Flash Fiction / Short Story by Veronica Smith

Last week I was up late, waiting for my sleeping pill to kick in. I’ve suffered from Insomnia for years, and only Zolpidem lets me sleep through the night without waking every hour. But, if I stay up too late it tends to make me woozy. Anyway, this particular night I was coming from my bedroom to the hall and back out to the living room. I could have sworn I saw my cat, Stains, standing in front of the bedroom door and I had to wiggle my foot at him to make him move. I was too tired to realize he couldn’t have gotten past the closed hallway door. Once I got back in the living room, I saw him on the sofa and laughed, realizing how loopy I was. That meant it was really time for me to go to sleep. I remembered it the next day and wrote out this short story.

Ghost – written July 20, 2016

 

I shut the door behind me, kicking off my shoes as I walked into the living room. As I set my purse down on the kitchen counter, my cat, Ghost, came running from the other side of the apartment. I groaned when I saw my bedroom door was open. I must’ve forgotten to close it this morning. I just knew my bed would have a new blanket of long white cat hairs now.

“Rrar,” Ghost looked up at me, winding between my legs. A respiratory infection as a kitten had altered my cat’s typical cat-speak. I knelt, and as I pet him, he immediately turned around to present his furry butt, tail straight in the air.

“Not in your lifetime bud,” I laughed as I pushed him away. I know that’s a sign of affection for cats but not for me; I don’t do cat butt.

I took a beer from the fridge and sat on the sofa, clicking on the remote to watch something from my DVR. I had a long shift at work and doubted I would stay awake long enough to watch the whole show.

“Ghost,” I sighed as I saw his tail end running into my room; I still hadn’t shut the door yet. I turned on the bedroom light but didn’t see him anywhere. I heard another “Rrar” and looked out to see him standing on the sofa, his neck stretched out as he sniffed the neck of my bottle. I was dumb enough to give him a sip once and now he’s a damn alcoholic cat. I didn’t know how he’d gotten past me to get out of the room but I just shut the door.

I know; I’m weird. I’m one of the few cat owners that didn’t allow their cat to sleep with them. My apartment’s already covered in a light layer of soft white fur. Vacuuming once a week only kept it from getting too thick. Ghost was a serious shedder. I wanted one room that was clean and fuzz free. I was lucky, though, he didn’t sit outside my bedroom door howling and keeping me awake all night, I broke that habit when he was a kitten.

The late night shower woke me more than I hoped, but since I didn’t have to go into work until noon the next day, I could sleep in. I took a zolpidem, hoping it didn’t take too long to kick in. My body was exhausted but my mind was wide-awake. I resumed the DVR’d show and watched even after my eyelids began drooping. I think my chin hit my chest a couple of times before I decided I was ready for bed. As I opened my bedroom in the dark apartment, I saw Ghost sneaking past my feet into the room.

“No way Jose!” I spoke out as I turned the light on. He was nowhere in sight.

“Rrar?” I jerked back to the doorway and saw Ghost lying on the sofa, looking at me quizzically.

“How . . .?” I stuttered, then yawned and shook my head. I shut the door behind me and went to bed.

“Get out of my face,” I mumbled in my sleep. I felt a paw slip between my lips and a loud “Meow” right in my face. I spit out the fur that stuck to my lips, swiping my mouth with my hand. A fuzzy head bumped my shoulder as the meows got louder. “What the hell?” I was waking up, despite the fact that it was only three-forty-five in the morning. I groaned as I shooed him away. I sat up straight and whispered, “Ghost? How did you get in here?” I looked to the door but even in the dark, I could tell it was closed.

I picked him up and carried him out, turning on the living room light as I crossed the doorway.

“Rrar,” I stared at Ghost at his usual spot on the sofa for a couple of seconds before looking down. In my arms was a white, longhaired cat, similar in size to Ghost. It looked up at me and I saw its golden eyes gleam as it gave my chin a sandpaper lick. Then it faded away into nothing.

I looked back to Ghost and noticed what I didn’t see the first time. Wisps of smoke seeping through the wall that separated my kitchen and breakfast area with my neighbor’s. Our floor plans were mirrored.

My mouth opened and closed a few times without sound. I was stunned into silence and couldn’t give voice to my fear. “Fire,” I said, barely above a whisper. The impact of Ghost jumping into my arms released the hold on me. “Fire!” I screamed, “Fire! Fire!” I kept yelling it as I called 911 on my cell phone and raced out the front door. The hallway was filled with smoke and more was sweeping out in a wave under my neighbor’s door.

Oh god, he must be still asleep.

As soon as I gave the operator my address, I pocketed the phone and I banged on my neighbor’s door. “Wake up Kevin! Your apartment’s on fire!”

The commotion had woken up the other neighbors. Dean from across the hall came out, then Susan and Sol who lived next door to him as well.

“Make way,” Steven came running from down the hall, fiddling with his key ring, jingling as he searched for the correct one. He was our onsite maintenance man who lived in the building and was always there to fix things fast. I just hoped he would be fast enough.

“There’s heat,” he said as he put a palm flat on the door, “A lot of it.” He glanced around, noting in disgust the brand new smoke detector right next to the hallway light, smoke flowing through it, yet causing no alarm. “I told them not to buy that shit,” he muttered, “Dean, Susan, go get me your fire extinguishers quickly.”

They ran and were back within seconds, both reading the directions on the canisters.

“Jeanne, Please go get me a quilt, sheet, or blanket and soak it in water,” he turned to me as he added, “and don’t wring it out. It needs to be soaking wet. Go now.”

I went back in my apartment and tossed Ghost on the sofa, grabbing up the throw blanket draped on the back. In the kitchen, I cranked up both handles in the sink, pushing the throw under the flowing water. When I thought it was wet enough, I picked Ghost back up, tucking him under one arm as I ran back out, water trailing me then pooling below me when I stopped next to Steven. He had borrowed a soaking wet baseball cap from Dean and it sloshed as he put it on his head. He took the water soaked throw from me and wrapped it around himself. “Back up!” He took a step back and kicked the door in. All of us immediately covered our noses and mouths with our shirts and robes. The smoke rolled out so thick it was hard to see my neighbors, who were only standing a few feet from me.

“Rraarar?” in my arms, Ghost was getting restless. Not just because of the smoke and fire. He’d never been outside the apartment except for vet visits.

We all stood in the hall, feeling useless. The sirens that started in the distance were getting closer by the second. The fire department would be here in minutes.

Without warning, Steven pushed through the wall of smoke but he wasn’t alone. He was dragging Kevin, who wasn’t a light guy. He pulled him with one arm; in his other arm was a cat.

Behind me, I heard Dean say to Susan that Kevin didn’t have a cat and my head jerked up to look at the fluffy white cat under Steven’s arm. As soon as they reached the hall, Steven dropped to his knees and moved the water soaked throw from his shoulder to Kevin’s.

“I didn’t even know the apartment was on fire,” Kevin said hoarsely, his throat irritated from the smoke, “If it wasn’t for your cat, I’d be dead now.” He looked at me now then his words trailed off as he looked from my Ghost laden arms to Steven’s arm.

I gasped as I saw the familiar golden eyes. Both Kevin and Steven saw where I was looking and their eyes followed mine. Steven held the cat up higher in the light until it was close to his face. Those golden eyes locked onto Steven’s and it gave him a rough lick on his chin then faded away.

 

 

 

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