Part One on Audio:

Part Two on Audio:

Audiophiles, Here’s Part Three:

“Stop! St. Anthony Police Department! Put your hands up, Ms. Jackson!” Hannah heard the female police officer behind her and gasped out a loud, defeated sound. Her foot was bleeding badly, clearly one or more of the stitches had broken open, and she probably needed the emergency room. Pain was making its way through the Percocet, and each step had become a limping agony. The hatchet felt heavy and the plastic bags were sticking to her in the heat. Sweat ran freely down her body, soaking her robe and making it cling to her. She stopped.

She didn’t turn around. If Ash was pointing a gun at her, she wasn’t going to be able to hold it together, so she didn’t look. “Officer, I have not done anything wrong. I’m just going for a walk.”

Ash had at least half the story now, based on the woman’s bleeding foot. “Who cut off your toe, Hannah? You need medical attention.”

Hannah considered. She could blame the whole thing on some mysterious stranger who’d broken into her house, drugged her, and chopped off her toe. She couldn’t even get that straight enough in her head to start. She could tell them she’d chopped it off, get a real doctor to sew her foot closed, pay for her crimes, lose her job and house, and become the homeless, odoriferous, bathrobed woman she was now impersonating. Maybe they would believe it was an accident? She felt the weight of the hatchet in her hand and knew that wouldn’t hold water.

Something bumped against her leg and she screamed. A cat, misreading the situation drastically, was rubbing against her shin asking for attention. Fucking cat. All of this was the damn cat’s fault. Hannah glared at the tabby, focusing sudden and blinding rage on its furry face.

“Ms. Jackson! I need you to put down the bag and show me your hands.” Officer Ash wasn’t sure what the woman was thinking, and the bag of trash could be anything, including a gun. She unsnapped her holster and took out her pistol, pointing it at the ground. “Hannah, let’s be smart here.”

Hannah wasn’t interested in being smart. Why start now, when she realized the whole week had been full of bad choices and worse choices? She reached down and picked up the fat ginger tabby cat by its scruff, causing it to hiss softly at the indignity. It was heavier than she expected, and she was shaky for all kinds of reasons. Had it struggled in earnest, she would have dropped it, but it went into kitten mode, waiting for mama to put it back down.

“Hannah, what are we doing here?” Ash didn’t want to point her gun at a woman wielding a fat tabby cat, but this was turning into one of those stories no one believed later. Thank god for her body cam. “Let the cat go and put the trash bags down. I just want to help you.”

“It’s the cat’s fault, though!” Hannah whined. “Everything would have been fine if it wasn’t for the damn cat!” She shook the tabby, making it hiss again. Hannah was suddenly very, very, irrationally angry at the cat. She didn’t even know if it was this cat. This cat was the unlucky representative of cats in general. This cat was going to make it right.

“Please don’t hurt the cat. Let it go, and we can talk about what happened to you.” Ash did not have the stomach to witness a catricide. She spent enough time protecting the kitten at home from Michael. She couldn’t believe the woman would kill it with her bare hands, but she was certainly capable of tossing it into traffic. She slowly re-holstered her gun, but didn’t take her hand off it.

Hannah considered for a moment. She didn’t think waving a hissing cat was going to be enough to get the cop to let her go. If she could somehow show she was serious—it was let her go or the cat gets it—maybe then she could get some room to think. She lifted the bagged hatchet and started tearing the thin plastic layers off with her teeth.

“Whoa, whoa, we don’t need to do that.” Ash had to draw her weapon again, still not pointing it at the woman, but the angle was getting closer. “Stop, Ms. Jackson, and put the cat and the trash bags down!”

“You let me go! It was an extra toe anyway! I don’t even know why you care!” Hannah kept tearing at the bags, finding an angle that allowed the sharpened hatchet to slice through the remaining layers. Ash was pointing her gun at Hannah now, no more trying to be friends. Hannah held the cat in front of her chest, a feline shield, and dropped the tattered plastic bags to the ground. She put the edge of the hatchet up to the cat’s neck, violently shaking now with the strain of holding the thing up. “You let me go or the cat gets it!” She backed several steps down the sidewalk, wincing and unsteady.

Ash felt the picture swim into focus, like those 3D shadow puzzles that you swiped around until it became something. This 20-something girl had chopped off her own (extra?) toe with a hatchet, self-medicated, and disposed of the thing like a dead pet gerbil. She needed the hospital for a variety of reasons, only one of which being the foot leaking blood on the sidewalk.

“Ms. Jackson.” Ash tried again. Melville was pounding up behind her and she made a “slow down, stay back” wave with one hand. She heard him slow. Good man, she thought. “Ms. Jackson, you’re hurt. You need a doctor. That’s all I’m concerned with right now. If you let kitty go, we’ll just take you to get that looked at.”

“BUT HE’LL STILL CRAP IN MY FLOWERBED! THEY ALL DO!” Hannah yelled. The cat’s skin was elastic, too malleable to be cut by the hatchet without deliberate force. Its skin might be unbroken, but its patience with this was fractured. It no longer wanted to be involved. It hissed and did a serpentine heave of its body that nearly dislodged it from Hannah’s shaky grip. She pinched the skin harder and made the cat hiss again.

“The cat didn’t do this to you, Hannah. It looks like you did it to you, though I can’t understand why. Maybe you can help me understand.” Ash moved another step closer, very slowly. The woman was struggling to keep her hold on the cat, which was seconds away from a crazed feline meltdown. Must normally be a damn chill cat to even hang in that long.

Hannah felt the tears that had been threatening for days finally break through, hot streaks in the sweat and oil on her face. They stung all the way down and she gasped. The female police officer tensed up. At least the guy behind her wasn’t rushing in trying to be the testosterone in this fucked up soup. Must be a good guy. Hannah briefly wondered if he was single, then the cat yowled and brought her back from Percocetia.

“You wouldn’t understand,” she sobbed out in broken words. “I’m not a freak! I’m just a normal girl and I wanted to be normal and buy some nice shoes!!!” She was desperately close to breaking down in full-fledged sobs. “I didn’t know what to do with it! I never thought about the damn cats!” She shook the tabby cat.

“Well, I’m sure you did the best you could.” Maybe this could be like talking down any other drug user, except Ash doubted Hannah was a regular user. “If we let the cat go, we can just talk about it and get you some help for that toe.”

Hannah started giggling. “The toe is a little beyond help, don’t you think?” She started backing down the sidewalk, still holding the cat, gingerly making her getaway with her ginger hostage.

That giggle made Ash’s skin crawl. It wasn’t at all right. Ash watched Hannah take a couple of steps backward, limping heavily and shaking from the exertion of holding the cat. Her pistol was still trained on Hannah, but she desperately did not want to use it. A flash of black, something moving, distracted her from the right, behind Hannah and coming towards them.

It was another cat, a sleek hunter dressed in a tuxedo with an extravagant white muzzle mustache. It briefly crouched, ears back, noticing the bathrobe-clad woman brandishing the ginger tabby for the first time. After a few tense seconds, it stood again, deciding this situation was not terribly worrisome. Ash wondered why all the cats in this neighborhood were so impenetrably dumb. Sweat was dripping down her face and back now, tickling and annoying her as it rolled down. The sun was at its full Southern strength, hitting the earth and radiating back up so that everything baked evenly.

As Ash watched, trying to figure out something to say that would convince the woman to go get some help, the tuxedo cat walked up the sidewalk behind Hannah. It was dipping its head and peering from both sides, trying to figure out what the deal with the ginger cat was.

“Just leave me alone!” Hannah screeched. “I didn’t do anything wrong!” She knew that wasn’t true, but maybe the cops hadn’t had time to go through her pill bottles yet. “Just leave me alone!” The female cop was distracted by something behind Hannah. Was another officer sneaking up behind her? She turned and looked over one shoulder very quickly, seeing nothing. The fat cat swinging from her fist decided at that moment that he’d had it. The limp kitten became a snarling dervish, 15 pounds of swinging claws and spitting teeth that writhed around toward her. Hannah screamed and threw the cat as far as she could, which was maybe three feet toward Officer Ash.

Ash startled backward, coming close to using lethal force on the flying feline. Melville came up beside her now, also pointing his 9MM at the fracas. He managed to avoid firing reflexively. The tabby landed awkwardly on its back feet and front shoulder, rapidly flipping upright and running a few feet away into the dry lawn next to the sidewalk. Ash didn’t want to take her eyes off Hannah, but she couldn’t help but notice when the dumb cat sat down and raised a paw, licking it with energetic determination. The tuxedo cat was frozen in place, not sure what to do in a world where cats flew.

Hannah saw the two pistols aimed at her and panicked. Without the hostage cat, she didn’t have any leverage. Making her last terrible decision of the week, she made a run for it. She turned, tightly gripping the hatchet and trusting the officers not to shoot her in the back after they’d kept their cool during the cat missile crisis. She took one lunging, limping step away from the officers, shaking, sweating, and completely beyond organized thought.

“Watch out!” Ash called, but the woman wasn’t in any shape to listen or react. The black and white cat was right behind Hannah Jackson on the sidewalk, and Ash watched as it tangled in her moving feet. Hannah went down hard, squeaking in surprise, still clutching the hatchet and too surprised to catch herself. There was a metallic ka-chunk sound as the blade hit the sidewalk, but it was muffled, wrong somehow. Hannah screamed. Ash looked at Melville, who still had his pistol trained on the woman, and holstered hers. “Ms. Jackson! Hannah! Drop the hatchet!” she yelled and moved a few steps toward the woman. There was blood shining on the sidewalk, but Ash couldn’t see where the injury was.

Hannah wasn’t entirely clear what had happened, but she knew she was on the ground, there was pain screaming in various places in her body, the wrong places, somehow, and she was headed for a blackout. Her vision swam in and out of darkness. She heard, at a great distance, the female officer yelling about the hatchet, so she let it relax out of her hand. What a relief. She looked at her hands. Something wasn’t right. Her right hand looked okay, but there was blood all over her left hand. Why was that? As she squinted at it, a fuzzy black and white shape darted toward her, quick and nimble, grabbed something in its mouth, and streaked away. Another fucking cat. Hannah frowned and went down into the darkness where the cats couldn’t bother her.

Ash kicked the hatchet into the yard, startling the ginger tabby enough so the stupid thing finally ran off. The tuxedo cat had dashed in and done something, bitten the poor girl, maybe? Bending down, she finally got a good look at her condition. A good whiff of it, too, and it was bad enough here in the hot sun to make her breathe through her mouth. A small puddle of blood was forming, where was that coming from?

When she saw it, her stomach turned over, hamburger and coffee a regrettably heavy weight.

“Serge, get an ambulance and animal control out here.”

“Animal control? The cat bite her?” He couldn’t see from where he was behind her.

“No. It has half her index finger.”

The Story: Oh, man. I am so tired from going viral all summer. This story, inspired by a comment in conversation with Paul Crowley, has been fun to write but a bear to record. Virus I was epic in all the wrong ways, and now I have Virus II. Just like Sony, I am going to make sure there is no Virus III by doing some antisocial deals this fall. I will not be shaking any hands.

Hannah Jackson had a bad summer, too. I don’t know if she’ll continue to blame the cats once she sobers up, but she certainly has a better claim now. Funny story–I accidentally changed her name to Hannah Anderson in this section, and didn’t catch it until after I finished recording. Hannah Anderson…Hannah Anderson…why does that sound familiar? Maybe because I just bought a tiny Captain Marvel swimsuit from there. At least I had a chance to record a pickup and fix it!

The good news–school starts in 10 days! You caught me, I’ve been counting. The next story on the docket was submitted by Cameron Craig (no relation), and it’s…not a nice story. Looking forward to the first truly Dark Roast story to come out here. I’m also looking forward to having my schedule back to write and record in a more timely manner. Kids. They’re great. *smiles weakly* I really do love them, but the combination of summer and my being sick basically the whole season has made for some bad times.

Thanks for your patience with the recording issues (I am assuming you had some because I assume everyone is nice until they prove otherwise), and I’ll see you again SOON.