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.’
‘Yes. They spent hours looking for you,’ I explained.
‘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.


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