examination. After a series of tests and much anxiety, we learned that she had Feline Infectious Peritonitis, FIP, essentially a death sentence. My wife through tears listened to the vet’s analysis and answers to her questions, “it is a mutation of a common virus… we don’t know why but it sometimes mutates… there have been some anecdotal accounts of cats surviving but there is no known cure….,” but I knew why Kikichan was so sick. It was not the virus that was the cause: it was that damned ghostly demon cat.
I was determined to fight this monster. I saw him increasingly over the next two weeks, as Kikichan continued to get weaker and weaker. I cursed the demon cat, screamed at him, threw rocks, but he nonchalantly ignored my curses, dodged my projectiles. He just kept staring. And getting closer. At first on the periphery of the yard, each night I’d see him closer, his ghastly face larger, those terrible green eyes burning into my brain.
It was just not fair; Kikichan was such a special being. We loved all the cats in our lives, saw them as our friends, not pets. The love they can comprehend and respond with is humbling and inspiring. Kikichan took that as a starting point and perfected it; she knew us inside and out. I would sooner die than see her die, and upon first thinking that, I began to say it, too. I demanded that the demon cat leave Kikichan alone. “Take me!” I shouted at the cat. His ear twitched. I shouted it again, and he shifted his gaze from the window just beyond where Kikichan was curled up weakly in her kitty bed, to my face. Those eyes bore into my soul once more. I stared back in angry defiance, but I was also afraid. The ghost cat walked off.
The next day, I was telling this story to a man in the park. He just happened to sit on the same bench where I sat. I had suddenly felt my legs weaken while walking in the park, worrying about Kikichan and trying to figure out how I could save her from a supernatural beast. The man, unlike most people I would tell about the ghost cat, seemed to accept my story without judgment, without eyes rolling just a bit or starting to look at me like I’m some kind of a crazy person. He just listened. When I said I wanted to trade my life to save Kikichan, he merely replied, “you did,” almost a statement, a simple acknowledgement rather than a surprised questioning, and this put me at great ease. For the first time in quiet a long time, I felt myself relax just a bit.
Then he told me that there are amazing things in life that are not always what they seem. That there are “helpers,” who exist to ease the transition from one plane of existence to the next. He told me that this white cat, rather than the horrific demon that I was imagining, was rather a benevolent soul who was there to help make the transition for other cats less frightening, to walk with them across the bridge so that they are not alone, to serve as a guide and a friend. The more he talked, the more relaxed and calm I felt. I didn’t yet believe him, but I was impressed at how compassionate and kind it was for him to say these things to me. We talked for quite some time.
But then I began thinking about Kikichan and was suddenly anxious to get back to her, to spend some time with her. That’s when my new friend in the park surprised me by saying, “you don’t have to worry about Kikichan any more.”
I looked at him, a double take of surprise, “but, the white cat--even if as you say, he’s a helper….”
He cut me off with a gentle wave of his hand, adding, “The white cat will not come back for Kikichan any time soon. She is going to live a long and happy life.”
I didn’t understand. “But I still should be going….”
He smiled and stood up with me, putting a hand on my shoulder. “And I will be going with you. You will not have to walk the bridge alone.”
I felt a sudden panic, then said, “I traded my life for Kikichan….”
And he smiled gently and answered, “You did.” Then he told me, “You felt tired and took a rest here on this bench. You had a mild stroke, fell asleep, and while asleep had a massive stroke. It was very fast and there was no pain. I sat here and waited for you to wake up from your body.”
“You are a helper?”
“I am. I am your helper.”
“And Kikichan is okay?”
“Kikichan has had a miraculous recovery, thanks to you. And, I should tell you this: she knows it. The white cat told her.”
“Can I… see her?”
“All the time. And since she is a cat, she will know when you are watching over her. She will purr spontaneously each time. Cats can see better than humans. I don’t know why exactly, but they can see helpers and some of what is across the bridge, especially people and cats they knew as friends.”
“She can see me?”
I looked down on little Kikichan, and she lifted her head a little, a sleepy, half lidded look in my direction accompanied by a little birdlike chirp of happy recognition. And then she started purring. She put her head back down and just kept purring.
As I followed my friend from the park bench towards a shining bridge, I could still hear her purring.