I am SO happy to be able to take part in this Charity Cat Anthology Hop hosted by Ms. Kyra Lennon,. The rules were simple:
(1)The story MUST have a cat in it.(2) You can write a story within your usual genre - even if it's a sci-fi, or a paranormal cat, or a love story that has a cat in it
(3) You can write a poem if you prefer
(3) The absolute maximum word count is 2500 words
(4) All entries must be edited by the author prior to publication
(5) You MUST write somewhere on your post that you allow permission for me to use your work in the book
(6) You must also attach a short bio and one link to a place people can find you online
Authors retain copyright for any work submitted to the anthology, and can republish their own work elsewhere, with the understanding that all proceeds for THIS anthology will be going to Cats Protection.
As most of you know, I am a Crazy Cat Lady so I was all over this! I hope you like my submission, which Kyra now has my blessing and permission to publish in the anthology. Anything I can do to help a feline out! I've titled this "The Nightmare"
The nightmare was back, again. I woke with a start, gasping for air, heart pounding, body shaking and terrified, tears streaming down my face. Just like all the times before. And just like before, Yury snored his way through the entire episode oblivious to my plight. I stared at my husband's massive shoulders and back and watched his enormous chest rise and fall with each and every breath. For all of that muscle and strength he possessed, my big, strong protector was powerless to fight this enemy. As I sat there trying to catch my breath, something flew out of the dark and hit me square in the chest.
It took a second before I registered it was only Ivan, my cat. He knocked the wind right out of me, which I decided was a good thing. Otherwise, I would have unleashed a scream loud enough to wake all ten floors of our apartment building. If I wasn't so shaken up from the nightmare, my cat would not have been able to ambush me quite so spectacularly. Ivan always instinctively knew when I was in distress and came running to the rescue. As my fingers wrapped themselves up in familiar soft, white, fluff I tried to relax. The sound of Ivan's purring filled up my room and my heart. I could have stayed like that forever, except my feline remained standing squarely on my chest, and just like Yury, my cat was no light weight.
Looking straight into Ivan's big green eyes, I took my time and slowly opened and shut my own, in an exaggerated blink. Which I knew, roughly translated into cat, meant I love you. He returned the gesture, turned and launched himself straight at Yury's head. Yury woke in a fury, his tree trunk arms and legs flailing about, his deep voice stringing together some Russian cusses I've yet to master. Ivan was no fool and he beat it out of there before my sleeping giant could rise up out of bed. He did, however, pause in the doorway just long enough to throw me a pointed look over his shoulder and convince me the waking of Yury had been no accident.
My husband turned over to face me and the whole bed shifted under his weight when he did. I started to roll away but his arms shot out and wrapped around me; I was not going anywhere now. Once he had me locked in he leaned over and kissed me.
“That little fluff-ball is very lucky you are so fond of him. What's this? Tears? Not the dream again?” Yury wiped the residual tears from my cheeks.
“Yeah, the stupid dream. Don't be so hard on Ivan. He was trying to comfort me.”
“I wish I knew how to comfort you and make this nightmare go away. Maybe I should not do overtime or the split shift next week. Maybe I could....”
I loved my husband for even offering. But we both knew he had no choice. The jobs here were so few and far between and we were barely making it now. There was no way he could turn down the opportunity and money working overtime generated.
Things are so different here than they were back home in the states. I knew they would be and man did I catch a whole lot of grief for coming here. My parents have disowned me. I was a true Southern belle, born and raised in Savannah, Georgia. Spoiled rotten from the time I was born as the only daughter of a retired Senator and District Attorney. My parents were older, with even older Southern money, who had nothing but time and the mind to hone me into the perfect debutante. I was considered quite the prize catch. I had my chance with a wide share of suitors there for a while. One right after the other, all marched in purposefully, coming on the pretense to call on me, but they were really there to impress my parents. Oh, the pedigrees they pulled out. All of them the picture of Southern charm and gentility. But one after the other, I could not bear to spend even a minute in their company. Their arrogance and so-called charm was all a big show. Their political aspirations had them drooling and dripping with insincerity all over me. It was nauseating. I wanted no part of any of it or them. All I wanted to do was dance.
Of course, my parents had me enrolled in dance lessons from the time I could walk. They were absolutely delighted when I clung to ballet like a fish to water. It was through dance I found my freedom. When I was dancing, everything else just fell away and I was free. So just how did a spoiled, Southern Belle like me end up on the other side of the world? How did I go from sipping sweet tea and mint juleps with well-bred, preening Southern boys one day to downing vodka shots in the freezing cold with my rough, working-class Russian the next?
The summer after my high school graduation, my ballet teacher tipped me off about a world-renown Russian ballet company touring the United States that just happened to be holding open auditions. I knew from the second I walked into the audition, I would do absolutely anything to become a part of this company. These ballerinas danced with a precision and technique I only dreamed of. They pushed and pushed until they had nothing left and I knew they could help take me to the next level as a dancer. I spent every waking minute I could that summer, hanging around the company. It was there I met Yury; technically he was a part of the production team, mostly they had him doing all the heavy labor. Like breaking apart and reassembling sets and hauling around the sound equipment. He scared the crap out of me first time I saw him.
One night, I thought I was alone, the last one to leave the theater, and on a whim, I jumped back up on stage and performed the solo of the Prima ballerina. When I finished, I heard clapping. He stepped out from behind the stage curtain.
“You are good. If you manage to make it into this company, you could be great.”
“You just gave me a flipping heart attack buddy! What are you doing here? More important, who the heck are you?” I practically screeched at him. Yury smirked. He approached me, slowly and silently and I wondered how anyone that massive, could be so stealthy, so silent? He thrust a giant hand in my direction and introduced himself.
“I am Yury Varennikov, Galina's nephew.” That was all he said by way of introduction, but it was enough. Galina was the director of the entire ballet company. If he was related to her, he had every right to critique my dancing, as well as be in the theater, after hours.
Soon I found that Yury was different in every way I would have imagined him to be, and from every other boy I had ever known. He was like a breath of fresh air. So uncomplicated, so simple! In no way do I mean to infer he is not intelligent, not at all! My Yury is extremely bright, it was more like I never had to guess with him, I always knew exactly what he was thinking. He was direct and honest and had zero ulterior motives in wanting to be with me. In stark contrast to all of the Southern boys with their flowery words and ingratiating flattery, he was a man of few words. Yet, he never had to struggle to get his point across. Looking into his dark eyes reminded me of looking into the eye of a tornado, all around us was chaos, but inside, he was the very center of the storm, the calm.
My parents, of course, went absolutely ape when I told them Yury and I were in love and wanted to get married. I knew they would put up a fuss, but I did not think they would disown me. Now I feel bad I ever even dragged Yury over to my house and subjected him to such scrutiny. But he dealt with them with dignity and grace, like everything else.
They escorted us into the parlour, all formal. Yury took up almost the entire Queen Ann settee himself, but I managed to squeeze myself in next to him. My mother began the cross examination. When she was through, she tagged my father, who stood. He picked up his whiskey sour, and arrogantly threw us the question he assumed would be the final blow.
“What does someone like you, possibly think you could add to my daughter's life?” Funny, how both of them made their livings out of arguing and yet, Yury silenced them with one word.
“Substance.” Yury stood, completely dwarfing my 6 foot 200 pound father. He grabbed my hand and we left. I was determined to marry Yury, with or without their blessing, and I did. What I didn't tell them was when the ballet company's tour of the United States ended, it would go back to Russia and Yuri and I planned on going with them.
Being here hasn't been easy. Between my accent and the cold and my ignorance of the language I have committed more than a few cultural faux pauxs. But being with Yury makes my life here, no matter how hard, worth it. I was doing better too, until a few months ago when the dream started. Now, no matter what I do it haunts me day and night.
It's such a simple dream. But terrifying none the less. It always starts the same way, I am coming home to our apartment, but Yury is not there. I walk up the stairs and when I open the door and go in something, or someone, evil is waiting for me. There is a dark shadow hanging over my apartment and I feel doomed. I know it sounds so simple to relate it. It's simplicity is what's so scary. My imagination goes so many bad places with it.
Despite my lack of rest due to the dream, the weeks flew by in a flurry of classes and rehearsals, as Yury was kept busy working the split shift and as many hours of overtime he could. One Friday night, Yury had to stay late and I had to make my way home solo. I missed our stop completely and had to wait for another train to take me back. (I am still getting used to navigating the public transportation system and the Russian alphabet is not the easiest to pick up, that's for sure) I decided I would walk the rest of the way, but it took me longer than expected.
It had begun to snow, soft flakes that were light but falling steadily. It was truly a beautiful sight, and St. Petersburg was truly a spectacular city. Somehow, this place had really started to feel like home. I was humming the tune of The Nutcracker to myself when I turned onto our street, and was shocked to see police and many of our neighbors standing outside our building. From what I could gather and piece together, with the little Russian I knew, it seemed our building had been hit by burglars. Every single apartment in our building had been robbed, and I needed to go up and check our place to see what was missing.
Slowly, I climbed the stairs. Things I had never really picked up before started to all click into place. I broke out in a cold sweat as I realized every detail of my dream was now solidifying before my eyes. As I walked past a neighbors' open door, I took a peek inside. Their couch had been turned over and a vase lay broken, fresh flowers strewn across the floor. Drawing on every reserve of inner strength I possessed, I steeled myself for what I would encounter in our apartment. It was time I faced my fears. As I climbed the last few steps, I stumbled. I placed my hand out to steady myself, and when I did, my hand touched something wet. It was thick and a deep rich red and I had a terrible suspicion of what the substance was. I looked up the rest of the steps and I saw more drips and drops of what I knew could only be blood. Terrified, yet determined, I pressed on.
The door of our apartment was slightly ajar. I procrastinated in the doorway, solidifying my will to take that final step and go in. There was a small puddle of blood just inside the hallway. I was about to ditch, thinking the hell with seeing my nightmare come to fruition, I'm outta here, but before I could beat feet and run all the way back down those stairs, I heard a very indignant “Meeeooow!”
Ivan! I burst into the apartment and found every one of my fears to be completely unfounded. There was no evil, no dark presence waiting for me. Our place, other than the puddle of blood at the entryway, stood virtually untouched. It was then I saw Ivan, my soft, fluffy,white, ball of fur, perched gracefully on top of the back of our couch, carefully licking blood off his claws.
Jennifer Bird loves to read, write and spend time at the beach, which is convenient since she resides at the Jersey Shore with her husband, three tweenage girls and one very spoiled and very fat cat named Filamena. You can usually find her weaving tall tales on her blog, The Bird's Nest.