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Penance by Kathleen Strongarone

Another night has come and gone. Another night of counting the hours until daybreak. Another morning watching the sun slowly rise in the sky and creep across my bedroom floor. There is no alarm to wake me. There is no need. I do not sleep.

I throw the covers back and rub my groggy eyes. I swing my legs over the side, then plod into the bathroom resting my hands on the front of the sink, head hanging low. I shake my head back and forth, trying to rid myself of the cobwebs clouding my vision.

When I finally lift my eyes and stare at the person in the mirror, I see the same bloodshot eyes, and bags that I’ve seen for the last six months. I frown at the man in the mirror then turn on the shower, shove the handle all the way to cold, and hop in.

The ice-cold shower does little to shake me from my malaise and as I head into work I’m greeted with the same looks of pity and concern.

I know what they’re all thinking-poor guy can’t get over his ex-girlfriend. I wish that were true. I wish that the only thing that plagued my nights was my breakup with Lori. But it’s not Lori that haunts my nights.

It’s her damn cat. Dead cat I might add.

Ozzy never liked me in life, hissing at me every time I entered a room or swatting his black paw at me whenever I got too close to Lori. He’d curl up on Lori’s lap, those beady, yellow eyes fixed on me as if to say, “I’m watching you.” When he died, I thought good riddance.

But that was just the beginning. That son of bitch took his hate to the grave. But I guess I can’t expect much less from a cat named after the Prince of Darkness.

I was never a believer in the supernatural. If I can’t see it, taste it, or touch it, it’s not real. But like clockwork every night, when midnight rolls around, it starts. First, as soft footsteps creeping up my back.

I tell myself it’s only in my mind. It’s not happening. A cat cannot come back from the dead.

But those light footsteps make their way up to my neck. Then comes the tap, tap on the back of my head followed by the long, low hiss, like that of a snake, that sends chills down my spine.

I pull the pillow over my head and swat behind me, but my hand is met with nothing but air. A cold sweat prickles my skin as I know what awaits me--a night of being tormented by my ex-girlfriend’s cat.

Ozzy knows what I did, what caused Lori to leave. Maybe this is my punishment. Maybe this is what I deserve for breaking her heart.

I slink into my cubicle at the office and plop down at my desk, touching my forehead to the top.

“For the love of God, Ozzy, I’m sorry,” I whisper, as I do every morning. “When will my penance be over?”

A long, feather-like sensation curls around my shoulders.

I lift my head, a breath of air passing through my lips.

I guess not today.

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