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Drama Crime Horror

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Moving Day


Sharon climbed the three flights of stairs, carefully balancing the trolly with heaving boxes of books strapped to it. There was nasty smell in the stairwell that got stronger once she got to the third floor. One of her feet slipped on a greasy spot on the top step, and when she tried to correct herself (and not lose the trolly and her boxes), her left ankle paid the price with a nasty twist.


She swore a blue streak at the inconvenience of the injury at the beginning of her moving day, knowing how many more boxes she had to get up these grimy stairs into her ‘new’ apartment. After signing the lease, she’d spent the last 2 days scrubbing the apartment to try to make it feel clean. But it just felt as though she’d only scraped the top layer off many decades of unclean living.


‘Beggars can’t be choosers’ was the mantra of Sharon’s hateful foster mother, and it was playing havoc with her sleep. At the age of 32, Sharon decided to systematically pull herself out of living pay cheque to pay cheque (always finding too much month left at the end of the money). And her first move was finding a place with a low enough rent that she could save a small chunk of her small salary each month.


As she limped her trolly along the squelchy hallway carpet, she could hear a vicious fight in the apartment across from hers. The smell was strongest there, too. Their door was standing open, and it was a man and a woman high or drunk, screaming slurred obscenities at each other. They stopped when Sharon unlocked her door.


“I’m Marcia, and this is my husband, Brian. Moving day isn’t fun. Poor you.” The enunciation was a bit overdone, almost posh. Not a hint of a slur.


“Hi, I’m Sharon. Murphy’s law is still going strong. Do you know what was spilled on the top stair? I slipped on it, and my ankle’s already swelling. It’s not gonna be a fun day.”


“Oh damn, Sharon, that really sucks. I’ll call the building manager. This hallway hasn’t been cleaned for months. I don’t know what the hell they’re doing. I’d offer to help you, but I’m on some heavy-duty painkillers for my back. Bad car accident a few years ago, and it’s never come good again.”


“Yes, he really is useless, I’m afraid. I can’t get him to do a THING around our place. Sadly, I’m not much better than him. Same accident. My neck.”


“Oh, that’s really ok, no need. I’ll manage, I’ll see if my movers doing the furniture can help if I give them a bit extra, you know?”


As Brian and Marcia went back into their place, Sharon thought they looked like they were rehearsing how to move with perfect posture. They didn’t close their door, and they sat down to watch Sharon’s moving day unfold.


Poe Moves In


Sharon woke at 4:22am. Instead of her usual struggle to remember what she was dreaming, this time it was like streaming a movie—she could go back and forth to go over details. It was her earliest childhood memory, from when she was 3. Her name is Kristal, and she and her 19th-month-old brother, Charlie, are with a strange babysitter who is reading them a scary story about a black cat. Kristal remembers that this old lady lives not too far from their house. She’s using words that Kristal doesn’t understand. She says it’s a cautionary tale about staying away from Drunk Men, and About What Happens to Bad People and, especially, Bad People Who Don't Respect Cats. Kristal is scared and wants her mother but knows she must be a good girl and look after Charlie.


Kristal watches the big ginger tom who is sitting on the babysitter’s knee. He’s purring and he seems nice, so Kristal asks the babysitter if she can pat him. As the babysitter is saying that his name is Edgar, he jumps down from her knee and purrs around Kristal and Charlie, making Charlie giggle by ticking his nose with his tail. Kristal gently pats his soft fur just once as he circles the children, and Edgar looks at Kristal and purrs. Kristal pats him again, very carefully. She doesn’t know why she’s being so careful, she just knows she needs to be on her best behaviour, so she tries to be a very good girl, ‘who asks nicely and says please and thank you.’


Kristal knew she and her baby brother were being minded by this strange woman because something bad had happened to their mother. Kristal’s last recollection of her baby brother, Charlie, is from the morning they were each fostered out. She remembers a couple saying they would take Charlie because he was still young enough "not to remember". Kristal's potential foster parents say they'll take her on a "trial basis" to see how she behaves herself, and they’ll give her a much nicer name than Kristal. They’ll call her Sharon. She doesn’t remember what Charlie’s foster parents said about his name. She doesn’t know if they changed it.


Ten years ago, Sharon tried to find Charlie, but the adoption agency said that her brother's parents had opted for a closed adoption, and all they could do was take down Sharon’s contact information to file away in case her brother learns he was adopted and decides to come looking for her. Only then, with her permission, could they pass on her contact information to him.


Coming back to the present, Sharon hears a loud meow at the sliding door to her little balcony. She opens the door to a big ginger tom. She’s still shaking off her vivid dream, but this cat is not like the one from her dream. This poor thing is skin and bone, and dirty. Sharon notices a very tight collar—a kitten’s collar probably. If the cat wasn’t so malnourished the collar might have choked him. There’s a name tag that says ‘Poe’ and a mobile phone number. Sharon calls it, but it’s been disconnected. Meanwhile, Poe is purring loudly and tucking into the can of tuna Sharon’s opened for him, and she remembers to give him some water, and wonders if he’ll let her clean him off a bit, too.


~~


Early the next morning, before work, Sharon hustles an immediate appointment at the closest vet, to see if there’s a microchip (there isn’t), and if there’s anything Poe needs in terms of vet care. It’s an expensive visit, even though the vet tries to keep it minimal. Worming, shots, some antibiotic cream for a cut, but “otherwise he’s in pretty good health, and he’s going to be a big boy when he fills out a bit with regular meals at his forever home.”


“So, I can just keep him? Is there some other way I can find the original owners that I haven’t thought of? I’d like to keep him, but I’d feel bad if they’re frantically trying to find him.”


“The phone number on his name tag doesn’t work, and he doesn’t have a microchip. I’d say he’s yours now. I don’t have any notices looking for a lost ginger. The only thing you could do if you want to keep trying would be to look for lost cat signs. But he’s been missing for a long time by the condition he’s in. They’ve probably given up looking, and he’s clearly decided you’re his person. I’ll make a note in Poe’s file to call you if anyone comes in, looking for a ginger roughly his age, with his name.”


Sharon forks out her savings for the month on the vet, kitty litter, a heavy-duty scratch pole and cat food. The expensive stuff. She justifies it because she won’t have to keep spending that much each month, it’ll just be his food. She’s already decided that since she’s pescatarian, she can stretch her food budget by an extra $10 each week to include enough for Poe. She doesn’t mind having to efface herself at work for being 20 minutes late. Poe’s worth it. He seemed genuinely grateful that she wanted to help him get clean. He submitted and helped, and then curled up next to her on her bed.


Sharon’s a bit surprised at how quickly she’s become attached to him, remembering him running around the top of the room, leaping from bookshelf to bookshelf. It felt like Poe approved of her book nerdiness and that every available wall had a tall Billy bookshelf. She notes that he climbs the shelves without scratching the books, and that he seems even bigger than he is as he does the perimeter of every room from the top of each shelf. She’s never had a cat before. Or any kind of pet. But this just feels natural, and the emotional support Sharon suddenly felt from having him around was the sweetest thing in Sharon’s life since her earliest memory.


Poe Deals with the Neighbours


The only way to block the smell from the apartment across the hall was to put a rolled towel at the back of the door.


Sharon notices that Brian’s and Marcia’s pupils are always dilated, and that their nastiness to each other was enough to make any sane neighbour want to call the police. So far, she’d just tried making a noise in the hallway and calling out to someone (imaginary). They’d always stop when they realised they could be heard. In fact, Marcia’s reflexive switch to a more executive style of speaking, and straight posture seems so natural that Sharon one day asks her about her professional life. Marcia preens and uses all the right jargon to sound like she’s been around a board room. Marcia alludes to her time as part of the C-suite without naming a company or brand.


The building manager chooses just that moment to arrive with his toolbox to fix the washers in Sharon’s bathroom. Marcia tells Sharon to invite her around for a glass of wine some time so that she can tell her ‘everything’.


Tony, the building manager, is efficient about fixing all the dripping taps. He tells Sharon not to take those people seriously. “They’re meth-addicts and can’t stop going on about ‘their last home in Bondi’. Lost it all to a cocaine addiction, and now they’re unemployed, pretending they choose to live a better lifestyle than ‘materially obsessed climbers’.”


The following Monday, around 11, Brian and Marcia break into Sharon’s apartment, looking for anything valuable to sell. It doesn’t occur to them to look up, so they don’t notice Poe until he jumps down on Brian’s shoulders and scratches him across the face. Marcia, high as a kite, screams, and runs off to her apartment. She runs back with a can of insect repellent and tries to spray Poe, but the can is empty. Poe is back on the top shelf, spitting and snarling, ready to pounce on Marcia. She grabs Brian (blubbering through a bloody face straight out of a horror movie) and drags him back to their apartment.


When Sharon gets home from work, she finds her front door open, and Poe is sitting on top of the bookshelf facing the door, having decided that none shall pass without his permission. Sharon hadn’t thought it would be possible to love him anymore than she already did, but it was possible.


Just then, Sharon could hear a violent fight start between Brian and Marcia. Their screams at each other and at the ‘cat-cunt over there’ are almost incomprehensible, so Sharon knows they're off their heads. When Sharon hears glass shattering, she wonders if she should call the police. It feels like Poe is willing her to.


Sharon makes her call to the police out in the hallway, announcing that she thinks she's been burgled, and she'd like the police to come and make sure the thief is not still in her apartment, can they come right away please?


Marcia and Brian go quiet, and Marcia postures carefully over to their door and closes it.


Two officers arrive, and the more senior of the two clearly knows the building, and looks over at Brian and Marcia’s door. The officer looks to be roughly Marcia’s age, and his name badge says ‘Senior Constable Stevens’.


He asks Sharon to tell him everything as it happened. She explains arriving home to find her front door open, and they can see that the door has been forced and the lock is broken. The younger officer asks if they can go in and have a look. Sharon says ‘Of course’ and watches Snr Constable Stevens notice Poe immediately.


“Hey big fella, may I have a look around? I just want to make sure you guys are safe.” Poe sits back and starts purring, and the two officers go around the apartment (tiny bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, balcony). Sharon comes in and does the rounds too.


“I can’t see if anything is missing. I don’t see anything out of place.”


Snr Constable Stevens says they'll make a note of the break-in attempt and tells her to get all the locks she can afford fitted first thing in the morning. He takes a long look the apartment across the hall again (now completely silent, as if no-one is home) as they leave.


Marcia and Brian, Criminal Masterminds


“We can take him and drop him in the back of a garbage truck, or hide him in the boot of a Wozza’s car when he drives to Western Australia. That’d do it. We don’t have to get blood on our hands.”


“Nuh. I want that feral piece of shit dead. I want it to die, screaming.”


“Don’t be a dick, Brian. You cried like a baby when that cat scratched you, and now you’re pretending to be a tough guy. Fucking joke.”


Marcia decides to surprise Poe by getting in a different way. She climbs over onto Sharon’s balcony from the fire escape ladder and throws a brick through the sliding glass door.


Poe isn't having any of it. He jumps up on top of the bookshelves, and circles the room FAST, leaping shelf to shelf, knocking a heavy brass bowl onto Marcia’s foot as she tries to unlock the door to let Brian in.


Brian’s face hasn’t healed yet and he comes into Sharon’s apartment with a bottle of methylated spirits and a zippo. Poe stops running long enough to give his most unsettling evil eye, and hiss. Brian throws the metho, emptying almost all of the bottle and Poe gets doused over most of his body. Brian grinds tha zippo flint and flings the flaming lighter at Poe who ignites immediately as he jumps to the floor, and runs straight across the hall into Brian and Marcia’s apartment. They hear him screaming as he runs around their apartment, setting it ablaze.


Epilogue


The firemen find Poe's charred body on the remains of Brian and Marcia’s bed, and determine he was covered in an accelerant. Sharon finds the zippo in her apartment next to a single burn mark in the carpet where the lighter landed after Poe ran from her place. There's also a "ghost" of Poe on the wall above the bookcase where he'd been sitting when Brian threw metho at him. Apart from that, and the brick through the sliding door (and glass everywhere all over the old carpet), nothing else is amiss. Poe ended their attempt on Sharon’s private space, again.


Snr Constable Stevens tells Sharon that with all the evidence and their prior misdemeanours, Brian and Marcia will get lengthy custodial sentences.


“I’m really sorry for what happened to Poe. He was an awesome cat. He didn’t die in vain, though, the smart boy made sure they wouldn't get away with it.”


And then Snr Constable Stevens looks Sharon in the eye for a few moments before he says, "I found out a year ago that I was adopted. The agency just told me I have an older sister. My adoptive parents decided not to change my name. I don’t know if you remember me?”


Sharon’s eyes fill up, “I do remember you, Charlie.”


They both look at the ground wiping their eyes.


“You know, it's the strangest thing. We had a ginger tom—a big boy, like Poe, with a white patch on his shoulder too. He was a neighbourhood stray who wandered into my parents’ yard about 15 years ago and just stayed. My mother named him Allen. He died about 8 months ago in a gas explosion in a neighbour's kitchen. We discovered they'd been trying to cook meth. When I first saw Poe, I thought he was the spitting image of Allen, but Poe had two white left paws to go along with the white on his shoulder."

March 04, 2023 02:53

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13 comments

Ramon Martensen
12:03 Mar 10, 2023

This is a very well-woven story and it kept having enough twists and turns to keep the reader curious while still being narratively coherent. It´s also ambitious, riding two narrative tracks simultaneously (the situation with the neighbors and the childhood events) Personally I think this story would still hold up without the surprise ending.

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Penelope Conlon
21:21 Mar 10, 2023

Thank you, Ramon. I appreciate your feedback x

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Story Keatley
22:05 Mar 08, 2023

Compelling story; I shed a tear when reading the part about the two being separated into foster care. Really shocking and upsetting to see Poe die such a horrible death but sweet ending that brother and sister were united. I think this part of the story could have been a bit more developed. I would like to have known a little bit more about Charlie and how he recognized Sharon. Overall great job - I would watch tense agreement and remember that punctuation goes inside quote marks. Great job! Glad for opportunity to read.

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Penelope Conlon
11:21 Mar 09, 2023

Thank you for reading, Story Keatley. I've never been good at proofreading my own work (I read what I 'think' I've written, not what's actually there). And yes, I think I bit off more than I could chew with this one and the 3k word limit. The characters are not at all developed, and the violence seems meaningless without that. But it's a good way to learn! I appreciate your feedback.

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Viga Boland
23:39 Mar 06, 2023

This is truly an excellent story from start to finish. So well thought out. Seeing Edgar Allen Poe reincarnated through cats is very clever indeed. All so very imaginative. You have a talent for fiction that others like me envy. Awesome 👏👏

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Penelope Conlon
11:21 Mar 09, 2023

Viga, thank you again, you're generous with your encouragement and I appreciate it very much. x

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Nora Kelly
01:33 Mar 05, 2023

Wow. You had me until the end, Penny. This was a thoroughly engaging story.

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Penelope Conlon
01:52 Mar 05, 2023

Thank you, Nora - I'm so glad you liked it. x

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Michał Przywara
19:20 Mar 04, 2023

That's quite an adventure! I wasn't expecting the twist at the end, with it being Charlie, and now I'm wondering about the two cats, Allen and Poe. Was it actually two cats? Or was this somehow the same cat, a kind of spirit guardian cat? That maybe sounds absurd, but then the original cat was called Edgar :) That *could* just be a coincidence, but it sure seems like something more is going on. So on the one hand, Poe being immolated is horrible. But perhaps he wasn't actually, and he was just fulfilling whatever mysterious spirit duty he...

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Penelope Conlon
00:22 Mar 05, 2023

Thank you for your review, Michał, you’ve totally made my day. I was trying to be a bit clever and write an homage to Edgar Allen Poe’s 1848 short horror story, The Black Cat. In that he hints at the “cats have 9 lives” being a literal thing. And yep, there are three cats in my story, named for him, but they’re all the one cat, who uses his 9 lives to protect good, vulnerable people (who respect him) and in this case, help reunite these two siblings. Since he’s ‘only’ spent three of his lives in this story, I don’t know whether he was at t...

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Wendy Kaminski
16:21 Mar 04, 2023

This was so engrossing, Penelope, I couldn’t stop reading! You’ve woven a fascinating tale, and given our word count, a fully developed world with an engaging storyline and distinct characters. This is the kind of story I wish I could write! Except for wishing Poe hadn’t been murdered, I really enjoyed it, and loved that the two found each other!

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Penelope Conlon
00:31 Mar 05, 2023

Wendy, you are such a sweetheart - I’ve not finished reading all your stories (yet) but I’m so enjoying them. It’s amazing that you haven’t managed to kill off your inner critic yet - you’re most definitely a creator of worlds and compelling stories (which is why I’m making a point of reading them all). Your praise of Poe’s Revenge is such generous, thoughtful and kind encouragement for me. People like you make Reedsy a lovely space to play in. Mouah. As for Poe, I wrote out my backstory in response to Michał (for a bigger explanation). I d...

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Wendy Kaminski
00:36 Mar 05, 2023

Thank you, Penelope, you are too kind. <3

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