Since my last post hit me right in the sads (does everyone who writes occasionally find themselves pissed off at the author of their own work for making unhappy things? Why would you even think of making your own character go through something so upsetting, Lex, why?!), I was pretty pleased to find this prompt and all the images it inspired
She had never seen so many cats in one place in her life.
My dog would be thrilled at a discovery like that. He also thinks every rotting pumpkin and leaf-pile on my neighbours’ lawns is a potential cat-friend. He desperately wants to meet them, but I wouldn’t stick around either if someone 10x my size was barrelling towards me crying and letting out xena-war-cries of excitement. Half the outdoor cats in my area are feral, which frustrates me intensely, because, honestly, if you don’t want your cat, don’t just push him outside! He isn’t a wild animal, he doesn’t know how to care for himself, and why didn’t you get him fixed?! Ahem. Off the soapbox and onto the writing.
The photo is The Cat by Jakub Kubika, and you should check him out. His work is all beautiful and occasionally very dark.
Caitlin was bouncing in excitement by the time she met her new landlord, the exhaustion of a full day driving a u-haul cross-country entirely forgotten. “Mr. Cole? I’m so excited to meet you, I’m Caitlin, I’m renting apartment 302?”
Mr. Cole grunted, grinding his cigarette out on the sidewalk before picking it up and depositing the butt in the public bin at the curb. As they walked up the shrub-lined front walk, he said, “No smoking in the apartments. No drugs smoking, no cigarette smoking, NO SMOKING.”
“Not a problem, I’m not a smoker… or… um… a drugs smoker.” Caitlin smiled reassuringly but all that she got from him in return was a sour glare.
“It’s bad for your health. I know this if anyone knows this.”
It’s fine, she reassured herself, He’s just grumpy, but he showed me the entire apartment live on skype , and listened to all my weird instructions about getting closer to the grout and to the cook top and the windows. It’s fine.
“You got my e-post, I saw – first and last months’ rent?”
“You surprised? You think I can’t do the internet because I’m old?” He scowled. “I can do the internet, I have three buildings, forty units and more, and I keep nice places. Clean. No smoking. Advertise on the internet.”
“Absolutely,” Caitlin interjected, “Very impressive. And this apartment is so much nicer than any of the other ones I looked at!”
So why did it sit empty for so long? her mother’s voice interjected. What’s wrong with it? Is it mould? Are you going to move a million miles away for no good reason and die alone of black lungs?
“So nice!” she repeated, trying to drown out the tirade. “I’m lucky it stayed on the market long enough for me to find it.”
“Yes, well, people are fussy, foolish. Fully renovated, beautiful view, peaceful safe neighbourhood.” Mr. Cole patted her brusquely on the shoulder. “Nice place for a young girl, you can walk home at night.”
Caitlin smiled at his reassurance. Her mother would approve.
“Door key – don’t let people in, even if you see them inside sometimes. Mailbox. Unit.” He held up three identical keys one at a time – even the mailbox key looks the same, isn’t it supposed to be small? – and passed her two of them before leading her up three flights of stairs.
Caitlin was puffing a bit by the time she got there. “Um, isn’t it on the third floor?”
“Yes. Ground, one, two, three. No elevator. Fully furnished, one year lease.”
Maybe that’s the catch? Caitlin tried to treat her new exercise regime as a positive.
Mr. Cole unlocked the door at the end of the hall and gestured that she should precede him.
The apartment was as light and airy as it had seemed in the photos and the skype session. It was nicely decorated, with cream walls and well cared for furnishings. It even came with basic cooking equipment. Perfect for someone starting from scratch in a new town, it came with everything Caitlin would need… and… she stared around at the living room in confusion.
“Mr. Cole, is someone already renting here?”
She had never seen so many cats in one place in her life. The bay windowsill had two calicos and a black cat, all sitting primly upright. A large manx lay draped across the top of the couch and a handful of kittens were playing on the carpet. Black, white, cream, grey, red, ginger, brown and blue – solids and patterned in stripes, points, dappling and any combination thereof – the cats were everywhere. A few acknowledged her presence with indifferent stares, and one trotted up to roll onto its back at her feet. Most continued with their business, which largely consisted of napping.
“Mr. Cole?” Caitlin felt a growing horror. Her mother was right! “Mr. Cole, there are CATS in here!”
The old man came up beside her and looked around. “Yes, of course. Fully furnished.”
“Mr. Cole, I don’t want cats! Let alone this many! I mean, how? Why?” Caitlin clutched the strap of her bag in her fists, catching sight of more cats through the kitchen door and in the bedroom.
“Fully furnished. You knew this when you signed the lease, Miss Smith.” Mr. Cole sounded scolding, but also faintly amused.
“Where did you put them when you were filming?” Caitlin whirled on her new landlord, the scumbag. “You misrepresented this apartment, and I want my money back.”
Mr. Cole shrugged. “They were all here. They were here when I took pictures, too. They’re very camera shy. But they’re no upkeep at all.”
Caitlin sputtered. “Are you kidding me? I’m allergic! And this many cats, it’ll smell, and be loud and … and…”Caitlin hesitated. Sniffed the air.
No smell. The cats, even those tussling off in the corner and the one that had come up to twine around her legs, were completely silent too. One of the kittens pawed at an adult cat and meowed. Or seemed to, but in complete silence.
She looked to Mr. Cole for some kind of explanation. The old man was smug.
“Do you believe in ghosts, Miss Smith?” he asked. “Because cats… well, cats don’t care what you believe in. They just are.”