Saturday, 10 Apr 2027
Denny woke to the bone deep certainty that something was in her room with her. Going still under the sheets, she moved only her eyes, hoping against hope to confirm she was wrong, that she was in fact alone. She’d started out on her back but had shifted to her side as she’d slept and so her view of her room was limited to the window and wall that overlooked the front of the house. The bulk of her room was at her back. If anything lurked for her there, she was toast.
The weather had turned warm enough to leave the windows open at night and a breeze made her curtains flutter. The scent it carried to her nose was sulphurous. Summer-cooked garbage. Rotten eggs. Tomorrow was trash day. Her father must have already rolled everything out to the curb. Suppressing a cough, Denny listened intently, straining her ears for the least sound that would tell her what was going on—wait. Was that a rustle of paper over her right shoulder? She shut her eyes tight and tried to remember if she’d left anything out that the breeze from her window would catch. She heard the sound again and this time her ears picked out its location: impossibly hovering in the air between her dresser and the edge of her bed.
The smell was stronger now and her covers twitched from the outside.
Shrieking, Denny scrambled for the narrow slice of floor between her bed and her window, grabbed her flashlight off the nightstand, and turned it on. Light sliced through the dark and shone on the loose figure of a man … but only a loose one. Literally loose—hundreds, possibly thousands of little pieces of paper, shifted and fluttered against each other, forming the outline of a humanoid figure. Arms and legs rose and fell against the torso’s mass, separating and then assimilating again. The face was indistinct. Only two orange points marked its eyes, dull angry glows. The thing was the matte color of burnt paper, the edges of its myriad pieces singed and flaking. It roared when the light struck it—there was no sound but Denny felt it reverberate through her very bones—and it raised an arm to shield its face and stumbled against her bed.
Which promptly smoldered and burst up in little spurts of flame.
And in her terror, the only thing Denny could think of was her stash beneath her bed. Over the years, she’d perfected getting the cover off quickly but could she do it quick enough before the thing got her and burned her alive? Her bedspread was nothing but a sheet of fire now, the flames licking higher for the ceiling, where smoke was already piling up, black and greasy and vile. The paper monster reached through the fire—amazingly unscathed—and spread the fingers of his hand wide, coming right at her.
That decided it. Denny dove under her bed and got that cover off her stash and as she’d hoped, it expanded to let her inside. Once over the threshold she slammed it shut and engaged the blast doors and stumbled backwards into her stash, holding her flashlight like a lightsaber. All around her were solid steel walls, two feet thick if memory served right. It would take a bomb blast to get inside. She stood, shivering from fright, clad in nothing but shorts and a tee shirt, and tried to think of what she should do next. Should she double back behind the monster to the hallway through her auxiliary hatch, run and roust her parents out of bed? Get them out before everything went up in flames? Or should she pack her artwork up first and then go?
She didn’t get to decide. The door melted like wax as she watched and the thing was there. All the pieces of paper were glowing at their edges and Denny sensed the glow was growing, that the monster was humming. The glow intensified, coruscating as the pieces shifted, going from scarlet to orange to white. Its mouth gaped wide and she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the thing would unleash a blast that would burn her and everything she’d made to a crisp. She saw its chest fill, sucking down wisps of smoke that came off it and—Denny tripped over a box of painting supplies and landed flat on her butt.
An inhuman howl split the air and her origami cat, now matching the size of the monster she faced, leapt to her defense. Like the monster, it too was made of shifting pieces of paper, only unburnt and their edges precise, glowing green and gold instead of leprous orange and red. The monster blinked and reset its jaw as the grey cat slashed a paw across it, trailing green and gold fire from silver claws.
“Kitty?!” Denny said, shock making her stupid.
Grey Kitty hissed and turned its head to face her.
“Get up, you fool!” it hissed and turned back to the monster it fought. “Run!”
With a stifled shriek Denny jerked upright and found herself back in her bed, her window open and her room dark—smelling sweet from the spring-blooming trees and shrubs outside. A first quarter moon painted silver bars on her bedspread, giving her more than enough light to see the grey cat sitting primly there looking at her. Its eyes were a golden green and the moonlight slanting across them made them sparkle impossibly bright. Freaked but frozen where she was, Denny’s eyes darted right to her dresser where the monster had stood.
Nope. Nothing there.
She looked left.
Her flashlight stood sentry on her nightstand, the curtains teasing it as they fluttered.
She looked front and center.
The cat was still there.
“Kitty?” Denny whispered, disbelief making her stupid.
“Praow,” said the cat and it matter of factly came forward and rubbed its head on her knee. Its purr was quiet but strong and Denny could feel the strength of its headbutt through the covers. Fright melted away to curiosity and Denny tentatively extended a finger for it to sniff. Which the cat delicately did before rubbing its cheek against it. Denny followed through with a scratch and a scritch, curling her finger around the back of its ear. The cat’s purr grew louder and it leaned harder into her caress.
Odd. The moonlight limned the cat’s ears with dainty silver fire … the left ear had a notch. A tiny one, almost a fold. As if …
Denny snatched her hand back, dove for the nightstand on the near side of the bed and turned on her lamp. The little grey origami cat was gone. She’d left it on top of the book she’d been reading, intending to carry it in her pocket on the morrow when she woke. It wasn’t there. It wasn’t on the floor when she looked. It hadn’t fallen between the furniture and the wall. It wasn’t under her bed … Denny squirmed back upright.
The grey cat sat on her bed and purred and squeezed its eyes shut at her. Content. Its expression was an exact match of the one she’d drawn on her origami creation. As was that notch in its left ear. Presented with the impossible, with the nightmare lingering at the back of her mind, Denny put the puzzle pieces together and came up with …
“No waaaaaaay …”