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Miles to Go Before I Sleep

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Abe knew Henry wouldn’t approve. Anyone who’d known the man for more than five minutes would agree, but Abe didn’t care. The apartment was in his name, he was seventy years old, and if he wanted to take in a cat he would. Well, kitten.

“Abraham, what in God’s name is that?”

Abe tucked the tiny grey animal closer to him, and stroked his back. “In your long life I would’ve thought you’d seen a cat before.”

Henry’s frown deepened, which Abe considered a victory. His father finished removing his coat and scarf before coming over to examine the bundle in Abe’s arms. “I’m well-aware of what a cat is, thank you. Why is there one in our living room?”

Abe sat back in one of the armchairs, rolling the kitten over to tickle his belly. Henry looked on, unamused. He stood in front of Abe and crossed his arms.

“Abraham…”

“I was taking a walk earlier, and on the way back I found this little guy digging around in some garbage. He was starving and cold, so…”

“So you decided to adopt a stray animal without consulting me.”

“Oh, come on, Henry. Don’t be heartless.” Abe placed the kitten on the arm of the chair in an attempt to display his merit. “He’s very friendly.” As if to prove the fact, the kitten nuzzled his head into Abe’s palm. He mewed softly at Henry. “See?”

Henry dropped into the other chair, narrowing his eyes. Abe knew what was coming next.

“Do you remember the last time we had a pet?”

Abe huffed. “I resent the implication that Miles is anything like that dog was.”

“Miles?”

Abe pointed to the cat, who was now playing with a loose chair thread. “Miles.” He swatted the kitten’s paws before Henry could complain about him ruining the furniture. “We needed to call him something. I named him after Miles Davis.”

Henry drummed his fingers on the armchair. “Is that an actor?”

Abe stared at him.

“Anyway, if you recall, we attempted to have a dog when you were a teenager. It chewed through absolutely everything, relieved itself indoors at least once a day, and you never took care of it properly. Then after a couple of weeks you gave up and passed it on to one of your friends.”

“I was a kid. This is different.” Abe indicated the kitten on his lap. “He needs a home.”

“I don’t see why it has to be our home,” Henry mumbled. He still looked grumpy, but Abe could detect his resolve fading.

“I’ll make you a deal: let Miles stay the rest of the week, and if you don’t love him by Saturday, we don’t have to keep him. I’ll hang a sign in the store window for a free kitten.”

Before Henry could answer, Miles—evidently bored of Abe’s petting—leapt from the chair onto Henry’s leg. He winced as the cat began gnawing on the fabric of his pants.

“He’s sort of rambunctious.”

“I can see that,” Henry said dryly. He brushed Miles off. Undeterred, the kitten started chasing his tail in circles. Henry watched for several moments, then sighed.

Abe knew he had him.

“Fine. Just until Saturday. And you can go out to get a litter box and pet food.” Henry rose from the chair—cautiously side-stepping Miles—and left the room.

Once his father was out of earshot, Abe crouched on the floor in front of the kitten. “Don’t worry—he’ll let you stay. Henry pretends to dislike animals but he’s really a big sucker.” Abe scratched Miles’ neck, prompting the cat to begin purring. He rubbed against Abe’s side, at which point he noted just how soft Miles was. “Oh, you’re definitely going to break him.”

****************************************************************************************************************************************************

When Henry had agreed to Abe’s conditions, he honestly hadn’t expected the kitten to be much of a hassle. Sharing an apartment with a cat for five days certainly wouldn’t be the worst thing he’d ever endured. Not even top one hundred. But Miles was very high-energy—even for a young animal. Abe had called him ‘feisty’ but Henry felt that was too positive a connotation.

After spending most of the day with Abe, the kitten had apparently lost interest in him; he wanted Henry’s attention instead. He humored Miles for the better part of the evening, wiggling yarn around while he read a book. That wasn’t entirely deplorable, he decided. However, by ten o’clock, Henry was more than ready to go to sleep. The kitten was not.

Abe had disappeared into his own bedroom twenty minutes earlier so Miles opted to follow Henry around while he got changed, brushed his teeth, and prepared a lunch for the next day. When Henry got into bed, Miles jumped up after him. Well…tried to. He only made it about halfway before plopping back on the ground. Miles gazed at Henry with wide eyes.

“I am not picking you up.”

The cat meowed pointedly, pawing at the edge of Henry’s comforter.

“Beds are for people, not kittens.”

Miles seemed to understand the message this time, settling on the floor in an unhappy heap.

“Glad we could come to an agreement.”

However, the moment Henry turned his lamp off, Miles proceeded to meow incessantly. Henry tried his best to ignore the sound for a full minute, after which he switched the light back on to glare at the kitten. Miles quieted immediately.

Henry couldn’t say he’d ever had a stand-off with a feline before, but that’s very much what this felt like. The two locked eyes, and instantly Henry knew he was going to lose. Perhaps Abe wasn’t completely wrong; Miles was sort of cute.

“Fine, you can come up. But only for tonight.”

Famous last words.

****************************************************************************************************************************************************

When Henry entered the morgue the next day he was dead on his feet. The words on his glass door were blurring together and Henry wasn’t one-hundred-percent convinced he was actually awake. Had he driven a car into work, there would no doubt be multiple collision victims on his table at the moment.

“Happy Tuesday, Doc!”

Henry winced at Lucas’ cheerful greeting—several decibels louder than was comfortable.

Lucas side-eyed him as Henry walked by. “Long night?” he asked.

Henry merely grunted a response. He didn’t particularly wish to divulge the entire story to Lucas, nor did he care to recollect the aggravation of the previous evening.

After he’d picked Miles up, the kitten had curled in a ball and slept soundly for all of ten minutes. The subsequent hours were characterized by Miles running circles around the mattress, crawling over Henry’s face, and singing a chorus of mews. At least once every forty-five minutes Miles would peek too far over the side of the bed and tumble to the floor. Henry was the relieved the first time—expecting to finally have refuge—but the kitten cried until Henry scooped him up again.

Abe, of course, slept through the entire ordeal. Henry had trudged out of his bedroom fifteen minutes later than usual that morning, only to be met by his son’s chipper offer of coffee. He’d accepted the caffeine—and informed Abe that the cat would be sleeping with him from now on.

“Doctor Morgan? Hello…”

Henry blinked harshly. “Yes, Lucas?”

“Are you okay? You seem pretty out of it, and it’s not even a Monday.”

Henry re-acclimated himself with the present. Morgue. Autopsy. Focus. “I’ll be fine.” He gestured to the deceased on the table between himself and Lucas. “What’s the story here?”

“Right. Ah, Jane Doe. Cops found her last night…”

Henry nodded along to Lucas’ briefing, but his longevity was already waning. The more his assistant talked, the more appealing a nap sounded. He prayed that he wouldn’t be required at a crime scene today. If he were forced to leave the building before five o’clock, Henry feared he might collapse.

Damned cat.

****************************************************************************************************************************************************

That night Henry was prepared. He waited until Abe had Miles distracted with a laser pointer, then slipped into his bedroom. The click of the door signaled victory.

Ordinarily Henry would take time to read, or record notes in one of his journals before sleeping, but he was far too exhausted. It had been a long day. Henry didn’t often use that phrase; he knew better than anyone the length of days never changed. This one had certainly tested that theory though.

The scratching began a couple minutes later. Henry was severely tempted—for the sake of his door—to give in, but flashes of his heinous day restrained him.

Miles was an extremely persistent kitten. Short scratches escalated to long scrapes, and then included hissing. Henry finally got up when he heard a knock.

“Abraham…” He tried to formulate a proper question, but his brain wasn’t cooperating. “Why?”

“I brought him to my room, but he wouldn’t stay.” Abe shrugged in a ‘what do you expect me to do?’ manner. “He wants you.”

Henry had been worried about that. Miles had already developed a fierce attachment to both of them, but the kitten had spent all day with Abe in the shop. “Abe, please. I need some rest and that cat is a menace at night.”

“Oh, he’s not that bad.”

Henry wanted to give a sharp retort about Abe’s definition of ‘bad’ but the whole ordeal was draining energy he didn’t have. He swallowed.

“Come here.” Henry lifted the kitten into his arms, ignoring Abe’s triumphant smile. “If this turns out anything like last night, I will personally deliver Miles to you tomorrow in your cereal bowl.”

“Goodnight, Henry.” Abe bopped Miles on the nose before leaving.

Henry stroked the kitten’s fur as he walked back to his bed, eliciting mews of appreciation from Miles. It was hard to believe such a tiny animal could warrant Henry so much grief.

By the time he plopped the kitten down beside his pillow, Henry had convinced himself that the previous night was a fluke. Miles was in a new place with new people; he’d probably just been overexcited. He seemed calmer now.

Henry situated himself under the covers, relishing the fact he could sleep at last. He allowed himself to give in to the severe fatigue that had plagued him all day. Everything was peaceful, quiet. Then Miles pounced on his head.

****************************************************************************************************************************************************

“Do you think he’s awake?”

“Does he look awake, Lucas?”

“I can’t tell anymore, y’know? Sometimes he just stares off into the distance—and not like his normal spacing out thing. Several minutes at a time. Like his eyes are seeing but not really.”

“Maybe he’s sick?”

“He’s been out of it since Tuesday and I haven’t noticed any other symptoms. No coughing or sneezing or anything.”

Henry groaned. Those two voices were making an awful lot of noise. Couldn’t they see he was trying to…what was he doing?”

“Henry?”

Jo. That was Jo.

“You with us, Doctor Morgan?”

And Lucas. He was at work. What was he lying on?

Henry peeled his forehead off his desk to see two faces peering at him curiously. Or was that concern? He couldn’t tell anymore.

“Good morning, Detective…is it still morning?” Henry fumbled for his pocket watch but couldn’t even get as far as locating his pocket. He rubbed his eyes instead.

“It’s lunchtime, Henry,” Jo replied.

Yes, that edge to her voice was definitely concern.

Turning to Lucas, Jo whispered, “How long was he out?”

Henry presumed the detective hadn’t meant for him to hear that part, but one side effect of not sleeping more than five hours over four consecutive days, he’d discovered, was hyper-sensitive hearing. His brain was thirsting for rest and silence so desperately that every utterance resembled a monkey banging on bongo drums.

By this point Abe was sympathetic (and even slightly guilty) but there was nothing he could do. Miles refused to sleep in Abe’s bedroom, or settle down in Henry’s.

Long story short, he was losing his mind.

“Henry, what’s up with you?” Jo asked. “Something is clearly wrong.”

“Depends on what you consider ‘wrong.’”

Jo and Lucas stared at Henry blankly. He supposed the quickest way to get them out of his office (so he could return to definitely not sleeping) would be to explain.

“Abe and I are housing a cat whom he found on the streets earlier this week. Miles is restless to say the least. Especially at three in the morning.”

Neither person responded for several moments, possibly trying to determine if Henry was being serious or not. Honestly, he was too tired to care.

Jo started laughing.

“Wait,” Lucas sputtered. “You’ve been in total zombie mode all week because of a cat?”

Henry blinked. “Not all week. Just since…” He attempted to count backward on his fingers to determine what day Abe had found Miles, but his vision was swimming.

“Today’s Friday. If that helps.” Jo patted Henry on the shoulder.

He tried to recall when she’d moved to stand on that side of him, but his mind drew a blank. That was happening a lot lately. “Friday? Abe is supposed to hang a sign in the shop for someone to adopt Miles tomorrow. If I don’t—” Henry employed air quotes, “‘—love him’ by then. My so—” Henry barely bit his tongue in time to stop himself was saying ‘son.’ He cleared his throat. “Abe can be remarkably persuasive.”

Jo and Lucas’ confused visual exchange suggested that Henry’s cover wasn’t as smooth as he’d hoped. He needed to end this conversation before his delirium dropped him into a ditch he couldn’t climb out of.

Fortunately, Jo was one step ahead. “Henry, I think you should head home for the day. You’re no use dissecting bodies if you can barely put two thoughts together.”

Lucas nodded frantically in agreement. Henry wondered how long his assistant had been thinking the same thing, but was too hesitant to say so to his boss.

Henry rose to his feet. “I suppose you’re right. I should go tell—” His balance wavered, forcing him to grip the corner of his desk to prevent falling over. This struggle did not go unnoticed by either of his colleagues.

“I’ll take care of it,” Jo assured him. “I’ll just say that you’re sick. Easier than explaining your cat problem.” Her lips quirked upward following her last comment.

Henry briefly wondered if he was ever going to hear the end of this come Monday.

“Thank you, Jo. Lucas.” Henry nodded to each and hurried out of the morgue.

Home was sounding increasingly attractive by the second; perhaps he could get some actual rest away from Miles, as the kitten wouldn’t expect him to be present at this time of day anyway.

Not trusting his current state of cognition on the subway, Henry called Abe from the payphone outside the building. His son didn’t say a word when Henry collapsed into his car—merely grimaced at his physical state.

A few blocks from the store, Abe sighed. “I’ll put that ad in the window. Can’t say we didn’t give it our best shot, but I don’t want to be responsible for you accidentally walking into oncoming traffic in a daze.”

Henry considered mentioning that he did possibly sort of want to keep Miles (the little beast was actually sweet when he wasn’t disrupting Henry’s sleep schedule) but the amount of time it took for him to figure out how to articulate that into English indicated that Abe’s course of action was for the best.

He would miss the kitten though. It was nice having a tiny, curious animal around the apartment. In some ways, Miles reminded Henry of Abe as a toddler. He’d lost plenty of sleep over him too—and every hour had been worth it.

****************************************************************************************************************************************************

Henry did manage a nap that afternoon, but by half past nine he was ready for bed all the same. (The quick recharge hadn’t been enough to put him back at full.) He was vaguely aware of Miles entering the bedroom, but Henry was long gone before the kitten could begin his antics.

****************************************************************************************************************************************************

He was in the asylum. At least he thought he was; everything was blurring together in his mind. Perhaps he was still drowning in the Atlantic—choking back ocean water while his chest burned—and all the events since had been a dream. A product of his hazed mind.

Henry’s head was ripped upwards by hands gripping his hair. He gasped for breath, only to get a mouthful of liquid as another bucket was poured over him.

“Tell me again,” a voice hissed. He did not know the man’s name. “Tell me again!”

He coughed repeatedly. But then the coughing wasn’t his own. Henry saw James sitting before him, holding a blood-stained handkerchief over his mouth. Henry reached for his friend, and suddenly his eyes were dull and lifeless. Dead. James was dead.

“No,” he protested, his voice cracking. “No, no, no.” Men lowered James’ body into the ground. Cold. “Stop!”

Laughter cackled behind him. Not jovial, but cruel, and full of ill-intent. It made Henry’s skin crawl. He turned to see Adam’s face warped in a sick grin.

“Henry,” he scolded. “I warned you about caring. Now look.” Adam pointed to his feet. Abe lay on the ground, eyes closed and pallor ashen grey. Blood was everywhere.

Henry tried to call his son’s name but found his throat too dry for words. His mouth was full of cotton.

“You know who’s next!” Adam shouted, gleefully.

Jo appeared, a gun pressed to her head.

“Trust me, Henry. It’s better this way.” Adam pulled his finger over the trigger…

“Please!” He couldn’t breathe. This was all wrong. This never happened this was all wrong he couldn’t breathe—

Henry’s eyes shot open. He sat up, gasping for air. He was home. In 2015. Safe. Abe and Jo were safe.

“Just a dream,” he mumbled. Every moment had been so real.

Henry was so focused on pacing his breathing that he didn’t notice Miles’ scratchy tongue until it had licked his entire hand. He glanced down at the kitten, surprised.

“Did I wake you?” Miles mewed quietly and rubbed against Henry’s side. “Of course not. You’re never sleeping.”

Henry slowly lowered his head back down to his pillow, too reluctant to close his eyes. His body was shaking.

Miles finished licking Henry and decided to nestle himself into the crook of the doctor’s neck. He was warm, purring. Curious, Henry tried to breathe in time with the soft vibrations. In…out. It was the perfect tempo.

Within minutes Henry felt the pressure in his chest cease. His breaths had slowed to the proper rate; his hands were no longer trembling. He wasn’t terrified.

As he continued to calm down, unconsciousness was pulling Henry back in. He feared for the nature of the rest of his dreams…but the small bundle beside him was somehow a comfort. If Miles could battle nightmares with half the ferocity he showed his toy mouse, Henry was in good hands. Or rather, paws.

Henry drifted off with the kitten’s snores filling his ears…

****************************************************************************************************************************************************

Abe woke up early on Saturday morning. He usually liked to start off his weekends with coffee and fresh cinnamon rolls from the bakery down the street, but today he had another task. The evening before he had set aside poster board and a thick marker to make a sign advertising Miles. He wrote in neat letters:

Free kitten to good home.

Male, grey, 10-14 weeks old.

Please see register for details.

All he needed now was a photo.

With his phone in his hands, Abe crept to Henry’s bedroom, fully expecting his father to be cranky from a night of disturbance. Instead, he found Henry in peaceful, deep sleep. His face looked relaxed for the first time in days. Curled by his side was Miles—equally comatose.   

Abe watched the pair for ages, not quite believing what he was seeing. He’d known Henry was fond of the kitten, but if he couldn’t get any sleep while Miles was around, permanently living with the animal wouldn’t be an option. That problem seemed to have resolved itself.

He quietly backed out of the bedroom, careful to avoid any creaky floorboards. God knows his father needed this rest, and he didn’t want to risk waking Miles either. Better to let sleeping kittens lie.

The poster board—now rendered useless—was crumpled and tossed into the recycling bin. It was too early to open the store yet, so Abe set out on one precise errand. An idea had been bouncing around in his head most of the previous day, but he’d thought he wouldn’t get a chance to give it a try. However, now that Miles had proved that he could sleep through the night, it was only a matter of keeping it that way.

****************************************************************************************************************************************************

If Lucas didn’t know any better, he would say that his boss had been replaced by a doppelganger for a week. An alien, a shape-changing mutant, a hologram. Anything that pointed away from this Doctor Morgan being the same Doctor Morgan who had fallen asleep standing up during an autopsy.

This Doctor Morgan had entered the morgue bright and alert, in as good a mood as ever. He’d even come into work early.

“Good morning, Lucas. Do we have anyone yet today?”

“Um, yeah…” Lucas stumbled out of his seat, indicating a newly-occupied slab.

Doctor Morgan gave the body a diligent once-over, nodding. “Hm. Carbon monoxide poisoning, I suspect. Look at the coloring on the nailbeds. And the pinkish tint of his skin...” He leaned in for a closer examination.

Alert, cheerful, and back to his typical skills of instant deduction. Lucas hoped this wasn’t too good to be true. “So, Doc…feeling better I guess? Did someone else adopt the cat?”

Doctor Morgan stood up straight, shaking his head fervently. “No, absolutely not. Miles is ours. He’s a wonderful pet, as far as kittens go.”

That reply left Lucas completely stumped. If ‘Miles’ prevented Doctor Morgan from sleeping, and said feline was still in the picture, then how…?

“Lucas.” The doctor pulled on a pair of latex gloves, grinning. Actually grinning. “Have you ever heard of catnip?”