Elizabeth was just about ready to file her nails with a cheese grater or pick out her eyes with a pencil out of sheer boredom. Instead, she opted for absentmindedly biting the top of her thumbnail as she sat cross-legged with her eyes rolling around attending to anything other than whatever the instructor was prattling on about this time. She was desperate for something to hold her gaze and ward off the ever-growing tempting siren call of sleep. Her knees were digging into the arms of her chair rather uncomfortably, but she for the life of her could not stand to sit (if you’ll pardon the expression) properly with her feet on the ground, legs bent 90 degrees, shoulders back and back straight. In defiance, and simply because she could, she pretzeled herself into a hunched posture and hiked up one knee to hug while surveying her cohort with quiet discontent.
They were all voraciously taking notes on the lecture with the ear-grating sounds of pencils scratching and laptop keys clacking away like heavy rainfall drumming on a car roof. Liz looked up at the projector. There was only an introductory slide up with the instructor’s name and email. She groaned and coughed it off. What a snooze. This was all in the online syllabus anyway. There was no point in notetaking. She looked around at all the rest. Everyone was sitting the same in that perfect standard way bobbing in earnest carefully copying down word for word everything that was being shown and spoken. How could they possibly be thinking about the meaning behind everything when they’re so preoccupied with getting the words down exactly to the letter?
Ten measly desks and chairs were strewn about the space of the small dingy hospital room that had been haphazardly turned into a makeshift classroom from an otherwise empty abandoned office. The lights were dim and flickered spastically. Various sounds of machinery beeped with the occasional public announcement faintly wafting in through the slightly open door from down the hall. It was overall quite drab and depressing.
There were only nine others besides herself. Most of them all looked like each other yet in different fonts, with long dark hair, pale complexions and an overconfidence in their intelligence that resulted in a stark lack of humility accrued by being amongst the two percent of all applicants who got into the program. They all wore the same reading glasses, new jeans, clean-pressed dress shirts and had their hair up in professional ponytails.
Liz, on the other hand, was wearing a frumpy oversized sweater and leggings that were considered old five years ago. Her hair was making a break for it and spilling out from her carefully curated messy bun. Her shoes had been kicked off underneath her desk showing off her favorite socks that had bunnies with chainsaws on them. She was rather fond of this pair.
Liz stifled a yawn. She could not process a word that was being said. There was just something about lectures that turned off any desire to engage with the world around her. Why should she have to just sit there and waste her time listening to someone read off the very thing she could do on her own, but faster and with proper retention? She could be in her room cozied up under a pile of blankets like a burrito with a nice cup of hot chocolate, or maybe a coffee, or better yet both, with a freshly oven-baked chocolate-chip cookie to top it all off … Great, now she was hungry. Annoyed, she plopped her elbow onto the desk and cradled her chin into the palm of her hand while gently digging her nails into her cheek.
“Now, it’s important to understand and remember the four Ps in the 4 P Factor Model for case formulation. The first one we have is Predisposing, which include factors like…”
Liz could start to feel a faint prickle in the back of her eyelids and the ever-growing desire to leap up from her desk dramatically throwing her chair back and booking it to the bathroom. She resisted the urge to scream just for the sake of it. She could not care less about this clinical side of things. She just wanted to get to the part where she could learn to help people meaningfully. She was beginning to think she could not do so like this. All of this was so redundant and mechanical.
What was that? A small shadowy figure interrupted her self-wallowing as it danced along the edge of her vision. She whipped her head around to see … Was that a cat’s tail? Something had waltzed right past the ajar door. On impulse, Liz leapt up from her desk dramatically throwing her chair back. Silence swept in with a quick hush and settled in the class as everyone turned back to glare at her. Their eyes bored into her as she mumbled something about needing to use the restroom and made a beeline for the door. Her name was thrown about in irritation like a hot potato, but she was too fixated on the source of the movement to care let alone pay any attention.
Out of the room she caught sight of what definitely appeared to be a cat’s tail lolling around in a lull as it padded its way along and ducked to the left down the end of the hall. Liz started to lightly jog to where she last saw the cat unaware that her shoes remained under her desk and wondering why her feet felt vulnerable running along the cold hard linoleum flooring.
She swung around the corner and nearly tripped over her own feet doing so and cursing under her breath. The only room here was the men’s bathroom, so she darted her eyes around to ensure no one had followed her and pushed open the door to see the thing sitting there in front of her.
It was a cat. An ordinary house cat. Small, thin and strikingly black. Although, there was hardly any light there, so the cat easily could have been a midnight blue if you looked closely. It was so dark in the bathroom that only the silhouette could be vaguely made out around the beacon blue eyes of the curious creature. It blinked lazily once or twice and slowly cocked its head to one side to stare intently at Liz. A gentle purr filled the room with a low hum. She could feel the vibrations permeating the ground beneath her feet and making her feel wobbly.
Liz knelt to the ground extending out a hand before she realized what she was doing. Intrigued, the cat slinked slowly towards her yet pausing a couple times along the way to really think about whether it wanted to be closer to this big heavy-breathing thing. Curiosity killed the cat, figuratively here, and the cat sniffed her palm before butting its forehead against it.
“Skipper!” A voice suddenly boomed from the depths of the dark room sending a chill down Liz’s spine. “Who’s your new friend there?”
“Oh, uh, hello?” Liz called out. “Sorry to disturb you. I’m not actually going into the bathroom, I swear. I’m just petting a cat here, as silly as that sounds.”
“A cat, you say? You mean to tell me that you can see him?”
Weird. “Well, not entirely. I mean, barely. It’s kinda dark, but yeah he’s there.”
“Ahhh, so you must be Elizabeth.”
Liz blinked, taken aback. “I’m sorry, do I know you?”
“Oh, you will soon. You did and you do, even if you don’t now.”
Liz rubbed her eyes and hugged her arms. “Yeah, okay, you lost me there. Listen, it’s been great chatting and all, but I’ve got a class…” she trailed off jerking a thumb behind her down the hall without breaking eye contact from the cat.
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that class anymore,” the voice said with a sweet yet sinister quality. “You’re done with this place and everyone here.” Thudding footfalls from within drew closer.
Liz took a step back. “W-what makes you say – ”
In that moment the door was pulled open to reveal a mass of feathers being met with a shrill aching scream that echoed across the hall before being sharply cut short.