‘Ghost Cats of the South’ chilling and thrilling

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 24, 2008

“Ghost Cats of the South,” by Randy Russell. John F. Blair, Publisher. Winston-Salem NC. 2008. 265 pp. $19.95.
By Deirdre Parker Smith
During the dark and windy nights to come ó especially the night of Oct. 31 ó you might be looking for a story to chill your spine and raise a few hairs.
Maybe you’ve seen the mad miner or the Brown Mountain Lights.
But have you seen eyes glowing in the dark? Sure you have ó and not where you expected to see them.
Randy Russell has gathered a chilling and sometimes gruesome collection of “Ghost Cats of the South,” a companion to his earlier book, “Ghost Dogs of the South.”
Russell’s cats range from furry critters who won’t leave their late loved ones under any circumstances to seriously mad kitties who spend their after lives revenging their deaths.
The book is illustrated with vintage photos of cats and kittens that Russell has collected. Sometimes a sweet illustration accompanies a story full of fury, a little misleading, but if you’ve ever been owned by a cat, you know that looks can be deceiving. One second she’s all smiles and the next she’s all claws.
Among the tamer stories is the first, “Chicken Soup Cat” about a furry feline who smells like chicken soup and leads a stranded couple to warmth, food and more.
They end up in a busy cafe, where she waitresses while she waits to give birth. Musicians, the duo performs for the crowd.
The owner of the Yellow Cat Cafe is a generous man, and when Pam is ready to deliver, she wants to go back home. The cafe owner slips an envelope in her purse. As the couple heads out of town, they stop for gas and learn the cafe burned years ago. What they describe is impossible. But what Pam finds in her purse is equally impossible, envelope after envelope, full of cash ó $6,000. Way to go kitty!Rowan’s Wampus Cat shows up in the second chapter, but not in Rowan. This is the original legend, of a Cherokee wife who spies on her husband. Disguised under a panther skin, she listens in on a council of elders. Once discovered, she’s cursed by one of the elders to become what she’s wearing.
She becomes a wild creature ó part cat, part woman ó always hungry for live flesh and willing to do anything to get it.
Russell warns: “…it is best to stay away from any found, or yet unfound, scattering of bone. The next little pile of skeletal remains among the hemlocks in the mountain forest may be your own.”
Back to heartwarming tales. “Cat Cookies” involves a witch, sure, but a good one, living in a stone house near Sylva. Laura Peasey bakes for a living and her confections are renowned. Every Halloween, all the kids in town know to go to her house early to get the best stuff.
“Laura loved baking. Laura loved cats. And she loved Halloween more than any other time of year. Halloween was the best part of living in America. It was her opportunity to contribute to the town, to make children happy.”
She makes the cats happy, too. When special children come to her door, she picks out a special package of goodies. On top, she places a cat cookie, frosted with the exact colors of one of the cats who sits on her porch. That cat will follow the child to a new home.
For stomach-turning stories, check out “Eat-Your-Face Cat.” The title says it all. It’s the sort of cat Hannibel Lecter could relate to. Another “ewwww”-producing tale is “Ice-Cold Cat,” guaranteed to chill on even the hottest day.
Russell calls himself a ghostlorist, collecting old and new ghost stories. He felt that the four-legged ghost was getting short shrift, so he wrote “Ghost Dogs of the South,” then followed up with the cats, a species he’s studied extensively.
In his preface, he writes, “… visits from departed pets are easily the most common ghost experiences I hear when people share their real-life encounters with me. And cats refuse to be left out of most anything.”
At the end of the book, he invites people to share their ghost experiences through e-mail at randyrussell@aol.com or visit his Web site, GhostFolk.com.