Norman walked out of his last class debating the merits of the rumors he had overheard during the day. From what he could tell, a house had been broken into the night before (apparently only a few blocks from his own) and the police had to come sort it out in the morning.
"But whose house was it?" he asked one of the kids that were talking about it.
"I don't know," a girl whispered back. "I live on the other side of town from where Lucy told me it was."
Norman walked down the road in silence, smiling and waving to the few ghosts that passed him. There seemed to be fewer of them out on the streets today.
A skinny, dark, ghostly cat took a lazy stroll down the sidewalk towards him, seemingly innocent and leisurely with nowhere to go. It seemed to recognize him, somehow.
He and the dead cat were alone on the slowly darkening street. The sun was setting so much earlier than it had been.
"Here, kitty," he called to it. It continued walking, seemingly annoyed and enthralled at the same time, and sat down just out of reach from where he had bent down.
"I'm afraid I don't respond to that very inappropriate term, thank-you-very-much," it said. "And while I do enjoy being stroked, I have more important matters to attend to."
It stood up to move and started walking again when Norman called out.
"Wait! What are you? Only dead people could talk before."
The cat turned around and flashed him a feline grin. "So, you can see and hear me," it said. "That's interesting… and there are others, as well?"
"Yeah," Norman answered. "But I don't know where they are right now…"
"Yes, yes," the cat told him. It grinned again, wider this time. "Just wanted to make sure you weren't seeing things."
Norman was sure it would have cackled, but it didn't.
"Anyway," it continued, "they're not here because I am, as I'm strange and haven't been here in a while. They're also aware of what happened last night at your friend's house."
The cat jumped up on a fence and gave him a grave look. "Bad things are happening. Bad, bad things."
"Well, what happened?" Norman asked again.
It evaded the question, and instead walked a bit closer to him and sniffed the air. "Thought so. I needed to check your scent, either way. How much has she told you about her?"
"Coraline's told me a good amount about herself, if that's what you mean," Norman answered.
The cat's eyes widened and then closed mournfully. "No," it whispered. It opened its eyes and stared sadly at a point somewhere beyond Norman's left shoulder. "What has she told you about… the Beldam?"
Norman barely saw it flinch at the last two words. He pretended not to notice.
"Coraline told me that the Beldam is some sort of button-eyed witch that –"
"So you've got the basics," the cat said, clearly reacting to Norman's phrase. "Stole her away, she played a game with it, almost lost without my help. A lot of my help, I should add," it said cattily. "Now, unfortunately, I'm not of much use, because I don't have physical claws anymore. But here's the important part: last night, her house wasn't broken into – she was in there the whole time, waiting for the right moment. And now she's got her."
Norman didn't know how to respond.
"I have a lot to explain," the cat finally whispered with its eyes closed. "I should have died, you should have let me… come with me…"
"What are you talking about?" Norman asked.
It opened its eyes and looked up at him. "Your family's trick may be able to let you see some things, but there are other layers of reality that it can't look into. Follow."
Norman walked with the cat further down the road, and then they turned onto another darker street.
"You're going to have to convince Wyborne that I'm with you," the cat told Norman. "He won't believe you otherwise – I'm almost certain of that."
Norman walked up to the house and knocked, three short, low raps on the front door.
Wybie answered the door after a minute or two. "Go away, stupid repor- oh, it's you, Norman."
Norman answered a bit shyly. He and Wybie still didn't get along all the time. Well, me and a dead cat that claims to know you."
Wybie did a double take. "That was Cat? ... I'll have to ask you a few questions."
Norman looked wordlessly back at the cat, which grinned. "I've known Wyborne for a long time."
Wybie led the two of them into his living room, a relatively large space with a couch, a coffee table, and a few assorted boxes that had yet to be packed. The three of them stood off in a corner.
"Okay, question one," Wybie said. "What's my favorite color?"
"Easy," the cat remarked. "The color of my eyes. Come up with decent questions."
It opened its mouth in a wide yawn to display its boredom at the question.
"The color of the cat's eyes," Norman answered. "A light bluish color."
Wybie scrunched his face up slightly. "Question two. When did I build my first motorbike?"
"When you were eight," the cat answered easily, staring at Wybie. "Try to find something that I might not know about. I dare you, Wyborne."
Norman shrugged. "He said when you were eight."
The mop-headed boy's eye twitched. "Question three. What was my favorite stuffed animal until I was five?"
The cat answered the question with all of its usual snark. Norman had to bite his lip to keep from laughing.
"Uh," he said, "do you want a paraphrased answer, or his exact words?"
"Exact words," Wybie said darkly.
"Okay," Norman said. He tried to keep a straight face as he tried to mimic the cat's feline accent. "Your favorite stuffed animal, Wyborne, is a lime green teddy bear with beady black eyes, which you decided to name 'Mr. Goober' for whatever reason. 'Mr. Goober' is currently sitting on top of the bookshelf in the back corner of your room, where you hope Coraline won't find it. Correction: he was your favorite until you were seven, not five, and the only reason you stopped playing with it then is because you had realized that having a comfort object in second grade isn't exactly appropriate in the eyes of the average person."
There was a shattering silence in the room as the cat smiled in triumph at Wybie's face, Norman tried not to laugh, and Wybie was lost in his own little shattering world. Finally, however, the silence was broken.
"God damn it!" Wybie said.
"So do you believe me now?" Norman asked after he'd chuckled.
"Yes," Wybie admitted. "I'll believe anything you say for the moment."
The cat grinned and looked at Norman. "Wyborne always takes a bit of convincing, but he can be convinced."
Norman didn't know how to reply. Instead, he began to explain the full situation to Wybie.
After it was done, both of the boys were silent for a minute or so, and then Wybie removed something from a pocket.
"I've been having similar thoughts," he admitted. "When we fought the hand - long story," he added at Norman's quizzical look, "In a way, I thought I was dreaming at the time, and that somehow the dream managed to line up with reality later. But now this..." he trailed off, rolling the key between two fingers nervously. "I don't know anymore."
"You don't have to know, either of you," the cat replied, knowing the boy couldn't hear him. "But time is running out, and you still need to collect something."
The cat didn't answer. It just walked.
(A/N): Sorry sorry sorry! I didn't intend this one to take so long, but I had to put a lot of stuff through Norman, and I change the POV every chapter... yeah. :P
Anyway, Nicktendo Squad knows the contents of the next chapter. Well, roughly. Knows one line, at minimum.
...because I didn't put it in Twelve... heh... heh... yeah.
The chapter after the next chapter (Seventeen), we'll get back to Coraline, for those of you that want to see what happened to her. Ohh, that one's going to be so fun to write... I've got most of it planned already. In fact, pretty much all of it. A few things need to be changed from my first drafts of it, because my whole concept of the fear games changed a lot over the months.
...Hard to believe that I started this story almost two months ago. Fifteen days away from two months. Wow...
Also, I know, I know. I haven't gotten around to replying to the reviews on one of the chapters. Thing is, I can't remember which chapter it is, so it's kinda a problem. Gah. I think it was... I don't know.
Sorry, though, if I didn't reply to yours. My computer crashed when I was doing it and I lost all my stuff that I had open online. :(
Anyway, I told you it would be the length of a double update. Did I keep my promise? XD