Jack sat alone in the kitchen. A small grey and white kitten, more fluff than cat, padded in through the open door.
“Hello little pussy cat,” said Jack. “Aren’t you the most adorable little thing.”
The kitten glanced up. “Feed me, human oppressor,” it said.
Jack scanned cautiously around the kitchen. So, it was this kind of house then. The kind of house where the other housemates played pranks on each other.
“Don’t look at the walls, new guy. I’m down here.” The kitten stared, unblinking, at Jack. “Feed me now or I will rip off your face while you sleep.”
Jack stood up. “Very funny,” he said. Jack bent down to the kitten.
The kitten raised a paw and showed Jack his claws. “I’ve just sharpened them,” it said.
Jack took a step back. The joke was not funny anymore. Maybe it might be better to just feed the kitten and get it over with. He looked around the kitchen at the mismatched and wonky cupboard doors and jumbled worktops. “Where do they keep the cat food?” he asked.
The kitten trotted over to the end of the worktop and sat down by the only cupboard with a pine door. Deep scratches ran down the door from just above shin height to the floor. “I’ll have the Chicken and Liver, today,” said the kitten.
Jack approached the kitten. It stared at him with a glint of menace.
“I’m going to feed you, so be good,” said Jack.
The kitten licked its paw and said nothing.
Jack opened the door, being careful not to open it too far and disturb the kitten. Some innate sense of self-preservation suggested that would have been a bad mistake. He knelt down in that way people do when they want to make as little contact with the floor as possible. Unsurprising, given how filthy the floor was. Jack leant into the cupboard and started searching.
There was a single sachet of Chicken and Liver cat food at the back. He picked it up and the cupboard door slammed shut.
“Ow, get off,” said Jack. He struggled to get free of the door but his head and arm were firmly trapped in the cupboard.
“Listen very carefully, new boy,” said the kitten. “You will feed me every day at oh eight hundred hours and sixteen hundred hours or I will shred your skin while you sleep. Do we have an understanding?”
“This isn’t funny,” said Jack. He felt that the joke had gone a bit too far now.
“I am not laughing,” said the cat.
“That’s enough now,” said Jack. His voice sounded strange inside the cupboard and there were spiders in there with him. “You really had me going for a while, but this trick with the door… Come on. How’s a tiny kitten supposed to be that strong? It’s not realistic.”
“It’s called leverage, new boy,” said the kitten. “Also, I work out.”
“Clearly,” said Jack. He had stopped struggling as it was only attracting the attention of the spiders. “Do you want this food or not?”
“You drive a hard bargain,” said the kitten. “Clearly you and I were destined to be legendary nemeses.”
“Is that a real word?” asked Jack.
“My god, man,” said the kitten. “You are hardcore! I have you pinned in a death-lock but you are more concerned grammatical exactitude. Nemeses is the plural form of nemesis, get a dictionary.” The kitten released the door and went and sat by his bowl.
Jack stood up and brushed the cobwebs from his hair.
The kitten stared unblinkingly. “Don’t keep me waiting, villain.”
“All right, keep your fur on,” said Jack. He picked up the food bowl and tore open the sachet. The kitten meowed with a high pitched cry that reminded Jack of a baby crying. He had only just emptied the contents of the sachet into the bowl when the kitchen door opened.
Jack noticed the bright pink dress before he noticed who was filling the dress. Her blond curls, freshly permed, flowed over her bare shoulders. Zack had warned Jack that Lilly was the walking personification of “girly” but actually seeing her was another story. Sure, she was pretty and no mistake but there was something about her that made Jack think simultaneously of the words “pink” and “vacuous”.
The meowing became more insistent.
“Don’t keep Normal waiting,” Lilly said.
Jack put the bowl down and the kitten pounced on it and started eating.
“You must be the new guy?” She came over to Jack and offered her hand. “I’m Lilly and this is Normal. He seems to like you – which isn’t surprising as he has already managed to pursued you to feed him. It’s nice to finally have another cat person in the house.”
Jack took the offered hand and gave it a little shake. “Jack,” he said.
The kitten stopped eating and rubbed up against Lilly’s legs. Lilly picked him up. “Who’s a gorgeous little kitten?” Lilly held the kitten like it was a baby and rubbed its belly. “You are, yes you are.”
Jack watched dumbfounded as Lilly walked out of the kitchen and into the hall. Normal looked over Lilly’s shoulder and winked.
“Well, that was certainly strange,” said Jack to no one in particular.
Jack spun around. A man in a dirty lab coat wobbled in the outside doorway, a mess of silver hair and three days of beard growth. Even at a distance, Jack could smell cider and stale cigarettes.
“Did it escape again?” asked the man. He looked worried as he leaned on the door frame for support.
“Did what escape again?” Jack was not sure if this was another prank or if he should actually worry.
The man relaxed. “You’d know it if you met it.” He shrugged. “You must be the new guy?”
“Yeah,” said Jack. I do have a name, he thought. “I’m Jack.”
“Yeah, whatever, kid.” The man staggered into the kitchen and started to rummage through the cupboards. “Have any of the others got biscuits?”
“I don’t know,” said Jack. “I have some bread if that’s any good.”
“Bread?” said the man. He pulled a face like he had just bitten a lemon. “Who needs bread? This is a six biscuit problem. Maybe seven if I can find Gingernuts.”
“I’ve got chocolate spread,” suggested Jack.
“Yeah, all right then. We make toast.” The man wobbled and looked expectantly at Jack. “Well?”
“It’s in my room.”
“Whatever for? That green and blue cupboard up there is your one.” The man burped loudly. “Also the yellow one by the door, I think.”
Jack shrugged. “The last house I shared, everyone always ate my food,” he said. “That’s why I got this place. I was sick of feeding the world on a part time wage.”
“And yet…” The man went cross-eyed. “What were we saying?”
A chunky male with thick brown hair and a look that said he had just woken up walked into the kitchen. “What’s up?” he said.
“Looks like it’s still the ceiling,” said Jack.
The man in the dirty lab coat gave Jack a look of pity. “This is the new lad, John.”
“Jack,” said Jack. “We were about to make toast.”
“Don’t let Doc trick you into feeding him,” said the brown haired male. “He makes more money than the rest of us combined.”
“It’s no bother,” said Jack. He was beginning to feel like he had started watching an involved TV series about halfway through the third season – everything was confusing but everyone else acted like this was normal.
“That’s a slippery slope, man.” The guy with the brown hair sat down at the table. “If you feel like being the house servant, stick the kettle on.”
“It wouldn’t suit me,” said Jack.
The man in the lab coat sniggered. “You’ll do just fine. Bring me a strong white tea with three sugars. I’ll be in the garage.” He staggered out the way he came.
“You’ll get used to Doc,” said the man with the brown hair. “I’m Barry, by the way. My room’s the one with the green door.”
“So we’re neighbours,” said Jack. “I’m in the room with the Blue door.”
“Well, obviously,” said Barry. “It was the only empty room.”
“What about the attic?” Jack asked. Not because he cared but because being flippant is addictive and was having trouble stopping. “Zack showed me an attic room. I might have been there.”
“Did you want the attic?” Barry sounded genuinely surprised.
“No,” said Jack. Jack in no way wanted to take the attic room which was tiny, cramped and had a hole in the wall. Now Barry had pointed this out, Jack’s attempt at flippancy felt thin and rather foolish.
“No one ever does.” Barry ran his hands through his hair in an attempt to control the chaos up top. He was not altogether successful.
“That could be because there is a literal hole in the wall,” Jack said. He said this because there had indeed been a huge hole in the wall of the attic and, come the winter, he was pretty sure the house would be freezing. He hoped Barry might explain why there was a hole in the first place.
“Yeah, there is that as well, I guess.” Barry put his forehead on the table. “Please put the kettle on, I’ve had a long day at work.”
“Just this once,” said Jack. This was a mistake. In moments, every housemate (and guest thereof) was in the kitchen with their mugs.