Some people have nightmares about being chased. I have nightmares all the time, but not about being chased by somebody or something. Most people don’t notice me much and they don’t have a reason to come after me. Maybe that’s why I don’t get chased. In comparison, in MY nightmares, I usually start to wander in some direction, then get lost. In the process of getting lost, I realize I am not wearing the right clothing or that part of my clothing is missing. I’m barefoot or wearing just a bathrobe, or can’t find the building I’m supposed to enter. I wander more and more, losing more and more things. And people. Being chased might be the lesser of two evils.
Those examples, whether mine or other people’s, are all situations that get worse and end up as nightmares. The situation I’m about to describe to you now is altogether different. It is real and ongoing. It is usually in slow motion, but do not for a moment think that means it’s not real, that it’s not a chase. I know when I am being chased or stalked, no matter what the speed… just wait...
He’s back again, although I suspect he never really left, because he moves up and down, side to side, moves in, then moves away, tricking me into thinking he’s gone for good. He’s never gone for good, however. He’s like the albatross that hung around the ancient mariner’s neck until guilt and madness set in. I kind of think I prefer the albatross, as long as I never have to bite my arm and suck my blood, like that old fellow. I’m not adrift in the wide sea, but I am constantly under the surveillance of a very special being.
A chase can unwind in slow motion, can be like the film that runs at half-speed. The person being chased might be evil or innocent, lost or cunning. I haven’t been able to determine which I am, but I like to think I’m not the sort who needs to be destroyed. I don’t know what he wants from me, don’t have a clue why he came into my life, but all I can do is flee. He doesn’t really run that fast, but it’s the way he moves, darting in and out of my peripheral vision, appearing, reappearing, disappearing, peering at me from among the leaves of trees or from a fence post. The post is likely not very comfortable, so he doesn’t sit there for long before rushing off. Poof!
My pursuer is very chaste and doesn’t howl as if looking for a partner. He stares at me all the while he keeps inching in my direction. If I do something to displease him, he generally lets me know, because that’s why he has such a big grin, so he can let me know. In an instant the grin can become a grimace and that’s when I know I’m not going to like his next move. Groan!
He has chased me since I first heard he existed. Just call it the case of the Cheshire Cat, because that is who Lewis Carroll unleashed on me when I was, oh, eight or nine. I haven’t been free since. Please don’t try to be funny and ask me if my name is Alice. I hate that name and if that had been what my parents had chosen to call me, I would have thrown in the towel years ago. As it is, my name is NOT Alice and so I keep hoping that I can some day escape from this mess. I like to think I deserve a better life. I behave and don’t do drugs.
No pressure the Cheshire told me when I first realized he was hot on my trail, watching my every move. It’s easier if you just stay relaxed, seeing’s how I’m just a cat with the biggest smile you’ve ever seen. It’s as if I’m always waiting for the photographer to stop saying cheese and snap my picture. Cheese, Cheshire, he commands, and I do as he says, but the grin gets stuck because he’s so slow and fussy and now I’m really getting cranky about having to wait. I don’t think the photographer is being honest with me. This cat has places to go and things to do.
Meanwhile, says my cat with the white chest and lots of stripes, I am a true treasure cat. You can never catch me - grin, grin, wink, blink - but you can certainly try. Don’t cringe, though, if I get really close and extend my claws. They are quite sharp and if I wanted to I could hitch a ride on your back, clinging to your shoulders like a tick or a beetle. Except I’m much better than a bug: I’ve got fur and whiskers. They’ll tickle you if I get really close. You, on the other hand, don’t look like you could fight your way out of a paper bag.
When I hear words like these, which sound like Mr. Cheshire is laughing at me, I panic and speed up the pace. I run for the crest of a hill, hoping the view will help me locate him, so I can run in another direction. Inevitably, I become aware that his lips crease, his eyes sliver, and he acts like he’s decided to linger in one spot. Hope leads me to measure the distance between us, but it never does any good. Chessy is ubiquitous, which - in case you didn’t know - means he’s all over the map. All over MY map, which is not where I want him. He keeps hounding me.
I also feel pressured to acknowledge the fact that there are countless other cats in the world and many are hunters. By this I mean that they could join in Cheshire’s dogged pursuit of me. Cats are very dogged animals, in fact, even if that might not make sense to you. Emily Dickinson portrayed a kitty quite well when she wrote how her own feline was focused on catching a robin:
She sights a Bird—she chuckles—
She flattens—then she crawls—
She runs without the look of feet—
Her eyes increase to Balls—
Ready to pounce, that Puss of Emily’s, not to be denied her prey. The robin did escape, according to the poet, but I am still very concerned about my ability to do the same. It probably has something to do with the fact that the feline who is after me has the frightening ability to become invisible. He simply erases himself, starting with his tail, until nothing is left but his wide mouth, forever turned upward at both ends. How do you run from nothing, pray tell?
Stripes fly by as if the cat who is after me were trying to type lines in the air, or drawing them, intending to distract me so I’ll trip and fall. At that point, he’ll flatten - like Emily’s cat and many others I’ve seen - then pounce. The suspense, not knowing when that leap might happen, is more than I can stand. I know I’m in danger.
I mean, some cats are like T.S. Eliot’s Macavity, whom the poet warned everybody was was ‘a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity’. That does not sound the least bit encouraging, but when he’s also deemed ‘the Napoleon of Crime’ by such a great poet as Eliot, it does sound as if felines are not to be taken lightly. I truly do not like being followed by the Cheshire Man, whose claws, we must assume, are like needles. He has warned me, as has already been noted. I am always looking over my shoulder.
Running now. Whiskers switch places in the air and twitch as if trying to detect my whereabouts. I have no invisibility available to me, and any effort to turn Ches into a lover like the Pussycat who married Owl after acquiring a ring from Pig’s nose is bound to be fruitless. I start to itch, because Mr. Cat is not loving. He is sinister and I risk getting all tangled up in his inky whiskers, which are really white, but he changes the color just to confuse me. Hisssssss!
Eyes peer at me through grape vines and hydrangeas. I hear a stifled sneeze… oh, please, at least give me a chance to get away!
There are so many other things that could entertain the Cheshire Cat if he would just not focus on me. There are tree branches and blades of rye grass, there’s nepeta and wild lettuce. What about chipmunks and hummingbirds to chase? Many insects can be downright playful, so between ladybugs and dragonflies, moths and caterpillars, he can have a high old time. I’m merely a boring human who spends her time eluding him. I don’t want to play his game.
Even the weather can be more interesting, I tell him, or try to. Raindrops, snowflakes, the occasional hail storm offer lots of ephemeral material to play with and bat about. But no, Cheshire Cat can’t even get aroused by geography, by which I mean jumping on top of minnows in a stream or hopping around a rocky beach. He only has eyes for me. I am in deep trouble.
Like partisans of carnal dalliance and science,
They search for silence and the shadowings of dread;
Hell well might harness them as horses for the dead,
If it could bend their native proudness in compliance.
I should have taken Baudelaire’s warning. He knew cats had many skills, but their pride won’t let them be forced into doing anything they don’t want to do. Colors, smells, breezes - I’m willing to give C-Cat all he wants of these. Anything to appease him and his stripes. I’ve tried to tell him he’s beautiful and handsome, but he doesn’t seem to care. He glares at me, then grins. I grimace. I am running out of time, but more than that, I think it’s time to stop running. I slow way down, my newest tactic, thinking of all the possible ways to rid myself of my pursuer while simultaneously trying to convince myself that he isn’t that big a peril. The trouble is, after all this time of trying to escape, he’s grown larger in my mind. His stripes have gotten bolder, they move almost like snakes. I know they could lash out at me at any time.
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
How to end this endless pursuit? I don’t know if I will ever get out of this alive, because as you can see, the Cheshire Cat has grown. He is now similar in size to Blake’s Tyger, and that can’t be good. I already don’t feel like I can trust him. Even if I’m not Alice, I know what he did. He went from offering sweet Alice helpful advice to siding with the Red Queen. What a two-timer! As if that weren’t enough, he did things to upset the Queen and as a result she sentenced Alice to death. I don’t think he’s to be trusted. My only hope is that if I manage to stay out of Wonderland, I might have a fighting chance.
I realize that by now you might think this is all in my imagination and that there is no grotesquely grinning cat chasing me. Let me try one last time to convince you. Perhaps if I can improve on his description...
The Cheshire Cat never is far from my side or my back. Occasionally he steps out in front of me and I have to come to a screeching halt so I don’t run smack into him. He lets part of his body fade while others take on more intense colors. He uses fireflies for eyes when he’s in the mood, and flexes his muscles, making them shiver and making me shiver, because he seems to say “My name is Cujo.” (It doesn’t matter if Cujo was not a cat. Just the name is enough to make me start off again, and I’m so very tired.) I don’t care if you don’t read Stephen King. I do.
This place where I am hiding now is full of deserts and forests and mountains and beaches. There are people, too, but I can’t stop long enough to see if I know anybody or to ask for help. You are my only hope, but I have the distinct fear that this place is indeed like Wonderland, and that “Most everyone’s mad here.” That’s what Lewis Carroll’s wonder cat, traitor cat, stated. If asked, my Ches might say the same thing, so I dare not ask. I try to keep track of him, but his image keeps slipping in and out of my range of vision and his body goes from full-on CAT to just a wisp of a whisker, a smile that is a merely memory of a smile.
I see cats climbing some of the stone walls nearby. Cats that jumble together, meow and mew, hiss at the wind, cackle for food if they’ve forgotten ho to ask for it in their normal language. More cats are off to the side, some striped and some not, but all with gleaming gaze and eyebrows that confuse. I can’t tell if they are on my side or are trying to trick me into climbing over the wall into what is on the other side. It could be an orchard, a deep well, or a nest of cockroaches. (Although I never saw any cat take much interest in cockroaches. They’re smarter than that.) Ick!
These things I’m seeing now are odd, yes. “You may have noticed that I’m not all there myself.” That’s what Carroll’s Cheshire Guy said, and it’s what I’m saying now. I’m not all here, and all those cats cannot all be there, now, can they? If they were, we would have to consider that this whole being chased, haunted, and stalked by a big stripey cat who looks like a jailbird with a goofy grin is impossible, that my imagination is running wild. That I am the invention of that writer who liked (loved) Alice.
The only question I have is: If I am just something he imagined, who are you and why are you following me along as I’m being chased? Whose imagination created you? I know I’m completely innocent.
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