Felisa was sitting in the Sneaky Vole, eating some bread and cheese. She was dividing her time between the Theater and the Vole as the whim took her, waiting. Waiting for… something. She wasn’t sure what yet, but she was sure it would come.
She tensed a little as she heard soft footfalls approaching, then relaxed as Arnold’s familiar form came around a corner of a crate wall. She swallowed her mouthful of food and said, “Hello, Arnold.”
Arnold looked a bit surprised to see her there. “Hi,” he replied after a pause. “I was looking for Tepic.” He tossed his hat to the floor.
“I haven’t seen anyone here this afternoon,” Lisa replied.
“He comes in at his own times. I’ll speak with him when he does.”
Lisa nodded. “He’s probably out checking his traps.”
“Or milking voles,” Arnold replied a little sourly. “Or thinking how to break into the asylum.”
Lisa blinked, startled at that last phrase. “Why would he want to do that?”
“He was there on Thursday when we found out what Canergak intends to do with one of the inmates. He wants to help Rasend however he can. Knowing him, I figure he’s planning to break in. If not… well, I was hoping he would.”
Lisa, listening to this, put a few things together and fixed Arnold with a sharp eye. “If you see Tepic, tell him I might like to help.”
“To break into the asylum?” Arnold was surprised at Lisa’s words, and her nod. “Why would you want to? What have you heard?”
“Heard? A little. And what you are carefully not saying makes me think this Rasend is in a situation like I was with Ambrose.”
“It’s…not quite the same. Rasend was set for destruction before Canergak brought him here. And when he’s done with him he intends to do the same.” He paused. “Or is that the same?”
“Enough the same. Ambrose was going to kill me.”
Arnold shook his head, but decided to change the subject. “Lisa… did i tell you why I started working at the asylum?”
“After Henri Metier attacked in the summer, before he became a spirit…he was a madman that attacked the town. I wanted to put people like him away from everyone else, maybe help people. I had no money to do that, though. Canergak did. And he has his own reasons for… well, everything he does at this point. He wanted to hire Dr. Maddox, and I was just her assistant.
“So that’s how I started there. I agreed to work for him, but in truth I wanted to keep an eye on him. He openly told me when we first met he wouldn’t mind cutting me open.”
Lisa couldn’t restrain a hiss at that. Arnold continued, “The point is, I was there to keep an eye on him and prevent him from killing the patients. That’s not possible anymore.”
Lisa frowned. “Why not?”
“Yesterday Dr. Solsen fired me. Well, sent me on a mandatory leave.”
“Did he say why?”
“For my own good.” Arnold pitched his voice in a sarcastic sing-song. “‘The place won’t crumble if you’re not here. Go out and relax before you end up in a straight jacket yourself.'”
“Well, in one way, I agree,” Lisa said. “You do take so much on yourself. Too much.”
Arnold frowned. “I know that. But this is one of those times I wish he and everyone else would stop being right.”
Lisa couldn’t help but smile a little at that. And suddenly, she realized what she’d been waiting for. “Well, if you can’t stand being idle, I have a thought.” Arnold looked at her, ears perking. “I need to learn to read and write. I thought perhaps you could teach me, if you’re willing.”
Arnold was quiet for a few moments. Finally, he asked, “Are you sure? It was one of the hardest things I learned when I was…acclimating.”
Lisa nodded. “If I’m to stay in this body the rest of my life, I need to learn, and find a way to support myself.”
“It’s better than being in a factory, I suppose.” Arnold sighed. “All right. Would you want to be in a school? Or just here?”
“Oh, here, I think.” Lisa winced inwardly, thinking about trying to fit in at a school, with children younger than she was, children who would have a lifetime of experience as humans, and would be so quick to see and comment on the things she didn’t know that they knew as a matter of course.
“I can find a few easy books for you somewhere. But we’ll start when I can find something. I can’t say I bring paper with me everywhere I go.” He thought for a moment. “See me here every day starting Monday. We’ll see how it goes.”
“Do you know why I decided to learn to read?” Arnold continued. “I didn’t want to at first.”
Lisa cocked her head to one side. “Why?”
“When I found out that everyone else was able to identify what something was from far away, without sniffing it. Giant signs saying what something was and where to find it. Suddenly it didn’t seem completely useless.”
“Yes, I’ve been wishing for that, too. Among other things.”
“There’s a lot of uses. I just think it’s something a cat, or anyone, could get by without ever learning. But…that’s me.”
“If everyone was like that… yes. But humans have it, and I’m human now. I need to at least try to be like them.”
Arnold nodded. “I’ll help you acclimate, as best I can.”
He fixed her with a slightly stern eye. “Just don’t lose what makes you cat either.”
Lisa smiled. “My family will make sure of that.”
“Well then, unless you have something you want to ask me, I think I’ll leave Tepic a note and head out.” He began rooting around the small table. “No paper…” he muttered.
“No, nothing else.” Lisa watched Arnold as he used a claw to write a short note on a Babbage City Ales sign hanging on the wall. “He’ll get another,” he said wryly, and headed for the maze of crates to leave.
“See you Monday,” Lisa said after him.