Near 500 words: TW and Cat

TW (aka The Writer) had never wanted a cat. He’d always thought that a dog was in his future. But a cat, never.

Then one Saturday afternoon eight years before, a kitten crawled up into his engine. With meows reaching across the shopping center parking lot, the kitten notified the world she wanted out. He saw the crowd gathered around his car. He popped the hood open. A tall, scrawny teen reached in and pulled out a small gray cat and handed the creature over to TW.

A white-haired woman said, “I guess it’s yours.”

The furry creature, smaller than the palm of his hand, meowed. And it didn’t just meowed. It Meowed.

“But…”

“Just take it home and feed it and put out a poop box and it’ll be fine.”

“I don’t know.”

“Follow me,” the woman insisted.

She reached into her car and handed him a shoe box for the kitten.

Like a mouse after a piped piper, he followed her into the nearby pet store. Back in the parking lot, she said, “My name is Claire. Here’s my card. You can call me if you have any questions.” Then she drove away.

Despite his resistance, TW took a liking to the kitten over the next week. And the kitten took a liking to its new home.

She bonded with his couch. She bonded with his bed. She bonded with his chair. She bonded with her food and water bowls. She bonded with the poop box. And she bonded with his lap.

After several tries, he found a vet he liked. Dr. Hatch was very patient with TW. “You don’t have to be afraid of the cat.”

“Yeah, but…she’s so small.”

Dr. Hatch laughed. “Oh, she’ll grow.”

“But, Dr. Hatch…”

“Helen. You can call me Helen.” Then Helen went on to ease TW’s mind about the cat. “Have you given her a name?”

“No,” TW said, frowning. “I didn’t think it was a good idea since I wouldn’t be keeping her.”

“Oh, you’ll be keeping her.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“She’s already claimed you.”

“Guess I’ll call her Cat.”

“Very unusual name.” Helen laughed.

And that was how he’d gotten to know Helen, and they’d begun dating.

Though things hadn’t worked out with Helen, they’d definitely worked out with Cat. Cat became as close to TW as anyone he’d ever known. With others, and this included Sylvia, he’d held something back. Not with Cat.

No matter how bad a day TW had, Cat always cheered him up. No matter what he was trying to decide, Cat always had a say in the decision. If he brought home a piece of furniture and Cat didn’t like it, it went back.

Each morning he went on the back porch. Cat ran out into the yard. She chased the ball he threw for her. She jumped six feet in the air and caught it. She went after lizards and squirrels and birds but never caught them. She just liked chasing things.

On the weekends, TW took leisurely walks through the neighborhood in the late afternoon. Cat walked by his side.

There were times when TW thought he could read Cat’s mind. And there were times when he came to believe she could read his.

No matter how sick or sad or frustrated he became, she was always a comfort. Most nights Cat cozied up  to him and lay on his lap while he read or watched TV.

Now Cat stood at his front door, bleeding. She looked up into his eyes. Her green eyes said, “I’m hurting. I’m in pain. Please do something.”

He scooped her up into his arms, laid her on the table and managed to stop the bleeding with bandages. Then he picked her up and put her on the passenger seat of his car and rushed her to the vet hospital. As he drove, she closed her eyes and fell asleep

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Near 500 words: TW goes home

TW’s (aka The Writer) strategy had worked. TW suggested he might be having a mental breakdown. Dr. Hollings gave him a year‘s sabbatical at full salary. TW couldn’t believe his luck. And his sabbatical was to begin the next day.

First the appointment with Dr. Christine Baxter, then the sabbatical. TW was having a good day.

Sitting at his desk, staring at the computer screen, he got to thinking. Maybe he did have a nervous breakdown. Maybe he only dreamed he saw Sylvia standing in Timbuktu. Maybe he only thought he saw a white streak across the sky. Maybe he only imagined he passed out.

If he did imagine it, it was some vivid imagination he had. Then decided it was real.
He checked his email, answered a few that needed answwering, and shut down his computer. He reached into his drawer and grabbed several files and stuck  them in his briefcase. Every thing else was of no consequence.

“What’s going on?” Buddy said, coming up from behind TW.

“I’m taking a year-long sabbatical.”

“You are? But why?”

“I told Dr. Hollings I was having a mental breakdown. I needed to retire. He offered me the sabbatical instead.”

“Are you okay?”

“I have questions I need answers to.”

“Can I help?”

“Come to think of it. If I need you, will you take care of Cat?”

“Sure.

TW reached into his pocket and pulled out an extra set of keys. “These will get you into the house. Cat may be shy of you. Just come in and stick around until she gets used to you.”

The two shook hands. TW grabbed his briefcase and was off. He dropped off his desk keys with the receptionist, then stepped out into the afternoon. He went over to Human Resources to fill out the paperwork for the sabbatical. Since Dr. Hollings had contacted HR, everything went easy.

Twenty minutes later he pulled up into his driveway. He pulled out his house key to unlock the front door. The door was open a crack. He pushed it open and listened. No sound, not even of Cat.

“Did I leave the door open?” he whispered. He’d never done that before but it was possible. So many strange things happening lately. Maybe he’d been distracted.
His fingers tightened around his briefcase. Just in case someone was still in the house. The house was dark inside, except for the living room light he’d left on. He softly made his way into the kitchen. No one.

Then down the hall to his bedroom. No one. And no one under the bed or in the closet.
Next he checked his office and the bathroom. No one. Nothing was out of the ordinary. Nothing missing.

Then he realized Cat was hiding. Usually she greeted him. Maybe she had gotten out if he left the front door open.

He heard a meow and a scratching at the front door. He breathed a deep sigh of relief, walked to the front door and opened it.

Cat stood on the Welcome mat, looking up at him. Then he realized she was bleeding.

Near 500 words: TW Meets His Boss

TW (aka The Writer) locked his desk drawer and headed for the elevator. He pushed the elevator button and waited. He liked his life just the way it was. A librarian and a scholar with a few stories on the side.

Saturday and Sunday had freaked him out. The postcard with a moving Sylvia in it, the missing postcard, the unknown language, the streak across the sky, the passing out and waking up in his bed the next morning. And Cat freaking out over the smell.

He stepped inside the elevator and pressed the four button. The door slid closed, then the contraption rose.

Though his mind was still murky, he came to one conclusion. It was time to move on. He owed nothing on his house. He had a substantial amount in his 401 account. He had won a number of literary prizes from his short stories. The last one sold to a major online magazine, and they paid. Not a lot but still it made him a professional writer. Over the years he published non-fiction articles and essays as well. Yes, it was time to leave. To where, he wasn’t sure.

The elevator door opened. Therese at the reception desk greeted him with a smile.

“Is the director in?”

“Do you have an appointment?”

“I don’t but I still would like to Dr. Hollings if I could.”

A few minutes later, an overweight man with a overgrown brown beard extended his hand to TW.

“I’m sorry to disturb you, sir.”

“No bother at all.”

Dr. Hollings’ office was a scholar‘s office. A large bookshelf contained volumes on American history. Diplomas, certificates and awards littered the wall, surrounding the glass frame for his Pulitzer Prize for History certificate and his check.

Through the glass window behind the mahogany desk stood an oak tree. Dr. Hollings for some reason named the tree Harvey.

Inviting TW to sit in a wicker chair near the bookshelf, Dr. Hollings joined him. He eased into a chair facing TW.

“It’s been a while since we’ve visited. I’d like to congratulate on your Celena Prize and  your story in the Grand Hotel. That’s quite an achievement.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“What can I do for you?”

TW swallowed hard.

“Do you need some water?” Dr. Hollings asked.

“No, sir. It‘s just—”

“Yes?”

TW hesitated. He knew his retirement would not please his boss. Dr. Hollings loved his staff, and he loved the library. But he didn’t care for anything upsetting his ship. TW’s retirement was going to upset the boat. It meant he would have to hire another librarian. The librarian would have to be fresh out of school, considering what the University paid. And he would be losing TW’s forty-one year‘s of experience and expertise.

“I’d like to retire. If you think you can do without me.”

A frown fell across Dr. Hollings’ face. “This is sudden. Can I ask why you want to leave us?”

“I think I’m having a nervous breakdown.”

Near 500 words: TW makes an appointment

Cat would not come out from under the bed no matter how much TW (aka The Writer) pleaded. Finally TW gave up and went into the kitchen and made breakfast. After breakfast, he readied himself for work, taking a shower, shaving, then getting dressed.

As he finished his dressing, Cat walked across his feet. He reached down and picked her up and stroked her in his arms.

“What’s with you, Cat?” he asked about her strange behavior. She had never ran away and hid under the bed, not coming out when he called her. What had spooked her? Maybe it was the smell from outdoors.

A kind of sulfury smell. Yes, that must be it. And he had carried it on him when he came back indoors. The smell must be from the streak of light the night before. He thought about going to investigate but he had to get to work. He could always investigate later. Or not.

He sat Cat back down on the floor and went into the kitchen and filled her bowl. This was her food for the afternoon. Then he headed out for work.

As usual he was early for work. In the break room, he ran into Buddy Grady, his closest friend at work. Ten years younger than TW, they had become friends over the years, going out bowling from time to time. It had been Buddy who introduced Helen to him.

“I ran into Helen this weekend.”

“Yeah?” TW tucked his lunch into the refrigerator and closed the door. “How is she?”

“She wants you to call her.”

TW thought about the suggestion for a minute or so while Buddy made coffee, then, “Maybe I will.”

Buddy wrote Helen’s number down on a piece of paper and passed it over to TW.

“Buddy, you know anyone at the school who is good with languages? Ancient languages?”

“A number of people, yes.”

“I know the usual bunch. I’m talking about someone who can translate something that doesn’t fall into the usual suspects.”

Buddy gave TW a strange look.

“Oh, I’m doing some research for a alien story I’m working on. It’s stumped me.”

“In that case, you’ll want to talk to Mark Hand. He does all the advising for those movies and tv shows about aliens.”

“No, I don’t need that kind of expert. I need someone who knows some obscure ancient languages.”

Disappointed, TW’s head dropped. “I guess I’ll have to go outside the University. I really didn’t want to do that. It will take much longer.”

Buddy’s face changed into a smile. “I think I’ve got the right person. Dr. Baxter. She’s a whiz at languages and she loves puzzles.”

“Christine Baxter?”

“Yes. She’s up for a challenge.”

TW went to his desk, thinking about Buddy’s suggestion. He’d only met Christine Baxter once and she seemed to be a strange bird. For a teacher, she was extremely shy. Everybody said she kept to herself. Only came out of her office to teach her two classes, “An Examination on Sumerian Culture” and “Who needs the Hittites anyway?”

He sat down at his desk, unlocked his drawer, then logged onto his computer. He sent Dr. Baxter an email, asking for a meet. Then he ran through his email. Most of it was University stuff or Departmental requests. One student had emailed him a request for help with his research for a new game he was trying to build.

Then Dr. Baxter’s email arrived. “Will tomorrow at ten a.m. be sufficient? If so, meet me in my office.”

TW shot her back an email, agreeing to the appointment. Then he decided he had to see the Library Director.

Near 500 words: The Writer wakes up

TW (aka The Writer) woke up to Cat licking his face and meowing.

“No, Cat, I’m not in the mood for playing.”

Cat wasn’t one to give up when she wanted what she wanted, and right then, she wanted food. She meowed an insistent meow.

TW said, “Okay, okay.” Then forced the covers off his body and crawled out of bed. By this time, Cat was in the kitchen, meowing her loudest.

Naked, TW headed to the kitchen, flipped on the light switch, and filled Cat’s food dish.  As Cat went after the kibbles, TW stuck her water dish under the faucet and filled it. After setting it down on the kitchen floor beside the tabby’s food bowl, he returned to the bedroom, half awake.

He dropped back onto the bed and pulled the covers over him. Then he snapped awake, sitting up straight in the bed.

“What,” he screamed. How did I get inside and in bed? The last I remember I passed out on the back porch. He searched his mind and couldn’t figure out how he had gotten into his bedroom, taken off his clothes and gone to bed.

He looked over at his digital clock. It read 7:00 a.m. TW slipped on his pajama bottoms and went into the kitchen. Cat rubbed against his foot.

He quickly made himself a cup of coffee, then sat down in his comfy chair in the living room.

A what happened went through his mind. Was I abducted by aliens and taken aboard a space craft and undergone the poking of an examination by extraterrestrials? He felt sore all over as if that was the solution to the missing hours. But TW was a logical man. He wasn’t ready to give into what he believed was some fairy tale.

After three cups of coffee, he decided he had somehow managed to get back into the house, take off his clothes and go to bed. Yes, that’s what I did.

He went to the kitchen door. It was locked. Good. At least, no one got into the house while I was out. But what had caused him to pass out in the first place? And why couldn’t he remember coming back into the house?

He opened the back door and walked out onto the porch. But Cat did not follow him out the way she normally did. That’s unusual.

TW returned to the kitchen and went into the living room. Cat was not there. For the next five minutes, TW searched the house for his cat. Then finally he found her under his bed, hiding.

“Cat, what’s going on?” he said, lying on the floor, looking at her.

He stretched and reached under the bed until he touched her paw. She jumped and scooted away.

“Cat, it’s Daddy. C’mon out.”

Her green eyes stared back at TW, and Cat did not move.