When I was in my early 20s, my uncle disappeared. For three months the investigation continued, but eventually cooled due to lack of evidence. They concluded my uncle was either dead or had simply gone away. It wasn't terrible for me, I barely knew him, but my mother was devastated. My family isn't very big, and the responsibility for packing up his things fell to her. Since it was summer and I was out of school, I decided I would offer to pack his belongings for her, that way she didn't have to go through the pain of packing her brothers life herself. We hired a group of movers for the end of the week, and I set to boxing up all his things.
The police had certainly done a number on the place; large stacks of papers were still scattered about, and literally every corner had been turned inside out. Armed with a stack of folded up cardboard boxes, I set about packing his life up. The first few hours I just threw papers and belongings in boxes, stacking them in the few clean corners I can find. Eventually I got curious and began reading through some of the things I found. My uncle seemed to be a rather prolific writer. Most of what I found were sloppily written journal entries, short stories, and reactions to news items. Much of it was illegible nonsense. I even found some rejection letters from literary journals, newspapers, and even scientific publications. Clearly I wasn't the only person who couldn't make sense of his ramblings. As the first day came to a close I pulled some things from a closet only to be caught off guard by a cat who pounced wildly into the living room. He was mangy and matted, a clear stray, but he walked the room as if he owned it. He seemed entirely oblivious to me. I tried to shoo him out the open window but he paid me no mind, and went about exploring the house. He wasn't bothering anything, so I decided to ignore him and continue with my job.
In the closet I found more ramblings, mostly sci-fi stuff about wormholes; wormholes to other places, other worlds, other times. I was growing tired and about to give up when I came across a photo of my uncle and the cat. The cat was as mangy and gross in the picture as he was when I found him. I concluded my uncle must have taken the stray in. I put the picture on a dresser and left for the night.
The next morning I brought some tuna with me, figuring the poor cat must be hungry. I found him stretched out on the floor I had cleared the previous night. He was excited about the food, but again ignored me. I watched him scarf down the tuna for a bit before starting to pack. This time the cat acted strangely. Every time I made too much noise he would come directly into the room, explore around, meow a few times, and leave. At first I thought he was upset I was moving things around, but as the day grew older I had a sad realization: he thought each noise I made was my uncle, he came in expecting to find him making the noise.
This realization was so depressing I found myself trying to befriend the cat more and more, trying to comfort it. Still I packed, and soon the house was more than three quarters in boxes. I noticed one other strange thing on the second day. My uncle had written numbers all over the walls in tiny, precise pencil marks. it was not like the scribbles on the papers, because these were precise and deliberate, like he was measuring something. Lines connected some of the numbers, and near some corners he had drawn a small X.
That night I slept in his house so the cat didn't have to be alone. I looked at the picture on the dresser again. I couldn't tell where my uncle had taken the picture, but the look on his face was happy. My uncle was always reclusive and serious, I'd never seen him as happy as he was in this picture holding this filthy, matted cat. I tried to get the cat to join me on the bed, and eventually succeeded. As he purred next to me, it didn't even feel weird I was sleeping in a missing man's bed. Together we drifted off to sleep.
The next morning I finished packing. The cat followed me and watched lazily, despite all his affection the night before he seemed today to be detached and sad. When I finished the last box I decided to do something nice for him to honor the memory of my uncle. I took him to a pet groomer, and had his mangy fur washed. They cut out all his matts, and the poor cat ended up with large patches of fur missing. He looked silly, but I imagined the matts must have been painful, so I was happy they cut them out.
That night he wandered the house and meowed, still looking for my uncle. It made me very sad, and my uncle's bed felt empty and lonely without the cat.
The next morning the movers came to start taking my uncle's things to a storage closet my mother rented. Try as I might, I couldn't find the cat. I was upset to see my companion through these last few days just disappear like that, and I told the movers to be on the lookout for him. As they moved his things I searched the area around the house, but to no avail. Like my uncle, his cat had simply gone away. As they were finishing loading the truck I remembered the photo on the dresser. It was the last thing I really had of my uncle's cat, so I decided to go get it. To my relief they hadn't loaded the dresser, and there on top was the photo. I grabbed it to take it with me when something stopped me cold. There, in the photo, was my uncle holding a perfectly groomed cat with patches of fur missing. They both looked so happy.