The trip to the country was my mother's idea. My aunt and uncle owned a house about two hours out of town, built in contemporary style. She volunteered me to watch it for them, while they went on vacation in Hawaii.
I refused to go, at first. I needed to keep up with summer school, in order to get into Tokyo University. I knew three other boys from high school who were still taking classes, trying year after year to pass the exam. I didn't want to end up like them, and I didn't care what it took, or how many times I broke down. But she arranged with my tutors to let me submit my assignments by email, while I was away. And while I felt guilty for imposing on everyone, I was secretly glad to get away from it all.
No more hearing the twins fight over the DDR mats. No more hearing the rice cooker beep, or the TV hosts babble, or the door swing open and shut. No more feeling the pressure build up until I was ready to kill someone. All I had to do was keep up with my studies, and feed my aunt's cat. Besides that, I could do anything that I liked. It would practically be a vacation.
I imagined that it would be peaceful and quiet outside the city. No pressure, no distractions, and certainly nothing weird happening.
My uncle was a gaijin who taught English at a school outside of town. He'd married my mom's sister a few years back, and bought a house near the school where he taught at. I half-expected that it'd be a western design, a huge mansion with twenty rooms and an indoor swimming pool. But no; it just looked like any other house in its generic suburban neighborhood, with a ceramic tiled roof and dull pastel paint on the walls.
Their house was next to a rice field, and across from a baseball lot. There were mountains in the distance, but the ground nearby was flat. Several other houses were nearby, but it was a ways to the center of the nearest town, and I hadn't brought my bicycle. I looked down the road, and wondered if I'd be able to walk. Probably not, in this heat ... sweat was forming on my brow already.
“Are you sure you've got everything, Hiro?” My mom was getting my things out of the car.
“Are you sure?”
She carried my suitcases up to the front doorstep. I remembered when she was talking about my uncle's courtship, how he'd carried things for my aunt and opened doors for her, and I wondered if she was wishing that I'd taken care of the packing. Then I wondered if she'd try to hug me farewell. But no; she bowed respectfully, and I bowed back.
“I'll see you next week, Hiro.”
“I'll see you too, mother.”
She got into the car and drove off, with a last look over her shoulder, and I found the right key on the keyring. Then I got the front door open, and stepped into the house of a foreigner.
I set down my suitcase and took off my shoes in the entryway. It looked fairly normal, with a pair of guest slippers right there on the step. I could see the living area just beyond, with mats lined up next to floor-to-ceiling windows.
The place smelled different, with hints of bamboo and straw instead of cooking rice and fast-food wrappers. I kept an eye out to see what kind of strange things this foreigner kept in his house, but the weirdest thing that I saw on the way to my room was an Xbox 360 hooked up to the television. Pretty soon I was in my new room, which was about as large as the living space back at home. I checked the closet to make sure that they had a futon I could use, then opened my suitcase and got out my laptop.
It was warm in there, but I could manage. And they didn't have high-speed Internet out here, so that was another distraction gone. It would just be me and my schoolwork. For the first time since leaving home, I allowed myself a smile.
Then I heard a loud THUMP somewhere in the house. What was that? I wondered.
More THUMPs, coming down the hallway towards me. Is that their cat? I thought. That has to be their cat. But it sounds too heavy to be a-
Into the room ran a live catgirl.
I know what you're thinking that she must have looked like. You're wrong. She had the ears and the tail, but those were the only things “catgirl” about her. She was a lot shorter than I was, and looked to be about twelve or thirteen. And she had extremely long hair. But it was frazzly and matted, and her jeans and t-shirt were worn out. And she was very overweight. She had to stop and catch her breath, after running into the room.
I stared. Is that a catgirl? I thought. That can't be a catgirl. She looks too-
She looked up at me, and our eyes met. I had no idea what she was thinking about.
As it turned out, she was thinking about less than I'd thought she was. She sat down on the floor with another THUMP, and looked up at me again. “Feed me!” she yelled, and gave me an expectant look.
It was a while before I could say anything in return. “What are you?” I finally asked.
“Feed me!” she yelled again, and her tail swished.
I slowly walked over to where she was sitting, but she did not move or get up. She just sat there and watched.
Her ears looked like a real cat's. I could see the cartilage inside. I reached out and touched the fur on the outside, and her ear twitched and flattened. “Don't do that,” she said.
“Feed me!” she cried.
I stared into her face, trying to catch a glimpse of what was going on behind her eyes. She just stared back, still wide-eyed and expectant. And that's when my shocked brain finally realized it. This girl was dumb as a brick, just like a real cat.
She nuzzled the side of my leg.
“Okay, okay, I'll feed you,” I said, jumping back a step and trying to get past her into the hallway. She wouldn't move, and I had to step around her. “Where do they keep your ... uh ... ”
“Feed me!” she yelled.
I got to their kitchen, sweating profusely. Why me?
I tried three different cans of cat food, but she turned up her nose at them. “These are yucky!” she said. Finally I opened a can of tuna, the girl practically hanging onto my arm as I did so, then dumped it onto a plate.
She picked up the plate in her hands, and gobbled the tuna in only a couple of bites, licking her lips afterwards. Then she gave me that expectant look again. We went through another two cans of tuna before she cried “I want something to drink!”
I gave her a glass of milk, and she guzzled it. Then she set it down on the table, and ran out into the hall. I stepped out of the kitchen in time to see the door to the toilet room close.
I just stood there, for at least a minute or two. This is impossible, I thought to myself.
The toilet flushed, and I heard the sink running. This is also ridiculous.
When she came out she didn't even look at me, but just went farther on down the hall. I followed her into my room, where she flopped down onto my open suitcase and curled up on the clothes that I'd brought. She yawned, and fell asleep with a smile.
She's acting just like a real cat, I thought, because my brain was taking a while to catch up. What has that foreigner done to her?
What's going to happen to me if I stay here?
It took me a minute to get up the courage, but I slowly reached around her to grab my cellphone out of the suitcase. She barely seemed to notice. Then I ran outside, and I mean ran, just barely remembering to kick off my slippers and put my shoes back on. I tore out the front door, down the driveway that wrapped all the way around the house, and started gasping for breath right next to the street. A car drove past, but I didn't see who was in it.
I looked down at my cell, and fumbled with the controls and the tiny display until I'd found the number for my aunt's mobile phone. Then I punched the “call” button, and held the phone up to my ear.
It rang three times. Then it said “Hello! You have reached the voice mailbox of-”
I pressed “end,” and facepalmed. Of course. They were still on their flight to Hawaii.
I tried to think. Who else could I call? Finally I dialed one of my friends' numbers, the oldest one who was still going to school.
It rang a few times. Then “Hello?” came my friend's voice. I could hear battle music from Final Fantasy XI Online in the background.
“Daisuke?” I asked.
“Yep,” he told me, then yelled “It's Hiro!” to someone else. I heard a clatter, and footsteps running up to the phone. “Hey!” two people said at once.
“Hey, Daisuke. Kenjiro. Um, I just got to my uncle's house ... ”
“The NA? Doesn't he play on Sylph?” Daisuke asked.
I looked back at the house nervously. To my horror, I saw her peering around the corner. “Yeah. Um ... ”
She trotted up to me, and I panicked. “There's a catgirl living in their house and she's coming right at me!”
They both laughed. “Lucky you, huh?”
“No I'm serious there's this girl and she's like twelve or thirteen and she's got ears and a tail and the brain of a refrigerator!” She stopped right next to me, I mean uncomfortably close, and gave me a blank look. I stepped back a bit. “Go on, say something!” I told her, and held the phone up to her.
“Huh?” she said.
There was a pause. Then I heard swearing on the other end of the line. “Dude, are you serious?” Daisuke asked. “And she's like ... they're ... ”
“Yes, her ears and tail are real.” I looked down at her, and saw that her tail was swishing. She was giving me a confused look.
“Take a picture!”
I barely knew how to use this phone, but I got it to take a few pictures and email them to my friends. By this time, the catgirl – whatever her name was – had sat down on the ground, and was pulling up clumps of grass and eating them. I'd had no idea that cats did that.
“I don't believe it!” Kenjiro exclaimed, and he sounded ecstatic. “An actual Misura!”
“A Misura kitten,” Daisuke replied, and it took me a moment to figure out that they were talking about something from their game. I was still watching the thing, afraid that it might touch me or something.
“Look!” I yelled into the phone. “She's not a misu-whatever! She's a ... I have no idea what she is! I have no idea what kind of sick things they did to her. Maybe they fed her genetically-modified cat food. Maybe the radiation from their Xbox's power supply caused a freak accident! But she's here, and she's alive, and we've got to do something about it!”
“Like what?” Daisuke asked.
“Like ... like ... I don't know! But we can't just leave her like this. She's a menace to society! Or society's a menace to her! Or something! I have no idea what I'm saying!” I shouted into the phone.
“Dude, chill out!” Kenjiro said. “You're panicking over there!”
“Panicking? Who's panicking? I just AAAAGH!”
Somewhere back in their Tokyo apartment, I just know that Daisuke and Kenjiro were giving each other a look that said “He's losing it.”
“Bad kitty!” I shouted. “Bad!”
I'd been waving my hand in the air, as I'd been talking, and I hadn't noticed her watching intently. Finally she'd leaped up and grabbed it, pulling me down to the ground and wrapping herself around my arm, biting and scratching. I'd freaked out, and tussled with her for a moment before throwing her off, jumping back to my feet and scrambling up to the house.
I stood there next to the wall, trying to catch my breath. She just sat there, a hurt look on her face, her ear smarting from where I had smacked her. “You're mean!” she yelled. “I don't like you!”
“I don't like you either!” I shouted, wide-eyed with terror.
A tiny voice cried out. “What's going on-”
I pressed “End.”
I ran inside, closed and locked the front door, then called my mom and begged her to take me back home. Then I ran back to the guest room and tried to get all the cat hairs out of my suitcase, before sitting there in a daze and desperately hoping that nothing else would jump out at me. My phone rang twice, but I didn't answer it.
Finally I heard a car pull up in the driveway. I put my laptop back inside and started to snap my suitcase back up, before I realized that thing was still out there. Once again I tore back outside, this time still wearing my shoes. “Mom!” I cried out. “Mom!”
There she was, all 4'10” of her, getting out of the car and giving me a strange look. “Hiro? What's wrong? You sounded so worried on the phone.”
“Mom, we need to get out of here now!” I thrust my suitcase into her hands. “There's this strange ... cat ... ”
My voice trailed off, as I looked down at her feet. There on the ground was a calico cat, an extremely fluffy and fat one. It narrowed its eyes at me, before rubbing up against my mom's leg.
She reached down to pet it. “Is there something wrong with the cat?” she asked, a look of concern on her face.
“No, I ... just ... ” I sighed. “Please take me home, mother.”
I kept my eyes on the cat until we'd rounded the corner and pulled out of the driveway.
My mom decided to go back and take care of the cat herself. She felt that she owed it to her sister. I begged her not to go, but she did anyway, and left me at home to take care of the twins. Every day I waited for her to call and tell me that something bizarre had happened, but she never did.
The twins actually behaved themselves for once. Somehow, I was able to get along with them, even though they were on summer vacation. I think it helped that they went outside a lot. We played against each other a few times in Super Smash Bros. Melee, and I actually had fun with them.
As for my exams? I don't know how, but I managed to study enough that I was able to pass them. Kenjiro and Daisuke congratulated me, even though neither of them had passed. I promised that I'd email them every day while I was at school.
They tried to get me to play that game of theirs again. But I didn't need an MMO in my life ... I had bigger priorities now.
Like being active in our local kemono fangroup, and studying paranormal genetics.