There’s a damp smell in the air that’s making my nose twitch. Cars are whizzing past the end of the alleyway and I can hear a siren in the distance. I think I preferred Stan’s previous accommodation.
Dave lurches towards us. Stan and I back up against the wall, our knees knocking together like castanets. I hold a protective paw in front of my friend. His heart is beating fast inside that little chest of his.
“I won’t let him get you,” I whisper. How I’m going to stop him, I’m unsure of at this precise moment.
“You might not have a choice,” he replies.
I know, I think to myself. I cross my claws.
But then the moonlight catches Dave’s body and reveals what we’re dealing with: a small tabby cat with a twisted ear and tatty whiskers.
I remove the protective paw from Stan, and give him a nudge. “That’s Dave?” I ask.
“Yes.” Stan nods furiously. “The one and only.”
Straightening my back, I look down at Stan. “And you’re frightened of that!”
“Hey!” Stan looks up at me and furrows his brow. “Looks can be deceiving, you know!”
“Really?” I shake my head and step towards Dave, holding out my paw. “I mean you no harm,” I say with a noble voice. He continues towards us. “Please tell me what you want with us, or go now, leaving me and my friend alone.”
He opens his mouth, and speaks, “Well, well, well,” with a shrill pitch. My eyes open wide and a laugh escapes. I look at Stan. “What the—”
“Don’t laugh!” he replies quickly. “I know his voice is squeakier than a mouse’s trump, but please do not laugh at him… he hates that!”
Dave comes right up to my face. “What have we here?” He looks me up and down. “So you’re the new carer?” I bite my lip and try not to laugh again. “Don’t be taken in by Stan,” he squeaks. “He’s trouble, a lowdown dirty rat. He’s a conman, I tell you. He’s a liar and won’t help you.”
“Look, Dave, I’m sorry, but I need to talk to you cat-to-cat.” I wrap my paw around his shoulder, and give Stan a wink. Dave flinches. “I’m not going to hurt you, Dave. I’m not the kind.” I can feel his muscles relax a little, but his eyes narrow; I don’t think he fully trusts me. “You need to back off Stan.”
He pulls away from me. “Why?”
“He’s sick of you following him. He just wants to be left alone to exist in peace. You’re making his afterlife miserable.”
“Well, I don’t mean to. I didn’t even know he felt like that.” Dave juts out his bottom lip. “It’s… it’s… it’s this damn thing on my head.” He shows me a clump of matted fur.
“What is it?”
“I don’t know. It’s a prickly thing, but it’s been stuck in there ever since I died, and I can’t get it out. It hurts like mad.”
“Ah,” I peer over his head, “it’s a thorn.”
“It is?” Dave gives me a smile. “Do you think Stan will help me get it out? I can’t reach it myself. Every time I get close enough to him to ask, he keeps running away and then telling everyone else to stay away from me, too. I know we were never friends, but he’s my oldest acquaintance, and I thought he might help me.”
“What?” Stan walks towards Dave, wrinkling his nose. “You mean you didn’t want to hurt me.”
“Well, I did when I was alive. I wanted to eat you then!”
Stan jumps back. “Oh!”
“But not now. I just want this damn thing out, and then I’d like to be friends. I’m kind of lonely. Being dead is no fun!”
“Oh, Dave, it can be,” Stan says. “Here.” Stan climbs up onto Dave’s back and shimmies up his neck. He pulls out the thorn with his teeth.
“Ouch!” screams Dave.
“Sorry.” Stan drops the thorn to the ground. “That was a big one.”
“Can I stay with you?” Stan looks at me when Dave asks the question.
I shrug. “It’s up to you, Stan. This is your place.”
Dave stays with us. Over the following weeks, I watch as the pair of them bond, having fun together. But I know Christmas Eve is tomorrow and part of me wishes I was back at the cemetery celebrating with Myrtle and Alwen.
“Don’t look so sad,” Stan says as we bed down for another winter’s night.
“I can’t help it. I miss my friends.”
“We’re you’re friends now,” Stan replies.
“Yes,” says Dave. “We’re your friends.”
“I know, but I wish… I wish…” They both look to one another.
“It’s time we parted ways,” Dave says, the corners of his eyes seem to drop.
Stan’s bottom lip trembles as he tries to speak. “But—“
“No buts, Stan.” Dave looks at me, and with firmness says, “We’ll take you to the great house tomorrow.”
Dave shakes his head. “It’s still not the time for buts, Stan. Look, it’s Christmas, and Bainbridge deserves to be with his family.”
Stan folds his arms and slumps into his bedding.
Chapter Eight will be available to read from May 15th 2015