Frieda was sitting in the bedroom she shared with Florence and although it was quite unusual for a fourteen-year-old to share rooms with a younger sister, she adored Florry and kept an eye on her. Florry had the worst nightmares ever and was quite highly strung whereas Frieda was relaxed about most things, even big cat hunting. Florence had trouble sleeping, too, so Frieda offered her all the sisterly love she could manage and they enjoyed each other’s company.
Enjoying a book on dinosaurs, Frieda was interrupted by the buzzing of her mobile phone. She had a text from Ellie. “Omigod they have found two mice and think aliens experimented on them, love El x”
“Madness,” exclaimed Frieda, rushing next door to tell her brothers and sister about the latest news from the front line. “You will not believe this!”
She showed them the text and when they’d stopped laughing, and had managed to explain to a befuddled Florence exactly what the ABC Team thought they had found they sat there in disbelief. “Whatever next?” said Robin. “This is like the worst version of Harry Potter!”
“Harry Potter is ace,” said Tom, “But I know what you mean. It is as if they’ve watched far too much BAD science fiction and can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy.”
“Indeed,” said Robin. “But it helps us. Frieda, can you text Ellie back and ask her to get pictures. I have an idea.”
“She is ahead of you, brother,” replied Frieda. “Here we go. She has just sent them. We should download them onto your computer and take a look. Now where’s that cable thingy?”
“Here it is,” he replied. “Right then... it goes in the USB port heeere... Aha, it’s working... open programme... find piccies... and CLICK!”
Shortly, a few good-quality still pictures of two long-dead field mice appeared on the computer screen. There were indeed small holes in the head quite visible. The children didn’t see anything remarkable about these pictures even though the ABC Team a few miles away by the riverbank clearly saw more extreme possibilities.
“Well what is this supposed to show?” asked Frieda, pretty much saying what the others were thinking. “It looks unremarkable!”
“It does, doesn’t it,” added Robin, “But I shall send these pictures to Susannah at her new surgery and see what she thinks. After all, she’s got more qualifications in animals than 100 ABC Teams put together.”
An e-mail to Susannah@minstervets.com was soon dispatched and Robin spent time doing things with a computer programme to clean up the pictures. Then, just a few minutes later, came a reply:
“Thanks for message Tom. I spoke to Jack about big cat but these specimens are not new and quite normal. I have come across similar holes on a range of animals – from field mice to foxes – and they occur when something small buries into the creature, sometimes from the head, sometimes from the side. How these people arrive at aliens and helicopters is evidence of near total insanity. In fact it is at times like this that I realise how many dangerous and obscene theories there are out there and I should hate the thought that this group would have any involvement in researching big cats of any sort. Indeed I wouldn’t be happy at them investigating the contents of my rubbish bin.
That is enough from me!
Love Susannah xxx”
The children laughed at the rubbish bin comment and pictures of The General and Burger Van Man rooting through the bins of Upper Minster looking for food flashed through their heads.
Whilst the youngsters were getting organised, a few ABC Team stragglers were putting out a “specially prepared action leaflet” door to door in Upper Minster. Featuring a vicious-looking big cat with blood dripping from its mouth and flaming eyes on one side; and written in bad English on the other, the leaflet, produced by The General, read as follows:
“People of Upper Minster. We are your saviours the ABC Team of Big Cats Research. Dedicated to uncovering the cover up about big cats in your village. Animals have been killed, pets terrified, pensioners scared to death but we are hear to help you rid the place of its scourge. We are calling in supporters from the nationwide to assist us in our peril and we will put this place on its map.”
“We will not rest idly in our beds while your are under threat from things unseen. Your quiet life of village living cannot last thanks now to the invasion by dark forces.”
“Have YOU seen the Killer Cat? If so, handle with care as it is dangerous and known to kill. Phone us now on the number given and we will be there to assist you in ridding your place of its scourge. You can trust us world experts. We mean business and we are the ABC Team in conjunction with Channel X TV seen Europe wide on Channel 777.”
If ever a leaflet was designed to annoy, disturb and upset local people, this was it.
Meanwhile, down by the river the field mice had been put into an old carrier bag and The General had taken the specimens promising to send them to a “Lab in London for further investigation,” by which he probably meant the large freezer in his West Ham flat. There was a general air of excitement and confusion but Yvonne Fawcett was not yet sure what to do with this story as it sounded far too ridiculous to be true, even for her, the pioneer of Paranormal TV magazine style reporting. When her job as scheduler of Children’s Programmes for Channel 5 had come to an end, she had formed her own company – Semantix Film Productions – and won commissions to make numerous TV shows. She often took a starring role, too, her biggest hits being those where she was able to encourage gullible celebrities – not her usual array of B- and C-list scareaholics – to join her at Loch Ness or in some haunted castle or other. She’d even done a night vigil in a crop circle near a Neolithic site in Wiltshire. Several of her crew members had allegedly fainted although the un-broadcast material filmed by static cameras during the adverts – the stuff the public wasn’t supposed to see - showed them laughing and joking and practicing falling over. Damn those satellite communications experts, she thought to herself.
Just then one of the ABC Team members, Donna Wild, shouted “Have you seen this? Paw prints in the mud!” Now anyone knowing anything about pets could see that these were normal cat prints but no; Donna had to make a big deal about them. “They’re much bigger than I’d expect,” she claimed. A later investigation for Channel 4 News would show that Donna had never even owned a cat and that her own pet was a suffering reptile kept in appalling conditions in a rented house in Southampton. Mind you, it was people like Donna that kept the world of Paranormalia going with their mostly unsubstantiated claims. She, like the other ABCers, was on a mission and needed some proof, so they found some. What was more, once a claim was made it needed to be backed up because if they didn’t have each other and their fantasies what did they have?
Yvonne Fawcett, the most wily feline of them all, saw an opportunity. Filming the excitement, a plan started to hatch. A bit of clever editing, a bit of blurry footage of paw prints, partially obscured, might be enough to convince a gullible public; those who wanted to believe. She thought she could get away with it. Most times she did and her viewers wanted to believe. After all, she was on special assignment... so she would find something special....
Since the story had broken she had had words with the Channel X Dirty Tricks Department and this had resulted in her friend and colleague Ron Jeremy being brought in to replace news reporter Richard Smallbody. Not only did their viewers wants results – proof of the unknown – but they wanted it now and the more they needed it, the more chicanery was required to bring in the results and allow Channel X’s advertising sales team to bring in the revenue....
It was very much a case of cause and effect and The General was useful to them; so they used him and would drop him as required.
“Farley, dear, we need to do a piece to camera. This waay!” What Yvonne wanted, she got and Farley ‘The General’ Norman was happy to be the centre of attention despite the fact that his appearance was bound to suggest to even the most supportive Channel X TV stalwart that all was not well in his camp, or in his mind.
They went for it:
“I am standing with Farley Norman of Big Cats Research here in rural Dorset at the heart of a community rocked by extraordinary claims in recent days. I am Yvonne Fawcett and I am going behind the news to present a series of cutting edge reports from the frontline with the people making the news. Mr Norman, we have seen you on Channel X news with Ron Jeremy but give me some background to your work here so far and today’s mooomentous events."
“Well Yvonne,” said The General. “It started with a lead from a local supporter here in Upper Minster and now we have a dedicated team engaged in a full scale iiiinnnternational effort to track down a mystery beast with magical powers – the power to appear and disappear at will, to stalk local residents and to operate with impunity on local farms. This is not just a cat out of place, this is a mystery cat out of time and space, able to bend reality to its will.”
The General was talking a lot of empty nonsense, of course, but to the uninitiated it sounded fairly believable. Coached by the ruthless Yvonne Fawcett to present a racier storyline, he was in his element doing everything he could to keep the story going and to ensure that he was central to its development.
“We are standing now, here, today, in the centre of a window area of such importance that it cannot be underestimated. We will need time, with our team of experts, to take samples and make our investigations before going to the scientists.”
As The General spoke, Ellie MacPherson vowed to make sure that this awful man never got anywhere and would have to beg for his life when her friends and neighbours - the local villagers - got wind of what he and the ruthless Fawcett were trying to do to their home.
It was only a matter of time, she thought, before all this media hype started to unravel. “And when it does,” she said to herself, “Me, Tom, Florence, Frieda, Robin and friends will be there to make sure that life gets back to normal.”
Of course the villagers had a trump card. They had their own cunning Foxes; four children and one friend, Ellie, and she was their inside man....
She put her headphones back on and rejoined the ABC group....