Those Green Eyes from the Woods (Part One)
Farah’s on a new path after a dysfunctional relationship, but an unexpected, furry visitor might have different plans for her. Part one of a two part short story.
The Victorian house needed work, but Farah would rather think about home renovations than Marco. She didn’t miss him; memories just kept popping into her brain uninvited.
Throughout the relationship Farah did the most while Marco did the least. He treated her like an afterthought until he stopped thinking about her altogether and casually ended their five year relationship.
“I think we should break up,” he told her, his voice sounding similar to when he ordered from a lunch menu.
Being together felt like a chore. Initially Marco was sweet and adored Farah which was something she’d never experienced before. He praised her for being different, whatever that meant. But soon the adoration turned to annoyance, and most of his sentences began with, “why can’t you just … ?” which made shame seep into Farah’s bones. When she tried to talk to Marco, he reduced her worries to being a symptom of anxiety. Farah’s friends were equally unhelpful.
“Everyone has their problems,” they’d tell her, encouraging her to stay with him because he was attractive and had a good paying job.
Shouldn’t there be more to this? She thought, but she didn’t have the courage to say it out loud.
Farah understood it was common to settle in a relationship, but she believed just because it was common didn’t make it normal or healthy. At the end of each day she would greet Marco halfheartedly in their colorless apartment, wondering why she was still there.
Farah was relieved Marco finally broke up with her, though she cursed herself for starting the relationship to begin with and not ending it herself.
A month later her job offered a relocation with a stipend and Farah accepted, eager to leave her hometown. She took her savings, moved to the Midwest, and bought a small Victorian home. She’d always dreamt of living in a vintage house. Marco thought it was ridiculous.
“What’s the point of an old house if you can afford a newer one with less work,” he’d say. He never saw the point in putting work into anything.
So much happened so fast, Farah thought as she moved boxes around her new home. Her brain was still having a hard time catching up.
The light yellow paint in the living room was faded as was the botanical wallpaper in the dining room, but it was better than the endless beige of her old apartment. She made her way through the labyrinth of cardboard boxes until she reached her bedroom.
She pulled clothing from a box and hung them on her silver clothing rack. She frowned when she felt the worn down cotton of Marco’s ancient hoodie. It used to be her favorite loungewear. She pulled it out, ran her hand over the vinyl logo on the front, then tossed it into a pile of other clothes meant to be donated.
During lunch she sat at the only clear spot at her dining table and gazed out the glass patio door. She wasn’t used to the Midwestern sky being so close. Farah was accustomed to hills and mountains separating the sky and the ground, yet here there was nothing in the distance except more sky and the burning sun. The ceiling fans in the house were not enough to keep her cool.
Only the sounds of the buzzing fan and the clinking ice cubes in her glass broke through the silence. It wasn’t until she was done with her sandwich, munching on a few stray potato chips on her paper plate that she noticed two green eyes watching her from the patio railing.
Farah walked up to the glass door.
“Hello,” she said. The cat blinked at her while his tail hovered behind him.
He jumped from the railing to the patio, then sauntered up to the glass door. He meowed and cocked his head left to right. Farah felt like he was asking what she was doing there.
I’d like to ask you the same question, she thought.
She took a picture of the cat and sent it to her group chat.
“New friend,” she captioned it.
She watched the screen, hoping someone would reply. The screen went black instead. She slid the phone into her jean pocket and looked out to the patio just in time to see the cat walking into the woods.
Farah continued to unpack as the hot summer days dragged on. She wished Marco would’ve at least had the courtesy to break up with her during a more tolerable season.
During lunch she sat at the dining table and the cat made a habit of joining her from the patio. He’d jump out from the woods near the same time each day, and sit or lay in front of the patio door. His emerald eyes would watch her and sometimes she’d tell him about her day, and though there was little to report he was an attentive listener. She came to enjoy his distant company. After all, he was her only regular guest. She assumed he had a real home, but put a small bowl of water out for him just in case.
Great, she told herself, my new best friend is a cat.
At night she’d play video games until her sight was bleary, checking her phone during the loading screens to see if any friends from back home contacted her. No one ever did.
Out of sight, out of mind, she thought. It wasn’t comforting.
On Friday, thunder rattled the windows and lightning flickered through the sky. Farah sat on the couch hugging a throw pillow close to her chest while she tried to drown out the storm with the T.V. She jumped every time the thunder boomed.
Please don’t be a tornado, she pleaded with the sky.
She wasn’t entirely sure how tornadoes worked yet, but she didn’t want to learn now.
The storm lasted for an hour before it calmed to a steady rain. The wind continued to rush but the thundering slowed. Farah braved leaving her storm support pillow to make a cup of chamomile tea.
Under the microwave hum she heard tapping at the patio door. She pushed the sheer white curtains aside and turned on the porch light. At the bottom of the door stood the gray cat, pawing at the glass with his white tipped paws. Once he saw her, he began to meow and wouldn’t stop. He’d never done that before.
“Oh you poor thing,” Farah said, “maybe you don’t have a home.”
She’d never been one for pets, but she felt sorry for the soggy creature and knew she wouldn’t forgive herself if he got sick from the rain. She slid the door open and the cat strode in, sat by her feet, and began to lick himself.
She watched the rain drip off his coat and onto the dark hardwood floor.
I should probably clean him up, she thought.
The cat paused, a paw hanging in midair as he studied her. She walked off to find a towel. It took sorting through a few boxes before she found one she didn’t mind ruining.
“Alright, cat. Don’t bite me or scratch me, okay? I’m just trying to help,” Farah assured him.
She began to blot the cat dry with caution, but he seemed unbothered by the fussing. Once he was dry enough, Farah sat cross legged on the kitchen floor. The cat tapped his pink nose to her bare knee.
“Well, you’re certainly cute,” she told him.
She scratched the cat between the ears. His eyes shut as she did, which she took to mean he liked the affection.
Light darted through the sky and Farah covered her ears in anticipation for the boom to come. The thunder shook the patio door.
“I hate these damn storms!” she yelled.
Farah began to feel the weight of her life crush her. She was in a strange city where she didn’t know anyone. Marco was always in the back of her mind and she didn’t want him there. She had endless work to do just to get unpacked. Her new job started in a week. The storms were stressing her out. And it was just too damn hot.
A few tears fell onto her cheeks. Farah was less okay than she wanted to be and it only frustrated her more, making the tears come faster. She hated that she cried when she was mad: she wanted to be angry mad, tough girl mad, I don’t care about anything anymore mad, but that just wasn’t the sort of person she was. She cared about everything too much and it always got her into trouble.
The cat hopped into her lap and bent his neck backwards to look up at her. He began to purr.
“Thanks,” she said, petting his damp coat.
“So, are you, like, my cat now?” she asked.
She wiped her tears from her face, feeling defeated. The cat blinked slowly in response.
Farah took Marco’s old hoodie and a few other items from the donate pile to create a makeshift bed on the floor. The cat eyed her bed but she returned a hard look.
“I don’t think so mister,” she told him, “I’ll get you a proper bed tomorrow, but you can’t have mine.”
Begrudgingly the cat moved to the pile of clothes, kneaded it, then plopped down in the center.
“I’ll have to think of a name for you, too,” Farah told him. The cat meowed at her as she turned off the bedside lamp. The air conditioner unit drowned out the low rumbles of the storm just enough for her to fall asleep.
Farah awoke early in the morning. She tripped on the pile of clothes and gasped for fear of hurting the cat, but he was no longer there. She wandered through the house, panic welling up inside her.
Oh my God, I killed the cat. I didn’t take care of it well enough, she thought.
Or maybe he took off because he doesn’t like me either.
Her next thought was wondering why a strange man was digging through her kitchen.
Farah screamed and the man shot up from the refrigerator, a piece of bread in his mouth. He held his hands above his head.
“AAAAAATTTTTT!!” he yelled through the bread.
He took the slice from his mouth and tossed it to the counter. He stepped towards Farah and she screamed again.
“No no no! Don’t be scared! I’m The Cat!” he cried, waving his hands.
“You … what?” Farah managed to say.
“I’m The Cat,” he said, tapping his chest.
She looked him up and down. His eyes looked familiar to her though she couldn’t place why they seemed so strange. He was wearing a pair of her sweatpants and an old concert T-shirt that she didn’t recall placing in the donation pile. Both barely fit his lanky body.
“Get out of my house!” Farah yelled at him.
“Wait! Look!” he yelled back.
He snapped his fingers and was replaced by the gray cat. He walked around Farah’s feet and purred, then blinked a few times and turned back into a man. He did it several more times as Farah gawked at him. Cat. Man. Cat. Man. He decided to stay human once he was done showing off.
“See? Cat,” he said with a smile.
“I’m … hallucinating,” she whispered.
What if the house is haunted? Or worse, toxic? Is this a mold issue? she wondered. Farah’s mother did warn her the Midwest was rife with humidity and mold.
“Not hallucinating,” The Cat replied. His voice was cheerful, mismatched to the frightening thoughts swirling inside Farah’s head.
He flashed his smile revealing white and pointed teeth. She noticed his vertical pupils dilated when he looked at her. He appeared human enough, at least until his eyes and teeth gave him away. She’d never seen anyone like him.
He leaned against the kitchen counter. He ran his hand through his thick silver hair, then, eyes still locked on Farah, slowly reached for the bread on the counter.
He took another bite.
“You saved me from the storm. Thank you, by the way,” he said through a mouthful of food.
“You’re welcome,” she replied after a moment. Her fear was beginning to subside.
“Look, I know this is weird. It’s not everyday you meet a cat who turns into a human. I get it. I’d be stressed too if I were in your shoes. But I’m not dangerous, just hiding from the storm,” he said.
“Do you have a name?” Farah asked.
“Do you?” The Cat replied.
“Farah,” she said, wondering if she’d regret answering.
“What a lovely name for a human.”
His eyes wandered around the house.
“You’re the new owner, huh?”
“What are you? Are you like a demon or something?” she asked.
The Cat shook his head. He always seemed to be smiling.
“No no, nothing like that.”
“Then, what exactly?”
He came to stand directly in front of her, his slit pupils turning fully round. Farah froze.
“I’m magic,” he said, wiggling his fingers.
She let out an annoyed breath.
“If you’re not going to tell me anything then you need to leave. I have things to do.”
“Oh really, what pressing matters do you have at five in the morning?” The Cat asked.
Farah huffed, but didn’t reply.
“This used to be my house, you know,” The Cat said.
“Yeah right,” she snapped back.
“You’re so distrusting,” he said.
“You broke into my house.”
“Did not. You invited me in,” he replied, walking towards her living room.
“Well I wouldn’t have if I knew you were a person,” she called after him.
“What’s wrong with people?” he returned.
She followed him into the living room where he stopped at the fireplace.
“Everything,” Farah mumbled.
He pressed his bare foot into the red bricks of the fireplace until one moved. He pulled the brick out revealing a cavity with a small wooden box.
“See?” The Cat said, sliding the box top open.
Farah was speechless.
He sat on the living room floor and patted the spot next to him. She reluctantly sat down.
He pulled out a stuffed cat with faded button eyes, a yellow satin bag that sounded like it contained glass marbles, and a few sepia photos of a little boy with slit pupil eyes and messy hair.
He shuffled through the photos, showing them to Farah as he did. She peered over his shoulder, curious. One particular photo showed a slender woman in a high-collared black gown sitting in a chair. In front of her stood four children, three boys and a girl. They all had the same eyes as The Cat.
“Were you born like this?” Farah asked.
“No,” he said.
She watched him, anticipating an explanation.
He let out a sigh.
“Well?” she asked.
He looked at her, then down at the box. He set it on the floor and inhaled, leaning back on his hands.
“Look, when I was a boy, I was not a great person. One day there was a storm, and an old woman came to the door asking for shelter and food. I told her to get lost, but it turned out it was a mistake. She revealed herself to be a witch and cursed me for my selfishness, making me live out the rest of my life as a cat person, forever wandering the woods looking for a home.”
Farah was quiet for a moment, then wrinkled her nose and shoved his arm.
“That’s the plot of Beauty and the Beast!” she yelled.
You can read part two here!