Are you a cat person? If you are, you know how crazy cats can get. If you’re not, let me clue you in. There are times when cats will seem schizophrenic. They will be calm as a Zen master one moment, then something invisible to you will get their attention, and their pupils will dilate, and they’ll jump up with their tails bushed out in a panic and tear across the room, and you’ll be left sitting there in your chair, wondering what the hell just happened.
My cat Molly was an American Short Hair, chestnut-colored with patches of white. Her favorite activities were spazzing out at the sight of her tail, and sitting on the windowsill, watching birds while making sounds like the machine gun on a biplane: ak ak ak ak ak. She was the eccentric kind of cat that would prowl the house at night, meowing loudly because she couldn’t get into my bedroom, and then banging on the door with her paws until I’d shoo her off. I never let her sleep in my room because of her propensity for hairballs, and despite my love for cats, I am allergic to them, and having one sleep on the end of my bed has always lead to me waking up with itchy eyes until I took my allergy medicine.
Despite her eccentricities, if it weren’t for Molly, I might not be here now to tell you about her, or about the night she woke me up with her banging on doors, more frantic than usual. She always starts off gentle, so when she began pounding on the door with all the determination of a firefighter breaking into a burning building, I was startled from my sleep and nearly jumped out of bed and straight out the window.
Except when I walked across the room and popped the door open to shoo her away, Molly wasn’t there. The pounding was coming from the other side of the house. Too lazy and groggy to turn on the lights, I had to navigate the mess that is my dining room and living room in the dark.
By the front door is the door to the attic. I don’t really go up there because I just use it for storage, and when I first moved in, I found lots of bat droppings up in the insulation. Nasty stuff. I didn’t want to meet the bats who left them.
Molly’s never shown much interest in the attic before, so the fact that she was pounding on the door to it made me wonder what had drawn her attention. I knelt down by the banging door in the dark and felt around for her, but again came back empty-handed.
What the hell? I thought. I couldn’t figure out what was going on, and my brain was still not firing on all cylinders. If she’s not here, why do I hear pounding on the door? I stood up and turned the knob to the attic without even thinking, and as I pulled it open, I had only a moment of, What if there’s a monster banging on the door you stupid twit? before I felt the sleek form of Molly brush past my legs and dash off into the living room.
I breathed a momentary sigh of relief, feeling my heart rate spike for just that moment and then sputter back as I mentally kicked my ass for spooking myself. Then I had the other thought…
How did Molly get on the other side of the door?
So I did what any fool in a Hollywood movie would do, I turned on the light at the bottom of the attic stairs and proceeded to go up into the attic. Even as I took each step, I thought, Why am I doing this? and I managed to convince myself, Because you want to make sure Molly didn’t poop in the insulation.
At the top of the stairs, the attic becomes a short hallway that ends in a small, open office-like room. On either side of the hall are doors to more open, less finished rooms with exposed beams and insulation, where I store boxes of Christmas ornaments and parts of furniture I never bothered to get rid of after replacing.
I could see that the office was jam-packed with boxes from when I first moved in. Both doors were shut, which meant Molly couldn’t have gotten in and done her business in the insulation. I knew with certainty that there was no more reason to be up there, yet I stood there in the dimly lit hallway, listening for I didn’t know what. Bats? Had the bats gotten back in?
And as I stood there, I heard a squeak. Just the slightest, rusty hinge kind of creak. I thought for a second that the attic door might be drifting shut, but as I started to turn, I saw it.
The door knob to my left was turning, ever so slowly. It was barely noticeable, but the distinct patterns of mould on the brass caught my attention. Someone was turning the knob from the other side, and they were trying to do it quietly so that I wouldn’t notice it.
I didn’t stand there and watch; I went into full-blown panic mode. I bolted down the stairs so fast I nearly tripped over my own feet as well as a rolled-up carpet I had propped against the wall that had fallen over on my way up.
Behind me, I heard the door knob jostle loudly as whoever was turning it realized they had been discovered. There was a bang as the door flew open, and I muffled the sound of stomping as I slammed the attic door shut. But it’s a very flimsy door, and I knew it would be little hindrance for anyone trying to break it down.
I had no fucking idea what was going on. My mind was full of monsters, boogeymen, and zombies chasing after me. I was still in my pajamas and bare-foot, but since the front door was right there, I went for it rather than trying to hide in the house. This wasn’t a case of overactive imagination, I heard the attic door crash open and heard very determined, aggressive pounding of boots right behind me.
I ran down the curving stairs and out the front door, across the lawn and down the street. Every light was out in the neighborhood, and rightly so for that time of night. Nobody had any business being up at that hour. I glanced back only once.
There was a man standing on the lawn outside my house. He was wearing some sort of ragged coat, and his hair was a dark mess. His face was obscured by a massive beard. He just stood there, watching me go. What the fuck was he doing in my attic?
About a half mile down the road there’s a 24/7 pharmacy place. I went in asked the guy working the graveyard shift to call the police for me. I was out of breath, my feet were torn up from running, and I probably looked slightly insane to him.
A patrol car arrived and the officers took my statement. They drove me back to my house to investigate, another unit meeting us there. They had to break the front door down because it was locked.
In the attic, in one of the back rooms with the exposed insulation and rafters, they found a makeshift hovel with newspapers padding the floor. Lots of empty cans of food, some old magazines, an electric lantern that had burnt out (I wondered why it seemed like I always seemed to be missing fresh batteries), and a dozen half-eaten remains of dead bats. There seemed to have been more, but the carcasses had clearly been gathered up in a hurry and removed.
They also found Molly. The man had taken his anger out on her when he failed to catch me. She had been held down and disemboweled. Her insides had been pulled out by hand, and draped across some exposed nails in the ceiling like the Christmas decorations boxed up in the corner.
There was no explanation found for how the man had gotten in or how long he’d been living in the attic. He had taken my keys when he left, locking the front door behind him. I had spares, but I wasn’t going to sleep in the house until I’d gotten all the locks changed, so I spent the next week in a motel. The police did a brief manhunt, but never found him. He’s still out there somewhere. Thankfully, they made sure a patrol car went by a few times every night, just in case.
I hope nothing like that ever happens again. Molly saved my life that night. I wish I’d been able to save her. In honor of what she did for me, I named my new cat Molly Two. She’s not as eccentric as her namesake, but she still pounds on doors at night when she wants in somewhere.
Only now when she does it, I spend the rest of the night unable to fall asleep.