Melissa Robinson nearly died of hypothermia that last day of winter. After falling through the icy surface of Turnkey’s Pond, the cold shock of the water beneath almost immediately paralyzed her, preventing her from making it from the center of the lake back to land.
Everyone from the winter celebration had left and this left Melissa alone, skating on the lake, oblivious to the fact that 6pm had come around. Nobody ever stayed on Turnkey’s property much past 6pm during the winter. Everyone knew better.
But Melissa had neglected to pay attention and nearly died for her mistake.
When she opened her eyes, she found herself in a warm bedroom. Dim candle light filled her vision, while a soft blanket covered her naked form. She sat up, careful to keep the blanket over her entire body. She was on a bed, and the room was empty save for the old-style oak furniture and a black cat that had made its home on the dresser.
Melissa felt panic creeping into her bloodstream, but she fought it, reminding herself that if someone wanted to harm her, they could have let her drown in the pond. Somebody had rescued her, brought her back to the land of the living. She was sure she wasn’t going to make it out of that pond. Somebody wanted to prove her wrong.
She glanced around the room, taking in the ancient decor. Where are my clothes? she asked the cat in the safety of her own mind. The animal just sat and stared at her, as if it was amused by her presence. The cat had a strange, uncanny quality to it. The way it stared upon her with its emerald eyes and its whiskers twitched like thin strands of electrified wire.
Melissa turned out of the bed, her bare feet slapping against the warm wooden flooring, and found a pile of dry clothes on the rocking chair that sat undisturbed in the corner of the room. She quickly slipped them on – undergarments and a thin floral dress decorated in colors of pale yellow and rose. The cat turned away while she dressed, as if it was aware of her shame. The clothes wouldn’t keep her warm outside, but here in the house, she felt quite comfortable in the feminine garment.
She opened the bedroom door and stepped out of the room into deep, black darkness. Darkness so thick, she could hardly breathe. She stumbled back into her room and gasped for air. The darkness felt cold and fluid like the water that nearly took her life in the pond.
Turning to the cat, Melissa wanted to ask it what was going on, but felt it silly to do so. The cat was a mere animal and could not speak.
She turned to the doorway again and observed the darkness. Black wisps of smoke slithered around the door frame like serpents from the Underworld. She reached out to touch one, but was startled back when the cat hissed and leaped off the dresser. It ran to the door, pressed its head against it, and slammed it shut.
“You’re not a cat, are you?”
“Of course I’m a cat,” it said.
Melissa fell back against the edge of the bed. “How are you able to talk?”
“The same way this darkness is able to move.” He looked at her incredulously, as if her asking the question was a bit of nonsense in itself. “Don’t touch the shadow. It will destroy you.”
“Where am I?”
The cat meandered across the room and then found its place back on the surface of the dresser. “You know where you are,” it said simply.
Melissa stared at the door for a minute, then glanced around the room again. “Turnkey’s farmhouse?”
The cat licked its front left paw. “Unfortunately.”
“Who saved me?” she asked, running a hand through her long, brown hair. “Who pulled me out of the pond?”
The cat stopped licking its paw for a moment and glanced up at the ceiling, as if it were in deep thought about something. Shortly after, it returned to licking its limb and then sighed. “I don’t know. Someone…something. An angel, perhaps? If they exist.”
“If they exist? You’re a talking cat.”
“Yes,” the cat said. “And a fine one at that. I caught twelve dark mice the other day.”
The cat grinned, and it reminded Melissa of the stories of Alice in Wonderland and the Cheshire cat. “Yes,” the cat said. “Dark mice. Mice who have been overtaken by the shadow.”
Melissa looked at the door again. “What’s the shadow made of?”
She turned back to the cat. The way the cat said its words, she could swear the Devil was in the room with her. There was a gutteral groan that came out of the cat, but the animal itself looked innocent enough, licking its other paw, purring even.
“I want to go.”
“Go where?” the cat asked.
“You are home.”
“No. My home.”
“The only way is through the shadow. Through the darkness.” The cat stopped licking its paws and stared at her with glassy green eyes. “And you don’t want to do that.”
Melissa stood up, opened the door to what she believed was a hallway, and observed the dancing shadows playing against the door frame.
“You don’t want to do that,” the cat said. “I warned you. I closed the door for you, once. I won’t do it again.”
Melissa stepped into the darkness…