It felt like a jungle to her, an invisible tangle of thick vines and branches grown out of her own fear. It’s what you can’t see that threatens, so she was trying very hard to see, to intuit what had grown up around her like Sleeping Beauty’s castle, what bramble – sharp and transparent – had boxed her into so small a space.
You gotta rescue yourself, sweet pea, said the voice. It figured that her only company would be a subconscious that sounded like a Bronx Mary Poppins. It would have been so nice to have gotten trapped in someone else’s mind.
Doesn’t work that way, doll. You’d slip right out of someone else’s mind, no matter how scary it got. Nothing would stick. But this shit? It’s all homegrown and real. Until it’s not. Watcha gonna do about it?
As her raspy inner voice took a drag on something – it smoked? – she assessed the situation. Eyes were clearly useless. She couldn’t trust what she saw or didn’t see, so she might as well close them. And while her hands could find the cord and bark of the jungle, it was too real to push through. No walking through wall stunts in this game; no willing it to dissolve.
It’s a tough pickle, said her Bronx self, sounding utterly satisfied.
Oh shut up, she snapped, and then it hit her – the echo of self-satisfaction; it smacked her right in the chest.
You did this, she said in a low growl.
Did no such thing, said the voice, but it didn’t sound as steady.
You did do this!. How dare you?
Her shoulder trembled, and she felt the change come on. A twitch of the nose, an arch of the back, claws. It had been so long, she’d forgotten what it felt like – the subtle acquisition of fur, whiskers, a sense of muscles that could pour across the floor like honey. Puma.
She arched her back again. God, that felt good. How long had it been? How long had the cat in her slumbered? She luxuriated in the stretch of one limb, then another, the slow rolling ripple of spine. Oh yeah. This was where it’s at. And there – yeah – this thing that felt like bark, just what she needed to catch that itch – oh yeah – there, there.
What are you doing? snapped a nervous, smoke-filled voice.
Doing? She’d forgotten herself for a moment, forgotten the jungle, the box, even her own inner voice – that inner voice. She’d sunk into the feline moment, these muscles, that itch. Yep, still there. Where was that branch?
What are you doing? rasped the voice again. Really nervous. Trying to sound stern, but frightened. She could hear it now. Cat ears heard so differently.
She waited a moment, deciding how to respond.
Stretching, she said. and licked a paw.
But you’re stuck in a jungle!
Her blue eyes narrowed green, and she looked around. A tangle of vines and thick branches laced around her, a mosaic of light and shadow. The shadow was cool and restful. But there was a sweet spot of sunlight on the other side. It might be nice to linger in it, to curl around herself and soak up warmth. It might also be fun to wind through the twists and turns of this maze to get there. She licked another paw and stroked a whisker. That was the question, wasn’t it: What would be fun?
The voice had fallen into an odd stutter, like a motor – But-but-but-but-but – and she flicked at it with her tail. So many places to slide under and leap over, to wrap herself around, to rub against if the itch came back. But right now, she needed a long taffy stretch from nose to tail. Like that. Oh yeah, yeah… just like that.