Updated: Mar 1
My name is Rachel and I like cats. I own four and I was on the lookout for a fifth. Like any responsible animal lover, I went to look for the newest addition to the family at a local rescue centre. I am somewhat partial to ginger cats, or those with interesting markings and so I was therefore surprised to find myself standing outside the cage of a sleek black cat. She was sitting upright with a somewhat haughty manner and staring imperiously back at me with emerald green eyes.
The label on the front of the cage said, 'Basket'.
I looked from the label to the cat. It was hard to say exactly why, but despite the proudness of the animal and the silliness of the name, it seemed strangely appropriate.
I turned to the lady beside me, who owned the rescue centre and who knew me rather well by this point.
'How long has this one been here?' I asked.
She looked in at the cat. 'Not very long. A week maybe? She just appeared outside the door in a wicker carrier. No note or nothing. That’s why we called her Basket.'
The woman looked puzzled. 'At least I think that’s why we called her that.'
And so, based on my belief that you can only give a cat so much attention before you’re obliged to feed it, I returned to the rest of my feline family with a cat called Basket.
The other cats did not immediately take to the new arrival. They never do at first. Cats tend to tolerate each other rather than get on, per se. I assumed they would warm to her after a few days. For her part, Basket seemed to be completely unfazed by her new surroundings and companions. She would sit on the window sill staring out at the road, largely ignoring everyone, except for one strange occasion when she jumped onto my lap and, moving as close to my face as possible, just… stared. I considered fussing her, but it felt disrespectful somehow. I just stayed still and looked back at her until Basket, apparently satisfied with her endeavours, jumped down and returned to the window.
As the days passed, I noticed that the other cats (who had good, decent cat names like Fudge, Cookie, Charcoal, and Lord Fussypants) acted a little strangely around Basket. They didn’t avoid her, nor were they aggressive. They weren’t affectionate either, just… odd. When she entered a room they were in they would watch her carefully. Sometimes they would stretch in her general direction, almost like they were bowing.
But they never got too close.
One night I woke up to a loud bang, as if something had thumped against the bedroom window. I sprang out of bed and rushed over, pulling back the curtains. As I did, Basket appeared beside me, springing up elegantly onto the sill and staring out into the darkness. I peered out but could not see anything. Could it have been a bird? But it was night time. I pressed my face against the glass, staring down at the garden below. I thought for a moment that I saw something moving in the bushes - a tail perhaps - but if I had seen anything, it was soon gone. I glanced behind me and saw that the other cats were all huddled on the end of the bed, their eyes huge in the darkness.
After that night, Basket didn’t leave the bedroom, except to eat or use the litter tray. Once finished she would immediately return to the sill, staring outwards like a Queen observing her domain, or scanning for invaders. No matter the time of day, her pupils were large, turning her green eyes black.
Fudge, Cookie, Charcoal and Lord Fussypants spent most of their time in there too, though they sat squashed together on the bed, watching Basket.
And then it happened.
It was late on a hot summer night. I had left the bedroom window open a crack, and was dozing. Fudge, Cookie, Charcoal and Lord Fussypants were all sitting on the end of the bed, which was unusual behaviour for them when the weather was so warm. Basket was in the spare room, scratching in the litter tray.
Then there was a hiss. I opened my eyes, and looked down at the cats. They didn’t tend to fight, so the noise surprised me. All four cats were on their feet with their fur standing on end, puffed up with fright. They were staring down at the floor by the window and Charcoal had started a long low growling mewl. I looked down, expecting to see Basket.
I did not see Basket.
I caught a sight of a long thin-looking thing, that gleamed like it might have scales, but with a scraggly hair-like length near the head. Its bulbous eyes were locked onto the cats, but then turned towards me. A mouth filled with awful stubby teeth gaped open impossibly wide and I felt my stomach turn to stone. I wanted to run but I was far too scared to do so.
And then the thing’s eyes suddenly flashed to the bedroom door and it made a terrifying noise. I followed its gaze…
Basket seemed much bigger than I remembered, and not just because of her raised hackles. She reared up on her hind legs and she kept on rearing, growing taller and taller. Her face and head, though unnaturally large, remained the same, but her body was stretching, distorting and changing until finally she stood in the doorway, a cat’s head on something like a human’s body.
For one long moment, the long thing on the floor and the cat-human were locked in place, their eyes burning into each other, and then Basket leapt forward with a shrieking hiss.
I didn’t see what happened next. Fudge, Cookie, Charcoal and Lord Fussypants all sprang off the bed and into the hall, and I followed immediately after them. We all fled down the stairs and into the sitting room where we stopped, staring up at the ceiling. There were horrific sounds coming from the room above us.
I crouched on the ground and the cats swarmed over me, two in my lap, one on my shoulder, the other pressing against my side. The bangs and crashes from up above were accompanied by hisses and unnatural screeches. The noise seemed to reach a crescendo and then there were two loud thuds, one on the window followed closely by another on the ground outside.
I stayed frozen in place as a swell of silence washed over the house.
... and then there was a thump on the stairway. Something was coming down.
As the noise came closer, it changed – from heavy footsteps to something softer. Fudge, Cookie, Charcoal, Lord Fussypants and I all locked our eyes on the doorway as a shape came into view.
Basket trotted daintily into the room. She was small and entirely cat-like again.
She sauntered over to me and the other cats immediately jumped away. They didn't flee the room but halted a few feet away, watching. Basket stepped gently onto my lap and, rearing elegantly up, rubbed her head along my cheek.
I stared down at her and then, oh-so carefully, I raised my hand and stroked it over her head and along her back. She blinked at me and then hopped down. She walked out into the hall and glanced back at me. After a moment's hesitation, I followed her.
She trotted over to the front door, scratched at it and meowed. I opened it and watched as Basket slipped outside.
The black cat paused halfway along the path and looked back at her human.
“Baaast” she hissed, and then ran into the darkness.
I never saw her again.