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NINE LIVES OF XEN: Chapter 23, Xen Minute Warning

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Chapter 23 of the serial fiction, “Nine Lives of Xen,” by Anthony David Lawson.

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should have rested. Should have let my bones find their proper place once again. But, as soon as I had my footing, I was off. Despite the pain, I would mend on the go. Walking was further hindered by the slight sticking of my paw. I resisted the urge to lick it clean when I remembered the gore covering it with adhesive accuracy used to be a human eyeball. I found a small puddle and did the best I could to clear off any ocular remnants.

Cats aren’t so much good at tracking (catching scents, following trails, etc.), as they can sense what it is they are looking for. We are guided by a strong intuition. It was this intuition that thankfully led me away from the busy streets. (My joints would flare up with every passing car.)

I soon found myself in a quiet neighborhood with actual lawns and driveways. I spotted the house immediately. It still looked exactly the same as the picture of M. and her brother standing in front of it that she kept in her room. The house was quiet, but the lights were still on. I decided to wait until everyone had gone to sleep before I would risk climbing in to find M. I settled down under the cover of some bushes that had been planted close to the house and felt relief as the throbbing in my legs began to subside. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, with the excitement and all, but once the adrenaline in my body had stopped flowing so steadily, I found myself drifting off. As much as I wanted to see M. there was nothing I could do just yet. I gave up the fight as exhaustion claimed my body and I closed my eyes.

*   *   *   *   *

The images in my head kept swirling. There was no definite narrative to the dream. I saw civilizations rise and fall. Dolls get up and walk on their own. Dogs running down the beach. Brides walking down the aisle. Rabbits screaming. Mothers crying. Disappointment. Elation. Headlights and tires. Typewriters and tumblers. A smell crept into my dream. A rancid mixture of burnt cigarette filters and rotting meat. Then the underlying scent of baby powder. A man walking down an alley. A man walking down the corridor of the rest home. Both looking down at me and saying, “It’s in you. I’m not going to hurt you, but it’s in you. Maybe you will hurt you.”

Then there was cold. It felt like—dew. I was sleeping on a lawn and it was getting late.

*   *   *   *   *

I sprang awake as if late for an appointment. The dream still rattling in my head. It was that quiet time nestled firmly in between late at night and early in the morning. Neither one quite right, it was its own time. The house was dark. After giving it a once-around, I noticed a widow on the second floor that had been left halfway open. It was the type of small window found in old houses. It opened vertically instead of horizontally by using a hand crank. The opening wasn’t even enough for a human hand to slip though and still be able to reach the locking mechanism, but it was enough for someone like me to squeeze through.

I bound up the nearest tree and ventured out onto the branch that reached closest to the house. I was amazed that after all those years spent fairly domesticated, my feral instincts were still so readily available. I jumped over to the ledge and peered into the window. The first thing I saw was the wheelchair; this was M.’s room. I pushed my way though and softly padded to the carpeted floor. I was desperate to see her, but the door to her room had been left open and needed to be sure we were alone. Once satisfied that the house was asleep, I jumped up onto the bed and looked down upon the love of my life.

She was dying. There was no other way to put it. She looked drawn and pale. Sweat gleamed off her forehead and her mouth—which sometimes found itself softly smiling in her sleep—was pulled tight into a grimace. I was going to lose her. I was too afraid to check to see how much life she had in her, as irrational as it seemed, I thought that by merely touching her she might break.

This wasn’t fair. All I had done was for nothing. The suffering we both endured would be rewarded with only more suffering. This is why I never knew love before. If I had, I never would have lived this long; it would have been impossible. I was out of options. I wanted desperately to go into her brother’s room and take both him and his wife. They had done this to her, it would only be suiting that they should make her better. But who would take care of her when she woke up? And had it really been there fault. They had to leave her. Had obligations to their family. After all, they had just had the new…

The thought trailed off as the baby started to cry from the next room. The baby. I forgot about the baby. I slipped out and crept into the next room. The sound emitting from the thing was less a wail and more a simple annoyance. I jumped up and peered down at the pink mass. Such a little thing. It’s hard to believe that something so small has so much life in it yet to live. So much … potential.

I looked back at the door then down to the gibbering child. This could work. Or at least buy me some time. And let’s play the rationalizing game. They’re young, they can have another kid. Plus, with this one gone they would have more time to care for M. I lightly pressed my paw on the child’s chest. It looked up at me and stopped its protesting, with a kind of fascination in its eyes. A small sound escaped.

Eighty-five years. Right now this little lump of skin was good for 85 years.

It smiled up at me. “That’s right,” I thought.

Keep smiling, I kept thinkingthis as I reached out and gently opened its mouth with my paw.

Just keep smiling.

Anthony David Lawson is the author of “Novel,” as well as a local playwright, director and actor. He will write a piece of prose presented in parts every other week in encore throughout 2015, entitled “The Nine Lives of Xen.”

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