Greetings, fellow lunatics! It is I, J.J. Hatter! Welcome to my first attempt for two different fandoms: Andrew Lloyd Weber's CATS and Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends.
BRIEF INTRODUCTION: I have LOVED Thomas, and all his friends, ever since childhood; it was my first real obsession. The newer series, I feel, takes away – both in story and animation – so much of the charm and magic I found, however, in both the earlier seasons of the T.V. series and Rev. W. Awdry's original books, so, past the twelfth season, I haven't watched its newer episodes. I still watch it, in private moments, when I'm particularly nostalgic...okay, enough of that. Anyway, I came up with this while watching the video of CATS, and, upon coming up to the song "Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat," I happened to glance at an old VHS cassette that was lying around. It was an old videotape of Thomas & Friends, and that's when the idea popped into my head. Now, this story focuses more on the world of the Island of Sodor than the world of CATS; Skimbleshanks is the only character from the musical to make an appearance, and, since this is written from the perspective of the humans and the engines, he is NOT going to speak.
Now that I'm through rambling about that, a bit of boring stuff...
Rating: K (IT'S THOMAS!)
Disclaimer: I own-eth none of the characters or settings here. The Island of Sodor and all its denizens belong to Rev. W. Awdry, Christopher Awdry, Britt Allcroft, HIT Entertainment, and anyone else I failed to mention. Skimbleshanks and all quotes/paraphrases from the poem about him belong to Andrew Lloyd Weber, David Mackintosh, T.S. Eliot, and anyone else I failed to mention.
Summary: Skimbleshanks, the so-called railway cat, is beloved by all the people he meets...but Percy, who pulls the Night Mail, doesn't understand why. But, very soon, he will find out...
Notes: This takes place in the universe of the books, not the T.V. series.
Now, AWAY WE GO!
Percy and the Railway Cat
Percy, the Small Engine, is a little green tank engine with four wheels and a curved boiler with thin, red stripes. He's a young engine, full of cheekiness and mischief, and has much to learn. Percy is called upon by the Fat Controller – Sir Topham Hatt, to us – to do many jobs: sometimes he helps Toby, the Tram Engine, at the quarry. Sometimes he helps pull passengers on Thomas' Branch Line. And sometime he shunts trucks and coaches in the yards, for the bigger engines to haul away or carry passengers in.
But Percy's favorite job is the Night Mail: every evening he stops at a station near Brendam Docks. Cranes load the boxes and parcels and bags into the wagons. Sometimes Percy carries passengers on these trips; workers and late-night tourists who want an owl's view. There are always three small coaches waiting for him in a station siding, just for times like this.
At 11:43 each night, the Midnight Mail takes off from the station by the docks, the signal green as an emerald. Percy likes the dark; the night air is cool and soothing, and the humming of the rails beneath his wheels tickles him. On a night with a full moon, the Island of Sodor looks like the inside of a diamond, the stars shining like candles in the sky. Sometimes Percy can hear his friend, Harold the Helicopter, buzzing around, other times he'll hear and/or meet Bertie the Bus, on a nightly tour. But many times, all he can hear is crickets and owls and bats. He likes them.
But Percy does have one problem with the Mail Train: a problem called Skimbleshanks.
Skimbleshanks was the name of the Brendam Station Master's cat; a stray he had adopted looking like an orange tabby with a long, brown tail and a white muzzle. The Station Master's daughters had dressed "Skimble" in a dark brown waistcoat. From the way the cat would strut around in it, Percy felt he must have thought he looked rather smart in it. Every evening, when Percy came to pick up the Midnight Mail, Skimbleshanks would stalk around, pacing back and forth, eyeing the mail trucks with a sense of suspicion, and sniffing at them, as if to make sure they were in working order. He would run up beside the cranes and bat at the moths that gathered around the lights, perhaps to keep them away from the faces of the crane operators. He would brush against the legs of all humans he met, and most of them would chuckle and reach down to stroke his back. And, as 11:43 drew near, he would stare, unblinking, at the signal. Then, at the same instant the signal would go clear, he would blink his glass-green eyes, almost as if he thought he controlled when the signal worked.
When passengers needed to come aboard, the cat would actually travel with them. After his usual "patrol," the tabby would jump on board one of the coaches. As Percy rattled along with the Mail, he would wander around the coaches, and often even into the baggage and mail cars themselves, inspecting everything with a critical eye. It seemed the cat thought that he was in charge of the train; if he saw some of the bagmen playing cards, he would peek his orange and white head up at them, as if to say, "Shouldn't you be doing something else right now?" While the passengers were awake, he would sometimes jump into their laps, and peer intently at them, inspecting their faces, as if to make sure they were behaving themselves. If fighting broke out, the cat would jump between the two naughty passengers, and hiss angrily, as if to tell them that there would be no rioting aboard the Night Mail. When dinner was served, the passengers were all asked how they liked their tea. It seemed the cat would purr if they liked it weak, and mew loudly if it was strong, often before the passenger answered...in the same. And, when the passengers went to sleep, he would slink around the coaches, watching out for delicious, if pesty, mice that might bother them in their slumber.
With all that Skimble did, you might think that Percy would have been glad to have the cat aboard. He wasn't. You see, Percy felt that Skimble was a braggart, and wasn't really needed for the trains to run. Unfortunately, everyone on the Night Mail disagreed.
"He's a hoodoo!" Percy's driver once told him.
"A Hoodoo!" the fireman explained. "Among other things, it means he's a good luck charm! Skimble won't let anything go wrong!"
"He's a useless cat! What if he makes us late?" Percy asked anxiously. "You won't let me leave without him!"
"He won't," the driver assured. "You'll see someday, Percy: that cat is the most important thing the mail train has besides you."
Percy smiled slightly, but didn't really believe that.
At 11:39, one dark, moonlit night, however, Skimble was nowhere to be found. All of the guards and porters, and the Station Master and his girls, were all searching the station for the naughty cat.
"Skimble! Where is Skimble?" cried the daughters.
Maybe if he's lost, he thought to himself, we'll have to go without him.
At 11:42, they all gave up.
"We'll just have to run without our good luck charm," sighed the driver.
Percy chuckled to himself.
The signal turned green, and the Night Mail was off.
Percy had to make a few stops on his journey; there were four stations he had to visit to complete his journey: one in Crewe, one in Carlisle, one in Dumfries, and a final one in Gallowgate. At first, all went swimmingly: the train ran like clockwork, none of the passengers complained, and, upon arrival in Carlisle, Percy couldn't help but whistle out loud as they pulled in.
"Some good luck charm!" he laughed. "Some good luck charm!"
But, when Percy got to Dumfries, something very strange happened. When Percy stopped to drop off some passengers and pick up some mail...none of the mail was there. The platform was completely empty. One of the guards got off to check on what was going on.
As he walked into the station building, Percy noticed a large, black motor-van drive off on a road behind the station. The guard came back fast, and ran up to the driver and fireman.
"The mail's been stolen!" he cried. "The Station Master is inside, hit on the head."
"Is he all right?"
"He'll live, but we need to hurry: the rails and the road are parallel. You might be able to stop the thief!"
The driver nodded, and told the guard to uncouple the train and explain to the passengers what was going on. This was done. Then the guard telephoned for the police.
"Okay, Percy," whispered the fireman. "Go as fast as you can! We have to try and catch up with that van."
Percy was nervous, but he plucked up courage, and steamed out of the station as fast as he could.
For a while, in the dark, Percy couldn't tell where the van had gone.
Then – "Peep peep! There it goes!"
The van was in the distance, running down the road alongside the rails.
One of the men inside the van noticed the green tank engine following.
"It's that Mail Engine, Chauncy!" he said to his friend, who was driving. "Go faster!"
"Peep pip-pip-peep! Stop!" cried Percy, but the Van didn't. It just kept driving off faster and faster.
Percy was catching up, but he was losing steam, and he had no idea what he or his driver and fireman would do if they did catch the bandits.
Thankfully they didn't have to; the robbers were so focused on the engine chasing them, they failed to notice a row of police spikes set in the road. The van ran over the spikes, and slowed to a halt, its tires flatter than hotcakes.
Percy smiled tiredly as he, too, came to a stop. The police, who had been waiting for this moment, suddenly appeared, and dragged the two startled men out of the van.
"A very special machine was to be loaded for delivery on the Mail Train," said one of the police. "These men wanted to take it and sell it as their own."
"Thank goodness you got the guards call!" said the driver.
"Guard?" said the officer. "We didn't receive any calls..."
At this moment, another officer stepped up. In his arms was...
"Skimbleshanks?" gasped Percy in surprise.
"This cat came to the Police Station; we knew he was always on the Midnight Mail on nights like this, so we came to investigate. The guard was still trying to reach us by telephone when we arrived. He told us what happened, and we set up the spike strips to stop the thieves."
Percy smiled at the orange tabby. He could have sworn that Skimble smiled and winked at him.
"I guess you are a good luck charm," he whispered teasingly.
Now, Percy never complains about Skimble...he's the first to ask if the cat will be with him! And Skimbleshanks still remains the feline master of the NorWester Midnight Mail Train.
And he gives you a wave of his long brown tail, which says: "I'll see you again! You'll meet without fail on the Midnight Mail the Cat of the Railway Train!"