When the first poster went up, the town barely noticed. It was one poster. One singular, solitary poster. Sellotaped to a wet lamppost. And before long the poster had slipped from its lofty perch and drifted meekly to the ground, settling in the murky depths of the puddle below. Sodden. Faded. Forgotten.
But before long other posters started appearing. All around town. Stuck to shop windows, shop doors, car windows. Pinned to trees. Stapled to fences, gates, sheds. At that point the town couldn’t fail but sit up and take notice.
That’s what the poster read. Lost Cat. Scrawled in, what appeared to be, childish handwriting. The words etched beneath, what again appeared to be, a childish, crude, sketch of a cat. The kind of drawing that would trouble no art galleries, nor even the upper echelons of a Primary School art teacher’s grading system, but that it was a cat was clear enough to anyone who took the time to scan the poster.
But that was it. Just the drawing of the cat and the words ‘Lost Cat’. Any other information required by the reader was not forthcoming. It oddly seemed to be left to the casual passer-by’s own imagination to decipher any further clues as to what the cat looked like, perhaps, or even whom should be contacted in the event that this unidentified cat should be found. Nothing. Nothing but the drawing. And the words. Lost Cat
So, in reality, the best thing for the town, and for those dwelling within it, would have been the wisest, most common-sense-driven, course of action; forget it. Simply forget it. Was it a childish joke without an obvious punch line? Possibly. Could it be that the person whom had put up said poster had simply rushed out the copies in a stress-induced panic and had forgotten to add pertinent information to the piece? Maybe. With the intention to produce a second draft complete with facts, names and any other points of reference for a team of would-be lost cat seekers and finders? Any of these scenarios could have been plausible. And all would have lent themselves to the notion that, in this instance, the best idea would simply have been to remove the posters, send them to the recycling bin and move on with their respective lives.
Not in this town.
This town was intrigued. Its interest was piqued. It was also, quite frankly, a little annoyed. Never mind the mystery that lay within these badly designed and produced posters but had anyone thought about the blemish that these images had inflicted upon the town? Had anyone seriously considered the damage this could do the town’s reining ‘Best Kept Small Town’ award status? This was littering, plain and simple. This was a wanton act of vandalism on the town. Lost cat or no lost cat. It was…it was…well, it was also quite sad wasn’t it? Well, I mean, it was obviously created by a small child who had lost their beloved pet, wasn’t it. No wonder the posters were lacking detail but were beyond generous in their sentimentality, it was the work of a child, obviously. Wasn’t it?
Well, was it? The town’s community council certainly didn’t know. They hadn’t heard any report or complaint informing them of a lost cat. And the local police? Well, let’s just say the local police had stopped taking calls or inquiries about the issue. Being bombarded by a deluge of the town’s feline population handed into the station, only to then be further submerged by a backlash from the owners of these incorrectly ‘rescued’ cats when they came to collect them, must have went some way to convincing the local police that the best route to take in this situation was to completely wipe their hands of those bloody posters and pass it back to the town’s community council.
So the mystery burrowed deeper into the minds of the town’s residents. Articles were written by the town’s self-deigned deep thinkers. Theories penned online by shady monikers. All speculating as to the what’s, the why’s and the who. The posters were left up. No, no, we can’t take them down, they thought, we must leave them up in anticipation of the happening. In anticipation of the event that was surely to occur. The one signalled by, and hidden within, the cryptic nature of the poster.
Then one day a lead. Yes, information. Nothing tangible, no, but a lead all the same. A hooded figure was spotted running away from the scene, caught in the act of pinning another poster to a tree by one of the town’s more senior residents as she took her mid-morning stroll. The figure looked smaller than average, that was all the witness could say. Young? Old? Who knew? The figure’s hooded jumper was fully zipped up, the hood completely obscuring his or her face. No words were exchanged. No she didn’t see what kind of shoes the perpetrator had on. No, how was she to know whether the person was acting in an angry, mischievous or distressed manner? And that was it. The first and only lead fizzled into nothing.
But the subject remained on the minds, in the hearts, of the town’s residents. Even as the summer’s rain became subsumed by the battering winds of autumn, damaging and scattering many of the posters in the process, the mystery of the Lost Cat continued to prey on the minds of the townsfolk.
Hairdressers, shopkeepers, janitors, mechanics, office-workers, teachers, the local clergy; all would use the posters as the first topic of conversation when meeting with their customers, peers or parishioners. They couldn’t remember a time when the posters weren’t in their lives.
And it wasn’t just the older members of the community that focussed on the posters. The obsession also spread to the younger members of the community. Geeks, goths, jocks, nerds; they all had their own take, their own theories, their own opinions on the Lost Cat.
Even the local musicians.
Like one particular band. Standing on stage. Poised to play their set opener at the town’s community hall. Looking out to a sea of…well, nothingness. No-one. Not one person. Not one ticket-owner. An audience of none. Even then the subject of the posters seemed to crop up. Even then, at such a crucial stage of their performance, the matter of the posters arrested their attention as the guitarist laid his instrument against the amp belligerently and snarled towards the singer.
‘I fucking well told you nobody would turn up!’
‘Well, I…I mean, how was I to know that…’
‘It was those bloody posters!’ chipped in the female bass player as her instrument similarly made the journey from around-neck to slouching-against-amp. ‘A stupid fucking idea.’
‘Oh come on…’ started the singer confidently, ‘it created mystery didn’t it? Am I wrong? No. It created an aura didn’t it? It’s all anyone has talked about in this town for the last few months. It worked.’ He flashed a smug smile to each member of the band.
‘But it didn’t fucking work did it!?’ shouted the drummer behind him, standing up from his kit. ‘Because no-one has a fucking clue that our band is called Lost Cat do they!? In fact no-one has a clue the posters relate to a band at all!?’
‘Well, no, listen…’
‘And no-one knows there’s a bloody gig! That’s why no fucker has turned up!? That’s why we’re sat here looking like twats!’
‘Well, yes, but you see the mystery it created is…’
‘Oh fuck your mystery!’ shouted the bespectacled keyboard player, slamming the keys with his fists for good measure. ‘Lost Cat for fuck’s sake. What a fucking joke.’
‘You know what,’ answered the singer, a surge of rage coursing through him, ‘if you think you can do any fucking better then why don’t you just go and fu….’
And even after a poorly-executed multi-band member fight broke out – one in which many innocent instruments found themselves damaged in the melee – the subject of the posters still seemed to be foremost in their minds.
‘Look,’ began the singer as he wiped a spatter of blood away from the corner of his mouth, ‘how about we just keep this fucking embarrassment to ourselves and never mention it to anyone ok? Agreed? Good. Fucking good.’
And so as the weeks became months and months became seasons, the mystery of the Lost Cat posters, and their origin and meaning, remained unsolved in the little town. Unknown to all but that small few.
Slowly their importance started to fade as more and more, crumpled and weather-beaten, began their descent to the often sodden ground.
Until just one remained. Pinned to a solitary tree.
A source of perpetual mystery, a source of intrigue.
A source of embarrassment.