It wouldn't be an overstatement to say the moment I met Cat changed my life. It was certainly the highlight and defining moment of my first trip to the city. Cat is short for Catarina, which I guess is fancy. She is certainly beautiful, magical, and fun.
I felt an instant connection. But, that was just who she was. The reason she personified the shock of my first visit to the dirty dark dystopian city could be summed up with two facts. The moment I met her, I knew she was the sauce for me, even though she was so different from anyone I had ever known. With her golden tan skin and her magenta hair. The other fact: when I met her, she was in her third month on the street after running away again. My first memory of my fairy tale princess, was her shitting on the train.
Not sitting, shitting, with an 'h'. I don't mean in the toilet cubicle. Which was broken and taped off, but the smell said it was definitely still in use. She wasn't even on the platform, off in a shadowy corner. She was squatting right in the middle of the aisle on a moving train. I suppose she was trying to aim it under the bench, that was the extent of her nod to propriety. Which aimed her hairless slit right at me.
"Hand me that guy's hat." She said, indicating the man, possibly drunk, passed out a few seats down. A blue knitted cap was on the bench beside him.
I thought it odd, but didn't question her. I leaned over, grabbed the cap, and handed it over.
It was too late to say more than, "hey," when she wiped with it then draped it over the small pile, covering it.
"I'm not entirely an animal," She said, pulling her skirt down and sitting beside me. Taking a travel sized bottle of hand sanitizer from her bag and rubbing it into her hands.
"New in town?" She asked casually. As if I hadn't just witnessed her most private activity.
"Just coming in looking for work. Figure I'll see if I can sell some of my uncle's wood carvings. Since he broke his back in the woods searching for windfalls to carve last summer he doesn't like to go far from home. My mother used to do it, but she is not what can be called dependable. And now that I'm back from seeking, and failing to find, my fortune, she says I should do it. She says since I have little talent for anything special, I might as well be of use to someone who does." I explained.
"No talent?" Cat asked, "I can just look at you and know that's not likely to be true. You have an aura of strength."
"I don't know what that means, chick." I replied.
"Aura? It means the air about you. The feeling you inspire. Some more gifted than me might even see it as a light radiating from you." Cat explained.
"I can't see me inspiring or radiating anything." I confessed. "I am not without talent. Just not a talent that applies itself to work. Which in my family is the one criteria of worth. I am strong, but its wrestling strength. Not longshoreman strength. I've got a good voice for speaking or singing, but nobody is offering me any work like that."
"Wrestling and singing can help you get along with people and as long as you can work as hard and as long as average, you should have a blessed life. No one ever won friends being the best wheat thresher in the village." With a reference that was two hundred years out of date, she continued. "Practicality is a fine thing. But there has never been a connection between practicality and popularity."
I smiled, "No, I suppose there isn't. But popularity is something I neither want nor need. I will say my mother would have appreciated if I had been strong and steady enough to work and support her. I already cover her shifts a couple days a week, but I know she wants more. Her disappointment has been a signpost of my life. So I always knew when I was home."
"Well if she was already disappointed in a child, she likely made you unexceptional. Deriding a child is always a self fulfilling prophecy." She said.
"I think that she was hoping I took after my uncle." I started. "He can draw as well as any comic book and can carve exactly the same, down to the smallest detail. You should see the ones I brought for sale. Most of them are pretty graphic, you know- sexually, since that's what sells. But you'll see how crazy good they are. I suspect my mother was terribly jealous of her brother. Both his abilities and the rewards his art has brought him. I think she hoped that it was somehow hereditary and since he didn't have any kids. She had plans for it to come to me."
"Oh, so she's a fool." Cat smiled.
"Perhaps, but she is who she is. And I am years past being disappointed." I said.
"Make no mistake, my lady." She said, "I love fools. They are my favorite people. Second only to yourself and your ilk; wild eyed innocents."
"You mean wide eyed?" I asked, almost certain that was the right phrase.
"Oh, those are great. But nothing beats a wild eyed innocent when it comes to finding an interesting companion." Cat clarified. "Their wildness often translates into irresponsible bravery and a ruthless willingness to do what needs to be done."
I thought a moment, then said, "I can be trusted to do what needs to be done. But I don't know that I'm ruthless."
Cat laughed, "Oh I'm certain you are. In the right circumstance. I would be comfortable accompanying you into danger. I doubt you would abandon me, or even think of yourself first. With a fool for a mother and the look of a hero, I doubt self-preservation is even a concept that crosses your mind."
And it just continued like that. Both of us talking overly formal and a little awkward. Since she was holding my hand and sitting on my lap before the end of the day. I guess our emotional closeness happening so fast contributed to our conversation's uneven patter
I don't like to talk about change. Not because I hate it, or fear it. It's not my favorite, but it's fine. There are only three or four things in the world I care enough about to have an opinion one way or another. I just don't like to talk about it because I'm not interested in everyone and their fat granny talking to me about what it all 'means'. Shit happens. it doesn't need to mean anything, and I've found about half the time it doesn't.
I just turned twenty-one. Which might have meant something thirty years ago. But whatever the law says. Which I honestly don't know. Either way the law is spread far too thin to worry too much about underage drinking.
My mother still called me a child and treated me like one, unless it suited her. But by my twenty-first birthday I had already worked five years supporting myself and subsidizing my mother's occasional waitressing. First, I was just covering her shifts. Then I started picking up my own shifts. Eventually working my way up to afternoon bartender. Even before i was 21. Two months, in fact, before I was 18. Plus, weekends I would sing and play guitar for a straight 50 bucks a night.
People tell me that's not even bar band money. I kinda knew that already. It also means I work 12 hour shifts on Friday and Saturday. A huge deal when talking to someone as proudly lazy as me.
But I do like to sing and my needs are pretty small, so I don't need a lot of money. I give my mom a hundred and twenty dollars a week to help her out and we don't talk about it out loud but part of that is she doesnt knock on my door unless it is a real emergency. She has the rest of our condo. I have a private entrance, (the back door) and there is a second bathroom in the garage. I might text her once a week, that was more than enough. I worked a double at least once a week because she didn't show up. After years of that, on top of a childhood that wasn't winning any prizes, working her hours was as close to her as I wanted to be.
And if I'm being dead honest, which anyone who knows me will tell you I'd rather not do, I'd say my life is better like this. Since I told her to cram it. Okay, since I decided I needed to live for myself, I got a hot girlfriend, I got a small but sweet life, and I started seeing things. Not good things so much as real things. Real things I would rather not see or know about. And I certainly don't want them to come up and give me odd jobs. But such is life.
If this is the price of being who I am now, having the life I have, I would still grab on with both hands and not let go for nothing.
I woke up at 10:30, about an hour early for me, but I had a teenage girl standing over me, watching me sleep. Pretty sure she was named Tatiana, but her friends call her Tana. She was a freshman cheerleader when I was a senior. Which meant that I was forced to watch her little routines at enough mandatory assemblies to be certain I recognized her.
I probably should have said her friends had called her Tana, because there was only one reason she was lurking over my bed as I slept. Tatiana had joined the restless dead.
"Hey Tana," I said. If she felt comfortable standing in my room at the crack of dawn, watching me sleep, I guess we were friends of a sort. I was almost certainly her last hope. That surely meant there was some sort of relationship here. I wouldn't help someone I hadn't drudged up some level of compassion for, and she must feel some gratitude. A couple liberties with her name wasn't such a big deal.
As soon as I acknowledged her, she disappeared. I knew she'd be back. Maybe the word in the otherworld was I didn't let spirits interrupt my morning routine. Or this visit was just to reassure herself that I could see her. She could have even been called away.
I suppose her unfinished business could have been a passionate crush on me, but I'd never acknowledged her existence. Now that I had, she could rest.
It was much more likely that she would be back though. I found human spirits could rarely manifest for more than a few minutes at a time in their first few days, or even weeks, depending. However long it took for them to get used to haunting. If they ever did.
I always felt that little bit extra good if I could help them to pass on before they even got the hang of their ghost powers.
I knew there was nothing I could do right now, least not for her. I needed to get a little deeper into her unique situation before there was anything I could do without her direct involvement. I grabbed my phone, expecting a good morning text from my girl.
There wasn't anything. There hadn't been anything since yesterday's good morning. Not a good sign. Cat could be flakey, flighty, and maybe a bit confused; but she never missed messaging me for a full 24 hours. Even when she couldn't hack her family shit and ran away, or when she had tech issues. She always found a way to at least send a few words and keep me informed.
This had only happened once before in the two and a bit years we'd been together. That time, when I found her, she didn't remember me. She was on new meds, her 'special vitamins' that she doesn't think I understand are anti-psychotics. They fucked her royally as far as her memory was concerned. Even simple things like the sequencing involved in crossing a street were beyond her.
She was more than my girlfriend or my best friend. She was both, but she was more. She was my fairy tale princess. My happily ever after. I love her more than I thought was possible before I met her. I believed I could never be this devoted to someone who isn't me.
I had three hours before work. I blew off taking a shower because I wanted to check on Cat first. When Tana met me at the sidewalk in front, I explained I was busy with my own worries this morning and I would have to help her at another time. Though when she fell into step beside me I didn't shoo her away.
I left my motorcycle where it was. It was only three blocks over and i didn't need a growling engine announcing me. Her parents didn't like me but I would be more likely to get information if i took them by surprise.
I looked at Tana and said, "Happy to help, but I wouldn't expect much. Whatever you need to do tends to follow you til it's done. But not usually this closely and not usually this soon."
She rolled her eyes and walked ahead. Since she was going the same way, I just followed her.
Today looked like rain, which we needed. But this time of year a lot of days looked like rain and never delivered. I blamed the white imperialist power structure. I wasn't completely sure what it was but I heard it once and it was a good thing to blame stuff on.
I looked at Tana again, actually surprised to see her still there and looking so determined it was almost shocking. There was definitely something fueling her. I just didn't know what it was. And I couldn't ask.
Cat could sometimes talk to spirits, but I can't. Can touch them just fine if they allow it. Just as solid, strong, and warm as they were when they were alive. But no audio. They could hear and understand me. But it was just charades and a lot of pointing on their end.
Tana wore her cheerleader uniform now. This was honestly not surprising to me. A ghost can appear wearing anything they can imagine. But most early risers tend to limit themselves to outfits they owned in life.
In a situation like this; coming to me, trying to take care of their unfinished business, they were likely to wear something that made them feel powerful. Maybe there was a practical effect. For all I knew maybe the only reason she was capable of manifesting this long was the strength she felt from wearing her uniform.
It made me want to help her just a little more. But, I was still detouring past Cat's place. She was my priority.
Tana started to run. So I started to run. She was still heading the same way I was, so this still fell under 'hey, might as well'. Rather than some do-gooder imperative
Tana skidded to a stop in the street, standing in front of a truck waiting at the light, holding her hand out for it to stop.
The truck drove straight through her, of course. She began to run again, with me in hot pursuit. We cut across a few yards and at the next corner I was the one in front of the truck.
Tana ran up alongside the driver's side door. Leaving me plenty of room next to the window to talk to the driver. I recognized him as the swim coach for our school. Tana kept pointing at the back of his right hand. When I looked closely at his hand, what I originally took as a bandage was quite clearly a pair of bloodstained underwear. Girl's underwear complete with pale blue ribbon accent that went across the back of his hand.
"Hey Coach, how's it going?" I asked with false casualness.
He looked confused and scared, guilty even, for a moment. Then a mask of false bravado dropped over his face. "Puckett? I'm surprised you recognize me. Skipped my class way more often than you came. And you certainly never had enough school spirit to try out for any team."
I reached through the window and turned off his car. He struggled with me for a moment. I just broke the key off. I was pretty sure he wasn't going anywhere for a while.
He started to sputter and scream at me. I just looked coolly into his eyes. "So Coach, I notice you have bloody girl's underwear tied around your hand. You want to talk about it?"
"Look, you nosy little cunt. There are all sorts of torn t-shirts and ripped towels in the rag bag in my office. I didn't realize what they were until I had it out." He growled.
It would have even been almost believable, his anger and shit, that it was a chauvinist man's embarrassment at using panties as a rag. But someone who was that embarrassed would have trashed them and grabbed something else. Not tied them on for fun.
Tana was motioning exaggeratedly. I looked over at her. She was sniffing the back of her hand and making a face like she was completely intoxicated by it. Then she mimed unwrapping a bandage. With a look of surprise she showed me her unmarked hand, then flicked her skirt and gave me a quick flash of her cheerleader drawers. Due to my sister Melanie the bowhead, I knew they were called bloomers, spankies, lollies, bundies, or cheer briefs depending on region. But whatever you call them, hers were both tattered and very bloody. I guess the panties came off early in her torment.
I was a bit worked up and not thinking too clearly but I knew what she was trying to tell me.
"So you cut your hand, Coach? Well I'm studying to be a nurse. Let me have a look." I grabbed the cloth, hooking my fingers underneath.
"Shut up, you little shit. I know you are a waitress at The Way Station." The Coach said.
"Waitress and Nurse." I said, and pulled the fabric. It didn't come off but it moved far enough to see there was nothing underneath.
Just as I saw that, he opened his door into me hard, knocking me down. He was out of the car and running. Kind of spry for a chubby old man
But he was heading toward the park. Which is not the best place for a guy that tied the bloody panties of a dead teenage girl to his hand as a sniff trophy.
I chased him, but right before I got to the park myself I went down with a wrenched ankle. I was back up in a minute and I hobbled along after him as best I could. He got away from me, but Tana stayed with him and stayed in my line of sight so I knew where to go. I passed maybe forty people out enjoying the park.
By the time I caught up to him, he was almost to a fountain where a girl of about six frolicked in the spray wearing only daisy panties that were seethrough in the wet.
"Marina," Her mother called, "Marina, get away from there. Come here right now!"
Then the Coach spotted a policeman at the last second and turned away. I saw the wheels of his mind turning. He turned, pulling into himself, clearly planning to sneak off without drawing attention. Then he made a decision, and turned back again.
It was funny, I could see him working up a head of steam to make a scene. By the time he spoke he was already escalated to a hundred, "Officer, excuse me, sir."
The cop turned around and my fears were answered. Badly. It was Ted, my mom's boyfriend. He hated me.
"Officer Bunyan, this girl has been harassing me all day." Coach pointed at me across the lawn. "She has physically attacked me. She vandalized my car. She accused me of foul play involving one of my students."
He paused, then came back even stronger. "I am a respected educator in this town. I have dedicated my life to educating your children. I have led our girls to three national championships. Some 'D' student who will never amount to anything more than a bar whore waitress, and she accuses me. She casts aspersions on my character. Leash your cunt's bitch daughter or I can just as easily call the chief of police, Ted."
"You have a pair of bloody underwear tied to your hand, you freak. You were sni-" I realized that he had gotten rid of the evidence before now, and Tana was nowhere to be seen.
"I was what? I did what?" He shouted. "That's ridiculous. She's ridiculous, Officer Bunyan."
"Fuck him," I shouted right back. "You know me, Ted. You've dated my mom over a year. You also know, know better than most. If I say I have inside knowledge of what happened, you know I damned well do."
I had helped Ted's sister when she died. I'd helped his daughter. When his wife had driven their car into the quarry and she had gone on. But the daughter was left invisible and alone, not even knowing she was dead. I helped her.
Ted fuckin' owed me, and he knew it.
But he was terrified to even think about what he knew, let alone face it. He was one of the maybe ten living people in the world who knew, without a hair of doubt, that I could see and communicate with the dead. But fear can easily become denial. Especially under pressure like this. So it was a crapshoot as to whether he would do his job or cower like a baby in the corner.
A crapshoot I lost.
"Sam, I think I'm going to have to ask you to come downtown. Stalking and threatening a man of the Coach's standing in this town? I'm not going to be able to protect you from this."
As opposed to the millions of things he's protected me from in the past? What an ass.