Saturday 18 August 2018

The Manuscript (Part One)

Gordiscope by Darmy

Let me start this epistle with an apology. It has been some weeks since you heard from me. I hope you didn’t think I’d been squashed beneath the wheels of a car, had my head bitten clean off my a neighbourhood hound or some other such horror. I was merely ‘on tour’ with my agent. Entertaining my clutter, if you will. Or my clowder. There are so many collective nouns for our species, I lose track.

In any case, the new short story collection ‘Vestigial Ghost Tails’ came out a few weeks back. Which means a contractual obligation to follow my agent around to wherever he thinks the books will sell best. Or at least create a buzz, which might sell more books. Perhaps my adventures in the foreign climes I visited will make their way into these sheaves of the interweb. Perhaps not.

I suppose I was fortunate enough to acquire an agent for Shadow Murder relatively quickly after I’d finished the book. I know others spend years trying to find someone to ply their wares for them – my tall Slave for instance hasn’t found one yet, just a sheaf of rejections. But sending my first novel away wasn’t without its problems…


            In the olden times - or you might say: ‘back in my youth’ - agents preferred proper printed documents. My Slaves do have a desktop inkjet printer thing, which would have been convenient, but for the fact they didn’t have enough paper and the machine took ages. Also, trying to print off a thousand or so sheets surreptitiously wouldn’t be easy and they would be sure to notice. I considered engineering it so they blamed it on one another, but ultimately, I didn’t think this was fair on them. They had just started spending a lot of money on my gourmet food, appeasing my fastidious dietary desires – I really didn’t want to risk a return to the cardboard flavoured generic branded cat meat. (I’m sure you know which one I mean, but I’ll refrain from writing the name here for legal reasons.) So, I had to think up another plan.

            I was sitting in the garden one night, wondering what to do about this, watching the distant stars, when I heard a scuffling nearby. Moments later, The Architect loomed into being over the top of the fence. The fence wobbled for a moment beneath his bulk, before he landed on the patio next to me. I was, as ever, surprised by the light grace of his movements, which belied his size.

            ‘Greetings, my good sir Architect,’ I offered.

            In response, the cat issued a deep mioaw. He remained silent for a bit longer, so I resumed my search of the heavens, hoping for Bastet to reveal herself and solve my problems. Perhaps she was busy in her human form, dealing with their multitude of problems. I believe they call her Artemis, but I could be mistaken.

            Some time after this, The Architect chose to speak.

            ‘Your neighbour remains quiet…,’ he said, talking of Athena, the Rock Star cat.

            ‘Quiet? She’s been making an awful racket. Apparently she’s in some creative purple patch. The Owl is her muse. Et cetera,’ I explained.

            ‘Oh, right. I think…’

            ‘Therefore you are cat?’

            ‘Very amusing. But Let me rephrase that. She has been quiet when it comes to time,’ said the Architect.

            ‘I didn’t realise time was loud.’

            ‘My ears are attuned to its vibrations. In a similar manner to those cats which can detect Earthquakes before they hit.’

            ‘Are you trying to say thanks?’ I asked.

            ‘In a manner of speaking,’ he replied.

            ‘Well, perhaps there is something you can do for me…’

            I explained my predicament, The Architect nodding as I outlined how such a transgression as abusing my Slaves’ printer would likely not pass them by.

            ‘Well, perhaps you could try the library?’ he suggested.

            ‘The library? Isn’t that just full of books?’

            ‘It is quite different to the feline libraries you’ve visited. As well as books, Human Slaves like to populate their libraries with CDs, DVDs, books which can speak to you and computers which can print things. It is just around the corner,’ he continued, raising one paw to point over the high wall that ran along the alleyway behind the garden.

            As I’ve pointed out before, I am not really one for climbing. At most I will jump onto the garden table. But that is about my limit. I regarded the wall with suspicion.

            ‘Isn’t it a bit high?’ I asked, half expecting The Architect to call on his fox friend to help. But he didn’t mention it. And I was reluctant to ask this favour of him, due to my rather British sensibilities.

            Eventually he replied: ‘Look, I’ll go first. You follow my footsteps. If you fall, you’ll land on your feet anyway.’

            ‘I’m not so sure…’

            But as I spoke those words, the Architect had launched himself back up the fence, teetering on its summit.

            ‘Hang on! I’m not ready! I need to get the disk!’ I replied, dashing back into the house and charging up the two flights of stairs. This was before the ubiquity of USB sticks and the invention of cloud drives. Data had to be saved to a shiny disk, which you’d transfer between computers – the disks themselves were housed in brittle plastic cases. I selected the disk onto which I’d saved my opus magnus and gently placed it into the belly bag I use to transport things around the place.

            Moments later, I was downstairs, watching the Architect swaying on the top of the fence. The disk strapped to me was bulky and uncomfortable; even worse, it seemed to get in the way every time I stretched for the jump. I shook my head, expecting the Architect to say something, but he remained patiently silent.

            I jumped. But undershot. And was forced to scrabble up the creeper which grew up the trellising. I almost lost it at one point, but then I was up there, next to The Architect, feeling the structure yaw. My thrashing around caused the security light next door to flash into action. Remaining mute, the Architect turned and jumped straight at the wall, leaping over the length of the alleyway and attaching himself to the vertical surface. He climbed up like a fat spider, before settling himself on the top and glancing down at me from what seemed like an unfathomable height.

            I sat there contemplating the leap until the security light flicked off again. The Architect vanished against the night sky - all that remained of him were the glittering eyes, like two additional stars in the sky. Soon though, the rod cells in my eyes became accustomed to the dark, the crevices of the wall; even the footholds my friend had used became visible. I decided to go for it, leaping across the expanse. But then as I hit the wall, I found myself sliding downwards, my claws too finely trimmed by my Slaves to make purchase on the surface. I flipped backwards and felt myself falling, gravity pulling me upright and I landed with a bump in the alleyway.

            I looked around, noticing a rat next to me, baring its teeth. I swiped at it, but it ducked, refusing to back away. Brazen creatures, are rats. I swiped again, but the creature refused to move, almost as if it was interested in me. Seconds later it pounced and we began to tumble around, scratching and biting each other. And then, as quick as the attack had begun, it shot off down the alleyway. Feeling lighter, I quickly discovered that the disk had vanished, my belly bag empty. I looked around in a panic, hoping it had just fallen out in the scrap. Unable to find it, I realised that the rat had taken it.

            Above, I saw The Architect charging across the top of the wall, keeping pace with the rat as it plunged along the alleyway. I also began to pursue, darting through the overgrown lane, giving the large bush of holly a wide berth, jumping over the old pots and pans left to moulder over the years, and then speeding up as I reached the stretch of herby stuff which sprang beneath my feet. At the end of the alleyway, a bike was locked up, its wheel jutting into the alleyway at an angle, spokes glinting in the moonlight. Some movement also flashed nearby: the disk which contained my novel.

            And yes, before you ask, this was the only copy. And yes, I should have known better. There is a lesson here for all you writers. But I suspect these days everything is automatically saved onto your cloud account. Nothing can ever be deleted. These words will remain here, on the interweb, in perpetuity. Even if I remove them from this website, they will remain saved somewhere on a hard drive deep beneath the earth’s crust. But this wasn’t the case with my novel back then. As the flashing disk disappeared around the corner of the alleyway, I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach. And a sense of disbelief, which slowly morphed into anger.




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