The Neal James Website


Monthly Short Story

Edge of Madness


All that Martock loved had been taken away from him, and he now stood at the Edge of Madness – a local haunt for those wishing to shake off their mortal coils. The voice from behind him halted his step at just the right moment.

Donald Key was a quiet type. Living his life in a tranquil village was just the kind of cover he needed. Don Key was a career criminal bent on acquiring from others better off than himself. The Hollow was to prove a crushing blow.

The fishing tackle shop was not the place that Tony Bishop had imagined he’d spend the rest of his life running. The business was making money it had to be said, but he’d always wanted to do something else. The old man coming into the shop was about to turn his life upside down.

‘Humble Pie’ was what you ate after making hash of things, wasn’t it? For Charlotte Parry and her husband, Steve, it was to be the answer to an age-old mystery. All happy endings don’t always happen to the living.

ISBN  9781716481437

Preview (Trophies)

I’ve been told that if a pet brings you something, it is a mark of respect in some form or other. Dogs are pack animals and you become their leader if you teach them who is in charge, otherwise you could be in for a considerable amount of trouble if the ground rules aren’t laid down at the start. Cats are not like this, but still tend to present you with representations of their affection or other feelings which they may have for you – ours certainly do. My aunt once had a budgerigar which left small white deposits in the most unusual places, and I never was quite sure what that meant except that the unfortunate bird was incontinent. Anyway, it could have given the Junkers JU87 a fair run for its money (for those left with blank expressions, this was the infamous Stuka dive bomber).

Since 1990, we have had five cats, and not one of them has behaved in the same manner towards any of us. Each one had its own idiosyncratic behaviour patterns, and these were reflected in the kinds of stuff that they tended to bring home and leave lying around the place for us to find, and then compliment them on their cleverness. Some of the ‘finds’ were gruesome in the extreme, and others were still alive at the time of discovery (and none too pleased at being there to the extent of biting anyone who went close enough).

Timmy #1 arrived in the spring of 1989, closely followed the next day by Cassie. We had him for just less than one year and he was the supreme hunter. Anything on four legs was fair game, and our front driveway became a charnel house of rats, mice, voles and other sundry rodents which really had no business even being awake at the times of day when they were abducted. He was merciless in his dominion over these lower life forms, but retained absolutely no interest in them once they had shuffled off their mortal coils. He certainly made no attempt to eat them, merely leaving them lined up on the drive like some scenario from the Medical Examiner’s laboratory in one of the various American TV crime dramas currently being shown.

I suppose they were put there for us all to observe and comment upon, but when no feedback was forthcoming he switched his drop zone to just outside the back door where it would be impossible for them to pass unnoticed. One squeal from my daughter after a Saturday safari indicated that he had changed his tactics, and that this would be a good time to let him know what a clever boy he was. We returned from shopping one afternoon, however, to find a committee consisting of Timmy, Cassie and Sam from over the road discussing what to do with the pigeon that they had brought down. The poor bird was in its death throes, and the terrible trio were completely dischuffed when it was put out of its misery and deposited in the dustbin without a word being said. I can handle dead things quite easily, but when they are still twitching it’s a different kettle of fish.

There must have been a collective sigh of relief amongst the wildlife further down the food chain when we lost him in 1990, but it was a completely false dawn as Cassie simply picked up where he had left off. The only difference now, was that where Timmy #1 had used a standard place for the deposit of all his gifts to us, she was utterly random and you never knew where her victims (alive or dead) were likely to crop up. When Timmy #2 arrived, she had the idea that she could train him up so that they could act as a feline version of Bonnie & Clyde but it just didn’t work out at all. He had no idea how to deal with anything with four legs, and it was left to her to assume the mantle of rodent controller. The problem with Cassie, was that the catches which she brought home were likely to be still alive in the early days of Timmy #2 as she attempted to teach him the rudiments of feline operations. I remember one instance of confiscating a mouse from her with a view to returning it to its worried family, only for the damned thing to bite me around the end metacarpal of the index finger of my right hand. This was very painful, and relief was only gained by flicking the brute’s nose with the fingers of my other hand, forcing it to squeak in pain and let go. I swore then and there that there was to be no more Mr Nice Guy.

She would also take her toll on the local bird population if given half a chance, and we found a variety of species on the back lawn over the years, but they all paled into insignificance the day I caught her coming along the side yard with fluffy white down all over her whiskers. One look down the side of the house confirmed my worst fears - amidst a veritable cloud of snowy feathers lay a beautiful yellow canary totally bereft of life. My immediate thought was that she had taken it from the house of some neighbour who would shortly be beating a very angry path to our door demanding all forms of compensation. Relief followed soon after when these fears were not realised, and after wrapping it in suitably nondescript packaging it was consigned to the very bottom of the dustbin. Subsequent enquiries of Cassie revealed that she knew nothing whatever about the matter, and had simply stumbled across someone else’s handiwork. She could look you straight in the eye, tell the most outrageous of lies, and get away with it – after all, where were your witnesses?

She seemed to make it a habit of bringing live game home at times when I wasn’t there, thus forcing Lynn to deal with it, and my missus hates anything that flaps wings of any kind. One poor unfortunate sparrow was pushed unceremoniously under the door mat just inside the kitchen and left there to figure out its own way of escape. Lynn being Lynn spotted the bulge immediately and lifted the covering only to be buzzed by the aforesaid bird. Of course, they make straight for the first patch of daylight they see, and this happened to be the closed kitchen window. Have you ever tried to let anything loose out of a window only to find it then moving in the opposite direction? It took my wife the better part of fifteen minutes to persuade this miniature Exocet missile to accept the wide open space with her blessings. During all this time Cassie was nowhere to be seen, but came back later as if expecting her prize to be exactly where she had put it, and she was not a happy bunny to find it gone.

Timmy #2 wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, and this had its own appeal in his general dealings with all the family. He was one of life’s loveables and he knew it – you only had to look at him and his purr resembled the kind of noise you normally only get from a pneumatic drill. Bless him, he couldn’t catch anything on four legs even if you gave him a Harley Davidson and a set of booster rockets – he just wasn’t mentally geared up for it. Now, flying things – that was different. He could take a bird out of the air by jumping ten feet from a standing start, and sometimes he didn’t restrict himself to members of that species. I found a dead Pipistrelle on the lawn one weekend morning, there wasn’t a mark on it and it had such a startled expression on its face.

We get them in summer – they nest in the barns at the farm beyond the top of Peatburn Avenue. We seem to be their feeding ground and this one had obviously come sweeping down to surprise a group of gnats out for an evening stroll. You can imagine the surprise when a cat suddenly appears directly in its flight path – brakes go on, vertical thrusters are engaged, and just as it starts to pull out of the collision zone Timmy grabs it. Well, as our bird brain had never been instructed in Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation techniques the poor thing was doomed. No movement meant no further interest, and he simply left it there for me to find and congratulate him on his prowess. I had no choice; it was simply the most impressive thing I’ve ever come across from a feline.

Our final pairing had very different ideas regarding the culling of other wildlife. Poppy, if she could even be bothered, tended to sit very still and wait for something to wander past her nose using her natural black and white camouflage against the green of the lawn to deceive potential prey. Needless to say this was not a very successful technique, and if she had relied on it for sustenance she would have been in that great cattery in the sky many years ago. She would chase the odd fly that came within reach, but it would have had to have been a geriatric one complete with Zimmer frame for her to even to have had a chance. Mind you, if she had caught it, the worst that could have happened was that it would have got a very nasty suck – she’d lost most of her teeth.

George was quite taken with the local bird population, and there have been many instances in the past years when the remains of the previous day’s activities had appeared for inspection. He was never fussy about the breed; there have been starlings, blackbirds, sparrows, a blue tit or two and even the odd thrush. He never made any attempt to dine on them, which is more than can be said for his forays against our indigenous arachnids. He’d chase them all over the place until they ran out of breath and scuttled for cover under the foot stool. He was never fooled by this, and used to take up residence on top of it knowing full well that it would get moved at some point during the day. He then merely descended and pounced – sadly for him, the spider would have long departed during one of his numerous midday naps. I should have bought him an instruction manual.

The sad part about all of this trophy collecting is that none of them had, to my knowledge, ever brought home anything of any use to the rest of the family. If they went out hunting fish and chips and came back successful that would have been great, and I wouldn’t even have grumbled if they were cold – we’d always got the microwave. However, according to all the literature you are supposed to be extremely pleased when they do bring something for you, and tell them what clever sausages they are. One cautionary footnote though – a friend of ours had a cat, and she bought it a replica rabbit’s foot key ring as a toy; this she would throw when the cat woke her each morning. On a particular Saturday she had been doing this for some time and eventually woke to find a dead vole in her hand. Sometimes it just pays not to be so enthusiastic.