Cat house, p.1
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       Cat House, p.1

           Emily Follett
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Cat House
Cat House

  Copyright 2014 Emily Follett

  No matter how hard she tried, Erin couldn’t seem to find a job. Her parents mistook her lack of confidence for lack of trying, and she had been looking for a while, so when a job finally presented itself she felt like she had to take it.

  “How many cats are there?” she asked.

  “Thirty-seven. At least that’s how many she named in her will,” Anna said.

  Her mom’s friend, Anna, sat across the desk from her. Erin felt more comfortable now they were sitting, since standing, she was practically twice as tall as Anna. Plump for someone so active, Anna was curt, but friendly, and always covered in pet hair. She had worked for Happy Paws, the dog walking and pet sitting service, for a long time and thought she might be able to get Erin a job.

  “Without access to a vehicle, this is really all I have for you,” Anna said.

  Even though she was sixteen, Erin didn’t have a driver’s license; she had taken the driving exam twice already and choked both times.

  “No one else wanted the job, so I’ll understand if you’re not interested.”

  “I’m interested,” Erin said.

  “You’ll have to go twice a day, every day, to give the cats food and water, clean the litter boxes, and vacuum from time to time. And Mrs. Brittle specified in her will that she wanted someone to sit with her cats and visit them for a while every day.”

  “I can do my homework there.”

  “Good. You can start tomorrow. You’ll need to fill these forms out,” Anna said, handing Erin some papers and a pen.

  “Thank you,” Erin grinned. She twisted her long, black hair up into a bun and started filling in her contact information.

  “Do the cats actually own the house?” she asked, making conversation while Anna waited for her to finish filling out the forms.

  “I’m not sure. I know after they die, the house goes to her son. She had a lot of money and set up a trust fund for her cats. You forgot to ask how much the job pays.”

  Erin looked up from filling out the emergency contact information on the form.

  “Twenty dollars an hour,” Anna said. “Don’t get too excited. It’s going to be a lot of work, and it’s a creepy, old house. I’d get my work done before dark if I were you.”

  “Is the house haunted?” Erin asked.

  She was kidding, but Anna looked at her as if she had asked a serious question.

  “That’s what they say,” she said. “You can call me if you have any problems.”

  Early the next morning, Erin went to meet Anna at the house so Anna could show her what to do. The house turned out to be a mansion so big it was practically a castle. It was so impressive, Erin wasn’t even sure she was in the right place until she saw Anna. Breathing in the crisp autumn air, she followed Anna up the long driveway, which cut across the groomed gardens and sprawling front lawn. Fallen leaves had been raked into a neat pile, and the stray leaves blew around them in the wind.

  Anna gestured to an old, wooden garage that lay at the end of the driveway, half hidden behind the house. The garage was falling down and blackened with smoke and fire damage.

  “There was a fire in the garage after Mrs. Brittle died,” Anna said. “A contractor is coming to tear it down, but until then, don’t go near it. It’s not safe.”

  Anna gave Erin a spare key to the front door. As Erin opened the enormous front door, it creaked loudly. Inside, the mansion looked the picture of a haunted house. Everything in it was ancient and dusty and all of the furniture was draped in sheets.

  “The furniture is covered because of the cats,” Anna smiled, perhaps noticing the terrified expression on Erin’s face.

  “Where are the cats?” Erin asked.

  “They’re skittish. I only ever saw them with Mrs. Brittle. After she died, they all hid. They probably miss her. It’s sad, really.

  Anyway, we don’t have much time, and there’s a lot to go over,” Anna said, handing Erin a list of printed out instructions that were as thick as a book and leading her to the kitchen. “Most of what you need is in here. Cat food, kitty litter, trash bags.”

  The kitchen looked as if it hadn’t changed since the house was built. The fridge was the old-fashioned, round, bubbly kind; the cabinets looked like they had about a hundred coats of white paint on them; the butcher block had a pronounced dip in the middle from years of use. The oven was so old it looked like it ran on wood logs.

  “How do I use the oven?”

  “You don’t,” Anna said. “There’s an electric kettle over there and tea, instant oatmeal, instant soup, and biscuits in this cupboard. There’s milk in the fridge for the cats, but you can have some too. If there’s anything you need, just add it to the list on the fridge.”

  “Thanks.”

  After showing Erin everything she needed to know, Anna posted a list of emergency numbers, including the vet and cat hospital, on the fridge. Erin couldn’t help being curious, and finally worked up the courage to ask Anna what had happened to Mrs. Brittle.

  “She died of old age,” Anna said. “When she got sick, her son hired a nurse to take care of her at home. They set up a hospital room in one of the upstairs bedrooms.”

  “She died here? In this house?”

  “Yes. We started taking care of her cats after she got sick. Her son—David I think his name is—anyway, he hated the cats and tried to get rid of them. He thought they were making her sick, or sicker. Which reminds me, if he comes around here asking you any questions, or giving you a hard time, you tell him you need to speak to your manager and call me. He’s kind of a jerk—Are you okay? You don’t look so good.”

  “I’m fine.”

  “You’re not scared, are you? Are you going to be okay to do this?”

  “Yeah,” Erin said, a little indignantly. Of course she could look after some cats.

  “Good. There’s nothing to be scared of.”

  Anna remembered she had brought some cat food with her and went to her car to go get it.

  Alone, Erin wandered out of the kitchen into the butler’s pantry. She opened the swinging door and went into the dining room, curiously looking around. Thick, velvet drapes covered the windows, and the wood paneled room was gloomy and dark. Erin looked up at the crystal chandelier, momentarily struck by how beautiful it was.

  Suddenly, something hard hit her shoulder, nearly knocking her over. Erin cried out.

  “What’s wrong?!” Anna said, rushing into the room, just as a cat jumped off of Erin’s shoulder and onto the dinning room table.

  The cat had pounced off of the top of the china cabinet onto her.

  “Oh my God,” Erin said, laughing nervously. “He jumped on me.”

  Anna laughed too. As Erin went up to the lean, black cat, the cat crossed the dinning room table toward her. She scratched his neck and read the nametag on his collar.

  “Hello Barnabas,” Erin said.

  Barnabas purred, leaning into her scratching hand.

  “He likes you,” Anna said. “None of the cats came out to say hello to me. This must be a good sign.”

  “I can’t believe you’re getting paid twenty dollars an hour to look after some crazy, dead cat lady’s cats,” Erin’s best friend, Mica, said, later that day in the school library.

  They were supposed to working on a history project but were instead talking about the cat house. Erin’s other best friend, Noah, was the only one with a book open. Mica was sitting with her pink converse on the table, absently braiding her curly, brown hair into two French braids.

  “You would hate it. You hate cats,” Erin said.

  Silly Mica was afraid of Erin’s own fat tabby, Butterball. Like most cats, Butterball seemed attracted to people who didn’t like hi
m and always followed Mica around whenever she came over to Erin’s house, which drove Mica so crazy, she refused to sleep over anymore.

  “Can we come with you to the cat house?” Noah asked.

  “It’s my first day. I don’t want to get in trouble. Another time, I promise.”

  “Are you guys talking about the Brittle estate?” Eric asked, and Erin’s heart practically stopped when she realized he was talking to her.

  Eric was a year ahead of them in school. As he pulled up a chair next to Erin, her head was filled with nothing but the smell of his after-shave, and she was too flustered to answer his question. Mica told him about the cat house.

  “I know that house,” Eric said. “The landscaping company I work for maintains the gardens. After the old lady died, the garage burned down. This guy I work with, Raul, was there that day. He said before he even saw the smoke, all these cats came crawling out of a hole in the garage roof. He was mowing the lawn and he saw a cat, and then another cat, and then he turned and saw like twenty of
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