(A version of my short story, titled “Puss in Boots,” appeared in a 2014 anthology titled “Imagination Reimagined: Not Your Children’s Fairy Tales.”)
My life changed with a blip. Well, that’s how I’d describe it simply. It was really an anomalous light source detected on my well-used PT telescope. I belonged to a group of scientists arguably open-minded enough to actively search for extra-terrestrial life in the universe. We considered ourselves Paleocontact Theorists. Hence, the PT. As my telescope had a pulse-detection system, it showed that the ‘light anomaly’ was heading directly for the bucolic crimson Georgia clay covering most of my backyard! Furthermore, it looked like I didn’t have much time to prepare for it—maybe five minutes top! Hastily, I pushed aside the coffee-stained blueprints I’d drawn to aid me in building my cosplay ‘castle’—from the notes I’d taken from the manga (graphic novel) entitled PRINCESS KOOKLA AND HER BLOODBATHED COURT. It was about a brave princess who, with the help of her devoted prince, defeats an evil ogre—definitely not the stuff of children’s faerie tales and/or mainstream manga/anime, as the arguably over-the-top gore factor made it for adults only.
Unfortunately, I’d run out of time to complete the entire castle, but at least I’d managed to build the front (as a rock-climbing castle wall) which would be able to sustain my weight in the cosplay contest reenactment. Also included in the piles of paper was a flier for the upcoming Diamond City Cosplay Convention in Macon, Georgia—about two hours away from my remote location. I brushed aside more papers—including a design for a special-polymer-soled shoe I planned on perfecting and patenting soon. Only problem was: my polymer concoction itself. It still didn’t stick to surfaces, like rocks, as I had envisioned. So, it still was far from marketable. I was in a hurry to clear off the ‘clutter’, including my well-worn paperback copy of Zecharia Sitchin’s GENESIS REVISITED, as I was sure I’d left a letter-opener—under all those items I was currently working on—somewhere, and, though not much defense, I felt that the letter-opener could function as a makeshift knife on whomever or whatever looked like it was about to touch ground in my backyard. I didn’t need further proof when I heard a reverberating, “Boom!” Then I felt my home shake. It had never done that in the five years I’d lived there, even during really horrific thunderstorms.
I ran down the stairs, rather foolishly, as I had the letter-opener-turned-weapon in my hand, to witness what I could only imagine as the rapacious destruction of my landlord’s backyard! The only obstacle standing between me and the crisp Georgia air of late October was a torn screen door. In my impatience, I could barely baby it with its constant demand of having to be lifted slightly to be opened, as its wooden frame had buckled with age and was especially warped at the bottom. My landlord knew my deplorable financial situation, so he didn’t charge me much rent to begin with and had never raised it over the years, so I wasn’t going to complain to him about little inconveniences. Using my worn-out right running shoe, doctored with both duct tape holding it together and my polymer-formula on its formerly communion-wafer thin soles, I scooted it under the door to prop it up so that I could exit. I scrimped in many areas to enable me to go to cosplay conventions and work on my polymer soles. So what if I didn’t have new shoes or a ‘real’ Princess Kookla to go with my cosplay display? I’d bought a pressboard rendering of her and the ogre. They’d suffice, as the judges would get the idea. Glancing up, as I exited the weathered screen door, I couldn’t even fathom how remotely possible it was that the blip I’d seen on my screen now looked like it was going to crash in my own backyard. Seriously, what were the odds on that?! And, yet, there it was: a grey disc rolling in an erratic stream of red-hot flames about 100 yards out and above. I wasn’t sure if it were fear or excitement mounting, as I headed down the well-worn wooden stairs. The boom I’d heard before must’ve been a sonic boom, as the aircraft was entering our atmosphere.
I was isolated at my country place, but the light and sparks, emitted from whatever was about to land, were blindingly bright. I’m sure anyone paying attention to the night sky within at least a 20 mile radius would have noticed, even though the inky sky was dissipating fast, as the first rays of dawn tore through it. Must’ve been about 5:50 a.m. when the vessel crashed. The grey metallic craft, to be more precise, hit the ground hard. Then it became so deeply lined with gashes infused with crimson Georgia clay, as it slid on its erratic trajectory, that it appeared more ocher-colored. It continued sliding—tilted on its right side—till it was finally stopped by slamming into an ancient oak tree. The majestic tree had weathered many storms in its over two hundred years of life, but the disruptive vessel plowing into it was to be the death of it, as was evidenced by the large gashes, like mortal sword wounds, across the base of its trunk. I was a big believer in honoring Mother Nature, so even the polymer I had fabricated for the soles of my shoes was earth-friendly. I could have already had the soles have the grip I was looking for if I’d been willing to use harmful chemicals, but I was not willing to get ahead at the expense of our Mother Earth. So, I was angry for a second at the pillaging of the grand old tree, even cursing a bit under my breath with, “Damn, man-made technology sometimes sucks.” Till I realized that there was a good chance that the alien-to-me craft may very well not be ‘man-made’.
So, when I saw a door, not unlike the door to my older brother’s Lamborghini Aventador, open and one fashionable-looking-cuffed-over-the- knee-sepia-colored boot emerge, perhaps I wasn’t really that surprised. Perhaps more surprised at the haute-couture fashion. Yet, even my internal dialogue was speechless next, for there, before my very eyes, was a feline of about five feet tall! So, a really tall well-outfitted cat started making his (from how he was dressed) way towards me—actually walking on his back legs! He stepped agilely over the now deeply grooved, by his spaceship, clay with his fine boots. I was handling the whole situation remarkably well, I think, till he waved to me with, “Greetings, Jet, your father’s sent me here to help you.” It was only then that I felt my knees buckle and then my consciousness fade. Fortunately for me, the Georgia clay was still somewhat pliable, as it wasn’t winter yet, so my face and body planted rather softly into it.
I awoke to the sensation of what felt like guitar strings being swept across my face, caused by the enormous cat’s whiskers, and luminous golden eyes staring down at me anxiously. Startled, I sat up as quickly as I could. It dawned on me that it was somewhat humourous that I was going to the cosplay competition as Princess Kookla’s hero: the ‘Marquis of Catanova’, also known as Jetavi Dorngolden. I felt a special kinship with the hero, as my own name was Jet.
The talking cat brought me back to the moment with, “Are you alright?”
“Yes, I guess so,” I began, but before I could say more, we were both startled by a bright light in the sky and a loud boom. So, instead, my next question was, “Sonic boom?” I realized the moment the words escaped my lips just how ludicrous it was that I was actually asking a huge furry feline the question.
So, adding to my new bizarre reality or the psychotic break which I could have just as easily been experiencing, the obviously intelligent cat replied, “Probably, as the craft is most likely travelling faster than the speed of sound, so…”
“Shock waves,” I said, finishing his sentence. I didn’t have time to question how the strange talking cat knew my name or why he’d referenced my deceased father, as the more pressing concern of another UFO about to land not too far away was taking center stage in my mind. Fortunately, the second one wasn’t going to land in my backyard.
Looking at the finely clad feline, for his boots weren’t the only designer feature in his outfit, as he also wore what might be considered pantaloons and a long-sleeved poet’s shirt that billowed where sleeves of that sort should and tapered at his waist thanks to a thick belt he wore, he almost looked like a gentleman pirate—except for the fact he was feline and came from a space ship. I saw with some amazement that he didn’t look surprised at the other flying disc making its way across the sky. Not that I was exactly an expert in reading the facial expressions of a big talking cat, but I didn’t see any of his whiskers twitching or anything like that, so I took it to mean that he was expecting whatever was about to crash (maybe 30 miles away from where we were in my backyard).
“Great gods,” the cat said in a gravelly low voice, “I didn’t think an Annunorcus would be landing here this soon. We’ll have to leave—soon!”
“W—w—wait a minute,” I stammered. “What the hell is an Annunorcus?” I was already feeling an inexplicable fear rise in the pit of my stomach.
“What the hell, indeed! Annunorci are the product of the snake-like aliens, the Annunaki females to be precise, mating with Orcus, the ogre-like god of his planet’s underworld.”
“You mean, like the Annunaki, who favor human enslavement? And, like people-eating ogres?”
“And, cats!” the large feline volunteered with a bristling of his fur, and then added, “They give the zombicarns, your zombies, a run for their money! And, the zombicarns are their only known natural enemy. Even worse, an Annunorcus can shapeshift into a snake when it feels threatened, so they can make themselves small enough to go oftentimes undetected.”
“Disgusting! Mostly the part about eating humans and cats.” Then, after pausing for a minute to let the information digest, I asked, “How can they be stopped?”
“Leave that to me,” said the cat with a knowing look.
“But, why is the Annunorcus here, and is there just one, or should I say Annunorci?”
“From what I can tell of the relatively small craft that just crashed, it looks like we’re in luck and just one Annunorcus was sent. I’ll wager he’s looking for diamonds and that he’s been sent to collect them by the Annunorci League. Unfortunately, he’s probably also been instructed to not hesitate to kill anyone who gets in his way. Actually, he naturally does that anyway anytime he gets hungry, and Annunorci are known for their voracious appetites.”
“That’s funny because Diamond City Con has…”
“The largest selection of natural diamonds in one place at one time,” the cat said in a remarkably casual tone of voice considering what we were up against—though he finished my sentence with a solemn look.
Trying to lighten the gravity of the situation, I offered, “but I thought aliens were into mining our gold, not diamonds. You know the story common amongst some paleocontact theorists: that they’re here to enslave us and make us mine the gold for them.”
“Yes, well, maybe some are, but I can assure you that the Annunorci are into diamonds. Your planet’s natural diamonds!”
“But, why? I hardly think it plausible that ogres of any sort would want diamonds as a fashion accessory.”
At that the large cat, kind of purred-spat, which I think was his way of laughing, with, “You’ve got your father’s sense of humour. They have to have the natural kind of diamonds your planet offers, since they depleted their own planet’s supply. They use them to keep their many bloody industries functioning. The synthetic diamonds won’t do.”
“So, have any other Annunorci landed here in the past?”
“I don’t think so, as their presence would be hard to miss, unless…”
“Unless…they’re at something like a cosplay convention, especially one like Diamond City Con which kicks off their festivities on Halloween,” I continued, with growing awareness and apprehension, as I finished the feline’s sentence for him.
“Precisely,” he said in agreement. “Plus, I had intelligence agencies from my planet gather that they planned on sending out an Annunorcus tonight.”
“I see,” I said slowly, nodding my head with as much understanding as my addled brain could manage, “because Diamond City Con is tomorrow!”
“Today, your Halloween is today!” the cat corrected.
“Right,” I said slowly, “Diamondween, as some are calling it, is today! I stand corrected and blame my error on little sleep and an alien space craft with a talking cat landing in my backyard.” I glanced down at my wristwatch which glowed with the lighted numerals reading 6:15. “Diamond City Con doesn’t open its doors till 9 a.m., so we still have some time.”
“But not much,” the savvy feline added. “You need to gather everything you need together quickly.”
So, within ten minutes, I’d packed my tired ’72 Ford Pinto to the brim with all my cosplaying paraphernalia—except for the Kookla Castle Climbing wall, as it was too big to fit, so it went in the back of a small U-Haul I’d rented. Wouldn’t have been such a tight fit, but I hadn’t expected to have a cat companion going with (who took up a good portion of my passenger seat).
As far as my cosplaying re-enactment went, anyone familiar with the popular series would know that I was performing a scene from Book Five, my favourite: PRINCESS KOOKLA AND HER BLOODBATHED COURT. Critics said that it was too bloody for mainstream manga/anime, but I loved it because of it being the tale of a pauper-turned-marquis-then-prince who saves Princess Kookla by swimming across the moat and climbing the castle wall to rescue her from an ogre. It’s of note that Princess Kookla was generally quite able to handle herself, as she’d proved going up against a group of those looking to overthrow her government in Book Three: PRINCESS KOOKLA SAVES DEJAHLAND.
Making good time on the road from my country home to the more metropolitan Macon, Georgia (where Diamond City Con was taking place), we didn’t say much for the first half hour of the drive, but we did get some strange looks at my furry companion in the passenger seat. I might have enjoyed the stares, if the threat of an ‘ogre’, about to crash Diamond City Con, weren’t real. So, instead of smiling at my passenger on the way, I crankily said, turning towards him with a frown, “Please do me a favor and drop the bit about how my dad sent you here to help me. That’s bullshit…my dad’s been dead for over five years!”
Looking at me with a sideways glance, the cat, whose real name I still didn’t know, offered cooly, “So, because your father has passed from your world, you think he’s dead?”
“No shit, Sherlock,” I couldn’t help replying. I tended to be a smartass when trying to mask my fear. “I don’t know about where you’re from, but dead here means that those who’ve died can no longer speak.”
“Your father is perhaps dead in your world, but not in my dimension. You see, it’s not so much that I’m from another planet as it is I’m from another dimension, comprenez-vous?”
“Well, just supposing that I believe you, then why did my father send you to me, and not to my two older brothers?”
“Ah, now you’re starting to ask the right questions! Let me start with properly introducing myself: Je suis ‘Le Maitre Chat’ ou ‘Le Chat Botte’. On my planet, in my dimension, French is the common language. So, I am formally known as ‘Puss in Boots’, or ‘The Master Cat’, but I prefer the simple title ‘Cosmic Cat’. Informally, you can call me Matt.”
“Really? ‘Matt the Cat’? I feel like I’m in a bad Dr. Seuss book with a multi-lingual feline!”
At that, Matt kind of purr-snorted with, “I see you’ve got your father’s wonderful sense of humor.”
“Yeah, he was funny alright,” I said with a mixture of both hurt and longing. “So funny that he left me absolutely ‘nada’ in his will.”
“You sure about that?” Matt asked.
“Well, yeah. My oldest brother inherited his numerous houses and land, and my middle brother received all his possessions—including all his ‘mules’.”
“Mules?” the overgrown cat queried.
“Yeah, you know, his ‘mules with a lot of horsepower’, as in his silver Shelby SSC Aero, green Bugatti Veyron, et cetera.”
Looking at me quizzically, the cat offered, “So, you think he left you nothing?”
“Well, the proof’s in the pudding, or the lack of it, in this case,” I replied. I had racked my brain for over five years about what in the world I’d done to fall so out of his favour.
Looking at me with another sideways glance, Matt voiced, “Well, what if I were to tell you that your father left you something even better than what your brothers inherited?”
“I’d say you were a crazy furball because he left me NOTHING.”
“Except…” Matt paused dramatically, “ME!”
“So, let me get this straight, my dead father isn’t really dead. Rather, he’s living in a different dimension with talking cats, AND he took over five years to get my inheritance to me, and it’s a CAT—no offense.”
“Look, I’m too hungry to wrap my head around all this right now, and I’m gonna need some fuel to set up my cosplay display. We have about 15 minutes leeway, wanna get some breakfast? What do you eat? Our drive-thrus don’t serve filet of mouse or lizard or anything like that,” I said in a somewhat sarcastic tone but almost immediately afterwards gave him a sheepish sideways glance, as I hadn’t really meant to be that rude.
“My dear boy, we have long since evolved from being meat eaters. Do you think that humans are the only species who have the choice in whether or not to eat meat?! I can assure you that more felines on my planet are vegetarians than humans on yours. Not to say that we can’t eat meat, it’s just that most cats where I’m from find it repugnant. We come from a race of cats called Lyrans. Look it up when you have time.”
A few minutes later, we were munching on the cheese biscuits we’d gotten from a drive-thru. We didn’t say a word more to each other for the rest of the drive. I broke the silence, after pulling in a parking spot for vendors and cosplay competitors, with, “Do you think you could help me carry some of my stuff in?”
We unloaded the cosplay items onto a large dolly and then got a badge for Matt, as I already had one. Then, we booked it past the vendors’ rooms. There must’ve been at least 20 rooms on either side of the hallway set up just for those selling their wares, and if it’d been another time, then I would have spent hours just browsing the action figures, books, graphic novels, comics, et cetera.
“With any luck, the Annunorcus hasn’t arrived yet,” I said, right before Matt and I rolled our dolly with my Kookla display past the last of the vendor rooms. I was reminded that it was also Halloween, as some people dressed as simply zombies, not even the cosplaying kind, almost swerved into the dolly as we entered the atrium. Momentarily annoyed and briefly thinking that they had the brains of true zombies, I shot them a sideways glance, but then focused on a more pressing concern with, “Maybe he had a hard time finding transportation after his space vessel landed?”
“With any luck,” Matt responded.
Even the Annunorcus wasn’t front and center in my mind when we entered the atrium, for the already heavily guarded area was ablaze with the reflection of the diamonds displayed under the skylight. In fact, I was so fixated on the sparkling gems that I almost ran my dolly into a pretty lady about my age.
“Excuse me,” she said politely, glancing with some amusement at the dolly, as she herself was dressed up as Princess Kookla, and all I had was the crude representation. “Book Five?” she asked with some amusement, for it was fairly well-known that most guys preferred that one.
I felt my palms get sweaty, but I managed to get out without stuttering, “And, you, with that gown…Book Three?”
“Yes,” she answered, with a smile that showcased her dimples. “I guess we’re kinda predictable, huh? Girls and our love of Book Three?”
“No comment” I offered, with a smile.
“Maybe we should collaborate next time, as it looks like together we’d have had it in the bag.” Then switching her attention to Matt, she said with appreciation, “Great prosthetics!”
“Thank you,” Matt graciously replied. But before the ‘Princess’ could take a closer look, added, “Ahem, Jet, we need to get going.”
Looking at the ‘Princess’ with an apologetic glance, I proclaimed, “Guess he’s really vested in my winning!”
No sooner had we gotten to the long stage in the back (where all cosplayers competing were setting up) than we heard screams coming from the atrium. “Looks like the Annunorcus has arrived,” Matt said grimly. “You finish setting up, and I’ll attend to him. Oh, but before I go—here take these,” he offered, slipping off his fine boots and handing them to me. “They are scientifically engineered to fit any size foot, and they have a special polymer sole—like what you’ve been searching for, so they’ll aid you in climbing your castle wall. You didn’t think they were just superfluous, did you? Besides, I’m quicker on all fours,” he said, quickly bounding away.
I think my mouth must’ve been agape for a few seconds as I watched him disappear quickly into the crowd. Then I brought myself back to my task at hand.
Unlike most cosplay competitions, all contestants were all set up on the stage against the back wall, and fortunately, the Kookla I’d met was set up next to me. I learned her real name was Etta—short for Elisetta. Strangely undeterred by the chaos in the atrium, all the judges still planned on making their rounds.
The judges got to my display first, and I was happy to perform with no glitches, as Matt’s boots clung to my rock climbing wall display incredibly well. The judges gave a nod to me for a job well done…that was up to the point that Matt came bounding across the stage with a deadly Annunorcus chasing him…
I’d love to say that everything turned out peachy. After all, we were in the state of Georgia, but, unlike many faerie tales, real life tends to get a bit messy. So, in short, the Annunorcus tore into one of the judges in front of Etta’s Kookla Display, spewing so much gore and viscera about that one of the other judges actually slid in it. And, the Annunorcus would have consumed more, if I hadn’t had the presence of mind to rope those humans I’d seen dressed up as zombies earlier into scaring the Annunorcus (who thought them Zombicarns) into changing into a snake (as Zombicarns prefer large prey). Then, Matt was able to pounce on him and devour him! Turns out, though generally a vegetarian cat, he would still eat ogre-snake meat if it meant saving all of humanity! Due to the gruesome circumstances, nobody won the competition. Yet, I did leave Diamond City Con with Etta’s digits and Matt, who talked incessantly on the ride home about my patenting the earth-friendly formula in his boots, so I felt that somehow financial freedom wasn’t far behind…