The Rules – Instructions on How to Succeed at Cat Sitting

My friend Josh was my polar opposite. He was a young successful entrepreneur and, frankly said, filthy rich.

I on the other hand was a perpetual failure, who lived in a small one-room apartment, always looking to make it to the end of the month.

While Josh owned a flourishing online business, I drifted from one odd job to another.

Why’s any of this important, you might wonder? Well, it was no other than Josh who left me with this weird set of rules.

It was about two weeks ago that he had to leave for another one of his business trips and needed someone to not only sit his house but take care of his cats. Josh owned four of the little buggers, all special breeds and exotic.

He came up to me because he knew my situation had taken a turn for the worse because of Covid-19. I was behind on rent, bills kept stacking up, and finding work was harder than ever.

Josh offered me a fair amount of money, enough to last me for an entire month, and I eventually relented and accepted his offer.

Every single time I arrived at his house, I was awestruck. It was a beautiful, two-story building that he’d bought a couple of years back and renovated from the ground up. There was probably more modern technology in his home than in the rest of the entire neighborhood.

Josh didn’t just own a smart TV or smart lights. He had an entire smart living room, a smart kitchen with a smart coffee machine, and even a freaking smart toilet.

I didn’t even know half the stuff he owned existed and wondered why he’d need the other half. Josh, however, loved everything new, shiny, and smart.

When I arrived, he offered me a bottle of imported crafts beer and led me inside. He told me the couch was all mine, I could roam the place as I saw fit, but his office was off-limits. Josh was very particular about this stuff, and I didn’t see any reason to intrude.

After those first instructions, he introduced me to his cats right away. There was an older Bengal, an Egyptian Mau, a Cornish Rex, and a recently acquired Savannah kitten. To be honest, I only remember the different breeds because of his list of notes. I was never a cat person. No, to be honest, I was never a pet person.

Once he’d told me all their names, which I’d forgotten the moment he’d left, he handed me an envelope containing his instructions about the cats. Or as he called it, ‘The Rules.’

He gave me a little wink and told me to only open them once I’d left. I rolled my eyes but gave him a little laugh.

Josh was not only a weirdo, but he’d always been a very immature and childish person. I could already tell that his so-called rules were most likely nothing but bullshit.

Still, I humored his antics and put it away on the couch table for now.

Josh told me about a few more things about the house before he handed me the money and went on his way.

Once I’d gotten myself settled, I got myself another one of his crafts beers and sat down in his lavish living room to read ‘The Rules.’

I was prepared to find the envelope filled with nothing but a silly picture, but to my surprise, it actually contained a list of rules.

The Rules – Instructions on How to Succeed at Cat Sitting

1. Feed the cats twice a day, at 8 am and 8 pm. DON’T be late.

2. Always measure the amount of food using a measuring cup following the instructions on page two.

3. Each cat has their own special food, following a strict diet plan. DON’T mix up the food and leave their feeding bowls at their respective places.

I rolled my eyes at his damn peculiarities. They are freaking cats, why’s all this stuff so important?

4. If the TV turns on at 10:23 pm on a random channel, leave it on. DON’T turn it off before 10:48 pm.

When I read this one I stared at the list for a moment before I chuckled. Really, Josh? Cryptic, obscure rules? God, this was too silly, even for him.

5. The cats need to be groomed every other day. Check the instructions on page three for more information.

6. If the lights turn on in random rooms of the house, DON’T turn them off until the following morning.

7. Should you take out the trash, ALWAYS use the dumpster on the far right. ALWAYS make sure to close it. NEVER open the one on the left.

Yeah, this was getting stupid. It was obvious what was going on here, and for a second I was about to crumble up this stupid list and throw it away. Then I went to read on. Who knows there might still be something important between all the bullshit?

8. There’s an outdoor kennel for the cats. Make sure to let them go out in the afternoon.

9. If you hear strange after 11 pm, ignore them and DON’T try to figure out their origin. Just stay in the living room. Again, DON’T try to figure out where they come from.

10. There might be noises coming from the office at random times during the night. DON’T enter at any time. The noises will soon stop again.

11. Each of the cats has a specific nutrient mixture that should be added to their water bowls. Check page two for more instructions. Try not to forget about it.

12. If you hear a knock against the window, you must ignore it. DON’T let anyone in. She will leave again if you ignore her.

13. DON’T use the oven after 10 pm. It’s a little too smart for its own good. Trust me on that one.

14. Ignore any voices you hear throughout the house. There’s no one else there. DON’T investigate. They will stop eventually.

15. The beer’s all yours, but try not to get wasted and break things.

Once done, I couldn’t help but laugh. This was so typical for Josh.

I put the list aside and checked out pages two and three. They were filled with detailed information about each cat. With a sigh, I went through them, trying to understand what the hell I was even supposed to do.

Once I was done, it was almost noon.

I checked out the feeding and water bowls, but Josh had filled them up. So, I didn’t have to do anything except letting the cats out in the afternoon and feeding them in the evening.

The first day at Josh’s place was amazing.

I’d said before that I never knew why he had all those gadgets, but after a couple of hours at his house, I could see the appeal. I could call out any song I wanted, and it was played instantly on his amazing 5.1 sound system. I could turn on and off lights with nothing but a wave of my hand and don’t get me started on his toilet.

As the hours passed, I watched Netflix on his giant movie projector and drank a few more of the crafts beers. Man, this was a life I could get used to. Some of the cats joined me at random intervals throughout the day, eyeing their new roommate curiously.

Once it was evening, I followed Josh’s instructions and refilled the cat’s feeding bowls. It was actually harder than I expected. I was quite tipsy by that point and Josh owned a plethora of different cat food and nutrient mixes. In the end, though, I got everything right, at least I think so.

I’d just sat down for yet another movie when I heard sounds from the second floor. It was quiet and barely audible while the movie was playing.

At first, I thought it was one of the cats, but when I turned the movie off I realized that it was a voice, a woman’s. A shiver went down my spine. As I listened, it almost sounded like someone was counting.

I went from the living room to the stairs and listened.

“… seventeen, sixteen, fifteen, fourteen…” and on it went.

Needless to say, I was damn confused and not just a little scared about what was going on.

“Hello? Is anyone there?” I called out, but I got no answer. Instead, the numbers continued to decrease until they reached zero. At this point, the voice stopped and silence returned.

I swallowed and after another minute had passed, I carefully ascended the stairs. There was no one there, though. All I saw was an empty hallway. I didn’t know what I’d expected, and I wasn’t sure if I should be relieved or not.

Right at that moment, I remembered his list of rules and returned to the living room.

There it was, the last one on the list:

14. Ignore any voices you hear throughout the house. There’s no one else there. DON’T investigate. They will stop eventually.

All right, I told myself, this was bullshit. It was most likely a recording that was being played somewhere up there.

With another beer as mental support, I went back upstairs. As I checked the walls though, I found no hint of speakers or a radio.

I was about to open one of the doors when I saw a light flickering on and off in a room at the back of the hallway.

Fuck this, I told myself. I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but I sure as hell didn’t want to mess with any of it.

It was nothing. Probably a malfunctioning light.

Still, when I returned to the living room, I checked every corner of the room before I settled back on the couch. For the first time since I’d arrived, I was happy to see the cats nearby. At least I didn’t have the sleep alone here all by myself.

When my phone woke me at 7 am the next morning, my head was slightly throbbing. I made my way to the kitchen and instructed Josh’s coffee machine to mix me one of its strongest options.

With the blackest coffee I’d ever seen in my entire life, I made my way to the feeding bowls. The cats followed me but kept a clear distance from me.

The moment I took out the food, though, they became much friendlier. Oh, I knew what was going on here, you deceitful little creatures.

There was nothing special happening on the second day. I spent most of it either in the living room or exploring Josh’s home. In the evening I found my way into his small, private library. It was filled with books on self-improvement and a sheer endless amount of business manuals.

Eventually, I discovered a collection of the works of M. C. Escher, hidden between some obscure work of eastern philosophy and a biography of Jay Gould.

I took the Escher book with me to the living room, instructed Alexa to play some ambient music, and went through the book.

Something was fascinating about Escher’s work. While I was busy studying yet another one of his optical illusions, the room was suddenly flooded by the light of the TV. I jerked up and stared at it. It was set to a random channel, showing nothing but static.

How the hell had the damn thing turned on? I checked if I’d sat on the remote or if any of the cats had been toying with it, but I found it resting on the couch table.

I reached out for it and was about to turn the TV back off when I saw the list of rules lying nearby. Hadn’t there been something about the TV on there?

I found the one I’d been looking for right away.

4. ‘If the TV turns on at 10:23 pm on a random channel, leave it on and DON’T turn it off before 10:48 pm.’

When I checked the clock, I saw that it was now 10:25 pm. Oh, you’ve got to be freaking kidding me.

For a moment I was about to say fuck it and turn it off, but then I remembered the weird voice from last night.

I told myself again nothing was going on. Just another error in the settings. Still, there was this quiet, little voice in the back of my mind asking me ‘What if?’

Grumbling, I put the remote down again and tried my best to ignore the annoying static. Once it was close to 11 pm, I decided it was safe enough to turn it off again and go to sleep.

Thus ended my second day at Josh’s home.

Over the next days, more strange things happened all around the house. I was still telling myself it was all a malfunction or a coincidence. Hell, maybe Josh fucking with me, but that quiet voice in the back of my mind wasn’t so quiet anymore.

Every day I found the lights on in random rooms, rooms I hadn’t even set foot in yet. At other times, I heard the strange voice again, always counting down to zero.

I tried to call Josh but I couldn’t seem to reach him. When I sent him a message about the weird occurrences, all I got back was a simple ‘Just follow the rules and everything’s fine.’

I cursed at that and almost threw my phone against the wall. To be honest, I almost noped the fuck out of his house by the fourth day. Real or not, this was all a little too weird, and it was getting to me.

The problem was, Josh trusted me, and hell, he’d paid me a fair amount of money to take care of his house and the cats.

So, I stayed.

It was by day five that things took a turn for the worse and I should come to regret my decision.

I was in the living room, browsing Reddit when noises reached my ear yet again. This time it wasn’t the counting voice, though. Instead, it sounded like someone was banging against the walls. Each bang made me jerk up, and eventually I had enough of this shit.

This stops now, I told myself. As I made my way to the stairs, I got another idea. What if Josh had instructed another one of his friends to sneak in and fuck with me? It was a silly idea, but I wouldn’t put it past him.

More angry than afraid, I made my way up the stairs and soon located the source of the noise. It was coming from his office.

I remembered his words. Hell, I remembered the freaking rule about the office, but I didn’t give a shit anymore.

“All right, whoever the fuck you are, knock it off!” I cursed.

“If Josh put you up for this to fuck with me, well done, you got me ha ha!”

The banging continued, but soon I heard something else. It was crying, muffled crying.

“What the fuck,” I pressed out.

“… help me…” I heard a quiet, muffled voice from inside the office.

My eyes grew wide and an icy shiver went down my spine.

It was Josh’s voice.

“… please, this guy broke in and locked me up here…”

The voice went quiet again. Once more the crying started before labored breathing replaced it.

“Josh…? What the fuck?”

I got no answer. All I heard instead was more of the labored breathing coming from inside.

I didn’t even think about the rules anymore. Something strange was going on here, something very fucking strange.

I took a deep breath before I put my hand on the door handle and ripped open the door. What I found inside the office was absolutely nothing.

There was his desk, his computer, his whiteboard, books, and papers, but nothing else. The light was off, no one was inside, and nothing was in disarray.

Then, as I stared at the empty room in front of me, all the lights in the house turned on in unison only to flicker out moments later.

Needless to say, this freaked me the fuck out.

I threw the door to the office shut, hurried downstairs, and booked it out of the house.

Once outside, I could’ve sworn I saw lights turning on and off in random rooms of the house. Almost as if someone… or something was rushing through it, searching it.

I went straight home after this. The moment I’d locked my front door, I sent Josh a message asking him what the fuck was going on. All I got was yet another short, obscure message.

‘You said you opened the door?’

‘Yes, what the fuck does that even matter?’

‘Shit man, I told you to leave it be and NOT open it. Well, nothing to do now. She won’t go after the cats, and by tomorrow things should be normal again. You closed the door, right?’

‘What the fuck are you even talking about? The hell’s the matter with your damn place!? Please tell me this is all one of your stupid pranks and you’re fucking with me!’

This time no reply arrived. Instead, he called me.

Josh explained that his house had a history, quite a fucked up one at that. Back in the day, long before he bought it and renovated it, the place used to be an orphanage. One night, more than half a century ago, the caretaker snapped and murdered the orphans one after another. All while counting down the number of kids still alive until she reached zero.

Josh found out after some research that his office used to be the caretaker’s old bedroom.

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes strange things happened at his house. A voice counting down or pretending to be other people, lights flickering on and off, and other, similar things.

That’s why he got so many smart gadgets. For some reason, those seem to confuse the spirit, as he called it. Generally though, if you leave it alone and follow the rules, nothing bad will happen.

“What the actual fuck!? You’re kidding me, right?” I almost yelled into the phone.

“Afraid not, that’s why I left you the rules, but I should have explained things to you beforehand,” he pressed out.

“Yes, you fucking should have! Why the hell would you even call them something like that if it’s about a… shit, Josh, why the fuck would you even buy a freaking haunted orphanage?!”

“The place was cheap, all right? Way cheaper than any other in town. How the fuck would I’ve known that… Shit, look, man, I know it’s fucked up, but please can you go back tomorrow and take care of the cats? It’s only three more days, but I’m worried about them.”

I was about to tell him to go fuck himself with his freaking haunted house. When he told me he’d pay me some extra money, though, I shout my mouth as soon as I’d opened it.

Shit, I mean, how bad could it get, right? I hadn’t been hurt so far, and Josh reassured me that nothing had ever happened to him. It was all noises and flickering lights.

So the next morning, I found myself at his house yet again. During the day time, everything looked as normal as it could be.

By now I’d calmed down, and by now I wasn’t so sure about his story anymore.

The cats came up to me the moment I entered the place. When I checked my phone, I saw that it was almost 10 pm. The poor little buggers seemed to be hungry, and the moment I’d refilled their feeding blows, they churned down their food.

I was about to leave again, but nothing had ever happened during the day. If anything weird were to happen, I could put down some food and water for the cats by 8 pm and get the hell out of there.

So that day I made sure to take care of all the cat duty Josh had given me. I let them out into the kennel for the afternoon, groomed them in the early evening, and once it was 8 pm, I fed them again.

There was no hint of anything strange happening, and once more I wondered how much was true about Josh’s story.

Instead of going home then and there, I picked up my laptop and settled down on the couch. I went on Google and started searching for any proof of his story.

At first, I found various articles about orphanage related murders and other atrocities. Once I’d narrowed my search down, I noticed a specific brief article.

‘The Horror of Sister Maria – Gruesome Murders at Orphanage’

The article detailed the same story that Josh had told me before. In March 1972, the caretaker of an orphanage, named Sister Maria, had murdered all the children she was overseeing.

The name of the orphanage told me nothing, but when I saw the address, I knew that it was the very same building I was in at the moment.

You’ve got to be freaking kidding me, I cursed. For a moment a feeling of apprehension flooded me and I wondered if Sister Maria had murdered some of the kids right here, in this very room. My eyes darted around, but there was nothing, of course, apart from one of the cats sitting near me.

I petted the little bugger as went back to the article. Then the cat suddenly jerked up, his ears rose and his eyes darted around.

It was a few seconds later that I heard it too. I froze, searching for the source of the noise before I realized it was coming from outside.

I’d barely gotten up when three muffled bangs from the front door and wailing reached me. Step by step, I made my way to figure out what the hell was going on. I’d made it to the hallway when I heard another bang, this one against one of the living room windows.

For a moment I noticed a shadowy figure outside before it vanished again. Then there was another bang, from a different window followed by more wailing.

And then I saw the outlines of a face pressed against the window, staring right at me.

12. ‘If you hear a knock against the window in the middle of the night, ignore it. She will leave again if you don’t acknowledge her.’

That was the moment I lost it. That was the moment I knew this entire thing was real. Her. He’d written it specifically. It had to be the spirit, the ghost of the caretaker.

Before it had been noises, flickering lights, something I could deal with, something I could tell myself was a coincidence. But this, this was different.

Once more the figure vanished, I heard more wailing before I heard it from a different window.

‘She will leave again if you don’t acknowledge her.’

I’d stared right at her, hadn’t I?

What if this thing, this ghost, was no coming after me? For a moment I thought I could hear the counting voice again from somewhere in the house, and at that moment I ran.

I was at the front door in an instant, ripped it open, and stumbled outside.

And right at that moment, I saw it. To my right, in the middle of Josh’s garden, there was the shadowy figure of a woman.

When it took one step towards me, panic flooded over me and I dashed from the house towards my car and jumped into it.

When I turned it on and the headlights flooded the area, I could’ve sworn there was more than one figure.

I noped it the fuck out of there without ever looking back.

Once back home, I was a mess.

Fuck the house, fuck the cats and fuck Josh. I’d never go near his damned house EVER again.

I only sent Josh a single message.

‘I’m done with this shit.’

Then I turned the damn thing off.

I was too shaken up about everything that had happened that day. Before I’d tried to tell myself that it was all a hoax, nothing but a stupid prank, but after what I’d seen tonight, I couldn’t do it anymore.

That night I didn’t sleep. Instead, I turned on every damn light in my small apartment, put on the dumbest movie I could find, and tried my best to distract myself. It didn’t work. Every single sound in the entire freaking building made me jerk up. I was a shaking mess.

Only when the sun came up was I able to relax, if only a bit.

It was by ten in the morning that my doorbell rang. When I opened the front door I was surprised and confused to find Josh outside. His face was white, almost sick looking, and he seemed to be as shaken as I was.

“Hey man, we need to talk,” he said the moment he saw me. No greeting, no nothing, right to business.

I stepped aside to let him inside. I laid into him right away, asking him what the hell the matter with his house was and why he was even back right now. He was quick to raise a hand to tell me to be quiet.

“I think you better sit down, there’s a lot I’ve got to tell you. We, no, I fucked up,” he started.

With that, he told me the entire thing. All he’d done, and all that had happened.

As it turned out Josh’s home was the definition of a smart home, much smarter than I’d ever expected. There were cameras, sensors, hidden speakers all over the place. He told me he liked to play music all over the house, so he’d installed speakers all over the house. Most of them were concealed and not visible. If you didn’t know they were there, you had no clue they existed.

I stared at him, not understanding what he was going on about, but then he dropped me a fucking bomb.

He’d been fucking with me. The entire thing was an elaborate hoax, just as I’d expected. He’d occasionally used speakers to play tricks on his guests. With me, though, he upped the ante a little.

At first, he only added a bunch of weird rules to his list of instructions to play a joke on me. Soon enough, he got a much more devious idea. He programmed his entire freaking house to act out at specific times during the evening and night. Lights would turn on and off, the TV would play static and weird noises would be played from various speakers in the house. He even recorded himself crying in his office.

He even created an elaborate backstory for his house, one that was complete and utter bullshit.

“But, I read that article,” I started. When he looked at me, a mixture of misery and embarrassment visible on his face, I knew the truth right away. He’d even planted a fake article about his house.

When it all sank in, I went freaking livid on him, calling him every name in the book while he sat there, embarrassed and guilty.

Then I stopped. If it was all a joke, then what about last night? What about that ghost I’d seen?

I confronted him right away. I told him it was so beyond fucked up to even hire someone to scare me like that.

That’s when Josh cast down his eyes and I heard him inhale sharply.

“That woman, she wasn’t part of it,” he pressed out in a low voice.

“What the fuck do you mean? Are you trying to tell me she was an actual fucking ghost!?”

“No,” he answered, shaking his head.

“Last night, a man broke into the home of one of my neighbors, Miss Graham, an older woman living by herself. The police’s still investigating, but the man must’ve attacked her, but could not restrain her. She got away, badly injured, and made her way to the house closest to hers to call for help.”

“Yours,” I answered with a shaken voice.

Josh nodded.

“W-what happened to her?” I pressed out after a few seconds of silence.

Josh stayed quiet for a long while, only answering after I’d repeated the question a second time, this time louder.

“Got a call from the police in the middle of the night. My alarm was eventually set off and police checked it out. They found her beaten to death at the back porch of the house.”

I couldn’t speak. My world started spinning, and I almost crashed to the floor.

That’s when I realized what I’d seen that night, who the figures I’d seen were, and what I’d done.

Instead of helping poor Miss Graham, I’d ignored her and left her there to die.

All because I’d followed Josh’s stupid list of rules.