The Aegean Cat
A bit of mystery and perhaps a little magic as well
Eleanor Sagona was a young woman of small stature, quick wit, and wild hair. She and her brother were forces of nature encased in soft flesh woven of sunlight and dark wheat. Lou thought they belonged in the countryside; they always smelled like open fields and wildflowers. It was one of the many oddities Lou had noticed since the siblings had appeared in her seventh hour gym class. The most notable of said oddities being that she could have sworn she’d never seen either of the siblings before 2:15 on November 4th but by all other’s accounts, the two had lived in Franklin all their lives. The second most notable of said oddities being that they were, in fact, forces of nature, in a town where Sunday papers were still delivered and a wild night meant there had been a six-pack of Bud Light present. And the third most notable of said oddities was that the pair did not receive the Sunday paper or participate in any aforementioned wild nights. As far as Lou could tell the siblings spent their time in one of three ways; attending school, walking to or from school, or quietly piddling away in their home (that only the two of them ever entered or exited) between school hours.
The Sagonas seemed to exist an arm's length away from the community they had—apparently—grown up in. Their association with their peers never extended beyond the demands of school acquaintances. In other words, if one day they were to cease attending school, Lou could not be sure that anyone other than herself would notice. After all, she had been the only one to notice their arrival (of which she was sure and determined to prove there had been one).
On December 3rd, after almost a month of close observation and interaction—that provided no insights—Lou decided it was time to take the answers she had once been resolved to patiently watch for. At the end of her sixth period class, she stepped into the hall and quietly slipped through an emergency exit with a faulty alarm. Lou had observed many of her peers sneaking out through the heavy door without so much as a flashing light. She had once thought it important to bring to the attention of a teacher but now found herself thankful he had dismissed her with an absentminded nodding of his head.
The air outside was cool, despite the hour. As Lou made her way around the building, she rubbed her chilled hands together, cursing herself for not bringing her jacket. She’d left it at home, slung over her dresser, thinking it would be too bulky for the discretion she would need when breaking and entering in broad daylight. It only now occurred to her that wandering around without a coat in 30-degree weather would make her more conspicuous.
The siblings lived in a quiet neighborhood less than two miles from the school. She’d followed them home on several occasions under the pretense that she was headed to the public library (which was a mile further in the same direction). She’d been hopeful, at first, that she would have the opportunity to speak with them and that, outside of school, they would be more open. The few times she’d tried for conversation though, they had merely listened politely, never contributing. After a particularly awkward attempt, she’d opted for the creepier—though significantly less embarrassing—option of falling into step about ten paces behind the pair. The only thing she had managed to learn was the location of their house.
Lou slowed her pace to a leisurely stroll when she spotted the Morrison St. sign. Though it was unlikely anyone was home, she didn’t want to risk drawing the attention of a neighbor; she had no reason to explain what she was doing on Morrison Street, or why she wasn’t in school. It was in her best interest to go unnoticed, a fact that would prove difficult considering her only options for getting inside the house were to, A: pick the lock on the front door, out in the open for the whole neighborhood to see, or B: hop the seven-and-a-half foot fence to pick the lock on the back door. Neither was terribly discreet.
Lou had spent most of the night weighing her options and decided that going in the back was the better of the two choices. Her entire plan hinged on whether or not she could jump the fence. As she drew nearer to it, shuffling between the Sagona’s fence and that of their neighbor, her hopes began to fall. There wasn’t nearly enough space between the two for the running start she would need to pull herself over the top. She’d come too far to give up though, so once she felt she was far enough down the fence to be out of sight, she pressed back against the neighbor’s fence, took a half-step start, and leapt up, reaching for the top of the fence. She was inches off her mark.
Lou stumbled back. Tears gathered in her eyes as she reached tentatively for her stinging nose. She winced at the contact. “So that’s not gonna work,” she muttered to herself.
Lou chewed her lip as she contemplated her next move. It was a significantly larger risk, taking the time to pick the lock of the front door, exposed to the road. She was almost resigned to it though when another thought occurred to her. She couldn’t help smiling, barely noticing the pain, as her confidence in her plan returned. She braced her arms against the neighbor’s fence and her feet against the Sagona’s. Lou began to shuffle her way up the fences.
Her muscles were burning with the effort as she shifted to pull herself over the top. She fell over the other side clumsily. When her back hit the ground all the air was knocked from her lungs. Lou winced as she rolled onto her side. “Crime does not pay,” she muttered to herself. “Will not be doing that again.”
As she stood, she scanned the backyard. There was nothing on the porch, or in the yard, other than a small doghouse painted the same faded yellow as the house. The back door was mostly glass. Lou approached it cautiously, watching for any sign of movement inside the house. Satisfied there was no one inside to catch her, she set to work picking the lock.
Lou had spent the last two weeks watching more YouTube videos than she could count on lock picking. She’d practiced a few times on her own backdoor to the great annoyance of her parents. When they’d asked, she’d simply explained it was for a school project. She could get away with murder if she told her parents it was for school. This wasn’t practice though. She had to steady her hands several times before she heard the quiet click of the lock. The door opened and she stepped inside, shutting it quietly behind her.
Lou wasn’t entirely sure what she had been expecting but it wasn’t what she found. A small kitchen, cluttered by dirty dishes, uncleaned spills, and left-out cereal boxes led into an even more cluttered living room. Despite all the things everywhere, the only personal touch Lou could see was a picture of the siblings sitting on the coffee table. It took Lou a moment to register that the background of the photo was familiar, not because she’d ever been there but because it was a famous landmark. The photo had been taken in Athens, Greece, in front of the Parthenon. Eleanor and Johnathan were smiling—something she now realized she hadn’t seen either sibling do, not really, not truly, like they were in the picture—standing on either side of an older man, his arms wrapped around their shoulders.
In Lou’s house a TV sat across from the couch, in the Sagona’s there was only an unimpressive hutch. Abandoning the picture, Lou went to pull open the doors of the hutch. They stuck. Lou braced a hand against one of the doors as she pulled hard on the other. It complied, reluctantly. Inside, all she found were books. Disappointed, Lou moved on. Papers were strewn across the room. Some of them were clearly schoolwork, others were covered in a language Lou couldn’t understand, but most of them were beautifully illustrated by half-finished sketches. Lou used her phone to take pictures of a few of the pages so that she could look at them later.
She drifted from the living room to the hallway where she found three doors. The first revealed a bathroom which told her nothing more than the fact that one of the siblings did not care for mint toothpaste and they took their hair care very seriously. The second door led to a sparsely decorated bedroom. A daybed sat against the far wall underneath a large window. A small desk was pushed into a corner, nothing on it but a foam pillow and an open newspaper in a language Lou didn’t recognize. Inside the desk, she found more drawings and a large collection of pens. She took a picture of the paper before moving on.
The third door led to a larger bedroom. A queen-sized bed adorned with only one pillow and a folded blanket sat against the center of the far wall. A sturdy wooden wardrobe stood across from it. Lou opened the wardrobe to discover a collection of retro clothing made of sturdy fabrics and careful stitching—flowing tunics, brightly colored skirts, intricately embroidered blouses. Lou closed the doors and crossed the room to investigate the nightstand by the bed.
She’d just pulled open the top drawer when a loud crash in the living room startled her. Lou dove underneath the bed, pushing herself as far back against the wall as she could. After a long moment holding her breath and straining her ears to pick up anything other than the pounding of her own heartbeat, Lou chanced shifting enough to look at her watch.
It was only 3:20. There were still 10 minutes left in the school day. There was no way the siblings could be home. Unless, like her, they’d ditched and, unlike her, had opted to come home instead of breaking into anyone else’s house. Lou dismissed it as unlikely; they hadn’t missed a day since their arrival. Maybe one of the stacks of paper tipped over, Lou thought. They weren’t exactly sturdy.
After a long minute, Lou crawled out from under the bed. She stayed low so that the bed might block any view of her from the door and glanced into the drawer of the nightstand. In it, she found an old pocket watch with a weathered family photo—a man stood, holding a toddler with neatly braided hair tied at the ends with elegant ribbon, next to a beautiful woman holding a swaddled baby—taped to the inside, a box of matches, and a half-used candle. Lou shut the drawer quietly and chanced a look inside the second drawer. It was locked. She glanced over her shoulder to ensure she was still alone and set to work picking it.
Lou nearly jumped out of her skin when she felt a warm breath against her cheek.
“Gah-ah!” She screamed as she scrambled back, running into the wall.
A lithe black and white cat stood on the bed above her. Its eyes were large and the irises were the warm, dark brown of coffee grounds. Standing perfectly still on the bed, unblinking, watching her, it seemed to peer right into her soul.
“Hi, kitty,” Lou greeted hesitantly.
It continued to stare.
Lou had little experience with cats, she wasn’t entirely sure what she was supposed to do. Slowly, she held out her hand—the way her parents had always instructed her to do when introducing herself to a dog—and let the cat smell her. It sniffed her hand cautiously, never taking its eyes off her own. After a long moment of sniffing and staring, and Lou being genuinely terrified it might bite off one of her fingers, it brushed its cheek against her knuckles.
Lou let out a long sigh of relief. She pet the cat gently, giving it a small scratch under its chin. Her fingers brushed up against the cold metal of tags hanging from a small collar around its neck. She held the tags up so that she could read them. One had a phone number on it, with an area code she didn’t recognize. The other had a name.
“Yiannis,” she read out loud, stumbling over the unfamiliar name. She was certain she could not be pronouncing it correctly. “Seems like a weird name for a cat,” she muttered to herself. “It’s nice to meet you Yiannis.”
He let out a long “Yowwww,” in response.
“Don’t mind me, Yiannis. I’m just doing some investigating. I’ll be done in a minute.”
Assured now, that it was likely Yiannis who made the crashing sound she’d heard, Lou returned to the lock. Inside the drawer, she found what she’d been looking for; unquestionable proof that the Sagonas were not what they seemed. Underneath a collection of battered poetry books, Lou found passports and IDs with Eleanor and Johnathan’s faces but not their names. Elena Todorova, Ellen Demir, Eleni Ioannidis; John Todorov, Joshua Demir, Yiannis Ioannidis. There was another set of papers, clearly older than the rest, belonging to one Yiannis Ioannidis. She recognized him as the older man from the picture in the living room.
“Yiannis,” Lou muttered. “They must really like that name, huh?” She said to the cat.
Yiannis only stared at her. She found it to be unnerving, his staring, and turned back to the drawer. Beneath the IDs Lou discovered bundles of foreign currency.
“What the…” Lou muttered, sifting through the cash. At the very bottom of the drawer, she found a handful of silver coins with unfamiliar designs imprinted on their faces. She snapped a picture of the drawer’s contents before carefully returning everything to its place. She shut the drawer and rose to her feet. Yiannis walked with her from the room, weaving between her ankles.
Crossing through the living room to the back door, Lou noticed an open window.
She looked around the room, though she was positive that she was the only person present. Her eyes landed on the cat. He had jumped up on the window ledge and was arching his back lazily.
“Did you open that… Yiannis?” She asked.
He gave no indication that he’d heard her.
Lou was sure she hadn’t opened a window—but she must have. Right?
She approached the window. Yiannis jumped down and began to circle her feet. Chewing her lip, Lou weighed whether or not she should close the window. It hadn’t been open. She hadn’t opened it. It was now open. Had it been open and she’d not noticed? Would closing it give away that she’d broken in? Had she opened it and forgotten? Would leaving it open give away that she’d broken in?
Lou was still contemplating the open window when the low hum of Johnathan’s voice reached her.
“Uh-oh,” she muttered to herself.
She could hear the lock turning. Without taking any more time to think, Lou slammed the window shut and raced to the back door. Lou threw it open and bounded across the yard. She launched herself at the fence, managing to find a grip and pull herself over the top. Her knees protested the harsh landing but her adrenaline urged her on. She didn’t slow down until she was home, safe behind her own locked door, her heartbeat pounding loudly in her ears.
Stumbling all the way, Lou made it to her room in a daze. She sat on her bed and began to flip through the pictures on her phone, trying to make sense of them. Who were the Sagonas? Was that even their real last name? Where did they come from? Why did everyone else believe they hadn’t come from anywhere at all?
Unsure where else to start, she powered up her laptop. By the time her parents came home she’d managed to deduce that the unfamiliar language on the papers was Greek, though not any that a basic translation software could help her understand. When her father called her down to dinner she wandered out to the table, her mind back in the Sagona’s house, sifting through papers, examining false passports, staring down the cat with eyes so dark she could make out her reflection in them When she returned to her room, she went through the pictures again, the same questions she’d had since that first day in November, and more, plaguing her mind. Why did they have false IDs? Who was Yiannis Ioannidis? Where was Yiannis Ioannidis? Were they dangerous? Criminals? If they were criminals, would they hurt her? If they knew what she’d done, where she’d been, what she’d seen? Did they know? Could they know? She tossed and turned all night, thinking herself in circles.
When she dressed in the morning she did so carelessly, pulling on the first clothes she found. She stumbled out the door, to school, through her classes. The more she thought, the more distorted her thoughts became. The beautiful, half-finished drawings she’d found transformed into unsettling, creeping scenes in her mind. A charcoal sketch of a beautiful pine tree became a thing of nightmares, of moving roots, reaching out to her. The cat, its eyes so dark, so knowing, became a witness to her crime. And then another thought crept into her mind, one that turned that pine tree’s grip into a real, tangible thing. Were they something other? Were they alien? Magic? How else could they have the whole town fooled? It was not as though they could have brainwashed everyone. Right? And why did she know otherwise? If they had done something to the people of Franklin, why not her? Why could she remember a time before them?
It wasn’t until she was pulling open the door to the gymnasium that she was able to shake herself loose from the grip of her stupor. Adrenaline coursed through her at the anticipation of seeing the Sagonas. Would they confront her? Would she confront them? Her mind raced to play through every possible scenario ahead of her.
Coach Anderson greeted her warmly, as she always did, but Lou barely returned her wave. She chewed her fingernails mindlessly as she waited for class to begin, for Eleanor and Johnathan to walk through the door. But then Coach Anderson was calling her attention away from the door she’d been eyeing, bringing class to a start, instructing pairs to form.
Lou looked around wildly, scanning her peers’ faces. She was sure she couldn’t have missed them walking in.
Penny Wang met her eyes and smiled brightly. “Want to pair up?”
“Sure,” Lou muttered, still searching. “Have you seen Eleanor?”
“Eleanor. Sagona.” Penny seemed confused so Lou continued, “Johnathan’s sister.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t know who you’re talking about.”
Lou’s attention snapped to Penny. Her eyes were wide and frantic as she asked, “The Sagonas. You don’t remember the Sagonas?”
Penny frowned. “No, sorry. Never heard of them.”
Thank you so much for reading The Aegean Cat, you can find even more of my work here.
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Very well written. Keep up the good work!
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme
Cool read--I wanted more!