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Stay With Me
When I woke up, it was early afternoon. The air was clear and bright, and the sun was shining through onto the body on the floor. It was lying in the middle of the place that smells of good things, from where he gets my food. When I got close enough to sniff at it, I recoiled from the sickly sweet odor. It was female- they all smelled like that. I didn’t get my nose close enough to touch- I knew that it was cold.
He came into the room, hands smelling of the smelly bar he keeps in the room with the bowl of water that moves and makes terrible swishing noises. I fell in that bowl once, when I was little, and ever since I’ve stayed far away. I went over and rubbed against his legs, as an invitation for him to pet me, but he gently pushed me aside.
“Not right now, Max. Later.”
He went over to her and stood nearby for a while, just staring in that absentminded way he tends to get. He leaned over and picked her up, heaving her onto his shoulder in a familiar way, then went toward the door to the dark place. The dark place has a bunch of steps leading down into blackness, and it smells of the dirt that comes up when someone turns a rock over. He never lets me go down into there, even though I’m curious as to what all those cold, silent humans are doing together. I never hear any noises.
The odd people didn’t use to come, you know. But that was back before, when he smiled more. They aren’t even cold and strange at first- they talk and laugh, just like him. But eventually, they all stop moving, and then they go down there with him. The first time he went down with one into the dark and she didn’t come up, I was worried that she would be lonely. But then others started going down, too, to keep her company. They’re all such strange people. They all need him to carry them down, and none of them ever say a word. Why they don’t come up, I can’t say. Maybe they just like it better down there.
When he came back up, he smelled like the dirt, and his face was scrunched up in sadness. He always feels sad once these people come, and that’s where I come in. It’s my job to cheer him up. He sat down on the couch, and I padded over and jumped into his lap. He laughed, and gave me pets. He scratched me behind the ears, in the place I like, and I purred in his ear.
“I had to do it, Max. You know that, don’t you? I had to stop her. She was going to leave me, do you understand? She would have left, just like Sara, and I would have been alone. They all say that they’ll stay, but in the end, everyone leaves, unless you stop them.”
Sara. I remembered a woman, long ago, who never went down into the dark place, who stayed here for a long time. This was back when he laughed all the time, you know. She had smelled like green things, and she had known the best places to scratch. But then one day she vanished, all of a sudden, and I never saw her again. When she left he spent a long time in his room, just huddled quietly in the dark. He never said anything during that time, and once he started to come out of his room, the strange women started coming.
“You understand, don’t you?” He petted me again, and smiled sweetly. “You’re the only one, Max. You’ll never leave me.”
I rubbed against his leg and purred again. I didn’t understand; not the women and not him, not really. But I would never leave. Who else would be there for him?
He stroked my fur, and I wriggled around, wanting him to scratch my back. The sun came in from the window in beams, and I felt warm and happy. He stopped petting me all of a sudden but kept holding on. His grip was strangely tight.
“Your fur…” he whispered, in a voice that I’d never heard from him before. I meowed a question, wanting him to let me go. His hands were hurting me. He’d never held me like this before, and it scared me. I meowed again, and he ignored me.
“Why didn’t I notice it before? Your fur… is the same color.” His fingers dug into my sides; I arched my back and complained again. “Her hair was just like this!”
He tightened his grip again. “Sara?” he whispered.
I’d had enough, and I managed to rip myself free of his hands. I dashed off the couch and ran for the back door, my claws scrabbling on the ground for purchase. I needed to leave. I headed for the little flap-door that I use that’s at the bottom of the bigger one.
But he reached it before me, and he covered it with one of his hands. He has big, strong hands. I loved those hands. But they had hurt when they clutched my back. I looked at him in confusion. Who was this?
“Sara?” he asked again, leaning down. “Sara, that’s you, isn’t it? You never left me at all, did you? Oh, Julia, I’m so sorry. I never knew. But don’t worry. We’ll be able to spend all the time we want together now.”
I stared at him, my blood pumping fast. What was he saying? He wasn’t making any sense. I was scared.
He leaned in closer and I tensed. “Come on, Sara,” he whispered, eyes full of something I couldn’t name. “It’s time.” He reached out his hands toward me.
I lashed out with my claws lightning fast, faster than I ever had before. I struck him in the face, and I left three bleeding lines there. He howled and fell back, his hand leaving my door as he did so. I dashed for it, desperate to escape.
“Sara?” he howled, confused. “Sara, where are you going? Don’t leave me again. Stay with me, Sara!”
I jumped through the door and didn’t look back.