THE OLD MAN AND THE KITTY
Khamet coughed and the sound came muffled in the mud. His rear leg shot out in a spasm again and with all four paws he pushed himself and rose out of the street. There were no wagon wheels or horses at the moment, but people were still around. He rose up from the thick muddy street and looked around, disoriented. There was a meowing hiss. The black cat he had been chasing was still perched and staring at him. He needed to get out of the street before anything else came by.
Khamet moved awkwardly with his neck at an odd angle and his eyes in pain. He felt heavy from the thick mud caked onto his fur and moved to the side walk as fast as he could. His neck adjusted with a grotesque snap and his eyes suddenly corrected themselves. He tried to shake off the mud but didn’t have much luck. There was a barrel full of water next to a door way and he climbed the small set of steps. He was so heavy. He attempted to leap onto the barrel, but ungraciously flopped in with a splash. The weight on his fur had him sinking, but the mud dissipated and he clawed his way out before he drowned.
The cat he had been chasing watched as he emerged. Then it hissed, leapt to another balcony and was gone. Khamet sat on the steps and began to clean himself. He was upset and let the fury consume him. The Princess of Hearts had been taken. He thought of Chione. He didn’t want to be back here. He stopped licking and looked around. Why was he back here? He didn’t go through the glass. This entire world changed the last time and this time he was gone for a day and only seconds had passed. Nothing made sense. What had his brother said, time moved sometimes fast, sometimes slow and sometimes backwards?
Several horses went by dragging covered wheeled chariots behind them. People could be seen inside them similar to Pharaoh. This place had no sun however. It was gloomy and grey. Depressing! It added to his anger and the filth he was covered in. He needed to find a mirror. The rain had obviously been recent so there must be some standing water somewhere. He didn’t enjoy being wet or covered in mud, it clouded his hair and invariably his senses, but in this place…
Khamet looked around and thought for a moment. Then he let his mind wander like he did before. He was even bigger this time and felt the déjà vu course through him. He realized he could see city streets ahead of him. He could look down alleys from right where he was. There was a bucket several yards down, in an alley, beside a door. The water was dirty, but it would do.
He leapt off the barrel and moved down the street, people moved away from him, some of them kicked at the ball of mud walking and coming near their clothing. Khamet turned at the alley and there it was. A bucket filled with rain water. He jumped in, shook a bit then climbed out, soaked. No matter. At least he was clean and water was easier to get rid of than mud.
Khamet moved to a large window ledge and perched to clean himself. Yes he was much bigger and his stripes had changed somewhat. As he grew his coat lightened and now had a brown orange tinge to it, but his stripes were changing. They were twisting into odd looking spots.
He had to find a mirror that he could get through, which shouldn’t be too hard with the extra sight he had. He hoped it worked from this end.
“Get out a here yah filth!” A woman’s voice screamed and Khamet was off the ledge and running down the alley.
He walked a few blocks trying to sense something, but realized he was hungry. He could smell the ocean and with it came the scent of fish. He moved through the streets. The buildings so tall he couldn’t see the tops of some of them. Everyone was like a palace, but everything was dingy. He stopped and thought for a moment. His memory of Heere and this being Yonderland was not fading as it did last time. Strange, the last time he was in this place, he had hardly arrived when he went back. He would broach this subject with the Roadscholar, if he ever saw him again.
A growl brought him back and he saw a dog snapping and coming right at his head. Khamet started a moment then realized it was his déjà vu. Up ahead was an open door way where the dog would come out. Rather than deal with the dog he crossed the street and ran past the door way.
He no longer felt any fear as he walked around on this side of the looking glass. Always being warned about any sort of impending danger, he was no longer watchful and apprehensive. So there was nothing to fear. If death found him he would be back on the other side, which is where he wanted to be anyway. Still, dying wasn’t fun and not a solution. Nine lives wasn’t it? And anyway, getting torn to pieces and perhaps eaten by a dog was not something he wanted to experience. Would he be able to come back if there was no body to come back to? Would he be stuck there? And if he died there? Why did he have nine lives and what did that have to do with anything?
The scent of fish was getting stronger and he was hungrier than ever. He had just come back twice, gotten twice as big as when he began and he hadn’t eaten a thing. People were all around, some kicked at him as they passed. He needed to get off the ground. He climbed a pile of nets that were riddled with the odor of fish. He was getting famished. A man went by carrying a sack full of fish heading inland.
“Not for you beauty,” the man said.
From atop the pile of nets Khamet could see a good distance down the docks. Two huge ships were docked at the far end. Khamet let his green eyes roll up to the tops of the sails. They were the biggest ships he had ever seen, as high as the buildings with great sheets hanging slack off them. On the opposite end were some smaller boats being unburdened of their cargo. Rope cranes were lifting crates in nets, some of which were bulging with fish. He moved closer to these and watched. A few fish slipped out and fell as it moved and Khamet shot through the people. A man came out of the crowd and snatched the fish up.
The man was dirty and had a strong scent of unwash and stunk of things Khamet couldn’t identify. Rather than stop Khamet leapt onto the man’s greatcoat and climbed to his shoulder to bat for the fish.
“Aye now, precious. Hey, hey what’s this?” the man turned around.
Khamet clung to the sleeve with three of his paws and batted at the fish with the other.
“Alrighty then you stingy thing,” he said holding the fish so Khamet could nibble on it.
“Come on now. I’ll let ya have a taste there.”
The old man moved away from the dock. He turned down an alley and moved to the back corner behind a building were several barrels were stacked beneath an overhang. There was no telling how old the man was, but he was quite agile. He leapt over the barrels and beneath the overhang without moving them, if one was to look down the alley there would be no telling that anyone was there.
A sail was laid out and folded so that the area was dry and off the ground. The man sat laying the fish down. He dropped a dry piece of wood on the embers of a small fire. “That’s it kitty,” he said.
In a flash his hand shot to his sleeve and grabbed Khamet and set the cat down near the fire and beside the fish. Khamet realized that if the man had any other intentions he would have sensed it.
“You’re a big one ain’t ye?”
The old man pulled a crude knife out from his greatcoat and set the fish out and began cleaning them. He set the innards and the heads aside and allowed Khamet to feast. Then he skewered the cleaned pieces and set it above the fire to cook while Khamet filled his belly.
“Well you are certainly one for a feast you are.”
Khamet looked up. He understood the man completely and said, “Yes.” and “Thank you,” but it came out as two meows.
The old man stared. “You really are a big one.”
Khamet looked down at himself and wondered if this was what was going to happen every time he came back? The cleaned fish turned a very nice white color while Khamet finished with his own and began to stare at the others.
“Okay now, but we are going to have to go back out and find more then.” The old man said.
Khamet meowed again.
The old man looked at the cat almost comprehending. He considered a moment then shook his head and finished the fish. The rain started after that and they remained beneath the awning. Khamet cleaned himself while the old man played with his knife.
“We could fetch fer some rats if yer up fer a chase. They not be good eating, but they’ll do if they be no fish.”
Khamet meowed again and the man leaned in.
“Now lookey here. I be a swarthy toothed sea dog, but I’ve seen some things a time or two and I knows animals that be smart as men and smarter’n some and some that just be look it cause they knowed a word or two and they speak or bark at the right time, so it be seeming like they be knowed a thing they didn’t.”
“Now what’s that there? Is it by you knowing that I be done speaking or by you listening to my speaking I’m a wondering. You seem a big smart thing by your eyes. How smart ye be I’m a wondering so by the gods there be those that call me crazed, but I’m going to speak to yer just the same. Does ye know the words I speak?”
“Show me yer claws then or I’ll have done with you.”
Khamet raised his paw and flexed his claws.
“By the gods…” the old man said. “Ye do know my words.”
Khamet meowed again.
“What does it mean? If cats be getting smart as men then we might be truly doomed.”
“Are there more of you?”
Khamet didn’t know how to answer, but said yes. It only came out as a meow.
“Can you shake or nod or… here then this be yes,” the old man moved his head up and down.
Khamet looked up then down moving his head a bit.
“And this here be no…” the old man moved his head from side to side.
Khamet did the same, but it was awkward.
“That be it you furry beast. Now are there more of you?”
Khamet thought about the question. His brother was the only other that he knew of and he was off in the other place, quite literally dead to this world with no body to come back to. So there were perhaps no more. But there were others he had seen die and they had not come back even though there bodies were there. He wasn’t the only cat to be wrapped up like that either. He had seen others on that shelf. Khamet wondered what the caterwaul were. His brother said they used to be cats. So what was so different about him? He was still around and he had yet to find anyone like him.
Khamet looked at the man and moved his head back and forth.
“That can no be. Are ye saying that you be the only one of yer kind?”
“I spent a time searching for booty I have, but you be the greatest treasure one could find me thinks.”
Khamet simply stared at the old man.
They stayed up late that first night. The old man’s name was Oliver Merrick. Most people just called him Merrick. He Khamet asking numerous questions and the two of them eventually came to communicate beyond shakes to one meow for yes and two meows for no. Merrick man lived at the docks looking for work and surviving on fish and rats. Khamet had his intuition and it wasn’t long before the old man learned to trust it.
“Do you think we should venture in that direction?” he would ask and Khamet would then meow once or twice. Merrick had disagreed with Khamet once in these decisions and got into some trouble with some young drunken sailors that beat him up. Now he no longer questioned. Khamet still wanted to find a mirror, but his intuition seemed to be of no help, until one day a mirror found him.