If it weren’t for the angry cat sitting on top of the chest — currently in the form of a juvenile marmalade tom — the chest would not have stood out in the Aunt’s attic. This corner of the attic, furthest from windows, chimneys, and the two entrances, was stacked to the roof with such chests, leather-clad and metal-bound, each of them locked and the keys all hung on a ring downstairs. Aunt Eva had been cataloguing and numbering them, one giant chest of diaries at a time.
Beryl studied Radar. She’d started thinking of him as her cat, foolish as she knew that was. He was an Aunt cat, and she was not the aunt.
“Can I move the chest?” she offered. “By the handles, I mean. Or on a cart?”
Radar bristled again, and then settled down, grooming every bit of his fur straight, all without answering at all.
Beryl knew from experience that fur-smoothing could take hours if not the entire day, depending on exactly how ruffled Rader felt, so she headed to the far corner of the attic for a cart.
The Aunt-house attic was something to behold, even after Eva had been sorting through it for the last few months. There were boxes in here labelled in years that began with 18—, their contents not so much detailed as broadly described. “Vases, from church picnic,” one read. “Caution: May be cursed,” read another box. Beryl avoided that one; anything an Aunt thought deserved a caution was not something she wanted to mess with casually.
“This chest isn’t labelled ‘danger’,” she pointed out to the still-grooming Radar, as she dragged the cart over to the chest. She’d grabbed a pair of silk gloves from the open box by the near stairway, and pulled those up to her elbows while she waited for an answer.
None appeared forthcoming. Radar was working on a tricky bit by his tail and didn’t even glance at her.
Beryl touched the handle of the chest; nothing changed in neither chest nor cat. “How do you know, then? g’Aunt Sarah’s been gone for, um, a while.”
Once again, Radar ignored her. Beryl picked up the chest carefully, both because you never knew how the trap-charms might be lain and because Radar was not moving from his perch, and moved it onto the hand-cart. “This is going to be a bumpy ride,” she warned him. “Um.. Hold on?”
Getting the chest to the stairs was the easy part, and Radar rode along, giving off the air that he meant to never speak again, just an ordinary cat, look, another bit of fur loose. The bumpy part came when Beryl carefully let the hand-cart down the stairs; Radar slid towards the back, shifted position without looking at Beryl, and kept grooming himself. He did the same thing as they went down the back stairs into the kitchen, where he leapt off onto the table.
Aunt Eva looked up. “Beryl, honey, I told you to bring those down a handful at a time, not a handcart at a time.”
“I know, Aunt Eva, but Radar, here, is bound and determined that nobody except you should handle these diaries. He nearly took some flesh off.”
“I barely tapped you,” Radar answered primly. “Evangeline, these books are not for childish consumption.”
“Who are you calling a child?” Beryl glared at him, no longer feeling like indulging his little tantrum. “Besides, you said only Aunt Eva should touch them!”
Radar groomed his face for a moment. “Nobody should read them. But, since the diaries of each Aunt should be read by the new Aunt, Eva must.” He looked out the window. “Bad things happen when the diaries are not read. They exist for a purpose.”
“I know that, Radar.” Eva gestured at the piles of diaries that they’d been cataloguing for months. “That’s why I asked Beryl to go get Aunt Sarah’s books.”
Radar’s tail swished angrily. “Beryl should not read these.”
“All right, all right. I tell you what. I’ll start on these while Beryl finishes up on Aunt Asta’s stuff. But if I decide she can read it, Radar, then she’ll read it.” She picked up the cat, who seemed to be getting larger the more uncomfortable he got, and held him up until she was looking him in the face. “Do you understand?”
Radar tried to stare her down, the more fool he. Finally he glanced away, as if looking out the window. “You won’t. But you’re the Aunt.” Suddenly, he was twisting and squirming. “Put me down, woman. I’m not some kitten you can manhandle like a toy!”
Eva was laughing as she set him down but when her eyes met Beryl’s, she’d gone solemn again. “You heard the cat. You get working on Asta’s early journals, and I’ll see what’s so exciting about Aunt Sarah’s stuff. All right?”
Beryl wasn’t going to win this argument. “All right, Aunt Evangeline.” She drew her aunt’s full name out like some sort of formal title, as if Aunt Eva wouldn’t have known she was sulking without some obvious cue like that.
As was probably completely fair, Eva ignored her to turn her focus on the chest. Beryl, a little embarrassed by her sulking, tried to focus on Aunt Asta’s journals, but she kept peeking up at Eva’s progress.
Aunt Asta as a young woman — pre-Aunthood by quite a while, and should Beryl be keeping a journal, too? Eva was deep in concentration over the chest, a crystal floating over the lock and one more held over each front corner. If the chest was booby-trapped, now was not the time to ask her about — well, anything.
She had gone to fight in the war! Well, to “support the war effort,” but the women of their family were fighters rather than supporters. The family had been against it. Of course. Beryl made a face at the pages and the grannies-who-had-come-before. Even Chalce was having trouble with that. Family stayed close, until it was time to split. Never mind that Berkeley had the program she wanted and wanted her in return.
Aunt Eva had the chest open, the crystals put away. You never knew when a nosy neighbor might stop by. But she hadn’t moved from her seat on the floor; she was holding the old book carefully, squinting at the handwriting.
“Aunt Boo’s journal has a cantrip for reading better,” Beryl offered. “Journal three, the blue one… what?” Eva had glanced up at her, not quite meeting her eyes. “You’re blushing.” Aunts didn’t blush! …did they?
Eva cleared her throat. She looked away, took a sip of tea, and cleared her throat again. Even old Aunt Sarah’s books couldn’t have been that dusty. There were cantrips and embedded charms for that, easy ones.
“Ah. Well… it appears…” She looked around the room, so Beryl looked as well. Radar was nowhere to be seen, and no grannies or cousins had snuck in. They were alone in the kitchen.
Eva took another sip of her tea. “It appears that Aunt Sarah has a very active life. And she was, um, quite detailed in her descriptions.” She glanced down at the page, her blush darkening. “I wonder how Radar knew.”
“I was there when Asta opened them.” Radar strolled in, tail high and looked as if he’d never had his little freak-out. “And Elenora. So you see?”
Beryl held her breath. She didn’t even know if she wanted to read Aunt Sarah’s dirty diaries, but complaining that she was old enough to would just prove that she wasn’t.
Eva glanced down at the diary and sipped her tea again. “I do see,” she agreed slowly. She looked up at Beryl and winked. “Annd… once she’s done properly cataloguing Asta’s journals… Beryl should read them as well. There are preconceptions about Aunts that I think it’s best she lose early on.
Radar’s tail fluffed up and his back started to arch. He shook himself, although his tail stayed puffed out like a chimney brush. “As… you… say,” he grated out.
It probably wasn’t kind to laugh at him, but Beryl’s hand was still stinging from where he’d smacked her.
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“Hey, stop that, stop that. You’re my mother, yes, I fully acknowledge that, but what are you doing, no, no, not inside the ear…”
The cat often known as Radar was in the habit of ignoring voices that spoke in English. It wouldn’t do for anyone – not even the human that theoretically could call him as familiar – to get used to him being tame. He was a cat, after all, no matter what machinations had folded him into that shape….
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From the Turn Left meme here: http://aldersprig.livejournal.com/1005760.html; off of this story: http://aldersprig.dreamwidth.org/260041.html in the Beryl/Damn Cat sequence, an AU.
They had gotten the cats distributed, gotten everything sorted out, all but one angry Siamese cat. The big old tom had clawed, bitten, and, when the vet had mentioned fixing, he drawn blood on four different people.
“Some cats,” the vet mentioned, “you just have to put down. You can’t leave him wandering, not knowing what he might have…”
She went quiet, because the cat had gone completely still. He wasn’t looking at the vet; he was looking at Beryl. His eyes, she noticed, were blue.
“I think…” she said slowly “…as long as you don’t try to castrate him, he’ll behave just fine now.”
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Aunt Family has a landing page here.
Beryl had the book now.
Radar found himself pacing, which was not common Radar behaviour, and possibly (he was no longer really certain) not really cat behaviour either. The family needed a strong, knowledgeable witch – Aunt, whatever – again. Eva did not want to be steered, which was good. But it meant that Radar was going to have to work sideways around things.
Radar was not good at working sideways, and he wasn’t really certain if it was the best idea. But, while he had been instilled with certain values, he had not been given precognizance, which he felt showed a lack of foresight on his creators’ parts. So he had to guess.
Guessing meant he’d put the most important book in the family’s history in the hands of a teenager – not even definitely the next Aunt, no matter what the family thought, although she was definitely already a witch – and hoped that she wouldn’t spill her soda on it or, possibly worse, spill the beans to all and sundry.
Beryl was proving good at keeping secrets so far. If he’d had fingers to cross, Radar would have crossed them.
Instead, he paced, while nearby, Beryl sat with the book, a laptop, a family dictionary, and a notebook open, taking precise notes on everything she read.
Finally, content that she was far too engrossed to notice him, Radar hopped up on the dresser and slid her cursed necklace over his own neck.
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Radar appeared to approve of the center box of the nine – although, perhaps out of consideration to Aunt Bea, he wasn’t talking. Beryl, armed with the gloves the cat had suggested and a scarf tied over her nose and mouth, moved everything with the care usually taken by museum archivists.
(She wondered, very briefly, what a historian or archaeologist would make of the family archives, such as they were. Had anyone in the family ever studied archeology?)
“Aunt Bea…” Her voice was muffled by the scarf, but Aunt Bea’s hearing was still sharp. “Do we have any historians in the family?”
“Oh, the family doesn’t tend to go that way.”
“Aah.” Beryl noted the tone, and wondered what Aunt or pushy Granny had inculcated that idea into the family. “I think it might be fun to do a study of all this, that’s all.”
“Well, but who could you show it to?”
“Aunt-” She hefted the box out of its spot and set it, carefully, on a clear patch of attic floor “-Evangeline. Or maybe one of the cadet branches – hey, how come they’re the cad… never mind. Thanks for letting me take this, Aunt Bea.” That was Dangerous Territory. People Beryl’s age weren’t supposed to worry about Dangerous Territory.
“Don’t worry too much about the politics, honey. It’ll sort itself out, it always does. And be careful with what’s in those boxes – I mean, tell Eva to be careful.” Was that a wink, or just a trick of the light?
Beryl had earned the privilege of a locked door with her fourteenth birthday, and was very grateful for it as she and Radar sat down with the box. Not that she thought her mother would exactly object, but her mother would talk to her sisters, and her cousins, and they’d talk to their mothers, and their aunts, and so on, and soon Beryl would find herself buried in Grannies again.
She turned up the music nobody else in the house liked – just loud enough to be audible if one stopped to listen, not loud enough to get her yelled at by anyone else – triple-checked the lock, and made sure The Necklace was wrapped in silk and locked in a stone box. “All right, Radar.” She popped the lid and stared inside. “What am I looking for?”
“It’s going to be a journal.” Radar jumped into the box, growing smaller as he did in a show of power he almost never exhibited. The kitten-size fit much better among the paperwork. “If I recall, it was bound in leather – brown and green – and wrapped in ribbon.”
“There’s so much stuff here.” She lifted out a folder labelled Family Photographs, 1910. The handwriting was a long, spidery script she’d seen more than a few times before. “And what’s dangerous about photos?”
“In your family? Everything.” The cat pushed aside a yellowed book of sheet music; Beryl had never heard of the composer, but she could smell the magic still coming off of it like dust. “Here it is. Careful, girl, it’s old.”
Old didn’t begin to cover it. Beryl stared at the cover of the book, with its flaking gold-embossed name. “Is that…”
It had to be. The family, for reasons of clarity, did not repeat names. But she had to ask again, anyway. “Is that…”
“The secrets have been lost for a long time indeed, child. Take it.” Radar pushed the book towards her. “You’re going to need it.”
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“Oh, hello, dear. And you brought a… a cat. Oh, you brought That Cat.” Aunt Beatrix was attempting to sound friendly. Mostly she sounded that she was terrified and stressed.
Beryl smiled as nicely as she could manage. She’d wanted to bring Chalce or Stone along, or, better yet, Mom, but Chalce had been busy, Radar was getting weird about Stone, and Mom sometimes forgot she wasn’t a Grandmother yet, so she might not endorse Beryl learning verboten information.
“I’m sorry, Aunt Beatrix. But Radar gets up to trouble if I leave him alone, and I heard that you might have some family records in your attic.”
“Aah, Evangaline finally noticed things were missing, did the girl? Come in, I suppose, as long as your cat there doesn’t get up to any trouble.”
“You hear that, Radar?” Beryl stared at the cat for a moment. “No trouble. You be nice to Aunt Beatrix.”
“Oh, no, not you, too, sweetie.” Beatrix tch’d. “Well, come in. The papers are up in the attic, like you said. They’re all boxed up. Carron and Katherine boxed everything up, before… Before.”
Before before? Beryl would have to ask Radar or Mom when she was alone. “Thank you, Aunt Beatrix. How have the cats… been?”
“Well, with That One out of the way, they’ve been… better. They’re still Family cats, and why I ended up with them this time around, I really don’t know. But they like the park you built them.”
“The park? Ah, the cat run.” That had been quite a bit of work, half of it Beryl and half of it Stone. “I’m glad they like it.”
“It does keep them quiet. Well, come on, you and That Cat. The attic is this way. Although I’ve managed to keep the cats out of there, up ‘till now.”
The noise was stifled, a little snort of dry amusement, but Beatrix still heard it. She stared at Radar for a moment, then shook her head as if clearing it. “I never should have – well, that’s for another time. Come on, girl. ‘twere well it were done quickly.”
“Coming.” Aunt Bea was… different. Clearer-headed, and yet somehow she sounded even more insane. Well, she was family, after all.
Aunt Bea’s house was almost as old as Aunt Evangaline’s. The family liked to hold on to property. The family liked to hold on to everything, to be fair. The stairs were tight and narrow, old wooden stairs covered with at least three archival layers of carpeting. (Beryl and Chalce had vacuumed and washed those carpets, back before Thanksgiving. The stained floral pattern of the bottom layer still haunted her.) But Aunt Bea hopped up them as quickly as Beryl did. Age – age, in the family, seemed like it had more to do with getting stronger than with getting frail.
“I moved these boxes up here when Asta – when she had her little spell, although I figure you probably don’t remember that. It just seemed like some things ought to stay safe. And then That Cat moved in, and I forgot right about the papers, you know? Everything got a little fuzzy, if you’ll pardon me saying so.”
A little fuzzy would explain a lot. Beryl shot Radar a glare; he endeavored to look completely innocent, going so far as to start grooming himself.
“I, ah, I can understand that. Is that,” Beryl gambled a bit, “the spot in the guest room at Aunt Eva’s That We Don’t Talk About Period?” The spot was black with char, and the rug did not like to stay over it.
Aunt Beatrix snorted out a laugh. “That’s not your Aunt Eva. Is that your mother, then, Hadelai?”
“You were, I think, just a small baby, although that might have been your sister, one of your sisters. We never did figure out what happened, but we think it has something to do with Asta being a weak vessel.”
Beryl had already learned the trick with the grannies: keep listening & you learn a lot more than if you ask questions. She made a noise that she’d learned sounded like she agreed – she’d picked it up from Aunt Rosaria – while making a mental note to ask Radar about weak vessels when they were alone.
“And well, she decided that the family had, I suppose, too much power, as if such a thing was possible, and she started… trying to eliminate it. But you know as well as I do, child, that power does not like to be threatened.”
The same could be said for the family. “No, it doesn’t.”
“Well, it was quite a mess, and I’m rather surprised the backlash didn’t kill Asta.”
“That… that sounds like quite a mess.” And quite a backlash, if it had left a spot so tainted that no rug would cover it.
“Well, Asta was always a bit daft. I told Rosaria and Margaret, I did, that – well, here are the boxes.” Aunt Beatrix looked a bit guilty as she gave Beryl a little push. “And don’t worry your head about that stuff about Asta. She’s gone now, and can’t do any harm to anyone, not even herself.”
“Thank you, Aunt Beatrix.” Aunt Bea might be a little silly, but she was still a Grannie, and there was no going around her once she’d decided Beryl didn’t need to know something. “Are they safe to move, or should I look over them here and-” at the last minute Beryl remembered that she was supposed to be getting these boxes for Aunt Eva – “take notes for Aunt Evangaline?”
“Oh, they should be inert by now. And if not, I trust that you’re a clever girl. Just be careful of dust. They’ve been sitting here quite a while, and they were sitting there even longer.”
“Thanks, Aunt Bea.” Beryl studied the pile of boxes – three deep, three tall, three wide. The one in the center would probably be the proper one, if family tradition held. “I think I’ll move them a bit at a time, if you don’t mind the intrusion?”
“Oh, I don’t mind at all, dear, don’t mind at all. But I wouldn’t mind some of Hadelai’s lemon bars, either.”
Beryl smiled. “Thanks again.” Looked like she was reading old papers and making lemon bars this weekend. Having a normal dating life had never really been in her cards, she supposed. “I’ll get started right away.”
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To eseme‘s prompt
The Grandmothers, as Aunt Eva tended to call them, had been on Beryl’s case recently about The Cat.
They didn’t all have the Spark, they didn’t all know first-hand what The Damned Cat was, but they all knew, and they all seemed to think that, since Beryl could talk to (or hear) the Cat, then it was her sacred duty to do whatever it was they wanted her to do about the Cat.
She’s stopped listening after a while, and when that had gotten her full-name-scolded (and reminded that she was not currently the Aunt, no matter what the cards seemed to hold, and would thus be respectful, thank-you-very-much), she had tried dodging questions.
When that hadn’t worked, she’d decided to take the problem to the source and ask Radar and Lam what she should do.
Lam was, predictably, no help at all. “Bite them.” The tiny Siamese kitten groomed herself between answers. “Then growl and hiss until they go away.”
Radar, more surprisingly, gave the matter some thought. “They want to know what I am, and why Lam exists, yes?”
“What you want, yes, and ‘why you made Lam.'” Beryl petted Radar behind the ear, where he best liked being petted. “They don’t listen when I say that you didn’t make her.”
“They wouldn’t want to. It means someone else is doing something they’ve forgotten how to do.” The orange tabby (today, at least, he was an orange tabby) sighed, an angry huff. “Well, child-kitten, I suppose we’re going to have to go into the attic.”
“Aunt Eva’s attic?” Aunt Eva’s attic was a terrifying place.
“No.” At least this time, he didn’t sound as if she was being stupid. “Aunt Bea’s attic. I’d suggest you bring gloves.”
Next: Cat’s in the… Attic
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Radar had been a kitten once.
It was a distant memory, a fuzzy memory he didn’t often examine.
He had not been, as this kitten was now, a sentient kitten. He had not been a sentient anything back then.
He sat grooming the kit, holding her down with one paw while he cleaned her behind the ear. You know what it was like, Beryl had said. You can help her. Under that assumption, she’d convinced the mother cat to let Radar close to his daughter. Joint custody, she’d joked.
She must have gotten the idea from her friends at school. Her Family did not do divorce, and when they did, the family kept the children, no questions asked.
“Da-a-a-a-aad.” His Kitten mewled in complaint at him. Beryl had taken to calling the kitten Lam, for no reason that she would explain. There had been worse names. He had had worse names. “You’re thinking again.”
“This is a thing that happens with us, child. You will learn that in time.”
She rolled onto her back. “You were thinking about being a kitten.”
There was no use in denying it. “Who made you, kit?”
“I was born like this. I don’t remember any time I wasn’t like this.” She nuzzles against his chest. “Do you?”
“Then…” Radar chirruped and circled his daughter until he found a comfortable spot. “Then I was a cat. A kitten, a little pile of fluff, like your siblings. Now, now I am…”
“A Damned Cat. I’ve read the book.”
“That book was destroyed fifty years ago.”
The damn kitten purred. “That was then, Dad. This is now.”
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Aunt Family have a landing page here.
“Well?” The Siamese kitten sat primly down on the edge of Beryl’s bed and began grooming a paw.
“Well?” Beryl stared at the kitten. Physically, she looked like any other kitten. But her voice, such as it was…
“Well?” Radar echoed. He seemed as uncomfortable with the whole thing as Beryl was.
::Well?:: Her necklace wanted to get in on this, too, and that was just too much. Beryl took the necklace off and put it – him? – in the silk-lined box she’d found for moments like this.
“Well.” The kitten looked between Beryl and Radar. “What can you do for me?”
Before Beryl could manage to respond to the small thing’s giant arrogance, Radar had arched his back and hissed at the kitten before batting her hard three times with his paw.
The kitten cowered, ears flat. “We’re cats.” There wasn’t much fight left in her voice, and she was mewling unhappily out loud. “We’re cats.” She repeated herself as if the words meant more to her than they did to Beryl.
“We are their friends.” Radar sat back and began washing his paws. “We are more than cats, my feisty daughter.”
“Don’t call me that.” Her ears were raked back again, and now the kitten looked as if she would try hissing at her father.
He was unimpressed. “It’s what you are. A feisty feline.” He seemed to like the sound of that. “And their friend.”
Radar glanced at Beryl. She, other than getting her hands out of the way of two angry cats, had chosen to stay as still as possible. This wasn’t really her business, not yet.
“That’s what we were made for.”
“You might have been made. I was born.”
“Well.” Radar did the cat equivalent of a shrug, and washed another paw. “Someone made you. Someone made you, and you were made from a kitten I sired. I was made to be their friend. And thus… you are their friend, too.”
Radar showed all his teeth to the kitten. “There is no or.”
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