Harvey Armstrong opened the door and took one step outside, bracing herself against the cold. The door shielded her from the worst of the biting wind, but she still felt the hollow chill. She stepped back inside and found a seat at her kitchen table. She closed her eyes and listened to the wind, hoping to hear his voice, but she heard only howling.
She glanced at the clock. It had been exactly forty-two hours since she had last heard him. He could be miles away now. Even when she listened to the winds howling she could think of nothing but the sound of his voice. Her hand tightened around something cold, smooth, and metallic.
It was her only hope of peace. The object was slowly absorbing the heat from her small white hands.
It was her only hope of safety.
The Cat would return to it if she summoned him. He could not stay away if she said his name. The object in her hand would drag him back to her. It pulsed slightly, a gentle heartbeat. She held it closer to her. If she summoned him he would come.
But she hadn’t used it yet.
So she sat waiting in the warm kitchen. She didn’t glance around anymore. This was her home. And once it had become that, she had stopped seeing it for what it was. She didn’t see the loosely hanging oak cabinets that never fully closed. The remains of the yellow laminate floor could have changed color and she would never have seen the difference. The sink had been dripping noisily while she thought, but this she neither heard nor saw.
She had to keep the Cat near her. Her father had said that when he gave her the object of summoning. But she had failed her father. He would never have let such failure pass back then, but now things were different.
Harvey shifted slightly at the sound of heavy boots on gravel outside of her house. Her cheeks became a pale white. Her eyes widened as she glanced around the room. Nothing was noticeable, nothing was different.
She felt the burning need to get away from the screen door and the curtainless window above the sink. But this same fear held her where she was.
Cat… Where are you? Harvey thought. Then she thought of her father. When she was little and her father still held meetings, in his office, she used to hide in the hollow space in the wall connecting the office to the study. Harvey’s mother had long ago covered the open end of the hole with a small wardrobe. Harvey’s mother had used the hole for many years to hide her ‘medicines’, before suddenly losing interest in them.
Harvey’s mother had been consumed by a new drug brought in by a traveling salesman. The red herb that seemed to glow in the dark could be ground, and its dust inhaled or smoked in a thick bundle. Harvey had seen her do both, though never in the presence of her father.
Then the red herb had run out and the salesman broke his promise to return. Harvey watched her mother die. Her father had sent out thousands of servants, offering a reward to whoever could bring more of the red herb. Anything to save his wife. But the servants returned empty-handed and the reward was never collected.
Once, when Harvey had listened among the dust coated liquor bottles that had made up the majority of her mother’s ‘medicines’ something different happened. The hollow was a small space. She was barely able to move as she listened to the conversation in the office.
Her father was speaking, “Mawric, I named my daughter Harvey because her mother wished for a fists-ready, high energy boy. I won’t apologize for your confusion…” Harvey’s father continued quickly, “And I don’t expect you to either.”
The man responded, “Never mind that then if you won’t let me apologize for my mistake.” He paused for a second as if trying to ease them both into the next subject. “Kleric… I heard about Anna… my sympathies old friend.” There was another moment of silence, then the man resumed speaking in a melancholy tone. “The world is growing dangerous for people like us. Our enemies daily discover new ways to kill us. I suggest—no I implore you to take this opportunity.”
“I have a hard time believing you have only my best interests in mind when you offer my family’s safety at such a high price,” Harvey’s father responded. Even from her hiding spot she could hear the grit behind her father’s answer. He often said he couldn’t wrap his head around the prattling of idiots. Hearing the annoyance in her father’s voice, Harvey wondered what he thought of Mawric.
“This being is of a rare breed…” Mawric continued as the other had said nothing. “It has powers beyond human capabilities. But better than that, it can be controlled by its heart, which my friends have been gracious enough to acquire for me.”
“Why, Mawric, would you part with such a treasure?”
Mawric sighed softly, “Because Anna was like a sister to me and I would feel better about failing her if I could somehow protect the family she left behind...”
Harvey heard her father grunt. “So I buy the heart of this being for my daughter…”
Harvey’s thoughts were interrupted and she was forced back into the present as she heard the soft, silence shattering creak of the first step of her porch.
Then she exhaled and let her thoughts fall back into a different part of the past.
Harvey’s father gave her what he called “an object of summoning.” Telling her that if she ever needed the Cat to come and save her, all she had to do was call him while holding the object. She had been enamored at first, staring at the thin metal orb that pulsed in her hand.
Her father told her what to say. Cat.
Then there he was standing in front of her stepping out from a servants’ passage. A boy around the age fifteen. He had shaggy brown hair that fell awkwardly into his eyes. She noticed that his hair was already streaked with a cloudy gray. He was quiet and strange.
She had been somewhere between the ages of six and eight, blonde-haired and black-eyed. She had begun calling him her brother almost immediately. She enjoyed how he followed her everywhere and agreed to play in the fields when her father was away on business.
He had eventually told her his name, Berol.
Her father never approved of her apparent closeness with the Cat. He had told her so and she had ignored him.
Harvey remembered being woken in the night by the sound of her father stumbling around the house in the dark. She had listened as he fumbled with the locks on the doors, testing them. He never explained what dangers were outside the walls of their mansion. He just kept checking locks. Every night she heard the noises.
Once she summoned the Cat. With a few words of explanation she sent him away. She thought having the Cat patrolling the house at night would ease her father’s fears, but it didn’t and the sound of locks being shaken and doors being rattled continued long into each night.
The intruder came on the anniversary of her mother’s death. They had spent the day with relatives, stopping at their homes and spending an hour or less at each. They had accepted only small portions of food, if any, from each house. Fasting was their family’s tradition. At the home of her Aunt Coralina and her husband, Harvey had been sent to play with her cousins while her father spoke of his business. When she had returned he had an anxious expression, and she had the sudden sense that he had said something he shouldn’t have to their relatives. They had left before they had spent a half-hour at the house. On the way to their next stop she had assured him that if he had said something unfortunate, she was sure that her Aunt would forgive him. He had been surprised, then silent and thoughtful. He had then asked if she had the object of summoning. She said yes. This had become a habitual exchange between them, especially when her father was nervous about something.
When they finally returned home, they ate a light dinner. Harvey had gone to bed still hungry and the emptiness in her stomach kept her awake. All she had heard was her father’s scream. Her own door was locked, but she still crawled under her four poster bed, the draping blankets hiding her from view. She hid there until exhaustion conquered her fear.
The Cat had come for her. He found her easily and gently shook her awake. He answered her first question, her father lived. He was injured though and spent the next few days lying in bed. During that time Harvey realized how strange it was, not to hear her father, late at night, checking the locks.
Once she had felt a sudden surge of dread. Stumbling out of bed, she left her room, forgetting the object of summoning on her bedside table. She had walked quietly to her father’s room. The door was opened. She slipped inside. She froze when she saw the terror in his face as he stared at the room’s only window. His eyes glanced around crazily, returning to each spot in the room that was cloaked in shadow. Then he saw her. She spoke before he could gurgle out a scream. He recognized her. Without thinking, she found herself walking to the window and testing the lock. She slowly scanned the room, checking each dark spot. Then she left without saying anything. She knew her father would eventually be able to check the locks himself, but until then, she found herself checking them.
Her father eventually recovered.
Weeks after her tenth birthday her father had gone on another trip and Mawric had come to visit. This hadn’t seemed odd to Harvey at the time of his arrival. She knew little of Mawric except that he had once been close friends with her mother. The one thing that had bothered her about his sudden visit was that he spoke of nothing for a long time.
In the office, Mawric stared at the many record books that littered the mahogany table at the center of the room. Harvey had watched as he flipped through pages covered in numbers and her father’s shorthand. She watched as the notes became jumbled, running into each other. The lines of numbers became longer. The shorthand ran over itself.
Harvey heard Mawric mutter something, but she only caught the words “the increase.” Then he turned to her and spoke. “Harvey… There is something you need to know…” He had told her two things that day. One was more important in her mind at the time. Her father had been found. “But he wasn’t missing.” She had interrupted just as Mawric finished. “Dead.”
The funeral was a cold occasion in her life. Some of her relatives openly stared at her others ignored her with icy disinterest. Many yawned at the funeral, checking their Armstrong watches. Harvey had watched as her Aunt Coralina fell asleep in her stiff wooden chair, her head falling on the shoulder of her dark-eyed husband. Harvey’s Aunt Coralina had been her mother’s older sister, and once married she had taken on the name Lebonn. Harvey couldn’t see her cousins in the crowd. They were not Coralina’s children, but Harvey had long ago learned not to ask about their mother. Harvey had noticed with a jolt that her uncle was staring at her, she had turned away then, finding something else to look at.
The will had been read. At the age of twenty-three she would inherit her father’s estate. Until that time it would be held in the hands of his elder brother Ransom Armstrong. Then the man reading the will spoke of a hidden list of succession that would be consulted if Ransom died before the estate was transferred to Harvey.
Harvey drew herself away from that memory.
She thought instead of what had happened years afterward. On the third anniversary of her father’s death, Harvey had found herself trying to hand the object of summoning to the Cat. He had refused to accept it. They were still close then, and there were not entirely unfounded rumors of love. Harvey had offered him the object of summoning, his heart, three more times, then never again.
The ache that now built inside of her reflected what she had felt then.
Harvey had felt her relationship with the Cat falling apart, but before she could decide how to save them both… he became distant. He kept leaving her alone and daring her to summon him. She hadn’t… not yet. He always returned before the sun touched the horizon. Except this time he hadn’t returned.
The doorknob shook violently and Harvey caught her breath. The words of her last conversation with the Cat echoed in her mind. “You are mine! You will obey me until we both burn.”
They were back again.
Because she was twenty-one and they wanted her life to end. They wanted Ransom to rule, she thought, No! Ransom had died. So had many others on the list of Armstrong successors until the line finally ended with Aunt Coralina’s harsh-eyed husband. There were only two things that could take the Armstrong fortune from him now, his own death and Harvey’s twenty-third birthday.
Hundreds of assassins had been sent after Harvey since her father’s death. The Cat had stopped them all. Harvey had watched the Cat kill with a morbid fascination. She had loved him for it. While she was protected, others in the Armstrong family were not. She had heard tales of the death of members of her family. The Lebonn twins drowned in the river. Aunt Coralina took an assassin’s bullet to the head. Ransom was poisoned. The tales were constant, new ones being told every day, until the number of relatives of the Armstrong family dwindled to one. Harvey’s dark-eyed uncle.
Then finally she knew who took her family from her. It was the same man who had sent the assassins. The man who had killed his wife and drowned his children, her Uncle Lebonn. Now Harvey stood as the only lock, keeping him from his prize, but to him, she was just another lock to break. Harvey knew that time was running out. After she turned twenty-three, killing her would be pointless.
Tomorrow was Harvey’s twenty-third birthday.
The door shook violently as it was rammed against.
Fear pricked at the back of Harvey’s mind and she called out. Finally she could run.
Harvey dashed into the next room, knowing he wouldn’t make it in time. He would hear her. He would have to come. She knew he would run. But he would be too late. She stumbled through the unlit dining room, pushing aside haphazardly placed chairs.
Harvey made it to the bathroom. Then she softly closed the door behind her. She kept the light off as she crawled into the bathtub. She gently and quietly pulled the curtain closed. That was where she crouched, below the lip of the tub. She clasped the cold metal heart in her hand, feeling the rhythm of its pulse.
The night grew long.
The gun shots started.
She didn’t come out until fifteen minutes had passed. Then she crawled out of the bathtub awkwardly, on stiff limbs. She opened the door slowly, and seeing no movement and hearing nothing, she stepped out.
Her house was ruined.
Blood was splattered across the floor. She could see the bodies of two of those who had come to kill her; A man and a woman. The man was leaning against the far wall. The woman lying face down, was almost directly in her path. Their bodies were outlined in blood. Harvey could see their guns reflecting the light from the kitchen. Harvey knew there would be more of them, but then she knew he would have taken care of them as well. He had been coming back, or at least he hadn’t gone that far. The thought filled her with an emotion she had almost forgotten.
Harvey hesitated, glancing around the room. Her eyes fell upon the electric clock. Her fate was spelled out in green 12:01. Today was her twenty-third birthday. Killing her would no longer give her uncle the Armstrong estate. She had written in her own will that in the case of her death, the estate would be given to charity. She was free. Harvey pulled her eyes from the clock, a smile teasing the corners of her mouth. She faced the kitchen.
Then Harvey saw him.
The Cat was lying in his own carpet of red. He looked up at her and smiled even as his eyes grew dark with death.
The heart in Harvey’s hand stopped pulsing.
The Cat was gone.