A/N: Hey, guys! I just finished this chapter a few minutes ago, and like with most of my work, it hasn't been proof read. I'm in desperate need for a new beta - someone who has the time to not only proof read, but also help with brainstorming and whatnot - so if you know anyone you think might be interested, please send me a private message. You'll be rewarded with awesome points, I just know it.
I took what feels like a little bit of a risk with this chapter by writing from the perspective of a different character, so let me know what you think: does it hurt the story, make it more interesting, you really don't care either way? I love hearing back from you guys, so don't be shy. Anyway, enough rambling, enjoy the chapter and have an awesome day!
The sun slowly rose over the horizon, but the sky was cloudy so instead of the usual arrays of orange and pinks that appear around sunrise, today it was turning everything an eerie gray. That was especially true for what lay beyond the midsize window, as light crept passed the blinds, and bled over the wall and carpet of the small bedroom. The nightlight flickered off, punching its timecard now that the dark was being banished by someone else for a while.
As the room became illuminated, the movie posters on the wall, the magazine cut outs, and pictures printed from the internet became clearer. The room was clean, but not spotless. Yesterday's clothes were in a pile next to the closet door. A few toys were on top of the toy box, thrown there hastily before bedtime. The only part of the room that looked messy was the bookshelf. It was overflowing with non-fiction science books about animals, mostly bears and large cats, but also a few on whales thrown in to create the illusion of a more rounded education.
Martie laid in the middle of his twin size bed, face buried in his pillow, completely dead to the world as it started to come back to life. His blankets and top sheet had been pulled over him in a messy pile as if he had created a nest in his sleep. The only part of him that could be seen was his messy hair, sticking out from under the blankets.
He normally wasn't the type of child to wake up at sunrise. Even as a baby he would have to be woken in order to feed or have his diaper changed, which he protested loudly. Before he became ill and all of his energy was drained from his body, he would still protest getting up in the morning, but it was a different type of defiance.
Instead of wailing or throwing a temper tantrum, he would do everything he possibly could to slow things down. He would eat his breakfast as a snail's pace, take fifteen minutes to brush his teeth, twenty to brush his hair, and would conveniently forget how to tie his shoes hoping that if he took too long getting ready his mother would decide dropping him of at school or daycare was too big of a hassle and would forget the whole thing.
She never did.
This morning was different, however. This morning as the sun rose, and the neighbors in the apartment upstairs got up and started shuffling around, Martie's eyes opened just a crack. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end, and a tightness gripped the insides of his belly with cold fingers that sent a shiver up his spine. Something was watching him. He knew the feeling well from the older kids at school who like to sit at the picnic table at recess and watch the younger ones with hawk eyes as they play, waiting to pick off one of the weak, and lately Martie was always weak.
He slowly pulled the covers down just enough to peek into the room. He blinked a few times as the light invaded his senses, but since it was dulled by the clouds it only took seconds for his vision to adjust. He didn't see anything in the room, nothing was out of place, and his mother and god mother weren't watching him sleep from the doorway like they did sometimes. He thought it was weird, and kind of creepy and their explanations for why they did it never made sense to him. How can watching someone sleep be comforting?
He carefully rolled over onto his back, and looked down at the end of his bed. Anticipation and anxiety flooded through his veins as he did so. What if there was something at the foot of the bed? His mom thought he never heard her when she talked to Rachel about the real life monsters she hunted down almost every night. What if they decided to return the favor? He's learned from his books that animals always go after the young and the old or the sick. A young sick person would be easy pickings for a monster with giant teeth and claws.
When he looked down, nothing was there, and he let out a breath of relief, a breath he hadn't even realized he had been holding. He scanned that side of his room with his eyes, once, twice, three times when he finally noticed what was different. There was a shadow on the blinds. Something was sitting on his windowsill and trying to peer inside the room. He could tell it was fairly small, but that didn't mean it wasn't dangerous. Monsters don't have to be big to be deadly. Sometimes they don't even have to be visible at all.
As he stared at the shadow wondering if he should lie still and hoped it would go away on its own, or run into his mother's room and tell her to grab the axes she thought he didn't know about, something started to happen. A feeling washed over him that caused his eyebrows to crinkle in confusion. He felt hungry, starving in a way he had never felt before. His stomach felt like it had claws and was digging against his insides. He felt dirty, like layers of oil and dirt covered his skin making him feel weighted and strange. Most of all, he felt lonely. It was like a sinking pit in his chest that screamed to be filled, to be hugged, to be loved.
Tears sprang to his eyes and he clutched the blanket so tightly his knuckles turned white. His throat felt like it was closing up, and when he tried to suck in a breath it turned into a tight sob. He quickly threw off the blankets, suddenly feeling too hot and stuffy, and sat up so fast he became lightheaded. He slowly put his feet on the floor and stood, moving carefully until the dizziness went away.
As soon as the world became normal again and the only thing clouding his vision was his tears, he bolted for the window. He wrapped his hand tightly around the string, and pulled with all his strength. The old blinds moved only a few inches. When they stopped, he almost began to panic. He wrapped his other hand around the string, and pulled, and for a second was afraid it was going to snap.
To his relief, they moved, not smoothly like they were supposed to but enough so that half of the window was exposed, and he could finally see outside. His breath caught in his throat when he saw the creature sitting on the sill. It wasn't a monster like he had thought it would be. It wasn't some type of imp, or elf, or fairy, or even a demon that had come to do bad things. It was much more ordinary than that, but still a shock.
It was a cat, still young and fairly small, only about five pounds. It was missing patches of its mangy brown and black fur, and it looked underweight. Martie and never seen an animal like this before, but he had a feeling if it touched it, he would be able to feel its bones through the skin. The cat, barely more than a kitten, looked up at him with eyes so green Martie was sure it wasn't just a normal cat even though that's exactly what it looked like, pathetic and starved yes, but a cat no less.
The cat didn't make a sound, didn't cry out for food or attention, didn't startle or run away. It just sat there, staring at him with those deep green eyes, and those feelings that had been so overwhelming a moment ago started to ease a little. He could still feel them in the back of his mind, but they were dull now something entirely different started to happen that should have confused him, should have scared him, should have had him calling out for his mother or Rachel, but he didn't. He simply stood there, and let it happen.
As he looked into the cat's eyes, images started flooding his mind. He was inside of a cage, the noises and smells that used to be frightening and overwhelming weren't as bad now that a few days had gone by. Someone walked into the room, and everyone else started yowling trying their best to get the person's attention. Calls for food, calls for scratches behind the ears, calls for something to kill the endless boredom of being stuck in a cage rang loudly throughout the cramped room.
The next image was a small apartment, sparsely furnished, but warm, not like the cold cage. There was a woman who was tall, almost like a giant, but kind and gentle, and smelled really nice. She had food and toys and curling up against her body at night to sleep made Martie feel safe and content in way he wasn't used to. She called him Iris, and her long nails felt good as she ran them along his back before gently pulling on his tail.
Then he became bored. The woman would leave for what felt like days, and he wandered from room to room searching for her. When he decided she wasn't coming back he ran over to the couch. The fabric felt interesting under his paws, and he couldn't resist the temptation of bringing his front paws up onto the leg, and sinking his little claws in, pulling down hard. This would get them ready for hunting, he just knew it. When the woman came home and saw what he had done she slammed on door, yelling loudly, and anger rolled off of her so strongly that Martie ran and hid under the bed.
This went on for a long time, the woman would leave, Martie was all alone, and would find something to do when crying for her to come back didn't do any good. When she finally returned, she would get mad and start yelling and stomping her feet around as she walked. She stopped petting him, stopped giving him special food from the plates she ate from, and stopped snuggling him at night.
The final image in his head was similar, with one really big difference. He had torn up something more important than furniture or clothing. He had climbed up onto a table and found some pictures, the paper glossy and cool and it had weird smells to it. Smells of smoke and cologne made his nose feel itchy. He touched the paper with his paw, and when it moved he sunk his claws in deep. That made it move more, and he gave chase. He rolled onto his side, and held onto the paper with his teeth and front paws, while delivering the deadly blow by quickly and repeating scratching with his hind feet, tearing the paper to tiny pieces.
When he was done playing he curled up on the couch and took a nap. He woke up when he heard the key turning in the lock, and his body felt anxious, and tense. He pushed the throw pillow up and slid behind it, pressed tightly between it and the couch. Hopefully she wouldn't find him here. She always found him when he hid under the bed. As soon as she saw the mess, she was furious. She stomped around looking for him, her voice full of so much anger she didn't sound like herself.
She came close to the couch and fear filled Martie's veins. Instinct made him run, but there was nowhere else to hide. The bedroom and bathroom doors were closed so escaping there wasn't an option. When she saw him she went quiet, and he ran under the couch. There was too much space between the bottom of the couch and the floor. He didn't feel concealed or safe but it was better than being out in the open.
When she reached underneath the couch he froze. Normally she picked him up by the scruff like his mother would, and carried him into the bathroom for a "time out". Normally she would tell him he was more trouble than he was worth, and she should send him away, but nothing ever came of it. Today, the hand smacked him hard, hitting him on the shoulder, and his body went sliding across the wooden floor. He tried to run, but she was faster. She grabbed his scruff and lifted him out from under the couch. His back feet and tail curled up close to his belly on instinct as she carried him.
Only this time it wasn't towards the door. She carried him across the room, and opened the window. She held him out into the cold air and let go. She was back inside before he hit the metal fire escape. The window was slammed shut before he could even make a sound. He stood out on the cold metal crying for her to let him in until he was shivering so much he knew he needed to find someplace else to go, someplace safe, someplace warm where the people didn't leave you alone all day, and scream at you when they came home.
Martie gasped and stumbled backwards. Sweat rolled down his forehead and the back of his neck as he struggled to catch his breath. He felt winded and exhausted like he had been running all day, but the sky was still gray, the sun still barely poking out from behind the tall buildings as it continued to rise.
Iris was lying down on the sill now, looking up at him, and watching closely as he caught his breath. The hunger pains bore into his belly once again, and he wrapped his arms around his stomach. He wanted to cry, he wanted to scream and kick the ground, and shred everything in his room. He knew he couldn't do that, knew it wouldn't do any good since it clearly didn't help Iris. He tried to open the window to let her in, but it was locked and he didn't know how to open it. Desperation coiled inside him as he struggled to help the cat, and his mind suddenly cleared when he figured out the solution. He needed to get to his mom. She would know what to do.
Quinn was reluctantly pulled from sleep, and at first she couldn't figure out why. What happened that made her leave the very weird and yet pleasant dream of having a picnic with James Franco on an empty subway car? In reality that was unsanitary and a little serial killer-ish, but in her dream it had been relaxing, and fun, and clothing optional. And of course since she had somehow gotten on the universe's bad side, the dream ended right before things were going to get very interesting.
She groaned and rolled over onto her other side. It was her last day off. Her last day before she had to go back to that hellhole of an office job, and she was going to savor every moment of it. She had a plan, written down on a piece of loose leaf paper, and tucked away in her nightstand drawer. It simply read: step one, sleep 'til noon; step two, eat sugary cereal and watch cartoons with Martie; step three, nap until dinner time; step four, repeat step two. Then after a long day of doing practically nothing, she would sit down with her checkbook and pay bills. Then binge eat on ice cream to make herself feel better.
It's what her days off had become, leaving the late night parties, and keg stands, and shots of alcohol she could barley handle far behind in her college days. They were so different from her life now that the memories didn't feel like her own. Some days she looked back on those nights of blowing off an early morning class to go to a frat party the night before, and she feels as if they're someone else's memories that had been implanted in her head. Unfortunately since Rachel was right there with her, she knew that they were all true.
None of that mattered now, though, because it was nine in the morning and something had woken her up. She rolled over onto her stomach, and buried her face in her pillow. She would fall back to sleep, even if it was by sheer force of will. It was too early to be woken up on her last day off. She wouldn't have another break from work for two weeks, and being awake right now was unacceptable. Sure, sleeping in until noon was a pipe dream since Martie wouldn't be able to go that long without sneaking into her room to cuddle with her and unintentionally waking her, but nine was too soon.
She groaned again – a low rumble that reverberated in the back of her throat, and she thought for a second maybe it was more of a growl – when she heard a soft knock on her bedroom door. I swear I'm going to freak out if they don't go away, she thought and laid very still when she heard the bedroom door open. She could tell from the sound of the footsteps that it was Martie. She could also tell that he was trying to be quiet; only walking on the balls of his feet so he wouldn't disturb her too much.
She kept still, didn't move a single muscle, and made sure to keep her breathing even as he crept towards her bed. Maybe if I play possum he'll change his mind and leave the room, she thought. She had to fight to keep her face expressionless when she felt his tiny hands gently touch her skin. His little fingertips carefully moved across her cheekbone, and when he got to her eyelid, and gently pulled the skin up she almost lost it.
"Mom," he whispered, and she groaned. If he was this determined to wake her up then no amount of playing dead was going to make him go away. "Mommy, there's a kitty at the window. Can I keep it?" His voice was too soft for her to hear, but when she opened her eyes, blinking some of the sleep away, she knew it was something serious. He never frowned like that unless they were out of his favorite cereal or Rachel wouldn't hand him the remote to the television even though Saturday he was allowed to watch cartoons right after breakfast.
"What, baby? I can't hear you," she said, and rolled over onto her back. She rubbed her tired eyes and stretched out. Her joints popped and cracked, and she let out a sigh of relief. She let her gaze fall on her son, and she couldn't help but smile in amusement. Whatever it was he wanted, he was nervous about it. She could see his lips subtly moving as he went over what he wanted to say in his head.
"There's a kitty sitting on my window," he said, his voice just loud enough for her to hear. Her eyebrow quirked up, but she made sure her expression stayed neutral. Crap, I bet he's going to want to keep it, she thought and watched as he took in a deep breath, and let it out slowly. Rachel had taught him breathing exercises, and Quinn was a little proud to see him using them as a coping mechanism for the stress he was obviously feeling. "Can I keep it?" Bull's-eye, give the pink teddy bear to the lady!
"Martie, it's just a stray. Leave it alone, ok? It might have a disease or something," she said, and rolled over onto her side, trying to get comfortable again. She almost startled at the look that came over his face. His brows furrowed in anger, and the expression in his eyes became dark, burning in a way she had never seen from him before.
"She's not a stray, Mom," he said, his voice low, but tight and she was too thrown to react to the glare that he was giving her. "Her name is Iris." Her eyebrows furrowed in confusion and she sat up a little. Now that she was taller than him again, some of the anger vanished from his face, but she could tell he was still seething.
"Does she have a collar and a tag?" she asked, and pulled the blankets back from body. She couldn't help but shiver, and goosebumps immediately erupted all over her exposed skin. She stood up, suddenly awake and alert even as her sore body screamed at her from the effort. Stray cats were common in this neighborhood, and a housecat on the loose wouldn't survive for long.
"No, but she told me her name," he said, and she stopped. She looked down at him with more confusion but also annoyance. He picked up on that right away, and nervously licked his lips, and took another deep breath. She did the same, not wanting to start her day on a bad note even though that's where this seemed to be headed.
"Martie, if it doesn't have a collar then it's just a stray, alright? Now I had a really long night and I'm tired. Go ask Rachel to put on some cartoons for you, ok, baby?" she said and held up the covers as she slipped her legs back under them. She didn't lie down, though, because the look on his face made her freeze. She had never seen him look so angry before. He threw tantrums just like any kid, but for the most part he was mild mannered and seeing that look on his face made a cold shiver run through her.
"She's not a stray, Mom," he said, and for a second she thought he was going to stomp his foot in frustration. "She had a home, but they left her behind. Now she's really sad, and wants a new home." She took in a really slow breath and held it for a few seconds, letting the extra oxygen flow through her system and calm her before exhaling slowly. She didn't know where this attitude was coming from, and her body tensed with worry. Was this normal seven year old behavior or was this yet another symptom of his sickness?
"You need to watch yourself, Martie, or you're going to be in your room by yourself all day. Do you understand me?" she said, her lips set in a firm line, and her eyebrow quirked up as she waited for a response. He let out an annoyed sigh, but nodded his head. She watched as he took a moment to breathe deep, and he calmed down a little, but she could tell by his tensed shoulders and that determined look in his eyes that in his mind, this conversation was far from over.
Before he could begin to argue again she said, "Good. Now I'm tired, and I need some more sleep." His gaze fell to the floor, and he looked really sad, dejected in a way she didn't even know he was capable of. She wanted to give in. She wanted to tell him she would take the cat to a vet, and if it was healthy and friendly they could keep it just to wipe that look off his face. He had been through a hell most people don't even know exist, but if it was one thing she didn't need it was another hungry mouth to feed.
"So go play with Aunt Rachel, and we'll talk about this later, ok?" He nodded, his shoulders slumped forward in defeat and he slowly walked out of the room, leaving the door open behind him as he turned and went down the hall towards the kitchen. She sighed, and fell back against her pillow. She stared up at the ceiling, and scratched her forehead lightly as if she were trying to force the thoughts out of her mind. I guess he'll be getting a kitten for his birthday. Hopefully by then I'll be working full time, she thought, and threw the covers back; succumbing to the fact that there was no way she'd be able to get back to sleep.