Her irises had the texture of reptile scales, like small circles of crinkled foil or thin flakes of gold. They burned a radioactive, liquid, lime green that morphed into a murky mustard shade of yellow with the changing sunlight. Even her dense, muddy pupils were hypnotic with their way of dilating and stretching to inky black saucers when she was excited and shrinking to tiny, devilish slits when she was angry. She stood at five foot seven, a few inches shorter than myself with the slender body of a woman but the long, swishing tail and soft, fluffy head of a cat.
Her furry, pointed ears immediately darted around towards the sound of my voice when I offered to buy her a drink on the first night we met. I fell for her the second she turned around. Her name was Kiera.
“Strawberry wine please,” she blushed.
She was very confident and used to men frequently falling over themselves to pay her attention. We sat at a small curtained booth next to a dripping, sweating window with only a small fringed lamp lighting our tiny room. The glow from street lights and cars flashing past smudged and melted on the window as the rain audibly pattered against the glass while we talked.
“I’m only fifteen you know. You just broke the law by buying me a drink,” she smirked as her whiskers twitched.
“Well, I suppose that means we only have one year to wait until we can get married, with your parents’ consent, of course,” I said, as I sipped my raw, icy whiskey.
“So you want to marry me then?” Kiera asked. Her pupils began to swell and a mischievous, childlike grin crept on her lips. “Well, that won’t exactly be easy,” her smile faded before she said, “You don’t know who my parents are. Do you?”
“No, who are they?” I asked.
The Conways were a notorious drug-dealing family in our hometown. Every small business in the main street toiled until their fingers bled in order to provide the Conways with their weekly protection money. The Conways supplied every upper, downer, tranquiliser, sedative, narcotic, hallucinogenic and stimulant you could think of. The authorities were bribed regularly so, naturally, the police turned a blind eye to every drug deal, assault, theft and occasional murder that the Conways committed. Small children would stop dead, drop their toys and scuttle back into their houses like rats when they saw the Conways walking down the street. It was even rumoured that they kept the eyeballs of their victims pickled in vinegar and displayed in large glass jars like trophies on their living room mantel. Every member of the family was bigger and uglier than the last with personalities to match. They were all famous for being vicious brutes, all except Kiera.
To make matters worse, my family, the Jacksons, were the Conways biggest rivals. I was also a drug baby, brought up around strangers, dodgy dealings and powder being mixed in the kitchen.
I told Kiera my full name, David Jackson, and immediately she realised who my family were.
We talked for around two hours, exchanging similar childhood stories and pouring our hearts out to each other about everything we wanted to see, everywhere we wanted to visit and everything we wanted to experience before we died.
At around ten o’clock the pub began to get rowdy as the karaoke started.
“Oh, I have to do my song!” Kiera said, guzzling down the last of her strawberry wine before running to the stage.
She sat up on a tall wooden stool behind the microphone which was secured on top of a sleek, black stand on the tiny stage at the back on the pub. The resident guitarist set up in the corner of the stage. Kiera skipped over and whispered her request in his ear, to which he grinned and nodded while tuning his hazelnut guitar. The main house lights were dimmed and five bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling lowered and shone brightly, creating a soft, smouldering halo around Kiera. Her audience hushed and all eyes were fixed on her angelic beauty in awe as she began to sing an unfamiliar song.
Her trickling high notes were light and airy but her low tones raspy, husky and rattling with grit as she whipped her long, bushy tail along to the rhythm of the acoustic guitar and occasionally flashed her milky, sharp teeth. The humble, shabby old pub erupted with deafening applause, cheers and whistles when she finished. She shyly bowed and nervously fidgeted with her waist long, silky hair as her eyes grew almost completely black and impossibly glossy.
“You were amazing up there! Why don’t you pursue singing?” I gushed when she sat back down and took a large, pink, fizzy gulp from her fresh glass.
“Well, it is something I would love to do,” she confessed as she steadied her nervous-excited breathing. “I’m an artist too. I can’t go a day without painting,” she beamed while blushing.
At eleven o’clock, Kiera said it was time for her to head home and that her parents would be expecting her soon. By this point, she was merrily smiling and giggling, aglow with a whole bottle of sickly sweet strawberries in her system, so I insisted on walking her home, which I would have done regardless.
As we stepped out into the torrential rain and booming thunder, I wrapped my huge leather jacket around Kiera and she huddled into my side as we staggered and fought against the thrashing wind. After a couple of minutes braving the elements, I noticed that my hands were bright red with the cold and almost completely numb.
“Oh, are your hands cold?” I asked, trying to be as much of a gentleman as I could.
“Don’t you mean paws?” Kiera giggled as she held up her fluffy black paws. She turned them over to reveal her fleshy, baby pink and black splotched pads before extending her shrill, piercing claws, flexing and curling them in her paws and taking a playful, close swipe to my face.
“They’re fine, thanks,” she winked as she snuggled back under my arm.
A while later, I could faintly hear Kiera’s warm chesty purr rattling contently against my chest as we approached the corner turning into the street she lived in. She lived on a wide, busy street on the far west side of the town with her mansion-like home sitting stoutly at the bottom of the road with high walls, a huge locked gate and several expensive cars parked in the driveway. I was about to hesitantly say goodnight when Kiera abruptly stopped and pulled herself out of my jacket. Her perfectly symmetrical, feline features and dome eyes appeared immediately sober but disheartened as she stared at me. I could see in her eyes that she was calculating and something was ticking in her mind.
“Let’s runaway. Let’s just leave this place. Now. Tonight!”
Before I could respond, Kiera threw her arms around my neck and crushed her lips against mine. I held the small of her back and pulled her close as her whiskers and soft fur tickled my upper lip. I instantly felt something so magnetic and profoundly chemical that, for a moment, I forgot the rest of the world existed.
Completely smitten, I couldn’t say no to her. My life before tonight didn’t seem relevant, worthwhile or even memorable anymore. I had nothing to lose and Kiera to gain. Without wasting any more time, we ran to the train station, shivering, soaking wet and frozen to the very core of our young bones with nothing but the sopping clothes on our backs. We instinctively jumped onto the first glowing steam train that arrived without even checking the destination. It didn’t matter. Kiera then shook her whole body vigorously and all the rainwater, from the large frogspawn drops to the fine miniscule molecules of rain, were thrown from her fur and splattered onto the carriage window. Kiera gave another trickling, musical giggle, which was rapidly becoming my favourite sound. The train coughed and spluttered to life again and began to rhythmically pace along the old, rusty tracks.
“Tickets please,” the plump conductor asked.
“Two one-way tickets to the end of the line please,” Kiera squeaked with the uncontrollable, giddy excitement of a child on Christmas Eve.
“So, two one-way tickets to-”
“No! Don’t tell us. We don’t need to know,” Kiera interrupted and turned to me with a beaming smile.
Eventually the sleepy machine began to pick up speed and we were off into the stormy horizon, gazing out of the window, hand in paw and leaving only a trail of rapidly fading smoke trailing behind.