Cats On The Run

By Ged Gillmore

Children's, Comedy & satire, Action & adventure

Paperback, eBook

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1192
27 mins

Warning

This is the story of some cats I know and the frankly horrible things that happened to them last year. How they got what they thought they wanted, and how it nearly killed them. But before I begin the story, I need to confirm you’re up to hearing the ghastly events it contains. Are you tough enough? Are you rough enough? Are you downright gruff enough? If not, I recommend you put this book down right now and go back to your colouring-in, you big baby. Continue only if you are up for a Big Action Drama (B.A.D.) book. It’s rough, tough, and ain’t got no fluff. Are you down with that? Are you up for it? Have you looked left and right? OK, here we go.

The first bit

Once upon a time there were two cats, and their names were Tuck and Ginger. Ginger was a ginger cat (surprise!); she had thick, striped fur; six bellies; and could say ‘miaow’ in seven languages. She’d been around the block a few times, Ginger had, and she didn’t mind telling you about it. For example, you might be picking your nose when you thought no one was looking, and Ginger, appearing from nowhere, would tell you about a boy she once knew in New York who picked his nose so hard his brain came out on the end of his finger. 

Or you might say you’d just got back from Tibet. ‘Pah!’ Ginger would say. ‘Tibet! It’s all cheap sheep and chirpy Sherpas.’ She was so well travelled, you see, so experienced, so been-there-done-that, that not a lot impressed her. Not that Ginger showed off. Oh baloney, no. She didn’t think she was superior for having had such a varied and—as you’ll learn—hard life. But she didn’t hide it either. Ginger didn’t often go skydiving these days, but everyone knew she could do it.

Now, Tuck couldn’t be any more different. This, as you’ll find out, is both a good and a bad thing. Most things are both good and bad, have you noticed that? What’s the nastiest thing in the world, for example? Personally, I’d say poo is probably the most horrible thing in the world. But, hey, if there was no poo then all the food you’d ever eaten would still be inside your body, sitting there, gassy and rotting, and washing about your insides. You’d look like a politician!

Anyhoo, Tuck was a very different cat from Ginger. Firstly, he was born in a refugee camp, which has no direct bearing on this story but is interesting because it was a refugee camp built for dogs. Tuck grew up in a little cage in the cat room, which the camp management had been forced to set up for the cat refugees who kept arriving. For the first year of his life Tuck knew nothing of the outside world. All he heard—morning, noon, and night—was the howling of abandoned dogs. Is there a lonelier or sadder sound in the world? (Here’s a clue: no.)

Now, whether it was this strange upbringing that sent Tuck slightly loop-the-loop or some other factor, we will never know. The point is that Tuck was a little, how shall I put it? Well, you decide: Tuck was the kind of cat who would interrupt a conversation to ask how much a broom costs. Or he might tell you that Santa doesn’t employ fairies because fairies don’t exist. Tuck had four different favourite colours. He believed in ghosts and liked to talk to them in the litter tray. You get the picture? He was one crazy cat.

But Tuck was also a real athlete. You might call him a lean, mean, fighting machine, except he mostly lacked the courage to fight anyone but Ginger. Unlike Ginger, Tuck had no fat on him at all. When he was chasing string, you could see the muscles ripple under his coat, and his belly was as firm as a brand-new tennis ball. Tuck was black, as black as a panther. His fur, nose, whiskers, the pads on the bottom of his feet and even his claws were all pitch-black. Naturally, this was something of which Tuck was very proud. The only things about Tuck that weren’t black were his razor-sharp teeth (sparkly white), his sandpaper tongue (pink), and his amazing hunter’s eyes (green or yellow, depending on his mood). In the dark, Tuck’s body disappeared completely, and all you could see were those huge flashing eyes and (if he was smiling), all those white teeth. He was like a Masai warrior, proud and stealthy in the night but scared of vacuum cleaners.

Inevitably, there were fights. Oh boy, did Tuck and Ginger fight! Have you ever heard of the expression ‘the fur will fly’? You haven’t? You should get out more and talk to people; it’s a very common expression.

Anyhoo, when these cats fought, the fur would definitely fly—huge clumps of black or ginger cat hair wafting through the apartment where the two of them lived. If Tuck found Ginger on his favourite spot on the back of the sofa, he’d pounce on her and bite her ears until he could taste wax. Or if Ginger found Tuck on the double bed upstairs, well, hoochie baroochie, all hell would break loose. Tuck would kick Ginger in one of her six bellies, and Ginger would bite Tuck on the back of his neck. She’d hold him in a tight half nelson with her front paws and jab him in the face with her back paws. He’d pounce on her, she’d spit at him—bish bosh, crish crash—day after day after day. No claws of course as they were both decent adult cats after all, but you could never have described the two as friends. Well, you could have, but you’d have been wrong. Ginger, you see, thought Tuck was stupid, and Tuck thought Ginger was arrogant.

Now, generally when Tuck was being Tuckish, Ginger would just roll her eyes and sigh. But last year, on the day this strange and terrifying story starts, Tuck said something that changed everything and started our furry felines on an adventure where they would have to stop fighting each other and start fighting for their lives instead.

It was towards the end of autumn, and Ginger was sitting on the windowsill of the apartment where she and Tuck lived. This apartment was on the fourteenth floor of a tower block in the middle of a huge city. The apartment had an upstairs and a downstairs, like a house, but what it did not have was a garden or even a balcony, which meant Tuck and Ginger never went outside. As a result, Ginger liked to spend the little free time she had (after eating, sitting in the litter tray, fighting Tuck, and sleeping fourteen hours a day) looking out the window.

From her windowsill Ginger would watch carefully to see what she could see. Some days she would see nothing all day—just the same sky, the same trees, the same apartment blocks down the street. On other days she’d be lucky and see people and dogs and children passing by. Best of all were the days when she saw another cat. Ginger had very good eyes in those days, and she could spot a cat from anywhere. Whenever she did, she’d wonder where it was going, what adventure it might be about to have, or what types of dead food it might find on the street. If she saw a cocky cat down on the street, she’d bristle her fur and imagine scratching him on his nose and chasing him away.

Or sometimes Ginger would see a bird. Whenever she did, she’d shudder her bottom jaw and dream of catching the little thing and eating it. But mostly she’d just sit and look out at nothing and wonder if she’d ever go outside again. For this is what Ginger wanted more than anything in the world—to breathe the air of freedom and get back to the life she’d once had.

For four years now Ginger had lived in this apartment, and not a single day had passed that she hadn’t dreamt of escape. She’d calculated the distance she’d have to jump to land in the nearest treetop should a window ever be left open. She’d tried climbing into her owners’ luggage whenever they packed to go away. She’d even once tried signalling to a cat she sometimes saw in another apartment block across the road. But all to no avail.

And now, as Ginger sat looking out of the window, she realised she was getting old and fat and would probably never go outside again. Six bellies took a lot of filling, and she wondered if her hunting skills were what they once had been. And of course, she wasn’t as vibrant a redhead as she used to be.

Ginger tried not to let herself think this way. She tried to think of positive things, but sometimes on a sunny afternoon the only noise in the apartment (when Tuck wasn’t singing) was the sound of big, gingery sighs.

Ginger’s view of the outside world was better in the autumn. All but the stubbornest of leaves had fallen, and she could see through the bare branches of the trees outside the window. There, in the distance, she could just make out the edge of the city and the beginning of the countryside. If she squinted, she could make out fields and hedges; she could remember the feeling of grass beneath her paws, remember how good it tasted, remember lots of things. That morning she had just let out a long and particularly gingery sigh when Tuck came trotting along.

‘I want to go to the moon,’ he said. ‘I have a feeling the entire thing might be made of mushroom sauce.’

Ginger looked down at him. His huge eyes were bright yellow as they reflected the pale sunlight coming through the window. Now, if you’d asked Tuck what colour his eyes were at that moment, he’d have guessed green, because they were generally green when he was happy. But there were no green leaves left to reflect green light, so he sat there, happy with yellow eyes. ‘Why was Tuck happy?’ I hear you ask.

I said, ‘“Why was Tuck happy?” I hear you ask.’

Hello?

Aha, yes, I thought you’d ask that. Well, Tuck was happy because he’d had a Big New Idea. And this made him happy for two reasons. Firstly, it annoyed Ginger. Secondly, it gave him something to think about. So, what was the Big New Idea, I hear you ask? I said . . . Oh, don’t bother, I’ll do it myself. What was the B.N.I.? Well, the previous night Tuck and Ginger’s owners had poured mushroom sauce on their dinner. Oh, wemjee!

I have to tell you about Tuck and Ginger’s owners!

You’re going to love them! Well, hate them!

Love hating them!

They . . . Oh, look, it’s going to have to wait, otherwise this story is never going to start. Remind me in a minute, will you?

So the night before this story starts (if it ever blooming well starts), after the owners had eaten their dinner, Tuck snuck into the kitchen. He wasn’t allowed up on the kitchen surfaces, but he reckoned once the TV was on, it would be ages before his owners-who-I-have-to-tell-you-about would come back in to tidy up. So he jumped up and started licking their dirty plates. And what did he find there? Mmmmmushroom sauce. Yummy, yummy, yummy. Well, Tuck lapped it up, and pretty soon he had decided mushroom sauce was the best food in the whole wide world. He told this to Ginger later that same night. Do you know what he said? He said, ‘I think mushroom sauce is the best food in the whole wide world.’

Of course, Ginger just ignored him. She sighed and curled up tighter in the corner of the sofa where she liked to sleep at night. Then she sighed again. She couldn’t be bothered telling Tuck about grass or cream or sardines or any of the far better foods she’d tasted on her travels. She merely licked one of her paws, gave him one of her looks, and put her nose under her arm. Secretly she agreed that mushroom sauce was pretty spectacular, but she’d be a tabby before she’d admit that Tuck had spoken some truth. And she knew he’d soon enough forget about it again.

But the next day proved her wrong. Here was Tuck, a full twelve hours later, still going on about mushroom blooming sauce. It was going to be a long day.

‘If the moon is made of mushroom sauce and we went to the moon, we could have mushroom sauce whenever we wanted,’ he said, looking up from the floor and ignoring Ginger’s obvious disinterest. ‘I really want to go to the moon.’ He started singing.

‘Fly me to the moon,’ he sang. ‘Let me walk amongst the stairs. Show me what springs look like on Jupiter’s sandbars.’

Now, there was little in the world that Ginger hated more than Tuck’s singing. He was often off-key and always got the words wrong. Worst of all, Tuck sang almost all the time. Ginger stuck her two front paws way out in front of her and curved her back in as much as she could. Then she stuck her bum way up in the air and wiggled her tail slightly. She was going to jump on top of Tuck from here on the windowsill and see how he felt like singing then. She was just checking her position, quivering her tail and steadying her paws, when Tuck stopped singing and said, ‘Oh, by the way, the cleaning lady left the front door open.’

‘What?’ said Ginger.

‘She left the front door open. I saw into the corridor. It’s got a carpet which is very close to two of my favourite blues.’

Now Ginger did jump. But not onto Tuck, for that would be a waste of valuable time. Instead she jumped to the floor and ran full speed towards the front door of the apartment. It was indeed ajar.

‘Oh, sweet Tabatha,’ she said.

‘It’s a kind of a pastel blue,’ said Tuck, who had followed her. ‘Or maybe cornflower. But cornflower’s flowerier . . . Oh, look—a fly!’

With that he ran off, chasing the fly into the kitchen and leaving Ginger transfixed by the open door. Tentatively, without shifting from her spot, Ginger put her head forward and sniffed the air in the blue-carpeted corridor outside the apartment door.

***

Now, wasn’t there something you were supposed to remind me about? What was it?

Oh yes! Tuck and Ginger’s owners! You’re going to love them, hate them . . . oh, have we done that bit? OK, here we go.

As far as the outside world was concerned, Rodney and Janice Burringo led very normal lives. They lived in an apartment with their two cats, shopped once a week at the supermarket, and went to office jobs which no one really understood.

Have you ever noticed that, by the way? No one really completely gets what anyone else does all day. It’s weird, even if people used to do something themselves, they don’t get what it’s like when anyone else does. Like when you come home from school and your mum or dad or resident adult says, ‘How was school today?’ Next time they do that, I suggest you say, ‘Did you ever go to school?’ and when they say, ‘Yes’, you can say, ‘Well, it was like that’. Then you can get on with picking your scabs and drawing pictures rather than answering their stupid questions.

Bennyhoo, Rodney and Janice Burringo were not normal people and did not lead normal lives. They only pretended to go to work. As soon as no one was looking, they’d sneak back to their apartment and sleep all day in the secret-upstairs-locked room that even the cats weren’t allowed in. (Ginger had been caught in there once and was so severely punished that Tuck trembled just passing by the door.) The secret-upstairs-locked room was a very dark room with no windows. It contained nothing but a clothes rail where Rodney and Janice would hang their work clothes so they could sleep naked on the floor. They had to do this because in reality Rodney and Janice were . . .

Wait for it . . .

Can you guess?

No, not vampires! What is it with everyone and vampires these days? Get over the vampires thing already, it’s so last season. No, Rodney and Janice Burringo were witches! Evil, nasty witches. What do you mean, men can’t be witches? Get out of here with your outdated prejudices. Men and women can be whatever they want. And what did Rodney and Janice want? Durrh. They wanted to be witches!

You know how most people have saucepans in their kitchen cupboards? Rodney and Janice had cauldrons. You know how most people clean their house with a vacuum cleaner? Rodney and Janice did it with broomsticks (although they did keep a vacuum cleaner just because they knew Tuck was terrrrrrified of it—see how nasty they were?). And at night they would sneak up to the roof of their building with these broomsticks and launch themselves into the air, cackling loudly and scaring anyone who might be passing by. Then they’d fly all over town, leaving things where they shouldn’t be. Rodney had a big bag of dog poo, and he’d leave little piles of it on the pavement outside doorways. Janice had a sack of litter, which she’d distribute in windblown alleyways. Witches love litter. It gives them little tingles up their warty spines, and you must be very careful not to walk along a littery road after dark in case a witch finds you there. You really don’t want to be found by a witch, did you know that? And do you know why? Because witches just love children. Mostly they liked them fried, but Rodney and Janice preferred them grilled because it’s a healthier way of cooking with less cholesterol. Best of all, though, for witches all over the world, is lightly steamed child in a white wine sauce. Yummy yummy YUMMY!

It was as a result of the Burringos’ activities that Ginger and Tuck had so much time to themselves. At night Rodney and Janice would be flying all over the city doing their dastardly deeds, and during the day they’d both be fast asleep in the secret-upstairs-locked room. Now, you might be wondering why the Burringos bothered having cats at all, and that is indeed a good question. It wasn’t because they’d got pets before thinking how little time they’d get to spend with them like some idiotic people do. Oh baloney no. It was because . . . well, it’s an important and interesting story, which I will tell you. But in the meantime, let’s get back to Ginger.

the first and a half bit

Where were we? Oh yes. Tuck is chowing down on a fly in the kitchen, and Ginger is still standing at the apartment door. The open apartment door. How did I put it last time? ‘Ginger sat transfixed by the open door’—something like that. Well, tentatively, without shifting from her spot, Ginger put her head forward and sniffed the air in the blue-carpeted corridor outside the apartment. It didn’t smell like freedom. It smelled like dried baby-sick and cleaning fluids. To you or me it would just have smelled a bit fusty, but cats have got the most amazing noses, and they can be much more precise than us. As far as Ginger could tell, there was some 2006 carpet cleaner with hints of burnt-out light bulb. And baby-sick of course. The baby-sick must have been ancient, as Tuck and Ginger hadn’t heard Baby crying next door for years now. I wonder what happened to him?

Bendyway, Ginger sniffed the air again until she thought, ‘What am I doing? I’m still standing here like a scaredy-cat when I should be out there like a brave-cat.’ Still, she didn’t move. She realised she was terrified, and it was this very realisation that drove her forward. For Ginger knew that the difference between brave-cats and scaredy-cats isn’t fear. It’s how you act. Brave-cats feel the fear and do it anyway. Scaredy-cats feel the fear and run like bonkers. And which do you think Ginger was?

The corridor was long and had no describable features that I haven’t mentioned already. Blue carpet, fusty smell—you get the picture. It did have lots of doors leading off it, each to a different apartment, each with a different number, but these were of such a boring and bare beige I can barely bear to bring it up. The only exception was a large pair of steel double doors at the very far end of the corridor. Ginger was worried she was going to go into the corridor and not be able to get back in again. But, as stated, she was a brave-cat, and so she pushed herself forward until she heard a familiar and annoying voice behind her.

‘What are you doing? Where are you going? Can I come?’

It was Tuck. He was sitting in the doorway to the apartment, licking his lips free of fly crumbs and staring out at her.

Now, unlike Ginger, Tuck had never dreamt of actually stepping outside the apartment, not even when he found the door open that morning. You see, compared to the cage he’d grown up in, the apartment was a huge and exciting world. It even had a forbidden area (the secret-upstairs-locked room) and several places he imagined only he knew about. The back of the drawers in the spare room, for example, or underneath the sideboard. The corridor might as well have been a different planet. But then again, if Ginger was going out there, he was pretty sure he wanted to go too. Heavens, if he didn’t follow her out, she might think she was better than him.

‘Where you going?’ Tuck miaowed again.

‘Ssh!’ Ginger hissed back at him. ‘Go upstairs. Climb on the double bed and keep it warm for me.’

Well! Now Tuck was certain he wanted to visit the corridor, for Ginger would never normally encourage him onto the bed. She was obviously up to something. So he trotted out after her, tail in the air like he just didn’t care, and caught up with her at the fourth apartment door. There were only three more to pass before they’d both be at the shiny double doors at the end of the corridor.

‘Ooh,’ said Tuck, pointing at the shiny doors. ‘What are those?’

Now, Ginger was a pretty smart cat as you might have guessed. This was why the Burringos had got her, after all. But she also had a sharp tongue, and unfortunately for her, this sharp tongue sometimes acted before her brain did.

‘It’s a rocket ship. You go to the moon in it. What do you think it is, you moron? It’s a lift.’

‘The moon!’ said Tuck, his eyes flashing green as they picked up the reflection of an old curry stain in the carpet. ‘I want to go to the moon!’

‘I was joking,’ said Ginger, who despite having four legs still couldn’t actually kick herself. ‘It’s a lift, it’s dangerous, and it’s full of vacuum cleaners.’

Tuck looked unconvinced, but just then the two of them heard a strange rumbling noise from behind the silver doors.

‘Oh my goodness!’ said Ginger. ‘Let’s go. Here come the vacuum cleaners!’

Tuck was halfway back to the apartment door before he noticed Ginger wasn’t running that way too. He turned round and what did he see? Ginger had actually run the other way, towards the silver doors. And now he could see her sitting just to the right of them as they opened and an elderly female human emerged, hobbling into the corridor. Then, as he watched in amazement, Ginger slunk into the empty lift. Now, normally Tuck would have been terrified by all of this because he was in general terrified of everything. But today as the old lady got closer, he found his fear was completely cancelled out by his fury that Ginger had tricked him. He’d been right to look unconvinced when she’d talked about the vacuum cleaners! Now she was going to the moon, and she was going to have as much mushroom sauce as she wanted, and she wasn’t going to take him with her! Where do bogies go to have fun? Snot fair!

‘Nooooo!’ Tuck yelled as he ran at his almost absolute fastest the full length of the corridor.

Have I mentioned what an amazing and beautiful athlete Tuck is? Boy, can he move when he puts his mind to it. This is why he was brave enough to fight Ginger, because he always knew he could outrun her if she ever got the upper paw (which she always did). But he’d never run faster than he did now. Later in the story he does, he runs plenty faster, believe you me, but for now this was the fastest he’d ever run. The little old lady barely had time to say, ‘What a sweet little—’ before Tuck had passed between her hundred-year-old ankles. Apartment doors flew by in a ballistic blur of bland and boring beige as he bombed along the corridor, the wind in his ears and his cheeks flapping from the G-force.

Ginger heard him coming. ‘Oh no,’ she thought. She’d planned on waiting for the doors of the elevator to close automatically, so she could float down to the ground floor sedately like a lady. Now she jumped up as high as she could to try to press the G button or any button to get the lift doors to close as quickly as possible.

Damn these six bellies, she thought.

In her heyday she could knock a milk bottle off a high shelf. Now she barely made it to the lowest button. At last she gave a mighty, huge, slow-motion jump with special-effects sounds (wacker tacker tacker tacker tacker) and head-butted the >|< button to close the doors. They started closing slowly.

But Ginger had taken too long and Tuck was too fast. He bounded between the closing doors in an even slower-motion dive than Ginger had managed. Can you imagine the background music to that? Then he landed right on top of Ginger so that they rolled in a black-and-ginger ball into the corner of the lift.

‘No!’ said Ginger. ‘No, no, no!’

‘Yes,’ said Tuck. ‘Yes, yes, yes! We’re going to the moon, mushroom moon, mushmoon sauce wheee!’

Then he said, ‘Are we there yet?’

***

This might be a good time to tell you why the Burringos got themselves two cats in the first place. I mean, nothing much happens to Tuck and Ginger for the next couple of hours. They just sit and wait for a long, long time to travel to the ground floor slash moon. Every so often Tuck asks how much longer it will take to get there, but apart from that they just take turns peeing in the corner. Very dull. Unless you’re really into watching cats wee in corners, in which case . . . Oh, never mind. I may as well just tell you how Tuck and Ginger ended up with the evil, child-grilling Burringos in the first place.

It was Janice Burringo’s idea. You see, as you may or may not know, witches generally own very clever black cats. Like anything else, these come in all shapes and sizes. For the really rich witch who works hard at school and saves lots of money the absolute crème de la crème of cats is a pure black Purrari. These are famously hard to come by and, as the laws of supply and demand dictate, are extremely expensive. If you and your brothers and sisters and all your cousins and everyone you know saved up all their pocket money for the rest of their lives, you still could never afford one. That’s how expensive they are. But unfortunately, Janice Burringo had expensive tastes. She liked fancy dresses and good restaurants, crystal glasses, and silky undies. If this was a fairy story, she’d be a confusing character because she would be both a witch and a princess. But this is not a fairy story. It’s a gritty tale of life on the streets, and Janice was all witch and a greedy one at that. Oh, how she wanted a black Purrari.

When Janice first met Rodney Burringo, back in the days when she was plain Janice Phaniss, she thought he would be the man to give her everything she wanted in life. She was one of those misguided people who think you should marry someone for reasons other than love. Rodney, she thought, had potential. So she ditched her then-boyfriend, Richard Branson, and took up instead with Rodney Burringo, who looked like he was made for money. Well, guess what happened.

That’s right! Rodney was not made for money. Rodney was far too sensible for that. A couple of years after they were married, Rodney realised that making money (which he could do only by staying indoors and slaving all night over a smelly, steaming cauldron) was not half as much fun as leaving dog poo in awkward places on pavements. And what was the point of making money if it stopped him doing the things he loved? So Rodney spent as little time as possible with the smelly cauldron and as much time as possible with the dog poo. It’s an interesting choice, I know, but hey, it takes all sorts.

Now, you might be wondering what all this has to do with Tuck and Ginger. But hang in there—it has everything to do with them. You see, Janice’s major downfall in life was a rare condition known in the medical profession as Being a Completely Lazy Slob. And Janice was the laziest lazy slob you can imagine. It’s why she was, like all truly evil people, so stick thin. She might have been a bit curvier, but, you see, she was too blooming lazy to chase children for more than the first hundred metres or so. After that she’d give up and bite her nails instead and watch the poor little mites run screaming into the distance. And she certainly wasn’t going to put all that effort in over a smelly, steaming cauldron to cook up an alternative. Oh big bogies no. She and Rodney ate children less than they did beans on toast or soup out of a can or sometimes cat food because (a) it was in the house anyway and (b) it’s so easy to prepare.

Let this be a lesson to you folks. Laziness is the most terrible, horrible thing in the world. It sucks you dry and leaves you dissatisfied. And that’s what Janice was. Dissatisfied. Oh, how she wanted things to be different. She wanted to live in a house, not an apartment. She wanted fancy dresses. She wanted lots of things. But she was too lazy to do anything but complain.

As for Rodney, he was fine. He loved his life, but what was he to do? Make himself unhappy just to keep his lazy, greedy partner satisfied? Many otherwise normal people would do that, but was Rodney an otherwise normal person? He was not. He was a witch! Any part of that unclear?

***

Right then: cats. This was Janice Burringo’s idea. Clearly, she and Rodney were never going to be able to afford a Purrari, so maybe, she thought, maybe they could magic themselves one.

‘All we need,’ she said to Rodney one night from the sofa, where she was eating chips and watching cartoons, ‘is two cats. One pure black but not very clever and therefore quite cheap. And one really smart one—a ginger, for example. Then we’ll just find a really good spell on Spookle and combine them.’

‘What if we end up with a stupid ginger one?’ said Rodney, who like most annoyingly sensible people was always aware of the potential risks in any situation. Janice tutted and threw a chip at him.

‘Oh, Rodney Bodney, bidgey pidgey boo, pwease can we try it?’ she said.

Now, if anyone spoke to you or me like that, we’d probably be sick in a bucket, especially if that person was warty, skinny Janice Burringo. But Rodney found this silliness irresistible. You see, even though Janice no longer loved him, Rodney thought Janice was the bee’s knees. Coincidentally, one of her grandmothers had been a bee, and another one had been a knee, not that this has any bearing on this story, but it’s interesting, isn’t it? No? Oh, suit yourself. The point is. Rodney loved Janice very, very much.

‘Go on then,’ he said, secretly hoping Janice would forget all about the stupid idea of combining cats. But Janice didn’t forget all about it. In fact, she did the opposite and started telling everyone that Rodney was going to buy her a Purrari for her birthday. What a silly witch she was.

Eventually, after about six months of this and a bit more pleading and a few stand-up fights, Rodney realised he’d better pull his finger out and actually do something about getting two cats. One stupid, just like Janice had said, and another very smart one. He’d heard about the dog refugee camp, so eventually, when Janice had reminded him of how much he loved her, he caught a taxi down there. Tuck was an easy choice—he was the purest, blackest cat in the whole camp and quite obviously a sandwich short of a picnic.

And how did Rodney find Ginger? Ginger was driving the taxi. Rodney tempted her up to the apartment with the promise of a good tip, a saucer of cream, and a little tummy-rubbing action, and he never let her go again. Oh, what a foul and cruel kidnapping! Even more cruel than you can now imagine, but read on and you’ll understand. It was cataclysmic and categorically catastrophic, and to top it off, to this day the taxi company are after Ginger for stealing one of their vehicles.

Anyhoo, so there’s Rodney with the two most perfect cats for Janice’s big idea, but could he find a spell on Spookle to merge them into her perfect cat? Could he buffalo! He even asked Janice for help, and she too searched for almost a whole hour before giving up and turning on a late-night soap instead. Still, Rodney didn’t give up. After all, he loved Janice and really wanted to make her happy. Also he had vague feelings of status anxiety for not being richer, and he thought having a Purrari might help with these. So he searched and searched. He wrote into What’s On Spelly? magazine and ordered a few back issues of Witch! to see if he could get any ideas, but there was nothing. He found an online forum where someone suggested that there might be something in the Hell o’ Pages, but that book had been out of print for years. Apart from that, there was apparently no spell for merging two cats into one.

So, as is the way with lazy people, Janice let the idea of the cat-merging spell drift onto the long, long list of things she would one day get around to doing like knitting, swimming on a Sunday morning, running, reading War and Peace. She did none of them and resigned herself to the lazy fact that Ginger and Tuck would remain as two separate and very different cats, who in the meantime needed feeding. That was until . . . Oh no, I’ll tell you that in a bit. For now, let’s see what our pussycat heroes are up to.

oh look, another bit!

Well, as I said, Ginger and Tuck, Tuck and Ginger (got to be fair here) sat in the elevator for hours, waiting for someone to press a button and bring it to the ground floor. You might have thought that in an apartment block of forty-four floors there would always be someone going up or down. But if you had thought that you’d have been wrongedy-wrong, ding dang dong. It was three hours before someone came along and called the lift. When they did, though, well, can you imagine the excitement for Ginger of going down in the lift? For Tuck of going up in the rocket ship? Different but equal, like so many things in life. Don’t worry, I’m not going to drag this out. Movement, noise, excitement, doors opening, lobby, doors to the street, blah, blah, blah. Let’s get on with the next scene, shall we?

Basically, the lift was called to the ground floor of the apartment building, and then—ding—it opened. Well, Ginger wasn’t going to take any risks. As soon as the lift doors slid apart, she bolted out, ran between the legs of the fat man waiting for the lift and bolted for the street. As you can imagine, Tuck was not about to get left behind. No matter how much he wanted to go to the moon, he was still a scaredy-cat, after all. Besides, he was worried Ginger might lick up all the mushroom sauce before he could get any. It was easy for him to keep up with Ginger. He was an athlete, after all, and sooner than you can say, ‘Oh look, two sweet pussycats running across the foyer of a large apartment building’, they were outside. Out in the real world at last. Except of course Tuck thought it was the moon.

Ginger breathed in the air of the city street. She’d forgotten how . . . well, not to put too fine a point on it, she’d forgotten how smelly it smelled. Exhaust fumes, rubbish bins, hundreds of people farting and burping along the street. Yummy yummy YUMMY! The Burringos had a very good cleaner (when she wasn’t leaving doors open), and their apartment always smelled of light but effective cleaning products and a variety of flowers (the cleaner, a lady by the name of Arthur, always brought flowers to her employers’ apartments). But down here, down on the street, it smelled different. It smelled real. It smelled earthy.

Tuck smelled it too, but of course the smell was completely new to him. The refugee camp where he had grown up had only ever really smelled of dog. Here smelled of everything. A hundred different things he couldn’t name. It was exciting and new and utterly terrifying.

‘Wh-wh-where are you going?’ Tuck asked as Ginger trotted, tail in the air like she just didn’t care, down the path between the front door of the apartment block and the pavement.

‘Away,’ said Ginger. ‘Away from here, away from you. Away, away, away.’
Tuck pretended not to hear and kept close to her side. He wasn’t sure he liked the moon as much as he’d thought he would. So far there was no mushroom sauce in sight.

‘No way,’ said Ginger, suddenly staring at something on the road in front of them.

Tuck looked at her and then followed her gaze to see what she had seen.
And what had she seen?

Well, what Ginger had seen was nothing short of a miracle. What Ginger had seen was something she had given up hope of ever seeing again. She picked up her pace across the pavement, Tuck still keeping up with her, and then stopped no more than a metre away from her old taxi. It sat there, with its tiger-stripe pattern, chugging away and wobbling like a giant jelly next to the kerb, putt-putt-putting fumes out of its old exhaust pipe. Pretty impressive after four years, I know, but that’s those new hybrids for you.

‘It’s still here!’ said Ginger.

Tuck watched as she jumped up into the taxi and then followed double-quick. He wasn’t going to be left on the pavement of the moon all by himself without any mushroom sauce.

Ginger jumped up and down on each of the seats, looking under them, exploring the taxi as if searching for something. After a minute or two, she seemed to give up her search and sighed a big, deep, ginger sigh.

Well, it was a long, long time (four years actually) since Ginger had driven a taxi, and of course Tuck never had driven one. But Ginger thought this was too good an opportunity to miss, so she told Tuck what to do. She made him jump down to the pedals and showed him which one was the brake and which was the accelerator (there were only two pedals because—durrh—cats can drive only automatics). Ginger pushed the car into Drive, which was easier than it used to be now that she was fatter, and she was about to take off the handbrake when something caught her eye. It was a single ginger hair, down on the carpet next to Tuck. Paler than her own coat, it looked like it had been there for years.

‘What is it?’ said Tuck.

‘Nothing . . .’ Ginger murmured after a while. ‘Nothing at all. Now jump on the accelerator. Gently!’

It was a stop-start journey as you can imagine if you’ve ever tried driving with a cat that’s not had lessons. Tuck wasn’t good with his left and right at the best of times, and he slowed them down at the first few green lights and sped up at the red ones. But after a while, and much to Ginger’s surprise, he got the hang of it. ‘Goodness,’ thought Ginger, ‘I must be instructing him very well.’

As for her, well, her job was easy. Once you learn a city as well as Ginger had learnt this one you never forget. She took them right off Rawley Road and into Railway Square, then north across the square and into Long Lane. Along Long Lane and down around the roundabout and fast past the park. Oh yes, folks, Ginger knew the city pretty well, and soon enough she and Tuck were putting some distance between themselves and the Burringos’ apartment.

The Second Bit

Did you wonder why Arthur the cleaning lady left the apartment door open? I mean, she’d been cleaning that flat for at least four years, and she’d never done it before. So why now? Well, let me tell you. Rodney and Janice were not only lazy at being witches, they were lazy at other things too. Like cleaning up the kitchen after they’d had dinner or writing thank-you notes after birthdays or picking up the wages for their cleaning lady. Arthur, you see, liked to be paid in cash. She had a deep distrust of banks and kept all her money in a big box under her bed. So every Tuesday, when she arrived at the Burringos’ apartment, the first thing she’d do was make sure they’d left her one hundred doodahs on the kitchen counter. And often they hadn’t. This used to drive Arthur nuts.

‘Agh!’ she’d scream. ‘It drives me nuts.’

Well, on the day this story starts, the day she left the door open, Arthur decided she’d had it up to here with the Burringos. No cash on the kitchen counter again. ‘Enough!’ she said. ‘Those blasted bothersome Burringos are too mean. I’m not a machine! They can find someone else to wash and clean.’ And she flounced out, her big bottom wobbling as she stomped out of the apartment and down the corridor toward the lift. She was so angry she even left the door open behind her—this being much classier and dramatic than slamming it. Arthur didn’t care if the cats escaped, for she had decided she was Never Going to Clean for the Burringos again. Serves them right whatever happens. So there. Humph!

Well. Can you imagine the scene that evening when Janice and Rodney woke up in their windowless room? At first it was normal. Janice put on her fluffy slippers and the tracksuit she liked to wear around the house, and Rodney stretched and shaved himself, using the fin of a shark he’d once caught. And then they went downstairs.

‘Eugh,’ said Rodney. ‘The apartment’s still dirty’.

‘Ooch,’ said Janice. ‘There’s a horrible breeze coming through the apartment door.’

And then they both said, ‘Where are the cats?’

You see, they might have never got round to turning their two cats into a Purrari, but they’d never given up on the idea. And besides, witches are extremely possessive. Once they think they own something they get fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurious if it gets taken away from them.

Have you ever smelled a furious witch? It’s not good. It’s a bit like a cocktail of cabbage and vomit with a hint of something you trod in. And when witches are emotional in any way, they don’t look great either. Their eyes turn bright red. Have you ever seen a photo of someone and the flash has put a little red dot in their eye? Well, that’s what witches’ eyes look like when they’re angry. As if that wasn’t enough, their skin gets a greenish tinge, and their noses get little bumps on them before hooking over. Then—ping!—their chins stick out. All those pictures you’ve seen of witches, they’re always angry in them.

‘I’m going to find those cats,’ said Rodney, ‘and I’m going to skin them alive!’

‘I’m going to cook them slowly,’ said Janice. ‘I’ll whisk their whiskers, sear their ears, boil their tails, and pause only before paring their paws.’

Eugh, horrible, horrible witches. I’ll bet you thought Janice and Rodney were a bit harmless, didn’t you? Not a bit of it. Once they’d filled the apartment with such a stench of anger that even they couldn’t bear to stay there, they ran up and put on their witching outfits, and then they opened up the living room window extra wide and flew out into the city night, cackling loudly and leaving a toxic trail of nastiness behind them.

‘Let’s find those horrible little cats!’ they screamed. ‘Let’s make them pay!’

So where were our feline friends while this was happening? Well, they were still in the taxi, but were they chugging full speed away from the city to safety? They were not. And why not? Come on, guess. Work it out. No? Well, I’d better tell you then. They’d run out of petrol. Not surprising really. I mean the taxi had been waiting on the kerb for four years. Only an hour after Tuck and Ginger had driven off, the car started making strange noises. Chuggedy-chuggedy-phut-phut, that kind of thing. Never good in a car. Well, Ginger directed Tuck on the pedals, and she steered to where she could coast downhill, but shortly before dark the car went phutty-phutty-churg-churg and died. Just like that. It was partly by luck and partly by Ginger’s skill that they were in a quiet little side street when it happened. Ginger leaned on the steering wheel so that the big old taxi curved towards the pavement and came to a rest in a perfect parallel-park position.

‘What do we do now?’ said Tuck.

‘We stop asking questions,’ said Ginger.

‘Why do we do that?’

‘I tell you what,’ said Ginger, ‘why don’t you get out and walk down the road a bit and sing a song?’

Now, if Ginger told you and me to do that, we’d probably tell her to get lost, but Tuck thought it was actually a very good idea. Without a second thought he jumped out of the window and trotted down the tarmac a couple of metres. Then a couple of metres more, until he was sure he was out of earshot. He looked up at the fading sky and started to sing:

‘Oh moon, oh moon,
Forgive my tune-
lessness. I didn’t expect to be here so soon.
I can’t complain, it is a boon.

‘It’s great of course.
I like it of course.
I just wish we could find
All your mushroom sauce.’

Songs had never been Tuck’s strong suit.

Meanwhile, Ginger sat down on the taxi’s driver’s seat and wondered what they were going to do for their supper. Outside it was getting darker by the minute, and it was the time of day when Ginger’s bellies always started rumbling and demanding some food. Can you remember how many bellies Ginger has? Six. And let me tell you, it takes more than the whiff of mint air freshener to fill six bellies. But a whiff of mint air freshener was all there was in the car, and even that was four years old. Ho-hum.

But Ginger didn’t mind being hungry—it wouldn’t be the first time it had happened to her—and besides, she was free. Free for the first time in years. So very sensibly (and you’ll discover that Ginger was a very sensible cat) she decided to enjoy her freedom first of all and worry about food in the morning. She made herself comfortable by curling up extra tight in the driver’s seat, the end of her tail over her nose, and watched the sky grow black outside the taxi windows. Soon she was fast asleep and snoring and snuffling like a little pot-bellied pig.

***

I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but some people are morning people and some people are evening people. Morning people just love the mornings. They jump out of bed, singing, and they race out to enjoy the sunshine and pick the flowers. Evening people generally hate mornings. They hate them almost as much as they hate morning people in the mornings. Evening people spend the mornings saying things like ‘Not before my coffee’ and ‘Go away’. They think morning people are annoying, but in return morning people think evening people are grumpy. And it’s not equal on both sides. Oh no. Morning people mourn evening people’s morning behaviour far more than evening people mourn morning people’s evening behaviour. Obviously.

Now, do you know which you are? Are you annoying or grumpy? Well, Ginger was definitely a morning cat. She liked to rise early, do her yoga, and clean her claws whilst listening to the birds sing and imagining what they tasted like. Tuck, of course, was the polar opposite. He was very much an evening cat. If you tried talking to Tuck before about 10:00 a.m., he’d look like he was listening to you, but in fact, all he would be thinking would be ‘Shut up, shut up, shut up’. So at this point in the story, where Ginger was settling down for the night, Tuck was really waking up. Once he’d sung his first song to the moon, he sang another two, which were frankly even sillier than the first, so I won’t bother repeating them. Let’s just say he got to rhyming ‘sauce’ with ‘horse’, and as you know, cats don’t like horses.

Anyweeway, once Tuck had finished singing, he decided to see if anyone wanted to play. He knew Ginger long enough to know she’d be asleep by now, so he didn’t bother asking her. Instead, as the stars plinked on high above him and the streetlights plinked on a little lower down, he looked behind rubbish bins and under cars, on top of a pile of bricks and even under a bush to see if there was anyone, anyone at all on the moon who wanted to play. But there was nobody.

Poor Tuck. He was feeling a bit despondent and lonely, trying ever so hard to like the moon but finding it very dull, when suddenly he saw a movement out of the corner of his eye. At first he thought it might be just his own shadow. He’d been caught out that way before. So he stood as still as a still thing and waited. And there was the movement again. Tuck stared with the superb night-vision goggles which all cats wear inside their heads and saw a little twitchy nose and a pair of little twitchy ears appear from a hole in the gutter which he hadn’t noticed before. Soon the ears and nose were followed by a furry, grey body.

‘A mouse!’ said Tuck. ‘Hello, mouse! Do you want to play? Do you want to play catch?’

Well, whether the little rodent thought this was a good idea or not we’ll never know, because he just turned and ran full speed in the opposite direction. He went squeak, squeak, squeak as he scampered along the gutter. Then he went squawk! as Tuck caught up with him in two easy bounds and sank his shiny, white teeth into the back of the rodent’s neck. Tuck wasn’t quite sure why he’d done that, but it sure was fun.

‘Ooh, ooh, ooh,’ he thought. ‘Let’s see if there’s another one and I can do it again.’

***

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Janice and Rodney were circling slowly above a deserted playground. This was partly because Janice had run out of breath and partly because Rodney was savouring the scent of small innocents that still hung in the air above the concrete.

‘Ooffee,’ said Janice. ‘I’m more extremely exhausted than an exhumed executive. Maybe we should go home and order a takeaway instead of looking for these silly cats.’

‘What?’ said Rodney. ‘Are you crazy? And let those miserable little creatures make fools of us? No way. It’s only just got dark. I’ll bet that’s when they’ll take their chances, and it’ll be easier for us to find them.’

But even Rodney had to admit that finding two medium-size cats in a very large-size city needed a bit of planning. And of course he wasn’t wrong. If you ever want to do anything difficult—and the difficult things are the only ones worth doing—then you always need a plan. Or at the very least a list, which is really just a simple plan if you think about it. So Rodney told Janice they could sit down on the next flat roof they found.

‘Let’s think,’ he said when they’d parked on the red roof of Rufus’s Rare Roofing Supplies. ‘They’ll be trying to get as far from us as possible as quickly as they can. How would they do that?’

‘On a plane,’ said Janice, who was very possibly being sarcastic. They say sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, but I’m not sure that’s true. Either way, Janice’s comment gave Rodney an idea.

‘Or a car,’ he said. ‘A car! Hang on, when we left tonight, was that big tiger-striped taxi outside like normal? I don’t remember seeing it.’

‘No!’ said Janice. ‘It was definitely gone. And that’s the taxi Ginger was driving when we got her. That’s it—they must be in the taxi!’

And so the Burringos decided that instead of looking for two cats (which are rather small), they should look for one big tiger-striped taxi (which is rather big and tiger-striped). ‘Ha ha,’ they cackled. ‘Mwah ha ha ha ha! Those cats haven’t got a chance!’ And they flew into the air, trailing orange and green smoke out of their bottoms, which is an embarrassing phenomenon that happens to overexcited witches. They flew over all the suburbs in the south and west of the city. Which is fortunate, really, because of course, our furry, fleeing, feline friends had headed exactly north-east.



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