We’re all on sabbatical with half preparing for GISHWHES
Patches blinked and found himself pushed into his own coat closet by his companions. Decca was peering beneath the door and offering commentary, “Beauty, you shoulda been on stage, your performance is impeccable! Boy’s not too bad either. Nothing on you, of course, my sweet.”
Eugenia preened, “You say the darlingest things!”
Patches hushed the two of them and pushed his ear against the wall. There was the sound of a scuffle, liquid being poured, the strike of a match, and (finally) the slam of a door. He burst from the closet, quickly extinguishing the wastebasket fire that he, that is to say his prior self, had started. Meanwhile, Decca and Eugenia untangled prior-Eugenia from the rope prior-Patches had used to bind her.
Now-Eugenia grasped prior-Eugenia’s hands, “Dear, I’m sorry, but you simply must be burned now.”
Prior-Eugenia sighed, “Timeline?”
“Well, in about an hour you need to be charred and munching on two dreadful men. Don’t worry, they’re actually quite tasty.”
“Needs must, I suppose.”
The two Eugenia’s exited stage left, pursued by a tortoise.
Patches’ erstwhile master sat up with a sigh.
“You were always the fool, how could you be the mastermind?!?”
Dustin pulled himself up, “Well, I suppose Dustin is rather the fool, but the wonderful thing is that everyone knows he’s harmless.” With that ‘Dustin’ pulled off his head…which was actually a mask.
“Mr. … Mr. Wickles?!? You’re the mastermind?”
“But you’re harmless, why would you disguise yourself as Dustin?”
“You think of me harmless, but there are many who observe at deeper level and they, they know. My power is a quiet one, but it can move mountains if necessary.”
“But you’re the librarian!!”
“What greater power than books?”
“You dressed up as a ghostly knight to scare some silly teens.”
A disgruntled look settled on Mr. Wickles’ face, “Meddling kids. Just can’t mind their business.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
A sigh huffed out, “Look, the kids were interfering with something very important that could have left them very dead. Not just dead, very dead. Scaring them off was to save their lives. Now could we perhaps focus on the problem at hand? Why’ve you travelled back?”
“I though you had power…”
Mr. Wickles’ glared and his voice rose, “Why should I waste power when you could just tell me?!?”
Patches took a startled step back, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’ll explain!”
“Just tell me why Eugenia brought you back, and brought you here.”
“Decca and I were somehow swept away from a bloody fae battle to a cavern where Fontanello-”
“FONTANELLO?!?” Mr. Wickles’ face turned a rather frightening shade of magenta, “FONTANELLO TOOK YOU?!?”
“Well, I-I’m not quite sure if he took us, we were swept up in a shipment of shaving cream apparently.”
“Yes, yes, there was this rather manic little fae named-”
Wickles’ interrupted with a sigh, “Finnegan. My little brother will never cease his japes.”
Patches fixed Eugenia with a patient glare, and in clipped,pained, syllables said simply “That’s a candle, Eugenia. Fontanello is a being of unspeakable evil. This is not a situation where mood lighting will help!”
“Says the adorable kitty who transforms into a world-renowned gentleman burglar? Calm your britches, ducky.”
Spluttering, Patches had nothing to say to that, which left Decca and Eugenia bonding through shared laughter.
“You don’t ‘alf make a pretty picture, mate!”
Trying and failing to recapture at least a little sangfroid, Patches asked what precisely the candle did in a more respectful tone.
“Why, you silly boy! It rewrites history, to a certain extent. Its range only reaches back two weeks, of course – it’s a candle, not a miracle worker – and those standing within its glow retain their memories of the original timeline – which is lucky, because if I thought that I suddenly wouldn’t remember meeting your charming friend Mr. Decca, I wouldn’t let you use it. What makes the situation even more delicious – Fonty gave it to me before I ended things. And I’m certainly glad, now, that I did.” Eugenia simpered at Decca, pursing her lips in a way that she thought was coquettish, but came off more grotesque. Decca made alarmingly cute little love snaps back, but Patches interrupted the scene before things could get too twee.
“That’s very generous, Eugenia, but I fail to see how resetting events would help with the Fontanello situation. Even if it allows us to escape this island, he’ll still be out there – it’s only a matter of time before we all run afoul of him again!”
Visibly annoyed, Eugenia stopped flirting long enough to snap “You really haven’t figured it out?” An irritated sigh as she set Decca down, then she stood and looked Patches directly in the eye. With clenched fists, she began to explain. “Look, darling. Angeline. Fontanello. Mr. Johnson. Even that mad surgeon – even your erstwhile master. They’re all tied up in this together. Did you think that running from peril to peril like this wasn’t planned? There’s a much bigger plot going on, and we’re all merely pieces on the board. I’m supposed to be looking after you – and I assume you have similar duties, don’t you, turtledove?” This last was to Decca, who grinned.
“That’s right, heartsblood.”
“Fontanello is pulling the strings for the opposite team, Mr. P, and we’ve been keeping you in the dark about our own side – it’s part of the plan, you know. But at this point, I really think we ought to clue you in to what’s going on.”
With a flicker of his customary smugness, Patches protested – “None of this makes a damned lick of sense.”
“Language, mate!” snarled Decca. “And ‘ave a bit o’ respect fer the lady! Carry on, my dear.”
Eugenia lit the candle, then offered it to Patches. “Make a wish, Mr. P, go on.”
A flicker of colored lights and other assorted special effects – and they were in Patches’ own front hallway, minutes where Dustin, Patches’ former master, and Eugenia herself stood. Eugenia – the Eugenia who had just traveled from the future – winked at the Eugenia who was daintily wiping blood from her lip. “Trouble?” Past-Eugenia asked sharply, ” It was bad enough for you to use the candle, dear? You know we don’t have that much of it left.”
“Absolutely,” her future incarnation replied. “We don’t have much time before Patches – your Patches – gets back with that steak for you. When he does, attack the boy – Sorry, Master, you’ll need to fake your death – and wait for Past-Patches to run. Mr. P,” turning to the present – future? – version of the feline “In a few short minutes, you should have a better idea of what’s been going on.”
Patches fumbled for an explanation. “A pokemon is…well…you know, a pokemon.“
“No, dear, I’m sure I don’t,” Eugenia said, pursing her lips in reproach. “Honestly, I don’t know where you come up with your far-fetched ideas.”
No further explanation seemed necessary though, as the pokemon-like creature lifted up in flight, stretching out wings that must have been concealed behind. It soared over the sea below, and swooped toward them. As it neared them, Patches saw it also carried a small chest in its clutches.
It landed on its feet right in front of them, and Patches saw that the trunk was ornately decorated with pearls and copper inlay. However, this did not distract from the redolent odor of orange blossoms that pervaded the creature.
“Ah, dear, just in time. Patches, darling Decca, please meet Farahellon, my personal carrier.”
Farahellon chirped out a squeaky greeting that didn’t resemble any of Patches’ known languages.
“Carrier?” Patches asked, thoroughly confused.
“Of course, darling, doesn’t everyone have someone to carry their valuables? Can’t be too careful, especially in a world full of Fontanellos and,” she shot Patches a pointed look, “other rascals.”
As Patches marveled that Eugenia seemed to have a creature simply for the purpose of carrying whatever valuables she may own, Decca gave a greeting. ” ‘Allo, mate.”
Not wanting to appear churlish, Patches echoed a mumbled greeting, and Eugenia reached for the chest. “Thank you, my sweetest gem. Would you be a doll and stick around?”
Farahellon nodded exuberantly, and stood straight as a sentry awaiting instruction.
Eugenia rifled through the chest, at which Patches sidled over to get a better look. A coarse rope of no apparent value appeared, as well as a tattered pamphlet written in a Cyrillic language, but Eugenia swiftly pulled out what she needed and closed the lid, locking it with a dexterity that surprised Patches.
“This should do the trick,” she said triumphantly, holding up a…was that a taper?
He blinked. “Um, Eugenia. How in heavens name is that supposed to help us?”
She nodded at Farahellon, who snatched up the chest and leapt from the ground. Within the space of 30 seconds, he became no more than a speck on the horizon. Patches dearly would have loved to know what else was in that chest, but really, only one problem at a time could command his attention.
Eugenia’s lips spread into a closed-mouthed grin, from which fangs slid neatly. “Well, dearest, to combat Fontanello, we need to fight fire with fire, don’t we?”
Have you ever seen a vampiress in a polka dot bikini? It is a sight to behold. Patches blinked and stumbled to a halt.
“Wot, mate?” Decca craned to see, but the angle was not great from the waistcoat, “Why’d we stop then?”
Eugenia wiggled her fingers coyly, “Yoohoo! Patches!”
The cat sighed and trudged forward, “Eugenia.”
“What is wrong with your waistcoat? It’s all,” her hand waved vaguely, “lumpy.”
“Eugenia, Decca. Decca, Eugenia,” with that he withdrew the rogueish reptile and set him atop the sand. He sent a worried glance over his shoulder, then surveyed the surrounding terrain. Aside from the dark, brooding stones they’d stumbled from, everything else seemed very…tropical. White sandy beaches, sunlit blue sky, equally blue sea, palm trees…Really, in his current state it was enough to make him disgusted. The terrain should reflect his mood and day, not be so blasted cheery. He turned back to the veiled vampiress and was met with such a sight.
Decca had ducked beneath the veiling and held one of Eugenia’s hands in his claw. He appeared to be declaiming, while Eugenia held a hand against her heart and fluttered her lashes flirtatiously. And…had the turtle just kissed her hand? Patches swatted a fly away from his face and stepped forward, clearing his throat and looking away.
“Oh, Patches, wherever did you meet this charming soul? He has the heart of a poet and the tongue of a rascal!”
Patches found himself momentarily speechless as Decca glanced back at him, made eye contact, and winked. “Ah, well, Decca and I only met a short while ago, and…”
“Aye, we met in unusual and unfortunate circumstances, but we are fast becoming the closest of mates. Those of us who are…less usual…really need to stick together.”
“I hate to interrupt the clearly delightful conversation you two are having,” Patches interjected, “But if we want to live more than a few hours, we really must be on our way.” He attempted a charming smile, but it wasn’t very succesful.
“Oh, my. That sounds ominous. What trouble are you two darling boys in?” Eugenia’s voice seemed truly concerned, but Patches was inclined to chalk that one up to Decca’s inexplicable impact on her.
“Well, my dove, it seems-” Decca started what sounded to be a flowery speech, but Patches had no time for it.
Eugenia pouted, “Oh don’t tell me he’s put one of his deplorable tunnels onto my favourite beach.”
“It appears so.”
“Well,” she pulled an odd tube out of a basket that sat next to her, “It really is the tackiest to encounter an ex just when you’ve met a charming new gentleman.” She blew into the tube, causing both Decca and Patches to wince, “Oh, I am sorry boys, I’d forgotten.” She gracefully held a hand over her eyes and peered into the distance.
Patches craned to see what she was looking for. A short ways away he saw a cliff and… “Is that a pokemon…leaping off a cliff?!?”
“What’s a pokemon, dear?”
The game was up, and Patches knew it. His head hung limp, secure in the knowledge of his fate; there was no use in further struggle. The whole struggle, all of that effort, was an exercise in wasted time and agony; he had no right to call himself a burglar, cat or otherwise.
“Oi! C’mon, mate, what’s the plan, then?”
Patches didn’t answer. Patches didn’t have a plan apart, perhaps, from laying down to die. His past had caught up with him in the form of Count Fontanello, and there was not a damned thing to be done about it. Patches declined to answer. A scaly head butted against his well-tailored shoe, relentless. “Done feeling sorry for yerself? No? I can wait while ‘is Terrifyin’ Lordship gets ‘is strength up and saunters our way. Go on, have a blub, you’ll feel better, lad.”
Patches sneered, spurred into a proper snit, stalked towards the apparent exit, every inch of his modest frame frosted with icy dignity. Decca kept close to his heels, desperate to see through the frothy blizzard, glad he’d been able to prick the prick out of shock or whatever it had been. They were just about to make a clean getaway, when the light subtly altered. There was a flicker in front of them; the air took on a skewed quality. Just as quickly, the discrepancy resolved itself; the Count stood before them, blocking their way.
“COME NOW, OLD BOY – SURELY YOU DIDN’T THINK YOU COULD SLIP OUT WITHOUT SAYING HELLO TO AN OLD FRIEND?”
Patches couldn’t even manage a stammer, let alone a real response. His despair came rushing back; he was tired, he was lost, he was scared, and his only backup was a saucy turtle – there was no way that he could save himself, so why bother with the clever repartee?
And that’s when Decca, the bloody turtle, launched himself snapper-first towards the Count. Patches might have been of two minds regarding his companion, but such selfless sacrifice – against his oldest foe! – well, Patches couldn’t let the poor chap die alone. Retreating to his feline form without a word, he launched himself towards Fontanello’s eyes.
As the two diminutive animals reached their lordly target, naturally he dissolved into dark smoke. Naturally he reformed behind them in a burst of flame, waiting for them to engage. Patches shifted back, with a slight effort – he wasn’t as young as he used to be – picked Decca up, and tucking him neatly into his waistcoat, began running for the now unguarded exit.
“Wot the ‘ell’d you do that for?”
“Discretion, valour, and all that,” Patches wheezed. It was only a slim hope, but when they broke into sunlight, Patches could’ve cried. They were safe from the Fontanello – at least for a few hours.
And that’s when he spotted Eugenia, lounging on the beach beneath a UV-Repellant veil.
Patches cringed at the voice he hadn’t heard in decades, and quite frankly, had hoped he would never hear again. It was not a voice one would ever forget. Ordinarily cool under pressure, he glanced around frantically trying to locate the body behind the voice and get his bearing before it was too late.
Mr. Johnson’s predecessor had the deep basso that operatic singers coveted, even envied, and it reverberated through the cavern with quaking familiarity.
“INDEED, THEY ARE QUITE CLOSE.”
His name was Count Fontanello, and he had run the city’s premiere underground ring for as long as Patches could remember. One day, he simply vanished, and it had been speculated that he was behind every unsolved crime in the world. The entire world.
Including one that could possibly mean the end of Patches.
The cat whispered nearly silently to Decca, “Not a sound.”
Decca nodded, his eyes round with fear.
“Stay here,” he mouthed.
He jumped to an outcropping with characteristic feline grace, grateful to be deep in the shadows. From here, he could see the Count, an outline silhouetted in the dim light: familiar broad shoulders, sweep of the trademark cape, top hat, lengthy tail. Patches suppressed a shudder at the memory of that tail and how it had nearly contributed to his end.
He also knew that the Count’s excessive volume was a show, meant to flush them out. Patches had worked with him for too long to know better. The Count could hum quietly if he really needed to.
Finnegan had ceased his babbling at the Count’s first appearance, but now he resumed calling out, his cries taking on a desperate, shrill manner.
“CEASE! OR I WILL END YOU.”
The tail curved outward, and Patches, knowing what would probably come next, leapt noiselessly out of sight. He didn’t want to try reason with the Count – or really even speak with him again – so he returned to the turtle.
Before he could instruct Decca on how to proceed, the thunderous voice hummed menacingly below, presumably instructing Finnegan on how to proceed. There wouldn’t be much time now. The Count knew things.
“Hold on!” Patches hissed, swinging Decca on his back. He nimbly climbed, searching for the way out that had to be there.
Just then, an explosion of shaving cream burst forth, coating everything. Everything. As if the entire cache had detonated.
As Patches wiped it from his face, the light reflected off the creamy white, and he saw it – a place where the cream had waffled. A way out.
Unfortunately, a voice from below boomed.
“SEE, I TOLD YOU YOU’D FIND THEM FOR ME.”