Friday, 1 March 2019

A Taste of the Great Outdoors

‘Just having a look at our territory.’

When Smilodon first suggested a protégé, I hadn’t really thought that their education would amount to more than the literary. How wrong I was! Having a kitten in the house meant educating her not just in the ways of my craft, but also, more generally in the ways of The Cat. Of course, I’m talking about nurture, rather than nature. You can’t really do much with the latter: in particular, the curiosity and the mischievousness. And it was these feline traits that proved a problem.
The following occurred not long after Mimi had been to visit The Green Gowned Devil for her first check up. It turns out this is a task she takes with much more grace than me. Shamefully, I admit that I have a tendency to howl for hours, wailing at the pain of existence from the moment I am placed in the car, and even before it has moved an inch. The tall Slave usually puts the music up louder to compensate. However, this tactic wasn’t needed with Mimi. According to what I gleaned from the Slaves’ conversation afterwards, she uttered not a peep on the way there, or the way back: she remained completely mute. And even after being jabbed, she clambered all over the vet’s room, as if it were an extension of her home. Now, this all does show me up somewhat.
In any case, she came back chipped, barcoded, numbered: registered in the system. Which it turn meant that she now would be able to activate the cat flap. My Slaves primed the thing, so her chip would be recognised. Which meant pressing the requisite buttons until the light in its casing stopped flashing. And then they pretty much left her to work it out for herself. So of course, I had to help.
By way of demonstration, I went through the flap a few times first while she watched. Then, tentatively, she made her first attempt, gently passing through the plastic doorway, with a click from its mechanism. And then she was back again: another click. Once she got the hang of it, she didn’t seem to want to stop repeatedly heading in and out, each time outside expanding her sphere of influence, slowly creeping further and further into the unknown. By this time, I was also in the garden, sitting on one of the metal chairs, watching her progress with amusement. My amusement soon turned to concern, when in a flash of nictitation, she was prancing along the top of the fence. I’d hardly registered the movement, she’d been so quick.
‘What are you doing up there?’ I asked.
‘Just having a look at our territory.’
‘I never climb up there,’ I replied. Although this wasn’t strictly true. I’d been ushered up there a few times by The Architect. And no doubt would be again. But I didn’t want to encourage this kind of behaviour.
‘I smell something. It isn’t a cat. Something else. Another animal,’ Mimi replied, nosing the air.
‘Probably the local fox. A wild creature which pops by occasionally.’
‘A fox. Sounds interesting. Is it friendly?’
‘It has its moments.’
‘What the…,’ she started, suddenly distracted. I turned to see her gaze fixed on a small sparrow which had chosen to alight on the unruly hedge. The sparrow cocked its head and turned from Mimi’s gaze to instead look at me with its beady black eyes. Deciding that it was probably best not to prolong this encounter, with a flutter of wings, it launched itself into the air again. Mimi keenly followed it across the sky, standing up on her back legs and swiping its retreating form. Until, that was, she lost her balance and disappeared down the other side of the fence. Moments later she reappeared on the precipice, looking slightly rattled, with some foliage stuck to her head.
‘Don’t laugh,’ she said, gazing at me sternly.
‘I told you not to go up there,’ I replied.
Her response to this was to stalk off over the fence, following it around the side of the garden, jumping onto the roof of the shed, and then vanishing from sight. She clearly would not be told what to do. I sighed and went back inside, hoping that my Slaves had put out some of those new biscuits I liked.

I didn’t think much more of her wandering around, until much later on, when I heard my Human Slaves flapping about and calling her name urgently. Of course, they weren’t using her sobriquet Mimi, but her real name. Which sounded ridiculous shouted up and down the terrace and then in the street. They were clearly worried about her, though. Enough to make fools of themselves.
‘I knew we shouldn’t have let her out,’ said the tall Slave, in anxious tones.
‘She’ll come back. She’s a cat,’ said the ever more measured smaller Slave.
‘But what if she… I dunno, roams into a neighbour’s house and gets locked up somewhere?’
‘She’s not stupid.’ This was indeed true, I considered. Impetuous. Wilful. But not stupid.
‘Do you think you frightened her?’ the tall Slave asked, a slight whine creeping into his tone, as it often did when he was a bit annoyed.
‘You’re blaming me for wearing a face mask?’
‘Well, it was kind of scary. I didn’t recognise you.’
And so it went on. They roamed up and down the street, until it was late at night. I heard them speaking to neighbours, who’d come out to see what all the fuss was about. But still she didn’t return. It was well past one in the morning when they finally decided to call it a night, agreed to pick up the search again the next day.
I wasn’t going to give in that easily though. In fact, I waited in the garden, listening to the sounds of the early day: the rustles in the undergrowth as hedgehogs and shrews began their nightly excursions, the high pitched chirps of the bats as they danced their choleric dance through the darkness, the sound of a distant car as it drove to an unknown destination, its engine oddly muffled against the night as if it were embarrassed by the hour. Eventually, The Architect appeared, as I’d known he would; well, to be precise, because I’d asked him to.
‘Evening,’ he said, his bulk perched on the fence for a moment, its structure creaking slightly. Before I’d offered up any kind of greeting by way of response, he’d leapt off, landing silently on the floor of the yard, his graceful movements as ever belying his size.
‘Anything?’ I asked, wondering if he’d picked up any scent of her on the way over. He shook his head.
‘Well, if she left hours ago…,’ I suggested, offering an explanation.
There was another rustle, and the fox appeared, parting the bamboo at the back end of the garden, to sit beside us on his haunches. He looked healthy and well fed: his tail was bushy, his fur lush.
‘I brought a ride along… For your old bones,’ The Architect said.
‘How very thoughtful,’ I replied, watching The Architect jump on first. And then in turn, I clambered up behind him.
We set off to first explore the gardens tucked away behind the terrace of houses. Nosing around our neighbours properties. But when we found no trace, we moved further afield, extending out search slowly but thoroughly up the road, the numbers of the houses descending until they became single figures and the road ended. We met a few hedgehogs, which scurried away, or curled up into protective balls as we arrived. And we even met a well-fed tabby cat, whom I had never seen before. There was a flash of white beneath his jaw, like a bib. He looked as us guiltily, before scarpering.
‘Who was that?’ I whispered.
‘Garfunkel. Lives at number 14. For such a big fella, he’s awfully shy.’
Having exhausted all the possible locations this end of the street, we turned around, following our footsteps back to the lane behind the terrace which included our house. The Architect jumped up the fence, just to check she hadn’t returned in our absence. When her continued absence was confirmed, we started back towards the chine. I hoped she hadn’t ventured that far.
We hopped over garden and skirted ponds, we trotted past ornamental gnomes and rusting barbecues. Then, we found ourselves in a larger garden, with a sea of grass rippling slightly in the almost imperceptible breeze. This was of course Athena’s abode. I hadn’t spoken to her for a while, and the place seemed dead, as was often the case when the Rock Star was away touring. No doubt he was being forced, yet again, to bang out that hit which had made him so famous.
I heard the soft fluttering of wings, at first wondering if it was another bat. But it was Athena’s owl, doing circuits of the garden, its jewel-like eyes glowing faintly in the dark. The clockwork device appeared to be bobbing up and down occasionally, as if its wings were faltering; I knew from experience, this meant it was winding down. But its presence meant Athena had to be around somewhere. Then I noticed that the studio at the back of the garden was open.
‘Hang on a second,’ I said, jumping of the back of the fox. The cold grass tickled the pads of my feet.
I pawed the door open and, when I was certain there was enough space for whiskers to pass, wandered in. A familiar scent hung in the air. That of Nepeta. But also, that of both Athena and Mimi. I walked deeper into the studio and found them sitting in an open velvet-lined guitar case, screeching and miaowing at each other in mirth.
‘Athena, I see you met Mimi!’
Athena turned to me, raised a paw and offered me a go on the Nepeta pipe. Mimi wouldn’t meet my eye.
‘You are such a bad influence,’ I scolded, brushing her offering away.
‘Fair enough. More for us,’ she replied, brazen.
‘More for you. Mimi is coming home with me.’ I stared at my companion and pointed at the door, nails bared.
‘Let her do what she wants–,’ Athena started.
‘She is a kitten, Athena,’ I interrupted. ‘You should know better. I’ll have words with you tomorrow.’
In the silence that followed, Mimi meekly stood up. She wandered through the door, her tail brushing the ground behind her. As soon as she got outside, I heard her hissing.
I rushed to follow her, just in time to see the fox bucking and writhing, with The Architect struggling to stay on its back like a rodeo cowboy. Mimi was crouching down on the floor, pouncing after it at regular intervals. Around them, the owl circled, oblivious.
‘Stop it!’ I shouted. And as if in response, the owl’s spring finally wound down and it floated gently to one of the flower borders, coming to a standing stop amongst the blooms. It folded its wings in and bowed its head forward, looking to all intents and purposes like a garden ornament.
Mimi didn’t seem to be interested in the owl, her eyes remaining fixed on the fox, her torso flattened to the floor in fight mode. The Architect had now regained control of his skittish steed, which was looking at us askance, a petrified expression contorting its muzzle.
‘What is it?’ Mimi whispered, her tail thrashing around behind her.
‘That is a fox. Please don’t scare it away: it’s my ride home!’

So we headed back to the garden, following a short cut Mimi had found: where some other foxes had gnawed through a fence. Soon we were left alone in our garden, illuminated by the moon and the ancient glow of stars light years away and the reflections from each other’s eyes.
‘You’ve worried our Slaves sick.’
‘Yes. They spent hours looking for you,’ I explained.
‘And we do have a lot of work to do tomorrow.’
‘I know. I feel guilty. About our Slaves.’
Because she seemed to be showing some kind of remorse about her actions, I ignored her blatant disregard for work. In any case, I knew she’d be bright as a button in the morning, having the gift of youth. It’d be me that would likely sleep through most of the day, as a consequence. ‘I’m sure you can make it up to them,’ I replied, comfortingly.
Mimi was silent for a moment, while she considered this. Then a mischievous grin spread over her features. ’I know! I’ll go and jump on their heads!’ she said. And with that she was back through the cat flap and into the house. I followed her, wearily, looking forward to the comfort of my basket. And the oblivion of sleep.
But sleep didn’t see to come that easy any more. When I heard the click of the cat flap, I found myself beginning to worry. Surely I wasn’t getting attached to this mischievous interloper? But this disappearance marked the start of many such occurrences. And the next time she vanished was much more serious.


Read about Mimi's arrival in the household here: Black Smoke 

Or catch up with all The Cat's adventures here: The Cat's Page

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Black Smoke

And who do you think you are?

It was my agent Smilodon’s idea, of course. When I’d explained my predicament about my arthritic skeleton, he’d suggested, in his usual somewhat blunt Teutonic manner, that I might need some help. I’d immediately balked at this, being the independent creature I am. But he persisted, dropping little hints into our communications. This was becoming so irritating that when he invited me to a literary lunch in Belgravia, I almost turned him down. But there is a little fish restaurant he takes his clients to that serves the most delicious pollock with white sauce; so good it almost tastes as nice as the stuff my Slaves give me on special days.
The day finally came, and I waited with a sense of anticipation for my Slaves to get ready. This meant mostly standing in their way on the landing, but remaining oblivious to the fact that they might trip over me. Eventually in a flurry of excitement about keys and ID badges, they left for what they call their jobs. Or rather the places they go to find more money to pay for my increasing visits to the Green Gowned Devil, and the supply of pills I’m forced to take. And my food of course, especially the aforementioned tinned gourmet creation. And occasional scratching posts, as I am wont to destroy them. Well, what else did they need to spend it on? They know I’m not that interested in any toys they might buy me, unless they contain catnip, but that doesn’t stop them.
So eventually, the door closed, and I heard the sounds of their cars as they drove away. As silence settled over the house, I felt calmer and crept back to my basket on the landing, sniffing it. It made me want to curl up, blot out the day already. I wasn’t sure I could face Smilodon with his questions about future projects and the battery of inquiries about my health. Duty soon got the better of me and I took the stairs tentatively, my old bones creaking, until I reached the bottom. The house’s front door is also a portal which leads into a network of tunnels in the alternate universe we cats consider our own. These tunnels lead to many places in our verse of space. But you know this already.
I hopped across space and time, coming out in Hyde park, around the back of an art gallery beside the Serpentine. The park wasn’t busy - a few cats sauntered along by the water, hungrily looking across its expanse for any sign of wild fowl, a rarity in this universe - they exist, but have better learnt to keep their distance than those in the human frame. Occasional shimmers of light would suggest something, perhaps the shadow of a duck bleeding into this world, but it could just have been the sun, reflecting across the lake. As I approached the road, the blur of activity from the human world became more obvious, visible even in the bright light of day: the ghost-like outlines of the traffic encircling London’s main park, the buses and taxis and lorries and cyclists. But they were in another space, and I crossed the road, unhindered by these spectral shapes. Once you learnt not to see them, they became invisible.
Soon I was amongst the white facades and columns of Belgravia. What is a smart, affluent part of London in the human realm, remains similar in our iteration; there are a few places, attractors you might want to call them, where the topographies are identical, and this is one. I suppose something has to knit all the various parts of the multiverse together, although why Belgravia, I have no idea. Perhaps the creator of this whole thing just liked the place.
Soon I spied the familiar large striped awning that hung over the street, the buzz of the cats on the chairs outside. The place was comforting, reminding me of the higher points of my literary career. It felt like we’d met there innumerable times, although it roughly amounted to once per book. The noise of laughter drew my attention back to the cats outside. At least six bottles of Les Moustaches, a celebrated and prestigious brand of fermented milk from Charolais, stood on the nearby tables - these were obviously cats of taste. I wondered if Smilodon would stoop to one of those for our meeting today, but knowing the price tag, considered that it might be a little too much to expect.
Inside, amongst the dark wooden browns of the wainscoted walls, I made my way to the back of the establishment, to the booth I knew Smilodon favoured. He was there already, eyeglasses looking uncomfortable over his pointy Burmese ears, as he flicked through a wad of paper.
‘Lining up the next lamb to the slaughter?’ I asked, as I sidled into the booth opposite.
Smilodon removed his spectacles from his face and placed them onto the crisp white tablecloth. ‘Aber… But this is how I discovered you,’ he said, in his German inflected but oddly British accent.
‘Any good?’
Schade… Sadly no. It will be some years again, before I come across a writer like yourself.’
‘I’m very flattered, Smilodon.’
‘Which is why we must think of your legacy,’ he replied, waving his paw at a waitress. To my surprise, a magnum of Moustache soon appeared and in a deft movement, coiling her tail around the cork, the bottle was open. I was so surprised, I could hardly bring myself to rail against this premonition of my demise, so instead decided to enjoy the booze.
Ich weiss… I know you aren’t the most organised sort. That you are prolific, but most of your stuff ends up in your Slaves’ attic,’ he explained.
‘I think you are confusing a prolific output with quality. I only send you stuff I’m happy with.’
Vielleicht… perhaps, some of that work might be useful to a scholar of your oeuvre,’ he continued, his accent making a mouthful of the French word.
‘I don’t want any help,’ I replied. ‘If anything it would hinder the creative process,’ I spat out, hoping that would be the last I’d hear of it.
‘What I am suggesting isn’t so much an amanuensis. More a protégé,’ Smilodon replied, keeping his cool, whilst again butchering the French language.
‘I don’t need help.’
‘Have some of Les Moustaches. And, I took the liberty of ordering your favourite dish.’

Arranging for this individual to come and join me was more complicated and indeed protracted than I think even Smilodon had considered. Perhaps if he’d known he wouldn’t have suggested such a course of action. But, once he’d persuaded me, his mind was set firmer than previously.
Firstly my human Slaves had to be hoodwinked into believing they wanted another cat. Which was easier said than done, although cat people have a tendency to accumulate the felines in their lives. And us cats are very good at subliminal manipulation of our Slaves. I was given a set of instructions, which I had to stick to. I recognised some of it as from The Alchemy of Feline and Human Interaction, the original of which I had once leafed through in a library with gloves over my paws to prevent any damage.
Secondly, she who Smilodon had chosen to be my companion was already located with other Human Slaves. It was therefore necessary that they came to the conclusion to be rid of her. Again easier said than done. She’d been placed with another ancient old British Blue writer, a poet of some renown. But that hadn’t worked out - they simply didn’t get on. So it was engineered that she keep the owners up every night until they lost their patience with this unruly kitten.
And thirdly, The Architect had to be consulted. His job mostly dealt in appraising time, and making sure that the messy lives of cats didn’t interfere too much with its continual progression towards oblivion. This often meant the machinations of a clockwork device, which he kept hidden in a chine in Bournemouth. But he knew the whereabouts of other similar clockwork devices, one of which could interact with what Humans call their internet. And so, my Slave’s computers were hijacked with adverts for a particular feline, she who Smilodon had chosen to be my companion.
So it came to pass that my Slaves woke up one Saturday morning and drove halfway up the country. They returned after a long day on the motorway, with a small black smoke British Shorthair and Scottish Fold cross. She sauntered in, tail held high, until she saw me.
‘Hi,’ I said.
‘Good evening. I’ve heard a lot about you. Not just from Smilodon. But from them,’ she said, nodding at my Human Slaves. ‘They do go on a bit.’
‘Any idea what they are going to call you yet? I asked.
‘Not sure. Mimi was suggested. But they haven’t made a decision yet.’
‘Right. Mimi is nice I suppose.’
‘Well, anyway, I suppose I’d better give the impression I’m scared of you,’ she said. I noticed a slight white tinge to her muzzle, imparting a sense of age much greater than her months.
‘For form’s sake, I suppose, yes,’ I answered.
‘I’ll just stay here, looking at you, pretending to be fascinated for a while.’
‘And if I creep closer and raise my paw.’
‘I’ll then dash behind the sofa.’

Over the next few weeks, it was incumbent on us, when our Slaves were around, to pretend as if we were cautious of one another. This generally meant fighting. But also displays of jealousy. If I was on the bed with the Slaves, she’d jump up and clamber over me in a fit of pique. And then when they went to their jobs, we’d get to work. She embarked on the attic with a professional attitude, encouraging me to discuss the various styles I’d used, or why certain things had been junked. At the same time, she proved herself to be a proficient mouser, which was just as well as the critters had been using my words to line their nests.
Looking back though, maybe in those first few weeks, I hadn’t just been acting. I had been cautious about her arrival, and how it would change things around my house. But it quickly became apparent that she was a welcome addition. Soon I was teaching her and appraising her own efforts to write. As Smilodon had suggested, there was a raw talent there, which just needed channelling.
Now months have gone by and our Slaves have named her something utterly atrocious, which causes embarrassment at the vets for her and them. Although thankfully, she is happy that I continue to call her Mimi. These days, it is less pressing for us to put on a show in front of our Slaves. In fact, they seem to prefer it when we are seen to be getting along. And Mimi seems to enjoy showing off in front of them with the cornucopia of cat toys which I spurned. Although we do have the odd scrap, just because… But most of the time, we are happy in each other’s company. And if anything, my creativity had been boosted by her presence - my latest book ‘Black Smoke’, no doubt inspired by my companion. The title of the book is inspired by her coat, the tips of which are pigmented, but the bases of which are white. Such an occurrence is a complication of cat coat genetics - the inhibited pigment gene - but one, which I have to say, is rather fetching.


There are a number of stories in this saga. Should you wish to read more about the misadventures of this particular feline, you can find them all here: The Cat's Page.

Saturday, 15 December 2018


For a number of weeks now, my thoughts have turned to those of the morbid variety. Being a writer, these often crystallise in my mind as words, sometimes those of my peers. For example, the bon mots of a famous Caterato, an American tomcat called Blatherskite, who once said in his characteristic Mississippi drawl: ‘I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.’ Needless to say, his Human Slave, a man called Mark Twain, heard this and transcribed it into his work (which is why you, human reader, may have heard this quotation). And although Blatherskite is indeed correct, when faced with the facts of the matter, trying not to fear the end, the final full-stop to one’s existence, is easier said than done. Such macabre perambulations of my thoughts, were centred on two events which occurred recently, which I will relay to you in turn.

The first episode began a month or so ago, precipitated by a visit to the green-gowned devil - I have had cause to mention her in previous missives. The visit was preceded by an uncomfortable trip in the car, where I’d somehow managed to sit awkwardly, hurting my back. This was in turn followed by a routine vaccination, the effects of which morphed me into something from a horror film. A few hours after said inoculation, which itself had been relatively painless, my muzzle blew up like a balloon and my nictitating membranes began to bulge out of my eye sockets. Needless to say this was unpleasant and caused my Human Slaves much consternation. Especially when I proceeded to void bilious stomach contents over their Persian rug. I add the last for effect - my Slaves were of course more concerned about me than said floorcloth.
So, off we trundled to another green-gowned devil, who deemed it essential to forcibly insert a thermometer into… Well, the less said about that the better. The swelling had thankfully at this point settled, but my legs remained stiff. I was discharged, but had to be followed up because this out of hours devil, with his all too thorough examination, considered it necessary. Now, I had been suffering stiffness for a while, but, you know it was on and off.
High on painkillers, I had almost forgotten about the dreaded follow-up until a few weeks later, when I was hoicked off to the vet’s again. Now, I was slightly concerned - perhaps they’d found something last time, which they had kept from me? Was there something in my liver, or eating away at my spleen? Was it terminal? I was reassured that only my smaller Slave was there for this particular visit. ‘If it was the end, surely they would both have been there?’ I thought to myself comfortingly, while at the same time worrying about my legacy, the loose ends of which seemed as frayed as the end of my favourite multicoloured-dangly-toy-on-a-stick-thing.
But I wasn’t prepared for her reaction when I awoke from the anaesthetic. Groggy as I was, my first thought was that I was glad to be alive again. My second thought was that because my small Slave was in floods of tears, something must be dreadfully wrong. She was talking to my Taller Slave, on her phone, so I managed to glean parts of what was going on from her side of the conversation. Incidentally, he was away in Bristol at a writers’ thing where he’d been reciting one of my stories; the circularity of this didn’t fail to amuse me.
To cut a long story short (as my editor/agent colleague Smilodon often suggests), it became apparent that I have arthritis. Now, I am relatively old - middle aged in human terms, I suppose - but this still came as a shock. I suppose this particular disease is one that you could associate with the process of the gradual descent into decrepitude which we know as ageing. Some breeds of cat get it earlier than others; unfortunately it seems I am one of those unlucky ones.
I was coming to terms with my plight and the bitter taste of the painkilling medication, when the second thing happened.

It was nighttime and my Slaves were asleep. I’d spent some time upstairs, working on tying up those loose ends of which I spoke. Finishing off those short stories which had been hanging over me for months, as well as working on the end of a novel. But I needed a break, so I padded downstairs. The night seemed to lay an odd hush over the house, almost as if the lack of light altered the way the building transmitted sound.
 My old bones creaked as I squeezed myself through the cat flap. Or at least, that was my perception - since I started with the pain relief, things have been easier. I haven’t exactly been running around like a kitten, although I can now jump higher than I have done for many months. I exercised this new ability by jumping onto the garden table. After a few moments, I realised someone else was also in the garden, sat on the cracked patio slabs below.
‘I wish you wouldn’t do that,’ I said to The Architect, as he moved into a pool of moonlight.
‘I hear you’ve been unwell,’ he said.
‘Athena told you?’ I asked. Athena lived on the same street as me, a few doors down; her human slave was apparently quite a famous Rock Star, or at least had managed to make a career out of it, thanks to a hit single back in the 70s. Athena had been kind enough to drop by a brace of freshly slaughtered voles as a get well present. I thanked her, but when she’d left, quickly got rid of them - as I have previously indicated, I’m fussy about what I eat and prefer my food to come out of a can with a high end brand on the side.
The Architect nodded in reply, his jowled muzzle quivering in the dark. As the silence that followed grew longer and longer, I eventually felt obliged to say something. ‘Feeling a bit better, actually.’
He nodded again, but this time spoke. ‘I saw you leaping onto the table. You need to be careful; those medications can make you feel like you have super powers.’ I noticed something in his tone of voice, as if he wanted to tell me something.
‘What’s up? Something’s wrong isn’t it?’ I queried.
‘Mylo has died,’ The Architect said.
My legs were suddenly heavy, like lead weights. I felt like covering my eyes with my paws, shutting out the world. For a while I just shook my head, unwilling to believe this could have happened.
‘How?’ I asked, eventually.
‘Poison,’ The Architect replied, but failed to elaborate further.
‘Poison? Someone killed him?’ I asked, immediately wondering who could have been jealous of the cat’s prodigious talent. There were no doubt a fair few whose feelings could have spiralled out of control.
‘Well, they think it was a human. A local farmer.’
‘On purpose?’
‘An accident, in all likelihood. Poison laid down to kill some mice or rats.’
‘Which Mylo ate?’
‘I’m not sure of all the details. But he was a voracious hunter. He probably caught and ate something which had already been poisoned.’
‘He can’t have been more than … what … five?’
The Architect nodded. Some of the autumn leaves that had fallen from nearby trees were caught by a flutter of wind. This was so sudden, it was almost as if speaking about our friend had caused some part of his spirit to return. Then, as soon as it had begun, the wind died and the leaves began to settle one by one.
‘The funeral’s next week. Where he lived, place called Winterslow. Up Salisbury way. You going to be well enough to attend?’ The Architect asked.
‘I’ll be there. Whatever it takes,’ I replied. ‘But haven’t some of the portals around there faded?’
‘Around Old Sarum they have a somewhat capricious hold on reality. You’ll have to pass through the catacombs in Salisbury.’
‘Right. I haven’t been that way for some time…,’ I said, worriedly.
‘How about I come pick you up then?’ asked The Architect.
We spoke a bit more, about our friend, before The Architect once again disappeared into the night. I remember thinking it was good of him to drop by - he was usually so busy at that time of day, frantically pulling together the threads of time which had been lost. Before feeding them into that antique Victorian machine in the chine, which smoothed out all time’s blemishes ready for the next day.

Mylo had achieved more in his five years on our planet than many did in a lifetime. He was a poet, his bucolic surroundings often feeding into his verse, although not in an old fashioned manner. His work was on point, up to date, tapping into some of the paranoias and worries that human society fed back into that the feline world. And it was brilliant. We’d become friends on the circuit, at some festival or another where we’d both been reading. His was a larger than life character, the central planet around which folk seemed to orbit at such events. Whether people were there hoping to catch one of the witticisms he dropped at regular intervals, or to have some of the brilliance rub off on them was uncertain. To me, he was a fellow writer, another solider who fought alongside, and fabulous company. His loss was a loss to the entire Caterati. With such a meteoric rise, who knows what might have happened if he had lived.
That Mylo had died at less than half my age, put my current problems into a degree of perspective. I’d already enjoyed more that twice the amount of existence than poor Mylo. But everything was relative. Some lights burn brighter than others, and for shorter times. This fact we simply have to accept, however inconvenient.

The funeral was held in the human verse of space, rather than that of the feline. It is a custom of ours to hold such events in the realm of space where one meets one’s demise. I’m not sure why this is the case, but it is a practice which goes back many years. I expect it relates to the fact that, once your light has been extinguished, it is difficult to then pass between realms.
We followed the old paths, through the dusty, dank catacombs under the cathedral, and then picked up a portal which carried us over to the East of the city. The funeral was to take place just outside a village called Winterslow, where there is a large mansion house with a rather unusual sculpture garden in the grounds. It was also close to Mylo’s old stomping ground. One of his friends, a beautiful silver tabby feline called Sylvia had organised the entire affair, and was ushering cats this way and that. Well, trying to: herding cats is, as you are well aware, an impossible task. Although it was dark, a number of the sculptures closer to the house were illuminated. Amongst the artwork on display was a rather odd looking cat-like creature, the height of a human, which was provoking an interesting reaction. Other pieces just seemed to loom out of the dark: odd block-like shapes, inspired by some element of the human condition.
I spent some time in the vicinity of these pieces, wandering across the neatly manicured lawns, spongy with rain. After some time, I located The Architect, and together we wandered into the small courtyard which had been commandeered for the proceedings. The place was full, as befitting Mylo’s status. I recognised many familiar faces: Ziggy was there, now a fully fledged member of the Caterati, with his debut novel making waves on the Indie scene. Athena was there too, her owl fluttering above the throng, its steel casing shimmering in the reflections of the spotlights.
I remember there being something in the air, something like a pheromone that put me ill at ease. At the same time this discontent was laced with a base note of aggression. However, I’d kind of put the latter down to Sylvia’s slightly obsessive compulsive behaviour; she was grieving, after all, and sometimes this can bring out characteristics we aren’t necessarily proud of. Or perhaps it was just that everyone was at a funeral and it was a sad occasion - it had been a while since I’d been to one.
As things commenced, everything had seemed civilised. Friends and relatives stood up and read out Mylo’s work, to choruses of screeches and miaows from the throng. In between readings, the air felt alive, with the vibration of the concerted purring making me think there was a swarm of bees in the vicinity.
I can’t remember exactly when everything went wrong. But I think it started when a cat called Buxton, a British blue, stood up and spoke. His words were powerful, casting the finger of blame at the local farmer who had laid the poison. He called for retribution and revenge. There were murmurs of assent at this, but even then the crowd remained calm, as one, mourning gracefully. Buxton sat down and more followed.
I think something must have happened as we were leaving. There were shouts for revenge, that something had to be done. There was a sudden push and cats began scrambling over each other as they made for the exit. I lost The Architect in the fray. Outside, on top of the cat statue, a young cat was whipping up the throng, her tail thrashing the air so violently that I thought she might lose her balance and fall. She was spitting words, none of which seemed to hang together.
‘…set fire to the house…scratch his eyes out while he sleeps…kill his faithful hounds…poison his family with the same stuff that…’
‘Poison them!’ a tomcat shouted, which was greeted with murmurs of approval.
‘Let’s do it now! While they sleep!’ another cat shouted, this time a female.
‘STOP!’ another voice shouted. It was one of Mylo’s friends, who had read early in the proceedings. He was stood on the top of the wall that surrounded the small courtyard garden where the service had taken place. ‘Poison? You will do no such thing. You think this is what Mylo wanted?’
‘Mylo would be alive, if it weren’t for that farmer!’ exclaimed another female, on the verge of hysteria.
‘Mylo was a peace-loving cat. He wished no harm to come to anyone. How is this respecting his life?’ came the reply.
A sudden indignant silence fell across the crowd. Mylo’s friend seemed to have quelled the urgent anger of the crowd. Knowing he now had his audience, he continued: ‘If you need to do anything, you should do something naughty, something irreverent. An act that respects the mischievous side of Mylo’s personality.’
‘Like what?’ asked a lone voice.
‘If you must do anything, how about you spoil the farmer’s cider? I’ve heard that cat piss doesn’t do much for its flavour.’

Hoping to find The Architect, I followed the clowder as they marched up towards Winterslow. The crowd was making a mess of the reception table, as they quaffed large quantities of the fermented white stuff, in preparation for the proceedings. Sylvia was flapping about and was somewhat unbelievably marking things down on a clipboard; to this day, I still have no idea what she was doing.
As the line of cats wound its sinuous way across the landscape, I found myself in conversation with the British Blue called Buxton, who had given the rousing eulogy. Buxton was named after a famous cat from a programme called The Magic Roundabout, he explained, before quizzing me about my current projects. The way he waited for me as we passed over a fence was touching, but made me feel my age. Perhaps I was limping - the cold had set in a bit and my legs were aching at that point.
In any case, we soon found our way to the farm, where the cats were scurrying around, gingerly removing the tops of the large vats he kept in his cider shed. Soon the boozy aroma was wafting its way across to my nostrils. But at the same time there was also the sharp tang of cat piss, as one by one, cats relieved themselves into the large vats. A few of the cats fell in, had to be helped out, the liquid sticking to their coats, making them seem like thinner, rattier creatures. This went on for a time, until one of the cats jumped up onto the top of a cider press and knocked the lid onto the floor. The massive crash didn’t go unnoticed and soon lights were popping up in the windows of the adjacent farmhouse. At this point, everyone scattered. I ran as fast as my arthritic legs could carry me, and by the time I heard the shotgun go off, I was almost at the door to the portal.

On the way back, without The Architect’s assistance, I found myself lost. I’d found my way to Old Sarum, but it was there the portals faded out, forcing travellers to join the older paths located in the human verse. I tentatively made my way along the deep tunnels beneath the ramparts of the old motte and bailey castle, following the immortal words of Mylo. He had travelled this way many times, and captured his experiences in a quartet of sonnets, which were celebrated for their bleak, gothic nature. These poems, like many of his others, hinted at a somewhat difficult, perhaps even sinister, future ahead.
It had been the catacombs beneath Salisbury centre which had thrown me. There were too many false turnings and dead ends, and try as I might, I couldn’t find the next section of the portal system. Eventually I gave up, and found my way out via a trapdoor in an old wooden pub called The Haunch of Venison. The place was thankfully closed and in complete darkness, reeking of a mixture of spilled beer and cleaning fluids. Being one of the older public houses in Salisbury, it was naturally filled with the liminal forms of ghosts, although they seemed more than usually discontent, whispering incoherently at me. Some of them were protecting a box on the wall of the place. I hopped up from the warped wooden floorboards onto a table, to better inspect this artefact, sending the spectral forms scurrying into the corners of the room. The box contained a mummified human hand; for creatures of other realms, such a thing was like a honeypot for bees. And it drew the tourists in, some of whom would leave with a ghost mired in their spirit.
Leaving this hideous artefact alone, I crept out of the pub via an open kitchen window, rimed with grease. Having licked the dirt and grease from my coat and once again made myself presentable, I made my way to the main street, hoping I would be hidden by darkness. Instead, blue lights strobed across the night and the place was a hive of human activity. Police officers were standing around, looking concerned as they watched another group of humans, dressed in some kind of luminescent protective gear, climb out of a van. Some people were shouting in the distance and I heard the buzz of a helicopter overhead. I had once to flatten myself against a wall as a large military vehicle thundered by. Something distinctly odd was happening.
I had to double back to get to the cathedral, and even then I had to sneak under some police tape. Soon though, I was beneath its towering spire and from there it was a short stretch to the cloisters. Whatever had happened out in the city beyond the walls of the protected place was spooking those in the dimensions beyond. More spectral shapes skittered about, as if panicking. I ignored them and bounded down into the crypt, where I could pick up the portal network again.
Eventually, with relief, I found myself back in Bournemouth, my back limbs now groaning with the effort. The Architect was waiting for me in the garden, a concerned look furrowing his brow. I explained how I’d got caught up in something, where the behaviour of humans was distinctly strange. And how their discomfiture had spilled into the neighbouring dimensions, causing an unease in the regions beyond.
‘This is a world in flux,’ The Architect said, in his usual flat tone. He explained what he’d heard was happening in Salisbury; how humans appeared to be poisoning themselves as well as some of us.
‘It makes me think of Mylo’s poems. The dark future he suggested,’ I mused.
‘He wasn’t a soothsayer, if that’s what you are suggesting,’ said The Architect, with an uncharacteristic contrariness. I supposed he knew about such matters.
‘I wasn’t suggesting that,’ I replied, slowly, gauging my friend’s expression. ‘What I meant was … perhaps he was able to pick up on the mess humans are making of the world? At least more than some of us can?’
‘You might be right. In any case, the clock doesn’t stop ticking. Whatever happens, time will continue its endless march forward. We are just bystanders in this, as we are in human affairs,’ The Architect replied. I was struck by the eloquence of this and thought about it for a while, as we both raised our heads to the heavens. I was still staring upwards at the sky thinking about it when I realised he had departed. I waited in the garden for a while longer, wondering if the leaves would rise up and give me another sign from Mylo. But this time, they remained still.

The End

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