By Natasha Duncan-Drake
Cat's Call - Kindle Edition
The Chronicles of Charlie Waterman, Book 1
This publication is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organisations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.
Copyright © 2011 by Natasha Duncan-Drake
Cover art by Natasha Duncan-Drake
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
Thank you to my husband Rob and my sister Sophie for their help and support. Also thank you to everyone who helped by reading this for me and giving constructive criticism to improve the end product, as well as helping me choose my final cover.
Chapter 1. An Inauspicious Beginning
There is a moment in time, a knife edge for every destiny, and in that moment in time, on that knife edge, a destiny is made or broken. Some say when a destiny is broken the gods cry.
Just occasionally destiny has a second chance.
The day Charlie had missed the bus and missed his interview at the magic shop, it had rained. Charlie would never forget it, because it hadn't just rained a little, it had poured, and he had been soaked to his skin by the time he had made it home. Then he had ended up in bed for three days, because of the nasty chill he'd picked up.
Charlie didn't believe in destiny. As far as he was concerned that day had simply involved a summer job before doing his A levels and his dad had got him into his office as a temp instead. It was only when he walked past the old place two years later that he even thought about it again. For once the sign on the door read 'open', so he turned towards it and stepped inside.
"You are not what I was expecting, you are too old," a voice said almost as soon as he walked into the dimly lit shop.
"Sorry," Charlie said, spotting an old woman behind the counter, "I thought you were open."
He was sure the sign had said 'open', but, even in the backwaters of Kent, that was not a normal way to greet a customer.
"I've always meant to come in," he stumbled on, feeling awkward, but not quite knowing what to do; "I almost worked here once, when I was sixteen. Had a letter, but I missed my bus and missed my interview. Um ... I'll be going then, sorry to have disturbed you."
The way the woman was looking at him was unnerving.
"No matter," she said before he could turn away, still eyeing him in a very unsettling manner, "come in, look around, explore where your heart leads you."
Clearly the woman had mysterious and eccentric down to a tee, but Charlie didn't think he could just turn and leave anymore; it would be rude. Trying to look as if he didn't think missing that interview had been a lucky escape, he smiled awkwardly and began to wander around. He had expected the shop to be full of magic tricks and stage stuff, but it actually seemed to be full of crystals and incense and weird statues and generally bizarre things. For a little while he browsed and pretended to be interested, but just as he was working himself up into leaving he saw something towards the back of the shop. It glinted at him from a shelf.
That probably should have been his first clue something odd was going on, because there wasn't enough light in the shop to make anything glint.
Forgetting about his desire to walk out, he stepped over to the shelf and reached out to the object that was hidden at the back. He had no idea what it was, but his hand gripped it and he pulled it out of the shadows. Opening his fingers, he looked down. Disappointment welled through him when all he found was a rather nondescript cat figurine, only about two inches tall. It was all beige, as if it was made out of clay that hadn't been painted. Charlie couldn't even tell what type of cat it was supposed to be. There was no way it could have glinted at him at all; he had to have picked up the wrong thing.
He was going to put it down, but then the tiny statue opened its eyes and looked at him. A piercing green gaze stared straight into his own, glinting in the low light, and he froze. His brain seemed to disconnect from his nervous system and left him helpless in the face of the impossible. Tiny claws daggered into the skin of his palm as the cat stood up and moved, and Charlie could do nothing except watch. The little creature sniffed at his hand, turning around and walking across his palm towards his wrist as he stared on in fascinated bewilderment.
There was no way that what he was seeing could actually be happening; it was simply insane, so he had to be hallucinating. That meant he must have touched something that was contaminated with a weird drug, or the incense that was burning in the shop wasn't really incense. For a crazy second he wondered if the owners were white slavers or something like that. Did they trade in innocent teenagers, was that why the woman had not been expecting someone his age?
The little cat dug its claws into the delicate skin on the inside of his wrist and it hurt, but about all he could do was whimper quietly. It didn't hurt as much as when the cat began to push its paws under the upper level of skin though; at that point agony shot up his arm, up his neck and into his brain. It was as if the small thing had found a direct connection to the pain centres in his skull. The only good that caused was that it broke his paralysis and he cried out, trying to shake the little cat off, but it was as if it was stuck there. Stumbling backwards, he fell into one of the other shelves and pain ripped up his arm again. He felt himself going weak at the knees as his vision tunnelled down so all he could see was the creature burrowing into his wrist and then everything went mercifully black.
"He is too old."
The fog in Charlie's mind began to clear just in time to hear those words and his first thought was: 'Oh god, they're trying to sell me.'
"The door opened for him," was the rather peculiar response to the first assertion that stopped his panic mid imagining.
"He cannot be trained," the original speaker said in a very firm tone.
"The Cat Spirit chose him."
It seemed there was an argument going on between what sounded like the old woman and someone else, but Charlie really didn't understand it. He appeared to be lying on a small cot-like bed in what looked like a store room. There was one window and the door was slightly open, so he could hear his captors out in the shop.
"He is past the threshold," the first speaker insisted; "his mind will not accept the new reality. He should have been here two years ago."
"He was chosen and that is an end to the matter," the old woman said firmly; "you will train him, Akari and that is that."
Charlie decided that maybe he was still drugged and slowly tried to sit up. Considering he was still under the influence of something it was surprisingly easy . He'd been high only once when he'd been in hospital and they'd had him on morphine and he didn't feel anything like that. He didn't feel sick and the only thing that hurt was his wrist, which he hurriedly looked at. No holes, which was good, but he was pretty sure he hadn't gone to sleep with the tattoo of a large cat that stretched from his wrist to the crook of his arm. In fact Charlie was pretty sure he didn't have any tattoos at all.
It was a beautiful cat, his mind informed him before he could worry about it too much, very stylised, not really like any particular cat, but encompassing all sorts of different ones. He just stared at it for a while until he realised what he was doing and decided that he really had to still be chemically impaired to be doing something so stupid when his life was in danger. As quietly as he could, he swung his legs off the camp bed and carefully stood up. That went surprisingly well; the bed did not squeak and his legs seemed perfectly happy to hold him.
Of course that left him with the choice of how to try and leave. There was the door and he could attempt to run through the shop, but he didn't want to end up in a stupor again. Then there was the window. It wasn't big, but neither was he, width wise, and it didn't look very secure, so it was definitely the better option. Walking as quietly as he knew how and praying that his captors were not about to come in and find him, he crossed to the window. It was set high, but he was tall and he reached it easily. All that was keeping it closed was a small latch and it was an old fashioned window with nothing to stop it flipping up the whole way.
He was under no illusions that he was strong enough to pull himself up and through without making a lot of noise and fuss, so he looked around for something to help. There was a wooden chair the other side of the storage rack and it took him a minute or so to move it quietly, but it made a very sturdy boost point for getting to the outside. There was no way to hold the window open completely, so it was awkward, but he managed to lever himself through.
The outside was down onto an asphalt path in an alleyway between the old buildings either side and it was a hard landing. He hit the ground solidly, but it was better than being stuck. By the time he'd made it that far his heart was beating like a snare drum, mostly from fear, but from the exertion as well and when the window shut with a thunk he just ran.
"Police station," he muttered to himself, but he couldn't for the life of him remember where it was.
That left home as the safest option and made up his mind.
It was as he hit the street that he realised all was not well. Something seemed to be wrong with his eyes as he stared at the building opposite where he was standing and it moved. He blinked as the effect confused his brain and upset his equilibrium and it felt as if the whole world was shifting. He wanted to just keep running, but he didn't dare, not unless he wanted to end up on his face. In the end it took him a couple of seconds to realise that the effect was caused by the fact that he seemed to be seeing two buildings, one on top of the other, like a bad 3D camera effect. The two images were continually coming together and moving apart again. Shaking his head, he dragged his eyes away and was incredibly pleased to realise that most of the buildings on the road looked normal.
Focussing on the ordinary rather than the weird, he began to run. He'd taken the bus to town, but that had mostly been laziness and he did not want to have to wait around, so he headed home. He was not the greatest athlete, but he played football and he had enough adrenaline pumping through his system to make him keep going. Unfortunately it soon became obvious that whatever was causing him to see strange things, which as far as he could tell was a completely random phenomenon, was having an effect on his stamina. He began to feel tired very quickly and he felt light headed and the more things he saw doing bizarre hallucinogenic stuff, the worse it became. He barely managed to force himself to keep running in the right direction.
By the time Charlie made it home, he wasn't sure what was real anymore and his mind was working so slowly that all he could think of was sleep. Any other thoughts seemed to have deserted him and ideas about telling his parents what had happened and calling the police were nothing but distant memories. He let himself in the house and climbed the stairs without even considering anything else and then staggered into his room, pulled off his clothes and fell onto the bed face first. It was a huge double bed with one of those space-age mattresses and it was just so comfortable. He crawled up it slowly, absently thanking whoever had invented such a giving material and his sister Becky for getting married in March and allowing him to inherit the bed.
Nothing had ever felt so glorious as he just lay there and let sleep take him. It was so good he almost purred.
It was morning when Charlie woke up. He knew this, because he hadn't closed his curtains and, during the summer, at about seven thirty in the morning, the sun reached a point in the sky where it came through the gaps in the other houses around his home and lanced straight into his eyes. It was a more than efficient alarm clock, especially when he felt like he had a hangover. In fact the hangover feeling seemed so real that the previous day was dreamlike and he couldn't help wondering if it had all been a weird hallucination after some bad beer or something.
What also didn't help was the fact that he had spent all night dreaming about cats: big cats; small cats; kittens. It was as if he couldn't escape them. When he slowly pushed himself into a kneeling position he was hoping that, when he looked down, his arm would be bare. Unfortunately the tattoo was very much still there with its odd-looking feline. He had been drugged and tattooed in the magic shop; it had really happened and he wasn't sure he wanted to deal with it. Climbing off the bed, he headed for the bathroom; it was possible the tattoo was painted on and it would come off with water. Then he would be able to forget the whole thing.
He padded into the bathroom and avoided looking at himself in the mirror, going straight for his toothbrush. Why anyone would want to kidnap him was beyond him; he was basically boring. Even his last girlfriend had said the only thing remotely striking about him were his eyes. Of course she had been breaking up with him at the time.
Shaking his head, he wandered over to the shower to turn it on as he brushed his teeth. He was sure things would make more sense once he was clean and alert. The buzzing of the sonic brush did not help his headache, so he tried to think about anything else as he endured the discomfort. That was why he noticed that something was tickling the back of his leg. Absently, he flicked his hand behind him to remove whatever it was and the funniest sensation ran up his spine. However, the tickling stopped, so he went back to trying to ignore the ache behind his eyes.
A few seconds later, when he walked back to the sink, the tickling was back.
He spat, while shifting his leg, then rinsed his mouth before swiping at whatever it was again. This time he felt something furry and he turned rapidly, because their last dog had died the previous year and his mum hadn't come to terms with the idea of a new one yet.
Thankfully there was not a zombie dog looking for a scratch behind the ear, but he did see something move out of the corner of his eye. Twisting rather than turning, he followed the movement and had to blink at what he saw. There, behind him, twitching in agitation was a fluffy, brown and white tail, only he couldn't tell what it belonged to. He moved a little more and the tail moved with him, which gave him a clue that it might belong to the only thing in the bathroom: him.
This was one step too far for his beleaguered brain and he promptly refused to believe what he was seeing. It was an hallucination, simple as that, and he stepped across the room, pulled down his boxers, which was difficult thanks to the imaginary tail, slipped off his socks and stepped in. Unfortunately the tail was still there, dripping on the floor, after he had finished his shower and he didn't have a choice but to investigate it. Unless someone had come in, in the middle of the night and grafted a fully functional bionic tail onto the base of his spine it wasn't a joke either. He could feel it when he touched it, it twitched depending on what he was thinking about and it was very firmly attached to the rest of his body.
Wrapped in a towel back in his bedroom he did his very best not to freak out. About the only good thing he could see about the situation was that the shock had frightened his headache away. Charlie was a bright student with a promising future, all his teachers said so, and it didn't take a genius to come to a simple conclusion; this was all about the magic shop. He had been assaulted by a cat statue; he had a cat tattooed on his arm; he'd been dreaming about cats and now, he had a cat tail.
That was as far as logical thought managed to take him before the freak out he was trying to put off hit him. He had a tail, a four foot long, brown, twitching tail and it wasn't going away. This was not something he could cope with, not something he could be calmly rational about. This was not losing his wallet and not being able to get home from the pub; this was not being dumped by his girlfriend for being too nice; this was not even mistakenly thinking he had missed his A-level physics exam by twenty minutes. This was so much bigger than that.
He began to shake and an annoying voice at the back of his head asked him if maybe he was going bonkers. A more logical voice joined in chorus to point out he might just still be having a bad trip, but was just as unhelpful. This wasn't something he could deal with.
"Mum," he called, but his voice didn't seem to be working too well.
What came out wasn't much more than a whisper. He was kind of afraid that someone else knowing would just confirm that he was losing his mind. His knees felt weak and he slumped towards the carpet, barely managing to cushion his fall with a hand on the bed. The last straw was when he looked over to his desk and saw the little pot his sister had brought back from honeymoon for him. It was doing the weird 'there are two of me' thing and his mind just screamed in anger and anxiety.
That was when the icy calm welled up inside of him and smothered everything else he was feeling. It was like a blanket over all the emotions swirling around inside him, muting them and bringing back rational thought, rational thought tinged with need. The only thing his mind seemed able to focus on was the desire for answers and he knew without a doubt there was only one place to find them: the magic shop.
Standing up, he dried his tail some more so that it wasn't too damp before pulling out his loosest sweat pants. He didn't bother with boxers, just pulled on the soft trousers and tucked the tail down one leg. Following that, he finished dressing normally and left the house before he could bump into either of his parents.
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About the Author:
Natasha Duncan-Drake was born in a small English town and has lived most of her life in the Kent country side. She has always been an avid reader and has been writing since she first heard the Hobbit being read to the class in Primary School. In 1995, while studying for her PhD, she discovered the internet and has been sharing work online ever since, very much enjoying the interaction with readers and other writers. She loves all forms of genre fiction, especially contemporary fantasy and she intends to keep writing for as long as she can dream.
Cat's Call is the first novel in The Chronicles of Charlie Waterman and the second will be available later in 2011.
Where to find Natasha online:
My blog: http://beren-writes.livejournal.com/
Wittegen Press: http://www.wittegenpress.com