Melanie sat back in her chair and closed her eyes to the sound of the kiln. She had taken a week off from teaching her pottery classes, which were taught in her backyard studio barn. Briefly, she thought of Zack.
Her hand slid up the inside of her thigh. Her toes dug into the dirt floor. She listened to the kiln, pumping heat, baking her newest project. The last time she had seen Zack alone, they had been here in front of the kiln. Her ears buzzed with excitement.
Melanie was almost satisfied. Thinking of Zack, no matter how things had ended, was always somewhat arousing. That day they had left a path of destruction in their wake, making their entanglement more crazed. A crash came from behind her. Melanie straightened up. It was only Theo, she thought. As she closed her eyes, Zack’s eyes flashed in front of her. The recollection of them rattled down her spine. It was only the reflection of something in the window. Maybe even something from outside. Whatever it was, they were gone to the dark now. A cry escaped her as she shuddered. Zack’s eyes, oddly similar to Theo’s, had gotten her over the edge.
The sound of something dragging caught her attention. That damned cat, Melanie thought as she began to sit up, must’ve gotten a mouse. She felt bad for being mad at Theo. The potential mouse also had her sympathies. Melanie adjusted her pajama shorts, pulling the legs down and the waistline up. It wasn’t the cat’s fault that things with Zack had ended; outside of their eyes the two had nothing to do with each other. But those eyes. Cold and calculated. Bright and warm. Like a galaxy, dark with brilliant flecks of blue and greens.
Melanie walked over to the kiln and peeked through the window. The colors were starting to change in response to the heat. Red shadows danced around it. Dark patches covered it. For a second she forgot about Theo and the mouse. She heard another crash, smaller and further away. Turning around, Melanie looked into her memories. A shattered jug covered the floor. Large chunks splotched with blood. A scream caught in Melanie’s throat.
The sound of something cutting through the dirt brought her back. She choked on her scream. Closing and opening her eyes she looked at the woven throw rug covering the dirt floor. There was no broken jug and no blood. At least not yet. She was being ridiculous. If she didn’t find where Theo was hiding with his new plaything, Melanie was sure there would be actual blood around her barn.
Theo had been Melanie’s cat for thirteen years, and if there was anything that could turn his head it was her homemade nibblers. Made from fresh tuna Melanie bought weekly from the fish market, her tuna nibblers were Theo’s favorite. Reaching up, Melanie grabbed a small handful from the cabinet above the sink.
Melanie sprinkled two or three treats in clusters. Moving with television-cop-drama precision, she made her way out from the sink and the crafting area back to the kiln, and across to the welcome area. Her hope was that Theo was half hiding under the couch. As she moved, a thin line in the dirt caught Melanie’s eye. No paw prints dotted either side. Most unusual was that there were no prints at all.
Following the line, Melanie walked back toward the kiln area. A wall made from clay blocks sat behind her rocking chair separating the welcome area from the heat. Melanie had crafted each and every block herself. It had taken a while but it was exactly what she wanted. Melanie rested her hand on the hook where her shovel and rake hung. The rake was on the floor, but the shovel was missing.
Melanie buried her head in her hands. Running them over her face she fought her rising sense of panic. Theo was hiding somewhere with a mouse. That was all. Her new jug was firing in her kiln. And the shovel wasn’t missing. Melanie had distractedly left it somewhere. That was all.
The front door of the barn rattled. Melanie jumped backward away from the wall. Turning on her heel she jogged to the door. Pulling it tightly closed, she threw the bolt across it. A chill ran through her body. The heat from her kiln overheated the barn, but Melanie felt the need for a sweatshirt. Grabbing one off the rack, Melanie tugged it down over her head and looked at the couch, pulled away from the wall and topped with strange, dirty slippers. Theo’s claw marks extended out from underneath. Melanie traced them to the door.
Melanie’s heart sank. Panic began to run through her. Debating what to do, Melanie returned to her rocking chair and took a large gulp of her warming white wine. The awful aftertaste was worth the distraction. Zack had long since left the picture. The restraining order has ensured that. He was too young. Wanted too much control over her. While the sex and the art they made had been amazing, it wasn’t worth the inevitable nightmare. Melanie stared off. It was onto bigger and better things – new jugs, new experiences, and some new students.
Something moved outside. Melanie dropped her wineglass as something shattered the window. Theo landed on the wet shards of glass. A rope secured around his neck. His eyes, once electrifying, were impaled. Blood caked around the side of his head. Frozen from fear and shock, Melanie’s breath caught in her throat as she heard a man’s voice, “should have kept better eyes on your pussycat there.” Melanie rushed to the window. A figure disappeared into the bushes, Melanie’s sanity along with it.