by Sarah Garnham
I’m not sure when you first started noticing that something was wrong. Maybe it was the fact you were always on edge, or maybe it was when, no matter how much you slept, you always felt exhausted. Either way, you knew something was definitely off.
You were heading into work on the bus one morning, mulling this over and feeling decidedly more relaxed once you’d got out of the house. Though you’d rather not think about home, and everything that has been going on, you start making a list on your phone of all the things you can’t explain:
- When you did the weekly shop but after a quick trip to the library came back to find it all gone.
- That time you woke up to find the front door not only unlocked but propped open wide. You always put the chain across.
- When you came home to find the cat clinging, impossibly, to the ceiling. It has been avoiding you ever since.
- A few times you’d noticed that the clothes in your chest of drawers had been pulled out and shoved back again in a hurry.
- The fact that you hadn’t received a single piece of post since all this strangeness started. Was it being taken? Or never sent in the first place?
You take a deep, shuddering breath and feel the anxiety set in. You can’t work out if someone is messing with you or if you’re just losing it. Closing the notes app and getting off the bus, you resolve to tell your friend at work.
The morning passes as usual, with the mundanity of office admin keeping your brain occupied and allowing a brief rest from the constant worry. At lunch, you seek out your friend in the cafeteria. They’re sat in their usual spot and smile as you approach.
“Hey, are you okay?” they ask as you sit down. Their face is now a picture of concern. “You don’t look too great.”
You take a deep breath.
“Has anything ever happened to you that you just can’t explain?” you ask.
Their forehead furrows. “Like déjà vu?” they try, sounding unsure.
“Like this,” you say, unlocking your phone and sliding it across the table, notes app open.
Your friend continues to look puzzled as they read. When they raise their head, they look concerned.
“Is this why you’ve been so-” they tail off and gesture at your general person.
“I feel like I’m going crazy,” you say.
“Hey now,” your friend responds, sounding a bit cheerier. “I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation. Have you thought about something like this?” They type something into your phone and slide it back over.
On the screen is the webpage for one of those motion-activated indoor cameras.
“You know, I had one myself when Toby was a kitten. I could keep an eye on him during the day-”
You stare blankly at the phone screen.
“-speaking of, how’s your cat doing?” they ask, cheered at finding a solution for you.
A) DECIDE TO FOLLOW YOUR FRIEND’S ADVICE AND ORDER A CAMERA. CONTINUE
B) DECIDE TO THINK ABOUT IT AND LOOK INTO CAMERAS WHEN YOU GET HOME. SKIP TO SCENE 7
C) DECIDE TO GO HOME AND GET A HOLD OF YOURSELF. SKIP TO SCENE 8.
You briefly look up at them, shrug, and click ‘buy it now’. You feel a brief sense of relief. In a day or so you’ll be able to put the camera up and catch the person messing with you. You give a small smile to your colleague and return to work feeling more like yourself.
A few days later the camera arrives and after installing it and doing a few test walk-bys, the residual anxiety you had begins to fade away. You start looking after yourself properly again and allow a sense of relief to slowly wash over you.
You and your colleague begin laughing together at work again. You get the occasional motion detection notification on your phone and sometimes you panic, but it’s always just a postman or someone walking past your front door. You start smiling again.
You know for sure no one is breaking in but every once in a while, you lie in bed and feel a tiny bit of paranoia. If it wasn’t a creepy landlord or a crazed ex-tenant messing with you, then who was it?
A) DECIDE TO BRUSH OFF YOUR CONCERN AND LEAVE THE CAMERA WHERE IT IS. SKIP TO SCENE 9.
B) DECIDE TO REPOSITION THE CAMERA. CONTINUE.
The next day, when your cat is busy grooming in the other room, you reposition the camera, giving you a full view of your living room. If asked, you wouldn’t be able to explain why you did it when your cat wasn’t looking. But it just seemed right.
You and your cat had once had a fairly close relationship – cuddles on the sofa and sat on your lap as you read – but recently you’ve become distant. In fact, you try to avoid looking at it altogether. Of course, you keep the food bowl topped up, but when you think about it, you’ve been avoiding one another since the ceiling incident.
You disguise the camera placing it between books on a high-up shelf and go to work as usual.
For a few days, work serves as a welcome distraction again, and you settle into your monotonous admin routine. That is, until you receive a motion-activated notification on your phone.
You feel the familiar sickening drop deep in your stomach again. You try to remain calm, telling yourself the cat is probably just moving around the flat. You look around the office, then satisfied no one is watching, hurry off to the toilets to watch the live feed.
You shoulder the door open and sit on the closed toilet seat, opening the notification and pulling up the live feed. Without warning, you’re sick on the floor.
Wiping your mouth off and turning back to your phone, you don’t know how to react. What you see isn’t like what you pictured in your worst imagination, it’s completely bizarre.
Your cat is walking around on its hind legs. Not in a cute, animal-like way, but as if this is its natural way of walking. It surveys the room, then walks out to do who-knows-what. A part of you wants to laugh but your body is shaking.
What the fuck do you do now?
A) DECIDE TO BRUSH IT OFF AND GET A HOLD OF YOURSELF. CONTINUE.
B) DECIDE TO GO HOME AND CONFRONT YOUR CAT. SKIP TO SCENE 8.
Your body makes the decision for you. You’re on autopilot. You clear up the bile on the floor, flush, wash your hands and return to work.
You think, if you allowed yourself to think about what you’ve just seen, you will have a complete psychotic break. Instead, you continue your day as usual, giving perfunctory answers and greetings to anyone who speaks to you, trapped in your own head.
Periodically you open the live feed to reassure yourself and everything seems fine. Maybe you imagined it? But if you did, why are your hands still shaking?
At home, everything is as it was, but you can’t eat, and you can’t sleep. You avoid even thinking about your cat. You can’t look at it and instead spend all your free time in your room, your thoughts cycling back and forth. Your hands won’t stop shaking.
A) DECIDE TO GET RID OF THE CAMERA, WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW WON’T HURT YOU, SKIP TO SCENE 8.
B) DECIDE TO WATCH THE CAT, AND WAIT FOR PROOF OF WHAT YOU’VE SEEN. CONTINUE
The cat is looking at you blankly from its blanket as you’re sat on the sofa, pretending to watch some banal new Netflix show. You’ve managed to get a hold of yourself and are determined to get some normality back.
Your phone buzzes, distracting you. Unlocking it, see it’s your friend from work.
‘Hey, we haven’t hung out in a while!’ they say.
You feel guilty and shoot back a ‘Sorry! Been sooooo busy. Soon?’
They immediately reply: ‘No worries and yes pls!’
You smile, pleased at the sense of normality. You’re about to put your phone away when it buzzes again.
‘Btw, meant to ask – did you ever get that camera in the end? Maybe it was your cat all along lol’
You immediately put your phone down and take a sharp breath in. Your nerves are shot.
It’s then that you feel a cold breath on your neck. You almost don’t want to look but the cat is balanced on the back of the sofa behind you. You know without a doubt that somehow, the cat has read your text. You also know that that is impossible. You stare at the cat and the cat stares back at you. You want to scream.
A) DECIDE TO CONFRONT THE CAT. CONTINUE
B) DECIDE YOU’RE BEING COMPLETELY CRAZY AND IGNORE IT. SKIP TO SCENE 9.
Enough is enough. You need to pull yourself together and get some control back in your life. You look at the cat and it stares back at you. You know you’re being crazy, but you can’t shake the idea.
“Are you fucking with me?” you say, looking at the cat. It just stares.
It looks angry.
Can cats look angry?
You tell yourself to snap out of it.
Are you going crazy?
Are you already crazy?
When’s the last time you slept?
You take one last look and go to your bedroom. You lie there in the dark, scrolling through cat behaviour forums and trying to steady your breathing. Maybe it’s time to go see someone about this. A doctor? A vet? A therapist?
As you’re lying there in the dark you hear the bedroom door handle go and sit up in bed, puzzled. There’s a light thud, the door swings open and the cat walks in, standing up on its hind legs.
“What the fuck?” you whisper.
You want to look away and pretend this isn’t happening, but you know if you do, you’ll never be able to stop thinking about it. The cat turns to face you, staring right at you and you feel sick to your stomach.
It walks towards you, steadily but slowly. You want to run away but you’re paralysed with fear. You can hear your heartbeat in your ears. Your hands are shaking again.
The cat jumps up onto the bed, briefly landing on four paws, never once breaking eye contact. There’s something wrong with the way it’s looking at you. You take a deep breath to scream but it is too late.
About the author:
Sarah Garnham has recently completed an MA in Creative Writing at the Open University. She’s contributed to The Guardian, Oh Comely and The Times . She lives in Thamesmead and enjoys football, Doctor Who and the work of Dorothy Sayers. You can find her on Twitter @sarah_garnham
Image created by Reed Berkowitz of Curiouser Institute using DALL·E 2, is a new AI system that generates images from language prompts. Follow him on Medium and on Twitter to find out how artificial intelligence is enhancing gameplay and creativity.