Grinn: Tales of the Cheshire Cat – Chapter Twenty

CRUSHED IN THE HOLD 

Merrick reached into the folds of his greatcoat “Lookey here. A maid dropped her looking glass.” He sat staring into it for a long moment. “I’d knowed I was swarthy looking. Though I’d not knowed I’d changed so.” He turned the mirror back and forth staring at his reflection then showed Khamet who stared past himself to look for his brother in its depths. Nothing. And if this was a way through he wondered how he would accomplish it, the mirror being such a small thing.

When Merrick slept Khamet stared into the looking glass for his brother, but all to no avail. Perhaps something had happened. He had only been back for a few days, but wondered how time was working there, how long had it been. He needed to find a larger mirror. There were numerous windows that reflected some things very well, but they were unclear and dull, equal to the reflections in Pharaoh’s palace.

Khamet would follow Merrick as he walked around the docks looking for work and food. Khamet would also go off on his own exploring the areas too small for the old man to enter. He cross the rooftops exploring and was always on the search for a mirror. From above Khamet would look out over the city, watching the rooftops and chimney pipes caked with soot and coughing smoke. The rooftops were so filthy he would often return blackened to the skin with soot. The old man didn’t care one way or another. He was dirty himself and enjoyed Khamet’s company whenever he was around. Merrick would prattle on with stories of his days at sea and things he’d witnessed.

“I seen me a mermaid once and a sea creature the likes of which would have sunk the ship if it smashed us,” that was his beginning line when he was about to tell a story and tonight he had happened upon a whole half bottle of rum. Khamet listened to the old man’s slurring speech and settled on the sail far enough away that he didn’t have to smell the breathy rum.

“Now there was a brush I had what set me down ’ere one night as I live and breathe. I frequented the beauties of Whitechapel to quell the urgings of those long days at sea. My Catherine was a beauty though she was a tiger when she got herself pie-eyed with a wee drop of the creature. We lodged when I come to port though she had a husband by common law at Cooney’s so we had to venture away from there.

“One night, once our due was done an we had a bit of a grind, we chewed the rag and got into a scrap. I left her for the night, having to be on the ship at sunrise. I took myself for a stroll to find some rum, to cool my tide and warm my heart after such a cold end. As I strolled up Berner Street I heard the sounds of another scrap and struggle. ‘Twas followed by what I think to me self was the life being choked from someone. I tell ye the sound it chilled me bones. I followed the sound and come upon a man stooped in the dark, an when he seen or hear me he run of. I move to see what the man was getting to and there I come up on Long Liz bleeding her life right out of her she was.

“Now I seen my share of death at a time, and the bobbies are knobs. An the be of no consequence when it comes to finding their man, so I was not going to stand around a knob meself, especially after I run him off. I found me rum and got back to the ship as the sun was crackin. And it was not till I returned afore I learned my Catherine was done in by the rogue the officials took to calling the Ripper. He done her in that very night after I run him off. She was probably going to find a drink herself or run back to her husband. Once I learned what happened I had not the heart to return to the sea as I might had been responsible for the loss of my sweetie.”

Khamet was shocked to learn of all the guilt and pain the old man had in him. It came slurred out with the rum and when Merrick finally finished the old man was sobbing. He cried until the drink took him and he found his loud snoring sleep.

The next morning Khamet slipped away before the old man was awake. He wandered the dock for food and still in search of a looking glass. There was always a lot of activity in the mornings with ships loading and departing cargo. A young seaman approached him with a fish. There was no warning, no déjà vu in the act and as Khamet ate he allowed himself to be scooped up by the burley young man who walked aboard a ship. By the time Khamet realized what had happened he was staring out at the city from across a wide expanse of water and slowly watched it fade into the distance. He stood on deck and meowed, once for yes, twice for no. The shore drifted away and faded into the ocean until it was gone.

Khamet was thrust into a new life unlike any he had known. Aboard ship it was simple. The sailor brought him onboard along with three other cats. They were locked in the cargo hold and given only water. It seemed the ship had been plagued with rats on their last voyage and the three cats were to capture and eat them. There were more than enough to go around. Khamet was quite the mouser and as usual had no contact with the other cats. They didn’t like him.

The cats were watched over by a young man Khamet heard the other sailors call Polin. He brought water and made sure everything in the hold was tied down. Khamet would make tentative approaches and allow the boy to stroke him. The boy came down often and seemed grateful to have a friend. Sometimes he would bring scraps of fish for the cat which was far tastier than the rat guts he had been consuming.

Khamet knew he needed to get off of the ship, but this proved to be extremely difficult. When they docked the cats were rounded up and locked into a crate. Once the fresh cargo was loaded they were released and the ship left the dock. It could be as long as three days for this too take place. The cats which had been locked in the crate were starving and they would hunt like never before.

Onboard the ship Khamet had a great deal of time to think rather than focus on watching the mysteries of men who went about their daily routine. For hours he would think about all that occurred and still wonder about Chione from time to time. He wondered why he was different from other cats and why he had been living for so long. What had happened to his brother and would he ever be able to return. It had been a long time since he found anything that resembled a reflection. And what of the Roadscholar, locked in that place?

Khamet’s forward insight served him well on the ship especially when something came undone in the cargo hold during a storm. It was blatantly obvious the other cats didn’t have it. Two had died on the last voyage alone. He tried to communicate with Polin, but the boy didn’t understand.

When he thought of the Princess it always hurt. She had been kind, if only for a moment and only for her own reasons. The Jack of all Trades seemed wildly distraught to have her stolen like that. The Suicide King must have orchestrated this at the cost of his daughter. What was happening while he was stuck here? In his mind the other side seemed infinitely more interesting than this place. Humans were interesting, but greedy and cruel to each other… of course there was no real difference to those of Heere. What would the Popularopinion say of this world?

Time on the ship took its toll and the surviving cats began to get wild and feral. Khamet was not immune to this. He was desperate to find a way off the ship. After a year he was the biggest and the strongest, and the only one who had survived. He began chewing at the sides of the box when they were locked in port injuring himself and his mouth. The other cat’s no longer disliked him, they were afraid of him now, huddling into a corner as if he might harm them, which he would, if the opportunity arose.

One of his claws got lodged in the wood while trying to claw his way out. Khamet yanked and chewed at it until the claw ripped itself right out. The pain was intense, but he didn’t seem to care one way or another. An hour later both front paws were bleeding and Khamet had lost a total of three claws to the crate. He meowed in pain and passed out from exhaustion.

When he awoke the other cats were now hissing at him and staring from the corners. There was dried blood on his paws, but all three claws had restored themselves. Khamet investigated the crate and sure enough the three sharp claw stumps were still lodged in the wood. He didn’t know what to make of this and he couldn’t think straight being so crazed and angry, but at the same time an idea began to rise in his mind.

When the box was opened this time Khamet angrily slashed at the hand that opened the box. Polin cried out in pain and looked down at the cat. They set sail with two more cats added making five in the hold. The three that had been starving in the box went for the rats with ravenous ferocity. Khamet was wild and now obviously feral. One of the new cats got in the way and wouldn’t relinquish a rat. Khamet squared off with it. The cat fought back, but it was for nothing and in the end it was added to the evening’s meal by the other four. Khamet stopped thinking about everything and ruled the hold. Any injury healed almost instantly and he began to think of himself as invincible. When the cargo came loose during the next storm, the crazed big cat refused to move to safety.

One of the larger crates slid across the hold as the ship pitched. Khamet was at the wall on the other side trying to stay out of the water that sloshed and as the pitched shifted the crate slid back. He saw it happen in his vision like déjà vu and hissed as the crate slid right into him. His body was crushed. He felt his shoulders sandwich and come together and shift as his spine broke and his body twisted. His hips didn’t shift but collapsed and shattered together. His skull didn’t crush, but the pressure was enough to cause his eyes to go right out of their sockets again and everything went black.

 

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