A story about a boy and the peculiar cat he finds on the way home. Our longest story yet!
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The Invisible Cat
By Unno Juza
Translated by Hamish smith
The Path Beneath The Cliff
Seiji was walking along a path below a cliff face, one he knew all too well. There were houses lined up along the top of the cliff, a few were western-style mansions with red roofs. On the other side of the path was a bank that sloped downwards. On the far side of the bank was a fence made from the wooden planks used on railway tracks, smouldered black. Beyond the fence were teain tracks where steam engines journeyed back and forth. Seiji walked up and down this path every day. Each day he dropped of dinner to his father who worked at a broadcasting company. This meant that he only ever walked down the path at night.
Seiji took his father’s dinner around to the rear reception desk of the broadcasting building. His father, who worked as security guard, gave Seiji a little pencil as a reward. Seiji put the pencil in his pocket and made his way back down the path at the foot of the cliff. Darkness had already begun to set in. It was barely spring, and the day was overcast with some very dense clouds lingering to the west. The sun soon disappeared out of sight.
Seiji felt at ease walking down the path and was whistling his favorite song. That’s when he heard a cat’s meow coming from the roadside. Seiji loved cats. Up until recently, Seiji had a house cat named Mii, but a pack of local dogs had ripped Mii to pieces in cold blood. Seiji bawled his eyes out when it happened. There hadn’t been a cat in Seiji’s house since Mii was killed.
“Meow,” came the voice of a cat, again from the road side. It was coming from within some tall grass. Seiji stopped whistling and went in closer to where the cat’s meowing was coming from, but he couldn’t see any sign of a cat. Just as Seiji thought the cat must have run off somewhere, there came another meow. Seiji was surprised. The meow came from right in front of his nose as he poked his head into the grass to take a look, but there wasn’t a cat to be seen.
Seiji pulled himself backwards and his face turned pale. If ever there was a mystery this was it. There was a cat meowing right in front of him, only there was no cat to be seen.
“Meow,” the cat again started making noise. Seiji got a shiver down his spine. Could this be the spirit of Mii? he thought. Seiji had heard plenty of stories about the spirits of dead people coming back to roam the earth, but he hadn’t heard much about the spirits of dead cats appearing. Regardless, the spirit of his cat was all he could think about at that moment.
“Mii, is that you?”, Seiji tried to sound brave, but his voice trembling.
“Meow,” came the reply, from the same place as before.
“Ah!” Seiji yelped in surprise and froze in place. He had seen two small floating lights hovering above the grass and had no idea what they were. They looked like a pair of twinkling lights floating next to each other. It was as if four or five marbles from a Ramune bottle were melded together and had turned light blue with a yellow centre, and inside the yellow centre was a black dot. They look kind of like eyeballs, but what the hell are they? Again he heard a cat meow. The voice came from right by the two floating lights. Seiji was terrified, but he still couldn’t tear his eyes away from the floating lights. Seiji plucked up some courage, took a step into the grass and reached out to grab the floating balls.
“Uwah!” Seiji called out as he jerked his hands away and jumped back. He had felt the tickling sensation of fur on his palms just as his hands were almost on the floating balls of light. Seiji was ready give up to run away, but his curiosity got the better of him and he stopped in his tracks. So again he turned and reached out for the two glowing orbs with both hands.
“Ahhh-” Seiji again felt the strange sensation of fur. What he had touched felt like the head of an animal.
A Strange Discovery
It was like a cat’s head, but I couldn’t see it at all, thought Seiji, feeling a little uneasy. He had calmed down a lot since finding the shiny floating balls. He touched the head of the furry animal and timidly stroked it downwards. It was a complete shock. He knew it was a cat. It had a tail flailing about. Even the contours of the soles of its feet were cat-like, and it had claws. It was just that that he couldn’t see them. Seiji was surprised, but he continued searching.
The shiny jewels that floated in front of Seiji, no matter how you looked at them, were cat’s eyes. And then Seji made a new discovery. The legs of the invisible cat were bound with a rubber band. The rubber band was in the long grass, in a spot that Seiji wouldn’t have noticed had he not decided to take a good look. Seiji wasn’t frightened as much as he was curious. He picked the strange little cat up off the ground. It certainly was about as heavy as a cat should be. He held the cat close and headed back down the path towards home. The animal was calm. It wasn’t meowing and it was no longer making any noises. The cat snuggled itself into Seiji’s chest and he could feel the animal’s warmth. It looked as though the cat had fallen asleep.
“What on earth is this? The spirit of a cat? It’s just so strange.” Seiji couldn’t quite put his finger on what the creature was, exactly.
Seiji finally arrived home.
“I’m home,” said Seiji before quickly making his way up the stairs to the second floor. Seiji considered telling his mother about the strange cat-like creature that he picked up on the way home, but he didn’t know how his mother would react to him bringing home something so strange and there was no way she would like it. She would only tell him to throw it outside and be done with it. It would be too dull an ending to something that took so much courage to pick up. That’s what Seiji thought to himself as he climbed the stairs, still clutching the mysterious creature close to his chest.
Seiji found himself in a bit of a bind once he got to the top of the stairs. He didn’t know where to put the strange animal. If he just left the cat alone as it was, it would end up running away. And he didn’t want it to run away. He wondered if he should put it in the cupboard. No, the cat would have no problems tearing up the sliding paper doors. The cupboard just wouldn’t be safe.
“Seiji what are you doing? Dinner’s ready. Hurry up,” Seiji’s mother called up to the second floor from the foot of the stairs.
“Ok, I’m coming!”
Seiji wondered what he was going to do next, and good ideas often come to those who need them. Seiji pulled a drawer of his desk open and produced a lenght of string. It was made from red and blue fibers which twisted around one another. He pulled the string out and tied the strange animal by its hind legs. When he did, the front legs and the hind legs were tied and the creature could no longer walk. And if it couldn’t walk, then it couldn’t run away. Alright, that’s taken care of, thought Seiji as he left the creature on the desk and made his way down stairs.
Seiji and his mother sat at the dinner table and dined like they always did. Seiji’s mother asked him if anything had happened on the way to the broadcasting station. Seiji told her that his father had given him a pencil, as always. They finished their meal. Seiji swept the leftover fish bones into the palm of his hand as his mother went into the kitchen. He then stood up in the opposite direction and made his way up the stairs.
“Wait a minute, Seiji, take an apple up with you,” his mother called out.
“I’ll come and get it later,” said Seiji, brushing his mother off as he continued up the stairs.
He hurried over to his desk. On top of the desk he saw the familiar red and blue string, along with the rubber band which had held the strange animal’s legs together. And those creepy pair of eyes.
“You want some of this, huh? Go on, eat up.” Seiji put the bones down in front of the two shining eyeballs. He soon heard a crunching sound. It broke the bones and lifted them up off the table. And then before long it was turned into a line and slowly traveled downwards, and from there went down on its side.
“Whoa, that’s gross,” said Seiji in a daze. The bones had been broken up in the animal’s mouth and then had traveled down the throat and into the stomach. That much he could see.
“Huh, well this certainly is a cat you can’t see. An invisible cat. How does a weird animal like this even exist.” Seiji had started to get more interested, however he had come to think of this cat as a treasure, so he put the cat on his lap and started patting and stroking him. The eyeballs didn’t move while he stroked the cat. It seemed the invisible cat on his lap had drifted off to sleep. The eyes that he could clearly see when he picked it up the cat now looked faint.
A Terrible Tragedy
The next day Seiji woke up at five 0’clock, as he always did. His father was still sleeping as he gets home quite late from the broadcasting station and normally sleeps in. So that morning Seiji and his mother gathered around the dinner table. The living room was right next to the kitchen, so it didn’t really get much light.
“What’s the matter, Seiji? You don’t look so good. Are you feeling sick?” asked his mother, worried. Seiji wasn’t feeling ill at all. So that’s exactly what he told his mother.
“Alright, but Seiji, you still look ill. You look like you’re fading away. You look dazed,” said his mother, but Seiji didn’t take her seriously.
“You’re one to talk. What’s the matter with your eyes this morning? They seem so misty.”
“Oh, maybe you’re right. And it’s just the start of spring as well, I’m probably just feeling a little light headed.” And that’s how the conversation ended. Seiji’s mother still had a lot of things to tend to that morning so Seiji went upstairs.
There was a small cushion on the desk. When Seiji looked at the top of the cushion, he could see that there was an indentation. He could also see the rubber band and the red and a blue rope still tied in place. The strange animal was definitely still sleeping there. But for some odd reason, the floating eyes were no where to be seen.
“I wonder where those eyes went,” said Seiji. He went up to the cushion, felt around a little and petted the cat. His hand touched what could only be the cat’s head. But he couldn’t see its eyes. He thought that maybe the eyes had disappeared, so he pressed down on the cat’s head with both hands and groped around for the cat’s eyes. The cat let out a hiss of hostility and stood up from the cushion. He must have poked his fingers into the cat’s eyes and given it a fright. Seji felt a prickling pain in his hand. He looked down and saw that his hand was bleeding. He pulled it away from the cat. Seiji got such a fright that his heart started racing. What frightened him so much was that when he looked down at his hand, he couldn’t see it clearly, it was all faded and blurry.
“What’s happening?” Seiji suddenly remembered his mothers words. “What’s the matter Seiji? You look like you’re fading away.”
Seiji stood in front of a mirror that hung from a support beam of the house.
“Gyah!” Seiji was struck with a huge surprise. His face in the mirror was light and fading. His school uniform was clear and normal, but he was pale and fading from the neck up. Seiji thought that his eyes had blurred. He rubbed his eyes and looked back at his reflection in the mirror once more, but it was in vain. No mater how many times he looked in the mirror, his reflection was fading, and when he held both of his hands out in front of the mirror, they too were difficult to make out.
“This can’t be good,” Seiji said with grim horror as he huddled into a ball on the floor.
Seiji had no idea why was happening. The same thing that had happened to the invisible cat was now happening to Seiji.
“What am I going to do now? Surely I won’t turn invisible, just like that cat. Oh boy, I won’t be able to go on if that happens. People will treat me like a monster.” Seiji knew he had to stay determined. If he stayed here like this, he would be treated like a monster. He would have to escape to a place where no one would ever find him.
After thinking it was over, Seiji decided he would leave home.
Seiji tossed a few spare clothes into a basket and, with the invisible cat under the other arm, snuck out of the house without his mother noticing him. He didn’t want his mother to grieve over him leaving so he left her note on his desk the read, ‘I’m going on an unexpected journey. Please don’t worry about me. I will come back one day, that’s for certain. And when I do, I will have some amazing stories to tell you’.
The God of Little Miracles
Seiji kept walking without knowing where he was headed. He had on a ski mask and held his head low to sheild it from the wind. He wore the type of black-tinted goggles that bikers wear to protect their eyes. He had on a scarf so that no one would be able to see his neck and had gloves covering his hands. People would take one look at him walking around like that and think that he must hate the cold.
As he walked, he kept wondering, among other things, how such a strange creature would even exist in this world, and why it had chosen to attack him. Eventually Seiji stopped and sat down at a bench in a small park. He was tired from walking. He was hungry as well, so he unwrapped some bread and ate. He drank some bottled water. It filled him up a little, and helped to quench his thirst. But Seiji was still sad.
“I’m going to have to buy the next meal myself. I have a little bit of money, but it will be gone in a couple of days. What am I going to do after that?” Seiji thought about returning home.
“No, no, no. My mother will be a wreck with grief if I go back the way I am. No matter how much I miss home, I can’t go back.” Warm tears began to roll down Seiji’s cheeks and drip onto his lap.
“Hey kid. What are you doing moping like that?” somebody suddenly called out. Seiji looked up, surprised. There was a young man standing in front of him. He wore a double breasted business suit, had long hair carefully parted in the middle and looked like quite the young gentleman. However, unlike his neat and tidy western clothes, his face was rough and uneven like a sheet of galvanized iron and his angular square cheeks were covered in pimples. The young man smiled as he looked down at Seiji.
“Boys don’t cry. I wanted to cry when times got tough for me, too. But you know, even if you think that you can’t help but cry, no matter how bad things get, you have to keep on living with a smile on your face. There is nothing better than optimism. If you’re confused, then think it over for two or three days. Think, and there is no way that the path won’t become clear. You’re homeless, aren’t you boy?”. Seiji was about to say ‘no’, but he had left his home, so he was homeless. Seiji just nodded.
“That’s what I thought,” said the young man, “you don’t have much to eat, either?” All Seiji could do was nod.
“Well alright, don’t you worry about a thing. Come with me. I’ll let you eat to your heart’s content. Let’s go.” Seiji didn’t understand why this man was being so nice to him. But in that moment, Seiji knew he didn’t have much other choice than to put his faith in him. Seiji decided to tell this man his big secret. But Seiji couldn’t bring himself to tell the him that he was turning invisible. They just talked about the cat. When they did the young man’s eyes lit up with delight. His name was Roku.
“Really? That sounds great. You would be rolling in the money. No… you really would make yourself rich. Leave everything to me. And of course we will split the profits, 50/50.” Roku had completely gotten on board.
“By the way, won’t you let me take a look at the thing itself?” Seiji let Roku feel the cloth that the cat was wrapped in.
“I see, well, there certainly is a cat in there.”
“Go and have a peek inside the bag,” said Seiji as he pulled the cloth away and let Roku peek inside.
“Wow, there’s nothing in there! When you touch it from the outside through the cloth you can feel a cat for sure…” Roku, who was quite taken back by the invisible cat, put gloves on his hands and put his hands inside the cloth.
“Holey moley! I can really feel the cat now. Wow, it really is an invisible cat. The real deal. Wow. Boy, you’re holding a money tree that will make you rich. Right, we’ll set up a stool, and charge the people ten yen per person, and we’ll welcome them, in you come, come on in, we could get a thousand people a day. So that would be…ten…by two thousand… twenty thousand yen!” Seiji was shocked. This guy must have been a wizard with numbers.
“Though twenty thousand yen isn’t all that much. We’ll raise the price of entry to 20 yen per person. That will stir up the punters. So then we’ll call it the hundred thousand yen prize. ‘If you find this invisible cat to be a fraud, we’ll give you a hundred thousand yen’ that’s what we’ll write on the sign. And then everyone will want to come and see, those who want to see something amazing and others who want to get their hands on that yen. A twenty yen entrance fee is cheap, really. First we need to get twenty thousand people going through each day. Then we will get… twenty yen… twenty thousand people… that’s… 4 million yen. Oh, this is too good to be true.”
The Big Attraction and The Big Prize
The tent was set up in a part of the city known as the entertainment district, where Roku had a lot of clout.
“A modern wonder of the world, an invisible cat!”
“You can’t talk about world wonders until you have experienced this!”
“According to the expert C. H. Purubondonken ‘An invisible cat only comes around once every ten thousand years!”
“No tricks! It’s real. If you find it to be a fake, then we will compensate you one hundred thousand yen. Yours sincerely, Rokumuro Murakoshi, Acting President, Society for the Research and Promotion of Invisible Cats”. Roku thought of that amazing title and planted the huge sign on the door. He was right. Patrons paying 20 yen each to see the cat arrived and kept coming.
“The tent is now at full capacity. Take a look at this photo of the invisible cat as it was caught in the wild. This is a real picture of an invisible cat. If you miss out now, you will never be able to talk about it. Come one, come all! Sorry the tent is at full capacity at the moment.” Roku looked quite showy as he addressed the crowd which had sprung up in front of the tent to investigate.
Seiji was inside the tent, dressed as the presenter. His face and hands and feet were all concealed, and he stood right next to the beautiful decorated miniature shrine-like box which held the invisible cat. The patrons that crowded the room put their hands into a hole in the box and touched the cat, one by one. The cat, who had grown tired, began to get quite agitated. It was bouncing around in the box, meowing, hissing and growling.
That only made the cat more popular with he punters. Some of the customers broke from the line to get a peek into the box. They could hear the cat’s voice, but they couldn’t see it. This made them even more intruiged. Some of the customers claimed black magic as they felt around the corners inside the box. Those people were the ones that had put their hands into the box and had their fingers bitten by the cat, got a fright and pulled their hands straight back out. The pair had made 450,000 yen from admissions on the first day. Roku ran the numbers in his head.
“Well, you can take ten thousand yen, and I’ll take ten thousand as well. That leaves 430,000 yen, which we will put in the bank. Someone will eventually rob us if he have that much cash lying around. So when we have around ten million yen, we will build ourselves a fantastic theater, with magicians and circus acts and our invisible cat. With those three things as attractions, everyone that comes here will throw their money at us.” Roku was very excited. That night he took Seiji to a house deep in the city and ordered an extravagant meal, grabbed some liqour and had himself a big party.
Once Roku had got some liquor into him, his words became quite rough.
“No, no, no, kid. What are you still wearing that hat for? I can’t take you seriously if you’re not taking me seriously. C’mon, take off that hat. What are you thinking? What, with president Roku – no, I mean, Roku, me, the great, sitting right in front of you?” The ladies sitting at the table tried to stop him, but Roku jumped over to Seiji and grabbed his hat.
All hell broke loose. Roku’s drunkenness was gone in an instant. The women around them screamed as they ran away. Why? Because there was nothing under Seiji’s hat. Neck-less Seiji scrambled about in a panic. Roku was paralyzed with fear, his lips trembling and unable to say a word. Roku and Seiji got themselves out of there after somehow calming everyone down. He managed to spend 50,000 yen in hush-money.
The pair stayed at a hotel. Roku sat with Seiji on the bed and had a little talk. He told Seiji that an invisible human would attract far more people than an invisible cat, and that Seiji should put himself out as an attraction.
“No, I don’t want to.”
“You’re being stupid about this. You’ll never have an easier way to make some dough. We would make at least a hundred million yen. There is no getting away from it. C’mon, be the invisible human,” said Roku, patiently trying to coax the boy. But Seiji wouldn’t accept. They spent the night in the hotel without another word. When the morning came, Seiji pulled himself out of his bed, but he got a shock from the bed next to him.
He had no idea what it was. There was someone there, who you would think would be Roku, but his hands and his legs were fading, but his two big eyes were shining. It looked as if Roku was also turning invisible.
Madness spread through the whole city that day. Here, there and everywhere, cases of people’s shadows getting fainter and slowly disappearing were popping up.
After some inspection, it was found that those people who were disappearing had visited the ‘invisible cat’ the day before. It was only the ones who had touched the cat that day, and it took about five days for them to turn completely invisible. Intense fear gripped the city. But even so, by seventh day all the madness suddenly died down. That was because a scholar, the one who had first created the invisible cat, Professor Hanegi as he called himself, appeared.
The professor’s research was about turning the body invisible by making the body have the same reflectance and refractive index as air. The professor had discovered a kind of fungus that worked well, had cultivated in his laboratory and eventually plated it in some bugs, a guinea pig and a cat. The cat he had experimented on had been planted with the fungus but had gotten free from its leash, escaped out of the lab window and had fallen down the side of the cliff, which is when Seiji found it. But when Seiji touched the cat, he too turned invisible. It was the same for all the people that touched the cat when they went to see it as an attraction. The professor had readied an antidote for the invisibility-causing fungus, so through his treatment everyone was able to be visible again.
Seiji was also happy he was able to return home. Roku had a change of heart and split his earnings with Seiji fifty-fifty. Seiji’s mother was very happy to have her son home. The only problem left was professor Hanegi’s research, as the professor is still thinking about what he can possibly do with his new discovery.
http://www.aozora.gr.jp/cards/000160/files/879_23881.html English translation © 2015 Hamish Smith. All rights reserved.