FROM BRADFORD TO BRAMHALL
The train pulled out of Manchester Piccadilly station with barely a sound. Just like with the tram, we needed to hide in good time. How could we cats buy train tickets anyway? We certainly didn’t want to be arrested for non-payment.
The signs we spotted were so similar to the ones on that tram: “Please keep your feet off seats” and “STOP! Have you bought a valid ticket?” and “Emergency door release located here” with “Penalty for improper use” below it in very small writing which I am surprised I could read even after clambering up the seat. Unlike at the tram but like at the station, I could hear a metallic voice:
“Welcome onboard this service, which calls at Stockport, Cheadle Hulme, Bramhall, Poynton, Macclesfield and finally Stoke on Trent. We are expecting to reach Stoke on Trent at 16:00. Please pay attention to all notices displayed throughout the train….”
The rest of what the voice said was of no importance to us, it just yammered on and on. What mattered was finding Thelonius and Molly, and I knew we were running out of time. If we didn’t see their kittens being born we would never live it down, and Thelonius would never let us forget it, and not in a good way.
The train passed what must have been Stockport, which probably looked just like Manchester; we didn’t bother looking out of the window. We then heard someone say, “Tickets and passes please!”
Shit! Not again!
We heard footsteps and the sound of chatter-”Received, thank you.”, “This pass expired last week, madam.”, “That ticket’s only valid on fast services to London Euston, sir, not stopping services.”, and “I’m sorry, tomcat, I can’t see you registered on our system.”
We’d just entered our names via this paw-shaped device at the police station, yet we still had no idea how to get tickets. Would this matter to the woman who was checking tickets? It wouldn’t be much longer to Bramhall, anyway, assuming my hunches-no, not haunches-had been correct.
YAP YAP YAP!
Not a good sign, even if we noticed that the yapping dog was only trying to show the woman he had a valid ticket or pass or whatever dogs would use to travel by train. “Yer welcome, ma’am.” the dog yapped. I whispered, “I hope that won’t alert the woman to check for tickets we don’t have, Tabby.”
“We’ll be fine, Puss. Just keep quiet, look, and listen for Bramhall.”
“If only they’d measure things in cat time!”
“Humans run the show, Puss. Besides, we all have a different sense of time and different units of time. I’ve never heard humans mention moons as a time measurement.”
“I suppose not.” I sighed. When would the day of the cat be?
The train then stopped at, and then passed, Cheadle Hulme, although we only knew from that same metallic voice. If the train was moving, we could only feel it, not hear it. Then it suddenly juddered, and stopped. But why?
YAP YAP YAP!
“Signal problem detected. Halting train temporarily.” a metallic voice announced.
Muttering took place across the car, “These programmers take minutes to fix these signals. They should be fixed in ten seconds flat!”
“Why the fuck in this modern world of ours can’t they have signals that fix themselves?”
“Robots can’t do everything.”
YAP YAP YAP!
That little dog was getting on my paws, big time. I was not in a mood for a fight, having forgotten to tell Sergeant Hoyle about my injuries.
“Millie, Mollie, Mandi, please shut up fer a minute, will you?” an older dog said, most likely a bitch.
The pups quickly obeyed, to my ears’ delight. Young animals are always so impatient, even kittens. Thankfully our kittens would not have to wait too much longer to make their entrance into the world after we reached Bramhall!
“Tickets and passes please!”
We had to scamper into the car behind before we were caught without tickets, even if the woman couldn’t see us. There weren’t that many people or animals on this train, but I didn’t want to brush against a dog or another cat. We hadn’t eaten for a while and we needed to eat soon, having forgotten to eat at the police station, but we could hardly risk taking a bite out of one of the non-humans here. We waited for our moment to scamper…
Shit! The woman checking tickets had spotted us sneaking out of our hiding place!
“These two cats are trying to evade their train fare!” a corgi barked. Her bark sounded so plummy it were almost like talking with a real human voice.
“They went to that carriage, madam!” a border collie, in an equally plummy bark, barked to the woman.
At that point, the train moved again, and we knew we only had to hide for a few moments more before we reached Bramhall. The woman was for a moment distracted with someone else’s ticket problem, but it wouldn’t be long before she found us. We hid under the seats, quickly. Thank goodness trains moved slowly, or at least it felt like it to us.
We could hear the border collie sniffing around for us, even though we’d both remembered to take a piss before reaching Manchester Piccadilly station. Worse still, we were in the last car of the train and we could see that there were a couple of people blocking our way to the car we’d just come from, even if they didn’t realise it. Surely non-payment of train tickets wasn’t that serious!
“We are now approaching Bramhall; Bramhall is your next stop. If you are leaving us here, please make sure you have all personal belongings with you when you exit the train.” that metallic voice said.
Just after that, the border collie barked, “They’re over there!” in what must have been our direction. The woman checking tickets was coming toward us too. And the train was slowing down. We had only one chance to exit at Bramhall and avoid getting caught.
“Tabby, could we jump out of that window that’s just been opened?”
“Are you mad, Puss? We’ll both get killed!”
“I don’t want us getting arrested again.”
“What’s more important, Puss, your life or your liberty? Don’t be so fucking stupid.”
“Both.” I pondered for a moment. “Well, my life, if it came to it.”
It’s not often I come up with something like that, let me tell you now.
The woman walked towards us, that checking device ever closer. She found us just as the train was about to stop.
“Excuse me, you two, where are your tickets?”
We ran for it, out through the double doors that someone had usefully opened. We made a leap for the platform….and only just cleared it, landing on the yellow line painted across it.
“Stop!” the woman shouted. She ran after us through the double doors, which closed leaving the train to depart on its merry way. For all we knew, she had one of them “net guns” to catch us, or something to catch people who couldn’t be bothered to pay for their train fare. We could move surprisingly quickly-perhaps it wasn’t so bad we hadn’t eaten any proper lunch. Dinner would do us both good once we found Thelonius and Molly-if we found them here. Pregnant queencats need a lot of food, although Molly would definitely spare some rats for us.
We ran towards the exit-only to find the gate locked! There weren’t any gaps in the fence at this station, either, unlike at the park in Saddleworth. “Go through the ticket office barriers, please, kitties.” a man standing near the gate said. The woman was coming up right behind us.
We turned left and ran, making a dash for the barriers. There was no way under them nor any gap we could squeeze through. We were going to have to talk our way out of this one, for we could see as we passed the barriers in a bid to get around them that the end of the platform was blocked off totally by a meshed fence.
That woman caught up with us as we approached the fence.
“There’s no way out without a ticket or pass. You two need to explain yourselves now.”
“Uh, well, we, um, lost our tickets.” I lied.
“Then why didn’t you just come out of your hiding place and tell me, then?” she demanded. We’d clearly pissed her off by forcing her to chase us, and she probably didn’t want to exit at Bramhall either.
“We just didn’t think of it.” Tabby answered quickly.
“I think you’re pulling a fast one on me.”
“What are your names?”
“Bollocks. That cat’s been dead for years, and he never left Cheshire in any case. You two don’t look like Cheshire cats to me and you also don’t sound like Cheshire cats either. You’re clearly from West Yorkshire.”
Tabby purred to interrupt, “My name is Olivia, uh, Colman?”
“She’s a human being, not a cat. And that’s Dame Olivia Colman to you.”
Ignoring this, I asked the woman, “Do you know a cat called Thelonius?”
“I do indeed. He and his queencat Molly actually earned their tickets by helping me with my YouTube videos.”
“What the heck’s YouTube?”
“A video channel that’s been around since long before any cat alive today was even born, especially when at least half the cats in Britain didn’t make it through this decade. I still don’t know why; I just know that you smart cats aren’t a hoax any more than coronavirus was. I don’t believe the radiation stories, though, since it sounds like science fiction mumbo jumbo.”
This confused me no end. “What are you on about?”
“Never mind. Anyway, I’ll let you out of this station but you two have to promise me that you’ll come and entertain me and my family next week, since you clearly don’t have a way of paying the ticket. The last time a cat tried to pay their train fare using a credit card, it was rejected as having been issued in error.”
“And what if we don’t agree, woman?” I asked with a scowl.
“Then I’ll call the British Transport Police, and the CCCU, and have you both arrested for fare evasion.”
Tabby quickly answered, “All right. We’ll give you some tricks. Where do you live?” She immediately decided to shuffle her paws as an example.
“I live in Cheadle, just up the road from Bramhall. Come to the end of Calton Road, just off the High Street, and I’ll see you both there in a fortnight, at sundown.”
“Gotcha. Now where’s Thelonius?”
“Molly and him live in the main chapel of what used to be St Matthew’s Parish Church. “
“What’s a church?” I asked, curiously.
“Where people pray, or at least used to. My son asked me what a church was the other day. You hardly see anyone going to church nowadays.”
“I’ve never even seen one. Thanks for the info.”
She went up to the barriers, held up something to the barrier, and they slid open. We passed through them and they closed in the blink of an eye.
Our first sight of Bramhall proper was, er, a charming one. There was another, bigger word that fitted what we saw as we came out of Bramhall station but I just couldn’t get it out. There was a huge square of green space almost in front of us, bigger than I’d ever seen back in Bradford.
And now to find Thelonius and Molly. As luck would have it, there was a rook nesting in the tree nearby, and we knew how clever crows were even if they got on our paws.
“What do you want?” Looking down at me she squawked, “Don’t even think about it, pal!”
I asked softly, “Do you know the way to St Matthew’s church?”
“You mean Great Bramhall Hall, right?”
“Just walk diagonally from the northwest corner of this park, like I always do. That’s how I got the name White-Bishop, because I only ever fly diagonally, despite the fact I’m a rook by nature. Get it?”
“Not really, no.”
We both walked diagonally as she instructed, at least for a few moments. A box junction right ahead of us, with cars streaming towards us, reminded us not to take one’s word for it literally. Either White-Bishop had forgotten we couldn’t fly or she wanted us to get run over. It may have looked like the quickest route but we could see it certainly weren’t the safest.
The cars were whizzing past with barely a sound and in just a few blinks of an eye. Where was a safe place to cross this road? Tabby jumped up and spotted a traffic light, but for some reason it was stuck on green, and cars kept whizzing past.
By turning right back along the north part of the green square we found a less busy road which we could get across, even if it meant an annoying detour. Given that I couldn’t see any particularly large or tall building in the distance, we began to suspect the rook may have been lying about where St Matthew’s Church, or Great Bramhall Hall, or whatever actually was. Crows have never liked us much.
We both ran across and then turned left, hoping that there was at least a chunk of truth in the crow’s directions. Walking or crawling diagonally wasn’t something we were good at. There was a lot of dog mess we had to avoid on the way as well, even though we didn’t see that many dogs and none of them noticed us. Perhaps they were too busy sniffing each other’s arses again. They might have also thought we were too busy playing around with balls of wool. The intellects of cats and dogs and other non-human animals may be new, but old habits die hard!
Finally, after at least 200 more paces, we saw someone pointing to a huge building with many artful glass windows, and discussing it.
“When’s the last time you saw people going to church around here?”
“10 years ago. This used to be part of the Church of England diocese of Chester, but there hasn’t been a Church of England for about seven years now. The only Christians I see around here nowadays are Roman Catholics, and there can’t be more than a few hundred of them in all of Bramhall.”
What the hell did this mean to us, anyway? We simply needed to find Thelonius, and realised he and Molly must’ve been in that building, or church, or whatever it was. We walked a few more paces, and wahey! We were going to see Thelonius and Molly again at last!
It couldn’t have been a church for a while, though, because as we walked up to it we could see that the windows were at least half boarded up, and that the main entrance to the church had been locked for a while, although anything blocking entrance into the grounds was missing. We walked into what must have been the church grounds, hoping to find a way in. As we did, we discovered a field full of stones, which we realised must have been the old church graveyard. “I wonder if any cats are buried here.” I purred.
“I doubt it. We never live long enough in their eyes, mind you.”
“Always worth a look, though, ain’t it.”
The stones in the graveyard, whilst well-polished, were showing their age. The flowers that lay there beside the stones had clearly long since wilted, lying there like old owl pellets or the bones of long since eaten mice and rats. The first stone we came across was barely the size of my head, and read, “In memory of Mia Crossley, beloved daughter. 11.11.2002 to 31.12.2037.” In front of the stone was a jar we couldn’t work out what was for. I couldn’t have known her anyway since she died before I was born. One particularly large stone nearby stood out, and I really wanted to ask Thelonius and Molly about it:
“Dedicated to the memory of the Reverend Matthew John Collier, last parish priest of St Matthew’s, born 23 November 1963, who departed this life on 22 December 2040, aged 77 years.”
Next to it I found a small stone saying “Our beloved cat Snowy Orange, aged twelve.” When I found it I said, “See, Tabby, I told you it was worth a look through these stones.”
Looking past the graveyard, we found a back way in. One of the back doors had either not been shut properly or it’d been busted open by human hands-no cat could have pushed such a heavy door by themselves.
We entered the church, which for such a large building seemed so empty. We called out, “Thelonius! Thelonius!”.
“Yes, that’s us.” I called back.
“You’ve arrived! And in time! Come quickly, into the back of the main chapel. Molly, Puss and Tabby are finally here.”
“Thank goodness.” she cried out softly. The echo meant we could hear even their softest purrs throughout the church. It would only be a matter of moments before their kittens arrived. Meanwhile a couple of rats had somehow gnawed their way in too. Having been hungry for a while, we pounced at them while they were gnawing on wood, grabbing them by the tail, and in almost the blink of an eye those rats quickly became just another snack for us.
After spitting out the bones, we arrived in what must have been the main part of the church. Row after row of benches, which had been gathering dust and cobwebs for so long, stood before us. Passing the old benches we at last found Thelonius and Molly themselves.
We saw that Thelonius was just as big, white and furry as he always had been, although clearly a bit older and wiser. Molly was a smaller and less furry version of him, and her belly heaved with soon to be born kittens. Molly was groaning when we saw her, being about to give birth to at least four kittens, maybe more.
“Puss! Tabby!” Thelonius was delighted. “Did you have a safe journey here?”
“No, not at all. I nearly got run over, had to run from three dogs, then we got trapped in some cruel lab, then we-”
“I get it.” Cheshire Cat interrupted. “Tell it all to me later. Our kittens are about to make their entrance into the world.”
Molly heaved, and heaved, and heaved some more. Suddenly, Molly let out a loud miaow.
A tiny white kitten appeared. What a sweet sight! Then another, and then another, and then another. Four kittens in all!
Snowy, Sophie, Stacey, and Sunny-all female kittens-all greeted us four grown cats with cute mewing. Molly used her teeth to help them all get free, and cradled each of the four kittens up to her stomach. It was all messy, very messy, but none of us minded. We had witnessed such a delightful event, and we wanted to mark the occasion with a feast of small rodents.
“Say, Cheshire Cat, where’s the food?”
“I’ll show you what we have left just outside the church’s old pantry. Molly ate most of it in the moons leading up to the birth of these four.”
As we crawled along, I asked Thelonius, “While we were looking round the place, we noticed the gravestone of someone called the Reverend Matthew John Collier. Does he mean anything to you?”
“Ah yeah, Matt. After I escaped, like you, I wondered around looking for somewhere to settle down, and found a way into this old, lonely church. He took pity on me and let me stay here for as long as I wanted, clearing the church of rats and mice and the odd crow that flew down to the graveyard at the back. He was very kind, but very sick when I met him so many seasons ago, and I was barely mature back when I saw him. He on the other hand was wrinkled as a prune. Just before Matt died, he made it clear that me and Molly could stay here forever, since no humans come here any more.”
“Can we stay here, Thelonius? I don’t feel like going back to Bradford.”
“There’s space for you both, but keep out of my way while me and Molly raise the four kittens. We need our space, you know that as well as I do.”
“Yep, since I’m having kittens too.”
“You can stay here for as long as you’re pregnant. After that, you and your kittens will have to hunt in another place where there’s enough food. This is our place, you know.”
“Right….that’ll still be a while, though.”
“Come and see what we’ve got.”
Mice, glorious mice! Plus a few rats, nicely preserved in the pantry. Tabby and I grabbed a mouse and rat each and feasted on them, knowing that we wouldn’t have to wander around Yorkshire no more, or keep on running from dirty dogs.
All in all, we were in the best mood we’d been in since I’d first escaped from Ilkley and since Tabby had met me outside Halifax.