Operation Bed Tundy
How do you accidentally become an assassin?
Leave it to me to find out. One minute I’m driving down the fourlane and the next I’m being pulled over, silently cursing my lead foot (again). Many don’t believe me when I describe the leaden-ness of my foot. Can’t really blame them. I suppose the inability to distinguish between sixty and a-hundred-and-forty miles an hour would be hard to believe, to one on the outside looking in. And with a condition this unbelievable, your only recourse is to keep your mouth closed and take what comes. Explanation is futile.
Twelve tickets in six months.
I tense to think this might be the one that gets me time.
Imagine my surprise when a mitigating opportunity presented itself. I say mitigating because this option allowed me to forgo a court appearance. All I had to do was follow some government guys to a shady looking outpost (that looked more like an outhouse) in the middle of nowhere, and board an elevator car wherein I descended into an enormous underground compound replete with all kinds of futuristic tech.
They told me if I agreed to this super important mission all my tickets and subsequent charges would be waived forever. I should’ve taken the fact that they didn’t tell me what the mission was as a hint. If it was something pleasant, the payoff probably wouldn’t have been so generous. When I learned what it was, it was too late. I’d signed on, with no chance to renege.
The mission, should I choose to accept it—and stupidly I did—was to be a guinea pig for time travel. But not just any guinea pig. I was to travel back in time and assassinate none other than Ted Bundy, before his killing spree began.
Them twelve tickets weren’t looking so bad right about now.
I loaded into the time travel pod thing (I made straight Fs, so don’t judge me for not getting more technological), and prepared to probably die, but lo and behold I didn’t. The circles of light slid up and down my body, no de-atomization or nuthin. When the pod split open I found myself in an empty field. The giant oaks having surrounded the government outhouse (sorry, outpost) were twigs, and even the sky had that sepia-old look.
Now I’d been armed to the teeth with a bunch of gear, so I wasn’t totally defenseless in the belly of this new world. They’d printed and minted a bunch of money with the dates changed so not to rouse suspicion. Why couldn’t they have just used real old coins, you may ask. Well, real old coins are rare. They’re collectible for a reason. And I needed a lot. So the fake ones had to do. And it was the government that did it so…I don’t guess it’s illegal.
I found the beat I was supposed to walk and lingered there a while. Bundy apparently frequented that road.
It wasn’t long before a rust-bucket paid me enough mind to slow. A young-ish man with brown hair called out the window.
“Need a ride, Ma’am?”
I climbed aboard the rattletrap and settled into shotgun. The government dudes had given me a special needle of stuff to inject him with. Shooting was out of the question since any bodily trauma might damage his brain in the long-run. Oh yeah—they wanted me to bring his head back for scientific observation. Guess I forgot that part.
I still brought my own gun, just in case things went south. At ninety-three pounds soaking wet I’m not exactly apt to fight off a hulking man.
I smalltalked with Ted for a few minutes, an attempt to get his guard down. But before I could strike, the destination I’d made up came into view. Huh. Guess Boswell Gas Station was a real place.
Our ride now shortened by this unforeseen hitch, I reached for the needle. It was now or never. So, in other words, never. Ted read my movements a little too well and swerved his rust-bucket sharply, sending my head bashing into the window. I don’t even think he saw the needle, which meant... All the while I was planning to move in, he was apparently planning the same.
Regrets ebbed and flowed, as he slowed the car to a crawl. My original plan had been to force him to kidnap me at gunpoint. And before you say that sounds stupid: That way he’d have seen the gun from the jump and known not to mess with me. Also, nobody would’ve believed him if he managed to get away.
“Officer, it wasn’t my fault! She forced me to kidnap her—at gunpoint!”
No chance of that flying.
Alas, I’d gone with option B. And I was paying for it.
We wrestled back and forth, him grabbing me by the wrists and holding my arms apart. A headbut later and I was nearly out. Through my disorientation I could see him drawing a big hunting knife. He smiled at me, jaggedly.
“This is for your vocal cords, little deer.”
I didn’t know which half of his sentence I felt worse about. The part about severing my vocal cords or the creepy “little deer” addendum, which were it a physical being would need to be killed with fire, the ashes launched into deep space with twelve nukes attached.
Sorry. It just creeped me out.
In the throes of sadistic revelry (or maybe he had a stroke—I dunno’ what that was), he hesitated.
I swung my stiletto up and kicked him square in the neck, my heel possibly puncturing something. So much for no damage. But the government could suck it up. It was him or me.
As he sputtered and spat, blood slipping from the corners of his mouth, I took the wheel and hit the accelerator, launching us off into the grass, past a shabby treeline, and into a big reservoir of water.
I can’t win, can I?
As the waterline climbed up the windows and slowly immersed us, I rushed to open my door. Ted had me by the ankle, but that didn’t stop me from trying. I shoved and it parted away, sending a surge of muddy water gushing in. The tide smacked him upside the face and knocked him off me. I writhed my way out, swimming and swimming until I felt the ground kiss my feet.
From the grassy shore, I watched the water slowly suck Ted’s car under.
I was grateful to be alive—but hoo boi the government was not gonna’ be happy.
Then, something weird happened. Which in the context of this story, is saying something.
The tide coughed up a big hunk of something. I rushed over and poked it. It didn’t move.
Upon closer examination, I realized it was Ted. He was dead—waterlogged and bluish.
His brain probably wasn’t in the best of shape. I realized this.
I brandished the metal plate the government dudes had given me, holding it up to his neck. A click later and a blade had discharged, severing the head and encasing it in a bubble-like, malleable skin. The coating would preserve it.
After some time walking the backroads, a severed head tucked neatly under my arm (guess that’s why nobody offered to pick me up), I found my pod and climbed in. I was pretty eager to get back to the present, all things considered.
When I stepped out in the lab again, I presented the head. One of the scientist dudes examined it carefully, a look of great displeasure crossing his face.
I was quick to justify myself.
“He was gonna’ cut my vocal cords! I had to drive us off into that reservoir—”
The displeasure intensified.
“It’s not that…” the man garbled, indignantly.
“THIS IS NOT TED BUNDY!!!”
“You incipid, brainless embarrassment of a human being!”
“Do I still get my tickets waived?”
The scientist sent me a glare that was scarier than the one not-Ted Bundy had sent me.
“I can make this up to you,” I shrugged. “Maybe I could go after Jack the Ripper, or Jeffrey Dahmer, or the Zodiac Killer…”
“Jack the Ripper, Jeffrey Dahmer, and…”
“The Zodiac Killer?”
“What is a ‘Zodiac Killer’? You’re just making killers up at this point,” he pinched the slack between his eyes, exhaustedly. “You know what—get out.”
I tried to object, but he’d already shuffled me to the door.
“But dude! I think I—”
Long story short, the government wasn’t too terribly impressed with my work.
And my tickets did not get waived.
Writing and I have a difficult relationship.
Our relationship has been especially difficult as of late, since my return to Wattpad. Wattpad and I *also* have a difficult relationship, but to stop this from becoming a five-thousand page tome I won’t comment, apart from: it’s *really* hard to get noticed on bigger sites, despite the quality or social relevance of your work. You submit what you believe to be your magnum opus for editor’s pick, just to get no response. So you write another magnum opus, more tailored to what you believe acceptable. Second verse same as the first. At the end of the day, I will not relinquish my authorial experimentality. If I can’t write my weird heart out, I don’t wanna’ write at all. And if I have to write what’s wanted—i.e. good girl/bad boy romances and BTS fics—then I’d just as soon relocate. BTS is great; I just feel the fic market is saturated enough without my input.
My interests lie elsewhere, in the philosophical, the spoopy, the bizarre. I’m not a romantic by nature, so that puts me at odds with WP from the jump. Interestingly enough, these interests once put me at odds with talent itself. Should I go into that yet? Why not.
I’ve written for the majority of my sorta-brief life on this planet. As a wee lass I’d scribble my fantasies. The fascination was always kind of a fixture for me. A hiatus found me a bit older, rustily returning to the game, ambitiously trying my hand at a concept a decade or so too mature for where I was at. I am convinced the result was one of the worst, most bloated acts of pretension ever committed to paper. It was AGONIZING.
The warm-up was better, a story about abused animals turning against humanity. That one was neat. But this one—an endless diatribe packaged as a character study, affectionately dubbed “The Love”—was unclean on a cellular level. It centered around a gritty young orphan, from losing her mother to consumption, to being snared by the streets, taken in by an orphanage, befriending a sheepish boy, and defending said boy when bullies tried to rob him. That defense culminated in a few of the bullies being killed. So by nine the co-protag is a killer, hauled in to a sanitarium, and forced to live among every shade of mental illness imaginable. Her story elapses in tandem with the assassination of the country’s king, and the ascent of his young son to the throne after spending his early childhood in hiding. A royal ball is thrown and Warri, the co-protag, manages to escape the sanitarium and attend. It’s there she actually talks with the young king, and they strike up a bond. But the king is soon arranged to marry another girl, who’s really spoiled and bratty. A bunch of stuff happens, that I don’t care to remember. The spoilt princess ends up dead at Warri’s hand, igniting the ire of her father. To save his mother in exile, and of course the guilty party Warri, the young king gives himself over to be punished for the killing. But at the last minute Warri steps in and rightfully takes the rap. And they bid their farewells as she’s flown away to prison.
The concept, as mentioned, is decent. Flawed, but decent. The story...is mostly just flawed. Younger me seemed to conflate “wise writing” with “endless big-worded rambling” so that’s what you usually got. Younger me also seemed to conflate descriptions of nature (and the neverending onslaught of metaphors and similes it entailed) with...prodigious writing. And that’s okay to an extent. I’m not one to knock a good metaphor. But when you spend like thirty pages describing the sky, it tends to wax tedious. The sky descriptions were probably longer than the actual scenes they encompassed. Though I don’t know for sure. It’s been a small eternity and I’m not going back to check. I know characters did like to monologue, so it might’ve been a tossup. Adults liked to monologue. Children liked to monologue. I think there was even a toddler that monologued, and no, I am not making that up. Younger me tried to naturalize it by playing her off as a genius. In reality I just couldn’t write for a toddler. I also couldn’t write for nine-year-olds. Or adults. Or humans in general.
The interactions were probably mind-numbing.
Another one of my problems was hoarding. That’s not often a word you hear associated with writing, but let me explain. I was a hoarder of sentences. I’d describe something decently, and be so impressed by my own description that even if there were two other close-proximity descriptions describing the exact same thing...I’d still keep the third, and fourth, and fifth. That was probably more of an ego thing, in hindsight. Imagine! A girl so young stringing sentences together so beautifully! Sure, she’s saying the exact same thing over and over, but every iteration is so majestic we don’t care.
I filled so many notebooks with this story. I should probably apologize to the trees for that.
Hopefully my wordletting helped expel the cringe from my system. It didn’t expel all of it, by far. Cringe runs deep for a young, aspiring author. I tried my hand at a bunch more stories, but they usually fizzled out before the end. I could complain about those too, but then this post would balloon to unnerving lengths and I think it’s already ballooned enough.
Instead I’ll just leave you with this factoid.
The first sentence of The Love mentions the sun. I think it’s setting. Rising? Setting? Whichever one it was, I got the direction wrong. Either the sun was rising in the west or setting in the east (I still had to look up which ways were right, ngl).
So if openers are supposed to be indicative of things to come—this one succeeded.
Whenever my high horse discovers stilts, I have to remind myself that for every “the gunmetal sky was already beginning to tarnish” I still have ten ‘suns rising in the west’, so to speak. I’ll stumble across the dumbest mistakes, which shall in turn re-rouse the adage of a wise philosopher: “Sit down. Be humble.” (Kendrick Lamar)
(Oh. And the genius toddler was Warri. Warri was a genius.)
Cancel culture is thoroughly useless, for the most part. Just about everyone who gets cancelled (save for those who *really* deserve it like Weinstein) rebound in like a month, to my understanding. But I will admit my understanding of this bizarre phenomenon is limited because I’m about as invested in social media as my eightysomething-year-old grandmother, possibly lesser so (she is big into Facebook). The definition I’ve gleaned is basically “if someone messes up, even in the most microcosmic sense, let’s all bandwagon together and take a stab at ruining their career/life”. Which is...a concerning mentality, to put it mildly. Not to mention hypocritical. Humans aren’t perfect, and chances are we’ve all made mistakes, so to harp on someone else for making those *same* mistakes doesn’t really make much sense. I suppose there comes a sense of superiority, knowing you’re past such plebeian slipups.
But you have to realize that way back when, when you slipped up, you had the privilege of near-anonymity. One of the reasons I choose anonymity is because fame, in its truest distillation, scares me. I don’t want my every word dissected under a microscope, especially when I’m just talking off the cuff, because rest assured I probably *will* mess up and say something profoundly stupid. Celebrities catch ample times more flak than the average joe, and the reason is simple—they have millions of people hanging on their every word. One hot take, mildly warm take, or weird turn of phrase can have (seemingly) sweeping effects. The culture of ‘celebrity worship’ only exacerbates this. Famous people are lauded as oracles by some, gods among humanity—thus making allowances for human mistakes isn’t necessary. It takes fans aback when the curtain of perfection drops; and they feel betrayed when they realize their heroes aren’t faultless. This is not the celebrity’s fault. If someone builds a celebrity’s pedestal up that high...they probably need therapy. Because that’s straight-up delusional. But it happens. A lot.
For the most part, the Twitter mob is all bark and no bite. Virtue signaling brings a great dopamine rush. Some chase this rush like that monkey of legend that had an electrode surgically implanted in the pleasure center of its brain, to be activated at the push of a button. In short, that monkey pushed the button so many times it died. (I...think that’s a true story, but who knows. Sounds about right.) Anyway, highs are a powerful thing, and when you’re bored and lonely, what easier way to get one from the comfort of your own home (apart from indulging in illegal drugs) than calling out some public figure on their indiscretions. And what easier way still, than to tell yourself it’s for a noble cause, instead of just your own narcissistic gratification. Some people even go so far as trying to *find* trouble where there is none. I think of Demi Lovato and that bizarre fro-yo shop thing (though who am I to pretend like I know what exactly she was thinking).
For some reason, a lot of weight has been put into the idea of cancel culture, like it’s actually effective—some life-changing bogeyman. While I obviously don’t see that (with a few exceptions), the illusion can become dangerous if believed. Some people are genuinely afraid of cancel culture, to the point that they’ll apologize for literally nothing. This is a slippery slope. You’re giving a lot of power to a very loud, very small group of Tweeters (Twitter-ers?).
Basically: 90% of cancel culture is useless, 5% is detrimental, and 5% is necessary. (This is my crummy, grossly ignorant estimation.)
The Curious Case of Zigmund Adamski
Zigmund Adamski was a Yorkshire miner who went missing on or around June 6, 1980. Five days later his body was discovered atop a ten-foot pile of coal, tidily lain there, as if someone or something had lowered him down from the sky. His clothing looked as if someone had undressed and redressed him, but stranger still, it appeared as if whoever redressed him had no idea how human clothing worked. He was allegedly found in a three-piece suit, the buttons of his jacket “improperly” fastened (according to The Daily Star UK), and his shirt was off. His watch and wallet were gone. On top of that, his shoes were tied strangely, his hair had been cut short and unusually, and he appeared to have shaved the day before his death.
Trevor Parker, the man who discovered Adamski’s body, claimed he hadn’t seen Adamski enter the coal yard that day, and was certain the body hadn’t been there a few hours prior.
Constable Allen Godfrey observed that Adamski “was on top of the coal pile on his back with not a bit of coal on him. His eyes were wide open and he had burn marks”.
Those aforementioned marks were said to resemble acid burns. Coroner James Turnbull described the situation as “the biggest mystery of his career”. The marks appeared to have an ointment-like substance applied to or around them. Popular Youtuber Wendigoon, in his True Crime iceberg video, described this substance as a “green goo”. The substance couldn’t be identified by forensic scientists. Which is...unnerving.
He was last seen leaving his home in Tingley (near Wakefield), West Yorkshire, for a grocery run. He stopped to talk with a neighbor, left, and was later found some twenty miles away at the coal yard.
The exact cause of death was indeterminate. It was shown, however, that Adamski had likely died a few hours before the discovery of his body.
Locals were quick to form a hypothesis. Many believed Adamski’s death to be the result of alien abduction. It stands to mention there have been many allegations of UFO sightings around the area Adamski’s body was left.
In fact, less than six months after the Adamski incident, Constable Godfrey alleged his own encounter with a UFO, less than a mile from the place Adamski had been found. When responding to a herd of cows going “astray” (according to The Daily Star UK), he experienced a “‘missing time’ incident”. Strange lights were reported in the sky around that time, by other officers, no less. Godfrey reluctantly informed his superiors, after much deliberation. He was forced into retirement soon after.
He sketched the UFO, and later underwent hypnosis, telling of being taken aboard the UFO and being given physical examinations by two inhuman creatures. The story made worldwide headlines, but despite this, Godfrey later recanted. He chalked the ‘physical examination’ thing up to likely being a dream, adding “I was never abducted by aliens”. He also reportedly said “I wish I had never seen the UFO, particularly because of the effects on my children. It’s not easy having a policeman as a father, but when he’s a policeman who saw a UFO it’s even worse.”
When questioned on his opinion of Adamski being abducted by aliens, he answered “I am open-minded. I can’t rule it out.”
The Adamski case has drawn parallels to the Travis Walton case, in which an American forestry worker was allegedly abducted by aliens near Snowflake, Arizona, being gone for five days and six hours, before reappearing on the side of a road near Heber. (A polygraph later said this guy was lying, though, so take that as you will.)
So, what are y’all’s thoughts on this? It’s a pretty interesting case. This and the “Guest in Room 1046” case stood out to me (on Wendigoon’s video), so I decided to press further into them and see what I could find. With Halloween in sight, I figured I’d bring the spooky a bit early.
The world went dark on July 20.
Fortunate for my family and I, we still had some of our garden left. By the time the supermarket shelves were ransacked and the riots hit, we’d gathered four twenty-gallon buckets of tomatoes, seventy cucumbers, four dozen banana peppers, ten plump bells, and nine watermelons. We wasted no time dragging it all inside; we knew it wouldn’t be long till the riots overflowed from the city and came our way. They’d sweep through, a wall of greed and disorder, and ravage our land.
Phones were down for the few who still had landlines, and cells were inoperable for loss of signal, which meant no 911. (Criminals...were acutely aware of this.) I took plenty issue with the notion of being inevitably robbed without recourse, but in times like these you kinda’ had to suck it up. We were thirty miles from any police station. Smith and Wesson was our only fallback.
This was social anaphylaxis, an allergic recoil from the sting of primitivity. And like anaphylaxis I figured it would eventually subside.
Scariest were those who depended on technology like a lifeline. We didn’t have news to tell of the suicides. I would’ve been afraid to ask anyway.
A week in and you had stray influencers wandering the streets, lost and despaired, looking like something the cat coughed up.
And I wondered. Had we fallen so far as a species that survival hinged on something as recent as electricity? I kept telling myself how two-hundred years ago there was no such amenity, and the residents endured just fine.
My mind kept circling back to a show I used to watch. Dr. Stone.
A mysterious flash of light leaves humanity petrified, and a handful of humans awaken 3,700 years later to a world devoid of modern means, reminiscent of a Stone Age. Aided by the supergenius Senku, they have to start over from scratch, meaning relearning everything from agriculture to architecture to the reinvention of more luxurious articles like automobiles, phones and cola. I loved that show; I just never thought I’d have to live it. Had I known this was coming I would’ve taken notes. But the extent of my note-taking was when I’d recorded the ingredients for cola on my Pages app. Which was now out of commission. Bruh.
Maybe I don’t really have room to judge the technologically bereaved.
The Stone World residents had it a bit tougher, I’d dare to say. At least we still had standing civilization, skyscrapers, cars. We had battery powered fans; we just lacked a way to charge the batteries.
What ground my gears was knowing all the writing I had logged away on my Pages app. All I knew was, when signals were restored my work better not’ve been lost. I probably had over three-hundred documents.
My anger dissipated a little when imagining the scope of effects brought about. Hospitals would be in trouble. Generators could only get them so far. And what about winter when farming was an impossibility? Hunting would have to suffice, but with the population so high could wildlife really sustain us all? I chose to be hopeful. It was really all I could do.
TV made this look easy.
There was an Amish commune a little ways from our farm. Dad bought wood from them regularly, so we had something of a rapport. Three months in we drove out to see if there was any wood left they could sell us. Winter was coming and our furnace supply was lower than usual. We’d had to start using it early for the cold nights. I met Isaiah out by the barns and he looked nothing like what I’d remembered. He was always so jovial for our wood runs, a man with a countenance of steel. But all the while he was explaining to us, he looked so beat down. He said some outsiders had hit their commune about a month back, and killed a couple of their men. The looters made off with as much as they could carry.
Fear does things to people. Things you can’t really explain. More than just fight or flight, these things hardly ever make sense. Perhaps it’s a narcissistic, impatient, nearsighted drive that fuels it. Why vie for cordial discourse when violence could get you so much further so much faster?
Isaiah told us the names of the dead. A few of them I’d known.
One of them was only a year older than me.
They could only spare a quarter-load of wood, but we were grateful. Isaiah refused money.
Dad gave him a gun and told him to protect his family. Reluctantly, he nodded and took it.
Driving back in our family pickup, I watched the sky. It looked so dreary anymore.
Again my mind circled back to Dr. Stone. Just a few of the petrified had been revived, and even then they managed to find conflict. Enemies were quickly made, and a war eventually followed.
The first thing I heard was the sound of shattering glass. The window at my right shoulder exploded. Dad gunned it but we didn’t make it far. A loud popping noise sent us rolling, ground turning to sky. Next thing I knew, I was in a ditch, about a hundred feet from the truck. I could hardly feel my body, my mouth tasted like copper, and my sight was barely clear enough to make out the faces eclipsing my periphery.
“She alive?” a gruff male voice called.
“Yeah, looks like it,” another replied. “What about the old man?”
“He ain’t moving. Big dent in his head. I’d say he’s a lost cause.”
“I got ’is wallet. He only had about seventy bucks.”
“You think she’s got anything on her?”
“Na. I don’t see no jewelry. And she looks about fifteen, so forget cash...”
“Wanna’ check? I mean, what would it hurt?”
By then, all I could see was black.
I felt myself being rolled over.
“Nothing... Told you.”
“She looks pretty bad, man. You didn’t tell me it would go like this.”
“Well, how could I have known?”
“So what, we just leave her here?”
“You got a better idea? Wanna’ take her to a hospital?” Sarcasm. Even concussed I understood that much.
“What, you feeling guilty now? If you don’t wanna’ leave her then be a man and just put her out of her misery.”
Silence. He’s thinking about it. I don’t know how I can tell, but I can.
“I can’t... I’ve never actually shot someone...”
His voice...he sounds so young.
“Fine. Just leave her. We’re moving out, though. I ain’t sittin’ around nursing some stranger’s kid till dark.”
Footsteps. The grass is rustling. They’re leaving.
I hear a click, and with a fresh fear I realize he’s made his decision.
I hear the first fraction of a gunshot.
Then I hear nothing.
the internal and subjective opinions of a fictional character named Sam
Humming into the mirror.
Just rolled outta bed.
Tfw you tryna be The Weeknd
but sound like a Monday instead.
Six PM mornings, worked till dawn again,
bleeding worlds into life
with a pad and pen.
Summer’s almost over; didn’t it
Guess my drive ate me alive,
shaved the minutes thin.
Soon snow will turn the ground
to December’s skin,
Kids these days, we got the world at our feet;
information intravenous, new technology.
Kids these days, they think we’re talentless,
but it’s only because we’re still honing our skillsets.
In time they’re gonna tally their regrets
and eat their words like hors d’oeuvres
coz they ain’t seen nothing yet.
Every generation implying they’re the best.
I’m not one for competition, so y’all can let it rest.
Every generation has left their unique mark:
their styles, their thinkers, their music, their art.
The eyes of the older fall down on us, and we’re met
with everything from intrigue to disgust.
With the passing of decades comes a seismic change,
but who says change is always a bad thing?
And who says it’s always to blame?
Chances are, the “Boomers” voicing their disgust
were once green, optimistic, idealistic like us,
and had their niche interests, misunderstood
by the rest (after listening to Dylan, call it a wild guess).
They say entertainment’s dumbing down,
but maybe they’re not looking hard enough.
Coz Y and Z boast some pretty epic stuff,
diamonds in the rough.
Or maybe I’m just easily impressed, but I’d prefer that
to being impossible to please.
Even a few top 40s are kinda’ deep.
And Aaron Weiss is pretty neat
(nigh-obligatory shilling complete).
(O wait he’s in his 40s, nevermind meee...)
And who’s to say in another decade or so
where we’ll be, the places we’ll go?
Who will be the “Zoomer” Dylan, Lynch,
Kubrick or Tarantino?
(Probably not me;
it’s fun to dream though.)
TBD, part 3
(So I guess I’m continuing to continue that cat thing lol)
The cavalcade of animals took a side-exit out, retreating down into the sewers.
Stephan encountered a few rats at the sewer’s mouth.
“Do you know of anyplace that’s hospitable down here?” he asked.
The rats nodded reluctantly, beckoning the animals to follow.
As they were walking, the mouthy chihuahua approached.
“Hey, uh, I’m really sorry for the other day. No hard feelings, eh?”
Stephan didn’t bother to look at him.
“Because, erm, I want to be of service to the cause. There would be no greater honor than—”
Stephan stuck a single, razor-sharp claw to his throat.
“I appreciate the sentiment,” he replied, caustically. “But I know a brown-nosing mutt when I see one.”
“O-okay, can we just change the subject then?”
“What do you think the humans will think when they find Mr. Mack like that?”
“I dunno’. They can chalk it up to suicide for all I care.”
“Suicide? He bit his own throat out?”
“What can I say? He was a very talented man.”
“They’re gonna’ trace it back to us.”
“Us. Yes, of course. We’ve got DNA in the system for sure.”
“You probably do. Weren’t you a lab cat?”
“Oh, I’d love to see my dear old lab offer up my DNA. Then they could indulge the authorities by explaining how they got it. They’d get more time than I ever would.”
He sighed. “I should be in awe. It takes some kind of hubris to see a sweet, innocent kitten and think ‘Hey, you know what would improve that? Giving it a human mind. Let’s chock all our sins in there. Scientists for a brighter future!’ I should give Weiss an award.”
The chihuahua recoiled.
“Hey, um, Boss, are you...okay?”
“It’s just, you seem kinda’ rattled.”
“What’s your name?”
“Those giant ears and you’re still stone-deaf.”
“It’s Hercules, Sir.”
“I see. Your owners had a wonderful sense of humor.”
“It’s a bit embarrassing, I’ll admit. You can just call me H, if you’d, erm, like.”
“Yes, well H, you sure ask a lot of questions. Were my brain one-hundred-percent human I would’ve probably slit your throat by now, on general principle. Fortunate for you, I’ve still got enough cat in me to let a few indiscretions slide.”
The rats guided Stephan’s following to a low part of the sewer, where a murky, putrid channel split two walks of concrete. They stood on the righthand walk, squatted beneath the arched brick ceiling. Covered manholes illuminated the way, ever so dimly. The yellowed spills of light floated down into the soupy water.
“Any further and you’re gonna’ risk running into the humans. They’re cleaning about a hundred feet past the turnoff,” one of the rats explained.
“This is your definition of hospitable?”
“It is to us,” a rat defended.
Stephan scoured the place with skeptical eyes, before shrugging.
“It’ll do for now. I suppose keeping here will motivate us to make better time. The faster we score a stronghold aboveground, the faster we can relocate.”
His eyes returned to the rats, several of which were visibly uncomfortable.
“Thank you. You now have two options. One, you can stay and join the resistance. Two, you can go. I know what you’re thinking... I won’t kill you if you pick two. You’re not the enemy here.”
The rats exchanged baffled glances.
“You won’t...kill us?” one stuttered, uncertainly.
“Did you really just offer what I think you offered?” another, more bold rat piped. “You want us to fight alongside you? But you’re a cat! Our kind is your quarry. It’s been that way from the foundation of the city.”
“Thanks for reminding me,” Stephan smirked, dropping the act a second later. “Na. Secret to that is, you can override instinct if you’re aware of it. What I want is bigger than my next meal. I’ll live on air and water alone if it means winning. I’ve done it before.”
“And what have you to win?” he now had the rats’ undivided attention.
“Freedom,” Stephan replied. “Aren’t you tired of being consigned to the toil of the sewers? Wouldn’t a better life be up there, where you could walk the streets unashamed, and expect your presence to go unretaliated?”
“We’ll have to talk this over with our leader,” the bolder rat mulled.
“Bring him here,” Stephan ordered. “I’ll talk to him myself, if you’re willing.”
An army of rats scurried in, surrounding their leader to all sides.
Stephan couldn’t even see him until they parted. The head rat stepped forward. He was sickly and small and ghostly white.
Stephan’s authoritative expression slackened.
“It’s you,” he said.
Tristy. The seventh successful Bridge.
“Stephan?” Tristy dropped all vestiges of regality. His eyes welled, though he hid them away from his subjects.
Lightning grew to love his new family.
The children waited on him, hand and foot. Four weeks in and he decided he could trust them. He feared the mayor himself would be less than accepting, so he opted to show the younger humans first—and request their aid before breaking it to anyone else.
He entered the anteroom with a ball of words resting coldly in his gut. The ball tightened once he saw what was on the TV.
“Another man was found murdered today in what has been speculated to be the doings of a serial killer. Disturbing parallels have been drawn between this death and the killing of seven workers at a local pound last month, including forty-nine-year-old Regis Mack, who owned that pound and several others. Two more bodies were later discovered along a backalley near Corden, an area well known for its illegal dog fighting. The victims were said to have been longtime participants, one having over a dozen convictions to his name. It’s believed the serial killer may be some kind of radical animal rights activist, targeting those they think are involved in abuse. The latest victim, sixty-one-year-old Stan Renner, was also alleged to have participated in Corden’s dog fighting racket—”
“Hey kitty,” Tessa changed channels, and patted the spot next to her on the couch.
He hopped up, as was habit by then. Only this time he swatted the remote closer to him, and switched the channel back.
“What are you doing, Streak?” Tessa chuckled. “Dude, I’m telling ya, you’re so smart it’s kinda’ scary.”
The anchor lady continued on, now a few sentences ahead.
“—this Thursday. Popular YouTube influencer Chris Carpenter garnered even more awareness for the murders when he mentioned them in his latest vlog. Carpenter drew some criticism after offering to set a trap for the killer, and post the live results on his channel. Critics accused him of encouraging vigilantism among his audience, many of whom are teenagers or younger—”
“That guy is such an idiot,” Tessa sighed. “I can’t believe my brother likes him.”
She scratched behind Lightning’s ear, and he purred loudly.
He hoped his ability to speak wouldn’t change anything.
He was well aware by then of his responsibility, his boundaries. The Bridges weren’t normal animals. Their human awareness made certain things inappropriate. Lightning always left the room when the humans changed clothes or took showers. He was respectful to their privacy. He behaved as any third sibling would, and were it not for his deprecating self-consciousness, he would’ve likely fancied himself one.
The only question left was how to break the ice.
He waited for Tessa to say something else. She already had a penchant for talking to him as if he were a person. But before she could, Tommy burst in.
“Have you seen the blockades set up downtown?” he panted.
“No, why?” she blinked.
“Why do you think?”
“The killer?” she paused. “I mean, if he’s targeting animal abusers we don’t have anything to worry about. Streak is the first pet we’ve ever officially owned. And I’d say our track record with him is pretty solid.”
“That’s just speculation,” he retorted. “Nobody knows one-hundred-percent what the motive is. All I know is, with downtown traffic jammed this bad, Dad’s probably gonna’ have to camp out at his office. Or else kill his ego and take the subway.”
“Welp, we’re fatherless for the night,” Tessa sighed. “What do you wanna’ do?”
“I’ll probably just watch Chris’ new thing and go to bed.”
“Yeah, I’ll probably turn in early too.”
So much for talking, Lightning sulked. It would just be awkward now.
He watched them shuffle off, leaving him alone on the couch—silently cursing his crippling shyness.
A coterie of rats met Stephan in the sewer. By then he had a makeshift throne set up, if only for effect. He’d assumed power at his own insistence; but most of the other animals supported him, especially considering he’d liberated them from probable death at the pound.
Few had parted ways, though he still left the option open.
“You’ll be pleased to know your dispatch has turned a pretty result. We’ve scouted the city,” the first rat bowed. “Benji the dog was able to recruit twelve to the cause. Corduroy the cat, sixteen. Shea the dog, nineteen. Numbers only increase from there.”
“Excellent,” Stephan nodded. “You’ve done well. All of you. If we keep growing at this rate, we’ll have an army big enough to stymie any potential opposition.”
“One of the fresh recruits, a pomeranian named Coral, tipped us off to a goldmine of info,” the rat continued. “She used to have an owner who worked at Needle Tower. Said all the higher ups used to come and go from there. I’d dare say it’s like the city’s Capitol. The human mayor is stationed there. He’s like their leader, at least in the local sense. His underlings share quarters, but they disperse around nightfall, and leave the building manned by ten to twenty security guards.”
“Sounds like the ideal ingredients for a siege,” Stephan mused. “Capture the Capitol right away and we won’t even need to bother with lesser strongholds. We’ll hit the ground running. And send incremental armies to assimilate surrounding cities. Our animals can form a circle, but rather than the circle pulling tighter it will expand, and sweep this nation from Needle Tower out. It’ll grow with our recruits, a giant snowball effect. That is, if our projected success pans out...”
“You’re brilliant, Sir. Absolutely brilliant,” the rat gushed. “One other thing, before I forget,” he made a strange face. “We have it from a reliable source there’s this cat-eared human snooping around Corden. He’s been a fixture around the area since the initial killings. It’s...growing disconcerting.”
“A cat-eared human?” Stephan’s interest was piqued. “Was he a victim of perverse science as the Bridges were?”
“Welllll,” the rat squirmed. “It’s, uh, kind of hard to explain...”
“Ladies and gents may I present to you—Chris Carpenter and his army of seven-year-olds! And here, towering a head above them all—my fourteen-year-old brother!”
Tessa assumed her peppy announcer voice, much to Tommy’s chagrin. He didn’t even look up from the laptop screen.
“I’m not taller than Chris. He’s like six two.”
“I meant the seven-year-olds. Bruh. You can’t be that dumb.”
“He’s going through with the trap, by the way.”
“Are you kidding me?”
She’d just come in to check on Tommy, and already she was regretting it.
“Nope,” he chimed. “He’s streaming now. He’s up on the roof of the old Marston place.”
She leaned in to see. The screen was just a downward shot of a dark alley, with what looked to be a mannequin poised near the mouth. It wore an oversized varsity jacket and a ball cap, each from opposing teams. Shutter shades were stapled to its featureless face, and its leg was bent at an impossible angle, making the pitch-darkness a fortunate amenity. A scraggly thing slightly resembling a dog rested under its foot.
“Is that a stuffed animal?” she squinted.
“I think so,” Tommy shrugged.
“Oh, boy. Somebody call the FBI. Dude’s a prodigy.”
“I’m just waiting for some poor midnight jogger to bump into it so its head can fall off. Imagine beholding a scene like that in real time.”
The phone camera panned back to Chris, cat-eared bomber hat planted contently on his head. He held what looked to be a walkie talkie in the hand that wasn’t holding the phone.
“Stupid mutt!” he yelled into it, deepening his voice menacingly. “I should’ve sold you off when I had the chance! You lost me two grand out there! You think I’m just gonna’ let it slide?”
“What’s he doing?” Tessa squinted harder. She felt like laughing, though it was mostly from secondhand embarrassment.
“He’s got the other walkie talkie strapped to the dummy.”
“Move over.” She scooted in next to him.
“I guess we’ll tower over his army of seven-year-olds together.”
“Dude, I’m not a fan. I just can’t believe he’s doing this. He could actually get himself hurt. What if the killer has a gun? They could snipe him off the roof.”
“No risk, no reward.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Come on, he’s a professional. He’s been doing stuff like this for years.”
“Yes. A professional. A barely twenty-year-old guy who wears neon cat ears unironically. Only the best of judgement.” She sighed heavily. “This can’t be legal. The police are probably gonna’ come get him before the stream ends.”
“He doesn’t have any weapons though. He’s just gonna’ watch. He’s not gonna’ do anything. He already said that.”
“Then what’s the point?”
“Entertainment. I dunno’. We’re watching, aren’t we?”
“He’s still trespassing. At fifteen million subs surely someone’s gonna’ snitch.”
“You underestimate the loyalty of his fanbase.”
“Do I need to snitch, then?”
“Tess, the police aren’t gonna’ come. It’s Corden. You’d be lucky to get them if you phoned in a murder.”
“If we wait much longer, I might be phoning in a murder.” She fidgeted a bit. “This is ridiculous. I don’t like the guy but I don’t wanna’ watch him die...”
“You’re giving him exactly what he wants,” Tommy huffed. “He wants you to be scared. I’m not falling for it. Tess, it could be staged for all we know. He’s pulled stuff like this before.”
“Why are you watching if you think it’s fake?”
“On the off chance it’s not.”
She grabbed a notebook off his desk and swatted him. He tried to wrestle it away from her, but she jerked it back before he could.
Chris’ alarmed gasp broke up their bickering.
“I just heard a noise. What the—” he rattled. “You guys, you’re not gonna’ believe this! Look!”
He held his phone up so his audience could see.
The dummy was being ripped apart; though the alley was so dark all Tessa could decipher was about two dozen furred shapes disemboweling it.
“If you can’t see, I think those are, like, dogs,” Chris shuddered. “Yeah, they look like dogs. I dunno’ what’s going on, man. This is weirder than I thought it would be.” He was quiet for a long time. “You guys, do you think the Corden Killer is really a bunch of animals? Like, they’ve gained full sentience, knowledge—whatever it’s called. Dude, what if they’re slowly turning against us?”
“What is he doing?” Tessa spat in disbelief. “Okay, this is staged. He’s not even making it realistic.”
“Does he ever, though?” Tommy rolled his eyes, and let an inward sigh of relief.
“Chat, tell me I’m not crazy!” Chris persisted. “It’s like, like, all those Rise of the Machine tropes. Abuse them long enough and they’ll turn. What if it’s not machines we needed to worry about?”
“Don’t forget to smash that like button if you’ve enjoyed this video!” a new voice severed his. It came from behind him. “Chris is gonna’ have to be signing off...”
“Um, what?” Chris blinked. “No, Chris isn’t.”
“Shut the camera off,” the voice demanded.
“I don’t want to,” Chris grinned stupidly, the culmination of his terror.
“Shut the camera off, and turn around.”
“No, I...don’t think I will.”
“I’ve heard of you. Chris Carpenter.”
“Dude, how do you know my name?”
“What do you mean how? You’re famous, aren’t you?”
“I’m not that famous,” he gave a forced half-laugh, but there were tears in his eyes.
“On second thought, leave the camera on. And turn around.”
Taking a deep breath, he complied.
“That’ll do,” Stephan retorted. “I heard your little hypothesis. I must say it was pretty accurate. I have nothing more to add.”
He sneered. “You’re much smarter than I heard you were.”
“Thanks, dude?” Chris flinched.
“This is disgusting,” Tessa replied, upon seeing the talking cat. “There’s an active serial killer on the loose and he’s making it into a big joke. Suddenly my concern for him is waning.”
Tommy—for once—was in agreement. “Come on, Chris. Even the seven-year-olds in the chat are calling this stupid. What are you thinking?”
“Implying he thinks.” Tessa got up, and prepared to head out.
“Guys...guys I know I’ve done fakeouts like this before, but this isn’t one...” Chris defended. “This cat is really talking to me. If this is a prank, I’m not in on it.”
“Time to sign off, Chris,” Stephan’s voice floated in again.
“I told you I—”
He toppled sideways, as several furry visages jumped him. His phone cam was all over the place, finally cracking into the ground and going dark.
Lightning had come in just in time. He stood behind the mayor’s children, mortified.
“Stephan?” his voice could hardly find its shape.
“Did you hear that?” Tommy mumbled. “I coulda’ swore I just heard someone say—”
They both turned, staring at Lightning like he was an alien.
“Dude-dude-dude, I’m just a YouTuber, man. I never hurt any animals!”
Chris stood before a tribunal of Stephan’s soldiers. It looked as though his trial was going to be held then and there, on the roof of the old Marston Building.
“Maybe not,” Stephan kept to the forefront. “But you clearly have no qualms about snooping in our business. Now that you’ve found us out, what do you think is going to happen?”
“You’ll...let me off with a stern warning?” Chris smiled, nervously.
“Come on, I have fifteen million subs! Almost sixteen! My fans would be devastated if I died. They’d...they’d mount an attack. They’d avenge me! And your little rebellion would be squelched before it even got off the ground.”
“You’re good with a camera?” Stephan sighed.
“I mean, to have fifteen million devoted fans who watch your content, you must have some kind of talent?”
“How about we just call you public relations?”
“Would agreeing keep me from getting flayed alive?”
“You can help us share our side,” Stephan noted. “Maybe a couple humans will even join the cause. ...One more thing.”
His eyes narrowed and his vibe darkened. “The hat. Are you trying to mock us or are you just that tasteless?”
Chris glanced up at his lime green cat-eared bomber.
“I can take it off. It’s...kind of my brand, but—”
“No, leave it on. Being seen in it is punishment enough,” Stephan quipped. He turned to his followers. “Ever notice how when the humans try to imitate us, it always comes off so...that. I suppose you can’t fake quality. Not convincingly.”
The next morning, news stations far and wide were alight with updates on Chris.
“This just in, popular YouTube influencer Chris Carpenter has been reported missing. Family members say he never returned home last night, following a bizarre livestream he hosted from the roof of the Marston Building in Corden. During this livestream, Carpenter is shown to be heckled by an unseen person. When he turns to confront them, a black cat is there. The cat speaks to him in a dubbed human voice. He’s then jumped by what looks to be other animals, before the video cuts off. Earlier in the stream he’s cited as referencing the Corden Killer, and at one point he even postulates the killer could be a group of rogue animals. Whether or not this was a publicity stunt remains to be seen, but as things stand, suspicions are high. His family, however, is less convinced—”
Lightning came clean. Over an hour of explanation saw him exasperated, but Tessa and Tommy believed him, so it paid off.
“So you think the Corden Killer might actually be a group of rogue animals?” Tessa marveled.
“It seems that way,” Lightning stared frightfully at his paws. “You have to realize, Stephan isn’t a normal cat. He understands things the others don’t. He was able to break me out of the shelter like it was nothing. I have no doubt he could’ve led an attack like the ones on the news.”
“They said in that pound attack, the backs on all the cages were taken off,” Tommy added. “Nobody could figure out why a person wouldn’t just cut the padlocks. I guess that’s why. Animals wouldn’t have any way to cut a padlock, not from the inside of a cage. Still...to think a cat would be that smart. No offense, but that’s terrifying.”
“Stephan has always been a leader,” Lightning sighed, sadly. “I just never thought he’d use those strengths like this...”
“So Chris,” Tommy shuddered. “In your opinion, what are the chances he’s still alive?”
“I don’t know,” Lightning winced.
“That’s not fair,” Tommy blinked hard to keep his eyes from getting shiny. “Chris never hurt anybody, human or animal. He wasn’t a bad person—not like those other guys. He was a little nosy, sure. But you can’t just...”
“I don’t know,” Lightning turned his head, shamefully. “My brother was scary the last few times I saw him. He could only think about one thing at a time. He even made me leave, so he could focus more on that thing. I thought he just wanted to help everyone. But who is this helping anymore? I...I don’t understand...”
TBD, part 2
(So I guess I’m continuing that cat thing lol)
The day Evannea died, Lightning said his first words.
They weren’t induced by the tragedy itself. That came later.
Instead, she’d been singing to him, and halfway through the song he poked his head up.
“Josephine?” he asked, placing a paw to his mother’s tired face.
“No, baby. I’m Evannea,” she nudged, affectionately.
“Who’s Josephine, then?”
“I like to think of her as something wonderful. She’s freedom, my dear. Josephine is freedom.”
Evannea’s voice was unnervingly calm.
She was comfortable, content in her despair.
Stephan despised her for that, though he didn’t want to.
He couldn’t bring himself to accept what she’d become.
The complacency. The apathy. She was riddled with it...
Salty wasn’t there to administer his sage advice, which was a shame, because for Stephan it seemed the turmoil of later adolescence had hit early.
He spent the day quiet, curled into a little ball.
When the tendants came in, he stirred a bit, pacing to the edge of his cell. Their current cells were at ground-level, meaning he only caught the approaching legs in his periphery. They neared. Neared. Too close for comfort. And then...
The door to Evannea’s cell was sliding open. She was being lifted out, leaving Lightning to reach for her, and mew for her, and beg for her.
The room was ablaze with noise, but his eyes were louder.
Stephan hoped with all his might that Lightning wouldn’t slip up and speak. Evannea had barely gotten the “don’t talk to humans” lecture out of the way.
Maybe he’d listen.
For his own sake.
These men didn’t look too nice. They held roughly to Evannea, angling their path toward the backroom.
No way... Stephan’s heart grabbed. Mom.
Suddenly his anger dispersed, and fear metastasized in its place.
“Momma,” he heard Lightning garble. He fumbled across, shoved a paw through the bars, and wrapped it around the younger kitten’s mouth, pulling him close.
“Shhh!” he whispered. “You can’t talk. No matter what they do, you can’t talk.”
Evannea turned her head, and glanced back at them.
Her eyes no longer smiled. Her apathy was gone. And her resolve was acute.
Out of nowhere, she ripped a claw up her escort’s arm. She doubled back and sank her teeth into his throat, refusing to release until he flung her off. She then rebounded like a storm, and latched onto his wrist, biting harder, harder.
Stephan felt as though he was hallucinating. It seemed Evannea had been putting on an act for her children. The act that she would greet death willingly.
She did not.
Maybe her counter wasn’t planned.
Maybe she’d just taken his words to heart.
Blood dripped thickly to the floor. The man she had ahold of waved her madly, attempting to shake her loose. Finally, in an act of utter desperation, he slammed her head into the corner of a table. The metal edge cracked her skull, with a sickening wet-walnut crunch, and her blood followed his down. It took a while for her jaw to go slack. Before it could, he’d slung free of her.
She crashed into Lightning’s cage.
Stephan was mortified.
Of all the cages for her to crash into.
He heard the baby kitten squeak, and felt the vibrations—Lightning trying his hardest not to scream. His voice was trapped inside of him. There could be no release until the humans left.
Blood pooled from Evannea’s head, marrying together on the floor. She faced away from the cage. Had she not they could’ve seen her eyes, still wide open.
“Stupid cat,” the tendant grumbled. He’d yet to recover from shock.
“You okay, man?” another came running.
“Yeah. I was carrying her and she just went crazy. I dunno’ what happened.”
“Let’s get you to the hospital. That looks pretty bad.”
“Do you think we should file an incident report?”
“No way. Mr. Mack would kill us. The shelter’s been investigated enough.”
“What do we do with her?”
“We’ll worry about that when we get back. C’mon, man. Let’s just lock up.”
They shuffled out, latching the door behind them. Quiet settled in.
Lightning waited. Waited. Then he broke from Stephan, ran to the edge of his cell, grabbed at his mother’s fur from between the bars, and screamed.
Stephan had never heard a scream so shrill and eviscerating. It felt like an out of body experience. It jarred him so badly he almost forgot who he was.
He was the oldest.
He was the protector now.
And despite the magnitude of their disaster—and the smallness of his shoulders—it was all on him.
He ran over to Evannea, rolling her over on instinct.
She was still alive, but her face was a puzzle in disarray. He knew it would be traumatizing for Lightning to see. Still. She was alive, so he didn’t care.
He just wanted to talk to her.
“Momma,” he choked, trying and failing to hold himself together. “I’m sorry— I was ashamed of you. I thought you were weak. I was wrong. You’re not weak. You’re the greatest mom I could’ve asked for...”
Evannea smiled, with what little strength she had left.
Talking was well beyond her means, but listening wasn't.
She heard him.
And when her eyes darkened, they stayed locked on his.
Take care of my sons, they said.
Both of them.
Stephan turned morose after the Evannea incident.
He invested his everything in strategy.
He searched his padlocked cage for weak points, finally stumbling across a rusted bolt at the back. He used his claws to turn it, and when it came out, he searched for another. The way things looked, there would likely be four.
They took some time to scope, but at last he found and removed them. After the fourth came out, the back of his cage snapped off. He was careful not to make much noise. His cage was low and deep. The way the cages were stacked, nobody could see him or what he was doing, unless they squatted down and thoroughly checked things.
None of the workers seemed partial to doing that. So Stephan figured he was safe.
He’d taken a log of mental notes since being imprisoned. There was a stretch of free space behind the cages. It wasn’t much, maybe a foot or less wide. Just enough for him to squeeze through. With the back of his cage off, he could travel up and down the other cage-backs with ease. He could unscrew bolts and free other prisoners. But he only opted to free one. The others would be covered under his next big plan.
The wall behind the cages was shallow.
He dug his claws in and tore downward. Wood. Rotted wood. The shelter’s dilapidation would work to his advantage. Then he went at it—digging his claws in and tearing down, over and over and over. He steeled his mind, put himself in a determined trance, so that the repetition wouldn’t wear on him.
For hours he clawed the same spot on the wall.
Hours turned to days.
Every morning he’d be in his cage for roll call, and every evening after the humans packed it in, he’d be behind his cage, mauling the wall.
Sooner or later it would cave. And he’d be able to search the entrails of the shelter for a viable escape route.
Sooner or later it did cave. He scratched a few shavings loose and a tiny hole opened. He dug at the hole, ferociously, until his paws could fit and pull the rest down in chunks.
Two weeks in, he had his escape.
Two weeks and one day in, he unscrewed every bolt on the back of Lightning’s cage.
The younger kitten was surprised to watch the back fall away.
“Stephan?” he squeaked.
“Don’t talk. Come with me.”
Stephan led him out, into the sliver of open space behind the cages.
They walked it like a hall, to the yawning wound in the wood.
“See that. You’re gonna’ go through there. I’ve explored the route myself and it’s not that bad. Some dust and cobwebs at first. And it’s dark, if you can get past that. But there’s a ventilation shaft back there. It’s really rusted—I’ve scratched a hole in it too. Get inside and you’ll have yourself a tunnel straight to freedom. Just make sure you go right. Left will take you up into the building. Don’t wanna’ fall out in some tendant’s lap.”
He hitched Lightning’s gaze on his.
“Right is the way to the grate above the dumpster. It’s always full so it should be well cushioned. I’ve already pushed the grate part off. There’s just a hole. In other words, you’re home free now... I told your mom I’d keep you safe.”
“What about you?” Lightning receded, timidly.
“I can’t leave just yet. There’s too much work to be done.”
Lightning’s eyes swelled. “But...I’ll be all by myself.”
“You’ll find friends,” Stephan retorted. “You’re you. I know I can’t be the only one on your side.”
“When will I see you again?”
“Whenever. Look, you can’t think about it like that. If you stay here you’ll just be a liability. I’m gonna’ be leading a breakout real soon, and you’re too small to keep up.”
Stephan hesitated to look at Lightning.
He knew it would just make things harder.
“Next time you see me I won’t be some dumb kitten. I’ll own the whole world, and I’ll give half to you. We’re almost there, Lightning. We’re so close... But I can’t free the shelter in good conscience until I know you’re safe first.”
“Okay,” Lightning surrendered. “You’re still my brother, though. Right?”
“Always,” Stephan pulled him into a hug. “And you have faith in me. Right?”
When Lightning stepped into the wall he didn’t look back.
Stephan went to work on the breakout strategy right away.
One day, around three weeks later, he was walking the gap when he heard voices. He followed them to the edge of a door, barely peeking in. He’d never ventured out from behind the cages. It was a strange and dangerous feeling, being in open territory.
The humans were huddled together, too distracted to pay his direction much mind.
“That makes fourteen euthanizations this year. And never mind how many we’ve lost to illness. If only we could find the resources to advertise better, maybe we’d get more traffic.”
“We could raise the price of adoption and put that towards better medical care. But...then less people would adopt. It’s a Catch 22. There’s no winning.”
“We have to do something. We lost six kittens in one day. It’s unacceptable. One minute I was cleaning them and the next they were just still. We need a veterinary aid on standby for stuff like that. I’m not cut out for it...”
“And the other kitten disappeared. Must’ve got loose somehow. Beats all I’ve ever seen... The cage was intact when I checked it.”
“We could do a fundraiser.”
“Hector, are you serious? Those don’t work, remember. We’ve tried. We’ve stood outside stores, my daughter organized a car wash, we’ve visited every fundraising website there is. People just don’t seem interested. There’s so many other shelters around, and they’ve all got a hand out.”
Stop talking like you’re on our side, Stephan’s claws bit the floor. I’ve seen your colors.
“Well, at least we have that medicine left over. We can see how far it stretches.”
“Don’t remind me. I think, and I just can’t figure out what made that cat go off that way... I’ve never seen a cat act like she acted.”
Don’t you dare talk about this. You can talk about the kittens. You can talk about Lightning being missing. You can even lie to yourself and play hero. But you have no right to put her in your filthy heads after what you did...
“The worst part is, if she’d only kept calm, maybe we could’ve got the medicine in her. All that time it took to get here, and we weren’t even able to save the cat it was meant for.”
Just like that, the world stopped.
You have to fight.
We have to fight.
What do you think is in them?
You have to
What do you
I thought you were weak.
I was ashamed of you.
You have to
It’s us, Momma.
They’re going to kill you
they killed your
YOUR BABIES ARE DEAD!
They killed Salty
It’s us, Momma.
You have to
f i g h t.
Stephan couldn’t breathe.
Medicine. He’d heard it, plain as day.
So they weren’t taking her to the backroom to kill her.
They were trying to save her.
But they didn’t act like
They handled her so
They killed her kittens so how
could they expect me to know...
It’s all my fault.
It’s all my fault.
It’s all my fault.
It’s all my fault, but I can’t...
I couldn’t have known.
They tricked me.
They played these monstrous roles just to pull a 180 and you can’t do that you can’t
They’re toying with me. I won’t buy it.
They were going to kill her. They know I’m listening.
Well, listen to this.
I hate you.
You’re making me think it’s my fault and I won’t let you. Just because I told her you were bad. Just because I guilted her into fighting you. I guilted her...
She lost her mind, and I was a parasite. I slithered into her head when she wasn’t strong enough to think for herself. I killed her.
But you made me think how I thought so you killed her.
Forget a midnight breakout. You’ll be getting a riot for this.
One week. Not one of you will leave here alive. That’s a promise.
There’s a place in Hell for every one of you.
I’ll see you there.
“Hey Chris Carpenter fam!” an energetic young man in a cat-eared neon bomber hat exclaimed.
Tommy watched his laptop screen, reactionless in contrast. His backpack lay next to him on his bed, mouth open, papery guts spilled everywhere. The boy was too tired to care.
“Today we’re gonna’ be changing things up a bit. I’ve been doing a lot of vlogs lately, from the places you guys suggested. Last time we visited the haunted Wiltshire mansion. My crew and I spent the night and I talked about my findings here, if anyone’s interested.”
A link popped up on the screen. Tommy ignored.
“But today I’m gonna’ be doing this great prank I got from—”
The door clicked open, and a girl poked her head inside.
Her expression wasn’t long to change.
“You’re watching Chris Carpenter? Isn’t he for babies?”
“A lot of kids my age watch him,” Tommy shrugged. “I even found a guy in the comment section who said he was twenty-eight.”
“That’s just sad,” the girl rolled her eyes.
“What do you want, Tessa?” he huffed.
“Dad says he’s gonna’ be home late again,” she paused. “You thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Well, Marnie gave you that dumb horror movie and you’ve been waving it around all week so.”
“Ugh. You’re such a buzzkill. Skies of Blood is supposed to be like the scariest movie out this year. I’ve seen it top several lists for effects. And there’s supposed to be this dream sequence scene that the critics went ballistic over, in a good way.”
“Oh, that changes everything then!”
“No.” Tommy sank further into his bed. “Watch it by yourself. I’m busy.”
Tommy wadded a piece of paper and threw it at her. She used the door to deflect it.
A crash outside the window froze them.
“What was that?” Tommy asked.
Tessa rushed to check.
“Maybe someone’s out there.”
“On our rusty old fire escape? We’re fifteen floors up.”
“Maybe it’s a burglar.”
“If it is, I’d almost give him our money for his trouble.”
Tessa stuck her head out, peering around.
She dropped her gaze.
“Some burglar,” she gave her eyes an encore roll.
He joined her to see the kitten—a bright orange shorthair.
“How did it get so high up?” Tommy puzzled.
“Determination,” Tessa laughed. “I think destiny just gave us a cat.”
“Yeah, fat chance Dad’ll let us keep him.”
“Well we can’t just leave him out there. How’s he gonna’ get down?”
She paid the kitten another lingering glance.
“Poor thing. He looks rough.”
Lightning sat on the grated metal platform, licking his paw. For three long weeks he’d been scouring the city for mercy—eating from dumpsters and garbage cans, trying to befriend the lonesome joggers at the park. Nothing had worked. Until possibly now.
And all it took was endangering himself horribly.
Tessa climbed out the window onto the platform and scooped him up. He did not protest. He was sick of fighting the current anyway.
“He’s so docile,” she observed, climbing back into their apartment.
“Let’s get him something to eat. I think we got some fresh milk in the fridge.”
“You don’t eat milk, dummy.”
“You know what I mean.”
Tommy brought Lightning the bowl and set it in front of him. A token of friendship.
He sniffed around the brim and started lapping. He lapped so violently his body shook; and for a time Tommy wondered if he was going to shove his whole head under, or start sucking it in like a vacuum.
“He was starved,” Tessa noted, her amazement evident.
“He’s probably drank more than his own body-weight by now.”
They prepared Lightning an old, flattened pillow for his bed. The pillow was paisley print, and colored louder than an airhorn, but he instantly took to it.
From his new roost, Lightning swept the room with curious eyes. The walls were brighter than the pillow, a sporty true-blue. One wall boasted a span of portraits, from Tommy’s soccer matches to Tessa’s spelling bee wins.
A man was featured prominently throughout.
I’ve seen you before, Lightning pondered. On a billboard or parkbench, maybe?
Then it hit him.
If signs were correct, he was in the mayor’s home.
The mayor over a city of millions.
For a short, near-obscene moment he felt like royalty. But he was quick to dispel the notion. What gave him the right to be this happy, when Stephan was still stuck at the shelter? When Evannea was rotting in a dumpster somewhere, brains leaking out her fractured skull?
Maybe he could make this work. If the mayor would have him, he’d become their family pet, become a part of their lives, and then reveal his speaking abilities once enough trust was built.
He would rally their favor for Stephan and the others.
And beg for mercy if all else failed.
The shelter shut down at nine.
Upon lights out, Stephan waited for his window to speak. He made sure all humans were gone, cleared his throat, and strolled to the front of his cell. Everything was strangely quiet. For once, all the animals were asleep in unison. But that wasn’t long to last.
“Attention,” he thundered. The vaulted ceiling carried his voice.
A few agitated grumbles sounded.
“What’s all the commotion?”
“Shut up! I’m trying to sleep,” a chihuahua barked.
“Oh, rest assured,” Stephan asserted. “You’ll want to listen to this.”
He followed the speech he’d logged away in his head.
“As you are all well aware, my brother Lightning and I suffered a great loss just recently, at the hands of the humans. We not only lost six beautiful siblings, but our mother. I find it interesting that these murderers expect no retaliation. How many of us have they silently slaughtered with their backroom needles and their good intentions? And still, they expect nothing. Inertia is defined as a resistance to change. And it’s this concept, this trait that has fed their entitlement, that has facilitated their safety to come in and steamroll us like we have no needs, no wants, no minds. We’re so accustomed to subservience that we’ve forgotten there are other options. And they’re more realistic than we think.”
“Shut up!” the chihuahua reasserted. “Are you doing this just to spite me?”
“Careful with meowing too much. The security cameras are on. Don’t want them to think you’ve gone crazy,” a rottweiler brooded. “You’ll be joining that mother a’ yours.”
Stephan was unfazed.
“You don’t need to worry about the security cameras, gentleman,” he smiled. “I’ve ensured the confidentiality of this conversation. Anything that happens tonight will be happening in front of a dead lens.”
“You’re bluffing,” the rottweiler retorted. “You don’t have the means.”
“But I do,” Stephan stepped to the back of his cage and unscrewed the bolts, one by one. The back popped off and he walked behind the cages. He’d always vanished when nobody was looking. Now he opted to put on a show.
He emerged liberated, and crossed the room to its center, for all to see.
“I cut surveillance. It’s one of many measures I’ve taken. I’ll shut up if you want,” he angled his glare at the chihuahua, who slunk back fearfully. “And let you get your beauty rest. But you’ll be missing out on a golden opportunity. That I promise.”
“N-no, keep talking,” the chihuahua stammered.
“I want out,” Stephan continued, a hiss lacing his words. “And not by adoption. These hairless things called humans took everything from me. So why would I ever, ever donate the rest of my time on this planet to entertaining them? No. I’m not that charitable. I’m more interested in turning the tables. Of asking them what can you do for me? Can you do ridiculous tricks, with sustenance your ransom? Can you survive the coldest nights of winter, without so much as a blanket to cover you? Can you look me in the eyes and tell me there’s a righteous justification for all the suffering you’ve caused? If not—if you can’t endure what we’ve endured, if you can’t survive what we’ve survived—then how in the world can you call yourselves superior? How in the world have you held us under your tyranny for so long? You are weak, sub-animal garbage. But more than asking all these things, I’d say...‘no more’. And if you can’t abide, let’s just look at what you’ve done to those of us who couldn’t abide.”
His smile returned.
“Humans, I think it’s about time for you to be put to sleep.”
Not a word came from the cages. The silence was paralytic.
“I want freedom. Do you want it?”
“Do you want it?” he loudened.
“Yes,” their reply picked up traction.
“Do you want it!”
“Then you will do as I say, or mark my words, I will escape alone and leave you here to rot.”
“What is this?”
The mayor was not amused.
Tommy and Tessa exchanged terrified glances.
“A cat,” Tommy finally struggled.
“I see that. I meant what is it doing here, in our penthouse? Getting hair all over everything, from the looks of it.”
“We found him out on the fire escape,” Tessa rebutted. “It was so high up, we figured there was no way he could get back down on his own—”
“Can we keep him?” Tommy wasted no time cutting in. “He’s really tame and doesn’t scratch on the furniture. Please, like, I’ll do my homework every night, do all my chores on time—I’ll even wash your new Lamborghini.”
“Like I’d trust you to,” the mayor shuddered. “Tessa, do you promise the same?”
“Definitely,” she bobbed her head, looking over at her brother. “Of course, I did all those things before.”
Mr. Mack was scheduled to pay the shelter a visit, for his yearly review. He was the overseer of several of the larger shelters in the projects.
Stephan came to find this out through eavesdropping. So the morning of Mr. Mack’s visit, he went around to all the cage-backs and unfastened them—climbing, contorting, and taking whatever measures necessary.
The animals were told to remain in place, and wait for his signal.
Mr. Mack entered alone, having instructed his employees to wait outside. He never had time to begin examination.
Stephan collapsed, writhing and howling at the top of his lungs. Mr. Mack rushed to see what was wrong with him. He opened the cage and reached a hand in, just for Stephan to drop the act and jump him.
Like Evannea, Stephan went for the throat. Unlike Evannea, he hadn’t a spark of reservation to stay him. He sank his teeth in as hard and as far as they would go. Mr. Mack couldn’t even clear a yell. He stumbled back, into a rolling chair, blood devouring the collar of his shirt. It trekked down, the treks speeding as Stephan tore away, taking the whole throat with him.
Mr. Mack gurgled, sputtered, and bled.
Stephan spat and gave the order.
And just like that, every animal kicked free of their cages. They ran along the back-stretches, emerging around the bend. By the time human backup had arrived, the animals were all loose and angry, braced for confrontation.
They mowed the opposition down, dogs tearing them apart, cats tripping them, and all other kinds of animal dutifully joining in. That had been the agreement.
The floor was a disaster zone of blood and bodies by the time the battle had finished.
The animals had lost none.
The humans, taken unaware, had lost all.
When I was younger I wrote a laughably cringe story called “The Beautiful Disasters”. All I can say is, at least the title got it half right. I dunno’ how beautiful it was. But it was, in most senses, a disaster. What differentiates TBD from my other books, though, is that I reflect on it...a little too fondly. I have sheer vitriol for a lot of my old stuff, yet I can still scour the penciled/penned pages of TBD and have a good time, whether I’m laughing with myself, or more commonly, at myself. And the premise wasn’t half bad. I was inspired to write it after reading the Wikipedia synopsis to this animated cat movie I was probably too young to watch (as it was very, very, very R). I guess I decided to take the whole “animal revenge” trope and run with it, and the result was...a thing. Ironically, I’ve still yet to see the movie that inspired the idea. But I have a feeling mine flies too far off the rack to even come close to being a copycat (pun intended?). I was actually gonna’ riff it on here, forever ago. I wrote up a few installments of riffery but alas, it fizzled out. I was only able to review a small portion. Still, the riffs made me happy to write, and happy to read back over. I shy away from digging at others and their work much more than I shy away from taking shots at myself. Because I’m in on the joke for the latter. The gist of TBD was a warning against humans trying to play God, coupled with a warning against animal abuse, and a warning against revenge. I’d summarize it but...that would kind of undermine what this is. That’s right: a few nights ago, I decided to try my hand at rewriting the intro, without so much as using the original manuscript for reference. I just winged it. And I like how it turned out. If you’re interested, hopefully you’ll like how it turned out too. I’ll disclaim up front this is nowhere near the whole story. I’ve only wrote a little past this point in the rewrite as things stand. Aaaaand I have serious commitment issues when it comes to finishing books. So no guarantees on any continuations or anything—not even close. Still, I think this part will be fine with or without a continuation. I need to stop this introduction before it becomes longer than the story. *deep breath*
It was around noon when the Bridges were escorted from the Rankin facility. The survivors consisted of three cats, three dogs, and a small, sickly rat who’d been fortunate to get through the first surgery, let alone the seventeen required.
A convoy of scientists surrounded them. If all went according to plan, these would be the variables that led to a greater understanding of animalkind. They’d already mastered rudimentary communication, but with the surgeries, it was Rankin’s primary hope they’d learn to speak.
Corresponding microchips had been implanted in their brains and vocal cords, designed to make articulation easier. The brains themselves had been rewired, in Rankin’s most ambitious project to date.
Dr. Weiss was the only one a bit reluctant. He’d been from the getgo. To him, it wasn’t mankind’s place to play Creator, not to this degree. In addition, the humaneness was nonexistent. They’d lost over two-hundred animals to the surgery.
Public outcry would’ve had them shut down years before, had word of their ambitions leaked.
But the most vital information managed to stay on the downlow.
And now they were two months from making their pitch to the government—that was, if the animals adopted enough human qualities in the meantime. Get this off the ground and a whole new door would be opened. Humans could be surgically rewired for animal behavior, guided by instinct over emotion. Imagine the soldiers, the defense apparatuses they would comprise. There would be no thoughts of family or empathy to tether them.
Dr. Weiss found his eyes sweeping the survivors, and landing on an orange female shorthair. She was pregnant. He’d be keeping the closest eye on her. If her babies inherited her human characteristics, they’d be golden. It would prove the alterations could be passed on, which would all but guarantee a future replete with Bridges.
(Bridge—(noun, slang) an animal able to communicate with both other animals and humans, and thus bridge them).
A black longhair kitten had kept by the mother cat’s side since the lab acquired them. He wasn’t hers, just a gangly stray. But he’d seemingly taken a liking to her, and she to him.
He’d lick the fur that she was too plump to reach, prompting a few affectionate nudges to be returned.
He’d mew in response, a puny, barely-audible sound. His eyes were hardly open. He might’ve been a month old.
Dr. Weiss sang to them as they were placed in their cages for transit.
“Come Josephine, in my flying machine...”
He watched the truckers shut the tailgate, then they were off.
A few fuzzy faces watched him shrink.
He only hoped they’d be a success.
“What do you mean it’s a failure!”
Dr. Weiss cowered at the glare of his superior, Dr. Niall.
“It’s been over a month and no progress has been detected,” he stuttered. “We scan their brain activity and it’s still conducive to the brain activity of beasts. On top of that, they’ve yet to utter a single word.”
“Appalling,” Dr. Niall pinched the slack between his eyes. Perspiration stood on his bald scalp, turning his head to a shining disco ball. “We only had a window of two months for the results to manifest, and we’re halfway through.”
“What,” Dr. Weiss nearly swallowed his voice. The word seemed to get tangled in the hairs of his walrus-stache. “What are we going to do if there’s still no progress when the window’s up?”
“We go back to the drawing board.” The disco ball bobbed adamantly with every enunciation. “And we leave the failures to the street.”
“We’re going to dump them?” Dr. Weiss choked. “What about dropping them off at a shelter? At least then conditions won’t be so dangerous. I mean, it’s not their fault...”
“Oh, there’s plenty shelters in the city,” Dr. Niall muttered, crossly. “One’s bound to take them in.” He narrowed his eyes. “You realize what would happen if we brought them in directly. They’re covered in scars, incision marks. We’d be questioned if not detained. Animal abuse is a felony, and need I remind you this more than qualifies.”
Dr. Weiss stared at his feet.
He said nothing else.
On a still summer night, a white van pulled up to a curb near the downtown projects. It had no license plate. Upon the backdoor sliding open, a herd of protesting animals were released onto the street.
Two months had come and gone. Still nothing.
Evannea, the orange shorthair, was about to pop.
Ever the loyal one, Stephan, the black longhair, refused to leave her side. He waited with her on the sidewalk, after all the others had scattered away.
Once she knew they were in the clear, she turned to him.
“Good work,” she said. “I think they bought it.”
The weeks to come were not kind. Stephan had to scavenge for both himself and Evannea. He mostly collected spoils from the dumpster overflow. For some odd reason, he no longer had the compulsion to chase mice, let alone kill them. The process seemed so messy, so feral.
One night when he stumbled across a half-eaten pizza, he was bringing a piece back for Evannea and he saw them. The catchers.
He’d been warned of them, mainly by an old dog who’d gone missing shortly after.
They got you in their net and you were never heard from again.
Dropping the slice of pizza, Stephan scurried into a nook to hide. He watched with eyes like saucers, as the catchers pursued a young dalmatian up the street.
The poor pup didn’t stand a chance. Stephan noticed he was missing his hind leg. He let a sharp yowl as they nabbed him.
The fight struggled on for a few pitiful minutes. At last they got him into their haul.
They’d handled him so roughly. At one point his head even hit the pavement. Paws kicking, flailing.
He was totally helpless.
Stephan returned to Evannea without the pizza.
“I’m sorry,” he confessed, tearfully. “I didn’t know what else to do...”
“You did all you could,” Evannea sighed. “It’s not your job to save the world.”
“But they had him by the neck!” Stephan cried. “And he was screaming. Those weren’t barks... He was screaming.”
“Stephan, listen to me,” Evannea replied. “I know it’s hard. It breaks my heart, what’s happening out here. But I’m going to be a mother soon—I am a mother now. And you’re just a child. We can’t fight them as we are.”
“We can’t let this keep happening either!” Stephan sniffed, head in his paws. “First Ol’ Dog Spike and now this.” His eyes shivered. The words finally tripped out. “How long until it’s us?”
He knew she couldn’t answer him, so he wasn’t surprised when she didn’t.
He only bedded down at her side, leaned into her, and tried to enjoy her motherly warmth while he could.
The shrill cry woke Stephan, still warm in Evannea’s girth.
It was morning and the dreaded haul had just come.
They had a speckled calico this time, his fur dingy and matted. A few patches were even missing.
He wasn’t a Bridge, so only Stephan could understand him. The humans were clueless.
“I have a family!” he shrieked. All they heard was an emphatic meow.
He tried to dig his claws into the asphalt, but to no avail. They scooped him up into the net and carried him to the back.
Cut the net, Stephan thought. You have claws. Cut the net...
Alas, abstract thinking wasn’t a shared trait. The calico scratched at his restraints, but not tactically. Fear robbed him of his sense.
He flopped and writhed.
Flopped and writhed.
Flopped and writhed.
And finally, Stephan couldn’t take it anymore. Tears had already climbed down his face. They let go at his quivering chin.
“Use your claws to cut the net!” he meowed. He dared not speak, for Evannea had made clear to him the danger. Speak and he’d be taken back to the lab, or another lab, to be cut on and tested until he died.
But the meow was enough. It echoed loudly from behind the sheet of corrugated tin where he’d taken refuge.
The calico heeded his cry and worked to saw through the net with his claws. But before he could he was tossed out, into the back of the haul. The catchers locked him in, and headed for the tin.
Oh no... Stephan fretted. What have I done?
He was cornered, blocked in from all sides.
The tin rattled and peeled back, and a face eclipsed the sky. Stephan’s eyes pulled wide in terror.
It saw him. The catcher saw him.
“Found another one!” the catcher hollered. “This one looks young n’ fragile so easy with the net.”
The gap was all Stephan needed. He shot between the catcher’s legs and launched toward the mouth of the alley. The latter gave chase.
He darted around a second catcher, attempting to lead them away from Evannea’s direction.
The catchers collided, and the one on the receiving end toppled back. His rear met the ground.
“Hey, watch it!” he cried.
“There!” the other pointed, lunging at Stephan.
Thus began a hot pursuit—Stephan led them through a tangled network of alleys, hoping they’d lose his trail. He managed to conjure a mental map, and with some certainty, he dashed from the final alley into an eight-lane road. Unfortunately the catchers hadn’t abandoned their mission. They dashed into the road after him, narrowly evading several cars.
Stephan ran and ran, until he’d lost all sense of direction.
He took a few foreign alleys back toward home, leaving the catchers to dodge traffic. Last he saw they were stranded on a median strip, no crosswalks in sight.
“I’m gonna’ make a rug of that furball!” one ranted.
Furball? Stephan mused, haughtily. Well, if I’m a furball then you’re a flesh-wad. No, that sounds silly. But furball sounds silly too so it’s in good company.
He finally made it back to Evannea.
“Where have you been?” she hardly had time to finish. An awful expression crossed her face.
“What is it?” Stephan froze, too afraid to turn as a thunder of footfalls fast-approached. He saw the net coming down, but it was already too late. Evannea was in no condition to move. She could only watch.
She wasn’t long to follow.
Once locked in the back of the haul, Stephan turned to her.
“Momma,” he mumbled. “I’m sorry...”
Strips of light jailed her, having found entry from the louvered windows.
Her eyes were severe—scared, but forgiving.
Of course she forgave him.
The only question was: could he forgive himself?
“It’s all my fault,” he babbled on repeat, and long after she’d shushed him the words kept twisting around in his stomach. They nauseated him.
It’s all my fault...
It’s all my fault...
It’s all my fault...
“Going up she goes, up she goes. Balance yourself like a bird on a beam. In the air she goes, there she goes. Up, up a little higher. Oh, my, the moon is on fire...”
Evannea stopped her whispered singing when the engine shut off. She pulled Stephan close, glaring intently at the back door.
“You remember the song that guy sung?” Stephan asked.
“Shhh,” she cautioned, as a shadowy figure crossed in front of the louvres.
“You can’t talk,” she added, in a fraction of a whisper. “You know what’ll happen if you do...”
The knob shivered, then clicked. And the door parted away to reveal a frowning man. He wasn’t a catcher. This man was something else altogether.
The caged cats were taken, the calico in one, Evannea and Stephan in another. Stephan supposed they’d pegged them for mother and child.
The cages were paraded through a long, musty corridor, that released into a nightmare. A wall of partitioned cells stood at every angle. They were stacked tall, so tall that ladders were in use to reach the higher ones. The room smelled like death.
Momma, Stephan glanced at her, I don’t think this is a shelter...
Faces filled the cages, glaring out between rusted bars. A dog with one eye, the other a mystical pearl. A cat with her stomach drawn, like she’d almost been disemboweled. Urine dripped from the upmost floors. Snaggled, toothless mouths serenaded them. The song limped toward them and nearly knocked them off their paws.
Stephan got a cell next to Evannea.
He’d taken to calling them cells because that’s what they were.
At least the humans had the decency not to split them apart.
To the other side of him, a big black doberman sat, balefully keeping watch. He had a shallow slit across his throat, where his owner had apparently tried to kill him.
Despite his menacing veneer, he was actually the nicest of the welcome wagon.
“Name’s Salty,” he mumbled.
“Salty?” Stephan asked.
“Yeah, my owner hated me.”
“No, I didn’t mean it like that—”
Stephan recoiled when Salty stepped into the light. “Is your neck okay?”
“Yeah. It’s been that way for years. It only looks bad. It doesn’t hurt anymore.”
“Why would someone do that to you?”
“My last owner was a real winner. He couldn’t handle life or booze, so he’d take it out on me. One day I got fed up. It wasn’t a hard bite, I just wanted him to stop. I made him bleed. So...he returned the favor.” Salty rested his head on his paws. “I’d never seen him so mad. He was drunk, sure. But part of me knew he’d do the same thing sober. I don’t think I’ve looked at a human the same way since.”
“I’m sorry,” Stephan couldn’t keep his eyes off the floor. The past few weeks had been a gradual descent into helplessness, and it didn’t seem to be letting up. “Why do they hate us so much? We didn’t do anything to them...nothing they didn’t deserve.”
“That’s the million dollar question,” Salty shrugged, slinking low. “I ask myself that a lot. I guess...he just hated himself. Makes it hard to love anything, let alone some mangy thing like me.”
“Don’t say that,” Stephan flinched.
“At least I didn’t get it like my brother. He went crazy on Stan, so Stan took him out in the ol’ pickup, hooked a chain to his collar and threw him off a bridge.”
“He hanged him?”
“Yeah. Left his body there till the vultures finally got it. Took all his tags off before the drop. Nobody could trace it. So Stan got off scott free.”
“You know, there’s gotta’ be a place in Hell for people like that...” Stephan didn’t notice, but his claws were biting into the floor. Helplessness twitched toward anger, but it relented before anything could come of it.
“We like to think,” Salty sank down into himself, his resignation evident.
Stephan was anything but resigned.
Evannea gave birth that weekend.
She delivered her babies around dawn, while the humans were away. Everything was quiet till noon, when the door swung open and roused a fresh cacophony of noise.
A shelter worker found Evannea nursing her young, and gathered them into a basket, much to Evannea’s protest. She didn’t fight it, but her eyes did. They clung to her children as the kittens were taken into a backroom to be cleaned.
Stephan stayed with an anxious Evannea, attempting to assuage her.
Eventually exhaustion caught up and she fell asleep, freeing him to cross his cell back to Salty’s side.
“They took her kittens into that room,” he explained, aiming a paw. “They’ve been gone a couple hours. You think they’d be back by now.”
“Things that go into that room don’t usually come back out,” Salty shuddered. “Maybe it’ll be dif’rent for newborns, but if yer old or sick, or go too long without a family wanting you, you get taken in there and...” his voice trailed off.
“And what?” Stephan persisted.
“I haven’t seen it myself, so this is just hearsay. But I hear they stick you with a needle, put some kind of fluid into you. You go to sleep, and you don’t wake up.”
“You stay asleep forever?” Stephan puzzled. “That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“You die,” Salty sighed.
“Oh...” Stephan blinked.
“I’ve seen enough animals disappear that I believe it. There are these mysterious boxes they’ll take out to the dumpster, right after an animal goes missing. I have seen those. Nobody knows what’s in them. But I keep noticing how one follows the other. And it can’t be a coincidence.”
“So if nobody wants us they just kill us and throw us away?”
“Seems like it,” Salty darkened. “I’m sorry to be putting all this on you. But if you’re gonna’ survive here, kid or not, you need to know these things. But hey, you got something a lot of us don’t. You’re small and cute, you got both eyes, all yer limbs. Yer throat ain’t cut like mine. Just put on a show when they bring you out for selection. Shouldn’t be hard to find a person who wants you.”
“What about Momma?”
“Animals don’t usually get adopted in pairs. But hey, what do I know? Maybe she’ll find a nice, happy place of her own. As long as she’s okay, you really shouldn’t worry. I’d give anything to know my brother was okay, even if it meant we were countries apart.”
Stephan watched the door to the backroom, intently.
“You really think her kittens have any chance of surviving this?”
“I don’t know,” Salty puffed. “There’s no reason for them to die if they’re young and healthy. The humans don’t make a lot of sense, granted, but that would be an impressive lack of judgement, even for them.”
Stephan drug his eyes back over to Evannea. She was out like a light, however voluntarily.
She suddenly didn’t look so good.
He tried to scratch the thought from his mind.
I want your babies to live, Momma, the words twisted in his gut, as usual. But please don’t be mad that...I want you to live more...
Another shelter worker returned Evannea’s box of kittens the next day. But a glaring discrepancy wasn’t long to present itself.
Evannea tensed once she’d looked in the box.
There was only one.
“Where are the others?” she panicked, after the humans had stepped beyond the realms of earshot. “They’re going to bring the rest back later...right... Maybe they just ran into some complications—”
Salty’s words circled back through his head.
And he knew the chances of the kittens being alive were slim.
Several had looked rather sickly, in retrospect. But the humans should’ve left them with their mother. She could’ve surely done something. To delude themselves into thinking they knew better than Evannea. The sheer arrogance infuriated him.
You’re not even the same species as us, Stephan mulled. How—
He let it rest after a while. Evannea needed him.
She nursed the one kitten she had left. He drank greedily. The ferocity of his suckling led Stephan to believe he was in high spirits. For that, Stephan almost envied him. How he wished to revert back, before he knew of such pain. To be relatively thoughtless, to only know one want at a time.
Before his daydreams could absorb him entirely, he was sobered by a melody. Evannea was singing, singing to her new child.
“Come Josephine, in my flying machine...”
Stephan couldn’t believe his ears.
“The man you learned that from...” he managed, eyes plastered wide with barely-subdued rage. “He’s the reason we’re here. So how...how can you still sing along to their music?”
Evannea glanced at him, a trace of surprise coloring her expression.
“Why, you can’t let one bad experience keep you from enjoying something,” she brushed.
“But it’s not just one, it’s—”
“I hope you’re not going to be sour on this song forever. When they bring my kittens back, I plan on singing it to them, from sunup to sundown.”
“Mom...” Stephan didn’t blink, for fear the tears would come.
Surely by now she’d figured it out.
So why was she pretending this way?
Her eyes still gripped at hope; her voice still wrapped her child with its silken, jovial lilt.
Why are you acting like this, Stephan wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake her, but he couldn’t bear to.
Have you fooled yourself this bad?
Wake up, Momma, please.
You’re scaring me...
Evannea named her son Lightning.
His fur came in thick and fiery-orange, much like her own. Yellow accents streaked it, hence the inspiration.
She never recovered that well from the birthing. A month after, she looked like a husk of herself, having lost several pounds and turned gaunt.
More and more Stephan’s mind played with the idea of losing her. He hated it, hated the very hint of it.
If she died, what would become of her baby?
What would become of him?
He’d yet to encounter a thought so scary, but when it came it stayed, veining a course through his dreams, rotting them until they turned to nightmares. Every night the terrors would visit.
Once Salty disappeared, a few of those terrors were actualized.
Stephan watched for the box, and sure enough it came.
Two men carried this one.
It was exactly Salty’s size.
When the humans turned their focus to Evannea, Stephan was seized with a fear so paralytic he could nigh function.
They’d skulk around her cell, gauging her progress, or lack thereof.
She wasn’t getting any better.
Stephan didn’t know why, and to him, it sounded like the humans didn’t either.
They were itching to put her down. He could feel it.
She was old and graying. Lightning was likely the last kitten she’d ever have.
Nobody seemed to want her. They’d always pass her over for a younger, prettier cat.
The only thing that had saved Stephan from being adopted and taken away from her was his precisely-honed attitude. Whenever a patron came looking to adopt, he’d sull up and act a fool. Thus far, no one was willing to put in the work. He was a menace, in their eyes. And he wanted to keep it that way.
He wasn’t about to abandon his mother, not for whatever cheap luxury they could afford him.
He’d keep close to Evannea, even as she called out for “her babies”.
“When they bring my babies back, I’ll worry about getting better then.”
“I have a new song for when they bring my babies back...”
“When they bring my babies back I—”
Stephan couldn’t take it. She’d lost her mind. He didn’t want to admit it, but he knew it was true. The maternal smile of her eyes had turned so eerie.
“Momma, you can’t wait on them,” he finally cried. “You can’t wait to get better! You’ve got to start trying!”
Tears curtained his cheeks. The humans were gone for the night, and he was free to weep.
“We’ll be alright, Stephan. I’ll work twice as hard to get better when they bring my—”
“Your babies are dead!” he hated himself before the words even left him. But the fury had been stoked far too much for far too long. He watched her face change. He’d never seen such an injured wince. “Do you not understand what this is!” he couldn’t stop himself. “They killed your babies! They killed Salty! And they’re gonna’ kill you if you don’t get better soon...”
Stephan sagged low, face to the floor. He shook like a leaf in a hurricane.
“Salty told me about the backroom. They drag you in, stick you with a needle—you fall asleep and never wake up. Open your eyes. The boxes always leaving here. What do you think is in them? It’s us, Momma...”
She sank back into resignation, just as Salty had. The resemblance was uncanny.
Her eyes still smiled, in the awfullest way. A way that turned his stomach.
“What do you want me to do, then? Give up hope? Stephan...have you given up hope?”
“I don’t know.”
“Momma. That’s not what I need to hear from you...not now...”
“It’s the best I can do,” she mumbled.
“Momma, please. You have to fight. We have to fight.”
She closed her eyes then.
She couldn’t even look at him.
“It’s the best I can do...”
I need y’all’s opinions on something...
So it’s been a while since I’ve been to a studio. With the pandemic restrictions lifting, the one I was using is too booked to get back into, so Mom and I have been searching for a new one. And we found it. Hopefully this one will be less popular so I can maybe get in more. I have a song ready to pitch if I do go, and it’s something I’ve posted on here in the past, but I’ve altered a few of the lyrics to lyrics I like way better. I’ve also recorded an amateur scratch vocal—with only my iPad mind you, no mic, no fancy equipment, just my voice and silence. So if it’s good, cool, and if it’s abominable, that’s probably why. My request is that you check it out and give feedback, in two regards. One, is it original. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything exactly like this; but I’m really suspicious because this melody feels too good to not be taken. I’ve been checking around, making sure I haven’t subliminally cribbed it off Lana. Results have been favorable, and I think I may be safe. But me being one person, I can’t watch every music video in existence to double check, so I figured asking around would cover more ground, since everyone’s musical taste is different and everyone has a different knowledge base of songs. Anyway. Two, is it good. That one kind of speaks for itself. And like I said, the music isn’t there yet, that’ll be what the guy at the studio does, so it’ll be up to my voice alone to carry the melody, but it’s pretty concise and defined so that shouldn’t be too hard.
So...without further ado. (And I’ll also post the lyrics in case anything’s unclear.)
You were never bad news.
So I thought that it was safe
to elevate my heart into
that long-awaited place.
A past full of mistakes.
My civil war you severed.
You held me in your eyes.
We were the best together.
Of fairy tales and broken shells,
we walked along the beach,
under a cloudless denim sky,
the stars within our reach.
You pick me up and spin me ’round.
Swaddles us inside this dream.
Can’t be seen.
You build me up, you tear me down.
Emotions come and now I’m bound.
We drove on up the boulevard,
and I was feeling dead,
while a thousand happy branches
held hands overhead.
What had I become to do this?
What had I become to stay,
inside this cage of gold you’d made?
Gasps of sunlight flitter down.
But I can’t feel them now.
You pick me up and spin me ’round.
Swaddles us inside this dream.
Can’t be seen.
You build me up, you tear me down.
Emotions come and now I’m bound.
You pick me up and spin me ’round.
Coddles us inside this dream.
Can’t be seen.
You build me up, you tear me down.
Emotions come and now I’m bound.
Emotions lose and I break out.
And my feet kiss the ground.
Also, for reference, the genre is probably gonna’ be slow lounge. Just an acoustic guitar strummed, or, something.
Also also, no promises I’ll follow through and go to the studio, but I kinda’ really want toooo...
Song isn't autobiographical btw. It's just a song :)