A shrill cry pierced the darkness, which began to pitch and sway, to dwindle away into waves of eternity. As the cry echoed again darkness receded further, like seas parting to reveal an endless, gnawing abyss. Tod startled awake to strange, unworldly sounds echoing throughout the dark. The feel of very real Egyptian cotton gliding across bare skin somewhat calmed his shaken nerves, until he was kicked in the ribs by a screeching Harpy. Years ago his first instinct would’ve called for immediate defense; nowadays, he unfortunately knew better.
This isn’t happening, he groaned to himself, rubbing his closed eyes as he shifted onto his side. Pillow back in his arms he curled up and made himself comfortable again. A hard hit to his back made him snort. Finally bothered into engaging, he rolled back to glare over his shoulder.
Dim light framed the woman sitting up next to him, her long dark hair coiling like Medusa’s snakes around her equally angry face. She started gesturing wildly as she yelled. “What the fuck is wrong with your fucking cat!?”
Tired eyes narrow, Tod stared at her. He only managed a, “Huh?”
“Your crazy cat, you asshole!” As she yelled, the girl shoved Tod by his exposed shoulder. “I thought you locked that shit up in the living room! Fucking thing tried to claw my face off — just now!”
Tod stared on, confused. Little of her screamfest registered, which somehow incited the girl to shove him again. “Are you even listening to me!?”
“Sure,” he lied. Grunting, Tod flattened onto his back while grating his palms against his eyes, hopefully to some sort of better awakeness.
Slowly he began to register his surroundings: the blinding nightlight flooding bare walls, the silence permeating the room and, he didn’t think, the rooms in his mind; and most enticing, the soft mattress beckoning sleep. He let out a long sigh then and, was the girl not still glaring at him like an angry crocodile about to strike, he would’ve fallen asleep right then. Instead, he forced himself upright to survey the dark, quiet bedroom. There was nothing to see. Even if his cat, Miss Kitty, had snuck into the room, she was clearly gone. And besides,
“It’s okay,” Tod said then, plopping down to roll back onto his pillow-hugging side, “she does that to everyone.”
Within seconds a foot kicked him in the back, and off the bed.
Groaning, and admittedly a little upset now, he forced himself back up onto hands and knees, ignoring the insults and enraged comments he simply didn’t have the willpower to deal with at, “2:57 a.m.?” Tod grunted a sigh, then grinded his palms across his face in the hopes of fully waking himself up. Of course, he figured, this mess had to happen on his rare night off. Every time he brought someone home, Miss Kitty made it her sole duty to either claim his lap as her fortress, or to wiggle her purring self between him and his guest, or to wake the girl up in the middle of the night. Why could she never leave them alone? As he wondered, a pillow hit him in the back of the head.
The girl, whom he’d almost forgotten about, screamed. “Are you listening to me, you asshole!?”
Tod let out an exasperated sigh. “Yeah, yeah. Look, I gotta get up early — “
“Are you for fucking real!?”
His answer to that would, obviously, be a ‘yes’, but Tod figured that might not be the right answer to give an angry, irrational woman on a hitting spree. So he straightened onto his knees and rested his arms on the bed’s edge and, fluffy carpet pleasantly grazing his skin, he stared a while at the girl’s twitching eyes before picking an answer. He settled for, “What?”
“Your cat tries to kill me and all you can say is,” and she took on a deeper, mocking tone, “‘Hey I’ve got to get up in the morning’!?”
“Well, it’s true enough.”
The girl screamed again, and she pulled back her pillow-holding hand with the clear intention, Tod knew, of hitting him in the face with it, but a displacement on the sheets tore her attention away. She shrieked like a Fury and flung her pillow at a different corner of the bed, clutching then the sheets up to her chest as were they a shield. A sort of quiet filled the room then, pleasant and too short-lived, as beyond the girl’s sniveling breaths he heard a telltale scratching noise that, Tod could tell, was headed his way. When it was close, he leaned down and looked under the bed.
A big, bright pair of wide-pupiled blue eyes stared back. Tod smiled.
He whispered, “Come here,” then reached beneath the bed and pulled her white fluffy majesty out by her sides, and up into his arms, where she immediately settled. As he stroked her back she thrust her purring head against his cheek, whiskers tickling his face, and everything felt right with the world again. Her warmth made Tod forget all about his surroundings, and, for a precious few moments, all that existed was Miss Kitty, the pushy cat who’d saved his life years ago by attacking another homeless man’s dog. He could never be mad at her, even when he suddenly felt her claws rip through his skin. Her warmth was gone.
Wincing, a hand at his bleeding chest, Tod looked up — just in time to witness the girl holding Miss Kitty by the scruff of her neck and tossing her across the room. She hit the closed bay window with a loud thud. Tod’s breath stopped.
He tried to make for the window but found himself caught by the back of his head and pulled back, tense fingers tight upon thick hair. His face was snapped up so he could see the girl’s now, and the unwarranted violence glinting in her hideous eyes.
Something stirred in his pounding heart. She spoke, and he didn’t listen; instead he gripped her jaw and squeezed, fingertips upon bone, his palm squashing the horrible noises she still tried to make. He said, slowly, quietly, “Get out.”
He felt her heart twitch along her skin, every sob-like breath warm against his hand. He didn’t let go. Instead he hammered, “Pick up your clothes and get out.”
Fear flickered through her eyes — only for so long. Her expression hardened from one heartbeat to the next; rage flared and made her body jerk. She released his hair and, in the seconds that followed, left him no time to brace himself for the hard slap that came, all too fast, all too expected. To avoid more drama he stayed quiet, hand on his prickling cheek, eyes upon nothingness. He listened to the mattress squeak as she rose to her soon stomping feet.
Quietude came to a hissing, yowling halt.
Miss Kitty had flattened herself by the window, wide-pupiled eyes fixed on the girl as she yowled, licking her snout, bottle-brush tail flicking back and forth. He didn’t have time to warn the girl; Miss Kitty lunged at her like a cobra and clawed up her leg and thigh, leaving a trail of blood and hysteria in her wake. Screaming girl and cat stumbled out of the door, to Tod’s horror. He hurried back onto his feet and followed suit to, steps away from the threshold, stumble aside gasping as a white haze shot through the air, flailing and hissing; as soon as she’d landed Miss Kitty already rustled up on her paws, meowing, yowling, spewing forth her rage. And she would certainly have sprinted again to go and finish the girl off, Tod knew, so he did all he could: he knelt down to block her sight, and reached out. Unsurprisingly, Miss Kitty returned the gesture all claws out. Even with stinging, bleeding, ripped-up hands, Tod kept Miss Kitty distracted until he heard the door to his apartment slam shut.
“It’s okay,” he said then to his cat, wincing from every new feline strike, “She’s gone. Calm down.”
But Miss Kitty only yowled louder, meowing her discontent well after Tod’s downstairs neighbors had begun banging against the ceiling. She tried to scratch at them through the carpet then, white tufts tossed in the air like dandelion fuzz. She wasn’t going to stop. His hands could take no more.
“You really are one crazy cat,” he said, risking a quick pat on her hips. Miss Kitty hissed and snapped around with a clawing paw that Tod manage to evade. He smiled at this victory; when she returned her wounding attention on the carpet, his smile fell.
Exhausted, Tod sighed and rubbed his palms against his eyes. With an agitated cat scratching around, sleeping would be impossible. As a last resort he reached for her again, quickly, to catch Miss Kitty off-guard; she yowled and struggled and scratched at him, forcing Tod to immediately let her go. Once released she hopped onto the bed, claw-climbing along the cracking mattress.
When he saw her straighten up Tod called out, “Don’t you dare!” But it was already too late. Up on his feet now, burning hands at his throbbing head, he could but watch as the expensive sheets soaked up Miss Kitty’s urinary stress-night gift. He groaned, and cursed, and with his alarm clock blinking a sleepless 3:04 a.m., Tod gave up. He went to the bathroom to clean and bandage his hands and chest as best he could, ignoring the ghosts in his head laughing at him for getting bitch-slapped by his cat. Then he marched through the now quiet bedroom, into the living room, and curled up on his couch, with every intention to at least rest for the few hours he had left.
And as misfortunes have a habit of not happening in singles, he was still trying to wring all stress and pain out of his hands when he felt a set of paws start kneading his side.
“Oh, now you want my attention, huh?” He told his cat, never looking up. “I have an early day tomorrow. And thanks for ruining my night — again.”
Seated up on his side now, somehow perfectly balanced, Miss Kitty meowed. Tod sighed.
He said, “That’s not fair,” and in response Miss Kitty let out the cutest purr of a meow and laid down along his side, as she had done every night he’d spent on his boss Tony’s couch right after the guy had taken him off the streets and given his teenage self, and his cat, a place to stay. How many years ago was that now? How many years had it been since he left home?
Remembering that past, Tod shuddered and gripped his chest. Images of his shaken night bled together with visions of his brother, and of his girlfriend, and they were all brushed aside by the big, fluffy blanket that came and squeezed herself between his arms, mewing gently. Tod hugged Miss Kitty and buried his face in her fur.
Until darkness claimed him again, she soaked up every breath and cry.