Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged.
Original characters and plot copyright Richard J. Lobinske. 2007.

This story was written for The Angst Guy's 2007 Halloween challenge and occurs prior to and during the Falling into College story, Bump in the Night.

Richard Lobinske

A Home at Summer's End

The young black cat poked her white nose around the base of a dumpster behind the student residence hall of Boston Fine Arts College. The autumn air was cool, even in the mid-afternoon. The warm breezes of summer were gone, along with her childhood.

Amid the smell of stale beer, rancid pizza and decomposing ramen noodles, she followed the scent of a mouse. With slow, patient steps, she advanced one white forepaw, then the other toward the mud and rust covered wheel of the dumpster, and the prey's tail visible just beyond.

The sudden, agonized shriek of another cat stopped her advance and panicked the mouse, which scampered away. The cat turned and bounded back down the alleyway to the student parking garage. Just inside the entrance, she ran past a red car waiting to get onto the busy street. She then stopped at the sight of her sister's twisted body thrown against a concrete support. After a plaintive meow, the black cat carefully went to the other and nudged the tortoise-patterned fur on her sister's face with her white-furred nose. Fur that was just like their mother's. The limp roll of her sister's head told the black cat what she feared; the last of her family was gone.

Unable to face the pain of seeing her dead sister, the black cat let out a soft, sad meow, looked a final time, and darted away to find someplace to be alone.

Crouched in a corner of the loading ramp of BFAC's exhibit hall, the black cat felt the growing chill of the wind even through her black fur. She missed her family, from her doting, mother to her two sisters and brother. Life on the streets of Boston was harsh; even the relatively safe area around the college campus wasn't protection against life's dangers.

As a kitten, she'd felt pity for the other cats she had seen inside the humans' great buildings, always looking out in wonder. Then, she couldn't imagine how they could live as prisoners when the wide world was so close. Now, she wondered who should have pitied whom. Those cats were safe, warm and well-fed, while she shivered, hungry, cold and alone.

The cat started as a car appeared and backed up to the loading ramp. When it stopped, several young people piled out with boxes and bags, stacking them on the loading ramp while laughing and seeming to have a good time. The many wonderful smells reminded the cat of her hunger and the need to hunt. The single lizard she'd consumed that morning wasn't nearly enough for the day.

That thought was diverted when the great door behind her opened and warm air rolled over her from within. Within a few moments, the college students were carrying their food inside. Without a second thought, the cat merged into the shadows and followed them.

The exhibit hall was a cacophony of sounds and a confusing array of lights and strange sights. The poor cat soon lost track of the food as the sensory overload became more than she could bear. Following her instincts to climb away from danger, she hopped up an angled ladder and to the comparative dark and quiet of the lighting grid above the hall. After a few minutes to calm down, she started to explore this strange place.

The grated walkways reminded her of the small platforms with ladders and stairs near many human dwellings. Places she had been when she had seen the other cats through the window. Sometimes, she'd seen the humans inside petting the other cats, who seemed to like the attention. The black cat knew that she enjoyed rubbing her fur against things from time to time.

Noticing an object on the edge of the walkway that shone a bright light downward, she brushed against it, causing the unit to swivel a little and shift the shining light around among the decorations and people below. Feeling slightly better, the cat moved along to explore more, but took time to rub against more lights as she encountered them.

While exploring, the cat looked down at the many humans mingling below. The sights, sounds and smells all seemed to say that they were happy and secure. She crouched and thought of the stories she'd heard of cats adopting humans and thought that maybe those cats she'd seen in the windows were not prisoners after all.

A moving light captured her attention. One of the humans, holding a flashlight, was climbing up the ladder to the scaffolding. The cat trotted toward the human, thinking that maybe she could adopt it. It took a couple minutes to wind her way over to the human clad in odd, dark clothes and something covering its head.

When the human shone its light toward the cat, it jerked back and shouted, "Ack!" When she tried to get closer, it dropped the light and half-crawled, half ran back to the ladder and climbed down as quickly as possible, skipping the last couple of rungs as it jumped to the floor.

The disappointed cat watched as it backed away from the ladder and past several other humans gathered around a table of food. After exchanging several words, the one wearing a white cloth and what seemed like unbelievably small wings looked up and said something that caused the others to throw small items of food at it, though there seemed to be no malice in the act. She decided she liked them. They liked to play with their food; maybe they would like something like a mouse or a rat to play with.

Sniffing the air slowly to catch the faintest hint of something more than the many scents rising from below, she detected the presence of rat. Shifting into stalking mode, she slowly started patrolling the grid, listening and smelling, following her prey.

The rat was crafty and agile, giving the black cat a challenge. It knew the scaffolding and frames of the hall overhead, the support brackets and cables. Finally, she had a line to pounce as the rat stopped to sniff at a cup absent-mindedly left on a light control panel. When she leapt, the rat jumped away, spilling the cup over the board. The soda soon reached a sensitive circuit which shorted out with a "pop" and bright blue flash. A small cloud of smoke rose as all the lights within the hall flickered out.

Intent on the hunt, the cat ignored the flash and finished her lunge, catching the rat with both forepaws. Quickly, she bit down on the squirming animal's neck, crushing the spine, delivering the killing motion. While a live catch would be more entertaining, she wanted to make sure she got it down to the humans, so she opted for a quick kill.

Carrying the rat in her mouth, the cat walked toward the ladder, instinctively watching for anything that may try to steal her well-earned prey. As she neared the ladder, two humans holding strange sticks that glowed green came up. They missed her and picked up the dropped flashlight before heading to the shorted control panel. Just as she reached the ladder, one of them said, "Who the hell left a soda on the board?!"

Balancing the rat, the black cat climbed down the ladder with a soft thump as she landed on each rung. The closest human was a female wearing black and orange, standing next to the male wearing white. The female whispered, "Please go get one of those light sticks." The male stepped away and though the cat still felt the pain of losing her sister, she also knew it was her best chance not to be alone. As she approached, the cat could feel a sense of attachment. That human was the one.

The cat gently walked around the woman's foot, rubbing her fur against the human's ankle. The human seemed to tense, but held still, so the cat laid the rat on the floor and settled onto the human's feet.

The male returned with a glowing stick and giggled. He said, "Now we know what was going bump in the night."

Just as the cat looked up at the woman, the auburn-haired woman looked down. The cat softly meowed at the woman and was rewarded with her reaching down to pick her up.

From above, one of the humans said, "Okay, I've got it cleaned up. Throw the breaker." After a second, the lights came back on.

The woman, wearing strange, tiny windows over her eyes, said, "Hello, Bump."

Several of the other humans came over. The first was a woman that looked like she was dead, who said, "It looks like you've been adopted."

A black-haired woman in a black, form-fitting suit said, "And gifted. I think it likes you."

The woman holding the cat said, "I think so." She then looked at the dead rat and said, "While your gift is appreciated, no more of them will be necessary."

A blue-haired woman wearing a very strange (and small) pair of metallic garments looked at the two men coming back along the scaffold. She said, "Cal, it looks like we found your fearful beastie. It's kind of cute."

The warmth of the arms holding her reminded the cat of how she felt with her mother. Happy, she began to purr.

The woman said to her, "Okay, Bump. I need to scrape together a pet deposit for Mrs. Lyndon so you can stay in the apartment."

Bump nuzzled the underside of Daria's chin and meowed. She had found a home.

Thanks to Louise Lobinske, Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan, Mr. Orange and Martin Pollard for beta reading.

September, 2007