What do you do with a room full of old, musty suitcases?
That was the first question that came to my mind after I’d had a look through my late uncle’s estate.
He’d recently passed away, and as his only living relative, his home fell to me by default.
To be honest, I knew right from the start I wouldn’t find much of value.
Sure, his old farmstead was big, but it was in terrible condition. Most of the furniture was old and the many tools he’d amassed were rusty and hadn’t been touched in years.
I found the suitcases in a storage room at the back of the house. They filled the entire room. I blinked, shock my head and then stared at them. What the hell? I knew some people owned multiple suitcases, hell, multiple sets. This, however, was different. Who the hell owned an entire room full of them?
It didn’t take me long to solve the mystery. My uncle had worked as a market trader in the later years of his life. He bought cheap products in bulk before he sold them on the weekly markets in the area. One of his last purchases had apparently been these suitcases.
I tried to figure out how many there were, but it was impossible. There had to be hundreds of the damned things.
Hoping they’d at least be worth something, I gave one of them a closer look. They were big, huge even, but cheaply made. Even worse, they had to be decades old and were clad out with some sort of strange inner fabric.
Nonetheless, a few days later, I took one of them to a pawnshop in a nearby town. When I handed it to the owner, he frowned. He turned it around a few times, opened it up and checked the inside before he shook his head.
“Hope you didn’t pay much for this because it’s pretty much worthless. The design is shoddy and old-fashioned and the material’s shit.”
“Well, I expected as much, but don’t you think collectors or vintage enthusiasts might be interested in them?”
The man shrugged.
“You could give eBay a try, but I wouldn’t count on it.”
“Guess you don’t want to try it yourself, do you?”
The man laughed and shoved the suitcase back in my direction.
“No dice, too much of a hassle.”
I picked up the suitcase again, thanked the man, and made my way back to my uncle’s home.
Eventually, I began sorting through the suitcases, picked out a select few in better condition, and brought them downstairs.
I put them on the floor in a room I’d already stripped bare, my uncle’s old bedroom. There, on the hardwood floor, I tried my best to take a few good pictures. It wasn’t easy. These things really were old and cheaply made, and even I had to admit, they looked like shit.
Even worse, my two feline roommates, Keisha and James, seemed to love them to death. The moment I turned away, one of them would’ve crawled into whatever suitcase I’d focused on at the moment.
Keisha and James were both three-year-old tabbies. While Keisha was a bright orange, James was greyish-white. They were the sneakiest little troublemakers I’d ever come upon and they made taking the pictures a living hell.
Still, I couldn’t imagine being out here in the middle of nowhere without them. I loved the two of them to death and they seemed to love these old suitcases to death.
Once I was done with the monumental task of taking a handful of pictures, I uploaded them to eBay.
It took almost a week before the first reply arrived. A young man named Damien messaged me and said he was interested in them. He was a vintage collector and would like to come by and have a look.
What do you know? Guess some people are interested in them?
That’s what I’d thought, at least. The moment Damien arrived, and I showed him the actual suitcases, his mood went sour.
“Yeah, no, that’s some pretty cheap shit. Thanks for wasting my time.”
“Well, you said were interested, so…”
“That’s because of the pictures. You didn’t say the material was shit and, god, these things smell! Those your grandpa’s or something?”
I sighed audibly. What an asshole.
Instead of yelling, however, I tried a different route.
“Tell you what. You can have them for free. That way your trip wasn’t entirely-“
“And what would I do with them? Like I said, they smell like hell. I appreciate the gesture, but I’m good.”
With that, he made his way back outside, and without another word, drove off. No goodbye or anything.
And thus, I was left with hundreds of old, musty, and, most importantly, worthless suitcases.
When I came back to the room to get rid of them, Keisha and James were busy hiding in them.
“How come you guys love those so much?”
All I got for an answer was a loud meow from Keisha before she vanished inside one of them. I watched the two for a while and left the suitcases out for now.
The next evening, after another day of sorting through my uncle’s things, I busied myself on the internet.
For a while I watched some videos on YouTube before I somehow ended up looking at cat toys and climbing trees. I blame James, who’d snuggled up on my lap as I sat on the living room couch.
I was sure they’d love one of them, especially out here in this half-empty house, but those things were pretty expensive. Right now, I couldn’t afford something like that. At least not until I’d sold my uncle’s house, and that could very well take a while.
Then I got another idea. I’d always been a do-it-yourself guy and looked up homemade cat climbing trees. Most of what I found, however, were box fortresses.
Now, I’d loved the idea of a box fortress for Keisha and James, but being in the process of cleaning out a house, I couldn’t afford to waste any boxes.
So much for the box fortress, I thought.
“Sorry, little guy,” I said to James as I scratched his head.
Eventually, I got up to prepare myself something to eat. As I went on my way, I peeked into the next room over. Keisha was still there, sleeping in a half-open suitcase.
Right at that moment, another one of my problems came to my mind, the freaking suitcases. What the hell would I do with them? How’d I even get rid of them?
In that moment, something clicked. I couldn’t build a box fortress because I didn’t have any boxes. What I could do, however, was to build a suitcase fortress. Or, how I came to call it in my head, suitcase land.
While I ate dinner, my mind was already hard at work, thinking about how to build a fort from suitcases. I had hundreds of the damned things just lying around and for all I knew, they weren’t worth a thing. If I wanted to, I could just cut them open and tape them together. Hell, I could use a break from cleaning out the house and sorting through my uncle’s things.
It wasn’t long before I started on my work. At first I tried to use a carpet knife, but those suitcases proved sturdier than I’d thought. After a few minutes, I gave up in frustration, went to my uncle’s old workshop and returned with a saw. This made things much easier.
I cut away the left side of the first suitcase and then the right side. After that, I did the same to the next one and taped the two of them together to create a sort of tunnel.
I don’t know what drove me on, but I was at it for days, and went completely overboard.
What I’d originally planned to be nothing but a circular tunnel comprising a few suitcases soon became bigger. At first, I extended the ground level and made it into a convoluted mess. Then I started on a second level. Eventually I added towers and bridges, all made from suitcases or suitcase parts.
I guess I was bored and frustrated out here and this project helped me to live out my suppressed creative urges.
Once I was done using more than half of the old, musty suitcases, I couldn’t help but be in awe. Suitcase land had expanded from a small, ground-based maze to a room-filling fortress of tunnels, towers and dead ends.
James and Keisha were head-over-heels in love with my creation. The moment I was done, they vanished inside suitcase land and weren’t seen for hours. They must’ve been busy exploring the various tunnels, sneaking up on each other, or simply sleeping in one of the dead ends.
I expected them to tire of it soon enough, but they kept it up for the entire next week, only leaving suitcase land to eat. After a while, I grew more and more curious, wondering what they were up to in there.
After some deliberation and some research on the internet, I bought a cat harness and a GoPro camera in the hopes to learn a little more about their adventures.
The moment I made it home, I couldn’t wait to get going. James was the first victim of my new found curiosity. When I tried to fit the harness on him, however, he cried out and lamented in misery. I had to accept that this wouldn’t work, at least not with James.
When Keisha came out to eat, I tried my luck again. To my surprise, she didn’t seem to mind the harness and, after some early suspicions, accepted it. I fastened the GoPro to her neck and let her roam free.
At first, she was merely walking around the living room, testing her footing. Once she seemed satisfied and had adjusted to the harness, she made her way back to suitcase land where James had vanished hours ago.
While the cats were adventuring, I took care of a few things around the house I’d neglected to create the suitcased monstrosity.
Late in the evening, hours after I’d eaten dinner, I saw Keisha again. What a swift motion I picked her up and put her on my lap.
As carefully as I could, I removed the GoPro and inserted the SD card into my laptop.
I couldn’t wait to watch the footage. I fast-forwarded through Keisha walking around the living until she was on her way to suitcase land.
For a while, she walked around it, scanning and sniffing the suitcases here and there before she walked up to the entrance and ventured inside.
I watched as she crawled through the barely lit entrance tunnel. The moment she’d made it around the first bend, however, the video became too dark to see anything. For a while longer, I continued playing it and listened to Keisha move around before I closed it in frustration.
Well, that was useless. Great idea, but as so often, I wasn’t smart enough to think this through.
The next morning, I got another idea. After I’d gotten a hold of the cats and made sure they were nowhere near suitcase land, I put tiny holes into the first couple of suitcases, hoping to lighten up the footage.
The result proofed less than satisfactory. You could see the tiny glowing circles, but that was about it. The rest was still nothing but darkness.
My last resort was to get a tiny Maglite and fasten it to the GoPro. As a test, I turned off all the lights in the living room and let Keisha walk around for a bit to see if it would work. To my surprise, it worked out well enough.
So once again, I let Keisha go, hoping she’d set out on another adventure into suitcase land. Which she promptly did.
When I woke up the next morning, the first thing I saw was James’ little face. He’d crawled up on top of me and was meowing right into my face.
“Well, aren’t you happy to see me, little guy?”
I petted him for a bit and stroked his back, but he didn’t pure like he usually did.
“What’s the matter, little buddy? You hungry?”
I got up and made my way to the feeding bowls, but James didn’t follow me. Instead, he walked halfway through the living room and stared at suitcase land.
“Hey, what’s the matter with you this morning?” I asked, petting him.
The moment I touched him, he jerked up before he realized it was me. He pushed himself against me, almost huddling behind me, but his eyes never moved from suitcase land.
“What’s wrong?” I asked again before I realized I hadn’t seen Keisha.
I called out her name, but got no reaction. Normally, she’d come running the moment I called her.
Eventually, I made my way to the entrance of suitcase land, staring inside and calling for her again. Nothing.
When I turned back, I saw James hadn’t moved and was still keeping a safe distance from the place.
Shit, what if something had happened to Keisha in there? For the first time, I regretted building this entire stupid thing.
I went to the entrance and called out once more. When that didn’t do a thing, I started shaking the first few suitcases in the hopes she’d come out. Still nothing.
Before long, I wandered around the entire construction, leaning in close and calling her again and again.
Finally, I heard it, a quiet, muffled meow, originating from inside.
I rattled more of the suitcases, but she still didn’t come out. The idea of her being hurt was on my mind instantly.
For a moment, I just wanted to tear the entire thing down, but how long would it take before I’d find her? Even worse, what if I’d end up hurting her more? Hell, she might be right there, past the first bend, unable to move.
“Shit,” I cursed, and got myself a flashlight before I pushed my upper body into the first suitcase.
“Keisha,” I called out.
I pushed my arms outward, but there was no way I could reach the first bend.
Then, with little choice, I got down on my hands and knees and pushed myself into the first suitcase. To my surprise, I could actually make it inside. Those things really were huge.
This was ridiculous. I’d built this stupid thing for the cats, not for myself. I’d have laughed about how ridiculous this was if I wasn’t so worried about Keisha.
After a few moments, I’d made it far enough to reach the first bend and could look around it. Using the flashlight, I illuminated the tunnel in front of me, but all I saw were more interconnected suitcases and a mess of inner fabric. I didn’t see a hint of Keisha.
I called out again, and soon, the strangely quiet and muffled meow reached my ears once more.
“Where the hell are you?” I cursed to myself.
Pushing myself past the first bend proved almost impossible. More than once, I entangled myself in the soft inner fabric. As I tore myself free and onward, I could hear the tape I’d used to connect the suitcases stretch and almost tore the entire thing apart. Then I was through.
As I illuminated the tunnel ahead of me again, I realized how big the damned thing was. What the hell kind of monstrosity had I built here? How’d I ever thought that building a room-sized cat fortress was a good idea?
I crawled on, flashlight in hand, but saw no hint of Keisha.
The further I continued, the less difficult it became to move. At first, I could barely fit through the tunnels and had to push myself forward on my stomach. By now, I could crawl forward on my hands and knees.
How was there so much room in here? This shouldn’t be possible.
Maybe it was because of different suitcase sizes, I reasoned. I’d probably used bigger ones for this part. But, had there been any that were bigger than the rest? Hadn’t they all been the same size?
I felt a cold shower running down my spine. For a moment I stopped, took a deep breath, but then I heard Keisha again. This time it was coming from my right. It was still the same, still sounding nearby, but also strangely distant.
As I illuminated the area in front of me, I soon noticed an assortment of different tunnels. I counted six to my left and five to my right. Had I added that many?
One by one, I illuminated them and listened. Before long, I pinpointed Keisha’s meows in the third tunnel to my right.
I pushed myself inside, hoping to find Keisha in a dead-end. Instead, the tunnel continued on. It was bending in various ways before it began slopping upwards. By now, I couldn’t fight the strange feeling that had come over me anymore.
Why was there a slope in here? How was this thing so big? This was ridiculous!
Before long, I felt hot and sweaty, could barely breathe as panic came over me. Claustrophobia, this had to be some sort of hallucination caused by claustrophobia.
In an onset of panic, I tried to get up, tried to tear the damned tunnel apart and escape. As much as I tried, as much as I moved, the suitcases didn’t come apart. I desperately clawed at the inner fabric, trying to find the connections, the tape, but I couldn’t find them. Where the hell was it? My hands dug through more and more of the inner fabric, tearing it apart. The more I did, though, the less it felt like fabric and more like… something different, something almost organic.
I was hyperventilating, close to freaking out, and had to tell myself to calm down and to breathe. And yet, I couldn’t help it. Finally, I threw myself against the side of the tunnel again and again, but it didn’t budge, didn’t move at all.
I stopped my rampage when I heard Keisha meowing again.
“You stupid, freaking cat, this is all because of you!” I cursed out loud.
I was angry now, angry and afraid and in a state of perpetual half-panic.
The slope continued for an impossibly long time. Again and again, I brushed against the inner fabric. By now it felt wet and sticky, almost like skin. Here and there I thought I saw it bulging as if something behind it was breathing and moving.
For a moment I closed my eyes, took another deep breath before I concentrated on the beam of the flashlight in front of me.
Eventually, the tunnel opened up to a wider area. A brief laugh escaped my mouth. There was no way this was real. I had to be imagining this. This wasn’t a cut open suitcase anymore. No, this was a wide, open chamber.
I heard the meow again. It was coming right in front of me. This time, however, I realized it wasn’t muffled, hadn’t been. Instead it was distorted, all wrong, as if it was a faulty recording of Keisha’s meow.
I tensed up as terror gripped me. Something was wrong here.
“K-Keisha…?” I brought out in a shaken voice.
At that moment, the beam of the flashlight illuminated something in front of me. There, on the ground, was a tiny Maglite and next to it, the GoPro. I picked them up and pocketed them before I noticed the harness. How the hell had it come off?
I saw it right away. It was torn apart at the back.
How’d Keisha… No, there was no way she’d been able to tear it apart. Once more, a cold shower went down my spine. If not Keisha, then… what?
As if to answer me, the sound of distant rustling reached me. Then I heard the soft, inner fabric ahead of me being torn apart. It sounded as if something was cutting through it.
My body froze, my fingers were clutching onto the flashlight and I watched in disbelief as a tunnel at the end of the chamber started shaking. The sound of something taking a long, strained breath reached me and with it I heard the distorted version of Keisha’s meow again.
A quiet, high-pitched yelp escaped my mouth, and I scrambled backwards, away from the sounds ahead of me.
When something touched my back, I screamed. For a moment, I flailed around, trying to find whatever was attacking me. Then I heard a well-known meow, this time undistorted, followed by a small hiss. When I turned around, I saw Keisha behind me.
She looked terrified. Her little cat-eyes were wide open and I could see she was limping.
I instantly got a hold of her and cuddled her between my arms. For a second, she let me before she freed herself and snuck past me again.
“No, Keisha, wait,” I called out, but when I looked after her, I was confused. The slope was gone. Instead, I saw the very first bend right behind me.
I crawled back and pushed myself around the bend. Once more, I barely fit, but when I’d made it, Keisha was sitting there, waiting for me.
Half a minute later, I’d made it back outside and had escaped from suitcase land.
Still shaking and sweating, I stared at the construction in front of me and measured it up with my eyes. Even the longest part of this damned thing barely measured more than a few meters. There was no hint of any slope, no hint of a central chamber or the multitude of tunnels I’d seen.
There was no way any of what I’d just witnessed was real. No, it must’ve all been a hallucination.
Remembering Keisha, I turned around and swiftly got a hold of her. She was exhausted and clearly hurt.
I took her to the vet instantly.
When I arrived, the vet told me that Keisha was very agitated and asked me what had happened to her. I was about to tell her about suitcase land, but then I stopped and instead made up a story.
“Well, I let her out yesterday afternoon and she only returned this morning. She was hurt and limping. Maybe she got into a fight with a stray?”
The vet eyed me for a moment.
“She has a bruised leg, but it’s nothing serious. What I’m concerned about is her back. That wound’s not from another cat. It looks more like a cut, maybe from a bird, but I’ve seen nothing like it.”
After a more thorough analysis, it turned out that the back wound wasn’t as bad as initially thought. It was nothing but a scratch and had barely broken the skin.
In that instant, I remembered the torn harness. What the hell had happened to Keisha?
For now, though, I was happy to hear that she wasn’t hurt seriously and that the worst was the agitation. The vet advised me to keep her in the house for at least a week and to make sure she wouldn’t lick the wound excessively.
Once I’d made it back home, the first thing I did was to dismantle suitcase land. It didn’t take long since I tore it apart by force. I was apprehensive the entire time, afraid something or someone hiding inside would attack me.
Nothing like that happened and after only an hour suitcase land was nothing but an enormous stack of cut-open and half torn-apart suitcases.
Before long, I reasoned Keisha must’ve injured herself on one a zipper. Hell, maybe she’d somehow bitten or scratched through the harness after all.
And my experience? Nothing but hallucinations caused by an onset of the claustrophobia I didn’t know I suffered from.
Whit that, the entire story of suitcase land was over, or it would’ve been if I hadn’t remembered the GoPro.
It was still working and when I inserted the SD card into my laptop, I saw that the memory was filled with one giant video file.
It was this video that changed everything.
I watched as Keisha made her way into suitcase land like so many times before. Soon enough, though, things became strange. I watched with wide eyes as she ran through and explored ever-expanding and ever-widening tunnels.
Keisha was traveling far, far further than should’ve been possible. Before long, she ran up and down slopes, crawled through holes, and explored wide, arching chambers. It was an absolute impossibility, and yet, it was all right here, right in front of me on the screen.
And then Keisha froze, and I heard the same rustling and tearing sounds I’d heard myself. It grew closer and closer. I heard the entirety of suitcase land shake before the camera turned dark.
A second later, I heard Keisha meow, heard hear hiss furiously, followed by a snap.
The harness, I thought, that’s when the harness was cut off.
After that, the video comprised nothing but darkness, but I could still hear strained breathing nearby.
And then, to my utter horror, a figure was moving in the darkness and pushed itself closer to the camera.
A moment later, I heard the distorted imitation of Keisha’s meow again and saw a single, alien eye starting right at me.