Diane was woken every morning by a thousand tiny meows. Well, no, not one thousand-probably more like a hundred. She had lost count of how many cats she had, but there were a lot of them. What’s a woman to do when she can’t work? You had to give back to the world somehow, right?
Tonight, however, she had laid down for a quick nap, just to close her eyes. She was doing that a lot lately. The naps, reading, music; it was all just a way to pass the time, to mark it in some way. Every night, she had the same routine: she would come home, turn on some music and play with her cats and kittens. Their free love was more than she had ever gotten from anyone. She didn’t mind that she always smelled of cat piss and everyone thought she was fucking nuts. It was all about giving back and she gave back to them.
There was something wrong with them this evening, though. Several of them were fighting and they were almost howling. There was something wrong, she knew this. The book she had been reading (Stephen King’s The Shining) slid off her chest and bounced off the table and landed with a soft thud on her carpet. She stood, a shiver working its way up her spine. Several of her babies ran around her feet. One clawed at her knees and another leaped into her arms. They were all shivering and she realized that they were afraid. Cats were very good at sensing fear. Maybe they sensed her own? Anything was possible. Didn’t humans connect in some way with their pets?
She walked (as carefully as she could, given the numerous cats) slowly towards the front door of her small one bedroom apartment. She shivered again and almost screamed when there was a loud knock at her door.
“Candy gram.” A voice said.
“I’m sorry, you must have the wrong apartment. I’m not expecting anything.”
“Lady, that’s the point of a Candy Gram-it’s a surprise! You never know who could be sending it to you!”
“But that’s just it.” Diane was still talking through the door. “I don’t know anyone. There isn’t anyone who knows me.”
“How about your dead parents? Your husband who left you for another woman? Or maybe the colleagues from your failed writing career. Being the top paid journalist and losing it all over some man is kind of sad, don’t you think?”
The words were a whirl in Diane’s head and every word was true. “How do you know that? Who the fuck are you?” She remained in her standing position in the middle of her living room. She was afraid to go any farther, so very afraid. “I don’t know anyone anymore, just go away.”
There was silence from the other side of the door for a moment, just a moment, and then: “Candy Gram.”
“Please go away.”
“I can’t.” The voice on the other side of the door is almost a whisper.
“Why can’t you? What could you possibly want from me? I’m the crazy cat lady. There’s a crazy cat woman in this apartment, maybe you should go and visit her too!”
“Oh, I already know about Moira.”
“Please go away.”
She tried to keep the fright out of her voice but wasn’t entirely successful. She had been a strong, independent woman but had been reduced to this: a woman surrounded by many more cats than was legal, screaming through a door which she very much didn’t want to open; and she was so terribly afraid.
“I can’t.” The voice said.
It was a man’s voice, she was sure of it. There was a deep resonance to it. Slowly, making as little noise as possible, Diane crept forward so that she could hear better. She leaned towards the door wiping tears off of her cheeks. She didn’t know she had started crying.
“Why? For fuck sakes why?”
“I was invited in.”
She expected something else, some shaking and breaking of the door, but there was nothing. Then one of her kittens began to meow. She thought that one was one she had once named Gus. Or was it Justine? God, it was tiring naming so many cats. Why did she have so many cats? When was the last time she had been out of her apartment? What was she doing with her life?
The another cat began to meow (Frederick? Rosy?) and another and another (Edward and Bella. Those two she was sure of). Then her entire apartment was filled with the sound of howling cats, some high-pitched, some low, some sounded as if they were screaming.
“Please go away…” She was now curled up on the floor of her living room, clutching her head, covering her ears, waiting for the door to snap open. Waiting for it as she was, she screamed again when her cats stopped meowing and howling. The absolute silence frightened her more than anything in the entire encounter.
Two of her most favourite cats (Miss Tula and Miss Mave) went to the door and rubbed up against it. When she walked toward them, they ran to her and then to the door. Mave and Tula both mewed at the door again and scratched at it. She looked through her peephole and saw the old woman who had lived across from her for seven years. Diane had no idea what her name was.
She opened the door quickly, but instead of rushing out into the hallway, all of her cats remained in her apartment-which made that the first time that had ever happened. She looked at them and they looked at her. Diane shivered. They had never been so well behaved. She looked back at the older woman now.
Her first visitor in years was wearing a flowing purple house coat. No, that wasn’t quite right, it was more of a robe, really. She was also wearing a purple turban and Diane could see grey hair poking out from underneath. The woman was wearing a lot of shiny jewels and a lot of necklaces. She shone. “Oh good, you’re all right.” She said.
“I’m sorry?” Diane said The words nearly stuck in her throat. “What’s your name? Where’s the man that was here? Where did he go? Did you see him?” The questions poured out unheeded. Diane realized that she had been holding them in all this time.
“Oh, I’m sorry darling. I forgot my manners.” She held out a bejewelled hand. “I’m LaWanda. You might call me the resident fortune teller.”
Diane took it and shook. The hand was warm and heavy with rings. “I know. I mean I don’t know you, but I know what you do. I think it’s cool. Where did the man go?” She was boggling this. Her first visitor in years and she was babbling like an idiot.
LaWanda saw her fear and rubbed her hand with both of hers. “Oh, calm yourself darling. We are all in danger, but not of the immediate sort, not if we plan. Since your cats are an excellent warning system, I suggest we set up shop here. Is it alright if I come in?”
“Yes, of course.” Diane stepped aside to let LaWanda enter. “Now, we have much to do to keep the others safe.”
“The others who live in 69B, of course.” She held out her bag. “I brought sustenance. We have to think of their welfare as well as our own.” She rummaged in her bag and pulled out a bottle of wine. “Nightcap?”