I moved to Yuma County, Colorado from the UK after my employer offered me a promotion with a six figure salary. I'd always wanted to live in America, so much so that I wasn't fazed by the fact that I'd be leaving all my family and friends behind. I bought a house in a small town near the state border, a half hour drive from work.
The town reminded me of home only with better scenery. Rolling plains spread out to the east, and on the horizon in the west you could see the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. All I could think about was potential skiing holidays as I drove up the driveway of my new house. The street was nice; trees were planted either side of the road and the residents were quiet. A lot of my neighbours seemed to own cats, there were at least six on the street when I arrived. The house was great too. You could tell it had been on the market for a while; the wallpaper was beginning to peel off in some rooms and the paint on the outside of the house was flecked. Nothing unfixable though. The house was even kitted out with some furniture when I arrived; there was a kitchen table, a sofa in the lounge, and the single bedroom had a bed, a small couch and a wardrobe.
I hadn’t lived alone before, and almost as soon as I had unpacked I began to feel a bit lonely. One of the cats on the street gave out a loud yowl. That gave me the idea to get one for myself. I'd always had pets, and cats can be almost as good company as humans. There was a pet shop that was a short drive from the house. The cats were kept in a large room in the back. There were about eight in all, sitting around looking disinterested, as cats tend to do. A couple of kittens were knocking a ball of foil around. I asked the pet shop owner which cat was the best behaved and he pointed to a cat curled up in the corner. Its eyes were shut tight and its tail was lifted over its nose. She was the obvious choice.
The pet shop owner wasn't lying about the cat’s behaviour, I didn't hear a peep from her all the way home. Cats are generally quiet animals, but I'd never seen one so passive. This changed the moment I opened the house door. She bounded off into the kitchen, then across into the still empty lounge. I realised I still hadn’t named her. She was white all over, and I didn't think names mattered much, so it took me about half a second to settle on Chalk.
Chalk made an excellent pet. She mainly spent her time sleeping somewhere downstairs or prowling the garden, warning other cats to stay away from her territory. Her food bowl and water were in the kitchen, so she had no need to come upstairs where I spent most of the day. I didn't mind; just knowing there was another living thing in the house was comforting enough. But on the third night she'd been in the house, Chalk decided to follow me upstairs. She spent the night curled up on my sofa while I slept. I was woken up the next day by Chalk pawing at my face, and when I opened my eyes, she was staring right into them. That gave me a fright; cat’s eyes can be quite unsettling when they are an inch from yours.
After eating breakfast I went back upstairs to check Facebook. Chalk followed me all the while, occasionally emitting a meow without giving any clue as to what she wanted. As I sat down in my room and turned on my laptop, she took up a sitting position and stared right at me, unblinking. She continued doing so until I left the room.
The pattern continued over the next couple of days. She would follow me around the house, and every time I sat down in my room to use my laptop, she would take up the same position and stare right at me. It was becoming more and more unsettling with every passing day. Her eyes seemed more threatening every time I made eye contact with them. It was particularly unsettling during the night, often I would leave my room to see a pair of cat’s eyes staring up at me from the blackness of the landing. From the sixth night she began yowling the moment the sun went down. The noise was endless and shrill, and would carry on till dawn, so I began to shut her out before going to bed. The yowling continued, a distorted screeching muffled by the door, now accompanied by scratching. It went on all night, every night. Every morning the door would accumulate claw marks. Deep claw marks. Chalk’s claws were even ground down by the repeated scratching.
On the ninth day I woke to Chalk pawing at my face. More aggressively than usual; she even broke the skin of my cheek that morning. When I went downstairs for breakfast, I found the kitchen floor strewn with rubbish. I had left the full bin bag by the bin, and there was a hole torn in it. A pie I had thrown away half eaten was nothing but a few crumbs now, and the bones of a cooked chicken had been picked clean. In spite of this, Chalk had eaten every scrap of the food in the cat bowl. It had been filled to the brim before I went to bed. The water was gone too; her bowl was dry as bone.
I was beginning to lose sleep over Chalk’s incessant yowling, so I began shutting her outside the house at night. I could still hear her cries even then, and the scratch, scratch, scratch, of her claws on the front door. I woke up each morning to find Chalk waiting outside my bedroom, though I couldn't work out how she had gotten in the house. Her claws were worn down almost to nothing now, and her paws frequently bled, leaving red footprints around the house.
Chalk’s habit of sitting and staring at me in my room was still the most disturbing thing she did. I was legitimately afraid of a cat. I felt ridiculous, but nothing I’d encountered scared me as much as this animal did. After making the decision to get rid of Chalk I put an ad in the paper for her. An elderly couple came one morning to see Chalk, but she refused to go with them, struggling and meowing and biting anyone who touched her. A mother and her two small children came the next day and Chalk attacked one of the kids, making deep cuts in the poor girl’s arm, deeper than I thought a cat could make.
I was getting desperate. I fought Chalk into a cardboard box and put it in car. Then I drove to the edge of town and flung her into a wooded area beside the road. I felt guilty, but short of killing her I had no idea what to do anymore. A day later I found her in the house, having somehow found her way back and past the locked front door. Her fur was wet and she began prowling each room of the house, hissing.
Not giving up, I went to the pet shop with the intention of asking for advice, but I couldn't bring myself to admit my fear of a cat, so I ended up buying two guinea pigs instead. I’d hoped that the guinea pigs would make me feel slightly calmer in the constant presence of the increasingly malicious Chalk, but they didn't even survive a night. I woke to find their bloody remains on the floor in front of their hutch. That same day, as I went up to my room after lunch, Chalk followed me. I placed my hand on the door handle, and just as I pushed it down I felt a sharp pain in my leg. The cat had sunk its teeth into my ankle. It was then I made the decision then to kill the animal. I took her outside and got a hammer from the toolbox. I raised the hammer above my head, brought it down on her… and stopped, just before striking her. In spite of everything, I couldn't bring myself to do it. I'll do it tomorrow, first thing, I told myself as I put Chalk outside for the night.
Chalk’s yowling began before I'd even settled down to sleep. I turned over and held pillow around my ears, consoling myself that this would be the last night I would have to put up with the noise. I found myself worrying that Chalk somehow knew I planned to kill her and would attack me when the time came. Then I heard a BANG. I sat up and switched on the bedside lamp. Surely Chalk couldn't have made that noise… There was a creaking of wood, some muffled shuffling sounds. But not from behind the door, but from in the wardrobe. Another BANG echoed from the wardrobe, then it began to open slowly, ever so slowly.
A strong ammonia smell spilled into the room, making my eyes water. I could feel perspiration on my brow as whatever it was began to exit the wardrobe. Long, Rotten fingernails emerged first. I couldn't make them out very well in the dim light, but they were thick enough to be claws. They were followed by sinewy fingers, white and thin as bone. Then came a dry croak. I shot up from the bed, scrambling to the door as the wardrobe creaked fully open. I knocked over the lamp in the process, plunging the room into darkness. As I fled the room, my curiosity allowed for a quick glance into the darkness. A pair of eyes stared back at me. Human looking, but wide and sickly yellow, with thick bulging vessels surrounding the pupils like a tangle of branches. Besides the eyes, all I could see was a mouth full of rusty nails instead of teeth. Something warm and wet begin to run down my legs. Dashing across the landing, I flung myself down the stairs three steps at a time. My fingers were slippery with sweat as I struggled with my keys. The moment I got the door open Chalk ran inside and up the stairs, straight into the path of the thing from the wardrobe. I heard her cries as I ran to my car, followed by another croak, louder than before. The sound rang in my head as I drove away.
I drove five miles above the speed limit until I was out of Yuma County, determined to get as far as possible from that thing. I ran out of fuel in a town west of Denver, almost 200 miles from the house. I spent the rest of the night in my car, constantly looking over my shoulder and jumping at the slightest noise until the sun began to rise. Early that morning I broke into a few houses and scraped together some money for a plane ticket, then hitchhiked to the airport and got on the next plane to the UK. I would never return to the states.
I never want to think about what was in the wardrobe ever again, but I realise now that Chalk was trying to warn me of it. All that staring at me while I was using the laptop? She was staring right past me, right at the wardrobe door. She protested the most when I was in the same room as the thing, the thing that was there all along. It wasn't Chalk who ate the guinea pigs, and it wasn't Chalk who tore the bin bag open. And I guess I know what let her in every night now.
To anyone living in eastern Colorado, I urge you to get a cat, to warn you if the thing has moved in with you. Either that or move. Because whoever or whatever it was is still out there, and if my house was a suitable home for it, I don't see why yours won't be.