Q-Ely wakes up in Shreve Town
A lifeless body stirs at the sound:
Boom. Boom. Boom.
and then slurs in a muddled mumble,
“What is that racket? Is that someone banging at a wall, a door?”
Boom, Boom, Boom!
One eye opens and the mouth says,
“I am face down on the floor. Whose floor? It’s a dark wood floor.” He then takes in a breath. “A smell of cedar…I am home.”
Lifting his head he sees the door and then once again hears
Boom, Boom, Boom.
“Yes, something is banging on the door. Wait…do I have a door?”
Boom, Boom, Boom!
“Well… there it is. The racket itself is blameless; however, I may kill the noise maker.”
Wearing only slacks, he struggles to sit up. Sunshine floods the upper windows, emphasizing how bad he really feels.
“Styx brandy…a bad idea.” Turning so that his back is to the light, he sees a cat. “Hello…and you are?” he says mockingly. The domestic-size grey and blue cat, with a distinctive tiger appearance, cocks its head and stares at him.
“What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?” he laughs as he says it. “I will let you out right after I kill this noise maker. Got a name?” He laughs to himself again and then he looks at the cat and says, “…What do you mean I am not funny?”
The cat blinks, slow and languid, and stretches out his velvet paws, curved white claws catching the grain of the wood. Q-Ely frowns.
”You’re not leaving, really?”
In an excellent approximation of a human shrug, the cat rolls his shoulders and sinks back on his haunches.
“…This is nonsense. I don’t have a cat.”
This time the cat remains motionless, staring up at him with mint-colored eyes. His unbroken gaze clearly says, in a voice sounding more and more like a British schoolteacher: You do now.
“..Hold on! Are you talking? Sir, animals do not speak.”
And in the same voice, conveyed through the minute flick of blue-gray ears and the sweeping arch of his sleek striped tail, the cat says: Then why are you answering me?
“I am not drinking Styx ever again” he says shaking his head. “Oh, you moved in last night? Says who?”
An enormous yawn splits the cat’s furry jaws. Says me.
BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!
“Hold on, let me deal with the itch on the other side of this door and then you can be on your way. What’s your name, anyhow?”
The cat rises and winds his way around Ely’s ankles. You may call me Mr. Cat.
“…Mr. Cat? Bit formal aren’t we?”
Boom, Boom, Boom.
“ALL RIGHT, bang no more you itch!” he yells as he opens the door.
She greets him at the door with a large smile.
“Hello, my name is Veronica Kirk. I am with the S.T. planning commission, are you Mr. Sun?”
Q-Eely’s focus is reduced to a blank stare. Her beauty overwhelms him. She has pale skin with dark red hair worn in a loose ponytail. Her outfit, a one piece black and burgundy, part dress part suit catches his eyes; however it’s the tight fitting Victorian style that holds his attention. He does manage to notice on her right leg is strapped what appears to be some kind of black and silver gun. In her left hand is a tightly wrapped umbrella. Q-Ely cannot bring himself to speak, her presence is too intoxicating.
After several moments Veronica’s blue eyes appear over the rims of her square black sunglasses. “Mr. Sun?”
Coming out of his daze, he remembers how bad he feels and is now aware of the fact that he is only wearing slacks. He isn’t sure his pants are buttoned; nevertheless he is determined not to check. Running his hand through his hair, he says, “Yes I am Q-Ely Sun”.
“Well, Mr. Sun, if you would like to take a moment and put some more clothes –”
“No, no I am fine. What can I do for the planning commission? And if you could be so good as to tell me what S.T. is?”
Veronica chuckles as she looks him up and down. It is then that she realizes he may be serious with his question. Thinking perhaps he is a nutter she leans in a bit, and in a low, pleasant voice she asks, “Are you in need of some kind of special help?”
He thinks for a moment because even though he feels insulted, he is half naked and it seems clear by her response that he isn’t There anymore. ‘Perhaps that is a hasty conclusion, considering I’m suffering a terrible Styx hangover and have only been awake for moments,’ He ponders. He wonders if she may be intellectually challenged and he is still There? ‘Perhaps she is a bit off and needs therapy, which would be terrible considering how attractive she is.’
Suddenly Mr. Cat joins him at the doorway, a small pillar of warmth pressed against his left leg. Looking down at the cat, he crosses his arms, leans on the door seal, and points at the cat.
“This is your cat and you have come to fetch him? Is that why you have been banging on my door so early in the morning?”
Veronica straightens her shoulders.
“Sir, I was not banging…I was knocking, and it’s not morning, it’s well into the afternoon.” Pausing she looks down, deciding that yes, he is definitely a nutter. She says, “What cat?”
Extending his arm, pointing straight down at the cat he says, “This cat.”
Veronica decides that it is best to just accomplish her task and leave before he does something…naked.
“Well Mr. Sun, we really aren’t sure how we missed it all these years. We are willing to pay you more than the going rate. If you will just sign these papers we can conclude the business at hand.”
What was an umbrella is now a waist high black and brass tripod with a small table top and a stack of papers. Veronica extends what appears to be a writing utensil but after the speed in which the umbrella turned tri-pod table, he isn’t so sure.
Q-Ely decides on four goals for the next few moments:
1. Establish if she truly cannot see the cat.
2. Find out where he is because he is now sure that he is no longer where he was.
3. Find out what it is she wished to buy
4. Ask her if she would like to have dinner this evening.
First things first.
“You cannot see this cat?” He points down at the creature, who has taken this moment of human distraction to politely groom his paws.
She decides it is best not to humor him. So she chooses to be blunt. “There is no cat where you’re pointing.”
“You don’t see a cat? And why are you speaking so slowly? Are you in need of help, Ms Kirk?”
No, I see no cat and I don’t need any help.”
“Fine. So what is S.T. and what is it you wish to buy from me?”
Veronica has now decided that this man is playing the part of a nutter in order to throw her off balance.
“Shreve Town…the city in which you live. And we want to buy your property…the house….the land. So, if you will just sign right here the sale will be complete and I will be on my way.”
‘Nope, definitely not There anymore,’ Q-Ely thinks.
“So, do I have to sell? I mean, are armed guards going to come and force me off and out if I don’t?
Veronica responds indignantly, as if the question itself is offensive: “Certainly not!”
“Well. Then I am saying no to selling and I am afraid that’s a permanent no…as in it never changes to a yes.”
“Mr. Sun, please…we have to have your eighty five acres in order to build the new access point.” Her voice trembles with repressed frustration.
Q-Ely decides that now is the best time to address goal number four.
“So…would you like to have a cup of tea, a cup of Joe, a glass of whiskey? Or how ’bout dinner this evening?”
She has the umbrella or table thing in her hand now and is looking very red, and Q-Ely begins to think that he may have jumped the gun on goal number four.
Veronica, on the other hand, is trying her best to retain her composure. This man, who seems to have come from nowhere, yet somehow she knows he’s always been here– this unkempt drunkard is now the only hold out. And he seems entirely immune to her influence and insistent on speaking to her as a familiar, an equal; though she knows she’s never met him before. Or has she? He seems fuzzy and indistinct, yet always here, though she cannot recall a single conversation or even a sighting at the grocery mart. Her head spins, but still she manages:
“Whiskey at this hour! Mr. Sun, It’s clear why you are seeing things. I will try speaking with you again when you are sober. And I have a man in my life, meaning that’s a No to tea, joe, whiskey and food. A permanent no, meaning that it will never change to a yes!”
She turns on her heel and strides down the porch-steps and across the yard towards her transport. The sun coaxes hidden golden sparks from her fiery hair.
She pauses at the edge of the yard and turns back to him.
“Your pants are unbuttoned, Mr. Sun!”
Transport because Q-Ely didn’t know what else to call it. It has three legs and a chasse of black and gold. It has two seats and an odd looking apparatus on its back. There is an elegant looking oblong structure at the top. There is no engine sound; all he hears is the sound of wind….as she floats away.
Q-Ely steps back inside the house, looks down at the cat and says,
“Damn, my pants are unbuttoned. So why is it I am not There anymore? Or more interestingly, why is it that I am now in Henry Harbor?”
The cat rubs its back along the edge of his shin. You know why.
“What do you mean I know why? I don’t know why, and I don’t like your tone, Mr. Cat.”
Q-Ely throws himself into his oversized leather chair. Beginning to feel frustrated, he says to Mr. Cat, “And why is that she could not see you?” There is no reply. Mr. Cat begins bathing himself. “What if she is right and there is no cat? That would mean I am having delusions. Styx could do that to a man.”
Q-Ely sits in silence for a long time, trying to remember names and faces — but he cannot. Only the place There remains. He has a wealth of knowledge in no clear order, like it has been scrambled.
“Mister? What have you done with the road to our tree house?” spoke a young female voice from the entry.
Q-Ely is on his feet so fast he does not remember standing.
“How…who…why…what are you doing in my house? Better yet how did you get in my house? And while you’re answering, go ahead and tell me your names? Because I have a good mind to report you two to the….um, um…well report you!”
Standing in his foyer are two children. The girl is dressed in brown cloth undershirt and a rust colored leather jacket. The jacket comes down to her forearms; the brown undershirt continues to her palms. The boy wears a similar undershirt with an olive-colored vest.
“Mickey let us in, so it’s no trespass. We was let in.” The girl says coolly.
Q-Ely shakes his head.
“Who is Mickey?”
“Blimey! Don’t you know your mates name? Mr. Mickey Cat, he says you ought to keep usin’ his proper name. Not sure he likes you. I’m Jacq and this here is Nate. How is it that your cat speaks?” She crosses her arms and glares at him, as though accusing him of some vile crime against the persistent feline.
“Yeah,” Nate adds, crossing his arms as well.
“Is it some kind of trick? Oh, never mind that. Jus’ who is it you think you are, blocking the path to our wood with your very large house?” Jacq demands.
“Yeah, how did ya do that Mr…uhm…hm…” Nate trails off and scratches his ear, looking to Jacq for support.
“Mickey told us the blokes name is Q-Eely. And you forgot that I’m doin’ the speakin’ Nate…so shut it!”
“You did the speakin last time there was talkin to be done, by rights it’s my turn anyhow.” Nate says angrily.
“And what happen last time you did the speak? Ole Ms Kirk almost turned us over now didn’t she? So it’s like we agreed. I do the speakin when there’s words to be spoke,” Jacq says sternly, her arms dropping from her chest, hands landing on her hips.
“Well I don’t remember agreein’ to that, an’t no reason to bully me though,” he says. Jacq and Nate remember where they are and quickly return to their crossed-arm-grim-faced-staring at Q-Eely.
Q-Ely is somewhat taken aback by his unwelcomed, but apparently invited in guests, his mind retreats from the unpleasant present and mires itself in thought.
‘The events are unfolding swiftly and I’m not sure what direction to go in, but one thing is clear: I’m not There anymore. I am sure that the names and faces of my life (his life) of yesterday are all gone. I am in a foreign place whose local authority thinks they have merely overlooked me and that I own eighty five acres of prime land. A cat that talks is unseen by adults but seen by children and can open doors is now living with me.
And then a very clear thought comes, ringing out over the rest:
They haven’t sent me here for no reason.
‘They’ he thought, ‘Who are ‘they’?
No matter how hard he tries he cannot remember them. He knew they could and would do this to him, the question is why? He is sure that he wants to return home, and it seems reasonable that the path home lies in the answer to the question.
It’s as if time stops as he turns his consideration toward the children.
They are around eleven years old he thinks, if they are a day; dressed in worn clothing, faces and hands dirty, possessing the look of children who don’t eat regularly. Their manner of speech indicates they have had little education. Clearly there is education in S.T., as Miss Kirk spoke in a professionally educated manner. Perhaps there isn’t education for the under classes? The children are in need and at his door. This is where he would begin his search.
Q-Ely has been silent, lost in his thoughts so long that Jacq and Nate are no longer focused on him; they have turned their attention to the simple, elegant beauty of the room they are standing in.To the right of the entry way door is a coat rack and on the left a cane holder with an assortment of items in it. The floor is dark red wood, the walls are red stone and the ceilings are fifteen feet high. Jacq takes note of all the books on all of the multiple bookshelves while Nate is fixed on the huge fireplace to the back of the room. Mickey is sitting in-between the two children looking at Q-Ely with a cocked head and his tail swaying back and forth.
Q-Ely turns to the children saying, “Fancy a hot meal and some sweets?”
It is loud, abrupt, unexpected, and completely startles Jacq and Nate; they look at each other and then back at Q-Eely, eyes wide and shining.
- – -
The kitchen is square. It has a center island used for preparation and eating, with two large sinks, two ovens, two stoves, a large walk in freezer, and a pantry filled with absolutely anything an appetite can imagine. There are three entry ways to the kitchen: one to the formal dining area, one through the side hall way, and one leading to the back side garden area. The kitchen is painted in warm earth tones with a smooth dark brick floor. Q-Ely cooks beef stew and grilled cheese sandwiches for his guests, moving with practiced ease, as though he knows this place, has known it all his life.
Jacq and Nate devour two helpings each before they attack the apple pie, still warm from the oven. Q-Ely and Mr. Cat sit quietly watching the children eat.
“I am really not sure how it is that I have come to Shreve Town. Miss Kirk does not seem surprised to see me and even thinks I own eighty five acres”, Q-Ely says to Jacq.
Jacq looks up and says, around a mouthful of apples and cream, “So you own the woods where our tree house is?”
“I am afraid so.”
Nate and Jacq share another wordless communiqué. Jacq looks down at her plate and considers her words carefully.
“Mister, me and Nate wouldn’t bring no trouble to ya, you’d never knows we is in our…your tree house. We gets work now and again. We could pay…sometimes?”
Q-Ely suddenly realizes why these two children had been so bold as to enter his home and challenge him. Jacq and Nate must be living in the tree house, not playing. He wonders about their parents, but decides not to ask.
“It’s ok with me if you two play in that old tree house,” he says, poking at his own pie. The children both relax, attacking the pie with renewed vigor.
“Do you two know anything about Shreve Town?” Q-Ely asks.
“Only everything!” Nate explodes, ignoring the black look Jacq throws at him.
“How about you come back here tomorrow morning and tell me everything you know about S.T.?”
Jacq lays her fork down, considers her plate, and lifts her eyes to Q-Eely. They are hard at the edges, suspicious; too suspicious for one so young. Something lodges itself in his throat, and Q-Ely says:
“And of course I will feed you breakfast. I think I can even spare soap and water…hot water.”
Nate squirms in his seat, waiting for Jacq to say something. He is not so hard yet, not so jaded. He still trusts with the open heart of a child. Jacq eyes him for a long, silent moment, then turns back to Q-Eely, her face breaking into a smile.
“Mr. Sun, you gotta deal.”