welcome, fans of horror and fright. halloween is coming and these terrifying tales are sure to get you in the spooky spirit.
We were in the house a month before it showed its face.
I’m not certain it was hiding from us those first few weeks. The ancient structure was an organic spatter of rooms. Though shoehorned into a mid-sized London plot, its labyrinthine arrangement made casual passing of its residents improbable, and for our small family of four, even part-time usage of every irregular space was impossible.
The realtor was long-winded on its history, a foundation surviving the Great Fire but with a chameleon facade. Over the years its various owners commissioned face-lifts, from lavish Victorian to experimental Art Deco, marking time with generational building styles. Its latest face was ’90s new,’ nostalgic design blends with updated materials.
The new exterior was kind of boring, but I liked boring, and cheap. Though cheap had me excited, its price warranted hesitation. I’d seen those scary movies, and though I didn’t want to live in one, there’s paranoia and then there’s pragmatism. We were never going to afford anything better.
So we signed the papers, boxed our things and the realtor introduced us to Mr. Liu, a caretaker that apparently came with the property. Mr. Liu was all business and moved as if he were being chased. He gave us detailed instructions of the house’s inner workings and which key went where, but since none of us spoke Mandarin, we smiled and nodded. It wasn’t until he stepped outside that he spoke English, and what he said, he said slow, as if practiced many times.
“Don’t pet the cat.”
Jennifer, like all 6-year-old girls, was obsessed with acquiring a pet. When Mr. Liu recited his brief excerpt from an English 101 phrasebook, I heard a warning. Jennifer heard a call to action.
Days and nights of ‘psst,’ ‘psst,’ ‘psst,’ and ‘here, kitty’ kept her occupied during the infinite unpacking. I didn’t mind purchasing a cat toy or two knowing they would shortly be tossed out with the dust bunnies, but when the cat food actually got eaten, I explained that Mr. Liu may have meant ‘rat,’ not ‘cat,’ and I called an exterminator.
Then, of course, the damned cat actually showed up.
It was, and I’m not kidding, a dark and stormy night when I heard it scratching and howling in the attic. The storm was feverish, and with each crack of thunder, the thing in the house mewled and clawed. At first I couldn’t decipher the terrible noise. My imagination dipped into dark realms of monsters and mutant rats, transformed by toxins into super vermin. It was Jennifer that identified it for what it was, just a scared cat, and it was trapped.
Determined to free the gentle beast and win my daughter’s heart, my valiant crusade quickly turned into The Charge of the Light Brigade. The attic door was locked and Mr. Liu had failed to give us its key. Old locks, however, were little match for modern tools, a small child’s pleas, and several glasses of white wine. With Dan’s bolt cutters and hefty tactical torch, (and another glass of wine), I breached the attic door.
What bolted from the attic was not a monster nor was it a genetically-enhanced mega rat, but when I say it was clearly a cat, the ‘clearly’ part is a stretch. The motion-blur that scurried past Jennifer and me was cat-shaped and pure white, and in a line-up of arctic foxes, bichon frise, and harp seals, after that much booze I’d be hard pressed to finger the culprit.
In that moment, however, my brain labeled the escapee as non-threatening, so much so that I forgot all about Mr. Liu’s cautionary advice, and what should obviously have been his effort to keep us away from harm. Instead, Jennifer chased after the cat and I proceeded into the attic.
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