Unlucky for some

Unlucky for some

But I’m really more of a dog person.

It’s not that I’m not a cat person, but really I do prefer dogs. Cats always have that look, you know the one – that exact same look your second grade teacher gave you when he saw you’d set fire to the crayons. Again. Like they’re judging you, and possibly plotting your death.

What do you mean you want to hear about the crayon incident?

Look, it’s not important. Those crayons were just very flammable. We’re talking about cats here, pay attention.

So, I’ve never liked the furry little rug-ruiners. Doesn’t help matters that I’m allergic something terrible, of course, but regardless I still don’t think I’d get on well with cats on principle. Which means that of course I was the one person in my friend group who picked up a random, fluffy clinger-on. Well, I say fluffy, but really it was actually the mangiest thing you’ve ever seen. The only reason I was sure it wasn’t a rat was because rats don’t make my eyes sting and water.

I’m sure you’ve all seen those videos about people coming home and finding cats in their houses.

“But I don’t own a cat!” they exclaim, horrified by this unexpected, beclawed addition to their carefully arranged lives.

“You do now! Hail the cat!” scream the internet comments below the videos, smug and assured in the belief that furry would-be-assassins make lives better and with little to no regard for how expensive the fleabags can be. Some of us don’t have that kind of disposable income, and if we did there are a thousand and one more thrilling ways to dispose of it than looking after an entitled, self-aggrandising feline. Not to mention the sheer cost in antihistamines.

But no, my friends cooed over this thing like it was a cute decorative vase rather than the foul-smelling, loud-mouthed right-hand minion of the antichrist. Right from the word ‘go’ it didn’t shut up. The first time around it was in my bathroom when I got home. I thought maybe the neighbours had left the TV on while they got stoned again, because there was a terrible racket coming from the direction of our shared wall, and my bathroom. Now, I habitually lock all my doors and windows despite being on the sixth floor, because who’s to say that thieves after my eclectic collection of pressed flowers and failed love poetry wouldn’t have ziplines and abseiling equipment. Heck, they could borrow mine – it’s just sitting in the storage area collecting dust. So you can imagine my shock at finding this little intruder sitting on my countertop and batting idly at my Lynx body spray.  

The first thing I did, obviously, was to call the pest exterminators. Who promptly muttered something about it being Sunday, after-hours and besides cats weren’t considered a ‘pest’. Shows what they know. In the course of that conversation, it had knocked my brand-new container of medications into the toilet, where they became the world’s most expensive water-freshener.

My so-called ‘friends’ were no better – they wanted pictures and when I provided them, they just texted back variations on ‘aaaaawwwwww!’ Thankfully, after destroying my very expensive pills, when I opened the front door the cat zipped away into the night, hopefully to never be seen again. It screeched at me as it left, as if I’d somehow offended it. Maybe it was annoyed there wasn’t a genuine Monet or Picasso for it to shred on its way out.

And it was true that it didn’t darken my doorstep again (probably too busy destroying other people’s medicines and, I don’t know, stealing tuna cans and diamonds) but it did nearly kill me in the street. I was minding my own business, reading an article on a factory recall of pills for, of all things, arsenic contamination, and trying to remember if my medicines fell within the suspect timeframe. I had just remembered that of course they didn’t, because I had just had to fork out $240 for a new prescription thanks to the damn cat, when the feline in question wound itself around my ankles and sent me sprawling onto the pavement. I scraped my chin, my hands and tore a hole in my jeans and, to add insult to injury, got a full-on view of its fluffy backside as it meowed triumphantly and streaked away. I’d recognise that patchy, wiry brown fur anywhere.

Joke’s on it though; if it had wanted to kill me it should have just let me walk into that intersection – some arsehole ran the light and put three people in hospital just as I was pulling myself off the sidewalk and checking that I still had all my teeth.

Clearly miffed by its failure to do me serious bodily harm, it decided to drive me to suicide instead. Now, I’ve heard caterwauling before. I live in a city; if it’s not the horny cats it’s the starving racoons making a godawful racket at midnight. But this cat… I don’t know how it did it, I really don’t. It sounded like it was sitting right by my ear and serenading me with a rusty chainsaw chewing through a blackboard, interspersed with some scenes of dire, battlefield-inspired carnage. Lots of screams. But it wasn’t anywhere near me, probably because it knew I’d happily brain it with my bedside lamp if it didn’t shut up. Every time I cracked open my increasingly gummy and red eyes, my room was empty. I’d shamble over to the window, and I could see it sitting on the wall of the alley below my window, looking, I assume, as pleased as Punch. Its missing ear gave it away, as did the way it would wait for me to stumble out the front door in the dreary mornings before looking me dead in the eye, giving a last, mocking yowl and leaping into next doors’ garden. I prayed the neighbours would get a Rottweiler.

After about three weeks of constant feline harassment, I’d had enough. I’d tried sound-cancelling headphones, I’d tried earplugs, I’d tried throwing my shoe at it from the window, I’d tried blasting music at full volume from every speaker I owned. All it got me was a stern note from the building manager and an awkward conversation with my neighbours explaining why I needed to fetch one of my dress shoes from their begonias on a drizzly, cold Tuesday morning. I don’t think they took my suggestion to buy a dog seriously, either. Anyway, I gave up. I went home for the weekend, reasoning with impeccable logic that the moggy couldn’t possibly follow me interstate. Even if it could get a ticket, and somehow I wasn’t willing to put that past this particular spawn of Satan, Customs would stop it for violating quarantine. ‘Sorry, sir, madam or demon, but you can’t transport fleas interstate, that would be unlicensed transfer of animals and/or livestock.’  

I drove five hours in what could only be described as a hurricane, or possibly a vertical tsunami, and arrived on my parents’ doorstep soaked, my car about to die from a flooded engine, but blissfully cat-free. It was like spending a weekend in Paradise. Silence was the order of the night, and even the screaming toddler two doors down couldn’t dampen my mood.

The ride back was better, not least because I wasn’t struggling to keep my eyes open. The weather had cleared up, the sky was blue, the sun was shining and the fire engines around my apartment block were numerous. It had to have been the cat. I swear to God, I don’t know how, but I’m blaming the cat. And I promise that’s not just the sleep deprivation talking.

Officially it started in one of the apartments on the fourth floor, a chip-pan catching alight. The sprinkler system was drier than the Sahara, which was hilarious considering the rainfall that month had broken records and flooded several streets. It would have been more hilarious, but the fire doors on the fifth floor malfunctioned and trapped everyone on the higher floors – smoke inhalation and an unrelated, unfortunate electrical fault sparking a second blaze on the seventh floor meant that quite a few people didn’t make it. I mean, the people two doors down from my room who regularly got stoned very, very loudly and ran through the hallways wearing what sounded like cement shoes were annoying, but they didn’t deserve that. Maybe just a fine and eviction. In fact, it sounded like I was pretty lucky to not be there, since everyone else on my floor who was home died.

Of course, all my stuff was either very expensive charcoal or smelled like I’d taken it to the Biggest Bonfire Bonanza and hung it over the fire pit, so I wasn’t best pleased despite my luck. Still had the bloody abseiling equipment my girlfriend left me, and a sudden pressing need to find a house in the worst rental market I’d ever seen. And trust me, I’d seen… at least one rental market. Yeah. Look, I liked that place, I didn’t want to move, so I’d never really looked. But boy oh boy, was I looking after that, and the prices made me want to scream. I could have bought a small island with the prices they were asking, if you added it up over a year.

In desperation, I turned to my spirit animal and soulmate, the ostrich. Gleefully declaring that minimalism was the order of the day and that material goods were so last week, I booked a flight to parts unknown and exotic and went on holiday. I mean, if I was going to have to sell a kidney to afford a house, I may as well sell it to spend some time on a posh island resort in the tropics with some rock-climbing thrown in instead, right? Way more fun than talking to real estate agents. And I’d finally get to use that abseiling equipment.

The flight was a nightmare. And not like one of those ones where you have a clear goal or something dreadful chasing you. At least in those it’s just a matter of running. Everything is very simple and obvious, albeit terrifying. This was like the nightmares where you’re trapped in a fishbowl draining of water only suddenly you’re dangling off a cliff with the wind whipping at your unmentionables and you really just need to get to that tuna sandwich if only it would stop turning into a canary and flying away.

Why are you looking at me like that? No, I don’t need to talk to a dream therapist, thank you.

Anyway, I started breaking out in hives as soon as I got onto the plane, which is never pleasant. I was itchy and red with a nose like a water balloon, only wetter, by the time I reached my seat, and it didn’t get any better from there. The person next to me smelled of stale takeaway food and sweat and had no concept of personal space, whereas the bloke on my other side was, based on his attire and the set of his worryingly square jaw, clearly a mobster. Russian mob, Mafia, Yakuza, I didn’t know. He could have been running them all, although why on Earth he had chosen to ride economy was beyond me. I tried gamely not to sneeze all over his glossy magazine and wished I’d brought some tissues.

We reached cruising altitude at about the same time as I reached peak misery. My nose no longer functioned as a breathing passage but would have made a passable faucet had you absolutely no concern for basic hygiene. Mafia-man had taken up knitting and the guy with the serious BO was taking a nap with his face smeared against the window. I’d bet the cleaning crew were going to be thrilled to have to clear off the streaks. Something rattled in the overhead compartment. My eyes itched abominably.

And then the turbulence hit.

My stomach resolutely followed the motion of the plane with a half-second delay, jouncing around and making me wonder if the salad and steak wrap I’d eaten in the airport lounge hadn’t been a mistake in more ways than just its overinflated price. I didn’t think it would taste any better a second time around. Mafia was unconcerned, but I suppose that anything short of brutal, bloody murder would be of zero importance to a man who looked like a direct spiritual descendant of Al Capone.

The plane didn’t pull up from a dip, and my stomach just kept rising higher and higher until it felt like it might climb all the way out of my throat and make a bid for independence of my body. Braving my sleeping companion’s dire stench, I craned my neck to peek past him and take a look out the window. Now, I don’t fly a whole lot, but I feel it’s pretty safe to assume that the ground is not supposed to be the only thing you can see out of the window. There should be some sky in there, too, you know what I’m saying? Not that I was seeing much ground either, to be fair. Just the vast expanse of the ocean, rising up to meet us.

And it was getting harder to see anything at all; my eyes were swelling up something terrible, and the itch! Ugh! I wasn’t sure I’d survive long enough to hit the water.

Something soft and heavy landed in my lap and made an irritating yowling sound. I squinted through my swollen eyes and just managed to make out the shape of my least favourite devil, who looked smug and not at all as if it was about to die. The bloody cat had not only followed me, it had stowed away on the goddamned plane! I wasn’t even going to be able to die in peace.

I scrambled awkwardly over Mafia’s lap, howling incoherent death threats at the piebald agent of misfortune who sprinted away down the aisle, trailing knitting and my zipline in its wake. I figured if it was going to die anyway there was no way I was going to let my revenge be taken by some saltwater and a sudden fall from a great height. And I wasn’t going to take the risk it would somehow land on its damn feet and walk out of there a-OK while I floated in the wreckage. Seemed a cat-like thing to do. Sneaky, you know?

I didn’t realise I’d reached the end of the plane until I was forced to stop by the sheer amount of gadgetry surrounding me, not to mention the lack of space and the sudden jarring impact when I hit the ground chin first after tripping over the raised doorframe leading to the pilot’s cabin. The run had, if nothing else, cleared up my sinuses a bit, and although I was still dripping copious amounts of… let’s call it fluid, I could see well enough. Beneath the control panels there was a sparking piece of loose wire. It didn’t look like it was supposed to be there; I’m pretty sure that rule one of electrical stuff is: no sparking. Sparks bad.

I said something that I’m sure was very witty and coherent, but which I’ve heard from sources that, I assure you, cannot be trusted was more like a strangled, high-pitched shriek. I probably would have continued for some time in the same vein, if Mafia hadn’t lumbered in after me and grabbed me by the scruff of my neck. I think he said something about knitting, and maybe cashmere, but I was too busy panicking to really pay attention, although generally paying attention to men that look as though they could kill me with one finger is a top survival priority. I must have said something about the sparks, because he grunted and, completely ignoring the wittering of the airline staff and the please-do-not-panic commands uttered in increasingly panicked tones by the pilots, he bent down to have a look.

He thrust the tangle of wool and webbing into my arms before unclipping my carabiner from the ropes and pulling on my nice super-thin high-durability rubber belaying glove. After some rummaging and a few muttered curses, he straightened up and gave an experimental tug on the pilot’s joystick. The plane straightened too.

I stood there and gaped as Mafia stripped off my glove and handed it back to me.

The cat had vanished sometime between me entering the cockpit and being escorted back to my seat, which meant I could listen with unswollen ears as Mafia explained to me that he was actually an electrician, and that I owed him three hundred dollars worth of cashmere wool. So that was good and bad, and I am never ever, ever getting a cat as long as I live.

Star-kissed ruins

Star-kissed ruins

The Ritual

The Ritual