A soft jingle-jangle awoke the ghosts of the town of Santiago. The spirits of the revered fighters of the apocalypse were ready to once again take up arms. They gathered in the plaza – where they fought the great beast – expecting a monster to come out of the portal once again. Instead, from the light emerged a little white cat.
Santiago remained a ghost town after its inhabitants prevented a global apocalypse. Years ago, on Christmas eve, a portal opened in the central plaza that unleashed a part dragon and part giant squid monster. It spread fire and poison across the land. In the middle of a Christmas celebration, it killed three-quarters of the town’s population. The remaining citizens gathered every weapon they could find – from hunting rifles to kitchen knives – and by some miracle, they stopped it. Unfortunately, the creature took them all with it by releasing a deadly poisonous cloud before dying.
Weathered Christmas decorations still littered the plaza years later. The remains of the town’s fighters were nothing but dust and bones. The ghost that remained all gathered around the cat, expecting something terrible to happen, but instead, it just sat there observing them. The cat’s pink nose scrunched as he smelled his surroundings.
“What is this?” said Sandra, one of the ghosts.
“It’s a cat,” said Carlos, another spirit bewildered by the cat.
“I know that, but is it dangerous?” said Tomas.
“It’s a cat,” reiterated Carlos, approaching it with open arms.
“It came out of the portal. We must kill it,” said Ingrid.
“Absolutely not,” said Sandra, a pale shadow of a woman. She tried several times, unsuccessfully to grab the cat.
“His name is Snowflake!” Carlos said, almost horizontal on the ground, reading the fish-shaped tag.
“Every year, we expect the worst, but today we got a cat,” Tomas said, also trying to grab the cat, but his hand went right through it. “A Christmas miracle!”
“What are we going to do about this?” Ingrid asked, her expression discernably dismayed despite being semi-translucent.
The cat scurried away from them towards the carcass of the monster. The massive dragon-like head rested above a destroyed park bench. The cat wiggled its butt and dove inside the hollow skull. The ghosts flinched as the cat climbed out from the eye socket and jumped towards them with a mouse in its mouth.
The mouse struggled, and the cat gnawed on it more until it became limp. The cat dropped the mouse on a pile of broken Christmas ornaments where the spirits were gathering. They all leaned towards Snowflake to get a better look at what he was doing—all of them with wide-open mouths and bulged eyes.
“Shoo, shoo, stop that,” yelled Ingrid, but the cat barely acknowledged he heard her. The cat grabbed the mouse with his front paws, and with his back legs, he began to carve deep gashes on the mouse’s belly. The group gasped, shocked, powerless to stop it. Eventually, the cat managed to separate the mouse’s head, dropping it right in front of Ingrid. “He’s taunting me!”
“Don’t be ridiculous; it’s a cat. That’s what they do,” said Tomas.
“Yeah? Savagely decapitate a mouse and bring it to the one person who doesn’t like cats,” Ingrid said, stomping away past their desiccated earthly remains.
Not a single living person dared to enter the Santiago plaza. Thus, all the fighters’ bodies remained like living statues around the creature’s corpse. The alien poison had the additional effect of liquefying most of the flesh and calcifying the rest.
Snowflake followed Ingrid and let out a low meow. While the specters recognized the sound, it had a sickening effect on them. His snout’s short white hair was soaked with the mouse’s blood, and as he ran towards Ingrid, he would lick it off his cheek.
“Why is he following me?” she screamed, still unsettled from the effect of the meow.
“Just stay still. He just wants your attention,” said Tomas.
The jingle from the cat’s bell around his neck also caused an unusual reaction on the ghosts; it compelled them to look at him run. Snowflake stopped when Ingrid stopped, but he didn’t stop meowing. Instead, his cry became louder, more high pitched. Ingrid writhed at the sound, falling to the ground in agony.
Snowflake became momentarily distracted by the calcified remains of Tomas nearby. He started to paw the skull, making Tomas’s ghost feel a sharp pain in his head. The rest of the group tried to lure the cat away from the head by shouting incoherent baby talk. For a second, it worked. He appeared to be moving away from it, but at the last second, dove inside the chest cavity. Tomas felt a cold stabbing shock inside his ghostly chest. He let out a haunting wailing audible for miles.
“That little shit is a demon,” Tomas screamed, looking more like a distorted mannequin.
“We have to kill it,” Ingrid pounced at the cat, hoping to scare it out of the skeleton. Instead, Snowflake poked his arm through the ribs playing with her ethereal hand. “What is he doing?”
“He’s just playing,” Carlos suppressed a laugh as he tried to comfort Tomas.
Snowflake pushed his way out of the skeleton and began to meow again. He gathered momentum and galloped towards the massive wing bones of the creature. He climbed the porous surface and made a louder cry that brought more agony to the spirits.
“What does he want!?” Sandra cried as she tried to cover her ears. “This is torture; what is going on?”
They yelled at him, and some even instinctively tried to grab things from the floor to throw him, but they couldn’t. The cat stretched on the edge of the wing and leaped towards another calcified skeleton. This time, he knocked the jaw off the skull, causing Sandra to collapse in pain.
“We defeated a giant alien monster before. We can figure how to deal with this cat,” Ingrid said, stomping her feet again, trying to see if it would startle the cat. It didn’t.
“We died. We can’t do anything,” Carlos said, trying to pet the cat. Snowflake tried to head-bump his hand, but it went right through.
The cat sprinted away from them towards an abandoned bookstore. The ghosts felt compelled to follow. Ingrid outran the cat, trying to get to the storefront first. She went through the front door, and a pen in the cashier’s counter caught her attention. It moved. She could interact with it.
“We can interact with some of the things here!” she held the pen triumphantly as the cat arched his back against the closed door. “I’m going to stab the shit out of that fucking cat.”
She ran past the door, and the pen hit the door with a gentle thud, landing on the entrance mat. Ingrid tried to stab the cat, but she hadn’t noticed the pen stayed behind. Her arm went right through the cat. Snowflake jumped on a small wooden bench outside the display window of the bookstore. He stood up, put his two pink paws on the window, and made a chirping cry that made them squirm.
“C’mon!” Ingrid threw her hands up, cursing a storm under her breath.
“It wasn’t meant to be,” said Carlos, trying to sit on the bench with the cat. “The physics of this place are very confusing. It doesn’t seem right. I think this little bugger might be trying to tell us something.”
The cat continued to make the chirping noise, still causing them discomfort. On the other side of the display, a white moth fluttered against the glass. The cat tapped at it like a toy, hoping Carlos would help.
“It can’t be a demon. Look at it!” said Carlos pointing to the cat whiskers vibrating from the chirping.
“I have to admit, it’s pretty cute to be a demon,” Sandra said as she took a closer look, not as affected by the sounds as before.
“I think it’s trying to tell us we don’t belong here anymore,” said Gabriel, far behind them.
“Oh, you have something to say now? I thought this whole thing was stupid. That you didn’t want to be a part of anything anymore,” Ingrid’s temper got worse with every word. Instead of getting red, like she would if she was alive, her face distorted into a scribbled façade of her features.
The cat hissed at Ingrid, pushing through Carlos in the process. The ghosts all felt the hiss like a jolt of electricity running through their soul.
“Stop it, Ingrid,” Gabriel’s voice cracked as he struggled to endure the pain.
Snowflake ran off towards the monster skull again. The air got dense, and the sky red. A portal opened in the same place as before. The cat, now perched on the crown of the skull, stretched his back leg up and began to lick his ass. The portal let off a reverberating screech that called on the spirits. The light of the portal intensified as the group got closer.
“It’s time,” Gabriel said after giving Snowflake a quick salute. The cat never stopped licking himself.
Starting with Gabriel, they all walked into the portal. The last one, Ingrid, hesitated for a minute.
“Are you just going to sit there licking yourself? You little shit,” she said, cracking a smile. The cat stopped, leaped off the skull, and head bumped her ankle. “I should kick you,” she kneeled to pet him, and Snowflake purred from the affection. “How?”
She looked around one last time, noticing how the space around the plaza crumbled into an abyss. The monster skeleton cracked. The brittle bones turned into dust after a few gusts of the heavy pressurized air.
“So this is it? Alright, little shit, thank you. Are you coming?” she couldn’t help but smile at the cat’s loud purring. She extended her hand inside the portal and felt relieved. Ingrid stepped into the otherworldly doorway, and Snowflaked followed her at a snail pace.
On the other side of the portal, a Christmas celebration raged on a busy plaza. No light emanated from that side, only a weak ripple that felt like looking through a peaceful pond. Snowflake was the only entity to cross. He stepped on a small puddle of rain and stopped to lick his paw, without any hurry or adverse reaction from his journey.
Instead of the grisly scene from before, the plaza looked alive with color and light. Food vendors from all over the world sold traditional holiday dishes – Puerto Ricans sold pasteles and coquito, Polish some babka, a Peruvian chocolatada section, and even a Danish bakery with kransekake. A humble gazebo hosted a band of mariachis singing a lively version of “Feliz Navidad” from Jose Feliciano.
“We are the world holiday festival” read on the childlike sign for the festivities. For the small town of Santiago, this was a big deal. Snowflake jumped from booth to booth, angering patrons and vendors with his wandering paws. When he reached the traveling carnival fried food trailer, a man began shouting at the cat, drawing everyone’s attention. Snowflake dropped the chicken wing and darted past the crowd.
“Snowflake! Snowflake!” a little girl screamed as she ran towards the cat and held it as if it was her most treasured teddy bear. “I thought you were gone forever!” Snowflake purred and wiggled in her arms. The cat left ash paw prints all over her pink dress. The once pearly white cat was several shades of ash grey.
“A Christmas miracle, right Stella?” said the little girl’s mother, catching her breath from running.
“Oh, honey, Snowflake is going to need a bath,” said the father hyperventilating from running after both of them. He used a crumpled napkin to clean a bit of the dried blood and grease from Snowflake’s snout.
“Where on earth was that cat? He smells like death,” said the mom, trying to gently pry the cat off her daughter’s frantic hug.
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