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.
         ‘How?’
         ‘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.

THE END



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

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Ghost Sister (Part One)



         I suppose I should be used to interruptions by now. Living with Human Slaves is fraught with such distractions. Trying to find time to one’s own is indeed… trying.
         Of course, I understand that my Human Slaves are blissfully unaware that I have deadlines, word targets to hit. They think I just lie around all the time, moving from the warmth of the radiator to a patch of sun-dappled carpet and back again. Well, to be fair, we are pretty much nocturnal creatures. So when the dawn creeps over Bournemouth, the nictitating membranes start sliding over. And of course we sleep during the day - it is tiring being the spiritual guardians of our Slaves’ homes, which so much of my fiction now concerns. In any case, I often just give the impression of sleeping - when my brain is usually half occupied with the plot of the next book.
         So, I was busy. The proofs on my latest novel Black Smoke had now returned from the celebrated Tabby, Bobinski. He was the head honcho at Felihelion, a well known American editorial agency. Being a rescue cat, he had something of a chequered past, but he’d turned his life around and built up the agency from scratch. Whenever I read his extensive and educated crits of my work, I could hear that Midwest US drawl, imagine him looking up from his computer to gaze over a beautiful Ohio sunset. As usual, reading down his line edits, I realised there was a lot to do, in too short a time. The arrival of another human in our household couldn’t have come at a worse time. I mean, I’d only really just got used to having Mimi around.

         This new human was the sister of my taller Human Slave. And she is a cat lover. Which means unwanted attention at times. And being picked up, which I detest, not least because of my arthritis. Thankfully, Mimi’s presence meant she was distracted: the presence of a new cat, still really a kitten, was much more interesting than me and my old bones. Mimi seemed more than happy to play up for her as well, so I could crack on and work through the edits.  Or so I thought. But then came the ghosts.
         As I have relayed throughout these stories, humans can gather up these creatures from the spiritual realm. Some are more prone than others at accumulating these spectral encumbrances. The tall slave’s sibling has a tendency to trawl through antique shops, handling jewellery, curios and other objects, which are effectively talismans for ghosts. Perhaps this is why she is more prone. Or perhaps because her effective ghost removal system, her own feline protectors, were miles away and the spirits could sense this.
         In any case, one day she returned from shopping in deepest darkest Boscombe, ghost in trail. This of course necessitated some explaining to Mimi. Especially as I was so absorbed in the edits that I failed to notice its arrival, for which I felt doubly accountable.

         I was up in the office when Mimi barrelled in, jumping in a flash of fur from record player to speakers to eventually end up on the desk surface. ‘I need to ask you something,’ she stated enthusiastically, her gaze flicking between me and some birds which circled in the air above the rooftops outside.
         ‘Go on,’ I said, marking up a piece of text and turning to my protegĂ©e.
         ‘What’s the thing that seems to follow the new Slave around?’
         ‘Are you looking for a word to describe an article of clothing? Is this a new piece of fiction you’re working on?’
         ‘No. There’s something else…,’ she replied. At this point, I should have realised that something wasn’t quite right.
         ‘Perhaps you should get back to sorting through the stuff in the attic,’ I replied, perhaps a bit condescendingly. However, I had been disturbed in the throes of creative output, which is like disturbing a cat when asleep and dreaming: you just don’t do it.
         ‘Perhaps you have to come and look,’ she retorted, somewhat crestfallen.
         I turned back to the text momentarily. But where before the sentences had clamoured in my mind, begging to be brought to life on the screen, the interruption had spooked them, sending them to hide somewhere. Sighing, I jumped off the chair, and gestured to Mimi.
         ‘Lead the way,’ I said despondently.

         ‘What is that?’ she asked, observing the fluttery, inchoate presence that surrounded the sister of my tall Human Slave. I stood stock still for a moment, confused. As I’ve explained previously, I have a wealth of experience with the phantoms that bleed into both humanverse and feliverse from other overlapping worlds. Although this is more through accident than design. So why hadn’t I detected this? Could it be that my senses were somehow blunted? I immediately began to wonder whether it was the pressure of the work deadlines, but I’d never had any such issues previously.
         ‘That is a ghost,’ I replied, still somewhat bewildered.
         ‘I thought it might be. A ghost!’ Mimi exclaimed, being familiar with such entities from my fiction. ‘Can we kill it?’
         I took a look at the human, asleep on the sofa. She was lit by an eerie flicker from the muted television as a rerun of The Twilight Zone played out. The creature floating above her was a nebulous protean thing, which confused the eye. Occasionally forms like faces would appear in its midst, only for these tenebrous shapes to then fade away.
         ‘I think this one might be a difficult one,’ I replied. Rather than bore you with the taxonomy of these entities - to which I have contributed, needless to say - let’s just call this a ‘bad one.’
         ‘What does that mean? Difficult…’
         ’Well, as I’ve said before… ghosts are entities from other dimensions that bleed into this one. Sometimes they are anchored in this reality by an object. One can remove them from their hosts, in this case a Human Slave, by force. That is if you have the necessary aptitude. But it is often much easier to remove them from the object itself.’
         ‘But where’s the object?’
         ‘That’s the question… It could be a brooch. It could even be something she picked up in a shop today, but replaced on the shelf…’
         ‘And why is the tall Slave’s sister not sleeping on her bed?’ Mimi asked, gently pawing at the ray of spilled golden hair around her head.
         ‘I don’t know. Sometimes they just do this.’
         ‘Humans are strange creatures,’ offered Mimi.
         ‘I’ve seen the Tall Slave asleep here occasionally. Perhaps these events are alcohol related,’ I said, sniffing a toppled wine glass.
         I turned back to look at the ghost, wondering once again why this particular phenomenon had evaded my detection. Was it my arthritis medication? Were the drugs numbing my senses? Steeling my bones, I jumped up onto the sofa and gingerly climbed up the cushions, where I could reach out to the thing. With an extended claw, I scratched its surface, attacking the part of it that had torn a hole in the weft of reality. With the other paw I swiped at it, causing a ripple in its surface. The thing broiled as I made contact, sending out a tongue of something that swiped me off the sofa with a loud crackle of static, depositing me on the floor some metres away. My old bones creaked as I landed, skidding across the polished wooden floorboards until I came to a halt. Frightened by this sudden activity, Mimi darted away in a flash of black.
         I lay there for a moment, taking stock of what had just happened. In the olden days, I would have gone straight back up there without missing a beat. But something didn’t seem right, as if my actions are slower than usual. I swiped at the air, as if trying to bat away the very idea that I was somehow physically impaired.
         ‘Wow! What was that?’ Mimi asked, eventually poking her head out from behind the piano. Her eyes were as wide as saucers.
         ‘The ghost feeds on the energy of its host. And that energy can be released if it feels threatened,’ I explained, as I tried to bear my weight, my back legs bruised. I wondered, not for the first time, whether my ghost hunting days were the cause of my arthritic pains.
         ‘Can I have a go?’ asked Mimi.
         ‘I wouldn’t recommend it,’ I replied. ‘This particular spectre is one of the more malevolent types. You need to know what you are doing,’ I replied.
         ‘Or it could kill me?’ Mimi asked, incredulous.
         ‘If it wanted to, it could kill everything in the vicinity,’ I replied.
         ‘So how do we get rid of it? You’re meant to be the great exorcist.’
         ‘That was a myth purveyed by the Cambridge lot. You know it isn’t true.’
         ‘So what do we do next? We can’t leave it there!’ Mimi exclaimed, from her vantage point behind the sofa.
         ‘I’ve wounded it. It’ll take some time to recover. By then, I hope we’ll have reinforcements.’

         Reinforcements came in the way of Pudding. She is a cat who lives in Nursling, a village down the road near the city of Southampton. Like Bobinski, she’d had a tough upbringing. But where Bobinski had channeled his formative experiences into literary work, lending it an edge of the street, Pudding had found her street fighting skills useful elsewhere: she’d become a celebrated ghost hunter and exorcist. She was one who could handle the more difficult, more tenacious ghosts rather than the run of the mill, commoner garden sort that most cats can simply scare away.
         Over the course of my career I’ve made many acquaintances with exorcists and so on. Whilst I dabble in these arts, I’m really an amateur, as my attempts to deal with this ephemeral thing show. My talents really aren’t much above that of the average cat. Although the opposite is often assumed, that I am indeed one the fictional characters I describe. In any case, my work has brought me into contact with the likes of true exorcists like Pudding, which has been useful. Some of her stories have provided inspiration for mine. And of course, Mimi was excited to meet her.
         I arranged to pick her up from feliverse iteration of The Cricketer’s the following evening. Mimi was still grounded after her previous misdemeanours, and in response managed to make such a show of scratching and miaowing that I thought she’d wake the entire neighbourhood. I was almost glad when I’d left the house and was finally waiting for Pudding, supping a pint of something from Cambridgeshire which I wasn’t certain had travelled particularly well. Soon she arrived: a larger than life cat, with deep black fur to the roots. She looked like a Bombay, perhaps mixed with something else, but I didn’t know what and I hadn’t ever asked.
         ‘Pudding! Lovely to see you again. Can I get you a drink?’
         ‘No, thank you,’ she replied, looking around the pub with disdain. I wondered if we’d have been better off in one of the up market wine bars around the corner.
         ‘Right… well…’
         ‘Expect you want to purloin some more of my stories,’ she muttered. ‘I did enjoy your last one though…’
         ‘Thanks. But actually this time I need your help with something else,’ I replied, before explaining my predicament.

         Not long after this, Pudding was accompanying me through the portal system and we were soon back in Bournemouth. When we arrived home, Mimi sprinted down the stairs in such an exuberant rush that she almost bowled over Pudding. The gangly youth was quickly put in her place by an accurately aimed paw from the older cat, swiping her muzzle, which put her off balance. A misplaced foot and Mimi crashed onto her back, sliding along the polished wooden floorboards before coming to a halt as she hit the skirting board.
         ‘Some welcome,’ Pudding muttered.
         ‘Hi, I’m Mimi,’ she said, popping back up and attempting to regain her composure.
         ‘Remind me to try that move when you come over to my place,’ replied Pudding, wryly.
         ‘I’m so pleased to meet you. I’ve heard all about you–,’ Mimi began.
         ‘Don’t believe all you read. Got a way with the truth, this one,’ she replied, nodding at me.
         ‘It’s called fiction.’
         ‘Whatever. Now, I can sense a ghost around here somewhere,’ Pudding said, sniffing the air. She paused for a moment and issued a series of odd wheezing sounds before continuing. I’d seen this kind of thing before, but Mimi sprang back, her ears flattened. Like some cats are able to mimic bird calls, Pudding has the ability to create sounds similar to those of the spectral world. Once she’d done this she trotted into the sitting room, tail bolt upright. I followed with a cautious Mimi and a few moments later, the three of us were sat in a line, looking at the human who was once again asleep on the sofa. Tonight however, she was illuminated by an episode of NCIS.
         Before I could stop her, Pudding was rummaging through the human’s effects, emptying the contents of her bag onto the carpet. A variety of plastic bags within contained rings, earrings, necklaces and numerous vintage pieces from charm bracelets. It was these that Pudding seemed interested in, tearing open the plastic and letting the numerous objects spill onto the carpet.
         There were tiny horses, cars, shoes, teapots, horseshoes, frogs, lighthouses, tankards and even some cats. Pudding batted these around in a fashion – in fact, as you may have seen cats play with objects on occasion. And while to a human it might have seemed as if she was playing, she was in fact sorting out each object in turn. Finally she found one she was interested in: an exquisitely moulded windmill, with working blades. She batted it back and forth, sending the vanes spinning with a whir. And then there was a puff of light above it. Pudding moved quickly, grabbing at it with both paws, and then it was gone. But despite this, the ghost above my tall slave’s sister hung like a demonic thundercloud.
         ‘No it isn’t here,’ said Pudding finally.
         ‘What was all that about with the windmill then?’ asked Mimi.
         ‘That was me exorcising a ghost from another of this human’s artefacts. I thought I might as well, since I found it. Sometimes the way isn’t always clear, muddied by other ghosts. Now, however… It looks like we’ll have to go on a trip.’
         ‘Where to?’ I asked.
         In response, Pudding rummaged through the Slave’s bag, pulled out a hand-written receipt for a few hundred quid. The stamped address on the top was for an antique shop the other side of town: a place called Boscombe.
         ‘We could start here,’ Pudding suggested.
         ‘About that…,’ I started, and then had to explain.

         Boscombe is a part of Bournemouth - a suburb if you like. In the feliverse, it had once been popular with the caterati of the early 1900s as a desirable place to summer. There are early black and white photograms of them on the beaches, the male cats sporting top hats and their queens wielding umbrellas in their paws. But the cliffs behind soon became overrun by Nepeta plants, with more nefarious types moving in, taking control of its collection and distribution. The idyllic nature of the place changed and before long, the Mice Police were called upon to restore order; ever since there has been a constant war of attrition between the two factions.
         To get to Boscombe meant either travelling through the humanverse, which would take some time as it was about six miles away - a fair distance for a cat, let alone one with arthritis, and with the usual obstacles that humans throw in our way: cars, taxis, buses and so on. The alternative was jumping through the portal system, although in Boscombe it didn’t quite work. You’d end up in the feliverse and then have to walk a fair distance before there was anywhere to jump back into human space. And walking through that part of the feliverse, given my previous explanation, would be hair-raising to say the least. I’m not sure why it works out that way sometimes - I’m sure someone like Fred, or perhaps a scholar of the portal system’s history might be able to explain. It is something to do with being close to an anchor point between overlapping metaspaces, which means less deviation across the worlds. But sometimes the distribution of the portals simply seems perverse.
         ‘I’m not sure how safe it is…,’ I muttered.
         ‘This from the cat that walked into one of Fungus’ rallies without a second thought?’ asked Pudding.
         ‘Yeah, it couldn’t possibly be as bad as that place,’ added Mimi. I gave her a stern, hard glance, but her attention had already flitted away to a mote of dust caught in a beam of sunlight.
         Pudding didn’t seem at all phased by the idea of Boscombe. She’d seen the worst that cats have to offer, had multiple run-ins with the Mice Police and mostly escaped their bullets. However, when Mimi started protesting about not being able to come, Pudding spoke.
         ‘To be fair, perhaps we need safety in numbers,’ Pudding said to me quietly, after Mimi had made a show of trying to tear up our Human Slaves’ newly laid carpet in frustration.
         ‘But if she isn’t punished, she won’t learn,’ I replied.
         ‘There’s a human saying - there are more ways than one to skin a cat.’
         ‘Oddly enough, I’ve never liked that phrase. But I take your point.’
         ‘She has to learn on her own four feet. That’s the cat’s way.’
         And so, without further ado, the three of us set off for Boscombe. Now if you are very nice and feed me dreams (other treats are available), I might tell you what happened there next week. But being a cat of course, I might just change my mind at the last minute. I guess you’ll have to wait and see.

To be continued next week…

In the meantime, read all the other feliverse stories here: The Cat’sPage