|The evil Fungus. Art by Zwutschk
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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.
You can find all of The Cat’s other adventures here: The Cat’s Page.
|The naughty Mimi. By Zwutschk.