Caitlin lived in a house under a curse. Caitlin had felt herself under a curse for as long as she could remember, but her guardian spirits had always watched over her before now. When I say she felt herself under a curse, I mean that she always felt as if she wasn't normal, wasn't like everyone else. Sometimes that came in handy; Caitlin had a taste for the unusual and the eccentric, and often didn't mind being a little different. She liked her Irish name, which she insisted be pronounced the proper way--"Catch-leen", not "Kate-lynn", the way most people pronounced it. She almost never dressed the way everyone else did, besides: she couldn't afford all the latest dress styles, for one thing; and she didn't want to look just like all her classmates, for another. But now the spirit of cheer and innocence that Yvan and Sasha had brought to the house had died the day the last of them had grown too sick to live.
It wasn't anyone's fault that Caitlin's cats had died. They were very old, and had been suffering from multiple organ failure, the way older cats tended to do, according to the vets. But they were the guardians of Caitlin's house, and the two constant friends Caitlin had had throughout her young life. Caitlin was only fourteen when they had died, first Yvan and then Sasha nine months later, of old age. That's when the entire house had sunk into gloom and the clouds came over it.
It was Yvan and Sasha who had made the house livable, their presence that had made Caitlin's life livable, and they who had kept Caitlin from becoming as gray and gloomy and cynical as the rest of her family. The cats had tried their best with them, but unfortunately had not succeeded in keeping anything childlike alive in Caitlin's parents and older sister who was now in college. They hardly cracked a smile at anything that didn't wound someone verbally, and they themselves did and said the strangest, most morbid things. Though they were generally kind to the cats, they always commented on what an expense their upkeep was, and what a nuisance. Caitlin and her sister were often discouraged from ever having pets when they got out on their own, though Caitlin could not imagine a house without someone in it who would love you unconditionally, no matter what your life was like, how much you weighed, or what sort of grades you got. If Caitlin's nineteen-year-old sister, Deanna, was out at night just minutes late from her return time, their parents began talking accidents, rape and murder in tremulous tones. This talk scared Caitlin half to death, and often made her stay up by her bedroom door in case the phone brought the news that something horrible really had happened. In spite of all these depressing influences in her home, however, Yvan and Sasha could always make her feel happy, secure and comforted, and they always seemed to know when she needed cheering up.
Now they were both gone. Caitlin had anticipated this happening a long time ago, but now she was completely numb when she wasn't in a terrible depression. She felt like she had lost everything and was quite out in the cold. She could barely eat, because she could not taste anything and her stomach felt like a dead weight was lying in it. Caitlin's mother had cried at each death, but crying never helped Caitlin get over this feeling that everything that meant anything had been stolen away from her. The music that had kept a bit of magic sparkle in her life, and to which she and her cat-guardians had listened so happily for hours before only made her grieve all the more now. Yvan and Sasha's presence was haunting the place; everyone claimed they had seen or heard one of them, or even felt them kneading their beds around midnight or so. But their brightening spirit had left the place, and the gloomy, hopeless aura generated by Caitlin's family was taking over. Caitlin was haunted as well by the sight of the furniture in the house that the cats had favored as sleeping spots, and by the sight of shed fur that stuck to beds, blankets, couches and her clothes. And now there were clouds up over the house. The clouds weren't right up over the roof, the way one normally sees them hanging around the turrets of haunted castles and Victorian mansions and the like. These were normal clouds, but they never moved from this spot over Caitlin's house and yard, and they overlapped somewhat over the properties of the next-door neighbors on either side of them. And at night, a fog descended from the clouds and blanketed the roof, and the ambient air was much colder than it was anywhere else.
© 1997 by Karen I. Olsen
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