Kelly was prepared for most things. Once at the platform, she’d had a fleeting thought about stepping in front of the train. It would be so quick and easy. The drop was right there, all she had to do was take one step and... But then the train barreled to a halt before her and the doors hissed open and something about that mechanical sound drove home the weight of all the metal and engine parts to her. She never considered stepping in front of a train again.
It wasn’t until Soraya said she’d thought about stepping off the platform that Kelly realised there wasn’t something deeply wrong with her for thinking about it. Maybe everyone thought about what it might be like to take that step and be swept away by the impact of a thousand tons of steel? Maybe everyone went through thought exercises to prepare for what life felt like so they’d know what to expect. A pet dying? Check. She’d know how it would be. Failing a test? Check, she’d done that already. Getting a tattoo? Well, she’d know how right she was next weekend.
Kelly leaned her head back and stared up at the sky, the clouds slowly appearing behind the roof of the car. She thought about what it would be like if her parents divorced: packing her bags Friday evening to go stay at dad’s. Arriving at her Weekend Home, the one that wasn’t her Weekday Home at mom’s, and unpacking. Her Weekend Room would always be a little weird and cold from her Weekday Room where all her school stuff was. No way was she ever going to be carrying all those books to the Weekend Home. But she still kind of preferred staying at the Weekend Home. Her Divorced Dad looked happy. He was happy she was there and probably happy about her mom not being there. He’d lost years and pounds and the gray on his temples wasn’t as visible. They watched a lot of movies together.
The earbuds barely covered her parents arguing in the front seat. Her Undivorced Mom’s long monologues undulated when she got to the points where everything was dad’s fault. Her Undivorced Dad’s low voice vibrated through the body of the car. Kelly didn’t listen in. The arguments always started from the same slights and ended up repeating the same patterns. Like the two of them just couldn’t manage to learn how not to piss each other off.
She turned the music up a little louder and started drumming to the beat with her fingertips. Maybe they wouldn’t get divorced, Kelly thought. Had they always been like this? She couldn’t remember.
The music overtook the voices ahead. “...dontcha worry I can handle ii-iit...” Kelly hummed. She could handle it. The music made her strong and the beat was slowly undoing the knots in her diaphragm, smoothing out her forehead. Let them fight, she could handle it. Her eyelids relaxed to the steady hum of asphalt under tires. Clouds passed over the roof lazily.
The car jerked sharply to the right knocking Kelly against the door. Her head struck the side of it and her hands instinctively flew up as she let out a curse but the curse was caught in mid air.
She was weightless.
The car seat disappeared from under her and her head was traveling down. Just like a roller coaster, neat. Her legs weren’t touching anything and she could clearly see her iPhone going past her. It had been in her lap but now it was on the ceiling and as she looked up the ceiling was coming towards her.
She crashed into it shoulder first. And then she was weightless again.
Something small and prickly was scratching her other, bare shoulder and Kelly saw tiny glass slivers shooting past her, like beautiful little diamonds. They caught in her hair and briefly she thought that it probably wasn’t a good thing. Her fingers reached up trying to catch the shards but the car ceiling caught up with her again and her fingers were in the way. They seemed to bend, but Kelly wasn’t sure. She couldn’t see them anymore. The ceiling was much softer the second time. Not a solid roof, but a mush of lining fabric and jagged edges. Her head felt wet. Her whole body felt wet. Was there an open water bottle somewhere?
She couldn’t feel how weightless she was now even though she wasn’t touching anything anymore. She just wanted to throw up. Her vision was spinning, the windscreen and the front seats were a blur of gray shapes and everything was making her feel ill now so Kelly closed her eyes again and let the movement carry her away entirely. The earbuds snagged out violently but Kelly could barely feel anything even when the air suddenly got very crisp in a stark contrast to the soft popcorn and diesel smell of the hot car. She cracked her eyes and car was now below her, quickly disappearing behind her legs. She saw clouds again, clouds around as far as the eye could see. Trees. Trees appearing as her body regained mass. The Earth was pulling her back down.
The ground caught her. It caught her inelegantly, offering only rocks. Kelly’s head struck down first and the rest of her body followed like a sad accordion pushed into a heap it didn’t have the strength to unfurl from. She could hear a weird noise escaping her lips as the full weight of her body sagged on top of her chest then flopped to the ground.
For a while there was nothing but a wheeze she couldn’t place. Gravel grinding against itself next to her ear. It was probably gravel. She could only hear it when she inhaled.
There was noise at her feet; like a bonfire. She could smell the fire and it felt calming. Kelly always liked open fires when camping or just sitting at the beach with her friends. She wanted to look at the fire but her eyes weren’t obeying her. One stung like hell. The other didn’t. She didn’t understand why she couldn’t just peek at the fire. She tried calling out but her mouth felt weird and sighing in frustration made something bubble out of her nose. She wasn’t sure what position she was in, but the rocks under her hurt and bit by bit, other parts of her body hurt too. But she still couldn't open her eyes.
I want to look! Why can’t I open my eyes?!
It was way too silent around her aside from that invisible bonfire.
And it took way too long for the ambulance to arrive.
Brutus licked his paw and brushed it over his ear. Something was itching him so he repeated the brush a few times, trying to reach the itch through the fur with his claw.
Mildred did the same.
“Oh, there you are!” Brutus exclaimed seeing her. “I’ve missed you.” He brushed up against the other cat and Mildred returned the favor. “How has it been?”
“Beastly,” Mildred sighed in her usual nonplussed way. Brutus was convinced she’d been an aristocratic lush in a previous life. The kind that poisoned her husband by accident and was only mildly surprised when he’d actually dropped dead from it. “You know how the food is; something from a can, something from a bag that smells like human feet...”
“Oh yeah, he’s not really very good with the food. But hey, beats having to chase down three-legged rats!”
“Does it?” She arched her brow.
“Well, the pizza isn’t half bad.”
Mildred sighed and licked her paw. Brutus mirrored her.
“Yesterday when he came home with that… female-creature,” she continued without looking up.
“Sure. Pitiful gangly thing. Of course the dog was all over her. Some can’t help but be desperate. Just shoot me if I ever fawn all over a human like that.” She raised her gaze.
They were staring each other directly in the eyes.
Brutus felt that familiar twinge in his chest. She was so... so. The feline queen. The one he worshiped and waited for. The one always watching over him. His dark half. His judgment and bile and yet… she was just like him. When she brought home half dead shrews and tore open their guts, he saw himself doing the same. The blood tasted just the same on their tongues. They both protected fiercely their home from the things moving in the night the humans couldn’t see.
Brutus lifted a paw and pressed it against the glass. Mildred did the same. The two black cats sat silently looking at each other, like punctures in the universe.
The front door cracked snapping Brutus out of the moment.
“I... I think I need to go. I think he brought a box,” he said looking over his shoulder.
Mildred meowed dryly. “I suppose we all need to do our duty. For the sake of the country and the family and such things. Protect these fools from the portals they bring into their houses,” she said looking over her shoulder.
Brutus turned back and their eyes met for a brief moment.
“You know I’ll be back and we will figure this out eventually. Even if it takes nine times nine lives,” his gaze dropped to the ground. That was a sacred vow. It gripped his heart tighter than veins and squeezed the blood from it to his feet. But he knew it was true.
Then Brutus got up and headed right, into the living room.
The cat in the mirror sat still for a moment before it too got up and headed left into the living room.