The plastic flap that covered the crudely cut opening on the bottom of my back door rustled as the cat stepped in. I paused on the way to the couch, with my dinner, to sigh.
“For God’s sake. Who have you killed now?” I asked the blood soaked feline. She glared up at me in the way only cats can and limped towards the kitchen.
“Marie, this isn’t over!” I called after her as I went to sit. I sank onto the old sofa and started eating, but I could hear her whines of pain from the other room. With a heavy sigh I set my food down and got up to help.
Marie was sitting in my sink, bloody paw prints trailing across my counter. I grabbed a towel and approached. She may be smaller than me, but this Maine Coone could pack a punch…er a bite. A scratch? She was freakin’ deadly, if startled.
“You gonna talk about this?” I asked to alert her to my presence over the water she had turned on. She turned her fluffy head towards me and growled as she tried to lick her paw.
“Let me help.” I gently picked her up and set her back on the counter so I could see better. She handed me her front foot and I sucked in a breath. Christ. What had she done? “How did you lose TWO toe beans?” I asked. She ignored me as I set it back down and started checking her over.
“Well I’m not taking you to the vet.” I began rinsing her paws of red. “I don’t care how much you love him; he’ll think I’m abusing you.” She hissed as I picked up her back paw and discovered more missing toes.
“Oh stop your blubbering, you whiny little beast. It’s only a missing toe…or three.” I shook my head and rinsed her off completely. The red stained her normally gorgeous white fur. “I’m going to need to shampoo you, you know.” I gently wrapped her in the towel so I could take her to the bathroom and continue the bath before I bandaged her paws.
“Shush!” I whispered harshly at Marie. She was growling lowly on my lap in the subway and glaring intently towards my face. When I had first found her at the shelter, I thought she had a staring problem. It took almost a full year before I realized she was staring just behind me, at the shadows I thought no one else could see.
The red was completely gone now, days later, and but she had been strangely silent about the whole incident. I smiled at the old woman sitting across from me and ran my thin hands down Marie’s back. Her pale blue gaze shifted to my face for an instant as if to tell me to knock it off. I smiled warmly at her and kissed her forehead. Another low growl rose from her and I coughed to hide it from the passengers.
I noticed as a man made his way over. Oh please go away. I silently begged him. But he stopped in front of me so I looked up.
“That’s a gorgeous cat you have there, son.” The old man said. I nodded and pet her again.
“She’s my best friend!”
“Poor girl. What happened to her paws?” He asked, though his concern seemed forced.
“She had a little accident. She’s okay though.” I said with a reassuring smile.
“May I pet her?” He said politely. I didn’t like how he looked at Marie though.
“Actually she doesn’t take well to strangers. I’m sorry.”
Marie looked around at him and flattened her ears to emphasize my comment. He took a step back and nodded. “Oh okay. Sorry to bother you.”
After he sat back down on the far side of the train, Marie turned around to me and continued her glaring at the shadows. Her tail twitched in annoyance and to my disbelief she growled under her breath.
“Can I kill him?”
“No!” I looked around, worried someone would hear her.
“Just a little bit?”
I glared at her. “You don’t talk for days and then decide to do it in a subway? Are you kidding me? Why can’t you just act all dainty and lady-like….like most cats do.”
She flexed her unwrapped feet and her claws dug through my jeans. “I don’t want to be lady-like. I want to lure creepy men to their death.”
“Oh for Christ’s sake, Marie. Just be quiet.”
I shot a forced smile to the old woman who was watching the strange man talk to his cat. She smiled back hesitantly and turned away.
Once we reached our stop I relaxed a little. Marie jumped off my lap and strode out the door as I gathered my bag and hurried after. I followed her out of the station and up the stairs. She stayed close to my feet, occasionally shooting a growl behind me.
She really was a beautiful cat. And huge. Bigger than most Maine Coones I had seen. Her back reached my knees. Granted I was only 5’2” but still. We walked for a mile before we found the building we had come for.
The old wooden house was nestled against large apartment complexes on three of the four sides. There was a sign on the front porch that only showed the outline of a cat, but this was definitely the place. I shifted the heavy bag on my back as we climbed the stairs and I opened the door for Marie.
The inside was musty and Marie sneezed. I gave her a look when she jumped onto the counter and rang the bell with her bandaged paw. We heard shuffling from the back room and a deep, sick sounding cough preceded an old woman with short, spikey white hair. She glared at Marie as she approached.
“What do you two want?” She said with a too deep voice. Marie’s tail twitched on my side of the counter.
“We brought more to trade.” Marie said in an even voice. The woman harrumphed and motioned to the table on our right. I walked over; keeping my eye on Marie and the way the old hag cast glances at her.
The cans that tumbled from my bag were loud as they clattered against the wooden table top. I set to work arranging them to be more appealing before turned to see the gleam in the hag’s eyes. “Where did you find so many?” She asked suspiciously. I pointed to Marie, playing my part of the mute human.
“I had a debt from an old friend. These are fresh, less than a week old.” Marie yawned, showing her bright white fangs.
“Why should I buy them from you?” The hag asked. I reached down and picked up one of the cans, admiring the hand-painted label. Marie’s ears twitched towards me as I slowly opened the can. It was really hard not to gag at the odor that arose, but the way the hag’s pupils dilated to fully black was worth the struggle. She licked her cracked lips and took a step closer, but Marie’s warning growl made her freeze.
“Trust me, it’s worth it. Our price is one thousand.” Marie replied nonchalantly. I kept my face blank, but I wanted to gape at her. Why would she ask such an outrageous price for these counterfeit cans of unicorn meat?
“D…done. Give that here.” She reached for me but Marie gave another warning, her last one judging by the way her ears flattened. The hag turned to the cat and backed behind the counter. We watched as she counted out the money and laid it by the feline. I set the can down and stepped towards the cash as Marie jumped down. We slowly left as the hag edged closer to the cans. Man I hope she won’t be able to tell they’re fake. We need this money. We left the house and hurried down the cracked sidewalk as we scanned every direction for signs of pursuit. It wasn’t until we were back at the subway that Marie’s warning growl sounded and I spun, but found nothingness. My heart froze as I stared at the emptiness behind me.
“Wh…where are the shadows.” I whispered shakily to Marie as she stepped in front of me, her body seeming impossibly bigger with her fur on end. My back bumped against the door of the subway car and I hurried to get it open as Marie hissed. The door finally slid open after what felt like an hour struggle and we jumped in. I strained to close the doors again as she growled and batted at the emptiness from between my feet.
The doors closed and I breathed a sigh of relief, until I turned around. The car was full, and every set of eyes was trained on me. Marie growled and placed herself in front of me. My hands started to shake. “Get down, stay behind me.” Marie ordered and I obliged. I sank to my knees against the door as she stared down the people that were beginning to rise to their feet.
“We have at least five people trying to kill us right now.” I whispered. “What are we supposed to do?”
“Actually it’s more like eight.” She corrected me and I wanted to scream.
“Oh, sorry I wasn’t specific enough!” I shot back as I reached down and unwrapped the gauze from her feet. She flexed her remaining toes, the rest having healed already, and took a sideways step closer to me while emitting a low growl.
“I’m ready.” She murmured to me. Christ, why did the shadows leave me? I asked myself as the first person’s arm morphed into a pointed blade and he lunged.