THE OTHER MAU
Khamet was still tired. It was the dead of night and he was not certain what he would do now, or where he even was. He looked up the great tree that reached up into the darkness. Thank you Burtie, he thought.
He looked around at the forest and listened. There was a slight rustling far off, but nothing near. Perhaps it would be best to climb back up and find a branch until morning. He walked around a bit and noticed a faint glow several yards away, among the trees. Khamet crouched and moved towards it.
He reached a large tree and peered around it. The glow came from a small pile of embers burning. It sat just beyond the tree beside a pack with a blanket and something huddled beneath it. Khamet crept around the tree to get a better vantage point, the dried leaves rustled lightly. He came around and looked at the small camp again. The pack and the blanket were there, but now the blanket lay crumpled and unoccupied. Khamet moved to investigate and look around.
A rustling behind him made him turn. Something shot out of the darkness and landed on his back pushing him to the ground.
The thing held him with long claws and whispered at his neck, “Don’t even think about it buddy.”
Khamet looked to the embers of the fire and rolled towards them. His attacker cried out in shock and pain and released its grip. Khamet got free and ran away from the campsite and into the trees. He stopped once he reached the safety of darkness and peered back towards the camp site. What he saw shocked him into crouching and flattening his ears.
A mau wearing a belt and carrying a knife stood upright cursing as he put out blotches of singed fur. Then he added more branches to the fire and began stoking it back to health. He picked up the blanket and shook it out, shouting into the darkness. “And stay away!”
Rather than listen, Khamet took this as his cue to approach again.
The ears of the other mau perked. It turned suddenly brandishing a knife at Khamet in one paw, with his other ready, its claws out. Recognition suddenly took over and the look softened. “Hey!” the mau exclaimed putting the knife away and drawing its claws in.
Khamet was curious, but wary.
“It’s you. Sorry, but I didn’t recognize you,” the other mau said. He looked Khamet over. “You’re really small.”
“Who are you?” Khamet asked.
“That isn’t the first question because we have to really back up before you’re ready to hear that,” he turned to his pack. “Are you Hungry?”
Khamet suddenly realized he was starving.
The other mau pulled something out of his pack and set it down by the fire. “Well come on. It’s safe.”
Khamet crept forward reluctantly and stopped.
“I thought you were trying to ambush me. I didn’t know who you were.” He looked at Khamet and gave a frustrated sigh. “The fire’s a lot safer than being out there.”
“What’s out there?”
“Probably nothing, but you never can tell,” he grinned and gave a wink.
Khamet looked at the fire.
“That’s some fishbread. You’ll love it.” The other mau said.
Khamet was suspicious, but the other mau seemed somewhat familiar. It was probably the one who had been chasing after him when he was being carried away by the Bandersnatch. The other mau sat on the opposite side of the fire and waited. Khamet sat and nibbled at the fishbread. It was excellent and he devoured the rest of it quickly. His throat dried up as he swallowed and he began to hack.
“Oh, there’s a pouch beneath the blanket.”
Khamet picked up the blanket and found the pouch. In it were several blue colored berries. Some dried bits that smelled like fish, a few cookeys and some mushrooms.
“Just pop them in your mouth, the blue ones, the berries,” he warned and stood up, about to come over. Khamet looked up and he stopped. “Don’t eat any of the others,” he said raising his hands.
Khamet took one of the berries and chewed. Instantly his mouth was full of liquid that he swallowed.
On the ground beside the fire were symbols and drawings of things that Khamet couldn’t decipher. “I don’t have to worry about that any longer,” the other mau said. “I saw the Bandersnatch grab you and I followed. If I had lost you there would have been no way to tell where the nest was. No one knows. Not really,” he looked up. “It’s supposed to be higher than all the trees of the forest.”
“It is,” Khamet said.
“But from down here you can’t see anything.” The other mau noticed something in the dirt and moved over to rub it out. “You’re really small. I thought you’d be bigger, at least as big as me.”
“I am. Well I was, but someone…”
“Wait, are you on a cookey?” the other mau asked looking shocked.
“Licked it. I had to get down from the nest and…”
“Well that makes sense.” He went back to where he was sitting and held out his paw pointing to the pouch. Khamet tossed the pouch over. “I always keep some for emergencies, water, giant, small you never know.” He selected a mushroom, examined Khamet, then cut out a tiny sliver and handed it to him. “Here lick this. Do it once, real fast, not too much.”
“If I don’t will I stay this way?”
“No, it takes time, but it will eventually wear off.”
Khamet looked at the mushroom sliver and licked the top prepared to wait a moment for it to take effect, but these were obviously fresh and much more potent. Instantly his stomach seized and he grew.
“There you go.” The other mau said closing his pouch. “Now, let us get down to business. You died. Right?”
“What,” Khamet said shocked. “What do you mean?”
“I mean this, how you got here. You didn’t come through the mirror because I would have been there when you did. So you must have died?”
“No I…” he thought for a moment. “I ate… Pharaoh died. I went to sleep… Then I woke up here.”
“Yeah that’s called death.”
Khamet was confused and too tired to think or argue. Something occurred to him. “You’re the other mau. The one in the bowl…?”
“The bowl? You’re a bit slow aren’t you?” The other mau shook his head. “You have been here before. You just don’t remember. It was really short the last time. The day you died or the day you were born, depending on how you see it.”
Khamet stared at the fire as the other mau continued.
“That’s the same week I got here. When you arrive you’re a little lost and disoriented, but you suddenly become aware. You’re awake and alive and already learning. I was here first, then you. I was hear a week before you arrived. You left me after three days and went back. I don’t know how or why, but something different happened because there are a lot that come here that don’t stay like I did. Of course I was here with you and then you left. So maybe that is what caused me to hang around I don’t know, but here we are now so I guess we can move on.”
“Yeah, cats do this, I think we are the only creature to have this happen, but I’m not certain of that either. When cats die they come here and they stay here a while and then they move on. Or they become Caterwaul.”
“I’ve heard of Caterwaul. What are they?”
“Oh that’s not something to run towards. They were once like us, but now…. They are horrible, changed creatures. They scream like banshees and eat almost anything. I wouldn’t want to go Caterwaul and neither should you. I thought I couldn’t move on until you showed up again, but now that you are here…” The other looked at himself. “You know, I don’t feel any different.”
“How should you feel?”
“Well, that is the question,” he looked down for a moment. “I don’t know exactly, I just assumed?”
“So you have been here for six years?”
“Six? Not exactly…”
“Time doesn’t move the same way it does on the other side. In fact it is quite different, sometimes forward, sometimes backwards. Sometimes it moves fast, then slow, then fast again. I have been here for about thirteen years, I think, but who can be certain. I have only seen Time once, and didn’t have the opportunity to catch him or tell him anything…”
“See Time?” Khamet didn’t understand what the other mau was saying and decided to change the subject.
“What’s your name?”
“Well that’s another thing. See if one doesn’t come here with a name… or if one’s mother doesn’t give them a name. Then… one doesn’t get a name… until one receives one. A name, that is.”
Khamet looked puzzled. “Well then I can give you a name,” trying to be helpful.
“No, it doesn’t work like that.”
“How does it work?”
“Well in the past the Roadscholar named everything. It is said that nothing was anything until the Roadscholar discovered it and named it. In fact there are still entire lands that remain discovered and undiscovered yet wholly unnamed.”
“Yes, he disappeared forever ago. Some say he never existed.”
For some reason Khamet decided not to tell that he knew where the Roadscholar was, “How can a land that everyone knows about be undiscovered.”
“Oh, because others found it. It has no name because it was not discovered by the Roadscholar. The only other way to get a name is the land names you.”
“The land, this place, Heere?”
“Well sort of. See the Bandersnatch up there? The Roadscholar didn’t name it. It was one of the infamous things that received its name from the land.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Say you do something that people talk about. Pick a Dandylion for example. That would be a horrible thing to do for they are only doing their job protecting the flowers. The flowers might call you Dandykiller or Dandypicker or something like that. The story gets around and you will find that sooner or later that could be your name. In fact you will even come to think of yourself as the Dandylion Poacher or something.”
“Just like that?”
“Well no that takes time, but once it reaches the Popularopinion, then that’s what you are.”
“What’s the Popularopinion?”
“She works for the Suicide King. The Suicide King keeps Popularopinion as his advisor. Once Popularopinion gets hold of something, it often becomes law. She can even change names given by the Roadscholar.”
“So you don’t have a name?”
“No, not yet.”
“And the Roadscholar?”
“Oh yes, but don’t pay that any mind. He’s only a legend. Popularopinion is what really counts these days. No one cares about anything else and as for the Roadscholar…”
“I know where he is.” Khamet said.
“What do you mean?”
“The Roadscholar is trapped in the Bandersnatch nest. He has been there for years. I promised I would try and free him.”
The other mau looked up, “What are you talking about?”
“The Roadscholar is up there.”
“No one has ever escaped the Bandersnatch. I can hardly believe you made it down,” he moved over and scratched at the dirt for a moment until something bone white began to show through. “Most fall.”
Khamet looked horrified.
“I heard rumors about it and following you helped, but I didn’t know where I was until I started writing in the dirt. When the rains come they wash things away… or they change them, depends.”
“On what?” Khamet asked.
“On the rain.”
Khamet nodded as if he understood what he was being told.
“Wait a minute!” the other mau said suddenly. “You have been here twice right?” His eyes rolled suddenly realizing.
“If you say so,” Khamet had no memory of ever being here before.
“Of course. You need to go back. Your body might be gone, but that doesn’t mean you’re done. Not yet.”
“What do you mean?”
“I bet you got nine,” he rolled back in the dirt. “Holy chupperudders, that’s it.”
“Lives, some cats get them and we had… one, two, three, seven of us. And you were… the seventh Kitten. Wow you must have got them, you’re lucky sort of… Well at least I think it’s lucky. Course I have to stay here until you’re done with all of them.”
“What does that mean?” Khamet wasn’t following anything now.
“Tomorrow, I will take you to a mirror and we’ll see, but tonight… I don’t know what it’s like in Yonderland, but over Here, I like cookeys and mushrooms.”