She stood, seemingly silhouetted against the darkening sky, singularly standing out amongst the few other people in the park around her. As he gazed, he seemed to notice the squirrels and cygnets vaguely close to her as if they were there to highlight the girl's presence. Her long, curly black hair fell about her shoulders in slight disarray so that she looked almost a little wild. No. Wild was the wrong word. She looked ... natural. Like she was meant to be there; like her home was in among those trees with a family of rabbits as her neighbours.
Perry didn't know what was wrong with him. He was never this sentimental... at least, not when the sun was out. Sweeping the soft, pink-tinged thoughts away with skilled ease, he silently approached, like a wisp of cloud moving swiftly in front of the moon.
"Lovely evening, isn't it?"
Maeve nearly jumped out of her skin. She looked around but couldn't see anyone. The voice had been low and musical and Maeve half wondered if she'd imagined it.
But then it came again, carried on a light breeze which played with her already tangled curls.
Maeve turned in the direction of the voice and saw a handsome young man with dark brown hair and eyes which were an interesting shade of green: dark like fir trees. He was leaning against a tree a few feet away from her. She was instantly nervous. She should have gone home; she shouldn't have let the serenity of nature envelop her. She couldn't feel safe outside of her home or school: the world was a dangerous place.
"I need to get going, sorry," she said, trying to appear calm, which was hard because her heartbeat was still slightly elevated from the initial shock.
She started to turn but the man's voice halted her in her tracks.
Reluctantly and not quite sure why she wasn't just continuing on her way, she turned back.
"Yes?" she asked hesitantly.
The man was now standing up straight. Alarm bells were ringing in Maeve's head but she couldn't seem to move.
Heart in mouth, she watched as he moved towards her.
"You dropped your watch," he said, smiling.
Oh. False alarm. Tentatively, Maeve reached out and took back her watch.
And swish. One tiny mental push. The girl was his now. Maeve, her name was.
Perry smiled. Time to enjoy the source of the beautiful scent filling his nostrils.
He led her over to the tree where he'd been standing previously and cloaked them with shadows. He briefly indulged in the sensation produced from the movement of his lips against her skin. And then, he feasted.
Sip, swallow, sip, swallow, sip... Wait. Something was different about this girl.
Oh no! It couldn't be... could it? Could he really be that unlucky?
Perry gently extricated his fangs from Maeve's neck. Half annoyed, half afraid, he muttered some words and great, black leathery wings similar to those of a bat except about a hundred times the size appeared, protruding from his back.
Without hesitation, he took the girl in his arms and flew to a land where everything was blue. He alighted on beautiful sapphire-coloured grass and a bizarre transformation took place: Perry and the girl became large felines. Perry let go of Maeve and sat sphinx-position on the ground before resignedly waking her up.
But suddenly, she was no longer in the park. She was in an absurdly blue meadow. And her body felt strange: different, somehow. Did she have a fifth limb?
Stunned and fearful, she closed her eyes and counted to ten.
When she opened them again, the world was still weird. Perhaps she was dreaming. But she had just been in the park. Accepting her watch from that guy...
‘Oh my goodness! The guy,' she thought, panicked. ‘He's drugged me: given me some sort of hallucination somehow. I'm going to start seeing weird things - monsters, scary people, evil fairies! ...'
‘Oh quieten down, will you?' interrupted a weary-sounding voice.
Maeve recognised it as the man's. She couldn't see him so she shouted "What have you done to me?!"
Except that it didn't come out in her normal voice. All she heard was a loud snarl. She felt a lash of that odd fifth limb like the gesture of a whip.
"Wh-what's happening to me?" she asked, terrified. This translated to an inhuman whimper - something like a meow - in the physical world.
There was a sigh - not her own.
‘You're dreaming.' The voice was calm and logical, and almost like the rationality she needed from her own brain.
Maeve calmed down slightly, though she was still tense.
"I - I just have to accept this, then?" she questioned.
‘Yes,' replied the voice.
Okay, she felt a lot better now. Somehow, being told this situation was inevitable gave Maeve peace.
‘So, what's going on?' Clear and serene, she realised her actual voice was being transmitted as thought. That seemed to make sense: a great sign. She could deal with things now.
‘You're a snow leopard, lying in a blue meadow. I'm an omniscient panther.'
Maeve stood up, feeling the difference in her legs: of which she had four now; and all her muscles. She sensed she could do some powerful damage with her massive paws. She looked around and her breath caught in her throat as she spotted the most beautiful creature she had ever seen in her life.
A sleek, long body that made you want to stare and stare: a body you could never get tired of admiring. A graceful tail: caressing to the eyes like it must be to the skin. Silky black fur with faintly visible leopard markings that Maeve longed to run her fingers through. Beautiful black eyes.
Its features seemed to melt into the sea around it. The sea of blue...
‘Hang on,' Maeve thought, puzzled. ‘I thought cats could only see in black and white.'
‘It's a dream,' the panther reminded her patiently.
‘Oh of course. Sorry, it's just so vivid. And I guess the fact it's a dream explains why you sound like the man in the park.'
The panther stiffened. ‘Yeah, I guess,' he replied hesitantly.
‘How odd this all is...'
‘Well, that's dreams for you,' he said briskly. ‘Now, the next stage of the dream is pretty complicated so you need to listen to me carefully.'
‘Okay,' Maeve murmured solemnly.
The panther stood and stretched: the movement pure rapture to watch.
And then it walked towards her. Maeve's heart began pounding furiously and she wasn't quite sure why. Surely she wasn't afraid, being a snow leopard. She still felt human, though: that could explain it. But there was something of awe in her reaction to him. She was intrigued and ... excited by him.
To her utter bewilderment, the panther began to walk around her, scanning her body or her fur for something. She stood motionless, wondering what on earth he was looking for. He stopped just behind her left ear. His breath tickled her fur.
‘Um, what are you doing?' she asked: the thought almost stammered due to his proximity to her.
‘Back of the neck,' he muttered mysteriously. To her, he said ‘Don't let Fate touch the back of your neck. In fact, don't let her touch any part of you. But it's especially important that she doesn't touch the back of your neck. You got that?'
‘Fate's coming?' Maeve asked in disbelief. ‘But how do you know?'
‘I told you: I'm the omniscient panther.'
‘When's my birthday?' she tested him.
‘25th January. Now pay attention. Fate's coming and if you don't wish to be doomed for the rest of your days, there are certain things you have to do: certain characteristics you have to adopt. You're already doing something right but you absolutely have to succeed everywhere else.'
Maeve was confused. Still reeling from the shock of the panther's knowledge of her birthday (for he had indeed been right), she took longer than she might have otherwise done to process the words of the "omniscient panther".
‘Okay...,' she thought slowly, once she had absorbed the information. ‘One, why does it matter so much if this is a dream; two, why does this seem to have no link to any aspect of my experiences; and three, what am I already doing right?'
The panther hesitated. After a few seconds, he answered her.
‘Firstly, it matters because this dream is particularly realistic and all realistic dreams involving danger have a sense of urgency about them, not to mention can turn out to be nightmares - you really don't want one of those. Secondly, all I can suggest is that some idea somewhere has combined with a few random others and grown and developed into this. Also, it's not totally lacking physical inspiration: you mentioned the man in the park.'
‘Yeah... I really don't get how I fell asleep. And when did this happen? Where am I?' Maeve froze. ‘What if he's taken advantage of me? Oh no!'
‘You're at home,' the panther interrupted. His tone had become caressing: reassuring: hypnotic. ‘When you wake up, you'll find yourself lying on your bed and you'll wonder why you ever worried.'
Maeve sighed, relieved. ‘Thank you,' she murmured. ‘I wish you were real instead of a part of my subconscious: I bet we'd make great friends.'
Perry sighed too. He'd almost given the girl his word that he wasn't going to let her know she wasn't dreaming after all. He didn't know what had happened to him: she was just a human girl. But of course, she was...
No, let Fate decide that. She'd be here shortly. For the moment, he'd have to keep playing the part of the ‘omniscient panther'. What a ridiculous thing to call himself. Oh well, he didn't fancy using a lot of mind control on Maeve. He felt he owed the girl respect. Plus, she couldn't exactly help what was happening to her. Nobody could.