It Never Happened

by Peter Coomber

Preface

This story It Never Happened is from my collection of short stories It Never Happened


This story has a happy ending: the main character fights adversity and wins; love is discovered, then lost, then found again. And the cuddly, furry mammal doesn't get eaten by the hard, cold, scaly thing with big, nasty, sharp teeth.

Then again...

Victor was a dreamer. A man with more going on in his head than there was going on in the world around him. A drift of cloud across the sky didn't foretell rain: it spoke to him of dragons and of people in lands far, far away, once upon a time. A muddy boot became a crystal slipper, left by a beautiful princess; a bag of frozen peas became a sack of golden coins.

His parents worried about him. They looked after him as best they could, but they worried what would happen to him when they were no longer around to look after him. Time passed and they worried no more; they were no longer around to look after him. Victor was alone.

One evening, Victor had a visitor: a magical creature from a land far, far away; from an alternative universe; far off, in the past. The creature had beautiful sable and silver coloured fur, bright golden eyes and it sang with a liquid voice that enchanted the beasts of the forest, and any people fortunate to hear it sing - honest, lucky, simple folk like Victor. In reality, it was a one-eyed stray black and white cat that had wandered into his back garden.

Victor befriended the creature, brought it into his simple woodcutter's cottage, and sat by the log fire each evening, listening to it sing. And when it sang, the beasts of the forest - bird and hedgehog; bear and deer; fox and hare - would all enter the cottage, and sit side-by-side by the fire, and sway in time to the rise and fall of the creature's song. Dusk would fall; darkness draw in; and Victor - and the beasts of the forest - would fall into a deep restful slumber.

Victor was happy. He was the happiest he could ever remember. He couldn't imagine an end to his happiness. But all the time, bills and reminders dropped in through the letterbox and piled up on his front room floor.

One morning, Victor was woken by a knock on his front door. When he opened the door, outside stood - what appeared to be - a country maid dressed in a simple gown. But Victor saw beyond the disguise and knew her to be a beautiful princess from the castle beyond the forest. In fact, she was an employee from the gas company.

"You haven't paid your bill," she said. "I've come to disconnect your supply."

"Please, come in, do, Miss," said Victor, bowing. "It is rare that I have visitors to my humble home. But what is mine, is yours to share. Pray, seat yourself on my simple woodcutter's stool, and I will fetch you some bread and cheese to eat, and a flagon of milk to drink, perhaps?"

The maid looked around the room and saw the pile of bills on the floor. She saw the peeling wallpaper. She saw dust piled in the corners of the room.

"No thanks. I've not long had breakfast," she said.

She saw empty tins of cat food heaped up in the kitchen beyond. She saw the cat.

"Oh, you have a cat!" she said.

"It is a magical creature. You should hear it sing," said Victor. "Please sit down."

The maid sat down on a chair by the gas fire and the cat jumped up and settled in her lap. Its one eye looked up at the maid, and as she looked back at it, tears formed in her eyes.

The magical creature sang. Outside, the morning light grew golden, and the fragrant scent of honeysuckle and lavender drifted in through the open window. Through the open back door, beasts of the forest shyly entered, and sat round the blazing fire. Victor smiled and swayed in time to the song; happiness descended upon him.

But sadness descended upon the maid. She saw dust and dilapidation; smelled damp and decay; and saw a gas fire that barely warmed the room. And on her lap sat a thin, one-eyed black and white cat, which cried pitifully.

"I can't do it," she said, and she stood up. "I have to go."

"I understand," said Victor. "The King will worry if you are too long away from the castle. But perhaps you will return - tomorrow, or another day?"

The maid left, without reply, but Victor knew: she would return.

In the days that followed, Victor waited. Waited for a knock at the door; for the beautiful princess to return. And as he waited, the magical creature sang, and the beasts of the forest would sit round the fire, and sway in time to the rise and fall of the creature's voice.

In those days that followed, the gas van would pass the front of Victor's house each morning, on its way to the depot, and the gas employee would glance through a gap in the overgrown hedge, at the weed-covered driveway and the peeling paint on the front door.

Then one morning, Victor left his woodcutter's cottage and journeyed out of the forest, to get some provisions. In his hurry, he failed to close the door, and the magical creature came out, too, and wandered off into the trees. Victor arrived at the local village, in time for the village fair, where stalls were laden with all manner of goods that could be bartered or traded for. It was - in fact - a supermarket.

Luck was with Victor, that morning. As he passed between the stalls, he saw a gleam. There on the ground was a bag: a bag filled with gold coins. 'This will make a wonderful present for the beautiful princess,' he thought, so he hung the bag of gold coins around his neck, under his smock. At a stall on the edge of the fair, he made a trade with a farmer's daughter: some of his woodcuttings for bread and cheese and milk. The farmers daughter - who was, in fact, a supermarket check-out girl - saw that Victor was simple, so she overcharged him for the bread, but failed to notice the bag of frozen peas concealed underneath his shirt.

In the evening, rain fell softly on the windscreen of the gas van, as the employee made her way home. As her eyes strayed towards the front garden of Victor's house, she was startled by something hitting the windscreen, bouncing onto the roof of the van and flying onto the road behind it. She braked hard; threw open the door. In the darkness, outside of Victor's house, something lay on the road: something broken and dying; something wheezing and coughing blood. It was a black cat.

Victor was sat on his woodcutter's stool by the fire, when a knock came at the door. He opened the door and saw the beautiful princess.

"I'm sorry," she said, tearfully. "I've run over your cat."

"I knew you would return. You're just in time," he said, pointing to the magical creature which sat by the fire, surrounded by the beasts of the forest. "She's just about to sing."

"Ohh!" said the beautiful princess "it wasn't your cat." And she hugged Victor in relief, just as the one-eyed black and white cat started to cry.

And Victor knew there was going to be a happy ending to this story.

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