A FAMILIAR GIFT
When the man arrived at my doorstep, I barely glanced at him.
“Can I help you?” I asked. I wanted to be polite, but I was really quite busy. Three half-carved jack-o-lanterns sat on my kitchen counter along with a pot bubbling on the stove, not to mention the sewing project on the table waiting for my return.
“I’ve been watching you,” he said. His voice felt like gravel being poured over my head. It made me pay attention.
He was thin and dressed all in black, and so it wasn’t until I heard the purring that I realized a black cat was lounging in his arms. I took a step back, but the man remained at the same distance from me. The cat kept purring.
“I don’t know what you mean,” I replied, or at least tried to.
The man smiled a grin full of teeth, but I couldn’t tell if they were rotten or perfectly maintained. When I tried to look directly at him, it was as if I were in a house of mirrors lit with strobe lights.
“I had my initial doubts,” he said. “You were such a good girl growing up.”
The cat’s purrs were beginning to reverberate in my ears. I could barely hear his voice over the sound.
“But you’ve proven very worthy in the past few months.”
A chill ran up my spine, and then a burst of fire shot back down it.
“The effort you’ve put into your research is quite impressive. I don’t find many like you in this day and age, especially in mid-American suburbia.”
He looked around the subdivision in which my house resided and chuckled. I was reminded briefly of a grinning skeleton before he fixed his dark eyes back on mine.
“I’ve brought you a gift,” he said.
The purring quieted. He held out the black, furry creature to me, and without any intention to do so, I received her into my arms.
“She’ll help you in your efforts,” he said. “I’ll return for her after seven years. Look after her well, and you will be rewarded. If not, well…”
He stepped off the porch and back into my driveway. He looked back over his shoulder and grinned that ghastly, beautiful grin once again. “Happy Halloween.”
I don’t know how long I stood there or quite when he disappeared. I fear I might have stood there forever if not for the cat’s meow. I looked into the creature’s yellow eyes. It was as if she were encouraging me to get back to my to-do list. So I did.
As I wandered past the half-stitched doll and stick pins on the table, the smell of the concoction in the cast iron pot told me it was ready. I walked to the gas stove and turned up the flame with my free hand, and then retrieved the remaining ingredient from the cabinet. The cat jumped out of my arms and onto the counter, where she kept a watchful eye as I dropped the lock of hair into the cauldron.
As it bubbled, the cat began purring again, and I knew that we would soon become very familiar companions.
© 2013 Elizabeth Ditty