A CAT'S TAIL (ONE OF MANY TALES OF A CAT, NAMED ALISDAIR, WHO SPENT HIS YOUNG YEARS SAILING THE SEVEN SEAS AS THE RESIDENT RATCATCHER ON SOME OF HIS MAJESTY'S MERCHANT SHIPS, SAILING TO MANY VARIED AND INTERESTING PLACES, BACK IN THE OLDEN DAYS WHEN THERE WERE WOODEN SHIPS AND IRON MEN)

It was a very cold and wet Saturday morning, once, many years ago, in the small English town of Fairfield. The town sat along the coast with the North Sea, and as winter approached, it always made for many cold and wet days, just the sort of day when you don't want to go outside. Neither cat nor man would be out unless some emergency demanded it. Not even dogs could be heard about the town. Winter had not yet set in; it would be worse in a month or two.

Alisdair, an old cat, had made himself comfortable, dozing near his owner's chair, snuggled up on this cold day, near the fire. He often dreamed of catching fat mice or drinking lots of milk. This day, as he always did, he had no worries ; he was retired now, and only had to wake up each day, eat and sleep.

Shortly thereupon, a young cat appeared outside, looking in. It was Thomas (tom cat), who lived down the road a bit. Thomas was able to jump up to the window ledge, then squeeze in , as the window was not totally closed. Thomas was a welcome and pleasant visitor, because Alisdair always found a willing listener for his tales of sailing the Seven Seas and other adventures.

"Hello, young Thomas; come, come; there's some warm milk in a pan, there by the fire."

Thomas began lapping it up and was glad to get dry and out of the bad weather.

"Old Alisdair, thanks for the milk. It is truly a day not fit for man or dog, or even a cat ! I'm glad to get in here where it's toasty warm. Now, there's something I want to ask about you. I've noticed that the end of your tail isn't straight but is quite crooked. Were you born like that ?"

"Oh, nooo, my friend. It happened years ago…

We were sailing the Makassar Strait, heading for Manila. We had left out of the port of Surabaya two days earlier, with a load of coconuts and hemp. It was very hot, as we were near the equator. The captain thought it best to stop at an island, find fresh water, and fill our barrels before we set sail across the Sulu Sea, for Manila.

The lookout soon saw a small island just off the port bow. The captain dropped anchor and I and my keeper, Alex, who, back then, was a young man, with muscles of steel and the bearing of an eagle, well, anyway we and several others got in a longboat, with 5 empty water barrels, and paddled to the shore of this unknown island. Roland, a Spaniard and Torveth, a Norwegian, along with 4 others who I don't remember, paddled, while Alex and I steered. It would be nice to get on land for awhile, as cats like to stretch out, climb trees, and chase small animals. If nothing else, I would just walk around on firm ground, as the ship at sea was always moving , back and forth, back and forth …"

"Sort of makes you sleepy" said Thomas, "because it makes me sleepy."

"If you want, I'll stop."

"No, no, go ahead, Ali, I want to know what you found on the island."

"All right, then. We paddled to shore, the 7 and a half of us, me being the 'half' . We put up on the beach and pulled the rowboat up on the sand. It was going to low tide, so we weren't concerned about the boat floating away.

It was decided to split into two groups to search for fresh water: one of 3 people, and the other of 4. I, of course, went with Alex. He put me in his vest pocket, where I could ride comfortably.

'Twas a hot day in the tropics. Even so, I found it pleasant to be a passenger, and not have to walk on the jungle floor. There's liable to be all kinds of bad and ugly things wanting to make a meal out of a cat.

Then, we found a small creek, shallow , but with clear water. We followed it upstream, and came to a small pond, which appeared to have no one around, not even animals. We didn't try to be noisy, but thought it a good idea to proceed quietly, as we didn't know who might be nearby : cannibals, villagers, traders, or even a tiger or two.

We were filling our barrels, one by one. It was slow going. I was sitting on an empty barrel, grooming and quite content, despite the tropical heat.

Suddenly ! There were yells and spears being thrown at us. CANNIBALS ! Cannibals of all sorts : short ones, tall ones, thin ones, young ones, old ones, but never a fat one. Cannibals never get enough to eat, and I sure didn't want them making a snack of me. I jumped down and ran towards Alex. He was ducking, and I jumped onto his chest, my claws securing my hold on his shirt. Alex began running away, back towards the longboat, and safety.

A spear got Roland, and he fell, and the cannibals went after him. Torveth had an arm wound, but was able to run. We dashed for the beach, yelling for the other group to run for it. There was only one flintlock rifle among us, and Torveth had already shot it at the cannibals. We ran for our very lives. Well, I didn't run, I was clinging to Alex's shirt.

Unfortunately, Alex stumbled over a bush and we both went rolling on the ground. As Alex rolled over me, my tail was caught between his chest and the ground, and I felt a huge shot of pain, as it got twisted and sprained. I didn't stop running, though, as I ran on, in front of Alex.

Torveth was alongside us. The others were running, too. The cannibals were not fast, and didn't wish to chase all of us. They had Roland, who would be at their place for dinner tonight.

I finally stopped to rest and, as Alex ran by, I jumped onto his leg and climbed up to his waist, hanging on his belt. He put his hand on my back to better secure me, but it was slowing him down, and the cannibals were still after us. I climbed into his pocket, where I was when all this began, and rode there until we got to the beach.

The longboat and other crew members were there, pushing off. We ran into the water, and they pulled us into the boat. We rowed as fast and strongly as we could, back to the ship.

The cannibals appeared on the beach, yelling and throwing spears, which didn't get close to us.

In a few minutes, we got back to the ship and climbed aboard. All the water barrels we took were lost, as we dared not go back there.

The captain lifted anchor and we cleaned ourselves as best we could. We lamented the loss of Roland, and I particularly found the rest of the trip quite painful.

However, in a few days, the pain in my tail went slowly away and I learned to live with my crooked tail, which I have had ever since."

Finishing his story, Alisdair looked about, to see Thomas quietly sleeping in front of the fire, his chest rising as he purred and dreamed. Alisdair looked over at old Alex, still sleeping in his chair. Seeing no point in telling more of his tales of adventure on the high seas, Alisdair lay down and dozed off to sleep, too. The rain continued, the cold stayed, and the cats slept in the warm room. Tomorrow would bring…. Well, who ever knows what tomorrow WILL BRING ?