Saturday 24 August 2019


'Where is the red dot - I need to find it!'

It was another day of interruptions. I was trying my best to concentrate but the moment I’d get stuck into my editor Bobinski’s efforts with his red pen, something else would happen. As usual one thing led to another – one story crashing headlong into the next. Not for the first time, I wondered if stories have a life of their own.

Distraction number one: Mimi ’s hyperactivity switch seemed to have been flicked, so she was charging around the house relentlessly. I blamed my tall Human Slave who had been teasing her with the laser pointer that morning, making her crazy with excitement. I suspected she was still looking for that dot of red light. She’d learn, just as I had.
Distraction number two took the form of a surprise visit from my agent, Smilodon. The first I knew of this was when Mimi careened into my office, before breathlessly announcing: ‘He’s here! He’s here.’ Needless to say, this wasn’t particularly useful. Once she’d managed to get her breath back, she managed a few more words. ‘You know. Old Sabre Tooth. Burmese agent fellow.’
‘You mean, Smilodon? He who was involved in arranging your sinecure?’
‘Harsh. I do some work. But right now I have to find something.’
And with that, she was gone. I stood up and stretched my old bones, my back legs increasingly wobbly as the days pass. The medication my human slaves give me does help, but I find basking in the sun, preferably in the flower bed, is the best remedy. Moving down the stairs these days involves what you might call more of a bunny hop: not particularly graceful.
Smilodon was standing in the hallway, some kind of umbrella under his arm, watching my ungainly descent with a mixture of amusement and concern.
‘How delightful to see you,’ I said through the remaining teeth I could grit.
Wunderschön… Wonderful to see you. Now I hope you don’t mind me barging in like this…’

Given the time it was taking me to finish my latest work, he’d made the decision to leave his cosy Cambridge garret and make the trip down south to Bournemouth. As we spoke he arranged himself on the sofa in what can only be described as a sprawling fashion. The conversation guttered - I was still lost in a literal world of my own making, my thoughts in the brain of a character I’d created. There was a rather twisty plot point which I was considering rewriting. Smilodon eyed me curiously, furnished with the bowl of snacks my Slaves had prepared for me earlier in the day, into which he dipped his paw intermittently.
‘So… Fristenbestimmung für die Veröffentlichung… about this publication deadline,’ he said, when we’d run out of small talk and the silence was beginning to get uncomfortable. As usual when we meet, I wondered at the way he lapses into German at the beginning of sentences. My theory is that his brain works so fast that it takes his mouth a while to catch up. But perhaps it is pure affectation, a way of showing off his cultural heritage.
‘Well…,’ I began, moments before Mimi bowled across the room, sending a flowerpot into a precarious spin. The bamboo within rustled as it turned, bowing to and fro, before the terracotta settled once more on its pedestal. I watched, hackles raised.
Mein Gott… My god, she’ll have that over before long,’ remarked Smilodon.
‘It’s already happened twice. But my Slaves keep repotting it and leaving it in the same place,’ I explained.
‘So I see you’ve had certain distractions,’ Smilodon said dryly as Mimi disappeared again in a flurry of paws and fur.
‘You mean chasing ghosts and escaping the clutches of evil right-wing fascists? You could consider it grist to the mill. Even at my age,’ I replied, blithely.
‘But nevertheless, Mimi appears to have been more of a hindrance than a help.’
I lowered my voice as I replied: ‘Having her here was your idea, Smilodon! She has been helping me get things together. But… You know how it is…’
Vielleicht… maybe she will yet prove her worth?
‘I’ve got a few stories out of her already. Although sadly they still need to be written,’ I said forlornly.
Also… About your writing. We have set a date for Black Smoke to be published. You’ve seen the cover artwork. There are posters uber alles… all over the place. We can’t pull out now - the ball is rolling on this one. I’m just here to give you a friendly nudge.’ Smilodon gestured a nudge with his paw, before plunging it back into the bowel of treats.
‘It’ll be done. It’s just the next one which will be delayed. You can’t force these things,’ I replied, haughtily .
‘Ah, there it is: the capricious artist’s temperament,’ Smilodon said. ‘I was beginning to think you had lost it.’
‘I’d hardly call it caprice. I just don’t want to put something out there I’m not entirely happy with. And ultimately, neither do you.’
Ja, ich verstehe… I understand,’ said Smilodon.
‘Did you hear about that American Human author?’ I asked.
‘The one who got all her facts wrong and then had to get books pulped?’
‘Indeed. Death recorded. Well, there you go… Need I say more?’

Eventually Smilodon, having felt he’d exhausted enough time on this particular client, made his excuses and left. Apparently he was on his way through the Feliverse to Bath for a glitzy literary dinner in the Roman Pump Rooms. The old spa was stocked with a population of carp, which seemed inured to the higher water temperatures. Apparently they’d tried to introduce trout first, but they’d ended up with a thick cloying chowder an hour or so later. I’d been to a literary dinner there long ago, once they’d sorted out the fish population, and the repast itself was usually preceeded by a half hour of sport, the clear waters of the spring stained with blood. The flagstones surrounding the pools proved useful to kill your catch, which would then be proferred to a nearby chef for cooking. I hasten to add, I merely observed this carnal activity, not being one for surrendering to our natural feline instincts. Smildon left in a show of embraces and kisses, waving his umbrella at us both as he danced through the portal and away into the feliverse. I politely ignored the fact he’d made a fuss about going out of his way to see me, when in fact the portal system to Bath led straight past us.

Which brings me to the biggest distraction of the day, distraction number three. A veritable Trinity of distractions, or as a human once put it in a dead language: omne trium perfectum. I’d barely sat down for half an hour when Mimi crashed through the door once again - a furry ball bouncing from armchair to record deck to speaker to table, her head then appearing from behind the computer screen I was attempting to use.
‘Twig!’ she said.
‘A thin woody shoot growing from a tree branch or trunk - what about it?’ I asked, adding a few more words to a hanging sentence.
‘Twig is here!’ she exclaimed.
‘Have you been bringing things into the house again?’ I asked, my attention finally being pulled away from the scene I’d been writing. ‘What with all the leaves you’ve managed to capture and leave in the kitchen, it is a wonder there is any of the tree left.’
‘You know who Twig is. Stop being so silly,’ said Mimi, looking somewhat crestfallen.
‘Ah, we have another visitor!’ I exclaimed, in sudden realisation. ‘Remind me who this Twig is again?’’
‘She’s owned by a work colleague of our tall Human Slave. Anyway, she’s here about a poltergeist.’
‘No such thing,’ I scoffed.
‘Just come and listen to what she has to say,’ said Mimi, gently pawing at the computer screen. I sighed and began the now familiar slow bunny hop descent, resigned to the fact today was just one of those days.

Twig was a black cat, but one without the black smoke coat of Mimi: she was a pure black. Her ears were slightly moth-eaten, as if she had been accustomed with pugilistic tendencies at one time. But her manner was timid and gentle, belying any previous aggression. I recognised the type - one who had suffered during their early ears, before being rescued by a decent loving family who homes them. It was an all too common occurrence in the feline world.
‘Twig!’ I exclaimed, feigning previous acquaintance.
She responded with apologies and thanks and other platitudes, which I pawed away.
‘A drink?’ I asked, to which Twig nodded an acceptance. ‘I’m afraid we’ve only got semi-skimmed left. But it is organic.’
‘That’d be fine,’ Twig replied.
‘Mimi?’ I asked, but from the clattering sounds in the kitchen, she was already on the case. This was followed by some small talk about our receptive Slaves, which continued until Mimi tottered in on her back legs, clutching two tumblers of the aforementioned. She managed to place the glasses on the coffee table without spilling a drop. I reminded myself to tell her that if this editorial large didn’t work out for her, that she’d be safe in the circus, or at least one of the decent restaurants in Belgravia which Smilodon frequented. She made herself scarce immediately afterwards, dashing off in a hurry - still looking for the laser, I surmised.
‘Now, what’s this about a poltergeist?’ I asked.
‘Well… it all started on Tuesday, last week,’ Twig began, her accent bearing a slight Dorset inflection.
‘And what exactly happened?’
‘I was sat on the sofa and then, our of nowhere - bang - the picture above the fireplace flew across the room and smashed on the floor.’
‘I see,’ I replied. ‘And when your Slaves came home?’
‘Well, they were already there. They saw it too. They cleaned up the glass and put the picture back on the wall, the frame slightly dented.’
‘And then, moments later, it happened again. This time, the frame splintered, so they left it standing on the wall. But even then it wasn’t safe, the thing kept toppling over, as if pushed. I felt something near me, pushing. There were two spots of light, which vanished. But, I’m used to seeing ghosts - this wasn’t like one of them - so I made the assumption that it was a poltergeist. And you being such an expert in these things, or so I’ve heard…’
‘Well, you do flatter me. But really…,’ I said, running out of steam. It is my opinion that poltergeists are rubbish, but I decided it was best to be kind. ‘Tell me about the picture.’
‘It is picture of a human. An old one,’ Twig replied.
‘Interesting. An old member of your Slave’s family?’
‘I think so. A grandparent I think.’
‘Interesting. And you said you saw two points of light?’
‘Only briefly.’
‘Well, perhaps we need to take a visit,’ I said, as Twig timidly finished her milk. I noted down the address, and the shortcut she explained was easiest through the feliverse and showed her out. I returned to the sitting room, where Mimi was already sweeping away the tumblers.
‘I thought you’d gone out?’ I asked.
‘I was under the table, listening.’
‘I told you, poltergeists don’t exist. I’ll humour her with a visit. But only because of our Human connection.’
‘I never said I thought it was a poltergeist,’ Mimi said, defiantly.
‘Well, what do you think then?’ I asked.
‘I think it is an invisible cat.’
I paused for a minute, letting this sink in. ‘Because of the two points of light?’
‘Yes. Definitely an invisible cat.’
‘That is just a story, a fiction. Like something I’ve written.’
‘A lot of what you’ve written is based on real events.’
‘Well, blame that on my lack on imagination. Trust me, there are no invisible cats.’
‘But the story…’
Despite the effort, I leapt onto the bookshelves and selected a volume, pulling it out with a few claws. It crashed to the floor, pages spilling out of its spine – the book was an old paperback, which smelt musty, its pages etiolated and foxed. I leapt down next to it, flipping back the cover so Mimi could see it. ‘This is where the fiction came from. It is a story called The Invisible Man, written by a Human called H. G. Wells. In it, a scientist creates a formula to make people invisible. But he tries it out first on a neighbour’s cat,’ I explained.
‘How very unpleasant.’
‘He is quite a cross character, in general. I won’t explain exactly how he treats this poor cat. But anyway, the formula made the cat disappear.’
‘The book is called The Invisible Man. Not the Invisible Cat,’ Mimi said indignantly, interrupting my flow.
‘Yes. The cat was the scientist’s first subject, before he turned it on himself. Anyway, the cat didn’t quite disappear completely. The pigment in its eyes, the tapetum, was left unchanged. So all you could see were two sparkling green points of light - the rest of its body had completely vanished.’
‘Tapetum,’ said Mimi, trying the word out on her tongue. ‘What an usual word.’
‘It is the substance which makes our eyes shine in the dark. And apparently immune to all kinds of invisibility potion,’ I added.
‘I don’t get how this old science fiction story written by humans relates to the presence of invisible cats,’ Mimi said, her tail whipping back and forth, which signalled her frustration. Perhaps my explanation was too longwinded. She pawed at the paper book, flipping its pages back, rubbing her nose on the cover, as if to divine meaning.
‘Well, firstly, my dear Mimi, because they, the invisible cats of which you speak, are also a fiction. It’s believed that the story of the invisible cats derived from that human story. You see, in this story written by the human writer H. G. Wells, the cat disappears, is presumed dead. There is another later story written by one of the late caterati. The writer, a cat called Scarfic, was owned by a woman called Maura Budberg, one of Wells’ lovers and a former spy. One assumes Scarfic overhead something of the story and then went on to write his own fiction, wherein the cat lived and went on to propagate a population of invisible cats.’ I paused, stretching my forelimbs in a self-satisfied manner, before continuing. ‘But that second story is presuming the veracity of a previous fiction. So, invisible cats aren’t real. It is a fiction told to explain things that can’t be explained by transgressions across dimensions, and a device often used in feline speculative literature,’ I said, somewhat dismissively.
‘Humph,’ said Mimi, clearly put out. ‘But if the tapetum is truly resistant to invisibility potions, then maybe, just maybe it can be seen in other dimensions.’
‘That isn’t something I’ve had experience of,’ I replied.
‘Well, maybe you weren’t looking hard enough,’ Mimi replied. At that moment, there was a noise above. We both darted under the table as a few more books slid off the shelves, presumably released by my fiddling. They hit the ground with a series of thuds. This was then followed by a couple of hefty hardbacks, which hit the ground harder.
‘Let me guess what you are thinking,’ I said, once the minor book avalanche had ceased.
‘Invisible cats. Polterkatzen, if you and your posh friend prefer,’ Mimi said, flouncing out before I had a chance to say any more.

The day rolled on. I managed to attack the edits from Bobinski and finally made some headway. Mimi spent all day out in the garden, despite the intermittent drizzle; I think she was making a point, rather than being truly curious about the neighbourhood. Thankfully she returned when our Human Slaves came back from wherever they go during the day, the acoustic signature of their cars pulling up a sign for us to gather in the hallway and wait for their arrival. Or more to the point, wait for them to feed us.
‘Nice day,’ I asked, as we heard the sound of a car door, the jangle of some keys.
‘Fine thanks,’ Mimi replied.
‘We’re off out later,’ I offered. ‘To try and find the Invisible Cats.’
‘I thought you said they didn’t exist?’ Mimi replied sarcastically.
‘Well, perhaps you need to find that out for yourself.’
Presently, the small human slave came through the door, clutching bags of shopping, some of which I could sense contained a few of my favourite dinners. But before we could feast, we were questioned about the mess in the sitting room. Not that we were expected to reply of course, or even acknowledge that we had caused the books to fall. And as it happened, because of the bamboo which Mimi kept knocking over, the blame was directed at her.
I do wonder why humans expect us to be able to understand them. We obviously can, but they don’t know that, yet they persist in this odd anthropomorphic behaviour. Still, I suspect I wouldn’t even notice my felithropic behaviour unless someone pointed it out to me.

The rain from earlier had passed, so after dinner, we passed time outside on the patio chairs. Or at least I did. Mimi soon became bored and decided to entertain herself by chasing a seagull around, which was a slight cause of alarm. I wasn’t sure which one would come off better. I had visions of the seagull picking her up in its claws and dragging her away across the rooftops. In the end, the seagull got a bit too close and was viciously cuffed around the head, which prompted its quick departure. ‘I almost had him,’ said Mimi from the fence rail above. We remained outside in what had become a balmy summer evening, watching the light fade from the sky, stars slowly winking into existence in the heavens above. And then, as the house lights slowly turned off, one by one, we crept out into the night.
Twig’s house was pretty easy to get to, at least when compared with our travels to the antique shops in Boscombe. So I won’t bore you with all the details: it was a simple trip through a few corridors in the feliverse, and then two quiet streets in the humanverse. Being cats, we went around the back first, slipping into the garden through a hole in the fence, scaring off a fox which had come to drink from the garden’s large central pond. The lawn smelt of camomile and I could see and smell a variety of blooms in the neatly arranged flowerbeds, although the night had sucked their colours away, rendering them all in grayscale. Twig emerged from a cluster of sword lillies, where she’d been waiting for us. Or perhaps hiding from the fox.
‘Thanks for coming,’ she whispered and we followed her in through the cat flap, passing by a kitchen which smelt of cinnamon and baking, and then into the sitting room. The picture was there leaning up against the wall, its frame cracked exactly as Twig had explained. We turned it around together to inspect more carefully. The picture was indeed of an old woman, the family matriarch perhaps, but there was nothing unusual about it. I couldn’t detect any ghost aligned with this particular object. I wandered around the room, sniffing the fireplace, examining the nooks and crannies - the magazine rack, behind the glass cabinet, the bookshelves. But there was nothing, not a flicker of spectral activity. This wasn’t to say it didn’t exist - sometimes ghosts only intermittently make themselves present. I explained this to Twig and told her I’d create a binding formula, which firms up the dimensionality of a particular area, in case there is any spillage. It was one of the first things I learned when I was finding out about this stuff. A simple enough thing to do: just a few choice movements combined with a single sentence. It often did the trick when there was fitful spectral activity. Mimi watched me, rolling her eyes, completely unconvinced.

‘I hope that will solve your problems,’ I told Twig in the kitchen afterwards. ‘It could be the presence of the Matriarch making herself felt. Perhaps she wants more influence over family affairs?’ I suggested. Here I was bordering on the supernatural. I believe the quantum stuff, for sure, but the emotional aspect of such entities doesn’t usually figure. I didn’t have any other explanation, however.
‘She has been mentioned a few times recently, by my Slaves,’ said Twig.
‘Well, who knows. In any case, she won’t be getting through any more,’ I said confidently. ‘But if you ever need us again, you know where we are.’ I looked around for Mimi, but she had already slunk away into the gloom of the garden. I could see her outside the bifold glass doors - two green shimmering eyespots which occasionally appeared, hovering above the camomile lawn. I said my goodbyes and wished Twig all the best, heading out to join Mimi and head home.
Outside though, I couldn’t see Mimi anywhere. I circled the pond a few times, then felt an odd sensation of something brushing past me. I turned quickly, claws out, swiping blindly, briefly making contact with whatever it was. There was another movement and the thing caught me on the side of my head, sending me spinning. Angry now, I turned again and leapt into the darkness, my paws both striking an object in the gloom. For a while I hung on, but then the sensation in my paws vanished. Then came the sound of a cat in pain. I ran over to where the sound had come from, but there was nothing there. Moments later, I saw Mimi padding over the lawn towards me.
‘Why did you leave without me?’ she asked.
‘I… I thought you were out here!’ I said, surprised.
I felt something on my paw and licked it, tasting the salty taste of blood. I felt confused - none of this made sense. Perhaps it was the fox that had come back?
‘Nope,’ replied Mimi, bring me back to reality. ‘While you were muttering that mumbo jumbo, I went for a walk around the house. There’s a broken window in the downstairs toilet window. Creates quite a breeze when the door is open. Enough to knock a picture of the wall, I reckon,’ she said.
‘Really? So, no invisible cats, then,’ I said, unsure of myself.
‘No. None whatsoever. Let’s go home,’ Mimi replied.
We were almost at the gap in the fence when I turned, looking across the garden. There were two eyes gleaming in the dark staring back at me.
‘Mimi, can you see that?’ I asked.
‘See what?’ she asked. But the two points of light had now vanished.
‘Just thought I saw something,’ I replied. ‘It’s nothing, though.’

Except the more I think of it, the more I wonder whether it was just nothing. Was I just imagining things? My mind is prone to flights of fancy. But perhaps there was something in all those stories; perhaps Scarfic wasn’t just making it up. I haven’t seen any such thing since. And thankfully, Twig’s slaves have remained untroubled.
Was this because I managed to scare away whatever was causing the problems, or that my messing with the quantum field worked? Or perhaps, the more prosaic mending of the shattered downstairs toilet window solved the issue? Sometimes being so close to a story creates a subjective bias. In any case, I can’t decide. So this time, dear reader, I think I’ll leave the decision up to you. But should you see the incorporeal tapetum, the invisible cats frolicking in your back garden, do let me know.


The Cat will no doubt return. In the meantime, you can check out all the other stories of the feliverse here:

Saturday 29 June 2019

Ghost Sister (Part Two)

The cats in another plane of existence.

If you missed the first part of this story, you can catch up here:

         The woman lay on the sofa, dreaming troubled dreams in the flickering artificial light of the television screen. A shimmering spectral form above her was the ghost, pulling energy across the threads of the universe into its substance. Much of that energy came from the human herself. Occasionally, what looked like faces without eyes passed across its nebulous form. I glared at it and whispered threats, occasionally baring my remaining teeth and hissing.
         ‘Right, I think it’s time to go,’ said Pudding, the famous exorcist cat. She’d been out in the garden giving Mimi a pep talk, stressing the importance of not running away. Where we were going - a place called Boscombe - could be dangerous if you stepped out of line. And, as we know from experience, Mimi isn’t really one for being told what to do. I heard the cat flap go as Mimi returned, carrying with her the scent of the night.
         When we were all assembled, Pudding once again ran through the plan: firstly, how to get there. There was no access from my usual point of entry, that being the portal which overlaps with the real door of our house. We discussed trying to double back on ourselves through a tortuous branching course. But even that wouldn’t work.
         ‘There’s an old portal in the Chine,’ I said, recalling a place The Architect had once shown me. The Architect knew all the short cuts around this town - they made his nights shorter. ‘It's poorly maintained, but I’m assured it does work.’
         ‘What’s a Chine?’ asked Pudding. I explained the local vernacular for the valley that led down to the beach. I could see Mimi’s eyes light up with excitement. It was going to be a long night.

         Mimi scaled the back fence, pushing open the bolt to the gate with her back paws. The bolt jerked backwards and the door swung free.
         ‘Not such a big fan of those athletic jumps either, these days,’ said Pudding, as we walked through, Mimi dancing along the rail topping the fence with the daintiness of a ballerina.
         ‘Show off,’ I muttered, as we waded through the exuberant green alkanet which had sprung up in the lane over the past few weeks. During the day the numerous blue flowers of this plant were a haven for bees; Mimi chased these despite my warnings, but had so far avoided being stung. We passed a rusting bike, assorted pots and paving slabs before eventually finding our way out onto the tarmac of a side street. Thereafter, we kept to the back gardens running behind the road, keeping out of the way of cars and so on. We passed Rock Star’s house, but there was no sign of his cat Athena tonight. Once, we encountered a fox who looked at us uninterested, before spraying its scent and disappearing into a hedge.
         ‘Disgusting,’ said Mimi, wrinkling her nose at the strong aroma which wafted over to us.
         ‘No worse than a cat,’ Pudding replied.
         ‘I have never done such a thing,’ I replied. ‘Well, perhaps once, before… you know… there was this rather fetching bath mat.’
         ‘Enough,’ said Pudding, leading the way further towards the chine, the gardens of the neighbourhood houses passing like familiar faces. The greenery gave way to the road suddenly, a blaze of light passing around the corner as a car passed. We paused for a few moments, waiting and listening for any further incursions upon the night, before hastily making our way across. Pudding and Mimi followed me as I reached the opposite pavement and turned right, heading into the ruined house of the old human writer. The place was now a small park for reflection and had been furnished with a plaque stating its provenance. I crept around carefully, as this was a place where humans often exercise their dogs. But it was quiet, so we walked through the remaining stone walls of the old rooms with no problem, passing a small memorial lighthouse statue in the grounds behind. The end of the garden ended in an iron fence, which I thought was easy enough to get through; however, Pudding found it a bit of a squeeze, which both Mimi and I ignored politely.
         The land behind fell away in a steep bramble strewn slope to the chine itself. We began our descent, and as we plunged deeper into the gloom, I tried to block out the stories The Architect had told me about the beings in the Chine: the myriad strange creatures that resided there, most of which were dangerous to felines. Although I’m sure much of this was myth told to keep cats away from the old portals cached down there, as well as some of the machinery The Architect used to temper time. The scent in the place was heavy with flowers and plants, but there was also the sharp smell of foxes and other smaller animals. Every once in a while a shrew or mouse would dart into the undergrowth, causing Mimi to leap excitedly in the air. This display of athleticism would be followed by furious scrabbling in the leaf mulch, which only seemed to scare the prey away even further. I caught Pudding watching her attempts, amused.
         We’d been walking for a while when the night suddenly became stiller and quieter. A sliver of moon hung in the sky overhead, lending everything a monochrome glow and at the same time making the darkness seem darker. (For those nit pickers out there, us cats can see in colour - our eyes just aren’t as developed in that respect as humans.) I stopped, sniffed at a patch of ground and let the others catch up.
         ‘Spooky, huh?’ I asked.
         ‘Spookiness isn’t something that generally concerns an exorcist,’ Pudding replied, drolly. Mimi on the other hand looked petrified, her eyes wide, her body shivering with cold or fear.
         ‘We’re almost there,’ I said reassuringly. However, just as I’d spoken a fallen branch cracked to our left, followed by the rustling of bushes. It sounded as if something large was creeping through the undergrowth toward us. We paused for a few moments, but the noise moved away from us; I sniffed the air again - there was the smell of alcohol and unwashed human.
         ‘It’s okay,’ I said to the others, as the drunk moved away from us, stumbling further into the undergrowth.
         We continued to move downwards, before the path flattened out and seemed to wind back on itself. We were deep in the chine now, trees above forming a canopy which completely concealed the night sky. Every once in a while we heard the swish of a car’s tyres from the nearby road and splashes of light breached the tree cover.
         I found the old portal where The Architect had hidden it behind two fallen tree trunks, in the centre of a bush. A small ceramic drain gully extruded from the ground, issuing a sad trickle of water - some remnant of Victorian engineering built years ago. A stale, stagnant odour issued from the pipe, which was rimmed by some slimy black fungus. Thick cobwebs cloaked the upper half of the drain like a veil. It was clear that this portal hadn’t been used for some time.
         ‘We have to go in that?’ asked Mimi.
         ‘It’s just like your play tunnel back home,’ I replied.
         ‘Except my play tunnel isn’t full of gunk and rubbish. And it smells nicer,’ Mimi retorted.
         ‘You can always go back home. On your own,’ suggested Pudding. Tempting fate, I thought, but Mimi was too curious about where the portal led to give it up.
         ‘I’ll go first,’ I said, as I placed my paws into the muck and felt the cobwebs brush my whiskers in a rather unpleasant fashion. I swiped with my right paw and the pipe vanished, the damp trickle replaced by wooden floorboards. But the room in which I found myself was filled with even more cobwebs, which stretched like blankets between walls and fluttered with the disruption my arrival had caused. There was a scuttling, scratching sound as well, which I could only imagine was the legs of spiders scarpering, as I couldn’t smell mice or rats. Spiders show little concern with regards to the weaves of reality and are as happy to proliferate in the cat iteration of the universe, in which I found myself, as they do in the human verse. Some even suspect that they can cross the metaverse without access to portals, that their webs are anchored across time and space.
         Moments later Mimi appeared, hissing the moment she saw me.
         ‘What’s the matter?’ I asked, somewhat taken aback.
         ‘For a moment… I didn’t recognise you. You’re completely covered in cobwebs,’ she replied, as a blanket of the stuff separated itself from the wall and draped itself over her form.
         ‘Hey, let’s scare Pudding,’ I said. And when Pudding materialised we leapt around like crazed animals, our muzzles hidden behind the mask of spider silk.
         Pudding didn’t bat an eyelid. ‘Stop messing around. We’ve got work to do,’ she said.

         The portal had broken at some point in time, and while it had been designed to transport travellers to the Royal Arcade itself, it now stopped short, instead leaving them in the bell tower. This was in fact more convenient for us, as in recent years, the arcade has become barricaded at night by impenetrable gates, to prevent any human incursion, but at the same time also preventing any feline exit during these times.
         We stepped out of the window and onto the glass roof which covered the arcade. In this iteration of space, large swathes of it had fallen in, so the going was treacherous. Beneath, the shops were mostly deserted, although the shop fronts from humanverse bled in a bit, like an afterimage on the retina. However, we weren’t interested in the arcade - the antique shops were situated a brief walk the other side of Boscombe. So we started in that direction, scrambling over the domed roof of the old opera house, where the rich and famous of the feline world used to come before the place sank into disrepute. I sensed a deep vibration in its structure, and wondered if there was anything happening there tonight in the humanverse. Perhaps it was one of those gigs my Human Slave liked to go to so much. I imagined him down there somewhere, his shadowy form mixed in with the hundred or other souls, pressed together to see some band on stage bang out their songs, the smell of sweat and lager and excitement permeating the air.
         We continued over a number of rooftops, following the high street towards the antiques quarter. At one point, we saw a Mice Police patrol sauntering along far below; they were heavily armoured and carrying all manner of bristling spiky looking weapons. Pudding had been right - this wasn’t the safest of expeditions. We paused, keeping silent as the patrol passed under us. They’d almost vanished when we heard a scuffle - a Nepeta victim staggering out of a dive bar, gesturing at the patrol with his paws.
         ‘Mimi, look at that,’ I said, pointing at an open window frame, where a bird was nesting in the human verse, its ghost like shape visible. She turned just in time, missing the moment the Mice Police took aim and fired, her attention flitting back when the report of gunfire reached her ears.
         ‘What was that?’ she asked, looking down at the patrol below. The felled cat was now concealed behind the patrol unit.
         ‘I’m not sure what they’re up to,’ I replied. ‘But we’d best carry on, eh?’
         When we’d reached a safe distance, the Mice Police patrol far behind, we clambered down from the rooftops, ending up around the back of an empty shop, its ghost shop also empty in the human world. Following the deserted road down, the occasional spectral shape of a car or bus passed by us, leaching into our world. Mimi hadn’t seen this phenomenon before and the first time this happened, scarpered, disappearing behind the crumbled facade of another shop. I thought we’d lost her again, and it was a relief when her head poked up above the ruined brickwork, watching the phenomenon as the double decker bus number 1, bound for Christchurch blurred by.
         ‘You’ll get used to it,’ I explained.
         ‘Your brain adjusts. And it is almost as if you can choose to see the bleeding through or not.’
         ‘Why can’t humans see it?’
         ‘Some can. But for the most part, they aren’t as attuned to the spaces between worlds as felines are…’
         ‘Hence why we can see the phenomena they call ghosts,’ Pudding added.

         Not long after this, we approached the antiques quarter - the part of town where each side of the road is bedecked by antique shops selling all kinds of ware. Of course, we weren’t able to see them in this reality - just their ghost-like outline. But I was able to point out their various analogues to Pudding in this reality.
         I pointed to an old Victorian sweetshop, its windows now mostly staved in, the shelves behind plundered for their wares. ‘That’s Serendipity,’ I proclaimed. If you squinted, let the light in, you could just about make out its analogue - where the windows were broken there was a grey sheen in the human world, where they were intact. We could make out the shop’s ghostly frontispiece hung in the air above us, its circus style lettering puncturing the space between worlds. What’s more, I could sense the presence of creatures who moved between the verses, the ghosts which moved across. We continued to walk down the street, towards Pokesdown station, passing an horologist and some tea rooms.
         ‘And this one here,’ I said, pointing at an old alchemist’s, still surprisingly well preserved, ‘is Joan’s World. One of the human’s receipts came from this place.’
         ‘I think this merits a bit more exploration,’ Pudding said, looking up and down the street. There was no sign of the Mice Police patrol we had seen earlier. She leapt up and pushed at the door, but it was locked. Mimi called out, having found a broken grille at the side of the building, which afforded her access. There were some noises inside, the toppling and crashing of a bottle. I looked at Pudding, concerned, but then there was some scratching at the door, followed by the sound of a bolt being slid across. Moments later we were inside, the place dusty but well-preserved. The overlying Joan’s World was clearly visible to me, as were the plentiful spectres associated with all the gewgaws on display.
         I turned to see Pudding pawing at the air, as she tried to coax something out of space. But then she stopped, moved around a bit, sniffing, her eyes deep pools of dark, her ears swept back. ‘It’s here,’ she said eventually.
         ‘So what do we do now?’ asked Mimi.
         ‘The spectre here is linked across time and space to the human female in your house. It is linked by an object called a telescope, which humans use to bring far things close to their eyes.’
         ‘I thought that was a television,’ said Mimi.
         ‘It was used for looking at stars, or navigating on ships and so on,’ I explained.
         ‘So I simply need to break the connection. By reaching into the world between worlds and scratching it out,’ Pudding explained.
         ‘It isn’t dangerous… to the human?’ I asked.
         ‘Everything is dangerous when it comes to this type of ghosts,’ said Pudding. ‘Right, here goes.’
         Pudding began the swiping action I’d seen before, only this time with a greater intensity. I wasn’t sure I’d imagined it, but something began to glow at the tips of her paws, as if her claws were having an affect on the light. Then something wispy began to appear, and within it were the strange faces I’d seen in the ghost before, back in our living room. Pudding continued to swipe, faster and faster, until her front legs were a blur. Then she jumped up and came down on the thing with all four legs.
         There was a sudden crash and something seemed to shift. I looked around and the bottles were gone, replaced by the real contents of Joan’s World. Somehow we’d been transported back into the human iteration of the universe. Mimi was also here, attending to Pudding who lay on the floor, not moving. Around us were a number of glass bottles, mostly intact, but a few had shattered onto the floor, presumably the cause of the crash I’d heard.
         ‘She’s still breathing,’ Mimi said.
         I walked over and shook Pudding who stood up sleepily. ‘Well, that seemed to work then,’ she said. ‘Where the heck are we?’
         I didn’t have time to answer this question. The lights flicked on and the eponymous Joan, woken up by the disturbance, marched into her shop, brandishing a broom. ‘I’ll get you,’ she was shouting. ‘Damn rats! I’ll get you.’
         We scarpered in different directions. I found myself cowering beneath a wooden drinks’ cabinet, fashioned as a globe. Pudding jumped into a shelving unit and managed to dislodge a box of horse brasses which cascaded onto the floor in a clatter of bronze. Mimi seemed less panicked than the rest of us and sat there sweetly, looking up at Joan, who instantly softened when she saw her. ‘Cats, not rats!’ she said to herself. ‘How did you get in here, puss? And what’s all this mess?’
         Mimi was doing her best human whispering, rubbing herself on Joan’s ankles, purring like a helicopter. Soon she had Joan muttering that she was off to get some cream and she disappeared out the back again.
         ‘Quick, let’s go,’ said Pudding, pointing towards the street.
         The front door of the shop had been punctured by the glass, leaving a hole big enough for a cat, even one of Pudding’s size. We gingerly stepped through and onto the street, just before Joan returned. I looked back and saw her carrying a bottle of milk, a slightly disappointed look on her face. She began to move towards the door, but we were heading up the pavement, keeping close to the wall.
         I did a double take when we passed the horologists. The place looked exactly the same as in the feliverse, and what’s more despite the late hour, seemed to be occupied. A man, who could easily have been from Victorian times was looking up the street, presumably also disturbed by all the ruckus. He had an eyepiece in his right eye and clutched a small screwdriver in the other. He watched us as we sauntered past, an intrigued look on his face.
         ‘The cars are real,’ I said, reminding Mimi, as one sped past in a wash of noise, light and a gust of wind. ‘It’s easy to forget where you are sometimes,’ I added, having had a few close calls in the past myself.
         Soon we were able to move away from the high street and onto a long wooded stretch, entitled Woodland Walk, which led towards the sea. Or which I assumed did, by the scent of it. Once hidden behind the shadow of a tree, we gathered ourselves and tried to work out what to do next.
         ‘It’ll take us all night to walk home… It’s possible, but…,’ I said.
         ‘And the nearest portal?’ asked Pudding.
         ‘The only one I know is too far away,’ I replied.
         ‘I don’t mind walking down to the beach. I’d like to see the sea.’
         ‘That’s fine for you to say. My arthritis is already playing up after the evening’s activities.’
         ‘So what do you suggest?’
         I did the only thing I could think of. I stopped time, and let it run. Knowing that, sooner or later, The Architect would catch up with us. And, sooner rather than later, he did. And although he was rather grumpy about being summoned in such a manner, he led us to another old portal which spat us out in the Chine. And we were able to make our way home untroubled.
         When we re-entered the house, my Human Slave’s sister was still asleep on the sofa. The space above her head, her span of long hair, was empty. The ghost had vanished. Pudding had lived up to her reputation as one of the finer exorcists out there, as I’d known she would. We waved goodbye to her the next day and I promised her I wouldn’t write up the story of what happened, but being a cat, changed my mind the next second.
         There remains little to say about this episode. Other than, if you’re a human, be wary of buying things in antique shops: you’ve read about the consequences. I should also mention that Joan of ‘Joan’s Antiques’ managed to fix her door up nicely. And repair the rest of the damage we caused. In fact the bottles that transported themselves along with us, back into this realm, were real Victorian arcana. And worth a fair amount to boot. So, despite us trashing her shop, Joan had a windfall and according to a local paper, managed to spend a long balmy summer on a Greek island as a result. On holiday, she befriended a number of the local felines, two of which returned with her to England and now guard her residence. I’m told they keep the antiques spirit free as best they can - they certainly know who to call if things get out of hand.


Links to all the other stories in the Feliverse can be found here: