The Land of Alveridgea
The little town snuggles contentedly against the warm Esparrow Sea, protected from the cold winds that blow off the snow-capped Shipwoods to the east, splayed like a sleeping hound in the velvet darkness. It is a town like a pair of old jeans, scuffed and faded in all the right places. In a few hours, Port Alveridge will wake to the smell of the sea in its nose. Wilkers’ boats, coal-fired clinkers captained by grizzled sea Hounds, will chug into port with cargo holds full of whales’ milk, cream of the sea, ready to be fermented into frothy Wilks Beer. A flotilla of fishing boats will put out onto the Esparrow Sea in search of spotty russock, blubber-fin, butter wallop and one-eyed flappers the size of a fisherman’s story, returning at dusk with nets straining and full.
As the evening sky begins to melt like butter in a skillet, Hounds will clamber from their boats and spill out of the huge brick Fish Cannery, heading for the bars and saloons along the Boulevard, which wraps round the wharf like a happy smile. Clapboard shacks with names like ‘Rotten Catch’, ‘Houndwhistle Grill’ and ‘Marvo’s Fine Dining and Auto Repair’ sit cheek by jowl with solid brick establishments, tables littering the wide verandas, wrought-iron balconies ablaze with light. Here, a Hound can sip a beer and fill his pipe with barley baccy as the air shimmers and hums with smoke and music. For, after dark, Port Alveridge is soaked in the blues. Old blues maestros like Missin’ Tooth Memphis, Rusty Razor and the Snouts, and Stub Tail Tonks will open battered guitar cases and run fingers over yellowed piano keys.
But any Hound visiting the Port for the first time will sense something else, a smell so intense it rises above the smoky bar, over the heads of the sweaty worker Hounds. Mixed with the sweet scent of cellared wine is the Feline fragrance of … Cats. For in Port Alveridge, unlike anywhere else in the land of Alveridgea, Cats and Hounds live side by side, separated only by the sparkling Juke River.