Catapult

Chapter 7: Waking Up


Alley

I awoke the next morning – well, to be honest, the next afternoon – to the sound of a chainsaw hacking through my mattress. Irritated, I squirmed around on the bed until I was facing the source of that aggravating noise. I blearily opened my eyes, looking directly into the furry face of my cat, whose purr was practically shaking the bed. Chester is, seriously, the weirdest pet I’ve ever had. He’ll just stare and stare at you for hours without even moving. I don’t think there’s a lot going on in that feline brain of his, to be honest. But hey, he’s cute and furry. Plus, cats are known to reduce stress in people… and Lord knows I needed less of that.


“Hey, kitty,” I cooed at him, rubbing behind his ears. He closed his eyes, ecstatic, and rubbed his face against my hand. It had been awhile since I’d let him sleep in my bed – he had an annoying tendency to lay on my face as I slept (despite the fact that there was plenty of extra room), and so to keep from suffocating, I usually closed my door to keep him out.

I slowly sat up, confused. Wait a minute. I looked at my door, which was wide open. Didn’t I close it last night? I wondered. I ran my fingers through my messy, greasy hair, struggling to remember.

Oh, wait… moldy cookies… ugh. Right. Louise had practically thrown me into bed, which was why I didn’t recall closing the door. Had she left it open? I couldn’t remember, but dismissed the thought. It had been a weird night, to say the least… crazy dreams about talking cats and… Taylor Hanson. God, that was embarrassing. Though I felt incredibly foolish for doing so, I suspiciously looked over at my desk chair, just to make sure… nope, no teen pop star sitting there this morning. I sighed with relief.

I yawned loudly, stretching out across my bed. Thankfully, most of the swimmy sickness from the previous night had dissipated… I still had a small headache, but that was completely tolerable compared to what I’d felt before falling asleep.

“Ugh,” I groaned, staring at the ceiling. I didn’t even want to get out of bed. What was the point, really? I had nothing to do… no plans… no boyfriend… most of my friends had jobs that kept them busy, including Louise… I’m such a loser, I thought, sighing. Maybe I should work on the painting I abandoned last month… get it finished. Or start something new… Yeah, maybe I would do that. Louise always got on my case when I left things unfinished. It would be something to do, anyway. Something to fill up the dullness in my life.

I rolled over on my side, curling into a little ball, thinking about Louise’s mothering of me the night before. What was I going to do when she graduated? Or when Steve finally popped the question to her? It was only a matter of time… and then what would I do, where would I go? She’d always been there 24-7 for me, ever since my father had died. I’d lived with her, cried with her, laughed with her… she’d taken so much of my shit over the years, my mini-tantrums, my haplessness… She was so patient. I’d never met anyone else who understood me quite the way she did. Or who took such good care of me… I sighed again.

After much deliberation, I finally got out of bed, realizing that my throat was parched and I desperately needed something to drink. I was in the bathroom, brushing my teeth and getting dressed, when I heard the familiar sound of an engine approaching, just outside the window. Louise! Thank God. I quickly spat out the toothpaste and rinsed my mouth clear before hobbling down the stairs. She was in the kitchen; I could hear her rustling around.

“Louise,” I whined loudly as I stalked down the hall. “Have you eaten lunch yet?”

“Are you just now getting out of bed?” I heard her ask in disbelief as I rounded the corner. I went into the kitchen, slinking into a chair at the kitchen table. “Sweetie, it’s almost two o’clock.”

“Well, considering the circumstances, I think I deserved those fourteen hours of sleep.” I curled up in the chair, bringing my knees to my chest.

“Ah, true… so, are you feeling better? Did you sleep well?”

“Yeah, I guess… had some strange dreams, though…”

“Really? What about?”

I hesitated. Well, Louise, first I was stuck in a hedge maze, chasing some random guy, when I stopped to chat with a Cheshire Cat… but he annoyed me, so suddenly I found myself back in bed, and for some reason teen heartthrob Taylor Hanson was in my room making idle conversation. Weird, huh?

“I don’t really remember,” I lied. “I was lost for part of it, and then someone was in my room talking to me…” I didn’t really want to give her the ‘Taylor Hanson’ detail. I figured I’d never hear the end of that one. Instead, I opted to switch the subject onto a much more important matter. I leaned forward, giving her a pitiful, begging look. “So… lunch?”

She sighed. “Alley, I would, but I’ve got to get going. I only stopped by to change clothes and pick up my backpack. I’ve got to run to a study session for statistics, we’ve got a big test tomorrow…” she grumbled. “If you ever have a professor try to tell you that summer school is easier than a regular semester, slap him. Or her.”

“Oh,” I said, dejected. So I would be alone all day… not that that was unusual, but I’d really hoped to have someone to talk to… to distract me from my current loserdom. “When will you be back?”

“Before supper, at least. I hope.” I watched as she picked up her backpack from its resting place by the door and propped it up on the table. She fished around in it, pulling out a notebook and tossing it down.

“Okay. Well, I’ll be here… as always,” I said, getting up. Truthfully, though I had hoped to get her to fix me something, I really didn’t really feel like eating just yet. So I wandered into the living room, intending to sit down and relax for a few. Read the paper, watch some pointless television, stare at the ceiling. My usual daily routine. I trudged into the room. And promptly screamed.

“Ah, you’re awake, I see, finally,” he said, voice dripping with sarcasm. “And now that you are, I’d truly love it if you’d actually listen to what I have to say.”

What the fuck?!?! My only reply was another scream. Oh, God, oh, God… the boy, the one from my dream who’d claimed to be Taylor Hanson, was sitting on my couch, the day’s newspaper spread across his lap. He was looking up at me calmly, blue eyes scrutinizing my appearance. Appearing entirely too nonchalant for someone who’d possibly broken into my house and spied on me while I slept… he raised an eyebrow, waiting for a reply.

Was I still dreaming? No, no, no… that wasn’t possible, was it? I swayed back and forth on my feet, suddenly feeling nauseous. I blinked hard and grabbed the back edge of the chair closest to me, staring at him and whimpering. I felt another scream coming on…

“Alley?” I was vaguely aware of Louise calling for me, concern in her voice. I answered with a sort of mangled cry.

He winced. “And will you please stop screaming?” he asked, looking irritated as he tossed the paper to the side. “It’s not going to help your case any.”

My case? What the fuck was he talking about? I fiercely slapped my wrist, grunting in irritation when it did indeed hurt. Well, I was definitely awake… so, apparently, either he really was real, or I was now suffering from delusions and hallucinations. Wonderful.

“Alley?” Louise appeared in the living room, coming up and lightly touching my shoulder. “What’s wrong?”

I looked to the boy. He was shaking his head. “Don’t do it,” he said. “She’ll think you’ve lost your mind.”

“I--” I started, unsure what to say. Louise was simply looking at me; she hadn’t even noticed our new visitor. I swallowed, unsure of what to say… I decided on a very vague declaration. “Look!” I suddenly shouted, pointing at the boy.

Her brow furrowed as her eyes followed my fluttering hand. “What?” she asked.

He sighed loudly and spoke again. “I told you last night, but obviously you weren’t listening... give it up. She can’t see what you see…”

I blinked. Right… he had said that last night… of course, I’d just thought it was all part of a fucked-up dream… his words, full of wonder and hope, ran briefly through my head: ‘You can see me, right? You can see what I look like?’ But that wasn’t possible, was it? For him to be… invisible to her?

I was beginning to suspect that his sudden appearance was falling into the ‘delusions’ category. That was the only thing that made sense, right? I swallowed. What to do, what to do… how could I explain my screaming fit in a way that would convince her that I didn’t need to be shipped off to the local mental hospital?

“I saw a spider!” I screeched suddenly. “Oh my God, it was fucking huge, Louise… it was right there, on the couch!”

Her eyes widened – bingo. Louise hated spiders, even more so than I… “WHERE?” she screamed. I pointed to the couch, where the boy was sitting, and she shrank back. “Did you get it?”

“No… I don’t know where it went… maybe it crawled under a cushion, or something…”

“ALLEY!” she cried out. “Why did you tell me that? Find it! Kill it!” Louise grabbed a magazine off the table and flung it to the spot I was pointing at, apparently thinking she was going to 'scare' this spider out of its hiding place or something. It fluttered through the air, striking the boy in the head before falling on the couch. His eyes widened with irritation, and I found myself strangling back a laugh, despite the bizarreness of the situation.

“Sorry,” I said meekly once I'd regained my composure. "I'll find it..."

She shivered. “Gross… I’m never sitting on that couch again…” She turned around, preparing to leave. “Well, I hate to leave you here with that thing, but I’ve got to go… I’m late as it is. I think you’re rubbing off on me.”

“Sorry about that, too,” I called after her as she ran to go upstairs and change. I watched her leave, feeling suddenly lost and vulnerable as she disappeared from the room. I turned back to my visitor, frantically trying to figure out what to do...

“Are you ready to listen now?” he demanded.

I slowly shook my head. Listen? To a hallucination? Wasn’t that what serial killers always did just before going off and murdering people? Oh, God, was I becoming a psycho? Was I going to be locked away forever in a mental institute with a straitjacket wrapped around my body? Shit… and I was still a virgin… I would have at least liked to have experienced some form of sex before being forced into a life of locked-up, padded-wall celibacy…

He sighed loudly, burying his face in his hands. “Listen,” he said. He sounded exhausted… “I am fully aware of how confused you are, and rest assured that I am, too. You’re not going crazy. You’re not losing your mind. I’m real… I’m really here. And you, for whatever reason, are the only one who can communicate with me…”

This was too much for me to handle right now. Way too much. I rubbed my head, closing my eyes for a moment. Why was my life such a mess? Did shit like this happen to other people?

Somehow, I sincerely doubted it.

Wordlessly, I dashed from the room, heading back upstairs. My bed suddenly seemed so appealing…