After solving the mystery of the Silver Falcon and returning the priceless heirloom to its rightful owner, Mr. Kitten and Twitch took a walk through the park.
"Well, I'm glad we brought that to a satisfactory conclusion," Mr. Kitten said, taking a moment to smooth his rich black fur before continuing their promenade.
Twitch jumped in the air and batted a piece of dust. "I always get my bird!"
"I believe it was a joint effort." Mr. Kitten gave his companion a sidelong glance. "And, incidentally, your squeaky toy is not a bird."
"Is so!" Twitch puffed up his fur and jumped onto a birdbath. A couple crows casually flew away. "I'm king of the world! Birds fear me, women want me, and...." He looked into the distance. "Whoa, ho, ho, what is that?"
Twitch slipped down and the two male cats stood side by side, slack jawed and staring. A longhaired female was gliding toward them. She had fur as golden as a sunrise over the ocean and gray eyes as deep as an arctic sea.
"Oh, why on Earth did they neuter me?" Mr. Kitten muttered.
Twitch puffed out his chest. "Nobody neutered me!"
Mr. Kitten sighed. "The shelter neutered us both before they put us up for adoption."
"Not me!" Twitch lowered his voice. "Don't tell her, okay?"
The glamorous creature drew up to them. She wore a collar of platinum chain mail and the sun glinted off her long silver claws. "I am the warrior goddess Blondhilda, turned into a cat through evil magic and treachery." A storm brewed in her gray eyes. "I need your help."
* * *
"This is great, Blondhilda. I've never had fresh duck before." Twitch stretched his mouth wide and wiped a feather from his muzzle.
Blondhilda licked a drop of blood from a manicured claw. "Well, if you've both eaten now, may we get start--"
"Whoa, hang on, babe." Twitch turned to Mr. Kitten. "He hasn't eaten yet."
Mr. Kitten had closed his eyes against the sight of the carcass. "Oh, I'll just have a bite of something a little later."
The corners of Twitch's mouthed turned up. "Blondie, you didn't happen to see a nice bag of kibble feeding down at the duck pond when you were there, did you?"
"Very funny," Kitten said in a hollow voice.
Four Rottweillers spotted the cats and started running across the grass, tails wagging, mouths open in happy lolling grins. They whined and ran the other direction when Blondhilda looked at them.
She turned the same steely glance to the two cats. "Let us begin. I must regain my human form so that I may return to my Stanley. Let us not waste time."
Mr. Kitten met her eyes and yawned. "Time? What is time? Time is an illusion: it only exists to tell the humans when to feed us."
Twitch sprang up. "No, she's right. We have to get moving. Action. Focus. We need to focus. I'm focused like a laser beam, a big old laser beam that's so focused you could practically -- hey, there's a butterfly!"
Twitch skipped off through the thick grass and other landscaping, jumping and hopping and happily failing to catch the used tissue that floated on the wind.
Blondhilda stood up and a tone of what might, in a lesser entity, be called fear informed her voice. "But we must hurry, for if I stay long as a cat, a change might be wrought upon my character."
Mr. Kitten regarded her with polite apathy. Then he got up and bit Twitch's tail. The two cats took turns chasing each other. Blondhilda watched them as they ran across patches of bright lawn and under the sun-dappled shade of broad trees.
After a while, she joined in.
* * *
"Hey, Blondhilda." Twitch opened an eye and yawned widely, stepping on a Rottweiller's face as he walked to the goddess cat. She lay on her back and the moonlight glowed in the soft fur of her belly. "Wanna go rabbit hunting?"
"Rabbits?" she murmured dreamily.
"Sure, they've got loads of rabbits here. Fast ones with little red eyes and long thin tails. I haven't caught one yet, but I bet we could catch a bunch together."
Blondhilda stood up and stretched, casually digging her claws into another Rottweiler. The dogs had pulled their chains during the night and run to the park. Now they lay in a circle around the three cats, serving as body guards and body pillows. The dog Blondhilda had used as a scratching post thumped its tail against the dewy grass.
"Nah. I'm feeling lazy." She patted the silver globe of a dandelion with her two front paws, first to one side and then to the other. Not a single seed floated away. Mr. Kitten glided over and sniffed its leaves. Blondhilda got bored and lay down again. "So, what have you guys been doing with yourselves?"
Twitch groomed himself. "You mean since I was in the LOLcat book, How To Take Oveh Teh Wurld?"
Mr. Kitten explained, "A LOLcat is a cute picture of a cat with a funny misspelled captain from the perspective of the--"
"I know," Blondhilda said. "The book was on the New York Times bestseller list a couple years ago, but what have you been doing since then, Twitch?"
"Stuff, lots of stuff." Twitch stood up and shook his head to straighten the white hand-made collar that made him look like he was wearing a tuxedo. "I've been doing James Bond stuff, fighting terrorists and things like that."
"That's impressive. How come I haven't read any stories where you've done any of those things."
"It was secret. I've been on missions with the Navy SEALS. I'm pretty much a SEAL."
Kitten snorted. "You, a seal? An aquatic animal? Blondhilda should see you squak when the human tries to give you a bath."
"I am so a SEAL. I'm a secret agent, too. In fact, I have to go right now and meet my secret contact." Twitch disappeared into an azalea bush.
"So, what have you been doing, Mr. Kitten?"
"I'm on assignment at the Mr. Kitten Murder Mystery. It's a funny, cozy mystery someone is trying to write."
"How's it going?" Scratching and digging sounds came from the azalea bush.
"Slowly. The writer's a temp worker and has to spend hours a day doing something stupid called 'earning a living.'"
Twitch returned. "Hey, wasn't Stanley a temp attorney a long time ago, before he became a bestselling author?"
Blondhilda purred and slowly blinked her eyes. "Stanley. I love Stanley."
"So should we have an adventure and get you back to him?" Twitch asked.
"Or we could check out Mr. Kitten's assignment. I'm curious about that place."
Blondhilda rolled over and caught the end of her tail with her teeth. "Sure, whatever. Now that you mention it, I'm curious too."
* * *
Hello Sailor shifted into a miko outfit as she swung the censer of burning incense and recited the incantation in a low-pitched husky tone. After the smoke cloud dissipated, Hello Sailor sighed as her spell to break the sorceress's enchantment not only failed to return her friend Blondhilda to her human form but also transformed Mr. Kitten and Twitch into humans.
* * *
by Chris Hugh
Two office workers strolled through the elaborate parklike setting between office buildings. Wilma had finally gathered the courage to invite Arthur for a walk. She had been interested in him for some time.
She plodded her way around willows and under redwoods while the arthritic Arthur paced beside and slightly behind her. Suddenly, Wilma's low, masculine voice vibrated the air.
"Ach!" she droned, giggling and trying to be cute. She pointed a gnarled, cigarette-stained finger with two-inch acrylic nails across the grass. The sun glinted off the rhinestones. Two somewhat elderly, but lithe, supple and muscular men lounged in a tiny glade. The dappled sunlight shone on their glossy black skin. One man had round, friendly eyes the color of pale jade. The other had slanted, almond eyes of copperish gold. Both wore white silk tuxedo collars. Otherwise, they were entirely naked. A gleaming cat lounged near them.
"It must be some sort of performance art!" Wilma intoned.
Arthur's jaw dropped. He started to move, trancelike, toward the men, but a glance from the cat halted him.
"Oh, what a cute kittycat," Wilma rumbled. "And she's staying there without a leash! You're a good girl!" The cat turned her gaze to Wilma, but it had no effect. "Here, kitty, kitty, Here, kitty kitty!"
Wilma looked at Arthur again. His rheumy, old eyes were glued on the men. "I see you're interested in art. So am I," she said. She took a deep breath. "Would you like to come to The City with me this weekend and visit some museums?"
Arthur was distracted, for at sixty years of age, he had had a sudden revelation with regard to his sexual orientation. "The City?"
"Yes." As if in a dream, Arthur walked away from Wilma and toward his ancient Volvo in the parking lot.
"Yes," he murmured. "San Francisco. That is exactly where I want to go."
* * *
[A scene goes here where the cats get some clothes. Then there's a change of location.]
* * *
"So, what's going on here?"
"Well," Mr. Kitten said, "a reality show is being filmed. Helen's the owner of the house. But she hates being on the show."
"Huh." Twitch had already lost interest.
Mr. Kitten continued. "It's the most-watched show in history, so the scrutiny has been difficult for her. The media criticize her mercilessly her because she isn't model-thin."
Twitch and Kitten put down the things they were examining and preened in the mirror. Blondhilda groomed her sleek fur. "Why's the show such a big hit?" Twitch finally asked.
"The murders, mostly. First Winston Churchill, the parrot, was killed. I was blamed, by the way. Then on Halloween Night, Pierce Scrumgeon, the family attorney, was found dead, at the bottom of the stairs, dressed in a clown suit."
"And that interests humans?"
"Sure. A much-loved fixture around this place, who brought humor and intelligence to the show, was senselessly murdered. Plus, someone killed a lawyer."
Suddenly the door burst open. A cameraman rushed in and started filming. The producer was close on his heels, gushing. "Oh my--Who are these guys? They're beautiful! I can't believe we're having an unscripted home invasion. This is wonderful--oh, here comes Helen. Elliot, get a reaction shot."
A short, plump woman, dressed in elegant flowing fabrics glided into the room. Large, luminous eyes framed by sooty lashes widened when she saw that her boudoir was filled with unwelcome men, and a look of feminine defiance shone in her delicate, porcelain features. She parted glossy, ruby-red lips and said, "What the fuck is going on here?"
The producer waved his hands and tried to scream, "Shhhhh!"
"We are sampling your toiletries." Twitch answered Helen, wiping his hands on an Egyptian cotten Frett towel. "What is...fuck?"
Helen gaped at him. The producer made urgent zip-your-lip motions. "Did you just fucking use $500 worth of La Prairie facial serum to soften your fucking cuticles? What the fuck?"
The producer buried his head in his hands.
Twitch turned to Mr. Kitten, who explained, "She knows the reality show can't use the footage if she swears. So she does it to ruin their filming."
"She snuck in a clause that forbids us from bleeping," the producer sobbed.
Helen clicked her tongue. "Well, I am a lawyer."
The cameraman wandered away.
"Do you know what 'fuck' is?" Twitched asked Mr. Kitten again.
"'Never heard it before. My author thinks avoiding swear words is one mark of a good writer." He shrugged his broad shoulders. "Fuck if I know why. The asshole."
"Oh I see. Yeah, my author is full of shit like that too. What a cunt."
"And my author avoids such words as well," Blondhilda said, speaking in her feline form for the first time. The producer's head popped up and he started screaming at Elliot to come back and film the talking cat. "Stanley Chester Brown avoids obsencity and never uses profanity--" she broke off to stare at a titmouse pissing around outside the window.
Twitch cocked his head and Mr. Kitten explained. "Obscene words are simply dirty or vulgar. Profane words are blasphemous."
Blondhilda spoke without turning her head. "The fact that you two are able to veritably spew obsenities makes me wonder who truly our creator is. I swear it's goddamned confusing. Let us get the hell out of here."
The three vanished just as the cameraman ran back into the room.
Helen closed her eyes and smiled.
* * *
He felt the shot before he heard it, the bullet out-running its own sound as it raced through the air and tore into the man's spinal column, felling him, sending him tumbling, tumbling, until he collapsed upon the cold, hard, unfeeling floor, never more to look upon a sunrise with living eyes, or to brush a baby's cheek or to feel the soft rustle of the wind through his hair.
"Where are we now?" Twitch asked. Blondhilda curled up on a couch.
Mr. Kitten glanced around. "We seem to be looking at a very early draft of a book called Discovery. It's a political thriller where a couple of low-level temp lawyers stumble upon a conspiracy, unravel it and save the country."
"The writing is horrib--" Twitch and Kitten jumped out of their shoes when the silent figure sprawled on the floor stood up. Blondhilda yawned.
"What's happening?" the man said.
Twitch adjusted his upside-down, terrorized, clawing hold on the popcorn ceiling."So what's up with the dead human?" he tried to ask casually.
"That is Rico," Kitten gasped. "He is secondary to the main character and serves as mild comic relief. He is a lawyer from Guatemala who learned English from watching old sitcoms from the 1970's. I didn't know he was zombie. I though this was a straight thriller, not a crossover, experimental, zombie--"
"What kind of jive is this, man? I'm not dead. I was just reading a book, see?"
Twitch and Kitten dropped to the avocado green shag carpet and Rico showed them the paperback Outracing the Bullet.
"Is that a real book, or is it one your author made up for this scene?" Kitten asked. He took the book and fanned the pages. Everything after the scene Rico had just read aloud was blank.
Twitch plopped into a beanbag chair. "Whoa, this is too weird. He's reading a book inside a book... Kitten, I thought the fact that we could swear proved that we were in the real world, that we weren't fictional characters anymore."
Rico put his hands on his hips. "What are you cats talking about?"
"How does he know we're cats?"
Kitten rolled his slanted gold eyes. "Heavens to Betsy, Twitch."
Twitch slumped his shoulders. "Good gravy, Kitten, is this the real world or not?"
"Honest Injun, this is the real world. We can swear, therefore we must be gritty, real-life characters."
Twitch turned to Rico. "Can you cuss too?"
"Dang right. I can swear like heck."
Blondhilda rubbed her flank against Mr. Kitten's leg. "My Stanley is not here. Let's away."
* * *
Blondhilda planted her thigh-high battle boots and shook out her long sheet of pale hair. Her sword gleamed in her hand.
Loki stumbled back. "That was sudden."
"Defend yourself, you sebaceous cyst! En guard!"
"En--, wait, what?"
"You are a sebaceous cyst on the backside of humanity" Blondhilda narrowed her eyes. "You are an infected cyst with a twist of lime and a side order of human botfly!"
"Lanced and drained and posted on YouTube!" Twitch added.
Loki laughed. "I thought you guys could swear."
"We can, we just don't want to," Blondhilda said. "Half of our readers complained about the swearing in the scene before last."
"Only 33% of our readers if you count the author's mother," Kitten corrected. "Although she didn't read the story. 50% of the people who actually read it complained."
"I'm glad I'm not good in math," Twitch said, "because if I were I would figure out that that means there are only three people who read this blog."
"That would in indeed be pathetic," Kitten said. "However, we are not good in math so we don't know that and we are definitely not fictional characters. We simply choose not to swear in deference to our readers."
Loki looked serious for once. "Dude, that doesn't even make sense."
Blondhilda sheathed her sword. "Let's just take a break."
Loki shrugged and brought out his Twister game. After a while they ordered pizza and watched old movies.
* * *
"What are we doing now," Twitch asked.
"We're about to make a guest appearance in one of Anchorite's novels."
"Huh, I don't want to do that. I want to take a nap."
"We've got to go, Twitch."
* * *
“Here’s a treat for you and your friends, my sweetling.”
Regia Hian gently set the plate on the floor in front of the three gathered cats, then hugged Ting Ting and gently stroked her fur while she purred. Regia gave a quick nod of her head in the affectionate Arch Regian style and then excused herself. Ting Ting took a nibble of food and the two male cats subsequently began after the female began in their own observance of etiquette.
“This is amazing, Ting. Does your human make this stuff for you all the time?”
“She does, she knows it’s my favorite.”
“This is delicious, what’s in it?”
“I’m not usually around when she makes it, but I know it’s salmon with soy sauce, ginger, and sesame seeds, among other ingredients.”
Ting Ting spoke with the polished air of the most graceful aristocratic cats. Mr. Kitten and Twitch had met many cats like her among the affluent households of Silicon Valley, but unlike most of them Ting was kind and gracious without the pretentious sense of entitlement that was all too common among the upper-class cats who emulated their humans too closely. Ting Ting had the shiny, well-brushed fur and curvaceous build of a cat well fed and pampered by her human. Twitch supposed that he would likewise gain weight if he wasn’t so active and if his human cooked meals just for him.
Twitch continued with his feast as Mr. Kitten ate contentedly beside him. Twitch noted that even the serving plate looked as elegant and expensive as everything else in this palatial manor. They had arrived in this world feeling like they stepped into an oven with humid heat blasting directly into their faces as their greeting. Their first sight was that of squalor and poverty to an extent that they had never seen in their upper-middle class lives back in California. Trash piled on the streets as thickly as people crowded it, looking gaunt and malnourished. People stood nearly on top of each other, much like the dilapidated buildings surrounding them that looked as if leaning against each other was the only way they did not collapse. Insects buzzed around stagnant pools and sunken, hollowed eyes followed their movements as Twitch wondered whether these people looked desperate and starving enough to consider eating them.
The cats wandered the tenements for a while, looking for refuge from this dismal scene. Twitch’s eyes focused on a beautiful white female cat walking with a grace not seen among this city’s residents and looking like she ate better than most of these humans. Twitch approached her as her beauty captivated him and he had charmed her enough that she introduced herself as Ting Ting and invited him and his friend to join her for a meal at her home. Twitch and Mr. Kitten followed until their environment suddenly changed into a clean, affluent area where Twitch noted everyone was Asian. The cats expected their newfound friend to take them to one of these beautifully decorated houses with uniformly manicured lawns, but she surprised them by taking them to the largest manor in the area that looked simultaneously impressive and imposing.
Ting Ting chatted idly with them, and Twitch felt like he was in love with one of the most beautiful she-cats that he had ever met. After inadvertently entering this city through its worst area, they had now crossed over to the opposite end of the spectrum.
“This tastes just like heaven. Your human is a great cook, none of that packaged or canned stuff.”
“Cooking is one of her favorite hobbies. She loves me like her own child and treats me with the deference and respect due to us cats, but she has much sadness in her. Her father is a cruel, abusive man and treats her as terribly as he treats me. A human who does not respect a cat is the worst kind of villain.”
Ting Ting continued by telling them about Pope Holt Su Van Hian and his role as the dictatorial leader of the harsh, repressive theocracy that dominated Regian society. She also told them several heart-breaking tales of the cruel acts that he had committed with everyone around him, most of all his two daughters. Twitch and Mr. Kitten listened silently in abject horror. Twitch was amazed that he was shocked enough to sit still for such a harrowing story.
“I’m the biggest source of comfort that she has, but that’s diminished a bit since Regia is now old enough to start noticing boys. She’s growing up into a beautiful young woman by human standards, and being the Pope’s own firstborn daughter makes her the most desirable woman in Arch Regian society. Beneath all that, however, she’s still a sad little girl on the inside even if she tries to hide it.”
Mr. Kitten narrowed his eyes and furrowed his brow as he had done a few times since they arrived in this world. Twitch knew him well enough to know that he was lost in thought.
“Twitch, may I speak to you for a moment – in private? Please excuse us, Ting Ting.”
Mr. Kitten’s tone made it clear that his request was a mere formality.
“Sure, my friend, what’s going on?”
“Something about this world struck me as somehow familiar since we arrived, but only now did I place my paw on it. I know where we are Twitch – we’re in the world of ‘Dark Millennium.’”
“Is that one of our human’s books? I never read any of them, too many words and not enough pictures, although she’s been drawing lately.”
“No Twitch, this book is not by our human. I’ve been reading it in my spare time and I haven’t finished it yet, but I do know that this is a dark fantasy that deconstructs many tropes of the genre.”
“You’re doing it again, Mr. Kitten - using those big fancy words.”
Mr. Kitten responded with a sigh and a tone that suggested restraint in not unsheathing his claws. Mr. Kitten continued his explanation of the story’s plotline, culminating in the gruesome fate that awaited the lovely Ting Ting. Mr. Kitten did not follow everything his intellectual friend said, something about Ting Ting serving as a symbol of lost innocence and a moral impetus for Regia to reject her father’s values and stand up against his oppressive regime. Twitch only halfway paid attention to Mr. Kitten’s lofty exposition, but he already heard enough regarding Ting Ting.
“That monster! If you know what’s going to happen, can’t we do something about it?”
“I’m afraid not, my friend. Our human did not write this story, so as her characters we are mere guests in this work by a different author. We cannot affect the plot of this story, I’m sorry to say.”
Mr. Kitten looked genuinely regretful when he saw Twitch’s pained expression.
“Just when I met the loveliest female, and one who was so into me. This doesn’t happen too often, Mr. Kitten but I have an idea. You said we can’t affect the story that’s already been written, but can we still do things that won’t have an effect on the plot?”
“I suppose so; we are here dining in Pope Hian’s house after all.”
“Great, then how about we go raid Pope Hian’s closet and claw up all his fancy gear? Ooh ooh even better, how about we go find his pure white surplus and give it a nice yellow stain?”
“It’s called a surplice, Twitch. Hmm, under the rules we should be able to give him a wardrobe malfunction that does not have any bearing on the plot – as long as we don’t harm him directly, as much as I personally would like to, and interfere with his role in the story. Your mischievous nature amuses me, Twitch, perhaps that is why we make such a great team when all is said and done. It so happens that I’ve read the novel far enough to know exactly where Pope Hian keeps his liturgical vestments.”
“His what now?”
Mr. Kitten sighed again.
“His wardrobe, his clothes, basically everything he wears.”
“Right! You know, I always thought those fancy robes make him look like he’s wearing a dress.”
“I could not have said it better, Twitch.”
The two cats returned from their break to find Ting Ting calmly finishing the salmon dish and licking the remaining sauce from the platter. Twitch looked at her forlornly with the knowledge of what would happen all too soon, but he removed that sadness from his expression before she could see it. Mr. Kitten gave him a curt nod and silently mouthed the words, “I’m sorry, my friend.”
“Ting Ting, this meal has been delicious and it’s been such a pleasure meeting you and seeing your lovely home, but Mr. Kitten and I need to get going. Lots of places to go and all that, you know.”
“But you two just got here. Can’t you stay longer?”
“I’d love to, Ting, I really would, but … Mr. Kitten has to go take some medicine. You know how these things are.”
“Well, if you must, but will I see you again? Will you two come visit?”
“We’ll see, Ting Ting, we’ll see. Until then, though, I have a great idea. You’ve told us about how Pope Hian is such a mean-spirited jerk, so I have an idea for a prank you can play on him just to stick it to him. Now listen up, this idea came to me when we went up the grand staircase. He walks around all high and mighty and never looks down so you sit yourself right at the edge of the stairs, underfoot where he won’t see you and then…”
* * *
back to Chris Hugh
Blondhilda petted Twitch with both hands, drawing her fingernails through his thick fur, praising his beauty and periodically wiping away cat drool. Mr. Kitten gazed upon the disgusting spectacle until he drew Blondhilda's attention.
She reached out and he rubbed his forehead against her hand. "Welcome, boon companions," she said. "Where have you been?"
"To a dark and tragic world." Kitten answered as Twitch sighed. "But where are we now?"
"We remain in Loki's castle, the center of his power."
Twitch stood up and shook off his sadness. "'Break is over?" He glanced at the Loki-shaped hole in the wall. "I guess so."
"Woohoo, you really kicked his rear, babe!" Twitch frolicked and caught his own tail.
Twitched rolled on his back, then jumped up and darted a couple feet. "So I guess you're happy to be human again, huh Blondhil--"
The two cats shielded their eyes against a flash of lightning and when they looked again, Blondhilda was a cat once more. "I must warn you," she continued, "that Loki wields great power here in his domain. Be careful of your words, so you don't give him ideas." She walked away.
Twitch and Kitten trailed her into a room. It was strangely small and bright in the ancient castle. A sleeping form lay there. "Follow me not." Blondhilda's voice came from under the bed. "Do the rest of this scene yourselves. Big mouths."
Twitch and Kitten shrugged and jumped on the bed.
"Nice place," Kitten remarked. "Select Comfort bed, goose down comforter and pillows, an alpaca fur blanket, the works.
"And it's so high tech," Twitch said, stepping on the sleeper's head. "There's a CPAP machine. I guess the human has sleep apnea. There's a Zeo that measures brainwaves and tells you how you slept. A pulse oximeter to measure oxygen saturation. Outlast NASA spinoff technology mattress pad to control body temperature. Even a device designed for newborns that jiggles if it senses no breathing for 15 seconds."
"This human seems obsessed with sleep and comfort."
"Are we sure he's not part cat?"
Kitten took a closer look at the human. "I'm not even sure he's a he."
"Watch this." Twitch stepped on something and the bed started to vibrate.
Still asleep, the human reached out a hand and fumbled with the remote control until the vibration stopped.
"It's an adjustable frame beds with a massage feature," Twitch explained. "But the human hates the massage. I'm the only one who ever uses it."
"Things sure are different up top. I'm usually underneath."
"I hope Blondhilda is enjoying all the hairballs you left down there." Twitch stepped on the CPAP's air hose, pulling the mask away from the sleeper's face and letting it snap back. "I want this human to wake up and pet me so I can forget my troubles."
"You've got to get over Ting Ting, Twitch. She is Anchorite's character. We can't change her fate."
"Who is Anchorite?" Twitch asked.
"He is Chris Hugh's writing buddy."
"Who is Chris Hugh?" Twitch asked, stepping on Chris Hugh's face again. "Never mind."
"Chris Hugh would never dream of changing Anchorite's characters. And even if he weren't so ethical, he does not have the power to change anything in the world of Dark Millenium."
"But Chris loves cats and Ting Ting is a cat. He wouldn't let Ting Ting die." Twitch flopped onto his side. "He loves me. He wouldn't let me be unhappy."
"Ting Ting has to die. It is part of the story. Ting Ting represents love and innocence. Her death is a turning point, a trauma that significantly affects the development of Princess Regia."
"Chris loves cats. Chris loves cats and horses and polka dots and drawing and video games and happy endings and...how sure are we again that Chris isn't a thirteen year old girl?"
Kitten shrugged. "He has published two cat-centered romances under the name Christina Hugh and a vampire story under the name Violet Bellini. Who knows?"
The cats drew silent as Chris Hugh awoke. They attended to their duties as the writer walked to his, or possibly her, work room. Kitten diligently sprawled in the human's path, nearly tripping him, thus exercising his agility. Twitch ran ahead, meowing loudly for no discernible reason and giving Chris' deductive powers their customary workout.
Chris sat at the computer and opened Microsoft Word. "I can't just let Ting Ting die," he said as he pulled Twitch away from his post (to enhance Chris' patience) directly in front of the monitor. "I just can't! Damn!"
Twitch nudged Kitten. "I thought you said we were real," he whispered. "So how come the human can swear and we--"
* * *
The cats found themselves in a long service corridor paved lined stone. "Oh, I think I'm getting seasick from all this moving around," Twitch made a big show of wobbling on his feet. "Kitten, can you throw up for me?"
"Very funn, Twitch. Wait--who is that?" A glossy white cat was just disappearing around a corner. Twitch froze as he watch the graceful form. "That's Ting Ting." Mr. Kitten said. "We're back in Ting Ting's palace."
Twitch took a few steps forward, then stopped. "This is her palace, but that's not her."
Kitten sniffed. "You're right, it's a male. But he looks just like Ting Ting. Any human, even the Princess, would be fooled." He examined the flagstones where the white cat had walked. "And he's covered in an oily susbstance. You can't see it, but it's there. And it's poison."
"Poison? Well, get away from it then! I thought you're supposed to be the smart one, Sherlock."
"Don't worry. It's a gynocide; it only kills women."
"A poison that only kills women? Come on. That's a crock of--, I mean, that's bull--" Twitch took a breath. "That's malarkey. Be real."
"I'm trying," Kitten said, "to tell you that the lard-like, buttery substance covering that cat is meant to kill a woman."
"Bummer...Let's find Ting Ting and go chase some rabbits."
"I think that oily cat is going to assassinate Princess Regia with the poisonous lipid and frame Ting Ting for the crime."
"Frame Ting Ting?" Twitch yowled and raced after the white cat. "Hey, you! Grease! Get back here!"
Twitch and Kitten tore through the corridor, rounded a corner and found themselves on the empty mezzanine above the Grand Receiving Room. Below them, nobles from around the realm packed the huge room, waiting for Pope Hian to descend the great staircase. The crowd was so dense and so elaborately attired that not a square foot of the crimson carpet could be seen.
The cats had lost Grease.
As Twitch and Mr. Kitten stood aghast, Ting Ting and Princess Regia emerged from the Princess's bedchamber. Twitch and Kitten took Ting Ting aside and the Princess began to descend the great curve of the staircase. Twitch told her what was happening.
"I must save the Princess," Ting Ting said, looking down at her human. The human was graceful, clothed all in gossamer white, but seemed troubled and unaware of her surroundings. "She is my favorite pet, almost a friend."
"You need to save yourself," Twitch said. "Grease looks just like you. If he manages to kill her, the humans will murder you, too."
Just then several things happened at once. The Princess reached the middle of the staircase. A white cat emerged from the crowd and posed on the bottom step. Pope Hian came out of his chamber where his clothes were kept. He smelled of cat urine and was so angry he could barely see straight as he walked toward the head of the staircase.
At that moment, Princess Regia stooped and put her hand out toward the poisonous cat. Ting Ting dashed to intercept. She and the Pope reached the stairs at the same time.
"Watch Ting-Ting, Excellency!"
Pope Hian didn't, and thus tripped on the sacred cat and fell down the stairs. His realistic pompadour flew off as his head struck the railing. Panicked, he stuck out his arm to catch himself, but it caught between two of the banister's vertical supports. A crack echoed as a damasked-covered bone snapped. Prone, feet pointed downward, the Pope slid down the remainder of the stairway, friction causing his elaborate costume to ride up, exposing his bare backside to the assembled Court and also causing certain damage insuring he would produce no further hereditary heirs.
Ting Ting was safe at the top of the stairs. The Princess was badly shaken but safe as well. The would-be assassin sat flabbergasted at the foot of the stairs. Pope Hian was seriously injured, but what he lacked in reasoning ability he made up for in pure ornery strength. His hand shot out and he grabbed Grease the Cat by the throat.
None of the humans noticed that there were two identical cats, but Kitten assessed the situation immediately. "Ting Ting, you must leave. The Princess must think it was you who tripped the Pope. The trauma of watching you die is the turning point for her. To preserve the timeline you must come with us now."
"What do you mean die? I'm not even hurt." Ting Ting looked longingly at her human, who was screaming and pleading with her father to stop doing the vicious, inhuman things he was doing to the mangled body that had once looked so much like Ting Ting's. "Oh."
"Now, Ting Ting! Come with us!"
Ting Ting nodded slowly.
"Freakin-A!" Twitch said and the three disappeared.
Blondhilda stepped through the shimmering gateway into the house. She had made friends with Mr. Kitten and Twitch while she had been polymorphed into a cat by an evil enchantress. This was the first time that she had entered this house since she regained her human goddess form. Blondhilda remained friends with the two cats who helped her through that adventure that was embarrassing at the time but fun in retrospect. Blondhilda nimbly avoided stepping on a scurrying mouse that twitched its whiskers and ran away with a panicked squeal. She noted a menagerie of various animals strewn chaotically throughout the house. Blondhilda saw birds flying, rodents running, and a gasping fish flopping on the ground that she quickly but gently picked up and set into a bowl of water on a nearby table. Blondhilda arrived after a frantic cry for help from her cat friends, and now she saw the reason for their plea.
Blondhilda instinctively felt that there was some danger in this house, so she walked silently and took care to not harm any of the animals. She peered into the living room and saw the nearly naked back of a woman standing at its center. Her scant attire consisted of little more than a top that concealed little and that Blondhilda could only generally call a bikini along with a matching thong. Her long hair blew about as if there was wind in the room that only she felt. Blondhilda sensed powerful sorcery and an appalling lack of modesty that would make her a dangerous adversary. She turned slightly enough so that Blondhilda could see a beautiful face marred by a cruel smile. Blondhilda saw her holding a desperately croaking frog that looked like it was scared half to death. She dangled the frog by a leg held between long, graceful fingers with colorfully lacquered nails and spoke in a taunting voice that conveyed seduction laced with vanity and malice.
“Now, Stevie boy, I will enjoy this. I do so love frog legs.”
She licked her painted lips and laughed over the squirming frog’s frightened croaks. Blondhilda saw enough and would not let this witch harm any creature in Odin’s domain, no matter how small. Mr. Kitten and Twitch did well in summoning her as Blondhilda did not doubt that this scantily clad sorceress was behind this. Blondhilda drew her sword and shouted.
“Unhand that fair amphibian, you foul witch.”
She turned around slowly to face Blondhilda, as the Norse warrior noted her stunning beauty combined with a sense of dread. She laughed and then tossed the frog aside like an afterthought. The frog leapt towards her as Blondhilda held out her sword to challenge her adversary to stop her captive’s escape. Blondhilda felt relief as the frog hopped past her towards the adjoining room where the other animals gathered.
“You’re a brave one, Blondhilda, coming here to spoil my fun.”
“You know me? Who are you?”
“Of course I know you, Blondhilda. Your name became legendary when you traveled to Persia to stop the awakening of the Dark God Angra Mainyu. I am Ishtar, the Sumerian goddess of sex, love, and fertility. The inhabitants of this house have displeased me and I am here to punish them for it. This matter does not concern you, so leave before I make you a part of this zoo.”
“Never! I will not let you harm these innocent people.”
Ishtar shrugged a bare shoulder and tossed back a stray lock with a laugh.
“Very well, have it your way. I will take great pleasure in this, Blondhilda.”
Ishtar waved her arm and a luminescent eight-pointed star appeared above her. The ephemeral star shone an intense beam on Blondhilda, so she shut her eyes until the coherent light faded. Blondhilda felt like she sat under a hot lamp, but she did not note any injury from the spell. Ishtar bared her teeth in a gesture suggesting that she was unaccustomed to not having her way.
“Impossible! That spell should have turned you into a cat or some other beast. Your magic is stronger than I expected.”
Blondhilda had already spent time as a cat and had a whimsical adventure story to show for it. She supposed that the breaking the previous spell had rendered her immune to further polymorphs. Blondhilda was glad for that experience, otherwise this battle would have already ended. Blondhilda thought back to her previous adventure with Sherlock Holmes and decided that a strategic boast was in order.
“I bear the enchantments of the Norse Gods, Ishtar. Your spells will not work on me. Now tell me why you’re doing this.”
“Very well, Blondhilda. That frog you just saved was Steve, the house elder of this dwelling. He writes software and applications for IDK Technologies and for his latest project, he created a new mobile platform operating system. He had the audacity to name it Ishtar and I will not tolerate a mere mortal taking my name like that and using it for such a base application. He has provoked my wrath with that grave insult and under the laws of the Sumerian Gods everyone in this dwelling shares in his culpability. Hence I have turned them all into animals and was just about to begin systematically tormenting them for my amusement, starting with Steve for he was the one who so upset me.”
“This is madness, Ishtar. He did not seek to insult you and he certainly meant no disrespect.”
“No one uses my name like that, Blondhilda, no one does! I have called every God in the pantheon a lover at one time or another, yet I have punished and even killed those who failed to please me. No God would dare disrespect my sacred name like that, and any mortal who does so has forfeit his life and his very soul. I am the goddess of sex, love, and fertility. I am the courtesan of the gods, the mistress of my legions of sacred prostitutes on this earth, I command the eight-pointed star, and I pose for your publisher’s cover art.”
“Wait a second, what was that last one?”
“Ah yes, in this modern age I amuse myself by posing for your publisher’s cover art. Your writer Stanley Chester Brown produces all sorts of best-selling manuscripts for his book deal and he makes a good living, yet much to his frustration he has no control over the covers of his published works. He is contractually bound by the publisher’s choices and his publishing house consistently chooses the skankiest, most cheesecake art that it can possibly make featuring all kinds of scantily clad women in revealing outfits that make the average book buyer ashamed to be seen reading the book in public.
“Every one of those pictures is me, Blondhilda. All I have to do is throw on a chainmail bikini, hold a sword, and the casual bookstore customer thinks that I am you and never even bothers to read the book. They never read your well-written, classically structured examples of masterful craft because they can’t get over the contemptible cover art. I’ve done the same for Claire Guang’s books, perhaps you’ve heard of them? She writes thoughtful, tragic but hopeful science fiction and fantasy stories with meticulous world-building, but many readers never give her stories a chance because they’ll see a Captain Zessa Tuf novel in the bookstore and then see a picture of me in a midriff-baring top that barely covers my breasts complete with a skirt so short that it’s barely even there. In the meantime, a significant portion of the public buys these books expecting cheesecake fan service and then gets turned off by not having the stories be what they expected. Either way, I win by diminishing your readership along with that of many other authors under your publisher.
“I am a seductive love goddess, Blondhilda, I do not believe in modesty and I do not restrain my seductive powers. I also admit that I’m a fickle and vain woman, but I’m the goddess of sex, love, and fertility so even the Gods themselves all clamor for my favor. Mortals will kill themselves for a mere moment of my attention and nations will go to war at my whim. This mere software engineer used my name for one of his programs and I will not tolerate it. I came here wanting to wipe this entire dwelling off the face of the earth, but here you are in an attempt to stop me.
“I don’t know how you found me here, Blondhilda, or why you care one iota about these mortals who should mean nothing to you but your presence plays into my hands because I’ve wanted to defeat you as a potential threat ever since you meddled in Persia. I promised the dark god a night of pure bliss if he would awaken to destroy a nation full of people who refused to show me the proper respect due a goddess. Your interference stopped that, but I found a way to weaken you in preparation to one day defeat you – by striking where it would most hurt you: your readership. Now you are here and you will not leave this dwelling alive.”
Blondhilda sensed the sheer power emanating from this goddess and knew that her earlier bluff would not last much longer. Blondhilda may now be immune to a polymorph spell, but a different one could very well hurt her. Blondhilda never refused a challenge and this entire household depended on her. She thought of a good strategy and then realized that Ishtar said that she did not know why Blondhilda arrived. She arrived because Mr. Kitten and Twitch called her, did Ishtar not hear their cry for help? The two cats walked in at that moment, sitting on the sidelines watching Blondhilda and Ishtar’s standoff. Out of the corner of her eye, Blondhilda saw Twitch playing with Steve’s hapless frog form like a stuffed toy.
“Stop that, Twitch!”
“Sorry, human … um, er froggie, but I’m having too much fun.”
Blondhilda hoped that the transformed humans would not remember this incident if she managed to defeat Ishtar and break this spell. Blondhilda noted that Ishtar focused only on her and ignored the exchange from the animals. Were they beneath her notice? At that moment, Blondhilda had an idea.
“Mr. Kitten, stay back out of harm’s way.”
“Of course, Blondhilda. I’m not going anywhere near that. Thank you for coming by the way, I appreciate your urgent aid.”
“Yes, Blondie, what he said. Wow, playing with this frog is so much fun. Jump froggie, jump!”
Mr. Kitten groaned and flashed that same expression that he always had when restraining his instincts to bare teeth and claws against Twitch’s exasperating antics. Ishtar addressed Blondhilda in a haughty, taunting tone conveying a toxic combination of seductiveness and cruelty.
“Are you talking to the cat, Blondhilda? That’s just a housecat, not a transformed human. Stop with the cheap distractions and let’s go another round.”
Blondhilda confirmed her warrior’s instinct: Ishtar did not ignore the words of the cats and humans transformed into animals, she did not hear them in the first place. After her time spent as a cat, Blondhilda developed the ability to communicate with animals and retained it even after reverting to her human form. Ishtar could not hear or comprehend what any of the animals said. In this struggle against a powerful immodest goddess Blondhilda fully intended to capitalize on any available advantage.
* * *
by Chris Hugh
"Thy senses have left thee," Blondhilda said quietly. "My Stanley 's works grow ever in popularity. The pinup covers you refer to are published only in Japan , where they are revered."
Ishtar stepped back, stunned by the ring of truth in Blondhilda's voice. But she advanced again, even more determined to punish Blondhilda for being a substantial character while she was just mindless fan service.
Blondhilda stood her ground but was not above asking the animals for help. "If any of you have any ideas, verily would I be grateful."
Madeleine, now a peacock, squawked at Ishtar. Blondhilda interpreted. "Have you been eating a lot of carbs lately?"
Ishtar halted. "Why?"
"Madeleine says you look a little plump." Blondhilda paused as the frog croaked. "Although Steve says it looks good on you." It croaked again. "He adds that there is a cheesecake in the Sub Zero."
Ishtar broke off her attack and ran to the mansion's exercise room.
"That got under her skin," Kitten said.
"She's showing enough of it," the peacock answered, and fanned out her feathers in a magnificent, iridescent display.
"Why are you in that form?" Blondhilda asked.
"We were all transformed according to our most basic traits. I, obviously, am beautiful."
"And a bit of an attention seeker," Steve added. Madeleine did not disagree.
"But why are you a peacock? You are female. Should you not be a peahen?"
Blandings, now an owl, cleared his throat. "Indeed, it is ironical that a goddess of procreation does not know male from female," he began, then went on to share much trivia about procreation, irony in literature, and other subjects. Blondhilda was a goddess with an instinctive knowledge of all predator animals. She knew that although owls are portrayed in fiction as being wise, they are in reality rather stupid. She noticed the irony as well as the essential correctness in Blandings not knowing that, but did not remark on it.
By this time, even Mr. Kitten had joined Twitch in manhandling the frog. Blondhilda frowned at them and Twitch shrugged. "Come on, we're cats."
"One cannot alter one's essential nature," Kitten said.
Blondhilda looked over at Elliot the snake, Brooks the pig and Furbaugh the vulture. She had to agree. She plucked up Steve and held him out of danger. "And why are you a frog?" she asked.
"Legacy reasons," he replied in engineer jargon. Actually, Anchorite had written him as a frog and Twitch had so much fun playing with him that Chris Hugh saw no need to change him.
Madeleine turned to Captain Tearose. "But why are you a donkey? I never found you particularly stubborn."
"Donkeys are wise not stubborn," Blondhilda said. "They are intelligent animals, less domesticated and less tractable than horses, yet braver and tougher. Ofttimes they have more sense than the humans who try to dominate them. Thus have they been labeled stubborn."
Twitch, who had been watching the frog in Blondhilda's hand, hoping to play with him again, gave up and turned to grooming his claws on the Persian rug.
"I am proud to be a donkey," the Captain said. "Just don't call me an ass."
"Whole lot of fun you are!" Twitch shouted. "Did you hear that? I tricked our author. I swore! Tearose said 'ass' and then I said--"
The eight-ton elephant in the room that everyone had been ignoring said, "Sh."
"It!" Twitch crowed. "I did it again. He said 'sh' and I said--" He broke off as Mr. Kitten high-fived him.
"You're being vulgar," the elephant said.
"So what?" Twitch flopped down on the carpet and sulked. "There's no one here I need to impress."
Suddenly Ting Ting glided into the room.
Twitch jumped up and bowed. He touched noses with her. "Your beauty lights the room, my lady. You grace us with your enchanting presence." Everyone stared.
Then Ishtar walked back into the room, sweating from her workout, and in no mood to enchant anyone. Everyone stared again. Margaret, always quiet and above it all, now a giraffe, vocalized gently to Blondhilda. Blondhilda turned to Ishtar. "Mayhap were you to dress with more modesty, your figures flaws would be less evident."
"You're one to talk about modesty," Ishtar sneered.
Blondhilda's ample bosom heaved in righteous indignation. "My vambraces cover my entire forearms," she said. "With my thigh-high battle boots, over 63% of my skin surface is covered."
Ishtar looked Blondhilda up and down. She wasn't wearing much other than the boots and vambraces.
"I am a warrior. I need freedom of movement," Blondhilda said. The peacock murmured again. "We recommend you the thigh-high boots. They would disguise your puffy ankles."
Ishtar did not even look down. "I am not going to be distracted again," she said, tossing her damp hair. "I am perfect. Now I will kill everyone in this household."
Steve hopped to Ishtar. "Before you kill us, will you grant one request?" Blondhilda translated.
"Of course. I will entertain requests, answer questions, explain my evil plans and gloat over you for a prolonged period before I kill you," Ishtar said. "After all, I am a stereotype."
"What is my wife Helen and can I see her before all of us die?"
"I don't know offhand what your wife is, but she is in animal form according to her true nature." Ishtar waved a hand at the door. "You may see her."
Steve knew that Helen was a big woman, intimidating but also sometimes inexplicably timid. She had her lazy moments, but she was a fierce protector. She was solitary, loved to sleep, was patient and was obsessed with personal grooming. There was only one animal she could be.
The door opened and a Siberian tiger stalked into the room. Blondhilda heaved a buxom sigh of relief; with the help of the largest cat on Earth, they could dispatch the evil goddess. But Ishtar just laughed and placed an invisible force field around Helen.
"I've changed my mind. I'm killing you now," Ishtar said, raising her Sextoy of Destruction. The air vibrated with dark energy. Blondhilda and the animals gasped as the air in the room began to seep away, replaced by an icy gray mist, the harbinger of the utter loneliness of complete annihilation. Light and life retreated from its deadly cold. Blondhilda's eyes grew dim.
But then Ting Ting stepped forward, and her white fur gleamed like the midday sun high above the clouds, shining on the clouds and turning them to shimmering foam. Her brilliance beat back the horrid mist and life returned.
"Stop, I cannot let this stand," Ting Ting said, and as she spoke she was revealed as Ceiling Cat, a LOLcat and internet meme representing goodness: a being of such power, purity and cuteness that it poops rainbows. "Ishtar, you wish to kill this household because you believe Steve named a game after you. You are wrong."
Ishtar cowered, for she understood the words and could feel their truth.
"I am Ceiling Cat. I am watching. I know all. Steve did not name the game after you. He named it after the 1987 film starring Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty. It was a critical and commercial failure and 'Ishtar' is now synonymous is 'box office flop.'"
Ishtar clasped her hands over her mouth. "Synonymous with...'flop'?"
"Although Ishtar does have a cult following," Steve added. "I liked it."
Ishtar staggered back. "I, I'm sorry, I--thank you, Steve." She waved her hand and restored all the people to their original forms. She even had the courtesy to restore them fully dressed. "Excuse me, I need to be somewhere."
She vanished, and certain people in Hollywood had a very long night.
Ting Ting turned to Twitch. "I must leave you now, Twitch. There can be no future for us, my love. You are a regular, a recurring charact while I, well, I am Ceiling Cat. It is written in the stars that I cannot be part of your life. Farewell."
Ting Ting dissolved into a billion shimmering points of light, then slowly disappeared leaving behind a sweet sadness. Twitch turned to Mr. Kitten and Blondhilda as the three, themselves, began to disappear. A deeper, wiser, cat, Twitch murmured, "Freakin-A."
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