There are stories and then there are stories. You won’t know the difference between the two usually, which is how the latter remain in our culture, but every so often, someone with that natural storytelling ability will tell you a story that you’ve heard countless times, a story that your parents told you, which their parents told them, but this time, when you hear it, there will be something else there, something that wasn't there the last time. Except that it was; it was always there and it’s as important to the story as the story itself.
Anna is a fifteen year old girl who lives a normal fifteen year old girl’s life. Friends, family, boys. In that order, usually. She lives in a fairly safe neighbourhood, in a fairly safe town somewhere in fairly safe America.
Today she is sitting out the front of her school, waiting for her younger brother’s class to let out. She doesn't really want to; she’s supposed to meet her friends soon but her mother had made them both walk to school together this morning, which meant they had to come home together too.
She was scrolling aimlessly through Facebook, wondering how much trouble she would get in if she just left without him.
She was jolted back to reality when her phone buzzed that annoying low battery noise at her. She angrily shoved it into her uniform pocket and watched the school building as the bell rung and, finally, her brothers class let out. He ran up to her happily and they both left the school, her trying to hurry him along so she wouldn't be too late to meet her friends.
“Look, Annie,” her brother said passing by an open gate. “Kitties!” Inside the gate, on the path to the front door, several cats of different types laid in the sun, warming their bellies. He went to take a step in but Anna caught him by the shoulder.
“You’re allergic, remember?” she said.
“Oh yeah,” he replied, sad. “Furry though.”
“Yeah, kiddo, furry as hell.”
“Don't swear!” the young boy giggled as they continued down the path, followed some distance back by one of the cats from the garden. A sleek black one with sharp yellow eyes.
A full moon hung low on the horizon; Mars off to its right, its bright speck totally overshadowed by the large orange light next to it.
Cars driving on a nameless highway noticed the two lights in the sky for a moment before forgetting them instantly. Anna could hear the highway from her bedroom, the low buzz of the cars often times punctuated with the louder roar of a semi truck and every so often the sirens of an emergency vehicle.
She was supposed to be sleeping, but the humid night and the constant traffic noise prevented anything but fitful dozing. She stared at the ceiling and closed her eyes. Immediately there was a bang on the window. She jerked up with a start and pulled her knees up to her chest, breathing heavily. After a moment of silence, at about the time her breathing normalised and she had convinced herself she had imagined it, it happened again. The second time was softer, as if it was a bird flapping against the glass.
She grabbed the lamp beside her bed, since it was the heaviest thing around and would be better than nothing if she had to defend herself, and crossed the room to the closed curtains. Using the lamp, she pulled one of the curtains aside and looked into the darkness. There was nothing there. She used the lamp again on the other curtain. Two narrow, yellow eyes stared in at her, the rest of the cat lost to the inky night. She couldn't tell what the cat was sitting on and opened the window to see. Before it was open enough for her to stick her head out, the cat was inside, sitting on her bed licking itself. Anna closed the window and stared at the animal.
“Mew,” it said.
“You just said ‘mew’” Anna said, too stunned to say anything else.
Mew, the cat mewed.
Anna sighed. “What do you want?” she asked the cat. “I'm not buying this act,” she waved her arms at the cats general situation.
Meow? It said with that purring noise that cats do.
“Still not buying it,” she said.
“You kids, these days. Too sceptical for your own good,” it said in a deep male voice that reminded Anna of her grandfather.
“What do you want?” Anna asked again.
“Who says I want anything?”
Anna stared at the cat. “A talking cat waltzes into my room in the middle of the night and then doesn't want anything? Please.”
“You are taking this awfully well, you know.”
“I'm obviously dreaming,” she replied. “Cats don't talk.”
“Makes sense, I suppose.”
“So?” she asked.
“What do you want?”
“Your brother wanted to play with the cats today.”
“He always wants to play with cats. He loves cats.”
"You told him he was allergic.”
“I didn't want to wait around while he got all messy.”
“You wanted to go off with your friends.”
“So?” she said getting defensive.
“Does your brother not deserve to have fun, like you?”
“They weren't his cats to play with.”
“They're cats, Anna. They play with who they want. Not the other way around.”
The two stared each other down for some time. Anna blinked first. “It doesn't matter. This is just a dream. I fell asleep and now I'm dreaming of a talking cat.”
“Perhaps. Or perhaps I'm your punishment for treating your brother like that.”
“Punishment how?” she asked.
When they found Anna the next morning, her face was covered in long red scratches. She was sobbing quietly and apologising over and over and over again. She didn't tell anyone what happened to her, but each day from then on whenever she had to walk her brother home from school, she would always let him play with the cats.