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.’
‘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.
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