The gardener had spotted him in the yard, and gave chase, but Merlin, living up to his name, had disappeared.
The playful tuxedo cat had slipped out a door sometime in the night, freed from his life of indoor cat luxury.
The night before, a Sunday, we’d been barbecuing in the backyard, going in and out the side door, and someone had left it just open enough for the cat to escape.
Matt’s family was reviewing the security camera footage when I got home Monday night. Four cameras kept eyes on each of the home’s downstairs exits, with one positioned right over the door that been left ajar.
We took turns blaming each other, but placing the blame couldn’t bring Merlin back. We had to take action.
Two of us rushed out to buy a humane cat trap right away, setting it up just outside the back kitchen door, baiting it with cans of sardines, cat nip, and fish-flavored treats. Hayley strategically placed bowls of food near each entrance, hoping the smell would lure our small furry wizard back home.
As we reminisced about his midnight yowling and adorable antics, we became even more desperate to get him back. We ordered too much pizza, attempting to drown our worries in cheese and pepperoni, but by the time it arrived, hardly anyone could eat. Between long periods of silence, accusations were still flying, and tears began to roll down cheeks.
We decided Merlin might return if we left all of the downstairs doors slightly cracked overnight. We shut the other cats in a room to keep them from suffering Merlin’s same fate, and hoped our half-cocked plan would work.
Tuesday evening, again we sat in the living room to review the footage of the night before, wondering if Merlin had sniffed a dish of tuna and just turned away, determined to make it on his own in the great outdoors. We imagined him roaming the hillside, terrified of the creatures of the night, his indoor kitty paws rubbed raw and sore, not used to the pavement and uneven ground of the world beyond the house. Imagined encounters with raccoons, tough Tom cats, owls, and snakes filled our heads, against our wishes, as we tried to will a happier ending into existence.
But it turned out that when the inside creatures venture out, the outdoor creatures seize the opportunity to come in.
As the footage started to play in fast forward, we all gasped as we saw a black flash streak through an open door.
“Go back! Pause it! Pause it!” we yelled.
As he slowly scrolled back, our gasps of excitement turned to horror.
It wasn’t our beloved Merlin that had slipped back in through the door, but a different creature donning nature’s tuxedo.
“Skunk!” someone said.
He roamed the house for a while, we determined, using the time code of the footage, staying for about 15 minutes, before deciding the indoor life wasn’t for him and disappeared back into the night.
And then we saw it.
A black cat – Merlin? – timidly stepped through the kitchen door.
We paused the video and huddled around the screen, trying to catch a glimpse of white toes, a dead giveaway that we had our wizard.
But it wasn’t him. Merlin was shorthaired, and this cat was definitely longhaired. He too stayed a while, roaming the house, before exiting again.
We didn’t leave the doors open that night.
On Wednesday, Robyn came home with fliers, a giant picture of Merlin in the center and her phone number at the bottom. Matt and I drove down the street to hang the fliers at every intersection. Robyn’s sister, an animal lover herself, phoned a woman who specialized in returning lost pets. Cats were hard, she said. Plus, we lived near the hills, and it wasn’t uncommon to see coyotes on our street.
Thursday, we woke up to a cat in the trap! But it was a very angry feral cat, skinny and mangy, in the cage, not Merlin. I used leather potholder gloves to set him free, avoiding teeth and claws amid deep-throated growls until he sprinted into the hills.
Friday, Saturday, Sunday. No Merlin.
Now the following Monday, and Merlin had been missing for a week. Like most missing pets, we were sure he wasn’t coming home. We checked with neighbors, shelters, posted on Craigslist.
Rick and Robyn had just returned from dinner that night when Robyn heard a familiar sound.
Climbing up the stairs to the kitchen door, she heard it again.
There, in the cat trap, dirty, hungry, and covered in the leftovers of the sardines, was Merlin. He’d returned!
Like a true wizard, he materialized sometime during the day, as we learned when reviewing the day’s security footage. Following the scent of sardines, he crawled into the cage and it trapped him.
Normally a playful cat, somewhat resistant to being scooped up by a human, our weary wanderer let us carry him inside, and cuddled on the bed while we inspected his fur, ears, and paws. His week-long outdoor adventure certainly showed. The next day, he was given the all clear by the vet.
We’re keeping a watchful eye on him now, and the doors too. Nobody has escaped since.
We’ll never know if he enjoyed his outdoor foray, but I’m fairly certain this wizard has retired his disappearing act.