Chapter 10

Tufty paused under the bed for long enough to be sure there really was no one around, then he slunk to the bedroom doorway to check out the hall. If he could get outside the flat, he could surely find some fire-lighting tools. The newsagent on the corner would certainly have something he could steal.

If only it was that easy.

Mmmmmierda!..’ long and quiet, Tufty swore to himself as he turned his head from left to right. The hall was all but bare. There was nowhere to hide other than the phone table, but it was down the wrong end of the corridor. He could go into the laundry, he supposed. That was closer. But he didn’t remember any likely spots in there either. Except for the Magic Litter Tray – and that would be a ‘no’.

Phone table it was, then. He sidled along the wall and re-positioned himself in the corner amongst the shoes. Just as he remembered, they stunk. Poo!

He stayed there anyway, peeking out as best he could and listening hard. In the next room the students continued to rattle around, attempting to cajole Five in annoying out-of-tune sing-songy voices. She had obviously placed herself somewhere remote and unobtainable.

Here puss pussy puss puss..,’ Flat-top wheedled. ‘Come down to handsome daddy and there’s a nice treat for yooo-oo…’

Here kitty kitty kittikins…’ Frazzle Fringe backed him up. ‘Nummy nummy fish bits… all you can eeee-eat…’

Tufty smiled to himself. Those kids had no idea who they were dealing with. Five would surely be the master of this stand-off. He turned 360 then shook his body down for the long haul.

A long time passed. A very long time. However, just as Tufty’s legs were going numb, Flat-top spat the dummy. ‘I HATE these stupid cats,’ he hotly declared, throwing his box of treats aside. ‘And I’m hungry. I’m getting burgers before they close. Maybe the smell of hot food will bring her down.’

‘OK,’ Frazzle Fringe concurred. ‘I’ll keep an eye on her. Burger with the lot and some chips – extra crispy – while you’re at it. And don’t waste all the 20’s on Time Pilot.’

‘Okay…’

Tufty crouched low. Full of sudden adrenaline, he was ready to spring free. This was his chance!!

Sure enough, Flat-top meandered down the hall, wallet in bandaged hand. As soon as he unlatched the front door, Tufty leapt from the shoes and raced for it. MWRROWWW…..!

What the…!!?’ Flat-top jumped aside as a hot furry blur tore between his ankles, smashing the screen door out of his hands and wide open.

Tufty didn’t look back. He flew down the stairs and out into the dark street. He’d done it! He was free!

Yesssssssssssssssssssssssssss!

He cornered left and paused briefly behind some mailboxes, allowing his racing heart to settle. But there was no time to hang around. He wanted to get to the end of the block to stake out the newsagent. He knew it fronted the street from the corner, but perhaps there was also a back entrance or a handy side window? Of course, it was night time and nothing would be open, but he would be Prince of Darkness, owning the lie of the land. That, and he wanted to get as far away from Flat-top as possible.

He set off down the block at a brisk pace.

Tufty knew this territory well and was comforted to find that it was more-or-less the same as when he woke up this morning. However, as he moved along, he couldn’t help but notice some peculiarities. For a minute he had forgotten he was now more than 30 years in the past, but the different flower beds, the young leaves on the eucalypts, and the slightly diminished splendour of the Moreton Bay figs lining the roadside gave it away.  He clocked a  crunched can of KB Lager, an empty box of Fags lollies and some fresh Throwdowns in the gutter. 1986 had been the last legal cracker night in NSW and people were obviously using up their stash. The cars parked along the block were also boxy-looking in their design compared to those he remembered. Ford Falcons and Holden Commodores featured heavily.

But perhaps the greatest difference of all – to him anyway – was the offensive stench of another tomcat. At every driveway fencepost, on every car tyre, amid each fig’s spectacular buttress roots, his neck prickled and spiked. He was smart enough to know this was just a cave-cat thing, but what would he do if he bumped into his 1980s predecessor? Relationships between men were complicated. Would he be given the chance to explain himself? Or would it be fight first, bond later? There was also the sweet enticing whiff of local ladies nearby. This would undoubtedly heighten the mix.

Then Tufty got another surprise. As he approached the newsagent he noticed that all the lights were on, spilling a bright white square onto the footpath. There were also a couple of small tables and chairs out the front. Nooooo! He hadn’t thought of that! It was no longer a newsagent at all! It was a 1980’s fish and chip shop!

Confused, he stopped, sat down and looked around. Then he quickly got up again and dashed behind an alleyway bin. Flat-top was coming down the road behind him, looking gimlet-eyed and cranky.

From shadow of the bin, Tufty thought hard. He would have to revise his plan…

 

Vote now, then tune in next week to see the results and follow the unfolding story…

 

 

 

Chapter 9

Tufty made up his mind. He decided to stay and join PURR. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to return to his old life – his old life was great! – but all of a sudden he felt a deeper reason for being. A more profound sense of purpose than that associated with his usual vocation of stalking the neighbourhood, spraying his preferred local hotspots to make sure no other tomcats took his tidbits. This was bigger than the neighbourhood. This was the world! This was important.

‘I want to stay and help,’ he told Five in a manner that brook no argument.

Five looked dubious, though she granted that his knowledge of the local geography could come in handy. She had only been here 48 hours and, because she had been caught in the laundry, had yet to even fully explore the flat.

‘OK,’ she said. ‘But stay hidden. They don’t know you are here and it is best they don’t find out.’

‘Do you have a plan?’ Tufty asked.

‘Sort of,’ she said. ‘At the moment the students suspect the trays are doing something, but they don’t know exactly what or how. We at PURR ultimately discovered that, for time travel to be possible, the metal alloy must be activated by 2-amino-7-hydrozxy-5, 5-dimethyl-4-thiaheptanoic acid. In other words, cat wee. From what I can tell, so far only the tray in the laundry is activated, but given there is another cat out there, it probably won’t be long until another tray lights up and the students begin to realise what they are on to. We need to stop any other cats from using the trays and then somehow destroy the whole lab.’

‘Burn it,’ Tufty said.

‘Most likely,’ Five agreed.

‘Heeere puss puss puss… heeeeeeere puss puss… where arrrre yoooooou? …’ voices suddenly reached them from the hall.

‘Damn,’ Five spat. ‘They’re looking for me. I’ll have to lead them on a chase. If you really want to help, complete this assignment: find a box of matches or a magnifying glass or anything we can use to start a fire. I’ll try to keep them distracted and make contact with the other cat.

‘Heeeeere puss puss puss…’ the voices were getting closer, now accompanied by the rattling of a box. ‘Heeeeere kitty kitty kitty…’

‘GO!’ Five gave Tufty a push. ‘We need to split up. Whatever you do, don’t get caught!’

Tufty checked the coast was clear then shot out of the wardrobe and back under the ruffle surrounding the bed. He felt Five leave behind him, though he had no idea where she had gone. He looked around under the bed and saw that, among some boxes and a suitcase, there was also an old backpack. The zipper was ever-so-slightly open. Thinking quickly, he hooked a canine in the pull tab and wrenched it. It moved! He widened the gap, compressed his body and squeezed inside.

Heeeeeere puss puss puss…’ A person entered the room. It was the girl. Tufty couldn’t see much, but he heard her go into the bathroom and fling back the shower curtain.

Heeeere puss puss puss…’ she then came out and opened the wardrobe, rifling amongst the clothes and shoes inside.

Heeeere kitty kitty…’ Tufty crouched low as she approached the bed. As she lifted the ruffle to peer underneath, light reached him then dimmed in the shadow of her enormous hair. ‘Puss puss puss…’ she rattled the box around, releasing a dense aroma.

Mmmmmmm… dried fish treats. Tufty’s mouth watered. It felt like a lifetime since he had eaten, but he didn’t dare move.

The girl stretched out her arm and pushed at a few boxes to see behind them. With alarm Tufty also felt her pull at the backpack. She then went around to the other side and did the same. ‘Heeeeere puss puss puss…

‘Here!’ abruptly the man’s voice came from another room.  The box-shaking stopped and Tufty released a quiet breath as Frazzle Fringe at last stood up and moved away. Phew! Then again, not phew. He hoped Five would be OK.

Right. He needed to make a plan. Mission: find fire-starting equipment.

Go to next chapter….

Chapter 8

Five paused and thought about how to answer Tufty’s question while also still trying to work out why he was here. It could be that Tufty’s 2017 was a result of the success of her own mission. But whether he was an intrinsic part of that success or about to become a hindrance, she couldn’t say.

She watched him carefully. He seemed to have been around the block a few times and wasn’t stupid. He also appeared to know the layout of this place, so perhaps he could help her? Then again, his very presence could mean an uncertain future for them all.

It was also entirely possible that he worked for the students and was the enemy. If that was the case, she would have to rip him in the jugular and take him out.

Always at the ready, she covertly uncovered her magnificent claws and decided to take the risk.

‘Those students,’ she said, ‘are evil. They may appear foolish, but they are academically sharp and, less than a month from now, they realise what they have discovered – the ability to create a tear in the space-time continuum. They also go on to learn how to manipulate it so they can travel through time themselves.

‘At first, they just go backwards and forwards a bit, doing some targeted gambling and making a lot of money. But, by going to the future they also come to understand the power of the internet – particularly Facebook. In 2003, they travel to the U.S.A, meet with Mark Zuckerberg and buy themselves a controlling interest in it. They then go on to use their influence in the creation of propaganda to spread the idea that the world needs coal seam gas, ultimately becoming so rich they can easily impact not just national, but international politics.

‘All the while they are aware that the harvesting of coal seam gas poisons the world’s aquifers and so, on the side, they develop a chemical antidote. But they don’t put it to humanitarian use. Instead, they continue to promote the contamination of the world’s fresh water supply while only providing clean water for themselves and a few select cronies.

‘No clean water not only means global thirst, but no irrigation for crops, leading to global hunger and disease. By the year 2020, the entire planet is a war zone with the supply of energy, water and food utterly controlled by a few protected elite.’

‘But,’ Tufty was gobsmacked, ‘it’s not like that in 2017!’

‘In my 2017 it was,’ Five corrected him. ‘I’m from 2021 and part of an organisation called PURR – Populace Underground Research and Resistance. The students have never revealed their time-travel technology to anyone, but we now have enough information to know that this, right here in 1986, was the starting point for their version of world events. We have also now developed time-travel technology of our own based on the same metallic alloy; but, unfortunately, we are only at the stage where we can send the body weight of a cat. I am that cat and I have been sent as a secret agent to stop these students and save the world.’

Tufty stared at her. This was crazy! Still, he had never met a secret agent before and he couldn’t help but be impressed. Five, meanwhile, was convinced enough of his innocence to retract her claws away.

‘Now,’  Five said, looking through the gap in the wardrobe door and out into the bedroom, ‘the loops of time are very complicated. Although it is encouraging that you have clean water and all seems well in 2017, I have no way of knowing if that is because of this mission, or if it will be a success. If I were you, I would get back in that litter tray and go back to where you came from. That is, if you can. Your very presence here could have already altered the timeline so much that you can’t go back. At least not to the 2017 you know. But if you go now, before you have any further influence on events, you have got the best chance.’

Tufty understood. If he went now, all might be well in his world, and he could be eating giblets and watching TV curled up with Francine by night’s end. But if he didn’t go now he might never see Francine or the other tenants and kids that he loved around the apartment block ever again. He might not even survive.

This was the toughest decision yet.

Go to next chapter…