After walking through the woods for a few hours the four of us (because Greta is sleeping) tried to set up camp for the first time. Tried is probably the best word to describe it – after a lot of fumbling and failed attempts we finally managed to create two makeshift tents using the rope and thick sheets we had – one for Alice and I, and the other for Evan and Greta. Cat-boy would have to sleep outside but for the time being he was happy enough (actually he was annoyed but that's close enough for him) with trying to light a fire in the bundle of sticks and logs he had gathered together.
"How can you come out into the woods without matches?" Caleb asks his tone reflecting his thinning patience, I see the end of his tail flick back and forth angrily.
"Oh we have matches." I say innocently before opening my bag and pulling out a sandwich.
"Yeah, they're in my bag." Evan agrees as I pass him a sandwich, making no move to retrieve the matches. A hiss escapes from Caleb's lips and I see his claws extend slightly. But still Evan makes no move towards his bag. By this point Caleb is completely still, eyes glaring at Evan and only the small, threateningly quick flicks of his tail show his growing anger.
I grab the bag and start rifling through it until my fingers brush the smooth match box and I pull it out swiftly and throw it to Caleb who catches it without taking his eyes off of me.
The fire is lit moments later and is soon burning brightly, sparks flying to the sky only to fade once they move too far from the fire. Caleb is now curled up next to the fire fast asleep, his hair falling over his face. Even so, the firelight shows his light tan and his oriental features look gentle in unconsciousness bathed in a warm orange glow.
"… So what do you think?" Evan finishes and I feel a blush spread across my cheeks as I realise that I was so focussed on my own train of thought that I hadn't heard his pass by.
"I'm not sure." I say honestly. A small unnoticed smile finds its way to the cat's lips as I look over to Evan.
"Kea has a point though," Alice sits down next to me. "What was Satrina looking for when she left?"
"Well she's the one with the inside of that book so I guess we'll just have to keep going." At least I know what I'm talking about this time. "But why did she leave?" I voice the question that has been pulling at my heartstrings since I fell into that library. "And Ben! Poor Ben – why is he in that damned room and what else is being hidden from us?" The cat's ears prick up slightly at this and I begin to doubt that he's actually asleep but I do not act on that particular notion.
"This is the point where you're going to start ranting that we shouldn't have left so we could find more out first isn't it? So to save my ears five minutes, please don't." She's right we should have stuck around, but there's nothing we can do about it now so I pull the biggest map from my bag and spread on my lap, away from the bare flames of our campfire that would easily eat it to ash.
"Let's see. We could be here-ish or here or somewhere over here." Evan points at the map of the world.
"These are completely useless if we have no idea where we are." I point out bluntly.
"But we have to come across something that we could use to work out where we are – hills or a lake perhaps. These smaller maps are all salvaged and are of the most likely places where we are." I watched him open the smaller maps and look at them, then frown. I get up to look over his shoulder and see the problem – all the maps look very, very similar. In fact, if not for the different words, I'd swear they were identical!
"This just makes it all the more fun!" I peer at the maps again and Evan turns his head to look at me, "We're off at first light."
"I was afraid you'd say that." His warm breath tickles my cheek and warms my face, I'd forgotten I was still hovering over his shoulder.
"Well good night, we're going to need all the sleep we can get." I hug him, wrapping my arms around his stomach. "See you in the morning."
As I walk away he brings up another topic, one that I should have thought of myself; "Shouldn't we take shifts or something, in case something out there comes to eat us."
"I can assure you it won't want to eat me – not many animals find eating rock enjoyable but just to be safe: Cat-Boy you're on first shift! If I wake up to find something chewing on me you're taking the blame." And with those last words I settle down inside the cover of a few blankets.
After a long while the light dims and everyone bar Caleb has retreated to sleep, however I am still awake. I shuffle through my bag until I come across the small vial.
"I thought you were asleep. What are you looking for?" The voice floats through the sheet tent.
"Nothing. And I thought you were asleep."
"Well if you're looking for nothing, there's a lot of it out here."
A few seconds later I found myself sat on a log looking at the embers of the smouldering twigs, my fingers playing with the small dark bottle.
"What have you got there?" He asks.
"Haven't you ever heard the saying curiosity killed the cat?"
"Oh no, the cat killed curiosity and his friend jealousy was just lying to obnoxious." I laughed at that.
"Sleeping draught for the sleepless, which at the moment would be me, I guess."
"Nocturnal or medical?"
"Medical you stupid cat, have you ever heard of a nocturnal rock before?"
"Well moonstone maybe. But otherwise no."
"This stuff should keep me knocked out for a while so earn your keep and protect the camp." I took a few drops and patted him on the head before falling into unconsciousness back in the tent-sheet-thing.
I woke up early and not so bright. The sun barely peaking over the trees so we were mostly dusted in shadow. Everyone woke up slowly but ready for the day ahead and after a short breakfast of a sandwich and a carrot (I think I will soon be sick of sandwiches) we packed up and were about to leave when we realised something rather important.
"Which way do we go?" Evan asks.
"Which way? Which way?" Little Greta echoed, spinning around at his feet.
"We follow the sun." I say as if it is the most obvious fact on the planet.
"The sun moves – from east to west. If we follow the sun east in the morning and west in the afternoon, we'll end up back where we started."
"Well now I'm not sure. Should we go east towards the sun or west towards where it was yesterday?" I muse.
"Well you seemed set on west yesterday!"
"Well that's because that was where the sun was at the time!"
"You have a point. But we are not following the sun we are chasing it." Caleb points out. He now has a bag filled with equipment as well – it's only fair and we had a spare.
He says no more yet we still look at him expectantly. Once he is completely sure all eyes are on him he continues.
"If we go east, the sun will soon pass over us, but if we race the sun west it will take longer, not much longer, but longer nonetheless for it to pass us and then we begin the chase."
Oh. Now I get it. "West!" I declare and start walking in the opposite direction of the sun (and I have to admit that otherwise I would be clueless, but they don't need to know that).
"Is she always like this in the morning?" Cat-Boy asked.
"Yep." Evan replies and I hear one of them sigh.
"Hurry up people, I'd like to actually make some leeway today. Let's go."
Alice and Greta seem raring to go, the others spurred by my words pick up the pace although Cat-Boy stays a comfortable distance from us as we trek.
We travel for hours and the heat is starting to get to me, but heat is always better than rain so no one complains. Soon Even is carrying Greta and I become sick of the site of trees that had enticed me further into the huge forest earlier.
By the end of the second day we start to lose hope. All we saw were trees, endless trees (even the occasional Garry oak among thick fir and cedar was losing its interest) with the occasional animal wondering by – an elk or small mammal such as a squirrel and once or twice; a porcupine. I was starting get frustrated, Alice didn't speak at all, whilst Evan spoke for the world – endless babble so long as he didn't have to think that there was nothing. That this was pointless.
Cat-Boy frequently wonders off; a few times I thought he had gone for good, but he always comes back. His crazy mood swings are starting to get on my nerves; first he wants nothing to do with us or complains, then all he wants is attention – wants us to talk about ourselves or ask questions, this does however, take our minds off walking for short times. I suppose we are starting to lose hope, I guess we all thought we'd find something, anything to point us in the right direction relatively quickly, but life doesn't work like that.
It doesn't matter though; thoughts of my mother and Ben spur me on, stopping me from tipping over the edge.
We start the next day just as early but with slightly less vigour. Then finally it happens. Something happens! Around midday we come across something new, no longer the endless cedar, hemlock and oak trees but a slab of concrete. A slab of concrete with a nasty black burn across it.
Anyway, the slab of concrete also comes along with a slight clearing of the aforementioned trees. "We're getting close to something!" I announce, glad to have made progress.
"And that's not all we've found." Caleb holds up a note, well I think it's a note, it's a tatty folded up piece of paper that he slid from under a corner of the slab.
"Any guesses on it being from your mysterious mother: Satrina?" We had told him eventually; his mood swings actually managed to get it out of us. Annoyance + persistence + intelligence + silence + boredom + more persistence +charm = information (apparently). He always seemed to know what he wanted, and he got it: Names, histories, ambitions. But he never dug too deep, never pushing a subject and somehow, through it all, I still know next to nothing about him. He is Caleb, an annoying thief of a cat.
"So it looks like a page from the book," I say, it's hard to read as it is old but at least is has been sheltered from most of the elements. "The contents page. Alisa Moss, Thomas Redford, Satrina Songhurst. And she has written on it too: This proves I am not the first so chase me or follow my cause – It's your choice. Good luck, S."
"Well she's right – we're following her and this proves we are going the right way." Evan's words barely register in my mind, I'm transfixed by the large block of concrete, even ragged I have never seen one so big.
Then I look up and I look passed them. We missed the bigger picture and soon enough they were looking too, at the glass and concrete mess barely visible through and above the trees. Then I run.
The screwed up paper tossed into my bag forgotten as I heave it up onto my back. Dodging trees and jumping stumps and branches, the green and brown of the coniferous trees fly passed into a natural blur. I hear my breath coming faster along with my heart, the heart I hadn't felt beat in a while due to its crystalline casing.
I am fixated on one thing – the forever growing urban mess in front of me. I catch glimpses of it as I run; masses of metal and shattered glass, a tall metal post or two or three in a row, and rubble, always rubble.
Then I've cleared it. The concrete/glass/metal muddle of mess extends beyond my feet for what seems like miles. I hear the panting breath of the others as they stop next to me and the sudden gasp much like my own as the extent of the devastation sinks in.