Monday, February 20, 2012

The Invisible Cat

In "The Invisible Man" by H. G. Wells, the protagonist is, as one would guess, an invisible man. The man is a scientist who experimented with changing the refraction, reflection, and absorption of the human body so that it's invisible. Before he turns himself, however, he practices on a cat. The cat he later sets loose into London. This is the story of that cat. 

Elise and Everett Bowen were well known for their curiosity. Because of it, the twins were rarely seen without dirt, scabs, and gap-toothed smiles. They were the ones to take apart their mother's oven to see if they could put it back again. They were the ones who liked to test the strength of window panes with snowballs of varying density. They were the ones counting worms in the mud and bringing them home to show their mother. 

Their mother had learned that it was best to get them out of the house early on weekends when there was no school to contain the rascals. That was why Elise and Everett found themselves in the streets of London on a sunny winter morning, their spirits dampened after their mother interrupted them at one of their adventures. Apparently she didn't approve of the science of burning orange oil.

“I wonder where we can find more oranges,” Elise said, thinking hard with her thumb on her chin.

“More free oranges, Elise,” Everett said. “We haven’t any money. And we’ll need fire.”

“Well, markets have oranges, but they always keep such a close eye on us. D’ya suppose we could beg for an orange?” Elise asked.

“Everyone knows us. They’ll never let us have an orange for fear we’ll set their house on fire,” Everett said reasonably.

“We’d never set the house on fire. Only the orange. And we don’t need a whole orange. Only the peel. Perhaps we can find some in the bin near the market,” Elise said.

“Perhaps,” Everett nodded. The pair set off for the market at a trot as great lines of people split before them as they approached, wary of the pair of well-known troublemakers. However, only a few blocks later, Everett tripped head over heels with a loud hiss.

“Well, I’ve never heard you make that sound before. You should be more careful of your big feet, Everett,” Elise said, stopping and helping her brother up.

“I didn’t trip over them. There was something there. And I didn’t make that noise,” the boy said emphatically.

“Well, I can’t see anything you might trip over,” Elise said reasonably, gesturing to the snow dusted ground. “Wait, what are those?”

Elise and Everett knelt close to the ground, inspecting the strange impressions on the ground. “They look like paw prints,” Everett said. “See, I tripped over a cat.”

“I didn’t see a cat. So either our eyes are bad or you’re clumsy,” Elise said simply.

“It could be a white cat. Maybe it just blended in. Let’s follow the prints. Maybe Mother would let us keep it,” Everett said hopefully.

“But what about the orange?” Elise asked.

“I saw where Mother hid the oranges. We’ll just steal a few tonight,” Everett said. “But let’s go find the cat right now. We can pretend we’re explorers in the Amazon looking for the mysterious white, saber-toothed tiger!”

“Alright, but only if I’m the leader,” Elise said, taking up an imaginary gun.

“But you’re always the leader,” Everett whined.

“Because I’m best at it, I’m older, and I’m taller,” Elise said simply, before affect a deep, gravely accent. “Now keep your weapon at the ready, Everett. That man-eater could be anywhere!”

“Fine,” Everett said, taking up his own imaginary rifle and putting on his explorer hat. He crouched as Elise did, bending close to the ground. She pressed a finger to her lip and gestured down to the tracks then pointed in the direction they were going. She began to sneak along the prints as Everett followed in her wake.

Elise paused and stuck her nose in the air. “It’s close. I can smell man blood. It must have recently eaten,” Elise whispered soberly. “Don’t make a sound or it’ll attack.”

Everett nodded, and the two inched forward again as the tracks went around the corner into an alley. They followed the tracks down the thinning corridor whose tall buildings on either side cast a spooky, forest-like shadow over the twins. Everett, despite himself, was getting a little scared as Elise was continually elucidating the closeness and ferocity beast, even though he knew she was pretending.

“The tiger is afraid,” Elise whispered, as they reached the end of the alley where the tracks disappeared into the crawl space beneath the porch outside an old house. “It’s retreating to its lair. Frightened beasts are the most dangerous though. Careful of the bones, Everett. A single noise and it will eat your heart out of your chest!”

Elise got onto her hands and knees after securing her imaginary gun on her back. “Should we really go under there, Elise? I mean, it looks pretty rickety,” Everett asked.

Elise hushed him firmly, placing a finger to her lips, before whispering, “It’s Commander Elise to you, and of course it’s rickety; it was built by a beast.”

“But Eli- I mean Commander Elise, what if there are spiders?” Everett asked in a whisper.

“We are after a man-eating tiger and you are worried about spiders? Buck up, Everett. There is no turning back now,” Elise hissed. Everett blanched.

Loosening her tone, and sitting back on her heels, Elise continued, “You can wait outside, if you must, but keep a look out for the tiger.” Elise disappeared beneath the porch. There were several seconds of quiet rustling, then a screech.

“It scratched me! I’m wounded! The beast is heading your way!” Elise called.

Just then a set of paw prints with little nails appeared in the snow. They paused and seemed to look up at Everett. Then, they gave a pitiful little mew.

Very confused, Everett bent down presenting his palm to the paw prints to sniff. He felt a cold little nose touch his fingers, then something that felt very much like fur press against his hands, but he could see nothing but the paw prints.

Carefully, Everett patted the space above the paw prints. He felt more fur that was very solid beneath his finger tips and began to vibrate as he heard a purr. After feeling around the dimensions of the of the fur, Everett picked it up, cradling it in his arms, which was a very peculiar sensation as he could see nothing, but felt everything.

“Did you catch the tiger, Everett?” Elise asked, scrambling out from beneath the porch with a scratch across her face and muck on her dress. “That’s not how you hold a tiger, Everett. You have to put it across your shoulders.” Elise mimed hefting a large, limp animal and placing it on top of her shoulders.

“I’m not holding a tiger. I’m holding a cat,” Everett said.

“I’m the leader, and I said we’re on an expedition to the Amazon to catch a ferocious tiger, so stop with this cat stuff,” Elise demanded, stamping her foot.

At the sudden noise, the invisible fur in Everett arms hissed. Elise staggered back.

“How did you do that?” she asked.

“I didn’t do anything. It’s this cat,” Everett said.

“But, you’re not holding anything,” Elise said slowly with wide open eyes.

“I think this cat’s invisible. No, wait, look. I think that’s its eyes. Can you see it, Elise?” he asked, tilting the invisible creature in the light.

Elise approached it slowly, feeling toward it as she looked. As she touched the fur and looked into its eyes, she exclaimed. “I can! It’s an invisible cat. This is many times better than a man-eating tiger, Everett. But, how did it get invisible? I don’t imagine there are many invisible cats in the world.”

“Maybe it’s a ghost cat,” Everett hypothesized.

“A ghost cat? Maybe it’s from Egypt and it’s one of their gods. It must be the God of Cats, Bastet, who came from the river Nile to protect us from, from, from,” Elise paused, thumb to chin thinking what could be endangering the lives of her brother and herself.

“Martians!” Everett exclaimed.

“Yes, this is Bastet who came to protect us from Martians. She seems hungry though. We should go home and get her some milk,” Elise said. The plan of action decided upon, the two children walked back to their home carrying their invisible cat.

“I told you stay out until supper,” their mother said after seeing them home so early.

“We found the god Bastet who going to protect us from Martians,” Elise said factually, directing their mother’s attention to the bundle of what appeared to be nothing in Everett’s arms. “She’s hungry. We need milk.”

I was a true sign of the children’s precocious imaginations that their mother did not question their story. It was only last week that they had brought home the Imam of Arabia who looked suspiciously like Everett’s friend William. “Alright you two, but no one in this house is allowed to touch the matches besides me,” their mother admonished.

“Yes, Mother,” the twins intoned, before being let into the house.

“And you best take a bath, Elise. You’re filthy!”

“Yes, Mother. You can get Bastet milk, Everett,” Elise said before jumping upstairs to run a bath.

Surprised at her daughter’s good behavior, their mother quickly fetched a glass of milk for Everett.

“What about Bastet?” Everett asked.

Everett’s mother smiled. “But of course. I couldn’t forget our honored guest.”

She retrieved a saucer from the cupboard and presented it to Everett who opened his arms to the floor to let Bastet down before placing the saucer down nearby. He carefully poured some of his own milk into the saucer and sat back into his chair.

“Mr. Collin sent me a letter. He says you are having trouble in math, Everett,” his mother said calmly.

Everett dropped his chin to his chest, looking at the table determinedly. “The numbers just get jumbled up in my head, Mother. I try, but the numbers won’t listen,” Everett said glumly.

“Well, I think we’ll just have to get you extra practice. Mrs. White from next door said her Tommy made flash cards for his math problems. I think we’ll have to do the same.”

“Yes, Mother,” he said softly.

A large ruckus rang out from above as Elise jumped down the stairs, all but sopping wet, but looking marginally cleaner.

“Elise you’re leaving puddles everywhere!” their mother exclaimed.

Elise looked behind her, apparently only just realizing she was wet. “Oh, I didn’t notice, but I wanted to check and make sure Bastet liked her milk. Oh look how hungry she was!”

Elise pointed down to the ground where the invisible bundle of fur was lapping a now empty saucer. Instead, a puddle of milk hovered several inches off the ground where the cat’s stomach would be. Their mother looked down, open-mouthed, then promptly fainted.

The twins looked at each other.

“So, do you think she’ll let us keep her?” Everett asked with a hopeful smile.

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