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Old September 16th, 2012, 01:10 PM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Ave, all! It is I, Leclerc the Cutlerine! And, returning to my habitual silliness because I'm terminally silly and can no longer deny it, I bring you all another offering of words and points, an unlikely collocation of letters, the fifth of my adaptations of the main series games and another story that I rate 15 for swearing and potential darkness:

Crack'd
or
How the Love of Seafood Saved Unova



Chapter One: Shopping with the Reaper

When I found an Unovan wildcat sitting by the bins outside the Rochehilde Centre, I wasn't particularly surprised. Black City had been built abruptly right in the middle of the Grimveldt Forest, and the local wildlife had quickly discovered that trash was a lot easier to come by than prey. Consequently, there must have been hundreds of wildcats all over the city, seeking out scraps of meat wherever they could find them – I saw them every day, sleek ripples of black and grey, a little larger than normal cats and much, much fiercer. They were nothing special, and like I said, I wasn't surprised to see one.

But I was surprised when it started talking.

“Hi,” said the wildcat, springing fluidly to its feet and pacing over to me. “Do you have a minute?”

I stopped. I stared. I gaped.

“Thanks,” the cat went on. “Um, quick question: do you know anything about people transforming randomly into cats?”

“You're a talking cat,” I said.

“Uh, yeah,” agreed the cat. “That's good. Stay with me. You're doing better than the last man I talked to – he ran away.”

“A talking cat.”

“Uh huh. We've established that. Do you know why I might be a talking cat? I mean, I'm sure I wasn't a cat before I fell unconscious, but I don't remember what I actually was. In fact, I don't remember very much at all from before this morning.”

“A talking cat.”

“Oh, you're one of those ones,” sighed the cat, arching its – or rather her, since its voice was unmistakably female – back. “So boring and close-minded. You see one talking cat and you go mental.” She turned and started to stalk back over to the bins. “Never mind. I'll wait for the next guy.”

I watched her for a moment, then blinked hard. Nope. Still there.

And yet she couldn't be real. There was no such thing as a talking wildcat.

“OK,” I muttered, walking on by. “You're just going a little bit crazy, Jared. Nothing to worry about. Just keep walking and hope for the best.

“Hey!”

I didn't stop. I didn't want to acknowledge the existence of the person talking.

“Hey, I'm real, just so you know! At least as real as you are!”

“I can't hear you,” I muttered, and thought hard about the weather, trying to crush strangeness with banality. The street was deserted; no one wanted to be out and about on a day like this, when the clouds glowered darkly overhead and the wind cut through you like an icy knife. Right now it wasn't raining, but I was willing to bet it was only a lull between two showers—

“Maybe even more real than you!”

I stopped and ground my teeth.

“Leave me alone!” I snapped, without turning around. “You said you'd wait for someone else!”

“There isn't anyone else,” replied the cat pragmatically. “And I'm cold and I want to use your house to sleep in.”

At this juncture, I felt it prudent to plead with the gods. It wasn't that I believed in them, more that I was getting increasingly desperate for a way out of this insanity to present itself.

“Please,” I begged the sky, “please end this madness!”

“Madness? You ain't seen nothin' yet. Let me come with you and we'll talk!”

I reached for my earphones, stuck them firmly in my ears and turned the volume on my iPod all the way up. I was not going to listen to a talking cat. I had a mammoth task ahead of me and not much time to do it, and there was no way that I was going to let some damn hallucination distract me.

I stalked down the road, blocking out all noise but the music; I didn't know if the cat was still following me, but I sincerely hoped it wasn't.
Something sharp pricked my calf, and I looked down, yelping in pain.

The wildcat looked back. It did say something, but it was lost in the blare of the music. Shaking the cat off, I continued on my way. There was only an hour and a half until Regenschein's closed, and it was still twenty minutes away.

So the walk continued: me steadfastly ignoring her; she keeping up with equal determination. It started raining again, and I thought she might leave to seek shelter – but no. She stayed, the rain matting her fur and plastering it across her body, turning her into the very image of abandonment and sadness.

I stopped at the corner of the next street, beneath a shopfront canopy, and sighed. Taking out my earphones, I asked:

“Are you trying to look as pathetic as possible to gain my sympathy?”

“That was the idea, yeah. Is it working?”

“No,” I said shortly. “It isn't.”

I shoved my earphones back in, and kept walking. I mean, the very fact that the wildcat was trying such a trick was proof of its untrustworthy nature, and living in the city you tend to suspect the worst of strangers – especially if they're talking cats, and possibly hallucinations to boot.

Actually, I wasn't so sure about that last bit now. She was getting drenched and leaving pawprints on the wet pavement, and unless my imagination was paying incredible attention to detail, that was probably a sign that she was in some way real. But I wasn't ready to accept that yet; after all, she was a talking cat. That's not exactly the sort of thing that's... well, that's possible.

As I drew nearer to Regenschein's, I saw a few more people on the streets; some limped or held arms at odd angles, and those I knew were the ones on their way back. I scanned their bags carefully: bulky, most of them – they’d managed to get stuff then. Others weren't so lucky – they were just as battered, but had come away empty-handed. It was going to be a bleak day for them tomorrow.

There were a few people on their way there, too, and that was about it: the day before Eostre was traditionally a holiday, and only those who needed to went out today. Even Black City stopped for Eostre, despite it all; everyone liked an excuse to shelter from the harsh weather and get drunk by the fire. It was a timeless joy that transcended even the rapid modernisation of the last century.

Then at last the great marble façade appeared, complete with an elegant tower that bore its own clock: Regenschein's, Black City's premier department store, and the last place to sell out in the Eostre present shopping frenzy owing to its vast quantity of stock and high prices. Here came the desperate folk who had left it too late to buy presents elsewhere, those who suddenly remembered a person they'd forgotten to buy for before, the people who, in spite of all the warnings that places were selling out, continued to blithely tell themselves that they'd be able to get something nearer the time – in short, people like me, Jared Black, who were universally regarded as terminally disorganised.

“Ooh, you're going shopping?” asked the cat as I pulled out my earphones and wound them around my iPod. “I love that sh*t! Can I come with you?”

I started. A talking cat was one thing – a swearing talking cat was quite another. It gave her a kind of earthy reality, a concrete solidity, that placed her firmly in the real world. Only that, of course, wasn't possible.

“No,” I said at last. “I don't think they let cats inside.”

“Huh. That's pretty racist of them.”

“No, it's just that it's a classy place.”

“That's pretty racist of you.” The cat twitched her nose. “What're you buying, then?”

“Presents. Now go and bother someone else – look, there're loads of people around here.”

There were as well. I was getting a bit worried that someone would see me talking to a cat and decide I was a lunatic.

“Oh no. I've decided on you now, and you don't get a say in it. I'm a very determined girl.”

“You're not a girl. You're a cat.”

“Well. I was a girl. Before I was a cat. I think.” The wildcat paused. “I could've been a boy that both changed species and sex, I guess, but that'd be weird.”

I did not dignify that with an answer. A talking cat was already pretty bloody weird, thank you very much, and I saw no reason to waste my breath pointing it out.

“I'm going to wait here, if I can't come in,” said the cat, sitting down in the shelter of a doorway. “See you when you get back!”

“Not if I can help it,” I muttered under my breath. I'd leave from one of the other entrances, and go home and away from this madness as quickly as possible.

I narrowed my eyes, thrust my iPod deep into my pocket, where it probably wouldn't break, and tightened my grip on the metal pipe I'd brought with me. Five years of shopping for gifts far too late had taught me a thing or two about late buying tactics.

Regenschein's was ordinarily an elegant place, Black City's Harrods; it rose like a slim pillar of pale ice from the surrounding area, setting itself apart with a small, tasteful sign that gave its name, and with the burly doorman who scowled at those who looked poor when they went in, and smiled at those who looked rich.

Now, though, it was a war zone.

I'm not normally a violent guy – and neither are any of the other people who shop at Regenschein's the day before Eostre. But when you're in a situation like that, you have to do whatever you can to survive. The usual rules of human decency went out of the window at times like this; there was an unspoken agreement that no one was to blame for what went on during the brawl, and that the police were never to be involved.

I passed the doorman, who had donned his riot helmet and shield for the occasion; he nodded at the length of pipe I was carrying and said:

“You might want something a bit more threatening than that.”

“Bad year?” I asked.

He sucked in a long breath through his teeth.

“Worst I've seen for a while.”

“I was here in '08.”

The 2008 Eostre sale at Regenschein's had been the bloodiest in recent history; it had been a miracle that the store had been repairable, let alone that I'd managed to escape unscathed. The doorman, suitably impressed, said no more, and opened the doors for me. Immediately, a shoe that may or may not have still had a foot in it sailed out, heading directly for my head, and he blocked it expertly with his riot shield.

“Careful in there,” he said grimly, and after exchanging with me the nod of old soldiers, he shut the door after me.

As soon as I entered, I was sucked into a massive storm of sound and fury; knowing that it signified nothing, I didn't allow myself to be distracted by it, and instead took in my immediate surroundings at a glance. Someone fell over heavily right behind me, and a display case toppled over a little way ahead; immediately, it was covered with scavenging shoppers, like piranhas converging on a corpse in the water. To my left, two old ladies were duelling with walking sticks over a silver candelabrum; to my right, a man hung from a light fixture, desperately clutching his hard-won remote-controlled aeroplane as competitors leaped and swung at his heels. All around them were more fights, and around them were even more, and around them were still more; without stopping to think about the danger of everything, I plunged straight into the fray and headed towards the main display rooms.

Mum, Harlow, Cordelia, Anastasia, I thought, deflecting the first blow – a porcelain table-lamp swung by a middle-aged woman – with the haft of the pipe. Four people, four presents. Go! The lamp shattered, and the woman, vaguely surprised, followed it up with a baseball bat; I had experience of people who used these, and, knowing that she had no room to swing it properly, ducked under it and rammed her aside with the side of the pipe. She disappeared into the crowd with a despairing wail, and I forced my way past a man defending a ten-kilo sack of pet food to get to the fallen display-case.

Unfortunately, there was nothing left on it except a china shepherdess of such exquisite ugliness that even now no one wanted it, so I jumped over the wreckage and headed for the lifts. The fifth floor would have toys, if any were still left – so maybe I could find something there for Harlow.

The twenty feet to the lift was a difficult journey; at least three people lunged for me through the hubbub, thinking that maybe I had something on me. I beat two of them back with the pipe, and the last one, seeing that I had no items yet, gibbered at me like a savage in an old movie before retreating into the mob.

There was one final knot of four people at the lift doors, each intent on getting in as soon as it arrived; knowing what was to happen, I stepped back as the doors opened, and watched as about nine people flooded out, sweeping my four competitors away with them. Somewhat smugly, I slid alone into the lift and slammed my hand down on the button to close the doors. Someone darted in after me, and then suddenly the noise and confusion was cut off and replaced with mild music as the lift began to rise.

I leaned back against the wall, breathing heavily, and looked left at the other person who'd got in. He was tall and gaunt, and his clothes ripped and bloody in places; he looked like he'd been living rough in the jungle for about five years. The way he leaned on the handrail suggested that something had happened to his leg – but he was clutching a 1000-piece jigsaw victoriously to his chest. Those were a favourite of the elderly – he was lucky to have got away with both it and his life. Most people would only have managed one or the other.

“Been here half an hour,” he wheezed, seeing me looking. “Like a madhouse here, it really is.” His breath came in ragged gasps; if it hadn't been for the fact that he was wearing a suit, however rumpled it might be, I might have mistaken him for a soldier halfway through dying on the battlefield. “It's killing me.”

“You did well to get a jigsaw,” I observed. “The elderly usually grab those.”

“Don't I know it,” he replied, wiping a curious mixture of blood and sweat from his eyes. “Let me tell you, a Zimmer frame makes a surprisingly effective close-quarters weapon.” He paused. “Going to the toy floor?”

“Yeah, I need something for my little brother.”

“I'm going there too, for my niece.” He looked at me. “Alliance?”

I agreed; two people stood a far better chance of surviving the chaos than one alone, and of getting hold of what they wanted. We shook on it, just as the lift pinged to a halt, and the doors slid open.

Immediately, we both leaped into action; I went first, knocking two warring parents out of the way so my injured compatriot could get past.

“Over there!” he cried, pointing. “Lego!”

I looked, and saw them too: two or three large, flat boxes on a shelf three aisles away. It was a miracle no one had taken them already – Lego was about as popular an Eostre gift as you could find – and so we threw ourselves towards them at once, driving like icebreakers through a sea of bodies. Someone punched me in the eye; another trod heavily on my foot. A third person made a grab at the thin man's jigsaw, but I fended her off with the end of the pipe and sent her crashing through a fight over a cuddly Blitzle.

I flung myself through a gap, and hauled my friend after me; now, there were just a couple of people between us and the Lego...

WHAM!

I reeled back a step, head spinning; out of the corner of my eye, I saw something blurry heading straight for my face, and ducked instinctively. I heard someone squeal and saw my attacker overbalance and tumble over me; recovering my senses, I jumped back up just in time to see the aggressor was a little grey-haired lady who was even now in the process of stuffing the bricks back into her handbag.

As soon as she saw I was moving again, she took another swing at me. Desperately trying not to kill her – she was quite old and looked a bit fragile – I prodded her gently with the pole. This proved to be a mistake: the brick-bag connected squarely with my chest and, if the arm whirling it had been twenty years younger, I'd probably have snapped a rib. As it was, it just hurt. A lot.

I fell to the floor, winded, and looked up to see the old lady readying herself for the final blow—

—only for the thin man to tackle her, catching her full in the side and throwing her back into the crowd.

“Get up!” he cried. “Come on!”

“Yuh,” I gasped in response, and struggled upright. We had just got moving again when the old lady, with a bruise on her forehead and fire in her eyes, sprang up before us and whacked me with her bag again.

I saw it first!” she screeched, her voice resounding like the cry of some avenging harpy. From nowhere, a group of elderly people materialised around her, each brandishing their own weapons and looking as if they were about to murder us.

Move!” yelled the thin man, shoving me past. The next thing I knew, I'd turned and saw him at the centre of a ring of old folks, their eyes all fixed hungrily on his jigsaw.

“Come on!” I cried back. “Push on!”

One of the old people lashed out at him with a walking stick; he ducked it, put the jigsaw inside his coat and drew out what appeared to be a rapier from his pocket.

“Go on without me!” he replied, parrying a second blow and slashing at an old woman's snatching hand. “I'll keep them busy!”

“But your niece—!”

“She has parents – they can buy her presents.” His blade was a blur, flickering from point to point around the circle as the encircling elderly attacked. “Go!”

“But—”

“Go!”

He turned to look at me, and it was that momentary lapse of concentration that was his undoing. Someone released a Jack-in-the-box from a shelf into his hand; the Jack's pointy hat jabbed his thumb and he dropped his sword with a yelp. A moment later, he was just a face between the clawing hands of the old people, screaming wildly; a few seconds later, he had vanished entirely in a swell of cardigans and wrinkled skin.

No!”

I lashed out at the nearest old person with my pipe, but I was shoved aside; I was no match for five of them at once. There was nothing more I could do, and if I stood still I would be crushed – so I left the thin man and ran for the Lego.

As I got close, I noticed a man on his hands and knees, searching for something on the bottom shelf; I stepped onto his back and jumped off without breaking stride, crashing into the top of the shelves where the Lego was and snatching up the boxes mid-leap. Toys, pieces of wood and one teenager with an armful of Lego rained down on the unfortunates on the other side of the shelf; thankfully, I landed on a fat man's belly, bounced off and kept running. One woman watched me open-mouthed, and shouted in a high, keening wail:

“He's got Lego!”

Immediately, every eye locked onto me; I swore under my breath and shoulder-barged another shelf, knocking it over and clearing a path for the next five yards. Then it was back into the fray, only this time everyone was focusing their efforts specifically against me. I gave as good as I got, and when I decided I could take no more I started throwing Lego sets behind me. Each one would distract my pursuers for just long enough for me to get another foot ahead, and soon I could see the little brown door that meant salvation; I fought as close to it as I could, dumped all but one of the Lego sets and flung myself through just as the entire crowd piled onto the heap of Danish construction toys, crushing them entirely. If I'd been caught up in it, I would almost certainly have broken something, or possibly everything.

Here on the other side of the door, though, all was quiet. The shelves were perfectly straight and ordered; there were a few people wandering around and browsing, apparently completely unaware of the chaos reigning outside. This was the book department, and since very few people read books in Black City, very few people gave them as Eostre gifts – hence the calm and peace.

I leaned against the wall for a few moments, breathing hard and trying not to think about what fate might have befallen the thin man, and then set off in search of Cordelia's present.

“What did she want?” I muttered, settling the pipe in a comfortable position over one shoulder and tucking the Lego set more securely under my arm. “Time something?”

I looked up and down the fiction aisles, hoping to jog my memory; I found nothing, so repeated it, and then saw something that I recognised as being one of the books Cordelia had said she'd like for Eostre.

My Trip to the End of Time, by Pearl Gideon,” I read from the cover. “Non-fiction? I thought she didn't read that stuff.” It didn't matter; I had two out of four presents, and I headed towards the back stairs, thinking things over. Dad's present was a collective gift from the family, so I only had Mum and Anastasia to provide for now. One of those would be easily placated with a photograph album or a nice picture frame or something – anything vaguely tasteful, really. The other would be harder to please; I knew exactly what she wanted, and it was going to be almost impossible to get.

I hacked and bashed my way downstairs to the third floor, where I stalked and hunted a man in his thirties who I'd seen picking up some scented candles; I ran him to ground in the luxury soft furnishings aisle, wrapped him tightly in an exotic rug and ran off with the candles while he was struggling to get free. On the way, I saw an abandoned shopping basket, and availed myself of it; my hands were getting full, and it was becoming trickier and trickier to effectively wield the pipe.

The next and final stop was the sixth floor, and the prospect of going there made even me, the hardened last-minute shopper, stop and shudder. If all I had been through so far today was a battle, then what lay up there was the apocalypse; the people up there were more fiercely dedicated to what they had come to seek than any others. Their fight began weeks before any others, and ended long after they did. For the sixth floor was where the video games were sold, and so it was where the hardcore gamers congregated, exchanging for a short while Xbox controllers for knives, and computer mice for makeshift maces. In short, I really didn't want to go there – but I had to get Anastasia what she wanted, and so I had no choice.

The stairs leading up there were ominously deserted; from above, I heard a sudden burst of machine-gun fire. I gulped. This wasn't going to be a pretty sight.

I paused at the top of the stairs and peered around the corner. Hell stared back at me: hundreds and hundreds of people, fighting with more fury and less honour than I'd ever seen human beings display before. In the corner, I could see a sort of fortress of broken TVs and games consoles; all around it were nooses of looped extension cable – evidently traps of some kind, because some people were dangling from them by their legs, thrashing and cursing, while others stole their hard-won electronics. This was a whole different situation to the fight downstairs. Those were brawls – this was all-out war.

“OK,” I told myself, trying to stop myself hyperventilating. “It's not so bad.”

At this point, I saw someone drop silently from the ceiling onto the back of someone picking up a dropped game; they bore them away through a trapdoor and vanished from sight.

“OK, it is that bad,” I admitted. “But it won't be too hard. Just one game, yeah? One game... that every other gamer in Black City wants to get their hands on.” I drew in a deep breath, told myself that I would be richly rewarded for doing this, and, filled with a sort of mad desperation, stepped out into the room.

Almost immediately, people began to notice me: who was I? I didn't look like a gamer. What was I doing here?

“Annie, you had better be really f*cking grateful for this,” I muttered, as a group of wild-eyed guys waving razor blades around began to walk towards me.

“What,” began one, bringing his razor rather too close to my face for comfort – but he never finished, owing to the pole I swung into his arm. His friends lunged for me instantly, but I swung the pole left – thwack – and right – crack – and they fell to either side of me like a pair of ragdolls. I rammed the first guy in the chest with my shoulder and knocked him down, then ran past them, heading for the PC section. I snatched my foot away from a trap, ducked a brace of DVDs that sailed overhead like razor discs, and rolled behind the cover of a nearby rack of WiiU controllers; not daring to stop, I jumped up again immediately and ran forwards just as a spear thudded into the floor where I'd been a moment before.

“Jesus!” I cried, glimpsing it out of the corner of my eye. “Who the hell has f*cking spears?”

“You shall not pass!” screamed a nerd who popped up in front of me; I batted him aside and he crashed through a veil of gaming magazines.
“Is everyone here going to make stupid references like – sh*t!”

Another spear passed through the rack of controllers and vanished, right next to my head; I doubled my pace, rounded a corner and cut down the pepper-spray-wielding girl who tried to ambush me there. For a moment, I thought I'd hit Anastasia – but thankfully, it was some random stranger, and I leaped over her as she fell without a second thought.

“Spears!” I yelled again, as another pair of them shot out from behind a rack of Blu-rays and passed either side of me. “Again with the spears!” I ducked under the one in front of me and straightened up to see the counter at the end of the aisle, the clerk protected by toughened glass. He was the one I was after; video games weren't actually kept on display, after all, only their cases. I'd get the game directly from him—

A tall man with bronzed limbs and a bare chest stepped out in front of me. His hair hung around his head like a white curtain, and on his back was a ridiculous quantity of spears.

“Turn back,” he told me.

“What the hell is this?” I asked, not unreasonably.

“If you go on, you will perish.”

I sighed. I guessed there never really was much hope that I'd reach the counter without encountering at least one supreme lunatic.

“Come on, then,” I said resignedly. “Give it—”

A spear hurtled towards my head at alarming speed, and I threw myself flat on my front to dodge it; in a trice, the man had another weapon in hand, and was about to pin me to the floor like a butterfly when I knocked his feet out from under him with a sweeping blow from the pipe. I might have stayed to make a pithy remark, but I wasn't willing to take the risk, so I scrambled to my feet, pushed a rack of PS3 games over onto him to make sure he stayed down, and headed for the counter.

“Hello,” said the clerk brightly. “What can I do for you?”

“Do you have any copies of Bjørn?” I asked.

“Sure,” he replied, and fed one through the slot in the glass. I paid, and left.

“That was easy,” I said to myself, and was immediately set upon by a seriously pissed-off spearman.

---

Two and a half hours later, there was a heap of untidily-wrapped presents under my bed and a load of tiny pieces of tape stuck under my fingernails and on the carpet; I slumped in my chair, exhausted, and flung the roll of tape at the wall. It bounced off and landed with a soft whumph on top of my duvet.

“Take that, presents,” I said. “Defeated for another year.”

The whole lot was done now: gifts, cards, labels – all wrapped, named and hidden from prying eyes. That was one of the advantages of buying them all so late; both of my siblings were adept at finding hidden presents if they had enough time. Harlow was the worst – you can't reason with an eight-year-old if they're stubborn enough, and he was – but Cordelia was pretty bad as well. I think it's because our parents called her Cordelia; if there's any name guaranteed to turn a girl weird, it's Cordelia. I'm ninety per cent sure that there hasn't been a normal Cordelia in the whole history of Western civilisation.

I closed my eyes and leaned back. My whole body ached; I was so bruised that I'd gone the same colour as a Smurf, and my arms and legs stung from a thousand cuts of all sizes from paper cut to sword wound.

“I am never doing that again,” I muttered. I'd said the same thing last year, so I didn't really believe myself – but it had to be said. Regenschein's on the day before Eostre was just too much for mere mortals such as I.

There came a cheeping noise from the shelf, and I opened one eye a crack.

“Oh, you're finally awake, are you?” I asked. “Took you long enough.”

Candy squawked at me and hopped down from the shelf to the bed to investigate the tape and see if it was killable. It wasn't, so she pushed it aside with her beak and turned to look at me.

“What do you want?”

She jumped onto my lap and stared deep into my eyes in that unnerving, unblinking way that only she could manage.

“Food? Didn't I feed you this morning?”

“Skeep,” she chirped, and I sighed.

Fine,” I said, patting my shoulder. “Up.”

Candy climbed up my sleeve and gnawed my ear affectionately; I winced and pushed her heavy beak away.

“I told you not to do that,” I said, getting up and opening the door. “It really, really hurts. Last time I had to have stitches, remember?”

She stared at me innocently. I knew she did remember – whatever my uncle said, she was damn clever – but she'd never let on unless it suited her.

I went downstairs and was just entering the kitchen when the phone rang; I put Candy down on the counter, where she engaged a stray fork in a duel to the death, and answered it.

“Hello?”

“Hiya!”

My blood ran cold. In all the confusion, I'd completely forgotten about her.

“How did you get this number?” I asked in a dry whisper.

“Oh, that's simple,” said the wildcat, laughing. “I stole your phone and searched your contacts.”

“You what?” My hand flew to my pocket, but it was empty; the phone really was gone.

“Call me paranoid, but I had a feeling you were going to try and ditch me.” There was a certain veiled menace in her voice, I thought; I had underestimated her, and I really hoped it didn't end with my throat clawed out. “So I thought I'd have a back-up plan.”

“What – what do you want?”

“Tell me where you live and I'll come and bring your phone back,” she said. “It's starting to get dark and I want to come indoors.”

“Can't we just meet somewhere and—”

“No. I won't give it back unless we meet at your house. And I'll know if it isn't, because your house will smell of you, and cats have a pretty good sense of smell. As I discovered earlier by falling into a dumpster.”

“Fine.” I gave her my address and she hung up. I leaned back against the wall, suddenly feeling even more exhausted than before. “God damn it,” I muttered. “Thieving little...”

There was a sudden squawk from my side, and I looked up to see that Candy had tripped over the fork and fallen over. Now she was grovelling before it and occasionally looking at me to see if I would come and convince it to spare its life.

“You're so damn defeatist,” I told her, taking the fork away and noting with regret that she had put it completely beyond use in the course of the fight. “Here, let's get you something to eat.”

I sighed, and started rummaging in the cupboard for a tin of dog food. It almost definitely wasn't what she would have eaten back when her kind weren't extinct, but it didn't seem to do her any harm – and given that she wouldn't eat anything else except the very largest insects and any confectionery she could get her claws on, it was pretty much all we fed her. If we gave her the choice, she'd probably live exclusively off chocolate and Skittles – hence her name.

I found a tin, opened it and set it on the counter for her. Then I closed my eyes and thought. I might have survived the battle at Regenschein's and got the presents, but I had a literal cat burglar to deal with now – and I had a feeling that things were about to get a whole lot worse.
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For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
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