The afternoon sun bathed him with warmth as he lay on the balcony of Apartment 213. He stretched, then rolled over, waiting for the soft breeze to brush on the warmer side. Then, laying his head on his arms, he returned to his nap.
His ears perked at the sound of vehicles stopping on the side of the road. Lifting his head, he peered through the gaps of the balcony rails to watch a tall woman step out of a taxi. He watched as the old lady who visits the house greeted the youthful woman and handed her something.
The woman turned to the men she arrived with.
“Moving company,” he thought, reading the sign on the side of the truck.
He was the only resident of Apartment 213 for many years. It looks like he would have company from now on. He hoped she is not the loud type.
Getting up from the bench he was lounging on, he took his time to walk through the hallway. He stretched his legs and body as he approached the stairs. He was on the last step when the front door opened.
The click of the door being unlocked shattered the peace in his home. Suddenly, there was a flurry of activities—people coming and going to bring boxes and furniture. Then, like a storm, it passed. The moving people left. Then it was just them.
Everything is quiet again in the house.
She still hasn’t noticed him.
He remained seated at the bottom of the stairs, his eyes following her movements. She flitted from one side of the house to another as she took out items from the boxes. She was carrying a flower vase when she finally noticed him.
“Hey there!” Her sweet voice pierced to the quiet of the house. “You must be the housemate Manang Lydia was talking about. I’m Joan.
“I hope you don’t mind sharing the house with me. You would see me a lot since I work at home.”
She continued the one-sided conversation as she unpacked. Her voice was pleasant, not grating like Lydia when she screeched at him. But she was chatty. She droned on and on about things he doesn’t particularly care for.
Then, she displayed a photo of her with a dog.
He hated her already.
But before he realized it, he had been tolerating Joan for a year. Tolerating may be too light of a word since he gravitated towards her from the first night she moved in. He listened and guarded while she slept.
After a while, he wanted to be near her. He would enter her room and pretend to look at the birds hopping on branches, but really, he was watching her work. Her eyes were sharp when she focused on work, and her fingers looked elegant as they clacked through the keys of her keyboard.
She mesmerized him.
And so, when she left for a lengthy trip, he missed her terribly. But when she returned, she was not the same.
Something had happened during that trip. Joan became quiet and poured herself to work.
And she didn’t return alone.
He warded off her company when she arrived with them. But on stormy nights like this, they try to creep in and come near her.
The sound of creaking stairs pulled him from his thoughts while watching the leaves dance in the wind. His left ear tweaked at the sound of a twig snapping outside. He ignored it and focused on listening for any sound inside the house.
The howling wind and the pouring rain outside grew louder, but the house remained quiet. The room’s only light came from the monitors on the desk. It cast the rest of the room in darkness. Lightning flashed, letting eerie shadows creep inside the room.
He glanced at Joan.
The woman remained focused on her work, oblivious to her surroundings. Music filtered through the headphones she was wearing.
“Tch, no wonder she couldn’t hear anything,” he muttered.
He jumped down from his perch on the windowsill and sauntered towards the door. He glanced back at her.
“So oblivious,” he thought.
Then again, it’s better that she is. She didn’t have to hear or witness what was about to unfold.
As soon as the darkness of the hallway engulfed him, he dashed towards the stairs. Shadowy figures with red eyes were climbing up the stairs. In the centuries he lived, he has not encountered creatures like them. They reek of malevolence, but they do not have a form.
“You can’t have her!” he hissed at the creatures climbing up the stairs.
“We have her friends. We can have her too,” their disembodied voices echoed like the howling of the storm.
It has been a month since Joan returned from her vacation, but not once did she speak about what happened. She stopped going out the house or even talking to anyone on her phone or computer. She was awfully quiet.
He didn’t like it.
He wanted the old Joan back—the cheerful Joan.
“I will not let you!” he shouted as he leaped through the air.
The shadows scattered.
“What can a pet kitty like you do?” it sneered.
His fur bristled.
“Would you like to know?” he flashed his fangs as the golden bell on his collar jingled. And then he shifted.
It had been centuries since he needed to turn into his warrior form. He did not need to, but Joan needed Kuroneko’s protection.
Golden armor covered his black coat as his muscle bunch and elongated. A tall, black-skinned man with golden eyes took the place of the cat. His armor shined in the darkness as he flexed his fingers to extend his claws.
It’s time to eliminate these stragglers for good. These sinister creatures would stop at nothing until they took Joan’s soul. For whatever reason, he did not need to know. He just needed to protect her. He was hers to protect.
He swiped his claws, but only slashed through shadows. Until one made a mistake of baring its fangs. And so, he aimed for the head, piercing his claws through the eyes. Then slashing them down to shreds.
He felt proud when the last one vanished. Until he heard Joan scream.
Flying up the stairs into the room, he found one creature hovering over Joan. Shadow engulfed half of her body, pinning her to place, her consciousness ebbing away.
He covered the distance between the door and the middle of the room in one leap. His fangs bared and his claws extended. The creature turned to him and bared its own fangs. It turned to Joan, planning to finish her. But he was quicker. With a precise swipe of his claws, he shredded the creature to pieces.
And as the last threat disappeared, the rain also stopped pouring.
Retracting his claws, he carried Joan and laid her on the bed. When he was sure she’s comfortable, he shifted back to being a cat.
He leaped on the bed and curled next to her. He would wait until she tells him about what happened on the trip. She would have nightmares because of this incident. He would protect her from those too.
“Chico,” he heard her murmur, reaching for him.
He meowed, but he still hates her for naming him after her dog.