On its grave it says "PIRATE - THE GHOST CAT" and the year 1977. The year is the year that the cat died, certainly. And the name, Pirate ? Well, that's what the railway men called it once they realised that it was a genuine living cat. Before that they called it "The ghost cat". I suppose that Pirate was an appropriate enough name, after all the cat was missing an eye and a leg in the best Long John Silver tradition, but to everyone else it was always Mordorfs Cat.
The gravestone is on the railway embankment. The train drivers who bought the gravestone asked British Rail if they could bury the cat on the embankment. British Rail said no, so the drivers buried it there anyway, and put the stone in place. For many years afterwards the drivers would sound their whistles as they passed the grave. The drivers have changed, or forgotten, and the whistles no longer sound, but the grave remains. Recently I heard two young boys climbing the embankment after placing pennies on the rails to be crushed by the next train. One of the boys stumbled over the grave, hidden in the long grass. '"Ere", he called, "there's some old cat buried here. Shall we dig it up ?" and I had to smile as his friend called down from the top of the bank "No way, that's Mordorfs Cats grave, Leave it or it'll 'ave you". Such was the reputation of Mordorfs Cat.
Who Mordorf was, and whether the cat ever belonged to him I don't know. I doubt that Mordorfs Cat ever 'belonged' to anyone. It certainly didn't answer to any name. Still, everybody called it Mordorfs Cat, so Mordorfs Cat it was.
It was an ugly old cat when I first saw it. That was back when I was six. The first thing I noticed was its size, Mordorfs Cat was huge. The funny thing was that after it died it turned out to be cat sized, but while it was alive people always said that it was the biggest cat they knew of, and the ugliest. Although it turned out not to be a big cat, it sure was ugly. Even then it only had one eye. Its face was a mass of scars with this empty socket gaping on one side. Calling it a tabby was far too kind. It was a collection of browns, and a fairly unpleasant and uncat-like collection of browns at that. Its fur was never groomed as a cats should be, but stuck out in all directions. When motionless, Mordorfs Cat appeared to have been stuffed by a rather inexpert taxidermist and attacked by some expert moths.
The first clear recollection I have is of my first encounter with Mordorfs Cat. There are bits before that, vague faces and odd flashes, but my first real memory is of that cat. People tell me that six is rather old for a first memory, but everything up until then had been comfortable, trivial and unmemorable. Mordorfs Cat was none of these. It was autumn. My father was digging and I was watching him dig. Suddenly he noticed a cat sitting peering into the pond. To discourage the local cats from dining on his prized coy my father had become something of a crack shot with a clod of earth. He bent down, picked up a large lump of dirt and hurled it at the cat. The shot was perfect, just missing the cat (for my father was not a cruel man) and showering it with dirt in a fashion that would send most cats racing for the fence. Not this cat though. This cat just turned and stared at my father, its one eye shining. The left side of its face was that eerie dark socket, but its right eye was bright,
fierce and contemptuous. "Oh Christ, Its Mordorfs Cat" cried my father "I'll have no bloody fish left", and grabbing the fork as a lance he charged down the garden. As Mordorfs Cat totally failed to move an inch, or even flinch, my father got slower and slower and finally stopped three yards from the cat, waving the garden fork. Mordorfs Cat eyed my father, as if debating whether he was worth the effort of killing. Finally, after what seemed an age, the cat stood up, strolled into the shrubbery and vanished as cats can.
I had nightmares about that cat for months. As a six year old I was convinced that had my father advanced another inch the cat would have torn him limb from limb. Of course, now I'm twenty six I know better. My father would have been alright. After all, Eddie Gurston only needed eight stitches and my father was twice his size. I never asked him why he stopped his charge that day. I'm sure my father would claim that he didn't want to strike the cat with the fork, or that to avoid running into the fishpond he had to stop. Personally, I think he was just plain scared. I know I was. Hell, there was something scary about Mordorfs Cat.
Eddie Gurston was a year older than me, none too bright and a bully and a thug. He actually tried to tie a tin can to the tail of Mordorfs Cat. He wasn't being brave, he was, as many bullies are, a coward. Eddie thought that he was going to have a bit of fun with a defenceless cat. That he could take Mordorfs Cat for some helpless parlour kitty just shows how stupid Eddie was, for it is not an easy mistake to make. At the hospital they said he was lucky not to lose an eye. At first they wouldn't believe that a simple cat could cause such damage. Mrs Gurston, Eddies mum, ranted and raved and demanded that the cat be put down. Public opinion was against her. Whilst Mordorfs Cat was almost universally disliked it was a local character and respected. Eddie Gurston was simply universally disliked. Most people thought that justice had been done. Mordorfs Cat didn't give a damn about opinion, either public or Mrs Gurstons. At the end of the day no one was prepared to try and corner that cat, let alone take it to the vets. Thus the matter was decided by inaction and Mordorfs Cat survived. I was nine at the time.
I recall that in school they tried to make a lesson out of it. Don't be cruel to animals, you'll come of worse in the end, or some such. It seemed like rubbish to us at the time. Eddies scarring just meant Don't mess with Mordorfs Cat, and we already knew that. We weren't as dumb as Eddie Gurston.
I was a rather pathetic weedy nine year old and had frequently been bullied by Eddie and his friends. I was grateful to Mordorfs Cat for what it did to Eddie, and resolved to follow its example in future. No longer would I be bullied. In fact I followed this course somewhat more fervently than was wise. A boy only had to look at me in an unfriendly, or indeed uninterested manner and I would charge at him, fists flying. Invariably I was beaten to a pulp. This did not seem to matter however, provided I was following the cats example. I think I was partly to blame for the loss of Mordorfs leg because of this rather irrational behaviour.
Whilst I would not claim that I befriended Mordorfs Cat, for I don't believe that cat wanted or needed human friends, I got along with it better than most. Occasionally I would feed the cat. Once I stroked it, and for a second it purred. Then it bit me, but not hard, just enough to draw blood. I suspect that Mordorfs Cat felt vaguely responsible for my absurd rages and the resulting beatings I took.
The day that Mordorfs Cat lost its leg I was lying in the park. Not for relaxation or pleasure but because two boys had called me a poof and I had attacked them. So I was lying on the river bank bleeding a little and crying a lot when up walked Mordolfs Cat. The cat sat and looked at me for a long while but I had taken even more of a pasteing than was usual and would not put a brave face on even for Mordorfs Cat. I can only think that the cat decided to show me that mindlessly attacking things for no reason and regardless of the odds was incredibly stupid. I can find no other plausible reason for Mordorfs Cats next action. Mordorfs Cat stood up, charged down the river bank and attacked a swan.
A swan is a big bird. A blow from a swans wing can break a mans arm. The cats claws raked ineffectually at the feather padding of the swans chest and the swan flapped and hissed and struck with its bill. Despite the swans obvious advantage, both in size and in the nature of the ground, which was soft mud and ill suited to paws, Mordorfs Cat held its own. White feathers flew and I'm sure that the swan would have retreated to the river, but the swan had a mate. It glided up on Mordorfs Cats blind side and hissed in its ear. Distracted, the cat turned and received a sharp blow from its opponents wing. The cat was tossed into the air and landed hard on the already broken leg. The leg was twisted through two ninety degree bends an a white shaft of bone protruded through the bloody gash in the cats hip. Mordorfs Cat just lay there looking surprised.
I lay the cat on my coat and carried it as gently as I could to the vets. Mordorfs Cat never made a sound. The vet looked at the cat an told me that it really ought to be put down. I started sobbing. "Do you know who's cat it is ?" asked the vet, and of course I replied "It's Mordorfs Cat". The vets eyes widened a little. "So this is Mordorfs Cat" he said. The vet had of course spent much of his time re-attaching ears and sewing the faces of the local cats that had been foolish enough to tangle with Mordorfs Cat. He gave me a friendly smile and said "well, I suppose we ought to try and save such a notorious cat". So the vet amputated the mangled leg and the cat lived. I like to think that the vet did it out of respect for Mordorfs Cat although cynics have suggested that it was in gratitude for all the work that Mordorfs Cat put his way. Certainly, despite the loss of a limb Mordorfs Cat was still more than a match for the local toms, and provided the vet with many more years of trade. Whatever the vets reasoning, he saved Mordorfs Cat, and he saved him for free. I learnt the lesson and stopped attacking people, and found life much improved as a result.
After that I lost track of Mordorfs Cat. Oh, stories abounded. It was largely blamed for the disembowelling of Mr Jenkings ferret, but there was no evidence to support this theory other than the general feeling that no other creature could possibly have done it. Old Mrs Jones claimed that the cat ate her Sunday roast, but she was daft. Tom Owen said that the cat slept in their shed and Billy MacKenzie claimed to have seen it kill one of Mr Sandersons pigeons, still, sightings were few and I gradually forgot about Mordorfs Cat.
Then, when I was sixteen I met Mordofs Cat once more. I was sitting having a cup of tea with Mrs Evick at the time. I had just cleaned her windows for a quid and was sitting in the kitchen having a cuppa when her son John walked in. John was a train driver, and when he drove through the cutting behind his mums house he used to sound the trains whistle, much to the neighbours annoyance. So we were all sitting making polite conversation when John went as white as a sheet and pointed into the garden, "the ghost cat" muttered John. Mrs Evick looked out and said "That ugly old thing, that's just Mordorfs Cat". Then she added "biggest cat I ever saw though". John regained his normal healthy pink colour and started chuckling, "so
its really alive, a real cat" he chortled, "just wait 'till I tell the lads",
Then he told us about the ghost cat.
It seems that the first time that John had driven on the line he'd hit the cat. The train comes into the cutting at a fair speed and by the time John saw the cat sitting between the rails there was no point in trying to stop. You don't even get a thud when an express train hits something as small and soft as a cat and John assumed the cat had died and carried on. That night he recounted the incident to one of the other drivers. "A big brown cat" said the other driver "ugly as hell and half its head mangled ?". John just nods and the driver laughs. " I've hit that cat a few times myself. That cats dead as hell. Died a long time ago and now its ghost haunts the line".
Now Johns not the superstitious type and he assumed that his friend was pulling his leg, but a week later he runs over the cat again in exactly the same spot. "I kill that cat once or twice a week" John told us. "Its the same with all the drivers, I can't understand how the damn thing survives". So John and I decided to follow Mordorfs Cat. sure enough the cat made for the railway line and sat between the rails. Five minutes later a train hurtled passed. The cat did not move. One moment it was there, the next the train occupied the space. I let out a scream and John swore. "It must be dead" said John and we climbed down the embankment through the nettles and brambles. When we got to the line we were just in time to see Mordorfs Cat climb out of a deep hole between the sleepers and stroll off. The cat must have stood over the hole and dropped in at the last second.
After that Mordorfs Cat became something of a legend on that stretch of railway. The workmen, when they came, left the cats escape route unfilled. Pirates hole they called it. drivers would slow down or speed up when they spotted the cat, depending on their nature. It was the Drivers who clubbed together and bought the tombstone when Mordorfs Cat finally died.
Strangely, it was not a train that finally killed Mordorfs Cat, It was running from a dog. Perhaps the most amazing thing was that the cat could still run. I was twenty when the cat died, and it had been old and haggard when I was six. Nobody new how old Mordorfs cat was, It seemed that it had always been.
Mordorfs Cat was not afraid of dogs. Remember that this was a cat who played chicken with express trains. I have seen an Alsatian run barking and foaming towards Mordorfs Cat. The cat just sat there ignoring the attack until finally, just as the dogs jaws were about to clamp on the cats head, a claw lashed out and swiped the dogs nose. The dog yelped, turned tail and fled, whilst Mordorfs Cat stared after it with its one good eye. Many cats can drive off a dog when cornered but Mordorfs Cat didn't need cornering. There was no hissing and arching of the back, Mordorfs Cat simply swatted the dog as one might swat a fly.
No, Mordorfs Cat was not afraid of dogs. Except Mugsy. Mugsy was an old woolly dog of dubious ancestry. He had chronic arthritis in his back legs and could only stagger a few paces before falling over. Most of his teeth were long gone and his owner, Mr Morris, had to feed him on a sort of gruel. Mugsy was perhaps the least frightening dog imaginable, but Mordorfs Cat seemed terrified of the thing. And not just Mordorfs Cat. Mugsy would just hobble a few paces towards a cat and give a bit of a woof and the cat would take off like a greyhound from a trap, while Mugsy would fall down and wag his tail furiously.
The day in question was a hot, sweaty summers day and Mugsy was lying in the shade of a privet hedge, tongue lolling. Mordorfs Cat walked past the end of the hedge and Mugsy spied it. It was too hot for the dog to go to the effort of standing but he gave a token bark. And Mordorfs Cat fled into the road. It was the sound of a Ford Sierra locking its wheels that made me look up. I swear that if Mordorfs Cat had kept going it would still be alive. But whilst running from Mugsy was acceptable, running from something as pathetic as a car was clearly not. So Mordorfs Cat stopped and gave its one eyed stare at the car, and Died. I was surprised at how small it looked lying there in the road.
Mugsy died that same night. He just lay down, shut his eyes and stopped living. Two days later I met Mr Morris. He looked so old and sad without that dog staggering along behind him that I felt I had to say something, "well, old Mugsy went out on a high" I said. "The dog that did for Mordorfs Cat. I guess there was nothing worth living for after that". Mr Morris just shook his head. "No, Mugsy died of sorrow, remorse for killing his best friend" said Mr Morris. He must have seen my blank expression because he continued, "Old Mugsy, he used to be hell of a cat chaser, it was his life. Oh he never done them any harm, just liked to throw a scare into 'em I guess. Then he lost his teeth and the arthritis set in and the cats just ignored him. I think Mugsy was about ready to give up and die. Then one day Mordorfs Cat notices Mugsy. It looks at him for a long time and then walks over to Mugsys head. I think the old dog was a bit afraid, it was such a big ugly cat, but he gave a little growl and the cat took off like all the demons in hell were after him. Next time Mugsy saw Mordorfs Cat he damn near barked his head off and the cat flew off again. So Mugsy tried it on a few other cats. These cats must have seen Mordorfs Cat run from Mugsy, or heard about it somehow, because now they were terrified of that old dog. Who could blame them, if Mordorfs Cat ran from Mugsy, who were they to try and be brave ? It kept old Mugsy alive, being able to scare cats again. But I'm sure Mordorfs Cat ran out of kindness, just to give Mugsy back his self respect. I reckon old Mugsy new that cat wasn't afraid of him and he loved that cat for what he had done". Mr Morris was smiling now as he remembered Mugsy and Mordorfs Cat. "Scared of Mugsy? I'll tell you, Mordorfs Cat weren't scared of anything" then he added "biggest ugliest damn cat I ever saw".