Fishy Mission

Heavy foot steps thumped down the hallway. The vibrations thrummed through the floorboards making Cheddar feel as if he was jumping with every thud. It hadn’t been like this in training. There had always been some sort of cover, something to hide behind. This hallway though, was barren. There were paintings on the wall but nothing useful to blend in with. 

Blend in, don’t be seen. Don’t get caught. The instructions were clear. He couldn’t get caught on his first mission. It’d be back to the alley for him. Oxford, his mentor had told him that he’d been chosen specifically for this job. He couldn’t understand why.

The sound of the foot steps got louder, they’d turn the corner any minute. Cheddar looked around again as if a plant pot or bookcase was going to magically appear. His ears flattened and he looked down at his feet. 

Feet! His feet were the same colour as the floor. Blend in! He studied the floor boards and fixed their shape in his mind. With a quick flip all his fur flattened and he lay flat on his back, trying his best to look like a floor board.

The over sized human rounded the corner and promptly sneezed with a thunderous ATCHOO! He stopped and sniffed, then sneezed three times more. ATCHOO! ATCHOO! ATCHOO!  

Phlegm spattered the hallway, stringy tendrils flew down all around.. Cheddar held his breath and clamped his mouth and eyes shut as some of the gloop stuck to his fur.

“Caaaats!” The man scowled. “Where’s the cats?” He turned on his heel and stomped back the way he came.  In a flash, Cheddar was on his feet. He started his run towards the door at the far end. Timing was everything and he’d already wasted far too much. His feet slipped on the polished floor, as he tried to compensate his back legs seemed to overtake his front and he skidded towards the door in an orange ball of fluff. 

From the other side of the door there was a terrible ruckus. Sounds of pans and tins clattering and china breaking echoed through the house. There were  high pitched squeals that sounded like either angry cat and and a scared woman, or possibly an angry woman and a scared cat. 

The door flew open. A screeching banshee of a woman had Oxford by the scruff of his neck and black fluff was flying everywhere. The orange fur ball flew at her with teeth and claws and a loud “Mraaaow!” The woman wailed and batted him away, dropping Oxford in favour of a frying pan. “WHERE’S THE CATS?”  The man bellowed as he stomped in to the room.

The two cats tumbled in to the corner their eyes fixed on the large rainbow trout on the counter. “Ready ol’ chap?” Oxford tilted his head to the fish and the open window beyond. He sprung up, not giving Cheddar the chance to answer. Cheddar scrambled after him, the pair yowling and hissing to ward off the humans.  This is the plan? Cheddar thought. This is it? He grabbed the tail of the fish while Oxford took the head and they tumbled out of the window. 

The woman tore the back door open and flung the frying pan after the cats. “It’ll be the rat poison next time!” She screeched. 

Cuthbert Town

To the eye that knew no better, Cuthbert Town was a thoroughly decent and thriving town. The good people went about their business in the comfort of knowing the marshall and his deputies kept the town safe from vagabonds and miscreants. The main street was kept clean from droppings and waste and the store fronts were scrubbed and nicely presented. Not far from the main town was a beautiful white church with a school house attached. The pastor was a true evangelical God fearing zealot. The pastor’s wife ran the school in a good Christian fashion. 

The railroad sliced the town in two. On this side was a small station with a fine waiting room, on the other side and a little further along was the freight station. 

Trade and industry blossomed on the other side of the line, often ripening in to the unsavoury sorts of business that thoroughly decent citizens didn’t discuss.

The summer sun gently warmed the morning as Jonah road in to town. Everything was as it should be, the ladies gossiping outside the general store, the post master fetching in his supplies and young Miss McGill, the pastor’s daughter, in her white flowing skirts.  He cast a frown towards a poncho’d stranger lounging on bench, then frowned deeper as he saw little Jimmy Moloney idling at the side of the street.

Jimmy grinned and jumped up. He drew his fingers like guns and shot at Jonah. “Reach for the sky!” He yelled. Jonah put his hand over his heart and cried out “Argh, y’got me sheriff!”

A gasp echoed through the street, followed by disapproving mutterings. The stranger peaked up from under his wide brimmed hat then grumbled and settled down again. Jonah dismounted and strode over to ruffle the boy’s hair. “No school today Jimmy?” He asked. The boy shrugged “Causin shenanigans again.” He grinned. “I aint allowed in til I stop m’cussin.”  Jonah grinned and look up along the boardwalk, “Top o’the mornin’ to ya, Miss McGill!” He called. She swirled around and blushed appropriately at being called after by a wandering man. The gossipers on the other side of the street muttered and shook their heads.

The stranger quietly watched from under his sombrero.

Nell

The little row boat bobbed gently on the lake. Nell shivered and rubbed her mittened hands together. “Well?” She demanded. Neville yelped and gave her a hard shove. She reeled and spluttered in to giggles. Her laughter sounded surreal as it broke the cold eerie silence of the island.  Neville muttered to himself and started rowing again. “I can feel it watching me.” He complained.

They had been born in this house, though Neville had been very young and couldn’t remember living here.  Their new house was a modern marvel of the new age, where as this was just a forgotten haven for rats and ghosts.

When they reached the shore, Nell jumped out, sloshing water everywhere. She darted up the slope that led to the porch of the old derelict mansion. Neville dragged the little boat ashore and trudged after her.  She waited for him at the front door, gleefully bouncing on a rotten floor board and making it squeak and whine. “Stop it!” He hissed. “You’ll wake the dead!” His eyes were wide with fear. They widened further as he watched her raise her hand to lift the rusted door knocker. “Nooo…”

BOOM BOOM BOOM

They both shrieked and grabbed on to each other. The whole house shuddered and seemed to shake off a shroud of dust. Nell guffawed in delight. “You should have seen your face!” She howled. “You were scared too!” Neville protested. Nell untangled herself from her brothers vice grip and reached to lift the knocker again.

Screeeeeeak!

Before she’d even touched it, the door slowly swung open. It whined painfully as it invited them in, barely hanging on its hinges. Nell boldly stepped forward crossing the threshold and stepping in to the house.

“Don’t go in there!” Neville wailed. He watched his sister as she started to dance around the large entry hall. “You should have seen the parties and dances we had here.” She burst out. She circled the room, dancing with an imaginary partner and tunelessly trying to sing a tune. Neville edged closer to peer further inside, but his feet remained firmly on the outside of the door. “Nell I don’t like this.” He moaned. He leaned in further still but was greeted with a great whoosh of dusty air then BAM! The front door slammed in his face. It showered him in dry splinters and dust.  

He screamed and stumbled back, cupping his battered nose. “NELL!” He hollered and started to pound on the door with his fist. The house shuddered with each blow, shedding more and more dust and splinters. It gave a great sigh and then with a final heave it collapsed in on itself. 

Neville scrambled away, dodging flying boards and bits of masonry. “NELL!” He screeched as he got clear. “Nell! Nell! Nell!”  He was met with nothing but silence and the occasional  crack and groan of the house settling in it’s grave.  He let out a sob and made for the boat, his heart thumping as he fled back to their new home and their parents.

Mother was in the hallway of the grand house, gracefully greeting her dinner guests. Neville burst in, cold, wet and grubby. His face was streaked with dust and tears.  “Mother, Nell is trapped, she’s hurt!”  His mother’s face turned ashen in horror. The woman grabbed him by the arm and steered him to a side room. “I’ve told you never to go across the lake.” She scolded. Her eyes flared with a quietly bubbling anger. “But Nell..” He began, the tears brimming over again. “Nell is gone, Neville.” She said in a flat tone. “I won’t have this nonsense any more. Now go clean up and put yourself to bed. 

Neville cried himself to sleep that night, as he drifted off he was sure he heard a distant voice, giggling quietly in the night.