Toast – Part 4

4.
There’s never any dreams. I don’t know if I miss them or not. Most of the time, I’m glad not to have them, my grasp of the day to day is so weak. If I had to work out what was a dream, and what had actually happened, as well as working out where I was and if I was safe or not…
Well, then. Its best I don’t dream. You know that feeling you get, when you wake up, but you don’t know where you are, then you remember, as your memory rushes in like the tide to soak all the dry sand? Yeah, I don’t have that. I just have the waking up, not knowing where I am or what is around me. Now, though, I have a passenger. One who has only made things worse. Now, if I believe her, I have to work out when I am along with everything else.
And I open my eyes. The dog stares back at me, teeth bared and snarling. I try to roll from my side to by back and then jump up, but it’s on me just as I stand, teeth locked around my forearm, the thick, muscular animal pulling me down, falling on top of me. Which works to my advantage; it has to let go to literally save its own neck as we fall. Freed from the dog, I hunch, low to the ground, grabbing the first thing near to me, a short but thick tube of hardened cardboard. I swing it left and right, and yell, my throat not really working, croaking and cracking rather than booming and menacing. The dog thinks better of it, though, and backs away. Still growling, but clearly accepting its loss.
“Yeah, that’s right” I yell, resisting the urge to throw my cardboard tube after it. I might need it. I rest, kneeling, catching my breath.
I really have to stop waking up like this.
It’s a while before I look around. A ruined city. Is it the same ruined city? The one where I found magicat? Once I think about her, I realise I can’t see her. I feel a stab of anxiety. Did the dog get her before I woke up? I stand, and scan for her. Nothing. I call her name. Only the wind answers me, whispering as it whips clouds of dust and debris into mini cyclones. I move some rubble from where I’m stood, using the tube to help. Nothing. If I am where I first found her, have I dropped her off? Returned her?
“I’m afraid not” She says. I look around me, but can’t see her.
“I’m not near you” she says. “Do you remember how to get to the shopping centre? I’m there.”
“And we can still talk? Even far apart?” I ask, embarrassed as I finish, because I’ve just asked a very empty sky a question I could have just thought. ‘Never mind’ I think. ‘I’m on my way’.
It’s slow progress, getting back there. It takes time to clamber over the mountains of rubble, and I’m very wary of meeting anymore dogs. When I do get to the pedestrian shopping centre, I find Magicat sitting quietly on one of the shops verandas, well above my head. Her tail flicking slowly as she concentrates on something in the distance.
“Glad you’re here” she says. Thinks. You know. She doesn’t look at me, but she gets up and walks along the edge of the veranda. “There’s something here; I’m not sure what it is. It might have something to do with how we got stuck together. More importantly, I have a piece of the puzzle for you” She stops and looks at me.
“Your timeline. I had a glimpse of it as you slept. I was awake as we travelled. I don’t know when exactly we are, but I know this. It’s the past.”
“the past? So the bombing is even further back?”
“I don’t think so. I don’t think it can be, You are only travelling between three distinct points in your own history, past present and future. If this is the past, then it can’t have anything to do with the blitz – That happens later.”
“later than this?” I gesture to the ruined city about us. “So what did this; more importantly, when we travelled, what was it like? What did you see?”
“Just lights, blurry lights. The rest of it was impressions, feelings with images. I’m afraid to say, I wasn’t paying that much attention. I was trying to find my friend.”
I stop walking alongside her, and stare up to her on her lofty perch. I’ve been so happy to have someone. Something? Someone. To talk to, I’d never considered that she might not want to be with me. I’d just accepted it as my new equilibrium, never once considering her feelings.
“Your friend?” I want to sound concerned, interested, but emotion has my throat, and I sound resentful.
“I was travelling, much like you, never really knowing where I’d end up, until I found him. We were only together a short while, all I ever really knew about him was the sadness of his past and the detail that he had a acorn for a heart.” She jumps down, and slinks in front of me. “he was looking for someone he’d lost.” She stops, and looks at me for the first time.
”It’s like a long chain, isn’t it, the lost, the seekers, all intertwined, but never with the right partners.”
I feel scared by the intimacy of the truth in her words, and break her gaze. That’s when I see it. A swirling, purple blue – something. I don’t know what. A swirly thing, turning slowly, churning up rocks and dirt, sucking them towards it. Looks just like water going down a plug hole; but it’s horizontal, just above the ground, and about six feet high, top to bottom.
“Yeah. That” she says, not missing a beat. “Weird, huh? I mean, I’ve seen odd, and weird – but this is weird, right?” She smiles at me, and we both decide we were getting too uncomfortable with the conversation, and we should now focus on the weird thing.
I walk around it. It tapers to a point at the back, and as close as I dare get, has a pull from the front. I want to jump in.
“Me too” Magicat says. I don’t have time to think ‘should we?’ before she has leaped onto my shoulder. I look into her eyes, and we gently touch foreheads. “Hopefully home” We say to each other, and leap into the vortex.

Advertisements

Toast – Part 3

Toast 3
3.
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?”

 

Toast – part 2

2.

I’ve tried not sleeping; I thought it might help. But sleep is so all persuasive; you always surrender to it sooner or later. And even a brief second of true sleep is enough to shunt me someplace else, it seems.
Still, I’ve certainly never been on a spaceship before. And I seem to have made a friend. I look down to Magicat. It, or he (or she) must be some kind of illusion, an imagined familiar that will fade away if I stare at her (or him) for too long.
Magicat swishes her (or his) tail against my shin, then gently pads away from me. I can’t help myself, and stare intently at him (or her) as she (or he) walks away from me.
“I’m a girl” she softly purrs, before walking away and out of sight around the corner of the corridor.
At least now, I know she wasn’t real. Hah! A talking cat. I’ve witnessed horrors, seen unbelievable sights, on my travels. But a talking cat. If she was real, I think I’d really begin to lose my grip on reality.
Magicat pokes her head around the corner.
“Are you coming or not?” she asks, before slinking out of sight again.
So I’ve finally gone mad.

I limp after my imaginary cat, and when I turn the corner, my fears are confirmed. Magicat is nowhere to be seen. But there, in the corridor, is a man. He is obviously a crew member for this ship. Giddy, I run to him. He is posing as if for a photograph, his stance in mid walk, one foot in front of him, firmly on the floor, his other behind him, just the toes touching the floor. His arms are by his sides. He looks calm and focused.
I try to speak, but it’s been so long, and my voice sounds thin and wispy, even to me. For so long, I’ve just wanted to find another Human. He may not be, for all I know, but he’s immobile, ignorant to my presence.
I wave in his face, and he does not blink. He does not register, or acknowledge my presence.
My frustration at his lack of awareness grows, builds into anger, and I punch him, hard, in the face, screaming loudly as I connect. It’s a powerful right hook, and he almost lifts off the floor, before tumbling and bouncing off the wall to come to rest in a heap. His expression does not change, and his limbs are someway stuck between where they should be after the blow, and how they were before it.

I am over come with a feeling of futility.

No matter where I go, what I do, I will be alone. The helplessness becomes a mild guilt, and I try to stand him back up, in a similar pose to how I found him. It’s not easy, but I do my best. I sit down, cradling my knees in my arms. That’s twice. Twice lately I’ve lashed out. And this time I could have hurt someone. Or have. Everything is so uncertain in my world.
Just one conversation, even if I knew it would be my last one ever. Is that too much to ask? I bury my head in my knees, and try to sleep. For the first time since this all began, I want the sleep to come. I focus, call to it. Come on then, little death, come and take me. Next place, any place, I’ll sleep for a thousand years, I’ll wear out whatever it is that is causing this.
I feel the prickly stickiness of a cat’s tongue on my fingers. And I hear her again
“Not yet.” She says. I look up, and Magicat is back. Not yet. I wonder what she means. Since I’m now, without a doubt, mad, Magicat must represent some corner of my unconsciousness that until now didn’t have any outlet for…
“You really are too self involved, aren’t you? C’mon, follow me” She says, walking slowly away, beyond the frozen man. OK, so I’m harsh on myself. It only proves that maybe…
“Will you get off your ego-maniacal bum? Come ON.” She calls back to me, before walking on. Madness is all about being bossed around, apparently. I follow her.

As I walk, following my imaginary if somewhat harsh friend, it occurs to me that I’m not alone; I have myself to talk to, hah! If only I were real.
Magicat leads me through the ships corridors. We see many people, all dressed the same, all frozen in the middle of something. Walking, typing, sitting. At one point, the corridor opens out to some kind of communal area, and there is a large group, in what I imagine as an animated discussion, all unmoving, still, all as if they are unaware of time.
Magicat leads me to a closed door. It’s a big, heavy set door. I touch a panel near it, and it opens, to reveal another door. I open that, and another, and another. Then the last, and I enter a large room with little in it, save for what appears to be a large fish tank on the far wall. In it is some kind of octopus, but not one I’ve ever seen. The Octopus is large, and its skin gently shimmers dozens of different purples as I look at it.
“You have to help” Magicat urges me. I don’t know what she means. I lean forward, and touch the glass. I can’t tell how thick it is, but it’s cold, very cold. I pull my hand up the glass, until it is level with one of the octopus’s large eyes. I stare, focusing on it, and the octopus blinks. I stagger back, and feel sick to my stomach for a brief second, before falling back, falling into warm sand.
Before me is an amazing, unfolding sea, perched on the shore of a picture perfect palm tree lined beach. It’s heaven, paradise, perfection.

I cannot say “I really have to stop waking up like this.” Because I wasn’t asleep. How did that happen?
Just when I gain some foot hold, some tenuous finger tip hold on my world, it crumbles, fades, distorts and re-invents itself, leaving me unknowing and vulnerable again. Magicat looks up at me “you have to help” she repeats. She is still with me, and I am still alone with myself.

Toast – part 1

1.

     And I open my eyes. At first, it hurts. It feels like I’ve been asleep for days, or even months. And the bright blue clear sky above me is to crisp, too clear. As I shield my eyes with my hand, I notice my breath, and the gentle grey wispy shapes it’s making. Awareness spreads, and just before I feel it, I realize it’s cold. Very cold. And I’m lying flat on my back, my left leg wet from the puddle it’s resting in. I struggle to my feet, coaxing feeling into my leg as I do so.

I really have to stop waking up like this.

My vision sorts itself out, and my leg is feeling better (and doesn’t give me any trouble when I put my weight on it). I begin to take in my surroundings. It’s mainly waste land, with half demolished houses around me, and as far as I can see. All around me, to every horizon. I’m stood in rubble, a destroyed land. There’s what was once a road to my left, and I’m half way up a small hill. I immediately panic, assuming that I’m back to that awful place, and any moment now, the blitz will begin again. But then I notice some wallpaper flapping against an exposed second floor room, and the ruins of a widescreen television. Although my adrenalin is still pumping, I do allow my self to relax slightly. what ever hellhole this is, at least I’m not going to get several tonnes of bomb dropped on my head; then the thought occurs to me that the blitz was bad, but this is after that. Something worse than bombs could get dropped on me. The crystal clear sky, empty as the land about me, gives me no clues.

The flapping wallpaper draws my attention, after I’ve nervously scanned the sky. The paper is pale yellow, with faded bunnies and teddies running, jumping and laughing on it. I feel sad, and melancholy. Maybe it was a child’s room; I wonder if they survived whatever happened? The world begins to swim about me, and I hear the sound of a child laughing, very faintly. Then a woman’s voice, filled with love and warmth. It reminds me of the last time I woke up, of the endless summer fields, the wheat corn that swayed like an inviting sea, the trees that held up the sky and sheltered me from the rain. I almost feel happy before I snap out of it, brought back to my present by a bitterly cold wind that whips my ears and hands. Nothing here is green, or golden. The warmth is gone. And the pack of dogs look straight at me and growl.

They are right at the bottom of the hill, but the largest of them has noticed me, and as I dreamily watch, the others join him. They all turn to face me, snarling and growling, the fur on their shoulders rising and convulsing in angry ripples. I turn, very slowly and deliberately, and walk away. Fear pounds in my chest, and I imagine them chasing after me, hunting me down. I couldn’t run (you’re not supposed to, I assure my-self.) if I wanted to. The rubble all around would make it too difficult. If they want me, I’m helpless.

I’m so focused on picking a path over and through the slabs of concrete, I’m at the top of the hill before I realise it. Steeling myself, I look back. The dogs are gone, nowhere in sight. Sometimes, you worry over nothing, and all you need is a bit of bravery and the ability to keep a clear head. But the view from the top of the hill is more of the same. I’m in the middle of a ruined city. A big one. I been filled with fear and apprehension since I woke up, but this now becomes a steady steam of questions, how did, how could this happen? What happened? When did it happen? Where is this? My breath becomes short and sharp at this. For all I know, I could be standing on my home. It doesn’t feel familiar. As familiar as home would anyway, but there is a nagging déjà vu feeling as I look around. I feel haunted.

The trouble with being lost for so long is you start to wish everywhere was home. I sit down on a protruding chunk of concrete, being careful not to catch myself on the jagged and rusty metal struts poking out of it. Maybe I’m lost for good, forever. Maybe I’ve been here before, been everywhere before, and I’m just circling, endlessly, the same places and events. Maybe I’ll never see home again. And if I can’t remember it, how would I recognize it if I saw it? I punch the concrete block. I cannot allow myself to give up, to give in. Self pity will kill you. I stand up, and decide I should try to find some shelter before it begins to get dark. I make my way forwards, over the waste land, towards what I hope is the city’s centre.

Just after dark, I’m crouched in a small alcove of rubble, huddled close to a small fire that I managed to make from scraps of paper and cardboard that was strewn about this place, which seems to be a high street of some kind. The shops don’t seem to be too badly damaged, and the pedestrianised shopping area once more fills me with a sense of loss and isolation. Why do I never see or find people? Only the animals seem to notice I’m here. The wind flaps a piece of paper to me. It’s part of a ripped poster, and I pull it straight to read it. There’s a black cat smiling at me. It’s very brightly coloured, like a children’s story book, ‘Magicat’ says the logo. There is something about the cat’s eyes, something I should know, something familiar. And then I slip into sleep.

I open my eyes, and blink away the sleep. I feel warm and rested. The white girders arc geometrically above me, crisscrossing themselves away down the corridor. I pull myself up, and have to hunch slightly in the narrow corridor. Just over on my left, is a small round window, and I go to it and look out. There’s a small jewel of a blue-green planet falling away from me, and the rest of the darkened sky is stars. I’m on a spaceship. Well, it beats a ruined city. I’m just about to whisper “I really have to stop waking up like this.” to myself, when I look down at my feet. Magicat nuzzles my leg from between them, looks up at me and purrs softly.

Now that’s odd, even for me.

Toast (C) Arken Mint 2004 & 2014, all rights reserved.