This is part 2 of the story that had begun in this earlier post.
“The Greasy Cat!”
The spirit child rippled with laughter at the name.
Scrooge’s eyes grew large, and he shook his head to clear it. There could be no doubt. Although it was much smaller than he remembered it, he was seeing the treehouse of his youth. They had called it “The Greasy Cat” after a secret meeting place in The Scarlet Pimpernel. While the name, Le Chat Gris actually meant “The Gray Cat”, that had been beyond his level of French at ten years old. Marley had known that “chat” meant “cat”, and the rest had been a guess.
“But how can it still be standing after all this time?”
The spirit child rippled again.
“It couldn’t be, could it…the house was sold years ago. This whole area is an industrial park now.”
“Not now, silly head,” said the child.
“Of course! This is the past. Oh, the times Jakey and I had up there! The laughter and the secrets. I’d love to see the inside again…but my legs are more rickety than that old board ladder.”
There was no whirlwind, just a whisper…like the too loud hsh-hsh-hsh of small children hiding behind a couch.
Scrooge suddenly found himself inside The Greasy Cat. He thought he would feel claustrophobic, but he didn’t. The room hadn’t gotten bigger…and he didn’t seem smaller. In fact, he didn’t seem to be there at all, and yet, it was all perfectly clear.
The only lighting in the room came from a two-battery flashlight with a cracked lens. If Scrooge needed any more convincing, that would have done it. He remembered reading so many things with that thin black jagged line across the words. They pretended it looked like a Z, and that they could use it like a Zorro signal to call that masked defender of the people. Although there was one night when they would swear they had both heard Tornado’s hooves, Don Diego remained as hidden from them as he had from Sargent Gonzales.
But who was holding the light…
“They seek him here,
They seek him there…”
The boy with the flashlight read on, paying Scrooge no heed.
Suddenly, another child’s voice echoed through the gloom in a lightning crack:
“They seek him in his underwear!”
Both kids exploded in raucous laughter, slapping each other and rolling on the floor.
The older Scrooge smiled. The spirit child became a cloud and whirled around the room, mirroring the boys as they made no attempt to control themselves.
“Oh, I loved that book.”
“Not a book,” said the spirit child sternly.
“Of course it is! That’s The Scarlet Pimpernel! That’s why we named the treehouse the Greasy Cat.”
“Comic…say, that’s right! We were reading the comic books! I remember now. We would get them at Fezziwig’s. We used to ride our bikes down there and sneak the comics back under our shirts. Wouldn’t do to have Dad catch me with a comic, even if it was a classic.”
“Not a real book.”
“They were real to us! Realer than school, realer than anything!”
“Hey, at least we were reading, right? I might not be what I am today without those comic books.”
The spirit child flew at Scrooge, and for a moment all he could see was a wall of white.
He blinked his eyes and found himself back in his office.
He jumped when a figure suddenly entered the room.
“Hey, Unc…I just need to make one more call…gotta follow up on something with one of the kids. You know how kids are, right?”
Scrooge’s nephew turned away, his thumbs flicking on the keys.
Left alone in his office, Scrooge gave the question more consideration than it had been meant to deserve.
It had been a long time since he’d thought about children. Children didn’t buy JMP books. He didn’t have any kids of his own. This company had been his life. When Marley died, he had felt like a single parent. JMP had been theirs…it still was. But he had suddenly had to do it all by himself. They had always divided everything. It wasn’t as simple as good cop/bad cop, or tough love/tenderness. They were both tough, and everybody knew it. They were just tough in different ways. Marley was tough with people…Scrooge was tough with the numbers.
When he’d been left by himself, he didn’t try to copy Marley. He couldn’t, there was no point to it. So, he’d just let that part die along with Jacob.
He missed him now. He’d know kids. He’d known what people…all people wanted.
Didn’t Cratchit have kids? Scrooge thought he did…in fact, he was sure he did. He’d never met Cratchit’s family…not that he could remember.
“I wish I knew more about them.”
A breeze seemed to cause the potted plant in the corner to wave from side to side. But it couldn’t be a breeze: there were no windows, and the air conditioning was off.
The plant continued to move. Scrooge smelled that distinctive plant smell, like walking by a park after a rainy day. The smell terrified Scrooge.
The plant was plastic.
The smell began to fill the room. It reminded Scrooge of a particularly unpleasant trip, when he had gone to Hawaii for a publishing convention. He’d always hated travel…meeting with people had been Marley’s part of the deal. But Marley had been too sick to go…he’d gotten better, that time.
Scrooge coughed and hacked. Why wasn’t his allergy medicine working?
When he could stand again, he saw that the room was covered in ivy, overgrown in leaves. They were still growing…flowers sprouted, tendrils twisted around branches.
A man stepped into the center of the room. At least, “man” was the closest approximation Scrooge’s confused mind could make. Whatever it was, it was part of the jungle that was all that Scrooge could see. He couldn’t see where the man started and the plants stopped.
“Are you the second of the spirits?”
“I am here and now.”
“What will you show me?”
“I am here and now.”
The ivy continued to grow and expand. Scrooge felt it pressing against him, wrapping around him. He struggled. It covered his face. He couldn’t breath! He felt it go through his skin, becoming part of him…or he of it? Scrooge found it hard to think…his mind was stretched, and the thinner it became the less of him was left.
He fought to control it…control was always how he got through things.
To be continued…
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog on December 22, 2009.