Photo via Visualhunt.com
Marissa stared at the dark clouds as they rolled in. Steamrolling the blue out of the way, as her mother used to say. The fiery orange of the sun as it set was soon blocked by the black clouds. A bolt of lightning hit the ground in the empty lot across the street from her apartment.
“Holy Hannah in a hand basket,” she shrieked, once again echoing her mother.
“Mari, that is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” Karen, her roommate, said as she came over to look at the window just in time for another lightning strike to hit the empty lot. “Fucking hell.”
“That’s two,” Marissa said.
“I’ve never seen lightning hit the same spot twice,” Karen said, her voice filled with awe.
As the two young women watched, three more bolts hit the lot before the rain started. A torrent blocked their view of anything other than the blurred images of a neighborhood drowning in the much needed precipitation.
Marissa closed the blinds and settled back into the window seat. She couldn’t shake the images she’d seen in the flashes of light. “Kari, did you see anything when the lightning hit?”
Karen frowned. “I thought maybe I saw people. It was probably the local homeless scrambling to get out of the way. That’s got to be scary as hell when you’re just trying to find a place to sleep.”
Marissa nodded, but something inside told her that the shadows she’d seen weren’t those from some of the city’s homeless population. She tried to get back into the novel she’d been reading, but the urge to open the blinds and peek out at the darkened street grew stronger.
She jumped when something scratched at their door. “What is that?” she asked, yelping.
Karen rolled her eyes. “It’s probably one of the local strays. I’m going to let it in, and to hell with the landlord. Nothing deserves to be out on a night like this.” She got up from her computer and went over to the door. She opened it a crack.
A pair of black cats, soaked to the skin, streaked inside. Karen shut and locked the door. The cats stopped, looked around, and ran for Marissa. Marissa sighed and put her book to the side. She’d always been a magnet for the animals in the area, feral or not.
Karen grabbed a couple towels and the two women dried the cats off as best as they could. “They’re gorgeous,” Marissa said.
“These two haven’t been strays long,” Karen said. “They’re just starting to lose that ‘I’m a well fed house cat’ look.”
“I wonder what bastard abandoned them?” Marissa asked. Now that they were warm and mostly dry, they’d cuddled up against her chest and were purring.
“I think the only time I hear you use a real swear word is when an animal is in distress,” Karen said with a laugh.
“Animals and children,” Marissa said. “Adults can deal with their own lives, for the most part.” Karen continued laughing as she went back to her computer.
That night, when the women went to bed, the cats positioned themselves outside their doors. Karen tried to coax the one guarding hers in with the cat treats she kept tucked in her bedside table drawer, but it completely ignored them. Marissa just petted the one who’d chosen her and shut her door as usual. She felt cold and had a headache. She took a couple aspirin and went to bed.
The next morning Karen’s scream roused her. Marissa fell out of bed and half stumbled to the door. She opened it up and let out a shriek of her own. The two black cats were sitting where they’d been the night before, but were covered in blood. In front of them were a collection of the strangest creatures Marissa had ever seen. Even as she watched, they turned to ash and sand.
“What the hell were those?” Karen asked. She looked down at the cat at her feet, now completely clean. “And what are you?”
The cat gazed up at her calmly before leaping through the wall. The one guarding Marissa rubbed up against her leg once and followed its twin. The two women stared at each other. Karen opened her mouth. “I have no idea either,” Marissa said. “Let’s just call them guardian spirits and those weird things the demons they vanquished.”
“No one is going to believe us,” Karen said.
“I’m not telling anyone about it,” Marissa said.
Karen was quiet for a moment. “Yeah, I don’t think I will either. Freaky ass shit like this gets you labeled either as crazy or as a drug abuser. Or both.” She rubbed her forehead. “I’m going to take a shower.”
“I’ll go start breakfast.” Marissa closed her door and went to her closet, hands trembling. Demons, cat guardians, and a weird thunderstorm. Her mother had been right – the world was a strange, strange place.