Lucy lived her life on gut feel and a creative budget. She was no stranger to unusual rental arrangements, old buildings and dirt, but this? This was a new low. She ran a finger against the wall, pushing grime aside to reveal a small trace of the faded wallpaper below. It might have been roses once, Lucy wasn’t sure. Lucy wasn’t sure about much when it came to the cottage. What she did know was that this building was old-an ancient-the Crone reincarnate as a dwelling.
Lucy stared at her dirty finger and let out a sigh, part contentment and part apprehension. The cottage was going to be a lot of work, and she wasn’t even sure why she had come. Well, she knew why. The ad had called out to her just like so many others before. The landlord had been brutally honest about the state of the cottage, and Lucy had been just as brutally adamant that she needed to live there.
But she didn’t know why. And that was the thing about Lucy, each place, each new home, it always had a purpose, some reason for Lucy to be there, and she always knew. Seconds after stepping across the threshold, she felt right, but now she stood in this cottage and felt nothing. The Crone was silent, guarding her secrets deep below her creaky floorboards.
“Home sweet home.”
The lack of direction nagged at Lucy. Had she been wrong this time? In the aftermath of the breakup, she had wanted to get away. She had scoured site after site, desperate for something, anything to call out; nothing had. Weeks passed before Lucy stumbled across that scrap of newspaper on the bus. Had she imagined the pull? Fabricated the connection so that she could run away?
A Mewl broke through Lucy’s thoughts. She smiled and turned toward the front door. Her whole life in a glance: two large travel bags, a big toolbox of art supplies, and three cat carriers.
“Patience, Hades, Mama is coming.”
The cat made a low grumble in his throat. He was done with patience.
Lucy knelt beside the cat carrier and released the hatch. Hades was a muscular cat, full black and built for the hunt. He glared at Lucy, then gave her an affectionate headbutt before slinking off to explore. Lucy opened the second carrier. An orange ball burst out and buried himself in her stomach.
Lucy laughed, “It’s okay Maggie! Silly boy. Come off now, let me get your sister out.”
The ginger allowed himself to be set on the floor, but he stayed glued to Lucy’s leg.
The final cat was pressing against the bars of her carrier and purring deeply. Lucy opened the door. A gray tabby stepped out, sat down and began licking her paw.
“Ah, Blue, ever the lady.”
Lucy gave Blue a little scratch before standing up and dusting her knees off. “Right, lets get to it then.”
The kitchen was off to the left. Lucy stepped through the arch and was greeted with a bounty of cleaning equipment and detergents. The rental agreement had been a simple one. Lucy could stay in the cottage rent free, as long as she cleaned and fixed the place up. The landlord would supply everything that was needed.
“Well Magma, we’re kitted out. That’s for sure.”
The ginger gave a little purr and pressed close. Lucy knelt down to give the scaredy cat some love.
“It will be a good place Maggie, You’ll see.”
Magma looked up at Lucy. His eyes were big and pleading.
“No? I’m not doing a great job of convincing myself either. But we’re here now. Best make the most of it.”
The vacuum cleaner was a sturdy looking thing, and Lucy almost died hauling it up the stairs. Magma insisted on circling Lucy’s legs. The stairs were narrow and required an unnaturally high gait. By sheer force of will, she arrived at the top with only a few scrapes and bruises.
Lucy wheeled the vacuum into the bedroom. The bed was iron frame, but at least the mattress looked new. New-ish?
Lucy plugged the vacuum into the socket. Her first thought was that electricity seemed entirely out of place in the cottage. Her second thought, relief that the cottage had electricity. Magma hopped up onto the bed.
“Lets see if this works, huh?”
“Mew,” he said.
“It’s going to be noisy.”
Lucy gripped the pipe with one hand and compressed the power button with the other. The vacuum screamed to life. Magma twitched, but remained glued to the bed. Lucy pushed the vacuum forward. Dust billowed up in its wake. Magma sneezed.
Magma sneezed again.
Lucy turned the vacuum off.
“We need better gear.”
Lucy (and Magma) headed back downstairs. They passed Hades on his way up.
“Not yet clean, Blue?”
The tabby twitched an ear toward Lucy, but remained fixed to her task.
Lucy crouched down in front of her art box and clipped it open. Magma hopped in.
“Outta the way, boy,” Lucy said as she pushed the ginger aside. With just a little bit of rummaging, she found what she was looking for: a dust mask and goggles. She was about to head back upstairs when she heard Hades’ deep meowl. Her skin prickled. She turned. Hades stood before her, his eyes blazing.
“You found something?”
Her voice was hushed. The house had called her. Hades had found the why.
Hades meowed again and then led Lucy upstairs. They passed the bedroom and entered the study. An old closet stood ajar. Hades sat before it. Lucy steeled herself for what she was about to find, and then peeked inside. Three pairs of round kitten eyes stared up at her. The emancipated form of their mother twitched, but she could not stand.
“Hush,” said Lucy. “I’m here now.”