Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice: 1
Title: Nothing Special
When Oz was a kitten, he remembered being cold and wet, hurt and alone. He remembered when the others come and been so cruel to him, their weapons harsh, their fire merciless. He remembered being left in the mud by the side of the road, the rain a thick, pounding crush upon him. And then his Girl found him. She was a child then, just a little kitten herself. He'd heard horses rushing by and had cowered back, mewing in spite of himself when the effort sent pain searing through him. A voice had risen above the hooves and whinnies and a moment later silence descended but for the rustle of skirts and the shuffle of small, light feet. The girl smelled of cedar and vanilla, the male that accompanied her of steel and feathers. He felt a hand touch him, felt the weight of soggy leaves and thick mud brushed gently off him. Panic and fear flared inside him and he had hissed, feebly lashing out with his too-weak claws. The male had murmured something in a gruff voice, his girl had answered, and the male moved away, his scent growing faint with distance. His girl had scooped him up and held him to her chest. "It's alright," she'd told him, "you're home now."
His girl had brought him to a warren, a place with twisting tunnels and secret corridors, where rooms appeared and disappeared on a whim, doors locked and unlocked on their own accord, and almost nothing was in the same place twice. It was a place that was alive and sentient, that listened and watched, that learned and knew and remembered. His girl loved it and the warren loved her too and they made each other very happy. He went with her everywhere. Curled on her lap, held in her arms, trotting at her side; she refused to have him parted from her. Together, they grew up, growing in size, in strength, in power, but always together. Until they weren't.
One day something happened, something terrible. His girl had smelled of fear and sorrow when she'd locked him in their room with her other cats, an entire pride she'd collected cat by cat over the years. She'd never returned, although he'd felt her fear and sorrow turn to rage and desperation. He'd felt the warren tremble and shake with its need to defend her, a need she herself denied. He'd heard her scream when it came, filling the whole of the warren with her pain and anguish, and then he'd felt her vanish.
It was her packmate that came let them out. He'd opened the door and stood there looking at us for a moment before walking in and going to the closet, ignoring our hisses. He'd shifted something aside and pressed his palm against one of the stones at the back of wall, murmuring something under his breath. With a hushed whisper, the stones had parted. "Go," the packmate said. "All of you. She's not coming back, not for awhile, and if my mother finds you, any of you, she'll use you against her. The wraiths are already gone; she sent them away when she realized what was going on with her da. You need to go."
Oz hadn't liked it, but he'd gone, leading the others out into the forest. His girl was gone for a very, very long time. Without her, Oz roamed first near then further and further away, until one day he felt her call. He wasn't one for metaphors or flowery language, but even he had to admit that feeling that call, feeling her after all the decades and centuries of being alone and lonely, it was like being a bird who'd finally found the sky again.
The call lead to a house. Oz had to slip through the black, wrought iron bars of a gate and trot up a pink bricked driveway lines with cherry trees that twisted and circled for what seemed like miles. At the end of it all sat a massive three storey house. Someone had left a downstairs window open and Oz took the invitation for what it was, leaping gracefully from ground to sill and slipping inside.
She was upstairs, huddled in the corner of a big white room. She was hugging her knees tightly, her face buried in the silk of her ravaged gown's skirt. Her hair was long, so long it fell to pool around her in greasy tendrils. Still healing scars marred the white flesh of her arms and he could smell fresh blood seeping into her gown. She rocked and trembled and shook, mumbling and murmuring to herself. His girl was gone, destroyed by her disappearance, but she was still his.
Tentatively, Oz padded close. He smelled dirt and sweat, blood and urine, grease and oil. metal and ash. So many scents were clung to her, marking the events and torments that had filled her time away. Gently, he bumped his head against her knee. Whimpering, she curled tighter and tried to move deeper into the corner, but the brief touch had been enough. Underneath all the scents of horror and pain, there was the faint smell of cedar and vanilla. His girl was still there, inside of her broken shell. He couldn't scoop her up and hold her to his chest. He couldn't fetch a bottle of warm milk to suckle her and ensure she regained her strength. He couldn't clean her off and heal her wounds. He didn't have hands or strong magic or an enchanted refuge. He was just a cat who could change size and ward off ghosts. Nothing special.
With a mew, he curled up at her side, resting his chin on her feet and purring, letting her know he was there. After awhile - he had no idea how long - her hand dropped from around her knees to curl into his fur.
Perhaps, he decided, he was special enough.
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