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 protegée.
         ‘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

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