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:

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