When Midnight started to show up every so often- stalking behind me on my walk to the bus station, lounging on my deck furniture, terrorizing the local rabbit population- I was concerned. Don’t get me wrong. Midnight was a great cat. He didn’t meow all night begging for food, he tolerated me when I moved in with his owner, and he didn’t tear up the leather recliner. The key word in all of this is was.
Midnight died a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, he’d had some sort of cancer, and we’d euthanized him to put him out of his misery. My girlfriend had spent the whole night crying. She’d loved that cat.
When I started seeing him around, I assumed he just was another stray black cat. Then, I got closer, and I saw a patch of white fur- a crescent moon on his right shoulder. It had to be Midnight. That was part of his namesake for crying out loud: a moon in a midnight sky.
I’d dropped my bag of groceries on the ground, cracking a good seven eggs, when I’d seen that patch. He strode up to me, purring and rubbing against my legs. What kind of twisted coincidence was this? Did Midnight have a secret twin on the loose in suburban Albuquerque?
Amy, my girlfriend, had pushed open the screen door. “Cameron? What’s taking you so long? I want to start dinner.”
I was still frozen in place, staring down at that cat. His green eyes were open wide, meeting mine.
I heard Amy’s footsteps behind me. “Cameron! You’ve dropped the bag. There are eggs in there!” she scolded, leaning down to snatch up the discarded bag.
“Are you not seeing this?” I asked, turning to her.
She rummaged in the bag. “I don’t even want to open the carton.” When I didn’t answer, she looked up at me, her thin eyebrows furrowed. “What’s your problem?”
I sucked in my cheeks. “The cat right there. The one that looks exactly like Midnight.” I pointed at him, and he sat down a few feet away on the driveway, licking his paws.
Amy surveyed the driveway and shook her head. “He must’ve run off.” She tucked a wavy lock of blonde hair behind her ear and beckoned me to follow her. “Come on. We have to put the ice cream in the freezer before it melts.”
My eyes nearly bulged right out of my head. “Amy! He’s right there. How can you not see him?”
Amy turned back around, annoyance glinting in her stare. “Cameron! There’s nothing there.”
I marched across the driveway, about to grab the cat and shove him in Amy’s face. He seemed to realize my intentions, and before I could crouch down, he sprinted across the pavement, disappearing into the neighbor’s backyard.
“Dammit,” I swore. “But didn’t you see him run?”
Amy’s features were contorted now, twisting in. . . Concern? Pity? “Jeez, Cameron. I didn’t think you were that attached to Midnight, but I guess I was wrong. You’re seeing grief ghosts.”
“Grief ghosts?” How had she not seen the cat? It was literally ten feet away. I snatched the bag from her hand and went inside, placing it on the kitchen table.
“Yeah, like after my dad died, I could see him everywhere. If I saw anyone wearing a brown leather jacket, I automatically assumed it was him.”
I handed her the ice cream container and she put it in the freezer. “I’m not grieving, Amy. Midnight was a good cat, yes, but I’m not heartbroken. There was a cat out there that looked exactly like Midnight, white patch and all.” Opening the egg carton, I cussed under my breath. Only five were still intact. The rest oozed goo into the divots. “How many eggs did you need?”
“Four,” she answered.
“Good.” I scooped handfuls of the broken shells into my hands and flung them into the garbage can.
I felt her hand on my shoulder as I rinsed the goo off my fingers. “Babe, if you want to talk, I’m here for you.”
I wanted to argue more, insist that I wasn’t seeing things, but instead I just turned and gave her a tight smile. “Thanks, honey.”
That was two weeks ago, and now I am convinced that I’m going out of my mind. No one can see Midnight. Not my neighbor when I pointed out that he was sleeping in their garden. Not the random woman on the street when I joked that I wished money would follow me like the cat does. Just me.
My finger twitches above my phone screen. Ten numbers, and then the call button. It’s that simple. Call a therapist, make an appointment. Figure this whole mess out. Possibly get diagnosed with schizophrenia and get locked up in a mental hospital.
I power off my phone, raking my hands through a mop of tangled brown hair that needs combing. I have a normal life. I work IT for a local company, I live with my beautiful girlfriend, and we get drinks with some old college friends on Fridays. I have no family history of schizophrenia. This can’t be happening to me.
I pace the kitchen before settling restlessly on my recliner and flipping on the TV to the news. When I watch the news, I can pretend I’m an informed citizen. In reality, I can’t point out where Iran is on a map.
“Breaking news,” the host begins. She’s my favorite, a brunette with a gentle smile and a commanding voice. Amy and I got into a whole fight once about my preference towards her as a host. “A woman has been killed in eastern Albuquerque. According to neighbors, this comes after months of noise complaints of shouting from inside the victim’s house. They suspect domestic abuse turned fatal, but authorities haven’t confirmed a cause of death.”
“Amy!” I call, and she walks in, drying her hair with a towel.
“A murder, in eastern Albuquerque,” I answer, leaning forward.
“Hopefully not anyone we know,” she mutters, sitting on the couch as she absent-mindedly detangles her hair with her fingers.
The two of us wait as the host repeats the information to any newcomers. “We have just received confirmation of the victim’s identity. Amber Corallis, age thirty-three In addition, her death has been confirmed a suicide.”
My heart drops in my chest, and I frown.
“You okay, Cam? Did you know her?”
“Went to high school with her. She was always so nice,” I answer, rubbing my chin. “We did a huge senior project for American gov together. I was friends with her brother.” I knew that she’d stayed local after graduation, but I didn’t know she’d ended up in an abusive relationship. She’d deserved better.
I stand up, digging for the keys in my pocket. “I’m going for a drive.”
Amy stands up too. “Are you sure that’s a good idea? Are you still seeing Midnight?”
“No,” I lie “I’m fine. I just want to clear my head.”
I don’t give her any more time to protest and walk out the door. Settling into my Mercedes, a dark red oldie that I’m probably too fond of for my own good, I back down the driveway. There Midnight is, slinking around the bushes, but I don’t want to think about him or his existence right now.
I drive out of my suburb and get onto the highway. The sky is a cloudless blue, and for a few minutes, I almost forget about the situation because the day is so nice.
Amber’s brother, Jeb, lived not far from our high school. I used to go there after our basketball practices all the time. I remember that a year or two ago, we’d happened to see each other at a bar, and he’d told me that Amber had moved into their parent’s house after they ended up in assisted living.
I don’t know why I drive to Jeb’s- Amber’s- someone’s- house. I don’t know what I’m expecting to see. Maybe I want to give that shithead that drove her to suicide a piece of my mind.
What I’m not expecting to see is Amber, sitting on her front porch.
She doesn't look that different than she did in high school. Same long, pin-straight brown hair. Same artsy style, blue denim overalls over a neon yellow shirt.
I park a house or two away, walking slowly towards her. She’s just staring off into the distance, as if her murder isn’t being broadcasted across the local news.
When I walk up to her, she frowns but says nothing. It’s almost like she expects me to keep walking or ring her doorbell. Her hazel eyes are glassy from crying, and there’s a bitterness in them that I don’t recognize from high school.
“Amber, what are you doing here?” I ask.
Her eyes widen. “Is that you, Cameron Svetsky? From LCHS?”
“Yeah, it is. I don’t know what’s going on, but the news is saying you’re dead.” I cross my arms, looking around us. The house behind her is silent and the curtains are drawn shut.
She grimaces. “I am.”
I blanch. “You’re not dead. You’re right in front of me.”
“Well, you’re the only one since I’ve died that can see me. The police definitely can’t.” She shrugs.
I shake my head, backing away from her, but I stumble. Something is in my way. I whip around, and Midnight meows at me. Then, he walks past, tail flicking back and forth, and rubs his cheek against Amber’s knee.
She smiles and scratches his head. “Aw, isn’t he cute?”
“You can see him?”
“Obviously.” She pulls him into her lap, and he purrs.
“Jesus Christ. This can’t be happening.”
“Tell me about it,” she mutters.
“I can see ghosts. That’s why I can see you and Midnight.” Amy was onto something when she mentioned grief ghosts. It’s the only explanation that I can think of that doesn’t lead to me taking meds for the rest of my life.
Amber cocks her head at me. “I believe it. I mean, less than forty-eight hours ago, my neck snapped, and now I’m sitting on my porch, completely fine.”
“What the hell am I supposed to do? I don’t want to see ghosts. My life was normal until now.”
She scoffs. “You think you’re the one with the bigger problem? I don’t want to be a ghost! What am I supposed to do? Wander around my house for eternity?”
Midnight stares at me, and I swear there’s something human in those jade depths. It’s an urging look, a look that says man up, Cameron. You know what you should do.
I laugh nervously to myself. “I guess there’s only one thing for us to do then.”
“Well, ghosts exist because they aren’t at peace, right?”
“You’ve got that right. I won’t be at peace until my asshole boyfriend gets what he deserves. I didn’t commit suicide. He killed me.” She smiles at me then, strange considering the topic of conversation, and Midnight hops out of her arms. He sits at my feet. “I remember in high school how you’d always said you’d hated normal.”
“I guess I forgot about that.” I had. My unremarkable life is a testament to that.
“Time to remember.” She stands up, miming raising a glass. “To vengeance and abnormal lives.”
“To vengeance and abnormal lives,” I repeat.