|Artwork by jtm21|
‘One more adventure, old chap?’ asked the Architect one night in early May.
As usual he’d surprised me, appearing from behind the bamboo and causing me to jump. Or rather, twist uncomfortably, as jumping seems to be something that has vanished from my repertoire as I’ve become more decrepit. I’d been happily meowing at the night, a habit I’ve got into for reasons I can’t quite fathom, when he interrupted me.
‘I’m not sure my old bones could take it,’ I replied.
It was a beautiful summer night. The stars were spread out across the heavens in a brilliant tapestry of light. Occasional beaded strings of light would also pass across the heavens, a phenomenon I hadn’t seen before.
‘What is that? Are they satellites?’ I asked, confused.
‘Yes. Damn, humans, always meddling with things. Do you remember meeting Schrödinger?’ asked The Architect.
‘Yeah. Poor creature, with a name like that. I hope she doesn’t like to climb into boxes,’ I said.
‘Well anyway, her owner… He’s some mad scientist. He wants to have a network of them all over the world.’
‘He based the company logo on Schrödinger’s nose didn’t he?’ I asked, recalling something I’d read.
‘It’s rumoured so…’
We sat looking at the heavens for a time before The Architect sparked up again: ‘So, one more adventure?’
I paused for a moments before replying. ‘It has been a long day, you know,’ I said sighing.
I’d spent the day going through my papers with Mimi and we’d finally got to the end of it all. I find one of the problems with being a writer is that it feels as if nothing is every finished. But we felt like we’d done as much as we could, with my personal archive at least. There were notes, sheets of story ideas, things I would never get around to now. In any case, it felt timely. My old bones had been aching more and more and I’d begun to find it hard to climb the stairs to my Slave’s office, where I conducted most of my literary work. Mimi would often have to help me with the last few steps, nudging me up. Or at least encouraging me when I’d taken a break halfway. And then getting down, I’d started to lose my balance occasionally which had resulted in a few painful tumbles.
‘Your bones won’t hurt where we’re going, I promise. Come on, old boy…’
‘You’ve twisted my leg,’ I said.
‘That won’t be painful either,’ he replied wittily.
‘But what about Mimi?’
‘Perhaps she deserves a break?’
As we set off, I noticed it was true. My bones didn’t seem to hurt. For the first time in ages, I felt like a proper cat again. And while the reasons for this were not clear, something began to nag at me. There was a deep hollow inside me, as if something terrible had happened. Still reluctant to jump, I squeezed under the garden gate and into the lane beyond. The lane was filled with alkanet, the little purple flowers closed up for the night. Despite the overgrowth, a path was clearly visible, where my tall Slave had left a track with his contraption - the big wheeled thing with spokes, and flashing lights attached, which narrowly missed running over my tail once. I scuttled after The Architect, revelling in the sensation, my limbs free again, as if the arthritis had gone.
‘I feel so much better,’ I said aloud, wondering if perhaps my Slaves had given me a higher than usual dose of my medication that evening. But with this thought came more anxieties - perhaps the effects would wear off and I wouldn’t be able to return from whatever crazy situation The Architect had in store for us both? I stopped to gnaw on some mint which was growing in the lane as I considered this. After a few moments, The Architect turned back and sat beside me, waiting patiently. The taste of the plant was stronger than I remembered, the sensation somehow more colourful.
‘I’m not sure about this. I’m not sure I’ll be able to return,’ I said.
‘You have nothing to worry about. Trust me,’ The Architect said, reassuringly. Being one of my oldest friends, the idea not trusting him was of course, ridiculous. I gave up on the mint and followed him out of the lane and into the road. As ever, the great outside impressed me with its vastness. The road stretched like an eternity to either end. Behind each of the houses along this road were gardens, rife with nooks and crannies, each place a little adventure of its own. And yet, I had only managed to visit a handful.
‘No Fox tonight?’ I asked, hoping for a lift. Although my legs were no longer painful, I was still worried how long I would last.
‘No Fox. We can take our time. Enjoy the night.’ I was certain I detected some emotion in his tone, as if he was upset about something.
The road was empty, with only very occasional cars passing. The night was so quiet you could heat the rustling of every nocturnal creature. ‘No Humans about tonight,’ I remarked.
‘Haven’t you heard? About the lockdown? There is this virus going down. Apparently can affect cats too.’
‘Lockdown? Is it a syndrome, like tetanus can cause lockjaw?’ I asked.
My old friend issued a muted chuckle in response. Perhaps it hadn’t been that funny, I mused to myself. The world was becoming a strange, paranoid and anxiety provoking place, with Fungus and his fascist chums taking over vast tracts of the portal system. And now this strange virus, the consequences of which were as yet unknown. But if humans had anything to do with it, it probably wouldn’t be good.
‘They’re talking about putting checks on the portal systems - those that Fungus hasn’t commandeered at any rate.’
‘I wish we could do something about him.’
We skirted around the chine along the cliff top road, but keeping to the undergrowth. The smell of wild garlic filled the air. Soon, bats appeared, flitting above us as they dined on the numerous insects which had congregated around the trees. I used to be able to hear the high-pitched sounds they made during echolocation, but now all I could hear was the occasional rustle of their wings. Not that I’d ever been interested in catching one. Fledermaus or normal maus, I preferred my books. In my books and stories, bats were the souls of creatures who slept, or even those waiting to pass into the next realm.
‘Perhaps we can,’ said The Architect, turning right sharply, down a slope leading to a suspension bridge, dangling high above the chine below. As I’ve mentioned before, The Architect is a big cat, and one who obviously enjoys his food, but at the same time is able to move with the grace of a well-trained athlete. I blinked and he’d leapt up to tightrope on the edge of the bridge metalwork, balancing on one hind leg.
‘Come and join me!’ The Architect said, before effecting a rather impressing pirouette.
‘No. I’m not clambering up there. I’m frightened enough as it is,’ I said, realising I’d flattened my body to the wooden slats of the bridge’s floor. Although I couldn’t see the drop below because of the night, I knew it was there. Moments later, the Architect disappeared. I felt my stomach plunge with fear until I heard a rustle and saw him dangling from the trunk of a nearby tree.
‘What the heck are you doing?’ I asked.
‘Speaking with some friends. You’ll meet them momentarily.’
I sat on the bridge, staring through the grille of its sides and into the night. We were closer to the sea now - I could smell a salty tang on the breeze. Then the air became alive in a blur of greyish black, a musty smell filling my nostrils. When this subsided, I was amazed to see that the metalwork of the bridge was covered with the bats, all perching around me on the bridge. I’d never seen so many of the creatures, nor so many up close. But the bats were heralding the arrival of something else. A shimmer of light appeared on the centre of the bridge, expanding to form a cut in the fabric of space. At the same time, as if scripted, a mist began to settle on the chine around us, wrapping us in its feathery cloak, the ethereal light dancing across its surface.
The Architect then appeared again on the bridge, landing softly as he always did. ‘Well, aren’t you going to go in then?’ he asked.
‘I was waiting for something to come out.’
‘You’ll be waiting all night. Shall I lead the way? This is meant to be your adventure, not mine, so don’t accuse me of stealing your thunder,’ he replied, edging closer to the portal
‘Fine,’ I said, cuffing my friend out of the way and plunging through the strange defect in space. I felt a sensation of falling, and immediately began to worry about my legs, how badly I was going to land. But then the ground met my four paws instantaneously, landing softly on a hard surface. This was wrong - even with medication, I should have felt a twinge. The Architect landed beside me a few seconds later.
We seemed to be in the porch of a building, the stone floor cold on my paws. Ahead of me was a heavy wooden door, into which had been carved cats in various kinds of revelry. I turned to see where we’d come from, but behind there was only nothingness, as if someone had removed all matter from the space surrounding the building. I wondered if this was a fever dream - such dislocation I’d only ever experienced when I’d caught a cold of one of the local cats.
I reached up and pushed at the door. It didn’t budge until The Architect contrived to help, muttering under his breath. Then it began to open slowly, a sliver of light becoming a crack, a crack becoming a muzzle’s width, and then finally big enough to fit my whiskers in. The place was low lit by candlelight, a heavy scent of patchouli and sandalwood incense hanging in the air. I surmised this was a church of some kind, but there were no seats left in the nave of the building. However a platform at one end resembled an altar, and standing on the altar was a cat.
She was dressed in a long leather cape, facing away from us. As we approached, I noticed that there was a design sewn into the structure - a lion’s head which seemed to somehow notice us, its expression changing subtly. A sudden rattling, percussive sound began to reverberate throughout the church’s arcades. The cat on the altar turned and I saw she was wearing sunglasses despite the night. And rather than wearing a collar, she wore a sash of purple, to which an ornate jewel was attached. Closer still, the jewel seemed to turn into an another eye which was watching us.
‘I’ve been waiting for you,’ she said.
‘And who are you?’ I asked.
‘Some call me Bastet.’
‘Really?’ I asked, trying to conceal a smile.
‘But I don’t mind what you call me. As long as it isn’t rude,’ she replied.
‘How did you know we were coming?’
The rattling sound rose in volume and then stopped suddenly. ‘I’ve always known.’
I felt the strange sensation of loss I’d felt before rise up again, but more acutely. There was something happening here I couldn’t quite understand.
‘You are going to help us with Fungus?’ I asked.
‘Your friend here indicated you petition me. But let’s skip to the chase, we haven’t much time left. What do you suggest?’
‘He’s haunted us enough over the past few years. How about we throw something his direction that’ll haunt him.’
‘You want to send him a ghost?’
‘That’s a literal take on it. But I suppose so.’
Bastet unclipped the jewel from her neck, placing it on the floor. Then, with a shrug, she slipped the cape off, but managed at the same time execute a deft tail flick. The cape shot up into the air, before folded itself as it descended, landing neatly next to the jewel. It was an interesting party trick – I wondered if she’d show us how to do it.
Then the walls of the church then seemed to fall away, the sepulchral gloom changing, the arcades bending upwards and away. Large block like shapes grew upwards from the floor, spreading in every direction. As I looked closer at these, I could see they were boxes, within which were entrapped spirits. I felt my hackles rise just by looking at them. These were some of the worse kinds of beings from the spirit world, some of which I’d dealt with during my time. But there was little chance of me fighting them now, let alone pushing them back into their native ‘verse.
‘Take your pick,’ said Bastet. There was something new in her tone - a kind of unrepressed anger, biting into her words. ‘And then we’ll weaponise your ghost.’
‘Weaponise? I’m not sure I like the sound of that,’ I said.
‘Well, as far as you are concerned, the pen is mightier than the sword, so we’ll see what we can do with that…’
It was a ghost unlike any I’d seen before. It swirled around, forming letters and words from its plasma. As I read them, I understood that the words and the sentences they formed were mine. I noticed also a sibilant whisper, before realising that the ghost was also speaking the words across the gap between realms. At the same time I both read and heard passages from stories about the Caterati, about the antics I got up to with The Architect himself. It seemed fitting that these words would now drive Fungus and his cronies to distraction.
We set the ghost free in the chine, where the colony of bats followed it up to the old entrance to the portal system. It glimmered for a minute and then disappeared, as it made its way through the secret door we’d used once or twice - the unofficial entrance to the complicated maze of paths that stretched between the humanverse and feliverse.
‘I know what this means,’ I said. ‘Meeting Bastet.’
The Architect nodded in response. ‘We have to head to the beach now,’ he said after a time.
‘The beach?’ I asked. In fact, the weariness I’d been expecting wasn’t there, instead I felt young again, revitalised. The sadness I’d been feeling had also gone, replaced by a feeling of recklessness. ‘Well how about we go the quick way,’ I said, and without further ado, jumped onto the railings of the suspension bridge and down into the mist. I felt myself twisting as I fell, but then things slowed and I turned to land perfectly on the floor of the chine below. Up above I heard The Architect huffing and puffing as he clambered down a nearby tree.
‘I used to do this a lot, before…,’ he said, when he finally caught up with me.
‘Do what?’ I asked.
‘Work for Bastet directly, between realms. Before she sent me to work the time machine.’
‘Brings back memories, does it?’ I asked.
‘No, I asked for this. To be here for you.’
I wasn’t sure whether it clicked then or later. But soon we were approaching the beach, cresting the shallow lip which led down to the sands, in between the adventure playground and beach huts. When we passed the Victorian drinking fountain, I saw something flickering on the beach. As I watched, the flames of the fire grew higher and higher. Around the flames danced the form of cats. I recognised them all. It was then that I truly understood.
Mimi came running up to me first, nuzzling me with her pointy nose, before cuffing me around the head and then darting away. Then there was Ziggy, who clutched something in his left paw - when I looked closer, I realised it was a pipe; he pulled the stem from his maw and raised his hand, blowing a thick plume of smoke up into the air. Ziggy was in conversation with an aproned Smith, who was intermittently tending the fire, clutching a glowing poker from his forge. Athena was of course dancing around the flames, titillating some of the surrounding males, her robot bird skittering over their heads. Smilodon was also throwing shapes around the flames with Bobinski, Twig and Pudding, his idiosyncratic German dancing style causing me to clap my paws together in delight.
Monty stood away from the conflagration, by a trestle table laden with barrels of the white stuff. His two henchmen, Benson and Hedges, were on bar duty, doling out pints to the assembled throng. The crowd parted to let me through and I was presented with a glass of the strong stuff. Amongst the crowd at the bar, I recognised many of the Caterati. Gaiman’s cat was there his lugubrious tall form standing apart form the rest - he raised his glass in deference. Ian McEwan’s cat Daydreamer was deep in conversation with Murakami’s Peter Cat, presumably discussing their owner’s respective oeuvres, but they both nodded at me. And then there was Mylo, ghost-like, but dancing around the guests as large as life, stopping occasionally to chat - he came up to me and gave me a big exuberant hug, before darting away again.
Even more strange was that my two Slaves were also there, sitting on a bench, watching the cats circulate the conflagration. I noticed that the smaller of my Slaves cuddled a bundle in her arms - their female human who had been born a few months previously. The taller Slave waved at me, but at the same time he looked sad. Tears were pouring down the face of my smaller Slave. I went up to them and rubbed myself around their ankles. Then a dark figure appeared to my side - I turned and couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw Beast.
‘You’re back!’ I said.
‘Wouldn’t have missed this for the world, old chap.’
The evening passed in a blur of friendships past and present. Beast told many stories about his adventures, which Mimi took great interest in. I think she fancied she might document them at some point. There were recitals from other members of the Caterati. A few Caterwauls also began and someone began to play folk tunes notes on a fiddle. I felt overwhelmed by all the attention. But time passes as it always does. I knew what awaited me, when The Architect called me away again.
They say it is the reason cats hate water: it reminds them of their own mortality. The boat sat in the shallows, an easy leap from the sandy shore. As I jumped aboard, I turned to see all my friends on the beach - everyone I had loved and lost, all there to see me go. ‘Goodbye Gordon! Farewell Gordi,’ they shouted. Some raised their paws, others waved flags. I could see some were crying, clinging to each other for support.
Then the craft began to move, slipping across the flat surface of the sea like silk. One by one, my lovely Slaves and friends were lost behind the mist. And then, finally, the flame of the fire winked out forever.
|RIP Gordon (2007-2020)|