1
Aug

Dead Bush Poker - A short cat story

I live in Dead Bush, a small town in the center of Texas. Our town sports three saloons, a general store, the bank, one church without a steeple, a blacksmith shop and another establishment such as nice folks don’t talk about in mixed company. Modern wooden slat sidewalks was added this spring in deference to the request of those specific ladies who live in the aforementioned establishment.

On Founder’s Day, the local farmer’s wives bake pies and hams and sweet potatoes for a giant banquet and sponsor a square dance out behind the Blacksmith’s shop. Bright and early this morning, neighboring families with all the kids trickled into town looking for a good time.

Not long after, several soldiers still wearing raggedy Civil War uniforms rode into Dead Bush on worn out horses. The soldiers commenced to drink and gamble and ordered steak dinners at the Dry Spell Saloon where, among other things, such entertainment and libation is encouraged.

I sleep in the back of the saloon, ever since the town sheriff found me, the lone survivor of a wagon train massacred by wild Indians.
I don’t belong to nobody, but Shorty, the barkeep saves me left-overs from the day’s leavings. That, added to my hunting prowess, fares me well. Since I’m the only cat for miles around, the regulars at the saloon adopted me as a mascot. I’m a fine figure of a cat, though some would say, somewhat on the portly side. It must be so, as to the validation of the roaming tomcat what comes through town every spring. Up until now, I haven’t given him a tumble.

Cats are almighty scarce and considerable valuable in this county. A number of local farmers have offered Shorty big bucks for me, beings as cats can keep a barnyard free of varmints without half trying. There are some folks from the big cities who haul cats in their saddlebags to small farming towns, assured of a quick sale and a $20 gold piece. The farmers soon learn they don't know nothin' about varmint huntin.'

Well, seems these soldiers what came to town sat and drank well past noon. I caused quite a stir when I wandered through the saloon. One soldier took a notion to buy me, having heard about cats being worth big money up the river. Shorty declined, saying I couldn’t be sold since I was a free spirit and didn’t belong to nobody.

As the gambling and drinking progressed, the soldier plied Shorty with enough palaver and drink that he was finally cajoled into a card game with me as the stakes.

I sat near the potbelly, preening my whiskers, somewhat amused by the stupidity of these humans what thought they could buy and sell another living creature. Wasn’t that decided by the Civil War after all?

The poker game progressed and it seemed my future as mascot at the Dry Spell Saloon was dependent on the turn of their cards.

Four players hunched over the poker table, cards fanned in their hands, empty glasses lined up in front of them. Shorty’s chips were going fast. Holding on to the Dry Spell Saloon mascot didn’t look promising.

The size of Shorty’s chips rose and fell as the afternoon wore on. I sat on a nearby table, commiserating with Mr. Casper, an old codger who operated a small gold claim in a nearby river. The old man was a fool, but he didn’t smell quite as bad as the other miners, as being tipsy a good deal, he fell in the river more often than most, washing away some of his natural man-stink.

In the late afternoon, the neighbor ladies announced their Founder’s Day supper was served. The saloon emptied except for the four poker players who found it harder and harder to sit up straight. Heads lolled and cards tumbled from their hands. More whiskey landed on the floor than in their glasses. Never in the history of Dead Bush had such a game gone on for so long or the stakes so roundly coveted. I was, indeed, a prize.

Eventually, Smitty Rosenblatt passed out. George Waddlebaker went broke. Shorty hung in there, though blurry eyed, he continued to fight for his meezer. Poor Shorty’s stack of chips got even smaller.

Seeing the inevitable handwriting on the wall, I slipped out the front door and headed out of town onto the prairie, intending on being absent for a few days. An occasional vacation is always revitalizing to one’s health and seemed particularly attractive today.

Besides, there weren’t no sense being around when Shorty went broke and the soldier attempted to claim his prize. I didn’t plan to spend the next week strung to the back of a saddle in a burlap sack until the old soldier found a farmer with a rat-filled barn and a $20 gold piece.

I’m the only cat worth her salt in Dead Bush, and I intend to keep it that way. At least until next spring, when that tomcat comes back to town.

9
Jul

A Short Story of Magic and Dreams- A CHANCE ENCOUNTER

hofpgartenchurch

In 1987, while visiting Austria, we were caught in a storm. Like our day in Austria we experienced the storm and the ringing church bells. The village and setting are real. There were cobbled streets and rain water flowing down the street and the fear and wonder were real. We were given this explanation for why they rang the bells...but the delightful interaction with the stranger is fantasy...or was it?
Have you ever had an experience that felt unearthly and ethereal?

********
Hofpgarten, Austria, 1987
The clanging church bells, crashing thunder and flash of lightning assailed my senses. Adrenaline surged through my chest like an electric current. Lightning lit the sky behind the church steeples across the street. Crashing thunder momentarily drowned out the clanging church bells.

Terror gripped my heart. Was I caught in a time warp of nature’s fury, transporting me to another place; magical, ethereal, and terrifying? How odd that I should feel such fear. Stay calm. It’s just a sudden summer storm. I stood transfixed in wonder as the elements crashed around me.
A torrent of water rushed down the cobbled stones, filling the gutters, threatening to flow onto my feet. Were the bells warning of some disaster? Have they declared war? Did someone assassinate the President? Does Austria even have a President?

I huddled beneath the narrow striped canopy of the clock shop. Cold spines of stinging rain drove against my face. Lightning flashed and I jumped at the next clap of thunder. The awning was pitifully inadequate and rain dripped from my hair onto my raincoat. Rain bounced off the pavement, forcing me closer to the wall.

And then, a man stopped beneath the awning where I shivered. “May I offer the shelter of my umbrella?” He tilted his umbrella, protecting me from the storm.

“Thank you, how kind.” His presence soothed my fears and my pattering heart slowed.

We stood side by side beneath the canopy, watching the ribbons of lightning zigzag across the afternoon sky.

“The storm came up so quickly, it caught me quite unawares.” I dabbed my face with a handkerchief and tilted my head toward the sound of the church bells.

“Sudden storms are not unexpected this time of year.”

“Why are they ringing the bells?” I tucked the hankie in my pocket. “Has something happened? Is there an emergency?” I gestured toward the deluge of water flowing down the cobbled stones, looking as though a river had overflowed its banks.

“They ring the bells to frighten the storm clouds toward another village.”
I struggled to suppress a smile, doubting the ability of the bells to drive away the clouds but pleasantly moved by his quaint belief in their magical power. “If that’s what you believe, I’m sorry to say, it’s not working. It’s been raining for half an hour.”

“Oh, it’s working fine.” His smile lit up his face. “But, the next village also rings their bells and the clouds are confused. They hear the other village bells, so they drift back here again. From village to village they drift. Soon they will find a quiet place where they can rest.”
We stood beneath the awning watching the rain and laughed, exchanging small bits of idle conversation. On the hillside above us, my pension looked down on the train winding through the valley and into the town. Cows dotted the nearby fields. The cow’s bells tinkled as they ambled across the meadows; the sound echoing from valley to hillside.
We stood so close to the stranger, I was warmed by the scent of him.
A whistle shrieked and he turned toward the train station. “I’m sorry, I must go. My train is coming. Perhaps you should seek better shelter?”
I nodded. “I’ll go into a shop as soon as the rain lets up a bit. Thank you again for sharing your umbrella.”

He caught up my hand and raised it to his lips. “It’s been a pleasure. I wish we had more time to…” His lips brushed my fingertips. “Good-bye.”

I looked deep into his eyes and in that moment, it felt as though I whirled through spasms of space and time. And in that instant, surrounded by light and the music of the bells, it was as though he and I had shared a lifetime together; infinite days and endless nights of love and hope. I heard the blare of 100 marching bands, saw the night sky explode in a cacophony of fireworks, felt the coolness of a 1000 springtime rains, the pink glow of 10,000 morning dawns and the wonder of a myriad of red and golden sunsets…

In those few seconds, it seemed we shared a lifetime. I shook my head, knowing it was a fantasy brought on by the magic of the bells and the storm.

He released my hand, waved a final farewell and strolled toward the train.
As he disappeared into the station, the blare of marching bands tinkled and became a warning bell, then silence. The music in my head became…a sparrow in a nearby tree.

The rain stopped. The sun cast sparkling rainbows through the dewdrops dripping from the shrubs. I touched the place where he had stood and his aura seemed to melt through my fingertips. “Wait! I don’t even know your name.” I ran toward the station, “Wait!” The whistle blew and the train clacked down the track. The magic spell was broken.

Years have passed. I’ve had a good life, all that one could hope for. Marriage, a satisfactory career and children. But, even now, when I hear church bells, I stop to listen.

Even now, the bells have the power to drive the storm clouds from my soul. I smile as I remember a summer storm in a faraway land. I close my eyes and relive the moments I shared an umbrella with a stranger. Were we caught up by a crack in time and space? In that instant, did we actually share a lifetime of love and laughter? Or was it only a dream that lasted for a second?

The bells ring on and I am reminded of that day when church bells echoed from one mountaintop to another, as the storm clouds scrambled from village to village in search of a silent peaceful place.

Finally in their frantic search, they drifted onto a quiet hillside where the only sound was the tinkling of cow’s bells, as they ambled through the meadows and disappeared into the mist.

25
Jun

Through the Eyes of an Eagle

eagle
THROUGH THE EYES OF AN EAGLE
ELAINE FABER
Long before gold was discovered in the Sierra Mountains, the pristine forest, hills and valleys lay in green and golden repose, as yet untouched by the hand of man.

In this land of yesterday, meadows were carpeted with flowers, gently waving grass, dense forests and snow- capped hills. Crystal lakes shimmered in the sunlight, reflecting a brilliant blue unpolluted sky. In this virgin wilderness, animals and birds lived together in peace and harmony. Mother Nature taught each of them how to build a home in the trees, in the river or in a cave. Each knew when to find a mate, and how to raise their young.

On a particular day long ago, there was a certain valley surrounded by the forest at the base of a cliff, where a river splashed and tumbled over moss covered rocks. This valley was the home of Kamar the eagle, Pogo the beaver and Xerces the bear and her baby, Jali.

To the north of the river was a jagged, sheer faced cliff. On the top of the cliff stood an old dead tree, jutting another 50 feet into the sky. The old tree was blackened and broken, reminiscent of a long ago forest fire, years before the recollection of any of the forest creatures living in the valley. As the years passed, the hills turned green with new forest and now stood proud and tall with only a few remembrances of that terrible day when lightening struck and flames ravaged the hillside. Atop the old, blackened tree, in its highest branches, Kamar, the eagle and his mate built their nest.

Year after year, Kamar and his mate returned to the treetop and pulled out branches, kicked and scratched out leavings from last year’s nest, added new branches, enlarged and broadened its base until it spanned seven feet across, covering the top branches like a giant mushroom. Several months had passed since their eggs had hatched and three little fledglings filled the nest. Dark golden plumage had begun to sprout on their bodies and upper legs. In the months to come, as they grew to maturity, their golden heads, neck and tails would turn white, identifying them as Bald Eagles.

In the river below, Pogo, the beaver, built a dam, creating a rocking, flowing pool fifty-foot across causing the water to slow to a trickle. In this gentle pool, fish lazily slept, swam, and fed, providing a private supply to the beaver family. In the center of the dam, Pogo and his mate built a warm dry den for their four pups.

Mrs. Pogo sat on top of the dam, listening to the splash of water tumble over the nearby rocks flowing down the river toward the sea. The wind whispered through the leaves and forest birds chirped as they gathered sticks, flitting back and forth making their own nests. She heard the cac-cac-cac above and saw Kamar soaring overhead, his magnificent white head, neck and tail contrasting against the blue sky. He drifted down and seized a dead fish on the shore. With it gripped tightly in his talons, he soared upward. Turning and lifting with the air currents, he landed on top of his nest. His young fledglings opened their mouths hungrily to receive the pieces he tore from the fish. The smaller little female struggled valiantly with her larger brothers for her share.

Baby Jali, the grizzly bear, woke from a nap, stretched and yawned. A flying bug caught his attention and he stumbled after it. Stopping here and there to nibble a flower, he followed the bug across the meadow, until he was far from the river where his mother lay sleeping.
A ground squirrel ran toward a hole and forgetting the bug, he ran after it, imitating his mother’s actions.

The squirrel zigged and zagged toward the forest with Jali following close behind, until she zipped out of sight under a log. Jali found himself far from the river in a part of the forest he did not recognize. He bawled loudly for his mother. The only sound was the chirp of forest birds and small animals scratching nearby.

Jali heard the low moan of a wolf howling in the distance. Lost and hungry, he ran, frightened by the menacing sound. He stumbled over branches and undergrowth until he was deep in the damp forest and far from the safety of the meadow.

Kamar sat atop his mighty nest, his head cocked to the side, peering through bright yellow eyes at the river below. A fine pool had swelled behind the beaver’s dam where fish were trapped. He was pleased, for where there are fish, surely dead fish will be found such as was needed to feed his family!

Kamar’s attention was drawn toward Xerces, running through the meadow, but the baby was not scampering behind, begging to be fed. Xerces roared and smashed branches as she searched for the missing baby.

Kamar lifted off his nest, spread his wings and followed a down draft toward the river for a better look. He banked to the east, gave his six- foot wings a gentle flap and caught another air current that carried him in a soft arc. His excellent eyesight surveyed the entire meadow as he looked for Jali.

Kamar turned south and sailed across the lush forest, allowing the air currents to take him slightly up and down, back and forth. He scanned the trees below. Dropping down to get a better look, he saw the baby cub far beyond his mother’s call. Kamar banked again, his wing tips swishing against the highest branches.

Jali heard the swishing branches and looked up. He saw Kamar, soaring in a spiral above the trees. He had often seen Kamar circling above the meadow where he lived. Jali stumbled along the path, following the bird. Kamar circled slowly in a wide arc above the baby bear. Jali tumbled through the brush, keeping Kamar in sight, and at last was heading in the right direction toward the meadow. Within a short time, his mother’s bawling led him to her. She gave him a reprimanding smack with her great paw, licked his face, and lay down on the forest moss and fed him. When both were rested, she led him back to the meadow.

There came a day when a sudden summer storm rose up. The run-off from the mountains flowed into the river and the waters rushed toward Pogo’s dam, tearing and breaking loose the branches from the south wall.

Pogo and his family waddled into the forest to find trees to repair the damage. He showed them how to choose the right size trees, chew them at just the right height and angle to fall toward the river. Together, they pulled and tugged the trees back toward the broken dam. Pogo’s family gathered mud and placed it in the branches to secure the trees to the walls. The beavers worked throughout the day until the breach was nearly filled and the rushing river slowed to a trickle.

High on the top of the cliff, Kamar’s family huddled in their nest, their feathers dampened by the storm. When the storm had passed, the young fledglings stretched their wings in the air to dry. Each day they were becoming braver, stretching their wings, and letting the wind currents lift them up a few feet, only to fold their wings and drop back into the safety of the nest. The storm had also weakened Kamar’s nest, tearing away some of the branches that supported the increasing weight of the young birds.

As the littlest fledgling stood on the side of the nest, the weakened edge crumbled. Instinctively, she spread her wings. An air current lifted her slightly, breaking her fall, as she plummeted downward toward the river. She drifted, rather than fell, into the water, 20 feet from the beaver’s dam. The fledgling splashed frantically, but her wet feathers kept her from lifting herself out of the water. The river’s current dragged her toward the rocks.

Pogo entered the water with the final log gripped in his teeth, needed to repair the dam. His children followed along side guiding the log into place. As they positioned the end of the log into the breach, the far end swung around and smacked into the drowning fledgling. She flopped her drenched body onto the log. Pogo swung the log around to fit it into the dam, rapping the end where the little bird slumped, sharply against the shore. The nearly drowned fledgling fell from the log into the sand, where she lay huddled, wet and shaking in the sun. She extended her wings to dry, closed her eyes and slept.

The little bird huddled on the shore, drying and regaining her strength while her parents circled helplessly above, calling and swooping over her crumpled body. When the sun dried her feathers, the little bird extended her wings and pushed off the shore. She rode the air currents, circling above the river while her parents called encouragement, until she reached the safety of her nest, high at the top of the sheer cliff in the old blackened treetop.

Following their sister’s example, for the first time, Kamar’s sons let the current take them from the edge of their nest. They circled, each time a little farther, until the sky was filled with eagles. They lifted and soared and let the wind take them, returning again and again back to their home base. Eventually they would leave the safety of the ancient tree and learn to find food and care for themselves. But on this day, with the air filled with cac-cac-cacs, they soared and called, high above the river, proud of their new skill. They flew through the sky, where as far as the eagle’s eye could see, the land was covered with trees and majestic mountains and meadows filled with flowers.

Pogo and his family, not knowing the part they had played in the little eagle’s rescue, slept soundly in their newly repaired den beneath the river that flowed endlessly toward a distant sea.

The summer days grew longer and the leaves on the trees turned to shades of red, yellow and orange. The shrubs lost their leaves and the autumn rain turned the meadow grasses once again from brown to green.

One crisp fall day, the youngest beaver pup ventured into the cool and shadowy forest near the spot where they had taken trees to mend the dam last spring. With the wind in his face, he did not see or hear the male grizzly bear that came out of the forest. The male had caught Xerces’ scent, and on the chance that she might be in season, was coming to investigate.

Coming from behind a clump of bushes, the grizzly and the beaver unexpectedly stood within feet of each other. The bear roared and reared on his hind feet. The little beaver was paralyzed with fear, unable to move. The male grizzly bear raised his paw to strike a blow that would send the beaver to his death.

Xerces awoke at the sound of the male’s roar. She raced toward the giant male who dared invade her territory where her baby lay sleeping. Xerces burst through the bushes, roaring hideously, as only a mother grizzly bear can.

The grizzly turned to face the enraged mother. Though the male easily outweighed Xerces, he knew that she would fight to the death to protect her cub. The lady was obviously not interested in romance. He ran back into the brush with Xerces close behind him. The little beaver raced back to the river as fast as his little body could waddle.

Kamar rose from his treetop, catching an updraft, lifted and circled the valley. His fledglings were grown and all but the little female had flown away, as fledglings do. Some days, Kamar would see them high above the valley, their cac-cac’s ringing through the morning sky. The little female ranged far and wide during the day, hunting, catching the currents, drifting and swooping over the forest, returning only to her mother’s nest at night. Soon, she would find a mate and build her own nest in a high crevice or treetop.

From high over the treetops, he looked down upon his world. His abandoned nest, atop the sheer rock face, above the river winding through the valley. Xerces, sleeping in the meadow with her cub. Beavers paddling happily across the river, diving into the sparkling water. Kamar’s mate, preening her feathers, in a nearby tree.

Kamar circled and then flew straight up into the sun until from the ground, he looked like a speck in the sky. Beneath him, the mountains, the forest, the rivers and the valleys far, far below were touched with shades of sparkling red, yellow and gold, crisscrossed by brilliant blue rivers, white snowcapped mountains and vivid shades of green forests, as though it were a mighty landscape, painted by the hand of God.

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