How to Annoy Your Neighbours

 By Bek Klinko

The world felt different when Jack woke up. 

     He couldn’t feel the wall when he stretched. His limbs twisted at odd angles. The sheets were heavier. He blinked.

     His little log cabin looked larger than it was the night before. Everything was bigger and deeper and brighter. Jack tried to get up but found that his legs no longer worked as they should. He began to thrash. The nightshirt that had fit perfectly well the evening before seemed more like a malicious tent than an article of clothing. 

     He finally broke free, fell out of bed and landed on his feet. All four of them.

     Hesitantly, Jack looked himself over. 

     He had turned into a cat. 

One panic attack and a smashed window later, Jack was trotting down the road pretending he hadn’t a care in the world. His ears pricked at every rustle and crack. His eyes darted about the woods, searching the shadows for wolves and bears and panthers. He shivered in spite of the sun.

     Soon enough, Ada’s cottage came into view. Jack was stunned at how well-kept it was; when she’d moved in, the garden was all overgrown. Ivy had grown up over the windows. The roses were all dead and dry. Even the white yarrow hadn’t been able to withstand the deluge of weeds. Now the garden was orderly. It was as if nature itself had bent to Ada’s will, longing to be beautiful enough to keep her in that wild, secluded country.

     If Jack hadn’t been half starved and terrified of every noise, he could have stayed in that garden forever. He ambled over to the front door and inspected it. Being quite unable to reach the bell from the ground, Jack scrambled up to the nearest planter box. He tried to clutch at the rope with his claws, gave up and pulled at it with his teeth. The bell rang merrily.

     After half a minute, the door swung open. Ada appeared with damp hair and a brush in her hand. She looked about expectantly, then noticed Jack.

     ‘What are you doing in my dahlias, little one?’ She picked Jack up and levelled his face with hers. A twinge of suspicion grew in her eyes. ‘Surely you couldn’t have rung the bell. Was it the wind then? Or are you hiding something?’

     Jack gulped, and his stomach grumbled. 

     Ada’s expression softened into a smile. He was struck by how pretty it was. Even though she was his nearest neighbour, they didn’t speak much. And when they did, they didn’t look each other over the way they did now. Gently, Ada set him down, shut the door behind them and strode towards the pantry.

     ‘Come along, little one. I think I have just the thing for you.’

     She took out a jar of milk, poured some into a bowl for him and set it down. Surprisingly, it was still fresh. Jack began to lap it up greedily. 

     ‘Happy now?’ Ada asked. 

     Jack looked up and meowed. It was as close as he could get to a thank you. 

     She grinned. ‘You’re dribbling a bit, you dumb cat.’ She scratched him behind the ear a bit, satisfying a desire Jack didn’t know he had. ‘I’ll go dry my hair, then we’ll see what’s to be done about you.’

     As she drifted off into what must have been the bedroom, Jack licked his lips. He scarcely knew what to do himself. He couldn’t shoot or ride or farm the earth. He felt that he wouldn’t be much help to anyone anymore, not even himself.

     Still, that didn’t mean he couldn’t try.

     Using a half-opened drawer, Jack scrambled up onto the countertop. Rows of glass jars sat against the wall, full of preserved fruits and spices and cakes. Passing a vase of begonias, Jack wandered down the table, inspecting each one. His eyes latched onto a jar of tea.

     With great difficulty, Jack pulled the lid off with his teeth. He picked out a cup from a pile of drying dishes, nudged it towards the jar and stuck his head into it.

     A hinge creaked. 

     ‘What the hell are you doing?’

     Jack looked at Ada, spat a teabag into the cup and smiled. 

     ‘Get off there!’ Ada shooed him off the counter. ‘Who on earth do you think you are?’

     Jack meowed, but she already had her back turned to straighten out her belongings. 

     Feeling he shouldn’t bother her, Jack turned his attention to the hearth. It was unusually cold out for this time of year, and the fire was burning low. With great difficulty, he grabbed a poker between his teeth and tried to stoke the fire.

     He only succeeded at pulling a flaming log onto the floorboards.

     ‘You idiot!’ 

     Ada pulled Jack away, snatched the poker from his mouth and shoved the log back into the fireplace. She turned back to Jack, her cheeks bright red.  

     ‘What the absolute hell were you trying to do? Burn the place down?’

     Against his better judgement, Jack shook his head. Ada’s expression froze. Before she could say anything, Jack jumped up onto a chair and tapped at the pitcher on the table. Ada reached for it, keeping his eyes on him the whole time. He then hopped off the chair, scampered back to the hearth and meowed at the pot that hung over the fire.

      ‘You’re not a normal cat, are you?’

     Again, Jack shook his head.

     Ada’s demeanour mellowed. She poured some water into the pot. ‘You might be smarter than you look. If you want to help, you could always try catching mice. I can handle the things that need thumbs.’

     His eyes widened a little.

      ‘You’d like that, wouldn’t you?’ Ada nodded to the pantry. ‘I think I saw something move in there the other day. You can poke about to your heart’s content.’

     Despite appearances, a live mouse was about the last thing Jack wanted to eat. But, given how utterly useless he’d been, he thought it best to try. He crept forward as Ada opened the door, revealing a damp little space and a stale smell.

     Jacked looked to Ada and meowed. 

      ‘Am I meant to know what that means?’

     Sighing as best as he could with altered vocal chords, Jack moved towards the bags of flour and half-eaten loaves. He faltered as something in it shifted. A single mouse popped out, sniffing the air. Jack, unable to find the strength to use his teeth, swatted at it with his paw.

     The mouse looked at him with a deadpan stare and pounced.

     Jack tumbled out of the way and rushed towards Ada. She dodged him and grabbed a broom; as the mouse scampered by, she shooed it out of the house and bolted the door.

     She leant against the door, set down the broom and began to laugh. 

     ‘You are an awful cat.’

     Jack meowed mournfully.

     ‘It’s alright,’ giggled Ada. She scooped him up and plopped into the red armchair that sat by the fire. ‘It’s just that having a cat isn’t as grand as I thought it’d be.’

     Jack looked up at her and blinked slowly. Ada started to scratch him again.

     ‘You know, I actually wished for a little black cat like you last night.’ She grinned. ‘To be perfectly frank, I think you’d do much better as a human with all the stunts you’ve pulled.’

     Gingerly, she kissed the top of his head.

     Immediately, Jack felt something in his stomach gurgle. 

     He jumped down. Ada straightened up with wide, questioning eyes. 

     Jack felt himself changing back. 

     Unfortunately, by the time he dove behind the table it was already too late.

     ‘Why the hell are you naked?’ screeched Ada, scrambling away from the table.

     ‘I don’t know, I thought this was all a dream!’

     ‘So you don’t turn into animals on a regular basis?’

     ‘Why the hell would I?’

     Ada backed towards the counter and grabbed a knife. ‘Get out of my house.’

     ‘Could I at least borrow a pair of pants or something?’

     Ada took a step towards him. Jack took one look at the knife and made a dash for the door.

     ‘Wait,’ she called, scrunching her eyes shut. ‘I might have something that’ll fit you.’

     Ada retreated to her bedroom, grabbed a few things, then threw the ball of clothing at him before shutting herself back in. She waited a minute more before cautiously opening the door just wide enough to let her voice carry out.


     ‘Yes, Ada?’

     ‘We can pretend this never happened. Can’t we?’


     Ada dared to peak out and found Jack struggling to get a shirt over his head.

     ‘Come here. You have a button in the wrong hole.’

     Jack stopped thrashing to let her free him.

     ‘Thank you,’ he breathed, holding her gaze for a second too long. 

     Ada inched closer. ‘It’s no trouble at all.’ 

     Hesitantly, she reached out and rubbed the spot where she’d kissed him. Jack wrapped his arms around her, closing the distance between them.

     Neither noticed the mouse slip back into the house until it was too late.



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