Arriving in the clearing, we found an idyllic setting, a grassy clearing surrounded by stately trees punctuated by the occasional rose bush. We arrived via a narrow lane between the trees. Opposite our entry was a slightly larger lane, and in the distance just visible over the next rise was a collection of chimney pots that likely was a manor house.
In the center of the clearing stood a massive table set for tea, with more places than currently occupied by guests. And there were guests seated already, making a good effort at consuming the ample spread of finger sandwiches, tea cakes, petit fours, and all the trimmings. I was concerned we were interrupting a private party, when a familiar voice announced “Well there you are at last! We have been expecting you.”
I looked around, but none of the guests seemed to have spoken, and the trees were maintaining their own council as usual.
We approached the table, and surveyed the guests. This was one odd tea party, with a variety of animals and personages seated along one side of the table. There was a large calico cat, a mongoose, an older gentleman, a very large fruit bat, a young girl, and a black sheep. It was the sheep that gestured to the seat beside her and said “Please do join us.”
For a moment I thought I heard the sound of a typewriter somewhere nearby, but then a breeze rustled the trees and it faded away again. That worried me a little. If the typewriter was getting through again, this reality was wearing thin.
I stepped up to the table, and took my place.
“Lovely weather today,” I began. It is important to follow forms in these matters.
“Yes, a perfect day for tea on the grass.” This was the bat, in a voice that was just barely deep enough for me to hear and understand.
The old man and young girl ignored me. I expected as much.
The cat reached for a loaf of bread, and I realized what I was here to find. The serrated knife he picked up to slice with fairly glowed with a lavender aura. The cat deftly speared the slice and tossed it the length of the table onto my plate, then gestured at a crock of butter which promptly hopped up on spindly legs and ran after the slice. It curtseyed to me, and politely held its lid to one side so I could take some butter. I considered my moves while buttering my bread.
As I chewed, I felt the clearing changing around me. Now the table was just the right size, and round. The trees were black ash, and both pathways had vanished. The cat was facing me, and staring intently. The others seemed unaware of the tension, but you could cut it with a knife.
A knife. That was it. I was here for a knife. The cat was good. I almost let it slip my mind as I paid too much attention to the world changing around us. That probably meant that the cat was my opponent in this contest as well, but it could always be an ally.
“I say old chap, could you pass me that bread knife?” It never hurts to try the simple and direct approach.
He gestured at the table between us. “What knife?”
This was going to be harder than I thought. The sounds of the typewriter surged again, and once more the world shifted. Now we were a small party in a diner, seated at the lunch counter. We had coffee cups, and mine smelled particularly good, but no food had been served yet. A case held cakes and pies, and from the activity beyond the small window in the wall, there was a kitchen at hand that could produce nearly anything you’d expect from a diner.
I looked around. The cat was seated a few stools down, in the guise of a woman in a fur coat. The bat was wearing his wings as an overcoat. The old man and young girl were easily picked out. The others seemed to have faded away, perhaps they were just extras all along, even though I was reasonably sure the sheep had spoken to me.
I noticed that the cake server beside the ring of coffee cake was glowing lavender, and before anyone had a chance to change the environment I made a grab for it.
As my fingers closed on the handle, I heard the typewriter loudly, and the scene dissolved.