BOUNDING FOR BRIGHOUSE
“Tabby! Where’ve you been all this time?”
“Pussie, come here. I’ll tell you more.”
I’d found Tabby at last after many suns wandering how she’d gone missing from Bradford. Them humans hardly ever post “missing cat” signs anymore now that we’ve learned to talk their language. They don’t post “missing dog” signs either, and they never bothered with rats or mice since once escaped from their cage they usually ended up in our stomachs before anyone could find them. The ones that didn’t ended up squashed under something.
“It were awful, what happened to me lately. I’d just wandered into a random house looking for food, when whilst I was tucking in the lady of the house saw me for a pet, not knowing I could talk, and trapped me in a cage that must’ve been the home of a different cat. She was strong, aye, and I was tired so couldn’t muster up the energy to scratch her. By the time I did the cage had been slammed shut and she took me in her swish car to Halifax.”
“Was it a steel cage, then? We chew and claw our way out of wicker baskets.”
“Of course it was. What else would they fucking use fer a cage? String? Wool?”
“Oh yeah.” Humans can be creative as well as stupid, usually both, hence why I asked whether it was a steel cage or not.
“How long were you in that awful cage? We used to be kept in cages all the time, like dogs and rats did.”
“Oh, Pussie, it was nearly a whole moon cycle’s worth before I finally escaped; they let me out only to eat and drink from bowls. They gave me this horrible “cat food” which looked like it had been shat out by a dog. I had to eat it as they wouldn’t give me any fish or any mice, and it tasted like mud on a field. The milk was almost sour as well, and their water was so bland.”
“I’ve tasted worse things than that, Tabby, believe me.”
“I do, Puss, of course I do. One day, they wanted to move southwards, so they shoved me into this cage where I could barely sleep, and not move a paw. They dragged it into the back of their contraption and I found myself in Halifax, having become exhausted from scratching at the cage. One time whilst they were out of their house, they forgot to lock the cage they had me trapped in and after pushing the badly scratched door open I escaped through their opening in their back door, or “cat flap” as they were fond of calling it. I don’t know whether they noticed I were missing, but they must have by now.”
“Quite. They’ve probably been looking for suns and moons. Now listen-“
“Yeah, is it serious.”
“Yeah. I’ve got a friend in Cheshire-“
“Cheshire?? Why?? That’s so far away from anywhere around here.”
“And apparently he’s got kittens on the way he wants me to see, and I’ve just got to come and find him.”
“I’m not coming all that far, Puss. It’s bad enough having had to fucking leave Bradford for this. I just want to hide from them two and I’d rather stick to where I know.”
“Is it really that far, Tabby? Only two moons have passed since I crawled from Bradford to Halifax.”
“You’ve been that far already?”
“Yeah. It was difficult and scary but I’m going to find Thelonius. I heard he lives in Marple, or maybe it’s Bramhall.”
“Are those even in Cheshire? I’ve never heard of neither place.”
“I’m sure. Back from when I scratched that old map in Bradford. You surely know Cheshire Cat?”
“I do, though I haven’t seen neither fur nor claw of him for a while. I do miss him sometimes.”
“Why only sometimes, Tabby?”
“Well, he can be a bit over the top, Puss, you see. He purrs on and on and rarely stops except when I hiss.”
“He does go on about Molly a lot, yeah. But he’s our great furry friend all the same, ain’t he?”
“I’ll admit that, Puss, but Cheshire’s still too far for me. Will you get that far?”
“I’m already on my way, Tabs. How can I stop now? I’ve had two encounters with dogs and I nearly got run over but I’m feelin’ fine.”
Tabby purred for a moment, wiping her paw near her mouth as she considered whether the long walk to Cheshire would do us both good.
“Well, since I’ve got nothing here in Bradford no more, and I don’t want to be in a cage again, yes, I’ll crawl along with you. Just make sure the best you can we don’t run into any dangerous dogs. If those bastards had a dog in their house I’d be dog meat by now.”
“I’ll be careful.” I went on my claws just to show her how quiet I could be. She smiled, although she definitely blinked meaning she’d seen it all before. And she probably had, mind you.
“Right you are. So where do we go now?”
We looked at the sky, which was reddening and darkening by that point. Had it really taken that long to flee Queensbury?
“Finding somewhere to sleep would be nice. Where did you sleep last?”
“Some house in Foxglove Street, but the bloke who owns it don’t want me there again.”
“How do you know?”
“He pushed me along with his big brush, or whatever they call it.”
What did they call it? It was used to move dirt and dust but I could never remember the right word!
“Nasty prick he must’ve been. The fuckers I stayed with, George and Lacey, didn’t want me in their house neither. ’Specially Lacey. And George was in a complete state, falling over everywhere. I was lucky he didn’t fall on me at any point, the clumsy slurring oaf.”
Tabby snickered at this anecdote. It was so good to cheer her whiskers up.
“Same sort of idiocy the people who trapped me in the cage, showed, luckily for me.”
“Not quite. George wasn’t in any fit state to do anything but sleep. Lacey wouldn’t shut her fat mouth at him all night because of the state he was in.”
“Reminds me of the time you had too much catnip and were in dizzyland. I got really fucking narked that day because you were rolling around in it rather than catching a mouse or a rat.”
“But catnip’s so wonderful, Tabby. Have you really never tried it?”
“No time for being dizzy with dogs around” she retorted.
“It’s great being back in those happy times before we could properly talk to those apes for a little while.”
“I don’t think so somehow, Puss.”
We eventually had to stop our long chit-chat and”” get going, mind. For all I knew Schwarzie could be hiding around any alley in Halifax. Dogs can smell me for fields around.
“Tabby, I think we should go south.”
“South? Cheshire’s west.”
“It’s both south and west but I don’t see anywhere west we could stay a night.”
“There’s surely a map somewhere.”
“I’d rather just rely on which way the sun’s facing than ’ave to talk to humans for a daft map.”
“Puss, the sun’s just set. Look.”
Oh dear. We did need to find a way out of Halifax, and I could see all the humans around me returning to their houses. We were still many nights away from Marple or Bramhall, wherever Thelonius lived. Why didn’t I just fucking ask him properly where in Cheshire he and Molly were having them kittens? His message was too vague!
Halifax were bigger than Queensbury, a whole lot bigger, so finding a place to rest should have been far easier than Queensbury. But I heard small dogs were common around Halifax, and we needed to steer well clear of the alleys and stick to the streets.
After finding a few rats that were sleeping near a few dirty black sacks and quickly swallowing them for our supper, we turned onto a pleasant street called “Redcliffe Street”. It reminded me a lot like the one in Queensbury where I stayed. Decent houses, a fair amount of space, and at least one “cat flap”, which to us is just another role to push our heads through. We went around the back to see which gardens might have had such a “cat flap”-they’re never round the front.
The first house had no visible entrance at the front, and the gate round back was too high for us to clamber over. We wondered what if anything lived there, since the garden was overgrown and the flowers had curled up and died, and had done so seasons ago. The second house seemed alright, but Tabby pointed out the obvious dog picture next to the door along with a sign half the size of the door saying “Watch out-Jack Russell about!” although I didn’t hear no dog then. “You never know whether the human’s lying or not-there are lots of dogs ’round here” she reminded me, twitching her paws as she did so. We got so spooked by the sign we ran out across the road; thank goodness I couldn’t hear anything else un-human then.
At the third house, we clawed at the door after tapping did nothing. A woman shouted above us, “Me mum’s very poorly and wants no visitors!” We took this to include cats.
The fourth house did get someone at the door, but the plain man told us, after we purred, “Sorry folks, got no room for more cats.”
“Are you sure? I can’t see any cats here.”
“They’re upstairs, with my daughters, and they don’t want company. “
Tabby interrupted, “But we just want to stay here. We’re not interested in other cats; we’re a couple.”
“I can see that, thanks. But we’re still not taking in any strays, sorry. Go a few more houses along this street, and my neighbour Emily can help you kitties.”
“Who are you then?”
“I’m Rob. I can’t help you today, but if you really desperately need help, or are being chased by a dog, or a snake that’s escaped from someone’s basement, come along down here and find me.”
“Right, Rob” we both purred.
Who was Emily? From what I hear there were lots of “Emilys” so also, which Emily? I’d never met these people before.
And what were “a few houses?” Five houses? Ten houses?
This wasn’t a long street like Spenborough Street. And I had a whiskering feeling that fucking Schwarzie had managed to track me to this part of Halifax, even if Tabby might have accidentally ruined her trial by pissing or shitting somewhere I’d passed through. I couldn’t see where this Emily was, so I just knocked on the next door to “Rob’s”.
No-one answered. Not even after I scratched the door with my paws or climbed onto the ledge to look through the window.
I then went along the next door, but whoever answered seemed immediately frightened when I knocked.
“Cats?? Please don’t come here! My son keeps mice in this house and all you cats do is just devour them as if they were slices of toast! Please just leave us alone! I can’t afford to replace any more lost or dead mice! My son loves his mice so much and they mean everything to him! Why do you keep tormenting us and the mice? Why can’t you just leave us be for once??”
I’d have just ignored this stupid rant most of the time-mice are mice and belong in my stomach, just like rats, goldfish that have fallen out of their bowls and lazy pigeons. Her shouting was going on and on and hurting our ears as it approached soprano pitch though, and we got away just so she would stop fucking shouting at us. This lady certainly was no Emily though.
We left quickly. Tabby at that point turned around and whispered to me “what’s that black shape in the distance?”
“Fuck! It’s that little black dog Schwarzie! She’s found me!”
“A dog? You said earlier today we wouldn’t encounter any dogs!”
“You said we wouldn’t encounter any dangerous dogs. That black dog’s not dangerous, just annoying. Besides, that black dog can’t see us right now, surely?”
“You don’t know that, Puss. I mean, they can’t see that well but their nose always makes up for it, anytime.”
“I can tell, Tabby, I’ve already evaded two dogs in the past two nights. One was a nasty terrier who could’ve chewed my tail off, and the other was a yapping nipper who chased me away with her fast voice.”
“Bloody Chihuahuas!” Tabby clearly had her own memory of them.
We knocked on the next door in a right worry, with Schwarzie not far behind and no idea where along this street Emily was.
“Hmm….do you know where I might find Emily?”
“Yeah, sure, Tom Kitten and Tabitha Twitcher. Two doors down the road. You’re clearly not from ’round here, are you?”
“Well, no, we came from Bradford.”
The middling middle-height middle-aged man, trying to be funny but failing-we’d heard the stupid Tom Kitten and Tabitha Twitcher jibe before, and it wasn’t frigging funny then, either, even though Tabby was short for Tabitha-seemed surprised.
“Why on earth have you walked all the way from there, to right here in Halifax? It must have taken days, surely.”
“It did, yeah. I’m not a kitten and Tabby’s never twitched around me. Frigging hell. I can come up with a better joke than that.”
“Well, go on then” the man said amicably.
“Did you hear about our friend who swallowed a ball of wool lately?”
“Oh come on. Everyone’s heard that cat joke.”
“Well, she had a pair of mittens. It’s the only joke I know, mate-“
“Hm” he interrupted. “Looks like there’s a little black dog coming up this street.”
Schwarzie had found us and was going to get back at me for getting the nut dropped on Dora! I had no energy for a clawfight with a dog-and dogs almost always win.
“What did you just say?” the man said to the black dog.
She ignored him-maybe she didn’t hear him properly- and went straight after me. Two doors away wasn’t far for Tabby and I but I had to get Emily to answer fast.
We crawled as quickly as we could to that door-Emily must be behind there!
We pushed our heads against this “cat flap”-but to our horror it was jammed!
We scratched in desperation and purred, “Emily?” “Are you there, Emliy?”
“Who’d like to know?” she said loudly from inside.”
“Rob. The guy from about five houses away. He said you could help cats like us.”
“Hold on! I’ll get the cat flap open.”
Schwarzie ran towards us, having no fear of there being two cats there instead of one. She managed to get her evil eyes level with me, and growled, “Where ist Dora?”
“Who?” I replied blankly.
“Dora. Mein freundin.”
“What do you mean? Your friend or something?”
“Ja. Vot have you done to her?!”
She was practically spitting on me, and almost leapt on me as a woman I presumed to be Emily shouted, “Get inside, you two! Through the cat flap!”
We jumped through it, just as Schwarzie tried to jump on Tabby’s hind paws. She missed, only just, and once through the cat flap we and Emily could only just jam it closed again, but not before Schwarzie had made her mark with her poncey nose.
“Emily” was a rather plump if short human, with dark grey hair that had somewhat lumped around her face although it showed signs of combing. Mind you, we only got a good look at her face when she invited us to climb onto the chairs, which we’d do anyway whether or not whoever lived there would let us. There was a strange spot on her cheek and we couldn’t tell exactly what it was. We sometimes get little black or white streaks in the fur around our face but not “spots”.
“Tell me more, Emily”, I purred.
“Who are you, big kitten?”
“Have you got a last name?”
“Well, yeah. Inbrains. I never use it, though. It’s such a shit name.”
“Please don’t swear in my house, Puss. You may be a cat but that’s no excuse to swear. None of the cats living with me use words like that when they talk to me. Keep that bad language to yourself and your whiskers, okay?”
I sighed at this “no bad language” rule. First time I’d heard it in seasons, mind you. “Okay, Emily. The lovely queencat next to me is Tabitha, but call her Tabby.”
“Yeah, I’m Tabby” she said, with a hint of annoyance. “Now please tell us more like Puss asked.”
“Um, well I’m not actually Emily, we just look alike. I’m her sister, Charlotte, or Charlie. Emily’s down in Brighouse at the moment, visiting her daughter Lily. I’m fond of cats too, like Rob, but not as much as Emily. The last cat who stayed with me sadly passed on a fortnight ago, so I’ve got spare baskets for you two tonight. I’m rather tired today from cleaning this house; I’m an old woman and as such I get rather tired easily nowadays. My wit’s still fully functioning, though, let me tell you that now.”
“Yeah, sure” we shrugged.
“I’m telling the truth. Do you really need to see Emily? I’ve never met you kitties before.”
“Yeah, Rob said she could help us.” Tabby said, “and we’ve been on the run from cruel cat owners and nasty dogs for two nights now.”
She thought about this. “Well, it would be nice to have company around here. I never married; my last partner left me a decade ago and I was never able to have children. But I’m going back to Brighouse tomorrow, so if you stay here tonight you’ll have to be quiet and you’ll have to travel to Brighouse. Where exactly are you two heading for?”
“Cheshire” Tabby said, “although I’m only going because my mouse-brained partner wants to come and see friends of his and some kittens down there.”
“Well, you’ll have to find your own way to Cheshire from Brighouse tomorrow, I’m afraid. Let me find some food-it’s getting very late.”
“Cheers, Charlie” we purred in unison.
“Over there” she pointed out to us.
We ate heartily, even though it had clearly been touched by human hands and had not been caught in our mouths. It was pretty poor and we hoped we would not have to try such dried, bland meat again.
“Have you finished, you two?”
“We’re trying but this meat’s so dry it might as well be mud from the park.”
“It’s all I’ve got, I’m afraid. Nothing else here is safe for you to eat.”
“Do you at least have any milk?”
“Yes, I’ll add a little bit” she agreed reluctantly. There wasn’t much milk left in her house because barely a plate of milk went into our “feeding bowls”.
We resigned to the fact that sometimes, needs must. We were determined to make up for this day in the basket we were asked to sleep in that night.
“Hey, Tabby, I truly feel in love tonight.”
“Really, Puss? We can only stay here for a night and we nearly ran into a dog.”
“I told you, the dog weren’t dangerous. Just annoying.”
That night, our sleep was particularly blissful. The basket had been lined with silk, something we’d never experienced in our many seasons as cats.
So we woke up the next morning, bound for Brighouse. But were we right to just wander into a random house, heading for a town we’d never been before, simply because we could tell cats had been there?