BEWARE THE BANDERSNATCH
Khamet inhaled. His head was woozy. The sun was warm on him and he purred. He opened his eyes to what could only be described as a vast lake of green stretching around him with the bright sun blazing in the sky. The scent on the air had a thick minty rich sweetness and he instinctively lay out and stretched in the cool foliage to bask in the smell and the warmth. He rolled over and batted the plants. His vision became slightly blurred, but he felt very good.
He had never seen, nor smelled, anything as wonderful as the vast field of green around him. His tongue felt thicker and he licked the air as his throat congealed. Foam began to bubble at the corners of his mouth. He stretched again, digging into the ground with his claws and rolling around as he released a deep elegant purr unlike any he had ever done before. The true heart of a lion radiated out from him. His tail fluttered in the air and he stared at it a moment. Did he have three tails? All his fur felt the foliage like a grand caress.
Khamet rolled suddenly and pounced on his tail. He landed looking for where his prey had gone and something large buzzed past his head. Khamet sprang at it without thinking, but it shot up and away. His paws batted at the flying buzzing thing. He felt so good, so natural. The minty scent of the plants seemed to intoxicate him and he felt wonderful. His tail continued to twitch when he landed, his eyes large and wide. His head followed the thing buzzing around him. He felt lighter and faster than he was before.
Finally his eyes focused and he identified the buzzing thing as a beetle, but unlike any beetle he had ever seen. The beetle was almost the size of his head, colored orange and green with black appendages. Khamet swatted and leapt again, going after the beetle for a second time. The beetle was fast and as it spun Khamet could not distinguish if there was just one or three. It confused him, but he was enjoying himself. The beetle ducked and spun in all directions. Khamet leapt. He misjudged the ground and his paw caught the weeds. He tumbled, allowing himself to fall not on his feet, but on his side into the foliage.
Khamet rolled like a kitten that knew no danger and flopped into the plants. He forgot the beetle once again and lay nibbling on the leaves with his mouth frothing. He stretched again and rolled around, the way his siblings often did with each other. He had seen mau act like this at the palace as well. There was a plant they congregated near, but Khamet had never investigated it.
On his back he swatted at the leaves and the blades of grass. Then he clawed at them and attacked. He saw one moving in the corner of his eye, taunting him. He pounced again, jumping high and clamping down on the thing as it wiggled.
The purring in his throat was getting even louder. He opened his foamy mouth to nibble on the plants and the sound was very like a growl. The loud hollow purr emanated from deep in the back of his throat. It came so loudly in fact that several insects in the vicinity released their flowering and flew into the air. At this, Khamet thought he heard voices screaming in panic.
He didn’t have time to think about it now, the movement set him off and he attacked them all, leaping around the vast open area just as the beetle looped to avoid his paws, they darted away from him. The large beetle became his focus again and he went bounding after it. He swatted and missed. Leapt again, swatted and missed. He was just about to catch the great buzzing orange and black thing when the beetle stopped in mid-air, turned and screamed at him, “Please stop!”
Khamet’s paw connected. It struck the beetle and knocked it to the ground.
The beetle screamed and fell into the foliage and vanished.
Khamet stopped. His green cat eyes went wide as he crouched low and suspicious, wondering what he had just heard.
Hidden in the foliage ahead of him the beetle whined and complained. It sounded injured.
Khamet looked around the glade. All the other insects had retreated to the safety of the groundcover. Khamet turned back to the spot ahead of him and crept forward to see the large beetle on the ground trying to fix what looked like a dislocated wing.
The large beetle noticed the shadow and looked up, “Please don’t eat me. We do not taste very well, you must know that.”
Khamet stared down at the beetle.
The beetle screamed and sounded frightened, “Please someone help me!”
Khamet was completely shocked and not certain what to do. This was something he had never experienced before, a talking beetle. Well, a talking anything for that matter. Humans had language that could be discerned. Scarabs certainly made chittering noises, but he had never understood them. Larger animals all had similar inflections and tones to discern their intentions. When Khamet would dream he could often pick out words, but it was not often. He must be dreaming, and more vividly than ever before as it didn’t feel like a dream. This was much less terrifying than his regular dreams had been.
Khamet’s head was still puffy and swollen with the wonderful kittenish feeling he had. He looked around and out across the ground cover. His vision was still off, things were hazy and now the foliage seemed to be moving. He saw the other insects poking their heads up to watch. They were actually watching him.
“Somebody please help me!” The beetle went on screaming.
The insect’s constant panic became annoying and Khamet began to come out of the liquid happy trance he had gotten into. The beetle continued to work on its wing as it screamed frantically. Every few moments the beetle would test them with a flutter.
With the next barrage of screams Khamet took his eyes off the glade and turned to the beetle, “Shut up! No one is going to eat y…” he froze at the sound of his own voice and crouched, his eyes wide in shock.
“Liar! Liar! Please someone help me?” the beetle screamed.
“Is this a dream?” Khamet asked. “Where am I? Where is the palace?”
The beetle stopped repairing itself a moment. It stared up at the cat as if it was crazy. Then realizing it had stopped, it redoubled its efforts and began to scream again, “Help me someone for Rublick’s sake help me!” It was almost able to fly now. Its wings began a half-hearted buzz, but before it lifted off Khamet calmly placed a paw on the beetle’s back to hold him to the ground. This caused another spasm of furious cries from the beetle for assistance.
“I do not plan to eat you.” Khamet said. “But I will, if you do not tell me where I am.”
The beetle suddenly stopped struggling. It seemed to pass out from sheer terror and exhaustion. Its wings ceased trying to beat and it simply collapsed beneath the weight of Khamet’s paw.
Khamet stepped off and leaned down to examine the beetle. Just as his nose touched the thing the beetle flipped over on its back and screamed. Khamet jumped back startled and the beetle took off.
It flew right up into the air crying out, “I did it! I’m away! I’m free!”
Khamet watched as a great swarm of black, orange and green beetles sounded a cheer. They all flew up from the ground at the same moment.
“Hey,” Khamet called. “I just need to know where I am. Where is this place and the…” He gave up and watched the swarm fly off into the distance.
Khamet looked around again at the field. His head seemed to expand and his senses reached out from him like never before. The kittenish feeling took over again and he forgot all about the beetles, the talking, and wondering where he was.
He began to roll in the plants again. The feelings were so strong now that as he played, nothing seemed like it was him. His tail, his paws, his entire body felt as if he was seeing everything through someone else’s eyes.
Then something caught his attention. He turned and saw a white ghostly version of himself standing there. It reminded him of the mirror. He crouched and moved forward. The ghostly shape stood staring back at him. Khamet reached out and just as he touched it the overwhelming sense of déjà vu came over him. He saw everything his other self saw …he turned, saw him watching himself. He crouched suspiciously then reached out… and the ghostly shape was gone like a memory.
How is this happening? He thought. But the intoxication filled his head with stuffing and his mouth with dribbling foam and he could not keep a single straight thought. His eyes glazed and he took no notice of the shadow that moved across the glade towards him.
Khamet’s eyes drifted lazily open. He turned over and began stalking the grass again. He was purring even louder than before and still he acted kittenish, but now his coordination was beginning to go. He began to misjudge the ground and stumble. He opened his mouth and listened to the heavy purr from the back of his throat and then he felt himself do two things he had never done before.
The first was he smiled. He had seen humans do it often and he was always curious about it. His cheeks and whiskers felt strange as he did so, almost like he was snarling, but the sensation tickled his face and he suddenly laughed. The sound was so unexpected he crouched in shock and looked around to see where it came from. When he realized what had happened, he did it again, loving the feeling it brought to his stomach. He laughed harder, smiled again and laughed even more.
The shadow over the field behind him was much larger now. Khamet suddenly became aware the heat of the sun was blocked. He stopped laughing and looked up just in time to see two enormous clawed feet descend from the sky. Khamet crouched and moved, but the claws were enormous. They snatched two great handfuls of earth with Khamet inside and the ground fell away. Khamet squirmed and pushed until he could poke his head out.
The field was far below, but he could see movement on the ground. At the edge of the field Khamet saw what looked like him running below. It was not a ghostly copy, but an almost identical twin running along the edge of the field. The other cat stopped and looked up, then ran on, chasing after them.
They were above a forest now. Breathing the fresher air Khamet’s head began to clear of all his playful kittenish tendencies. The reality of everything set in, and he now accepted he was not dreaming. He was being taken somewhere by what appeared to be a bird. Was he about to be eaten? He struggled a little, but the claws tightened. Below he could see the other cat following through the breaks in the trees. It was falling well behind.
“Hello?” Khamet called out to the creature holding him. “Hello?”
There came no reply.
They were so high he could see a great deal of the land below. He had no idea where he was, but below were more colors than he had ever seen. In the distance all around him were mountains and cross sections of land with large structures. He had been to the highest points of the palace and had never seen anything like this. In the far distance to his right, was a large elaborate structure very like the palace, but much grander. Beyond that a large body of twisted through the land to an ocean on the horizon. There was another structure way off in the distance to the left with the mountains beyond it. Very subtly the color of the land shifted from black to red all mixed in the brilliant multicolored spectrum with the greenery. There was so much green.
Khamet had now completely lost sight of the other mau that had been following them. Ahead a tree loomed, so enormous that it reached on its own right out of the forest to stand as a tall singularity. In the space at the top was what looked to be an enormous nest. Khamet could see a lot of movement. The great talons opened suddenly and Khamet found himself falling through the open air high above the forest with nothing below him. He threw his legs and claws out wide to catch himself. His momentum carried him over the edge of the great nest and he landed right in the center bouncing on all four paws, ready to run.
The nest was thorny and firm, made of tree branches with all the edges sticking high up to form a cage of sorts. Khamet looked around for the thing that had brought him here, but it was already flying off. From a distance it looked to be nothing more than an enormous pair of talons with a small bird thing sitting on top of them. There was no telling how high the nest was, but from his vantage and the rounded edges nothing could be seen, but sky.
Khamet looked around. The nest was empty. No birds, no eggs, nothing. The movement he had seen was from various plants scattered about and blowing in the air. Its leaves swayed giving the impression of movement. From one dark corner of the foliage something was sticking out. It looked to be a hand, but not like any human hand. It was brown and crusty with long fingers that looked very much like the branches of a tree, branches that were waving at him.
The hand was sticking out of the foliage in the far corner. Khamet was interested and curious. The movement had him, he was a cat after all, and he stalked over to it.
“Hello?” he said, still not all together familiar with the sound of his own voice or the usage of language.
“Hello,” the hand began to wave frantically. “I thought you might be alive. Come. Come here quickly.”
Khamet’s suspicion weighed heavily in his curiosity, which was still focused on the hand. “Who are you? What are you?”
“I am the one who is trying to save you is who I am.”
“How do I know that?” Khamet asked, crouched and ready to pounce on the hand. “How do I know what you are saying is true.”
The hand was in striking distance now, but the last thing Khamet wanted was to get into trouble again. Then he realized he had not previsioned the claws as they snatched him… Could it have been because it meant him no ill will, or did his extra sight still occur in this place? He tried to sense something from the hand waving from inside the nest and felt nothing.
“Well…” the hand stopped waving. “You don’t know it, but I suggest that you do so because you have about no time before…”
The rest of what the voice was saying was drowned out as a horrendous screech came from behind. Khamet turned to see a bird that was sky blue on the bottom and dark green on top, so dark as to be almost black. All of this seemed to be of no concern because the biggest thing he noticed was the red hooked beak, wide open and screaming, headed right for him. Khamet felt himself running before he knew he was doing so. The bird seemed to have only one intention.
The thorny bushes stopped him going one way and he shot to the left. The great red beak skipped past him, snapping. The wings whipped through the air to stir up a great fog of dirt and the bird released a screech of frustration. It arched in the sky and began to come around.
“It is coming back!” the hand pleaded. “Now come here before it is too late.”
Khamet was blind in the dusty fog. He looked to where the hand had been and couldn’t see it.
The hand shot up again around the other side of the foliage. “Here,” the hand waved desperately. “Quickly!”
Khamet didn’t know the intentions of the hand either, but he had to make a choice. The hand won. He shot forward imagining how close the beak was. Something scratched the back of his tail. There was a screech that came so loud it hurt his ears just as he reached the hand and was swallowed by dried brown knotty fingers that elongated and wrapped around him like a cage.
A loud snap of beak sounded as the finger cage closed and yanked him down into the nest of branches. The bird’s screech mingled with the ripping of foliage above him as Khamet descended through the branches bundled in the finger cage.