April 9th

It’s April 9th. I walk, slowly, down the sun-soaked pavement and up the hill. It’s hot for this time of year—too hot, and my back is already dripping with sweat, leaving an ugly dark stain on the back of my shirt. My mother would gripe and complain at me for not running home and changing, but she isn’t here. There’s no need to listen to her, even though her high-pitched voice has somehow followed me through three jack-shit cars, two college dorms, and an extensive collection of ex-boyfriends. I don’t walk with purpose; I am aimless, lost. This town is tiny and I feel just as small, unsure of myself amongst the people who have known me since before I could even toddle. They all know me. Think they know me, of course, because how could anyone possibly know me when I’m not even sure if I know myself? But anyway, everyone is friendly here, in a snobbish, offhand sort of way, and so I can’t walk down the street without someone calling my name.

I ignore them.

No one can say anything, of course. I’m the preacher’s daughter and they better stay damn far away from me, or I’ll put in a word with my father, who’ll put in a word with the Man Upstairs, and then they’ll all go to hell. But in a handbasket, of course! I’ve heard the Devil likes a good snack before bed.

I walk into the nearest convenient store, something with a stupid name I never can remember—something along the lines of Dog-O-Malley or King of the Corner. My mother would be brought to tears if she saw the sketchy looking men who hang around here. I shrug at them, even as their eyes linger on me longer than they probably should.

My flip-flops slapping against the grimy tile floor, I plod over to the little fridges, where they keep the beer and wine-coolers and other such things I’m not old enough yet to drink. I dig around for a moment, trying to find something I like, my skin practically steaming as it makes contact with the cold air blasting full in my face. The sun has made me burnt and stupid and sleepy. I’m delirious.

Finding nothing appealing in the fridges, I go for the nearest six-pack I can find, not bothering to see what flavor, and slide over to the cashier, a middle-aged man with skin red as a tomato and a potbelly he can’t seem to stop scratching at.

The man at the counter takes the six-pack from me, scans it.

He looks at me.

I look at him.

Then, with a harsh sniff of his rather disgustingly rotund nose, he hands it back to me without so much as a word. I pay him in cash, a big fat wad of dollar bills my father handed me before the weekend started, when he figured I’d be out doing things like this—drinking, partying, smoking—just with people my own age, not wandering around on my own through town with no purpose and no idea what to do with myself. Underage drinking is not encouraged here. Of course not, that would be stupid. It is, however, tacitly ignored.

Before I know it, I’ve made 13th street and three of the bottles are empty. I’ve left them scattered on the ground for someone else to clean up. I’m sure it bothers anyone who sees. The man at the bank growls at me underneath his breath. The woman pushing the stroller up Main Street shakes her head in dismay. But again, no one says anything. (Hell! Handbaskets! Fiery damnation!)

I don’t even realize where I’m headed until it’s too late to turn back, till I’ve landed myself right-smack in the middle of town and there is no one left to scowl at me and all there is is silence and gravestones and emptiness in the world. I stumble over a rock and slosh beer all over the grass, losing my left flip-flop in the process. I feel like an idiot for coming here. I shouldn’t be here. I can’t be here.

I start to turn back, but something stops me, keeps me anchored here. I have to see him. What kind of a big sister would I be if I didn’t at least say hi? I take another swig of beer and careen forward.

By the time I make it to his little tombstone, I’m wasted.

Advertisements

Kara Whitewing

I wrote this short-story when I was staying with a friend over a three-day weekend. Their cat, Seattle, inspired me to write this. I hope you like it!

 

“It’s staring at me again,” I insisted.

My Uncle, Jeremy Whitewing, sighed and looked up from his novel to give me a strained smile. “Grisly is a very curious creature, my dear. I wouldn’t concern myself.”

I slowly looked up, higher and higher until I was met with the pensive stare of Grisly, Uncle Jeremy’s scrawny cross-breed cat, who sat perched on the bookshelf above me. His green eyes were like little emeralds, big and round and curious. Grisly was a beautiful thing, I suppose. I would think him regal if he wasn’t so…well, if he wasn’t so disturbing.

Grisly had never harmed me. On the contrary, I had been staying with my Uncle here in London for almost an entire week now and he had never so much as laid a paw on me. But still he frightened me. There was something about him that was just…unnatural. My Uncle thought I was being silly, of course. Through his eyes, I was only a delicate little child who needed to be sheltered and protected from my own wildfire imagination.

But of course his house didn’t exactly cage my imagination, now, did it? The massive five-story structure bathed in shadow had my mind positively reeling with horrible fears. The neighbors called it the Library House because of the hundreds of thousands of books that my eccentric Uncle owned, but it was, in fact, officially titled Whitewing Manor. I had read too many dark novels not to be frightened by the dark corridors and off-limits basement. Uncle Jeremy had owned this house for decades, but it was only recently that I had convinced my mother to let me come and stay with him.

Believe it or not, she didn’t much like him. Her brother-in-law, this widowing recluse with his house piled with books and a head full of nonsense, was not someone she cared for. He was only allowed to see me at Christmas, but he hadn’t actually come to visit until last year.

It had been incredibly odd when he’d showed up, dressed in a fine black suit and burdened with presents for all. I hadn’t known what to say. What can you say when the Uncle you’ve never known is perched upon your doorstep, smiling through a frosted beard?

Grisly meowed at me, as if seconding my Uncle’s reasoning. I clutched the arm of the lime-green chair I was sitting in and tried not to shake. Grisly stood up and stretched, yawning lazily. What a lucky little creature, I thought. How quaint it must be to wander the manor and not be frightened by anything because you are, in fact, the predator as you pad along looking for a foolish mouse upon which to pounce. 

My Uncle pushed his glasses higher atop the bridge of his nose and returned to his thick dusty book. I inched away from Grisly, who was moving slowly towards me. His coat was glossy from the shampooing my Uncle had done this morning, but I dare not reach out and touch the cat for fear of the unknown.

The unknown. That’s what it truly comes down to. There was something…strange, peculiar about this cat and I was afraid to find out what it was. The way Grisly looked at me was so chilling that there had to be some reason for it. Every time he passed, my skin turned to goose-flesh and I found myself shivering as if there had been a sudden gust of icy wind. Why was that? Part of me wanted to know and the other part of me screamed that being ignorant would be safer. Much, much safer.

“May I read one of your books?” I asked Uncle Jeremy.

He looked at me with a twinkle in his pale blue eyes and grinned. Suddenly it was like he was decades younger, just a whimsical boy in his father’s over-sized suit and too-thick glasses. In that moment he was more than just an uncle, he was my friend.

“Why, yes, Kara. But only if you speak the magic word.”

I hesitated for a moment. “Peanut.”

He threw his head back as he giggled. “No, foolish child! I changed it.”

I shook my head, disbelieving. “Uncle…not again.”

“Yes, again! Now guess.”

“How am I possibly going to guess? It could be anything.”

“True, true. But it won’t be nothing, so that should make it easier on you.”

“How is that supposed to make it easier?”

He shrugged and didn’t respond.

I went through the mental list in my head of past passwords. “Scuttle-bum.”

“No.”

“Crab-stuffing.”

“No!”

“Please, Uncle, just let me read a book.”

“Let me give you a hint, child: ‘Thistles and thorns; Unicorn horns.”

“‘Magical Fae, dancing by day,” I finished, realizing at once what he talking about. “Is the magic word ‘fae’?”

My Uncle laughed gleefully and patted my hand. “Ah, you’ve grown into a scholar, my dear! Do you recall when I wrote you that poem?”

“For my birthday, I believe.”

“Indeed, Kara, indeed! And it is such a great relief to me to know that you remember.”

“How could I ever forget?”

“So you really liked it?”

“Of course, Uncle.”

“Good, good. But…I have a confession to make.” His eyes grew wider and he leaned forward as if to reveal some great and terrible secret. “Grisly wrote it, not I.”

“That’s ridiculous!” I laughed, casting my eyes in Grisly’s direction. He stared at me solemnly, as did Uncle Jeremy. Unease snaked through me. “Y-you’re only joking, aren’t you? Cats can’t talk.”

“Grisly is a very special feline, I assure you.”

“Uncle, please. Don’t toy with me.”

“I never toy with you! Well…That’s not entirely true–but I’m not toying with you now!”

I stood up and gave him a kiss on his slightly weathered cheek. Age had not withheld it’s wrath upon the kind middle-aged man. It was a wonder he didn’t have to use a cane.

“I’m going to bed now,” I told him. “Goodnight.”

He grasped my hand. “Believe me.”

“But cats can’t talk,” I said softly. I didn’t want to upset him, but I couldn’t let him live the rest of his life thinking his stupid old cat was able to speak.

“Grisly can! I promise.”

I wrapped him in a hug. “Goodnight, Uncle Jeremy.”

“Goodnight, Kara. We shall discuss this further in the morning.”

I nodded and started down the hall. I didn’t have to look behind me to know that Grisly followed; I could sense him. I opened my door and glanced over my shoulder. He sat a ways behind me, licking his paw and watching me. I met Grisly’s wide-eyed gaze and tried to smile. It was only a cat. Only a cat. Only a cat.

It happened so quickly that I thought for a moment I was mistaken. But then he did it again and I was sure it wasn’t just my imagination. He was winking at me. The scrawny little cat was really winking at me!

I shivered and went inside my room, locking the door behind myself.I refused to think about that blasted cat and pushed him far into the darkest corner of my mind as I prepared myself for bed. I slid onto silky embrace of the bed and tried not to think about Grisly, or how dark it was without a candle, or how terribly lonely it was in that big empty bedroom.

Only a cat. Only a cat.

I woke up in the middle of the night to a strange whining sound. I sat up slowly and shivered, suddenly cold and very frightened. The noise sounded human. I donned my robe and went next door to my Uncle’s room. I found him sound asleep in his bed, snoring quietly. I smiled and realized that the whining sound was gone. Thinking I must have been dreaming, I went back to bed and didn’t hear it again.

After breakfast the next morning, I went outside to do some reading. My Uncle had allowed me to read some of his novels because I had forgotten all about it after he told me that Grisly could talk. He didn’t mention talking cats again, but I could tell it was on his mind. He chose to stay in the house and told me he would be in the study if I needed him.

I found myself a quaint little elm tree and began to read. I was halfway through the novel when I got a sudden chill. I looked up and suddenly Grisly was there in front of me, sitting on the trunk of the tree, just looking at me pensively.

“You frightened me,” I said to him with a sigh. He padded forward, tail flirting with the air, and rested himself inside my lap. “You’ll get hair on my dress, silly.”

Grisly meowed and licked my hand. I found myself smiling. He might be a terrifying, mysterious little creature but he was still very sweet. I stroked his glossy coat and kissed the top of his head.

As if woken from a trance, his head shot up and he looked at me for a moment before bounding away. As he disappeared round the corner, I sighed. What a strange animal.

I didn’t see hide nor hair of Grisly or my Uncle for the rest of the day. I had a quiet lunch and dinner alone, and I went to bed as soon as the shadows fell. I wasn’t one who liked darkness. Especially in this creaky old house.

That night I dreamed that Uncle Jeremy sneaked in my room to kiss my head and say goodnight. Grisly had been with him, just looking at me with those big, slanted green eyes. I had asked my Uncle about it in the morning, but he just shook his head and told me he hadn’t come in my room.

“How do you usually spend your Sundays?” Uncle Jeremy asked me later as we sat in the study.

“Reading. And sleeping.”

“Have you gotten enough sleep?”

“Yes.”

“And I don’t suppose one could ever tire of reading.”

“I suppose not.”

He bit the corner of his lip. “How would you feel about perhaps playing with Grisly? He’s seemed quite out-of-sorts this morning. I’m certain seeing you will cheer him up.”

“Couldn’t you?”

“I’m afraid I have work to do. I’m going into town, actually, but I don’t want to leave Grisly all alone. Would you mind terribly if I left you here with him for a few hours?”

Yes, I thought. I would mind. Instead I shrugged and stood up. ”Alright. Where is he?”

“Around here, somewhere. Consider it a scavenger hunt.”

“I’ll see you at dinner, then?”

“Yes. Enjoy yourself, Kara. A sixteen-year-old girl like yourself should be having glorious fun on a Sunday.”

“Glorious fun,” I repeated. “Yes, I suppose I should. Goodbye.”

It took me a good long while to find Grisly. His hiding place was a very shadowy spot behind the living room couch. I coaxed him out by waving an apple slice in front of his cold pinkish nose. He ate the apple and then resumed staring at me with a rather sad look on his face.

“What’s wrong, Grisly?” I asked.

The cat shuddered, nose twitching, back arching. He looked straight at me, eyes reflecting the light and making them look like they glowed red. Or were they really glowing red? I blinked and shot down the stairs. I knew he followed, heard his little steps on the slippery wooden floor. When I reached the foot of the stairs, I glanced over my shoulder. His neck moved forward and back, and he looked oddly panicked. A strange sound arose from the back of his throat, like a gravelly coughing noise. I rolled my eyes and flushed, embarrassed by my jumpiness. He was coughing up a fur-ball, nothing more.

I went into my room and read for the rest of the day, staying locked in the bedroom even when my Uncle knocked on the door and told me dinner was prepared.  I lied by saying I wasn’t hungry and he soon went away. Thoughts of Grisly bounced around in my head; I was starting to become slightly obsessed with that nasty cat, which was foolish and dangerous. There was nothing to fear from him, just as Uncle Jeremy had said. He was just an innocent little cat who coughed up balls of fur.

I awoke from a nightmare at around three in the morning, clutching my chest. My breath came in rasps. I only recalled fragments of my dream: screams, blood, Grisly.

I put on my robe and sat in the window seat. The full moon shone through the lone window, illuminating the bedroom in a soft pale glow. I began to breathe normally again and felt rather at peace.

Thump, thump. 

What was that? I wondered.

Thump, thump. There it was again, a strange noise that sounded like it was coming from the room above mine. Curiosity over-ruled my fear and I found myself creeping up the stairs, holding a freshly lit candle in one hand and the corner of my robe in the other. I went into the room cautiously, heart thumping against my chest as if it wished to escape.

There was furniture in the room, but it was all covered by white sheets. No one was present, and for a moment the house was silent.

Thump, thump. 

It sounded as if something was thrashing around in the closet. I took a shaky breath and flung open the door. I stuck the candle forward and gasped.

I was running, running, running. I had to tell Uncle Jeremy. What I thought I saw just wasn’t possible. He would tell me I was silly, tell me to go back to bed. He would fix this.

I sprinted into his bedroom and shook him awake. Face streaked with tears, I relayed to him what I had discovered in that horrible closet. At once he turned pale and put his frail arms around me. Suddenly I no longer felt safe within his embrace. He was just as scared as I.

“Certainly I was mistaken?” I begged him.

“We shall soon see,” He determined. After donning his silky white shirt and robe, he took my hand and together we tip-toed back into the abandoned room.

There it was, rolling back in forth on the floor. Thump, thump. It was slimy and ghastly, its blue veins showing prominently through pale, sheet-like skin. It had the form of a young man, naked, thrashing about violently. It was covered in a membrane-like slime, like a chick fresh out of an egg. It took all my courage not to scream.

My Uncle knelt beside the creature and put a hand on its back. I lurched forward to stop him. The pale thing stopped moving suddenly. Uncle Jeremy sighed.

“W-what is it?” I asked in a hoarse voice.

“Grisly.”

My mouth fell open. “What? Uncle, you can’t be serious!”

“But I am, Kara.”

Has he gone mad? I thought worriedly as Uncle Jeremy wrapped the creature in his expensive new robe. He carried that pale thing up the stairs, ignoring me as I peppered him with questions. My Uncle tucked the strange thing into an untouched bed and wiped its face with his sleeve.

I watched over his shoulder and examined the creature. It looked human enough, paler than usual but human still. It had a chiseled features, reddish brown hair, and curved pale lips. It was breathing normally, taking deep gulps of air as if it could never get enough.

“I suppose I ought to explain,”  Uncle Jeremy said, giving me a sad look that asked me to say he didn’t have to.

“Yes. What in the world is going on?”

“There was a legend,” My Uncle said slowly, chewing on his words before spitting them out. “About a certain group of elite Fae that would put spells upon individuals who had sinned.”

Fabulous, I thought grimly. He has gone loopy. 

“I hadn’t believed in it, of course, until I saw Grisly in the pet shop three months ago. There was something very strange about him.” Uncle Jeremy sighed. “I’ve been having dreams. Visions. Fragments of the future in which I see myself, and I see Grisly, but most importantly I see you. The Fae have been talking to me in my sleep, Kara. They’ve been telling me things about you. So I came last Christmas and I befriended you.” He smiled. “You are a splendid child. I soon grew attached. The Fae encouraged me in my sleep. I…I begged your mother to let you stay with me. I knew it somehow all had to do with Grisly, I just didn’t know what ‘it’ was.”

“Uncle, please. I’m certain that this is all a nightmare and I’m going to wake up quite soon. Please just stop talking nonsense.”

“It isn’t nonsense,” Said a deep voice from behind me. I whirled around and found myself looking into familiar big green eyes.

So it speaks English! I thought in awe.

“I wish you would stop referring to me as an ‘it’, Kara,” He continued. “Because I’m quite male.”

“So I’ve noticed,” I said, my eyes wandering to his bare chest.

He sat up slowly, weakly. ”Perhaps I can answer your questions.”

“Please do,” Uncle Jeremy said with a nod.

The young man stretched his neck, similarly to how Grisly used to, I realized. “My name is Lewis Fairbanks. I’m eighteen years old and I assure you I’m human. Last year I upset the elite Fae your Uncle spoke of. He’s right. The fae put a hex on me that turned me into a cat.”

“Then how did you rid yourself of the hex?” Uncle Jeremy asked, forehead crinkling as he knit his brow.

Lewis pointed at me. “She kissed me.”

My Uncle grinned mischievously. “Ah, I should have known. True love will break most any spell.”

“But I do not love him!” I sputtered. Even Lewis looked uncomfortable now.

“You must or the kiss would not have eradicated the spell.”

“He’s right,” Lewis pointed out.

“But for love to be true, mustn’t it be mutual?” I snapped at him.

He flushed a deep red. “Y-you’ve always been kind to me.”

My shoulders slumped. “What are you saying?”

My Uncle giggled. “Don’t be foolish, child! He’s telling you of his undying love!”

“I don’t know about that,” Lewis said quickly. “But…I do like you very much,” He admitted.

I shuddered. “This has been quite a trying night. I’m going back to bed. Goodnight.” Lewis reached out to stop me, but I left before he could reach my arm. I went to my room and laid there in my bed, listening. I could hear Lewis and Uncle Jeremy talking in low voices across the hall. I listened, shaking, until I fell into a fitful sleep.

For the next two weeks, I avoided Lewis and Uncle Jeremy as much as possible. My Uncle didn’t seemed to mind because he was preoccupied with helping Lewis recollect his human traits. Occasionally Lewis coughed up a hair ball, but besides that he was making excellent progress, or so Uncle Jeremy said. I stayed away from them, thinking deeply and trying not to go absolutely bonkers.

The whole idea of hexes and fairies was just so…ridiculous. But whenever he saw me, my Uncle would suggest I read a book about them. Apparently he had a whole shelf dedicated to fantasy creatures and myths.

One stuffy August afternoon, I wandered into his private library and sat down to look at some of the suggested books. The creaking of the floorboards gave Lewis’s presence away. I looked up at him and forced a smile. I might not like him, but I should still maintain politeness.

“I’m sorry to disturb you,” He said, flushing. “But I was wondering…would you like to take a walk with me?”

I hesitated. It could be dangerous. After all, I knew practically nothing about this young man except for the fact that he had once been a very scrawny black-and-white cat.

“Um…yes.” I stood up and looped my arm through his. Together we went outside and walked around the grounds. We didn’t say much at first, but soon we began talking about London and the arts. Apparently he had been a struggling artist’s son before he was turned into a feline.

For the next month or so, Lewis and I talked more often. Uncle Jeremy often told me how happy he was that we were becoming friends. And I wondered late one night as I lay in bed…was that all we were?

I would’ve slept longer, probably all day just because I was so exhausted, but Lewis woke me at about ten in the morning.

“I’m sorry to wake you, but you Uncle told not to let you sleep past ten,” Lewis told me, standing awkwardly a few paces away from my bed. I sat up and suddenly felt quite self-conscience. After all, my hair was a mess and I was only in a very thin, short nightgown.

“You look beautiful, Kara, ” Lewis said.

I blushed. “Thank you. Um…is breakfast ready?”

“Yes. I thought perhaps we could eat on the porch? Your Uncle went into town to buy some vegetables, but he made some eggs before he left.”

“Lovely. I’ll only be a moment.”

“I’ll be waiting.” Lewis smiled and left.

After I had donned my finest dress and pinned up my hair, I met Lewis on the porch. We ate our breakfast and drank our tea, chattering away like old friends. He looked at me with that same pensive gaze as when he was a cat. It was strange to see him so vibrant, so alive, so…human.

“It is wonderful, being able to truly speak,” Lewis said later as we were walking outside. “Meowing just doesn’t get the point across.”

I laughed. “I suppose not.”

His expression darkened. “But felines are graceful creatures. I miss having such agility.”

I smiled. “You are still graceful. You must be a splendid dancer.”

“Why don’t we find out?”

I laughed as he swept me forward, into his arms, and moved me slowly through the dance steps. He was, as I’d guessed, a wonderful dancer. His movements were so fluid, so perfect, that I found myself wondering what a beautiful boy like that could have done to offend a fairy enough to turn him into a cat.

“So what was your sin?” I blurted out.

Lewis’s smile faded. “I don’t wish to discuss it.”

“Please, Lewis.”

He sighed. “You will think me a coward.”

“Never.”

Lewis hesitated, staring at his shoes. “It was two years ago. I was walking home from Town, when I saw a large man beating a little boy in an alleyway. The boy looked right at me. He was screaming.” He sighed. “I will never forget the look on his face. I should have stopped the man, or gone for help, but I didn’t. I just ran away, like the coward that I am. It turns out that the boy was the son of a fairy. The boy died and the Fae council held me responsible.  They were right to do so; I completely deserved my sentence.”

I looped my arm through his. “The past is past. But, Lewis…thank you for sharing that with me.”

His smile returned. “And thank you for the dance.”

I beamed. “It was my pleasure.”

My heart fluttered as I realized that he still had his hand poised at my waist and we were less than two inches from each other. He seemed to notice it too and smiled sheepishly. I pecked his cheek then turned away quickly, blushing. He smiled and we went back inside.

For the next few days, that kiss on the cheek was all I could think about. I found myself flushing bright red whenever Lewis was around, and he had a very similar reaction. Uncle Jeremy couldn’t have been more pleased by this turn of events, as he expressed to me often.

“I knew you two were in love,” He told me one morning as he and I sat in his study.

“But are we? I-Is it love?” I stuttered.

My Uncle beamed proudly. “I was in love once, you know, with your Aunt Eliza. I used to look at her the same was Lewis gazes upon you now. True love is a wonderful thing. Embrace it, child.” He grinned. “I suppose you’re not a child anymore, though, are you?”

A smile curved on my lips. “I suppose not.”

Lewis knocked on the door and entered. He smiled at me and didn’t even seem to notice Uncle Jeremy, who just leaned back in his chair and admired us with that childish twinkle in his eyes.

“Hello, Kara,” He said softly.

I flushed. “Good morning, Lewis.”

“I-I was wondering if you…if you would do me a favor.” He twisted uncomfortably.

“Yes?”

“Would you allow me to court you?”

I stood up and wrapped my arms around him. “I thought you’d never ask.”

My Uncle squealed with delight. “Splendid! It was about time you asked her, dear boy.”

“I was afraid I’d asked too soon,” Lewis admitted.

I laughed, then leaned forward and kissed him on the lips. “Don’t listen to a word he says, Lewis. Your timing was perfect.”