Tabitha Baumander

ELSEWHERE; you can find this book on by using the title and my name as search words or simply click here



     Heart pounding hard in her chest, Zoe Crane opened her bedroom door a crack and looked out.  The second floor hall was dimly lit by the light coming through the half-closed bathroom door. 

     The bathroom was at the far end of the hall and the stairs began in the middle.  Her parent's bedroom door, directly across from the top step, stood wide open.

     Her parents lived in the self-contained world of religious fundamentalism.  Parental authority was absolute, particularly when it came to daughters who tended to spend to much time with preoccupation's like music that could lead to no decent end. 

     Tonight, for the first time in her life, Zoe was saying no to her parents.  The sad thing was they wouldn't realize that she had done it until she failed to come downstairs for breakfast.

     Even when they found her gone there was no way of knowing if they would understand.  She hadn't thought the same way they had in so long she wasn't quite sure what they would think. 

     She would phone in the morning and try to explain.  That is, if she ever managed to leave.  It was strange, if you didn't look too closely, a simple act of bravery could look so much like cowardice.  Was she declaring her independence or running away? 

     Zoe grabbed the straps of the pack on her back and crept forward.  Beneath her feet, a loud wooden creak came from the protesting floor.  Zoe's knees turned to rubber. 

     During the day it would have been hardly noticeable, a typical old house sound.  Here and now, in the silence of the night, it howled like an old-time preacher bemoaning the fate an ungrateful child.

     The faint sound of rustling blankets, accompanied by a deep-voiced muttering, came from the black hole across from the stairs.  Zoe retreated into the privacy of her room. 

     The way her father slept, there was no exit. Sound asleep the man could hear a flea fart at fifty paces.

     Feeling trapped, Zoe closed the door silently and surveyed her moonlit refuge.  Usually kept "good girl" neat in the interests of pleasing her mother, it was now much more than that, it was spotless.

     The place looked exactly like a picture in a magazine; the kind of magazine her mother read with an almost religious intensity.  They were stuffed full of fat-free recipes and expert advice on how to raise your teenager daughter. 

     This room had been redecorated by her mother the previous fall.  The door had been removed from her walk-in closet and shelves had been added so that it looked like a miniature library.  The wall that had once held her bookshelves was covered with a system of wire baskets holding her neatly folded wardrobe. 

     Her old wooden desk had been repainted a tastefully textured tone to match the walls. It sat looking out the window, facing the back of the house.  The top of the desk held only the computer, silently dreaming its electronic dreams, muffled in a clear plastic dust cover.

     A large stuffed bear still handsome in spite of its

advanced age sat on the same old bed.  It was a relic of a trip to a fair on her fifth birthday.  The old fellow stared into space as if remembering the days when life was simpler.  A time when, yes mother and no mother, were all one needed to make life run smoothly.

     The bed the bear sat on had been repainted but not replaced.  The mattress was in poor condition and sagged noticeably.  Zoe had been looking forward to something new but her father had definite ideas about the immediate future of all seventeen-year old girls. 

     In his mind they unfailingly got married and pregnant well before they turned twenty-four.  If she was going to need a double bed sometime in the next five or six years, why buy a new single?

     A sudden prolonged yowl came from somewhere just outside the bedroom window.  Zoe's tightly strung nerves jumped.  In response she gripped the straps of her backpack convulsively, as if trying to get a firm hold on this midnight view of her world.  A wait for her father’s footsteps brought no results. 

     If he had heard the strange echoing sound he must have simply rolled over and gone back to sleep.  Nature had given her father a sensitive ear, but thankfully it had also given him the unique ability to fall asleep instantly. Thanking fate for small favors, Zoe crossed to the window and peered out into the night.  A bright round moon smiled down benignly on the stretch of nicely-fenced, carefully tended yards. The yards, in turn, belonged to old, well cared for brick homes.  At this late hour those homes were all darkly and sensibly asleep.

     The source of the midnight howl was very close.  A small white cat sat on the flat roof of the kitchen, which stretched out immediately beneath her window.  Its short downy fur reflected the moonlight as if it held a gentle power all its own.

     The cat looked at Zoe, shifting its hindquarters

impatiently.  Its tail whipped through the air twice then wrapped itself around the front feet, tip twitching slightly.  Gazing into the small yellow eyes Zoe read the message there and felt embarrassed.  She had neglected something that was perfectly obvious.

     Working almost silently Zoe pushed her desk out of the way and slid the window open.  She then slipped her pack off her back, pushed it through the window and wiggled out herself.  Standing on the kitchen roof and feeling the night air Zoe realized she also felt a thrill of the sort she hadn't had in a long time. 

     She was breaking the rules.  She was breaking the rules in the middle of the night and going into forbidden territory.  Looking up at the sky and greeting the stars from this different angle for the first time Zoe knew it was silly and childish to consider simply standing on the flat kitchen roof to be pushing boundaries but that’s how it felt.  A wide smile lighting her face Zoe closed the window then turned toward the small feline.  This was just the beginning.

     "Here I am, kitty," she whispered.  "Any more good ideas?"

     As if it understood, the cat's small pink tongue flicked out gave its nose a quick lick then the cat turned and walked slowly to the edge of the roof.  After a quick look back, it catapulted into the darkness and was gone.

     Opting for caution as opposed to speed, Zoe carefully dropped her bag over the edge of the flat roof then slid over herself; hanging on to the edge for one slow second before executing a rolling drop onto the thick soft grass below.

     Once on her feet again she reclaimed her pack, and looked around for the cat.  It was gone.  Wishing it well and thanking it for its timely advice Zoe crept around the side of the house, reaching the quiet street without interruption.  

     A volcanic mixture of long pent-up feelings lent compulsive energy to Zoe's moving feet as she strode away from the house.  She decided to take a walk and burn off some steam before heading for her intended destination.  As she walked the vivid memory of a conversation that had taken place just that morning drifted through her mind. 

     "Zoe you really have to listen to me.  You're never going to be anything close to what you want to be if you stay at home."

     "Karen they mean well."

     "I know that.  I mean, God, my parents are both drunks if I could chose I'd pick yours in a minute.  But what they're pushing you into is not what you need.  Look, it wont be easy and you might not even make it, but if you never try you'll end up middle aged, up to your nose in kids and hating yourself for never stepping out and giving your dreams a chance."

     She'd crossed her arms and eyed her best friend with her own version of her mother's "now tell me what you really mean" stare.

     "I don't suppose the fact that you need help paying the rent has anything to do with all this?"

     "Sure, I need a roommate.  I don't want it to be just anyone though and I know you’ll live up to your part of the deal.  That doesn't change the fact that you have to get your parents to back off and give you space to breathe or get the hell out.   Why you can go on defending them when they treat you like a prisoner or a robot I don't know."

     Zoe smiled and took a deep breath of cool night air.  Her parents were good people.  She didn't hate them.  She even found it hard to be angry with them.  They honestly believed that when it came to their only child they knew what was best, and they had always got what they wanted, until now.

     Up on the roof unseen by cat or girl a man shaped shadow appeared.  Running up from the kitchen roof it looked as if the invisible figure of a man were walking past Zoe’s bedroom window.  Slowly listlessly it walked from one side of the kitchen to the other.  It stood for a long minute as if waiting for Zoe to return.  Gradually the shadow became soft, indistinct.  In the end it drifted away like thick smoke on a listless breeze.


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