Bernice Summerfield looked out the window and marveled at her ‘winter wonderland.’
Brown-green muck looked back at her. The festive colored lights she had strewn about the hedges dripped sad, colored blotches onto the ground. Bernice shook her head and pulled the drapes closed. The Doctor had dumped Bernice and her cat in this mountain town in Northern Canada in the late 1980’s over a month ago and she had been awaiting his return ever since.
In this town of Little Ivory, winter ruled for eight months out of twelve with snowdrifts the size of houses, ice that pulled down the mightiest pines, and air so cold and savage it tore at your lungs.
And yet just in time for the holidays, the ground thawed and sloshed, the snow sank into slush and mud ran in rivulets, coating the fresh white with a dirty, gritty layer of filth.
As if holidays by yourself weren’t depressing enough.
Bernice sipped at her mug of hot cocoa. The powder hadn’t mixed properly and little globs of it floated on top, breaking open against her lips. The fine powder tickled her nose. She gave a little sneeze and returned to the kitchen to give her drink a good stir before loading up on mini-marshmallows. And a splash of rum.
Settling back in her chair, she snuggled under her afghan within easy reach of the gifts stacked beneath the Christmas tree. She had found the artificial tree and some ornaments in a box in the basement of the old house the Doctor had given her the keys to before she left. She wasn’t exactly religious, well not very often, but had seemed like a fun thing to do to pass the time. And she was always open to receiving gifts.
She cupped the warm mug in one hand and gently stroked the largest box with the other. Shiny green paper, decorated with cats in Santa hats, contained the Carol Cornell collection; all the latest copies of the Glowing Fire Hearth series by Bernice’s favorite author. It was a gift she had bought for herself, purchased in the little town’s bookstore. She had read them all before of course, dozens of times, but her copies were dog-eared and tired. Tonight was the perfect night to tuck into a good romance.
As she made to retrieve the present Wolsey, her cat, started to shred a tiny package just behind it. It was slim and wrapped in metallic red paper. The Doctor had left it for her. Knowing him, it wasn’t something Bernice had been terribly keen on opening. She had banished it to the farthest depths of the tree’s darkest shadows, where it had lurked for more than a week.
Now she snatched it from the lethal claws of her pet, placed it in her lap, and eyed it warily. Bernice knew from experience that The Doctor’s taste in gifts tended towards the ‘Spirit Crystals’ and ‘Healthy Bark Juice’ variety. However, thanks to Wolsey’s energetic efforts, enough of the paper was stripped away so Bernice could see it was merely a book.
Wolsey sulked on her armrest, staring at his stolen prize.
It was bad enough that the Doctor knew she was going to be here for the holidays. Bernice grumbled as she opened it before barking out a short laugh.
Feline Regression: Discovering the Nine Lives Within
A Voyage Through Your Pet’s Past Lives
It seemed that, indeed, the Doctor had finally lost it.
Bernice read the blurb on the back cover:
"Your beloved feline has lived more than one life. Through Feline Regression, not only will you bond with your cat, but it will enable you to discover the past lives they have lived. Whether they were a revered member of Egyptian Royalty or a Norwegian Forest Warrior Cat, their hidden histories will astound you. Whether your cat is on its fifth or ninth life, explore the world’s history from a unique perspective. Witness the fall of Rome or the devastation of Krakatoa through slitted eyes."
Bernice raised a dubious eyebrow at her ‘royal’ pet.
Wolsey glared back.
Despite herself, Bernice flipped through the first few pages and examined the chapter headings:
Chapter One- Feline Regression Riding the Spiritual Highway
Chapter Two- The Lost Art of Hairball Interpretation, Untangling the Mysteries within...
Chapter Three- The Lost Art of Litter Box Reading, Placement and Meaning…
Chapter Four- Resplendent Rodents, Share the Nutrition Your Cat Enjoys…
Bernice flipped to Chapter One, the least objectionable of the chapters. She grinned at a photograph of a woman, hunched over her cat in her lap, eyes shut and wind streaming through her hair as if she were riding a motorcycle, superimposed against the starry background of space.
"First, we must prepare your cat for its spiritual journey into the past. Sit in a comfortable chair with your pet in your lap, its body parallel to your legs, its face pointing towards your knees."
Bernice half-rolled, half-pulled Wolsey into her lap. While not unwilling, Wolsey gently sank his claws into her bathroom for purchase and to convey the message that this sort of ‘lugging the cat about’ behavior, although tolerated, was frowned upon.
"Now, gently stroke your cat with both hands, slowly and firmly at first, stroking in one motion from head to bum. Graduate to longer and stronger strokes. By now you should feel your pet purring, both with your ears and through the tremulous, soothing vibrations of its body.
"The ears of your pet should begin to flatten and turn backwards. Do not be confused, your cat is not annoyed. This is simply a sign that it is preparing to launch on a cosmic flight, a journey through the existential planes that bar one world from the next. Now close your eyes, and breathe with your cat, searching deep within your soul for the human / feline connection that lays dormant inside you. Feel the rhythm of the purr and listen to see if it sounds familiar; it is possible that you too were once a cat. In the improbable coincidences that compose the cosmos, you may in fact have the same soul of the pet in your lap. Both in the same time, but in different bodies. Only by parting the veil that separates existence will you know your cat’s true identities.
"With your eyes closed, lean your head over your cat’s, your chin touching its furry head. Now, begin to breathe in synch, stroking faster and faster. Cast off your mortal ties from this realm and fly through the ether, your cat as your guide. Leave this world and journey into the past.
"After ten minutes of heavy purring and riding your pet’s spiritual highway, your mind and your cat’s will soon merge into one. Visions of past lives will fill your head, images of wars, worlds, and faces. Let them come to you and reveal the true visages your beloved has worn in times long past. Perhaps your pet lived in Scotland in the Dark Ages or was one of the rare Portuguese Swamp Cats of legend…"
Bernice was dying. Hot cocoa splashed about as she howled with laughter, sputtering and snorting with glee. Tears in her eyes she glanced again at Wolsey in who was watching her dispassionately from her lap. Still chortling, she tried to give an experimental purr.
Wolsey’s ears pressed flat against his head.
She was already half-way there! He must be preparing to ‘launch’!
Still giddy, Bernice tried a softer, longer purr.
Wolsey’s claws sank deeper into the fabric and against her skin.
Bernice howled some more. She looked up from her book and glanced at the door to make sure it was bolted and that the window curtains were drawn tight shut. Putting the guide book on the armrest next to her so she could still glance at it, she hunched over Wolsey and started stroking as instructed.
Wolsey’s ears remained firmly flattened against his head.
However, her Spiritual Guide was not revving his engine as the book had required. Purring was not forthcoming.
Bernice decided to jumpstart her ride with the historically proven ‘chin scratch-shoulder rub’ combo. A few heavy strokes later and Wolsey was roaring away at full throttle.
Bernice shut her eyes, rested her chin on his head and waited for ‘astral ride’ to begin.
Wolsey kept purring.
But nothing else.
Bernice did her best to match his breathing before she tried to reach down inside herself for the ‘feline rhythm.’ She listened further, but aside from her tummy gurgling with the hot cocoa, her inner soul was relatively quiescent.
Bernice kept purring.
Wolsey kept purring.
But nothing else.
Not a Portuguese Swamp Cat to be found.
Bernice popped one eye open and, still rubbing, took a peek at the next page, hoping for a helpful illustration. Instead, she found only text.
"…One cannot expect to plug into the astral plane immediately. It may take many practice sessions before you achieve transcendence. This does not mean, however, that your cat isn’t trying to communicate with you. If necessary, flip to Chart 11A for a list of cat body language interpretations."
Bernice leaned back slightly and flipped about until she found a series of charts. There it was, Chart 11A. Still stroking Wolsey, she did a quick inventory of his body language to determine which past life he was ‘channeling’:
-Tail end tapping gently against her leg.
-Chin resting on knee.
-Drool seeping into her bathrobe.
It took her a few moments to work out the rather complex cross referencing but it produced the rather bizarre number ‘56’. It then instructed her to Chart 11B, where she looked up the meaning of ‘56’.
"56 means that your cat is trying to tell you that it is channeling its Sixth life (divide 56 by the enchanted and mystical number Nine). It has lived a life accustomed to pleasure and the finer things in life, but was also shrouded in secrecy. This may mean that it was in the care of a secret society or possibly revered by some ancient religion. The flexing of the claws an indication that your cat may have also been a fighter, warrior or even a Ninja cat…"
At the word ‘ninja’, Wolsey’s claws dug slightly deeper into her skin.
He's a ninja cat!
Bernice laughed so hard that Wolsey jumped off her lap in alarm and hid under the Christmas tree.
"With the correct stimulation, the determined pet owner may interact with the ‘other life’ that the cat is channeling. This may generally be facilitated with music, food or catnip. Remember, you are a stranger to this ‘other life’, and you must introduce yourself and pay homage to them. If the new soul is willing, it may interact with you. Whether your cat was a Dancing Cat of the ancient city of Ur, or a French Fencing Feline, challenge it to interact with you through its art."
Bernice looked at the thumbnail image under ‘Ninja Cat’ of a woman in the classic karate pelican pose, standing on one foot, with her arms out to her sides, towering over a small tabby.
Pulling off her afghan, she bent down and peeked under the tree limbs. Yellow eyes stared back from the shadows and no amount of “Here kitty, kitty” had any effect. Remembering the suggestion in the book about music, Bernice sat by the stereo and flipped through some CD’s. She popped in Bing Crosby’s Christmas Album. Soft, gentle strains Good King Wenceslas filled the living room.
The clink of the mug resting on the coffee table brought out an inquisitive cat head from within the green boughs. Although dangling strands of tinsel tickled at his whiskers, he remained firmly tree-bound.
Bernice raided the bottom of the hall closet for more holiday tunes. Unfortunately, selections of The Carpenters, The Chimpmunks and John Gallway similarly failed to entice.
John Denver and the Muppets finally coaxed the beast from his lair.
Waiting until he was completely out from under the tree, Bernice stood over her cat and began to slowly raise one foot, her arms aloft, wrists bent downward; mimicking the photographs she had seen in the book.
Bernice finally stopped laughing and tried again, purring this time. Ever so softly.
Wolsey sat on his hind legs and stared up at her.
Bernice looked at the photograph once more and noticed the long, colorful dress the woman was wearing and how the cat leapt up to block and parry the fabric. She undid bathrobe and let the flaps and rope dangle about her as she sashayed around the room, gliding about laughing as if she was fifteen again.
Wolsey, however, remained unimpressed.
Bernice tied long strands of tinsel to her fingers and waist, stuffing shimmering clumps of it in the pockets of her robe.
As Kermit’s voice began the first verses of Silent Night, she started slowly swirling around the living room. She let the silver strands float in front of him and play under his nose.
The teasing, shiny string finally broke through Wolsey’s impassive façade. He pawed up at the glittering thread.
It was cheating, of course, but it did the trick. Wolsey sprang about after her, the slick, thin tinsel slithering through his claws, constantly eluding him. He leapt at her in great leaps, his tail twitching in full ‘Play’ mode.
Technically, Wolsey wasn’t using Ninja blows or poses. It didn’t matter that she was not ‘One’ with his ‘Past Sixth Life-force.’ It was Christmas Eve and Bernice was alone with her cat, dancing, laughing and prancing about her living room.
She was quite content with the present Wolsey, thank you very much.