Next week, the 26th of November, is the last Hiatus story about our lawyer friend Jame Morrel!
December 2nd, 10kd comes back with Chapter 16, and its going to be a big one! Annie and I have been working hard to get this ready for for you guys, so its going to be a real joy for all of you to finally read it.
As some of you know, I had two ideas for a Mister Sprinkles Adventure when I started writing, but one turned out to be too long for the 15 minute radio slot, so I went with the other one. Now you finally get a taste of my much much longer idea. Enjoy :)! -Jim
Story by James Wylder, art by Rachel Johnson
Previous chapters are also available as an audio podcast from the Southgate Media Group.
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If you're new to 10kd, you can read the story from the start for free below:
Bonus #4: The Day the Cats Spoke
A Mister Sprinkles the Cat and Ashlyn Oswin Adventure
Did I die, she thought, reaching out for the stars?
Her hand was coming up from somewhere else into the sky, like the sky was somehow hers to grasp and hers alone, her fingers were constellations that really were just pinpricks of stars. She didn’t have a shape, she didn’t have a purpose beyond the near existence of herself. The stars winked out somewhere else, and she felt herself drown in the sea of shadows. It felt like it was a sink, like her hands were on cold metal sides and someone was holding her head down. When she clenched her hands though, she just felt the bedsheets, which shifted under her like cats adjusting their weight. She felt a light inside her, darkening her, illuminating her, pulling her this way and that way and forcing her out of herself into herself and beyond herself.
This was not an ordinary light, even though it was a dream, and she woke up. Staggering out of bed in her Uncle Sam t-shirt and knit pants, she wrapped herself in a robe, and exited her cabin. She wasn’t sure why she’d chosen a ship. It was cold, and the waves rocked her. She didn’t even like boats, as it turned out. But she was on one. Still, it seemed like it was important she was on one, and so she was. That was the way of things, and the Atlantic called her head to turn as she walked out onto the deck.
Ashlyn Oswin looked off the side of the ship across the endless blue of the Atlantic, of course there was an end to it somewhere. There was an end to everything. She sighed, and rested her chin on her wrist, settling into the position just as a violent blue flash erupted from ocean. Ashlyn perked up, that was certainly unusual! Scampering along the deck she looked for a way to get over to the light, which was still shooting upwards from the sea like a beacon. Finding a motorized lifeboat, she hopped over the sign that told no passengers to go inside it, and pressed the button to lower it. She got a few meters down before it stopped, and began rising.
“Oi!” she yelled up there, “Put me right back down there!”
“I'm sorry miss!” A young man's voice yelled back, “We cannot let any passengers go out to sea, its lawsuit fodder.”
Ugh, they were ruining her fun, again. She thought up a lie.
“Well then get down here so there is someone supervising me! What's your name?”
“Uh, Ensign Abdul.”
“Right, Abdul, you're going to raise me up, hop in this boat, and we're going to go out there together before that light dies down. Do you know what the Moscow scientific institute is?”
“...No?” Well good, because she'd just made it up.
“Its world famous you should be ashamed of yourself. Now I'm a member of it, and if they find out your ship prevented me from investigating a vertical cobalt light phenomenon, or VCLP as my friends at the institute like to call it, you'll be in big trouble! Centro has been wanting us to look into these things for years!” She could hear the Ensign talking to the captain over his radio, and then the boat finished rising, and he hopped over the side to join her. He was a scrawny thing, not that much older than Ashlyn, a fact he realized as soon as she started lowering the boat down.
“This better be good miss.”
“Oh, it'll be more than good, it'll be spectacular!”
Abdul and Ashlyn made their way to the light in the small boat, Abdul navigating the waves with some real skill that Ashlyn had to admire. The light was strangely easy to look at for how bright it was, and didn't feel as warm as it should have.
“Get us in closer.” Ashlyn ordered. As they reached the light, she reached her hand out over the side of the boat, and touched the light. Her fingers sank into it like jello. “I think this might be some sort of plasma?” Ashlyn said. She actually had no idea. Looking deep into the light she saw... Too many things. She saw worlds filled with strange faceless creatures with blue skin, worlds with men who pushed through time with boxes, worlds where animals had cities... Here eyes grew wide and she felt a burst of energy surge into her arm, pulling on her. She lurched forward, and felt the light surround her, then it pulled away leaving her and Abdul stunned. Falling back, her arm aching, Abdul moved the boat back. She ordered him to take some readings and measurements. She had to at least pretend she was a scientist. The light died down in a few minutes, and the sea became still.
The light bothered her for the rest of the trip. She was fairly certain the crew had all checked that she wasn't really a scientist, but no one said anything and all she got was a bit of a cold shoulder. When she got off the boat, Abdul gave her a faint smile on the ramp, and she smiled back. Hopefully he hadn't gotten in trouble. She'd be sure to mention him positively in her travel review. Her destination, Annapolis (in the former state of Maryland), was a nice place, and she got set up there in an apartment with relative ease. She'd be back to school again in not that long, the summer was dying away, so she decided to enjoy the beach side while she could. Putting on her tennis shoes, she took a stroll along the sunny streets. Annapolis was an old town, and despite the refinements of the time, still had old style stone streets in places. She felt at home here. There was a crab shop she'd have to try, and there was a beautiful house, and passing her was a fuzzy cat.
“What are you looking at?” The cat said.
“Oh, nothing, you’re just a very handsome cat.” Ashlyn replied. The cat looked at her, and kept walking
“Ugh, humans. Can't even answer a simple question.”
“Well what did you want me to say?”
“You colonized Mars and you have to ask me that? Yeah, whoopty doo, I'm a cat.”
She shook her head, cats these days.
Mister Sprinkles had become accustomed to escaping. It wasn’t unusual for the lights to flicker, the city powergrid was having problems and Centro was being cheap about it. When the lights did, the cages would open. It had been a problem at first, a few of the cats had decided to fight each other, and a few had had romantic rendezvous, but it had become routine at this point. The worst offenders now had padlocks, and many of the animals didn’t leave their cages at all. Mister Sprinkles always left, but never got into the sort of trouble one would padlock a cage for. Like his former human caretaker, he was curious, and exploring was his main hobby. Tonight the lights flickered, Jeff snored, and the electronic lock went out. Sprinkles nudged the door open with his nose, and dropped to the floor with a gentle plop. Getting out of the building was getting harder these days, occasionally the lady at the desk would grab him as he was leaving, or press the button to jam the automatic doors she had, but today he was lucky: she was in the back room making coffee. He didn’t know this was where she was, but it suited him just the same. Slinking out the door, he sped out into the cool night.
The city was strange territory. Mr. Sprinkles was from Moscow, sure, but Moscow was a very different city, and he rarely left the apartment, if ever. Annapolis had a different smell, a different feel to the air. He couldn’t describe it, and even if he could speak English he probably didn’t have the depth of thought to put words to it, but it was true nonetheless.
Pitter-pattering down the street, he found a dropped falafel, which proved to be pretty tasty, as well as a chicken sandwich, which proved to be pretty tasty to (though perhaps it had too much mayo). But this night was not going to be a normal night. Mr. Sprinkles looked up at the sky, and saw the stars were no where to be seen. Perhaps it was overcast, and it would rain? The moon was clear as day however. A bright moon, full and overbearing like a crest of death.
“Mrow”. He said absentmindedly, and continued to step down the lane. That was when he heard it. It was a set of footsteps, that of a man. The feet had to be in boots from the deep sound of their drops to the ground. That alone wouldn’t be interesting, but there was also the sound of the pitter-patter of cat feet, and the boots were going towards that sound. Interested, Mr. Sprinkles sprinted down to where the sound was coming from, which happened to be an alley. Turning his head around the corner, he saw a man dressed in red and white striped pants, a blue coat, and top hat in all three of those colors (plus a white dress shirt with red bow tie) He looked old, but still sprightly. The kind of older man who could still chop wood and carry it back to his home without a complaint. He had a long white goatee, and equally long white hair that curled slightly at the ends. He had grabbed a cat by the tail, his eyes wide. The cat was thrashing, claws out, trying to swing at the man, but he seemed to know what he was doing and the cat never touched him.
Mister Sprinkles hissed loudly at him.
“Well well well, who are you little grey one?” He mewed, stuffing the other cat into a bag. “Uncle Sam loves kitties, come to your daddy’s brother…” His hand snapped forward towards Mister Sprinkles, but he hopped backwards, and as quick as he could bolted back. He didn’t understand the man, but he knew something was going on. As he ran down the street, he spotted another human, this one he knew. She was closing a door, and though he was tempted to try scratching at it, he decided that running was better. So he ran. He hadn’t seen that human in over a year. She had been the partner of his former caretaker.
This was a city. But as she woke up, Ashlyn wondered if she had ever actually been here before. She’d traveled to Annapolis before as a child, she’d held her father’s hand while looking up at him the way small children look up to any figure they think knows everything. Learning that wasn’t the truth had been painful, but it was something every child had to do. She remembered both moments at once, like they were the same moment, or somehow inexorably intertwined. The rise and fall of Icarus, in mnemonics. She held his hand both times, once in awe, and once nearly in confusion as he broke down crying trying to tell her that there wasn’t anything the Doctor’s could do. Her mother was a better person for telling that sort of thing to people, but she was too tired to fight her illness, let alone talk. Her father had been broken after that. He never really recovered, even though he remarried. In his smile she could still see a glimpse of that moment he broke down crying, and she suspected he had simply learned to hold it back.
This city was the same as that memory. It was interlinked, but not the same somehow. How was it that way? She closed her eyes and tried to make the system work in her head. Was it the cats? The idea wasn’t that outrageous. After all, she’d always liked cats. What seemed odder was the view outside her window. The lights of the city had been shifted in hue, or maybe moved in waves in a slightly different way. She wasn’t sure. Her uncertainty reached a climax when the cat walked across the window sill.
“Hello.” She said.
“Your name is Ashlyn, am I correct in this?” The cat mewed, swirling its tail in the air. It was a rich black, and its eyes were a shining green.
“Yes, who are you?”
“My name is Salabaster. Like most cats, I didn’t choose my name, so don’t ask me what it means. Presumably it’s a play on alabaster, but what kind of play the dramatist did not reveal. Its good to meet you, there is someone else who wants to meet you.”
“Would you like to come in? …Can I get you anything?” The cat hopped down off the windowsill.
“Thank you, a dish of milk would be superb.” Ashlyn slipped out of bed, and went to the fridge. It wasn’t well stocked, but she did have milk. She got out a bowl (that happened to have a cartoon kangaroo on it which moved when you moved the bowl around and charged it via a kinetic apparatus) poured milk in it, and set it down for Salabaster. He licked at the milk for a bit, and then looked up, refreshed.
“Thank you, it was a difficult climb getting up here, I was quite thirsty.” It then struck Ashlyn exactly how high up she was, and how dangerous it had to be for a cat to climb along the ledge like that.
“You could have fallen! That’s really not a risk you should be undertaking so casually.”
“Oh, I’ve fallen off buildings before. Us cats can slow our fall, you know. It can still break our bones, but we’re better off than you humans.” She wasn’t sure she believed him, but nodded anyways. “Regardless, I come with a message: there is a cat in the city who wants to see you.”
“A specific cat? I don’t know any cats here.”
“He thinks he knows you, but perhaps he is mistaken. He goes by the name Mister Sprinkles.”
That got Ashlyn’s attention. “Mister Spinkles? How could he be here of all places?” That he could be here was beyond what she could believe as chance. It seemed like an awful co-incidence, possibly literally awful.
Mister Sprinkles was the cat of her ex-girlfriend, Graelyn Scythes. The two of them had spent many hours playing with him, dangling toys in front of him to bat at, and many more hours with the cat simply in their vicinity as it went about its own business the way cats do, largely ignoring them. She’d held a special fondness for the cat certainly, but no where near the fondness Graelyn held for him. That cat had been her lifeblood.
“What is the most important thing in the world to you?” She’d asked her, running her fingers through her hair.
“Mister Sprinkles.” She’d replied sleepily.
“Not me?” She shook her head.
“The cat is paramount.”
If Graelyn was anything, she was the kind of person to say “the cat is paramount” in casual conversation. Graelyn had cradled that cat, nuzzled its ears, kissed it lovingly on the back of the head. She adored it. If the cat was here, Graelyn was here, and she was not looking forward to seeing her ex girlfriend even if she had a nice cat.
“So where are Graelyn and Mister Sprinkles?” She asked. The cat swooshed its tail back and forth, its head lilting to one side.
“Graelyn? If this is a cat, I don’t know them. If this is a person, I know them even less.”
“A person. Mister Sprinkles’ owner.”
“Owner? No cat is owned.” Ashlyn made a vague gesture both uncomfortable and incomprehensible.
“I mean, look, you know, what I mean, the- look yes, cats are… Sorry. Okay um, Mister Sprinkles’… Human?”
“He has no human, he lives in a shelter.” That took her by surprise.
“Graelyn would never abandon Mister Sprinkles, I can’t believe that.” The cat got up, and began walking towards the window.
“Well, he’s there now. I don’t know why. The address is 1112 East Nakatomi Drive.” She put the address to memory.
“Did he ask for me?”
“Ask for you? He said for you to come. You will come, or you will not come. This is the way of cats.”
“If that is the way of cats why do they meow at you till you do what you want.”
“That is also the way of cats.” Ashlyn rolled her eyes.
The shelter was fairly nice for a shelter. The building was new (ish) the floors were clean (mostly) and as she entered in the woman at the desk gave her a smile that seemed genuine (almost).
“Hello, how can I help you today?” The friendly woman said, nearly convincingly.
“Hello (she looked at the nametag) Kaitlin, I'm here to talk to a cat.” Kaitlin looked off-put, which surprised her.
“Er, are you here for one of our animal playtimes? That's not till 4:30.”
“No, I mean, I'm here to ask a cat some questions. You know. Chat it up! Get the juice of it.” Kaitlin looked more disturbed. “I'm not literally going to juice a cat! I mean, is that not a saying you use in Annapolis? I though that they used that in America. They do in movies at least. Have you seen a movie? Of course you've seen a movie, who am I kidding. Movies, they're a think you like, right?” Kaitlin nodded vacantly.
“Miss, uh, look, you want to look at the cats?”
“Fine, whatever, I'm sure your company has some strict guidelines on cat-discussion lingo perimeters. Yes, I would like to-- look,” she gave a gigantic wink, “at the cats. Specifically one named Mister Sprinkles.” Kaitlin looked surprised, or rather more surprised, and this time she totally sold the emotion.
“Mister Sprinkles? He's a cat here, yes.”
“Great. I'd like to go look at him. A friend, well, an ex friend, well, an ex-girlfriend left him up for adoption, and so here I am.”
“I can't imagine why she would have broken up with you.” Kaitlin deadpanned.
“Oh I broke up with her, don't worry, I'm well aware I'm perfect. So, lets not talk to cats!” She gave another big wink.
“Okay but uh, no offense, I'm going to have to monitor you.”
Kaitlin led her into the back, where she promptly threw the nearest throw-able object (a copy of some Murakami Novel) at a sleeping man. He bolted awake.
“I'm up! Wasn't sleeping! Did I miss anything?” Kaitlin rolled her eyes, and walked Ashlyn to a cage.
“Right, so this is Mister Sprinkles.” Ashlyn recognized him instantly.
“Hello!” Ashlyn said, leaning down. Mister Sprinkles looked confused.
“Hello?” He meowed back, and got up walking toward the cage door.
“Its good to see you again. Sorry to see Graelyn dropped you off here mate, you holding up alright?”
“No, this cage is cramped. The food is very dry. I prefer meat.” The cat paused. “I am talking to you?”
“Well of course, you act like that's not normal?”
“I don't believe I've ever talked to a human before.” Ashlyn was bewildered. Never?
“But what about all those conversations we had together with Graelyn?”
“We never talked. We can simply mew and meow and hope you heed our intent. Excuse me.” The cat itched itself. “Ah, good! That's nice. Of course, you just make nonsensical noises yourself.”
“But you can understand them right?” The cat pawed the door.
“Understand a human? No, that's never happened. This is new.” Ashlyn was puzzled. This was all very new.
“Something very wrong is going on....” Ashlyn said, “This doesn't make sense.”
“There is worse. Uncle Sam is kidnapping cats.”
“Uncle Sam. Though I didn't know the name till now. I'm seeming to know a lot of things I didn't.” The cat paced the tight cage.
“Perhaps one of us is dreaming. I've seen and done strange things in my dreams. Gone to a city under the sea. Become a Doctor.”
“You do a lot for a cat.”
“Do I? Interesting.” Mr. Sprinkles lay down.
“Maybe I should take you home. There are a lot of things I'd like to learn about you.”
“I'm familiar with you. If you buy me the cat food that has meat, wet that doesn't crunch, I will be good with this.” Ashlyn looked over at Kaitlin. “I'll take this one home please.”
* * * *
Kaitlin walked the weird girl into the room, and showed her the cat. She leaned down, as if talking to a kind of short friend, and began to speak.
“Its good to see you again. Sorry to see Graelyn dropped you off here mate, you holding up alright?”
“Well of course, you act like that's not normal?”
“But what about all those conversations we had together with Graelyn?”
“But you can understand them right?”
“Something very wrong is going on....”
“You do a lot for a cat.”
“Maybe I should take you home. There are a lot of things I'd like to learn about you.”
She looked back over at her, “I'll take this one home please.”
“I... Sure. Just let me get the paperwork.” She shook her head. What the hell. At least the cat was going into some kind of home.
* * * *
She carried Mr. Sprinkles home in the carrying case, stopping off at a store for some litter, a litterbox, and some wet cat food. She cared it all home awkwardly, her arms feeling quite tired as she finally got into her apartment. She Let him out, after she'd shut the door, and the cat spent a few minutes stretching itself out, and climbing on things it probably shouldn't. Ashlyn had to run and move a few badly placed things before he knocked them over, but that was cats.
Mister Sprinkles got up to her, and then reeled back, suddenly hissing.
“Whoa there, what's up?”
“You smell wrong. I thought you were Ashlyn, but your smell is wrong.”
“Maybe I changed my shampoo, I can't control how I smell.” The cat did not look convinced.
“So, what do you mean people don't talk to cats all the time? That's normal, right?”
“I'm afraid its not.” Said a black cat on the windowsill, “And unless you are here, it wouldn't happen at all.”
“Salabaster, welcome back. I see you let yourself in.”
“Yes, you see that.” He replied, and hopped off the window towards them.
“Salabaster, you also smell wrong.”
“And I will. I'm afraid we both will. You see, Ashlyn can talk to you because she comes from a world where everyone can talk to cats.”
“Comes from? That has a lot of implications.”
“Yes it does.” The cat swished its tail.
“And the implications are rubbing off. Mister Sprinkles is after all, not usually so thoughtful. He is clever for a cat, but he cannot form language the way he is now. No cat here can. But now that you are here, he can. Does this make sense.”
“No, no it doesn't.” Salabaster sighed.
“You saw a blue light come out of the ocean, and you touched it, correct?” Ashlyn nodded.
“That blue light was a portal to another world, or more accurately, a sort of swapping point.”
“You're saying there is a version of me from this reality that can't talk to cats, trapped in a universe where people all talk to cats like normal people do?”
“Yes.” Salabaster said.
“Geez, that's got to be rough.”
* * * *
“Now, what is the cat saying?” The man in the lab coat asked.
“Meow?” Ashlyn said, confused. “Really, if this is a reality show, I'm not signing your waiver form.”
“Miss Oswin, everyone on Earth can talk to cats, from time immemorial. You don't just wake up not being able to talk to cats.”
“Uh, yeah, I kinda do, every day.”
The scientist looked over at the cat on the table.
“Meow?” said the cat.
“I'm worried to.” He replied.
* * * *
“I'm sure she'll be fine.” Salabaster said. “More important now, is what Mr. Sprinkles saw. Tell her again what you told me.” Mr. Sprinkles swished his tail nervously.
“Alright, well... Do you know who Uncle Sam is?”
“The old symbol of the Ancient United States of America? Yeah, I guess. I mean, I've seen him on t-shirts doing a mean finger waggle telling you to join the army and blow up someone or something. Actually, I use an old t-shirt with him on it for pajamas.”
“I saw Uncle Sam stuffing cats into a bag in an alley.” Ashlyn paused.
“So, someone is dressing up as Uncle Sam and kidnapping cats?” Mister Sprinkles made a gesture she somehow knew meant no.
“No, It was Uncle Sam, the real Uncle Sam.”
“That's ridiculous. Uncle Sam is a mascot, he wasn't ever a real person, even when they made him up hundreds of years ago.”
“You forget,” Salabaster interjected, “that it was not long ago that you lived where everyone could talk to cats, and now you live where they cannot.”
“That certainly explains the weird looks from the lady at the animal shelter.”
“But if you could swap places with yourself, perhaps Uncle Sam could make this journey as well. Or just the idea of him.”
“But we already know the idea of him.”
“Do you? When you think of an idea, does it take form.”
“No, that's not how ideas work.”
“So, indulge me, what if the idea that ideas could become real could travel into this universe?” Ashlyn paused, and remembered the night she touched the light.
She had been wearing the shirt with Uncle Sam on it.
“So it makes sense?”
“No, but I'm running with it.” She thought. This all seemed familiar. Oddly familiar. Then it hit her, and she scampered to her tablet, sending both cats scurrying out of her way. She pulled up a book on it, and showed it to the cats.
“I can't read you know,” Mr. Sprinkles began, before reading the title of the book, “oh, nevermind.”
“Kafka on the shore! This is plot of Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami! Someone suddenly can talk to cats-”
“Except you always could talk to cats.”
“Shush, and someone is kidnapping cats!”
“Well, its not entirely the same, but its sort of close.”
“Yes, I've read it. I suppose there are similarities. But that's inevitable with stories isn't it? You tell enough, and you're bound to tell one close to another one.”
“But not necessarily one directly inspired by one. This is very close.” Salabaster did not seem swayed.
“Then it is a pastiche, playing with the tropes of established literature.”
“What if he came over from, I don't know, some world where Murakami books are real?” Salabaster was getting bored with this line of inquiry.
“Then there will certainly be alternate worlds, cats, and girl's with cute ears.” Ashlyn tucked her hair behind her simple yet elegant ear, whose perfect lines were in synch with the structure of her face more than anyone else's within memory.
“Don't you want to get home Ashlyn?” Mister Sprinkles asked, “After all, you must have friends there you wish to see again. And while we're certainly good company, we're certainly not the same company.” She considered this. It was true, if all of this was. These faces, these people, this world, they were in fact somewhat wrong. She was like a coin from another country that still worked in the vending machine. Sure, it panned out for now, but would it forever?
“So what do you two propose we do?” The cats looked at each other.
“We sleep, first of all. That is very important.” Said Mister Sprinkles.
“Agreed.” Said Salabaster.
“Then we find Uncle Sam. Perhaps he can get you home.”
“U-S-A.” Chanted Ashlyn.
They woke up early, and Ashlyn opened a can of wet cat food for each of the cats. A big day ahead for them. Ashlyn didn't normally cook, but she suddenly felt an urge to. She cracked a few eggs into a bowl, while she turned on the burner, and got out some cheese, rice, and soy sauce. She didn't have much in the way of ingredients, but it seemed a decent enough combination. The rice was leftovers, already cooked from when she ordered from a Chinese place, so she put it into the eggs to soak, then grated the cheese in it. She sifted through the fridge, and thinking of a tomato, found one, which seemed odd but she didn't question it. She cut the tomato in half, removed the part the stem attached to, then diced the halves, and dropped it into the bowl. Finally she added the soy sauce. She stirred it all up with a fork, and after melting some butter in the pan, poured the mixture in. She cooked it till the egg was solid, and then sat down to eat it with a glass of orange juice. Somehow, this seemed like the right meal to eat today, and she couldn't place why. When she had finished, wiping her mouth, the cats came up to her.
“Are you ready to go?” Mr. Sprinkles asked.
“Very much so, lets head out.”
They walked the city streets, and it became clear they really didn't know what they were looking for. One couldn't easily ask strangers if they had seem Uncle Sam, and though Ashlyn tried this, it only led to a young man with a false beard posing for the occasional photo for money. Things seemed to not be going anywhere, when Mr. Sprinkles had an idea.
“If he is a symbol of America, perhaps we can find him in a very American place.”
“This is America we're in right now you know.” Ashlyn replied.
“But is there somewhere that is more American? Somewhere that just... Screams the idea of America?” She thought hard about it.
“Wait, that uh, statue thing!”
“Columbia! The statue of Columbia! They used to call it the Statue of Freedom or the Colossus of Liberty or something, but after Centro took over they mandated we call it Columbia since less people know who Columbia is or something. But it was a big symbol of America back in the day. Its in New York, so we'd have to take a train to get there.”
Mister Sprinkles purred over it, “Isn't it over water? I'm not fond of water...”
“We can get a boat! ….In fact I know just the guy on shore leave.”
Abdul drank his juice, and looked across Central park from the bench he was on. He thought sitting on this bench, in this park he'd be able to feel something of the other people who sat on it, like he was sitting in history, here in this same park where so many famous people had been, so many lives had passed though it... But he just felt like he was a guy in a park with an overpriced bottle of juice. That was until the girl who had nearly lost him his job approached him.
“Hey Abdul. Hows the park?” He jolted in his seat.”
“Hey. What a... Co-incidence?”
“Oh, no co-incidence. I took a train here and I asked a cat to tell other cats to tell me where to find you, that tabby over there let me know.” She waved at a bored looking cat on the other side of the park.
“Uh, right. Could you please go away?”
“Actually, I need to ask a favor.”
“And by favor I mean “pay in cash.”” He stopped drinking the juice.
“Okay. I'm listening.” When she was finished explaining, he sighed, and then moaned, but he didn't the thing anyways. As he usually did.
* * * *
The speedboat purred over the water toward Lady Liberty, Mister Sprinkles huddling in his carrying case to avoid it.
“Its okay, we'll be over it soon.” Ashlyn reassured him.
“But then we'll have to cross it again to get back. Maybe I'll just live on the island.”
“Shh, we'll be okay.” Abdul wasn't sure what to make of the woman talking to the two cats all the time, but he didn't really question it.
“If there are so many alternate universes, Salabaster, why did I end up in this one in particular?”
“What do you mean “Narrative paramount.” That's the kind of thing English Professors tell you when they want to look like they're clever.”
“Yes, see, Mister Sprinkles agrees with me.”
“Well no need to get snotty about it just cause someone didn't take your side.”
* * * *
They arrived on the island, and snuck on shore. There wasn't much security, most interest in the statue having long since faded away outside of school trips and a handful of tourists, so other than dodging a lady guard, they easily found their way inside. Abdul waited with the boat, already more than weirded out with the whole affair. The three of them climbed the stairs, needing to take a few breaks on the way, but getting the job done. As they began to get close to the crown, they could hear the distressed cries of cats, and quickened their pace. Reaching the top, they found Uncle Sam, who was busy putting a red white and blue top hat and a beard on a cat.
“Stop! Or.... Is that dangerous? Should I tell him to stop?” Ashlyn said.
“Well its certainly not comfortable.” The cat in question said.
“Oh hush.” Replied Uncle Sam. There were dozens of cats, all in carrying cases, many of them now wearing the tiny costumes.
“I'm not going to lie, I expected you to be doing something far more malicious like chopping their heads off or something.”
“Ludicrous.” Sam said. “I need these cats.”
“I really do not understand this.” Mister Sprinkles said.
“Its simple really, people have forgotten America.”
“Well yeah, I mean, it hasn't been a country for hundreds of years.”
“But I persist, you see? You know who I am, but I barely exist. I'm on the edges of your memory. What do I mean, or stand for you to you? Nothing! My time has passed. I'm just an image, an icon of ideas that are no longer narratively paramount.” Ashlyn grimaced at Salabaster.
“So why are you kidnapping us?” Mr. Sprinkles asked.
“Because you're cute. People love cats. Cats are eternal. People remember cats just because they are cats, the idea of cats translates down your generations regardless of who wrote about cats, because people just keep getting cats. You take cats to space. Do you know how silly that is? They have no natural prey there. They are wholly dependent on you for food in space. But humans take cats to space! Its ludicrous. Me, I used to stand for things. They drew me in cartoons to support whatever agenda someone wanted, I could oppose and support two sides of an issue on the same day! But what am I now? I'm your bedclothes.”
“I mean, that's not so bad, really. You're technically cuddling with me.” Uncle Sam frowned.
“You miss the point.” He pointed at a cat wearing the Uncle Sam costume. “Is that not cute?”
“Ha, yeah, its pretty cute. Let me take a picture of it--” Salabaster pawed her pants.
“That's what he wants you to do!”
“It is! I need to be relevant again. I want to exist, I want to be a symbol for something.”
“How is kidnapping some cats in Annapolis, then taking them to New York going to make you super relevant though?”
“Because people like you will take pictures of them, and then they will remember me. Or if they don't they will look me up. I just need to be remembered.”
“You could have done this without kidnapping all these cats though, that's kind of messed up, like, a lot.” He put down a tiny top hat, and sighed.
“You're right. But I don't know what else to do.”
“Look, if any of these cats want to wear the outfits, we'll let them go, but we're taking them off the ones who don't like it.” Uncle Sam sat down.
“Fair enough. But what is to become of me?”
“You are real enough, for we know of you. I can take you to a place where you can exist without having to kidnap cats.” Mr. Sprinkles and Ashlyn looked at each other.
“Excuse me, but you can take him there?”
“Well, a friend of mine can.”
“And could you have done that to get her home?” Mr. Sprinkles asked.
“Yes, I may have utterly lied about that, but I needed you to help me find Uncle Sam before he tried to become a meme. We can't have that.”
“No I suppose not.” Ashlyn said.
“And you can take me home?” Salabaster nodded.
“But, when she leaves, will I be able to talk anymore?” Mister Sprinkles asked.
“No.” Replied Salabaster. “I'm afraid when she leaves, she will take with her the part of her universe that lets her talk to cats.” Ashlyn leaned down, and smiled.
“Well, it was good to meet you a second time, Mister Sprinkles.”
“And good to meet you as well, and talk to you for the first time.” She picked him up, and felt him purr against her chest. As she did so, there was a flash, and a woman apeared in the window of Lady Liberty's crown.
“Are you ready to go Salabaster?” Kinan Jans said, leaning her lanky frame against the window sill.
“Yes, I have all the out of place people. You'll have to undo some paperwork at the pet shelter.” Kinan nodded. Uncle Sam looked up at her, she had an undercut.
“Thanks Mr. America. Let me take you to your new home.” Kinan raised an eyebrow at all the cats with hats, and shook her head. Snapping, she threw dust in the air, and a white portal formed.
Ashlyn set Mister Sprinkles down, and walked towards the light.
“Oh, and someone can tell Abdul to leave with out me.” Kinan rolled her eyes and waved her on. She stepped through the portal, and the light enveloped her.
She decided something her other self would as well the next morning as she disappeared into the world she had always known before.
* * * *
Ashlyn woke up in her bed. She'd had the strangest dream: everyone could talk to cats except her. They'd sat her in a room with cats, and tried to make her talk to them for a whole day. It was weird. Stretching, she reached for her tablet to look over the day's news:
“Uncle Sam dressed cats at Lady Liberty spark meme, mass cat adoption.”
Well that was weird. Scrolling further, she noticed the date had to be wrong: it was a whole day later? Had she been that tired? She must have been. Getting up she nearly tripped over a litter box-- she didn't have a cat? There were a few tins of cat food over by the sink, and two dirty bowls on the floor. Frowning, she put the bowls in the sink to wash later. Had she gotten drunk and gone and bought cat supplies and then slept the whole thing off? The more she thought about it, the more it seemed like it had to be the only option. At least she wasn't hungover. Searching through the fridge she found some weird egg-rice-cheese dish she'd made (total drunk cooking, she decided) and had some for breakfast. It was good! Who knew. It tasted like it had soy sauce in it. Picking up her tablet again, she scrolled through her recent activity: she'd searched for the Statue of Liberty, Statue of Columbia, and Uncle Sam. History research? Whatever. Then she saw she'd opened a book. Opening it, she saw she had just started rereading one of her favorites: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami.
“What if I could talk to cats? Wouldn't that be wonderful?” She thought. She began to read, immersing herself in the world of the book. It was then that she made a decision: She'd bought the food at the litter, maybe she should go to the shelter and adopt a cat. The more she thought about it, the more it sunk into her soul, and by the time she reached the next chapter, there was no turning back from the idea becoming reality.