REWARD FOR MISSING SHIP’S CAT
BLACK AND WHITE - ANCHOR ON COLLAR
RETURN HIM TO THE SUZANNA BY SUNDOWN ON ST DAVID'S DAY
AND BE PAID IN GOLD!
Jimmy curled his fingers round the corner of the brewery wall and his smudged face followed, wide eyes peering into the uneven alleyway behind. Hops and barley overpowered the faint scent of herring this far from the water and Jimmy breathed a little easier.
There he was. Black and white, pewter anchor on his collar. The two-toned cat stood out against the red brick building as he stopped to lick his paw and run it over his ear. Jimmy positioned one tentative foot out into the alley and then slowly shifted his weight onto it, creeping out from behind the wall. His shadow fell just a few cobbles short of his feline adversary. He pulled a fishtail from a paper bag he’d stuffed into his pocket and held it out in front of him as he crouched down closer to cat-height.
The posters were everywhere round the seafront and Jimmy wanted that gold to care for his ailing mother. He skulked around the fish-stinking streets as the herring drifters emptied their catch at the docks every morning, looking for work. The Suzanna had made port three days ago. Much bigger than a fishing boat, she was preparing to set sail on the trading route, down the east coast, then south to France, carrying wool and leather. There were four more days to claim the prize.
It was no wonder the cat had run off. Surely the scent of fresh fish in such abundance on dry land was a much bigger draw than the scrawny mice he was employed to hunt on the ship.
“Here Puss.” Jimmy waved the bit of fish towards the cat and then held still.
The cat stopped washing his face and turned to sniff the air in Jimmy’s direction, before standing up with a wave of his tail and padding further away down the alley. Jimmy, still crouching, shuffled along behind the feline, sucking air through his teeth every so often to make a petting noise he thought might attract it. As the cat stalked round the far corner of the brewery, Jimmy stood and ran to catch up.
This wall of the building faced a large, brick warehouse with an open door on the right hand side, through which the cat was slinking. Jimmy trotted after him, still waving the fishtail and whispering “Puss!” under his breath.
He was just through the door, looking round for the animal, when something heavy hit the back of his head and everything went dark.
Jones had seen the posters between polishing pairs of boots for gentlemen. With three days to go before the Suzanna set sail, he laid eyes on a black and white cat dodging its way through the market. The cat had a collar but was facing the wrong way to see if the tell tale anchor was attached to it. Keeping one eye on the feline, Jones opened his satchel and arranged the hessian sack inside ready to welcome a captive. Then he left his post and darted between stalls to follow his quarry.
The cat ran down a snicket between two rows of houses and Jones feared him lost, but when he entered the alleyway himself, the animal was sitting, washing his whiskers with one paw, and facing towards the man. There was the anchor at its neck.
Jones opened his bag and made a gentle step towards the cat, calming his breath and steadying his stride. The cat observed, unfazed and continued to lick its paws. As Jones took a second step forward the cat bristled, turned and ran out of the end of the alley. Jones followed at great pace and exited the snicket just in time to see the cat cross in front of a large warehouse and disappear round the far corner of the brewery. Jones would need a drink after he claimed his reward and there was an inn at the front.
Approaching with caution, Jones sidled up to the corner of the brewery, flattening himself against the wall and glanced around for signs of the cat.
“Here kitty!” he took a step round the corner.
There was a sudden movement in the shadow and Jones fell to the ground unconscious.
Captain Barlow of the Suzanna rubbed his sweating brow and tore down another poster. The ones he couldn’t tear were brushed over with black paint and left to dry in the breeze. He’d sent the cabin boy out to get rid of them every day since they docked but more kept appearing and he had no idea where from. Rusty, the ship’s ginger cat, was not missing. And even if he was, it was easy to find another mouser. No one would be parting with any gold over a mangy feline on his ship! They would sail in two days and this folly would be over, but until then the posters had to be dealt with.
It was bad enough that he’d had to send his First Mate, Percy, to the sawbones that morning after his leg cracked under the weight of a falling barrel at a dance the night before. Stupid accident never should have happened, but there was as much rum in the port as there was on the ship and the men had to have their fun somehow.
Percy had been half carried, half dragged by four crew mates to the nearest surgeon when the sun came up. Mr Stanmore was highly recommended by the port official. His office was located down an alleyway at the side of the brewery and he made good use of a deal with the innkeeper to see that the men taken to him were suitably inebriated before any major procedure.
The operating room was down some steep stone steps underneath Mr Stanmore's house. The sailors ducked to get through the door, struggling to maintain their grip on the unwilling patient.
Upon entry, the surgeon pulled aside a dark red curtain which allowed access to the operating theatre. A little light entered through a dirty, street level window near the ceiling, but the room was mostly illuminated by a series of oil lamps hanging on hooks from the walls, which a blond, teenage girl lit as she welcomed the men in, passing rum in a metal mug to Mr Percy.
Mr Stanmore directed the small group to lay their companion down on a hard, wooden table, covered only with a thin, blood stained sheet. Percy moaned as the surgeon carried out a brief, but painful, examination and confirmed that both the left tibia and left fibula were broken beyond repair. The leg was coming off at the knee, one way or another.
The teenage girl watched the proceedings intently, hanging on every word the surgeon spoke and leaning in over Percy's legs to see the damage for herself.
“No Mable, you cannot watch the operation.” He set a stern glare towards her and strode back behind the curtain which divided the room, beckoning her to follow. They spoke in hushed tones, out of earshot of the sailors.
“But you said I could if I helped find three volunteers."
"Mr Percy over there is not a volunteer. He's a patient." The surgeon tapped his foot. "Unless I can get the whole procedure down to under a minute I can hardly call myself an expert. I won't allow you to watch until I am of a certain standard. And anyway, it's beyond me why you would want to see something so unpleasant."
"Maybe I want to be like you one day, Dad."
The surgeon flushed red as he waved Mable out and slammed the door shut behind her. She stamped up the steps in annoyance.
Mr Stanmore signalled to the sailors to hold their ship mate’s arms and legs in place against the blood-spattered table as he stuffed a rag between Percy’s teeth and opened a stiff leather bag.
Percy’s drunken eyes sloshed around inside his head, taking in snatches of detail from his surroundings as he braced himself for the pain. The surgeon was bald… There was a stained, white coat hanging on the wall… Faint sunlight came in from a window above him… Mable was crouching at the window to watch the operation… Mable was holding a small, black and white cat, with an anchor on its collar…
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.
The premise is great. Using a cat reward to lure people to their (presumably) deaths is already a cool setup, but then when we learn the captain had nothing to do with the posters, it takes on a whole extra dimension of creepy mystery. I like that :) Then we have a neat effect, where this takes place in a fishing town, or the fishing part of town, and Mable is "fishing" for men, using the promise of gold and the cat as a lure. Thematically that fits, and is reminiscent of the siren. The ending, of Percy drunkenly maybe realizing what is ...
THANK YOU!!! This is such a helpful comment! Yes you have understood all the stuff I wanted to get across - the bits you are missing are the bits I genuinely think were lacking in the telling of the tale at the point you read it. I've just done a big edit which hopefully helps with some exposition and adds a chunk of descriptive detail as well (I felt that was lacking). But I still need to work on the characters of Stanmore and Mable. You are right about the time period and the set up - and I agree that the ending needs more punch. I am ...
I've read the changes, and I like knowing more. But now I wonder if we get too much, with Stanmore explaining himself to Mable. In my mind, I'm picturing he's a little flustered - perhaps nervous - and she's first excited and then indignant. Perhaps if you cut it at "He's a patient" and then the door slam and the stomping. This underscores there's conflict between the two of them. It's a tense, emotional scene - anything that can bring those emotions up, especially any emotions of dread or horror things, is a plus.
Thank you again - I wish I had more time to implement more of your suggestions. But I have to sleep at some point! If only I didn't need to hold down a job - I could quite happily spend all day every day editing this or that. I have done a final edit on this piece and submitted - though I don't expect any success with this one. Your comments about tension and horror and endings will stay with me though and perhaps influence future pieces. This has been a very useful exchange.
Oh yes, there'd be so much more time for things if we could cut out jobs and sleep :) Hmm, maybe there's a story in that.
Strong opening. Lots of great sensory detail that makes the scenes come alive. Well done creating a sense of mystery about the cat's complicity. For a minute at the end I was thinking that Mable was a shapeshifter, but that didn't seem your wheelhouse. The anchor went from pewter to silver. Was that intentional and significant. Made me stop and think about what it meant that it was silver at the end. Upgrade? I feel like learning more about Mable's fascination with Stanmore's shady practice would generate interest in her character. What do...
Thank you Jon! Great food for thought. Was it clear what was happening with the posters and that the Suzanne had nothing to do with the cat?
I got the impression that Mable or Stanmore made the fake posters to entice people into following the cat, so that they could ambush them and take them into Stanmore's basement for whatever nefarious purpose he had with them. Did I interpret that correctly?
yes! so the idea is that Mabel is trying to persuade Stanmore to let her watch the surgery by trading in bodies for him for to practice on in between. She gets the bodies by using the posters to persuade people to follow the cat and then they are ambushed.
However, I think its a bit tenuous as it stands - other people have not understood it.
Hi Jon, I've done quite a big edit but I still dont think it works - possibly too much exposition now? Any thoughts?
I think the changes work well! I read Michal's comment about cutting Stanmore's monologue at "He's a patient," and I agree, that would probably feel more natural. But I would consider not cutting the *last* line of that monologue: "I won't allow you to watch until I am of a certain standard." I think that last line offers good insight into how Stanmore and Mable are entangled. I don't know if this counts as a line edit, but it distracted me when Stanmore signalled Mable to follow here: //As Mr Stanmore concluded his examination he signalled...
Jon - your continued support is invaluable. Thank you for these latest comments - I have fixed the repetition about the curtain - it was there due to clumsy editing in the last run through - good catch. I've done a final edit and submitted - Mable's motivation is hopefully clear now and the piece is a bit tidier. I've removed as much exposition from the dialogue as I felt I could, and hopefully this gives the ending a bit more punch. Many thanks!
Hooky opening. I wasn’t sure where this was going but the imagery kept me reading. After that, the twists and mystery held me to the end. Well done.