Posting my short story for later viewing on my site.
This story is descriptive.
In the Dim Light
The zoo wasn’t crowded during the week, making Tuesdays the perfect day to skip school. I preferred the recreational enclosure rather than the mandatory one. The vaults of esteemed education were still and steady, very unlike the fluidity of the wild. The white washed walls held up what little order there was. My teachers had made me clean those monuments after I had painted on them. Each stone held a piece of vibrant color hidden under several coats of whiteness. The students had loved it. What the school lacked the zoo regained, though controlled. My feet enjoyed the slow pace that always came with the casual stroll to the entrance, landing heavily with each step. It only cost ten dollars to get in and the first few paces made it worth it. The quiet demeanor of glass and concrete made the entire place like an art exhibit. Living memorials to ancient works of art watched gawking faces on busier days, but Tuesdays were calmer. On Tuesday beasts embraced the lazy qualities of the humans that fed them, sleeping while their stomach bulged with food. Even the pacing cheetahs stilled during the week. But there were other creatures that were always statues. The reptile house was the worst. Cold, white marble shown bright when the sun climbed the sky, leaving behind the warmth it had brought. It moved across the great thick walls that held in the cold-blooded things. The inside of the building glittered with glass, no jewelry store could compare to the displays of the deadly treasures here. Fear was kept at a safe distance by a single piece of glass. My body lingered only a few seconds to scan the colors of each specimen. I never enjoyed the cold-blooded creatures, but their skins were amazing. Each scale was cut and placed in the facets of their flesh. The python gathered in its coils every shade of brown and black, every metal born of fire. That metal came to life only when prey appeared, lending its strength to silence the poor beast that became its meal. I turned away from the glass as the giant snake flicked its tongue in her direction. The friction of my jeans as I rushed out of the marble tome made an unusually loud noise. My tastes ran more towards the warm-blooded predators with illusions of grandeur. I had tried staying with the bears and wolves, but they were too much. The bear was huge, too great to be welcoming and too slow to be interesting. The wolf claimed great power, but only in packs. The pack is family and I rather not be reminded of the fact that my own clan held no ties like those of the wolves. There was only one other building to hide in. The cat house was my place and no other spot could compare. Each step I took though the zoo always led me back to that one sanctuary. Cages sprawled around the warm brick of the building, holding in one or two finely groomed felines. These cats held the sun’s glow in their fur, sleeping through its brightness. The sound of my feet rang lighter as I traced my memory, bringing me to the doors to the cathouse. The air on my lips warmed as I opened the door, savory the smooth surface of the bar that you push to open the door. A gust of warm air flew into my hair, messing it up further. The cold winds outside receded and finally stopped as the entrance was closed. I stood still, waiting for the darkness to change my vision. Blue shrank from my irises as black spread to take in the dim light.
I began to walk deeper inside even before my eyes fully adjusted, but still enough to make out certain shapes. No one knew these halls better except perhaps the employees. Behind the felt covered walls that formed a maze like hall leading out to viewing windows. These wall length glass cages looked out onto artificial environments and fluorescent bulbs, helping watchers keep from tripping. Every twenty feet from one exhibit window another appeared. There were sharp turns where larger hallways opened to more windows. Behind the glass little cats with bright eyes watched for movement, curious as always. The snow leopard was the largest cat in the house, barely bigger than the clouded leopard across the blank hall. Grey fur blanketed the top of the cat down to the tail with cocoa brown patches, over laid with dark brown spots. The bottom of the feline appeared to have been dipped in cream, tones of ivory and eggshell moving through it. Its frame was strong and balanced. The grace it carried in its gait hinted at its independent confidence, with long tail swinging about. Yet somehow it held sweetness inside the predator exterior, mainly in its eyes. I felt sorry for the little big cat. The hollow rocks carved from synthetic materials. The little foliage maintained in the cage drooped sadly, mourning its once healthy state. Sighing, I took my seat on the windowsill beside the pane of glass opening onto the mountain like habitat. The leopard was lying down on a hollow rock watching nothing in particular. Its ears flicked in annoyance and alertness, ever watchful. These cats are solitary in nature, on guard all the time, avoiding trouble before it even appeared. These traits made it my favorite animal to watch. My fingers brushed over my dark brown coat, only a few shades lighter than my pants. The buttons found my fingertips and easily slide back through their slots, letting my jacket loose. The heat from my skin flew from the opening, cooling me down considerably. The rich green of my sweater peaked through the dimness as my hand pulled apart the sides of my coat. Outside autumn was pretending to be winter far too early in the season. The wind had been friendly and enjoyable until today. I brushed back the tickling black hair that refused to be tamed. A sign of unruly and unattractive tendencies. I never really bothered to dress up my tangled nest of hair, instead it simply hung free on my shoulders. Today the wind was fierce enough to slap my knots in my face every five minutes warranting a ponytail. I knew I wasn’t much to look at. With a mess of hair and lanky body, barely curved. I showed no great signs of female ripening. I lacked both the chest and hips to really distinguish me from a feminine boy. My form was more child than woman. The muscles in my body hibernated like bears with no real plans to wake up. My fingers spread wide, moving the tendons underneath to stretch them out. My eyes caught movement as my hands relaxed.
Something moved behind the glass, fast. I gasped, my face turned right towards the snow leopard. My hands gripped at the windowsill seat under me as the cat ran up and snarled, its glass twin reflecting back at it. The feline paced in front of the window, moving from one visible end to the other, teeth bared and threatening. Its full power restrained by a single piece of glass. Yet its eyes stayed fixed on something in the dark behind me. I gulped down my anxiety. The clear green eyes of the nervous animal were focusing just over my shoulder. I didn’t want to look, but things never turn out right if you just ignore them. Like a fire in the kitchen, or the looks your mother gives you while you eat, or the way your father watches your every move through the apartment. There was a pressure in my skull as I started to move. The pain surged through my nerve endings in one great sweep. I was stunned, falling to my knees in front of the snow leopard window. My eyes stayed on the floor, watching it spin. Hushed voices bounced off the quiet walls, but I didn’t catch them. The next time I blinked I was dreaming.
Being struck by lightning would have been kinder. I couldn’t really see when I finally woke up, but what I could was tinged in green. Whispering and shadows was the basis of this new world. Blurs moved around me, mocking my attempts to understand. The cold air had taken my skin, pulling up the bump that cover your limbs when it gets intensely cold. The swirling I had discovered in the cat house returned swiftly, making it difficult to concentrate on anything. When I closed my eyes, my nose took over. The smell of soap and axe body spray was over powering. As I buried my face in the ground I felt mulch and smelled the woody tones. For the second time today, I gulped my anxiety down. I opened my eyes, the hazy spinning was slowly going away. It was darker now than it had been. The blushing of the sky alluded to dusk. I didn’t like it. Had I really been out that long? The pounding in my brain kept me from wanting to move, but my eyes were not victims of that particular pain. There were two men, barely men at least. The source of the axe body spray had been found. One of the men moved closer and closer, though her eyes were still a bit blurry, she was unable to see his face clearly. This one smelled of soap. He held up something small in his fingers. I tried to see but couldn’t. His hands grabbed my jaws, forcing my mouth open. The small, circular tablet was placed on my tongue just as my mouth was forced closed. I remembered how mom had always given the cats medicine in that exact manner. The bastard covered my nose, forcing me to swallow before letting me breath. I coughed terribly, every breath aching in my chest. When my lungs were full and satisfied the pill started kicking in. I didn’t want to think about what I’d been given. I just wanted sleep. My limbs had never felt so heavy. My eyes couldn’t stay open any longer. The whispers were clear for one minute before being lost.
“Kyle, what if she remembers are faces?”
The moon shown in every tint of blue and cold white that had ever been mixed. I was awake; at least it felt like I was awake. Pain is not an issue for the dead or the dreaming. That was a small relief to an extent. My body ached with each beat of my heart, the way a snake hugged its meal with each breath. What I wouldn’t give to be that meal right now. My limbs had returned from their weighted state, feeling warmer. My hands lifted instinctively, twitching a bit from disuse. The cold fingertips moved, tracing the damages on my arms, neck, and stopped on my torso. There was pain farther south, but I didn’t want to acknowledge it, or how it had gotten there. A sniff threatened my cold nose, but my lips opened to suck in air. I coughed and sat up quickly. There was a dizziness threatening to surpass the logic and focus attained only a short time ago. My head bowed in both pain and exhaustion. The coughing moved cold air through my lungs making them ached terribly and activating the sports induced asthma. I hated the way that made me sound. I wasn’t so much a wimp, but heavy exercise in cold temperatures sent lightning through my chest. As soon as my breathing relaxed it was easier to regain control of my logical mind. It had been sending up alarms and screaming of unthinkable happenings. A sweat ran over my skin as the possible scenarios flowed past my mind’s eye. The shock hit her hard and fast, but then so did the sobs. My hands gripped at my face, clawing at the tears jumping down my cheeks. The burning of my tears forced my eyes closed, making my mouth suck in the cold air once more. It lasted only until I began coughing. The stabbing pains in my chest forced my thoughts to still. My body relaxed and my feelings came to a standstill. Numbness is a luxury reserved for the weary and desperate. Fortunately that luxury allowed me to think straight for a time. My eyes tilted down to eye the rags my clothing had once been. Green shreds cling to my breasts where my bra no longer lay. My coat was gone and my pants were pulled down to my knees. My face warmed and I stood, pulling them up in a rush. My shoes were gone, no socks, no nothing. Bruises were forming on my stomach and pain flowered when my fingers prodded them. Blurs raced back and forth as I shook my head so hard that I sent flecks in my eyes. When the world was still again I scanned the area around me. Blue did nothing to clarify the world I stood in. I was covered in dirt and filth of a kind I couldn’t identify. At that moment I hated the fact that ducks were allowed to walk all over the zoo. I found myself dusting off my arms, wincing at the few bruises coming through there. My bones protested my choice to move. The black of my eyes flickered across the landscaping, noticing something manmade on the ground close by. There was a small concrete path less than ten feet away. I stepped onto the cement with the grace of a blindfolded bison, although the bison might have been more surefooted. The mulch easily gave under my bare feet, stinging with their little splinters. My feet touched the rough stone, following it. The small path returned me to the back of the cathouse. I craned my neck forward, squinting to see the door. My fingers tumbled down, finding a doorknob hiding from the moonlight and slowly opened the heavy block. The door swung into the hall where the light was faint, but not without identity. The snow leopard window blinked back at me as I peeked through the entrance. The light in the enclosure was dimmed but it was helpful anyways. The black carpet inside was a relief to my feet; the warmth calmed me further and helped ready me for more movement. The cats didn’t even look at me as I passed through the hallway towards the exit. I prayed with all the sincerity I possessed that the zoo gates were not shut completely. As I approached the main door of the building I paused, taking in the humidity. After a short rest I moved again, pushing on the bar that unlocked the door and being pounded by the freezing. Joints burned as I walked faster and faster towards the main gate. I just wanted to get home and wash off. I wanted to forget how I had gotten the bruises, the aches. I wanted to run, but unfortunately none of those were an option.
My lungs gave way to the bitter air half way to the gate, making me double over in choking gasps. Why did my body have to be so finicky? I sank down to my knees, goose bumps formed over my arms. The concrete was rough on my toes so I moved to the mulch and landscape to the side. I nestled up close to a bush along the path to recover. The rasping in my throat was almost deafening. The duck pond was near, I could hear the spray and smell the slight chlorine. The tingling along my neck stopped helping me to slow down. My eyes settled on the concrete imperfections before me when I noticed a bit of cement darker than the rest. I stretched my neck forward and noticed a u-shaped print made by a very sour smelling mud. The bridge of my nose scrunched up in disbelief. Horses were not allowed to wander off by themselves. I stood slowly, a bit stiff from having cooled down so quickly. Rubbing my hands over my arms to warm up helped a little. My feet followed the hoof prints on the path for a few yards, liked they were hunting for the answers ahead. This one anomaly distracted me from the other things that were rattling around in my head. So I hunted for this strangeness, like a moth to its flame. Wanting and not wanting to find the animal I was after. It was when the path was leading to the bear exhibits that the hoof prints turned off into a forested patch. The landscaping that the zoo likes to use to hide employee paths or water pumps. The lower branches of the trees scraped at my arms as I pushed my way through the front row of bushes. It was the crunching of mulch and the pain those little stingers caused that made it so difficult to concentrate. It was hard to keep track of the prints in the dimness but the full moon aided the chase. What I did see clearly was that there were more than one set of prints. Small, large, it never occurred to me that if one animal escape more might. My hands groped at the passing brush, getting little scrapes on their insides. Little red lines danced along the palms and wrists, etching jewelry into the flesh. These wounds wouldn’t last long. As my feet continued the torture of walking the tracks were becoming harder to find in the shadows. The trees filtered the moonlight in drops to the coffee brown dirt below revealing one or two tracks. Each opening of light pointed to yet another set of prints until the light began to turn from cold to warm. Soon my eyes were able to pick out each print from the dirt and twigs, then the direction, and finally the entire path was exposed. The splinters in my feet numbed as my toe sank into warm dirt, relenting in its encounter with the flesh. The goose bumps on my skin had disappeared when the cold winds stopped blowing. In fact the wind was warmer than it had been in a month. The tracks imprinted within the dirt were leading towards an opening in the bushes a few feet away and into blinding light, the smell of sun drenched foliage wafting through that entrance. It was too much for my eyes for a few seconds.
Eden was a flowerpot and a basket of pears compared to this place. A narrow dirt path ran from the opening in the bushes to an unseen distant point. From that single brown line grew hundreds of acres of wilderness. Meadows unfolded to reveal wild flowers and a solitary lake that sparkled. Mountains touched the sky around those meadows, sculpting the passing clouds into nearly recognizable shapes. The smell of growth and warm earth radiated from the serene landscape. My eyes returned to the dirt under my feet rather quickly only to notice the path. Nearest the path spread a million different types of bushes, each sporting a different type of berry or flower, adding drops of color into the vast greens. The short foliage wrapped around the dirt on both sides forcing the traveler not to wander. Instead the plants seemed to invite a weary person to sample the sweetness they guarded. The proud trees began where the bushes ended and they were as varied as their smaller wards. Pears and cherries drooped on the branches, dancing casually when the breeze kicked up. Fat plums bobbed carelessly to an under lying rhythm in the air. Apples gathered on their branches like drops of blood, waiting for their day to fall. Paradise never smelled so sweet. But I wasn’t dead. I hadn’t seen any Christ or devil. When had all the angels gone to war? My fingers touched the skin of my neck. The pulse in my blood reminded me of my mortality. I was still alive. As if to add to the thought a bruise bloomed in perfect pain bringing a wince to my expression. A sigh echoed in my breath as my feet stirred. I moved to the bushes, touching the tops as I walked. Peaches ducked low to brush my cheeks, finally pulling a smile to my lips. The leaves under my fingers sprung up warmly to stroke my palm, calming the tingling of the scrapes from before. Even the thorns of a white rose bush slipped away, presenting merely its softest flowers. Everything seemed to breathe. As the oranges swayed to the prod of the breeze, music trickled into my ears.
It was small at first, fragile. The farther I walked on the path, the stronger the melody became. With each foot into the dirt the music sought me out, twining its way from the dirt, up my foot and legs to land within my ears. The logic in my brain had instructed that this place could not exist. Apples needed different conditions to grow than oranges or pears. Roses were too delicate for the terrain the blackberries nestled into. Yet my curiosity was out of control, even if I had wanted to control it. The dirt relinquished again and again under my steps, sending up more melody. I could almost see an end to the trail, or a new beginning. Yet there was more for my eyes to caught before my feet moved me along. The smell of lemons drifted through the scent of flowers, along with a very fresh odor. I squinted to focus my vision when a soft thump sounded at my feet. I turned my face down immediately, a little surprised to see a flawless red apple perched happily at my left foot. My back arched as my hand extended over the fruit. I stood, running my fingertips over the rosy flesh to check for spoils. As my eyes had suspected, there were none. My teeth were inches away from the most delicious taste in the world when I remembered what I had been doing. Clearing my throat helped to refocus my thoughts.
The wavering notes in the wind clued the source of the music. And like the cat, I wanted to know. It was a little while before I found the entrance of a temperate forest I had almost seen earlier. The dirt of my path was now covered in pine needles and freshly fallen leaves, quieting my foot falls. The softness of those needles was such a contrast to their name. With a glance back at the spring I had been welcomed into to and gripping the apple in my hands, I walked into the strong scent of pine. Pinecones slumped lazily on their roosts as I passed, not caring if I inspected them. The trees in this place were as different as the ones before. Oak trees stood tall to shelter the much smaller dogwoods from the silly breezes. Birch leaves slid over each other in excitement with their growing yellows. A single walnut tree gathered its bulbs together around it, most on the ground, drying to reveal the light brown shells. Maple leaves floated down in sheets from branches above to soak me in their colors. The curtain of reds and oranges formed around me like a dress, tickling my exposed arms. If the path here had been spring, this place had to be autumn. It was just a little cooler in the forest than it had been on the dirt trail, but my body received it happily. I had almost forgotten about the music when the pounding of a drum came at me from the right. There was a brighter area just beyond a good sized bush, honeysuckle twined through it in decorative threads. The honeysuckle flowers trembled in the wake of the drum beats. A low pipe howled gently into the pounding drums and stamping feet. Moving closer and ducking down, I peered through the bushes. My face burned with embarrassment as the sight through the shrubs cleared. There was a clearing in the forest, big enough to fit a thousand or more people. The portion of the clearing closest to me was lined with food, fruit, and barrels of dark red fluid. The liquid was close enough and in such numbers that I could smell the bold ruddy scent easily. Ceramic mugs and crystalline glasses clung to the ground around the barrels, waiting to be of use. Piles of pears and cherries huddled close to large dogwood trees that sported glass chimes through its branches. The chimes glittered like stars moving through the universe of branches. A small stream ran through the back of the clearing where soft grass heaps were laid down as mattresses for the weary. But the reason for my embarrassment was the people. More than a hundred people were situated throughout the clearing. Towards my left, near the tree line, men beat drums and played deep wooden flutes. Two women next to the pipe players were strumming sinew strings on primitive looking harps. The combination of sounds fit together in a surprising way, ducking in and out of each other like a woven strings. In front of me I could see twenty or so people dancing. The women leapt among the men, arching their bodies in lovely shapes. The men pursued their partner’s with equal grace but twice as much charisma. Beyond the dancers I could spot groups of people sitting or reclining on the grasses put out for that very purpose. Some were eating, others drinking, and even more were talking. A few women, giggling and smiling, gripped a man’s hand and pranced off into the forest. The laughter was sweet but unnerving to hear as they made off with their entertainment. No man or woman looked the same, or even close to the same. Some men were heavily muscled while others modeled robustness. The skin of each person was unique, ranging from olive to darkest brown to almost snow. But the color of their eyes and hair was extraordinary. Some had bright brown hair and eyes, but I caught at least one or two people with white hair. When I found myself staring awe-struck at the men I looked away. The bizarre spectacle had been enough to distract me from their state. They were all naked, from woman to man. I was positive I hadn’t died or been met by angels, but it was truly strange. As far as I knew there wasn’t a nudist colony anywhere near the zoo.
Hands grabbed my shoulders and moved me forward. The bruises along my body pulsed as fear struck me. The bush scraped my arms as I was forced into the open. I looked back at my attacker frantically but turned away when I saw his eyes. I landed on my knees in the dirt, hands splayed out in front of me to hold up my body. I stared wide-eyed at the ground, shivering slightly. These people could be in the middle of a something important or stupid or violent. The weight of eyes on me was too much. I closed my eyes tight, trying to block out the sounds of feet moving closer, shuffling the pine needles away. Muscles tensed inside of me, the purple blossoms on my skin ached. I opened my eyes when soft fingers gripped my chin and tilted my face up. A woman’s face stared back with warm green eyes. The look of familiarity was tinged with sadness. The girl released my chin and petted my black hair, still in its pony-tail. I looked past the women then and saw the man who had found me. He was tall and slim, toned with skin that looked so smooth that it gave off a glare in warm mahogany. His black hair was flawless, going down to his ears in unblemished curls. Those eyes however were nothing more than black screens. There was no color in those eyes. No warmth.
My sight shifted then in shame and fear. It was then that I was lifted off my hands and knees. The woman from before dusted off my filthy pants and signaled for help. Women from among the crowd around me jogged forward. The gaggle gripped my wrists, pushed my back, leading me to the stream. My head tossed around in panic, taking in quick views of what was happening. The man I had been exposed by leaned down to pick something up. The musicians returned to their playing. Other men re-filled their glasses. Women were dancing or chatting quietly. The green-eyed girl held my wrist and gently pulled me into the stream. The water wasn’t cold, but it wasn’t warm either. I considered myself calm until the group attending to me ripped at my clothing. With a gasp I covered myself as best I could. Some of the women gave me a confused look before rubbing me down with wet flowers and peppermint. Where the peppermint had come from was outside my scope of thoughts. The sturdier women pried open my arms to wash them. The scrapes and bruises moaned unhappily at the contact. I felt vibrations in my throat, knowing that whimpering would do no good. The more delicate girls were combing their fingers through my hair, braiding it and bending flowers into it. I wanted to scream, roughing my throat in ways bobcats would. I didn’t want to be so vulnerable to these strangers, flesh revealed and touched. The bathing was over as soon as I gave in to my instincts, letting out a cry that distressed a few of my keepers. Reaching heights that only a hound could find. The woman from before was petting my hair now and took my hand once more. Her hair was a dusty grey, warm in a sort of brown. I was guided from the stream, the women returned to crowding around me at a fair distance. The music had stopped again, no thanks to my shriek. The man was standing with his hands behind his back, waiting. He was waiting for me. A hand print formed on my heart as fear trembled through me. I wanted to stop walking, but I didn’t. My guide just smiled, a sort of sad smile, and kept me moving. When we were in front of the black haired man the women let go of my hand and presented me to this creature. I was sure that no human could have those eyes after all. With a kiss to the cheek the girl left my side to join the growing ring around me. I had only one friend in my life, but the desperation of losing him did not compare to this. I watched the girl go before I turned back to the man. My arms hugged my body, covering what they could. He didn’t appear to be uncomfortable in the least. One of his hands swung out from behind his back slowly, his palm coming to sit on the top of my head. I looked into the black pools of his pupils and he stared straight back.
With a breath the barrier was broken and his words flowed,
“Do not worry, we will always take care of you. You are with us now, Mara.”
If you had asked me what his voice sounded like, I couldn’t have told you. All I understood was that there was a kindness hinting at an unspeakable cruelty. A cold-blooded lie that meant to be sweet, yet its venom stuck in my veins like ice. My mind was returned to the situation when my name jolted through me. I barely had time to think when his other hand appeared from behind his back, holding the apple I had brought with me. The fruit gleamed at me, happy to be reunited. The man smiled and took my hand in his, untwining my fingers to place the apple in my up turned palm. I stared hard at the red skin of the globe and again my brain was telling me something was wrong. I remembered reading a story once, a long time ago. A girl in an unknown place with an upside down world, but the memory was too far away right now. All my memories were far away, floating off into mist and quiet. The fruit felt heavy in my hand, pulling me towards the deep dark earth. I lifted the apple to my lips, its smooth surface was cool and tingling lightly. I had once put a marble to my lips before and now I feel it was similar to this. It had always been a terrible habit, touching things to my lips to gauge their smoothness or softness. My mom had punished me when I had buried my face in my dog’s back. She hated filthy things.
I opened my mouth, my teeth pressing to the skin of the fruit. My teeth sank in and a single piece collapsed onto my tongue. Every moment of my life burned bright, fresh blood on new snow. With the taste came the bitter sharpness of those memories. The apple thudded to the ground as my grip laxed. The piece in my mouth slid down my throat. Fire ignited in my gut, raging through my blood. The muscles in my face tenses, creating harsh angles to my normally calm expression. My lips pulled back in a snarl, showing jagged, angry fangs. The violence in me sprung up as I remembered, seeing it like a movie. I had been so weak, drugged by the cowards. The smug bastards whose faces repelled women of every calling, they thought they were so tough. They had held me in unconsciousness as they took away my choice, my bodily rights. Tears threatened my vision, but soon they singed as my anger overwhelmed me. I remembered their faces, very clearly. Those pock marked cheeks and beady eyes, egg white skin. Those sneers hid the insecurities, the truth that they didn’t want to confront. My face was boiling along with my lungs and eyes, my vision even seemed to be steamed up like glass. I felt claws rip through my back, letting the heat in my blood free and sending me forward. I blinked once, shocked at the smell of rotten wood. I had never noticed just how high the lion viewing platform had been, the way the wood creaked under your feet. The railing wasn’t that tall, barely up to my mid section. The pressure of the paws on my shoulders lingered as I rushed the forty feet to the ground. Blood was warm across my back, gathering on my skin in streaks. I never did feel any pain as I hit the ground, though I do recall the smell of the grass. The scent sits still in my memory, bright and sweet. A deep thrumming sound was in my ears, like when you run your finger over the strings of a cello. Deep, soulful, dangerous chords. I didn’t see the big male cat so much as feel his dominating presence. Fear was far from me for reasons I couldn’t grasp. I closed my eyes, welcoming the darkness behind my eyelids. A second thrumming of melodic notes sung in my ear, the vibrations going through my throat. Something smooth and hard glanced over my neck, finally finding a place in my muscles. There wasn’t pain or cold, it was just there. I felt exhausted, having been running around. I slept soundly for a while, but from time to time my muscles woke me in aches. It did not take long for the pulsing in my limbs to send me back to sleep, twitching my ears and stretching my new claws. I’m not sure when the change had occurred, or even if it had. Had I always had claws, or fangs? That moment was glazed in sleepy wisps and random thoughts. I cared not for the reasons or the logic my human brain wanted, sleep was too tempting to pass up. I just wanted to sleep as the first gold was painted in the clouds. The night would call me to a bittersweet hunt, when I had the strength, but the dawn was not the time for me to entertain my fancies.
It had been weeks since the newspaper headers claimed that two college students had been killed by a wild cat. The animal specialists assured the public that the creature was gone since there hadn’t been any more deaths. The zoo had been blamed at one point, but it had also become popular because of this. People from all over the city drove to see if they could spot a man-eater in one of the exhibits and claim the glory of the find. Of course no one would ever find the cat responsible. It was even crowded on Tuesdays. I still disliked the crowds, especially since that night, and kept out of sight until dark. The green eyes of that leopard always found me after sunset, watching her from behind the glass. Those same eyes belonged to an even bigger cat with the taste of blood still fresh on its fangs. I remembered the screams and the heave their chests gave in one final attempt to breath. It had been a perfect night. With that warm fleeting thought I returned to the snow leopard, my eyes focused on her. The warm breeze in the far off woods smelled sweeter than I had recalled, beckoning. My lips drew back in a grin, showing the tips of my fangs. I still saw that girl who had been so kind to me in that forest, wrapped in her leopard skin behind glass where the blind humans gawked. She eyed me in greeting, standing and stretching. The grace in her body as she drew close to the glass still amazed me. She and I would be going soon, back on the spring path to dance, to feast. I smiled, clearing my throat.
“So, are you ready to go?”