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art by Void lon iXaarii

Nine Lives

Callie Snow is an actress and writer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. One of her goals this year is to read the 400 science fiction, fantasy, and mystery magazines on her bookshelves. As of now, she only has 399 issues to go. Follow her progress at calliesnow.wordpress.com or on twitter @snowcallie. This is her second story at DSF.
She sits in front of the screen long after he disconnects. Her gaze drifts over to the window, to the bubbly city below. Millions of happy citizens are starting their weekends, taking walks, shopping, enjoying leisurely brunches with friends.
She's wearing her nicest clothes, and her fur is neatly brushed. She could still go out--he wouldn't think to cancel the reservations--except she doesn't have money; the apartment is expensive and the relocation swallowed her savings. Plus she doesn't have friends. For three weeks now, all she does is drive a hover-cab, like so many other new New Yorkers, and wait for increasingly sporadic holo-calls, like so many other clueless women before her.
Besides, she wouldn't fit in with the happy people.
She doesn't mean to lash her tail when she stands, but she does, and her stool crashes to the floor. The downstairs neighbors, a trio of unmarried octopods, once called an ambulance after she knocked over a lamp, so she screams out, "I'm fine!" Octopods. They seem to think anything with bones is frail.
"Glad to hear it!" a muffled voice yells back.
She rolls her eyes, but it's strangely comforting that someone cares. She rights the stool. The screen has gone dark, and she sees her reflection in it: furry, the end of her tail flicking.
"Is it because I'm only half cat? You wanted a feline, didn't you?"
He'd laughed. "That's ridiculous."
"Then what?" she'd asked. "Why?"
"I'm sorry. We'll stay friends. Definitely."
She waves a paw and the screen illuminates. It takes her a second to realize that his hol-atar is no longer bobbing in her contacts list.
"Bastard," she hisses.
She pulls off her shirt, drops it to the floor. Her paws fumble, as always, with her bra clasp, but she gets it unhooked, lets it fall. By the time she reaches the bathroom, she's naked.
She fills the tub. She remembers her research even though she hasn't contemplated this since she was a teen. Hot water, and the more the better.
She grabs the razor and steps into the tub, slowly exhaling before she immerses herself in the water. It isn't too late. She could stop... but instead she carefully grips the razor in her paw.
Steady now....
One stroke. Two strokes.
The water turns reddish yellow as her beautiful fur floats to the surface. There's blood, too, as she nicks herself, but she keeps going. When she's done, her legs are smooth.
She has to drain and refill the tub twice before her skin is hairless. There are some patches between her shoulders that she can't reach, but that's fine. Her older sister, who has always shaved, does that area in the shape of small angel wings. Maybe she'll try that, next time.
In the mirror, her whiskers, slightly pointed ears, and triangular nose are all that give her away. When she was an adolescent she'd once clipped her whiskers. She snorts, remembering the teasing after. Today is the first time she's used a razor since then.
So she's half cat. She's also half human. Like this, no one will look at her and think she's a modded feline, then be disappointed that she wants more out of life than to screw and have her back rubbed.
She dresses again, this time choosing a miniskirt, and opens her door.
One of the downstairs octopods stands there. They stare at each other in surprise. She only recognizes him because he's close enough to smell--octopods are shape shifters like that, able to look human or octopus or a million things in between. He's wearing a cowboy hat, which he tips back with a curved limb.
"Your tub is leaking," he says. "There's an alarming amount of... fur in the water." He manages to only look into her eyes when he says it.
She steps into the hall but leaves her door open. "Either call the landlord or you fix it. I'm going out," she says with a shrug.
Up close, he looks shimmery, not slimy. Healthy. Strong.
"You're half human!" she blurts. Its rude, and she slaps a paw over her mouth.
He smiles. "So are you. Though if you'll forgive me for being presumptuous, your fur was lovely. Not that my opinion matters, of course," he adds quickly. He closes her door for her, apparently not interested in playing plumber.
They look at each other a moment longer, then she walks down the hall. Only when the elevator doors are closing does she remember what her boyfriend--her ex, rather--said about her fur shortly after they met. "It's pretty, but maybe you should trim it some. You have nice legs." He'd been reading a magazine with a svelte, modded feline on the cover.
When the elevator reaches the lobby, she runs back up the stairs, but not to her floor.
The octopod is almost in front of his door.
"Hey," she says, breathless. "Wanna take a walk with me?" She would add that she doesn't know anyone, that she really needs a friend, but her throat is suddenly choked. She's tempted to take back her offer, to flee down the steps, but she's so tired of being, well, a scaredy cat.
"So?" she prods. "What do you think?"
"Yeah. Absolutely." He rubs his chin. "Um, let me tell my buddies that you, uh, didn't--"
"Drown in the bathtub or get sucked into a pipe? Oh, please. Don't you guys know I've got nine lives?" She tries to keep a straight face, but when he laughs, she giggles, and something like happiness stirs inside her.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, May 6th, 2014


The genesis of this story is a little embarrassing, but we're all friends here, right? A buddy invited me to an event that I couldn't work into my schedule, and in the course of exaggerating my regrets, I made a tub/blade/shaving joke. Er... guess you had to be there. But the image was vivid enough that it led to this story. From a craft point of view, if I can wax writerly for a moment, even though the joke didn't survive the transition, I don't believe the story would have included moments of lightness or an upbeat ending if the inspiration hadn't been playful and optimistic.

- Callie Snow

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