What has gone before: Andrew Weazle, the owner of a failing coffee shop trades what the Friday night deposit in return for 'magic coffee beans'. After dumping coffee made by the beans into a potted bonsai tree, a massive ash tree mysteriously grows overnight inside the shop. Following a miraculous weekend which saves the coffee shop, Andrew suddenly and inexplicably leaves work in the company of a mysterious and fatally attractive woman. After he does not return to work for several days, Lara, the shop's only employee, enlists the help of Blackout, one of the shop's regular customers, to find out what has happened to Andrew...
Standing in front of Andrew's apartment door, the ludicrousness of checking up on her boss's private life crashed down on Lara. It wasn't like he was a missing person. He just hadn't come into work. She was pretty sure she knew where he was, and could even hazard a guess at what (and who) he was doing. The resolve behind her misgivings became flimsy in the presence of the utterly mundane apartment door. Blackout’s attendant witness to her paranoid behavior added further to the inanity.
In so many ways, this door was no different than the one she had entered earlier in the year to witness her boyfriend’s infidelity, an image that played through her thoughts daily, though she tried desperately not to think of it. Was that what this was all about? A chance to vent her anger on Andrew, a virtual stranger, what she never could on a man she’d been utterly intimate with? The door was similar. But what lay beyond the threshold was far different. Not a boyfriend. At best, just a friend, at worst, just her boss. This was none of her business.
“This is stupid,” she said, and turned to leave.
Blackout looked surprised, but in a combination of shrugged shoulders and nodding head, began to follow her.
A cry of pain which trailed off into an exhale of ecstasy came from behind the door. It sounded like Andrew’s voice.
“I don’t even want to know what they’re doing,” Blackout said.
Then came the other sound. It was the sort of sound a child hears in the night and wonders if there’s something under the bed. To Lara, it sounded somehow feline, like a cat in heat mewling beneath one’s window, but there was something else in it, something more feral, more guttural…visceral. Like the cat in heat was six foot tall and playing with someone’s intestinal tract instead of yarn.
“What the hell was that?” Blackout had stopped and was looking back at the door.
They stood, holding their breath, waiting for a confirmation of what they believed their ears had heard. Lara could feel her heart beating a rapid tattoo, felt adrenaline beginning to surge into her system. Her lizard hind brain had approximated that the cat in heat was indeed, likely six feet tall, and while it might not be playing with Andrew’s guts just yet, it wouldn’t be long before it was.
There was another cry of pleasure from Andrew, but this evaporated quickly, was cut off and then Andrew screamed. This time the cat-wail turned into a tiger’s growl, soft and low, but present nonetheless.
“We should call the cops,” Blackout said. “I mean…whips and chains are one thing…but it sounds like she’s got a fucking lion in there with them.”
Lara couldn’t remember doing it, but suddenly she was banging on the door with one hand and trying the door handle with the other.
“Andrew?” she shouted. Apartment doors were opening along the hallway and faces were peeking out to ascertain if they would be canvassed by a police officer within the hour. Seeing that it wasn’t a cop, the doors abruptly slammed shut.
The door was locked, and though she shouted several more times, there was no answer.
“Listen,” Blackout said.
She did. There was utter silence within the apartment.
Lara looked at Blackout imploringly. She needed someone to tell her what to do, this sort of “works well under pressure” hadn’t been what she’d meant on her resume.
“Do the Harry Potter thing again,” Blackout hissed.
Lara gave him an exasperated look. “I have no idea if it’ll work again!”
“Then there’s nothing to lose by trying,” Blackout said.
She grimaced, let go of the door handle and stepped back. “Open Sesame!” she said.
The tumblers in the lock moved, and they heard a click as deadbolt shifted. Lara took a deep breath, grabbed the door handle and thrust the door open.
She had a glimpse of Andrew’s apartment, dim light spilling from a room off to the right of the entryway. The bedroom, she thought. But the smell that came from within hit her olfactory sense like someone had slapped her in the face with a handful of shit, wet animal, ammonia, and underneath it all, a distinct odor like chlorine.
“Andrew?” Lara called, stepping over the threshold into the apartment.
There was a dark blur and an animal scream, a sound which reminded Lara of old Tarzan movies, and then hot, bright pain tore into her legs. She kicked out hard and there was a tearing sensation, and warmth…The dark form was clawing its way onto her despite her struggles.
And then Blackout was there, miraculously, holding something large and red which he smashed down into the darkness. It made a very satisfying tang! noise reminiscent of Warner Brothers cartoons before they were deemed too violent, and the thing whimpered and withdrew. Blackout grabbed Lara around the waist and hauled her into the hallway. The door slammed shut even as Lara’s feet cleared the threshold. Blackout slammed against the door and tried it.
“Locked again.” Blackout said. “Some sort of big cat…that’s sooo messed up. We really need to call the cops.”
“Not…a cat,” Lara manage to say between rapid breaths. “Something…else.”
“I don’t know,” Lara replied. “But it’s not a cat.” She looked down at her legs. She was bleeding freely from several gashes in her legs. “I’m starting to feel dizzy,” she said. “Help me stand. I have to get that door back open.”
“We need to get the HELL out of here and call the cops!” Blackout nearly shouted.
“Help me stand,” Lara said with steely resolve. “Andrew’s still in there with that thing.”
Blackout shook his head and helped support Lara’s weight. She fixed her gaze on the door and whispered, “Open sesame.”
The lock’s tumblers clicked, then flipped. Blackout reached out to open the door, but even as he did, the doorknob and keyhole turned a glowing, bright red. He pulled his hand back in shock.
“It’s hot…” he said. “Like a stove burner.”
“She doesn’t want us to get in,” Lara said.
“Who? The porn star?”
“That was no cat. And she is not a porn star.”
Lara swooned and Blackout caught her in his arms. “We need to get you to a hospital,” she heard him say.
“Not the hospital,” Lara said. “Back to the coffee shop…to the Tree,” and then passed out.