Renee woke from a dream about a bee swarm to find the temperature had gone up in the night and the kitten had become embedded in her left arm. “Get off, Tabby. I hate these pills,” she muttered. But she didn’t. Although they put her into such a deep sleep that she had twice now slept through kitty claws, the pills made it possible to get out of bed at all by the light of day. Groggy, she could manage.

As soon as she had peeled the little cat away from her forearm, she lumbered off to the bathroom. A series of pathetic and increasingly louder mewls followed her when she shut the door with the feline on the other side. She ignored it and shot back her morning dose with a little paper cup full of water. Then she cleaned the cuts in her arm.

But the moment she opened the door, Tabby shot up the leg of her pajamas, forcing Renee to strip out of them. She left Tabby snagged and meowing so she could close the windows (and hopefully shut out the rank odor she had just noticed) and crank on the air.

Tabby freed herself long before the task was finished, and this time she attacked Renee’s head and became lodged in her hair. When Renee finally worked the kitten free, her alarm was finally bleating good morning, and her left arm was bleeding in two new places. She slammed the machine off with the right hand while she held Tabby up by the scruff of the neck in her left. It was the only pose that morning that made the little monster go limp.

“Today, we find you a home,” Renee said. Then she carried Tabby very carefully to the kitchen and tucked the cat into her carrier. As an afterthought, she snaked in some breakfast kibble. Now, Tabby did not mewl; now she howled. Renee had not known cats could howl, and she decided to skip her own breakfast in lieu of getting the creature to her vet that much sooner. They had known her for years at that office, and had promised to get a new home for this absurd little foundling who was not a replacement for the vast and sedate Petunia who had lived much of her life under Renee’s bed.

She dressed quickly, then picked up the carrier and went out front, pausing only long enough to lock her apartment door.Between the dream, in which a thousand hot bees had stung her flesh with burning needles, the kitten, which was positively wailing now, and the lingering smell, Renee found it impossible to escape a sense of malaise as she went down the sidewalk. She set the carrier down to unlock the car, then turned around to look at her building.

The roof was on fire. She saw smoke pouring up into the sky. “But the drugs were working!” she protested.  It had been months, and she was on her own again, and she would not see this fire. She willed it out of existence and climbed into the car.

The fire did not go away. She could still see the smoke out of her peripheral vision, and now she knew what the bad smell had been. She had known what it was all along. She had to call Dr. Archer. That was the responsible thing to do. But the caterwauling in the back seat changed her mind. Tabby saw it, too, or she wouldn’t be bleating this way. When she got out her cell phone, she dialed 911 instead of her psychiatrist. She told the dispatcher, “I think my apartment building is on fire, but I’m not sure. It might be a hallucination.” She had never hallucinated wounds before. And the kitten had been even more insane this morning than it had been yesterday. Surely she hadn’t imagined its attack to her head.

She hung up and got out of the car, replaying now the moments in the bathroom before she took her drug. Had it only been the kitten’s mewling she heard? Or had there been something else?  The couple upstairs had argued again last night. She remembered that. And now, she thought it might have been a woman’s distant moans, not just the frightened cat’s cries.

She couldn’t hear any sirens, and she felt almost sure she had heard her neighbor through the ceiling vent. (Of course, last Christmas, she was sure the tree was telling her to eat its needles, but that was last year, and the medicine was working now.)

She went back into the building. How could she have missed this haze? Had her open windows really kept her space so clear? She nearly went upstairs, but then instead detoured into her own apartment. She went back to the bathroom, throwing open windows along the way. “Hello!” she called. “Can anyone hear me?” The power went out just then, leaving her standing in the dark.

Yes. There it was. Faint. But human. Someone was trying to answer her. But normally, she could hear every word her neighbors screamed. This sound was barely audible. “I hear you,” she said. “But I don’t understand you.”  And that was when she knew it was real. Her hallucinations had voices. Always voices. But never this. Never muffled groans. “Never mind, I’m coming,” she shouted. Tied up. The upstairs neighbor was tied up. She had a gag in her mouth. Renee felt certain of it.

She dug under the sink for her toolbox and a hammer. She hoped it would be enough to pound through the door up there. As she stepped back out into the smoky hall, she made a mental note to cancel Tabby’s appointment with the vet. If she lived through the next half hour, she thought she saw herself with a long future of cat claws. “I owe that kitten some fish,” she said as she mounted the stairs, hoping she could pound faster than a fire.

For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Grace O’Malley gave me this prompt: Malaise..

I gave FlamingNyx this prompt: I didn’t mean to steal it. It just followed me home.


The engaging kitteh up there is really named Cleo. She’s the newest house cat of my friend Jennifer, who is also mother to Socks (a giant compared to little Cleo) and Sophie (who is a dog). Oh and a couple of awesome human kids as well. Really awesome. Like two of the coolest humans on the planet awesome.


About jesterqueen:
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.


Malaise — 9 Comments

  1. Oh my god. Fire is my worst fear but I kept reading because I’ve been trying to fight it lately. And because you drew me in so deeply here.

    I’ve been fascinated by this subject since seeing A Beautiful Mind. Your details made this an entirely new view, very specific, and I like Renee. She feels very real to me.

    Sixth paragraph: in this sentence, “She dressed quickly, then picked up the and went out front…”, I think she picked up the — ‘carrier’? Thought I’d let you know since we bloggers don’t have the luxury of proofreaders and can use all the help we can get. (I know I can. 🙂 )

    • Fire and drowning. Right. Up there. So naturally, I’m going to write a novel with a firebug. Because, you know, I enjoy nightmares or something. And thanks for the proofreading! You are SO right that we bloggers need each other on this score. When you only have your own eyes on something, stuff’s gonna get missed. All fixed now :).

  2. Great story. Love how we are right there with her trying to determine whats real and what’s hallucinated. Will she be successful??

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  4. Tabby sounds a lot like my cat Scruffy.

    Love the in and out of reality of this piece, and the struggle by Renee to decipher reality too.

  5. Whoa. I’d love to read more of this one, not being able to figure out whether the fire is actually happen is driving me crazy!