Mr and Mrs MacDougal were as alike as chalk and cheese.
He was very tall, with a thick, grey beard, twinkly blue eyes and always looked rather untidy. But Jenny MacDougal was a neat, tiny woman who never forgot or lost anything, and baked the most delicious shortbread ever.
Although they seemed so different, they were both kind, generous people. So, Clementine and Stanley had found a wonderful haven in their house. The little kitten had plenty of food and attention and the hamster was allowed to share Clem’s cosy box because Mr MacDougal had decided he would not keep Stanley in a cage.
‘At last,’ thought Stanley, ‘someone understands me!’
Now, being free means you can choose what to do and where to go. Although Molly had loved her hamster, Stanley had very few choices to make when she looked after him. Should he eat his carrot now or save it till later? Should he exercise in the wheel once a day or all night long? One night, he chose to rattle around in his wheel for hours and hours! He made such a racket that Molly’s parents decided to remove the wheel from his cage. This really annoyed Stanley: ‘It’s not fair,’ he thought ‘I want to choose to do whatever I like!’
One day, Clem was curled up on Dougal MacDougal’s lap while he ate his morning shortbread and sipped his tea, and Stanley sat in the pocket of his cardigan nibbling a small piece of biscuit. ‘Now then, wee beastie,’ said Dougal. ‘You need to take care to stay in the house where you are safe. There’s plenty of creatures out there who’d like to snack on a tasty hamster.’ Clem opened her green eyes and looked at Stanley. Was he listening? She thought not – he was concentrating on storing his shortbread in his cheek pouches.
Later that day, Stanley was exploring the edge of the kitchen door, scrabbling around between Dougal MacDougal’s two huge wellies. Clem watched from her box. ‘Stanley, don’t even think about it. It’s not safe.’
‘Poof! Fiddlesticks!’ said Stanley. ‘I can take care of myself. We escapologists need to explore.’
He ignored Clem and carried on investigating. Just then, Mrs MacDougal opened the door and rushed in to check her stew which was cooking in the oven. Stanley seized the opportunity to slip out into the hall. To his joy he found that Dougal had forgotten to shut the front door! In a jiffy, Stanley was outside and sitting on the doorstep feeling very pleased with himself.
‘Wahoo!’ he thought,’ I’m off on an adventure. Watch out world, here I come!’
He sauntered off across the small garden and through a gap in the wooden fence. He could hear the sea breaking against the rocks of the cliffs and he could smell the salty spray of the waves. Should he try to reach the cliff edge and peer over? Hmmm. Probably best not. Tempting, though.
Then, he thought he heard Dougal’s footsteps behind him and quickly hid in some long grass. The footsteps disappeared. Dougal had probably gone home for dinner. The afternoon light was starting to fade as dusk crept over the cliff tops and Stanley’s excitement grew – he loved being out at night-time. He scurried happily through the grass, smelling the damp chalky earth, nibbling a green shoot here and there, enjoying the breeze ruffling his fur, and feeling on top of the world.
There was so much to explore that he didn’t notice the shadow passing overhead. He found some seeds on a plant and was nibbling them when the mysterious shadow drifted over him again. This time Stanley took notice. He froze and listened. Not a sound, not a whisper from the dusky sky above. Stanley relaxed. ‘Poof’ he thought, ‘nothing to worry about and, anyway, an expert escapologist like me can leap to safety in one whiskery whisker.’
Stanley continued to explore the hidden paths deep in the grass on the cliff top. He felt very pleased with himself. Most hamsters lived boring lives in their little cages but here he was, doing his own hamstery thing, making his own choices, free as a bird.
Just then he looked across the field to the fence a few metres away. Hamsters can’t see very far but Stanley thought he saw two dark eyes staring at him from a pale round face at the top of the fence. Then the face disappeared and the little hamster shrugged and carried on exploring. He could smell something delicious – a rosehip maybe – and he was determined to find it. Stanley sauntered carelessly out from the cover of the long grass and across a chalky path towards some bushes.
Everything happened at once. As he threaded his way through the tussocks of grass something made Stanley look up into the gloom. He saw those dark eyes again and long pale feathers upturned in the evening sky. He thought he heard the quietest beat of approaching wings and felt a rush of air across his face. Then, to his surprise, another creature appeared out of nowhere, snarling and spitting. At the same moment, the Great Light shone out across the cliff top and Stanley could see everything very clearly. The creature was Clem! She stood over Stanley to protect him, all her fur standing on end like an inflated orange fuzzy football.
She continued to spit angrily at a huge white barn owl which flew over them, its cruel talons stretched out just above the kitten’s head. Then it twisted away and disappeared into the night.
‘Phew, that was a close call!’ exclaimed Clem, as her fur slowly subsided and she became a tiny kitten once more.
Stanley was so shocked to think of what had nearly happened to him that he couldn’t squeak one squeak nor twitch one whisker. Finally he managed to whisper hoarsely: ‘Thank you, Clem, for rescuing me. I should have listened to Dougal MacDougal, shouldn’t I?’
By now it was cold and dark. Stanley started to shiver. Clem didn’t know how to get back into the MacDougals’ house so they decided to return to where they felt safest.
Eventually, the two friends found their way back to the blue door of the lighthouse. Someone had left it ajar – how strange! They slipped through and made their way up the stairs to the room where the Great Light whirred and hummed steadily, illuminating the darkness and keeping travellers safe.
‘I like being able to choose,’ said Stanley, ‘but I need to be careful – I was nearly served up as Owl Dinner tonight!
‘That owl is missing a very tasty meal,’ said Clem. ‘You have eaten so many of Mrs MacDougal’s shortbread biscuits that you are nicely fattened up!’
‘Oh dear,’ sighed Stanley. ‘I like being free but it’s a bit trickier than I thought. I may be an expert escapologist but without you and the Great Light I would be an extinct escapologist!’
Then the two friends curled up together in their favourite corner, safe and sound in the lighthouse, while outside in the darkness the barn owl flew silently across the cliff top and away into the night.
©Jane Hendra March 2018