(* Chapter One was posted on 30th October 2014)
It’s late evening. I know because my soul is awake. Somehow, it senses when it’s time for me to wake and roam the cemetery. It always starts with gentle tingles in the tips of my ears, which travel down to my nose. After a sharp intake of breath, my paws then come alive. If you were to look in my grave, only bones are left, but I still feel whole when my soul is awake. It’s strange because my spirit body and energy still manage to function like my physical body once did, and my mind is just as active as when I was alive. I can still think, feel pain and emotion, and I move about too, but humans can’t see me. To be able to appear in form, in front of a human, is a skill I’ve not yet managed. I will keep trying.
Wiggling my paws, I gently tickle at the earth around me. Here comes a yawn… a slight stretch… that’s better. My mouth feels dry whenever I wake, but in a few moments I’ll be able to drink… or at least imagine I’m drinking. I wiggle my paws some more and my spirit begins to move through the soil… I’m not quite at the surface yet. I still have a few more inches to go, so bear with me.
Using the pads of my paws, I scratch at the earth with greater thrust to propel myself upwards, until I can finally see moonlight. I pause for a few moments to absorb the atmosphere; to get a feel for it. I always do.
Wow! The Moon certainly looks beautiful this evening. The clouds wrapped around it look like they’re suffocating it, but in a strangely pleasant way, and there is a crisp frost on the ground already; it must have been a cold day for the living. Now for the fun part – I get to click my joints into place, one by one. They’re not my actual bones I’m clicking – remember they’re in the grave – but my spirit doesn’t know that, so it feels good. When I’m clicking and popping my joints back into place, I always save the best till last. My favourite click comes from my jawbone. It’s ever so satisfying when I align it properly, give it one almighty shove and hear it jump back in. Before I do this, my ghost would scare the spots off a Dalmatian! It actually did once!
Taking a deep breath, I push my jaw into place with my paw, look upwards and let out a strangled meow. The neighbourhood dogs shout back. I see in the distance a young couple walking by the cemetery. They look in love, wrapped up in their winter woollies, linking arms. I can’t feel the cold any more, but I do remember what it felt like and shiver at the thought.
My memories of autumn’s cold snap are still vivid. When the temperature in the great house would drop, Betsy’s father would instruct the Help to light the fires and make sure all the windows were closed. In the sitting room, the flames from the open fire would crackle and spit their orange flecks out onto the rug. Those burning flecks once caught me on the behind and singed my fur. I jumped, let out a startled cry and ran for cover under the side table, but Betsy scooped me up before I got there and kissed me better. “Poor Bainbridge,” she whispered into my ear, “you’re safe now.” By order of Major Williams, I got an extra saucer of milk that night and a sliver of cooked ham.
Now there is no milk for me to drink, just stale water in the vases. I know I’m a ghost, and you’re probably wondering why I need to drink, but I do. I won’t actually consume the water like I would have when I was living, but my soul will absorb its nutrients when my spirit tongue glides through it. It’s because my soul still craves the luxuries and necessities of life – they help it carry on. I’m thirsty now, in fact. I glance to the side, realising I won’t be drinking from that glass vase – the water inside has iced over and there are a few frozen bugs on top.
Last night was Halloween. You’ll have to excuse the mess in the park and cemetery; the wardens haven’t been to tidy up. My favourite warden is Joel. He’s about the same age that Betsy would be now, and for this reason, I feel like I have a special connection with him, even though he can’t see me. Joel has a long, white handlebar moustache and is methodical about his work. He often works well into the night, always taking good care of our graves, weeding and turning over the soil. At times, I wonder whether Joel can see some of us. If he can, he doesn’t let on, but a few times I’ve caught him smiling when the kittens are playing around his feet. He’s a good man, but we haven’t seen him for a while. I hope he’s okay.
There’s a sudden screeching noise. I jump, arching my back, pricking up my fur in a state of alarm. “What’s that?” I cry. A loud bang in the sky makes me look up. A rainbow of colours breaks overhead. Phew! It’s just a firework.
It’s not long until Bonfire Night, and when it is, I won’t be leaving the comfort of my grave. I never liked fireworks when I was living, and I like them less now I’m dead. Normally, I stay in my grave and avoid the thing humans call Halloween too, but not this year. This year, there was so much noise and frivolity that it made my poor bones rattle.
“Can you hear me?” I heard a human call above ground. I turned in my grave.
There was much banging, then, “Speak to us if you can,” said another. “Give us a sign.”
Sighing, I crawled out of my grave to see what was going on; I instantly wished I’d stayed down there. The sight that met my eyes was horrendous! It still is – twenty-four hours later. Even now, as I look around, all I can see are sweet wrappers, bits of candles, smashed up pumpkins and a cloth witch’s hat! I watch as the wind whips up the litter and the kittens play with it. I’m trying to maintain a level of disapproval, but behind my pathetic attempt at a stern glare, a smile is breaking through.
“To me… pass to me,” shouts Sam, the runt of the litter, to his brothers and sister. He is waving his paws in the air, but it’s no good. They all giggle as he fails to catch the metallic wrapper. Running as fast as he can, his feet seem to tangle and he falls flat on his face. “No fair!” he cries, with his face in the mud. “Why do I never get a proper go?”
“You’re not quick enough, Sam,” says Polly, the grey and white girl.
Sam hunches his shoulders and walks off to sulk behind a plant pot. I can hear him sobbing. I don’t go to him because I know his tears will soon stop when he sees the leaf that is just about to blow past him… there it is… it’s caught his attention… and he’s off!
The kittens arrived all together over thirty years ago. When they were only eight weeks old they were bundled together and put into a sack, which was weighed down with stones and thrown into a fishing pond. Originally there were five of them, but it seems one of the girls managed to escape somehow. Poor Polly still has day-mares about the drowning and not knowing what happened to her sister.
I love the kittens. I love watching them play and being a welcome nuisance. They remind me of myself and the mischief I used to get up to when I was their age. Like the time I once dipped my sister’s tail in paint when she was asleep. She was snoring loudly and keeping me awake, so I tip-pawed over to the corner of the room and pushed this small container of paint back over to our basket. With my mouth, I gently lifted her tail, dropping the tip into the container. She didn’t stir, so I tapped her on the nose to wake her up, and then chased her around the kitchen, watching as she left a blue trail. The human was not happy and scrubbed my sister with a brush in the sink. My sister was crying, wriggling and trying to scratch. When she was returned to the basket, I couldn’t help giggle. Mother threw me an angry stare, but my sister looked funny wet, and she smelt strange too!
All of that seems like an eternity ago and mischief isn’t what it used to be. Take Halloween, years ago children would have been happy to come and just tell ghost stories. Now, they come to vandalise the graves and don’t respect the dead. The cemetery is a magnet for local teenagers every year on October 31st. They arrive with their goodies and attempt to hold séances by candlelight. They think they can summon the dead. Idiots! Jim, a mature Golden Retriever from two plots along, loves this time of year. He likes to play tricks on the unsuspecting youths, howling like a wolf and scratching at the gravestones. He sounds like he’s passing wind, though, but I have to admit, it’s fun watching them run!
Alwen, a Welsh black and white Border Collie, always scolds Jim for his pranks. “You shouldn’t make them cry like that!” she tells him year after year. She is what you might call an upstanding citizen of the cemetery, always thinking of others. Her plot is at the far end and she was one of the few who made me feel welcome when I arrived. “Don’t worry, boyo, Alwen will soon sort you out,” she said, putting a reassuring paw around me.
After my death, the first few months were the hardest for me. I missed Betsy terribly, but Alwen, with her beautiful singing voice, would lull me to sleep with her melodies as dawn would break. She was a big help, showing me around and telling me how everything worked. By the time I arrived, she’d already been here a few years, so was well versed in the dos and don’ts; the main rule, according to Alwen, is don’t annoy The Boss!
Who’s The Boss? Hmmm… let me think. How can I best describe him? Well, he’s a ginger cat with a lot of issues, who hates pedigrees, like me! Legend has it he was a stray, and some kids tied a stick of dynamite to his tail back in the 1800s. He died a slow, painful death, writhing in agony on the pavement as the laughing children looked on, poking fun at him. Now, the ghost of his soul is rumoured by the children in the town to roam the streets surrounding his death site. I wish it did. Then he wouldn’t be sat here, on his grave all night, giving me dirty looks… like he is now! For some reason, I feel sorry for him. He walks with a limp, and his tail is a few inches too short, but don’t let him catch you staring because he’ll scratch your eyes right out!
Finally, there’s Myrtle – my precious Myrtle. She has beautiful black and white fur, and the sweetest heart. She’s quite new around here. In fact, her body has only been cold for a few weeks and, thankfully, she managed to live out her natural life. They say the good die young, don’t they? But she is one exception to this rule. She lived a long and very happy existence with a family called the Harrisons. I know she was well loved because she told me so, and her human family often come and visit her grave, bringing her flowers and treats. Last week, they brought her a catnip mouse to play with. We both had hours of fun with that when The Boss’ back was turned. I laugh now thinking back to it.
Life in the cemetery is slow, and without my friends it would be boring. Trying to find things to do, to occupy our time with, can be hard; although, I have found a new hiding place called The Well. Actually, I didn’t find it, it was Winston the one-eyed tabby who showed me it – he’s always looking for new spots to hang out. Anyway, at The Well I’ve spotted a few spiders lurking amongst the stones and ivy trails. For us cats, catching spiders is so fulfilling. They are, by far, more exciting than mice because you can never predict where they are going to run. Just as you stick your paw out, they turn and run in the opposite direction. It’s a real skill to corner one. When I was alive, I was terrible at hunting, but now I have it down to a T. I look up at the night sky and sigh. I’d like to take Myrtle over to The Well for a meal one night, but I haven’t plucked up the courage to ask her yet. It’s still early days in our friendship, so I’m not sure how to raise the subject. After all, I don’t want to scare her off.
“Oi, Bainbridge!” I look to see Winston staring directly at me. He lets out a meow and slinks in my direction. The moonlight elongates his silhouette on the ground, and his shadow reaches me well before he does.
“What is it, Winston?” I reply as he nears.
He stops walking, looks me in the eyes and sits down. Lifting his right paw, he begins to rhythmically lick it.
“Winston? What do you want?”
He stops washing. “Where are my manners?” His tongue sizzles as he says, “Sorry, Bainbridge, didn’t mean to ignore you. I just wondered if you’d seen what the youths have left us.” He resumes his washing ritual.
My ears prick up. “Where?” I eagerly look around.
Between licks he replies, “Over… at… The Well… there are… pizza boxes… and chip wrappers… scattered about. There are bits of… stuffed crust, salami and… ground beef… all left for the taking!”
I don’t fully trust Winston because he’s a crony of The Boss, but I could do with a feast, so I move cautiously towards him, asking, “And why are you telling me this?”
“Thought you’d be interested, Bainbridge.” He circles me, his tail whipping my face. “It would do you good to rough it for a while with the rats and rubbish by the bins at The Well.”
A hiss accidentally leaves my mouth. Winston jumps back, quickly raising his paw to my face. Flinching, I avoid a strike and he merely grazes the tips of my whiskers. “Are you trying to threaten me, Bainbridge?”
“No, Winston.” My voice quivers as I realise what I’ve done. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to. It was an accident. I—“
“Well, accidents do happen, don’t they?” His voice is sinister.
With my head hung low, I avoid eye contact and move out of his shadow. I can sense him mocking me as I walk away, but I don’t look back.
As the night draws on, I skulk around the cemetery alone. Nearly all of the souls are now out, and creatures of all shapes and sizes are calling for their loved ones. I jump onto a grave and let out a cry for Betsy, to let her know I’m still here. Above me, live ravens squawk in the trees. Their throaty rattles travel across the cemetery, bouncing off headstones, and their beady eyes are scanning the ground. The live bats are out too, swooping low, catching the night-time insects. I don’t mind the bats, they are quite majestic, but I do wonder where the poor insects go when they die.
Chapter 3 will be available to read from 24th December 2014