Ghost From The Past
The ten-thousand-step craze had descended on my family, and while all around me everyone was busy putting their steps in, I decided that dreaming of ten thousand steps was enough exercise already. So when suddenly a woman who looked exactly like Odelia turned up at the house, the victim of a vicious attack, I was probably the only one rested enough to realize this was a portent of bad things to come. Especially when we discovered what she really wanted.
The most surprising thing of all was that Gran seemed to play a pivotal part in all of this. Our very own human had so many skeletons in her closet that at one point we were starting to wonder if we really knew her at all. And it all began with a love affair gone horribly wrong.
Dooley wondered if he had done his ten thousand steps for the day. Ever since Chase and Odelia had gotten into this new craze with the ten thousand daily steps they needed to do, they had inadvertently transferred the bug to their pets. And now Dooley, Harriet, and Brutus had all gotten into the habit of making sure that at the end of each day they had gotten their steps in. The only one who was lagging behind in this bold ambition was Max, but then he felt that he was healthy enough as it was and didn’t need any fancy gizmos telling him how many steps he had taken or should take or any of that nonsense.
“It’s just a load of commercial voodoo!” Max had said when his three friends had urged him to get on board with the program and join the fun. “And if you think I’m going to allow Corporate America to control my life, you’ve got another thing coming.”
Dooley didn’t know about the American corporation Max kept referring to, but he liked this whole stepping business. Take today, for instance. It wasn’t even lunchtime, and he must have already gotten half of the steps he needed. And then he still had cat choir tonight, which would also require an additional thousand potential steps. And if he took very small steps, as Harriet had advised, he would get there even faster.
Harriet had gotten into the habit of taking very small steps, more like tiptoeing through life than stepping wide and fanciful, and according to her, it was so much better for her health. She hadn’t felt quite so good in ages. “And if everyone took smaller steps, the world would be a much better place,” she had told Dooley. “People would be able to stop and smell the roses, you know.”
Dooley didn’t quite know how smelling the roses and taking small steps worked exactly, but then Harriet was very clever, so he knew she was probably on to something. And so today he had vowed to take small steps all along his morning walk and smell as many roses as he could find. Unfortunately, there weren’t all that many roses in the vicinity, but there were plenty of other plants. So he had taken to smelling those, even though they often didn’t smell all that nice. Then again, if it was good for his health and made the world a better place, it seemed like a small sacrifice to make.
And he had just reached the end of Harrington Street when he came upon a large canine looking at him with menace written all over his features. It was a dog of what he thought was the bulldog variety. And if the globs of saliva dripping from the corners of his mouth were an indication, this dog was very hungry indeed.
Poor creature, he thought. Clearly hadn’t been fed properly. And so he approached the dog, his heart full of the right spirit, and said, “If you want, you can have a bite to eat at our place. There’s plenty of kibble to be found, and I’m sure Odelia—that’s our human—won’t mind that we share some of it with a hungry stranger like you, sir.”
The bulldog looked at him with a strange look in his eyes. “What are you talking about, little fella?” asked the dog in a not unkindly tone.
“Food,” he specified. “You seem awfully hungry, and I know what that feels like, so I figured I’d offer you some of mine.”
The dog’s look of menace immediately lessened to a large extent, and even the slavering seemed to diminish, as if having been turned off at the tap. “You would do that for me?” asked the bulldog. “Even though you don’t even know me?”
“Of course,” said Dooley. “I’ve always been taught to be kind to strangers, and since you’re a stranger and you look very hungry, it’s the right thing to do. And besides, I’m almost home again after putting in my steps for the day. I’m at five thousand already, I just know I am, and so it’s time to take a break.”
The bulldog looked up at his human, who was a very large man, both vertically but also horizontally, and who was checking something on his phone, as all humans seemed to do lately, and gave Dooley a tentative smile, which clearly wasn’t an easy feat, possibly on account of the fact that he hadn’t practiced those specific muscles in quite a while. “I won’t forget this, fella. What’s your name?”
“Dooley,” said Dooley. “What’s yours?”
“Muscles,” said the dog. “On account of the fact that I’m very muscular.”
“Well, Muscles, are you coming?”
“I can’t,” Muscles admitted. “Unlike you, I’m tethered to this person with this chain, you see. So I’m not free to go anywhere without this guy’s approval. If it wasn’t for that, I’d be happy to accept your invitation.”
“Oh, well,” said Dooley cheerfully. “Maybe some other time?”
“Definitely,” said Muscles with a lopsided grin and eyes that spoke of his appreciation for the kind offer. “Until we meet again, Dooley.”
And so he said his goodbyes to Muscles and went on his way. Home was only a few houses away, and before long he was setting paw in his backyard and went in search of his friend Max. Max might not be fully on board with the ten thousand step phenomenon yet, but Dooley knew it was only a matter of time. When he saw how much his friends loved to put in their daily steps, he would come around to their way of thinking. And then they could all go and do their steps as a family: Odelia, Chase, and their four cats. What fun they would have!
He searched around the backyard for a sign of his friend, and when he didn’t see him, passed through the pet flap and into the house proper. As he could have known, he found the voluminous blorange feline stretched out on the couch, putting in his ten thousand naps—possibly dreaming of ten thousand steps.
And since the last thing he wanted was to disturb his friend when he was enjoying his nap time, he toddled over to his bowls for a bite to eat and a sip of water, then joined Max on the couch and closed his eyes for a nice and well-deserved nap.
That was probably the best part about putting in those steps: your nap time was so much better. A qualitative difference that made the exertion all the more worthwhile. And he would have closed his eyes to dream of making new friends and influencing bulldogs when there was a commotion at the pet flap, and in short order, Harriet and Brutus strode in via the passageway.
“Max! Dooley!” Harriet cried, looking very much alarmed. “Come quick! It’s Odelia! Something happened to her, and we can’t wake her up!”
It was with some reluctance that I let sleep slip from my grip and returned to the world of full wakefulness. As it was, I had been dreaming of taking steps—lots and lots of steps! And I fully blamed Harriet for the lessening in the quality of my nap time. If she hadn’t pushed me into joining the program the rest of the family had embarked upon, I would have dreamed of soft meadows filled with flowers, or broiled chickens flying into my mouth or some such felicity. But instead, I had to occupy my most precious resting time with an activity I thought of as mere folly.
Why subject the body to a lot of unnecessary torture? It seems counterintuitive and counterproductive, not to mention against my most basic instincts as a cat. Move when it’s needed, not because some app commands you to. And so when I finally did throw off the veil of slumber, I felt more tired than when I had begun.
But then the message of Harriet’s lament penetrated my admittedly snoozy noggin, and I frowned in her direction. “What are you talking about? Odelia is right there.”
I pointed to the other couch, hidden from view from Brutus and Harriet’s vantage point near the door, and where our human had been taking a nap herself. Which goes a long way to proving my point: all this unnecessary moving around and frantic activity is mostly bad for one’s health. Case in point: Odelia, who had never been in the habit of taking naps in the middle of the day, but ever since she had started monitoring her steps and trying to put in as many of them as she could, had done nothing else but nap, complaining forever how tired she felt.
Harriet and Brutus now joined us and regarded with consternation written all over their features the strange phenomenon of Odelia asleep on the couch.
“Well, I’ll be…” Brutus said as he came this close to scratching his head in befuddlement. He turned to his mate. “Then who is the Odelia lying on the lawn?”
“What are you talking about?” I said. I had a feeling they were deliberately pulling my paw, and if there’s anything I dislike, it’s being made to look like a fool.
“Well, Odelia is right here,” Harriet explained. “But she’s also out there.”
And since I could make neither head nor tails of her statement, I decided to go and see for myself. And so it was with great regret that I deserted my favorite napping location and hopped down to inspect this second Odelia, supposedly napping on the lawn. The four of us moved to the window and looked out, and much to my surprise, they were absolutely right: a second Odelia was lying prone on the lawn, apparently asleep, and she looked so much like ‘our’ Odelia that for a moment, I thought my eyes must be deceiving me.
“She even smells like Odelia,” Brutus said, a touch of awe in his voice at this wondrous occurrence.
“Maybe she’s Odelia’s sister?” Dooley ventured.
“Or a hologram?” Harriet said.
“Holograms don’t smell,” Brutus knew. “And they don’t take up actual physical space. This Odelia is real, sugar plum. I touched her with my paw to ascertain whether she was alive or dead.” He gulped a little. “And she’s all too real!”
Just to make sure this wasn’t some trick being played on me, I returned to the sofa and saw that Odelia was still fast asleep. Then I returned to the window and saw that Odelia II, as perhaps I will name her from now on, was also present and accounted for. So there were effectively two Odelias, and both of them were dead to the world, so to speak.
And since I’m of the inquisitive bent, I decided to take a closer look at Odelia II, just to make sure she was, as Brutus had indicated, a real person and not some figment of our imagination. We hadn’t eaten any magic mushrooms lately, but one never knows. An enterprising cat food manufacturer may have decided to put some hallucinogens in his cat food, and we could be the victims of food poisoning.
So we all ventured out through the pet flap, single file, and approached the woman lying on the lawn with some trepidation, not unlike a member of the bomb squad approaches a live grenade.
“She could be Odelia’s twin,” said Dooley softly as we approached the figure.
“Odelia doesn’t have a twin,” I pointed out. Unless Odelia’s parents had been holding out on us.
“Is she alive or dead?” asked Harriet.
“Her chest is moving,” said Brutus. “So I guess that means she’s alive.”
It is one of those litmus tests for the uninitiated that is proof positive of being amongst the living. It still didn’t explain what she was doing in our backyard and why she looked so much like our own human.
Dooley now directed his gaze heavenward and gasped. “It’s an alien!” he said. “She must have been brought here in an alien spaceship and dumped on our lawn.” He gave us a look of excitement. “You guys—this is an alien clone!”
“Of course it is,” said Brutus as he took a step closer to the mystery woman. “And I’m George Washington’s secret love child.”
“You are?” asked Dooley, much intrigued.
“Of course not.”
He was the only one of us who had the guts to approach the lifeless figure, and Harriet said, “Sugar britches! Don’t go any closer!”
“What could possibly happen?” asked Brutus. “She’s just a human who—”
“She moved!” Harriet cried. “Her arm! It twitched!”
And indeed it did. For a moment, there had been a definite twitch in that arm, as if it was reaching for Brutus and trying to make a grab for him!
But our friend wasn’t deterred. “It’s uncanny,” he said quietly as he now studied the woman’s face. “Spitting image, I’d say. Absolutely the spitting image of our very own Odelia.”
And since we couldn’t contain ourselves any longer—twitching arms or not—we all moved a few steps closer to study the woman’s face. And I had to admit that Brutus was absolutely right. The resemblance was uncanny. If I hadn’t known that the real Odelia was peacefully resting on the couch, I would have thought that this was her.
And just as we all stood gazing at her up close, suddenly her eyes sprang open!
We all screamed like little girls and scrambled to get away from this strange person as fast as we possibly could. Then, once we were at a safe distance, we eyed her in abject terror. Harriet was in a nearby tree, where she had climbed in record time. Brutus was on top of the hedge. I was hiding behind a nearby bush. And Dooley? I glanced around, and when I couldn’t find a trace of my friend, whispered, “Dooley? Where are you?”
“Up here, Max!” his voice came back. When I looked up, I saw that Dooley was on the roof of the house! Actually in the gutter, hunkering down and making sure this ‘alien clone’ couldn’t get at him.
The woman didn’t seem to be overly aware of the powerful effect she’d had on the four of us. She groaned and clutched at her head as she tried to sit up and failed. Her eyes sort of glazed over, and I had the impression she wasn’t feeling A-okay. I had a sneaking suspicion she might have taken too many steps, but wasn’t ready to voice this theory yet.
“The alien is trying to phone home, Max,” my friend whispered from his location in the gutter. “We have to stop her, or otherwise millions of her kind will invade our home!”
“Dooley is right,” said Brutus in a low voice. “She’s one of those pod people. You can see it in her eyes.”
I wasn’t sure about the pod thing or the alien clone business, but one thing was for sure: this lady wasn’t feeling well and was in urgent need of some medical assistance. And since Odelia’s dad happens to be a doctor, I decided to throw caution to the wind and go and get help.
And so I abandoned my safe location underneath those bushes and hurried into the next backyard, hoping to find Tex and persuade him to take a look at this strange woman who had found herself in our backyard.
“Max! Where are you going?” Brutus demanded. “Max! Come back!”
“I’m going to go get help,” I told him before I slipped through the opening in the hedge and started on my rescue mission.
It wasn’t long before I found Gran, who was boiling an egg in the kitchen for some reason and gazing idly out of the window with a smile on her face. “Have you ever felt truly happy for no reason at all, Max?” she asked when I popped in through the pet flap. “I mean, this feeling of happiness just surprising you out of the blue?” Her face sagged. “Yeah, me neither. Now when is this egg finally going to boil!”
I could have told her that to boil an egg, first you have to turn on the gas, but since I had more important things to worry about, I decided to forego giving our human cooking lessons. “Gran, there’s an unconscious woman in our backyard. Is Tex home?”
“An unconscious woman?” asked Gran, immediately alert. “What, next door?”
I nodded. “Well, she’s not unconscious now, since she just woke up. But she doesn’t look well, and I think she needs a doctor.”
“Teeeex!” Gran immediately bellowed at the top of her voice. “We need a doctor!”
Tex came hurrying from the next room, still clutching a magazine he’d been reading. Contrary to what I would have expected, it wasn’t a copy of the New England Journal of Medicine or The Lancet, but Us Weekly, with a picture of Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise on the cover and the burning question: ‘What is the secret of their good looks?’
Clearly, even doctors wonder about this strange phenomenon. “What?” he asked, looking greatly perturbed. “Is it Marge? Where is she? What’s going on?”
“Max has found a woman in his backyard, and he thinks she needs a doctor.”
“And don’t be surprised,” I said, “but she looks like the spitting image of Odelia.”
Gran frowned. “What are you talking about? How can anyone be the spitting image of Odelia? Don’t you know that every human being is unique, Max? Take this egg, for instance,” she said and fished the egg from the pot. “It may look like every other egg out there, but I can tell you right now that this egg is totally unique and unlike any other egg. And the same goes for everything in nature, and that includes Odelia.”
“Well, she does look like her,” I insisted. “Down to the color of her eyes.” Which were sea-weed green, just like Odelia’s eyes.
And as Tex and Gran joined me to take a closer look at this strange phenomenon, Gran told her son-in-law about our observations. Judging from his frown, he registered concern at this, possibly professional curiosity, and a slight sense of annoyance that he’d been so rudely interrupted while trying to get to the bottom of the secret to Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt’s eternal youth.
We arrived next door, and I found that the scene was pretty much as I had left it only moments before. Dooley was still hunkering down in the gutter, pretending to be part of the constellation of leaves gathered there. Brutus was on top of the hedge, which must have been very uncomfortable, since those hedges tend to sting. And Harriet was high up in her tree, watching the world below with a baleful eye.
“My God,” said Tex as he crouched down next to the woman, who was awake, but barely so. “Max is right. She looks exactly like my daughter.”
“Who are you?” asked the woman now in weak and croaky tones.
“I’m a doctor,” Tex explained, employing his doctor’s voice as he spoke these words. Soothing, reassuring and avuncular, if you know what I mean, and designed to put the patient at ease. “What happened to you, young lady?”
The woman shook her head. “I… I have no idea. Where am I?” She glanced around, then winced, as if the mere movement of her head struck her a powerful blow all afresh.
Tex did what doctors do on these occasions, and gave her a quick medical examination. He even shone a light in her eyes and touched her head and examined it, then nodded. “You’ve suffered quite a blow. Any headaches?”
The woman nodded. “Terrible. But who… I mean, how did I get here, wherever here is?”
“You’re in my daughter’s backyard,” said Tex. “So you have no recollection of how you got here?”
“Nothing. And when I try to remember, my head hurts even more.”
“We better get you inside,” said Tex and gestured for Gran to give him a hand. Together they managed to get the woman into an upright position and then slowly walked her into the house. As it was, I was the only one who followed them in, since Dooley was stuck on the roof, Brutus was stuck on top of the hedge, and Harriet was stuck in her tree. The three of them mewled piteously for me to call for help, but as I felt my services were needed elsewhere for the moment, I told them I’d be back and hurried after Tex and Gran and the mystery woman.
The moment we walked in, Odelia woke up. And when she came face to face with the new arrival, she blinked a few times.
“Am I dreaming?” she asked.
Gran shook her head with a sort of grim-faced look. “The cats found her on the lawn. She’s been hit over the head and lost her memory. Where do we put her?”
Odelia pointed to the spot where, until a few moments ago, she had been asleep herself, and very carefully Tex and Gran lowered the woman onto the couch. The moment her head hit the throw pillow, her eyes closed again and she was asleep.
“Nasty knock to the head,” Tex said quietly when the trio had convened in the kitchen. “I think we better call your husband, honey. This is clearly a matter for the police.”
Odelia nodded. “I’ll give him a call right now. But the resemblance. Did you also notice the resemblance?”
“Are you kidding?” said Gran. “That woman could be your twin sister.” She now directed a suspicious look at Tex. “You didn’t secretly father a second daughter, did you?”
Tex looked shocked. “Of course not. How could you even think that?”
“Because chances are that she’s Odelia’s long-lost twin. And if that is the case, you’ve got a lot of explaining to do, Doctor Poole!”
A butterfly had been fluttering from flower to flower, as butterflies are prone to do. However, when she arrived in this particular garden and landed on that particular flower, she was met with a very peculiar scene: three cats were stuck in different places, and all of them were very eager to be saved from their predicament. Mostly what you find hanging from trees is fruit, but on this occasion, a Persian cat was mewling up a storm. Not far from the tree, another cat was stuck on top of a hedge, and he, too, didn’t seem particularly pleased with this. To top things off, a third cat, this one of the fluffy and smallish variety, was sitting in the gutter and seemed not to have a clue how to get down from there.
And since it isn’t every day that a butterfly is treated to such a scene of pronounced suspense, the butterfly decided to stick around and see how things would progress.
Flora, as her name was, didn’t think it would be long before someone came along and freed those cats from their respective precarious positions. For some reason, when a cat is stuck, someone always comes along at some point to save its life. When a butterfly gets stuck, nobody seems to pay them any attention at all. It’s not fair, but then Flora had been taught through long association with humans not to expect too much from their corner. As she had expected, not even five minutes had passed before a man of robust and one might even say muscular aspect stuck his nose around the corner. When he saw the three cats still meowing up a storm, he sprang into action.
Climbing the drainpipe to save the cat on the hot tin roof was but the work of a moment for him. Then, up the tree he shimmied to save cat number two. Cat number three was a little trickier, but he finally managed to extricate it from its position as well. When all was said and done, did the cats show their heroic savior any gratitude? Did they lick his hands and praise his courage? No, of course not. Instead, they all hurried into the house, showing him a lot of catitude instead!
But the man didn’t seem overly surprised by this. He dusted himself off, wiped his hands on a rag he found lying around, and also walked into the house, thus ending a spectacle that Flora had enjoyed very much indeed.
She fluttered off again, strengthened in her conviction that the world of man consists of many different types of people. Today, she had met one of its most heroic representatives she had ever witnessed in action.
After Chase had rescued no less than three cats from their respective predicaments, he entered the house to find himself in the company of not one, but two Odelias. For a moment, he thought he was suffering from some eye problem. However, when his father-in-law confirmed that his eyes were not deceiving him, he studied Odelia number two and found that she was so much like his wife that it was almost impossible, even for him, to spot the difference.
“She has a mole,” Gran told him. “On the right side of her neck. That’s how you can spot the difference. But apart from that…” She shrugged. “Spitting image!”
“And you say that you found her on the lawn? Unconscious?” Chase inquired.
“The cats found her, and when they did, they immediately alerted us to her presence,” said Odelia. “Dad examined her, and she seems to have suffered a blow to the head. We decided to put her on the couch for now.”
“She has no recollection of who she is or how she got here,” Tex added for good measure. “But if that bruise on her head is any indication, she must have been hit pretty hard.”
Chase nodded and strode over to the mystery woman to give that bruise a closer look. His father-in-law carefully parted the woman’s blond locks, and he saw what he meant. A pretty nasty bump on the woman’s head, where the blow she had sustained had broken the skin. He could even discern the shape of whatever she had been hit with. If his experience wasn’t deceiving him, he thought that it could have been a branch of a tree or some similar object.
“They certainly did a number on her,” he remarked as he stepped back before the woman woke up.
“I’ve asked Marge to come home,” Vesta announced. “Clearly, her husband has some explaining to do. Like when he had an affair with this poor girl’s mother and why he didn’t bother to tell us!”
“But I didn’t have an affair with anyone!” Tex asserted. “I’ve never seen this woman before in my life.”
The sliding glass door opened and closed again, and Marge strode in. Chase’s mother-in-law looked perturbed. “I had to close the library,” she told them. “So this better be good.” But when she saw the woman, her jaw dropped. “What the hell…”
“Marge—language!” Vesta interjected, gesturing to Odelia and Chase’s daughter Grace, who was playing in a corner of the living room, oblivious to her surroundings and the drama unfolding.
“But…” Marge looked from the mystery woman to her daughter and then back again. “But…”
“I know,” said Odelia. “It’s uncanny, isn’t it?”
“But she looks exactly like you!” Marge exclaimed in a loud whisper.
“Your husband has a confession to make,” said Vesta, her arms crossed in front of her chest as she tapped her foot impatiently and shot angry glances at her son-in-law.
“But I don’t!” Tex assured them.
“It happens,” said Odelia. “I mean, people sometimes find their twin on Facebook, you know, or accidentally bump into them at the post office. I’ve seen some really powerful likenesses in people that had never met before, and there was absolutely no way they could be related.”
“Nonsense,” said Vesta, taking a dim view of the affair. “Clearly, your father has a secret second family he hasn’t told us about, and this girl came wandering in here to find her dad, and this is the way you welcome her? Shame on you, Tex!”
“Tex doesn’t have a second family,” Marge assured her mom. “Where would he find the time? No, this is just an incredible coincidence, just like Odelia says. The important question is who did this to her and why.” She looked at Chase as she said this, and the implication was clear: someone had attacked this poor woman, and it was his job to identify the culprit and bring them to justice.
Four cats stared up at him, as did his wife and his in-laws. So he nodded. “Of course I’ll look into this. But first, we need to find out who she is.”
And to that end, he was about to subject her to a closer investigation, to determine whether she was carrying some form of ID, when she suddenly woke up and looked deeply into his eyes. “Frank,” she said in husky tones. “Is that you?” And before he could stop her, she had wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his neck. “Oh, I was so scared, Frank. I thought I’d never see you again!”
When he glanced back at his family, he could see they were all shocked to the core. Then Vesta spoke up. “I don’t believe this. It isn’t Tex who’s been having the affair, but the detective!”
Copyright © 2023 by Nic Saint