Saturday 16 June 2018

Athena's Owl (Part Two)

Owl and Cat by Zelda's Slave

The story continues...

            I waited a few days before I put the second part of my plan into action. Part of me hoped that this wouldn’t be necessary, that fate would intervene on my behalf and engineer some kind of encounter with my neighbour, the Rock Star cat. But the thread of this feline’s fate was not to be interfered with.

            Let me explain first where the idea came from. It was born out of my own stupidity. But perhaps I’m being hard on myself – the human and cat eye are not exactly comparable, nor is the way we perceive the world. In any case, I had of course, become aware of the black box in the corner of the room, which seemed to pour out light and noise. The same one which my Slaves enjoyed watching for hours on end. Sometimes they were so engrossed they even forgot to feed me and I had to remind them of their duty.

            In any case, I hadn’t paid this thing much attention, until one day something darted across the box. The thing immediately caught my eye. It looked like some kind of bird thing. I immediately jumped off the bed, where I had been lying next to the Tall Slave, and set about examining the box. The bird didn’t appear for a while, but other strange things flickered over the box’s face. Eventually the bird was there, flapping around. I reached up and tried to touch the box’s face, but there seemed to be some kind of forcefield in the way. So I checked around the back of the box, but behind was all wires and dust. I moved back and carried on watching, intrigued by the bird. Meanwhile, my Slaves were watching me, waiting for me to click.

            Of course, I know now that this is a television. And I’d been tricked by the bird on its surface. But at the same time, this hadn’t been any old bird. This bird was some kind of metallic owl, from a famous film of long ago. I didn’t think much of the rest of the film at the time, but that owl caught my imagination. In fact, to the point that I wanted one for myself.

            Now, across the universes we inhabit, there are many different creative cats: there are writers, like myself; there are musicians, like Rock Star cat. But the diverse interests spread amongst the Caterati doesn’t stop there. Smith lived up to his name, and was a dab hand in metalwork, and clockwork. And, to fulfil the second part of my plan, it was Smith I sought out. Following the preceding paragraphs, I suspect you know why.

            ‘You want me to make you what?’ asked Smith. He was a burly ginger Tom, sporting the long leather overall of his trade. His expression was one of almost constant surprise, due to the singeing of his whiskers and face.

            ‘A clockwork owl. Which flies and everything.’

            ‘Right. And you want it to speak too?’ he asked, jokingly.

            ‘No, I’m not that fussed about it hooting,’ I replied, deadly serious. Noticing my demeanour he then brushed away the hilarity, mimicking my expression of seriousness. Good salesman, he was. ‘But it needs to have bewitching eyes. And it needs to come back when I call it.’

            ‘That’s not just clockwork, that’s sophisticated electronics, that is. So it’ll cost you.’

            ‘I’ve got the money.’

            ‘What was this film you mentioned it was from?’

            I pointed him in the direction of a relevant youtube clip and we then agreed on a price. It was steep, but what I expected from such a highly sought after craftsman. And he didn’t disappoint.

            When I returned two weeks later, the bird was complete. He nodded as I walked in, gestured that I follow him. He took me out into the yard of his forge, littered with old machinery and pieces of metal, some of which were draped in thick black covers. Perched on the corner of a large vice was the owl. When Smith clapped his hand, the bird fluttered into life and began to circle us, the technology within preventing it from hitting the surrounding obstacles. I instinctively tried to snatch the owl from the air, but it was too quick even for my lightning reflexes.

            Smith then made a whistling sound and the bird returned to its perch on the vice.

            ‘It’s perfect,’ I told him.

            ‘I know,’ he replied.

            He then showed me how to set it to come back to my command, how to increase the amplitude of its circling motions, how to track it to my movements, how to wind the thing up and so on. I left with my clockwork owl, the facsimile of that which I’d seen on my Slave’s television all those years ago, fluttering beside me.

            I had to wait until my Slaves had gone to sleep that night before I put the final parts of my plan into action. Under cover of night, I sat in the yard and let the owl free: it shot off across the gardens surrounding the buildings which surrounded my castle: a shard of glittering silver glinting in the moonlight. Keeping it company were other shadowy parts of the dark: the local bats, which darted about, sating their appetite on the evening’s insects.

            I sat waiting, watching the owl do its circuits. Occasionally, I’d miaow and it would return and I’d wind it up or change its settings. This went on for a week and I began to think that Beast had been right – the plan was crazy, and likely induced by the cat nip. Or perhaps it was too clever - too reliant on ancient Greek history – the human mythos of course reflecting that of the original feline.

            But then, during the second week, it happened. As the owl came to perch on our cast iron table, there was a noise in the alleyway behind our yard: a kind of scratching sound. And then she was there, tiptoeing across the top of our fence, eyeing both me and the owl suspiciously.

            ‘What is that thing?’ she asked, demurely.

            ‘It is a metallic owl,’ I replied.

            She jumped from the fence, landing gracefully amongst the beds of lobelia and peonie and scampered over to where I sat.

            I miaowed, issuing the command for the bird to take off. And we both watched as it rose up and darted behind the stand of bamboo.

            ‘Don’t worry, it’ll be back in a second,’ I replied, happy that I’d already broached the subject of time. At least in a certain manner.

            ‘I’m Athena by the way,’ she said. I’d known this of course.

            I told her my name, explained I was a writer. She said she’d heard of me, read some of my stuff. But at this point, I wasn’t well known, so I think she was just being kind.

            The owl returned and I showed her how to reset it, how to make it fly in smaller circles. She was transfixed, unable to keep her eyes off the thing. Eventually she told me she wanted it, in fact that she had to have it.

            ‘It isn’t for sale,’ I replied.

            ‘I’ll pay you. More than twice the amount you paid for it.’

            ‘It is one of its kind. There won’t ever be another,’ I said, resisting.

            ‘Four times the price. It’ll be perfect for the new stage show.’ The last she said more to herself than me, but I heard it anyway and knew the plan was working.

            ‘Well… four times the price… I suppose I can’t really say no.’

            She leapt up, excited and began to chase her tail. Such affected activity may work on humans, but it doesn’t cut the mustard for me.

            ‘There is one thing though,’ I said.

            ‘What’s that?’

            ‘Once the bird is programmed to your command. Well, you mustn’t stop time.’

            ‘Why not?’

            ‘Things get reset.’

            ‘And the owl won’t work?’

            I shook my head, gravely.

            Of course, you’ll realise that I didn’t actually speak or suggest an untruth. Stopping time would have done nothing to the metallic owl. I simply told her not to stop time and pointed out that it can reset things, as indeed The Architect had shown me. Athena made the link to the owl, because I wanted her to. And when she asked me if the owl wouldn’t work, I shook my head: she perceived this in context, not as the literal answer to her question.

            She bought it though, and the effects lasted. Athena and the Owl became inseparable, as in the myths of old. The Owl became, in many ways, her unique selling point, featuring on many of the following album covers. And becoming a cult amongst her multitude of followers.

            Of course, many years later, I told her about what I’d done, but she didn’t seem to mind. In fact, she seemed almost grateful. As if the time spent off line, where she’d stopped the forward motion of the clock, had somehow become addictive. It was almost as if my intervention, on behalf of The Architect, had somehow saved her. I wonder now if that was perhaps his intention all along…

Saturday 9 June 2018

Athena's Owl (Part One)

Portrait of The Cat by Zelda's Slave

            Every night I trick my Slaves. Around ten o’clock, I wait at the top of the stairs, beckoning them upwards. Informing them, with increasingly loud miaows, and increasingly agitated movements, that it is their bedtime. And, this usually works. Having impressed my feelings that I need to sleep now upon them, they usually complete their ablutions quickly and retire. I curl up next to them and when I am certain they are asleep, I creep off, upstairs to the study. Where, I can write my stories.

            As I said, this usually works. Sometimes, they will dally. Often this happens when I smell alcohol on their breaths, or when they have friends over. All of which can be particularly annoying if I have a deadline to hit. But then they’ll usually sleep in the next day, so… On one occasion their friends brought some catnip over for me, wrapped in the form of a mouse. Or rather a packet of three. So I was expected to perform with one of these toys and as a result spent the rest of the night intoxicated. The subsequent words that issued forth have yet to see the light of day.

            It was the presence of this so-called ‘toy’ in my Castle that gave me an idea about how to contact Rock Star cat.

             You’d think it would be easy, speaking to a neighbour. But there were a number of problems. Firstly, I wasn’t sure she wanted to hear what I had to tell her. And in trying to impart to her that her behaviour wasn’t entirely acceptable, I risked coming across like an officious schoolmaster. Which, I was certain, being a creative like myself, was something she wouldn’t respond to. This meant I had to first take her into my confidence, somehow. And secondly, there were the crazy hours she kept, as a result of her band practices and gig schedule.

            I wished I hadn’t agreed to say anything. Couldn’t The Architect do his own dirty work? Couldn’t he get through to her about the effects her ever longer intermissions were having on the timeline? As he’d explained, you simply couldn’t stop time for such long periods without ill effects. But of course, I reminded myself, he had tried to speak to her. And where he had failed, he thought I could succeed. To this end, The Architect had also given me his blessing to abuse my time privileges more than was usual. Not that this had been of any help just yet.

            I wished I could put a signed novel through the door. Show her I was a creative too - that because of this coincidence, there could be some kind of connection. But at that point, my oeuvre was confined to short stories - some of them award winning, like the stories to which The Architect had referred. I’d had the idea for Shadow Murder, but I hadn’t finished it. And I just didn’t think putting through one of my contributor copies of Cat’s Cradle issue 19, containing Die FrankenMaus would cut the mustard. (And yes, before you mention it, this was a Mary Shelley inspired effort, although more of a crime fiction than science fiction - the latter, as discussed previously, not being my genre.) It was The Architect himself who suggested I try something more oblique.

            So there I was, looking at this stuffed mouse, or at least trying to, with my eyes pointing different directions. And the idea occurred to me. I’d done a reading of the aforementioned story a few days earlier, so its content was still fresh in my mind. And subsequently twisted by the Nepeta drug. The idea wasn’t a very good one, as you’ll see, but I ran with it all the same.

            Firstly, I needed some hard cash - I had some, but not nearly enough for the purposes I required. But that was easily resolved. Or at least I thought it would be. I had two more toy mice, stuffed with catnip, which would fetch a decent sum on the black market. If only I knew who to speak to. So that night, instead of writing, I snuck through the portal, sniffing out the ever dependable Beast. By the way, for those of you who are keeping tabs on my timeline, or checking for continuity errors, this was before he left. Although it goes without saying that remembering things accurately and keeping track of timelines may well be a function of fiction, but the converse is much more like real life. I digress…

            Beast’s neighbourhood was in a quiet patch of rural Devon, lacking light pollution. Given it was a clear night, the entire cosmos was spread out above me, as if rendered three dimensional. The starlight cast eerie shadows across the land, and there was the smell of odd country creatures. I found him sitting in his favourite spot, on the top of his Slave’s garage, surveying the darkness.

            His reverie was shaken when I jumped down next to him and he sat up abruptly, bearing his claws, before he realised who it was.

            ‘Do you really have to sneak up on me like that?’ he asked.

            I apologised and began to explain what I wanted to do.

            ‘So you basically want to be a drug dealer?’ he asked, incredulously.

            ‘Well, look, if you want to buy them off me…,’ I began.

            ‘No, I don’t,’ he sighed. ‘Look, I know a cat… But this is dangerous. If the Mice Police get you… What grade of stuff is it anyway?’

            ‘I don’t know that kind of thing!’

            ‘You’ve tried it?’


            ‘And this is when you came up with this ridiculous plan of yours?’


            ‘Right. It’s the strong stuff then.’

            Beast’s directions led through a portal, back to another part of the human aspect of the layered worlds. To what was a well-appointed Victorian street. I’d expected some concrete jungle, stained with blood and smelling of urine, but I suppose this is a clichéd perception of those who deal in illicit substances. These terraced houses were well kept, with flower baskets outside, and neatly manicured front gardens. Cars were parked on the road, all of which bore the specific brandings which I associated with human wealth.

            I was careful to avoid human contact, sneaking behind a privet bush when I heard some voices. Wild humans, when they encounter a cat, are unpredictable – at best you might get a rough stroke. At worst they might grab you and carry you away somewhere and torture you. And if you try and defend yourself, they get irrationally angry. Can you imagine a giant picking up a human and them not having anything to say about it? In any case, I had the toy mice strapped to my stomach, which might have attracted attention.

            The street curved around and then ended abruptly at a gate, which led onto a wide expanse of grass. In the distance, I saw some humans dressed in white clustered together. There’d be an occasional crack as something hit wood. I was halfway to the pavilion, edging around the field, when something planted itself in the foliage in front of me. Suddenly a horde of the white clad humans were shouting and charging toward me. Without hesitating, I bolted away from them, the distance between me and the pavilion closing rapidly. It soon became obvious that they weren’t after me, and I slowed, turning to watch the crazy humans as they retrieved some kind of ball and threw it in the air, cheering all the while. And they think we are stupid when we play with toy mice?

            The storage room behind the pavilion was strewn with exercise mats, on which Monty was lying, or rather lounging. He was a large Birman, his hair immaculately groomed. Which couldn’t be said for his company: a few moggy looking strays, which sat nearby, subserviently. Both bore war wounds: the one on the left had a scarred nose from a previous fight, and the cat on the right seemed to be missing most of an ear.

            I sat down in front of them, leaving a good distance between me and the exit. My hair was bristling and I felt the beginnings of a growl at the back of my throat. For a while Monty said nothing, just glared at me. When he actually spoke, where I’d been expecting a cockneyfied drawl, his words lacked an accent - a feature I associate with the more aristocratic felines.

            ‘I’m Monty. But I suspect you know that,’ he drawled, lazily. ‘And you are?’

            ‘I’m not interested in chit chat,’ I replied. ‘Someone told me you were the cat to speak to about a Nepeta deal. I’m selling.’

            ‘Ah, straight to the point. Excellent.’

            I undid the tie holding the two mice around my neck and let them fall to the floor. Even in their plastic packaging, the potent smell of the weed leached out.

            ‘Benson will come and check them out’ Monty said, nudging the cat with the scarred nose. Slovenly, the cat got to his feet and began to saunter over, his path following a loose arc as he approached, as if weighing up the surroundings. Or giving Monty time to check me out while my guard was down.

            As Benson approached, I raised my left foot, and placed it carefully on the small parcel. This was something Beast had told me to do. ‘You don’t want the cat scarpering with your goods before the deal is done,’ he’d said. ‘Exert your authority from the beginning. Then they will respect you.’ Benson wasn’t phased by this action and had begun to sniff the package with what was left of his nose. He turned to Monty and nodded, before sauntering back.

            ‘The money, Hedges,’ Monty said to the cat with the ruined ear. Soon Hedges returned with a wad of notes and placed it on the floor in front of his superior.

            ‘And now, we negotiate. How much do you want?’ Monty asked.

            But I was prepared for this, coached by Beast. Thereafter followed a few moments haggling, until we reached the price I had hoped for and which I expected I would need for this enterprise. And then, Hedges gave me the cash, while Benson liberated the goods.

            ‘A pleasure doing business with you,’ Monty said, but I didn’t reply. I was out of there, scarpering back across the cricket pitch, and along the terrace to the portal. And a few slips later, I was back at my home in Bournemouth.

To be continued...