By modern standards, the house was quiet. There was the hum of the refrigerator and the occasional whirring of the hard drive in the family computer. The furnace would periodically roar to life to maintain the home at the perfect nighttime temperature, and a forgotten cell phone would beep and ding intermittently, as neglected alerts clamored for attention — but, overall the house was quiet.
Chris hadn’t slept in the same bed as his wife since the birth of their third child nine-and-half years earlier. This nocturnal separation wasn’t the result of some marital rift or a symptom of a stubborn, passive-aggressive negotiation style. It was the reality of having a young family. Plus, both Chris and his wife Michelle slept better separately.
Tonight, Chris couldn’t get comfortable. Something was nagging at him — something deep in the recesses of his mind. But, he couldn’t articulate it.
He tried to think what he could be forgetting, what he could be overlooking. Was it something at work? Did he have an appointment? Had Michelle asked him to do something? Was he supposed to do something for one of the kids? His uncertainty echoed in his brain until it became a clanging anxiety.
His focus on his unknowable worry began to fade as sleep started to overtake him. The outside motion lights flashed and yanked him into full consciousness.
He figured it was one of the neighbor’s animals, probably some cat. But, since he was awake, he might as well make sure. He parted the blinds and peeked out onto the front lawn. Staring back at him was a large dog.
No, it wasn’t a dog. It was a cat.
No, not a cat.
It was a cougar.
Standing on the edge of the grass near the porch, the cougar stared at Chris without even a quiver.
He went out onto the porch, and the creature turned around and trotted off away from the reach of the lights. As it neared the boundary between the visible and the unknowable, the cougar turned its head and glared at Chris over its shoulder.
The cougar’s eyes connected with Chris’s. For an instant, Chris thought he heard a woman laughing. Like the way his wife used to laugh when they would flirt. But, the laughter wasn’t audible. He heard it in his mind. Then cougar broke contact, turned its head and disappeared.
Chris shuddered. He needed sleep.
He went back inside, locked the door, checked it twice, and fell into a deep sleep.
Chris staggered towards the kitchen the next morning. While in the hall he heard his children laughing and speaking with mouths full of milk and soggy cereal while his wife gently reminded them they needed to hurry up and get ready for school.
“You look horrible,” Michele said as Chris entered the room.
“Thanks.” He smiled. “Rough night. I couldn’t sleep. You know I think I saw a cougar out front.”
The laughing stopped, and all three kids responded “Really?” at the same time, spraying the counter with droplets of milk and bits of masticated grains.
Chris and Michelle both chuckled.
“Eat!” Michele said again, a little firmer than before.
The children dipped their spoons back into their bowls while their eyes remained focused on their dad, begging for an answer.
“Really.” He answered. “Do you think I should call someone?”
Michelle was loading the dishwasher. Without looking up, she said, “Didn’t you see the email from the homeowner’s association this morning? There have sightings of that cougar all over the area. They want everyone to keep their pets inside at night.”
“Oh,” Chris said as he sat down and poured himself some cereal.
The kids all wanted a full account of the cougar sighting. Chris gleefully complied, telling them every detail, only omitting the strange voice he had experienced. He wasn’t sure if that had really happened anyway.
When night came again, Chris went through his standard routine. He tucked in the children, locked all the doors, closed all the windows, and turned off all the lights.
Only then did he retire to his bed in the den.
He opened his book only to realize he was too tired to read. He laid the book down and immediately fell asleep.
He heard a woman’s voice calling to him.
“Chris. Chris. Chris.” She repeated in a raspy, distant tone.
“Can I help you?” He said.
“Come join me?”
“Join you where?”
“Join me.” The voice was full of authority.
Chris felt himself being pulled away from his bed, through the walls of the den and outside. He saw the cougar, its eyes once again staring right at him. He returned the stare, trying to match the intensity of its glare.
Chris was pulled in through the eyes.
Chris blinked. His head was spinning. He felt nauseous.
“Give it a moment. The confusion will pass. The woman said.
“Where am I?” Chris asked. “What have you done to me?”
His tensed his muscles, but instead of his arms tensing, his legs, all four of them, tensed. He also sensed a tail and was in a crouch.
“You are with me.” The woman said.
“Are you the-the cougar?” Chris asked.
“No. I am Lina. I am inhabiting the cougar with you.”
“This is a weird dream.”
The same laughter from the night before echoed in Chris’s mind.
“This is not a dream fellow traveler. You have just projected your consciousness.”
“Projected? How? I’ve never done anything like that before. I don’t even believe in it.” Chris said.
“Not all mortals have the ability. It is a rare gift.” Lina said.
“Okay. I want to wake up now.”
Lina laughed once more.
“Let me explain it this way. The ability to project your consciousness is the result of a specific genetic mutation and the right conditions. It is not much different from being an elite athlete or gifted scientist. You have the right genetics. I am just giving you the right conditions.”
“So, you and I are both inside of this animal?”
“Yes. Your consciousness, my consciousness, and the cougar’s consciousness all inhabit this body for the time being.”
“I can’t hear or sense the cougar,” Chris said.
“That’s because the animal’s consciousness is weak. It is not strong like yours or mine. Reach out and feel the cougar around you. You have access to its thoughts and its body.”
Chris wasn’t sure what was happening, but he felt strangely compelled to obey the voice — to obey Lina.
He relaxed. He started to feel like a cougar. He could see sharply, even in the dark. New smells flooded in — things he had never smelled before. He tried to walk and found his movements fluid and graceful.
“Yes. Now open your mind up all the way.” Lina said.
Chris again obeyed and was flooded with the animal’s memories, hyper-awareness of his new body, and absorbed eons of instincts.
He bounded off zig-zagging through the neighborhood with an exuberant freedom he had never experienced before.
He climbed trees, leaped over fences, and indulged in his keen new senses.
He found himself at the neighborhood park.
He felt something tugging at his mind. At first, he thought it was Lina. He could still sense her, silently observing him. This new presence was different. It was the cougar. It did not speak to him. But it communicated something between a thought and an emotion.
“The master of this body knows you need to be careful with its energy,” Lina said.
“Of course. It — she — is a predator. I must not waste her resources.” Chris said.
Lina was silent, but Chris could sense she was smiling.
“It is late. It is time for you to go back.” Lina said.
Chris felt himself coming out of the cougar. He had traveled several blocks to his home. He flew over the neighborhood and back to his body in his bed.
His alarm sounded within minutes of his return. He expected to feel exhausted. But, he felt invigorated. His physical body had rested all night.
Chris sprang out of bed and began his day in the best mood he had experienced in decades.
During breakfast, the conversation turned toward the neighborhood cougar. It took all of Chris’s willpower not to share the details of his escapade.
He was positive it was real and not a dream, but he was equally positive nobody would believe him.
Michelle mentioned someone’s surveillance camera had captured footage of the cougar. She showed Chris and the kids the video on her phone. The majestic animal looked like it was doing a cougar version of parkour.
“Why are you grinning so big?” Michelle laughed.
“I guess it’s just nice to see the enthusiasm this creature has for life.”
The rest of the day seemed to drag on for Chris. He wanted desperately to get back inside of the cougar. To be the cougar.
Before he came home from work, he stopped off at the neighborhood park to walk around the area he had visited during the night.
He spotted a variety of signs warning about a cougar in the area. They had a grainy image taken from the footage he had watched that morning.
Chris laughed and headed home.
That night, he diligently performed his nighttime duties and headed to his bedroom to wait for Lina’s voice to return.
After an hour, Chris got up and shuffled around the house. He used the bathroom, got a drink and looked outside for any sign of the cougar.
He flung himself back on his bed and sighed.
He thought to himself, “Lina, where are you?”
“I’m waiting for you,” Lina said.
Chris sat up.
“I don’t understand,” he said.
“You have the power to project yourself. You must learn to do this on your own. Come and find us.”
Chris thought back to the previous night.
He got comfortable in his bed and began concentrating on the feeling of being in the cougar.
Once again traveling through the walls of his house.
“Where can I find you?” Chris asked.
“At the park” Lina replied.
In an instant, Chris was at the park. He spotted the cougar and jumped inside of her through her glimmering eyes.
“You are a fast learner,” Lina said.
It seemed to Chris that she was almost purring.
Chris opened his consciousness. Again, he felt the presence of the cougar trying to reach out to him.
Chris felt it was some instinctual response. Again, the feeling was danger.
He tried to settle into the cougar’s body, to try and discover the source of the danger.
Then he spotted a small animal out of the corner of his eye. He could smell it too. It smelled like fear.
Chris hungered for it. Part of him knew it was a cat. But, he felt an overwhelming need to consume the cat.
He crouched down and began to slink through the bushes. He found he could follow the cat, even when he lost sight of it.
The cat tensed and before he could even form a thought, Chris sprang out of the bushes and clenched his powerful jaws around the neck of the cat and sank his razor-sharp teeth through the fur and skin. He felt the neck break, and the rapid beating heart of the cat pumped warm blood through the ruptured artery in the neck of the cat into Chris’s eager mouth.
When the blood hit his throat he felt a surge of energy, power, and satisfaction unlike anything he had ever experienced.
But, he again felt a nagging warning of danger.
With his new sense of dominion, Chris fully opened up his consciousness to communicate with the cougar.
He felt his consciousness connect with that of the master of the body, as Lina had called her. The cougar couldn’t communicate in language — but it sent images and raw emotion.
In less than a blink, he experienced the entire lifetime of the cougar. He learned she was dying. She couldn’t name her sickness, but Chris knew it was cancer. He also saw when Lina had first come to inhabit the animal. She was not a welcomed guest.
Chris expanded his consciousness more and found he could touch Lina’s consciousness too.
He saw her life. Then he saw many lives. She had lived many times. She was currently a patient in the hospital, in a deep coma. She was not expected to recover. He saw that she was ancient. She has fragments of thousands of lives.
Unlike the cougar, Lina was fighting his attempts. She didn’t want him to see.
He pressed as hard as he could, feeling there was something he needed to learn. He stopped controlling the cougar and failed to notice that Lina had taken over the animal, while still fighting his probing.
Chris saw how Lina had come to be in the hospital. A car accident. She was unconscious in the car. She projected herself out and took control of the dying cougar. She was worried her physical human form was dying. If her consciousness were to be inside the mortal body when it died, she would finally die too.
Chris saw how she had taken over the body of the woman. She had lured the woman’s consciousness out of her body and stolen it from her, locking her out.
Chris saw a sliver of what Lina was really like. She was not human at all. But some evil force, some primordial consciousness that had thrived for untold years as a predator.
Chris closed off his consciousness and tried to force his way out of the cougar and back into his body.
Lina was gone. He left the cougar and went back to his bed. But, Lina was already in his body. He tried to force his way in, but she had somehow blocked him out.
He screamed at her.
He could hear her laughing.
It was no longer flirtatious. It was maniacal.
Chris was getting weak. He needed a body. He reluctantly went back to the only other body he knew, the dying cougar.
The next morning Michelle and the girls were once again greeted by an enthusiastic Chris. But, he seemed a little different — a little off.
They were all enjoying their breakfast when there was a loud thud at the kitchen window. The kids screamed. There was a cougar, snarling at the window throwing itself against the glass as if trying to break in.
Michelle hustled the kids out of the room.
Chris smiled at the cougar and calmly walked over to the window and pulled down the blinds.
“Honey, I’m going to call 911. I’m afraid they’re going to have put this cougar down. He’s grown too dangerous.” Chris said.
The banging from the window intensified. The animal seemed desperate to get into the house.
Michelle and the kids heard Chris laugh in a strange voice before he picked up the phone to make the call.