Short Story Sunday: Cousin Rachael

My cousin Rachael died last week. Her house was burning. She and her dog were found dead in her swimming pool. Her body was wracked with the effects of an advanced case of Covid-19.

The weird thing about is wasn’t the house burning, or the Covid-19, or even the fact that her hands were bound behind her back. The weirdest thing was that her dog was in the pool with her.

The fire wasn’t part of the wild fires that are blazing all over California. It was arson. Someone had poured gasoline all over her garage, lit a match, and left her alone coughing and barely able to function.

Rachael refused to go to a hospital. She’d rather be in her own bed in her own mansion. If she was going to die alone she said she wanted to be with her nasty little dog Chatsworth.

Chatsworth was a beautiful fluffy brown and white spotted animal of unknown heritage. He hated everyone except Rachael. He loved Rachael.

After Rachael died her attorney came to my house with a box. The box had holes in it. Inside of it was a cat with singed fur and whiskers. He was a large gray tabby with a white mask on his face and chest, and white paws. He’d belonged to Rachael’s ex who’d broken both of his legs in a car accident one night after they’d had a huge fight over Rachael’s callus attitudes over his place in her life. He never spoke to her again and moved out of the country.

The cat’s name was Zoomie. As soon as I let him out of the carrier he started to purr. I wondered how that cat could be so mellow and happy considering who he’d lived with.

Rachael wasn’t a nice person. In fact she was a first class raging bitch. The short list of words to describe Rachael were mean spirited, narcissistic, disingenuous, a first class liar, and a control freak. She hadn’t always been like that, well maybe she had, but it just got worse as she grew older, especially the past sixteen years.

Despite her faults (though she saw none) she was incredibly successful. Rachael lived one of those charmed lives where everything seemed to come easy. Fabulous opportunities seemed to come out of the blue. Men went crazy over her no matter how badly she treated them. People were fascinated by her. She rubbed shoulders (and more) with the rich, famous, and powerful. Rachael had done well and was fabulously rich herself. When she died she owned the home she’d died in, plus three vacation homes all free and clear. She was worth millions.

At one time Rachael and I were close. She thought so until the day she died. I’d been done with her for years.

So, back to Zoomie and my household.

I had no reason to ever be jealous of Rachael or her success. I had my own sort of charmed life. Sure it wasn’t perfect by we’d done very well. I was married to a rock star – yes a real rock star. Ben and I had met when I designed his first album cover. His band became a world wide success with hit after hit. My design career took off. After being friends for years, it turned into more than friends, then marriage, then two children.

Now the kids were in college and Ben was making cute “at home” videos with the kids and his band members. I was just hanging out and working on some illustrations projects. We were good. We had work. We had love.

We also had a new cat. Zoomie got along with the two cats and two dogs we already had. He was a wonderful animal.

So far so good, until my brother Jackie called in hysterics. He missed Rachael. He couldn’t get over the fact she was gone. The police had been by to question him to find out if he knew anyone who’d want her dead. He didn’t know anyone. He was freaked out. Completely freaked out.

I thought of a lot of people who would have wanted Rachael dead, starting with my husband.

At one time Rachael had tried to seduce Ben, then when he resisted her charms she moved on to his band members. Eventually the drummer Scotty spent a sex and drug laden weekend with Rachael. When it got too weird he went home. She spread dirt in the media about him and threatened to say she was raped. Then the nude photos started to show up. Yes, Rachael had hidden cameras in her bedroom. Of course she did.

But that was mild compared to her other bad deeds. She had a long trail of carnage she’d caused including broken marriages, ruined careers, public shame, and a list of horrible things that nobody would every want in their lives.

I told my brother that he’d be fine and decided to ignore him next time he called. I had three other siblings and a dozen cousins. All of them agreed with my take on things. She’d hurt all of them over the years in one way or the other. The only good thing about the pandemic is that nobody had to go to a funeral and tell lies about what a wonderful woman she was.

Ben was sitting at his piano working on a song with Zoomie sitting on the bench next to him. Suddenly Ben stopped and called me into the room.

He had such an odd look on his face. Then he said, “Zoomie talks.”

“Of course you do sweet boy,” I said to the cat and rubbed it under the chin.

Then Zoomie looked up and me and said in a high kind of strained whispery voice, “I can talk. If you sit down next to us I’ll tell you what happened to Rachael.”

I had to catch my breath. The cat talked. Zoomie REALLY talked.

“Sit down. I have to tell my story. Talking isn’t that easy for me so I’m not going to say it all twice. I mean, I love you guys and all more than I can say, but talking isn’t my thing. OK, where were we… sit… Rachael. I’m going to tell you about Rachael.

Rachael was doing good. She had a nice life but she wanted more. It was like she was tired of being at base camp forever and wanted to make it to the top. She’d do anything to get there.

When I met her was when her then live-in man Ian adopted me. I liked Ian. He was a great guy. Rachael had him around because he had this great English accent, a great body, and the sex was good. Ian was also successful so he didn’t expect anything material from her. He wasn’t no boy toy if you know what I mean. Anyway, Ian started to ask her to be nicer to him and everyone else. Rachael would have none of it. So one night Ian left. He left without me because he was moving to Brazil. Who the hell moves to Brazil? Anyway he couldn’t bring me with him.

Rachael wasn’t bad to me. I was fed. The staff gave me a lot of attention. I would wander around the house looking for a portrait like in that story about the Dorian Gray guy, you know where he stayed young and beautiful while the picture took on all of his ugly shit. Oscar Wilde wrote it. You know it?”

“You can read?” Ben asked.

“Sure I can read. I’m a smart cat. Anyway I never found the picture, but it was still so weird the way good things kept happening to Rachael. I mean, nothing bad ever happened to her. Then one day I was sitting on the balcony watching that fucking nasty little Chatsworth sitting by the pool licking his balls. Then he got up and stretched. These wings, like a leathery bat came out of his back, then his whole body transformed into some gosh awful humanoid demon form.

I’m not skittish so I jumped down by the way of a near by tree and went to investigate. The ugly little demon dog thing was still sitting by the pool scratching his leathery hide and sticking his feet in the water.

“Hey, Chats, what’s going on?” I said causally, just acting like the typical disinterested cat.

He looked shocked. I’d caught him in his real form.

“Don’t tell anyone what you see or I’ll fucking kill you,” he said.

“I’ve got seven lives left asshole,” I told him, “but I’m not going to waste any on you. What’s your story?”

“Rachael is my story. She sold her soul for success. It shocked me she didn’t go into politics, but she just wanted to be on the edge. She wanted a reality TV star life and she has it. Hey, I’m having fun.”

“She sold her soul to you?”

“No, to the Devil. I’m just here to make sure the contract isn’t broken. I’m her keeper.”

“No shit,” I said trying to sound like this thing happened all the time.

“No shit,” said Chatsworth the nasty little dog.

So when Chatsworth turned seventeen his dog days would be over. The contract for Rachael’s soul lasted as long as the life of a dog. When the dog died she’d die.

The wife of some guy Rachael was having a long term affair with came by and tossed her in the pool. She would have survived but the guy kicked Chatsworth and killed him. Threw the damn dog in the pool. With Chatsworth dead the contract was up along with Rachael’s good luck. Chatsworth was only ten but that didn’t matter. He was dead so the contract was over. That’s the story folks of how Rachael lost her soul.”

“Wow,” Ben and I said in unison.

“Hey,” said Zoomie, “mind getting me a drink of water. This taking stuff kind of makes me thirsty and make my throat hurt. It isn’t like meowing or even cat fight yowl. It takes a lot out of a guy.”

“Are you a demon?” Ben asked.

“No, I’m just a cat.”

“But you can talk,” I said.

Zoomie started to purr and make biscuits on Ben’s leg. “All cats can talk,” he said. “We just don’t like to. It isn’t easy. You know our vocal cords and lips aren’t really made for it.”

Then Zoomie said one last thing about it. “When a person sells their soul something is sent to watch them. It might be a dog, or a cat. It might be another person, but it is always something. You never know. You just never know. The good thing about being a cat is that nobody can buy our souls or steal them. That is the bad part of being a human. We feel sorry for you. We still love you for the most part because most of you are good. Most.”

I got Zoomie some water and cat treats, then looked over to my two other cats who were curled up on the big arm chair at the other end of the room.

After a few weeks Ian announced he was going to write a tell all book about Rachael. A lot of less than wonderful stories came out about her. I tried to ignore it all.

I did wonder about everyone else in the news these days, in politics, in the media, famous and rich for no real reason. How many of them had sold their souls? How many of them had a an animal or a close friend, a spouse, or advisor who was really a demon watching to make sure the contract wasn’t broken.

I guess we’ll never know, and I know now the cats won’t be talking.

~ end