A stranger knocks on the door of the apartment occupied by the R. family. He warns them that an epidemic is spreading in town. Death usually ensues in 3 days and is preceded by swelling, blisters, and redness of the skin. Mice are suspected to carry the disease. The young man appears ill but claims to be a survivor and now immune to the epidemic. He advises the family to remain indoors, avoid mice, and practice strict hygiene. He offers to bring food. The family is skeptical and declines his offer of assistance.

Soon the city is ravaged by the disease. TV and phone stop working. Violence and looting are rampant. Nikolai, the father, regularly goes out at night to rob food and supplies for his family. Sometimes he kills. When he returns home, he always cleans himself thoroughly. He lives with his wife, Elena, their daughter, and Elena's parents.

The family's cat is outside on the balcony and hungry so they bring it inside. The animal eats a mouse, and afterwards the little girl kisses the cat on its mouth. The adults are horrified. They quarantine the child in her bedroom along with the cat. After 3 days, there is no sound or activity in the bedroom. The girl is presumed dead. The cat is alive and escapes. The child's parents and grandparents manifest signs of the infection and die.

Six days after his initial visit, the young man who warned the R. family returns to the apartment building. The place is silent except for the meowing of a cat. The stranger breaks into the apartment and sees 4 dead bodies. Inside the barricaded bedroom, he finds the little girl alive and recovering from the infection. Next to her in bed is the pet cat.


This creepy and cautionary tale says plenty about the price of survival. Levels of humanity rise (the stranger) and fall (the father) when ordinary people are confronted by a lethal plague. The difference between right and wrong is blurred, forgotten, or deliberately ignored in the face of a highly contagious epidemic. The father degenerates into a criminal and murderer. The little girl is confined to a bedroom that becomes an unsanitary jail cell.

Hygiene commonly refers to the maintenance of good physical health or the prevention of disease. In this twisted tale, there is a prominent dearth of spiritual hygiene and ethical cleanliness. One moral of this story is painfully obvious: Too much family togetherness can be hazardous to your health - especially when a family owns a cat.


The story is translated by Keith Gessen and Anna Summers.

Primary Source

There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales (pp 23-35)


Penguin Books

Place Published

New York



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