"Hey, Charles." Marah nods briefly in zir direction before opening the pantry door to peer inside. "Do you have any kitten chow?"
"Well, we did foster a couple of litters last year. There may be a bag left in the lower right-hand cabinet somewhere." Charles finishes pouring water into the rice cooker and sets the timer, still thinking more about dinner than the girl's question. "Why?"
Marah crouches down in front of the cabinet, and starts digging through the cans and bags shoved in there. "Uncle Jake was turned into a kitten."
Charles blinks. Ze couldn't have heard that right, could ze? "Excuse me?"
Marah is piling up cans and bags on the floor so she can fit her head inside the cabinet now. "Medusa was, too, but she just had lunch, so I’m not as worried about her."
"No, no, go back farther." Charles can feel a headache coming on. Things have just been so weird since Medusa moved in. "Kittens?"
"Yep. Cute little fuzzballs that grow into cats if you let them." At this point, Marah is all the way inside the cabinet, only her ankles and wriggling shoes showing. There are scraping and thumping noises coming from in there. "When Uncle Jake went in the back yard with the mower, there was this big black cat that jumped from the neighbor’s fence and hissed at him. And then he was a kitten. Uncle Jake, I mean. Aha!" There is a brisk rattle, and Marah starts inching back out of the cabinet.
Charles is still trying to wrap zir mind around the explanation. One part of zir makes a note: Never mow the lawn again. Charles isn't sure if that part is crazier or saner than the rest. But ze finally settles on a question. "What happened to the cat? The big black one?"
"It ran off." Marah shoves the detritus back into the cabinet and stands, proudly brandishing the bag of food.
The noise has apparently attracted the kittens, who, like all cats, instinctively know the sound of food. A large-ish one with tuxedo markings comes sauntering in, tail held high, followed by a tiny blue one with… tiny blue snakes weaving around its pointy ears. It blinks big round eyes up at Marah and mews loudly.
Charles leans down to let Medusa sniff zir hand. The snakes sniff zir too, their tiny tongues tickling the pads of zir fingers. "I see it got Medusa, too."
"Oh, no, that was Uncle Jake." Marah grabs some bowls out of the dishwasher and puts them down on the floor. The two kittens immediately start to twine around her feet. "He scratched her, and she turned into a kitten, too."
Charles pulls zir hand back, eying the both of them more suspiciously. "It must be contagious."
"I guess." Marah frowns down at the kittens. "Do you think this is the kind of thing that wears off on its own?"
"As if I know anything about it." Charles sighs, watching zir now-feline housemate and supernatural couch surfer crunching away on kibble on the kitchen floor. They almost look normal. Almost. "What if it doesn't?"
Marah grins up at zir, her eyes going bright and eager. "Then we grab a couple of cans of tuna and some squirt guns and go find that cat. I’m sure we can convince it to turn them back."
Marah peers around the edge of the TV table. She and Jake are crouched behind it, while Charles and Medusa are pressed behind the couch. They're all staring at the door to Medusa's room at the top of the stairs. One of the kitchen chairs is wedged under the doorknob, blocking the door.
After a long minute of silence, Charles whispers, "Maybe it's gone?"
-- just as the knob starts to rattle, and the door shakes.
"I guess not," Marah hisses back, as they all stare at the door. The creature roars, loud and low, like a lion at the zoo, and something pounds against the door from the other side. The white wooden door bows alarmingly in the frame. But it holds.
Medusa is clutching Charles's sleeve tightly. "I don’t understand. It said it was my friend."
"When the monsters tell you they’re your friend," Jake says, "they’re usually lying."
Medusa’s eyes get rounder, and she looks ready to cry. "But I’m a monster, too!"
Marah punches Jake in the shoulder without bothering to look at him. He just sighs and runs a hand through his hair. "Okay. Maybe that wasn't the best way to put it."
"Look!" Marah is the only one still watching the door, where a puddle of inky blackness is starting to ooze down the stairs toward them. They edge further away from it, and closer to the back door.
"Okay," She says, rallying. They can do this. "What works against closet monsters?"
"Organizers!" Medusa bounces once, pleased to have an answer. "I saw them on TV. They put everything in boxes and baskets, and then you don’t have to be afraid of your closet any more."
Marah nods, determined. It’s crazy hell-logic, but that’s the kind that works these days. “Maybe we have to put it back in the closet?"
Jake turns to glare at her. "But that's in the room with it!"
"Then I guess we need to get it out, first." Marah glares right back. "Unless you've got a better idea?"
"Let's see if we can lure it outside," Charles chimes in. "It likes your dirty socks."
Marah hears Jake protest behind her, but she's already darting for the laundry room.
"Sorry, Mom, I couldn’t answer the phone earlier." Jake leans heavily against the kitchen table, phone pressed to his ear. "No seriously, I physically couldn’t answer the phone. I was six inches tall and running away from Pumpkin Sweetiebell-- "
He sighs. "Yes, that is the neighbor’s tabby cat. But he’s clearly hidden his diabolical nature from you. He’s a monster. I mean, he’s evil."
His gaze drifts across the mess in the kitchen. There are wilted cabbage leaves and dried-out mushrooms all over the floor, and the cutting board is still wedged under the cabinet where Charles used it as a shield. The only clean surface is the fridge door, now completely free of all enchanted alphabet magnets.
"Other than existing merely to cause pain and terrify people? No, I have no idea why he was chasing me." Jake rolls his eyes at the next question. "No, I don’t know how he got in here. Aren’t you going to ask why I was six inches tall?"
He listens for a long moment, slowly deflating. "Don’t you at least want to know how I fixed it?"
Abruptly, he stands up straight, the better to sound wounded. "No, it wasn’t Marah’s idea! She didn’t even think 'embiggen' was a word!"
Medusa is curled up on the front steps watching the snow fall, when a blue girl in a mud-stained gray hoodie comes barreling out of the garden toward the front door. She slides to a halt when she sees Medusa on the steps, eyes going wide.
Medusa stares back. The snakes turn and stare, too, because the girl looks just like her.Only muddier.
"Oops! Wrong time again!" The other Medusa turns and hurries back the way she came.
"Hey!" Medusa darts forward, but can't catch her before she disappears, poof! in a flash of light.
Medusa peers curiously into the garden. No more lights. A few snowflakes drift down, but nothing else moves. "Okay, that was weird."
She turns to go back inside, when suddenly she hears the rustle of movement again. It's the other Medusa from last time, only cleaner now, and again she stops in the middle of the walkway and stares. "You’re not supposed to be here!"
This time, Medusa doesn't wait. She remembers what Marah taught her and tackles Other Medusa into the muddy lawn. "Who are you?"
"There's no time!" The other girl wriggles around, snakes hissing disconcertingly. "You have to let me go!"
There's a bright flash of light in the sky, brighter than the one that Other Medusa had disappeared into. But instead of disappearing, she just gets still and flops back into the mud. "Uh-oh," she says in a small voice.
Medusa has a sudden sinking feeling about that flash of light. "That was bad, wasn't it?"
Other Medusa bursts into tears. "I was just supposed to grab the dog and come right back! No one was supposed to see me!"
Medusa sits up, and wipes awkwardly at the mud on the other girl’s jacket. "I'm sorry. I promise I won't tell."
Other Medusa wraps both arms across her face and wails. "But I don't remember this. So it never happened, but it is, and I broke the universe!"
Medusa bites her lip and looks around, hoping for Marah, or even Jake, but no one appears. "Um. It doesn't look broken."
Other Medusa stops wailing abruptly. She drops her arms and cautiously looks around, sniffling. "Okay. Maybe I didn't?"
“I don’t think so.” Now that the other girl isn’t crying, Medusa has a million questions for her. "So you need to get a dog?"
Other Medusa looks up at the house. "Not any dog. The stuffed dog in the back of Jake's closet. That's what they've been after, all this year."
Medusa follows her gaze, trying to imagine what anyone would want with that scruffy old thing. "What who's been after?"
Other Medusa leans in close and whispers it: "The cats from Mars."