The Hugo Best Short Story award in 2004 went to Mike Resnick for a magical realism piece called “Travels with My Cats” [Asimov’s Feb 2004].

Eleven-year-old Ethan Owens finds a book at a neighbor’s garage sale written by Miss Priscilla Wallace. He buys it for a nickel and finds he loves the book. It’s written about the world travels of Miss Wallace (1892-1926), who took her two cats along on her travels. As he gets to be a teenager, his friends tease him about the book and he puts it away. Years later he moves to a small town in Wisconsin and rents an old house on a lake. Unpacking, he gets the book out again and falls in love with it all over again. Researching Miss Wallace online, he finds very little information except for an old photo. While he’s reading the book that night, he hears noise on the veranda. It turns out to be Miss Wallace and one of her cats, who have been summoned by his love for the book. She visits him for five nights, but he is afraid to touch her and find she isn’t real. On the next night, raccoons get into the house and destroy the book. The cats are there, but Miss Wallace isn’t. Clearly the cats are real and pettable. Ethan tries to salvage the book, but he’s unable to fix it up well enough to call her. He tries an antique book search, with no results. Abandoning his job and his house, he starts to travel, looking for another copy of the book, desperate to find one that will bring her back.

This is a romance. It’s well-written with good characterization and a good feel for the setting. Resnick’s references to his computer sound a bit dated in the era of the cloud, but the story holds up well. The cats are a nice, sentimental touch. Three and a half stars. I remember being surprised in 2004 that a romance had won.