“You have a cat?”
George glanced up from comparing cat food prices. Surveying the woman who’d spoken, he sighed. Of all the damn people. “Just until I find its owner, Linda.”
His next-door-neighbor eyed the cat litter in his shopping cart with skepticism. “Pets aren’t allowed in the complex.”
He wanted to roll his eyes. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
“You do that.” She pushed her glasses up her nose. “What color is it?”
He thought of the scraggly tomcat that had appeared on his doorstep that morning. He was going to name him Garfield. “Orange. Why?”
Her eyes lit with victory. “There’s a flyer posted at the registers for a missing cat. An orange cat.”
He hid his disappointment. “I’ll take a look.”
With a brisk nod, she walked away, her purse bouncing against her ample hip.
Sighing, George turned his attention back to his task.
An hour later, he sat in his kitchen, absently fingering the catnip toy he’d purchased, watching Garfield sniff at his food. Guilt lingered in George’s mind. The picture posted had clearly been of Garfield and an astoundingly generous reward was offered for his return. He’d read it twice before leaving.
But Garfield was his now. Fate had brought them together. George had no friends or family. No one to spend the evenings watching television with. No one to greet him when he came home. Now he did. He’d worry about his landlord and Linda later.
A knock sounded at the door. George stood with a frown. He didn’t get visitors. Casting a curious glance at Garfield, he straightened his sweater vest.
A gaunt man with dark shadows beneath his eyes stood waiting on the porch. There was a desperate look about him that made George uneasy.
“Yes?” George asked.
The man’s voice was hoarse. “Is it here? Do you have my cat?”
George gaped. “What?”
“Your neighbor,” he rasped. “Said you found my cat.”
That damn meddling Linda! George struggled to remain impassive. “No, she was mistaken.”
“You’re lying,” the man accused.
Blustering, George said, “I beg your–”
“You think it’s a pet, but it’s not.”
George stepped back inside. “I think you should leave.”
“Wait,” the man said, nearly sobbing. “Please. I just want my soul back.”
George glared. Was he going to have to call the authorities? “Your soul?”
The man’s eyes were wide and pleading. “I know how it sounds, but that demon-cat stole my soul.” He gasped for breath. “It’ll steal yours too.”
“Leave now or I’m calling the cops,” George warned.
“Please.” The man stretched out a gnarled hand.
George slammed the door and locked the deadbolt. Heart pounding, he watched the man sag in defeat and then limp away. Unsettled by the strange encounter, George turned to find Garfield blocking his path. Startled, George laughed nervously. “Garfield, you scared me.”
Motionless, the orange cat watched him. Whether it was a trick of the light or his own imagination, George thought he saw something sinister in its feline gaze. A calculating knowledge that shouldn’t be there. A shiver ran down his spine. “Garfield?” he asked, swallowing hard.
The cat regarded him a moment longer then abruptly turned and walked away on silent paws. George watched it disappear around the corner, and he let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. After a few more calming breaths, he began to feel foolish. Garfield was a cat. Nothing more. He’d let some lunatic’s schizophrenic delusions frighten him. Shaking his head, he made his way back to the kitchen to find that catnip toy.