In the Autumn of 2013, the website www.londonist.com ran a short story competion that was to be set in or inspired by London. My hometown has been the source of many ideas and my submission below, a tale of London’s history seen through one of it’s more special citizens, was gratefully received but kindly declined. It was a good lesson for me though, as I had never attempted something this short before (1000 words). Brevity can be a lovely thing. Hope you enjoy it.
Perched atop Boudica’s bronze head, the cat watched a pigeon flutter down and rest upon the statue’s spear wielding arm. Unimpressed, the cat licked at his paw. In his hundreds of years, the cat had seen more pigeons than he could remember. He’d stopped chasing them in 1666, because that hadn’t turned out well for the city.
Down below on the pavement, three people huddled together as another person pointed a small boxy object at them. He’d seen these things more and more over recent decades, but had no idea what it was. He just knew that people liked pointing them at each other and buildings, like the huge pointy clock behind them. Lately, they had even started holding them to their ear and speaking. It was most peculiar.
He liked this spot. To his left, the river rolled along, lapping at the walled shore. He liked any spot where he could see the water stream by. Buildings came and people went, Empires rose and Kingdoms fell, but the heart of his home flowed on unchanging. He didn’t mind change though. It kept things fresh, and after some of the periods he’d lived through, freshness was most welcome. He wrinkled his whiskers at the memory of the stinking summer of 1858.
A group of young girls laughed nearby. More than anything he thought, the people of this city had probably changed the most since his younger days. Taller, bigger, older, louder, multi-coloured and multi-plied. Never a quiet moment nowadays, but it did mean more strokes and ear rubs which he always enjoyed.
When he first came to London with his companion, Dick, life was simpler. He’d adventure off into the streets; the bright day running into moonlit night. Nowadays, the darkness was lit by orbs of light, the streets paved solid, and loud metal menaces roamed dangerously in all directions. He’d snuck into a small black one of these once when it’s rooftop yellow light had caught his attention. The person in the front talked incomprehensible gibberish, whilst the person in the rear looked out disinterested.
Though he wandered by himself, he had often found a place to call home. He fondly remembered one fellow who fed him an endless supply of milk, but who left one night carrying a small barrel of gunpowder and never returned. Many years later in 1838, the cat made another good friend when sleeping one day on top of a horse drawn carriage, he was awoken by crowds of people cheering and waving flags. He slunk down inside to escape the noise and met a friendly young lady. By the look of her clothes and sparkling object on her head, she and her friends were on their way to one of those fancy parties that the people seemed to have every few decades. It seemed to involve lots of bowing, curtseying and endless waving. She took a shine to the cat and took him to her palatial home after the days festivities. He spent many happy days and nights prowling the halls as the lady’s chief mouser.
Life in this city hadn’t always been happy for the cat though. Fights, battles, plagues and fires all took their toll on his nine lives. One of the worst times started during a sunny afternoon in 1940, when the sky cracked open and out fell exploding heat, pain and noise, night after night until he couldn’t remember. He ran and hid, scared and alone, until finding shelter in an underground city amongst hundreds of huddled people.
After many months and year, the explosions stopped, and the people returned to the surface. It was then that he discovered the whooshing monster that lived underground. Whilst out rat hunting one day, the tranquil silence was broken by an approaching rumbling. His paws trembled and whiskers twitched as a wind started to blow. The rumbling grew deeper and the breeze strengthened. Metallic screams and whooshing cries echoed in the distance. The roar became deafening as a creature’s eyes blazed out of the darkness. The cat fled for his life and shot out of the tunnel. He leapt onto the platform now crowded with people and watched the monstrous being screech to a halt. The waiting people didn’t flee but instead, shuffled into the belly of the beast! The monster devoured them whole, slamming its multiple jaws shut, and sped off, disappearing into the darkness forever. The cat had never fully understood people.
The pointy clock chimed six times, waking the dozing cat. The sun was beginning to set, flooding the sky with pinks, golds and scarlet reds. The large wheel over the water twinkled in the coloured light. Another day in the life of the city was coming to an end and like the flocking people, the cat needed to get home for the night. He stretched, sprung off the statue and landed gracefully. His fellow travellers didn’t notice the city’s oldest friend as he strolled amongst them, weaving between fast moving legs. He headed over the bridge and disappeared into the evening sun. Tomorrow, and for many days and years to come, he would return with the rising sun, to keep watch over this ancient place.