0

Nontraditional Upset and The Benefits Thereof 3

Listening to: Hawthorne Heights – The Transition
via FoxyTunes

The cat meowed a soft complaint as she lifted it up, but made no move to scratch her.  It let her carry it into the cottage, bundled with her purse.

Once she was inside, with the door shut and the sound of the rain muffled, Cairtney slid down to the floor and huffed a lock of frizzing hair from her face.  She looked down at the cat, curled up in her arms and batting at her purse with a half-hearted paw.

“Somehow, still not the worst part of today,” she told it.

It meowed and gave the purse a deft smack.

Twenty minutes later, she had a cup of steaming tea and the cat was lying in a laundry basket lined with towels.  Her legs were bleeding where she had fallen on them, with bits of gravel stuck to her skin with damp and congealed blood, but she sat in her inherited chair at the inherited table of her inherited kitchen, and stared across the room at a cross-stitch her grandmother had seen fit to frame.

Peroxide and plasters sat in her future, but as they were all it held for her, she decided to let herself savour them as moments to look forward to.

Without Gran, the kitchen was small and cramped, rather than cosy.  All of her things were still where she had always kept them.  Where she had left them.

Cairtney grasped the mug of tea so hard that she couldn’t tell if her fingers were sore or burning.  Her hair had begun to dry, crinkling into a stereotypical ginger mess of kinks that stuck to her running mascara wherever they touched her face.

“I’m single, jobless, and seeing visions of naked men,” she told herself, gaze fixed on the varnished tabletop.  “Most women just deal with breakups by eating too much ice cream.  I go in for erotic hallucinations.”

“Ooh, erotic is it?  I’m flattered.”

Her fingers spasmed, two of them catching painfully in the handle of the mug.  She twisted to face the voice, nearly spinning the mug to slide free of her lingering grip.

A naked man, ragged and lithe as a frayed ribbon, sat in the laundry basket, hugging his knees to his chest.  His back curved in a natural, easy posture, as though he were leaning forwards to share a whispered secret with his toes.  Steam, just barely visible outside of the realm of imagination, rose from his pale, freckled skin.

Cairtney screamed a proper scream at last.

0

Nontraditional Upset and The Benefits Thereof 2

Listening to: Vertical Horizon – Answer Me
via FoxyTunes

By some miracle, no-one else tried to make a right behind her.  She struggled with the seatbelt, growling and whimpering her way through the fight.  When she was finally free, she yanked the car door open and stumbled out onto the road.

There were no naked bodies sprawled out on the tarmac.  No horrifying bloody mess to pair with the images in her mind.

She sagged against the bonnet, feeling as though her knees had turned into pudding.  Relief bubbled in her throat, prompting a hysterical laugh that sounded more like a sob.  “I’ve cracked, haven’t I?”

A lump of the road rose free of the main body and wobbled over to her.  Cairtney squeaked again, with an oddly detached thought that her ability to scream had been repossessed along with her sofa and television.  Her hand flew to her chest out of reflex.  Her legs buckled under her out of misfortune.

As she hit the asphalt, she realised that the road had not animated a portion of itself.  A black cat, clearly woozy, but uninjured, had wandered over to her.  It tilted its head, as though studying her.

Someone honked at her.  “Oy!  Are you in trouble or some’ing?”

Cairtney dragged herself up off the road, scooping up the cat as she stood.  “I’m fine!” she shouted back.  “Just–my cat escaped.”

The other driver said something unpleasant.  She ignored it and stumbled back into the car, clutching the cat like a drowning victim with a life preserver.  After she had eased back into the familiar drone of the drive home, she glanced over at the cat.

It was black, scrawny as a ragged wet hat, and curled up in the passenger’s seat, fast asleep.  Its back rose and fell in exaggerated motions, as if to reassure her that she had not chosen to collect a corpse.

“Cairtney!”

She jerked, nearly twisting the wheel into a dive off the side of the road.  The handsfree buzzed with her mother’s voice as she called out again.

Cairtney slapped at the dashboard, one hand still on the wheel.  “I’m sorry,” she said, before she’d even managed to slip the handsfree back into her ear.  “Sorry, sorry.  I er, had to avoid an accident.”

The wave of concern and rebuke washed over her like a warm blanket over freezing limbs.  She tried to cut it off with a waving hand, and then remembered that her mother was back in the city, and her driveway was just coming into view.

“Can I call you tomorrow?  I’m fine, I swear it, I just want to go into Gran’s cottage and make a cuppa.  Calm my nerves.”

A tutting tongue, and then the merciful resignation.  “All right, dear.  Take care of yourself.  You know I don’t like having you live so far away.  Such a drive, and in this weather.”

“Yes, mum.  I’ll call you tomorrow, I promise.”

0

Nontraditional Upset and The Benefits Thereof 1

Listening to: The Working Title – Under The Ground
via FoxyTunes

(this song is what Cairtney has on her car stereo at the start, just for meaningless trivia.)

“I told you that boy was no good.  From the moment I clapped eyes on him, I said to myself, this one is a troublemaker.”

Cairtney tapped the handsfree to lodge it more firmly in her ear, although she would have rather let it fall out onto her lap.  At the very least, it would have released the strands of copper hair pinned inside her ear.  The abominable itching was almost worse than her mother’s tinny lecture.  “As I recall, you were so busy squealing that I’d landed a doctor, you didn’t have time to doomsay.”

“Don’t take that tone with me, young lady.  Besides, he wasn’t a proper doctor anyway.”

“Podiatrists are still doctors last I checked.  What he wasn’t was a proper businessman.”

“I warned you not to put your heart and your money into the same–”

“And I was a fool not to listen, I know.”  A light rain pattered against the windscreen, not quite enough to bother with the wipers.  Cairtney fussed with her turn signal and scanned the road ahead, trying to see past the massive lorry that had been blocking her view for the past thirty kilometres.  “Since we’re on your favourite subject, why don’t you tell me what a bad idea it was to mix a shop with freelance work?  I do love that one.”

Her mother huffed, preparing her lungs for a righteous tirade.  The lorry rumbled through the intersection, leaving Cairtney to turn in peace.  She allowed herself a small smile and a sigh, muttering about small favours from the Lord as she made her turn.

The headlights illuminated the figure of a man, naked as a bird’s first birthday, crossing the road just ahead.

Her foot felt bare against the brake pedal as she slammed it down.  The seatbelt caught her roughly, compressing her chest so that the scream came out as a squeak, just as the handsfree popped out and clattered onto the dashboard.  Slick as the road was, she skidded forward.  The bump nearly made her feel sick enough to vomit on the steering wheel.

The rainfall took advantage of the car’s inertia to collect over the windscreen as though she had driven into a river.  Hands shaking, she turned on the windscreen wipers and stared hard, forcing herself to look.

Nothing but the road and far off lights.  She’d left the city far behind her, and this part of the country had only porchlights to offer this time of night.

3

Uthur and Cairtney

Listening to: Danger Is My Middle Name – Revenge On The Radio
via FoxyTunes

Uthur is a shapeshifter who can only cycle between a house cat and a human (aged mid- to late twenties).  Portions of his memory were locked by an unknown party, and so he is unable to tell whether he is originally either a cat or a human.  However, he is positive that he can become other things, and therefore, may be neither.  The memory lock and fixed shapes are his only clues to solving the mystery of why these limitations are in place at all.

Cairtney is a graduate of a technomancy college who has just closed a business she started with her now ex-boyfriend.  She is broke, massively in debt, and the only reason she isn’t homeless is that her favourite grandmother recently died and left her a cottage just outside the city.

So how did you two meet?

Cairtney: It was in a bar.

Uthur: It was outside a bar.  I wasn’t allowed in.  They were prejudiced against four-legged peoples.

Cairtney: He means they don’t allow pets or strays.

Uthur: They let that dog in!

Cairtney: He was a seeing-eye dog.

Uthut: Oh, so they wouldn’t let me in just because I don’t have a job, is that it?