Only a Whisker Away

A story of overcoming inner demons

Sometimes you need a little help to pull you out of your fears.

Sometimes you need a little help to pull you out of your fears.

Grace Arnold, Guest Writer

“But I don’t want to go to bed!”

“Come now, sweetheart,” the girl’s mother soothed, her voice patient and wreathed with understanding. “It’s already three minutes passed 8:30, and you know that’s your bedtime.”

“It’s not fair!” the girl continued to whine.

“Life isn’t fair,” the mother countered for the hundredth time that week.

And again, for the hundredth time that week, the young girl lost the same battle. Reluctantly, she trudged to her room and slipped into her furry kitten onesie. Taking her time, she scrunched up her sleeves to brush her teeth before she finally crawled into bed. Her mother lovingly tucked the covers over her shoulders and gave her a light peck on the forehead.

“Goodnight, little kitten. Sleep tight,” her mother sang, flipping off the lightswitch as she closed the door behind her.

Boom! Thunder shook the house like an earthquake only a moment later.

The girl squeaked in response, bolting upright in her bed. Fearfully, she slid out from underneath her blankets and tiptoed to her bedroom door to open it just a crack. With the light from downstairs flooding in, she felt safer, so she bounced into bed where she wrapped herself in a cozy blanket. Slowly, she grew drowsy while the pattering of rain tappered on her window like a rhythmic lullaby.

She could finally let the warm embrace of sleep lull her in.

BOOM! Another crash of thunder echoed through the house, this time followed quickly by a blinding flash of lightning.

The girl’s eyes flew open, wild with terror. They dashed across the room, trying to see through the darkness. This time, though, there was no comforting light seeping through the cracked door. The night was as confining as a bag of chips.

Outside, the onslaught of rain pounded harder against her window, daring it to give up and shatter.

With a resounding rumble, lightning illuminated her pitch black room for no longer than a second, casting shadows along the sinking floor and towering walls. 

Once more, light split the sky, and the shadows strung across the walls began to move. They peeled away from their home on the wall and danced in what little luminance they could find. Like enormous birds and iridescent shelled beetles, they fluttered and crawled. They slinked closer and closer, but the girl’s fear only held in her place as the marauding monsters closed the distance between her and them. As one wriggled onto her chest, she felt crushed beneath its weight. Her lungs begged for air, but none would come. She wanted to shout, but her mouth was stuck open in a soundless scream. She was drowning. Her mind spun as fragile as a madman’s while the darkness grew increasingly overbearing.

Just as she was about to surrender and let the shadows overcome her, a white cat leaped up by her feet. Its pale fur practically glowed against the unwavering black. Delicately, it padded over her body and rested its tiny toe beans on her chest, kneading it like bread dough. As if by magic, the shimmering feline filled her lungs with lifegiving air. The girl gasped breathlessly and gulped for air, overwhelmingly grateful that she could finally breathe again.

The cat sat beside her with its tail wrapped neatly around its paws, its whiskers twitching as it wiggled its bright pink nose.

“What are you lying around for, Kit?” it asked. “Let’s get you back home.”

It wasn’t until the shadows had scurried away that the young girl grew aware of the unfamiliar territory. She somehow ended up in a shaded grove. Oily black trees reached for the honeydrop moon that swam in a sea of blood. The barbed undergrowth pricked the bottoms of her feet while the peaty earth stained her soles deep crimson.

The girl gave a sniff and nodded. 

Home. Yes. That’s where she needed to go.

Following the beautiful cat’s lead, she trailed after it, matching its pawsteps. When their path didn’t seem to be reaching any real destination, the girl began to wonder if it was even possible to get home. The endless woodlands were eating away at her, filling her with doubts and uncertainties.

She tried desperately to keep up with her angelic guide, but the ground pulled at her feet, slowing her stride with each leaden step. The echoing howls and the haunting whispers swirled around her, so deafening, they overwhelmed every fleeting thought.

What’s wrong with you? You’re all alone here. Give in little one, and you’ll finally be at rest. Just rest. Just rest.

Stumbling like a gander of geese, the weight bearing down on her shoulders and the ball and chain tugging at her ankle brought her to her knees. Her pounding heart yearned to scream for help, but no words came. She was all alone again. Just the girl and her shadows.

The shadows greedily engulfed her like a torrent, washing wave after wave over their innocent victim. Frenzied with hunger, they lashed at her delicate flesh, drawing whips of thick blood from her arms.

She clenched her jaw, bracing herself for the searing pain to surge through the rest of her body, but no such affliction occurred. Nothing could compare to the resounding voices that drummed through her skull or the suffocating clutches of the darkness. Slowly, she pulled herself into an egg, wrapping her arms around her legs and tucking her head behind her knees. Squinching her eyes shut, she prepared herself for the remainder of the tribulation.

“Kit?” a voice murmured from beyond the depths.

The girl hugged herself tighter, ignoring the thin lines of blood racing down her arms and legs. There was nothing beyond the expansive black that held her in its clutches.

“Kit!” the voice repeated. “We can’t get home if you’re sitting around on the ground like this.”

Her voice spoke on its own. “I don’t want to go home,” it groaned. 

“What kind of nonsense is this? Let’s get you cleaned up, Kit.”

Suddenly, something tiny and course scraped across her arm, sending a shockwave through her. She blinked away the abyss to see the white cat licking gently at the streaks of scarlet.

With each swipe of its tongue, its muted, motor-like purr grew, and as it rumbled louder, its pelt shone brighter, casting the shadows back to their secluded hiding places. The soft, rhythmic drone eased the pain that scorched through her, calming the waves and reeling the girl back in to shore.

“Now come,” demanded the cat, taking a step back. “On your feet. And no getting lost this time,” it purred.

Obediently, the girl rose to her feet, like a phoenix from the ashes. Shaking off the grips of the shadows, she broke free of the tangling ivy and once again followed after the sweet cat.

This time, she kept her terrified gaze locked on the glowing feline, determined not to be tugged into another ocean of trepidation. It lit her path like the brilliant star that guided the wisemen to their savior.

Soon the crisp dawn radiated in the vast distance, melting away the labyrinth of edelwoods, blending the murk into morning. Like a moth drawn to a lamp, they trekked towards the light. Closer and closer, the blinding light swept over them, welcoming them with open arms. It released the heavy yoke from her neck and shattered the rusted chains that yanked at her freedom.

The night had promised comfort, but it was when she ran to the day that she truly found liberty. 

Bzzt! Bzzzt! Bzzt!

The girl woke to her boisterous alarm with a start. Stretching her arm over to her nightstand, she smashed the off button, silencing the annoying buzzes.

Her mother called from downstairs, “Are you awake yet, honey?”

The girl flopped over in her cozy bed, for the first time in years wishing that she could go back to sleep. At the sound of her mother’s footsteps coming up the stairs, she hastily rolled down her sleeves to cover the scars that laced her skin.

“It’s time to get up and ready for school,” her mom declared heartily while bursting through the girl’s bedroom door. “Up and at ‘em! Hop to it!”

Knowing her daughter was awake, the girl’s mom skipped away to prepare breakfast.

“Guess I should get up, huh,” the young girl told herself, jumping out of bed.

She felt different somehow. Like someone was helping her carry the weight of all the world, so she needn’t worry.

Wiping at the purple rings under her bright eyes, she turned to see a white cat lazing in her windowsill. It’s fur was a little rumpled and wet, but it breathed gently despite the rough, stormy night that left the town outside drenched.

As if feeling the girl’s gaze, the cat lifted its tiny head and stared at the girl with a forlorn look of understanding.

“Come on in,” the girl beckoned, opening the window enough to allow the cat to slide in out of the rain. “It’s the least I can do.”

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