Part 1 - Anxiety, Explosions, Mad Scientists, and Catgirls
I get a sick feeling in my stomach every time I step outside my door. It was worse before I moved to the suburbs.
In the city, there were so many people flowing over me like rain, inundating every moment I tried to breathe. At least here in Brookville, I can go for a walk in the evening fog and not expect to run into anyone. I’ve never been interested in other people.
The other guys feel like they have their own little world and code and language which confuses the shit out of me. And girls are off in their own universe. Not that I don’t look at them.
Whenever a conversation accidentally starts because someone is just eager to talk or I gave them something they interpreted as intent to chat, I feel the bile hit me. I freeze with a hot feeling behind my ears and I grope for the nearest one-syllable word of agreement which will just shut them up.
What you can call ‘my friends’ are a smattering of former co-workers, college roommates/acquaintances, and distant text on a screen which I can sift through in comfort. If you asked any of them about me, I really doubt they’d be able to come up with much beyond my appearance and apparent “shyness”. They’d probably point out, as some do, that I look like a younger, fatter Brendan Frasier with less of a chin and even less of a smile. Also, how the stark pale top of my head keeps showing more and more each year.
That’s enough for them so long as I give some lip-service to their various hobbies or current jobs and nod when they talk about how Jerky McCussface has got something good or bad going on. It keeps up the appearance we’re socializing.
Sometimes I get asked about deeper things, so I wear a mosaic of recent movies or media I’ve gathered from interactions. Maybe slip a game or two in there. Whatever works. Sometimes they dig and I need to fake it a little. Once, and only once, did I publicly let slip about the catgirls.
I dislike cats even though I respect certain ones I’ve met, like my aunt’s bloated, gassy brown blob of a cat who stuck around for twenty years. It didn’t give a shit what anyone else thought of it. It didn’t want your hand on it or to sit in your lap. If you didn’t bother it then it would do the same.
But catgirls are a different story. I had to hide my desperate physical reaction during a Halloween party when a social butterfly co-worker came in with black ears that matched her helmet-shaped hair perfectly and a velvety tail dangling against her leg. I tried to figure out a way to incidentally take a picture of her. I almost dared to talk.
I didn’t even need my collection that night, but I still went through it the next day. I have enough anime media to raise the attention of friends who think Dragonball Z is the best thing ever. They never seem to notice nekomimis are the unifying theme. The collection on my computer spans two large drives.
Those who get far enough to know what’s on my computer immediately think of erotic works. There are some but they’re not by design. They’re just there because I’m thorough and willing to keep anything with catgirls. The ones which make me feel the best don’t need to be bursting out of their tops or drenched with various fluids. They just need a smile, a feline pose, and a whole dose of cuteness.
I have a number of backups, so I don’t lose the collection. It’s my treasure and I dig through it daily. I told myself it was enough, and I thought that was true. That’s till ‘she’ moved in.
It was amidst those foggy days where the morning feels perfect with just a trace of dew on the air. Then, as morning gives way to day, what glimpses of light I get are warm but not hot, the sun lacing through the trees that line the apartment complex. ‘Hot’ last showed up a month ago with the end of summer. The nights don’t try to pretend it’s still summer. It’s cold enough to slip on a jacket and listen to the wind whittle the first yellow leaves off the trees.
At the precipice of evening, I heard an explosion loud enough to drive all the penned dogs howling and set off three car alarms. Explosions weren’t as weird as one would think. This wasn’t the nicest of apartment complexes, but it was nice enough that people felt their monthly rent entitled them to set off whatever fireworks they liked between May and September.
However, this explosion was strange. It wasn’t so much an explosion as a sound like countless rubber bands being shot in all directions at high speed. So, I wasn’t surprised when several scorched rubber bands landed around and on me.
The words, “INDESTRUCTIBLE, MY ASS!” echoed from the building at the far end with a halo of stormy haze encircling it. I was in an unusually good mood, so I took the chance of approaching the building as the smell of burnt rubber began to saturate my nose. While everyone in the complex was quickly two-stepping down the stairs and coughing, I made my way up until the smell made me turn away to gasp against the railing.
I found a particular apartment door was cracked and puffing smoke as the four in the number on the front tipped over on its side. Despite a tickle ready to become a cough, I pushed open the door and peered in.
All I could see was more and more smoke before two figures came barreling out of the doorway in chemical hazard suits and full breather masks like something out of a movie I caught just a few minutes of.
The taller figure peeled off her mask, shed her hazard suit, and panted over the railing. Her hair looked like it had been borrowed and dyed in silver from a cockatiel’s plume with some small effort made to part it to the side, but no other effort made to control it. She wore a lab coat that looked more like a bleached jacket that dangled to her knees. Despite soot on her chin and seasoning the rest of her clothes, the coat was pristine. She wore what looked at first like medical scrubs but, on second glance, appeared to be heavy-duty paper tinted green. Oversized socks spilled out of the flip-flops on her feet as she panted and gave me more of a look than I would’ve liked.
The mad scientist, as drawn by my friend, AiSAKU. The image was to be for a silly, sci-fi version of Maison Ikkoku but it never quite came together because I procrastinated too long.
But the shorter figure caught my attention immediately as she peeled off her mask and suit to reveal shock-pink hair with…an extra set of ears…pointing out the sides of her head. I looked on in shock as they had a hair-buried flesh tone and moved fluidly as she turned her head. While the taller woman was properly-dressed, this woman, who looked barely older than a teenager, only had on a flapping, flannel too-large shirt which fluttered over her bare thighs and buried her shoulders in wrinkled, soot-mottled material. Her eyes even seemed narrow in the black part with a vast, looming blue-colored part with only a little white. She blinked at me quietly before slipping on a pleasant smile. I had to restrain myself with a gulp as I returned my attention to the other woman to ask, “You two okay?”
The taller woman waved a hand to announce, “Fine. Just a test run…oh.”
She reached out a sudden hand to pick up one of the blackened rubber bands still sitting on my shoulder and mused, “I didn’t suspect they’d return to our universe in this form. Or did I? I should check myself for short-term memory-loss. Have I asked you this question before?”
I narrowed my eyes in suspicion but still looked at the girl with cat ears and eyes out of the corner of my gaze as I asked her, “What question?”
“Oh, the question I just stated about having asked you the question of having asked the question of whether I’ve asked you the question involving asking the question of a question. But not necessarily in that manner.”
I scratched under my ear and asked only, “What?”
“Good sign. Or terrible sign. Could go both ways. So…either I’ve dislodged a piece of the universe and fractured the time-space continuum causing random rubber rings from a parallel universe to materialize within our own….or that last payload launch was not a Reuben sandwich but actually something else I’d left in my office supply drawer instead of my lunch. Considering the two, the second makes slightly more sense.”
She stroked her chin for a while before noticing I was still standing nearby and offered, “Oh…sorry…I’m Dr. Gloria Peizo…or is it PIE-zo?…I always get that mixed up. And this is Arjuma.” She gestured in turn to herself and then to the girl with the cat ears and eyes.
I managed a cautious “Hello” to them both, with my eyes lingering on the half-dressed Arjuma. I tried my honest best not to stare as…Gloria…brushed herself off, gave a sigh, and then a quick scritch of the ear to Arjuma.
“Arjuma is my cat. Well, formerly. Blame a stainless-steel toaster, an experimental force field, and a boring evening.”
Smiling widely, Arjuma leaned into the scritch with her eyes shut and made a sound like she was attempting to purr. I stood there and just watched all of this happen. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh, smile, or run away. I’d done plenty of running away with the trappings of politeness in the past. I’d practiced a few careful smiles and I’d laughed more than once at the wrong time. As the spectacle of a catgirl who had (allegedly) once been a cat and an odd mad scientist solidly remained in front of me, I was still at a loss for what I was supposed to say. So, I just scrunched up my eyebrows but nodded slowly.
Without warning, Arjuma interjected, “I get to poo in the thing filled with water now!” Only she didn’t use the tame and silly word ‘poo’. She used the sharp s-word instead. I couldn’t imagine such a strong word coming out of such a sweet and smiling catgirl’s mouth.
Leaning against her child-like but suddenly vulgar charge, Gloria explained, “She’s testing out swears this week. Apologies.”
At that point, things became a little bit fuzzy. I got invited into the apartment when the air had cleared. Still, it smelled like scorched tires from a car burnout, but it wasn’t so obvious that I had to excuse myself. I think I eventually got tea and heard someone walking about down the hallway, but I didn’t see them yet. Part of Gloria’s apartment looked like a laboratory, as one might expect if you labeled her a ‘mad scientist’. And most of that lab looked distressed, as though this had not been the first experiment to go wrong. However, other parts were perfectly normal with a fully-equipped kitchen and a relaxing living room.
I picked up a fragment of conversation from Gloria involving a place they had once been which allowed her to tend to a small garden, on which she reflected, “I had to stop gardening when the worms grew their first fingers. I dealt with it, eventually. However, it meant another parallel universe I’m not welcome in…” I stopped trying to make sense of her strands of thought and realized I hadn’t told her my name.
As I started to offer it, she jumped in with a series of names which fell out like a torrent until she settled on, “Josh…that’ll probably do to call you ‘Josh’, if you don’t mind. Not that it’s a big deal to me either way. Names are transitory things, especially around here.”
I mentioned she’d chanced upon my name in the flood of names before. She noted this with a smiling nod but seemed set on using “Josh”. It was close enough that I didn’t want to protest it, so I let her keep calling me that.
I was beginning to settle in to this weird situation when Gloria pounced unexpectedly by asking, “You fancy Arjuma, right?”
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Bio: I'm MajorKerina and I love to collaborate creatively with a group of friends to make tales where people have their genders, identities, and very realities questioned, contorted, and turned upside-down. I like slice-of-life with a spicing of the supernatural, strange, or surreal. Reality with a scent of the impossible. You can find me on DeviantArt, Twitter, ScribbleHub, and other places.