Having the ghost of a cat following you around was not something to be talked about, certainly not in the current climate.
Having a ghost-cat who could mend things, well, that was nearly worse. Certainly, it would be looked at almost like hoarding, if anyone ever found out that Hannah had been hiding an ability to repair broken goods.
They had so very few goods these days. It had taken almost twenty years to get any sort of manufacturing back online, and, once they had, it had all gone to the war effort. Certainly, those guys next door had something we wanted – as it turned out, they had minerals and metals that didn’t currently exist in the borders of their fractured city-state. Mugs, plates – if you couldn’t scrounge it or make your own from back-yard clay, you were Sure Outta Luck, as Hannah’s mother had liked to say, those times she’d noticed Hannah was listening.
Besides, what if nobody else could see Buster? If she really was going nuts, Hannah didn’t want anyone to know. Some people had, from the fumes, from disease, from – well, they called it Plague, back then, but the only symptom appeared to be closer to the screaming meemees than what was traditionally considered “plague”. Seeing things was enough for some of her neighbors to waste a bullet on her. It might be enough for other, more kindly or more parsimonious, to commit her.
Hannah had seen the inside of the sanitarium once, on a charity visit. She never wanted to see it again.
She went four weeks without anyone finding out. She learned that Buster would, if bribed with petting and sweet words, fix things that had been previously broken, but that he preferred new damage. She learned that the more “made” a thing was – plastic was great, plates made in a factory were wonderful – the better Buster could make it look. He couldn’t – or wouldn’t – fix the apple tree outside when a hailstorm damaged it, but he did fix a wooden spoon she’d left too close to the flame.
She’d just gotten used to the feeling of having the cat in bed with her – he might be twice as large as he had been, but she was a lot bigger than she’d been, too, and they still seemed to fit – when she learned that other people could see him, too. It was early morning, and she was weeding her garden, a hobby Buster liked to “help” with, mostly by batting around the weeds. Usually, nobody was out this early, but today, of course, Lacey from down the street was walking by, head in the clouds and not really paying much attention.
Until she saw Buster. Lacey froze in the middle of the sidewalk, staring. Buster stared back, tail high and proud as anything, never mind that you could still see the tomatoes through him.
Lacey shook her head and walked on, saying nothing. For a brief while, Hannah thought maybe she’d gotten away with it. Lacey hadn’t been right for a long time, but, like Hannah, she stayed just right enough to stay where she was. She wasn’t going to tell stories; any stones she threw could bounce back far too easily on her.
It was all going to be okay, Hannah told herself. You got away with it, she told Buster.
And then one night, after dark, after curfew, they came knocking on her door.
Lacey. Gerald the grocer. Tammy the hunter. Desi the Librarian. All of them, sneaking in, hiding in the shadows. All of them followed by the shadows of animals.
Lacey had a mastiff bigger than a pony. Tammy had a hawk whose wingspan filled the room. Gerald had a badger, which amused Hannah, although she tried to hide it. And Desi had a snake.
“We thought maybe you would,” Lacey admitted. “We thought you were the sort. But you never let on. You never showed anything.”
Gerald snorted. “Didn’t want us to think she was crazy, probably. Same as you. Same as us.”
“So…” Hannah looked around. “What does this mean?”
Gerald laughed. “Damned if I know. Damned if I know,” he repeated slowly. “But I don’t think it’s good.”
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