Saturday, 6 April 2019

Beyond Portal No. 5 (Part Two)

The evil Fungus. Art by Zwutschk


If you're all up to date, the story continues below:

I realised then what I had to do. I began to slink away from the crowd, but someone noticed me and shouted. I must have looked suspicious, or perhaps a chink of reflected light revealed my true form. I turned and began to sprint back to the portal, my old bones aching with the effort. Every now and then I’d cast a look behind and see the slavering jaws of my pursuers. Halfway up, I felt the sharp claws of a feline digging into my tail, but it failed to gain purchase, and I ran, spurred further on by this encounter. I didn’t dare look behind me now as I pounded across the concrete and through the pools of oily material, which splashed up my legs, my white fur soon stained a muddy black. I knew I had to keep running, outpace the demons behind me - it was Mimi’s only chance. With my heart pounding in my ribcage I made it to the portal and crashed through, landing in the hub in a heap. Two of the felines followed me and as I lay there, catching my breath, I wondered if they were so fired up they would blatantly reach protocol. But Fred soon squared up to them and they sank back to portal five, and vanished from sight.
‘Are you OK there?’ he asked, turning to me. His hair was still on end, his lips quivering, revealing his incisors, one of which was jagged and split.
‘Fred…,’ I began, trying to catch my breath.
‘That’s my name. So what’s the problem…’
‘Fred,’ I tried again. ‘Can you get a message to The Architect?’
‘Certainly can,’ he replied, looking around for something which might grease this transaction. Unfortunately the small bag I had been carrying had fallen off somewhere in the fracas.
‘You’ll be rewarded. I assure you.’
He thought about this for a while. ‘Well, a cat like you doesn’t usually break his promises. So what is it you needs me to tell The Architect.’
‘Tell him. We need. To mobilise. Mobilise The Caterati.’

***

     My strength soon returned when I was propped up at the bar of The Cricketers, The Architect shoving a half pint of caramelised milk my direction. I stopped licking the grime off my feet and sniffed this concoction. Normally I’d avoid this kind of strong stuff, but at the time I was shaken, my limbs aching. I could still see the jaws of my pursuers, dripping with saliva, their blood shot eyes crazed with hate. I took the drink in one quick gulp, licking the drops from the glass; it tasted a lot better than my feet had.
‘How’s it going?’ I asked The Architect, who simply nodded in response.
It looked like Ziggy was doing most of the grunt work, organising the troops in some function room upstairs. You could tell something was going on up there - the floorboards creaked under the weight of the assembled Caterati, and there was the occasional thud as a cat landed somewhere. I felt like I should be up there too, but The Architect had insisted that I took no part in this now. He was content to sit by my side and watch time go by - after all, watching time was what he did best.
I felt the paws of cats as they passed by, on their way to the little wooden staircase which wound up to the first floor. They were patting me with sympathy I suppose, or perhaps even solidarity. After all, they were all arriving, at this place, on my behest. Although in any case, the rabble that the cat Fungus had roused were a threat that needed to be neutralised. Some of the Caterati I recognised, some I didn’t; there were even a few famous names, which had been drawn to help by the call to mobilise. I was struck by their cosmopolitan nature of the Caterati, as if I was seeing them with new eyes - all breeds and sexes were represented, which made a stark contrast to those in the denizens beyond Portal number 5.
‘Another one?’ asked The Architect.
‘No thanks. I’d better keep a clear head.’
My saturnine pal nodded at this and ordered another for himself. When this was standing in front of him, he finally turned to me. ‘Going to be a long night,’ he remarked, before taking a draft, his whiskers turning white with the milky froth.
‘We need to get moving!’ I said, not for the first time. I couldn’t bear to think what was happening to those caged cats, Mimi amongst them.
The Architect nodded to the other side of the bar, where Ziggy had appeared. He had a tea cup, its handle snapped off, crudely tied to his head and he was brandishing a broken bottle in one paw. ‘We’re ready. You follow the main thrust of the attack. Let the younger folk fight.’ We nodded at this, unwilling to argue.
As the Caterati marched out, I was struck by how many had assembled in the room above. There were hundreds of cats filing out of the door of the pub, many like Ziggy clutching crude weapons: another broken bottle here, a rolling pin there. The fat Tabby barman called Pete, after an old friend of his Human Slave, stood watching them go by. Every now and then he’d remove something from their grasp, despite protestations that they would be returned: a number of pewter tankards, horse brasses and drinking horns were accumulating behind him. The Caterati were also sporting a motley arrangement of armour: tea cups, saucers and mugs, all appropriated from The Cricketer’s.  After a while, Pete eventually gave up the attempts to retrieve his property and resumed his usual position behind the bar, hiding his face behind a pint of the special draft.
We followed the last of them out, as instructed. At the portal hub, Fred was in good spirits, the increased traffic presumably having filled his pockets with filthy lucre. One day I resolved to find out what he spent it all on. As soon as we exited the Portal number 5, we could hear the fighting. Some cats were darting back the way we had come, scared witless by this mad throng of cats. Others had already been beaten up and were sporting bleeding wounds, hissing at us as we passed.
As we entered the main space, where Fungus’ rally had been taking place, it was a blur of furry forms. I occasionally made out a familiar cat - Gaiman’s was obvious by his long black cloak, and he seemed to get everywhere. I spied Smith, still wearing his leather overalls; battling alongside him were a few clockwork devices, which jerkily moved around the battlespace. And above was Athena’s owl, which flew around in circles, with a bucket, occasionally tipping black tar-like material over Fungus’ men, although I couldn’t see Athena herself.
For a moment, I wondered if Fungus’ ad hoc troops were getting the better of us. Some of the Caterati were fallen, sporting large wounds. I bent and helped one where it looked like a large flap of skin had been removed, ribs visible beneath. Eventually she got up, nodded and headed straight back into the fracas.
I looked to The Architect, wondering if he should stop time for a while. He saw me looking at him, and discerning what I was thinking in his usual disconcerting manner, shook his head. I imagined how it would go for him if it had to be stopped. How the innumerable threads of time would have to somehow be woven together.
But then thankfully, the tide turned. More of Fungus’ lot began to leave, and soon they were outnumbered. I searched the crowd for the cat boxes, but there were only a few remaining – a number had been opened and the cats inside thrown to the mercy of the rally. Which of course had shown no mercy at all. With desperate tears in my eyes, I looked around for my young charge. Then there was a black blur in front of my eyes: it was Mimi, freed and running towards me. In a friendly manner, she biffed me around the chops, before knocking me over and jumping onto my back. I assumed she was grateful. She soon quietened and sat down alongside, the three of us watching as the Caterati pawhandled Fungus into one of the cat boxes and locked it.
‘What are they going to do with him?’ I asked The Architect.
‘Sentencing,’ he replied. ‘Then I suspect we’ll find somewhere to lock him up.’
‘There is such a place?’
‘Oh yes. Not somewhere you ever want to go,’ he replied. Although his words, and his steely glance, were directed more at Mimi than at me. She looked at the floor guiltily and didn’t meet his glance.
‘Time I took you back home,’ I said. And before we knew it, we were jumping up on the sofa and cuddling up to our Human Slaves. Or at least Mimi was, as I affected my usual cool indifference.

***

There were celebrations in the Cricketers. And funerals were held for the cats we lost. Although Mimi was instructed to remain in the house, her misadventures grounding her. Our old portal was also fixed by The Architect, and Mimi was prevented from roaming the innumerable paths of the cats until she was a bit older. However, she was finding plenty to be interested in locally. As for Fungus, he still remains in limbo, awaiting sentencing.
It turned out that this event caused ripples of discontent throughout our parallel universe. Fungus’ rally hadn’t been the only one, and by disrupting it, we exposed this group for what it was. When a seed of fear and anger is sown, it can spread, blown by whatever metaphysical wind exists in our worlds. Or perhaps, if you like, a fungus can spread by dissemination of its spores. And pockets of this were popping up all over. We could only hope that the Caterati would smother this intolerance and hate with something of their compassion, intelligence and more encompassing world view. Would that be enough? What would happen next is anyone’s guess.

END

You can find all of The Cat’s other adventures here: The Cat’s Page.

The naughty Mimi. By Zwutschk.


Saturday, 30 March 2019

Beyond Portal No. 5 (Part One)



Where is Mimi? Artwork by Zwutschk

I’d written my novel Black Smoke quickly, over a period of months. It isn’t always so quick - sometimes the process is a bit like pulling teeth. But other times, inspiration just runs away with you, and as discussed, the protegées’s arrival had forced the matter this time. In any case, I was done with the writing on the novel and found myself in the uncomfortable limbo period afterwards: not only waiting for the copy edits to return, but also wondering what to do next. It was like having an itch, but one you couldn’t work out where to scratch.
Smilodon suggested that now might be a good time to make a concerted effort with the documents in the attic, which he so grandly referred to as ‘my legacy’. Mimi had already done much in that space beneath the eaves, organising the various pieces into categories. I scoffed at this when I first saw it, pompously proclaiming that my work was beyond categorisation. My companion plainly demonstrated this was not the case, gently bringing my bubble to the ground before popping it.
Some of the older works needed attention, their surfaces foxed like the liver spots of an old Human Slave; others had been scrawled in pen, which had smudged with water damage. And of course, there were the mice, the population of which had now been decimated to such an extent that it felt uncomfortably like ethnic cleansing. Thankfully, Mimi didn’t mention my lack of instinct in this area - I suppose I’m more of a delicate creature, and have no genetic imperative that makes me want to vanquish lesser beings. Although, I hasten to point out that not having this particular trait doesn’t make me any less of a cat.
We went through the heaps of paper, and I selected the pieces I valued highest. Or at least which I thought were acceptable; some stuff was just junk. I suppose my writing process is pretty much like snapping photographs: you take as many as possible and hope that one will come out well, but the rest are just dross, never quite hitting the spot. But, if Smilodon was convinced people were interested in the junk, then what did I know? When I voiced this opinion, Mimi suggested that perhaps my readers wanted to divine some thematic sense from my work, or perhaps some poor student would take it upon themselves to study my oeuvre. The poor blighter, I thought.
We had lengthy discussions about the usefulness of fashioning a running order for this archival material: whether it was best done as a curated retrospective, or better assembled in chronological order. We seemed to be getting places and this nebulous retrospective, this book of curios of interest only to the cognoscenti, was taking some form in my mind.
At this point, Mimi chose, once again, to disappear.

***

The first thing I noticed when I went downstairs, brandishing a missing piece of some story or other in a paw, was that it was raining. The second thing was a set of pawprints that led directly to the front door, where they stopped. There were no returning pawprints whatsoever. But this didn’t click immediately. I sniffed around the house, wandering up and down the stairs and checking the newly laundered piles of washing, where we cats do so enjoy curling up. Eventually I made my way into the garden, where I soon became drenched. I returned inside, a sorry state.
Only when I noticed my own pawprints on the floor, did I put two and two together. With a faint, sickening feeling in my stomach, I realised Mimi could either have wandered out through the front door, into the Human verse. Or somehow passed through the portal into the network of tunnels, and from there… well the possibilities were endless and didn’t bear thinking about.
I sat still for a moment and tried not to panic. The first option seemed unlikely. The Human Slaves were out for the day. They occasionally popped back for a few hours, but I’d have heard the door. This could therefore only mean the second option, which simply shouldn’t have happened.
Now, the portal at the front of the house was meant to be accessible by me and me alone. It was an old portal, crafted years ago, The Architect and a few other members of the Caterati had checked it out, confirmed its authenticity. There wasn’t any chance that it was one of the new hacked versions, which are error prone and can conduct a feline to undesirable locations by accident, or perhaps by design of their pernicious manufacturers: this portal was steeped in time, dating back to the late 1800s, when the house was built and when many of the Feline thoroughfares were woven through time and space.
The way through was by a specific paw motion, instructions to which I’d been granted when I’d been brought here by my Slaves. Or rather, I’d had to apply for this document at the Caterati bureau, which then seemed to be wrapped up in red tape for ages because of a previous resident cat’s indiscretions. In any case, how Mimi had seen this, and been able to mimic it so perfectly as to gain access to the portal system, was beyond me.
I paused at the portal, suddenly conscious of making the gesture with my paw. Usually, I didn’t even need to think about this: some part of my subconscious just worked it out for me. But now, when I stopped to think, I found myself suddenly unable to remember, my thoughts blurring with the sudden anxiety of what could have happened to my charge. A few seconds later and the familiar pattern was back, my muscle memory doing the job that my brain had attempted to shut down with its extraneous activity.
Once inside, the portal branched. Usually I went left, which took me to Brighton, and the alleyway behind The Cricketers. However, taking the right led up to where at least ten different portals met in a form of hub. Hesitating for a moment, I wondered if Fred would be there. Fred was an old moggie that looked like a patchwork of different breeds sewn together: one leg was orange tabby, another tortoiseshell, the back two a grey blue colour, whilst his tail, or what remained of it, was black. He often donned a cap which hid his tattered ears. This headgear was usually complemented by a jacket with buttons and lapels, which gave him an official look. He was happy to sit there on a stool all day, making sure no-one was up to no mischief. Nobody knew who he worked for, but he seemed polite and content. And more than happy to receive tips for helping a cat out of a difficult situation.
‘Fred!’ I exclaimed.
‘Ah, Mr –––––,’ he replied, in a cockney drawl. ‘What you sticking your loaf around here for then?’
‘I’m looking for someone.’
‘Aren’t we all,’ he said, wistfully. But at the same time, eyeing my paws for a piece of silver.
‘Little black scottie. You see her?’ I asked, slipping him a coin.
‘Her, eh? You old devil, you…’
‘It really isn’t like that, Fred,’ I said, reprimandingly.
‘Easy, there. I wasn’t insinuating nuffink.’
‘So, which way did she go?’
‘About ten minutes, it were. I said she should watch out. But she’d already gone.’
‘You don’t mean number 5?’
‘That’s the one.’
‘You’re sure?’
‘Sure as eggs is eggs.’

I swore under my breath at this. Of all the places to go, Mimi had chosen the worst. Portal number five led to a difficult part of our universe, where there had been trouble in recent times. The place had been overrun by a bunch of purebred white cats with certain difficult opinions, who wanted to deny free movement across the borders of the portal system. This opinion had resonated with some unsavoury types, and the movement had become one promulgating intolerance and xenophobia. Certain breeds had been selected for particular discrimination, amongst them the Scottish Folds.
I simply couldn’t fathom why she had chosen to go there. Until I recalled something we’d been working on before. In this fiction, portal number five had led to a disused car park filled with mice. So she had been simply looking for somewhere to hunt, and in her naïvety hadn’t considered that things might have changed in the interim. The mice had been cleansed from this area, many years ago; an act which had resulted in their own subsequent militarisation. And not long afterwards, its current inhabitants had moved in.
With trepidation, I left Fred behind and went through the passage, reality shifting until I found myself in a nondescript car park staircase, all concrete, exposed metal and strange angles. The walls were adorned with crudely drawn propaganda posters, declaiming the rights to free movement, with slogans such as ‘Foreign Flea-Ridden Felines OUT!’ and ‘GO HOME HOUSECATS!’ These were accompanied by the four clawed sigil, which had come to represent a right-wing philosophy.
I tentatively walked into the multi-storey car park itself, noticing it was empty in both our verse and the human iteration. Graffiti which adorned the walls in the human verse bled through, but it seemed washed of colours, reverting to greyscale. Dark pools of liquid were scattered over the floor, rimed with scum. The place immediately made me feel uncomfortable. Strange looking cats, adorned with battle scars, lurked around baring their remaining teeth at one another. I kept to the shadows, hoping my flattened ears would make me look angry rather than reveal my true nature. It was a blessing my coat was an off white colour.
There seemed to be a general movement of these felines toward the lower levels of the car park, where something was occurring. As stealthily as I could, I crept down the slope, having once or twice to pad through the oily pools of muck to avoid any close encounters with the locals. But those approaching weren’t the real problem, the rabble were surrounding a fat white cat on a raised dais, standing on his two back legs like a Human Slave. I immediately recognised him: this was a cat called Fungus, a member of the Caterati gone bad. He was lit by a clever arrangements of mirrors that reflected the sun from outside the confines of this gloomy, dank place, which lent him a preternatural glow. Henchmen in the corners moved the reflectors in concert as he pranced up and down the stage, pupils wide as if he was high on Nepeta. The tips of his ears were scabbed and mottled - signs I recognised as cancers, a frequent occurrence in the pure whites. But what was more malignant was his rhetoric, the vile, obnoxious steam of hate that spewed from his mouth, and which was greeted by his followers with caterwauls.
‘We need to block off the Portals,’ he shouted. ‘We need to stop them coming into our patch, polluting our genes with their strange characteristics. And polluting our minds with their thoughts. And I’m talking about a reversion to our roots, without any of the created breeds, manufactured by their so called Human Slaves! A pure cat, stripped of any fealty to Humans!’ At this there was a cheer. I noticed that almost all of his followers were male and amongst the crowd, there was a marked lack of variation in breeds. The crowd was mostly white, with a few tabby cats thrown in for good measure.
Those near me, also lurking in the shadows and away from the main thrust of the crowd, seemed to be chatting to themselves, and not paying much attention to proceedings. This was until something appeared on the outskirts of the crowd: a number of baskets, each containing a petrified cat. The baskets were of differing size and shape - some were wicker, the structures of which creaked as they passed over the throng. Others were plastic boxes, with metal grilles at the front, through which the frightened cats inside were visible. I began to feel incredibly uneasy, squinting as I tried to make out the features of each feline, hoping upon hope that I wouldn’t recognise any of the prisoners of this vile cult. But as the last basket was manhandled towards the stage, my heart sank. Before my eyes, entrapped in a box, was Mimi.

This story continues here: Beyond Portal No. 5 (Part Two)

All the all the other Cat stories can be found here:

Friday, 1 March 2019

A Taste of the Great Outdoors

‘Just having a look at our territory.’


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

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

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

END


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

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

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Black Smoke

And who do you think you are?

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

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

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

END



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