It was cold at first when James made his way through the mirror. The water, he assumed, was biting through his skin, into his bones, stripping him of heat. Then it entered his lungs. He wasn’t forced to breath it in, he hadn’t reached the struggle of life or death where he needed air: it seeped through the corners of his mouth, as if a snaked finding shelter, opened his mouth, and rushed in, filling him until it felt as if his insides would burst. Then he started to struggle, flailing, attempting to scream into the liquid, grasping his neck, choking and dying. It was all coming to an end because he went for the mirror instead of jewelry. If people found out how James died, no doubt his fiance would be the first to say, “This is the price one pays for having little sense. Obviously the mirror was the wrong choice. He didn’t need to touch the damned thing.”
A hand reached down, pulling James by the arm, lifting him up until he was on land, or so he thought it was. It didn’t make any sense, however. He had been in a strange water, and now there he was, as far as the eye could see, land. To the north there were mountains, to the east there was a town, to the south and west there were plains. The plains were beautiful, rolling, full of hills, a splendid place. But either way, there was no liquid of any sort for as far as he could see and this confounded his senses. Not only that, but the child whom saved him had cat ears and a cat tail. He was perhaps eight, his nose was black, and there were short whiskers growing out of his otherwise very human looking face. Aside from the slits in his eyes.
“What are you?” James found himself involuntarily asking the child. It was quite the rude statement, and as soon as the words left Jame’s mouth he quite realized this and was rather appalled. How could he say something so inconsiderate to the boy saving his life? Then James realized he could talk. There was no liquid in his mouth. He touched himself, all over his chest, pondering these perplexing paradoxes.
The child in response started to poke and prod at James, pinching cheeks, moving about ears, looking up the bewildered man’s shirt, “I’m a pooka. But you, strange sir, what are you? That’s a question.” The child crawled onto Jame’s head. “You have no marking. You have no sign. Wait, I know!” The child got down, grinning deviously, blushing just slightly as he slyly looked to James, “You’re a frog.”
“A frog? I don’t look like a frog.”
The boy giggled more, his feet stamping excitedly, “Susie Piper last week told me about frogs. I don’t know if it’s a tell, but it would be hidden. It’s said they have two….”
A taller man with the same cat features, but longer whiskers and a little gray, grabbed the boy by the ear, “Linus, why are you talking to this man? He’s a stranger and you know the tales of strangers. Get back home to your mom and if I hear you gave her trouble when she licks behind your ear, so help me, boy.” The man raised the back of his hand to Linus.
Sighing, the child nodded, “Yes father. But I still think he’s a frog.” And so the strange little cat boy left James alone with the equally strange cat man.
James said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make trouble. I just don’t know where I am. He saved me.”
“You entered Arcadia, son. It’s a place you don’t belong. Most die in the transition, bodies floating up to the lands soon enough. You were lucky my son saw you. Don’t know how. Anyway, name?”
“I’m Felix.” The man extended a hand with sharp claws. Hesitantly, James shook. “We’ll figure a way to get you out of here just as soon as tomorrow comes. For now, come to our house and eat. Know your kind isn’t too dangerous and I stay up late at night. If you’re one of those perverts with a thing for cat ladies, I’ll rip you to ribbons you make a move on my wife.”
James swallowed hard, laughing nervously, “No sir, of course not. I have my fiance waiting for me back home, anyway. Not really looking for anything.”
“Good. ‘Cuz kitty scratches.” Felix glared at James a good long while, then burst out laughing, “I’m only teasing. Get on over here. We’ll set you up real good. Get you some work tomorrow, too, just in case it takes a while to get you back home. Anything you’re good at?”
It took a while for James to think this through. From the looks of the clothing and city it wasn’t exactly advanced. What skills did he have that would be welcomed or worthwhile? He could answer a phone, tell customers everything would be alright, convince them they were grateful the item broke because for five whole minutes that customer was able to speak to James. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. “I’m good at talking, I guess. Making people happy.”
“Ah, we don’t have a brothel in town, son. How ’bout we make you do honest work and you aid around the house? Tabby has a good deal of chores and looking after the li’l uns. You could help her.”
“That sounds fine. I’d be glad to. Thank you so much for your hospitality.”
“Don’t thank us yet. If you’re stuck here, you won’t be all too happy.” Felix started walking towards the town in the distance. “Anyway, let’s head out. Evening’s approaching and we best be eating soon. I’m getting hungry.” So James traveled with Felix to the town to the east.