Olivia slammed the door to her apartment closed behind her and leaned her weight against it, heart pounding in her chest. He killed a guy. That masked man killed a guy. They weren’t even fighting any more. That guy was down and he just shot him and killed him. Why? Why? She took a deep, shaky breath. Her tail thrashed back and forth behind her, smacking against the door frame.
The quiet night seemed exactly the same as before. It didn’t seem to care she’d just seen someone killed in cold blood. She took a moment to press her ear to the door. The whole building was silent, save her panicked breathing. It’s OK. He didn’t follow me. There’s no one here but me. She stepped away from the door, hands shaking. It’s OK. I’m OK. A pleasant breeze picked up, whooshing past her open windows. She took a long look at the closed door to her apartment. Someone with a gun could just walk in here. The broken lock on the handle didn’t fill her with confidence.
She looked around for anything solid to put between her and the unsecured door. A collapsed dresser sat in a bedroom on the far end of the building. She hauled the dark wooden box over and shoved it against her door. The night remained quiet, save for the breeze outside. She paced, clawed hands uncurled and eyes fixed on the front door, until her feet began to ache. It’s been a while. He must not have followed me. She stopped and crashed on the couch.
The cheerful morning sun began its rise. Her eyelids grew heavier and heavier as the looming spectre of a grinning murderer faded. She spread her wings, wrapped her blankets around her shoulders, then tucked in her wings around over them. Her eyes never left the door until she finally fell asleep.
Olivia awoke to a constant tapping sound from outside. Her blanket went flying as she bolted upright. What is that? She sniffed the air, smelling no one. A light evening rain came down outside the window. OK. It’s just rain. That’s all. Just rain. She curled her fingers and paced, trying to work out the sudden spike of adrenaline. The rain washed away the gas fumes and people smell the city usually carried. He didn’t follow me back here last night.
The rain didn’t last too much longer. With little else to do after her tiny breakfast of water and another cinnamon bun, she paced back and forth. Six steps to one end of the living room, six steps to the other. Her nervous energy wore off, and the walls of her apartment seemed to grow closer and closer every minute. I can’t stay in here forever. She glanced outside. No one has tried to get in. It’s probably safe. But what if it isn’t?
She laid her hands on the the dresser aside and took a deep, calming breath. The hallway beyond sounded empty to her ears. She opened the door, poking her head out cautiously. Nothing but dust greeted her. See? I’m fine. She went up to the roof of her building to stretch her wings. Far to the south, she could still see lightning flash through the clouds. The distant thunder barely registered to her ears. She sat at the edge of the roof, clawed feet dangling beneath her, wings and tail stretched out behind her
The sun finally set as she thought, Why did that other guy show up and kill? Was I supposed to help that woman last night? I just wanted to help. She hung her head, unwilling to leave the relative safety of her building.
The next day found Olivia pacing once again. The tips of her extended wings scraped against the walls of her apartment. Her stomach grumbled. No more ifs. I need food. She headed to the roof of her building. The claw on her heel nearly caught on the stairs several times as she walked. She took a deep breath of fresh air once she reached the top. The city stretched out before her. Streetlights twinkled in all directions. With a few steps, she dropped off the edge of the roof and began flying.
A smile crept across her lips as the air rushed past her, whipping around her hair. Nothing up here but me. She looked up just in time to see a power line directly in her way. She tucked her wings in and dropped like a stone, passing just below black cables strung up between two weathered poles. OK. I still need to pay attention.
After flying around for a bit and scrounging old fatty ham scraps from behind a closed deli, she looked back up to the sky. I wonder if I can takeoff from the ground this time. She ran forward a few steps and leapt as high as she could. At the same time, she spread her wings and pumped them as hard as she could. She finally got the timing right, her wings pumping as she gained height and left the ground behind.
She coasted on towards the mountains. The buildings here grew shorter and shorter, though the occasional taller building still stuck out. She experimented with diving and rising while flying. This part of the city had less people, and less power lines.
Harsh voices caught her attention as she flew during a low point. She landed on a building. In a nearly empty parking lot, two men had a young couple cornered against their car. Not again. One of the attackers held up his arm. It took Olivia a moment to realize he held a gun, all harsh angles and dark grey metal. There was someone else there as well. A woman stood against a flickering streetlight, occasionally looking over her shoulder at the robbery in progress. She looked bored, with hooded eyes and a slouched posture. Why isn’t she doing anything?
She turned back to the robbery. He’s got a gun. He could hurt them. Her hands shook. She clenched them, trying to wrestle control back, the claws biting into her palms. It took a couple deep breaths before she regained her composure. I can’t just sit here. The guy with the gun isn’t looking at me. I have to get him first. But how? Maybe I can just tackle him. When I hit the ground the first night the concrete cracked. Maybe I can do that. With her decision made, she took flight.
She soared through the air, aiming for the man with the gun. Her body collided with his, the force of the impact shaking her. The man was flung off his feet, his pistol flying from his grasp. Shouting surrounded Olivia as she rolled to a stop, her claws digging into the asphalt of the parking lot. Blood rushing in her ears, she rushed to her feet and planted herself between the young couple and the two would be muggers. The man she’d bowled over scrambled to his feet, his look of shock mirroring his friend’s.
“Go away!” she roared.
The two men backed away slowly. There was no trace of the woman at the street corner. Once Olivia made no further move towards them, the two men took off at a dead sprint to where the woman had been. She watched until they rounded a corner and were out of sight before turning towards the young couple behind her. The moment she looked at them, they slowly backed away from her, eyes wide. The man fumbled with the car door handle behind him. What did I do? Olivia shrank back, hiding her clawed hands behind her back. Their fear seemed to fade once she had backed away about fifteen feet. Sorry. She spun around and took flight, her wing nearly giving from the ache of the impact.
It’s OK. No one got hurt. That’s good. She circled in the air a few times as the couple got into their car. Once it was clear they were on their way with no more trouble, she began coasting roughly in the direction of her apartment building. She stopped midway through the trip, letting her wings and back rest for a few moments on a rooftop. A bright light caught her eye.
The neon sign over the door read ‘Laundromat’. A woman and two men walked in and out with baskets full of clothes, clean and folded leaving, dirty and crumpled going in. So people can just wash their clothes there? Would they let me? She watched beyond the glass walls from across the street. The woman handed the teen behind the counter a strip of green. Money? That has to be money. Right? I just need money.
She took flight once the ache in her shoulder and the adrenaline had faded, heading back to her apartment. The scraps of food she’d picked up earlier weren’t settling in her stomach well, but it beat gnawing hunger. The few people she saw on the streets never bothered to look up. They also avoided the smaller, less lit side streets Olivia used whenever she was on the ground. I guess I should be glad they don’t. No one notices things there. Like the dirty ten dollar bill sitting on the curb down below her.
Wait, really? Awesome! She landed, scooped up the money, and took off again. Cool! Now what can I do with this? Maybe get clean clothes? Olivia’s nose caught a pleasant, familiar scent as she continued towards her building. Donuts! Food! Ten dollars is enough, right? There wouldn’t be many people around this early in the morning, but the donut place would just be opening about now. She’d nearly run into one of the workers yesterday.
She tilted, turning to the strip mall. I’m finally going to get real food! The area was quiet as she landed near the side of the row of dim shops. The neon red and blue Open sign flickered below a picture of a donut with a happy, smiling face in the hole. She froze, just a few feet away from the door.
What if there’s other people in there? They might freak out. There’s food in there, though. Not dumpster food. The sweet smell of sugar tickled her nostrils. It smells so good. Maybe I could buy a whole bunch of donuts with ten dollars. Hunger won out. She took a deep breath and opened the front door. Her head whipped up at the cheerful ring of a small bell above the door.
“Be with you in just a sec,” called out a voice from the back.
Donuts filled the glass displays up front, and a stack of newspapers lay next to the door. A few empty tables were scattered around the room. The scent of fresh bread and sugar filled the air, along with something else. Cinnamon! Olivia approached the donuts, the claws of her feet scraping against the freshly mopped floor tiles. They all look so good. The person who’d called out came through a set of double doors backwards, pulling a cartload of donuts. Olivia thought she smelled something else familiar, but before she could place it the man turned.
“What can I getcha’,” he began, trailing off at the sight of Olivia. His name tag read ‘Benjamin’. He wasn’t a big guy, but his wide smile wavered only for a moment, even as his eyes widened and he muttered, “You fuckin’ kiddin’ me?” under his breath. Something smelled off to Olivia, but she’d already come this far.
“Hi,” she said with a small, uncertain wave.
He started at her for a moment before replying, “Hey.” His eyes lingered on her large scaly hands.
“Um, could I have some donuts? Please?” she added, tucking her hands behind her back.
“What was that?” he asked as fast as possible. “Speak up.”
She cleared her throat and repeated, “Could I have some donuts please?”
“Sure. How many?” His grin never faded, though she thought she spotted tension in his shoulders. Sorry.
Olivia looked up at the menu above them. A dozen is under ten dollars. “A dozen?” Is that how I’m supposed to order? I just have to say that?
“I can do that. Anythin’ in particular?” he replied. He pulled out a cardboard box, watching her expectantly.
She paused a moment, struggling to parse his hastily spoken words. “I don’t know. They all look good. Um,” She looked back up at the menu, then down at the displayed donuts several times.
“I can just pick out a dozen for you.”
“OK. Oh, cinnamon. Can I have any with cinnamon?” she asked.
“Sure, why not?” he said with a chuckle.
As Benjamin started grabbing assorted donuts, the whole conversation struck Olivia as terribly awkward. It was also the longest conversation with another person she could remember. At least he didn’t stare at her too much. She sniffed the air, finally returning to that familiar smell.
She finally realized the scent came from Benjamin. She recognized it. Blood, chemicals, metal, and the nearly, but not quite, overwhelming scent of donuts. Suddenly his now familiar wide smile seemed less jovial and more sinister. Her tail swished in agitation, and she backed away from the counter with wide eyes.
His smile widened the next time he looked back up at her. “Somethin’ wrong?” he asked. “Is this fever dream I’m havin’ about to get real dark?”
“You’re him,” she whispered.
“Gonna have to be a little more specific than that,” said Benjamin, grabbing two more random donuts without taking his eyes off of her.
“You shot that guy.” Her voice picked up
“You’re him. You look like him and you smell like him.”
“Smell?” She gave a small nod, taking another step back. “Huh. You know you’re in the news, right?”
His question caught her off guard. She blinked, frozen halfway between steps. What?
“You can go look at a newspaper by the door. They’re free.” He gestured towards the door, still speaking quickly. “Front page.”
She backed away, never taking her eyes of him, until she leaned over and picked up a newspaper. The front page had the title Feral Sighted in Westward City, along with a grainy picture of her in that stupid bed sheet she’d worn that second night.
“What?” Benjamin finished packing her donuts, closing the box and setting it on the counter next to the register.
“Feral?” she repeated. “What’s a feral?”
“What?” As she opened her mouth to repeat herself for a third time, he added, “No, no, I heard you. You don’t know what a feral is?”
“It’s a you. Kinda. Most are too dumb to talk. Cops and animal control are huntin’ for you now.”
Hunting? “What? Why? What are they going to do?”
“Shoot you, probably. Security risk an’ all that. But I ain’t the cops.” Benjamin offered her the donut box. “Your total’s $8.16.”
Mutely, Olivia gave him the ten dollar bill she found earlier. He passed her the donuts and her change. Shoot me. They’re going to shoot me. Is he going to shoot me?
“See ya later!” he said with a wide grin that now fully mirrored his mask.
She nodded and backed away again, nearly tripping over her own feet, the forgotten newspaper still clutched in her hand with the donuts. It was fully morning when she finally escaped the donut shop. More cars drove by, the sounds of their tires echoing off the tall buildings nearby. She took flight, heading straight back home as the sun warmed her back and wings. Unnoticed by anyone, she stormed into her apartment and collapsed on the couch. The donut box and newspaper fell to the floor by her hand.
Her heart took a long time to stop racing. After hauling the dresser back to block the door, she returned to the couch and finally read the article of the paper. Animal control. Animal control is hunting me. People think I’m just some feral thing. She sniffed a little bit, letting the paper drop to the ground once again. They said I can’t even talk. I’m a dumb animal. Am I just supposed to be some animal? A feral? What are they going to do to me if they catch me? Shoot me? That’s what Benjamin said they would do.
A frustrated hiss rose up in her throat. Why don’t I know anything? Her claws dug into the paper. She took a deep breath and set the paper down. Enough, I have donuts. She picked up a fresh donuts still tasted far better than dumpster food. She inhaled three more in quick succession. The sun was full in the sky now, and she felt her eyelids droop. She settled back on the couch and tossed a blanket over herself, only partially covering herself.
Sleep did not come easily. The claws of her long toes tapped against the bottom of her foot as she started at the ceiling, going over everything that day in her head. Who was that guy at the shop? He killed another guy that night. Did he just goes right back to making donuts? Who would do that? But he didn’t shoot me. Everyone else is afraid of me.
For once, she slept on a full stomach.