Chapter 7

The Siamese looked Tufty up and down. “I am called Five,” she said, then said no more. She stared at Tufty. She was good at her job and could have sworn she knew all the cats on this project, but she didn’t remember a mangled old ginger in her brief.

Tufty felt discombobulated. He did not enjoy her cool silent stare. He wasn’t sure what he expected from her, but it wasn’t this.

“I’ll ask you again,” Five said, watching Tufty falter. “What are you doing here?”

To his surprise, Tufty then found that he was the one answering the questions.

“You’re not going to believe me,” he replied, mustering conviction, “but I come here (he paused for effect) from the future!” Within the confines of the wardrobe he felt the echoes of knowledge and power. Futureuture…uture…uture…

He expected this to elicit a gasp and expression of wonder, but the Siamese continued to stare coolly at him.

“Errr… ahhh…” he continued, “I mean it. I got here in the Magic Litter Tray. In the laundry. I don’t exactly know how, it just happened. One minute it was late 2017 and the next, well, not.  It’s the apartment that I know, but all different, if that makes sense. And I heard on the radio that it’s 1986.”

“Soon to be 1987,” Five granted. This was an interesting development. She relaxed her tone, but pulled her eyelids into a squint and chose her next words carefully. “So, tell me, what’s it like in 2017?”

“It’s great!” Tufty became more animated. “There is this thing call the internet, and computers and smartphones, and new-and-improved chicken in a can… and… and…” he trailed off. He didn’t know where to begin. It was obvious from the machine in the kitchen that the technology was somewhat behind here.

Five, meanwhile, was intrigued.

“Have you got water?” she asked directly.

“Of course!” Tufty was surprised. “Why wouldn’t we?”

Five thought about how much to tell him. He was obviously from a parallel universe, one resulting from a new junction point in the space-time continuum. His 2017 was different. She was from 2021, so she knew.

She decided to let a little slip. “Those people in the kitchen,” she said, “they’re physics students. Physics and chemistry. And, in case you haven’t noticed, they’re both a bit mad in the head. They have been trying to transpose organic matter from one place to another – cats from cage to cage, if you see –  but instead – and they don’t realise it yet – they have created a portal for time travel. It’s somehow in the mesh of metal alloy at the bottom of the blue trays. At the moment they are only experimenting on cats, hence their failed attempt to sedate me and put me on the litter, but they also sometimes stand in a tray themselves. The one you came in on in the laundry, in fact. But their body mass is too large.”

“Woah!” Tufty breathed.

“They must be stopped,” Five concluded.

“Why?” Tufty asked. Surely time travel could be a wonderful thing?

 

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Chapter 6

Tufty made up his mind. He paused in his hideout desperately hoping that, while she was away, the frazzle-haired woman would not come across the Siamese cat. He wanted to find her and ask her some questions himself.

He was in luck.

The woman returned past him and back into the kitchen saying “I’ve got it. Now stand still and stop dripping blood all over the place. It looks like there’s been a murder in here…”

Tufty seized the opportunity to extract himself and slink quickly in the opposite direction down the corridor.

As well as the kitchen and adjacent lounge room, the apartment consisted of a fair-sized bedroom which, Tufty knew, was accessed via the short hall. He snuck in.

Just as he remembered, the bedroom contained a small en-suite bathroom and – a late addition to the original building – a wall of reflective sliding-door wardrobes. One of the doors was slightly open.  Meanwhile, an unfamiliar double bed with a bright Ken Done-style spread took up the centre of the room, a matching ruffle falling from its base to meet the floor. There was also a chest of drawers and a small night table.

Tufty flattened himself to crawl beneath the ruffle and under the bed, tilting his head just enough to see through the gap. Here he again began to watch and wait and, for a long moment, apart from the man screeching and swearing in the kitchen, all was still.

Hssssssst,” a feline voice then whispered from the wardrobe. “Hssssssst… who are you? What are you doing here? You need to get out. Get out. Now!”

Tufty said nothing. Instead, he checked the coast was clear and then dashed across the floor and squeezed into the wardrobe himself. There, in a dark corner, behind some winter coats and with just enough room to see out, was the Siamese cat. Her eyes were like lightning with warning.

“They call me Tufty. Tufty the Tiger,” Tufty came over all manly, ensconcing himself as best he could beside her. “Are you OK? What just happened?”

“You need to leave,” she said. “Get out while you can. Before they know you’re here.”

“Why?” Tufty replied. “What is this place? And who, may I ask, are you?…”

Go to next chapter…

 

Chapter 5

Tufty crept out of the laundry and toward the kitchen. He noticed the kitchen doorway had been decorated with red tinsel and shiny baubles and a piece of unfamiliar furniture – a small table with a landline phone on top – leaned against the nearby wall. Tufty crawled under it, concealing himself behind some old books and shoes. He couldn’t see much but from his new position the voices were louder.

“Ouch! The BITCH! Hold her still,” a man demanded.

“I’m trying! It’s not that easy,” whined a woman. Tufty was discomfited to hear it was not Francine.

A radio was also playing. “Coming up next,” the DJ intoned, “we’ll celebrate the year gone by. Stay tuned after these messages for the Top 20 songs of 1986.”  Then came an ad for an end-of-year sale.

1986! Tufty’s heart skipped a beat. What was he doing in 1986?

From the kitchen, shards of fluorescent light spilled into the hallway. Tufty remained hidden, listening intently, trying to glean more but, apart from the opening bars of ‘Manic Monday’ and a few choice swear words from the man, nothing doing. If he wanted more information he would have to go in.

As quietly as he could, he wound himself along the wall and through the kitchen door. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the light and then, to his surprise, he discovered it wasn’t the kitchen he remembered at all. Everything was white, except for some metal shelving and five or six cages. At the bottom of each cage lay a short blue square plastic tray. A large machine with blinking lights and buttons sat on a nearby bench along with a collection of scary looking metal tools. The air reeked of antiseptic.

It appeared to be some sort of home-made lab.

A man and a woman in plastic overalls leaned across each other at an adjacent bench. Her fried blonde fringe was held back from her face by a pastel pink scrunchie, the rest of her hair so big it cast its own shadow. He flashed thunderstruck eyes that were too close together beneath his greasy flat-top mullet. Muttering and cursing, they were both attempting to subdue a small angry cat.

The cat was a slender, attractive Siamese with crystal blue eyes and white whiskers. But whatever they were trying to do to her, she wasn’t having it. She wriggled and scratched, hissed and spat, and it took all their concentration to hold her. Tufty noticed another cat – a black one – locked in one of the cages. It was coiled into a tense ball, facing the wall.

“DAMN IT!” the man yelled, banging a fist. He and the woman wrestled harder. Tufty thought better of proceeding any further and silently retreated to his shoe-lined refuge. He needed to think about this.

Suddenly there was great clatter and commotion and the Siamese shot through the door and down the hallway. A bauble fell from the door frame and came to rest near Tufty’s face.

“Let her go,” the man growled. “I’ll catch her in a minute. I need to sort my arm out.”

“I’ll get the first aid kit,” said the woman. Tufty froze as her feet approached and she bent down to retrieve the decoration.  Luckily, she didn’t see him. Her fingers grasped the bauble and she straightened, striding onwards to another room.

Tufty felt extremely uncomfortable, not to mention trapped. These people did not seem friendly AT ALL. And what was with the laboratory set up? Those instruments looked designed for torture!

He licked his dry lips. How he rued the day he ever set eyes on that litter tray. Where the hell had Francine found it anyway?  And what on earth was he going to do now? He couldn’t hide here forever. He would have to do something…

 

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Chapter 4

As the luminescence cleared, Tufty grasped that he was still in the laundry. The high ornate pressed-tin ceiling was recognisable, present and correct, and the dimensions of the walls and floor were the same. All seemed well and good, except for the room’s ambience and hue. The products on the shelf had also changed, and it was no longer a bright sunny morning. The air smelled funny and somewhere, in the outside dark, an animal – a bird? – cried a foreign tune. Tufty licked his lips with tangy metallic saliva,  a bit like a leaky battery.

At last, he looked down to his feet. They were still planted in the litter. This was also the same but somehow different. So was the tray. Oh, it was still blue and square, to be sure, but no longer quite the same texture and the mat on which it sat was weird. It used to be a single colour – a kind of aubergine –  but now it boasted a pattern of strange flamboyant symbols and swirls. Woah! It messed with his head. And not in a pleasant way.

Tufty licked a paw and wiped his brow. He hoped beyond hope that this really was a catnip thing – and that it would wear off soon. He didn’t know what to do or how to behave. Although he had always revelled in his reputation as the roughest, toughest, coolest cat around, he suddenly wanted his mum.

A minute or two passed with no further flashes or strange spiralling channels and cautiously he stepped out of the box.  To his macho chagrin, his knees wobbled and watered as he turned a slow full circle to get his bearings.  As he did so, he saw the litter glow and puff and finally sigh like a sleeping beast to form a gritty but even plane with hints of nothing untoward at all. Just some clean kitty litter, benign in a blue square tray.

Unhinged, Tufty again wet his lips and forced himself to look up.

The sliding door from the laundry to the hall was the only noticeable outlet, and it was open. There were voices out there – one of them possibly Francine.

Francine! Abruptly Tufty loved her more than anything. He knew to find out more he would have to venture through, but he was no longer sure curiosity was his friend. Light as a fearful floating feather, he touched his nostrils to the floor, the wall and the door frame. It might be the same apartment, but where – no, when! –  was he?

 

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