No Place Like Home

This is the story I’ve been putting live in segments the last few days. I thought I’d present the whole thing, just in case anybody comes along later (happens more often than you’d think), they can read it all in one.

I started writing this a couple months back, but put it to one side as it needed work. I had a bit of time over Christmas to polish it up.

If you already read the segments, please just save your time. There’s nothing new here.


“Hurry up. Quickly, get yourself in to registration, toute suite. We’re running late this morning, so no dawdling.”

Flora Nugent reached across to open the passenger door. “There’s a good boy. Have a nice day, and I’ll see you again at half-past-three.”

“But mama, it’s not half-three today. It’s Parents’ Assembly this afternoon. Remember, you said you’d come weeks ago.”

Crikey! The assembly had totally slipped Flora’s mind, but she recovered well.

“Of course I’ll be there, David. I was just teasing you.” A pause. “Actually, do you want to know a secret? I’m looking forward to hearing my boy sing!”

David blushed.

“Now go on. Get in with you, or we’ll be in trouble with Mrs. Naylor. I’ll see you at the assembly.”

*

Flora had planned to make the most of this crisp autumn day. Before her son returned, she wanted to bed the garden down for the winter; pruning the plants and sweeping the freshly fallen leaves from the back lawn. But this, er, hiccup meant that there would be little time to complete the chores. She must get started straight away!

Before she did anything outside, though, Hazel’s cage required attention. Long overdue for a clean, the young mother set about the task efficiently, expertly replacing the litter, bedding and water, her elegant fingers even placing a fresh toilet roll tube, in which the hamster sometimes liked to sleep, sometimes to chew.

Hazel’s cage complete, Flora instinctively coiffed her sumptuous chestnut hair as she walked past the hall mirror, before picking up some secateurs from the kitchen table. Donning her special gardening gloves she opened the door onto the sunny patio. With the rays streaming down, it felt pleasantly warm, and she left the door open a crack to allow fresh air into the house.

Inside the cage, all this disturbance had woken Hazel, the Nugent family’s beautiful syrup-brown hamster, who usually slept in until at least teatime! What’s that smell? She instinctively sniffed the surrounding air. Mrs Nugent had been in; Hazel recognised her subtle hand cream. She made out new bedding, new litter, but most of all… she smelled fresh food. As if to rumble its support, at that moment her tiny tummy let out a long gurgle. She carefully crawled through the new, warm straw, sniffing all the way, to her bowl, where she found a firm, juicy stick of fresh celery, still cool from the fridge. She carefully took a sample bite of this delicacy to try it out. But she felt a strange sensation when she accidentally leaned on the cage –movement! In her hurry to start outside, Flora had not fastened the door properly!

Hazel was not a large hamster. Among her brothers and sisters, she had always been the runt. But she could not resist the lure of the world outside and heaved with all her tiny might at the door. After one extra-hard push, it burst open, spilling Hazel right off the coffee table and onto the soft lounge carpet.

In the big, wide living room, she scurried under the table for cover, sniffing the air once again. This time, she caught the unmistakeable whiff of… stale cat! Ah, yes, she recalled, I’ve seen that brute around, often watching him prowl from the safety of her cage. If looks could kill, she’d have been swallowed whole! I must be extra-careful in case this meanie is about. But the scent was old, and she hadn’t seen the cat since breakfast. He’s probably fast asleep somewhere – that’s all the useless moggy seems to do, she reassured herself.

Still sniffing, Hazel started as a gust of wind hit her from the open door. Cool, fresh air swept the cobwebs from her lungs, and after a moment of pondering, she resolved to explore. Sprinting to the slightly-open door, she stopped still when she glimpsed the patio beyond, amazed at this whole new world spread out before her. Throwing caution to the wind – or to the gentle breeze – she clambered down.

But Hazel could not have timed her adventure more unfortunately, for at that moment Sampson, the Nugent family’s aging ginger tom, had just woken, and was taking his usual late-morning stroll to survey his territory. He, too, was struck by the refreshing breeze, as he strutted stealthily around the garden.

“Hi, there, Sampson, have you come out to help me?”, exclaimed Flora as she spotted the cat.

What on earth is this silly woman up to? What’s she cutting up that dead plant for? But since there was clearly no food involved, Sampson decided she was best ignored. Nose raised, he continued his patrol.

Turning the corner past the water butt, however, Sampson was instantly alert as he spotted a slight movement on the patio. And what’s that smell? Is that… rodent??? He searched hard. Surely, he was not wrong?

There it was again! Unmistakeable! Crouching onto his haunches, Sampson readied himself to spring, scanning all the while for prey. There it is! On the patio! And, that annoying hamster! I’ll surely be given a huge treat if I present my mistress with this little vermin! Sampson prepared to pounce.

*

The first blow sent Hazel flying against the garden fence. What the…??? The dazed hamster needed to find cover, fast, but the merciless cat was on her again in a trice. Scared out of her wits, Hazel sat perfectly still as she repeatedly scanned for a safe haven, thinking, I wish I was somewhere else, as she anxiously awaited her fate.

What happened next caught even the normally-cool Sampson by surprise! For Hazel had tumbled onto a huge golden leaf, fallen from the sycamore across the road. Which suddenly began to rustle, then to shake! When the leaf – complete with the shocked Hazel – lifted gently off the patio, the startled cat could not believe his eyes! What trickery is this??? It was Sampson’s turn to be flabbergasted, until the leaf reached nose-height and came straight for him! Flabbergastedness became full retreat, for poor old Sampson had no clue what was happening and instantly turned tail, scurrying for the safety of the house.

Hazel, meanwhile, was every bit as scared as Sampson. But at least the cat was scampering away, which was a good thing. With her tiny claws, she grasped the stem to prevent herself from falling, then dared to peek downwards.

Rising still, she now drifted above the roof, exposing the house. How strange that humans live in a box, just like me! Lifting even higher, Hazel glimpsed the world beyond, a world that she had never even dreamed about. She could not believe her eyes as the Nugent house grew smaller and smaller, finally a tiny pinprick in the distance. She held the stem even harder!

The Nugent family lived in an area of London, and as the leaf flew further and further away from the house, Hazel passed the airport. She even spotted an aeroplane, not too far off, coming in to land. She didn’t know it was an aeroplane, of course, but all the same, she was perplexed to see all those humans living in a tube, rather like the one she’d left behind in her cage!

As the aeroplane flew past, it caused a great deal of shaking and Hazel needed to grip the leaf for dear life! But she was at the mercy of this magic carpet; she had no idea how to control it, so had no choice but to… cling! as they blew towards the centre of the city.

Soon, the leaf slowed, and came lower. As she dropped through the wispy clouds, Hazel began to distinguish roads and buildings again, even an enormous green field below. As the leaf seemed to head straight for this field, Hazel noticed a grand old house beside it. It seemed to be a much larger house than the Nugents’, with hundreds of windows. It even had men standing guard by its gates, wearing bright red uniforms! What was this place?

Hazel anxiously clutched the leaf as it drifted closer and closer towards the field, and soon it became clear that it was somebody’s garden. The garden, in fact, of the Queen’s Palace, although Hazel did not know this, of course, because she was a hamster! Hazel did notice, however, that the garden was exceptionally well-tended. Even the flowers still bloomed, despite summer being long gone, and the lawn, which did not contain a single fallen leaf, still flourished.

When the golden leaf gently touched down, Hazel was glad to be on solid ground again, though she felt a little dizzy since she was not used to all this flying about! I’d better stay still for a short while, while I catch my breath. But even her sense of smell was askew, and she did not notice the old lady, out for her pre-lunch stroll, shuffling quietly along the path towards her. Instead, the old lady noticed her.

“Hello, lovely, what are you doing in my garden? Have you dropped in to have lunch with us? How nice to meet you!”

The hamster started, shrinking into the leaf, away from the woman. But this time, she needn’t have worried, for this person seemed to be gentle. Slowly, creakily, the elderly lady bent to pick Hazel up, but a young, uniformed man approached, interrupting the pair.

“Your majesty”, began the man. Hazel had not realised that she was in such illustrious company! “Lunch is served, ma’am, in the Small Dining Room, as you requested”.

But the queen raised her hand.

“Look who we have here, Hodgkiss.” She pointed towards Hazel. “Go back quickly into the house. Make sure none of the dogs can get out.”

A shrill bark later, however, and the queen realised that she was too late, for racing towards them was a strange-looking dog, bounding initially to greet his mistress. Its short legs were tiny stubs and it almost waddled on the ground, but there was no mistaking the size of those enormous teeth as its playful yelps turned to a growling anticipation when he spotted Hazel!

*

This is all too much, groaned Hazel. First, the cat, then, a world with people the size of insects, who live inside metal tubes. And now this vicious dog, wanting me for its lunch! Enough! I wish I was just back in the safety of my cage! At least nothing bothers me, there.

As if by magic, the leaf began to rustle, and rose gracefully into the air again, carrying Hazel with it! As the drooling dog realised his lunch was escaping, he made one final, desperate lunge.

But his efforts were in vain, as the leaf gently lifted out of his reach, then beyond the reach of the old lady. Finally the great house itself grew smaller, as Hazel climbed higher  and began to be surrounded by thin wisps of cloud. Oh, no, she thought, as the leaf began to carry her away from the palace, I’ve only just got my legs back from the last trip, for goodness sake! Squeezing her eyes tightly shut, thankfully, there were no more close encounters with aeroplanes to worry about as the leaf made its way deliberately through the cooling air.

After what seemed like an age, Hazel felt the leaf descending and gingerly opened her eyes to see thousands of tiny boxes, just like the ones earlier. Not only that, but the leaf seemed to be heding towards one in particular. Not just to the box, either, but toward a small, black hole in the top. In fact, come to mention, there were black holes in almost all the boxes, and Hazel even saw some belching grey smoke into the sky.

 Now, Hazel remembered this smoke from her cage. When Mrs Nugent sometimes lit a fire, all the smoke and flames disappeared into… a black hole! Indeed, as they dropped towards the ground, Hazel shivered at the prospect of now being burned to a crisp in an orange inferno!

Hazel’s thoughts were interrupted when suddenly, her world became dark, with just a tiny peephole above her. The wind dropped to nothing, and rather than being hot, she found herself freezing cold! Down and down she continued, along this impenetrable passage, until she was bathed in light again, and her view opened up into a large room which felt extremely familiar. Remarkably similar, in fact, to where she lived, as the leaf finally came to rest on a cold, black slab of slate.

A minute later, Hazel heard a soft, familiar voice.

“Hazel? Darling, is that you?”

Quick as a flash, Flora leapt toward the fireplace and snatched the hamster up, cupping Hazel tightly in her hands. At last, the hamster felt secure.

“Goodness me, honey. I thought we’d lost you!”, uttered a relieved Flora. “I’ve been hunting high and low, and there you were, rummaging around in the hearth all the while! David will be ever so relieved to see you safe and sound!”

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