By Morgaine Merch Lleuad
The ritual takes place on the second Tuesday of every month. She appears when the white sun is highest in the lilac sky, dressed in the same trousers and tunic, so shabby and old their colour has faded to no particular colour at all. They could be brown, they could be brownish-grey, they could once have been black. She carries the same bag each time, an old, sack-like shapeless thing, as unmemorable as her clothes, but with one difference: each time, there are three different ribbons tied to the handles. Red, green and black; orange, black and yellow; purple, green, white. They are the only things about her that stand out against the dull rust of the trees.
The bag is huge and heavy, although she is careful not to let it drag over the uneven ground, or bump it on the sharply metallic and stony bones, all that remains of the city. When she reaches the trees, she finds the softest spot, where the cushion of leaves has not yet begun to dissolve, and lays the bag gently on the ground. She opens it.
She takes out a bundle of twigs, tied loosely at one end to form a brush. She places it down. As slowly as a dancer, she peels the bag down as far it will go, and takes out one, two, three cats, each in a harness which hobbles their paws and keep them from escape; unties the ribbons, one at a time, and attaches one to a harness; three ribbons, three harnesses. She pauses, examining each ribbon critically. Sometimes, she changes them, swapping one for another, or rarely, all three are moved between the still, silent animals.
She positions the cats along whatever ley line only she can sense, arranging them precisely, moving one head a quarter of a thumb, one tail, half a hand. They are never all facing the same way. The sun moves across a swathe of lilac by the time she is satisfied.
She takes up the twigbrush, breathes in and out, three times, closes her eyes and bows. Then, standing beside one cat, she stoops and switches it on the back, lightly, three times, before moving onto the next, and the last, the same three switches on each. She stands, bows again, returns the twigs to the ground, each motionless cat to the bag and finally, the twigs, rolling up the sides. She does not remove the ribbons. Slowly, she picks up the bag, careful not to let it drag over the uneven ground, or bump it on the sharply metallic and stony bones, all that remains of the city, and she walks back the way she came.
The cats don’t mind. They know there will be a rat for supper later, or even two. They know why she does this, every second Tuesday of every month (although they are the only living souls who do). They know there will only be three switches, which do not hurt.
There is never a fourth.