Saturday, 22 June 2019

Ghost Sister (Part One)



         I suppose I should be used to interruptions by now. Living with Human Slaves is fraught with such distractions. Trying to find time to one’s own is indeed… trying.
         Of course, I understand that my Human Slaves are blissfully unaware that I have deadlines, word targets to hit. They think I just lie around all the time, moving from the warmth of the radiator to a patch of sun-dappled carpet and back again. Well, to be fair, we are pretty much nocturnal creatures. So when the dawn creeps over Bournemouth, the nictitating membranes start sliding over. And of course we sleep during the day - it is tiring being the spiritual guardians of our Slaves’ homes, which so much of my fiction now concerns. In any case, I often just give the impression of sleeping - when my brain is usually half occupied with the plot of the next book.
         So, I was busy. The proofs on my latest novel Black Smoke had now returned from the celebrated Tabby, Bobinski. He was the head honcho at Felihelion, a well known American editorial agency. Being a rescue cat, he had something of a chequered past, but he’d turned his life around and built up the agency from scratch. Whenever I read his extensive and educated crits of my work, I could hear that Midwest US drawl, imagine him looking up from his computer to gaze over a beautiful Ohio sunset. As usual, reading down his line edits, I realised there was a lot to do, in too short a time. The arrival of another human in our household couldn’t have come at a worse time. I mean, I’d only really just got used to having Mimi around.

         This new human was the sister of my taller Human Slave. And she is a cat lover. Which means unwanted attention at times. And being picked up, which I detest, not least because of my arthritis. Thankfully, Mimi’s presence meant she was distracted: the presence of a new cat, still really a kitten, was much more interesting than me and my old bones. Mimi seemed more than happy to play up for her as well, so I could crack on and work through the edits.  Or so I thought. But then came the ghosts.
         As I have relayed throughout these stories, humans can gather up these creatures from the spiritual realm. Some are more prone than others at accumulating these spectral encumbrances. The tall slave’s sibling has a tendency to trawl through antique shops, handling jewellery, curios and other objects, which are effectively talismans for ghosts. Perhaps this is why she is more prone. Or perhaps because her effective ghost removal system, her own feline protectors, were miles away and the spirits could sense this.
         In any case, one day she returned from shopping in deepest darkest Boscombe, ghost in trail. This of course necessitated some explaining to Mimi. Especially as I was so absorbed in the edits that I failed to notice its arrival, for which I felt doubly accountable.

         I was up in the office when Mimi barrelled in, jumping in a flash of fur from record player to speakers to eventually end up on the desk surface. ‘I need to ask you something,’ she stated enthusiastically, her gaze flicking between me and some birds which circled in the air above the rooftops outside.
         ‘Go on,’ I said, marking up a piece of text and turning to my protegée.
         ‘What’s the thing that seems to follow the new Slave around?’
         ‘Are you looking for a word to describe an article of clothing? Is this a new piece of fiction you’re working on?’
         ‘No. There’s something else…,’ she replied. At this point, I should have realised that something wasn’t quite right.
         ‘Perhaps you should get back to sorting through the stuff in the attic,’ I replied, perhaps a bit condescendingly. However, I had been disturbed in the throes of creative output, which is like disturbing a cat when asleep and dreaming: you just don’t do it.
         ‘Perhaps you have to come and look,’ she retorted, somewhat crestfallen.
         I turned back to the text momentarily. But where before the sentences had clamoured in my mind, begging to be brought to life on the screen, the interruption had spooked them, sending them to hide somewhere. Sighing, I jumped off the chair, and gestured to Mimi.
         ‘Lead the way,’ I said despondently.

         ‘What is that?’ she asked, observing the fluttery, inchoate presence that surrounded the sister of my tall Human Slave. I stood stock still for a moment, confused. As I’ve explained previously, I have a wealth of experience with the phantoms that bleed into both humanverse and feliverse from other overlapping worlds. Although this is more through accident than design. So why hadn’t I detected this? Could it be that my senses were somehow blunted? I immediately began to wonder whether it was the pressure of the work deadlines, but I’d never had any such issues previously.
         ‘That is a ghost,’ I replied, still somewhat bewildered.
         ‘I thought it might be. A ghost!’ Mimi exclaimed, being familiar with such entities from my fiction. ‘Can we kill it?’
         I took a look at the human, asleep on the sofa. She was lit by an eerie flicker from the muted television as a rerun of The Twilight Zone played out. The creature floating above her was a nebulous protean thing, which confused the eye. Occasionally forms like faces would appear in its midst, only for these tenebrous shapes to then fade away.
         ‘I think this one might be a difficult one,’ I replied. Rather than bore you with the taxonomy of these entities - to which I have contributed, needless to say - let’s just call this a ‘bad one.’
         ‘What does that mean? Difficult…’
         ’Well, as I’ve said before… ghosts are entities from other dimensions that bleed into this one. Sometimes they are anchored in this reality by an object. One can remove them from their hosts, in this case a Human Slave, by force. That is if you have the necessary aptitude. But it is often much easier to remove them from the object itself.’
         ‘But where’s the object?’
         ‘That’s the question… It could be a brooch. It could even be something she picked up in a shop today, but replaced on the shelf…’
         ‘And why is the tall Slave’s sister not sleeping on her bed?’ Mimi asked, gently pawing at the ray of spilled golden hair around her head.
         ‘I don’t know. Sometimes they just do this.’
         ‘Humans are strange creatures,’ offered Mimi.
         ‘I’ve seen the Tall Slave asleep here occasionally. Perhaps these events are alcohol related,’ I said, sniffing a toppled wine glass.
         I turned back to look at the ghost, wondering once again why this particular phenomenon had evaded my detection. Was it my arthritis medication? Were the drugs numbing my senses? Steeling my bones, I jumped up onto the sofa and gingerly climbed up the cushions, where I could reach out to the thing. With an extended claw, I scratched its surface, attacking the part of it that had torn a hole in the weft of reality. With the other paw I swiped at it, causing a ripple in its surface. The thing broiled as I made contact, sending out a tongue of something that swiped me off the sofa with a loud crackle of static, depositing me on the floor some metres away. My old bones creaked as I landed, skidding across the polished wooden floorboards until I came to a halt. Frightened by this sudden activity, Mimi darted away in a flash of black.
         I lay there for a moment, taking stock of what had just happened. In the olden days, I would have gone straight back up there without missing a beat. But something didn’t seem right, as if my actions are slower than usual. I swiped at the air, as if trying to bat away the very idea that I was somehow physically impaired.
         ‘Wow! What was that?’ Mimi asked, eventually poking her head out from behind the piano. Her eyes were as wide as saucers.
         ‘The ghost feeds on the energy of its host. And that energy can be released if it feels threatened,’ I explained, as I tried to bear my weight, my back legs bruised. I wondered, not for the first time, whether my ghost hunting days were the cause of my arthritic pains.
         ‘Can I have a go?’ asked Mimi.
         ‘I wouldn’t recommend it,’ I replied. ‘This particular spectre is one of the more malevolent types. You need to know what you are doing,’ I replied.
         ‘Or it could kill me?’ Mimi asked, incredulous.
         ‘If it wanted to, it could kill everything in the vicinity,’ I replied.
         ‘So how do we get rid of it? You’re meant to be the great exorcist.’
         ‘That was a myth purveyed by the Cambridge lot. You know it isn’t true.’
         ‘So what do we do next? We can’t leave it there!’ Mimi exclaimed, from her vantage point behind the sofa.
         ‘I’ve wounded it. It’ll take some time to recover. By then, I hope we’ll have reinforcements.’

         Reinforcements came in the way of Pudding. She is a cat who lives in Nursling, a village down the road near the city of Southampton. Like Bobinski, she’d had a tough upbringing. But where Bobinski had channeled his formative experiences into literary work, lending it an edge of the street, Pudding had found her street fighting skills useful elsewhere: she’d become a celebrated ghost hunter and exorcist. She was one who could handle the more difficult, more tenacious ghosts rather than the run of the mill, commoner garden sort that most cats can simply scare away.
         Over the course of my career I’ve made many acquaintances with exorcists and so on. Whilst I dabble in these arts, I’m really an amateur, as my attempts to deal with this ephemeral thing show. My talents really aren’t much above that of the average cat. Although the opposite is often assumed, that I am indeed one the fictional characters I describe. In any case, my work has brought me into contact with the likes of true exorcists like Pudding, which has been useful. Some of her stories have provided inspiration for mine. And of course, Mimi was excited to meet her.
         I arranged to pick her up from feliverse iteration of The Cricketer’s the following evening. Mimi was still grounded after her previous misdemeanours, and in response managed to make such a show of scratching and miaowing that I thought she’d wake the entire neighbourhood. I was almost glad when I’d left the house and was finally waiting for Pudding, supping a pint of something from Cambridgeshire which I wasn’t certain had travelled particularly well. Soon she arrived: a larger than life cat, with deep black fur to the roots. She looked like a Bombay, perhaps mixed with something else, but I didn’t know what and I hadn’t ever asked.
         ‘Pudding! Lovely to see you again. Can I get you a drink?’
         ‘No, thank you,’ she replied, looking around the pub with disdain. I wondered if we’d have been better off in one of the up market wine bars around the corner.
         ‘Right… well…’
         ‘Expect you want to purloin some more of my stories,’ she muttered. ‘I did enjoy your last one though…’
         ‘Thanks. But actually this time I need your help with something else,’ I replied, before explaining my predicament.

         Not long after this, Pudding was accompanying me through the portal system and we were soon back in Bournemouth. When we arrived home, Mimi sprinted down the stairs in such an exuberant rush that she almost bowled over Pudding. The gangly youth was quickly put in her place by an accurately aimed paw from the older cat, swiping her muzzle, which put her off balance. A misplaced foot and Mimi crashed onto her back, sliding along the polished wooden floorboards before coming to a halt as she hit the skirting board.
         ‘Some welcome,’ Pudding muttered.
         ‘Hi, I’m Mimi,’ she said, popping back up and attempting to regain her composure.
         ‘Remind me to try that move when you come over to my place,’ replied Pudding, wryly.
         ‘I’m so pleased to meet you. I’ve heard all about you–,’ Mimi began.
         ‘Don’t believe all you read. Got a way with the truth, this one,’ she replied, nodding at me.
         ‘It’s called fiction.’
         ‘Whatever. Now, I can sense a ghost around here somewhere,’ Pudding said, sniffing the air. She paused for a moment and issued a series of odd wheezing sounds before continuing. I’d seen this kind of thing before, but Mimi sprang back, her ears flattened. Like some cats are able to mimic bird calls, Pudding has the ability to create sounds similar to those of the spectral world. Once she’d done this she trotted into the sitting room, tail bolt upright. I followed with a cautious Mimi and a few moments later, the three of us were sat in a line, looking at the human who was once again asleep on the sofa. Tonight however, she was illuminated by an episode of NCIS.
         Before I could stop her, Pudding was rummaging through the human’s effects, emptying the contents of her bag onto the carpet. A variety of plastic bags within contained rings, earrings, necklaces and numerous vintage pieces from charm bracelets. It was these that Pudding seemed interested in, tearing open the plastic and letting the numerous objects spill onto the carpet.
         There were tiny horses, cars, shoes, teapots, horseshoes, frogs, lighthouses, tankards and even some cats. Pudding batted these around in a fashion – in fact, as you may have seen cats play with objects on occasion. And while to a human it might have seemed as if she was playing, she was in fact sorting out each object in turn. Finally she found one she was interested in: an exquisitely moulded windmill, with working blades. She batted it back and forth, sending the vanes spinning with a whir. And then there was a puff of light above it. Pudding moved quickly, grabbing at it with both paws, and then it was gone. But despite this, the ghost above my tall slave’s sister hung like a demonic thundercloud.
         ‘No it isn’t here,’ said Pudding finally.
         ‘What was all that about with the windmill then?’ asked Mimi.
         ‘That was me exorcising a ghost from another of this human’s artefacts. I thought I might as well, since I found it. Sometimes the way isn’t always clear, muddied by other ghosts. Now, however… It looks like we’ll have to go on a trip.’
         ‘Where to?’ I asked.
         In response, Pudding rummaged through the Slave’s bag, pulled out a hand-written receipt for a few hundred quid. The stamped address on the top was for an antique shop the other side of town: a place called Boscombe.
         ‘We could start here,’ Pudding suggested.
         ‘About that…,’ I started, and then had to explain.

         Boscombe is a part of Bournemouth - a suburb if you like. In the feliverse, it had once been popular with the caterati of the early 1900s as a desirable place to summer. There are early black and white photograms of them on the beaches, the male cats sporting top hats and their queens wielding umbrellas in their paws. But the cliffs behind soon became overrun by Nepeta plants, with more nefarious types moving in, taking control of its collection and distribution. The idyllic nature of the place changed and before long, the Mice Police were called upon to restore order; ever since there has been a constant war of attrition between the two factions.
         To get to Boscombe meant either travelling through the humanverse, which would take some time as it was about six miles away - a fair distance for a cat, let alone one with arthritis, and with the usual obstacles that humans throw in our way: cars, taxis, buses and so on. The alternative was jumping through the portal system, although in Boscombe it didn’t quite work. You’d end up in the feliverse and then have to walk a fair distance before there was anywhere to jump back into human space. And walking through that part of the feliverse, given my previous explanation, would be hair-raising to say the least. I’m not sure why it works out that way sometimes - I’m sure someone like Fred, or perhaps a scholar of the portal system’s history might be able to explain. It is something to do with being close to an anchor point between overlapping metaspaces, which means less deviation across the worlds. But sometimes the distribution of the portals simply seems perverse.
         ‘I’m not sure how safe it is…,’ I muttered.
         ‘This from the cat that walked into one of Fungus’ rallies without a second thought?’ asked Pudding.
         ‘Yeah, it couldn’t possibly be as bad as that place,’ added Mimi. I gave her a stern, hard glance, but her attention had already flitted away to a mote of dust caught in a beam of sunlight.
         Pudding didn’t seem at all phased by the idea of Boscombe. She’d seen the worst that cats have to offer, had multiple run-ins with the Mice Police and mostly escaped their bullets. However, when Mimi started protesting about not being able to come, Pudding spoke.
         ‘To be fair, perhaps we need safety in numbers,’ Pudding said to me quietly, after Mimi had made a show of trying to tear up our Human Slaves’ newly laid carpet in frustration.
         ‘But if she isn’t punished, she won’t learn,’ I replied.
         ‘There’s a human saying - there are more ways than one to skin a cat.’
         ‘Oddly enough, I’ve never liked that phrase. But I take your point.’
         ‘She has to learn on her own four feet. That’s the cat’s way.’
         And so, without further ado, the three of us set off for Boscombe. Now if you are very nice and feed me dreams (other treats are available), I might tell you what happened there next week. But being a cat of course, I might just change my mind at the last minute. I guess you’ll have to wait and see.

To be continued next week…

In the meantime, read all the other feliverse stories here: The Cat’sPage

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Beyond Portal No. 5 (Part Two)

The evil Fungus. Art by Zwutschk


If you're all up to date, the story continues below:

I realised then what I had to do. I began to slink away from the crowd, but someone noticed me and shouted. I must have looked suspicious, or perhaps a chink of reflected light revealed my true form. I turned and began to sprint back to the portal, my old bones aching with the effort. Every now and then I’d cast a look behind and see the slavering jaws of my pursuers. Halfway up, I felt the sharp claws of a feline digging into my tail, but it failed to gain purchase, and I ran, spurred further on by this encounter. I didn’t dare look behind me now as I pounded across the concrete and through the pools of oily material, which splashed up my legs, my white fur soon stained a muddy black. I knew I had to keep running, outpace the demons behind me - it was Mimi’s only chance. With my heart pounding in my ribcage I made it to the portal and crashed through, landing in the hub in a heap. Two of the felines followed me and as I lay there, catching my breath, I wondered if they were so fired up they would blatantly reach protocol. But Fred soon squared up to them and they sank back to portal five, and vanished from sight.
‘Are you OK there?’ he asked, turning to me. His hair was still on end, his lips quivering, revealing his incisors, one of which was jagged and split.
‘Fred…,’ I began, trying to catch my breath.
‘That’s my name. So what’s the problem…’
‘Fred,’ I tried again. ‘Can you get a message to The Architect?’
‘Certainly can,’ he replied, looking around for something which might grease this transaction. Unfortunately the small bag I had been carrying had fallen off somewhere in the fracas.
‘You’ll be rewarded. I assure you.’
He thought about this for a while. ‘Well, a cat like you doesn’t usually break his promises. So what is it you needs me to tell The Architect.’
‘Tell him. We need. To mobilise. Mobilise The Caterati.’

***

     My strength soon returned when I was propped up at the bar of The Cricketers, The Architect shoving a half pint of caramelised milk my direction. I stopped licking the grime off my feet and sniffed this concoction. Normally I’d avoid this kind of strong stuff, but at the time I was shaken, my limbs aching. I could still see the jaws of my pursuers, dripping with saliva, their blood shot eyes crazed with hate. I took the drink in one quick gulp, licking the drops from the glass; it tasted a lot better than my feet had.
‘How’s it going?’ I asked The Architect, who simply nodded in response.
It looked like Ziggy was doing most of the grunt work, organising the troops in some function room upstairs. You could tell something was going on up there - the floorboards creaked under the weight of the assembled Caterati, and there was the occasional thud as a cat landed somewhere. I felt like I should be up there too, but The Architect had insisted that I took no part in this now. He was content to sit by my side and watch time go by - after all, watching time was what he did best.
I felt the paws of cats as they passed by, on their way to the little wooden staircase which wound up to the first floor. They were patting me with sympathy I suppose, or perhaps even solidarity. After all, they were all arriving, at this place, on my behest. Although in any case, the rabble that the cat Fungus had roused were a threat that needed to be neutralised. Some of the Caterati I recognised, some I didn’t; there were even a few famous names, which had been drawn to help by the call to mobilise. I was struck by their cosmopolitan nature of the Caterati, as if I was seeing them with new eyes - all breeds and sexes were represented, which made a stark contrast to those in the denizens beyond Portal number 5.
‘Another one?’ asked The Architect.
‘No thanks. I’d better keep a clear head.’
My saturnine pal nodded at this and ordered another for himself. When this was standing in front of him, he finally turned to me. ‘Going to be a long night,’ he remarked, before taking a draft, his whiskers turning white with the milky froth.
‘We need to get moving!’ I said, not for the first time. I couldn’t bear to think what was happening to those caged cats, Mimi amongst them.
The Architect nodded to the other side of the bar, where Ziggy had appeared. He had a tea cup, its handle snapped off, crudely tied to his head and he was brandishing a broken bottle in one paw. ‘We’re ready. You follow the main thrust of the attack. Let the younger folk fight.’ We nodded at this, unwilling to argue.
As the Caterati marched out, I was struck by how many had assembled in the room above. There were hundreds of cats filing out of the door of the pub, many like Ziggy clutching crude weapons: another broken bottle here, a rolling pin there. The fat Tabby barman called Pete, after an old friend of his Human Slave, stood watching them go by. Every now and then he’d remove something from their grasp, despite protestations that they would be returned: a number of pewter tankards, horse brasses and drinking horns were accumulating behind him. The Caterati were also sporting a motley arrangement of armour: tea cups, saucers and mugs, all appropriated from The Cricketer’s.  After a while, Pete eventually gave up the attempts to retrieve his property and resumed his usual position behind the bar, hiding his face behind a pint of the special draft.
We followed the last of them out, as instructed. At the portal hub, Fred was in good spirits, the increased traffic presumably having filled his pockets with filthy lucre. One day I resolved to find out what he spent it all on. As soon as we exited the Portal number 5, we could hear the fighting. Some cats were darting back the way we had come, scared witless by this mad throng of cats. Others had already been beaten up and were sporting bleeding wounds, hissing at us as we passed.
As we entered the main space, where Fungus’ rally had been taking place, it was a blur of furry forms. I occasionally made out a familiar cat - Gaiman’s was obvious by his long black cloak, and he seemed to get everywhere. I spied Smith, still wearing his leather overalls; battling alongside him were a few clockwork devices, which jerkily moved around the battlespace. And above was Athena’s owl, which flew around in circles, with a bucket, occasionally tipping black tar-like material over Fungus’ men, although I couldn’t see Athena herself.
For a moment, I wondered if Fungus’ ad hoc troops were getting the better of us. Some of the Caterati were fallen, sporting large wounds. I bent and helped one where it looked like a large flap of skin had been removed, ribs visible beneath. Eventually she got up, nodded and headed straight back into the fracas.
I looked to The Architect, wondering if he should stop time for a while. He saw me looking at him, and discerning what I was thinking in his usual disconcerting manner, shook his head. I imagined how it would go for him if it had to be stopped. How the innumerable threads of time would have to somehow be woven together.
But then thankfully, the tide turned. More of Fungus’ lot began to leave, and soon they were outnumbered. I searched the crowd for the cat boxes, but there were only a few remaining – a number had been opened and the cats inside thrown to the mercy of the rally. Which of course had shown no mercy at all. With desperate tears in my eyes, I looked around for my young charge. Then there was a black blur in front of my eyes: it was Mimi, freed and running towards me. In a friendly manner, she biffed me around the chops, before knocking me over and jumping onto my back. I assumed she was grateful. She soon quietened and sat down alongside, the three of us watching as the Caterati pawhandled Fungus into one of the cat boxes and locked it.
‘What are they going to do with him?’ I asked The Architect.
‘Sentencing,’ he replied. ‘Then I suspect we’ll find somewhere to lock him up.’
‘There is such a place?’
‘Oh yes. Not somewhere you ever want to go,’ he replied. Although his words, and his steely glance, were directed more at Mimi than at me. She looked at the floor guiltily and didn’t meet his glance.
‘Time I took you back home,’ I said. And before we knew it, we were jumping up on the sofa and cuddling up to our Human Slaves. Or at least Mimi was, as I affected my usual cool indifference.

***

There were celebrations in the Cricketers. And funerals were held for the cats we lost. Although Mimi was instructed to remain in the house, her misadventures grounding her. Our old portal was also fixed by The Architect, and Mimi was prevented from roaming the innumerable paths of the cats until she was a bit older. However, she was finding plenty to be interested in locally. As for Fungus, he still remains in limbo, awaiting sentencing.
It turned out that this event caused ripples of discontent throughout our parallel universe. Fungus’ rally hadn’t been the only one, and by disrupting it, we exposed this group for what it was. When a seed of fear and anger is sown, it can spread, blown by whatever metaphysical wind exists in our worlds. Or perhaps, if you like, a fungus can spread by dissemination of its spores. And pockets of this were popping up all over. We could only hope that the Caterati would smother this intolerance and hate with something of their compassion, intelligence and more encompassing world view. Would that be enough? What would happen next is anyone’s guess.

END

You can find all of The Cat’s other adventures here: The Cat’s Page.

The naughty Mimi. By Zwutschk.


Saturday, 30 March 2019

Beyond Portal No. 5 (Part One)



Where is Mimi? Artwork by Zwutschk

I’d written my novel Black Smoke quickly, over a period of months. It isn’t always so quick - sometimes the process is a bit like pulling teeth. But other times, inspiration just runs away with you, and as discussed, the protegées’s arrival had forced the matter this time. In any case, I was done with the writing on the novel and found myself in the uncomfortable limbo period afterwards: not only waiting for the copy edits to return, but also wondering what to do next. It was like having an itch, but one you couldn’t work out where to scratch.
Smilodon suggested that now might be a good time to make a concerted effort with the documents in the attic, which he so grandly referred to as ‘my legacy’. Mimi had already done much in that space beneath the eaves, organising the various pieces into categories. I scoffed at this when I first saw it, pompously proclaiming that my work was beyond categorisation. My companion plainly demonstrated this was not the case, gently bringing my bubble to the ground before popping it.
Some of the older works needed attention, their surfaces foxed like the liver spots of an old Human Slave; others had been scrawled in pen, which had smudged with water damage. And of course, there were the mice, the population of which had now been decimated to such an extent that it felt uncomfortably like ethnic cleansing. Thankfully, Mimi didn’t mention my lack of instinct in this area - I suppose I’m more of a delicate creature, and have no genetic imperative that makes me want to vanquish lesser beings. Although, I hasten to point out that not having this particular trait doesn’t make me any less of a cat.
We went through the heaps of paper, and I selected the pieces I valued highest. Or at least which I thought were acceptable; some stuff was just junk. I suppose my writing process is pretty much like snapping photographs: you take as many as possible and hope that one will come out well, but the rest are just dross, never quite hitting the spot. But, if Smilodon was convinced people were interested in the junk, then what did I know? When I voiced this opinion, Mimi suggested that perhaps my readers wanted to divine some thematic sense from my work, or perhaps some poor student would take it upon themselves to study my oeuvre. The poor blighter, I thought.
We had lengthy discussions about the usefulness of fashioning a running order for this archival material: whether it was best done as a curated retrospective, or better assembled in chronological order. We seemed to be getting places and this nebulous retrospective, this book of curios of interest only to the cognoscenti, was taking some form in my mind.
At this point, Mimi chose, once again, to disappear.

***

The first thing I noticed when I went downstairs, brandishing a missing piece of some story or other in a paw, was that it was raining. The second thing was a set of pawprints that led directly to the front door, where they stopped. There were no returning pawprints whatsoever. But this didn’t click immediately. I sniffed around the house, wandering up and down the stairs and checking the newly laundered piles of washing, where we cats do so enjoy curling up. Eventually I made my way into the garden, where I soon became drenched. I returned inside, a sorry state.
Only when I noticed my own pawprints on the floor, did I put two and two together. With a faint, sickening feeling in my stomach, I realised Mimi could either have wandered out through the front door, into the Human verse. Or somehow passed through the portal into the network of tunnels, and from there… well the possibilities were endless and didn’t bear thinking about.
I sat still for a moment and tried not to panic. The first option seemed unlikely. The Human Slaves were out for the day. They occasionally popped back for a few hours, but I’d have heard the door. This could therefore only mean the second option, which simply shouldn’t have happened.
Now, the portal at the front of the house was meant to be accessible by me and me alone. It was an old portal, crafted years ago, The Architect and a few other members of the Caterati had checked it out, confirmed its authenticity. There wasn’t any chance that it was one of the new hacked versions, which are error prone and can conduct a feline to undesirable locations by accident, or perhaps by design of their pernicious manufacturers: this portal was steeped in time, dating back to the late 1800s, when the house was built and when many of the Feline thoroughfares were woven through time and space.
The way through was by a specific paw motion, instructions to which I’d been granted when I’d been brought here by my Slaves. Or rather, I’d had to apply for this document at the Caterati bureau, which then seemed to be wrapped up in red tape for ages because of a previous resident cat’s indiscretions. In any case, how Mimi had seen this, and been able to mimic it so perfectly as to gain access to the portal system, was beyond me.
I paused at the portal, suddenly conscious of making the gesture with my paw. Usually, I didn’t even need to think about this: some part of my subconscious just worked it out for me. But now, when I stopped to think, I found myself suddenly unable to remember, my thoughts blurring with the sudden anxiety of what could have happened to my charge. A few seconds later and the familiar pattern was back, my muscle memory doing the job that my brain had attempted to shut down with its extraneous activity.
Once inside, the portal branched. Usually I went left, which took me to Brighton, and the alleyway behind The Cricketers. However, taking the right led up to where at least ten different portals met in a form of hub. Hesitating for a moment, I wondered if Fred would be there. Fred was an old moggie that looked like a patchwork of different breeds sewn together: one leg was orange tabby, another tortoiseshell, the back two a grey blue colour, whilst his tail, or what remained of it, was black. He often donned a cap which hid his tattered ears. This headgear was usually complemented by a jacket with buttons and lapels, which gave him an official look. He was happy to sit there on a stool all day, making sure no-one was up to no mischief. Nobody knew who he worked for, but he seemed polite and content. And more than happy to receive tips for helping a cat out of a difficult situation.
‘Fred!’ I exclaimed.
‘Ah, Mr –––––,’ he replied, in a cockney drawl. ‘What you sticking your loaf around here for then?’
‘I’m looking for someone.’
‘Aren’t we all,’ he said, wistfully. But at the same time, eyeing my paws for a piece of silver.
‘Little black scottie. You see her?’ I asked, slipping him a coin.
‘Her, eh? You old devil, you…’
‘It really isn’t like that, Fred,’ I said, reprimandingly.
‘Easy, there. I wasn’t insinuating nuffink.’
‘So, which way did she go?’
‘About ten minutes, it were. I said she should watch out. But she’d already gone.’
‘You don’t mean number 5?’
‘That’s the one.’
‘You’re sure?’
‘Sure as eggs is eggs.’

I swore under my breath at this. Of all the places to go, Mimi had chosen the worst. Portal number five led to a difficult part of our universe, where there had been trouble in recent times. The place had been overrun by a bunch of purebred white cats with certain difficult opinions, who wanted to deny free movement across the borders of the portal system. This opinion had resonated with some unsavoury types, and the movement had become one promulgating intolerance and xenophobia. Certain breeds had been selected for particular discrimination, amongst them the Scottish Folds.
I simply couldn’t fathom why she had chosen to go there. Until I recalled something we’d been working on before. In this fiction, portal number five had led to a disused car park filled with mice. So she had been simply looking for somewhere to hunt, and in her naïvety hadn’t considered that things might have changed in the interim. The mice had been cleansed from this area, many years ago; an act which had resulted in their own subsequent militarisation. And not long afterwards, its current inhabitants had moved in.
With trepidation, I left Fred behind and went through the passage, reality shifting until I found myself in a nondescript car park staircase, all concrete, exposed metal and strange angles. The walls were adorned with crudely drawn propaganda posters, declaiming the rights to free movement, with slogans such as ‘Foreign Flea-Ridden Felines OUT!’ and ‘GO HOME HOUSECATS!’ These were accompanied by the four clawed sigil, which had come to represent a right-wing philosophy.
I tentatively walked into the multi-storey car park itself, noticing it was empty in both our verse and the human iteration. Graffiti which adorned the walls in the human verse bled through, but it seemed washed of colours, reverting to greyscale. Dark pools of liquid were scattered over the floor, rimed with scum. The place immediately made me feel uncomfortable. Strange looking cats, adorned with battle scars, lurked around baring their remaining teeth at one another. I kept to the shadows, hoping my flattened ears would make me look angry rather than reveal my true nature. It was a blessing my coat was an off white colour.
There seemed to be a general movement of these felines toward the lower levels of the car park, where something was occurring. As stealthily as I could, I crept down the slope, having once or twice to pad through the oily pools of muck to avoid any close encounters with the locals. But those approaching weren’t the real problem, the rabble were surrounding a fat white cat on a raised dais, standing on his two back legs like a Human Slave. I immediately recognised him: this was a cat called Fungus, a member of the Caterati gone bad. He was lit by a clever arrangements of mirrors that reflected the sun from outside the confines of this gloomy, dank place, which lent him a preternatural glow. Henchmen in the corners moved the reflectors in concert as he pranced up and down the stage, pupils wide as if he was high on Nepeta. The tips of his ears were scabbed and mottled - signs I recognised as cancers, a frequent occurrence in the pure whites. But what was more malignant was his rhetoric, the vile, obnoxious steam of hate that spewed from his mouth, and which was greeted by his followers with caterwauls.
‘We need to block off the Portals,’ he shouted. ‘We need to stop them coming into our patch, polluting our genes with their strange characteristics. And polluting our minds with their thoughts. And I’m talking about a reversion to our roots, without any of the created breeds, manufactured by their so called Human Slaves! A pure cat, stripped of any fealty to Humans!’ At this there was a cheer. I noticed that almost all of his followers were male and amongst the crowd, there was a marked lack of variation in breeds. The crowd was mostly white, with a few tabby cats thrown in for good measure.
Those near me, also lurking in the shadows and away from the main thrust of the crowd, seemed to be chatting to themselves, and not paying much attention to proceedings. This was until something appeared on the outskirts of the crowd: a number of baskets, each containing a petrified cat. The baskets were of differing size and shape - some were wicker, the structures of which creaked as they passed over the throng. Others were plastic boxes, with metal grilles at the front, through which the frightened cats inside were visible. I began to feel incredibly uneasy, squinting as I tried to make out the features of each feline, hoping upon hope that I wouldn’t recognise any of the prisoners of this vile cult. But as the last basket was manhandled towards the stage, my heart sank. Before my eyes, entrapped in a box, was Mimi.

This story continues here: Beyond Portal No. 5 (Part Two)

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