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We asked you for your stories of strange cults and clubs to mark our current Book Club pick, Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. This story by Cherry Potts is one of our runners-up, featuring a society for cats who walk by themselves.
I’m not a joiner – I don’t want to be in any club and I don’t want to be the kind of person who joins things; I don’t go to church, I’m not in the union, I don’t do adult education.
So what’s the attraction? Why am I stepping over the threshold of this club – this society – it’s not like I want or need to make new friends – though there is no club that could be identified as “Friends of” – I have plenty.
But there is something about this club that spikes my interest: it feels like it could be a trap, and that entices me.
I still walk past the door twice, working myself up to go in.
I suppose it’s an identity thing. I’m used to working alone, keeping work separate from family, doing strong silent. This feels like a risk, more dangerous than the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done, and believe me, I’ve done a few. I’m not a quiet librarian all the time: I’ve moved mountains and rescued children from burning buildings, yes indeed, and I don’t expect thanks.
So what am I doing here?
When I got the invitation I laughed ’til tears poured into my gin, and I threw the thick creamy square of card in the trash. A club for loners: a club for misfits, a club for refuseniks, for cats who walk by themselves. Who could take that seriously?
Then I got to wondering how they got my address, pulled that creamy card back out of the trash, read it more carefully.
The strap line was “the only place you can truly take off your mask”.
This side street should be deserted this time of night, there are no bars, no restaurants; this is a downtown office area. There’s a 24/7 on the corner opposite the address I have, but that doesn’t account for the foot traffic this street is getting. I saunter the wrong side of the street, heading up towards the freeway and I spot a couple of old guys going into the smart old building sandwiched between two eighties office buildings, and I keep walking, eyeing them as I go by.
I think I recognise one of them, might’ve seen him working, maybe. Then this little cutie in a high-neck black number skips up the steps.
I stand on the corner and count to 53 before I start the walk back to the soft glow of the light over the doorway.
The place is popular… a real weirdo is going in as I pass and I get a glimpse inside, it is so tempting – but I walk on by one more time, up to the corner where the offices disintegrate into warehouses, and I can just hear the slap of the river on the embankment beyond.
Listening to that is kind of soothing, so I stand there watching the pools of yellow from the streetlights and listening to the water and the scuttling of rats, and breathing the diesel and salt and damp and … the potential of the river.
I hitch myself up, straighten my collar, and walk purposefully to the bottom of the steps. So now I’m at their door, hand raised to the buzzer, about to join The Very Secret Society of Super Heroes.
I must be out of my mind.
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