CHAPTER TWO: ANNIS
Annis looked narrowly at the guest who stood in her home, obviously ill at ease, and equally obviously totally bemused by finding herself an oasis of calm and cleanliness in the middle of a desert of dirt and destruction. This reaction to home would have been funny if it wasn’t sort of insulting. Why wouldn’t her place be clean and tidy? If you live with cats for company you tend not to like mess, she thought irritably. Then she laughed at herself. Why should she care what some human female thought of her.
The woman opened her mouth to say who knew what, but Annis silenced her with a fierce look. She idly wondered how this Jessica came to be here, and why she had lied with the first words she spoke. The female knew precisely what would have happened to her at the hands of the drunken louts by the gate. She knew, and the waves of fear that rolled off her at that knowledge were what had prompted Annis to come to her aid.
So. She’s here and you brought her here, Annis thought. Now you better talk to her.
Before she had chance to grope for the words to interact with her human visitor, two heavy thumps announced the arrival of a visitation of a feline nature. Unthinking, Annis opened the door and a matched pair of black panthers slid in.
Jessica gave a half scream.
“Not fear,” Annis managed before the cats bowled her over and started licking her with their rough, red tongues. How long that would have gone on for is open to conjecture, but the happy time was interrupted by more arrivals. Two more big cats, this pair of indeterminate breed, oozed into the room. One sat on its haunches, while the other stared inimically at Jessica. Annis wasn’t prepared to tolerate that. She growled a warning and the cat flattened its ears.
“Cats not hurt.”
She thought perhaps she should say more, but her ears caught a faint sound at the same time as her nose was assailed by the smell of rotting flesh.
“What hunts?” Jessica’s whisper sounded only just on the right side of panic.
Jessica opened her mouth to speak or scream, but Annis knew she could not be allowed to draw attention to herself.
Greatly daring, and ignoring feline etiquette altogether, Annis leant forwards and put two fingers across the other female’s mouth.
She saw the panic being battled by something deep within the woman. Jessica’s eyes shadowed momentarily, then cleared as she found the strength needed to control her fear and swallow the questions that must be crowding her throat.
“Cats hide you,” Annis said, pushing the older woman onto the sleeping platform and arranging a black cat either side of her. Jessica looked at her in confusion, the fear was still in her eyes still and Annis smiled reassuringly. Being unable to summon sufficient human words to explain her actions, she pinched her own nose with a finger and thumb.
“No smell. Old One comes. Blood Eater. Must not smell.”
Jessica’s face cleared and she managed a nod. Annis found herself feeling the beginnings of respect for the courage being shown by somebody who obviously knew nothing of the kind of life forms that inhabit the places humanity has abandoned. The silence came then, a cold silence, like the chilling silence that came after snow had fallen deeply. As if the world held its breath, not daring to breathe.
Then into the silence came the small sounds creeping, and slithering as every small creature fled out of the path of the Old One. Then it came. Something with multi-clawed feet and the heavy, scraping, scaly belly of the Blood Eater. Then it stopped. Silence. Cold and claustrophobic. In her mind Annis pictured the huge, ugly head she had senen before, lifting, nostrils opening and tongue sliding out to taste the air for blood.
She glanced at the bed, where the two big cats had pressed in against Jessica, their eyes, jewel bright. Jessica’s were closed and her face was white. Annis wondered if it was enough or if the living flesh of the human woman would call to the Blood Drinker despite the felines absorbing the perfume of her blood.
Part 6 of Maybe will be here next week…