Discussion around this short story is what led to me writing 'The Tortoiseshell Mirror'. In that story there is some indirect mention of the events in this one. This story established the feylin world and the role of mirrors but is much more of a direct story than 'The Tortoiseshell Mirror' so may appeal more to readers seeking a quicker conclusion to events.
It seemed a really boring summer this year in London. The air was sticky and all her friends seemed to be off on holiday. A hectic work schedule meant that she was not going to get a break for herself until at least September. Fed up of another weekend with the best option being to traipse round the city parks full of noisy families and rollerskaters, Julie hopped on the train heading West, and, buying a ticket right out to Bristol, decided instead to get off at the smallest station this slow train stopped at. Immediately she found it was nice to be out in the fresh air. She had a quiet lunch in a decent pub then decided to walk into the hills beyond the village. Soon she was wandering along a real country lane really enjoying the sunshine and the quiet.
Julie crested a little hill and just over the thick hedge she could see a wood. As she turned the corner, off to that side, a curious stone archway came into view. It intrigued her. There seemed to be no road beyond it, but she guessed it had once led to a manor house. It had wooden planks jammed under it, but they looked pretty rotten. By the side of the pillar was a faded sign that said "Catkin Wood". It sounded like the usual type of name one found in the English countryside and had a charm about it. Julie found herself fascinated by the arch and rather than walk on, went up to the boards. She pushed at a couple of them and almost immediately one gave way. With a delicious sense of mischief, Julie managed to slip through the gap to the other side. Once through she felt surprisingly excited and was keen to explore the sunlit woodland ahead.
In front of Julie a thin dirt path led into the woods. She walked along it and was soon under the shade of the trees. The path wound through the woodland and she soon lost sight of the fields. She loved the way shafts of light came through the trees and the sound of birds and other wildlife came from all around her. Julie was so glad she had come down from London and pleased that she had stumbled or rather trespassed into this place, rather than having to simply walk past rather similar looking fields.
Then the way crossed a small wooden bridge over a brook. Julie's path now seemed if it was intentionally lit by the beams of light coming through the leaves. Somehow as she followed it she felt it was right to do so. The tranquillity of the setting dismissed any worries about breaking the law to be here though she still felt privileged to be able to walk in such a glorious place.
Just beyond the brook she saw a large stone seat. She studied it carefully, it looked like a carved throne, both the arms and the base of the chair were carved to resemble cat's legs and feet and the whole seat was patterned to look like fur. There was even a carved tail running around the rear. It was a curious folly, and Julie guessed it had been commissioned by some eccentric Victorian landowner: whoever had owned the manor to which the woods had belonged. She had seen no sign of it and guessed it must have been demolished at some time not doubt to make way for some airstrip or even more housing estates. Julie liked the chair and sat down in the chair. She was surprised to find it did not feel cold and hard like stone but rather warm and soft like fur. For a moment Julie worried that she had overdone things, had become dehydrated and was feeling peculiar, but increasingly she felt drowsy; the seat beneath her seemingly adding to the soporific nature of the warm air and tranquil environment. Unnoticeably her worries drifted away, before she could stir herself to become concerned about what was happening she was asleep.
Julie awoke, she was in a cage and naked. She looked up, rather startled to see a group of humanoids around her: some male, some female. They were like humans but covered in soft black, and in some cases tortoiseshell, fur. Their ears were pointed, their faces cat-like. They walked on two legs but their hands and feet were stubby and ended in claws. Their arms and legs were slender, of equal length and jointed strangely. Yet, they were all lithe and had a real elegance about them as they moved. For a moment Julie wondered if like as in so many stories she had heard, she had been abducted by aliens. However, the whole atmosphere of the place felt different to that, otherworldly certainly, but somehow older, not futuristic.
Julie struggled to her feet and she saw that she was in a stone hall, medieval in feel, with carvings and tapestries covering the walls. She was bemused and thought back to the chair and the strange archway. However much she tried to dismiss this as some kind of weird dream, the sensations were real and she realised that she must have somehow come to this strange place. She wondered if it had been something to do with the chair or the arch, she could only guess.
For now, Julie looked around her trying to take in as much as she could. More of the creatures lying around the central space and their languid nature reminded her of cat Mizzy she had had as a child. Opposite her sat a large catman with some of his fur tinged with grey. Julie guessed he was their leader. Around him sat and stood more catpeople. Despite their strangeness, Julie felt no hostility from these people, rather she felt reassured, even relaxed. Then the leader purred some command, and two of the males opened the cage.
"Come forrrwarrd." the leader said to Julie, his words strangely accented.
Julie hesitated as it seemed all the eyes were on her; she was conscious that she was naked. Now the cage seemed to offer her some protection which she was reluctant to give up. Then, suddenly, the leader stretched out a claw in her direction and Julie was surrounded by a pink light and felt any will to resist fade. Uncontrollably Julie found she was walking slowly into the middle of the room.
"Stand before mmme, human."
The leader indicated a place in front of him, a catwoman who had been lying there vacated it and she waved for Julie to come forward. There was no sense of aggression, but having experienced the power that the leader had, Julie could see no alternative to following his suggestions. She walked forward slowly to where he had indicated she should stand. All around her Julie could hear murmured conversation, but could not understand what was being said. The catpeople's speech, unsurprisingly she realised, was made up of purrs and low growls.
As Julie came to where she had been told to stand, the leader spoke again. It seemed he was the only one who knew English.
"Good, I can see you better now. That is the correct place for you to stand. I hope you arrre comforrrtable."
The leader seemed to be smiling and that reassured Julie. She was feeling less self-conscious of having no clothes, aware the catpeople were effectively naked too. Whilst they did not seem hostile, she was sure the catpeople had the strength and the claws to put up a fight if they needed. Julie nodded to the leader and as she did, she felt more of her concerns fading away. Again there was a buzz of purred conversation around the chamber.
"What is yourrrr nammme?"
"Erm, I'm Julie Anderson."
"Jurree, welcome, I am Parrem. Unlike so many who come into our realm You have shown yourself to be without aggrrression either to use or our woodlands. Innn faaact, you seem contented here. I am in a position to give you a rare choice."
The leader pointed to the mirrors behind him. "In the left mirrrorrr is what you arrre now, and in the right what you could becommme."
Julie glanced into the mirrors she had not noticed before and she realised why she had been told to stand just there. On the left was a reflection of her naked, standing as she was. She was surprised by the right reflection, it appeared that a catwoman was in her place. She stared deeply and became more bemused as she recognised her own features but feline-like. She moved her hand, in both mirrors the action was reflected, one just skin covered, the other coated in fur. She was fascinated, she stared into the right mirror, the feline head and body moved with her own. She looked back down at herself just to see her own body.
"Curious? Well this is what it really feels like. Step forward." The leader indicated for Julie to step onto a silver slab on the floor.
Julie was indeed curious and barely thinking took the step forward. Suddenly she felt a strange tingle sweep right up her body. It stopped but she could still feel a warm soft sensation all over her. She looked up, hardly noticing that the images had swapped sides in the mirrors.
The catwoman who had vacated the space approached smiling. "You look far better now."
Julie realised she could understand the catwoman clearly and was confused. Then she noticed that she could tell what the others around her were mumbling, all seemed to be complimenting how she looked. Julie glanced down at her body, and was shocked. She was now covered in soft black fur, even her pair of breasts were fur-covered up to their nipples and Julie found herself curiously thinking what it must be like to suckle a catperson baby.
Then Julie studied her hands, they were clawed as were her feet, her legs and arms were slender and muscular. She swept her tail. She knew the mirror to the left showed the true picture, her feline face and body. She felt part excited, part worried by her new form. She looked up at the leader challengingly, but for some reason she did not really feel angry at whatever magic he had done to her and she held back the words of complaint she had planned to shout at him.
Julie realised she felt good. It was nice to be at one with these people, with their strengths and their softness. Rather than protest she continued exploring the body she had been given. She stood and stroked her smooth fur, and found herself purring. The noise coming from her own throat startled Julie and she forced herself to stop. Julie was confused. She could not reconcile the sensations she was feeling with the fantastical nature of what was happening.
"You have not told me where I am." Julie threw a challenge to the leader.
The catman smiled. "An interesting question. You are in Catkin Wood."
"That's not possible. There aren't catpeople walking around the English countryside."
"Well, no, not the English countryside, but this countryside."
"So where is this?"
"In the woods where you were walking. There are many places on the Earth that exist side-by-side, sometimes people can cross over between them. My barony lies near one of the points where crossing is easier, and whilst it is not common these days, we are often the first that people coming over encounter."
"So this is a world of catpeople?"
The catman nodded. "We, the feylins, are the dominant creatures here, as humans are in your version of Earth."
Julie thought about what the leader, the baron she guessed, was saying. It seemed here that technology was that of hundreds of years ago. There was none of the heavy traffic and pollution of her world. London with all its smell and stickiness seemed a million miles from here. Yet it was clear that here, too, magic was real. She was uncertain whether that was something inherent in these feline people or something they had pursued rather than heavy industry.
"So, you like your form as a feylin female?"
"Erm, why do you say that?"
"Well, among those few who have seen what they could become in the mirrors, let alone those who have been permitted to feel it, most have been shocked; afraid. I expected your first words in our tongue to be demanding of me what I had done to you, but instead you asked me more about this world."
"Well, I don't believe any of this is real. I am free to ask what I like in my own dreams. Anyway, I can see this is just an illusion. Look, that is still me." Julie pointed to the mirror which showed her as a naked human.
"That is true. You may be surprised though when you find this is reality, especially if you are still here at sunset."
"This world is not overly tolerant of anomalies. The form you have at sunset is the one you will retain. If a human then you fill found yourself flung from this world, if as a feylin, then you will stay where your kind are. You have a choice to make. You have only just assumed the form of a feylin, it is all still new to you. I will not change you back just yet. You have decisions to make in the next few hours."
Julie could tell from the baron's resolute tone that any begging now would not get her turned back into a human just yet. He seemed convinced she liked this form but for Julie it was much more complicated. It was hardly a fair choice while she was here and was like this. Julie realised she had to concentrate, to remember what it was like back in her world.
"Merea, please take our guest around the manor and its grounds. I want her to see what we have here."
The feylin female who had encouraged Julie forward came to her again now, smiling broadly and Julie was reminded that she currently looked no different to this sleek humanoid.
"This way, Jurree." Merea said.
Julie was slightly reluctant to leave the chamber, feeling that she was losing a link to the human form she had had, but she supposed there was no need to upset these people: she had no desire to be caged again.
"Thank you Merea." Julie said following the feylin, but with slow steps.
As she walked behind Merea she noticed a younger feylin male approaching the baron. Julie stopped for a moment, curious whether they would be discussing her. Her suspicions were correct.
"May I have her for my mate, father?" The younger feylin asked.
"She must choose, Resa." The baron responded. "She seems happy enough to be in our form and though I will change her back if she demands it, if she stays like that until sunset she will remain here. You will have to be patient for a few hours."
Julie was shocked to be discussed this way. She turned back to look at this male who was wanting to take her as his own. He was lean and muscular, but the thought of coupling with him startled Julie. Resa noticed Julie was looking at him and stepped forward, smiling as if seeking to reassure her of his intentions, but Julie panicked, pushed past Merea and bolted to the back of the room, her feline legs pumping strongly. She ran blindly through corridors of the manor house. She turned a corner and stopped to regain her breath. She realised she had been foolish, Resa was not hunting her down and now she was lost somewhere in the surprisingly large manor house.
Rested, Julie walked on slowly not certain of what to do. She felt apprehensive about being found and taken back to the chamber but realised that to those who passed her, she appeared no different to them. She saw a large hall with feylins lying around eating and drinking. Julie's stomach grumbled, reminding her she had not eaten since breakfast and now she had an urge to join them.
A little nervously, Julie walked into the hall and lay her slender furry body down; not attracting any attention. A feylin carrying bowls by loops of metal put a one of milk and one of meat in front of her on the ground. Hungry and thirsty, Julie did not think as she put her hands down either side of the milk bowl and began lapping up the liquid. It was good. She turned to the chunks of meat and began biting into them. Suddenly she realised she was eating as a cat would; just like the others around her. Now she was self-conscious, but did not want to attract attention by changing her behaviour. Quickly she finished. Now she felt tired and lay lazily on her side. She felt particles of food round her mouth and licked the back of her hand to wipe it away. As she did, Julie felt satisfied and a purr came from deep in her.
The sound alarmed Julie. She jumped up realising how easily she was becoming increasingly like the feylins. Now she worried that if she stayed here, she would forget that she was a transformed human and not one of them. Quickly she walked to the other end of the hall to the one through which she had entered. A long mirror stood at that end of the room and Julie stopped to look at the true reflection of her slender soft fur covered body, her firm breasts, her feline face, trimmed with whiskers, her pointed ears and eyes, her thin pink tongue that licked her lips. She shook herself realising that if she relaxed it would be so easy for her to become fully a feylin, permanently.
Julie did not know where she was going, but now felt she had to get out of the manor and away from the feylins. Maybe if she could retrace her steps she could get back to the road, back to the world she knew. She was lucky that no-one seemed to be looking for her, apparently deluded that she was simply enjoying exploring this strange place on her own. Walking briskly along the corridor she glanced into a side room, there was a chair like the one she had originally sat in to bring her there. Was this the way back? She had to try it. Julie rushed to the chair, and slumped her furry body into it. It was cool and felt like stone and she was uncertain if it would do anything. However, in moments Julie felt so tired and quickly her eyes closed and she was asleep.
Julie awoke, she was sat on a stone seat, in the woodlands, the sun was slowly descending in the sky. She remembered this curious seat and sitting down earlier. She could not believe that she had slept much of the afternoon away here. She had vague memories of dreams that were so curious, but then again she supposed most dreams were. Julie glanced at her watch, she had to get back. She slowly retraced her steps along the path, back to the arch. Well, at least she had got the rest she had been looking for; it had been a pleasant day, but now it was time to head back to the city.
The woodland was quiet, with only the occasional sound of birds and squirrels around her. Increasingly, however, Julie felt she was being followed. Quickly she snapped her head round glancing behind her and caught sight of a figure in the lengthening shadows. Julie picked up a large stick and held it firmly as some protection. She suddenly felt very vulnerable.
"Show yourself, come out where I can see you!" Julie bellowed.
The man emerged into the fading sunlight and Julie almost screamed. It was like one of the creatures she remembered so distantly from her dreams.
"What are you? What are you doing following me?"
Julie was nervous as the furry humanoid approached, but stood her ground, guessing he could outpace her if she tried running. He held a carved wooden rod about the length of his forearm, but casually, not like a weapon.
"You did not have a chance to truly experrrience yourrr new forrrmmm."
"What are you talking about?" Julie was incredulous, though the sound of this creature's voice brought back more and more from her 'dreams'.
"I know my fatherrrr was wrrrrong to think that because you rrrran, because you tried to get back here, that you did not want to stay a feylin. I came after you, though I risk some danger in doing so."
Julie's mind groped for some context for what he was saying. She stood in fear not believing that this creature had somehow emerged from what she had dreamed, but sure that whatever he was, he was real.
The humanoid continued, "You cannot leave until you know what a feylin feels like on heat."
The catman suddenly sprang into action, running around Julie scratching a circle in the earth with the rod. Then he stopped. The light beyond the circle seemed to waver as if she were looking into a heat haze.