In which an arrest is made and a mystery arises.

“Surrender?” Miss Wiggenbottom muttered to herself. She was a staunch believer in female independence, so ‘surrender’ existed in her vocabulary solely if she ordered someone else to do it. Instead of answering the door, which the policemen seemed to be willing to break down if she didn’t open – which she hadn’t intended to do even for a split second – she gathered her skirts with a speed and agility that would have surprised most people who thought they knew her, and then made for the basement.

She hoped to reach the secret passageway that was hidden behind a large pantry shelf in the cellar, but alas! those pesky policemen were quick and agile as well, and they managed to not only breach the lock on the front door, but also come after her and intercept her before she had time to even reach the bottom step!

That was surprising, as well as suspicious, come to think of it. Were these really ordinary policemen, she wondered to herself, squinting at them as if she were short-sighted, but really to focus on small, giveaway details that might tell her whether they were any other species than human.

Much to her dismay though, she could not detect any of the usual hints at either dryad blood or mist people. No patch of rough, bark-like skin, no greenish tint in eyebrows or beard, no translucent veins or smell of ozone to be detected. And yet.

Something was wrong with these policemen, she knew it. She sensed it, but she couldn’t put her finger on what it was. Where was a detective when you needed one? She was sure that Himself could have solved this riddle for her, easily.

What she did not wonder about, not even for a second, was the fact that she was arrested at all. That, at least, came as no surprise to her.

In which the world goes to hell in a handbasket

Bracing himself for more weirdness, Patches followed his erstwhile master. They stepped outside, into the gleaming sunshine of yet another hot midsummer day. The cat was confused, since he remembered it being closer to autumn only a few hours ago. But if settings and places could change and transform, and cats could be multiplied into vampires, what was a little seasonal mash-up compared to all the other incredible things he had recently witnessed?

When he looked around to take in his new surroundings, he already heard the dread Fontanello cry out in disgust: “What in the name of all that is explosive and sharp-edged is that?”

A brief pause, a grinning vampire baring his fangs, glinting like crazy in the bright sunlight. Wickles and Patches were all but blinded by the kaleidoscope of rays the sparkling version of him was sending off in all directions.

Then Fontanello let out a mean, megalomaniacal laugh. “Is this some ploy to take back fiction? Where are you, ridiculous nephew of mine? Where are you hiding? I can’t see with this disco ball boy throwing around his flashing lights! Oh, wait, I’ll get rid of that stupid abomination! How could you send in something so disgustingly pretty?”

He was obviously angry, maybe even livid.

The vampire sauntered through the underbrush, oblivious to insults and threats, enjoying the lovely patterns his sparkle dappled across the trees. Wickles and Patches watched with bated breath.

Fontanello was heard mumbling words to himself, unintelligible from where they had positioned themselves. Was he swearing or … oh no, was that an incantation? Was he calling his army of gray aliens or worse, faceless shooters? Patches glanced up at Wickles, trying to gauge the man’s reaction. Wickles seemed unfazed.

And then he felt the vibration under his paws, even before he could hear the stomping and marching of a thousand non-human feet. Uh-oh, this didn’t bode well. But Wickles still looked serene. Patches strained his eyes, but it was all light and shadow and the dust raised by the approaching army. He caught a glimpse of the dread Fontanello, who’d taken off his spectacles and was waving them around in his hand, gesticulation for the unseen attackers to hurry up.

And then it happened.

Maybe it was only one glint, reaching the ground at an unfortunate angle, hitting the spectacles in Fontanello’s hand, though that would have been an incredible coincidence. Patches no longer believed in coincidence. But whatever the reason, the grass under Fontanello’s feet caught fire, and because is was a bright midsummer day, and the grass was dry and the earth parched, a conflagration sprang up, quicker than you could say “meow”. Blazing, scorching walls of fire, fanned by a sudden wind, another too- obvious coincidence.

“Get back inside!” Wickles screamed against the crackling noise of the raging fire, and Patches obeyed immediately. They turned and disappeared through the door, Wickles closing it behind them quickly, but unhurriedly.

“Oops,” he said.

Patches squinted his eyes and waited for more.

“My original plan seemed better, but you gotta take what you can get. We’ll let it all burn down and simply erect a new world of fiction.”

In which Wickles first hedges, but then reluctantly reveals his plan.

“Ah, Patches, those are the most pressing questions of them all, aren’t they now?” He paused, giving the put-upon cat a look that seemed to express his concern whether the little thing would be able to bear the weight of knowing the truth. The entire, shocking, unseemly truth.

“So?” Patches insisted, getting more than a little impatient with his ‘master’, who had turned out to be that, and more. Worse? Better? He wasn’t sure yet. It depended on the answers to his questions, which seemed to still hang in the air, like the afterglow of an elaborate firecracker display.

Mr. Wickles heaved a weary sigh and then decided that he had no choice but to reveal the task his small companion would have to fulfil in this war of fiction. “My dear Patches, how would you like it if you … sparkled?” he began.

“Sparkled?” a flabbergasted Patches echoed dumbly. “You mean my coat? You want to make it shiny, is that what you are saying?” He pondered a gleaming, over-groomed coat and reveled in the splendid image that presented itself in his head, before coming to the realization that Wickles hadn’t answered his questions at all. Damn him!

“Okay, stop! Why did you tell me, and what do you want me to do?” he asked sternly, determined not to be sidetracked again.

Another sigh, another hesitant look. Then Wickles said hastily:

“Because I need your permission before I proceed with the next step, and I want you to be the gigantic distraction we need to defeat my uncle, once and for all!”

Patches’ eyes rounded. With this amazed facial expression, he looked more like a goofy doll for a spoiled child than a normal cat. “I’m to become the weapon to win the war? The soldier leading the troops? The invisible cat with the grin and the cryptic lines?”

“No, no, no, don’t mix up the fictional zones now. That role is already taken. In a way, you  will be the spearhead of my martial srategy, yes, but not exactly as a leader of the troops…”

The cat began to weave around and betwen the legs of the man, showing his excitement in no uncertain terms. “Then what am I supposed to do? What will I be? Tell me, come on, tell me!”

Wickles stroked the cat mechanically, because that is what you do when a feline rubs itself against your legs in an affectionate-looking manner. He hoped Patches was ready.

“So we want to save traditional fantasy, stem the tide of Fontanello’s lizard alien shooters, and make all the different worlds better places again … you understood that part, right?”

“I am not stupid,” the cat warned him, baring his pointy teeth a little.

“Of course not,” Wickles hastened to reassure his friend. “But that’s a nice set of teeth you have … okay, here’s the thing I keep holding back: I want to transform you into a pretty boy vampire, one whose flesh sparkles in the sunlight instead of disintegrating, and then I want you to burst onto the scene to distract everyone from the careful adjustments and nifty surprises I will be preparing in the background. You, my dear Patches, will dazzle them with your perfect teeth and your sullen teenage handsomeness, while I will undo much of what my infernal uncle has erected. You will carry the sparkling man’s burden, to borrow an old phrase, and if all things go as planned, Uncle Fontanello will be blinded not by your gleam, but by his own disgust with a fantasy character like that. What do you say?”

Patches was speechless. He stared up at Mr. Wickles in disbelief. When he found his voice again, he hissed: “That is the most ridiculous thing, and the stupidest plan against faceless shooters I’ve ever heard. If that is all you’ve got, I think I prefer Fontanello’s lizard people.”