The next thing Cat knew, she was laying in bed feeling like there was an inflated balloon behind her eyes. She sat up with a groan.
She must have dozed off, she realized, stretching with another groan. Her stomach grumbled, reminding her that she still needed dinner.
When she opened the door, she saw Gran slam the door across from her closed. She removed her key from the door after hearing a click and smiled at Cat.
“Nice nap, dear?” she asked pleasantly, slipping the key into the large pocket on her chest.
Cat realized this was the first time she’d seen Gran in something other than a dress. She had on long overalls with paint splatter and rolled up legs.
“I’m working on a bit of a project,” Gran said, like she was reading Cat’s thoughts.
“Art?” Cat asked.
Gran just smiled and began hobbling away. Cat trailed after her.
“Can I see?” Cat asked. “Mom said you were an artist, but I don’t really think I’ve seen much of your work.”
“I painted the bedroom,” Gran pointed out.
“So are you into painting then?”
“I’m into many things, so to speak,” Gran replied. “Why limit myself to just one medium?”
“Because… I thought that’s what most artists do,” Cat replied slowly.
“Oh,” Gran looked thoughtful for a moment, stopping and leaning against her walker. “Well, I’m not like other people, dear.”
“Yeah, I’m starting to see that,” Cat replied.
Gran reached out a knotted, wrinkly hand and patted Cat on the shoulder. Her deep brown eyes seemed to be studying Cat, and Cat saw that those eyes still looked sharp and lively, not vacant and confused like she expected from old women.
“How would you feel about breakfast for dinner?” Gran asked.
“Oh, ok, that’s fine,” Cat said.
Gran shuffled to the kitchen, and Cat helped her fix two large bowls of granola and fruit and yogurt.
“So, were you always an artist?” Cat asked once they had sat down at the table.
“I think so,” Gran replied slowly. “I remember getting in trouble for drawing on the wall with pieces of chalk when I was little.” She chuckled. “My first art pieces were met with harsh criticism.”
“So did you go to art school then?” Cat asked.
“Oh, no,” Gran said with another chuckle. “My parents were much too poor to send me to school. High school is as far as I got.”
“Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” Gran continued. “It served me well for my job, mind you.”
“Of course,” Cat replied quickly.
Gran scooped out the last spoonful of her yogurt and licked her spoon clean.
“Well,” she said with a large yawn. “I think it’s time for me to go have a rest.”
“I can clean up,” Cat offered.
“Thank you, sweetheart. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Cat watched Gran shuffle away with her usual thunk, tap, tap. She couldn’t help but have a strange feeling. Gran seemed sharp just now, she thought. And suddenly she needed to go to bed?
Maybe she had a short nap, Cat told herself. And then tired herself out with whatever art project she was working on.
The fact that Gran could still do art was pretty amazing.
Cat wondered if that’s why Gran kept so many doors locked. Maybe, she reasoned as she scrubbed the dishes, Gran used to be a great artist but started slipping with age. So she locked up all of her art because she didn’t want the world to see what had become of her.
Cat still wished she could see. The mural in the room was nice, but she wondered if that was Gran’s style or if her other art was different. Curiosity was eating away her mind.
Cat sighed and went back to her room. She tried looking for an outfit for the next day, but there was nothing in Mom’s box of clothes that she would want to wear.
Cat wondered if there was a way to style clothes and give them a fun vintage vibe, rather than her current “whatever I could find in a box” vibe. She opened her social media apps, trying to find inspiration from hashtags.
Unfortunately, the social media models seemed to be working with a better selection than her. Cat sighed.
Her phone buzzed, and she checked her PMs.
Omg it’s been FOREVER, Naomi texted.
Cat hovered over her keyboard, trying to think of what to say.
I’m at the ice cream shop and GUESS WHO’S WORKING RN, another message read before Cat could respond to the first one.
A blurry, stealthy picture of Aiden popped up, and Cat clicked on it.
She tried— like, actually tried— to be interested, but somehow she couldn’t seem to feel excited about seeing a picture of him.
Omg, so jealous, Cat typed half-heartedly. Be back soon~
She closed her apps with a sigh. She was still no closer to finding clothes to wear.
Maybe Gran had a washer and dryer somewhere, Cat thought, grabbing her old clothes. It would be nice to be in her old clothes again and not someone else’s.
Cat bunched up her clothes into a ball and stepped into the hall. It was dark already. The sun must have set, and Cat forgot to turn on any lights. She stumbled through the dark hallway looking for a light switch. She should have brought her phone.
Cat glanced out the window. She thought she saw something blue in the backyard, moving away from her briskly. Cat moved closer.
There was Gran, still clad in her giant overalls, swinging her cane like a marching band director. Her walker was nowhere in sight, but she was striding along the fields with no problem. Cat rushed to the back door and opened it.
Gran was having another episode. Maybe her brain was going bonkers, and she was going to be found wandering some highway again, Cat thought with a panic. She almost raised her voice to shout at Gran.
The cane in Gran’s hand didn’t look like a cane under the moonlight. It looked like a sword.
Cat dropped her clothes. She kicked them just within the doorway and rushed out, wondering if she should yell to Gran to snap her out of whatever trance she must have been in.
Maybe she was supposed to call someone.
Yes, 911, my Gran is walking around without her walker, but I think she has a sword.
Instead, Cat couldn’t help but run after Gran. Run was a strong word, considering Cat was in slippers, but even her fast pace couldn’t seem to catch up with Gran. Cat was worried she’d lose her in the woods, but Gran’s white hair seemed to almost glow in the moonlight as she strode through the forest.
Gran stopped at a clearing in the woods. Cat slipped behind a tree and looked around. It looked like a crater had fallen into this place a long time ago, even though Cat knew that was impossible. Yet, this area was perfectly round, lower than the surrounding woods, and had long blades of grass instead of trees. There was a solitary tree trunk in the center, and Gran sat on it, leaning on her sword. Cat squinted her eyes.
No, it was a cane, she thought with a sigh of relief. It was her cane all along.
She almost stepped forward to collect Gran, chalking it up to just some old person episode. Like people with Alzheimer’s traveling to another city even though they hadn’t driven in years. Or like when Gran was walking along the highway just last week.
Before Cat could move, she heard a twig snap. The hair on the back of her neck rose. Someone else was here. Gran’s head twitched, like she heard it too but didn’t care.
“It’s rude to make an old lady wait!” she said loudly. “Stop playing hide and seek and come here where I can see you.”
Cat wondered if Gran was talking to her. Then, a group of teenagers stepped out into the clearing. They looked younger than Cat, and she realized one of them was the kid she saw working at Wendy’s.
“Well, that’s better,” Gran said brightly as they shuffled forward like kids caught by their teacher. “We’ve got quite the party here… Now, what do you have to say for yourselves?”
“It’s my birthday,” the kid from Wendy’s murmured. “My kids just wanted to come and see me, you see.”
“You know that you need permission for out of country visits,” Gran chided. “If I remember correctly, you’re the only one who settled in America. Your kids chose… Ireland was it?”
“I’ve moved to Scotland,” one of them piped up.
“Ah, yes, I remember you informing me,” Gran said with a nod. “How are you liking it? Are there still many Faery Circles?”
“We don’t associate with them,” the kid replied and then cleared his throat and looked away. “I mean, I’m not sure, ma’am.”
“They were only visiting,” the Wendy’s kid said in a tone that bordered on whining.
“Visits still require notice,” Gran said. “You do remember how old you look, right? How are you going to explain why a bunch of teenagers came to visit their father, who also looks like a teenager?”
“I do not.”
“By human standards, you do.”
Cat felt her head spinning. Was she hearing this conversation right?
“Well,” Gran continued with a sigh. “At least that explains why my radar was practically exploding with movement. All right, the story is, these are your cousins. Your mother immigrated here from Ireland, which is why they’re Irish. And don’t any of you slip up and call him Dad in public. Mortals will start to suspect something if kids the same age call each other dad and son.”
They all hung their heads while Cat tried to figure out what the hell was going on. Why was Gran lecturing them, why did they think this kid was their father, and did Cat accidentally take some of Gran’s pills and start hallucinating?
Gran sighed and shooed them away. As they shuffled off, though, Cat saw Gran suddenly stiffen and stretch out her cane.
The kids froze, and Gran hobbled over to stare at one of them: a girl with long, straight blond hair and wide eyes.
“I remember everyone who came through,” she said slowly. “So why don’t I know you?”
“She’s our—,” one began quickly.
“She’s been here for a long time,” another cut in loudly.
The girl just broke into tears and fell on her knees. Cat guessed lying wasn’t really the poor girl’s forté.
“Please don’t send me back!” she cried, grabbing Gran’s overalls. “I just saw the opening and came through today. I’m sorry!”
“She’s been waiting for her approval for ages,” one of the kids added with a huff.
“Yes, well, I’ve been rather short staffed, if you didn’t notice,” Gran said dryly. “How did you come through?”
“Th-the door,” the girl sobbed. “I-it was jus-just open, so I came in. I closed it right behind me! I swear!”
Gran stood up, looking around. Cat could see a strange look on her face, but she couldn’t quite describe it. Was it fear or rage?
“I’m not concerned with who would come after you through an open door,” she said. “I’m concerned with who could have opened that door.”
She looked around, and Cat saw her grip her cane even harder. Then she turned to the kids.
“Get home quick as you can,” she ordered. “Spread the word to the others, too, to be on guard. Something is coming.”
She sniffed the air. The kids rushed off.
Cat suddenly felt very aware that she was alone in the woods and no one else knew she was there. And the chills on her neck were still there. Like she was watching Gran, but something was watching her.
“Gran?” Cat said, stepping into the opening.
She suddenly didn’t want to be alone.
Gran grabbed her chest with her hand and looked at Cat like she was seeing a ghost.
“You shouldn’t be here,” she said, quickly striding over to her. “Did I leave the door unlocked?”
“Yeah,” Cat said slowly. “And I saw you walking and got worried, so I…”
She trailed off, not sure how to ask her about anything that happened after she started following Gran.
“Oh, dear,” Gran said with a chuckle, grabbing onto Cat’s arm and steering her back into the woods. “I must’ve been sleepwalking. Could you help me home, dear? I’m afraid I don’t have my walker with me.”
“B-but, who were all those kids?” Cat asked. “And why were you so worried?”
“What kids?” Gran asked, leading Cat farther from the clearing.
“The kids who were there,” Cat replied. “The kid from Wendy’s and his—his kids were talking to you.”
“The kid from Wendy’s?” Gran repeated, looking thoughtful. “Oh, I don’t think he’s old enough to have kids. But, I guess this is a different time. Not that I can judge, you know, since I grew up in a different time.”
Gran led Cat back to the house in no time, rambling on about how different things were nowadays. Before Cat really knew what was going on, she was at the kitchen table with a cup of herbal tea between her hands.
“But really,” Gran said, stopping her one-sided conversation suddenly and looking at Cat. “Are you alright dear?”
No, Cat wanted to say. What happened back there?
She took a sip of her tea and sighed.
“I’m just… confused,” Cat said. “I saw you talking to the kids. You mentioned a door, or something, and you looked worried. And you had a sword. I think.”
Gran chuckled and leaned back.
“A sword?” she repeated. “My, that would be better than my cane, though a little less useful at my age, huh?”
Gran took a sip of tea, and Cat drank more of hers.
“I wonder,” Gran continued. “Your mother was a sleepwalker sometimes. And I sleepwalk all the time. Hence the locks on the doors, see. Maybe you’re starting to sleepwalk, too?”
“What? No, I’ve never,” Cat began, but her head was starting to feel fuzzy. “I know what I saw. What I heard.”
But saying those things aloud made her less certain. Gran gave an understanding nod and a sympathetic look that made Cat feel embarrassed at acting like an idiot.
“It sounds like you could use more rest, dear,” she suggested. “Let’s finish our tea and pop off to bed, ok? We both had a strange night.”
Cat wanted to protest. She wanted to ask Gran what was going on. She had a hard time believing she was just dreaming. Or that Gran’s reason for the locks was sleepwalking. But her brain seemed to power down and beg for sleep. She scarcely remembered finishing her tea. Or being led back into her room and onto the bed.
By the time she woke up, Cat wasn’t sure if any of it was real or just part of a strange dream. She was certain of one thing, though: she needed to get out of this town as soon as possible.