I waited until she fell asleep.
I’d been waiting, planning this for months. The timing had to be right. I’d carefully documented the habits of the shipping company next door to our apartment building and knew that every Saturday night, they had a big shipment come in with extra people on site to help process things. I also knew that once a month, the alarm company did updates at midnight and shut the system down for 20 minutes. And then there was her. She’d been complaining about insomnia lately and thought she took just one pill before bed – what she didn’t know was that I’d already snuck an extra two into her drink when she was busy getting me my meds. The ones I didn’t want. The ones I didn’t need. The ones that made me feel awful.
Maybe that was what gave me the courage to do it. I’d planned to do it last month, but freaked out at the last minute and couldn’t go through with it. Tonight, though, I’d watched bitterly as she went to the other room, then dashed from my stupid wheelchair to her room and back before she could hear me. She didn’t notice and drank the entire glass before starting to get blurry eyed and making sure I was in bed before she headed off to bed herself.
I laid there for what felt like hours, days even, before I saw the clock turn 5 minutes to midnight. Then I took a deep breath, got up, and got dressed as quietly as possible.
What should you take with you when you run away from home? I didn’t know about most kids, but I’d guess that most 13-year-olds would probably take some money and their phone, right? Then they’d end up getting tracked down by the police or their parents thanks to their cellphone, even besides the possibility that they just returned home on their own.
Me, well…I wasn’t planning to take any of that. I dressed in basic clothes, but the largest ones I owned because I wanted to not need to get new clothes for as long as possible. I did have a little bit of cash, which I shoved into my pocket just in case, but other than my shoes, the bit of cash, and my clothes, nothing. Oh, wait, no – there was one thing. I stopped at my dresser, gently took a photo out of a frame, blinking back tears as I stared at it for a minute. Then I carefully folded it up, put it in my pocket, grabbed an oversized jacket and, carrying my shoes so as not to make a sound, crept as quietly as possible out of my room, across the living room, and to the front door.
This was the part that terrified me. What if I’d misjudged how much to give her? What if she was still awake? I didn’t dare go over to her room to take a look, just in case I woke her up with that. Instead, I was just going to have to trust that she was asleep and wouldn’t hear me unlock the door.
I went as quietly as possible. Slowly, slowly I turned back the deadbolt, flinching a little at the soft click it made, but a worried glance at her door showed no signs of life. I slipped off the chain, muffling it with my fingers, then the security lock, and finally began to turn the doorknob.
Normally, the door creaked slightly when it opened. I’d taken precautions and, while she was in the bathroom earlier, had put some grease in the hinges. To my relief, the door came open fairly quietly, although I flinched again when I heard the rustle of the bottom of the door against the floor. Not a loud sound, but in this moment, it felt like even the pounding of my heart was so loud it might waken her.
One more nervous look at her still closed door, then I slipped out of the door and ever so carefully closed it behind me.
I breathed a sigh of relief when the door latched close, but I wasn’t free yet. I quickly put on my shoes, then went for the stairwell. I could use the elevators and had debated it, but I felt like I needed to make a point.
I had no doubt that when my disappearance came to light, she’d cry and moan on TV about how someone had kidnapped me. When the cameras in the building showed I walked out voluntarily, she’d say someone tricked me or something but she’d still go on and on about how I needed that stupid wheelchair. If I used the elevator, maybe some people would believe her and think I was just toughing it out for a short distance. I felt like I needed to use the stairs to prove that no, it was all just a lie. There was absolutely no reason for me to be in that chair.
It wasn’t like I had a problem with wheelchairs in general. In fact, the past few years had given me a whole lot of respect for people who had to use them. The problem was, I wasn’t someone who needed one, and I needed to prove to that to people.
Another upside to the stairs was it was a lot less likely to run into other residents on them. The idea of running into them concerned me, because I couldn’t predict what other residents would do, but they mostly were aware of me, and I had no doubt that if any of them saw me, they’d try to stop me and potentially ruin my whole plan. The stairs seemed safer that way. The downside of the stairs was it took longer to get all the way to the bottom, which was more time to potentially be discovered and stopped.
But luck was on my side. I didn’t encounter anyone all the way until I was on the second floor, just a short distance from the exit and freedom. Then, somewhere above me, I heard a door open and the sound of voices and a couple of people laughing.
Probably just visitors leaving late, but I didn’t take the chance. Adrenaline kicked into high gear and I dashed down the last of the stairs, shoving the door open and taking a deep breath of outside air before pushing my hands into my pockets, keeping my head down, and heading towards the shipping yard.
With all the extra people there, they didn’t stop me when I started weaving my way through the yard, but one of them yelled at me to get out of the way. I quickly scurried towards my goal, a spot around the corner of the large building that wasn’t on any cameras. Almost unbelievably, no one stopped me, but maybe these people were just too busy with their own lives to pay much attention to the random kid walking through the yard.
“Hey, you!” I heard a voice yell. “Kid!”
My heart started thumping faster as I hesitantly glanced over my shoulder to see, much to my horror, someone looking in my direction.
“Aren’t you out late, son?” He shouted. “You should get back home! Come on, I’ll walk you back!”
He was trying to be nice, probably, but he had no idea the fear he sparked in my soul. Putting my head down again, I sped up and kept my eye on the goal. Just around the corner of the building. Then I’d be okay. Then this whole nightmare would finally be behind me.
“Hey, kid!” The man yelled again. His voice was closer, but I ignored him, breaking into an outright run.
“Wait!” He called. “I’m not going to hurt you!”
And then I was around the corner.
The man followed me a moment later and pulled up short, looking around the lot in confusion. “What the – where’d he go?”
He flipped on a flashlight to look in the direction of some empty crates. He startled when he found himself looking into the eyes of a cat which hissed at him and then darted off.
I didn’t stay any longer to find out what he thought of that. Still afraid as long as I was in the general vicinity of her apartment building – even if I knew no one but supernaturals would realize that the Bengal cat now trotting through the parking lots and strip mall was a shifter – I kept going. I kept going until I got too tired to walk, then snuck onto a bus and rode it until someone spotted me and chased me off. I found someplace safe to curl up to sleep for a while, then got up and kept walking. Then snuck a ride on another bus, this time taking the precaution of switching to look more statue-like when someone came close, so they wouldn’t notice me and kick me off again – which thankfully they didn’t. And then I kept going.
I didn’t have a particular destination in mind. I knew eventually I’d have to figure out what to do about food and shelter, but at the moment, all that mattered to me was putting as much distance between me and her as possible. A country or two, if I could.
Because one thing I did know was that I was never going back. I wasn’t going to shift back into human form at least until I was 18 and didn’t have to worry about her having custody of me or whatever. Maybe not even then. Not unless I knew for sure it was safe to live as a human again.
If I had to, I was going to live as a cat for the rest of my life. If I had to, I’d give up being human at all.
I quickly decided I was not going to hunt. I still remembered Dad’s warnings about going feral and being careful not to listen to my cat side too much, so I knew that was out. Plus, well, eating raw food just sounded gross. Maybe I’d get hungry enough that I wouldn’t care, but until and unless I did, that just sounded awful.
So I did the next best thing, which was raiding trashcans and trying to find enough thrown-out food that I could manage. It wasn’t great, but it was still lightyears better than living with her. Sure, sometimes I had to escape from real cats who were upset about another cat entering their territory, and sometimes I had to avoid angry humans throwing things at me, but all in all, it wasn’t that bad.
Actually, I felt extremely victorious. I’d escaped. I’d gotten thousands of miles away from her. I could survive like this. Sure, I might get tired of sleeping in damp corners and eating out of trash, but when the alternative was living with her? And not being able to convince any of the adults in my life to listen? Yeah, there wasn’t much of an option. Running was my only choice.
I was busy munching on some beef strip scraps one day when I paused, noticing a human entering the alleyway. I’d seen her around several times before, and when she spotted me, she paused, then reached into her backpack for something.
“Hey there,” she crooned in a soft but lilting voice, popping the top off a can of wet cat food, “you look too pretty and well cared-for to be a stray. Are you someone’s lost pet? Will you let me say hi?”
I hesitated, then decided to opt for caution when she came closer and darted a few feet off, warily watching her but keeping a distance between us. She considered for a bit, then tipped the can over on a bit of rock and tapped the rock.
“Have some supper, if you’d like! It’s good for you, better than what you’ll find in the trash.” She backed off a few steps, apparently hoping I’d feel comfortable enough to eat if she wasn’t that close.
In human form, I’d never been that particular about what I ate – well, not until her, anyway – but in cat form, my palate was designed to like what cats like. Aka, the cat food actually smelled great and I knew it would be more nutritious than what I’d been scrounging. Still, I hesitated. She shouldn’t have dosed it or anything since it came straight out of a can, and she seemed like a nice person, apparently a bit of a cat lover, but appearances could be deceiving. Even good intentions couldn’t be trusted. I knew that all too well.
So I just waited, watching, until she backed off some more, then very cautiously came forward and sniffed the food, ensuring that I couldn’t smell anything that might not be strictly cat food. Equally as cautious, I ate it while keeping an eye on her, making sure she didn’t get any closer. She seemed happy when I ate, though, and didn’t make any sudden movements or try to come closer. She didn’t even leave until I’d finished eating.
This slowly became our new routine. Every day, the human – who I thought was probably late college-age, maybe a little older? – showed up and offered me food, then would stay while I ate. She started to talk to me about stuff going on in her life, telling me about her girlfriend and her classes, which seemed to involve music and plays. Mostly a lot of stuff I didn’t get, but what I did get was that she seemed to be genuinely nice and just like cats. She had no idea I was anything but a cat, for which I was incredibly thankful. Not that humans couldn’t be cruel to cats, but knowing who I was would be much more terrifying than anything a human could do to a cat.
At the end of a week, when she tried to pet me, I hesitantly let her, then didn’t protest when she scooped me up and took me home with her. I didn’t even protest when she took me to the vet to find that I wasn’t microchipped – of course – and wasn’t a known missing pet.
I did, however, feel like protesting when the vet suggested the human give me shots and get me neutered. I mean, for a cat, that was probably good, but I wasn’t exactly a cat, so that didn’t sound awesome to me.
The human hesitated. “Maybe, but – if he is a lost pet, I don’t want to do that to someone else’s pet, you know? That should be their call. I’ll take him back with me and see if I can’t find his family. If he doesn’t have one, then I’ll keep him and figure it out then.”
I was relieved about that, but realized that also meant I probably couldn’t stay with her. She seemed nice and liked cats and for a little bit I’d hoped that maybe it would just be okay to be her pet cat, but no, I’d forgotten. There were some things about being a pet cat that I did not want to do. Although, if the option was between that and going back to her…I’d take it in a heartbeat. Still, living on the streets was probably better than being her pet if I was going to be, well, 100% treated like a pet.
I decided to give it a few days, though, before escaping, because it was nice to be able to relax without worrying about the weather or stray cats or people who like to kick cats or wondering where I could find my next meal. The human – who I finally learned by reading her mail was named Amelia – was nice and seemed to enjoy my company. She respected that I didn’t like being picked up and just petted me instead, which honestly was kind of comfortable feeling. It just gave me a really nice sensation and I happily purred about it whenever we just sat there together. If it wasn’t for being considered an actual pet cat, I’d probably have been happy to stay. I might have even wished for it.