Time is a funny old thing. It catches you out. Memories come back whenever they please and sometimes they surprise you. They never go away, they only seem to. Take yesterday. I was at work, getting ready to go home, and suddenly, out of nowhere, I wasn’t there at all, I was something like eight years old and the school bell was ringing and it was time to go home for tea. Alleycat says that time’s like a long dark corridor with a bright light up ahead. If you look back you can see the past, the places you’ve already been, because the light is shining towards those things, but if you look ahead the light’s too bright and you can’t see anything because you’re blinded. He’s full of wise sayings like that. Sometimes he acts like an ordinary moggie, other times he acts like a sage. Pink doesn’t act much at all, except like herself. She’s very happy at the moment because spring has sprung, seemingly, and instead of basking under the reptile lamp on the kitchen table she can start to wander at large from hot spot to hot spot in the house.
I don’t believe in déjà vu, but I like the theory. One of my aunties who enjoyed being the centre of attention was being shown around a Scottish country house; she pointed at a portrait of Arabella Stuart and exclaimed That’s me! She was half way up the stairs at the time and had to be caught in mid-faint by the rest of the tour party. I don’t believe in time travel either, or reincarnation, though if I did they’d be the same boring old thing, like remembering yesterday. Alleycat knows more about the hidden kingdom than I do, but he only knows the theory. We talk of these matters often, usually at midday, when he’s at his most sleepy-headed and leisurely. But Pink’s the only one of us who’s ever (so she claims) been to and fro in time, and she doesn’t know how she did it and can’t repeat the experience, so that’s no good. Alleycat says that if time flows just one way you can’t expect to travel to and fro in it independent of the moment in which you happen to exist. He has lots more to say, about stretching time out and making it flat or round like a loaf of dough, but all of these things are far beyond me and I just pretend to understand and nod my head when he’s talking. Apparently his idea is to pop time in the oven, bake it a bit, then eat it and know everything there is to know about every possible instant. Whatever he pretends to believe, Pink’s the only one of us who’s ever accomplished the deed of travelling beyond the present, and this is her version of the story (at least it’s chapter 4 of it).
We hear tell of cats who went on adventures and travelled far and wide, or cats who bravely opposed injustice and fought for freedom, but in general cats have little truck with that sort of thing. Now and then Alleycat and Bamber go out into the world and show themselves to the neighbourhood, but Pink never goes out at all, and that’s why I think she may be the brains of the outfit. None of the rival cat families ever come into Alleycat’s garden, because if they did Bamber would be straight out of the cat-flap to engage them in heated discussion, and if Bamber failed to impress them Alleycat would plod out and ascend to the top of the highest fence post and stare at them. That usually does the trick. Pink on the other paw stays indoors all day and all night, profiting from the other cat’s exertions. In the cold weather she has prime spot in front of the hearth and she’s allowed to sleep wherever she likes without being disturbed. She can even walk over the heads of the dogs on her bony little feet and they know quite well that they’re not to complain. Pink, for all her pretty ways and her silly habits, may, in truth, be the most Machiavellian and formidable cat of all and easily the cleverest warm-blooded creature living on Nine Foot Way. And that’s a frightening as well as an amusing thought.
Alleycat went missing and there was no sign of him for a day and half. He didn’t show up until yesterday morning. No one knew where he’d gone to and when he came back (he always comes back) he looked fitter and stronger than he’s been for years. Obviously he’d been invisible, and whilst invisible he’d seen the solution to the problem of the bears. The bears must have sensed that their reign of terror was coming to a close, because they all came out and encircled Pink and surrounded her in a little bear-army on top of the kitchen table. Then Alleycat whispered something in Pink’s ear, and a moment later all the bears were flat on their backs and Pink was in control. Alleycat let her have all the glory, but I’m sure she wouldn’t have been able to overthrow the bears without his sage advice.
Yesterday evening there was a knock on the front door. No one knocks on our front door, they always come in via the kitchen, so that was strange right away. I never receive unexpected callers either and everyone knows it, so I was more than surprised when the knocking continued and didn’t stop, and I was more than annoyed when the dogs didn’t bark at all. I hate to think of my dogs being cowed, so I ran to investigate and flung the door wide open. There on the other side of the threshold was an old, thin-looking woman with a gipsy ring on her outstretched hand and a hooky nose on her narrow face. Yet she wasn’t thin exactly, more wiry than anything, and she had big bones, and steely muscles, and if I thought she was thin I didn’t think she looked puny. Far from it. This was a formidable woman, you understand. Here! she said, and I stood my ground and said nothing because I was amazed and disconcerted. Here, she repeated. Here, you! Do you want your fortune reading! Now, for all that I would love to have my fortune read, I am afraid to see into the future, so I held out my hand in front of me and opened the palm in her face to show her what I thought of her question. The grim old woman didn’t speak again, but she stared through me and fixed her gaze on something behind me. She crooked a finger and beckoned it to come and when I turned I saw bears, dozens of bears, crawling along the tiled floor of the hall towards me (or rather towards her). Alleycat! I cried. Alleycat, where are you!
Pink’s had a shock. All the animals have. It’s all because of the bears, who’ve suddenly appeared and started to spread across the house. But now and then I wonder if there’s something hidden in the dark that the bears are just a symptom of. Alleycat’s resorted to purely practical, military measures. He drills the dogs and makes them line up and gives them instructions to watch and guard and report any weirdness; but dogs aren’t the type to take instruction, and Alleycat’s just marking time in my opinion. But he’s done more too. He’s been in dark places, under the floor (we’ve heard him down there) and he’s been in the cupboards too, searching for a reason, or a sign. But oddly enough it’s Pink who’s trying hardest. She might seem a lazy and vain little cat, but she sits by my PC and stares at the keyboard as if she’d love to write me a message, and last night she appeared in a dream and spoke to me urgently, not in a miaow, but in actual human words. Unfortunately when I awoke I couldn’t remember what she said. That’s how it is with dreams. They’re different.
Maybe it’s because it’s Halloween, but there’s a presence in the house, and Pink keeps looking behind her, scared of her own shadow. Last night she was with the dogs on the big yellow sofa, just as normal, when a nasty, grisly, horrid sensation gripped her and she wanted to turn around and look but she was too scared to move. The dogs felt the same as she did. Normally they’ll bark at the smallest disturbance (like a leaf blowing across the lawn) but they were so scared they couldn’t make a sound and it took all of Bernie’s courage to call for Alleycat with a little yapping bark. Alleycat ran in from the kitchen, but of course he’d been fast asleep and he’s not as quick as he used to be, so when he arrived on the scene there was no sign of uncanny intruders or walking shadows at all. You can imagine he didn’t take too kindly to be woken up for nothing, but Berne and Lucy were adamant that they’d seen (or felt) something nasty, and Bernie decided to put on her quilted jacket for extra protection and Lucy and Pink begged Alleycat to stay close and help them to settle down. As soon as they felt confident enough to be left alone, Alleycat returned to his gentleman’s chair in the kitchen, where he went straight back to sleep. But he must have half-believed that something was amiss because he kept one ear open, and presently he heard a weird, unaccountable sound that wasn’t normal at all, and he woke himself up to find a rather sinister looking bear snooping around the kitchen. As soon as it realized that Alleycat was on to it, the bear tried to escape through the outside door, but Alleycat chased it into the house and made it stay there. He’ll be questioning it later and that bear had better be sorry for frightening Pink and promise to mend its ways, or I wouldn’t like to think how angry Alleycat will be with that miscreant night-wanderer.