My Grandma Minnie was a wonderful woman. I’m sure everybody thinks that about their grandmas. But my Grandma Minnie really, truly was a blessing upon this earth. She was funny, and kind, and beloved by her entire community. She volunteered to help the nuns can jams, and teach underprivileged children how to read, and had a kind word for everyone she ever met. Her funeral was absolutely packed. She’d arranged it so that the funeral was much more like a little party than a mourning affair, with sunflowers everywhere, and polka music, and chocolate cake.
Yes, she planned her own funeral. She’d taken a long time to die. Bone cancer. She just sort of wasted away.
We had her cremated and spread her ashes over her favorite sunflower hill.
Which is why it was weird when I got a call from her a month later.
“How ya doing, kiddo?” She laughed through the receiver.
“Who is this?” I said, even though I knew. It was a weekend night, and I was watching Netflix by myself in my apartment. I’d had just one beer.
“Why, it’s just your ol’ Grandma. Are you busy?”
“Nah, I’m just watching tv.”
“You got a boyfriend over?” She whispered conspiratorially.
“Girlfriend?” She whispered even quieter. I laughed.
“Still no, Grandma.”
We talked for about twenty minutes. She asked me how grad school was going, and how my parents were, and whether I was still a vegetarian. I told her about my new apartment, which I loved even though I always had trouble making rent. She told me to make sure I ate enough protein. She told me she loved me, and I told her I loved her, and then she said goodbye and hung up.
I don’t know why I never breached the subject of her death. I guess maybe I was scared I’d wake up.
I made myself a cup of coffee and sat in front of my blank tv crying for a couple hours. There were a lot of different emotions surging through me— happiness, love, grief, fear, unease, and a lot of confusion.
I could have called my dad or my sister or somebody but I didn’t. Like, what would I even say? God.
Man. My Grandma was Catholic, and she always believed in heaven. I was raised Unitarian and I’ve always been sort of agnostic myself. Like, I’ve had a couple minor paranormal-ghost experiences that made me think there might be more than just this world. But… nothing like this, man.
I ended up having 3 more beers and falling asleep on my couch. When I woke up the next day I was convinced the whole thing had been a dream.
Five days later, I’m at my job (writing online ads for casinos) and my cell phone rings. It’s an unlisted number. I have a freezing feeling in my stomach, so I pick it up.
“Hiya kiddo!” My Grandma said cheerily.
“I’m not bothering you at work, am I?”
“No! No, I’m not doing anything important.” I closed out of my document. My co-worker shot me a look across the desk. I stood up and left the room.
“You’re still getting enough iron in your diet, I hope? I worry about ya.”
“Yeah,” I said. I took a deep breath. “Grandma, can I ask where you’re calling from?”
“Oh, you know. I’m not supposed to talk about it.”
“Please,” I said. “Please tell me you’re somewhere nice.”
“Oh, kiddo. It’s beautiful here. I’m surrounded by people I love— it’s a good crowd! Don’t worry about me. Honey, why are you crying? Don’t cry!”
“I’m sorry! I’m just… so happy for you. And I miss you.”
“Well, next time I see you, you’ll get a big hug. Okay? Sweetheart, are you still having trouble with money?”
“It’s not a big deal,” I replied.
“It’s a big deal to me! Listen, there’s something I need you to do for me.”
That threw me for a loop.
“Alright,” I said.
“Be on the lookout for a little pink snake.”
“A… a what?”
“You’ll know it when you see it. Just do that for me, alright, sweetheart? I love you! Have a wonderful day!”
She hung up on me.
I finished up work that day, as best I could. I was still reeling, of course. Maybe I was going crazy. Mental illness didn’t really run in my family, though. Grandma Minnie was lucid till the day she died.
I took my normal route home. It’s a little walk to the bus station from my building, and I do pass through some pretty gross parts of the city, but it’s nothing dangerous or anything. One building I passed had this disgusting pile of black trash bags in front of it. They stunk like piss and shit and rotten meat and vegetables. I had to hold my nose as I passed them— the smell was bad enough that I almost barfed.
In the corner of my eye, I noticed something sticking out from under one of the bags. It was long, and ropey, and beaded with magenta sequins. It caught my attention because for a brief moment in the animal center of my brain, I mistook it for a pink snake.
I defied all my instincts and approached the disgusting pile of bags. I pulled the beaded rope out— it was a key-chain, it looked like— and at the end there was a set of keys and a small Hello Kitty wallet.
There was no ID and no credit cards, or anything that could have helped me find the original owner. The only contents of the wallet were six hundred dollars cash.
“Jeez,” I whispered. That was more than enough to help me meet this month’s rent! I pocketed the money, and silently thanked my Grandma.
I was about to leave when I heard a small rustling sound in the alley behind the bags. A tiny little muffled cry I wouldn’t have heard otherwise. Upon investigation, I discovered a teeny-tiny little tortiseshell kitten, who had her front half stuck in a drain pipe.
She was little, and skinny like she hadn’t eaten in forever. She couldn’t get a grip on the pipe and was lodged up in it— I imagine she would have drowned if I hadn’t come to save her. I helped wriggle her out of there.
My heart melted for this poor little kitten! She was just a baby, and where was her family? She should be with her mom. She looked like she was starving. Her meow was so tiny and pitiful! And as soon as I got her out of that pipe, she instantly cuddled up to me. I couldn’t just leave her there.
I looked up what you were supposed to feed little kittens. According to the internet, she looked to be about six or seven weeks old, and could eat solid food, so I got some for her.
I named her Bea, which was my Grandma’s middle name. I never would have found her without my Grandma’s hint.
A few weeks passed, and I didn’t get another call from my Grandma. I didn’t mind! Two calls from beyond the grave are more than I was ever expecting. Plus, I had a brand-new little pal who followed me around the apartment, and liked to sleep on my wireless modem, and always wanted to play with my socks.
As soon as Bea was in a safe, loving environment, she started to get healthy and happy. She developed quite a personality! She was silly, and melodramatic— I swear to god that little cat had a sense of humor. She would fake mortal distress if I ever picked her up from off the modem— running out of the room as if I was the devil, yowling— and then return 4 seconds later, bounding and chirruping like “just kidding!”
She slept on my chest at night. I think she liked the rise and fall of it.
Four weeks passed before I got another call.
“Heya kiddo!” My Grandma said.
“Hi, Grandma!” I replied excitedly. “I’m in the middle of making dinner. Mushroom omelette, your recipe.” I had a thick layer of vegetable oil heating to egg-blistering temperatures on the stove.
“You have to marinate the mushrooms first,” she instructed. “Did you?”
“Of course. How are you?”
“I’m just wonderful, sweetheart! I’m so happy you did what I asked.”
“Yes! Thank you for that, so much!”
“Oh, it’s no problem for me. I love to help! Speaking of which, there’s something else I need you to do for me now.”
“Sure, Grandma. What is it?”
“You have oil boiling on the stove right now?”
“Uh-huh,” I said, glancing back.
“Good! I need you to take your little cat, and push her face into the pan.”
“I need you to fry your cat’s face in the pan.”
I looked at Bea, who was purring happily on my clothes pile on the couch.
“No,” I said. “I would never. That’s disgusting! That’s horrible!”
“Oh, sweetheart. I know you don’t understand. But this is what has to happen! Do it for me. Do it for your ol’ Grandma.”
A sudden realization struck me. I don’t know how I didn’t think of it sooner.
“Grandma?” I said. “I need proof. I need proof that you’re my real Grandma Minnie.”
“Of course, dear. I know things about you that only a Grandma knows. Your favorite kind of cookie is snickerdoodles— I always made them for you when you came over.”
“Something else,” I said.
“One time, when you were in third grade, you wet your panties at school. You were too embarrassed to tell your mom and dad, so you called me! And I came and picked you up, and we had hot chocolate together while I washed your clothes.” She laughed. “You were always so serious.”
I’d never told that story to anyone before in my entire life. Only Grandma Minnie ever knew about that.
She sighed over the phone.
“I really, really need you to do this. Everything will be okay, sweetheart. I promise. You’ll find me in this beautiful place and I’ll give you a huge hug and we’ll both be together someday. You want that, don’t you?”
“Please take care of this one thing for me. It’s very important. It’s to keep me safe, sweetheart.”
“One more thing, Grandma,” I said. “You were Catholic while you were alive. So can you pray with me? The Lord’s Prayer. You said it every night at dinner.”
“Of course, sweetheart!”
I took a deep breath.
“Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is…”
I trailed off. Silence on the other end.
“Grandma, why aren’t you praying?” I whispered.
“On earth as it is in heaven,” I finished. Grandma Minnie didn’t say anything. “You’re not my Grandma,” I whispered. “Who the fuck are you?”
The line went dead.
Let me fill you in on a little bit of obscure trivia. During the Salem Witch Trials, there was a minister named George Burroughs who was executed for witchcraft. As he stood on the ladder, waiting to be hanged, he recited the Lord’s Prayer. It was believed that witches and demons could not say the Lord’s Prayer. He was executed anyways. That’s how they rolled back then.
Don’t ask me how I knew this off-hand. Like you, I’m an internet gremlin who collects all kind of useless information in the back of my head instead of doing anything productive.
I turned my cell off and disconnected my phone.
Whoever was calling me, it wasn’t my Grandma. They were using my Grandma’s voice, but it couldn’t be her. Whoever was calling me was something evil. Grandma Minnie’s heaven wouldn’t demand the mutilation of a kitten. Come to think of it Grandma Minnie’s heaven wouldn’t tell someone where to find six hundred dollars in a shifty dumpster.
I lay in bed, shaking.
I’d been so happy to believe that my Grandma really was happy and safe in the afterlife. I’d been so relieved to know that there was an afterlife, that there was a heaven and a light at the end of the tunnel. To know that, after a long, drawn-out, wasting death— after two years of wasting down to nothing, and dying after days of agony with a broken hip and ribs— my Grandma’s spirit was somewhere nice. That all good spirits went someplace nice.
I’d wanted to believe it so badly.
I still wanted to believe it.
Maybe, she really was safe and happy somewhere. I hoped so. But the thing that had been calling me was not her.
Why had it sent me to the key chain? What were those rotten bags of trash? Whose money had I taken?
Why did it want me to kill my cat?
I cried and cried. Bea came and curled up on my chest. She purred loudly, as if she knew I was in distress and wanted to calm me down. I petted her soft spotted fur.
I didn’t think I’d fall asleep, but I did.
That night, I had a dream.
In the dream, my phone rang. The caller was unlisted. I picked up.
“Hello?” I said.
“H-hello?” quavered the voice at the other end. It sounded like Grandma Minnie. But not like I’d ever heard her before. She sounded scared. She sounded sick. She sounded cold. “I want to go home. I want to go home! I want to go home,”
“Grandma?” I cried.
“It’s so cold here. It’s freezing. I’m… so… cold… everyone is lost… I can’t find you. Hello?”
“Where are you?”
“Hello? Hello? Hello?”
The line went dead. Suddenly, she was standing at the foot of my bed. She looked the way she did the day she died. All skinny, and shrunken, with sick, hollow eyes, and drooping skin. She shivered, naked, frostbitten.
“Please help me. I’m in Hell.”
Then I woke up. I’m not going to work today.
I don’t know what the fuck I’m supposed to do.