This is more properly a blurb or character sketch than flash fiction. It doesn’t have a proper ending and it’s rather long, but it’s what derailed my productivity on current projects this week, the character who so rudely interrupted the call of nature earlier this week to start whispering her story. This is what she told me.
The brackets holding the stall together were metal and shiny. In the curve of the L, she could see a reflection of the bolt from the right side, a phantom image that seemed to echo into an endless, optical void if she let her eyes blur just a little. She had plenty of time to notice such things while she hid in the restroom, feet perched on the toilet seat as she waited for the stadium to empty out. She’d made a mistake coming here tonight, forgetting that it was a home game and it would be hours before all the people were gone and the Friday night lights were turned out. But Kara was too near the Change to make it back to her car and go somewhere else, so she’d ducked into the bathroom and locked herself behind the graffiti covered door to wait.
No one realized she was there. They assumed some kid had crawled under the stall and locked the door before climbing back out. The floor was so disgusting that nobody cared enough to try to rectify the problem.
By halftime she’d memorized the two dozen names and assorted messages that ran the gamut from vulgar to “I love Jesus.” She resisted the urge to pull a pen from her purse and correct the misspellings and poor grammar that riddled the lot of them.
She held the beast at bay, her attention split between the announcer’s coverage of the game and focusing on identifying the voices that came in and out in a steady stream, babbling about inane high school concerns like who came out with who and what so and so was wearing.
Blind, foolish sheep, Kara thought.
Her legs ached, but she didn’t move. She had to stay hidden. That was the Rule, the moral imperative for people like her. Though “people” was probably too generous a term.
The Bears lost. Kara was grateful. A victory by the home team would have ensured that students hung around far longer to celebrate before drifting away to after parties or Waffle House. Instead they left in droves, shouting insults in response to the jeers offered by the visiting fans. Still, nearly an hour passed before the last students departed, and she heard the snap of the stadium lights being turned off. Someone stuck their head in the ladies’ room and flipped off that light, leaving her in darkness.
Kara made not a sound. A little while later, she heard the rattle of the gate being shut and locked. Her ears strained for the rumble of that last engine cranking up and driving away. Still she waited, body trembling and eager, until she heard nothing but the quiet of a late autumn night.
Then, and only then, Kara Hardy unfurled her stiff limbs and quietly slid back the bolt on the door. Her sneakered feet crunched on the garbage littering the floor, and the noise sounded too loud to her ears. The cleanup crew wouldn’t be coming until tomorrow morning. As she opened the bathroom door, she noted that they’d have their work cut out for them. Concession garbage, programs, and cheap mangled pompoms littered the stretch of concrete beneath the bleachers. The lingering scents of popcorn and nachos and lousy pizza stained the night air.
Moving more quickly now, she left the shadows of the bleachers and crossed to the chain link fence that separated the stands from the quarter mile track and the football field beyond. In one, smooth move, she vaulted the fence, landing crouched on the other side. Her gaze swept the stands, both home and visitor before she strolled to the sideline bench and began to strip. Her movements, normally so restrained and clumsy, so as to appear human, were swift, fluid. Human eyes would see only a blur of motion. She laid her clothes neatly on the bench beside her purse and stepped into the grass. It felt gloriously cool beneath her bare feet. She gave one last, appreciative wiggle to her human toes before letting go and giving in to the animal inside her begging for release.
Kara bent double at the waist, planting her hands in the grass as her bones popped and shifted, taking her from biped to quadruped. With a tingling itch, fur sprouted along her bare skin even as her hair retracted and her ears moved higher along her skull. She was getting better at the process, now completing the Change in under a minute. As the last of the prickling died away, Kara lowered her front in a feline version of Downward Facing Dog then dropping her haunches and shifting to Cobra, stretching her long, lean muscles in preparation for a run.
Oh God, it felt good to move and stretch after all those hours trapped in the bathroom. A purr of pleasure rumbled in her chest. Satisfied that she’d worked out all the kinks, Kara took off, zooming down the field and approaching the goal post at a thundering 65 miles per hour. She careened around it, using her tail for balance as she shot onto the track. She lapped it once, pushing for top speed before slowing down to a more comfortable lope. Moving back to the grass, she put her imagination to work conjuring illusory gazelles to stalk and hunt. For nearly an hour she played and ran, working off the buildup of energy that she found so intolerable in human form, until at last, sated and tired, she flopped belly first onto the cool grass to rest.
She’d waited too long since her last run. The effort of keeping her pace within normal human bounds had made her tense and irritable, her movements unnaturally jerky. Noticed. Being noticed was Against The Rules as laid out by her mother. It was why she forbade Kara from joining in school sports to run track or cross country. Her control, her ability to blend in was not good enough when she ran. So she lived for the stolen nights when she could be herself under the watchful eye of the moon and no one else.
But it was time to get back.
Kara rose to her paws to pad toward the sideline bench where she’d left her clothes and froze, one paw hovering above the ground.
Something had moved in the bleachers. Kara trained her gaze into the shadows beneath the announcer’s box and picked out a shape. A human shape. Tentatively, she lifted her nose and sniffed at the breeze. Male. Definitely human.
Shit. How long has he been watching?
He wasn’t moving now, standing instead in that tense stillness where he hoped he hadn’t been seen but was ready to run like hell in case he had.
Kara struggled with what to do. She could leave. Her kind were not known for their fighting skills, and she had no desire to kill him. But her stuff would still be sitting on that bench, and the driver’s license and car keys would point straight to her. She could grab her purse in her teeth and make a dash for it, but she couldn’t jump the exterior fence in this form. So confrontation was the thing. He could never outrun her, even in her presently exhausted state. Not unless she let him. So she’d stalk him, scare him until he ran away. Then she’d get the hell out of here.
She took a step toward the fence, then another, eyes never leaving the dark figure.
He didn’t budge until she leapt the fence, and even then he crept backward at a turtle’s pace, as if afraid to startle her.
Kara climbed the bleacher seats, her claws clicking against the aluminum with each step. The scent of his fear was acrid in her nose. As he edged back, she could see his muscles trembling with the need to move.
Why isn’t he running?
And that’s where it stops. She didn’t tell me why he isn’t running, and as I have no idea who he is yet, I don’t know either. But I’ll be curious to see where her story takes her.