Estimated reading time — 13 minutes
Author’s Note: This story is a prequel and takes place before all of the previously released Father Cooke and Magister Alexander stories, which you can find here. The author invites you to click here to read the other tales in the series after completing this one.
Oh shit, I thought as I walked through the front door and saw the little furry body of my daughter’s pet hamster, Cee Cee, lying on the floor in front of me.
Cee Cee wasn’t the hamster’s real name, it was Chubby Cheeks, but Samantha’s sister Allison had trouble saying that, so we came up with the nickname just for her.
I nudged Cee Cee’s body with my shoe just to be sure he was really dead. He was. I was afraid this was going to happen. Our cat, Baal, loved to catch things and leave them for me to find, and his favorite place to leave them was right by the front door.
Samantha must have left her bedroom door open when she left for school. I warned her that this would happen. Every time that door was left open, even for a second, Baal would come running from wherever he was and try to sneak into the room.
I figured Samantha was going to want to bury the hamster in the backyard, so I went into the garage and found a suitable box to bury him in. Then I used my car key to flip the body into the box. I know I wasn’t being delicate, but the hamster was dead. I don’t think he minded.
As I stood there with the box, I briefly considered throwing it in the trash and telling my daughter that Cee Cee must have escaped. I wanted to spare her the heartache of losing a pet, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that was a bad idea. Pets die, that was something she was going to have accept.
I took the box into the kitchen where I stuffed it with paper towels to keep the hamster’s body from sliding around. When I finished, I walked over to the junk drawer to grab some tape to keep the box closed. That was when I saw the note I had written on the dry erase board.
EARLY RELEASE TODAY, the note said. I had underlined it three times and I still forgot about it.
If today was an early release day, the girls should already be home. I checked the time just to be sure. It was after two o’clock. They should have gotten home over an hour ago.
“Samantha! Allison!” I called out as I walked through the house. I called out again when I got to the foot of the stairs.
No one answered, but I did hear a soft thump from one of the upstairs rooms. As I walked up the steps, I noticed that Samantha’s door was wide open. She had to be home. I could see her backpack sitting on the bed.
Once I made it to the top of the stairs, I walked over to Samantha’s room and peeked in, but she wasn’t in there. I did notice that Cee Cee’s cage was sitting sideways on the floor with the top lying a few feet away. I shut her door and continued to call out, wondering where they were. They knew better than to leave the house on their own.
When I got to Allison’s room, I noticed the door was slightly ajar. I don’t know why, but when I grasped the knob, I got the sudden feeling I shouldn’t open it. I figured it was an irrational fear, likely caused by my growing concern over where my daughters were. I wasn’t going to let that stop me from searching for them though. I took a deep breath and swung the door open. What I saw made me take a step back and place my hand over my mouth.
Sitting on the bed, with her knees tucked underneath her, was my daughter Allison. She was leaning on her left arm while she licked blood off of the fingertips of her right hand. She licked her fingers the way a cat would lick its fur, with long strokes of her tongue. Around her neck was Baal’s collar.
When she noticed me, she stopped what she was doing and made a soft mew sound. Then she started purring. It sounded so unnatural coming from her.
“Allison,” I said as I slowly approached her. She just stared and me and continued to make those unsettling cat noises.
That was when I glanced down and noticed the black furry legs poking out from beneath her bed. I squatted down, grabbed the closest one, and slowly slid the body of Baal out into the open.
I looked up at Allison and watched as she continued to mimic the movements and sounds of the dead cat, right down to the way she cocked her head inquisitively at me.
“SAMANTHA!” I yelled suddenly. That startled Allison. She hissed at me and produced a low growl from deep in her throat.
I ran out of the bedroom and shut the door behind me. I rushed frantically from room to room, calling out for Samantha. She wasn’t supposed to leave Allison alone, but I couldn’t find her anywhere. I was hoping she could tell me what the hell was going on.
I searched the entire house until I came to the door of the one place I had yet to check, the basement. Please be here, I thought as I slowly opened the door.
“Samantha!” I called out to the darkness, but no one replied. I didn’t expect her to. She was afraid of the dark. If she was down there, the lights would be on. I still wanted to check though, just to be sure.
I turned the lights on and walked down to steps into the basement. When I reached the bottom, I looked around and called out her name one more time. There was no response. I was about to go back up to the kitchen when the door that lead to the backyard swung open and Samantha poked her head into the room.
“Mom, is that you?”
“SAMANTHA!” I rushed over and wrapped my arms around her as she walked into the basement.
Happy that she was safe, my fear quickly turned to anger as I tried to make sense of what was going on. I pushed Samantha away and held her at arm’s length, “What happened to your sister?” I demanded.
She started to sob, “I don’t know. I was laying on my bed when she crawled in on her hands and knees wearing Baal’s collar. When I yelled at her to get out of my room, she attacked me.” She showed me the scratches on her arms.
“Allison did this?” I looked down at long red welts.
She nodded, “I tried to force her out but she was like a wild animal, so I ran over to April’s house. I tried to call you, but you didn’t answer.”
I reached for my phone, which I normally kept in my back pocket, but it wasn’t there. I must have left it in the car. I did that frequently when I had it connected to the car’s USB port.
“Come on,” I grabbed her hand and led her up the basement stairs and into the kitchen. I was going to take her into the bathroom and clean her wounds, but I stopped when I saw Allison sitting on the kitchen counter.
“Allison,” I held my palm out towards her in a placating gesture.
“That’s not Allison,” Samantha said.
“What do you mean?” I asked
Before I could ask Samantha to explain, Allison leapt off the counter and ran at her sister, hissing and snarling as she closed the distance.
I pulled Samantha back into the basement with me and shut the door right as Allison collided with it. I held the door shut as she clawed at the other side, trying to open it. I didn’t let go until she gave up and walked away.
I turned towards Samantha, “I need to go and get my phone out of the car.”
“No,” She said while shaking her head.
“It’s okay. I will only be gone for a few minutes.” I reached into my pocked and pulled my car keys out. “Come here and hold the door closed. She won’t be able to open it if you’re holding it.” I figured that would give her a sense of security while I was gone.
She reluctantly reached out and grabbed the handle.
“I’ll be right back,” I assured her.
It took me less than three minutes to run out to my car and retrieve my phone.
“Everything’s going to be okay,” I told her when I returned. “Why don’t you go back over to April’s and I will come get you in a little while.” She just stood there and stared at me. “Go ahead Sam, its ok. Allison isn’t going to leave the house.” I wasn’t positive of that, but I hoped it was true.
Once I convinced her to leave, I pulled out my phone and opened my contacts. I scrolled down until I found my husband’s number and tapped the screen. I stared at the ceiling, wondering where Allison was while I waited for my husband to pick up the phone.
“This is Father Cooke,” I didn’t recognize the voice that answered.
I pulled the phone away from my ear and looked down at it. The number showing on the screen was not my husband’s.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I must have dialed the wrong number.”
“If you are looking for Pastor Reed, he won’t be in today. Perhaps I can be of assistance.”
That explained what happened. Pastor Reed’s number was listed right above my husband’s. In my haste to call my husband, I must have accidentally tapped the wrong contact.
“I’m sorry,” I apologized again, “I really need to get in touch with my husband.” I hit the end call button. I didn’t want to be rude to the priest, but I didn’t have the time to explain.
I opened my contacts again and made sure to tap on my husband’s number. After several rings, it went to voice mail. I left a message telling him to call me back as soon as possible. Then I hung up and called him again. I tried calling him several times, but I kept getting transferred to his voice mail.
I leaned my back against the door in frustration and slid down it until I was sitting on the steps. I didn’t know what to do at that point, except wait. So, that is what I did.
When the phone rang a few minutes later, I jumped up and answered it, thinking it was my husband.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, Mrs. Duncan, but I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I hope you don’t mind me calling you back. I just wanted to make sure you were okay. You sounded upset,” Father Cooke said.
“No!” I yelled into the phone, “I’m not okay! I have a dead cat and a daughter that no longer thinks she is human…so no…I am not okay!”
“Maybe you should start at the beginning,” He said calmly, “Tell me what happened and don’t leave anything out, no matter how crazy or irrelevant you think it might be.”
I was surprised by his response. He was nothing but polite to me and I just screamed at him. He seemed like he genuinely cared and wanted to help. Maybe he could help. He was a priest after all and what I was dealing with seemed a little outside the bounds of reality. I felt bad for yelling at him.
I was originally going to have my husband come home and help me catch Allison, so we could take her to the nearest hospital. But as I thought about it, maybe that wasn’t the best idea. I took a deep breath and told Father Cooke everything that happened since I got home.
“Stay where you are,” he said after I finished telling him what happened and given him the address. “I will be there shortly.”
He seemed convinced that my phone call wasn’t an accident. He believed something had guided my hand and brought the two of us together so we could help Allison. I hoped for my daughter’s sake that was true.
Twenty minutes later, there was a knock on the basement door, the one that led to the backyard. I walked over and opened it. Standing before me was Father Cooke. He was dressed exactly as you would expect. When he saw me, he pushed his thick rimmed glasses up the bridge of his nose and introduced himself with a smile.
“Please come in,” I stepped to the side.
“Where is your daughter now?” He didn’t waste any time getting to the point.
“I don’t know,” I shrugged, “Probably upstairs”.
I followed Father Cooke up the basement stairs and into the kitchen. He stopped and listened. I could hear the soft thread of footsteps above us.
“Is there anyone else in the house besides your daughter?” He asked.
He walked through the house until he came to the staircase. He placed his hand on the banister and started to climb the steps. “Which room is Allison’s?” He turned and asked before continuing.
I pointed to her door. I waited and watched as he walked into her room. A few moments later he walked out and continued down the hall. I could no longer see him, but I could hear him.
“Hello, Allison,” He said. “I’m Father Cooke. I’m a friend of your mother.”
Allison hissed in response and then started to growl.
Father Cooke backed down the hall slowly. He had his hands out in front of him as he tried to calm Allison down. When he made it back to the stairs, he descended them backwards, keeping his eyes on my daughter. She followed him, hissing and growling the entire time. She didn’t stop until she reached the steps.
“Let’s go,” He said and put his hand on my shoulder to guide me away. I let him lead me into the kitchen then back down into the basement.
“The collar your daughter was wearing, did that belong to the cat?” Father Cooke asked me once we were safely behind the closed door of the basement.
“Yes, it did,” I answered.
“Where did you get the cat?”
“It was a stray. It just showed up one day and started hanging around the house. The girls started feeding it and letting it into the house and we just sort of adopted it. It didn’t seem like a bad cat.”
“Was it always wearing that collar?”
“I need to make a call.” He pulled a phone out of the pocket of his jacket. “This is a little outside my area of expertise.”
“Do you still think you can help her?”
“Yes, I think so,” he said, then excused himself to go make his call.
When he returned, he was smiling, “Help is on the way.”
While we waited for whoever was coming to help us, Father Cooke did his best to ease my fears and reassure me that everything was going to be alright.
A short time later, there was a knock on the back door of the basement. Father Cooke walked over and answered it.
“I’m Father Cooke. I’m the one who called,” The priest introduced himself and reached out his hand to the tall thin man who stood before the open door. He looked like he could also be a priest, but he wasn’t wearing the white collar.
“Father Cooke? The exorcist?” The man asked as he clasped the priest’s outstretched hand.
“I guess my reputation precedes me,” The priest seemed uncomfortable.
“Theodore Alexander,” The man introduced himself.
The two men seemed to have heard of each other. I could tell they had a great deal of respect for each other as they talked.
“I’m a bit surprised they sent you,” Father Cooke said to the man he called Magister Alexander.
“They didn’t send me. I was dealing with another matter when I overheard your call. A priest calling us and asking for help is a rare occurrence. I was intrigued and had to come and see what was so important for myself. I must admit, I wasn’t expecting to find you here.”
“I was also in town for a separate matter, one you might be able to shed some light on involving a local pastor.”
Magister Alexander smiled, “I’m not sure I know what you are talking about.”
It was obvious to me that he was lying.
“We can discuss it later, after we deal with the matter at hand.” Father Cooke could tell he was lying as well.
“Of course,” Magister Alexander said, then asked, “Where is the girl now?”
“She is upstairs,” I blurted out and pointed to the ceiling.
“You must be Mrs. Duncan,” Magister Alexander walked over and offered me his hand, “It is a pleasure to meet you.”
“Same,” I said. But I wasn’t being honest. There was something unsettling about the way the man looked at me.
“I’ll show you the way,” Father Cooke offered.
I followed the men through the house until they stopped at the bottom of the stairs. Father Cooke pointed at my daughter where she was sat at the stop of the steps.
“She is wearing it on her neck,” the priest said.
I watched in amazement as Magister Alexander walked up the stairs and placed his hand on Allison’s head. To my surprise, she leaned into his touch and started to make that unsettling purring noise.
While he was stroking her hair, he used his free hand to reach into his pocket and pull out some sort of pendant. I couldn’t make out the design from where I stood. He placed the pendant against her forehead and started to speak in a foreign language. When he finished, Allison’s eyes rolled into the back of her head and she slumped to the floor.
I gasped and placed my hand over my mouth. I was about to run up the steps, but Father Cooke stopped me by placing his hand on my arm.
“She’s fine,” He whispered in my ear, “He knows what he is doing. This way was much safer than having to perform an exorcism.”
I looked over at the priest than back up at Magister Alexander. “Why would she need an exorcism?”
“Your daughter was possessed by your cat.”
“How is that even possible?”
“With this,” Magister Alexander had removed the collar and held it out towards us.
“It’s just a collar, isn’t it?” I knew something was seriously wrong with my daughter, but hearing she was possessed by our cat was hard to believe.
“This is much more than just a collar,” Magister Alexander said as he slid it into his pocket, “It’s a simulacrum.”
“A what?” I had never heard that word before.
“It’s a possessed item,” Father Cooke said, “If it is worn, it allows the spirit bound within it to possess the wearer.”
Before I could ask one of the thousands of questions running through my mind, Magister Alexander bent down and lifted Allison up off the floor, “Which room is hers?” He asked as he stood up.
I pointed to her open door then walked up the stairs and followed behind him. I entered the room as he gently laid her down on the bed.
“She will probably sleep for the rest of the night,” He said as he stepped out of my way.
“Why was the cat wearing that collar?” I asked as he walked out of the room.
“I don’t know.”
I didn’t believe him. I could tell he knew more than he was saying. I wanted to confront him and demand an answer, but I didn’t have the energy. I was too tired after everything I had been through. Instead, I sat on Allison’s bed and ran my hands through her hair while she slept.
“Why did you lie to her?” Father Cooke had come up the stairs and confronted Magister Alexander right outside the bedroom door. Even though he was trying to keep his voice low, I heard him clearly.
I got up and quietly made my way to the door so I could hear them better.
“I did it to protect her family. If she knew that cat once belonged to her grandmother, how do you think she would react? Her mother gave her life to leave the coven. She paid the ultimate price so that her daughter could have a normal life. I am obligated to honor the deal she made.”
My mother died when I was young and I never knew my grandparents. What I just heard alarmed me. Was Magister Alexander implying my mother was a witch?
“If her mother made a deal to leave the coven, why was the cat here?” Father Cooke asked as they descended the stairs.
“I was hoping you could help me with that,” Magister Alexander responded, “This cat shouldn’t be here. We shouldn’t be here and yet we are. We were brought together for a reason and we need to find out why.”
That was the last thing I heard as the men let themselves out the front door.