The Stranger By Mike Amatt
A howling night-time gale, filled to bursting with cold Eastern rain was causing all kinds of chaos and pandemonium in the garden. A willow tree in the middle of the lawn was wildly thrashing its branches like somebody trying desperately to swat away an angry wasp. “Go away! Leave me in peace!” it seemed to beg, but the wind and rain wouldn’t cease.
The deep whistling of the wind and the cover of darkness were simply perfect. Perfect, that is, if you didn’t want anybody to see you or to hear the sound of your footsteps
A stranger effortlessly jumped on to the rickety old back garden fence, then glancing quickly around, checked for prying eyes.. There were none so he leaped swiftly down on to the soft earth and dead petals of the rose bed.
Had it been a calm and silent night, he would still have made little or no sound because this was something he was good at ….Very good indeed.
His keen eyes narrowed as he looked around the garden. You can learn so much about people by looking at the things they keep around them. A sandpit, a garden swing and a matching slide. “Children” thought the stranger. “That’ll make things very very easy”
The garden path was made of crazy paving and seemed to take a crazy route as it wove its way in and out of the trees and plants. Whoever lived here was a keen gardener. Keen but lazy. There were all kinds of garden tools just left to rust around the flowerbeds. Spades, a fork and a rotting wooden upturned wheelbarrow. None of these things were of any interest to the stranger, he had much more important things on his mind.
For three days he had been on the run. Sleeping rough in cold wet ditches to avoid being recaptured. Going hungry was the hardest part, but no matter how bad things became, it could never be as bad as “that place” that he’d managed to escape from. The short time he’d spent there felt to him like a lifetime locked up never to enjoy freedom. When the first opportunity to run came along, he was off.
CRASSHH!! A watering can toppled onto the crazy pathway. It had been carelessly left on top of a pile of old bricks and as it tumbled down it took some plant pots with it. There was a loud CRRRACK! Of thunder then a light came on in the house. The stranger froze like a statue as he stared towards the kitchen window. More light! This time the whole conservatory lit up. The stranger, slowly so as not to be observed stepped back into the safety of the shadows. A man wearing a raincoat over his pyjamas came outside. It was the gardener. The rain was lashing at him as he hurriedly gathered as many garden tools as he could, and threw them into the shed at the end of the path.
CCRRACCKK!! The whole garden lit up as if it were a summer’s afternoon. Then again the lightening flashed but further away. This time it was more of a distant thunderous rumble.
Inside the garden shed the gardener peered out through a tiny half-broken window pane, waiting for his chance to make a dash back to the shelter of the house.
The stranger didn’t have to think twice about seizing his opportunity. He hated the thunder and lightening. In one brief moment of pure darkness between the blinding flashes, he used the cover of the trees and bushes as he expertly made his way into the conservatory. Keeping low it was so simple to enter the house. The was another bright flash and he could see the gardener in the pouring rain running back towards the house.
“Where to hide?” thought the stranger, then “Click!” as the keys turned locking the conservatory door. “Clump Clump!” The gardeners wellies were kicked off.
The stranger hid behind the doorway to the cupboard underneath the stairs. He quietly mad ihis way to the very back. There were all kinds of coats concealing him. Some were hanging up, others just thrown on to the floor. There were also shoes, schoolbags and umbrellas. He froze as the cupboard door opened and a tired, yawning and half-seeing gardener hung up his soggy wet dressing gown. “Click!” a light went off and it became a little darker. Another “Click!” and complete darkness. The stranger became a little braver, the darkness was his friend. Above him he could hear the gardeners footsteps as he climbed the stairs back to bed.
“Good” thought the stranger, “now to have a look around”.
His hunger encouraged him to look first in the kitchen. It was much tidier than the garden, everything was in its place. He didn’t need to see what was on the kitchen surface. Three days of going hungry had put an edge to his already keen sense of smell. Wrapped in tinfoil and still just warm was a half of a roast chicken. Quickly and silently the foil was ripped away as the stranger hungrily devoured a piece of roast chicken breast.
With a full stomach it was time to take a good look around.
The lounge had all the usual things, a TV, video, lots of tapes and toys. The next room was some kind of workroom with a computer and shelves full of books.
It was quiet upstairs now and the stranger was curious to know how many children lived in the house. He crept up the stairs and seeing a door slightly open, slipped inside. He wasn’t even interested in the sign on the door. It read “KEEP OUT” but underneath was a label, handwritten with the words “Emily and Jessica’s Room”.
Emily was nine and Jessica was seven. They were both fast asleep as the stranger entered the room. They slept in bunk beds from which there were all kinds of things hanging. There were Brownie uniforms and school hats. On the walls were huge posters of all kinds of different furry animals.
The stranger was careful not to wake them but three days without any proper sleep and now a full stomach was beginning to make him weary and careless. He yawned and then stretched and as he did so he accidentally knocked a pencil off the desk in the corner. Emily made a gentle groaning noise as she stirred then turned over. The stranger stopped dead in his tracks. “Mustn’t wake anybody” he thought to himself. It was warm in the bedroom. The warmest place he’d been in for days. In fact it wasn’t just warm, it was cosy as well. Yes, warm and cosy with an enormous bean bag lying in the centre of the room and almost inviting the stranger to lie down on it and take a short nap. “Just a few minutes lie down” thought the stranger to himself as he yawned once more. Just a few moments sleep then I’ll be refreshed and ready to go”
His eyes became heavier and heavier. It was such an effort to keep them open as he stretched with a final yawn before he fell into a deep sleep on the beanbag in the middle of the girl’s bedroom.
Emily awoke first as the sunshine streamed in between the gap in the curtains and on to her bunk-bed. She absent-mindedly rubbed her eyes and then as she realised what she was looking at, she had to rub them again. The stranger was still asleep on the bean-bag in the middle of the floor. Emily could quite clearly see his chest rising and falling as he breathed in a deep peaceful sleep.
“Jessica!” she whispered as loud as she dared. “Jessica! Wake up, wake up!”
Jessica awoke to find Emily almost hanging upside down from her bunk and excitedly pointing.
Jessica was so surprised her eyebrows almost left the top of her head. Nobody else in the house was awake as Jessica and Emily quietly jumped off their beds and approached the stranger… very slowly.
As they kneeled down the stranger twitched. The girls froze. “Should we wake him?” asked Emily.
“ I think we already have” replied Jessica.
First one eye opened and looked at the two girls. Then he opened both eyes and rolled over on to his back.
“Look” laughed Emily “He wants his tummy tickling.
The stranger began to purr louder than he had ever done for a long time. He’d never known such love before.
“He must be a Tom” said Jessica “Because he’s mostly ginger coloured”
“Except for his tail” giggled Emily “Look its silvery white on the tip.”
As if proudly showing off his white tipped tail, the stranger stood up and arched his back and displayed his tail like a flag flying high. Then he quickly lay down again, still purring, to receive some more stroking and attention.
“Daddy must have collected him from the cat shelter last night. What shall we call him?”
Jessica didn’t have to think very hard. “Well have you ever seen a cat as friendly as this one?” she asked. “There’s only one thing we can call him. We’ll call him Friend”
“Welcome to your new home, Friend” said the girls as the stranger, or rather Friend, enjoyed more stroking and cuddling than he had ever had in his whole lifetime.
This story may be photocopied solely for use in the classroom and may not be sold on or reproduced for any other purpose whatsoever.
(C) Mike Amatt 2009