|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.’
‘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)
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