He needed new trousers, that was abundantly clear. The last
remaining pair had reached the point of becoming more hole than
trouser and he was beginning to run out of safety pins. The time had
finally come to buy some more.
"Look at the state of you. I can't believe you only have one
pair. Why can't you just dress normally, like everyone else?"
"Yes mum." he said.
"And comb your hair! What's wrong with you?"
"Here's twenty quid. Go down to the supermarket and have a
look in the clothes section. Oh, and we need some milk."
The sun shone brightly down onto the village of Grimbledale as
the young man made his way out of the small flat, down through a
green but weed-ridden garden and onto the quiet street where he
lived. He fumbled with a pair of headphones as he walked, delicately
unknotting each wire while simultaneously creating three more knots
in the other. Eventually he placed them back in his pocket, deciding
that it might be more fun and a lot easier to walk in silence. A tiny
old woman greeted him warmly as he reached the end of the road.
"Morning my lovely. Beautiful day again."
"Morning. Yes, it's turned out very nice again." he
Rounding the corner, he nodded to another elderly woman before
suddenly catching a glimpse of a ginger cat sat upon the low wall of
a neighbour's garden. He loved animals and had a particular
fondness for cats. They were strong creatures; independent and strong
willed but with an affectionate and loving side. Every cat, in his
opinion, deserved his time and respect. Perhaps if he had known this
particular cat a little better, he would have changed his mind.
"Hey Mr Cat, what have you been up to?"
The ginger cat purred loudly as he stroked the back of its neck
gently. Jumping on to the pavement, it rubbed itself against his
ankles a few times before trotting off down the road and into a
narrow alley a few metres ahead. Naturally, he followed the cat.
Despite the bright sunshine, the alley was bathed in dark shadow.
Between the silhouettes of bins and boxes he could see a pair of
shining green eyes twinkling back at him. The cat appeared to be
waiting for him. Smiling, he walked into the alley with the intention
of treating the friendly little creature to another stroke before
heading off to continue his mission to purchase a reasonably priced
pair of slacks. Of course, things don't always work out the way we
intend them to.
For a brief moment, in the shadows of the cluttered alley, he
could have sworn that the cat was actually holding something,
something large and heavy. Then everything went black.
Molly climbed to her feet and dusted off her grubby apron.
"I can't believe you've brought one in here." she cried,
"A person - a whole bloody person! Even part of one is enough to
get me into trouble!"
"Oh, don't be so dramatic." Spratt yawned. "Look at him,
"Umm, excuse me." said the man.
"That's not the point and you know it." said Molly, "Him
Upstairs is in a mood as it is. He's going to go ballistic if he
finds out about this."
"Well maybe he should find out. Goodness knows something needs
to actually happen around here." said Spratt.
"Don't start all this again. Do you have any idea what
happened the last time another human came this far in? You are just
so bloody irresponsible."
Molly sat back on the small stool, sighing heavily before raising
her eyes and taking a good look at the man. It had been a long while
since she had last laid eyes on another human being and part of her
had to admit that it was a comforting sight. The basic shape hadn't
changed much over the years (not that she really expected it to, but
she had heard strange rumours about humans getting wider), with this
particular individual being quite tall, if slightly under-nourished.
His blond hair was an untidy mess of very greasy curls and his face
sported a look of bewilderment that Molly found rather appealing;
like a lonely dog that had lost its way and fallen headfirst into a
tub of lard.
"I was just wondering if..." said the man.
"You're just going to have to put him back where you found
him." said Molly turning to face Spratt.
"I shall do no such thing."
"Oh yes, you bloody well will!"
"I shan't and you can't make me. I'm a cat, we can't be
ordered about. It's why everyone loves us so much."
"Please, will anyone just tell me where the hell I am?"
the man stood a little straighter in an apparent effort to assert
himself. Molly shot him the best look of annoyance that she could
muster, revealing just a flicker of anger behind her cool blue eyes.
It was enough to make the man sink back into a slouch and turn his
gaze to the floor. She was good at things like that.
"Look, I don't know you and I realise that I'm intruding on
your property, but the weirdest thing happened to me - I'm pretty
that sure someone knocked me out, and I think it was the cat." The
man pointed towards Spratt who responded with a cheeky grin and an
"What did you use? Baseball bat?" asked Molly.
"No, a shovel." replied Spratt.
"It's a good choice."
"Will you please talk to me? This is all a dream, right?
Tell me this is a dream." the man pleaded.
Molly scratched her head. She didn't
even want to think about the man stood there, let alone speak to him.
Memories of her first visit to the Keep began popping into her mind,
reminding her of the confusion and general bafflement that she
herself had experienced. She had to tell him something before he
began attacking everyone with wooden spoons, as she had once done.
"You, my friend, have found yourself in the Keep. It's a
large building that sits at the edge of the Muddle."
"I'm sorry, the what?"
"The Muddle." replied Spratt. "It's a place that... well,
it's sort of an... umm..."
"It just is, and that's it. All you need to know is that
you're not supposed to be here and we need to get you back home as
quickly as we can." said Molly.
"Okay... that's fine. I'm all for getting back home, but I
have one important question. Why is the cat talking?"
"Because he doesn't know when to shut up. Now, what's your
name?" asked Molly.
"Actually, probably best if you don't say it out loud. You
never know who's listening in this place. While you're in the
Muddle, you'll be called Anders. I like that name."
"Anders..." the man repeated, "Okay, I guess."
"Here's the plan." Molly announced, "I'm going to get
lunch ready for Him Upstairs and then I'll probably just have a
sandwich because I'm sort of hungry but not ravenous, if you know
what I mean. Maybe pickle with some mustard, I'm not really sure,
I'll have to see what's in the cupboard. Then we, and I mean all
three of us, are going to the Tall Wall to get you back home.
Hopefully it won't take long. What's the weather like?"
Molly walked over to a small window on the far wall. Grabbing a
dirty cloth, she wiped away the film of orange grease and stared out
through the smeared glass. Anders walked up behind and peered
curiously over her shoulder.
"Wow. That's just... well, it's an amazing view." said
"Quite a sight, isn't it?"
The window looked out on to a steep slope littered with huge grey
boulders stacked in piles. Knots of brambles and thick grass sprouted
between them, filling every available visible space. The steep
gradient led down into a wide plain filled with a labyrinthine
confusion of structures and broken walls that faded into the
distance. Some of the closer buildings could be seen quite clearly;
They were strange, haphazard shapes, as if someone had taken a jigsaw
puzzle and forced all the wrong pieces to fit together. Scattered
among the crumbling buildings, mysterious flickering orbs perched
themselves atop the higher walls, appearing and disappearing like
shining stars on a misty night.
Flowing down from a hidden source between patches of woodland that
surrounded the plain, a silver stream glinted in the dim light and
headed on its journey out to a distant sea in the west. In the far
distance on the eastern side, foothills of sombre brown faded away,
leading to faint patches of white mountain tops that could be seen
sitting under a grey and murky sky. It was raining again, but then,
it always rained in the Muddle.
"How on earth did I end up in a place like this? I'm sure
there are no mountains near Grimbledale." said Anders.
Molly examined his expression carefully as he stared out of the
window. His eyes seemed full of wonder and terror. All the blood had
drained from his face and she couldn't help but smile as his jaw
fell open, leaving a long pink tongue to dribble all over his shirt.
Maybe it would be a bit of fun to have another human around, even for
just a couple of hours.
"Hmm, it looks like a gentle drizzle.
That's good weather." said Molly, turning away from the window.
"Right. I've got to make this Rogg into something more
digestible. Spratt, you can take Anders here to the porch and wait.
Don't worry, I won't be long."
She smiled as she lifted a gigantic meat cleaver from the table.
Spratt beckoned for Anders to follow and they left, leaving Molly to
"That bloody cat." Molly grumbled to herself as she heaved
large slabs of Rogg onto the table and butchered them into bite-size
chunks, "He's gone too far this time. Who would have thought that
a cat could use a shovel like that? And if Him Upstairs finds out
about this, I'm never going to hear the end of it. Chances are he
knows already anyway. We're just going to have to resolve this as
quickly as possible, before they get wind of it."
She stopped for a moment and stared out of the small window. It
was starting to get dark and the flickering orbs from the ruins had
begun to glow brighter, highlighting the jagged edges of the broken
walls that lay below. The nights in the Muddle could be quite
beautiful and she often tried to imagine what the valley must have
looked like in its glory days, if indeed it had ever had any.
However, the nights also brought with them dangers; Giant Vampire
Owls, Cyborg Bunnies and Zombie Bus Conductors were just a few of the
surprises waiting in the darkness.
Thankfully they wouldn't have to go all the way into the valley
to find the wall. They just had to go a little way beyond the grounds
of the Keep, toss Anders back into his world and make their way back
to the castle in time for a nice cup of tea and some biscuits.
Everything would be just fine.