She found the cat sitting in front a fountain of milk, daintily licking its paws. It was white, except for a black patch over one eye, its movements sleek and graceful.
“Tell me a story,” she demanded of the cat, and it looked at her with bright, curious eyes.
“What sort of story?” it asked, before continuing to groom itself.
“Any story, as long as you tell it.”
So the cat told her a story about how it caught a mouse, and how the mouse told it it had ate the moon. “And that’s why we don’t have a moon any more,” it concluded.
“Oh,” said the girl. It wasn’t the story she expected. “But they told me there was still a moon Outside, in the blue skies.”
The cat stretched, sinuous and lazy. “Outside? Who cares what’s Outside?”
“I care,” the girl said querulously. “Aren’t you curious? Cats are supposed to be curious.” The cat scratched at one ear, giving her a puzzled look. She sighed. “Have you been Outside?” It shook its head, whiskers quivering. “Well, I want to,” the girl said, “but I don’t know how.”
The cat swished its tail. “I know how,” it said.
“Then can you tell me?” She reached into her pockets and brought out the marbles, placing them in front of the cat. “I can pay you with marbles. Or buttons from my dress.”
The cat seemed amused. It pawed at one of the marbles and watched intently as it rolled away. “No, thank you. I’m fine without either.” The girl picked them back up, clenching them tight in her fist. “But since I like you, I’ll tell you how you can get Outside.”
It gave her a sly smile. “Find one thousand stories. Keep them safe. Then exchange them for a ticket from the Gatekeeper; he can’t say no.”
The girl frowned. “One thousand stories? That would take forever.”
“If you find one every night, it won’t even take you three years,” the cat said helpfully. It slunk towards the door. “You’ll find your way, I’m sure.”
Notes. Uh. This is one of those things that has been hiding in Google Drive for ages, edited and spruced up for the masses. Actually, it’s only part of the thing, but the other sections of the thing are incomprehensible thanks to that device called ‘plot’. I’m decent enough with writing sentences and paragraphs and pages, but most days I can’t plot myself out of a paper bag.
I suppose buttons and marbles have more value in the House of a Thousand Rooms than Outside. This was originally part of a set of interlocked, connected stories within stories, à la One Thousand and One Nights (hence the post title), but the ending just refused to work.