Blair: Slaem's Daughter
My head lolled to the side.
A muggy sweat soaked me, singlet sticking to my skin. The novel I had been attempting to read was abandoned in the grass.
My hair fell over my face.
Just for a minute, I closed my heavy eye lids.
The boy seized me about the waist and threw me to the ground. Hard.
I glared up at him, struggling to breath. He only smiled and offered a hand up.
“Come on Blair!” The old man yelled from his seat on the back veranda. “Pay attention!” Well, he was encouraging. Not.
I struggled to my feet, grimacing not only at the pain in my back but the wet patches on my pink pyjamas from the dew-covered grass. This was a dream of course.
Though the boy who looked about twelve with a raw scar running along his jaw seemed familiar, I didn’t know him, nor the old red-headed man yelling at me. I’d never met them before. Plus, the last time I wore pink was when I was eleven.
The boy looked at me carefully, “Blair, are you alright? I’m sorry if I hurt you.”
“You didn’t hurt her,” the old man yelled. “At least not enough. Get on with it.”
I straightened my shoulders as he came towards me again.
I took a breath. Focus, I thought. Something funny happened inside of me when I focussed, a sort of shift. The boy yelled out. But he never reached me.
I gasped for air.
Suddenly a loud crack of thunder woke me. The sky had grown several shades darker, but the heat still filled my lungs. I hadn’t had that dream for a long time. A shiver ran through me despite the heat hovering in the air.
A fat rain drop fell from one of the angry clouds and landed on my arm, then another. The whole sky was cloaked by clouds now.
How long had I been asleep for? I sat up and looked about. Outside wasn’t a good place to be in a storm. Particularly on a hill when lightning began to jump and leap across the sky.
My family lived on a hill just outside of our tiny town. Our nearest neighbour was a couple of kilometres away, meaning we could do what we liked, when we liked. Dad was raised in this house, an old weatherboard place with stained windows in the kitchen and bathroom. I’d never lived anywhere else, and why would I? My little house on the hill, hidden from everyone, was near on perfect.
Rain began to pour from above. I quickly climbed to my feet.
The rain battered against my head, my clothes clung to my body and my short hair to my face. I wanted to go inside.
Then I heard it. A piercing, yowling screech, just beyond the garden, the opposite way from the house. I frowned. Had another stray gotten caught in the thorns?
I hurried away from shelter and sanity. Rain fell into my eyes blurring my vision. There was no clear path through the overgrown garden.
Closer to the house, Dad kept the yard tamed and clear of any stray weeds that defied his ruling spade. To the back end of the garden, it was allowed to be wild and as nature wanted. It was also the one place my parents had always told me to stay away from as a child. I was told the nightmare fairies would come through the gate that sat closed amongst the bushes.
There was no fence back there. Just the gate.
As I pushed through the garden I found myself standing in front of the small gate. The burgundy paint was flaking away from the metal frame. One swirl in the pattern of three was broken off.
It was unlatched and open a sliver.
Trees stood either side. Their branches created an umbrella above, keeping the worst of the water off me. I soon discovered the yowling nightmare fairy caught in the thorns of a shrub just in front of the gate.
“Oh my god.” I gasped. This was not the creature of terror that used to torment me in my childhood nightmares. “You tiny thing. Oh poor little kitten. Come here.” Crouching, I carefully pushed back a section of the thorns, then leaned forward and gently, so gently extended my hand in.
Claws dug into my skin. I pulled back and swore. “Shit.”
The kitten growled and hissed.
“You asshole! I’m trying to rescue you!” I reached in again and grabbed the kitten. Again, it stuck its claws in. “Owch! Stop that!”
The demand only seemed to make it stab in deeper.
Still crouching stoically, I saw an old fashioned glass bottle tucked a little further in under the thorns. It was obviously my day to be a pin cushion so I braved the thorns again. I grabbed the bottle up in my other hand, wondering why I was bothering myself to get it. “Blair!” someone called from the house. I swore at the kitten, but didn’t let it go. Instead I drew it in closer, sheltering it with my body and picked my way back out of the bushes.
Lightning struck and a few seconds later a loud crack of thunder followed. The kitten tried to wriggle from my arms, yowling in fear. “Stop that. Or I’ll leave you out here and tomorrow morning I’ll find a crispy kitten fried by lightning.” I ran across the lawn. My novel, the one which I’d tried to read before the words began to blur in the heat, was still there, ruined.
I dashed up the steps and onto the veranda where I toed off my ratty joggers and pushed through the back door into the kitchen. Dad looked up from the newspaper resting on the table.
I look nothing like my dad, except for our height. Relations and the general population tower over both of us. But when I stood in front of him - soaked, with my red hair plastered to my cheeks, cradling an ungrateful and noisy bundle of fur, and gripping a bottle - I knew he was thinking how so like my mum I was.
“Had a nice afternoon I see,” he drawled.
“Hey Dad. Meet my new pet. It’s a gremlin. Let’s hope I can keep it alive longer than I did the pet rock.” I unceremoniously dumped the kitten onto the floor and inspected the damage along my arm. “Oww, if this is my reward for a random act of kindness, I want to be a mean person from now on.”
The creature, all soaked fur, quickly backed under the table, sniffing curiously. Then it shivered and glared around the kitchen.
I sighed and went into the laundry connected onto the kitchen and returned with an old towel. “Come here.” I whispered as I crouched beside the table leg. “Here kitty.” I stretched out a hand and rubbed my fingers together. “It’s alright; I’m not going to hurt you.”
After a few hesitant movements the ball of fluff inched forward to approach my hand, then sniffed it. The kitten began to nuzzle against my fingers.
I smiled and scratched its head.
“Oh, you sook.” Behind its ears and under its chin I scratched and laughed when it began to purr loudly. “You are an easily pleased beast. And you’re so loud for a little thing. Screeches like a banshee and purrs like a lawn mower.”
Slowly I wrapped my hand under its belly and lifted it out from under the table. It didn’t seem disturbed by the movement or the change of location or the towel that I used to wrap it and rub it. “We can’t be accused of man slaughter or rather kitten slaughter now, can we Dad?”
“What?” he looked up startled from his paper.
“Well, I’ve saved it from a storm and I’m drying it so it won’t catch its death. Soon this little annoyance will be catching mice; if it survives me first.”
“Maybe you should take the same advice and dry off.”
I shook my head. “I’m fine Dad. Steam’s practically coming off of me, it’s that warm.”
“Blair Anne Fitzpatrick! Are you deliberately trying to get sick so you don’t have to go to your first day of year ten tomorrow or for the whole week?”
“I actually hadn’t thought about it. But now that you mention it...” I covered my mouth and coughed loudly and then gagged. “Oh yuck!”
“What now?” Dad smiled.
“My hands smell disgusting.”
“Go have a shower. You probably smell like wet cat.”
“But what about the kitten?”
“I’ll watch it.”
Half an hour later, I slowly walked into the kitchen, clean and dressed in my favourite pyjamas. All that remained was to be fed and to see my parents off.
Dad was still sitting at the table, only this time he was dressed in good jeans and a button down shirt, the sleeves rolled up to the elbow. On the ground, the tiny beast was batting about the end of his shoe lace.
“What’s in the bottle?” Dad nodded his head towards the old fashioned glass bottle, standing on the edge of the table.
I shrugged. “I’m not sure; I found it outside when I found that thing.” The kitten had rolled over onto its back and looked up at me, wide-eyed. “It’s probably empty.”
I picked it up and shook it. There was a muffled rustle like paper was inside. “It feels light.” The glass was a clouded, deep emerald green and covered in dirt. I swiped some off. “I think I can see a... piece of paper maybe.”
There was a new cork in the top, which was an odd thing for something that looked to be over a hundred years old. I hunted through the draws and pulled out a cork screw. Pop. There was a faint wine smell inside as I peered in.
“Hey dad, two things; first how can this still smell like alcohol and the second how do I get out this paper?”
Dad stood and took the bottle from me. He sniffed it. “Well I think someone used it recently and it might be a reproduction of an old bottle. Which will be good for what I’m about to do.” He walked out the back door.
He came back in with the neck of the bottle in one hand and the piece of paper in the other.
“What’s on the paper?” I asked. He handed the paper to me and laid the bottle’s neck on the table. Opening it I flipped it over. Nothing.
“Who puts a blank piece of paper in a bottle? Isn’t it meant to be a message in the bottle? An old fashioned SOS?”
Mum floated into the room, wearing her new black party dress. “Are you ready, Luke?” Mum asked Dad.
“Well Blair,” she turned to me. “I want you to remember to behave. Don’t answer the front door and don’t answer the phone, the answering machine will get it. If you get into trouble call Aunt Poppy and she will come up.”
I smiled at her. “Don’t worry Mum. You look lovely tonight.”
She leaned down and kissed me on the cheek. She always wore the same lipstick, the smell of it pushed its way into my head and brought forth all of the kisses she has ever given me; the one before my parents left me at my aunt Poppy’s for a sleep over when I was three, my first day at kindergarten, the time I broke my arm and it needed kissing better when I was twelve.
And now, the first time my parents were leaving me at home alone, for the night.
“We should be back before tomorrow morning in time to see you off to your first day of year ten.”
Dad offered his arm to her. She giggled and took it.
He looked over his shoulder at me. “Don’t wait up for us, kiddo,” and he walked her out of the room. I only just heard Mum call back about not forgetting to lock up after them and then the door closed, the car started and they drove away.
I was alone.
For the first time I was alone.
The strange kitten watched me walk about the kitchen getting my dinner ready and then sat at my feet as I ate the toast. I toed its belly and it purred.
That was the only noise inside the house. Outside, the rain had eased to a steady patter on the roof. Thunder suddenly shook the house. It was a little spooky. I felt a shiver run up my spine.
I was so used to hearing things throughout the house, like the creak of floorboards in the hallway or the scrape of chairs. They were normal and safe sounds; noises made when the house had people in it. Now as I heard the familiar creaks in the floors, I wondered if this was a good idea.
“Are the doors locked?” I asked the kitten.
I mean, what if they weren’t and someone, some stranger had entered the house and was about to creep up on me and lay a hand on my shoulder?
I spun around in my seat.
No one was there. Yet my skin crawled with the anticipation of contact.
“Calm down.” I whispered out loud. “Don’t scare yourself. There’s nothing there... What Was That!?” My heart leapt painfully.
The kitten rubbed itself against my ankles and meowed reassuringly. I sighed. “Yes cat, I know you are there.” It began to nudge its head into my foot more insistently. “What? What do you want cat? Are you hungry? Okay, I’ll find something.”
I was all too happy to move about the room, focusing on finding something for the cat to eat. “Sorry cat, what do you say about left-over chicken? It was good last night.”
As soon as the plate touched the ground the beast attacked it. I have never seen anybody or anything eat Mum’s cooking like that before.
I focused on the purring of the creature. Still, I felt tense. The house shifted as thunder boomed again.
“I cannot stand this,” and I marched to the living room with the stereo system in the corner under a window. I tried not to look out the window, in case lightning illuminated a pale face looking in, before the image suddenly fades to black. Yes, I have watched way too many horror movies. I slipped in a CD and turned up the volume to the max.
That was much better.
It’s a good thing we have no neighbours, my singing isn’t something to be proud of when I am screeching out the words, leaping about the room. The poor kitten wandered in and sat in the doorway, watching me. Now this was horror.
“Hey kitty cat, were you that size before or did I feed you too much?” I dropped to my knees. This was definitely not normal for an animal.
It did seem to be several sizes bigger; once a cute little stumbling thing that could fit into my cupped hands, it had grown to be obese. Fat face, bulging belly and a waddle in its walk.
“This isn’t a normal thing for a pet, is it?” My stomach churned. What had I brought inside the house with me? I crawled backwards, not taking my eyes away from it. Panic rose into my chest; my mouth went dry. “What are you?”
The cat lifted its head and glared at me, almost as if it had understood what I was saying.
Four flashes of lightning brightened the living room followed by four mighty cracks of thunder in quick succession.
I screamed out and scrunched my eyes closed.
The sound of the thunder vibrated through the house shaking the walls and furniture.
“That isn’t normal.”
There was a silence, only the steady tap, tap, tap of the rain on the roof interrupted. I looked about. Where’d the cat go?
“Is the cat even house-trained? Oh no, mum’s carpets.” I gasped and leapt to my feet. I caught sight of the waddling tail, swishing as it left the room. Warily I followed it to the kitchen. I stayed on the other-side of the room.
Then I heard it.
Someone was at the door, but it wasn’t the front door. The knocking was at the back door. I moved closer and stopped. What was I doing? Was I really thinking about opening that door?
The cat rubbed up against it and yowled. It obviously approved of the knocker. And Mum had only said don’t open the front door. But, what if it wasn’t someone I knew? A killer or a kidnapper?
Knock, knock. It came again.
There was a tug at my hand. It lifted on its own. I gasped but my hand didn’t drop back to my side like I wanted it to. Why couldn’t I stop it from reaching? I wanted to throw up, I gasped hard.
The cat stood on its hind legs and scratched at the door, silently willing me to open it.
I turned the key in the lock. The handle felt warm in my palm. I twisted it and pulled the door open. The tug on my hand disappeared.