(* Chapter Five was posted on January 28th 2015)
You heard him, didn’t you? You heard Stan promise to take me to the great house. But watch this. Watch me try and get him to go through with that promise now; it’s useless.
“Yes.” He darts all over the street, bouncing from foot to foot and sniffing at bits of rubbish. He kicks a frozen blob of chewing gum into the air, “Goal!” and runs around in a circle. It lands on an old woman’s head. She rummages around in her nest of hair, but unable to dig it out, shrugs off whatever hit her.
I take a deep breath. “You promised you’d take me to the great house, remember.”
“Yeah, yeah… did you see what I did then? Did you see how high I booted the gum?”
“Stan?” I say through gritted teeth.
“Yes.” He jumps on an empty drinks carton. It pops. BANG! The old woman jumps, but she can’t see us.
“Stan, will you behave! You promised you’d take me.”
“And I will.”
See, I told you so. That’s all I ever get from him. He never listens to me. Look, he’s off again. He has no awareness of danger and what is classed as socially acceptable behaviour. Now look at him; he’s ferreting in a bin. He’s a complete nightmare, like an uncontrollable kitten. When did I turn into a parent?
All we – the very odd couple – seem to do is walk round in circles together. I’ve been with him now for weeks. Weeks! And things don’t change. It’s the same thing every day: we wake up, he bounces off the walls with excitement, we wander, we argue (most days), we make up, he sings, I cover my ears, he sings some more, we go back to bed, and then the whole saga is re-played the following day. Stan seems to have a rather nonchalant attitude to everything; I’ve never met a creature like him.
Jumping onto a greengrocers’ display outside a shop, he merrily skips across the fruit and veg, pretending to be a pirate. “Ahoy there, matey,” he cries out, using a banana as a galleon.
“Stan, get down from there, now!” I scold, as I pace about. My head’s beginning to throb and I’m feeling dizzy.
“I’m untouchable, Bainbridge.” He swings along bunting, his tail swishing from side to side. “The world is my oyster. Now I have my very own bodyguard I can do whatever I like and, more importantly, whenever I like.”
“Why me?” I quietly question. “Why me?” I slump down in front of a crate of pears and rest my head on my paws.
Stan jumps down from the display. “What’s up?” he asks. His eyes are darting all over. I know he doesn’t really care; I could say anything and it would go ‘Whoosh,’ straight over his head in a flash.
“I thought you were going to help me,” I say, sniffing. “I only left the cemetery to find my old home. I didn’t want any of this.”
“Any of what?”
“This wandering about, aimlessly, looking for nothing!”
“You’re just grumpy, Bainbridge. Didn’t you sleep well last night?” He doesn’t wait for me answer. “Hey, look an eggshell!”
“Stan!” I stand up, frustrated. “That back alley you sleep in—”
“Excuse me!” He leans forward, pointing a finger into my chest. “I prefer bolthole in the city actually.”
“Whatever.” I wave him away; I’m in no mood for word tennis. “It’s damp, smelly and full of suspicious characters.”
“What?” Stan’s voice trembles; he looks hurt, really hurt, by what I’ve just said. “But it’s mine,” his voice wobbles some more. “It was the first place I ran to after my death.” He swallows hard. “It was dark and I felt safe. There were other rats there too… at the time.”
“And where are they now?”
“Well, they’ve moved on. I’m all by myself.”
“Exactly. It’s time to move on, too, Stan.”
“No. They only left because their family or friends did.” He scratches his neck.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
“Yes!” He turns away from me, and begins rummaging in a box underneath the display table. With a mouthful of fruit, he explains, “I couldn’t tag along with them. I had to stay behind.”
Now I feel sorry for him. “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, Stan.” I pat him hard on the back. Falling from the box, he lands flat on his belly on the pavement; a grape flies from his mouth. He stands up, coughing, and brushes himself down. I ask, “Why don’t you have a new start?”
“I don’t know,” I say, shrugging my shoulders. “Let’s find a place together.”
“Like flatmates?” His eyes twinkle.
“Er… no… I mean… when I said ‘together,’ I meant I’ll help you find somewhere new… but I’ll help you settle in, and then maybe you could show me how to get to the great house, like you promised.”
“Alright.” His voice is subdued and the twinkle in his eye fades quickly. “I can take a hint, Bainbridge. I know when I’m not wanted…”
“It’s not like that, Stan. I—“
“Come on,” he sighs. ”Let’s go house hunting!”
“Or mouse hunting?” I laugh, slapping him on the back.
“Now’s not the time for jokes, Bainbridge,” he says, shaking his head.
We walk down many alleys and he dismisses them all. They’re too small, too big, too dark, too light, too smelly, not smelly enough, too noisy, too quiet, too empty, too cluttered, too—
But then, we find ‘the one.’ That twinkle resurfaces in his eyes. “I like this one,” he beams, spinning around on the spot, surveying it’s…er.. beauty!
“Really? This one?” I ask, looking around, wincing, at the smell of damp and the sight of litter blowing about. “Well, yes… I… er… I see why you like it… it’s… it’s very nice, Stan.”
“And it comes ready furnished,” he squeals, darting from corner to corner. “Wow! Look. You can sleep in this.” He jumps onto a wooden crate.
“Okay,” I reply, tentatively, “for now.”
Dragging over an old newspaper in his teeth, he says, “You can even use this as a mattress, if you like… after all, us ghosts still need our home comforts.”
A laugh of disbelief leaves my lips. “Great!” I shudder at the thought. “So where are you going to sleep?”
“In this.” He jumps into an old shoe box and begins scratching in the corners.
“It looks a bit wet, Stan.”
“And your point is?”
“Nothing.” My nose wrinkles.
Trying to smile for his sake, I can only respond with, “Isn’t it just!”
He signs on the dotted line and moves in straightaway. We stay up talking for hours, and it reminds me a bit of being in the cemetery. But then… my eyes begin to feel heavy. I yawn. My lids close, just for a few seconds. I am fighting the tiredness. When I open them again, Stan is still wittering on, “… so I told them there and then that…”
My eyes close once more, this time for a little longer. I can hear Alwen’s beautiful voice singing, and I can see Myrtle smiling. She is waving and calling my name. “Bainbridge… Bainbridge…”
“I’m here, Myrtle. I’m right here.” I smile.
“What? Who’s Myrtle?”
“Eh?” I jump up.
“Bainbridge, I’ve been calling you.” It’s Stan. I blink slowly in disappointment. He sits himself up on his makeshift cushion made from a split tomato, and states the obvious. “You nodded off there, mate. You—”
Suddenly, there’s a hiss from the shadows. “What’s that?” I ask, trembling.
Stan gasps in horror, throwing his paw over his mouth. “That’s him,” he whispers.
I whisper back, “That’s who?” and snatch a stick off the ground for protection. It’s tightly clamped in my mouth, my teeth chattering on it.
Stan edges towards me, “That’s Dave, the cat who’s after me.”
“It is?” I question in a muffled voice.
“Yes. How did he find us here?”
“I don’t know.” I gasp; the stick falls from my mouth.
Eyes, glowing in the moonlight, look directly at us.
Chapter Seven will be available to read from 28th March 2015