Today, I'm sharing a short story by my writer friend, Judy Vaughan.
Judy grew up in Northern New Mexico surrounded by sacred mountains and engrossed in the lives of horses and other animals. She left the family ranch for boarding school in Colorado and then attended Carleton College and the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. She has composed stories since childhood, and began to hone the craft of writing after forty years practicing neurology.
This morning, before I raise my eyelids, the cat’s paw-steps crinkle the surface of the comforter pulled to my chin. His indentations push down. They are somatosensory taps along my thigh. He might be walking in snow while I am the ground below.
A dream vanishes into the ringtone of the smart phone alarm, set today to prompt me to meet the washing machine repairman during a “window” from eight to one. “Ask him to come as early as possible,” I had told the receptionist yesterday though I have no other deadline short of their arbitrary “window.”
Awake now, I give Match his morning hug and cue him back to his sleep-spot on top of the fuzzy acrylic coverlet, folded at the end of the bed. He bypasses it, and jumps to the floor, his crepuscular self on the move at daybreak.
I don a tattered robe and hobble to the kitchen. I push the start button on my single service coffee maker.
Bangs and scuffles make me imagine the repairman at the door, sounds not unlike someone organizing their tools outside the home of a scheduled client. But it’s way too early; It’s just Match banging the door of the linen closet.
I think of all the poems that begin with the author at the breakfast nook, ceramic cup in hand, interrupting their writing to muse over the décor, the kettle or some bird outside the window. On a segue way to a solitary mood.
And there’s my bird through the sliding glass door. In the yard, an overgrown lavender shrub feeds the local hummingbirds through the damp spring. Last year’s nests stand out in the skeletons of my neighbor’s trees, and a green male Anna’s clicks as he explores the clustered back yards in my cul-de-sac. The click call, generated by a pop of air from his throat is as loud as a mobile phone notification.
I open the glass door.
The cat hears it. I let him slip through a narrow opening and crouch behind the locked screen. That’s his catio. He can’t see the bird clearly at his age, but he chirps his attention. I check the latch. Match wants to go out---the loamy smell and the swoop of the birds lure us both. Volunteer lettuce has sprouted in the wine barrel; I might broadcast a few more seeds later today.
He rattles the screen latch again and meows.
“I get it Match, but, no.” I close the sliding glass and distract him with fresh water. I push a cup of Sweet and Creamy coffee through the machine into a souvenir mug that uses three x-es to write “Relaxxx in Ireland.”
Match never wanted to be an indoor cat. As a kitten with a demanding meow, he appeared at my daughter’s home, black with white markings, the most prominent of which was a 5-millimeter spot on his forehead. A dot. Like Match.Com, the dating service that was easing me into grandmotherhood twelve years ago.
Adopted into my home, he was exhausting. His dog-like demand for my attention included biting and scratching to initiate communication. If I kept him busy, he was a lot of fun. As in tricks. He would retrieve small toy mice or bring me a toilet paper roll as a gift. I easily taught him to jump when cued around furniture or through a hoop. Escape was his favorite game, and one day he succeeded. He disappeared.
I sip the coffee and relive the grief I felt. How I let my neighbor convince me to take in an elderly stray and made her take him back the next day. How I told everyone about my “Labrador retriever cat.” For years. Tearing up every time.
Five years later, I got the call. “Did you lose a cat? ‘Match Dot Com’ on his microchip? He’s at the County Animal Shelter. He’s injured. Do you want him back?”
“I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” I said.
When I lifted his skeletal body from the shelter crate to my bosom, he snuggled and purred. He’d been found eleven miles from my house.
I move aside to let the repairman do his job. I get a rag and clean the grimy surfaces of the washer revealed during the repair. The technician, Gregor, is polite, but not as chatty as I’d want. I’ve only recently learned to restrain myself from asking about national origins. The price is as quoted, and the app on his smart phone processes my credit card. Match leaves his strangers-are-here hiding place seconds after Gregor’s van pulls away.
I reheat the last ounce of Sweet and Creamy, sit back down and open the Mac. Match jumps to the other chair then onto the kitchen table where he looks at me with an owl-like stare. His eyes, once pure green, are now checkered with iris atrophy. They look like the mosaic eyes of a Byzantine virgin. A scar has widened one tear duct. A larger one in his right axilla leaves a patch of skin devoid of hair and warm to the touch. It marks the site where an open wound almost sent him to euthanasia when he was brought in from his five years of feral life.
I must have half a dozen pictures of him on Facebook in this very pose, the owl stare hinting at a possible stealth attack, or maybe just a wise proof-read.
I suspect all those poets had a cat.
Judy lives in Elk Grove, California, and writes with Elk Grove Writers and Artists. Works in progress include her New Mexico memoir, Strawberry Roan. Her stories have placed in short story contests and have been published in NCPA Anthologies.
She is a member of the California Writers Club, Northern California Publishers and Authors, and the New Mexico Book Association.
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The days grew shorter, the air crisper, the nights longer, and the whisper of leaves on the roof began to awaken each Christmas tree bird in their tissue paper in the attic. Something sang to them, called them, until they wiggled with joy, crinkling their crepe paper walls. Soon, each Christmas bird ornament would be lifted from his crinkly paper bed where he had slept since last Christmas.
As the days of the year neared its end, the Christmas birds felt a thrill from their springy wire clips and gold porcelain bodies to their bright feather tails. The littlest Christmas tree bird lay warm and snug beneath Gold Bird. How he anticipated the coming holiday season. Soon he would be on the Christmas tree with his fragile glass friends and the others. The others…the round ones with bright colored paint. They were not nearly as beautiful as his Christmas bird friends with their springy wires, delicate glass and pinchey clips that clasped them firmly to each branch. And though all his friends were lovely, he felt he was the most beautiful Christmas tree bird in the attic.
He closed his little red eyes and dreamed about Christmas Eve. From the top of the tree, he would look down upon the family gathered by the fireplace singing Christmas carols. Being part of the Christmas celebration made him feel truly alive. Would mother bring their boxes from the attic today and hang them on the Christmas tree?
“I’ve been thinking,” he whispered in a trembling voice filled with self-admiration, “You are lovely, Gold Bird, but I am the most beautiful Christmas bird.”
Gold Bird’s tail feathers quivered. “Really? Blue glass bird is made of hand-blown glass from Germany, with a fine blue feather tail. Antique bird is missing some tail feathers but he is so fragile, you can see right through him. We all have unique qualities, and most are more beautiful than you.” He fairly shook as he scolded the young bird, wrapped in pink tissue beneath him.
“It may be true what you say,” said the saucy little bird. “But, the tree won’t be nearly as beautiful if I’m not right near the top.”
Gold Bird, being older and wiser, turned his head. “You obviously don’t understand the true meaning of Christmas. You don’t deserve to be included in the holiday events. You conceited fellow, it would serve you right if you got left behind this year.”
The Christmas bird trembled. The idea of being left behind scared him a bit. With a slight tremble, he said, “That couldn’t happen, could it? It’s not that you aren’t handsome, but my tail feathers are longer and softer and fluffier than yours, and…my…paint is much shinier.”
“Tut tut,” replied Gold Bird. “Not…another…word.”
For several uncomfortable days, the young bird lay silent in his cocoon of crinkly paper. Gold Bird’s warning haunted him. “You conceited fellow, it would serve you right …” Not to be there on Christmas Eve? He could not bear the thought.
The days grew shorter and a soft sprinkle of snow blanketed the roof. The wind whistled past the attic and the dark days edged toward December. Early one morning, footsteps on the attic steps awakened the Christmas birds. They held their breath, as their box was lifted from the shelf. “It’s time! Soon we’ll be on the Christmas tree and enjoying the Christmas season,” the little Christmas bird whispered to Gold Bird.
One by one, the weight of the Christmas birds was lifted from above. The young Christmas bird lay under Gold Bird, wrapped in his soft tissue wrapping. He heard the squeal as his friends were hung on the tree. He faintly heard music and children laughing. He even smelled the cookies!
“It’s almost time,” he whispered to Gold Bird. “It’s nearly my turn.”…but Gold Bird’s fluffy tail no longer tickled his nose. The ornament box was tossed into the corner; empty, except for the little Christmas bird. “Wait! What happened? I’m still in here.” Overlooked in mother’s haste, he was left behind, alone and upside down in the corner.
His comfortable bed, now a prison, his beautiful body still swaddled in crinkly tissue paper. Muffled Christmas sounds reached his ears. A tiny plastic tear formed in his little red eye. “I was conceited and proud, and now I’ve been left behind.”
Christmas Day approached and he missed the entire Christmas season, alone in the box in the corner. On Christmas Eve, the family gathered to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The Christmas tree bird lay in his box, imagining the tree with his friends hanging on its branches. Even the scorned round ones were part of the celebration. “The round ones may not be as beautiful,” he lamented,” but they are on the tree, and I’ve been left behind.”
After supper, the family gathered by the Christmas tree. The little girl read from the Bible. “They wrapped him in swaddling clothes and lay Him in a manger.”
Christmas bird thought, “I’m wrapped in swaddling clothes, like the baby Jesus,” and he imagined the tiny baby sung and warm, lying in a manger, warmed by the breath of the surrounding animals. He heard the daddy tell how Jesus came to earth as a tiny baby, and if we loved and trusted Him, He would take us to heaven and we would never be left behind.
The Christmas bird sniffed, “I know what it’s like to be left behind. How much worse it would be, to be left behind from Heaven.” Then, his box jiggled, the crinkling tissue paper lifted away and the warmth from the fireplace touched his cheek.
The little girl lifted Christmas bird from his box. “Look, Mommy! It’s another Christmas birdie. He has a red tear in his eye. Can we hang him on the Christmas tree?”
Daddy lifted her up and she hung the little bird near Gold Bird. Looking down from the tree, the joyous Christmas bird felt the love in the room as the family shared gifts with one another. Carols played on the stereo. The spicy aroma of gingerbread drifted in from the kitchen. The family laughed and sang. Christmas bird wiggled with joy. At last, he was exactly where he wanted to be. Gold Bird swung around from a nearby branch and gave him a tender glance. “Welcome to Christmas, little bird. Did you learn anything?”
Christmas bird turned to his friend. The light from the fireplace reflected the tear in his eye, shimmering like a drop of gold. “I understand,” he whispered. “Christmas is not about who is most beautiful, who is round or who has the brightest springy tail. It’s not about carols or turkey dinner or gingerbread, or even about presents under the tree. The true meaning of Christmas is God’s love for each of through the birth of Jesus. When we accept His Gift, and believe in his Love, we will never be left behind.”
An Amended scene from Mrs. Odboddy - And Then There was a Tiger. Available at Amazon in e-book for $3.99 https://tinyurl.com/y96qshuv
Grandma took Maddie’s hand and marched her through the carnival. The crowd increased as they got closer to the stage where the tiger would perform. Grandma nodded to her neighbor. “Morning, Mrs. Williams. So, you’ve come to see the tiger?”
“They say it’s not even in a cage. You don’t suppose it’s wild, do you?”
“Can’t imagine they’d let a tiger perform outside if it was,” Grandma squeezed Maddie’s hand. “I suspect it hasn’t eaten any little girls for a while.”
“Grandma!” Maddie sidled closer. “That’s not funny!” Her eyes were as bright as twinkling stars and her smile held the delicious anticipation of a child entering a Halloween haunted house.
It was unlikely Maddie had ever experienced meeting a tiger face to face. Though, she had to admit, meeting a tiger was a first for her too.
The crowd gathered in front of a boxcar-like wagon covered with a painted canvas depicting a ferocious tiger leaping through a fiery hoop. Brightly colored red and yellow wheels protruded from beneath the canvas.
The crowd stilled as grunts and rumbles came from inside the wagon; as if a tiger was scratching its claws on the floor of its cage. All eyes turned toward the door, watching for the emerging tiger. A gentle breeze blew strands of hair into Maddie’s face. She shivered. Grandma squeezed her hand.
The crowd froze and then anxious titters broke out. A baby wailed. The door of the tiger’s cage slowly swung open. A man emerged, dressed in a yellow shirt and red trousers. He tipped his hat to the crowd as he stepped off the metal step. He bowed toward the open door, drew a whistle from his pocket and blew a shrill note. The crowd waited. Ten seconds, then twenty. No one spoke. Someone coughed. Where was the tiger? The trainer leaned toward the door, expectantly. “Come on out and say hello, Sher Khan!”
Sher Khan! Like the Jungle Book tiger! Grandma grinned.
Another scratching sound came from behind the canvas. Again, the crowd tittered. Feet shuffled. And then, an orange and black striped nose appeared through the open door and the beast leaped onto the platform, its eyes roaming the crowd.
The crowd murmured and those closest to the platform stepped back. Coming to see a tiger perform was one thing; actually seeing one three feet away, unchained and unrestrained, was quite another. Maddie cringed against Grandma’s leg.
“Sher Khan. Wave hello to the nice people.” The trainer made a circular gesture with his wand. Sher Khan sat back on his haunches, lifted his front feet and waggled one foot. The trainer pulled a bit of beef jerky from his waist and slipped it to the big cat.
The crowd clapped and laughed. They knew the tiger was tame, their smiles declared. They weren’t the least bit afraid. Not really.
“Sher Khan! Up.” The trainer’s short stick tapped a large rubber ball. The tiger leaped onto the ball. The ball rolled across the stage with the cat balanced on top. The audience exploded with hoots, claps and whistles.
For the next ten minutes, the trainer put the tiger through his paces. At one point, the tiger lay on the platform, looking like a giant striped pussy-cat.
It was hard to imagine this gentle giant stalking an antelope, leaping, killing it with one snap of its jaws. Hard to imagine its jowls covered in warm blood, fending off predators determined to share his bounty. Hard to imagine the beast dragging its kill through the underbrush to a den where cubs might await their first taste of meat. Such was life in the jungle.
Not this tiger. This one was as tame as a pet cat. He was probably hand-raised as a cub, likely declawed and totally dependent on a human to provide his food on the end of a stick. He’d never see an antelope and even if he was starving, wouldn’t know what to do with it if he saw one.
“Does anyone want to come and pet Sher Khan? He’s very friendly.” The trainer pointed to Maddie. Maddie glanced at Grandma. Was she asking for permission, or seeking a way to decline?
“Do you want to pet him?” Grandma touched Maddie’s cheek.
“I…I…think so. Yes!” She pulled away from Grandma’s hand.
“Good!” Grandma nodded. “That’s my brave girl.”
Maddie stepped onto the platform, put out her hand to touch Sher Khan’s head, then ran one finger over his ear. She grinned at the crowd, sheer joy on her face. “He’s so soft!” She stroked down his neck and scratched behind his ear.
The tiger turned toward the welcome stroke and yawned, showing long sharp teeth. His eyes closed and he lowered his head onto his paw, a rumble in his throat expressing pleasure.
Several other children had gained the courage to approach the stage. The trainer touched Maddie’s shoulder. “Can the other children have a turn, honey?”
Maddie returned to her grandmother. “He just likes me. See how he’s turning away from the other children?”
Indeed, Sher Khan had stood and was ambling back toward his cage, apparently having had his fill of public adoration. He looked ready for a nap and within seconds, he was up the steps and back in his cage. “Well, guess the show’s over. Our star needs his beauty sleep,” the trainer chuckled.
“Ohhh!” The crowd mumbled and then drifted away, toward other carnival events.
“Are you ready to go back, Maddie?” Grandma pushed a lock of hair off her face.
Maddie stood, unmoving, a faraway look in her eyes. She gazed at the door where the tiger had disappeared. She seemed unwilling to release the memory of the tiger’s ear, reluctant to forget the rumble in his throat as she stroked his head.
“Maddie?” Grandma whispered, looking at Maddie’s face. The child was lost in a shared moment with a creature from the wild, reluctant to move past it, to return to present day. “Shall we go?”
“I was remembering," she said. "Did you see how he looked at me? I remember him. From before, when we were in Heaven together and Sher Khan and I played in a meadow with some baby lambs and goats. Do you think he remembered me, too, Grandma?”
“What strange ideas you have, child. Where do you come up with such things?” Grandma grasped Maddie’s hand and hurried her away. Played together in Heaven? What could have put such a thought into her head?
Grandma glanced at Maddie’s face. Her eyes were aglow. Her smile was as innocent as an angel. Her face looked as one might imagine if she was remembering standing at the pearly gates, catching a glimpse directly into Heaven. Grandma swallowed a lump in her throat. Goosebumps crept up her arms and a tear pricked her eyes. Maybe…maybe she was remembering. Wasn’t there a verse in the Bible…? The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.
(Isaiah 11:6 KJV)
Leopards? Wolves? Lions? Why not tigers?
Corrine sighed as the comforting scent of turkey wafted through the dining room. She glanced at the clock, mentally judging her dinner’s progress with the anticipated arrival of the children. Her mother’s china, crystal wine goblets and silverware were lovingly arranged on the dining room table. She continued polishing a silver fork from her mother’s rosewood silverware box and placed it next to a wine goblet.
She remembered the holidays at Mom’s house when all the grandchildren came to dinner. The lights from her chandelier had shimmered and bounced off each shining goblet and piece of silverware. Mom would move a spoon a fraction of an inch until it was just right and then, placed a chocolate kiss on each plate.
“There,” she would say, “that’s so they know they are loved.”
Corrine’s husband mumbled something unintelligible from the family room. “What are you doing in there?” Corrine called.
“I’m converting your Dad’s old 8- mm movie films to VHS. We can show the grandkids pictures from your childhood.”
Corrine returned to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of wine. She pulled her mother’s casserole dish from the cupboard. Her thoughts turned again to memories of past holidays.
She recalled the Christmas’s and Thanksgivings when mom and “the girls” all bought party dresses specifically for the event. The tradition ended when her mother passed away.
Through the years, Corrine moved up a generation in the family chain. She had become the gray haired “Grandma,” and her daughter took her place. Different little children bustled through the house.
“Where have the years gone?” she thought.
Corrine returned to the dining room and placed the polished fork on the table. Mom’s silverware was a tradition that had been present for 60 years, throughout years of young motherhood and still remained a part of every holiday dinner. It was a constant, defying the loss of loved ones, gray hair, or climbing through the links of the family chain. The silverware would grace her daughter’s table some day; a reminder of her childhood holiday memories. It would become part of her tradition as she created new memories with her children.
Corrine admired her table setting. It looked nice. “Oh! I almost forget the kiss!” she said, adding Mom’s droplets of chocolate love on each plate. Mom would be pleased. Corrine wondered, Where did Mom get the silverware? It was not likely to have been a wedding present. Mom and Dad were married during the Great Depression.
Her husband interrupted her memories. “Honey, come take a look at this. It’s one of your Dad’s old Christmas movies when you were a baby.”
They sat together on the couch, sipping wine, watching the jumpy speckley black and white film flicker across the bed sheet pinned to the wall.
The speckles became Corrine’s mother and dad. It was Christmas Day, 1946. Cousins Dolly and Beverly hugged giant dolls and little Allan sat on the floor in front of the Christmas tree. Corrine saw herself, a three-year-old, holding an enormous doll. Her unbelievably young mother smiled from the bed sheet. Corrine’s nine-year-old brother,, Vernon, chased little cousin Allan around the room with his new BB gun, making faces at the camera. Big sister Lois and Cousin Wilbur ripped open puzzles and books. Only one last gift remained.
Dad handed a large package to Mom. She smiled, looking uncomfortable in the spotlight. The Christmas wrap fell away. She opened the beautiful rosewood box filled with shiny new silverware. Her face beamed and she mouthed a silent “thank you.”
How Dad must have sacrificed to buy such an expensive gift in 1946 when jobs were scarce and times were hard.
Here was the birth of Corrine’s most precious family tradition; the beautiful rosewood box filled with silverware. A connection she still shared with her mother, one that she would continue to share with her daughter and her granddaughter for years to come.
The oven buzzer sounded. The turkey was done. Corrine wiped the tears from her eyes, picked up her wine goblet and hurried to the kitchen. Time was getting away and the children would soon be here!
Reader: If you enjoyed this story, please check out my seven novels on Amazon in paperback and e-book.
My cat, Truffie, had surgery on a foot laceration this week, and racked up another large veterinarian bill. It put me in mind of her illness years ago when she was a kitten, and I wrote this piece called, Does Got Love Cats? It is one of the stories in my anthology, All Things Cat, which is available at Amazon for $2.99 (e-book) http://tinyurl.com/y9p9htak.
DOES GOD LOVE CATS?
I love my cat, Truffie. She’s a gift of joy in my life. Every day, she makes me smile. She loves me unconditionally, even when I’m not wearing lipstick or my hair is a mess. She loves me when I’m grumpy. She even loves me when I won’t open another can of cat food because she doesn’t like the flavor or the last one.
One day, Truffie stopped eating. She lost weight. We took her to the vet…twice. Though we racked up $600 in medical bills, the vet had no words of reassurance, “All the lab tests and x-rays are normal. I don’t know what’s wrong with her. Maybe we could−”
“No,” I said. “I can’t afford to spend more money. If we knew what was wrong or how to fix it, it would be different.”
Five days had passed since she became ill. If something didn’t change soon, there was no hope for her. I took her home. I forced eye droppers full or water down her throat every few hours. She was dehydrated and still wouldn’t eat. She had a fever. None of the medicine the vet prescribed had helped.
I began to wonder. Does God care that Truffie is sick?
Sure, we know He cares about our health and our finances and foreign affairs and protecting the troops fighting in far-away places. But does God really care if my cat is sick? Would He take time from His busy schedule of healing folks and finding work for the unemployed, and protecting our troops and trying to make the Washington swamp solve our problems to heal a cat, just because I asked? You see, I’ve prayed about all those things for a while now, but Truffie’s fever? Does He really care? Do I dare pray and expect God to heal her?
I asked my pastor, “Does God care when our pets are sick? Would it help to pray for Truffie?” He told me that on a certain day, people bring their animals to the Catholic Church to be blessed, but he couldn’t think of a Bible verse that specifically says God heals pets, especially cats.
I searched the Bible in hopes I’d find something to prove God cared about the animals and would answer our prayers when they’re sick. Matthew reminds us…Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. (Matthew 10:20 NIV) Sparrows... Cats... Not quite the same, but if He cares about sparrows, it stands to reason He cares about cats.
We’re all familiar with God’s blessings and promises. We know He gives us everything we need. Our home... Our loved ones... A job–well, most of us have a job, or we had one, before they downsized the company, and now some folks live on unemployment benefits. But not many of us are going hungry, so even in our adversity, God supplies our needs. But that didn’t answer my question. Would it help if I asked Him to heal my cat?
I searched the scriptures for more confirmation about prayer and faith. Ask and it will be given to you. (Matthew 7:7 NIV). Was that the key? It went on to say that the power of faith, even a tiny bit, could have wondrous results. For truly I say to you. If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move and nothing will be impossible. (Matthew 17:20NIV) That sounded promising. And lastly…how much more will the Father in Heaven give good gifts to those (his children) who ask Him. (Matthew 7:11NIV)
Now, we were getting somewhere. The Bible said God cared about sparrows, that it was a matter of having faith when we pray, and that He loves His children and stands ready to answer our resonable requests.
What have I got to lose? So, with a grateful heart and a great deal of faith, I prayed for Truffie. “Lord, you know how much I love her. You know how much joy she gives me, and You know how it would grieve me to lose her. I’m calling on Your promise, Ask and it will be given…. I place this little cat in Your loving hands, Lord, and ask You to heal her and raise her up again. I have faith that she will be healed because You’ve promised…”
Now, I’m not going to tell you that a lightning bolt surrounded my head or that the Heavens opened and God’s voice rang out, “Truffie. Rise up and walk,” but the next day, Truffie started to eat. Her mood brightened! She purred! She was on her way. She would recover.
I know that God cares for our cats and dogs and rabbits and horses and all our pets. Not because there’s a specific verse in the Bible that says so, but because we love them and He loves us…enough to want our joy to be complete. He promises that if we ask and have faith, we can move mulberry trees into the sea, or move mountains from here to there. Maybe it’s all about teaching us to take all our cares to the Lord, no matter how big or small and knowing He will hear and answer according to His will.
Truffie is over ten year old now, and until this week when she hurt her little toe, has never been sick another day in her life. Truffie is living proof. God answered my prayer, and yes, I’m convinced.
God loves cats.
If you enjoyed this story, you'll find 20 more short stories about cats in ALL THINGS CAT. Some true, most fiction, some written By the cat, and all ABOUT cats. All Things Cat, is available at Amazon for $2.99 (e-book) http://tinyurl.com/y9p9htak
“If I’ve told you once,” Papa Red Warty Thing said. “I’ve told you a dozen times not to stray so far way. Look at you. You’re already at the end of your tendrils and into the road. The tractor is coming. You’ll be smashed flatter than a fritter!”
Turning toward his parents, Papa Red Warty Thing and Sweet Sugar Pie, unruly Harvest Jack huffed, “I’d rather be a fritter than bored to death, lying face up in the sun like my cousins, Baby Boo, Wee-be-Little, and Jack-be-Little, who never stray past the first twist in their vines.”
Harvest Jack’s cousins gasped in horror. Such disrespect! Such defiance! Unheard of in polite Cucurbita Pepo society! They turned away from the disobedient cultivar and buried their tendrils and stem under their prickly leaves.
“That child of mine shall be the death of me yet,” Sweet Sugar Pie declared. “How does he ever expect to become a Harvest banquet pie acting like that? It’s your fault. Your ancestors never looked like the rest of us. They were always rebellious.”
Papa Red Warty Thing shivered. “If the lad doesn’t change his attitude, he’s likely to end up gutted, with an ugly face carved in his skin.”
Sweet Sugar Pie waved her sticky leaves in dismay. “Don’t even think such a thing. My family has a proud history of becoming harvest pies for the past 72 generations. Grandma Sirius Star would roll over in her mulch if she heard of such a vulgar future for one of our clan. I know that some of the Rock Star and Howden crew across the field plan to be gutted and carved up. Some even look forward to lighted candles stuck where their innards used to be. That’s not the future I want for our boy.” A drop of morning dew trickled from her stem, down her rounded middle, and plopped into the dirt.
“Now. dear. Don’t carry on so. The season isn’t over yet. It’s just growing pains. I’m sure he’ll come to his senses when he matures a bit.”
Papa Red Warty Thing was wrong, for by now, Harvest Jack had wandered into the road again and lay directly in the path of the giant tractor grinding its way down the road, swooping up all in its path, and dumping the unfortunate ones into a hopper to be carried off to an uncertain future. Sweet Sugar Pie shrieked, “It’s coming! Beware!”
Harvest Jack heard the engine and turned toward the sound. “Uh Oh!” The seeds in his belly shook in terror. Papa Red Warty Thing was right, after all. He was about to be crunched into a fritter and there was nothing he could do about it.
A raven swooped down and landed on his stem. “It serves you right for being disrespectful and wandering into the road. Papa Red Warty Thing warned you.”
How he wished to be alongside little, white, cousin Baby-Boo, or little cousin Wee-be-Little’s tiny, orange body. Their future was assured. They would become cute little decorations, perched alongside a costumed vampire doll in the middle of a mantle, or maybe in a wheelbarrow surrounded by harvest leaves and acorns and a couple Rock Star or Howden’s. Even his distant cousin Lil’ Pumpkemon with his white body and orange stripes might end up on the front porch with his larger relatives.
It appeared that Harvest Jack, on the other hand, was going to be smashed flat and ground into pulp by the tractor tires.
Suddenly, guttural, humanoid sounds reverberated through his stem. Harvest Jack felt himself lifted and then he felt the cool, earth beneath his bottom. What happened? He was lying just inches from Papa Red Warty Thing and Sweet Sugar Pie. Somehow, he’d escaped the wheels of the tractor and was back in his own row of cultivar cousins. “Oh, Papa Red Warty Thing! You were right,” Harvest Jack cried. “I’ll never disobey again. I promise I’ll grow up and become a Harvest dinner pie, but…can I choose which kind of pie I want to be?”
“Of course you can, my dear,” Sweet Sugar Pie cooed, stretching her loving tendrils over her son. “Your great aunt was a pumpkin streusel pie with a gingersnap crust, and your great-grandfather was a pumpkin cheesecake.”
“Good! When I grow up, I want to be…let me think! I know just the thing. I want to be a cherry pie!”
Sweet Sugar Pie glared at Papa Red Warty Thing and shook her sticky leaves at him. “I knew this would happen. This nonsense is your fault.”
“What’s wrong,” Harvest Jack cried. “You said I could choose what kind of Harvest pie I wanted to be.”
“You can, my dear, but you can’t be a cherry pie, because you’re a pumpkin.” Papa Red Warty Thing patiently explained.
“That’s what you think,” Sweet Sugar Pie screamed. “According to politically correct social media, if the lad wants to be a cherry pie, then he’s a cherry pie!”
“You’re to blame, Sweet Sugar Pie. You were always too lenient with the boy. I should never have married someone from the other side of the field!”
I just published the fourth cozy Black Cat mystery.
Black Cat and the Secret in Dewey’s Diary is a dual tale that takes place in California and also in Austria. While Black Cat and Angel are embroiled in village intrigue and riveting drama along the shores of a No. California resort town, Dorian and Kimberlee seek a long-lost treasure they believe is still hidden in Hopfgarten, Austria.The story moves back and forth between Black Cat’s wisdom and Angel’s snarky wit in Fern Lake, and Kimberlee’s unexpected challenges facing a stalker in a foreign country.
It all started with a message in a WWII diary from a soldier who befriended a German soldier during the battle of Normandy. Following the war, Dewey receives and records in his diary, a mysterious message from his friend… The treasures is in Hopfgarten….touch the feet of the babe…
Kimberlee reads Dewey’s diary just before she and Dorian embark on an Austrian vacation. Of course, they must go to Hopfgarten to follow the clues to a treasure missing for more than 50 years. And also, of course, she encounters a man who has spent the last 50 years searching for this lost treasure. When he overhears Kimberlee talk about a 'missing treasure in Hopfgarten, he begins to stalk the girls... and.. well, if I told you any more, you wouldn't need to buy the book. Amazon $3.99 for the e-book. http://tinyurl.com/y2tyyeh5
Contact me for a reduced price on the paperback copy.
Kimberlee’s Austrian adventure includes many of my own 1987 personal experiences when I traveled through castles and villages, saw cows wearing bells around their necks, visited 1000-year-old churches in Salzburg, and finally into Hopfgarten where I experienced many of the events included in Kimberlee’s adventure, and first imagined the story of a missing treasure, and wrote the poem in Dewey’s diary.
At last the story is in a novel, something I've wanted to do for years.
If you buy and read Black Cat and the Secret in Dewey's Diary, be sure to leave an Amazon review!
‘Camping with your children brings families together.’ The full magazine article went on to describe the family sitting around a roaring fire, making S’mores, roasting marshmallows, and making memories to last a lifetime. That’s what my family needed. More bonding and less bickering. I tossed the magazine and phoned my husband. “We’re going camping with the kids.”
By the time he got home, I had I borrowed a tent, a kerosene lantern, sleeping bags, a campstool, camp cots, cooking gear, kerosene cook stove, and an ice chest from friends and made arrangements for the neighbor to feed the cat. Hubby capitulated with arm-twisting and the promise of a fishing trip later that summer. It took the promise of a Barbie doll and roller blades to gain the children’s cooperation.
The smooth-talking Outdoorsman salesman persuaded sold me dehydrated ham and eggs, powdered potatoes, canned beef stew, dried prunes, beef jerky and powdered applesauce. He guaranteed I had enough to cook, stew, puree, and heat over a cheery campfire and create gourmet meals for a family of four for two days. The picture on the dehydrated ham and eggs showed a mom on a hillside with the breeze blowing through her hair. The canned beef stew can showed Daddy snoozing in a camp chair with his dog at his feet. The brochure promised memories to last a lifetime. It had to be true; it said so, right there on the front label.
We set off for a campground in the redwoods, about an hour away. The drive was punctuated by my son’s fingers in his mouth, eyes crossed, and tongue protruding while his sister screamed, “Make him stop looking at me!” Precious kids!
With no guardrails on the steep, winding road to our campground, rocks rolled over the canyon edge as the car wound around hairpin curves.
We found our assigned campsite one-half block from the outhouse and 200 feet from a pipe with a faucet on top, surrounded by 263 bees. Thus, an explanation of the phrase–dry camp. No running water, no electricity and the aforementioned outhouse.
After pitching our tent, hubby started to assemble the camp cots, only to find the poles on the end of each cot were missing. Our sleeping bags would now lie on the hard ground. My thoughts strayed to my own bed with fourteen inches of cotton batting, memory foam and bedsprings. Ah, well, I reasoned, the promised family togetherness would be worth it.
The children chased around the camp, and then my 7-year-old daughter requested I accompany her to the facilities. We walked past other campsites and noticed folding chairs, down comforters, portable record players, and Porta Potties. What did they know that I didn’t know? The answer soon became clear. Within fifteen feet of the outhouse, all that we had previously thought we knew about outhouses didn’t hold a candle to the reality. An indescribable smell hung overhead like a cloud. The outhouse door hinges defied latching. Holding our noses, we rushed the door. The sight inside took away all bodily urges and we raced back to our campsite. The bushes held more promise.
We learned that up the road was a washhouse with real toilets. We made a plan to do a bathroom run after dinner. Also, no open fires were allowed in the fire pits. No problem. We had the little kerosene stove to cook our instant and dried foods... Hubby unpacked the stove. Flip this, fold that, click in the burners, attach the kerosene tank, pump it up and light with a match. Easy-peasy! He pumped and pumped vigorously–it would not light. The sssssssssheoshee emanating from the kerosene tank could only mean…a minute hole in the tank. Thus, no hot water for a dried, vacuumed-sealed, gourmet meal.
“Don’t worry,” I assured my disappointed family. “We can eat the canned beef stew cold.” I reached for the can opener. “It must be here somewhere.” No can opener. “Um…I must have left it on the kitchen counter.”
Like all survival conscious men, Hubby always carried a pocket knife. He attacked the can with a vengeance. The children sat with tin plates in their laps, like the hungry waifs from a Charles Dickens novel, waiting for their daily gruel.
My daughter’s shriek interrupted my fascination with the jagged hole Hubby was gouging into the beef stew can. She danced around the cold campfire, beating her chest and tore at her tee shirt, which I pulled over her head. A flattened kamikaze bee dropped to the ground, twitched and lay still. Several inflamed bumps swelled on her chest. Of course, the first aid kit was likely lying beside the can opener on the kitchen counter. We painted her upper torso with a mud poultice.
By now the ragged hole in the top of the stew can revealed its contents. Unfortunately, it was all too reminiscent of the contents in the outhouse. The anticipated hopes of the family gathered around the fire, eating a gourmet meal tumbled into the dirt next to the stew. The children tossed their tin plates beside the mutilated can and ripped open a bag of dried prunes.
“Ah well,” I mused, as I bit into a dried prune, “family togetherness….”
Shortly thereafter, the sun disappeared behind the towering pine trees and darkness crashed around us. It was 5:45 P.M. “We can sit around the fire pit by lantern light and pretend we have a roaring fire. We’ll tell stories,” I cheerfully suggested. (You can see this coming, can’t you?) A few pumps on the kerosene lantern should have blossomed into a soft and romantic glow…but didn’t. “Please don’t tell me the tank is empty,” I squeaked, barely able to distinguish the features of my amazingly quiet children who were holding hands in the darkness.
My long-suffering husband pumped furiously on the lantern, to no avail. That family memory joined the beef stew, oozing into the mountain dirt, casting an ominous green glow.
I munched on another dried prune as we visited the washhouse where we thankfully used the facilities. Returning from the washroom, Hubby turned off the headlights and we sat in total disillusionment and despair for about five minutes, staring at the sagging tent, dark fire pit and useless accouterments. Should we give up and go home or stay? Going home meant driving down death hill, at risk of plunging over the canyon, or going to bed at 6:30 PM in the hot tent.
My husband wanted to chance the hill and sleep in his own bed. I insisted it was only twelve hours till dawn when we could strike the camp and get out of this hellish nightmare.
From the barely discernible expression on Hubby’s face, I knew he would never forgive me.
Our four sleeping bags touched on the canvas tent floor. An enormous lump pressed into the small of my back. Why hadn’t we cleared the rocks off the ground before we set up the tent? We could only wiggle and squirm and try to sleep. Blackness...hot air...kids snoring… Was that a bear? No clock... I heard a mosquito. Mosquitoes find me the way bears find honey. I had to get inside the sleeping bag or be eaten alive…. Oh Lord, what time is it? I poked my husband. “Honey, what time is it?”
He groaned and looked at his luminous dial. “9:30,” he growled.
I would not survive the night. I would go insane before dawn. The strains of Kum-By-Yah drifted faintly from another campsite. I hated those well-prepared campers.
Within a few hours, the unbearable heat turned into a freezing mountain chill. 895 hours later when I could faintly see Hubby’s scowling face, I punched him. “Are you sleeping?”
“You’re kidding, right?”
We struck the tent, wadded and pitched it into the station wagon. We tossed our still unconscious children on top of the tent. The sun cast a faint glow across our neighbors, dreaming of last night’s gourmet meal cooked over a functional camp stove and story time, having bonded with their kids beneath the lantern light. We roared out of the campground and hurtled down the hill, spewing rocks over the canyon wall. We did not look back.
By 7:45 A.M. we were at our kitchen table eating bacon and eggs. We laughed about the camping disasters until the tears rolled down our faces. It became a memory that will last a lifetime.
A reader spends four to five hours, immersed in a book from cover to cover. If the story is well written, for a time, she forgets her personal life. She sees herself either traveling alongside the main character or, if the writer is talented enough, the reader ‘becomes’ the character as the story moves forward.
She may wish to be transported into a romance where she feels loved and cherished. She may be a frustrated crime fighter who receives satisfaction from following clues and perhaps solving a mystery before the end of the book. She may hope to experience the thrills and chills of a thriller-suspense novel. Or, perhaps to experience life in a different world, or a different time in history. She may hope to learn more of the traditions of people from other lands or other cultures, presented in a fictionalized story.
How do these various types of books come about? Does the reader ever think about what was involved before this story could magically appear on the pages, and land on a bookstore shelf for the reader’s pleasure?
Unless a reader is also an author, it is doubtful she could conceive of the time and energy that goes into writing a novel–plotting, writing, researching, editing, reviewing, formatting, and finally to cover design and publication. Each step takes hours and hours.
The author must first come up with a premise for the story. Some authors outline the entire novel before they ever put fingers to keyboard. Others have a general idea of the story line, and let the story evolve as they write, figuring how to bring it all together in a cohesive manner. She thinks about the characters and the story line most days and often into the night. Every little thread must come together in the end. It is essential to keep the suspense or momentum throughout the middle, lest we lose the attention of the reader. She must keep each reaction and comment true to the personality of the characters as she envisions how they might respond to a certain event. She must make the reader understand the motivation and actions or comments of the character through the dialogue.
The end must make sense, and preferably reach a satisfying conclusion, leaving the reader wishing there was another hundred pages in the story. She wonders where the sequel can be found, if there is one. In ideal circumstances, the characters have become real enough that she can almost see them as next-door neighbors or someone in her circle of friends.
What a challenge and what a victory when a reader comes back to the author and asks, “When is the next book coming out?” That is an author’s highest compliment.
Sometime within the next month, I’ll publish Black Cat’s next adventure. Black Cat and the Clue in Dewey’s Diary, a dual tale taking place in Fern Lake with the cats, and in Hopfgarten, Austria, as Dorian and Kimberlee follow the clues to a missing treasure. (Pictured above. Hopfgarten Church - Austria)
In 1960, I wrote a poem that was published in my high school newspaper- Analy High School, in Sebastopol, CA. It was probably the first time I thought of cats having a human 'voice,' and the first time I was 'published.' Many years later, I began to write Black Cat cozy mystery series. For a change of pace, here is my poem -
The Cat's Side of It
The alley cat lives a lonely life, mad at his friends and mad at his wife.
When you're mad at the guy, and mad at the gals --Who's a cat go, he can call his pals?
The lonely vigil on a backyard post, unto the night, playing the host
a bottle, a brick, soon lay at your feet.., but who's a cat got? Again, I repeat.
Why ya sleep all day and you roam all night, your nerve as soon be in a terrible plight.
But ya gotta' have friends, be it only the moon, so ya open yer mouth to let fly a tune.
Oh! Then the things you can hear folks say, those sleeping away the best part of the day.
You'd think they'd enjoy hearing my song. After all, what does a human do all day long?
But gamble and smoke and loaf in the park and ruin the day with some foolish lark.
They waste the day.., then curse in the night when I try to inform them of MY pitiful plight.
So what's a cat do when he hasn't a friend and he hasn't a wife on whom to depend?
You'd think folks would be helpful, but instead they just gripe,
When I cry out my sorrow on the fence post at night!
(OK! I was 16 years old! Maybe I wasn't meant to a poet)
Check out the Black Cat mysteries at Amazon
Black Cat’s Legacy, Thumper meets his 'person' and helps pursue a cold case murder. http://tinyurl.com/lrvevgm
Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer, Thumper goes to Texas and confronts an embezzling attorney, a conniving grandmother and a sneaky stable master. He also meets his lady love. http://tinyurl.com/q3qrgyu
Black Cat and the Accidental Angel, Black Cat and his companion are left behind following an MVA and confront increasingly dangerous pranks with the family that takes them in.. http://tinyurl.com/y6vhncq