The Christmas Cat
(2015 Christmas Story)
War raged across London with the East and West at odds over certain political decisions. Zeppelins from the Royal Air Defences cruised the skies, determined to keep the situation as peaceful as possible. They took to the skies every night, even as a thick, neverending fog descended over the metropolis. Travel between the sides had been halted with underground trains and buses being stopped at the unofficial borders. Hospitals were crippled under the injuries that had been sustained by protestors and political fighters. The government were doing little to reverse the decisions they had made, instead choosing to hide in fortified buildings. From north to south, rolls of barbed wire had been stretched through the city to remind all that the capital's state was fragile and unpredictable.
Winter had also settled over London, bringing with it biting frosts and drifts of snow. Despite all that was happening, the citizens of the city were doing their best to celebrate the coming festive season. Trees had been erected in homes and gifts, no matter how small, had been bought or crafted. Candles twinkled on window ledges and, where it was safe to do so, people walked the streets singing carols.
Fires burned in the hearths of a beautiful town house in the fashionable West End of London. A Christmas tree, decorated with sparkling glass ornaments, stood proudly in the front room. Beneath its boughs sat wrapped gifts. And, before the roaring fire, a clockwork cat slumbered. It brass-coloured body was scratched and burnished and the light in its belly was not as bright as it should have been. One of its glass eyes flickered, the lamp inside damaged by the war.
Yet it lived and that was all that mattered.
The cat had been built to sniff out bombs, a job it had successfully carried out for several months. One night, the cat had been caught in the blast of a device that had been hidden in a railroad carriage. The cat's internal workings had been damaged, leaving it no longer able to detect the danger it was designed to seek out. Like a broken toy the cat had been discarded, left on the street to fend for itself.
For weeks, the cat had wandered alone as it had tried to find those who had abandoned it. It had been built to not feel fear yet, deep in its wire filled body, a strange empty feeling had grown.
Then the sky had begun to burn. Zeppelins had cruised through the night, bombs falling from their bellies. The cat had smelled the cordite and felt the heat as the fire had seared through the clouds. Hiding in the rubble, the cat had waited until dawn before it had continued its journey.
London lay in ruins around the metallic creature. Tower Bridge had fallen and Big Ben was no more. Still the cat walked, trying to find somewhere safe to live out its days.
On one particularly dark and gloomy night, strong hands had plucked the cat from the street. The metal creature had found itself looking into dark, friendly eyes. Before it knew what was happening, the cat was being carried through the city and away from the nightmare that had become its life.
The animal-like automatons had been created to perform a variety of jobs. Brass birds collected and cleared rubble. Metallic spiders carefully reassembled buildings using undamaged bricks and synthetic webs. Dogs pulled survivors from the broken city and sat beside the deceased. The public had responded well to the image of animals serving them during the darkened months of the war, the creatures more of a comfort than any human-looking robot would have been.
The cat had found itself in the workshop of a very nice house. Here it had been tended to by the man's kindly hands. Wires were fixed and fittings tightened. The cat's creaking joints were repaired and oiled. Its chest was carefully opened and the energy cells and dynamos that gave the cat its power were replaced. Finally, the cat was placed back on the floor and, after stretching out its back, it walked up from the workshop and out into the house.
For several days, the cat had explored its new surroundings. As night fell, it was gently shooed in to hiding, creeping into a cupboard just as the man's children returned from school.
“I don't want them to see you until Christmas Day,” he had softly said. “They will fall in love with you the second they lay eyes on you.”
Indeed, the children already had several other mechanical animals. All had no doubt been rescued from the ruined streets of London. And, on Christmas Eve, the cat found itself curled in front of the fire with a mouse, rat, and bird nestled close by. No longer was it a collection of wires and metal. Instead it was becoming a loved and cherished family friend.