This story is by Audra Claire Hopson and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
Even at night, the empty city streets were filled with a din that permeated every alley, the source of which Savannah could not identify.
The blanket of sound was no comfort for her, though—walking alone, at night, an unfortunate number of blocks from the hospital where she worked.
A slight misstep off the curb in her clunky, non-slip work shoes caused her ankle to pivot unnaturally. Unable to fight the momentum, she stumbled forward, landing hard on her hands and knees in the parking lane. She swore, her voice echoing off the surrounding buildings. Limbs shaking, she sat back on the sidewalk, pushing herself awkwardly with her uninjured foot. Glittering bits of gravel reflected back at her from her palms. She swore again, but quieter.
She fumbled for her cell phone. The light of the lock screen hurt her eyes, but she was glad the screen was intact.
She dialed a number, the phone ringing in her ears a few times. “The person you have called…”
“Oh, no,” Savannah growled, aggressively pressing the redial button. “I need you to answer… your freaking… PHONE.” She gripped the device in her two shaking hands. The person on the other side did not pick up.
The crescent moon peaked at her from between two building, all other celestial bodies drowned out by the orange glow of the city. She sat on the edge of the curb, her legs extended between two parked cars, and her ankle throbbed.
Movement in her peripheral vision caught her attention, and she jerked her head in its direction. A tabby cat was slinking under a nearby car. “God,” she gasped, clutching her chest. It froze at the sound of her voice. “You almost gave me a heart attack, cat.” After a moment it backed away from the car, its large reflective eyes glowing.
“Hey, I know you,” Savannah said, smiling. She recognized the cat from the swollen nipples hanging from its belly—she had seen the mama cat on her way to work before. “Getting food for your babies, huh?” The cat stared back, nonplussed, and Savannah sighed.
A bead a sweat dripped from her chin and into her cleavage, tickling her. She flapped the front of her top to cool off. The cat watched her, then dipped it head down to lick its belly. “It’s too hot for this, huh, Tabby.” The cat bobbed its head.
The cat finished cleaning itself and continued on its hunt, walking coolly into the street. Savannah wondered if she could make it to her job with her ankle sprained.
In a matter of seconds, things went very sideways. The sound of an oncoming car filled the empty air. Savannah tried unsuccessfully to stand, shouting “Run!” at the cat. The cat stopped as light from the car flooded the scene. Savannah turned her head, eyes screwed shut, but couldn’t block out the two audible thumps the car made as it passed.
“Oh, God,” she cried, trembling hands shielding her eyes.
She did not want to look, but she peered between her fingers. In the road lay a small, unmoving mound.
A pair of feet stood next to it.
Savannah gasped. A young, dark-complected boy was looking down at the cat. The strange boy wore dress clothes, like little kids might wear to church. He didn’t notice Savannah, staring agape at him from the side of the road.
“Excuse me,” Savannah said, voice faltering.
“Yes?” The boy turned his eyes to her.
“Where did you come from?”
The boy didn’t answer, but his mouth thinned. After a moment, he asked, “Was this cat yours?”
“No, it was a stray. Did you see it get hit?”
“Yes,” he said. He extended his hand toward it.
“No, don’t touch it!” Savannah said.
“Why?” His voice was strange.
“It’s not clean… and it’s—it’s already dead.”
The boy began to stroke the cat, and to Savannah the movement felt like ocean waves. Her head swam, undulating in tandem with the rhythm of the boy’s hand. The moment stretched out, and Savannah’s senses seemed to recede from her—the heat, the hard concrete underneath her, the noise—until all she was left with was the picture of the small boy with glowing eyes, crouched down, petting the lifeless cat.
There was something winding around the boy’s bent frame. It was a cat—but not the same cat. This cat was sleek and glossy, and no bones shown on its body. It twisted and rubbed against the boy’s legs.
He looked at her and suddenly the picture changed, his face peering into hers. The cat rubbed against both of them relentlessly. “I try not to run into humans often.” His voice compounded, multiplied, and reverberated inside her skull, as though a multitude of people were speaking through him. “There is something you can do for me, though.”
He and the cat stood on the other side of the street. “In the alley over there, under the dumpster.” His voice grew quiet. The waves died around Savannah, and the pair disappeared in the shadow between two streetlights. The cat’s dead body still lay in the road.
As she regained her senses, Savannah noticed she could no longer hear the hum of the city; replacing it was the distinct cry of kittens, coming from the alleyway behind her, and a small voice inside of her head, saying, “Don’t forget.”