Before me, in the strange sea, I can see three of the creatures playfully splashing about. Their skin changes colour, rippling and shimmering. Maybe a form of communication? I decide that I must have somehow brought them here, and that this pleases them. One seems to wave at me, which I take as thanks, before they sink beneath the water, leaving me alone on the beach. Well, the cat is still here.
I look down at her. The black cat. How can she talk? And how does she know what’s going on? She looks up at me and purrs.
“I’m just a cat. And I’m not talking, I’m thinking. You can hear, is all, silly.”
She nudges my leg, and walks off to the line of palm trees lining the beach.
“And I’ve no idea what’s going on, any more than you do. I see people in trouble and I help them. At least” she pauses “I always try.”
I open my mouth to speak, but she cuts me off.
“The octopus creatures are people. Well, at least, they have a society, a shared language, a culture, which is, I assume, the kinds of things you mean when you say people. We just brought them home.”
Great. So she can answer questions I’ve thought of as soon as I think of them.
The palms are sparse, with wide gaps between each tree. There is no grass, or soil, just sand and the occasional tuft of dune grass. I’m pretty sure this cat is not in my imagination, that this is, somehow, actually happening. It’s been so long since I’ve had anything like company, I just start asking questions. She smiles gently, and we talk as we walk.
She knows some things about me. Knows I’m lost. But nothing beyond that; apart from one important detail, which wasn’t one of my questions, just something she drops in there.
“But you know when you are?”
My head swims. I stare, dumbfounded for a while, before asking her to repeat her question. Even then, it takes a while for the implications of what she’s asking sinks in.
“When? Why should when matter?”
“Very important, for you – and me, at the moment.”
“When? When is now, it’s the day after yesterday.”
“Are you sure? Sometimes people get lost. Fall through the cracks.”
“Cat, I’m so lost I wouldn’t even recognise my home if I saw it.”
“I know, you were just there. You’re not just lost, but fragmented. I don’t know why, or how, but you exist three times over – and not at all.”
What she is saying to me makes no logical sense, but it feels true.
“How can I not exist at all?”
“How many conversations have you had?”
“I can’t remember any, except this one”
“But you must have had others. Look, I can see things – things other people can’t. One of them is a person’s timeline. I can see people as a kind of conga line, all their past choices, all their previous days, all laid out as if they are still going on, all dancing their old mistakes, their current victories.”
“So you know where I came from, what led me here? How to get back?!”
She shakes her head, slowly, apologetically.
“Not you. I’ve never know it before. You don’t have any past, or future. You just exist here and now. It’s as if you haven’t done anything. As if you have no history, no temporal signature.”
“But I have done things; helped people in the blitz, saved those octopus things!”
“What was the blitz like?”
“Flying ships dropping bombs. Fire and death.”
“Who did you help?”
“People. Look – wherever I end up, animals can see me, but people – people are frozen.” I pause, I hate this, and saying it out loud makes it all the more real.
“like statues, they don’t move, or talk.” I finish.
“So in the blitz?” She pushes
“It was like walking around a photograph. Some were just… I couldn’t help them. But others. I did what I could. Moved them out of harms way, pulled them from fire, from a collapsing building. I saved them”
“I wonder.” Magicat says, jumping onto my shoulder.
And despite being excited to not only be talking, but to be maybe getting answers, I feel fatigue. The thought that I should sleep pops into my head.
“We’ll travel if you sleep.” Magicat says.
I laugh, short and snorty.
“For a while, I tried not sleeping. But it always catches up with you, sleep. Now I just lie down at the first sign of being tired.”
So I do. I lie down, and curl up, my long coat covering most of me. Magicat nuzzles my forehead, and as I drift off, a question flashes though my mind. I don’t get chance to ask it.
“Wait. How can you come with me?”