Storm Walker

How I met your mother? Are you ready for the story?

It was summer, a hot, dry day. The air tasted of dust and rhubarb crumble – your Grandma’s crumble, with the butter crust. Grandma had left it on the counter to cool, and she and Grandpa had gone off to Warwick, for the market. The storm missed them by miles.

I was just sixteen that summer. Grandpa’s old Ford was mine for the fixing, and I was under its hood, grimy with old oil and happy as a shrimp. When I looked up, the dark twist of the tornado was already over the barley field, moving toward me like a feral cat. I made it to the potato cellar in the kitchen just in time.

There is nothing in the world as loud as a tornado. It draws out the sound from silent things: bales of hay, sacks of flour. Barn roofs. It was terrifying. And then, all at once, there was silence.

I opened the trapdoor. All the sound had been sucked from the world. The house was still standing, eerie in that empty, yellow light. That moment stretches in my memory, like time had stopped.

Then: a tiny ting! of a fork on a porcelain plate. The infinitesimal crunch! of butter crust. I turned around.

A girl was eating your Grandma’s rhubarb crumble. She was the strangest girl: calm but somehow charged, like the eye of the storm above us. Her clothes had been stolen from a hundred washing lines.

She stared back at me. Her eyes softened, smiled. Dark hair danced around her eyes – you know how Mom’s hair moves even when there’s not the smallest breeze?

She took my hand. Outside, the storm dissolved into a thousand dust devils, hovering just out of sight.

To Live

It was tricky and took a lot of planning but he was sure he could pull the attack off.  All his years of training had brought him to this moment – it was live or die.  However, his partner was also a pro.  She had trained just as hard, just as long.  He strongly suspected she would see the attack coming and neatly sidestep.  But he might be able to distract her if he played a little from the left, she was looking for a frontal attack so might be blind to something coming from the sides.  If it worked, her back would be open for his attack and he would live.  He might even win.

He met her eye across the playing field and gave a confident smile.  Hers was condescending.  He almost lost it and attacked but that would have lead to death for sure.  Patience, calm and controlled always won over rash and angered.  But he seethed inside, determined now to not only live but win as well.  He would show her, humiliate her, put her in her place.  Yes, he thought as her eyes left his, this is your defeat.

And he did live but he did not win.  His territory had two eyes but his territory was too small.  She controlled more of the Go board than he did and as the post game discussion flowed around him, he realised she let him live.  She had not only controlled the game but had controlled him as well.  He bowed his head and though, next year, next year the title will be mine.

 

Eye

It’s in the grimy corner down by the railway, boldly painted on the sooty bricks: an eye, vivid amid the tag marks and obscenities. Giant, the pupil larger than my head, the iris yellow-brown. the eyelashes exaggerated, but far from feminine. I can’t shake the feeling that it’s watching me, leering.

Later, from the bus, I spot half a head on the corner of a parking garage. Large ear, short dark hair, an unpleasant smile, stylised; the scale is identical. Still watching me. Two blocks later, a torso and a muscular, manly arm and shoulder, enormous, in the gap between the door and window of a fish-and-chip shop. Black vest, light brown skin, a spidery, tag-like tattoo. Distributed graffiti. Odd, amusing, rather strange.

The foot seems to be following me to work the next day, a huge, hairy, muscled leg in a red running shoe, walking along a factory façade. Fragmented giant, twenty metres tall.  I feel small, and very female.

The arm is on the side of the corner shop near my flat, a clenched fist wearing a lumpy gold ring. Not as funny now, but threatening – a stylised gangster. Around the corner, on the wall of a school, there’s a whole lower torso and thighs in red running shorts, enormously endowed. It’s badly out of place against the shrieks of the children playing behind the wall. I walk faster, wish I wasn’t wearing heels.

Across the road from my flat last night, the other half of the head on a corner, yellow eye still fixed on me. I’m afraid to go out. But huddling inside will do no good. As I sit here now it’s gone. But inexorably, a millimetre at a time, the giant, two-dimensional hand is sliding spider-like around the window frame and into my room.

Glim-Dropper

“Hey Louise, look at this. Yeah, a glass eye. You wouldn’t believe it: yesterday this old guy — he must have been in my a shop a while — he walks up to me at the counter. Had this face — shit — left side all scarred and ugly, like a dog’s been at him. Got no left eye at all, just scars and folds and fuck he was grim.

“He says to me, ‘Have you seen my eye?’ Strangest thing I ever been asked. He tells me it just popped out of his head — pop — and rolled right under the shelving. So I help him look and sure enough we can’t find the damn thing. Then the old goat announces an award: one thousand bucks for the eye, honest fucking truth. He comes back later and puts up these reward signs all over the place, to let people know.

“So this morning this other guy comes in. He’s young, in a suite, smells like a bit of money. I see him fiddling by the milk aisle before he walks over and says, ‘I’ve found this glass eye,’ and he asks about the reward signs.

“Now, I can see he doesn’t want to be hassled to return the thing himself, so I tell him I’ll give him a straight 100 for the eye. But the bugger still bargains with me! Cheeky shit. But I got it from him for only 250, can you believe it! Gonna make me three times the money back as soon as I get hold of that one-eyed codger.

“Now the fucker just gotta answer his phone. Gonna try again in a few minutes. Been trying the whole day.

“Fucker.”

The Eye

“I don’t see why it’s such a problem, Susan. This is my study, not yours.”
I polished the glass with a cloth.
“Yes, Jeffrey, it is. But that thing is very creepy.”
She raised an eyebrow and took a step away from it.
“I like it. It helps me concetrate.”
She shook her head at me and left the room.

I found it in a junk shop near the house. I hadn’t noticed the shop before, even though I must have passed it every day on my way home from work. I crossed the road and bump shoulders with a young man on his way out of the shop, his head hung low. I don’t think he even noticed me.

The shop was filled with the usual bric-a-brac you find in these places. I headed straight to the back, as though something was calling me to it. I rounded a corner, and there it was: “The Eye of Horus.” A thin layer of dust covered the painting in its simple metal frame.

Three days after I brought it home was the first time I realised that there was something odd about it. Susan was in the shower and I was sitting at the breakfast table. I was doing the crossword as I drank my coffee when it blinked.
I dropped my cup and stared at it, opened-mouthed. The painting blinked again.
“Well, I never.”
I took it off to the framing shop that same morning. Now it watches me, approvingly I like to think, as I construct my model pyramids in the evenings.

Dream Cat

In the morning, you are gone. You’ve left a note for me, inscribed on a birch leaf with fine calligraphy. You dreamt of us, you say: in your dream, we were famous lovers, the masters of an old tower. Our six hundred and thirty seven children became kings and queens and powerful magicians.

The note smells of you. I burn it in a maple fire, so all may catch its scent and know of my prowess. I add a myrtle leaf, to keep my own secret: in my dreams, I travelled with the cat.

That marvellous cat! Had I not been blinded by the rituals of love, I would have given it its full attention. A perfect cat, it was: those shapely ankles, those precise whiskers. How could such a pair as us be parted?

I am quite determined: from the walnut tree where we parted, I trace its lithe passage. The grass resists me, weaving its blades together in defiance. No trail is left, so I ask for help: the owls, the squirrels, the flea circus in the sycamore tree – none have seen my feline partner. I take a gift to the cat councillors in the chapel attic, but that old affair with the flute is not yet forgotten, and they will not speak to me.

In desperation, I sleep. My many children seek me out, sending out carriages pulled by eagles and escorted by plumed bears. What clever children I have! Together, we find the cat at last, handsome in a fine top hat. Oh, what adventures we shall have together!

Emperor’s Dozen

“Good morning, Technician Cat,” he said, sitting down next to her at the console. He passed her the usual coffee.
“Good morning, Technician Rat,” she nodded back. Three years on the job together and they still didn’t use first names.
“So, tomorrow’s the big day, right? Professor Jade’s ordered all research units out past Altair.”
“Indeed.” She pulled her legs up to sit cross-legged on her chair. “There’s some chatter across the channels that he’s offering promotions to the first batch of arrivals.”
“It’s true.” Rat slid his chair across and leaned in closer, dropping his voice to a whisper. “And I have a plan, my friend.” He scratched behind his ear. “You know that big guy in maintenance?”
“Engineer Ox?” said Cat, an eyebrow raised.
“Yeah, that’s him. Has to walk sideways through the portals. He said he’s leaving first thing, first shift.” He wrinkled his nose. “We can piggyback on his access pass.”
“Well, that sounds like it could be successful.” She brushed a few stray hairs from her jumpsuit. “But what about Senior Technician Dragon? Doesn’t she have to approve this?”
“Yes!” Rat squeaked. “But I’ll take care of it. I have a plan.” His eyes narrowed and he fidgeted in his chair.
“I don’t want to know the details,” she said, stretching out. “Ping me early, will you? I have trouble getting up in the mornings.”
“No problem,” Rat said, fingering the sleeping pills in his pocket. “That top promotion slot is pretty much guaranteed.” Rat flopped out of his seat and scampered off down the corridor.
Guaranteed, all right. Now, how to deal with Ox?

Mr Muggles

Jack’s cat is a malicious thing, but no one’s noticed. Mr Muggles has a button nose and a twinkle in his left eye. He walks with a swaying feline swagger as if to tell the world, “I am here,” or perhaps, “Examine, ye, my untouchable beauty.” Only sometimes, instead of sashaying across the room, a prima donna, he jumps around and plays like a little kitten.

This is merely premeditated camouflage, an attempt to appear cute and docile.

When Mr Muggles plays it’s always with living things: a cockroach, a mouse. He plays without killing them. When he’s entranced enough, or self-satisfied enough, his guard slips and that twinkle creeps into his eye.

You might think that you’re safe, that a creature as small and cute as Jack’s Mr Muggles couldn’t play with you. But consider this: Jack has been in hospital this last week. He’d told his doctor, “I’m always tired. I’ve lost my appetite, I’m losing weight.” His doctor had said, “Son, if you look here,” and tapped on the x-ray, “that there’s a blockage.” He pointed to the glowing mass where Jack’s upper intestinal tract would have been if one could see soft tissue on an x-ray.

They cut into him to remove the blockage, a bezoar made solely of hair. A trichobezoar is usually made of long hair, but Jack’s hair is short and blonde and he swore he had never swallowed any.

He never asked why the bezoar was made of black hair, but that suits Mr Muggles just fine. When Jack comes home Mr Muggles will snuggle up to him, rub his black coat against his leg.

There’ll be a twinkle in his eye.

Minx

She sleeps on her back, carefully positioned in a golden patch of afternoon sunlight. The light glistens in her long silver-grey fur, blurring individual strands. Her front paws are bent as if in supplication, but there is nothing beggarly about this cat. I watch as she twitches her ears; they glow hot pink from the light that shines through them. She reaches a paw up to swipe in slow motion at something in her dreams.

As I approach and sit beside her, she wakens, reaching her paws straight up in a slow, sensual stretch. She gazes up at me with soft, languid eyes and an expression of utter contentment forms on her face: mouth curved up at the edges, eyes half closed. Her mouth opens in a wide, leisurely yawn, revealing rows of tiny, sharp, white teeth set prettily against the pink of her tongue. She slowly arches her back and languorously stretches her limbs, then rolls over and stands up in one fluid and effortlessly elegant movement.

She considers her options; then pads determinedly over to me. She climbs onto my lap and scales my chest. Now we are face-to-face and she stares into my eyes, emitting her signature purr – the soft rumblings broken with periodic hiccups. Then, with deliberation, she takes my nose into her mouth and holds it and my heart gently for a moment before curling up high on my chest, her fur softly tickling my chin.

I wonder whether I can bring myself to move just yet: I really should clean up the slaughtered bird whose bloodied remains lie casually beside us.

White Cat

She was raised by fairies, of course she’s every inch the princess – the long gold hair, perfectly curled, the blue eyes, the tiny ankle. The grace, courtesy, wit, learning; even the playfulness which I so enjoyed when first we met. Our subjects adore her. Even Hans likes her, and he’s been in my service since we were teenagers, and can be a mite possessive.

And I owe her so much – the kingdom, the quest, meeting my father’s ridiculous requirements. We still have the dear little spaniel, he’s quite a favourite of mine – he doesn’t fit into a walnut any more, but an egg cup holds him comfortably. She used the impossibly fine silk cloth as a wedding veil.

She’s really very sweet, and still curls up in my lap so affectionately. Given that tradition dictates I marry some lovely lady, I could have done a lot worse.

But then there are … the eccentricities. The balls of string. The milk: she laps very daintily, but it’s still not quite polite. And the mice are a real problem. So far she’s only done it in front of me and Hans and he’s very discreet, but I have no idea how we’ll hush it up if she pounces in the middle of a diplomatic function. And the crunching noises are so distressing.

And, of course, her … other proclivities. I do my duty as manfully as I’m able, but I’m not really the biting type, and the yowling is becoming embarrassing. Fortunately Hans has a really good salve for the scratch marks.

It’s not that I wish she wasn’t a woman – I mean, obviously I do, but we all know that’s doomed. I just miss my white cat, and it hurts to be reminded of those simpler days.