Mischief After Midnight

They had always told her not to use the shortcut after dark. But she was running late—practice had run long, and her parents had told her under no uncertain terms she was to be home in time for them to leave for a very important dinner meeting with her father’s boss.

So she ran as fast as she could, and when the overgrown community garden came into view, she cast a nervous look over her shoulder and the sun that had vanished behind the skyline.

It was either cut through the garden and make it home in time, or go a mile out of her way to the end of the block and risk being late.

So she cut through.

The crusted snow was undisturbed, which she thought was odd. Hadn’t anyone cut through lately? It was almost a relief when she saw tiny paw prints in the snow. Not everything avoided the creepy place, apparently.

She slowed as she reached the center of the garden—the old, dry fountain that leaned slightly askew, its cherub that used to spit water looking cracked and sad in the dim light. She felt a shudder slide down her spine and she took off running again.

She reached the other side without incident, and thought no more about it.

It wasn’t until later she realized that that’s when things started to go wrong.

They were late to her father’s meeting after all. His boss had an allergic reaction to the food and had to be rushed to the hospital. Someone had hit their car in the parking lot—just a small dent—but hadn’t left any note or anything.

Dozens of things went wrong from there. A pop quiz in school the next day she was unprepared for. Her mother’s biggest client decided to go with another company. Even her little brother seemed to be having a hard time.

“It’s the cat’s fault,” he said to her one morning about a week after things had started going wrong.

She frowned. “Cat?”

He nodded. “The one who followed you home the other night.”

She felt a chill. “What night?”

He shrugged. He was only five, so he had a hard time with days.

She knelt down and looked him in the eye. “Is the cat from the garden?”

His eyes were wide. He nodded again.

“Show me.”

So he took her hand in his and pulled her to his bedroom. There, in a box in his closet, nestled in his favorite blanky, was…not a cat. She wasn’t sure what it was.

She gasped and pulled him back, which woke the creature. It let out a plaintive meow like a cat, but there was a look of intelligence in its eyes.

“What are you? What do you want?” she demanded, holding her brother close.

It let out a long yawn, showing lots of sharp teeth. It regarded her with a silent stare.

“Toby, why don’t you go see what Dad is doing.” She gave him a little push.

The cat—or whatever it was—watched in silence as Toby patted out of sight.

“You’re going to ruin all my fun, aren’t you?” the creature asked.

“That depends. Where did you come from? What do you want?” she asked again.

“You know where I came from. As to what I want: only to cause a little trouble. It’s the least you could allow for trespassing in my garden.”

She grimaced. “You’re a gremlin, aren’t you?”

He didn’t deny it.

“Fine, how much longer do we have to put up with you?”

He gave another little shrug. “We’ll see.”

“Yes we will. In the meantime, stay away from my brother. You’ll sleep in my room, now.”

And so she took on the brunt of the gremlin’s mischief. Lost homework, mismatched socks, spilt milk, oversleeping because her alarm didn’t work. Her life was a mess. But she bided her time and did her research. How to make the gremlin leave?

Unfortunately, there was no telling what would make the unlikable creature leave. The myths of feeding them after midnight alluded to several possible affects, some of them horribly unpleasant.

After another week of mischief, she couldn’t stand it anymore, so she decided to take her chances.

That night, she left him a midnight snack. Usually he stole food from the kitchen, but she made sure to give him food, which he devoured while she slept. She did the same the next night, and the night after that. Before she knew it, the troubles seemed to lessen, and the gremlin became more docile. He seemed content to sleep the day away, and prowl the neighborhood at night. He had, in essence, become like a real cat.

They fell into a routine, where she’d feed him before bed, scratch him behind his ear as she fell asleep, and after midnight, he would eat the food she’d left and stalk the night. He was always back in his little bed next to hers when she woke, where she’d give him an affection pat before heading off to school.

But, one day, she woke, and his box was empty. He was nowhere to be found. She looked for him later, in the community garden. The snow had long since melted, and children’s bootprints crisscrossed the mud inside. She sighed. No paw prints.

That night, she snuck outside and made her way to the garden. She took a deep breath and went inside, all the way to the fountain. No sign of him. She hunkered down to wait, dozing on the bench, wrapped in a blanket.

It must have been near midnight when a plaintive meow startled her awake. There, in the empty bowl of the fountain, was the gremlin, looking very cat-like, licking his fur. He ignored her until he was done.

“You tricked me,” he said indignantly after a few moments, regarding her with catlike eyes.

“I didn’t mean to, really,” she said, and realized that was true. She had actually developed an affection for the unlikeable creature.

“You shouldn’t have come back here. I’m going to have to follow you home again, and this whole thing will start all over.”

He didn’t move, though. He looked up at her in the moonlight as if waiting for something. Permission?

She smiled. “Your bed is where you left it. Come on. Let’s go home.”

Sara is a Kansas-grown author of the fantasy and horror persuasions. She is convinced that fantastical things are waiting for her just around the corner, and until she finds the right corner, she writes about those things instead.

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