Many thanks to my wonderful editor Eternity_Tigress for her fantastic work on this.
Be warned, this is a very slow start with a lot of scene setting but please bear with me!
'Where am I? Who am I? What am I?'
It was dark, really dark. In fact, it seemed to the being that wandered around this place that someone had gone out of their way to make it as dark as possible. The blackness that surrounded it had a man-made feel that was worse than the simple absence of light.
'What is my name?'
The being shook itself, this was no way to think; now was not the time. There was so much it had to try and remember, there was no time to start getting descriptive over what type of dark it found itself in!
'Everything has a name, what is my name?'
From up ahead, a small glimmer of light appeared. No more than three or four candles worth but it seemed so bright in this dark place. The creature stopped and stared for a while, trying to make out the shapes that were behind the light.
'Light means people, people have names.'
As it headed towards the light, the thing heard a sound. The shape behind the light was making noise. It crept closer to the pool of light, confident that its dark, striped coat would keep it camouflaged and safe.
Looking up, the creature inspected the figure that was in the light. Human, female, it decided.
'How did I know that?'
The human was leaning against a tall pole with its hands behind it and making small whimpering noises. It had something covering its face, a hood. It was black, there were no eye holes. The human couldn't see...was it food? Why was it leaning there and making a noise, surely it would know that this place was not safe for it?
The smell of blood reached the creature's nose and it growled softly. The human gasped at the noise and sagged against the pole. Why hadn't it run? Another inspection revealed that the human was tied to the pole. Tied to a post and bleeding, here? In this place? This was the creatures place; the darkness here belonged to it. Why was this human here?
There was only one conclusion, it was bait. If the creature came into the light it would be trapped. Surely, whoever had left this human here would come back. They would need to keep the bait alive, if they knew enough to get here then they would know that only live meat would feed the creature and so they would have to come back to feed the human.
When they did, they would be in for a surprise; the creature would be waiting for them. It did not like being made a fool of.
Antonia woke. It was dark and something heavy pressed down on her legs. She could hear muddled noises and remembered that she had been playing in the living room while her parents had watched TV. There'd been a bang....
"Oh my God! There's a kid in here!"
"Jesus, get her out, get her out!"
A light appeared and the heavy thing on her leg moved. A man appeared. Toni looked at him and then wondered why a fireman was in her house.
"It's ok sweetie, we're here, we're going to get you out"
Toni nodded. She was sleepy and firemen were good guys. She'd go to sleep now and Mummy and Daddy would be there when she woke up to tell her why the fireman had been in her house.
A flash of burning pain shot through her leg and she screamed! She opened her eyes to see the fireman was pulling her outside. Why was he pulling her? It was bedtime, why were they going outside? Looking around, Toni saw two piles of clothes on the floor. They were Mummy and Daddy's clothes and that was just silly. Toni stared at them as she was moved onto a stretcher. The longer she stared, the less she thought they were clothes...there was a strange out-line to them that you just didn't get from clothes on the floor.
"Mummy? Daddy?" Toni called out. Where did the fire man go? Who are these new people? She thought, aware suddenly that she was not alone with the fireman anymore.
The people stood around her exchanged glances; finally someone spoke.
"Your parents aren't very well honey, there was a bit of an accident and we have to take you all to hospital"
That was all Toni remembered of that night. The next thing she remembered was sitting in a wheelchair at the grave of her parents. Her legs were both in casts and her Grandmother had bought her a new dress. It was a pretty dress but it was black. Toni didn't like black, but Grandma had said it was a sad day. They had to send Mummy and Daddy to Heaven and they wouldn't see them anymore.
Toni wanted to go to Heaven with them, but she was too little and Grandma was so sad. She had to stay to stop grandma from being sad. Toni was sad too but she had a special friend. A big, black cat came into her dreams every night to look after her. The cat had told her that things would be ok and that she would look after her whenever she needed help.
Eighteen years later, standing at the grave of her Grandmother, the twenty three year old Toni didn't have time to think about dreams of panthers. She had lost the person who had been both mother and father to her for most of her life. Now she had decisions to make and paperwork to sort through and an empty space inside her as she realised that she was alone.