The cat purred steadily as though the house hadn't just rolled onto its side. Perhaps cats were immune to upsets so long as they remained in the safety of a cardboard box with a comfortable cushion.
Faisal stared at the white cat with an orange ear, who blinked in slow, disinterested contentment and began washing his paw.
"Cheddar," Faisal said to the cat, "you stay here. I'll see if I can find Mom and Brenda."
Faisal righted himself, or what he thought was upright, as he headed down the living room wall, stepping over the sheets and chairs that had, until this morning, made up Fort Gunther. He slipped on the improvised flagpole hidden beneath his sleeping bag and heard a definitive crunch.
His knee hit a chair, causing him to yelp, but at least he wasn't the one with a broken leg. Faisal grimaced at the chair, but he had a decent excuse.
Picking his way from the living room to the foyer took patience and good balance, but it didn't compare to the challenge of climbing the stairs.
"Hm. This is going to take some rope and a three-pulley system." Brenda always said any challenge could be overcome with a three-pulley system, and given that the stairs now led from what was essentially a wall to the ceiling, her advice might be sound in this case.
Faisal didn't see any rope accessible, and the climbing gear was stored in the garage, but Cheddar's red leash and harness hung from a peg on the wall. He grabbed it and the golf umbrella from the basket by the door. Thus armed, he began to climb, hooking the leash through the bars of the railing for purchase and planting the umbrella against every available nook to steady himself.
Eleven steps and twice as many minutes later, he reached the landing, throwing his small body over the top step and wedging the tip of the umbrella into the hall carpet.
Faisal heaved himself up with the umbrella in his left hand, his right arm bracing against the friction of the carpet. He pulled his body at an angle until he could rest against the relative safety of the wall, but before he relaxed, a sound like a distant explosion shook the house and rattled Faisal’s teeth. It stopped as quickly as it had come, although the pendulum lamp thudded against the wall in protest.
Faisal’s panting slowed, and he caught his breath. He lifted the tip of the umbrella, tapping it against the door across from him. "Mom?" he shouted. "Brenda?"
He heard them stirring and called again. "Mom? Brenda?"
Brenda's muffled voice replied, "Faisal, what happened? Why is everything turned over? Why are we on the wall?"
"I don't know. I woke up and—"
His mother screamed. She stayed calm in the face of spiders, board meetings, and roller derbies, but not, apparently, house-rolling crises
"Faisal?! Baby, are you ok?!"
"Yeah, Mom. I'm ok, but I, uh, broke a chair."
Mom repeated Brenda's questions with less decorum and more swearing.
That's when Cheddar's paws appeared around the corner, his claws straining to lift his aging body up the final step. He had stopped purring, and scratched at the door.
"Cheddar?" Scrabbling sounds came from the other side of the bedroom door, and Brenda, wearing her Led Zeppelin t-shirt, peered down at the cat, then the boy.
With her feet planted against the door jamb, she assisted Faisal's Mom in leaving the bed. Mom's satin nightgown swirled around her dark thighs as Brenda lowered her down to Faisal. They hugged, and helped Brenda, who'd grabbed last night's pair of pants from the wall, into the hallway.
By the time they made it outside, complete with the electric teapot on a seventy-five foot extension cord, it was midday. They stood in their nightclothes, wrapped in off-season coats, and stared from the porch as a horde of colorful beasts as big as houses, cavorted in the park down the hill.
Their bristling fur glistening in the sun, they slammed into each other causing tremors that left Faisal unsteady on the brick front path.
Cheddar joined the humans who continued to watch agape at the enormous felinic monsters down the hill. "Sorry about the house, old chap," he said to Faisal. "They can't help themselves when they’re released into open spaces."
Everyone stared at the cat, who kept his amber eyes on the horizon. Brenda squeezed Mom's hand to keep her from screaming. "Friends of yours?" she asked with a slight break in her voice.
"Hm. More like distant cousins," Cheddar replied. "From out of town, you might say."
Brenda gave a short laugh. “Must be pretty far out of town.”
Faisal’s eyes bulged. “You can talk? Did anyone else know Cheddar could talk? And do you mean you’re an ali—”
Mom interrupted, her eyes fixed on the horizon in a daze. "Tea?" she asked.
The cat considered her. "No, thank you, but I wouldn't sniff at a kipper if you've one around."
Raven J. Demers
Raven J. Demers writes speculative fiction and is the author of The Corvid and the Calico and Perdition and co-author of the Amakai series. Xe earned a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Washington and is a member of the Northwest Independent Writers Association. Raven lives in a forest near Seattle, WA with xyr family and believes the answer to xyr farming obsession might be ducks.