Khamet opened his eyes. He believed he was still in the cargo hold and he sat up instantly alert. He hissed looked around. It was pitch dark, but things were different. The air was sweeter and he felt grass growing beneath where he lay. He began to calm down. He remained on his haunches, alert and ready for strike, but the feral energy was not the same Heere and he relaxed. Slowly his green cat eyes adjusted and he could make out that he was in a small patch of grass. It was not Payasograss, but regular thick green field grass, soft like a bed. The air was warm and waking up on the soft grass felt pleasant.
The sky was dark so it must be night. He could smell vegetation, but there was no sun, no clouds, and no stars. As his eyes adjusted he could see the glade where he found himself, but beyond the tree line was pitch darkness. Khamet suddenly remembered a dream he once had that terrified him. Still he relished this place. Wherever he was, it was somewhere beyond the wet wood of the cargo hold and the overcast stone streets of the city where the old man still remained. He was even larger now than before and really getting to be a king-sized cat. The air shifted and he could smell something burning.
The forest was so dark at the tree line his cat eyes couldn’t even penetrate it. No direction looked different from any other. Beyond the trees the air seemed to stop dead. He stepped into the trees and waited. There was no sound. No scent. Nothing. He moved away from the light of the glade and suddenly the forest came alive with a light glow from the trees reaching as far as he could see. Looking back the glade sat as a single column of pale blue light, the only visible open area around. Everything else was trees as far as he could see.
Khamet chose a direction and began to move, he stopped. Something occurred to him all of a sudden. He went back to the glade, sat down and closed his eyes. He concentrated and a ghostly white copy of himself stepped out and took off in one direction, then another and another and two more times, all of them going off in different directions looking for the Jack of all Trades, his brother and of course the Princess of Hearts. Once he was done Khamet opened his eyes and chose one direction for himself and went.
The forest only seemed to thicken as he moved through it. There was no sign of anything he recognized. He decided to look around. The trunk of a large tree shifted his view, but that didn’t help. He was now too large to climb some of the smaller branches. He needed a cookey or a mushroom. He could see no end to the forest in any direction so he returned to the ground and continued.
In the distance there was a glimmer of light brighter than the trees. It grew larger and brighter as he approached and he found what looked like flowers that lined a path heading to the left and to the right. Khamet looked up the road in one direction then the another. It looked open and inviting and though his déjà vu foresight didn’t work here, something told him not to trust it.
Instead he slipped back into the woods and climbed the largest tree he could find. He selected a thick branch where he could sit and watch. Then he concentrated and two more of him stepped out. He watched as the two ghostly projections of him ran in opposite directions down the road. Khamet sat and waited. He thought about his brother and wondered if he was looking for him. He said he would know if he was here, but he never showed up at the castle with the Princess.
Ten minutes passed and Khamet saw a beam of ghostly light come shooting from one direction down the path. It struck him in the chest and…
Khamet was walking down the dark forest path. It stretched into the darkness lined with the little iridescent flower things that glowed in various colors. It wasn’t long before he saw the eyes regarding him from the darkness of the trees. They were similar to his cat eyes, but larger and more ominous. They held a crazed intensity that made him uneasy, with yellow orbs and ugly red lines mingled around enormous pupils. They eyes were stacked upon each other in sets of two three and four, all blinking in random unison. Whether they were the eyes from one beast or many he could not tell, all else was smothered in darkness.
The eyes watched and hovered in the forest black making no move to come closer as his ghostly self continued down the path. More and more sets of eyes began to arrive on both sides of the path and with them, a strange hiss and guttural chittering. Double sets of eyes, triple and even quadruple all stacked or staggered atop each other.
On the path ahead of him, a large catlike silhouette the size of a lion, stepped out from the trees. Like the Sphinx it had six legs and what was obviously a tail extending behind it. It stopped in the path and it made a sound that was not quite a roar, and not quite a cry, but one thing Khamet inferred was that the beast was in terrible pain. Khamet didn’t need the Roadscholar to help him determine the feline origins, but it was obviously no cat. It was something out of a nightmare.
It turned and moved forward, a sextuple set of eyes on a mutated cat head. In the glow, its head looked as if several cat heads had been shoved together, molding the heads to use all the eyes at once while deforming the jaw into a wide mass of long needle sharp fangs lined with whiskers of thick barbs.
The fur did not look soft but it too consisted of barbs. Short porcupine like needles hung down its back. Currently they were flared and cruel looking as it was agitated. Even in the hideousness of the beast the tail swished daintily behind it, but it issued a loud scratch when it struck the trees. The caterwaul hissed a low growling meow like a cat in agony.
If cats were created in hell, hell would have created the caterwaul.
More began to step from the trees and fill the path before and behind Khamet. He was apprehensive, but being an apparition was not afraid. His other selves were merely extensions and could not bring him harm if they were attacked. “Hello,” he said.
The caterwaul drooled.
“If I am to be harmed or devoured I would hope that I know the thing that would like to eat me.”
The sextuple eyed caterwaul seemed to be the leader and stared hungrily, never wavering. “We are the caterwaul of the Tulgey Wood, we run calumph, we stalk we stump and those be of fortune lost to find the path of mome raths path, we toss, we eat, we slooth and sleet. To their cries we give no car and no fret to their screams for them through the trees never break and never leave.” With that the sextuple caterwauls head snapped forward and the teeth closed on the ghostly apparition or Khamet. His other self exploded into a mist and shot back down the path.
From his perch on the tree Khamet opened his eyes with a feeling of dread. Sure enough it wasn’t long before the crashing came. It resounded like galumph, galumph, then a pause, followed by a chittering howl of frustration, anger and pain.
The caterwaul advanced down the mome raths path, some moving through the forest. There was the scrattchity scratch of their prickly fur rubbing against the tree bark like claws. They hissed in unison while galumphing forward and Khamet crouched where he was, tucking his tail up and waited.
The sextuple eyed caterwaul came first down the path and Khamet noticed as he did, the little glowing lights closed and ran very like the beetles did when people tried to squash them and missed. Along the back path little glowing flowers scurried in all directions throwing strange lights all around.
Khamet watched as one by one they stopped. The sextuple caterwaul sniffed wet burbling whiff and looked around at the many eyes.
Four of them spoke, “Something yummy, something good, something tasty, something food.”
The sextuple one took another step and stopped. It took another whiff and turned towards Khamet’s tree.
Another white ghostly wisp came shooting through the forest from behind and struck Khamet. He saw and he smiled. Khamet waited a moment then called out, “Hello there to the caterwaul. Callooh callay. Hello.”
The sextuple looked up the tree. “Aye there be the true meat of a thing we sought. Do you crunch when we snap? Is there enough to fill us ‘afore we take our naps?” He sprang, but the caterwaul were big and not very suited to climbing, their claws too weak. They were similar to cats and their sleek appearance gave no inkling to how sloppy and ungraceful they truly were.
The big sextuple eyed thing fell to the ground and Khamet allowed his teeth to show beneath his whiskers, they too were bigger and more pronounced. He dropped down onto the leaders head, careful of the spikes. He leapt from one to another, and another, to the tree beyond them and up to another branch.
The caterwaul howled in frustration. Several of them jumped to the tree drawing lines in the bark with their claws as they slid down.
Khamet sprang again to one caterwaul that still clung to a tree, then to another and another and back to his perch. “I’ve heard of you though not the Tulgey Wood. Where do you come from? And how is it you come to bee Heere.”
The caterwaul ignored him and attacked again.
Another ghostly wisp came through the forest and he saw a house with a great open clearing, but his ghostly self had not approached.
The howls and screams were deafening, but suddenly a rumble came through the forest. Trees were crunching and being moved. Something very big was approaching. There was a hiss, “Brother!?”
“Oh I think someone is coming,” Khamet said to the caterwaul.
The trees continued to split and crack. The caterwaul looked in the direction the first wisp had appeared from.
“Brother!?” the call came again.
“Over here!” Khamet answered. I have some new friends.
“I thought you might.”
The first wisp had run straight into Khamet’s brother running through the Tulgey Wood in the direction of the open area where Khamet had arrived.
“Hello.” the apparition said.
“There you are. I thought that… no, it isn’t you.”
“No.” the ghostly Khamet said. “I am back that way it pointed. We died again. We need to find the Jack of…”
“This is the Tulgey Wood, the caterwaul live here we have to get out of here.”
“Oh, then I will tell him.”
“Tell my brother I am coming.”
The ghostly Khamet had flown directly back to Khamet.
“My big brother is coming,” he said down to the caterwaul.
The trees parted and a giant sized Khamet stepped into view peering down at the assembly.
The caterwaul hissed and attacked a dozen or more latching themselves onto the giant cat and attempting to bite through the thick fur.
The giant cat scraped and squealed at the caterwaul, picking them off and tossing them away over the trees. He stomped on some stabbing them with his claws. Trickles of blood seeped from where he touched the prickly caterwaul and he cried out. “Come on brother. Get up on me. We have to get away now.” He rubbed himself against a tree and scraped another caterwaul off as he reached his paw out.
Khamet leapt onto the paw and scrambled up to the top of his brother’s head. His fur was twisted and matted in places like clumps, or burns, or it was weaving itself into some sort of coating. On his brothers head Khamet could see that his entire back was like this. “Are you okay?”
“Later,” the giant cat said and ran leaping through trees back in the direction he had come. “I need to rest and I think the mushrooms are…” he didn’t get to finish.
Khamet felt himself falling and spread his claws in time to catch the branch of a large tree. It snapped and Khamet caught another. He slipped again then finally hit the side of the trunk and jumped to the ground.
Several yards away his brother lay, much smaller than him breathing heavily.
“Are you alright?”
“I need to rest,” his paws were all a bloody mess. “They cut me up pretty good.”
“Can you hold onto me?” Khamet was twice as large as his brother. He scooped him onto his back and ran in the direction towards the house he had seen.