BABE IN THE WOODS: Five

Thursday, October 31, 2013: Bronx, NY, USA

Liberty Sou was what the kids in her neighborhood referred to as “the crazy cat lady.” And, oddly enough, they were actually right.

An up and coming folk singer at the turn of the century, she’d become politically active during the pivotal Presidential election of 2004 and had quickly worked her way on to the Department of Homeland Security’s Domestic Terrorism watch list. She spoke out against the President, harshly, at each of her concerts, not an unusual thing in those days, but it was a random quote in a Rolling Stone interview in 2005 in reference to one of his twin daughters – “Of course I know she’s a lesbian. I slept with her in college!” – that landed her squarely in the administration’s line of fire.

At the time, the Presidential offspring were considered even more off-limits than questions about Osama Bin Laden’s whereabouts, the terrorist mastermind that still remained at large four years after his greatest success.

Over the next six months, a shadow division of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, internally code-named Operation LeftRight, monitored Liberty’s every movement, from her morning jogs around Jerome Park Reservoir, to her afternoon coffees at the Daily Grind; her gigs at various downtown folk-friendly bars, to her occasional post-gig hookups with college groupies of both sexes. The size of her file rivaled those of the outspoken actor, Alec Baldwin, and the radical animal rights organization, PETA.

A similarly sized file had been developed for the owners of the four main venues she performed in, the landlords she rented her apartment and recording studio from, the manager of her community credit union, and her parents – an elderly, conservative couple from suburban Ohio. Over the course of a week, 90% of her upcoming gigs were canceled without explanation, she was evicted from both her residence and working space, six checks mysteriously bounced and her credit cards were frozen for suspicion of unauthorized charges.

The worst part was the phone call, though, coming the day before the service was shut off.

“Liberty.”

“Mom? Hey.”

An awkward silence came from the other end, followed by the faintest hint of sobbing in the background.

“Mom?”

“Oh, Liberty.”

“Mom?” Liberty panicked. “What happened? Is Dad okay?”

“As long as he never finds out what you’ve done.”

“Done? Mom, what are you talking about?”

“How could you?”

“Mom, I’m not sure what you’re talking about. I’ve, um, I’ve had a really bad week. What are you talking about?”

“She sent us your pictures.”

“Pictures? What pictures? And who’s ‘she’? What are you talking about?”

Silence, and muffled sobbing.

“Mom?”

“Oh, Liberty. I always hoped you’d turn out better than this. That this…lifestyle, that it was just a phase. What did we do wrong?”

“Mom, what are you talking about?”

“Oh, God, we tried our best. You were the youngest, unexpected, and we were old. But we did the best we could.”

“Um, Mom. You’re freaking me out over here. What are you talking about?”

“Your…your girlfriend sent us your pictures.”

Liberty paused, her breath stuck in her throat. Her parents had no clue about her sexuality, and she didn’t currently have a girlfriend, per se. Not for nearly a year now. Not since Diane.

“My…girlfriend?”

“Your partner? Your lover?” Liberty could almost feel the spittle through the phone. “I don’t know what you people call yourselves these days!”

“Mom!”

“This will kill your father if he finds out. Do you hear me? You being in New York and singing that hateful music was bad enough. This…this will be the death of him!”

“Okay, Mom, calm down. I really have no idea what you’re talking about. What – ”

“Please, Liberty. For once, do something for someone other than yourseld. Don’t call here ever again.”

“Mom – ”

The phone clicked on the other end and the dial tone buzzed rudely in her ear.

Liberty Sou never heard from her parents again.

Her mother had a stroke two days later, falling into a coma and passing away before the week ended. Her father lasted another week, just enough time to put his wife in the ground, before his own grief overwhelmed him and he simply didn’t wake up one morning, his will to live gone.

Two months passed before she found out they’d died, via a letter, possibly the coldest, most impassionate letter she’d ever read, from the family’s lawyer informing her she’d been removed from her parent’s will.

Nine months later, destitute and near-suicidal, her life utterly destroyed, she’d lucked into a reasonably large studio apartment on the northern end of the Grand Concourse, walking distance from her old loft overlooking the Reservoir – all thanks to an unusually well-to-do fan of her music who happened to work at the homeless shelter she’d ended up in, that was disappointed by her “retirement” and hoped a place to live might help her reconsider.

Liberty adopted her first cat a few months later, on the anniversary of her mother’s death, and named it in her honor, Miss Mary. She returned to the animal shelter a week later to adopt another, christened Poppa J, for her father.

Seven years later, at the same moment Anthony DiBlanco was being ripped limb from limb by a pair of high school classmates turned flesh-eating zombies, there were a total of 33 cats sharing her apartment with her, each one named for someone from her previous life, each one letting out a blood-curdling howl in tandem with Anthony’s final breath.


The studio apartment had originally been a smallish one-bedroom that its owner, a painter of minor renown, had completely gutted, installing a small, utilitarian kitchen and bathroom and a large walk-in closet. The walls of the main room were painted a bright, eye-popping red and the sparse furnishings were all black, most with random patterns of gray, brown and white highlights from the cat hair that lightly coated everything like fresh dusting of snow.

Two minutes before the cats let loose with their group howl, Liberty had been sleeping on the lumpy futon couch that normally doubled as her bed, in four relatively simple movements that she’d lost her ability to perform a couple years before, doing no small amount of damage to her back or her ability to get a decent night’s sleep.

She’d been deeply immersed in a dream, one that featured herself, her last significant other and a man she didn’t recognize, running through a forest. They were being chased, she assumed, though by what she wasn’t sure. In the dream, she was much more able-bodied than in real life, and she was armed with what she thought might be a machete which was covered in what seemed to be blood. Her breathing was heavy, but in a healthy, adrenalized way; nothing like the wheezing, asthmatic she was in reality.

The machete oddly felt right in her hand, like she used it frequently, and was good at it.

In the dream, she was watching everything happen from two perspectives: her own, and a birds-eye point of view, though not an omniscient one. She was impressed by how fit she looked, how young and vibrant and completely self-confident. It reminded her of when she used to perform onstage, holding audiences in the palm of her hand with the words she’d written and the chords her nimble fingers coaxed from her guitar. Her voice was the husky kind, the kind that gets you labeled as a vocalist as opposed to singer, perfect for the somber lyrics and mid-tempo rhythms she preferred.

As they ran through the forest, her attention shifted to Diane, two years younger and her physical opposite. Where Diane was tall and slender, Liberty was short and compact. Diane’s hair was long – longer than she remembered, actually – and an almost super-natural deep blue-black, while Liberty’s was cropped close and dyed a bright orange.

The dream wavered momentarily, segueing into memory, as Liberty pictured every curve and every swell, her scent and taste filling her brain and raising the hairs on her arms as she slept. She’d shifted on the futon at that point, and the dream returned, this time focusing on the man she didn’t recognize and couldn’t quite picture.

There was something familiar about him, but she couldn’t figure out what. Of the three of them, he seemed the least comfortable with whatever it was they were doing; cautious, though not hesitant, in his movement.

At that point, she realized they weren’t running from anything, but instead, were running after something. And whatever it was, it was crashing through the brush just ahead of them, trying to get away but they were closing in fast. She noticed the man was also carrying a machete, as was Diane, and both were covered in blood.

They broke into a clearing simultaneously, the figure ahead now fully illuminated in the moonlight, and she realized it was a man. Looked like a man was more like it, as something wasn’t right about him, his movements spastic and his limbs working at off angles as he ran.

Before she could figure it out, though, she was distracted by Diane’s scream, a bone-tingling war cry unlike anything she’d ever heard come from a person’s mouth.

And then the cats were howling and the hairs on the back of her neck were standing at attention and her heart was pounding and she was sitting up, back straight and tense, eyes wide and unblinking, absolutely certain that the end of the world was near.

All of her cats were circled around her, staring at her, heads cocked to the side as if they were listening for something. Or waiting for something.

Liberty’s mind grasped at the rapidly fading tendrils of her dream, feeling each one slip through her fingers before locking on to something. Diane’s face.

And her primal scream.

She jumped up from the couch and was momentarily alarmed when the cats didn’t so much as flinch, 33 pairs of eyes staring at her intently, eerily intelligent and full of questions.

“Diane,” she said out loud, her voice crackling dryly. “I have to find Diane.”

The cats let loose with a chorus of meows, as if speaking up in agreement with her.

“Aye,” they seemed to be saying. “Diane has the answers.”


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