Oliver the Cat Who Saved Christmas

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Oliver the Cat Who Saved Christmas Page 1

by Sheila Norton

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  Dedicated to the memories of Misty, Oscar, and Charlie.

  I was their human, and their willing servant.


  The worst night of my entire nine lives started with some leftover fish. You might think that was a bit strange, little kitten. After all, we cats all love fish, don’t we, and I often used to get leftovers, living in a pub where they made something called bar meals for the people who came in. It wasn’t actually the fish I had that night that was the problem. It was what came afterwards, when I’d gone back to my favourite chair by the fireplace and fallen asleep.

  Now, stop jumping around trying to catch that fly, if you want me to tell you the story. It’s a long story for a little kitten like you, and a bit frightening in places, but you might learn something from it if you settle down and pay attention. That’s better.

  Where was I? Oh yes. Asleep on my chair. Well, I woke up very suddenly when it was dark outside – and there was a horrible smell in the pub, and something tickling my nose and throat. I knew straight away it was smoke, because sometimes when my human, George, lit the fire in the bar to make it nice and cosy on a cold evening, it gave off the same kind of smell. But when he did that, the smoke went up the chimney, not into the room like this. I blinked for a few minutes, trying to see what was going on. Of course, my night vision is normally excellent, but the smoke was making my eyes sore. Within a few minutes I was starting to cough and choke because it had started going down my throat too, when I did the normal stretching and yawning thing we have to do when we wake up. And then I saw them – big orange flames leaping up the curtains, and sparks flying onto the nearby chairs.

  I yowled in fright. At least, I tried to, but all that came out was a pathetic squeaky noise and another bout of coughing. I jumped out of my chair, heading for the staircase to the upstairs rooms, where I knew George would be asleep in the big bedroom overlooking the garden. Luckily he always left his door open, in case I woke up in the night and decided he might appreciate my company on the bed. So I darted straight in and jumped on him, pawing at his face to wake him up. I was trying my best to meow loudly in his ear at the same time, and despite all the coughs and splutters, it seemed to do the trick because he sat up in bed, gasping in surprise.

  ‘Oliver!’ he said, sounding a bit annoyed. He usually only called me by my full name when I’d been naughty. ‘What on earth…?’

  And then he must have smelt the smoke, because he leapt out of bed, shouting, ‘Oh my God! Fire! Fire!’

  There were only the two of us in the building so I couldn’t understand who he was shouting to, but I was very relieved he’d woken up. He grabbed his mobile phone off the bedside table and his dressing-gown off the hook behind the door, and I ran ahead of him along the landing and back down the stairs. I was frightened to see that the flames had spread and were now working their way up the wooden banisters, spitting sparks and billowing more black smoke. I bounded down those stairs as if there were a couple of Dobermans after me.

  ‘Outside, Ollie, quick!’ George shouted, beginning to cough like me.

  As he unlocked the main door to the bar the cold outside air rushed in and it was as if the whole place suddenly erupted. The crash, as the staircase collapsed, was so terrible, I shot out of that door and kept running, right across the car park and under a bush at the other side, next to the road. I could see George, in his stripy pyjamas, running out with his dressing-gown still in his hand, dropping it while he stabbed at the mobile phone and shouted into it: ‘Fire! The Forester’s Arms! The pub’s on fire!’

  I stayed under the bush, shaking with fear, watching the fire work its way up to the roof of the pub, watching as the wood store next to the kitchen went up with a ‘whoosh’. Then the flames spread to the fence, and then they were licking around some kind of big drums lined up behind the village hall next door. And then there was a sudden loud ‘boom’ that made me jump out of my skin, and the fire seemed to roll itself into a ball of orange that lit up the whole sky.

  For a minute I was frozen with terror. I thought it was the end of at least one of my lives, for sure. There were people running out of their houses, shouting, looking for George, putting his dressing-gown and blankets round him, as if it wasn’t hot enough with all those flames. And just to add to the horror of it all, at that moment two massive fire engines came tearing down the road towards us, sirens screaming, and turned into the car park right next to the bush where I was cowering. Well, I knew I should have stayed to make sure George was all right, but my cat instinct told me I needed to get out of there as fast as I could. It wasn’t my proudest moment, deserting my human and my home. But I’m afraid I scarpered.

  * * *

  When I finally stopped running, I was in the middle of the woods across the road. I looked back through the trees but I couldn’t see the pub anymore, or even the flames. The trees were very tall and very close together here, and I realised I’d gone further into the woods than I’d ever been before. My heart was still pounding like mad from the shock, as well as from running so fast. I put my head on one side to listen carefully, but all I could hear at first was the sound of the wind blowing through the trees and an owl hooting in the distance. It was really cold, and I felt so sorry for myself, all alone there in the woods. All I wanted was to be back in my chair, curled up on my nice comfy cushion, asleep and dreaming my favourite dream about chasing mice. But I was too scared to go back. And then, as I was still standing there listening to the wind and the owl, and shivering and shaking like a leaf, there was suddenly another loud ‘boom’ from the direction of the pub. All the birds who had been asleep in the trees flew up in the air together, squawking with fright, and once again my cat instinct took over. I shot up the nearest tree, right up to one of the highest branches, and clung on for dear life as the wind rocked me back and forth.

  You’ll find when you grow up to be a bigger cat that the best way to deal with a stressful situation is to get out of danger quickly and then go to sleep. I’ve heard humans talking sometimes about ‘not being able to sleep’. They say it happens when they’re worried about something. Fortunately this condition is unknown within the cat community. I was so worn out from the terrible shock I’d had, I could hardly keep my eyes open once I was safely snuggled down on that branch. There were no more booming noises, and although from the top of the tree I could see a rather scary red glow in the sky, far away in the direction of my poor pub, it gradually got fainter and fainter. The wind dropped slightly and the movement of my branch became more gentle, reminding me of the times I’d dozed on the old rocking chair in the back room of the pub. I closed my eyes and dreamed George had come to find me and was carrying me home.

  When I woke up it was light, and there were birds singing. I stood up and had a good stretch, completely forgetting where I was, and almost fell out of the tree. Luckily my cl
aws were out instantly, so that I was suspended for a moment, clinging to the underside of the branch until I managed to right myself. I gave myself a little shake, and automatically started to wash myself to show any birds who might have been watching, sniggering at my misfortune, that I wasn’t the least bit embarrassed or bothered how silly I might have looked. And then, in mid-wash, I glanced down, and saw it at the bottom of the tree. A fox.

  Little kitten, I don’t suppose you’re old enough to have met a fox yet, so let me explain. If you think dogs are scary, you haven’t seen anything yet. Foxes don’t even have humans in charge of them like dogs are supposed to. They’re one of our worst enemies, almost as dangerous as cars. At least cars normally stay on roads, so we know how to avoid getting attacked by them. But foxes sneak up on you. They get into gardens and even walk down the street, just like we do, and if they see you they’ll chase you with their horrible big smirking mouth open showing their horrible sharp teeth. There’s only one way to get away from them – run up the nearest tree. So although, as you can probably imagine, my fur was standing on end at the sight of this snarling vicious creature staring up at me from the ground below, I knew I was in the best place. He couldn’t get me. I was so relieved about this that I actually started showing off to him a bit, arching my back at him and hissing and spitting – until I nearly overbalanced again and decided no amount of bravado was worth falling out of the tree and landing on top of him.

  I sat back down on my branch, stretched out my paws and let my head hang over the edge so that I could keep one eye on the fox. I could tell he was getting annoyed about not being able to climb up and get me. He was pacing up and down at the bottom of the tree, walking round its trunk one way and then back round the other. And the whole time he was staring up at me, with a look on his nasty face like I can feel on my own when George puts a nice plate of food down for me. I shuddered to myself. If I put one paw out of place on that branch, I’d be his dinner. To my relief, after what seemed like hours of this walking round and round, the stupid fox must have got tired. He lay down, curled up like a little puppy dog, and fell asleep. I was safe for a while. The best plan of action would be to have another little nap myself.

  It wasn’t until I woke up, and saw him still there at the bottom of the tree, that I realised three things, all at once. One: I’d had no breakfast and was now feeling very, very hungry. Two: I didn’t know which way was home anymore. I’d lost its scent, and there was no more red glow or smoke in the sky to tell me. And three: until that fox moved, I was stuck. If I tried to jump into another tree, he’d just follow me. I couldn’t get back down to the ground until he went away. And he didn’t look like giving up any time soon.

  I thought about George, and my chair, and the warmth of the pub, and my food dish being filled up with lovely chicken or fish, and I couldn’t help it, little kitten. Even big grown-up cats cry sometimes. I sat on my branch and mewed pitifully to myself as the fox licked his lips and dribbled revoltingly beneath me. And I wondered if I’d ever see George or my home again.


  It was getting colder, with a dusky sort of look in the sky, by the time I heard a new sound coming towards me. I sat very still, my ears up, listening carefully. It was like music, but different. The fox sat up too, and was looking around him nervously, and then he suddenly loped off, giving me an angry backward glance as he went. The sound was coming closer. I waited, my head on one side, trying to remember where I’d heard it before. And then it came back to me. Whistling! That’s what they called it. Humans did it by putting their mouths into a funny shape and pushing their breath out. It made a kind of tune that wasn’t always very pretty. Finally I heard the footsteps of the whistling human, treading on the dead leaves on the ground. And there he was, just a few trees away from me, walking quite quickly. If I didn’t shout now, he’d be out of earshot – humans don’t have very good hearing, you know. But was he someone I could trust? I wasn’t good at trusting humans, especially strange male ones – but that’s a story for another time. Well, this time I didn’t have a lot of choice, and I made a quick decision. If he was doing that whistling thing, he probably wasn’t in a bad mood. I’d noticed before that they did it when they were cheerful. So I stood up again on my branch and yowled as loudly as my little lungs would let me.

  He stopped whistling, stood still just a little way from my tree and stared around him. Just a little further on, the fox was standing looking back too, but I hoped he wouldn’t risk coming back while the man was there. I don’t think foxes like humans. There are stories in cat folklore – and they might be made up, of course – that humans long ago used to ride around on horses, blowing horns and using dogs to hunt foxes. It sounds a bit unlikely, but I wouldn’t put anything past some humans. Anyway, there I was, crying and screaming out to get this man’s attention, and there he stood, looking up, down, and all around him with a puzzled expression on his face. Like I say, they don’t have very good hearing. But luckily, eventually he caught sight of me and it was the way he said, ‘Well, hello, up there’ in such a nice friendly way, that made me relax a bit and think perhaps I’d be able to trust him.

  In fact he carried on talking to me as he approached my tree, smiling up at me and calling me a ‘nice puss’ and asking whether I’d got stuck up the tree. Although I was very glad he was being so friendly, I felt a little bit patronised then, as I’m sure you can imagine. Stuck up the tree, indeed! Anyone would think I was an inexperienced little kitten like you. I wanted to tell him that if he’d only use his eyes, he’d notice there was a great big nasty snarling fox hiding in the undergrowth, watching us from a safe distance. Otherwise I’d have got down from that tree on my own, no trouble at all, thank you very much!

  But I must admit, he was a pretty good tree climber himself. He was a fairly young, lean human and made good use of his front paws to swing himself up through the branches. He kept saying things like ‘All right, good puss, sit tight, don’t panic.’ Then as soon as he was close enough, he reached out and grabbed me with such a sudden movement I nearly toppled off the branch with fright. I let him hold onto me going down again, which was a bit awkward for both of us, but I wanted to let the fox – if he was still watching – see that I now had a protector. When we were nearly at the bottom I jumped down, but stayed by the human’s feet, giving him a little display of gratitude, rubbing myself on his legs and purring. He looked down at me, a bemused expression on his face.

  ‘OK, you can run off home now, puss!’

  I continued my rubbing and purring. He watched me for a bit longer.

  ‘What is it, then? Are you lost?’

  Hooray! He’d got the message. I purred a bit louder. He picked me up again and looked at the little disc on my collar.

  ‘Oliver,’ he read out. ‘And no address, just a phone number.’ He got one of those mobile phone things out of his pocket, tapped it and sighed. ‘No signal here. Well, maybe I’d better take you home with me, Oliver, and give you some milk or something and then I can try…’

  The mention of milk had reminded me of how hungry and thirsty I was, and I practically jumped into his arms this time when he bent to pick me up again. I’d decided I liked him. Perhaps he was a good one, like George. But then, to my horror, he picked up a bag he’d left by the tree trunk and pushed me into it, quite clumsily, head-first so that my tail nearly got caught in the zip as he did it up. I yowled my head off in protest. So much for trusting him! But as I felt him lift the bag up, he was talking to me through the flap.

  ‘Sorry about this, Oliver. You’ll be safer in the rucksack on my back, see, while I walk home with you. Otherwise I’m frightened you’ll jump out of my arms and run off when we get to the road, and there’ll be cars, and it’ll be dangerous. All right, all right!’ he said as I carried on complaining. Well, honestly! It was so undignified, to say nothing of bringing back some terrible memories for me. ‘It won’t be for long. Just try and sit still like a good puss.’

  So I
had to bump along in that bag as he strode off, whistling again. The bag was smelly and uncomfortable, with some bits of twigs at the bottom of it, and the walk seemed to take forever. Eventually I could tell from the sound of traffic that we were out of the woods, and then it wasn’t long before I heard him unlocking a door, closing it behind me and calling out, as he put my bag down gently on the floor:

  ‘Hello? Are you home, Nick?’

  Then there was someone else’s voice – a young female by the sound of it.

  ‘Oh! You were quick! I’ve only just got in from the shop. Did you manage to get some firewood?’

  ‘No. Sorry.’ I felt him lift the bag again. ‘Look what I found instead.’ He started to undo the zip – I braced myself to jump out and hide in a corner somewhere until I’d made sure it was safe here, wherever I was. But then he stopped and asked: ‘Are all the doors and windows closed?’

  ‘Of course they are! It’s freezing out! Why, what on earth have you got there?’

  And the bag was opened, and I made a dive for it – straight up the curtains at the nearest window.

  ‘A cat!’ squealed the female person. ‘Where did it come from, Daniel? Why have you brought it home?’

  ‘He was stuck up a tree! I got him down, and he wouldn’t leave me. I think he must be lost. He’s got a name tag on, with a phone number, but I didn’t have any signal, so I thought I’d better bring him home.’

  ‘Poor little thing!’ she said, looking up at me now, having apparently got over the shock of seeing me run up her curtains. ‘He looks scared stiff. Come on, kitty cat – what’s his name, Dan?’

  ‘Oliver. He’s very friendly. Come on down, Oliver,’ he added in that nice kind voice I liked. ‘I’ll get you some milk.’

  Great. I was gasping for a drink. I jumped back down and followed him into a little kitchen where he poured me out a nice dish of milk, which I lapped up immediately and licked the dish clean.


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