(* Chapter Four was posted on December 31st 2014)
It’s the first time in over sixty years I’ve walked among people and animals beyond the cemetery walls, and now I see the true colours of the modern world. As much as I hated being in there, away from Betsy, I could have walked free at any point. Maybe I should have. I’d chosen to confine myself so I didn’t have to face up to the reality of seeing her move on. I think most of the other animals feel the same way. It’s rare one of us dares to leave. We would say to one another we were content, having no reason to walk out through the gates, but we were just scared.
All our owners, friends or relatives knew, or would have guessed, we’d passed over, so they probably brushed our deaths to one side and found something else to love. I wonder how Betsy dealt with my passing, and if she ever replaced me.
You can tell, though, that many of the animals are waiting patiently for their loved ones to join them in the spirit world, so they can be with them for eternity. This magical moment always happens at night. The air fills with a sparkling light and glistening particles fall from above like shimmering rain. A warm glow encircles us and there are smiles all around. Then the fortunate animal catches a glimpse of their loved one. You can feel the bond of love between them and they are pulled together, before walking to a doorway filled with light. When the time is right and they have said their goodbyes, they move through this doorway alongside their loved one. It brings a tear to the eye of all who sees it. But the light soon fades and darkness resumes. The coldness returns and we continue to wait. I wonder what’s on the other side of this beautiful doorway.
Oh well. Maybe I’ll never know. Betsy hasn’t come for me. I hope this means she’s still alive, because the other possibility is that I was never her priority. My mother or siblings never came looking for me when they crossed over, and they will have died many years ago. Far too many winters have passed for any of them to still be alive. I sigh. Maybe I’ve just been forgotten by everyone. After all, it’s not like I really made my mark on the world.
Sitting at the edge of a kerb, I notice the streets are certainly busier than I remember them to be, and the buildings seem much taller too. The beautiful, glistening virgin snow of the cemetery has turned into dirty slush now as the modern cars trail through it, making a whoosh noise as they go. There’s lots of noise from this traffic; I don’t think I like it. I remember a world during a quieter time.
I’m not sure where I am heading really, but I remember Mother saying to me that we cats never forget directions, and sooner or later we will find our way, so I will keep on walking. I set off again.
I am now walking in full daylight and it has started to snow again. I don’t recognise any of the sights or smells and a feeling of apprehension tugs at my belly. There is so much clattering about. It’s really noisy. People are moving these great big clunky things on wheels, stacked high with boxes of all shapes and sizes, and metal shutters covering shop fronts are pushed upwards to reveal an array of produce. A box topples off a cart, landing in front of me. Its contents spill out onto the street. I jump backwards, hissing. A pile of sorry looking ragdolls are face down in the snow.
“Dennis! How can we sell them if they’re dirty? You idiot!” A woman in trousers scolds a rather browbeaten man.
My muscles relax. Stepping off the pavement, I walk through the thick sludge on the road. Cars roar over my head and I catch a lungful of fumes. These modern vehicles cough out terrible things, I think to myself as my whiskers twitch when the tyres tickle the end of them. I pass through the vehicles with ease, but I can still sense their bulk.
Safely on the other side, I continue to weave in and out of pairs of feet cluttering the streets. I don’t need to; I could obviously walk through them too, but it’s a force of habit and one I don’t want to break. It reminds me of being alive.
“Hey, cat? What you up to?” a raspy voice calls.
I stop and turn, but don’t see a soul. I carry on.
“Hey, you. You with the white fur, I asked what you’re up to? Why are you walking these streets?” A dirty brown rat slinks out of the shadows.
“Oh!” Taken aback, I say, “I didn’t see you there.” He begins to circle me with a glint in his eye. Moving backwards slowly, I whisper, “I’m sorry, sir.”
“Sir?” He stops crawling around me, stands tall – as tall as a rat can– and taking his tail in his hand, points the tip at me. “Did you, a cat, just call me sir?”
Puzzled, I nod. “Yes.”
The rat drops his tail to the ground, grabs onto his stomach tightly, and lets out a shattering laugh. “I’ve—I’ve—” Barely able to catch his breath, he finally spits out his words. “I’ve never been called ‘sir’ before.” Walking towards me, still sniggering at my obvious error, he pats my side. “I’m Stan, pleased to have your acquaintance.” He offers me his paw. “And you are?”
“I’m Bainbridge,” I reply, not knowing how to shake the paw of a rat. I decide to gently tap it with my own and offer an awkward smile.
“Hmm… interesting name, Bainbridge. What are you doing in these parts?”
“I’m on my way to find someone.”
“Thought I didn’t recognise you. You don’t look like the normal rat catchers we have around here. You seem a bit… a bit…” Stan scratches his head.
“I know,” I sigh, rolling my eyes, “la-di-da!”
“No! I was going to say common actually.”
“Really?” I jump back, feeling slightly pleased.
“Er… no! I’m having your life.” He begins to laugh again, making my fur rise. “You need to find your sense of humour. No, you’re way too la-di-da. With a name like that, you shouldn’t be skulking around town. I think you belong on the outskirts in one of those posh houses with the big lawns and bubbly water fountains out the front. I used to bathe in those fancy water fountains, until the owners discovered me and put down poison.”
“Yes, yes,” I say eagerly. “That’s where I’m heading, Stan. Where will I find the posh houses? I’m looking for the great house, you see.”
“Wow! The great house, you say.” Stan scratches his head again.
Wincing, I ask, “Do you have fleas, Stan?”
“No, I don’t!” He throws me a scowl. “I’m just scratching my brain cells. I have too many. Too brainy for my boots, I am.”
“Boots?” I look down at his bare paws.
“Anyway, I could take you.”
“You could?” A smile flashes across my face and I leap up with excitement.
“Yes. For a small fee, of course.”
My smile and shoulders quickly drop. “But I don’t have anything to give you, Stan.”
“Look, Bainbridge, the truth is I really need a favour.”
“What kind of favour?”
“Come here.” He beckons me to lower my head. Standing on the tips of his toes, he whispers into my ear, “There’s a cat—“
“A cat you say.”
“Shush!” He nods. “A cat.”
“Dead?” I ask.
“Of course! And he’s pure evil, always picking on me. I thought I’d got rid of him when I died… when he killed me… but then he died… killed by a fierce fox… and here he is… back in town… forever chasing me.”
“But what can I do?”
“Be my bodyguard. Scare him off.” Stan punches the air like a boxer. “And in return I’ll show you how to get to the mansions… that great house you’re looking for is bound to be one of the ones on the other side of town.”
Chapter Six will be available to read from 28th February 2015