Welcome to the New Normal

A Confidence and a Confession

The cat's out of the bag, now ...

A Denny McCloud Story

Saturday, 10 Apr 2027
Cozy Coffee
1030 hrs

Denny took her time biking over to the Cozy Coffee. She had her day pack on her back and thoughts on her mind as she pulled up to the curb and chained her bike. Inside the coffee shop the daytime rush was just getting started, delayed by the weekend hours as people opted to sleep in. While her favorite table was already taken, few had ventured to sit on the outside balcony. It would be perfect—sunny, open, and off the ground. Just what she needed. Denny took to the stairs without saying hello to Miriam and snagged the table closest to the power outlet. Her tablet was fully charged but she intended to spend several hours doing some pretty heavy processing and wanted the backup.

Processing. Backup. Dude, ya think?

Tablet set up and ready, her feet propped on a chair under the table, Denny got to work on another page of her digital journal, trying to capture the nightmare she’d suffered. If she could just get it on ‘paper’, as it were, she might be able to make better sense of what happened. The grey origami cat sat next to her drawing hand, watching her work with its contented cat-smile. During the night as the cat had purred under her hand, she tried to understand how she’d turned a paper figure into a flesh and blood being. Was it the extra work she’d put into the detail? Was it the kiss and the pat she’d given it the other day? Was there something to her nightmare that did the trick? Or was she losing her freakin’ mind and like all crazy people, just didn’t know it or even cared?

Cuz seriously, Den. Paper cats that walk and talk and fight off paper monsters? And that stick around after the dream is over? You’re seriously Fruit Loops if you believe that.

But what choice did she have? What else fit the facts as she knew them? All she knew is she’d fallen asleep with the suppositions and what-abouts spinning in her head and she’d woken hours later to find the live cat gone and the origami cat in its place on top of the covers. Nothing she’d tried brought it back to life again and after half an hour, she gave up and readied to leave for the coffee shop. And so here she was, trying to get a handle on things. The monster was roughed in on the tablet now, its posture appropriately shambly and menacing, and Denny swapped the messy brush she was using for something more precise to start on the cat.


A cup of coffee appeared next to Denny and Miriam’s voice sounded from over Denny’s shoulder. “The rush is over and it looked like you had finished your first cup but were too involved to get up. So I brought you a second cup. Hope you don’t mind.”

Miriam looked down at the drawing in progress. “Quite creepy and not the kind of drawing I expect to see you working on normally. New direction for you, Denny?”

Denny blinked and peered into her mug. Yup. Drained.

“Thanks, Miriam. Uh, yeah,” she added. No point in hiding it. Miriam had already seen it. “Nightmare last night. Has me kinda freaked, you know? And thing is ….” Denny sat back and picked up her fresh coffee. “It was one of those totally ridiculous ones, you know? Filled with stuff that’s obviously not real that would make you laugh if you saw it in a movie, but still scares the livin’ crap out of you when you’re dreaming it.”

As for the cat? Not going there. Nope.

Miriam smiled. “Brain’s funny that way, isn’t it?” She pulled out a chair and sat down in that casual way she had, making it feel like she was at her own kitchen table. “But I think it is smart to put it down on paper like that. Like exorcising it.”

“I suppose so,” Denny said thoughtfully, looking at the tablet. She’d really managed to get the surreal quality of the dream down. All warped angles and blurred edges. “I can’t draw when I’m angry—it makes me gouge the paper—but I can when I’m scared. And I was really really scared, as weird and bogus as that dream was. Sorry. I’m not saying this at all well. I know I sound like an idiot.”

Miriam reached out and patted Denny’s hand. “There isn’t supposed to be anything sensible about dreams and nightmares, dear. I think of it like the brain venting from the day’s work.”

She stopped for a minute and looked at the drawing again and pointed at the rough outline of the cat. “The monster is quite unsettling, but what’s that?”

“If that’s the case, I think I’m in the wrong line of work,” Denny quipped, hoping to distract Miriam from the subject of the cat. She wasn’t ready to talk about it yet. She flicked a glance at the origami animal and buried her nose in her coffee.

Miriam caught the glance over at the cat and started to pick up the little origami kitten before pausing in mid reach. “My manners. Would you mind if I looked at your little kitten?”

“Um … sure.” Her first instinct was to say no, but pride that someone found something she’d made interesting made her say yes. Hell, Den. You carry it with you everywhere and leave it out where people could see it. Be honest. You sure it’s not because you’re hoping someone would notice? Why else are you drawing on your tablet in public? Coffee shop sure isn’t private, you know?

Miriam carefully scooped the origami kitten up into the cupped palm of her hand. She spent several moments carefully examining it from all angles. “It’s fine work, Denny. I wish I had the hands to do something so delicate. If it showed up in your dream, you shouldn’t be ashamed. Be proud. Your subconscious clearly is.”

That was so close to what she’d been thinking that Denny nearly choked on her coffee. She sputtered and coughed, pushing her tablet away to save it a drenching, and it took a moment to get herself in hand again.

“Whoa,” she husked, phlegmmy from the spit take. “Miss Cloe ain’t got nothing on you. But thanks, Miriam,” she added. “It’s nice of you to say.”

Because she didn’t dare come right out and ask what popped into her head as she’d struggled to get her breath back: Was Miriam a psychic? Or maybe an empath? Kinda like Betazoids from Star Trek, right? Oh geez, Denny. Why not just call the guys with the butterfly nets while you’re at it? I’m sure they’ll let you have paper and crayons once they throw you in that padded cell.

“I’m a lot better looking than Miss Cloe, thank you very much.” She unconsciously fluffed her hair with her hand. “But I’m not reading your mind, honey. Just made the connection. I’ve gotten pretty good at paying attention to what people don’t say.”

“True,” Denny nodded and breathed a laugh. “Lots better looking.” She frowned. “Gotten pretty good? Does that mean you weren’t always?”

She motioned with her hand around at the coffee shop. “I haven’t run this forever, you know. It gives you a chance to observe. My Harold used to say that people were the ultimate puzzle. Cozy Coffee gives me a chance to riddle out a few of them.”

“You know that poem by Langston Hughes, about dreams deferred?” Denny bit her lip, wanting to talk to someone about what happened but afraid of the consequences. For sure, I can’t go to Mom with this. She’d get all Feng Shui about it on me, draw up my horror-scope and break out the incense. “Do you think it’s true? Can … your dreams explode?”

“Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?”

Miriam nodded at Denny. “I do indeed like Mr. Hughes’s work. Also quite a handsome man, although he was definitely before my time.”

She looked thoughtful for a moment, looking past Denny. “These are strange times, Denny. I don’t think Mr. Hughes meant it literally…but I think it is perfectly possible to see too much…experience the unusual.”

She wore a concerned look on her face. “I’m always willing to listen.” And then she heard a call from the front. “But it might have to wait a few minutes. If you’ll excuse me?” And she patted Denny on the arm before standing up and heading to the front.

“Sure,” Denny said. She waved as Miriam disappeared into the coffee shop, then pulled her stylus from her pocket and drew her tablet closer. That reminded her of the origami cat and she reached without looking to pick it up from the table. Her hand closed on empty air and Denny looked up. The cat wasn’t on the table.

Must have blown off…

Sighing, she bent over to pick it up, but it wasn’t by her chair. She looked under the table. No cat. She straightened and checked under her tablet. No cat. Alarmed now, she checked all her pockets. Still no cat. Her breath racing, her insides jumping, Denny checked over the rail to the sidewalk fifteen feet below. Thank God no cat. Denny started zipping through the worst case scenarios. What if it came alive somewhere dangerous, like the middle of the street? Downtown areas were pedestrian-only but that didn’t preclude bikes or public transportation. The thought of the cat getting crushed under a bus, even as its paper self, was a vicious gut stab.

Maybe Miriam took Kitty with her accidentally? Oh geez, why didn’t I pay better attention …?!

By now Denny had dumped her bag onto the table and was pawing through its contents, ignoring the stares she was getting. Kitty, where are you? Something brushed against her ankle and she froze.

“Praow…”

The little gray kitten rubbed across Denny’s legs in a slow, contented way before hopping up onto her lap.

At the table next to them, the businessman looked up from his tablet and shook his head disapprovingly, all the while muttering under his breath.

Meanwhile, the kitten sat primly in Denny’s lap on all four paws, looking up at her with its head cocked as if to say, “How could you have ever doubted that I was real?”

“Hey,” Denny said softly. She cradled the cat in her arms and though she recognized it as the origami creation, she continued for the benefit of the others on the balcony with her, “How’d you get here? Where’s your human, huh? You got a home nearby? Is that it?” She nuzzled its fur and whispered so it wouldn’t carry, “Work with me here, okay?

The kitten rubbed its face across Denny’s hands for a minute or so, purring happily all the while. Then the scratching itch settled, the kitten curled up in her lap and closed its eyes, seemingly content to sleep.

There being nothing else she could do, Denny put her feet up on a chair, her left arm around the cat in her lap, and continued drawing on her tablet. The position was a bit awkward, causing her to reach a bit farther on the right than she was accustomed to and she spent a moment squirming in her chair to find a better angle. When she found it, Denny sighed and then frowned. Now her coffee was out of reach. More squirming. Denny got her coffee. The cat slept through it all.

“You know, it’s not windy enough to worry about your creation blowing off the table, Denny.” For the second time that day, Miriam’s voice startled Denny out of concentration. And when she looked away from her tablet, the cat…the real, live, warm kitten that had been snuggling in her lap, was back to being just a plain origami cat again.

It was just her day for being clueless. Denny actually looked down and saw Miriam was right. Denny had been so absorbed in her work she’d completely missed the weight in her lap—slight though it was—evaporating. But it could not have been too long ago. Her lap was still warm.

“But …. awww, shii.” Denny clapped her hand over her mouth. “Don’t tell Mom I said that. She hates it when I swear in Chinese.”

Miriam smiled warmly. “I’ve never met your mother, but you’re an adult, Denny. We allow foul language out here in the real world…as long as you don’t disturb the other customers.” But at the moment, there were no other customers to disturb. The businessman that had been sitting near Denny had left at some point and the terrace/balcony space was quiet. “Just came to check in on you, see if you needed to talk about that dream, or whether that was a story for another time.”

Now that she could see they were alone, Denny’s doubts and fears would not be denied an outlet. The thought that had been plaguing her for weeks, since the first time her artwork started showing up where it shouldn’t, came out of her in a tense rush.

“I think I better talk, cuz I think I’m going crazy.”

Miriam shook her head as she sat down. “You’re a bit young to be going crazy. But tell me.”

“It makes more sense if you can see it and you just missed it.” With a sigh of exasperation, Denny flopped back in her chair and held up her origami cat. “This cat is real. It changes back and forth between paper and flesh and blood and I can’t figure out how or why. It was sitting in my lap just a minute ago. And … damn. That guy is gone, so you can’t even ask him about it. He saw it.” She shook her head, her emotions tumbling out of whack now that she’d admitted it. “Which, of course, is the sort of circular, closed logic crazy people use when they insist their hallucinations are real, right?”

Miriam leaned over and poked the origami creation, watching it gently move under the press of her finger. “Denny, I certainly don’t doubt that something is going on. It’s clear you believe something happened. And honestly, the world is a stranger place than we like to give it credit for. Crazy is a harsh word though. But maybe you should get a checkup, just make sure all the chemicals are balanced out the right way. I just had one a couple of weeks ago myself.” She paused as if coming to a conclusion of some sort. “Tell you what, if you’re willing, I’ll pay for you to see my doctor. That way you don’t have to fret about it to your folks.”

“You did?” Denny’s brain froze on the one statement of Miriam’s. The idea that she would lose Miriam to a brain tumor or something horrific like that made everything else fade to insignificance. Who would she talk to if Miriam died? Where would she go to get away from it all—Cozy Coffee would be changed forever if Miriam’s hand wasn’t at the helm. Denny couldn’t bear to come back if she weren’t there. “Are you okay? What’s wrong?” Then the rest of the statement hit her and she blushed, knowing that she must have come across as a supremely ungrateful idiot. “I’m … wow. Really?”

Yeah. Yet more with the idiot. Smooth, Den. Real smooth.

“I did and while Doctor Steve had his share of medical terms for it, it basically boiled down to me getting older and things just settling some, like a fine wine.” Her smile continued although it was perhaps not as enthusiastic as it had been. “So you’ll take me up on my offer then? If so, just let me know when I can take you.”

“Um …,” Denny tried to pull up her schedule in her head, failed, and opened her calendar on her tablet. “Saturday? Does your doctor have weekend hours? I can tell Mom I’m going to the campus library to study, and I will afterward to keep it from being a total lie.”

“Sure he does,” she grinned. “What kind of doctor doesn’t? The poor kind, that’s what I say. So meet me here 10am?”

“Okay. I can make that.” Geez, Den, when you dive off the deep end, you really don’t hold anything back, do you? “Thanks, I, um … Yeah. Thanks.”

“That’s what friends are for, Denny.” She stood up and straightened her apron a little. “I’ll see you then, but probably in the mornings before then. Until then, you and your kitty take care of yourselves.” And she made her way over to the stairs and headed back inside.

Miriam’s unruffled acceptance of what Denny had feared as proof of insanity went a long way in allaying her fears. Not that the fear was completely banished, but certainly knocked down to a more manageable level. Denny stroked the origami cat she held with her thumb and put it in her shirt pocket where she could keep a better eye on it. After all, if the cat came back, it would be hard to miss if it jumped out of her shirt. Having done what she could for the moment, Denny got back to her drawing. If she worked diligently, she reckoned she’d be done with it by early afternoon and could get home before her mother started wondering why she’d been out so long.

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