This is the first chapter of 'Mrs. Cat-biscuit's search for the downward land'. The full book is available to order from Lulu.com SOON
"Fallen down?" repeated Mr. Vinegar in a bemused tone. By now he had completely forgotten what the opening line to his speech was.
"The shore had fallen down, and the sea has fallen too," continued a rather flustered Mr. Tinfish, as Mrs. Tinfish and William nodded their heads in agreement.
Mr. Choli's interest was raised considerably by this new information, and whilst no one was looking he quickly popped over to the car to get his toy pipe and magnifying glass that he used when he was called upon in his capacity as head detective. The mystery of the disappearing shoreline and the fallen sea could be his greatest detective case to date.
"So what is in the place where the shore used to be?" enquired Mrs. Cat-biscuit who felt that she should take the lead on this as it was her friend Mr. Leftbury who knew all about earthquakes.
"There’s nothing really," replied Mrs. Tinfish. The barrel lighthouse is now sitting on top of a small cliff with the sea lapping beneath it.”
Mr. Vinegar stroked his chin with his flipper. "Then what must we do about the fallen shore?"
Mr. Choli and Mr. Ginger were catnapping on the front seats of the rusty old car which they used as their home in Daphne Wood. It had been an average sort of day. They had risen from their sleep mid-morning and taken a leisurely wander down to the barrel-lighthouse that was the home of the Tinfish family. There was no point in going any earlier as the Tinfishes would not be back from their fishing trip before that time, so a lie-in was the sensible option. They had greeted Mr. and Mrs. Tinfish, and William Tinfish, and then each picked out their favourite looking fish from the day's catch, as was their usual routine on these hot summer days. Having waved off the Tinfishes, who were returning to the sea for more fishing, they had wandered back to the car. Mr. Ginger proceeded to prepare a late breakfast of lightly seasoned fried mackerel on his camping stove. After they had eaten they retired to their car seats for a post-breakfast catnap. It was now about mid-afternoon and the catnap had been going very successfully indeed. There had been no major interruptions, other than the occasional grunt from Mr. Vinegar as he pottered about his home in the nearby old miner's cottage.
As Mr. Choli stirred from his light snooze there was a slight shudder, and it felt as if the car had rocked a little.
The corner of Mr. Choli's right ear raised slightly in a detective-ish sort of way, as he tried to ascertain if the event was interesting enough to bother to lift his head up to have a proper look.
"Was that your stomach rumbling?" Mr. Choli enquired in a sleepy voice as he peered with his half-closed eyes in the direction of the passenger seat.
"It may have been," replied an equally sleepy Mr. Ginger, "I wasn't really paying attention." Mr. Ginger's stomach did rumble quite frequently and so he had got into the habit of trying to ignore it most of the time.
Mr. Choli's ear resumed its previous more relaxed position, having decided that the shudder was probably a result of a pre-dinner communication from the depths of his companion’s stomach. As he settled back into his snooze, the car began to move again. It started with a slight wobble and then developed into a full-scale rattle. Then it began to really shake. This time both Mr. Choli and Mr. Ginger sat bolt upright in their car seats.
"Not me that time!" exclaimed Mr. Ginger.
"No," agreed Mr. Choli. "What's going on?!" The violent shaking was continuing, but now the old car was beginning to roll backwards. "Hold on tight Mr. Ginger!" cried Mr. Choli. “I think we’re on the move!”
Both cats dived into the foot-well of the car as it continued to rattle and shudder, the front of the car felt as though it lifted slightly as the rusty old vehicle continued to slowly roll backwards. A moment later and there was a small thud as it gently collided with the side of Mr. Vinegar's cottage. This was followed by a ‘clang’ as part of the guttering fell from the eaves of the cottage and landed on the roof of the car. Mr. Choli and Mr. Ginger continued to take cover on the floor in front of the seats.
"It feels like we're at sea!" declared a concerned Mr. Choli as the ground seemed to move like the waves of the ocean beneath them.
"The land is the only place that isn't usually the sea," replied a panicking Mr. Ginger. "If the land starts becoming the same as the sea then I don't think I can cope!" Mr. Ginger was generally unimpressed with all sea-based experiences, and if this was also one of them, then his disapproval of it was going to be no exception.
Almost as quickly as it started, the shuddering stopped. Mr. Choli and Mr. Ginger waited a moment in the silence that followed to make sure it had definitely finished. Then they hopped back onto their seats to look out of the open car window to see what was going on.
The window of the miner's cottage burst open next to them and they found themselves face to face with Mr. Vinegar the walrus.
"What on earth are you two up to?!" he declared in his most authoritative voice.
"This wasn't our fault," a confused Mr. Ginger tried to explain. "The land turned into sea for a moment, and we were washed up over here next to your cottage!"
"What's going on?!" screeched Mrs. Hooverbag who had just arrived on the bonnet of the old car, along with her husband, and was peering through the wind-screen at Mr. Choli. Mr. Hooverbag was still in shock from the previous shudderings, and so it was difficult to tell if his nerves were affected by his wife's outburst or not.
At that moment a very excited Mrs. Cat-biscuit came round the corner, followed by Mr. Leftbury the Warthog.
"Did you feel it!" she enquired to the small group that was forming.
"How could we not?" replied Mr. Choli. "It's resulted in quite a serious car accident."
"Mr. Leftbury says that it was an earthquake," continued Mrs. Cat-biscuit, unperturbed by Mr. Choli's lack of positive interest. "He says that they had several earthquakes like this one on Volcano Island before the eruption took place and they all had to leave."
On hearing this, Mr. Vinegar stopped himself from launching in to the lecture he was about to give Mr. Choli and Mr. Ginger about being more considerate when moving their car about. Instead he thought for a moment about what he had learned from Mrs. Cat-biscuit before addressing the other animals.
"This calls for a general meeting!" he stated in his grandest tone of voice. "It will be important to assess what the earthquake means to everyone in the colony. We will need to make sure Mr. Denzel is there of course, as he tends to be very good at understanding the more scientific type stuff. Mrs. Cat-biscuit, perhaps you could fetch him."
Mrs. Cat-biscuit nodded and looked to the direction of the old abandoned mine where Mr. Denzel the mole and Sidney the armadillo lived. She was shocked to see that the front of the mine had collapsed during the earthquake and the entrance was blocked up with fallen rocks and timber.
"Look over there. The mine's caved in!" she cried. "Quick everyone, we need to try and move the rubble to see if we can find Mr. Denzel and Sidney and help them to get out.”
They all rushed over to the entrance of the mine and began frantically moving away the fallen debris of stones and timbers. Soon they were joined by Daphne the pigmy polar bear, who was able to help a lot with the heavier work, and Mr. and Mrs. Slicer the beavers who were able to advise the animals about putting the timbers back around the sides of the mine and in the roof to stop further cave ins. After an hour or so of hard work they made their breakthrough. It appeared that it was only the entrance of the mine that was damaged and the rest of the mine had remained largely intact. Daphne pulled away the finally heavy rock to reveal Mr. Denzel and Sidney waiting on the other side.
Mrs. Cat-biscuit peered through the hole at the two cave dwellers. "I'm so glad you are alright," she commented. "There's been an earthquake," she added as an afterthought, rather unnecessarily.
"I suspected as much," replied Mr. Denzel kindly as he and Sidney climbed across the debris and out of the mine. “Thank you so much for helping to unblock the mine for us. What other damage has the earthquake caused?”
"Now then," boomed Mr. Vinegar from behind them before anyone could answer Mr. Denzel’s question. "It seems that you are all safe and well, which means that we can now start the meeting."
The animals gathered around in a circle in the clearing in front of the old miner's cottage and waited expectantly for Mr. Vinegar to begin. He had been planning a rousing speech while he watched the others clear the rubble from the mine, and cleared his throat so that he could launch into it. Suddenly, Mr. Tinfish the penguin and his family came rushing into the clearing.
"Do you know what's happened then?!" questioned a very out-of-breath Mr. Tinfish as he arrived at Mr. Vinegar’s home to raise the alarm, only to realize a meeting was already under way.
"Yes, yes," replied a slightly put out Mr. Vinegar, who felt the interruption had ruined the dramatic start to his speech and meant that he had lost his audience slightly. "There's been an earthquake, Mr. Tinfish. If you and your family could please take a seat, we are about to decide what to do about it all."
"An earthquake?" questioned a puzzled looking Mr. Tinfish. "No, that's not the problem at all. We were out fishing and the waves suddenly got bigger. When they'd calmed down again we swam back to the lighthouse, but found that the shore had fallen down!"
"We need to go and inspect the evidence!" declared Mr. Choli who had now returned and was enthusiastically waving his magnifying glass about for effect.
"We will continue this meeting at the barrel lighthouse," added Mr. Vinegar who was concerned that Mr. Tinfish’s dramatic arrival had stopped proceedings before they'd even started. He still felt that a meeting was needed but more importantly didn’t want to waste a perfectly good speech.
The animals and birds quickly followed Mr. Tinfish the short way through Daphne Wood to the barrel lighthouse where the shore had once been. It was true that where the sea had previously met the land there was now a small cliff face, about three metres high, between the sea and Mr. Tinfish’s home.
Mr. Choli leaned over the edge and inspected the new cliff with his magnifying glass. He then turned to address his friends.
"The shore has most definitely fallen in!" he declared with an air of great confidence.