Even though he was translucent, I could feel how freezing cold his hands were. I could’ve kicked myself for trusting this strange ghostly child, but it was too late now.
Argh….time to die again.
“What’s your name?” I asked him, trying to be friendly.
“Neekah,” he said cheerfully. “I’m five!” he added proudly.
A five year old…could a five year old kill me? “Hey Neekah. I’m Cat, Cat Madigan.”
He started giggling again. “Meow.”
I made myself smile. “Yeah, like that. Meow.”
“This way, Meow,” he pulled me around the corner.
“Where are we going?” I asked him, desperately hoping that Daniel would come around soon, and hopefully sober enough to get me away before Neekah went psycho and started to stab me.
“The nurs’ry,” he said. “I wan’ you to mee’ my friends, Meow!”
Oh…I’m going to be murdered by a GROUP of creepy ghost children. Yay! “Is my friend going to be there too?”
“She’s there summer-times,” he said. A look of unease came across his face. “Scary, she is, Meow. She scares me, Tooie too.”
“She scares me too,” I told him. “She’s nice though, she’s not a bad person.”
His face brightened up. “We’re heeeeeeeere!” he called cheerfully.
Bracing myself for my brutal death at the hands of evil demon ghost children, I watched him open the door, and I stepped through after him. “Hello,” I said uneasily.
“Hi!” The ghost children chorused. There was about twenty of them, girls and boys, with glowing white skin, and deep blue hair. “What’s your name?” One child yelled out.
“She’s Meow!” Neekah replied.
Before I could correct him, the children all sang out, “Meow Meow!” and giggled hysterically. A tiny little girl with a green eye and a blue eye took my hand. “Tell us a story!” she sang, and the children cried out in agreement.
“…okaaaaay, um, what story?” This was getting far too weird for words. The girl started pulling me over to a little reading nook with a window view of the outside. For a moment, I just stood there, and watched the silver spirits swimming outside, almost flying through the water surrounding the castle.
“A noo story!” Neekah exclaimed. The little girl gave a cry of delight and pushed me into the reading nook. The children then proceeded to crowd around me, Neekah and the little girl sitting next to me, and they looked up at me intently.
There was a moment where I considered whether death by demon children was preferable to whatever the hell was going on here. But I decided to go with it. “Okay,” I said, more to reassure myself. “This is the story…of a princess.”
“Boring!” The girl next to me practically yelled in my ear.
“I like princess stories!” Another girl whined.
“I don’t!” She crossed her arms and sulked. “And I’m the princess, and what I say goes!”
I knew that it was only a matter of seconds before the nursery broke out into outright war, so I called out “Okay, everyone shhhhhhh!”
Immediately, the children started going “Shhhhhhhhh” as loud as the could. “Alright,” I said, thankful for the distraction. “I’ll tell you about a cat instead.”
They quietened down. “Okay. There was once a little cat, who lived with her family. She was happy, and they were happy. Then one day, the little cat got lost.”
“Oh no…” The little princess’s face looked disheartened.
I continued. “She was lost in a forest. But rather than cry, she decided to look around for help. After a few hours, she came across a girl. She had white hair and purple eyes, and she looked very very scared.”
“Who was she?” Neekah asked.
“The little cat didn’t know,” I told him. “But she asked if she was alright. But the girl ran away without answering.
“So the little cat ran after her, trying to find her. But she managed to find herself even deeper in the forest, and she ended up getting caught. A tree got ahold of her with his long arm, and wouldn’t let her go.” The little girl gasped. “Now the little cat was scared. She wasn’t afraid before, she had been in forests before, but now she couldn’t move, and she was helpless.
“She cried out for help, for hours and hours, and but even though other people passed through the forest, passed the same tree that she was stuck in, they couldn’t see her. Eventually, she stopped calling out, and just cried.”
The expressions on their faces were all desolated, and the girl beside me was in tears. Neekah walked around me and took her hand. I could’ve slapped myself. Why do all my stories end up just….bad?
“Then a man was coming through the forest,” I continued. “A…a warrior, coming back from a fight. And the little cat was scared even more. He was carrying a large sword and had an angry expression on his face, and she just hoped he’d leave her alone.
“But he stopped in front of the tree, and looked at her. His face changed, and suddenly, with the swing of a sword, he cut off the branch which held her, and she fell to the ground. She landed on her toes, as all cats do, and the man knelt down beside her. ‘Are you alright?’ he asked.
“The little cat didn’t know what to say. She had been crying for hours and this man was the first one who had heard her. She didn’t know what to say to this man.
“He looked around. ‘Where is your family?’ he asked her. The little cat just shook her head. ‘Not here’, she said,” and as I said her words, I put on a high squeaky voice for the little cat, making the children giggle a bit.
“‘Would you like my help?’ the man asked. The little cat didn’t answer at first. She had just been trapped by a tree, and she was frightened of the strange things in the forest, and she was also afraid of this man, who had just come from battle. But she also wanted to get home, as fast as she could. ‘Yes please’, the little cat said. ‘Take me to the outside of the forest please, sir’.
“So the man picked up the little cat and put her on his shoulder, and he walked through the endless forests until the trees started disappearing, and she could see the light again. ‘Thankyou!’ the little cat squeaked, and the man lifted her off his shoulder.”
I looked at the faces of the children, now bright and intent. Slowly, I continued. “She looked up at the man, and asked him ‘Where is your home?’ in her squeaky voice.
“He just shook his head. ‘I live here,’ he told the little cat. ‘I don’t have a home’.
“The little cat thought for a moment. ‘If I…ever go into the forest again, can I go with you?’ she asked him.”
I’m tempted to give in to the immature streak inside me and say something along the lines of And the man said, ‘Fuck no!’ and ran away, but that’s not appropriate for little children. “And the man smiled at her, and he didn’t look scary at all. ‘If you want’, he said. ‘If you promise to be careful too’.
“And so from then on, the little cat would always go into the forest with the man, and even when she became a big cat, and didn’t need his help anymore, she’d always stay with him. Because even though he was a warrior, he needed help too, like she did. And the little cat knew that she always had a home in the forest with him.”
“Theeeeeeee Ennnnnnnnd,” the little girl sang, much more cheerful than at the beginning of my depressing story.
“Is not!” Neekah protested. “She diddin get to the bit where the little cat goes home to her family!”
“Of course she did,” the little girl rolled her eyes. “Don’t be stupid. She made it to the edge of the forest, and went home.”
Another child raised her hand. “Meow Meow, what happened to the girl the little cat met?” she asked.
“Did she ever get caught in the trees again? How do trees even do that?!”
“Weren’t her parents worried about her?”
“What was the man’s name?”
“Meow Meow, it’s time to go.”
I looked up, and Daniel was leaning against the wall, smiling. “Heya,” I said. At least you’re still sober.
“No!” The little girl flung her arms around me. “She’s ours! Ours, ours, ours!”
“Yeah!” All the children started crowding around me, as if to create a barricade to prevent Daniel from reaching me. It’s freezing cold, and I began to worry again at dying at their hands. One child even leaps on my shoulders and hugs my head, so I can’t see. Death by hugs wouldn’t be a bad way to go though. Well, actually…
“Come on guys, can I have my Meow back? She’s mine.” Daniel’s voice took on a petulant tone.
“No!” the twenty-something ghost children protested. “She’s ours!”
“Meow Meow has to go with her husband now, guys. She’ll come back another time, I promise!”
You had better not be talking about yourself, mister. But the children all sighed with disappointment, and released me from their icy cold grasps. As I walked over to Daniel, they all waved goodbye, and the little girl with the blue and green eyes came forward.
Daniel knelt to the ground and kissed her hand. He was the epitome of charming. Then she hugged me around my legs. “Goodbye Meow,” she said softly.
“We’ll come back again another time, ‘Reida,” Daniel told her, before leading me out of the room.
I was quiet as I followed him. “We’re not going back there, are we?” I whispered.
“No.” His voice was sad. “That’s just a memory of them. Neekah’s memory, actually. But they’re gone, those children.”
“Did they get…” Their faces flashed through my mind. “Not children surely…”
“No,” he reassured me. “That’s not them when they died, I promise.”
“You also promised them that we’d come back,” I retorted.
“We will come back,” he said. “Another time though. Another place. I don’t break my promises. Neekah will get to see you again, and you can meet him and his friends again.”
I was unsure how to feel about this. I wasn’t afraid or anything like that. But I was sad. The thought of Neekah wandering the castle, conjuring up memories of his little friends to keep him company, felt so…
“He’s trying to ignore it all,” I said aloud, more to myself than Daniel. “He’s trying to forget that he’s dead, and his friends are dead. It’s horrible.”
It wasn’t till Daniel touched my shoulder that I realised I had tears falling from my eyes. “I’m sorry,” he told me. “I shouldn’t have taken you here.”
Somewhere, within myself, I brought out a smile. “It’s okay though,” I said. “I’m glad I met them.”
When he was still frowning, I hugged him around the waist, like he’d do to me when I was saddened. “It’s only a memory, but they still exist,” I said. “These people are good, and they’re real to Neekah, so they are real.”
I looked up at him, and kissed him on the cheek. “Thankyou Daniel,” I told him. “Thankyou for showing me the one place of pure good in this god forsaken world.”