Last week we announced that Kiwi In Cat City (Kiwi series) by Vickie Johnstone is our Kids Corner Book of the Week and the sponsor of our student reviews and of thousands of great bargains in the Kids Book category:
Now we’re back to offer a free Kids Corner excerpt, and if you aren’t among those who have downloaded this one already, you’re in for a treat!
by Vickie Johnstone
For children aged 9+, teens and adults…
One dark night, Amy cannot sleep and she looks out of the window into the garden to see her cat, Kiwi, transfixed by the moon, which is glowing brightly like a cat’s claw. Waking her brother, James, Amy suggests they follow Kiwi to see where she goes… whether it involves a hunt for mice or something else. Little do they know that, with a flick of her tail, Kiwi is going to magically change them into kittens and lead them on the adventure of their lives to a land they never knew existed in their wildest dreams. In the blue-lit world of Cat City, the budding detectives help Inspector Furrball to solve the mystery of the missing catizens and find out what happened to Madame Purrfect.
This book is the first in the Kiwi Series.
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
She was as black as night that lost its moon
She was a crazy kind of loon.
Eyes as wide as giant saucers
Yellow and rimmed with green;
Whiskers long with almost white tips
She grinned an unmistakable feline grin.
Her walk was kind of majestic
Yet pretty funny at top speed
For hers was not a slimline figure,
Rather a bit on the curvy side,
And when she rolled on her back
Black soft fur fluffed up.
Little paws as soft as velvet
But beware the quick glint of claws
Curved and sharp as a knife.
She would squint at you and purr
The most wondrous hum
And you’d forget all your troubles
Rushed along on the ride of sound.
Her name was Kiwi
But she was no ordinary cat.
When the moon was full
Like a cat’s claw
Her ears would prick up
Her whiskers twitched
Her tail stood up tall and bold
And she’d follow her nose
Out into the cool night air.
Until one eerie cold night
When everything changed…
The night was dark and the streetlights glinted a faded blue wash across the street. It was very quiet. The little houses sat still and motionless, with curtains drawn and nearly everyone sleeping. Mr Katz looked at his watch. He was running late. Work had been so hectic this week and he was starving. He could feel his belly rumbling and his nose twitched, just like it always did when he was hungry.
He began dreaming of food, lashings of food, mountains of it, steaming hot, and a nice warm mug of milk to send him off to sleep. He smiled at the idea of it. Nice and warm in bed with a nice mug of milk… tap tap tap… from behind him drifted the sound of footsteps in the dead night. In the distance, but getting louder. He turned to see who was out this late, but could see no-one. Weird. He could hear the steps getting nearer. He stopped whistling and quickened his pace.
Round the corner he went, walking fast, his breathing growing heavier. Behind him he could hear the footsteps approaching nearer and nearer. He turned but could see no-one in the dark. He turned another corner, and the next. Still he could hear the footsteps. Louder and louder. Nearer and nearer. Faster and faster. Mr Katz broke into a run. He dropped his bag and sped round the next corner and the next. And the next. Bang. He stopped all of a sudden.
“Are you alright sir? You seem in a bit of a hurry,” said the female voice. He squinted as he puffed, out of breath, but he could not see her face properly as it was so dark.
“Yes,” said Mr Katz. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. I was in a bit of a rush.”
“So it seems,” she said. “But you ran in the wrong direction.”
Mr Katz felt someone grab him from behind. He coughed and his heart raced. He went cold.
“You really should have gone the other way,” said the male voice.
Then everything went dark.
Chapter 1: Follow, follow
Amy awoke and saw her black cat sitting perched on the end of her bed, studying the gleaming moon. She rubbed her eyes and sat up just in time to see Kiwi leap out of the window and on to the ledge below. Amy crept out of bed and peered outside. The cat was standing perfectly balanced on the wooden garden fence, calm and still, her tail perked up. A dark silhouette staring up at the moon. I wonder where she’s going, thought Amy. She crept into her brother James’ room where he was sleeping soundly, and prodded his arm until he woke with a jump.
“What?” he gasped, wiping the sleep from his eyes. “I was dreaming. You really scared me.”
“Come and look.”
“Eh?” He stumbled out of bed and, like a zombie, followed his sister to the window. Gazing out, they could see the black cat still sitting on the fence.
“She has been sitting there for ages,” said Amy.
“Maybe she’s stretching,” he shrugged.
They watched, but Kiwi didn’t stretch. Instead she leapt off the fence and stood on the path, looking up at the moon.
“Now that’s weird. That’s what I’m talking about,” said Amy. “She’s thinking about something.”
“I wonder where she goes at night,” James mused.
“Hunting mice,” grinned Amy.
“Yuk, she wouldn’t. Would she?”
“Tell you what, I’m going to follow her and see…”
“You’re crazy,” gasped James. “It’s 1am and mum will kill you.”
“I want to see what she has for breakfast,” Amy laughed. “Don’t you?”
“Yuk! That’s grim,” said James, screwing up his face.
Amy wandered back to her room with her little brother following, half-asleep and a bit confused.
“So you’re coming then?” asked Amy, putting on her shoes and jacket.
“Errm,” he murmured as his sister crept out of the room on tiptoes. “Okay, but if she catches anything I’m not touching it…”
James slid on his trainers, jeans and jacket, and crept down the stairs after his sister, being careful not to make a sound. He could hear his dad snoring like a sleeping dragon. The sound echoed off of every wall. They tiptoed to the back door and slowly opened it on its creaky hinges. It was so loud. Ahh.
Kiwi was still sitting in the middle of the garden, staring up at the moon. Holding their breath they slowly closed the door without a sound. Turning around, they were just in time to see Kiwi plunge over the fence in a single bound. The two children looked at one another, raised eyebrows, and ran to the bottom of the garden to the gate. Out they went, giggling. It was a warm summer night without a breeze. In the field beyond the gate, trees soared up against the night sky, jagged and spectre-like. Without the shine of the moon it would have been completely dark. James shivered, but he had already decided that he was not going to look scared, even if he was.
“There she goes,” pointed Amy, as they bounded across the field towards the black tail that bobbed above the grass in the distance.
They chased and chased. The black cat ran and ran. They swerved between trees and the black cat just kept running. The children started to puff and pant. “Kiwi!” they yelled.
Suddenly, the cat’s ears pricked up and she stopped with a jump. Caught unawares, the little black cat turned around, her yellow eyes wide and enquiring. “Are you two following me?”
Amy and James stopped dead in their tracks. James sat down on the grass with a bump, his mouth wide open. Amy wanted to say something, but she couldn’t speak.
“Well, are you?” asked Kiwi, standing up straight and resting one paw on her hip. “It’s a bit late to be out playing you know.”
Kiwi grinned the biggest, widest grin and flicked her tail. She sat down and started washing, knowing that she had just given her two playmates the biggest shock of their lives. She carried on washing her paw, flicked out a claw, and waited for a reply. It was a long time coming.
The children were transfixed, rooted to the spot. Cold fingers of air travelled up their spines and made all of the hairs on their necks stand up. Amy gulped. Was she dreaming?
“What’s wrong?” laughed Kiwi. “Cat got your tongue?”
“Ahhhhhhhhhhh!” Amy sat down with a thump.
“Yooouuuu taaaallllkkkkk,” James stuttered.
“Well, what were you expecting? Sign language?” asked Kiwi matter-of-factly.
“But, we can understand you,” mumbled Amy, pinching her arm. Ouch. She wasn’t dreaming. Could this be real after all?
“Well, I know several languages,” explained Kiwi. “It comes in handy. So you WERE following me? Ha ha!”
“Sort of,” said James. “We were wondering what you ate for breakfast.”
“Like mice?” asked Kiwi, grinning.
Kiwi laughed. “I have more important things to do. And mice taste funny. Errr. Not good. And mice have feelings too. They’re very intelligent you know. I have several good friends who are mice…” Kiwi stopped talking as the two children sat open-mouthed in shock, blinking oddly.
“Ok, well, enough of that,” she carried on. Best to change the subject. “I was joking. I don’t have any mouse friends! Well, you see that moon up there? See how it’s really bright and glowing?”
The kids nodded.
“And see how it’s shaped like a cat’s claw?”
“I guess…” said James.
“Well, nights like these are not ordinary nights,” said the cat, looking straight at the boy.
James shivered. “Why?” He wasn’t sure if he wanted to know the answer. Was Kiwi going to eat them?
“Well,” said Kiwi slowly, “if you really want to know… why don’t you follow me some more?”
It was a challenge. The cat was grinning from ear to ear now. Amy was cold and scared. She could only stare awkwardly as though hypnotised while her brother chatted to the cat… the cat… THE CAT! She felt dizzy.
After a few more minutes, Kiwi gazed back at the moon. It seemed even brighter. She got up. “There is no more time to lose. I have to go now. Are you coming?” She flashed her big, yellow eyes.
James sprung to his feet. “I’m coming,” he announced.
“No,” called Amy as James started to follow the little black cat. “I’m scared. Don’t follow. This is too weird…”
But James didn’t listen and carried on walking. Amy pulled herself to her feet and looked behind her. The field was empty. It must be about 2am by now, if not later. Their parents would be getting up in a few hours for work. Morning was fast approaching. What should she do? She couldn’t let her brother go alone. What if he got lost? “Wait!” she shouted, and charged after her brother and her suddenly talking cat. Things were not how they were meant to be today.
Chapter 2: As easy as one, two, three
“Come on,” said Kiwi. “We’re nearly there.”
“Where?” asked James, glancing around at the big, open and completely empty field. All around the edges, the tall trees loomed, stretching up like a giant, natural wall.
“Here,” said Kiwi.
“But there’s nothing here,” said James, cold and slightly impatient. Not only could his pet cat talk, but she was also clearly crazy.
“There’s more than the eye can see,” said Kiwi, gazing up with her big, yellow saucer eyes. “Just follow what I do. And concentrate. It’s easy.”
The cat sat down and stared up at the moon. “One, two, three, a flick of the tail, a purr, a leap and away we go…”
Puff! She vanished. All that remained was a strange, glowing, purple mist.
“She disappeared!” cried Amy, turning round in a circle. “I can’t see her. Can you?”
“Your turn,” he said quietly.
“What? Are you crazy? She‘s just hiding in the grass,” said Amy.
“You go first, like she says…”
Amy looked annoyed. “You can’t be serious. You’re not suggesting…”
James nodded. “You’re the oldest.”
“No way!” she replied. “I haven’t got a tail to flick and I’m pretty sure I can’t purr…”
“I think you’re meant to imagine one…”
“You’re mad,” said Amy.
“Mmm I’m going to try,” sighed James, and he starting counting out loud.” One, two…”
“Okay, okay,” cried Amy, clenching her fists to her sides. “Now straight after this I’m taking you home. Okay?”
And so, Amy flicked her imaginary tail, which was pretty long in her mind, purred and leapt up into the air – into nothing, or something? She couldn’t make it out. She had this amazing feeling of pure weightlessness as if her body weighed nothing. It also felt smaller, and she seemed to be floating. All around, everything was purple…
“Wow, it worked,” shouted James, jumping up and down. And he collapsed into giggles. “Cool!”
In the spot where his sister had jumped, only a puff of purple mist was left. Now it’s my turn, he thought, and turning round with a one, two, three and a flick of his imaginary tail, a purr and a leap, away he went to who-knows-where. A feeling of sheer weightlessness gave him the impression that he was flying. Wild! But where was he flying to?
“Ahem, the landing can sometimes be a bit difficult until you get used to it,” grinned Kiwi, washing her nose with a paw as Amy found herself collapsed in a heap on the floor. “You’ll have to get used to being on four feet now!”
“Four?” Amy stuttered, bewildered.
“Sure, look down and see how many feet you’ve got.”
“Eeeeeek!” Kiwi was right. Not one, not two, not three, but four feet were attached to her new body – but they were not feet, they were paws!! Fluffy black and white paws! “No!” Amy jumped backwards and fell over. But the biggest shock of all was the big white fluffy tail that wiggled out like a worm behind her. “Oh no!” she cried, and then fell over again trying to chase round in a circle to check out the tail more clearly. “Ahhh”, she yelled, and then a small laugh bubbled up inside her, spilling over until she couldn’t stop. She rolled over on her back with her legs in the air. All four of them. “I have a tail! A tail!” she cried, and laughed some more.
Just at that moment, James fell through the sky and bounced on the ground with a little “ouch”.
Except that, of course, it wasn’t quite James. Well, it was and it wasn’t. James was now a little, tabby kitten with a very pink nose. He wobbled a bit on his new feet when he walked, with his tail stuck up like a radar.
“Where’s Amy?” he asked as he sat down, a bit dazed.
“Don’t you recognise her?” grinned Kiwi, nodding towards the little black-and-white cat, who sat bright-eyed and staring at him.
“No, really, where is she? Is she okay?”
“I can see this is going to take a while,” said Kiwi, taking charge. “Amy meet James, James meet Amy. No, you’re not dreaming. Yes you have a tail.”
“No, you’re joking…”
“I’m afraid she’s not,” purred Amy in her feline voice.
“Ah,” shouted James and fell over. He noticed that Amy still had her flowery necklace on. “It can’t be true! Hey, what’s that? Hey, I’ve got a tail! Wow! And four paws. No way! This tail is really bushy…”
Amy started giggling. Kiwi raised an eyebrow. It was going to be a long night. Humans!
Chapter 3: Purple mist
“Well,” announced Kiwi, “if you’ve both finished chattering, I’ll just show you around a little city that I happen to know.”
“Is it far?” asked James, who was having a few walking problems, stumbling on his four feet. And he kept seeing his tail jigging around out of the corner of his eye. The word weird just didn’t cover it.
“We’ll be there in the blink of an eye,” said the yellow-eyed, black cat.
“Cool,” purred the kittens in unison.
Not that you would know of course, but trying to walk on four legs when you are used to walking on two is a little tricky, especially when your brain is telling you to walk upright – a bit like trying to dance with four left feet. So, as you can imagine, progress was pretty slow for a while.
“Are we there yet?” asked James, after he’d almost tripped over his tail for the eleventh time.
“Ten more minutes,” grinned Kiwi. She remembered how the parents had told the children this every 20 minutes in the car. It was quite funny. “Now, have you practised your meows and purrs?”
The two kittens looked at each other with worried, fluffy expressions. Meowing AND purring? No way. At different times or at the same time?
After half an hour’s walk through the field they came across the edge of the forest and, after ten more minutes, they reached a clearing. All around, the trees stretched up, straight but kind of scary.
“How will we find our way back?” asked Amy. “Everywhere looks the same.”
“Stick with me,” said Kiwi. “But if you get lost, remember that tree over there – if you stare at it long enough with your cat eyes you will see it change colour to purple. Pass by it and walk 30 minutes in a straight line and you’ll be home.”
“Purple tree? She’s mad,” whispered James.
“Ssshhhh!” hissed Amy, not noticing that she was hissing – just like a cat.
Kiwi stopped walking.
“Where now?” asked Amy, sitting down, a bit tired. She was getting this strange urge to wash behind her ears, but so far she had managed to resist. And her whiskers were detecting all sorts of weird sensations that she had never noticed before.
Kiwi flounced over to a crop of bright bluebells in the centre of the clearing and walked around them.
“What’s she doing?” whispered James.
“I don’t know…”
“No weirder than how you look right now,” whispered Amy, scratching behind her ears. Yelp.
“She’s walking around in a circle – once, twice, three times – oh, now she’s disappeared.”
Sure enough, all that was left of Kiwi was a purple mist – just like before.
“Are we supposed to follow?” asked James.
“I think we get to choose,” said Amy.
“Let’s go,” grinned James.
So they did. Three times around the bluebells and they vanished. Puff!
“What took you so long?” asked Kiwi with the big grin. “Are you having a good time so far?”
“Yes,” cried the amazed children.
“Although it’s a bit confusing,” said James. “No offence, but being a cat is a bit weird.”
“Not weird,” corrected Kiwi. “Just different. Not everyone is the same.”
Kiwi looked them up and down. “You’ll get used to it. I’ll teach you how to hunt mice later.”
“Eeeeeek! No!” cried James.
“I’m vegetarian!” said Amy, screwing her nose up.
“Only joking – now, come on, we’re nearly there. And I’m running a bit late now. Follow me. And remember, start practising those meows and purrs. Don’t let anyone think you’re not a cat.”
Meow, purr, cough, meeeekkk, poooo, cough, meow, purrrrrrr.
After a while they found themselves in a long, curving tunnel. But it wasn’t made of earth. The floor, ceiling and walls were covered with little blue and white tiles – an intricate mosaic of tiny cats. There was no light in the distance; the tunnel had to be a long one. Now and then, the tiles would blink and the cats’ eyes would glow to light the way, as if knowing when a cat – or someone – walked past.
To the children’s astonishment, Kiwi began to whistle a tune. They didn’t know cats might whistle in private – did you? As they went further, Amy and James found it easier and easier to walk, and control the long tail flapping behind them. Kiwi was right – walking on four paws wasn’t that hard after all, and once you worked out how to keep your tail in the air there were no more embarrassing trip-ups.
After a while, the mosaic cats changed colour to purple, and they reached a small purple door – with the image of a big cat in the centre. The material was neither wood nor metal nor anything they had never seen before.
“Who is there?” came a small voice from behind the door.
A peephole opened in the face of the cat on the door, and some white whiskers popped out. “And they are…”
“Friends,” said Kiwi. “Ames and Jimster.”
Jimster? That’s cool, thought James, and more cat-like. What cat would be called James?
“Weird names,”said the voice.
“Well, you know,” said Kiwi, “humans aren’t very good at choosing names. I got lumbered with Kiwi!” she shrugged.
“That’s true,” laughed the voice. “You were named after a fruit. Come on through.” And the door suddenly vanished.
Chapter 4: Cat City
“Welcome to Cat City,” said the big, fat, white cat – the owner of the very small voice. “We hope that you have a very enjoyable day. Here’s a brochure to help new visitors find their way around.”
“Thanks,” purred Amy and James, taking the small, square, folded leaflets, which opened out like origami and popped up in the shape of cats.
“What a strange accent,” said the white cat. “Are you from foreign shores?”
“Yes they are,” said Kiwi. “They haven’t quite mastered the language. Poor school you know…”
“Ah poor things,” nodded the white cat. “Well, there’s time. They’re young. Don’t forget to check in at the Cat Motel. Mrs Ebenry is back this summer with her famous mouse delicacies, and the fair is coming next week, so you’ll find lots to do.”
“Thanks,” purred Kiwi, and waved a paw. “Follow me,” she said to Amy and James. “And, whatever you do, don’t speak. Just purr or something!”
The kittens nodded. Mouse delicacies? They shivered.
They strode past the big, white cat whose nose seemed way too big for his round, chubby face. His beady little eyes followed them as they walked away.
“Wow,” exclaimed Amy, amazed. Cat City was colourful, not like the grey of home. They were striding down the main street, but the road was paved with the same blue and white mosaic as the tunnel – all in designs of cats and cat paws. They glinted in the sunshine, which was bright and kind of orangey rather than the yellow of home. It made everything glow and sparkle. Everything – all the houses, buildings, shops and streetlights – was shrunk down to cat size. Even the cars.
Cars?! Well, they looked completely different, but they did the same thing – drove the cats around town. Instead of four wheels there were four paws, made of some unrecognisable material, which ran really fast when the vehicle started up. Vroom! The driver ran off in his little cat car. They didn’t have roofs and the cats’ heads stuck out, which was quite funny. Amy imagined that it never rained here. Wow no rain. Cool.
All of the buildings had cat-size doors with small, round glass windows and blue handles shaped like cats’ paws. Amy noticed that there no cat flaps. All of the shop signs had a cat reference: Cat Tools, Meow Café, Purrfect Mouse Burgers, Kitty Parlour, Insurance in a Whisker, Meow Market, Paws for Thought. The number of shops was endless.
Every cat who walked by gave a little nod to the strangers and then turned round to stare a little. James noticed that whiskers twitched as the two kittens walked by. He wondered if the others would ever suspect that he and his sister were not real cats.
Amy had never seen so many cats in her life – of different shapes, sizes and colours. And they wore clothes! Little booties, trousers, waistcoats and even hats, jewellery and feathers! Some cats didn’t wear anything, so she guessed it was a question of decoration and not necessity that some wore clothes and others went naked. Not a choice you could make easily at home when you were walking down the street! And no-one was smoking… excellent! All of the cats seemed to know Kiwi as they flicked their tails her way as she waltzed by.
“It’s so big,” said James, stating the obvious.
“Of course,” smiled Kiwi. “This is home – here, with all the catizens. Well, my real home from home when I’m not living with you.”
The kittens looked surprised. Catizens? “So, how often do you visit here?”
“All of the time,” said Kiwi with an odd smile. “It’s a bit confusing, all to do with what you consider time to be and, well, it’s a bit complex. When you think I’m going out hunting at night, I’m here. And I’m back in no time, as you know. So I might be away for a few hours, yet I’ve been here in Cat City for weeks or months. However, I have to be careful because when I’m at home – here – I can age. But I can’t age in your world. In fact when I’m in your world I can rejuvenate and get some time back. A bit like getting my beauty sleep, only more so.”
The kittens’ eyes popped open wide.
“Yes, it’s mind-blowing, I guess. And top secret. Loads of feline physics and complicated cat logarithms – so, let’s just say that when you think I’m cat-napping, I’m not.”
At the mention of mathematics, James’ eyes began to glaze over and his mind went blank. His mouth fell open in a big yawn.
“Ok, let’s move on,” sighed the black cat.
Chapter 5: Cat Crime
“Now I’m going to introduce you to a very special friend of mine and business partner,” said Kiwi, as they turned a corner.
“You work here?” asked Amy, gazing up… and up.
They were standing in front of the biggest building in Cat City. The top was lost in the clouds. It was a gigantic, grey building, which stood out from the rest of the houses and buildings in the city just because it had no colour. It looked very intimidating. The front door was also grey, but the knocker was bright red – and small – so small that you could miss it if you didn’t know it was there. It was shaped like a cat’s eye. Maybe the building was grey because it was trying to look scary, thought James. Perhaps it didn’t want any visitors at all.
A big sign turned around slowly on the patch of grass in front of the building. It read Cat Crime. And it was grey, as was the grass.
“Cool,” said James. “Is this the police station?”
“Police station and investigative agency. The only one in Cat City. Everyone comes here with their problems and we sort them out. We’re here to meet a friend of mine who is in a spot of trouble.”
“Ah,” perked up Amy, her whiskers flicking. “Are we going to help?”
“That’s the idea.”
They opened the door, which didn’t creak at all. Inside, a big hallway opened up, and a spiral staircase wound its way upwards, disappearing in the distance; it went up that far. There were no doors in the hallway, only an elevator. A big sign read Cat Lift. Everything was the same grey as the outside of the building.
“It’s the rule here. Everything grey, except the people,” grinned Kiwi.
They climbed the spiral staircase. James, being quite small, jumped up each one in a kind of bunny hop. Amy tried not to laugh and concentrated on keeping her tail from wrapping around the central pole. Kiwi walked up smoothly. Professionally.
They came to Level One of the building and stepped off the staircase. James’ vertigo kicked in – he was glad it was no higher. They pushed open a heavy door, watched by a big cat’s eye that blinked in a ball floating up and down the hallway.
“Don’t worry, it’s a camera.”
Inside the room were lots of pictures, a big fluffy rug, and rows of bookcases filled with books. A bright blue light hung from the ceiling. What looked like a water machine sat in the corner, but James could see it dripped a white liquid. He decided it must be milk. Everything was still grey, but in different shades. The blue light seemed to make objects change shade, so although everything was grey, they seemed to go through a rainbow of colour.
“Well hello,” said a voice.
Behind a big desk sat a thin, black cat with what resembled a very thin moustache, twisted at the ends. He had a big, cheerful smile. Amy gazed at the moustache. On his jacket was a little cat-shaped badge with the name Toby. “Can I help you?”
“Yes,” replied Kiwi, striding over. “I’m Kiwi. We’re here to see Inspector Furrball. He’s expecting us. Well, he was expecting us an hour ago, but we just got here. Are you new here? I haven’t seen you before.”
“Yes I am,” said Toby. “I started working here a month ago. I transferred to Cat City from a small town. Police work there was a bit slow. You know what I mean? Okay, well, I cannot see you on his list of expected visitors. If you wait, I’ll just buzz him and tell him you are here… Right. Okay. Yes he can see you. Take the lift and go to Level Three and turn right.”
“Thanks,” said Kiwi. She knew the way, having been here hundreds of times. She wondered what had happened to Kip. He had worked here for years, and was a good catizen and friend.
The lift was, well, you can guess – very grey, but the orange light inside made it gleam different colours. The lift sped up to Level Three and stopped with a big shake and a massive bang. The walls trembled. Amy and James collapsed on the floor. Kiwi pinned herself up against the wall.
“Embarrassingly, we haven’t quite mastered lift technology yet. But, you’ll get used to it,” said Kiwi, as the kittens staggered to their feet. As they exited the lift – rather quickly, in case it decided to rush off – they noticed that the corridor was a faint red – under a layer of grey, it seemed – as were the floor, ceiling and doors.
“You may notice the red tint to everything here,” said Kiwi. “This is the very heart of the building. Remember how we got here. There is only one way. If anything bad happens, or someone finds out the route who shouldn’t, we change how you can get to this room.”
The kittens listened silently, their tails bobbing in weird directions. Amy wanted to scratch, but stopped herself.
They turned right and then left, and then left again, and finally right, walking until they came to a red door with a sign perched on it: Inspector Furrball. Kiwi knocked three times and entered.
Inside, the sound of music flooded their ears and a short, chubby, ginger tomcat bellowed a hello from the corner of the room. From behind a pair of round glasses balanced on the end of a big pink nose, two bright, golden, clear eyes beamed out. He wore a bright red waistcoat with a golden watch hung on the end of a golden chain. It glinted and ticked silently.
“So, who have we here?” asked Inspector Furrball, stroking his whiskers. Amy noticed a small mouse keyring on his desk and shivered. Surely, it must be a fake!
“These are two friends of mine – Ames and Jimster,” said Kiwi, pushing the bewildered kittens forward. “It’s their first visit to Cat City.”
“He-hello,” they stammered in unison.
“Funny accents,” said the inspector, peering forward at them. “Have they got passes?”
“Not yet. I was hoping you could help with that,” replied Kiwi.
“Shouldn’t be a problem,” said Furrball. “If you can vouch for them.”
The inspector peered closer at the two kittens. Something weird, he thought, and then waved the idea out of his head.
“Well,” said Kiwi with a cough, trying to distract the inspector, whom she knew was too intelligent to be fooled for long, “I heard that you need my help. I got the message by robin today.”
“Yes. But first things first,” said Furrball. “Are you thirsty?”
Kiwi looked nervous.
“No, I’m okay,” said Amy, wondering what Kiwi meant by message by robin. Did a robin send a message? Did he carry it in his beak, or could birds speak to cats here? And didn’t cats eat birds? This was confusing.
“Yessssss,” cried James with his tongue out, forgetting to purr.
Furrball looked surprised. He tapped the buzzer on his desk with his paw and asked someone for refreshments. Kiwi sat down on a red cushion and wrapped her tail around her. James and Amy copied, finding two unbelievably comfortable cushions on the red carpet. The door pushed open and a tall, grey cat in a green dress walked in, pushing a small trolley with running cat feet. “Milk, cream, rice pudding, mousie mousse, yogurt or biscuits?” she asked, handing round little red saucers. Amy stifled a giggle and took a saucer.
“Thank you Miss Kitty,” said Furrball, looking a little bit red in the face. She smiled and closed the door.
The inspector set a saucer on his desk, filled it with milk and quickly lapped it up, purring intermittently. The kittens stared. He didn’t make any mess at all. Kiwi did the same and lapped it all up with a big purr. Oh no, there was no other way to drink it. Amy and James looked at each other, bemused, before deciding to just go for it. They stuck their heads in and started licking the milk – and decorated the carpet, themselves and Kiwi’s tail with splatters of thick double cream.
Furrball stared at them with an odd glint in his eye.
Kiwi froze. “Ah kittens… what can you do?”
Silence cut the air.
“Well, what can I say,” replied Furrball, suddenly exploding into laughter. “I guess we’ve all done it. And I guess they’ve had a tiring day and a long journey…”
Kiwi stuttered. The two kittens looked up sheepishly, with white blobs of cream on their whiskers and noses. Amy wondered how she was going to wipe it off discreetly. This could mean having to spit on her paw and wash like Kiwi did – eeek! Never! She reached for the nearest napkin and dabbed her mouth, but it was hard to grip with a paw, and it kept dropping.
Furrball raised an eyebrow and looked directly at Kiwi. “Is there something you want to tell me?”
Kiwi paused. “So what has been happening in Cat City?” she enquired, changing the subject.
“You’ve been away a bit long this time,” said the inspector, sitting down and playing with his pen. This involved batting it around his desk with his paw loudly, but the kittens pretended not to notice. They still had cream-covered whiskers to deal with!
“The problem we have is that catizens are going missing – about five so far. This is worrying for us and the mayor.”
“Missing?” asked Kiwi surprised.
“Gone, vanished, we don’t know where. All five cases have happened in the past five weeks. That’s one a week. No trace. No clues. No ransom notes. So money is not the motive. It’s a mystery and really bothersome. As you know, we never have disappearances here.”
“That is strange,” said Kiwi, mystified. “Have you interviewed anyone?”
“We made a start, but we haven’t got anywhere so far. No one has seen or heard anything. We’re at a dead end. All of the disappearances happened when the catizens were on their way home from work. The last one was a Mr Katz.”
“Mmmm. I’ll see if I can help,” said Kiwi, concerned.
Furrball smiled. “I was hoping you’d say that. But there is one other thing…”
The kittens froze. This was it. He knew. They were about to be kicked out of Cat City for being fakers.
Furrball stopped smiling. “One of the five catizens who disappeared is Kip. In fact, he was the first. Five weeks ago. Then, one missing every week.”
“No!” said Kiwi. “I was wondering where he was. I hope he’s okay. We have to find him! I mean… them.”
Furrball looked serious. “I can let you have one of my Cat Squad to help you. If you need more, let me know. But keep things quiet. We don’t want to scare whoever is doing this.”
“And we want to get them back alive,” said Kiwi sadly. “I don’t need any help…”
The kittens shivered.
“It’s not a problem,” said Furrball, waving his paw. “Cat Squad is at your disposal. We have also been testing some impressive new guns. Errrm. Probably not a good subject to talk about right now in front of the young ones. Have you checked in at the Cat Motel?”
“Haven’t had time,” said the troubled Kiwi.
“I’ll ring them and book your usual room plus two extra cushion baskets in it. Do you want a scratching post?”
“Great,” said Kiwi.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door.
“Ah,” said Furrball. “The special agent. He’s all yours. I think you’ve worked with him before…”
Just then a furry, brown face poked itself around the corner of the door.
“Paws?!” exclaimed Kiwi. “Oh no,” she added, under her breath, “not him.”
“Now, I must get on. Have a kitty nice day. Paws will be your right-hand man,” smiled Furrball.
Kiwi groaned. “That’s what I was afraid of.” But she didn’t say it out loud, because that would be rude.
Chapter 6: The alleyway
The street was in darkness, lit by the faint blue glow of the streetlights – all with small, cat-shaped bulbs. Cats’ eyes dotted up and down the centre of the wide roads. There were no cat cars buzzing around or young cats on cat-boards. Everyone was at home. The streets became very lonely after 7pm. The catizens were nervous. Even the milk pubs had closed.
Four pairs of eyes looked around. They belonged to four cats, all dressed in black so that they could hide in the shadows. They all wore balaclavas and little black boots. And they were very quiet. Their tails swept silently as they sat, waiting to see if anything suspicious would happen.
“Five catizens have gone missing,” whispered Kiwi. “One a week for the past five weeks, always on a Monday, so we can presume that there will be one tonight. If we’re lucky.”
Lucky? thought Amy. I can think of luckier things.
Weird definition of lucky, agreed James.
“One what?” asked Paws, screwing up his eyes.
“A disappearance,” said Kiwi, shushing him.
“Why tonight?” Paws frowned.
“Because it is the fifth-consecutive Monday.”
James giggled quietly. Amy nudged him.
“Not conservative, consecutive. Because tonight is the fifth week and the fifth Monday, and all of the other catizens vanished on a Monday,” whispered Kiwi.
Paws nodded. After a split second he frowned again. “I don’t get it.”
James and Amy looked at each other with raised cat eyebrows.
“One, two, three, four, five Mondays in a ROW,” shouted Kiwi.
Bang!!!!! All of the cats sat up straight.
“What was that?” stammered Amy.
Paws shuddered and stepped quickly behind Amy. James hid behind Paws.
“Okay guys,” said Kiwi. “The noise came from that direction. I don’t think the Cat Squad has checked out that area yet.”
“They haven’t?” asked Paws. “Maybe we should call them.”
“No need,” said Kiwi. “We can handle this. I thought you were my right-hand man?”
“I am,” said Paws, puffing out his chest. “I was just checking something back there.”
Probably looking for his brain, thought Amy.
And his courage, sighed James. His hamster at home was braver, and probably a bit brainier.
The alley was long and winding, leading off to the eastern outskirts of the city. Its tall, brick walls created a narrow pathway that was dark and foreboding. Dustbins and rubbish littered both sides, and the cats had to be careful not to trip or knock anything over. The silence made it eerier. They could hear nothing except their own breathing, and it was getting colder by the minute.
A spooky, cat-shaped moon hung in the air above. Amy looked at James – the same shape moon that they had seen that night in the garden at home. Rooftops from adjoining houses towered way above and they felt really small. But they had an advantage: thanks to their cat-like forms, Amy and James could see in the dark with night vision as clear as during the day. Their sense of smell was stronger too – although this wasn’t so great as they passed a pile of rotting fish. Eewww. And their whiskers kept picking up weird vibrations.
After saying how cool night vision was to one another a thousand times, the kittens felt less scared and began competing as to how far they could see. Finally, they settled down into the business of being investigators.
The alley suddenly came to a fork – three directions. Which to choose?
“Why don’t we split up?” suggested Paws.
“No, I don’t think that’s a wise idea,” said Kiwi.
“Everyone knows that when the good guys split up, the monster gets them,” said James. He knew what he was talking about. He’d seen this on TV. “They wander off one by one, and then the monster gets each one, because they’ve got no back-up.”
Paws sighed nervously. Amy laughed cat-style, in a half purr, half splutter. Kiwi took a stick of chalk from the little bag in her collar and marked the wall with an arrow. “The purple arrow will show us the way back. And you are right, we are not going to split up – under ANY circumstances. Agreed?”
“Okay, follow me!” Kiwi took the right fork and the others followed. Paws brought up the rear, his tail drooping. They walked about a hundred yards until they came to a dead end. A big, wooden fence loomed high, surrounded by rooftops. Kiwi stopped.
“Let’s go back,” suggested Paws. They all turned to head off in the other direction when a screeching meow pierced the darkness. They all stopped still.
“Did you hear that?” asked Paws.
“No, I’m deaf,” said James.
Paws pulled a face.
Kiwi looked up at the fence and started pushing dustbins together.
“Oh no,” whispered Amy to James. “Is she going to do what I think?”
James nodded. Yep.
“I was always really bad at the high jump,” sighed Amy.
“Alright,” said Paws, rubbing his paws together excitedly.
“But,” hesitated James.
“Just jump,” whispered Kiwi. “Trust me – remember the one, two, three, jump? It’s as easy as that.”
“Me first,” said Paws as he disappeared over the fence.
“Ok, wait here,” said Kiwi, who leapt on to the tall fence and vanished somewhere over the other side.
Five minutes later, she reappeared on top of the fence. “Come on. It looks quiet.”
“In there?” gulped Amy.
“Do we have to?” asked James. It was really spooky.
“No, you can stay here if you want…”
Shivering, Amy and James looked around. “Ok, wait up, we just need to work out how to jump,” whispered Amy.
One jump there and one on to the fence should do it, she thought. Amy took a jump and was surprised at how nimble she was. She sailed through the air smoothly, hit the bin and sailed off again on to the top of the fence with a flick of her tail. Magic. Amy smiled. If only she could jump like this normally. She would win the high jump at school and be the champion at hurdles.
James’ turn. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes and jumped, just hoping he would make it. And he did. Two smooth jumps and he was on the fence, grinning. He didn’t even wobble. He had perfect balance. Now that was something he never had before.
“Can we do that again?” asked the kittens.
“I thought you might say that,” said Kiwi. “But there’s no time. We must hurry. That bungling idiot, Paws, has wandered off to do some heroics. I was scared that might happen. Straight out of Cat School, and Furrball expects me to show him the ropes. How can I when he won’t listen to anything? Now we have to find him too. Come on.”
Kiwi, with the two kittens following close behind, inched her way along the fence and the gutter. It was a long way down. James shivered and thought of his vertigo, but it seemed to be fading. Maybe cats didn’t have it? The roof was very steep with some tiles missing, but they managed to balance their way slowly along it. All was quiet. Too quiet, and very, very dark. In the distance the moon, bright and white, gleamed.
All of a sudden, there was a high-pitched meow. They all stopped, banging into each other like dominoes. The meow was very close and coming from below them. Just below, in fact, from inside the building on which they were standing. The kittens shivered.
“Follow me,” said Kiwi, bounding across the rooftop. They soon came to a small spotlight window. Being as quiet as possible, they peered into the room beyond. A light was on, but they couldn’t see anyone inside.
“Do you really think it’s a good idea to go in?” asked James. “Remember I’m only nine.”
“That’s almost leaving kittenhood in cat years,” replied Kiwi.