Doctor Spies explained that the head injury was probably nothing to be overly concerned about, but that unfortunately there was no real way to tell unless something happened. He told his mother to not let him go to sleep for another twelve hours and to monitor him over the next couple of days to see if there was any unusual behaviour.
So when her child came to her one day and kicked MouseLord off her lap she was startled by the sudden aggression. Then her child began pawing at her legs, holding his hands over something that she couldn’t see, as if gathering dust in a bundle and pushing it down onto her legs.
She brushed him off, “Tracy, what are you doing?”
“It was pulling it out,” he said, not looking up, his hands gathering the imaginary dust from the air and pushing it back in, “It was pulling it out.”
His mother brushed him away again, having to firmly hold him by the shoulders to stop his activities. He looked up at her desperately but she noticed that his hands hadn’t actually moved. They hovered about six inches above her legs, slightly curved as if he were holding onto something.
“Pulling what out?” she asked him.
“Your jellyfish,” he said, looking down at his hands, which still had not moved. She looked down as well to where his hands were. He added, meekly, “It was pulling it out with its claws. It looked like it hurt.”
His mother frowned and took her phone out from her pocket and called the doctor’s office. Thankfully, Kirkin Pride was a small town and getting a last minute appointment for a GP was easier than in a city. The receptionist knew her by name and also recalled Tracy’s recent fall and was very quick to schedule an appointment to see him. She asked what sort of things she had observed.
“I think he’s seeing things, Nancy,” she said, “He’s hallucinating and acting aggressively to the cat.”
Nancy was taking down notes on a pad, she was using her note-taking voice. Tracy’s mother was able to recognise it from when they both worked in the accounting office at Borman’s Tyres.
“Has he said what he’s seeing?” she asked.
“Is that important?”
“Flashing colours or actual definable shapes?”
“He said something about the cat pulling out my jellyfish,” she said, hearing the nurse’s short intake of breath. Nancy was single without children and despite being in her late twenties was still able to find the rudeness in any statement. Smartly, she kept it to herself. Tracy’s mom looked down at her son and noticed, with genuine concern that the boy was once again looking at the imaginary thing he was holding down. His hands moved every now and again as if he saw something that was invisible to her, move. His pale eyebrows knitted in concern, his lips pinched into a tight knot as he did when he concentrated on doing some sort of work. She also noticed the cat MouseLord, who Tracy had named and picked out from the cardboard box filled with mewling kittens from up the road. The cat that up until this moment he had doted over. She would have expected the cat to have scampered away, fled from the unexpected and unwarranted violence, but instead the cat was watching what Tracy was doing with that patient stare of felines. Attentive and calm, from the back of the two seater sofa. Tail gently waving and claws clutching the head of the chair. The cat’s eyes were watching the boy’s hands. The cat realised it was being observed and turned its head to her and then, as slinky as a sock dragged on a string, it slipped out the open window and dropped into the garden.
Considering Tracy had, from the moment he’d walked, seemed determined to bring new definition to the term bouncing baby boy, all of the usual doctors appointments from vaccinations, to health checks had always coincided with some sort of injury. Upon entering the office the boy dutifully climbed up the stool and sat on the doctor’s table swinging his scuffed and scabbed legs and eager to point out the fresh graze he had on his chin from where he fell over in the garden. The doctor did a very quick scan of the child, checked his eyes with the little flashlight, checked his pulse and his reflexes and within a couple of minutes declared, “If there is something neurologically wrong with your son then it is beyond my capabilities of detecting it.”
Tracy’s mother wasn’t happy about this, “He seemed very convinced.”
Dr. Spies, who was a slender, elderlg gentleman with a widow’s peak of white hair against a tanned face, with dark brown eyes that were designed to be kind and a face wrinkled by far too many smiles, knew each of his patients very well and knew how to get the information from them he needed to make good deductions. He leaned his elbows on his desk and looked sideways at the boy who was kicking his legs and looking up at the ceiling.
“Tracy,” he said, “Can you tell me what you saw this morning?”
Tracy pointed at his mom, “Mom’s jellyfish.”
Dr. Spies gave his mom a bemused smile, turning back to the boy he asked, “What was MouseLord doing?”
“He was pulling it out of her,” Tracy said, his head bobbing with the movement of his legs, “Through her legs with his claws.”
Dr. Spies pushed away from the desk, turning his office chair to face the boy and leaned back with interest, “What did her jellyfish look like?”
Without pause Tracy said, “It looked like a bath bubble,” he said, “I could see through it and it had colours on it, like a bath bubble.”
“You said it looked like a jellyfish,” Dr. Spies pointed out kindly.
“It had those….” here Tracy faltered as he tried to remember the word, when he couldn’t think of the word he held out his arms and waved them gently through the air.
“No,” Tracy said, “I said jellyfish, jellyfish have them… their legs.”
“Tendrils?” the doctor said, “Long and thin?”
Tracy nodded happily and the matter settled, and like any child thinking that all parents possess the wealth of human knowledge within their brains returned to picking at one of his scabs.
“Ah, Tracy,” the doctor said, “Why would MouseLord be trying to pull out the jellyfish? Was he trying to help?”
The boy looked confused as if the doctor had said something very bizarre, he blinked and said, “No Doctor Spies, she needs her jellyfish, it’s what makes her my Mom.”
“I see,” the doctor said, “Why do you think he was trying to pull it out then?”
“To take it away,” Tracy said.
“I don’t know,” Tracy admitted, looking out of place.
“How do you know it wanted to take it away then my boy?” the doctor asked.
Tracy looked a little uncomfortable here. But not as if he were struggling with the creative process, this was different. Doctor Spies had seen it before in some of his younger patients whose parents were not getting along. Children can often understand when some truths cannot be spoken of and are reluctant to take sides outside of the family ring. This was that sort of look. Finally the boy said, “It’s what they do.”
“Cats,” Tracy said, “They take jellyfish out of people and they take them away.”
Dr. Spies frowned, “But I have a cat and he loves me.”
Tracy looked at the doctor, but not into his eyes. The Doctor noticed that the boy looked at him but not at him. It was like someone scrutinising the knot of your tie or your haircut. Then the boy said, “There’s not much of yours left.”
Doctor Spies assured Tracy’s mother that there was nothing to worry about. Putting her mind at ease by pointing out that head injuries that are serious, do not produce such creative imaginations. Functionally he was as healthy a boy as he’d ever seen.
They stopped at MacDonald’s on their way home and while they were ordering she spotted a sleek black and white cat sitting upon a fence. She knew very little about cats aside from being able to spot one in a line out of animals. She snuck a look at Tracy who was busily looking into the MacDonald’s with the excitement of any child about to get a treat. But when he spotted the cat his expression shifted dramatically. It wasn’t fear, but interest in something unusual. He was her first child and so she was still learning as she went along, but thanks to her whorish sister producing offspring before she’d left highschool, long years of being an aunt had taught her a thing or two about children’s games. Namely, if they were pretending they would almost always try to get you to pretend with them. She decided to try an experiment.
“Do you like that cat?” she asked, after she’d made the order.
“No,” Tracy said.
“Awww why? She’s beautiful isn’t she? Looks like one of the Semesters Siamese Sisters.”
Semesters Siamese Sisters was an inane childrens cartoon of a pair of siamese cats who were also siamese twins, who went to a normal school filled with human children and got into shenanigans with a bunch of friends. The artwork was graphic and particularly violent for such a friendly sending title. She couldn’t complain though, she grew up watching Cow and Chicken and I Am Weasel. But it was one of Tracy’s favourites.
“It has…” Tracy said, but didn’t want to finish what he said, he finally asked her, “Don’t you see it Mommy?”
“See what my darling?” she asked.
“This!” he squealed, pointing at the region of his belly and then at hers, “This! The jellyfish. Can’t you see them?”
Deciding that she had enough of this fiction, and since her experiment had failed she shook her head, “No Tracy, I don’t.”
The boy’s face went red with blush and he sat back in his carseat and folded his arms across his chest. He looked at the cat again for a while until the animal slipped over the otherside of the fence and vanished from view into the suburban houses behind it. He said, “If you could, you wouldn’t like cats.”
Parenthood is a road with few stopping points. So a week later Tracy’s mom had categorised her son’s strange behaviour into the section of gossip and stories she’d share with her friends at the gym when they were enjoying their coffees. She expected that her son’s game would change, that the pretend world would shift and that something else would become the predominant point of interest. But things didn’t go that way. HIs hostility to MouseLord was beginning to stress the household cat out to the point where the animal was always seeking comfort from her. The very instance Tracy left the room, the cat would return to her lap and begin kneading with an urgency that concerned her. At which point, if Tracy witnessed this he would come running into the room waving his arms as if she were on fire. He once kicked the cat so hard the animal landed on the other side of the room and fled through the window like a thief in the night.
If she had done that when she was five she wouldn’t have sat right for a week, but instead she gave Tracy a good talking to and when pressed he burst into tears and said, “It got a bit of your jellyfish!”
The following week, because she was feeling poorly with a sore throat and a headache, she opted for a gin and sandwiches day with her girlfriends in Sandra’s conservatory. Sandra, was not a cat person and detested the animals, instead opting for large dogs, preferably ones that looked like they could rip out throats if they had to. She had a doberman, a rottweiler and a savage terrier who had the two other beasts whipped.
As they sat enjoying the sunshine, the dogs seemed fascinated with her, snuffling their snouts up to her with eagerness.
“They seem to love you,” Sandra commented.
“Apparently so,” Tracy’s mother chuckled, pushing one of the dogs away good naturedly, “They probably smell the cat on me.”
“You still have it?” Sandra enquired, “Even after Tracy tried to kill it?”
“I’m not getting rid of the cat,” Tracy’s mother said, “My boy will have to learn to live with his pets. Although he’s still acting weird around it. He won’t refer to it by name and do you remember the story he was talking about with the cat and jellyfish?”
Sandra nodded, her face turned up to the sunlight pouring through the conservatory, she brought the glass of gin to her lips. It had been agreed by both of them that this beat the gym anyday, “It was an interesting story.”
“He’s still going on about it,” she said, “And his behaviour hasn’t changed. I’m worried.”
Sandra sighed, and the dogs settled down next to her, their eyes still shifting to Tracy’s mother every now and again. Sandra said, “Maybe he’s right. Maybe we do all have jellyfish we can’t see and cats are trying to pull them out of us. Have you considered that?”
“Haha, it would explain a lot wouldn’t it?” Tracy’s mother said sarcastically, “But I’m serious, it’s worrying me.”
“Doctor said he was fine,” Sandra reminded her, “And has his behaviour changed anywhere else?”
“No.” she admitted.
“And you said that he started acting like this after he fell?”
“He was trying to balance on top of a beach ball and headbutted the mantle, yes,” Tracy’s mom said a bit more bluntly.
“Then maybe he bumped his head and now he can see something other people can’t,” Sandra said with a shrug, “Maybe we all have jellyfish that we can’t see? What about the cat’s behaviour?”
“It’s terrified and stressed,” Tracy’s mother said, “Poor thing. It keeps the hell away from him and keeps coming to me for comfort. It’s kneading all the time to make itself less stressed. It then runs away out the window whenever he comes in.”
Sandra chuckled as a thought occurred to her, “Maybe your cat doesn’t know what to do now that a human has revealed the truth. That they’re mining people’s jellyfishes and stealing them away somewhere. Maybe the cats knead people’s bodies to hook the jellyfish and pull them out then they go out the window to this big factory where all the jellyfish are stored for them to make some sort of popular cat tea that they’re all hooked on. Your cat is stressed because it’s now behind quota and your son keeps getting in the way of it doing its job. Wouldn’t that be weird?”
“That would be very weird.”
That night, Tracy’s mom couldn’t sleep very well. She was acutely aware of the smell of cat in the house, which seemed sharp and deeply afronting like nothing she’d smelt before. Sandra had once commented that a dog’s smell can be disgusting, but it smells warm and earthly, whereas cats smell poisonous and toxic. She’d ignored the comment, dismissing it as something a dog lover would say, but now she couldn’t help but notice how many cat hairs carpeted everything in the house as if the cat spent all of its time just wandering around touching things.
Giving up on the prospect of sleep, she rose from her bed and padded quietly through the house into the kitchen. She poured herself some grapefruit juice and cut off a square of cheese and for no apparent reason drifted over to Tracy’s room. Their house was not large and a long rectangle of kitchen light fell upon the boy’s Marvel Avengers Assemble duvet through the slightly ajar door. What she saw filled her with horror.
MouseLord was crouched on her son’s belly, kneading his flesh with both his paws as if the pyjama covered flesh were really dough. But she saw the action differently, this wasn’t a case of pushing and playing, there was a distinct pulling action too, a grasping.
Her son’s face was caught in a frown of discomfort which the cat seemed to ignore. IT seemed so determined in its task that it didn’t even notice that his mother was standing at the door until she said.
The cat’s attention snapped to her with such a force that she stepped back from the door. The look in its eyes had been different and unexpectedly evil in the dim light of the room. Slit eyed and alien the cat had looked vehemently and stressed. The animal fled from the bedroom, shooting between her legs and out the window. It paused at the outside sill and looked back at her, a look of unrelenting hatred in his spiteful eyes.
Despite her rational brain telling her what she should do, Tracy’s mother closed all the windows and doors to the apartment and even taped up the cat flap to stop MouseLord from entering. As if sensing this predicament the cat, within moments, was at the window meowing plaintively.
Ignoring the pathetic mewlings, she made two cups of hot chocolate and roused her son from his sleep. Hair tousled at all angles, wiping his bleary eyes with the back of his hands, Tracy sat with a look of scorn until she handed him a hot chocolate and asked.
“Baby, tell me again why you don’t like MouseLord?”
Looking through the steam coming off the hot chocolate, which he held in his favourite Doctor Who cup with both hands, Tracy appeared confused as if completely unaware of what she was talking about. For a moment she allowed herself some hope that she was just being paranoid and silly. Her son had moved on to a different fantasy, a different game. His creativity had carried him in a different direction. The tide of emotions that hit her were as coldly relieving as an arctic shore but as deeply coloured as a rainbow.
“He has been stealing your jellyfish,” he said, “All cats do. They steal the jellyfish from the people and take it away.”
The colour drained from the shore, leaving only the chilly waters. She swallowed, approaching this carefully, “Where do you think they are taking them?”
He shrugged, the honest shrug of a child who doesn’t know and assumes it’s not important yet because it hasn’t been taught to them yet. She could have asked why grass is green and he might have shrugged in the same nonchalant way. He said, “But I know where MouseLord goes.”
“Where?” the question came out on its own volition, squeezed between her lips. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know.
“He always goes under the blinkle tree.”
The blinkle tree. Tracy’s mother knew she had to eventually learn the names of things, but the names they gave to things in their world were far more interesting. The blinkle tree was at the far end of the tiny garden they kept in the back. Nothing more than a three metre by three metre patch of grass, bordered by a track of dirt that had vegetation and bushes growing in it. They never mowed the grass, so it was as overgrown, the grass spreading out like tendrilly monstrosities, the bushes thick and patchy, colours of nature brown and greens, reds and purples all blurring together. Their neighbours hated it, but Tracy loved it. That tiny patch of garden was a portal into a wild world of indians, of monsters and aliens. And at the far wall was the blinkle tree. A slender trunk of brown-grey bark that felt flakey to the touch and was topped by a bush of green leaves that resembled an afro. In truth it reminder her of Bushroot, a villain from the Darkwing Duck series she watched as child.
At its base, was another smattering of branches, like little hands holding onto a smattering of try-hard leaves which formed a low canopy with the surrounding vegetation and grass. Too small of a hideaway for her to appreciate, but for a cat or for that matter a little boy, it could have been a corridor.
“What does he do under there?” she asked.
I shrugged, again, not for him to know.
“Does he go anywhere else?”
“He goes there every time I chase him away,” he said, “Every time he tries to get your Jellyfish.”
Okay, she thought. A weed whacker would sort out that problem.
“Can you see my jellyfish now?” she asked, another question that slipped out before her brain could decide whether she wanted the answer.
“Of course,” he said with a nod, finishing his hot chocolate which she always made with extra milk and handing it to her to put on his bedside table.
“Where is it?” she asked.
His eyes looked over her, but not directly at her. As if he were scanning the outline of her, while he did so she noticed that with his right hand he reached to his shoulder and his thumb and forefinger looked like that massaged something she couldn’t see. It was a gesture she’d seen him do before but never considered what it might mean.
“All around you Mum,” he said, matter of factly, “And wrapped inside you, it’s like its squeezed itself into the gaps and spaces that it could find inside you and made itself firmly stuck inside there. Its grown inside you for as long as you’ve been alive.”
She sipped her hot chocolate, the chocolate was warm all the way down, he giggled, “It really loves the taste of chocolate. It’s changed colour.”
“Has it?” she asked.
“Kind of,” he said, “It’s pinky now. Pink is a happy colour.”
Her eyes looked at his hand at his shoulder again and asked, “Are you playing with yours?”
He nodded, “Mine is as old as me, it’s scared. Was MouseLord inside my room?”
Tracy’s mother nodded sadly, “Yes, he was kneading you.”
He looked suddenly very worried and shivered. The rolled up sleeves of his pajamas showed skin that had goosefleshed. He said, “I think it stole some.”
“Is that bad?”
“It grows back,” he said, “But only if something is left behind, that’s why the cats don’t steal all of it at a time. They steal it from their owners bit by bit.”
Outside of the room, outside of their smell house, she heard MouseLord’s meow and the sound of something scratching at a taped up cat flap. It tugged at her guts to be so cruel to an animal, but she didn’t have a choice. Right not rationality could be damned.
“What happens when your Jellyfish is gone?” she asked.
Tracy sighed, it was a very mature expression he wore for someone so young. He said in a level voice, “I think you die Mommy. Or you go crazy. I don’t think a person can live without one.”
“Have you seen anyone who didn’t have one?”
He shook his head. Gave a shrug. Then he laughed, the joyous laugh of someone who’s remembered an important bit of information too real not to share, “Mrs. Bashley my teacher has a baby and she brought it to school to show us.”
The sudden change in animation was very welcome as he recalled the baby. He had told her of course, but at the time she did remember thinking that he wasn’t telling her everything. At the time, all of six hours earlier, she had feared that maybe he had done something wrong at preschool but she thought now it was probably something else.
“Even the baby has one,” he said gleefully, “A tiny little thing, wrapped around the baby. But it was moving more than mine and definitely more than yours.”
She fought the urge to touch her shoulders. If someone tells you you have something on your shoulder, the first instinct is to brush it off. She asked him what he meant.
“Yours can’t move that much,” he said, again looking around her at something she couldn’t detect but at the same points in space, “It’s grown into your body, it’s wrapped around your insides, it’s tendrils in too deep to move. It’s comfortable and safe.”
“And yours?” she asked.
“Mine has some tendrils free,” he said, brushing at his neck with the back of his hand. She wondered if this was an unconscious movement, a pretend, or had an invisible tendril just stroked his skin, “It moves around a lot. Looking for the best places to fill.”
“Does it hurt?” she asked.
He laughed, “No, of course not silly. They’re too smooth to hurt.”
“What was the baby jellyfish like?” she asked, “On Mrs. Bashley’s baby?”
“It moved around a lot,” he said, “It looked like it was looking for something to hold onto. It looked frightened, when it was holding onto the baby it would sleep like a cute little dolly, but when it moved the baby would start to cry as if terrified. When Mrs. Bashley picked it up, the baby jellyfish found a tendril from Mrs. Bashley’s jellyfish and they held tendrils. It was cute.”
His mother shifted on the bed, “Did you tell anyone else about this?” she asked.
He looked down at his belly, a location that she suspected was where he saw the bulk of his own jellyfish, and looked sad or doubtful, “Nobody believes me, they think I’m just pretending. But I’m not Mommy, I promise.”
She shushed him and pulled him into an embrace, putting the cup of hot chocolate next to his on the bedside table so she could pull him into a big hug, how they used to sit when they were reading together.
“Do you speak to your Jellyfish?” she asked.
“Of course,” he said, “It loves it when I speak to it, it talks back to me too.”
“Yes,” he said, “Sometimes in my own voice and sometimes just in colours and smells and sounds.”
“Like when you talk to yourself?” she ventured.
He gave her a hugely patronising smile for a five year old and said, “Mommy, who do you think you’re talking to when you talk to yourself?”
MouseLord was not allowed back into their house. The cat persisted however, first by trying to run in whenever they opened the door to leave and then, when this became even harder, by trying to find additional ways into the house. If they had a chimney, the cat probably would have climbed down it. But as it was a modern house in Britain, there were limited points of egress.
They were not declaring war on the poor animal. Even Tracy who would all but snarl at any cat approaching them in any location, did not object when they bought cat food and an outdoor cat kennel for the animal. He was confident that the cat had to work hard to knead the jellyfish from a body, it was less like fishing or hunting but more like mining. It took time to release the jellyfish from the body.
Days and weeks passed by, then months and Tracy’s mother realised that she was feeling healthier and healthier. The sore throats, running noses and scratchy eyes that she had always attributed to hay fever or a cat allergy disappeared, but what replaced it was a sense of fullness and wellness. A happiness. One morning, while she was getting Tracy ready for school, his eyes darted to the side as if he’d seen a fly or a bee. He stared at whatever it was that he could see and then, unexpectedly but not unwelcomely, he flung his arms around her and gave her a huge hug. Not the usual nightly cuddles, but a massive embrace that made her think of being a little girl being picked up by her dad and hugged. That man with his big arms had been a champion hugger. She returned it, wrapping her arms around him and they didn’t move for full minutes. When they finally did he giggled and lifted both hands and fiddled in the air between them. Maybe it was her own imagination, but when she noticed that his fingers were not pressed together, but held a few millimetres apart as they would be if he were touching something that had substance at least. It was a tiny detail that a five year old probably would not have conceived of.
She went to stand and he clucked his tongue reaching out desperately, “No no Mommy not yet!”
Immediately she knelt, “What is it?”
“They got their tendrils stuck,” he said laughing, and continued to fiddle with his fingers. She imagined his movements would have matched the untying of a shoelace or a rope perfectly. Finally completed he dropped both hands, exhausted at the effort and said, “Okies, all good.”
It was these little things that slowly but surely had their effect on Tracy’s mother. These tiny, random occurrences that popped up out of the blue that were nevertheless so consistent with a narrative that the Jellyfish actually did exist that she found herself staring into the mirror in her bedroom and trying to imagine what it would look like. She couldn’t see it, but she began to imagine that she could feel it. Something hugging her always.
One afternoon, after work she came home feeling exhausted. It had been one of those days where reality hits every notion and idea of your life with a hammer and leaves you feel thoroughly smashed. Tracy sensed this and kept himself quiet and occupied after preschool, gently singing and mumbling to himself while he lay on his front on the carpet in the living room, drawing in a paper booklet she’d bought for him.
While he did this she watched some show that she was streaming from Netflix, something with an easy dialogue and occasion colourful images to make her feel a little less destroyed by the reality of constant adulting. Finally after a while the quiet from her son was beginning to play on her mind.
“You okay champ?” she asked.
“Yes Mommy,” he said happily, “I’m drawing.”
“What’re you drawing?” she asked.
“You,” he said merrily.
She leaned forward in the sofa, feeling and hearing her lower back crack in protest. Long hours hunched over a desk left her back desperate to pop like bubblewrap. He leaned to the side and showed her the picture.
Every parent at some point is so amazed at what their child produces that they think they must be a genius. When you see the first shades and lines of a character forming, the foundation of the person they may grow up to be, it is impossible to not feel surprised at what talents they reveal, seemingly out of nowhere. This was one of those times.
The picture was as good as it could be in coloured pencil on low grade printing paper. It was clearly drawn by a child but what caught her attention was the movement within the picture. It wasn’t the “this is me,” “this is you” kind of drawing of flat characters that have to have shoulders, two legs, two arms, a head and a body because that’s what a person has. Or a sky that is a strip of blue at the top- because that is where the sky belongs, and brown or green at the botton to represent the ground because that is where the ground belongs. Literal drawings are what’s expected of children doing art. Literal drawing must first be explored before one can become abstract. But this picture was her taking the weedwacker to the foliage around the blinkle tree.
It was clearly that. Brought to life in coloured pencil with highly animated limbs. And, clear as day, wrapped around her head and shoulders was a pale blue and pink cloud like thing with tendrils. At first she didn’t know what it was, thinking maybe it was some sort of protective gear for the garden but then he shrugged and said, “You can’t see it,” he said in explanation, “But Jelly said I should draw it for you so you can see what it looks like.”
The depiction showed the Jellyfish as a cloud with tendrils, wrapped around her entire body, her head and chest were entirely covered by it as she used the weedwacker with a big smile on her face. Tendrils, dozens of them looked like they snaked all around her body.
“Is this really what you see baby?” she asked.
“Yes Mommy,” he said.
In response he pointed casually over his shoulder, “My Jelly.”
After telling Tracy that he could get off the table, Doctor Spies returned to his office chair and smiled at his mother across the very neat desk. He took a lollypop from a jar and handed it to Tracy as the boy passed him to get back to the chair next to his mom.
“Your boy is very healthy,” he said, “I cannot find anything wrong with him.”
“But what about this game he’s playing?” she asked, “It’s worrying me.”
Doctor Spies nodded, then frowned gently as he decided on a question to ask, finally he said to Tracy, “Tracy, can you tell me? How is my Jellyfish looking?”
Tracy, up to that point enwrapped in his lollipod looked up at the doctor and said, “It’s looking better Doctor Spies. Last time I saw it it looked like a lot of it had been taken away, but it has almost filled the caps completely. It’s a healthier colour too. Bit more pink.”
It would have taken an adult to spot it, but the doctor held the child’s gaze for a moment too long. As he considered his response carefully, “My cat died a month ago,” he said.
Tracy didn’t seem to understand the significance of this comment. The doctor glanced, very slightly nervously at his mother and asked the boy, “What else can you tell me?”
The boy, with the lollipod bulging a cheek asked a question that was incoherent. HIs mother shushed him and told him not to speak with his mouth full. He popped the lollipod out, apologised with great maturity and said, “I don’t know. About what?”
“About my Jellyfish,” the doctor asked.
Tracy frowned a little and inclined his head a fraction to the side as if listening to something at his shoulder. His mother was accustomed to seeing this now and while she swung from believing to doubting quite easily, it was unnerving to see her boy’s devotion to this. Then the boy did something that neither adult expected.
“I can ask your Jellyfish anything you like Doctor Spies,” the boy said, then added quickly to his mom, “If that’s okay Mom?”
It was a level of forwardness that caught them both off guard. But then the Doctor asked, “Anything?”
“Anything,” the boy said, grinning widely. Sensing a game was afoot.
His mother, largely satisfied with the doctor’s prognosis that he son was still healthy, leaned on the armrest of her chair and waited for her son’s performance.
The doctor thought for a full ten seconds before asking.
“What am I allergic to?”
His mother made a clucking sound of disapproval. That wasn’t a sporting question but her son seemed to not mind. He tilted his head to the side and listened to his imaginary friend. His lips moving in a certain mumbling fashion. He seemed unsatisfied with something and tried again, his lips moving as he mumbled something.
“I can’t say it,” he finally admitted.
The doctor’s look of relief was unintentional but fully apparent. He sat back in his chair and said, “I understand, it is difficult to pronounce isn’t it? Maybe you could describe it?”
Tracy’s mother loved the doctor for that gesture, she realised the doctor, seeing no harm in playing along was quite prepared to agree with anything that her son said. Then:
“Nick hill,” the boy said.
“Who’s Nick Hill?” his mother asked, seeing the doctor’s face drop suddenly. Her first thought was it was maybe a bully or something from school.
The doctor licked his lips to moisten them and said, “Nickel. I have an allergy to nickel.”
Tracy smiled, kicking his legs under the chair, excited like he’d just won a game. He looked at his mom and saw her face and asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Tracy,” the doctor said, before his mom could answer, “Tell me this, what happens if I touch nickel?”
After a moment, “You get really itchy. Blotchy blob.”
His mother was not genuinely concerned about the doctor’s appearance. The man was quite grey, “Are you okay Doctor?”
The doctor was sitting very erect, both hands on the table and clasped together. He worked his lips as he gathered himself. She knew a bit of his background, he had only opened his GP in this tiny town after working as a military doctor. After a career of seeing the horrors of what people could do to each other, he decided he wanted to work instead with families and children, because he thought he knew what he would be dealing with. He managed to surpress his surprise quite easily and explained kindly, “Blotchy blob was the nickname my mother gave me when we first discovered my allergy. It isn’t a serious affliction, avoidance is better than anything else so there is no medication required. But I haven’t heard or, to my memory used that nickname since before my mother died. How did you know Tracy?”
The boy stroked his shoulder and said, “Your jelly told me.”
The doctor nodded and then addressed his mother, “I am genuinely quite impressed and will admit a little flummoxed. I don’t know how your son or anyone could know that information. I am faced with a bit of a dilemma of definition. One I’ve not been faced with before.”
“Believe him or believe that he is perhaps an astonishingly resourceful individual who is able to uncover information that is not available anywhere except in my mind. I would like to ask a couple of follow up questions if that is okay?”
She was fine with the idea.
“Tracy, I would like to ask you a series of questions, these are quite personal but I am very interested if our Jellyfishes will cooperate. Are you willing to do this experiment with me?”
Clearly he was delighted, “Like scientists?”
“Exactly,” the doctor beamed.
“Yes,” Tracy said, clapping his hands.
Five minutes later, the doctor had to excuse himself from the room and Tracy’s mother was holding her son’s hand as if she thought at any moment he would either spontaneously combust or transform into something weird. The boy looked beseechingly at her, a child faced with a triumph of the game but met with something other than applause, “Did I do something wrong?” he asked.
No. he hadn’t. In fact, he’d done exactly what he’d been asked to do. Answered every single one of the doctor’s questions. Apparently too accurately. Mother and child sat in silence for a little while until the doctor returned and sat down. His tie was loosened and his face was a little flushed. On the air was a small smell of whiskey.
“Forgive me,” he said, “I had to steady my nerves. Tracy would you be able to do the same thing for your mother?”
Tracy seemed unsure, but then said, “Okay, but he’s getting tired and a little bored. Can we just do one question?”
The doctor left it for his mother to decide and she nodded, “That’s fine baby, I’ll just ask one question.” she looked at the doctor, “I don’t know what to ask.”
“How old we you when you had your first kiss,” the doctor suggested.
“That’s a bit silly isn’t it?” she thought aloud.
“Hardly,” he said, “Unless you’ve discussed something like that with your five year old son. Where else could he have the information? Better still, instead of when, ask where it was. Specifically.”
She asked her son the question.
After a moment of discussion and whispering, Tracy sat up and appeared to be waiting. When the adults went to speak he held up a hand and said, “Sorry Mum, but we’re chatting.”
His mother pursed her lips and looked told off. The doctor snorted in laughter. Finally the boy said, “Okay, sorry about that.”
“What’s the answer?” his mother asked.
“Well,” Tracy said, “The situation is that there are two answers.”
The choice of words were exactly how she would use it. Often framing difficult discussions with the words, “the situation”. The adults would have found this funny but the boy followed this with:
“There is an answer you’d like to give, that your first kiss was with Bradley Spencer at your debs ball, to “hanging by a moment” by Lifehouse,” the boy said this as if reading it off a script, or relaying words he was told, then added, “But the truth is it was with Ryan Ginsby under the jungle gym at Zinkwazi Caravan Park in South Africa.”
Outside, across the street a bird was singing happily until it realised how quiet it was and shut up.
Tracy, listened for a moment and added: “You remember the smell of the jungle gym. They used some kind of resin that smelt sweet and it’s always got you all warm inside.” he giggled wickedly and then squealed, “Mommy your jellyfish is going really pink!”
Doctor Spies cancelled all of his appointments for the remainder of the day and asked Tracy’s mother if they would like to join him and his wife for dinner this evening.
“We’ll be having pizza,” he ended the offer with, which thrilled Tracy, pizza was his favourite food of the moment.
His mother nodded and looked at the doctor severely, “I don’t think I completely understand what is going on Doctor.”
The doctor who was seeing them out at the time said, “Neither do I. But I think we’re faced with a choice of action here. One we chalk this up as a weird experience and we go about our lives, let the accumulative force of life just drown it out until it just becomes something we sort of remember. Or two, we investigate this fully and see what comes about it. Don’t worry my girl,” he said when she gave him a far sterner look, “I want to discuss some things with you and have my wife there as a third party observer. I am feeling very out of my depth here and would like to see what she thinks. The boy can eat his full of pizza, fall asleep in the spare room if needed and we can speak about what any of this means.”
“You’re very good at making a panicking situation calm,” she observed as he walked them to her car.
He shook her hand and then shook Tracy’s hand and said, “It’s my job. I will text you my address. Does 6pm work?”
MouseLord was sculking by the front door when they pulled up to the curb, his tail waving irritably. As they neared he gave a departing growl and headed around the side of the house. From the front door they could see through the house and into the backgarden through the clear panelled back door and she saw the cat scamper directly to the blinkle tree where it slid from view beneath the surviving foliage.
It was a denser patch of green than she had left after attacking it with the weedwacker, but frankly there was more on her mind and this fact slipped right past.
“Mommy am I in trouble?” Tracy asked.
“Not at all hon,” she said, “Why don’t you watch some TV, I’ll get a bath ready for you. Need to look smart for dinner with the doctor tonight.”
He settled happily infront of the television, happy for this rare treat and she made a snack for lunch. From the kitchen counter she was able to look into the garden which was no longer the delightfully wild jungle that Tracy had loved adventuring in. Her endeavours for the neighbour’s weedwhacker had left the garden pillaged. She’d waged war with the concealing weeds and grasses, bushes and trees. In comparison it looked like the aftermath of a war. While she couldn’t see many hiding places, she wasn’t thick enough to think that a cat wouldnt be able to find the best ones. Especially if one was inclined to it.
She finished the snack of a small sandwich and some grapes on a plate and gave it to Tracy and said, “Here you go honey, gotta keep the big boy fed.”
Wrapt in the television show her son hardly looked up but had the manners enough to say thank you as a compromise.
She slipped out of the back door and closed it immediately behind her. She wasnt afraid of MouseLord, not during the daytime when she could see him coming and she was wearing boots in case she had to deliver a well aimed kick. Yet she was still weary of the cat which she had the suspicion was cleverer than she’d given it credit for.
It’s said that cats are selective of their owners. Like Ted Bundy was selective of his victims. But it undoubtedly took intelligence to con a family into believing you were a loving pet meanwhile you were mining them for their Jellyfish, or whatever it was. It wasnt that level of intelligence that made her weary, it was the singular determination that makes it possible for an animal to maintain the act even after losing their testicles for it.
That sort of determination was scary as fuck.
The afternoon sky was typically overcast, deep layers of clouds forming a soup or grey and white. The back of her garden was a wall for the walkway behind it, and beyond that just another property’s garden wall. It had a closed in feeling that usually meant a great deal of happy privacy but for the moment made her feel cornered.
She had to push herself away from the back door to get herself to walk towards the Blinkle Tree.
Her boots sunk into the harshly cut grass and as she walked she kept looking over her shoulder at the closed door to make sure there wasn’t a cat trying to turn the knob to get inside. What was that old joke? Only thing stopping cats from taking over is the lack of opposable thumbs?
Looking back she realised with surprise she was already at the Blinkle Tree. a slender trunk of wood with bulges of trees at the top and the bottom. What a ridiculous looking tree.
At the base was where she had seen MouseLord enter. From what she could see there was a minor overhang of leaves, enough to conceal an animal but nothing more. With her boot she kicked apart the leaves and for a second thought she might be kicking a landmine but when she didn’t blow up she took a breath and stepped back to have a look.
In a smattering carpet of broken leaves there was just bare earth and a lot of mulch from her attack on the rest of the garden. Not even pawprints.
She laughed at herself. Her rational mind happily chuffing her as he stepped away.
It was a brief sensation but pertinent. A feeling not at all dissimilar to pulling a wet T-shirt off after taking a plunge in water. There was even that wet sucking sound and a mildly tickling sensation, like feeling silk ribbons dragged between fingers.
Suddenly, without explanation she found herself plunged into a dark world, like a tunnel, as if falling down a well. A receding disk of light, blinding white in comparison to the black earthen walls, she couldn’t distinguish any details aside from how bright it was.
She felt nauseous, but not in pain and so she had no fear. Just a mild confusion as if her recent memories had temporarily been forgotten. She had the impression of who she was, but not any of the details.
The disk of light eventually became so small and insignificant that she was engulfed in darkness and wondered where she was. This was made harder because she could not recall where she had been.
A moment of darkness followed by the introduction and steady build up of a pale ethereal blue light from behind her. It was then that she realised she was not falling, but being drawn out. Being dragged. And it was startling when the confines of the tunnel exploded into an expansive area filled with bright light and noise.
The sound of machinery clunking, steam hissing and escaping in violent shrieks, metals clanging together and a great deal of voluminous snarling. She was suddenly flung and spun through the air and landed heavily upon a large flat stage surrounded by high walls.
The imagery was all in shades of greys and light blues, and although she didn’t understand what she was seeing, the details were clear. At the top of the wall were a number of cats, one of them in particular she did recognise but didn’t know where from. Behind them was a vast wall with many openings that appeared to lead into tunnels going to different locations and more cats would enter into the complex via these holes. Gravity seemed to work differently here because these entering cats were inclined to climb out of the holes and walk along the surface.
The cat she recognized was staring at her.
The stage she was lying on was moving she became aware and she tried to move herself to see where it was going but found that she was incredibly uncoordinated. She tried to move her arm but it felt astonishing heavy and unresponsive, as if she’d fallen asleep on it. She looked at it and saw, instead of an arm, was a jumble of tendrils, wet and long, ethereally blue and pink and gassy.
She realised she wasn’t alone on the conveyor, seeing other bubble surfaced ethereal blue shapes landing from the walls above, flung down by more arriving cats. They resembled Jellyfish, bloated and transparent, with long tendrils leaving out of them.
Help me. She said.
They responded: Help me.
The conveyor belt began to move and she became aware of another sound. She finally turned around and saw what the conveyor belt was leading to.
She would have screamed. But she lacked the capacity to do so.
Tracy was helping himself to a glass of orange juice when the backdoor opened and his mother walked in. It was only when he heard the soft ring of MouseLord’s collar bell that he turned in horror to see his mother holding the door open as, in an avalanche of fur, the cats poured in.
Doctor Spies touched his wife’s shoulder and kissed her on the cheek, “Thank you for being cool about them coming over.”
“It’s embarrassing when you try to act hip,” his long suffering wife of fifty years said, patting his hand, “But it’s not a problem at all. I can watch NCIS another time.”
He smiled as he opened a bottle of wine and poured them both a glass, “You’ve seen that show a hundred times already. Aren’t you bored of it?”
“You can’t beat the classics,” she said, accepting the wine with a smile.
They clinked their glasses and Doctor Spies got comfortable in his armchair. He’d just found that good spot when the doorbell rang and he checked his watch, “Oh they’re early. Sorry dear. You chill for a bit and I’ll follow up on the pizza order.”
“Chill out dude,” his wife said as he got up to answer the door.
He had been looking forward to this all day since the meeting in the office. It was rare that something could surprise and excite him so much and he felt a touch of electricity at the thought of it all. The doorbell rang again.
“I’m on my way,” he chimed, jogging down the corridor to the door and opening it with a gusto.
“Welcome to my home! Miranda? Are you okay?”