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A Man of Yet a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

So Long, And Thanks For All The Cat Food

Sandy and Blackpaw looked up at me. Sandy meowed.

‘All you two cats ever do is whinge for more food,’ I said to them. ‘Why don’t you do something more useful than just eating and sleeping? Millions of years of evolution, and you haven’t even invented the wheel!’

They ignored my comments and tucked into the food that I had put in their bowls.

It was some weeks later that I glanced out of the kitchen window late one evening to see what appeared to be a small fire burning at the bottom of the garden. I went to investigate. As I approached the flames, Sandy and Blackpaw raced past me, back towards the house.

I reached a place where several small rocks had been arranged in a circle, although its diameter was no more than two feet. In the middle of the ring was a tiny fire. A simple wooden frame supported a spit over the fire on which was tied a rat.

Must be fairies or leprechauns living at the end of the garden, I said to myself, whilst actually concluding that the children next door had been watching too many of Ray Mears’ bushcraft survival programmes on television.

I thought little more of it until about a month later when I set off down the garden to clear some old bushes. The bushes were obscuring the view of the fields beyond, and I thought it would be nice to be able to see that vista from the kitchen window.

As I reached the bushes, I glanced through the branches and noticed Sandy and Blackpaw in the next field. They seemed to be pulling a small cart of some kind. If the kids next door have tied them to that, I thought, I will be very cross. As I climbed over the fence to investigate, however, Sandy and Blackpaw noticed me and ran away without the cart. They had, therefore, been choosing to pull whatever it was.

I picked up the small, wheeled trailer. It was made from wood, and of the sort of design that one saw in medieval paintings. On the trailer were a number of flat pieces of bark which seemed to have symbols and drawings on them.

‘I thought domestic cats were solitary animals,’ said my neighbour, George, when I encountered him at the village shop on the following day.

‘I think they tend to be,’ I replied. ‘What led you to think of that?’

‘Eric saw about a hundred of them in that old barn at Glebe Farm.’

‘There’s probably a good supply of rats there,’ I suggested.

‘Eric said that they were all sitting in a large circle and taking turns to meow.’

‘Eric may have had too much of his home brew,’ I joked.

As I walked home, I began to imagine a fantasy scenario of feline development that was consistent with the recent observations and reports. Two months ago I had been joking that the cats never did anything but eat and sleep. Then there had been some evidence that they had might have discovered fire. Then they seemed to have access to the wheel and writing. Now there was a report of a large feline gathering. Other things fitted this fanciful theory too. For example, many local recycling bins had been mysteriously emptied of what could be useful raw materials for a developing civilisation.

This was all, of course, ridiculous. It had taken humans many thousands of years to develop complex technologies. Cats could not have got that far in four months.

Despite my scepticism, I attempted to confront Sandy and Blackpaw at feeding time that evening. ‘Be honest with me,’ I said. ‘Have you mastered fire and the wheel?’

They ignored me in their usual manner, and concentrated on eating.

I had no further time to ponder on the issue as I had to leave for America on a three month contract.

It was towards the end of my stay in the States that I received an email from George who had been feeding the cats while I was away:

I’ve got some bad news, it read. Sandy and Blackpaw seem to have gone. And it’s not just them. Nearly every cat in the area has just vanished. The police haven’t got an explanation. The only odd thing about the night when they all disappeared was lots of what looked like fireworks rising into the night sky.

It was two weeks later when I arrived back home. I had hoped that Sandy and Blackpaw might have been there to greet me but, sadly, they were not.

It was late, so I went upstairs to make up the bed. There was a piece of paper lying on it. It contained a diagram of something that looked a bit like a space shuttle. Below the picture were some neatly typed words:

So long, and thanks for all the cat food.