“What was that?” Tugger muttered to himself, as he jumped back in surprise. He had been in the process of chasing a mouse (rather half-heartedly, for he longed for the challenge of a good rat), when a sudden burst of flames stopped him in his tracks. Whatever it was was gone now, and he would’ve doubted that it even existed in the first place, if not for the scorch marks near his paws.
Tugger puffed out his coat, with a scowl at the world around him, which would send strange obstacles when he least expected it. He sniffed the air for anything that might tell him where the flames came from, or let him know if he should expect more. Finding nothing, he continued on, just a little bit more carefully than before.
Within two hours, Tugger had convinced himself that the explosion was nothing more than the diabolical work of humans, who often did things which defied explanation, and avenged himself by scratching a great hole in the couch of a tall man who often left him offerings of food. That matter settled, he headed back to the junkyard, for though he had a warm bed to sleep in should he want it, he didn’t much like to use it until the very early morning hours, and longed for a bit of fun.
The junkyard proved more than usually dull. Bustopher was about, sleeping beneath a tire, and Tugger shouted a greeting to rouse the rotund fellow, before deciding the two of them had nothing in particular to talk about. Somewhere close by he could hear two kittens laughing about something, most likely Victoria and Jemima, he guessed from the voices. He considered going over to see what was up with them. They’d like that quite a bit after all; he was a sensation among the kittens, and most of the queens for that matter, and knew well enough that one appearance from him could make their night. This night he wasn’t much in the mood for pleasing anyone but himself, though, and soon another flash of light from behind a pile of boxes attracted his attention in a way that the kittens could not.
Quaxo could make fire with his mind. At least, he was fairly certain that he could, and it was the most curious thing. He was lying on his stomach on the ground, arms tucked under his chin, his eyes crossed in concentration as he watched an army of ants which was marching in an orderly line before him. One by one he ignited the insects, his heart pounding, for every once in awhile a burst of fire came that was larger than he had anticipated, and he had to jump backwards to keep from burning his nose.
This is really something, he thought to himself, rolling over on his back, and stretching out his long arms. He frowned up at the stars, and wondered what else he could do. It was true, in a way that was sometimes disconcerting, that at times he could think that he was running somewhere only to find himself in that place almost before his legs started to move. True, as well, that things that he wanted to find were often much easier for him to locate than they were for other cats. Could that all be related to this new trick of his?
“Did you see that?”
Quaxo leapt to his feet at the voice of another tom. It was Rum Tum Tugger, and Quaxo’s fur stood on end. The two circled each other at a distance. There had never been any bad blood between the two of them, but Quaxo knew as well as anyone else that interactions between toms were rarely an easy matter, and Tugger was known to be unpredictable besides.
“See what?” Quaxo asked.
Tugger puffed out his coat, in that irrepressibly vain way of his.
“Fire,” he said, with a shrug, as though the whole matter was of little interest to him. “Coming from somewhere behind here.”
“There’s no fire. I think I’d notice if there was,” Said Quaxo. He relaxed a little. It was evident that Tugger had not come to fight over territory, though Quaxo still wished he would leave. It was a bright night and he wanted solitude and time to understand his new abilities.
Tugger looked as if he would argue, but then for some reason he did not. In fact, he left, with a nod at Quaxo which rather surprised him. Quaxo wondered if Tugger thought he would call him a fool if he mentioned the fire again. It was true that Quaxo had been called a fool more than once, mostly for the grievous fault of doing as he wished rather than doing as the other cats wished him to, but Tugger didn’t seem like one to care about such things. Quaxo shrugged, in a fluid movement that felt good, and made him want to stretch out his paws again. He’d have to find another place. Though Tugger was no longer there, something of the other cat’s scent remained, and Quaxo felt that the little corner of the junkyard was no longer his alone.
It was through a series of accidents that Tugger discovered the nature of Quaxo’s powers. There were rumors circulating through the junkyard regulars that Macavity had appeared, a fact that Mungojerrie attested to with much gusto. For all that Mungojerrie said on the subject, he was all together too affable and clownish to be taken seriously as a henchman, and never did anything worse than romp with his giggling sister and wreak havoc for a human or two. Then Demeter disappeared, and everything changed.
Munkustrap was on full alert, and when he asked Tugger to help him keep watch for the criminal, Tugger obliged much more readily than his finicky nature should have allowed. It was something to do, after all. An adventure. The last weeks had been so deathly boring that Tugger had been wasting time trying to learn to play some old bagpipes which he’d found beneath a rusting car, and certainly tracking down the Napoleon of Crime was a better pastime than that.
Upon agreeing to help, Tugger expected to be instantly plunged into a battle to put Growltiger’s Last Stand to shame, so needless to say it was disappointing when he passed the first night with nothing better to do than stalk through the junkyard, looking Impressive and Dangerous.
The second night brought some rustling, and a shriek from Etcetera, but the fair kitten’s attacker turned out to be naught but a windblown grocery bag; to his credit, Tugger dispatched the paper fiend with great zeal and energy, but it was far from what he had been hoping for and he felt vaguely as if he’d made a fool of himself afterward, though of course that couldn’t be the case.
But the third night -- oh, the third night! That was something worth remembering.
It began regularly enough, with pacing, glaring, and absolutely nothing else of note whatsoever. Tugger had all but decided to resign from his pledge to help Munkustrap, and go find something more exciting to do, like sleep on top of his human’s refrigerator. Then something made his ears perk up, and his tail twitch. He couldn’t say what -- he rarely could in these circumstances -- but any cat worth his whiskers could sense danger when it was nearby, and in that moment Tugger knew that something was about to happen.
The cat that crept out of the darkness was not one that Tugger knew. The first thing that surprised him was that it was a queen rather than a tom -- a black one that looked so bone thin that he could snap her in half with one finger, if it came to that. Tufts of fur were missing, and those that remained stuck out at odd angles, but what really caught Tugger’s attention where the creature’s eyes. They were crazed and bloodshot, darting about in every direction, as the creature gnashed its teeth. It was foaming at the mouth, Tugger noticed. Madness. This was not a cat that he could take on in a fight, unless he wanted to become afflicted as she was.
“A message,” the queen shouted, leaping towards him, “from Macavity!”
Tugger backed away. He would have to find something to attack her with, and quickly. He skidded backwards into a pile of junk, and threw the first thing he found at her, which happened to be a half eaten McDonald’s cheeseburger, and woefully ineffective. His next weapon was a glass bottle, and with this he hit her square in the head in a way that would have stopped any cat in control of their senses, but only encouraged her. Then, suddenly, a burst of flame at her feet sent her backwards. This was followed by another, and then another, until she had been pushed all the way into an old microwave, with a broken bulb and frayed wire coming out of it. The door shut behind her.
“Hold it closed!” Came a shaky voice. Tugger, who had never so much as considered obeying a command in his life, did so without hesitation.
Out of the shadows crept Quaxo, who gave Tugger a sideways glance, before commencing to look around the junkyard.
“We need something heavy, to keep it closed,” he explained. He would not quite meet Tugger’s eyes, and Tugger was struck by the aloofness of the other cat’s manner.
“Here,” he said, after a minute, pushing a large rock in front of the microwave door. Both toms stood back, watching to see if it would be enough to keep the queen locked inside. She hissed, yowled, and threw herself at the door in a frenzy, but to Tugger’s relief, the trap did not move.
“Well,” Tugger said. He ran a hand through his thick mane, and stood straighter, his face perturbed as he tried to understand all of the things which had taken place so suddenly.
Quaxo was watching the cage, as if transfixed, and Tugger suspected that he wanted to leave, and was looking for an excuse to do so.
“That was a close call,” Quaxo said, and would have turned and walked away, but Tugger swung in front of him.
“That’s the third time I’ve seen the fire,” Tugger said, “and the second time that you’ve been there along with it.”
“You’re lucky it came when it did,” said Quaxo.
“How do you do it?” Tugger asked.
“I?” asked Quaxo. Tugger could not tell if he looked nervous or incredulous. “How do you know you aren’t doing it? You’ve seen it three times, as you say, and me only twice.”
The queen chose that moment to throw herself against the microwave with a loud snarl, that made both Tugger and Quaxo jump.
“There’s no time to ask questions,” said Quaxo, “And what does it matter, as long as the fire’s on our side, not Macavity’s. Go get Munkustrap, and tell him you’ve caught a spy.”
“And what will you do while I go?”
Quaxo didn’t answer, but looked longingly in the distance.
“Don’t you dare run away,” Tugger warned. “I have questions for you.”
Quaxo did not run away once Tugger left. He had fully planned to, wanting nothing to do with Macavity, and certainly not wanting to be made to tell secrets that he himself didn’t understand. He told himself it was the wretched cat they’d locked away in the microwave which kept his attention. Nothing good could come of her.
Over and over, the creature flung herself against the walls of the cage, and Quaxo circled it, his tail flicking back and fourth. He thought the old story in which a kitten unleashed all horrors upon the world, just by opening a box. Through the grease stained glass of the microwave, he could see death, not just for the queen, but for anybody who approached her.
“A message,” she sputtered, over and over again. “From Macavity, from Macavity…”
“What is it?” Quaxo asked, making a cautious approach towards the captive cat.
She leapt, as if she could reach him if she just tried hard enough. Quaxo blinked at her, trying to calm the urge to run away at each of her movements.
“Can you tell me the message?” Quaxo tried again.
“There’s no one like Macavity.”
“I daresay there isn’t, if he’s done this to you,” Quaxo mused. When he looked into the cat’s eyes, he thought what he saw was not madness, but dancing flames. Quaxo backed up, closing his own eyes against them.
Tugger returned, Munkustrap following him. Munkustrap was not the leader of the jellicle tribe, but he was strong and clever, and treated as such. He barely looked at Quaxo, but took in the rest of the scene with interest.
“What have you come to tell us?” Munkustrap asked queen. He spoke in a firm, official tone. Quaxo knew that it would not do any good, but could not see the point in telling him this. He slunk back, finding a place amongst the trash to hide and watch the proceedings.
Munkustrap had so many questions for the queen, about Macavity and his plans, but mostly about Demeter. Quaxo wondered if perhaps he loved Demeter. The queen did not answer any of his questions, and as the sun rose to displace the moon, the afflicted queen’s eyes closed forever; looking up the sunrise painting the sky red, Quaxo was reminded, without understanding it, of what he had seen there.
Tiredly, Munkustrap sighed. Quaxo waited until he left to crawl out of his hiding space. Tugger was still watching the fallen queen.
“Do you think we should’ve learned her name?” Quaxo asked.
“What would’ve been the point? She couldn’t have told us anything.”
“It would‘ve been nice,” Quaxo called after Tugger, as he turned to walk home as Munkustrap already had. All night he had wanted Quaxo’s company, wanted to delve into his secrets, but now that Quaxo wasn’t actively trying to give him the slip, he seemed much less appealing. Besides, it had been a long, strange night, and Tugger was tired. He may be contrary, but he wasn’t cruel, and he hadn’t enjoyed watching another cat meet her painful end.
“Give her a name then,” Tugger suggested.
“We’ll have to think of two,” Said Quaxo, who well knew the naming rules.
“Don’t care terribly much,” Tugger pointed out, with a wide yawn. “Just say anything, and get it over with.”
“Veronica, then. Vera, for everyday use.”
Tugger scoffed. “I don’t like it. Sounds too much like a human name.”
“The naming of cats is a difficult matter. Perhaps we shouldn’t play with it.”
“Why not? No one else is gonna bother with her.”
“Do you argue about everything? It’s very boring you know.”
Tugger shot the other cat and affronted glare, but he could not help studying him in doing so. He was sleek, smaller than Tugger, and moved with a simple grace. Perhaps he was interesting in his way, and then there were so many strange things to make him confess.
“I bet you think you’re hot stuff, for keeping secrets from all of catdom.”
The two of them walked in silence for some time. Quaxo looked to be deep in thought, and Tugger waited, resolving that anything unsaid must be worth hearing. When Tugger leapt up on a trashcan to enjoy the warmth of the early sun, Quaxo joined him. Tugger stretched out, licking at his coat, as Quaxo circled once, before settling down himself.
“My other name is Mistofelees.” Quaxo said.
A quick explosion, a spark of flames several feet away from the two cats. Mistofelees looked up at Tugger.
“I’m not sure what else I can do, yet, but I’m going to find out.”
Much to Quaxo’s surprise, he passed several pleasant hours on that trashcan in the sun with Rum Tum Tugger. He did not have much to say to him. He never did, but he made puppets out of the bits and pieces around them, using them to retell a few simple jellicle stories that he could manage with his jerky, unpracticed powers. To his surprise Tugger was unafraid, but watched the proceedings as if entranced.
“I don’t think I can do any more,” Quaxo said.
“What about rescuing Demeter from Macivity? Or destroying Macavity altogether? That’d be better than these parlor tricks.”
“I don’t know where they are…” said Quaxo. “I wouldn’t know where to start.”
Tugger stood, circled, and Quaxo’s eyes widened at the feel of the other cat’s tongue on his ear. It was a friendly gesture that he wouldn’t have placed with likes of Tugger, and he purred his assent.
“If I were you, I’d try to find out.”
Quaxo nodded, and he did try, he truly did. The problem was that he couldn’t just make missing cats appear out of thin air, at least he thought he couldn‘t.
It was with this thought that he drifted off to sleep, and in his dreams he saw Demeter, chained up in a dark room, and wished that he could do something about it.
The next evening when Tugger walked back to the junkyard to check on the state of things, Quaxo was with him. There he found Munkustrap tending to a very distressed, but apparently unhurt Demeter.
“How did you find her?” Tugger asked.
“It was the strangest thing. I’m sure she wasn’t with me, but then I glanced behind me at around noon and -- there she was!”
Munkustrap said no more, but nuzzled his face against Demeter’s shoulder, all of his attention taken up by her for the moment.
Tugger looked back at Quaxo, and saw that his new friend’s face was awash with wonder.