3
Apr

Mrs. Odboddy And Then There was a Tiger - Excerpt Scene

Mrs. Odboddy and Then There was a Tiger

In this edited scene, Agnes, Godfrey, Vincent and Katherine are locked in a library on the third floor of a San Francisco mansion. A gas leak in the house is in danger of exploding and burning down the house. How are they to escape?

“Well, I don’t intend to sit here and wait…” Godfrey picked up the desk chair and flung it against the window. With a crash, shards of glass burst out and tumbled to the ground. He went to the window. “Help! Somebody. Call the police!” A few cars passed by the house, but none appeared to see the broken glass. “They can’t hear me. We’re going to have to get out by ourselves.”

Vincent unzipped his pants and slid them down his legs. “Serious times call for serious actions. Katherine? Take off your dress.”

Katherine’s cheeks burned. “Really, Vincent. I realize this is a life and death situation, but we can’t… I mean, my grandmother is standing right here. I love you and even though you say we might die, this isn’t…” She glanced at Agnes and Godfrey. He was sliding off his trousers and Agnes was unbuttoning her dress. “Grandma! You, too? I can’t believe you would…”

Grandma pulled her dress over her head and handed it to Godfrey. “Oh, hush. Don’t be such a prude and take off your dress. Can’t you see he means to tie our clothes together to make a rope so we can climb out the window?”

“Oh!” Katherine ducked her head, unzipped the side zipper and slid it over her head. She handed the dress to Godfrey and stepped behind the desk. Godfrey pulled down the drapes, tied their two pairs of trousers together end to end, and added Katherine’s dress to the end of the clothing rope. “It’s still not long enough,” he said, adding Agnes’s dress to Katherine’s. “We’re going to need your two under slips. Ladies? I’m sorry, but this is no time for modesty.” The noticeable smell of gas crept ominously beneath the door. “And, you’d best hurry if we’re going to get out of here alive. The slightest spark and this place will blow.”

Agnes peeled off her slip and stood in her rubber corset and stockings with the patriotic holes.

Chill bumps raised on Katherine’s arms. The faint scent of gas made her nauseous. She stepped over to the window, stripped off her slip and stood in her brassier and panties. Elastic bands on her upper thighs held up her less than perfect nylons. Her face flushed when Vincent’s gaze traveled from her face to her knees and back again. His cheeks pinked up and he jerked his head away. His voice trembled as he knocked out the remaining window glass. “Katherine? You’ll go first. You’re the lightest. Take off your shoes. When you get down, run to the nearest house and call the police.”

Godfrey had removed his undershirt revealing a clump of grey hair clustered on his barrel chest. He attached his undershirt to the end of Katherine’s and Agnes’s slips. “I think it will reach pretty far down. You may have to jump the last few feet.” He had tied a small loop in the end for her foot and tied his undershirt to the radiator beneath the window.

Vincent placed the pillow from the office chair over the edge of the windowsill. “Up you go, Katherine. Sit on the edge and put your foot in the loop. As soon as you safely can, jump, so we can get Agnes down next.”

Katherine followed his instructions and climbed out the window. What would people think, seeing a woman, dropping from a third floor window on a rag rope wearing nothing but her underwear? She held tight to the clothing as the men lowered her over the edge and down the side of the building. First she was facing the wall, and then the cloth rope swung and spun her around so she faced the street. She heard material ripping when she was about seven feet above the ground. Lest the material should tear and prevent Grandmother’s escape, she pulled her foot from the loop and tumbled to the ground. Pain shot through her hip and she felt the breath knocked from her. She glanced up in time to see Agnes appear in the window as Vincent pulled the rope back up the wall.

****

The third Mrs. Odboddy adventure, Mrs. Odboddy And Then There was a Tiger is FREE at Amazon until 04-26-20, and then is just $3.99 in e-book. Mrs. Odboddy Hometown Patriot, and  Mrs. Odboddy Undercover Courier are books one and two. Read all three Mrs. Odboddy mystery/adventures for a hilarious WWII historical fiction treat.    http://tinyrul.com/yx72fcpx

 

22
Mar

Mrs. Odboddy And Then There Was a Tiger - A WWII Historical Fiction Novel

OVERVIEW: While the ‘tiger of war’ rages across the Pacific during WWII, eccentric, elderly Agnes Odboddy, ‘fights the war from the home front’. Then she finds a rat-filled shoebox on her porch, her house is trashed and she is implicated in the Wilkey’s Market burglary! In her own bumbling, hysterical manner, Agnes is determined to get to the bottom of things.

Then a traveling carnival with a live tiger joins the parishioners’ Harvest Fair at The First Church of the Evening Star and Everlasting Light. Agnes bears some of the responsibility when counterfeit bills are discovered at the carnival, and the war bond money goes missing. She’s in trouble again. Her attempts to restore the war bond money lead her into harm’s way. A friend’s betrayal results in a harrowing experience as Agnes learns more about carnival life and tigers than she bargained for.

 

 (Excerpt from Mrs. Odboddy – And Then there was a Tiger)

(At the tiger's performance at the carnival)

For the next ten minutes, the trainer put the tiger through his paces. Probably declawed, and totally dependent on a human to provide his meat on the end of a stick, the tiger was as tame as a housecat. “Does anyone want to pet Shere Khan? He’s very friendly,” the trainer said.

Agnes touched Maddie’s cheek. “What do you think?”

“I…I…think so. Yes!” Maddie stepped closer. She ran one finger over Shere Khan’s head. “He’s so soft.” She stroked the tiger’s neck and scratched behind his ear.

Shere Khan turned into the caress, opened his mouth and yawned, showing long sharp teeth. His eyes sought Maddie’s face and their eyes locked in a gaze that seemed to connect their souls. At last, Shere Khan stood and ambled back toward the door of his caravan,

“Well, guess the show is over, folks. Our star has had enough public adulation.” The trainer chuckled and turned away.

Agnes reached for Maddie’s hand and gave it a shake. “Are you ready to go back now?”

Not responding, Maddie stared at the caravan door.

“Maddie? It’s time to go back.”

Maddie had not moved. She rubbed her fingers together, seeming unable to relinquish the sensation of the tiger’s ear, reluctant to forget the rumble in his throat as she stroked his face.

“Maddie?” Agnes searched Maddie’s face. The child seemed lost in the memory of a special shared moment, reluctant to return to her everyday life. “Shall we go, sweetheart?”

The child blinked. “I remember when we played together with baby lambs and goats in a meadow in Heaven…before I was born. Do you think he remembered, too?”

“What strange ideas you have, child. Where do you come up with such things?” Agnes grasped Maddie’s hand and hurried her away.

Played together in Heaven? What could have put such a thought into her head? Agnes glanced at Maddie’s face. Her eyes were aglow, her smile as innocent as an angel. Her face looked as though she truly remembered a day in Heaven when she played in a meadow with lambs and a tiger.

Goosebumps crept up Agnes’s arms. Hadn’t Pastor Lickleiter just preached on this text last Sunday? 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)

Wolves? Leopards? Lions? Who’s to say there wasn’t a tiger among them.

*****

To purchase Mrs. Odboddy and Then There was a Tiger --- Go to https://tinyurl.com/y96qshuv

Amazon e-book - $3.99

Or contact me directly for a signed paperback copy $13.00. Mailed free to your home..

Elaine.Faber@mindcandymysteries.com

 

8
Mar

Exceedingly Handsome

Just for  Sunday afternoon fun, I'm presenting a short story, obviously written by a CAT, telling his family history to readers willing to suspend disbelief... and smile. Let me know what you think.

Until my father’s death, my family lived on a profitable little farm in Killarney, Ireland. Though I knew that an enchanted magic spell had changed me from a boy into a small cat at the time of his death, Mother would never discuss the details. Even as a cat, she loved me as a son. As time passed, Mother grew frail and I grew into a fine tabby-striped tom cat with four white feet and a fine reputation as a hunter.

One day she called me to her bedside. “Tabkins, I can no longer provide our bread and cheese. You must restore our good fortune or surely we will perish.” And so she began her tale of trickery and enchantment, deviltry, and a magic spell that had plagued our family since my father’s death.

 

Some years ago, our farm possessed six orange trees, three cows, and a potato patch, all sufficient to meet our needs. A wicked green leprechaun from a nearby mountain-top coveted, and tried often, to obtain our land by trickery, but father repeatedly rebuffed his guiles. In revenge, the evil creature fogged Father’s mind with a magic spell, causing him to fall into the river. To thwart my efforts to save Father’s life, he waved his magic wand again and changed me from a good-looking youth of comely bearing into a tabby-striped cat. Though the world profited by the addition of an exceedingly handsome cat, my father drowned. The leprechaun then cast a spell upon the three cows, causing them to give no milk. The orange trees ceased to bear fruit and the potato patch gave us only scant potatoes.

 

“You must seek out the leprechaun,” Mother said, “and retrieve the magic wand. Perhaps it will restore you to a human lad and our land into a profitable farm.” The tears in her eyes wrenched my heart, and yet I trembled in horror at the thought of facing the evil creature.

 

She lifted her frail hand. “Make your way to yonder mountain. High on the top beside a river, you’ll find the cave where the wicked leprechaun dwells,” she said. “Go, now, Tabkins. Our future is in your paws.”

 

I set out as she bid, knowing that facing a leprechaun, no matter how exceedingly good-looking I might be, my feline cunning would be sorely tested if I was to fool the evil leprechaun, steal the magic wand, and live to tell the tale.

 

With every step up the mountain, I cast about in my mind how to dupe the leprechaun into reversing his magic spell or stealing his wand. I came at last to the river.

 

“Halt. Who goes there?” The wicked leprechaun called from beneath the log that spanned the stream. “Answer, Cat, or I’ll turn you to stone.”

 

Panic seized my heart. An idea popped into my furry head. “I’m just a harmless pussy-cat out for a stroll. My, what a lovely river you have here, Sir Leprechaun.” A little honey-talk is always good to sooth a malevolent spirit. I sashayed across the log, humming, Katie From Killarney, and bowed low. “My name is Tabkins. Pray tell, what might your name be, kind sir?”

 

The leprechaun’s eyes narrowed. “My name is Merichandrick. What do you seek?”

 

“Perhaps a spot of tea? I’m weary from my travels.” I looked wistfully toward the cave, conveying abject vulnerability and friendliness.

 

“Come on in and I’ll light the fire,” said he, his green mouth atwitch, his brain surely swirling with some deviltry.

I followed him into the grotto, wary of any trick up his sleeve, sure that he had thoughts of tossing me into his stew pot. I scanned the cave, searching for the wand, keeping one wary eye on my host.

 

“Sit over there.” The imp pointed toward the fire.

 

“Oh, what a lovely bird,” I posited, sidling closer to a green and red parrot, its cage hanging from a golden hook, all the while seeking the hiding place of the magic wand. In a chair near the back of the cave, I spotted a pot of gold. Something long and thin poked from beneath a nearby red blanket. Aha! It must be the wand I seek.

 

The little man turned. “Will you be after spending the night?” said he, with a wicked glint in his eye.

 

“If I’m so invited,” says I with a yawn, patting my paw to my mouth, “Let us drink our tea and I’ll curl up for the night just yonder on your wee red blanket.”

 

He shook his mop of green curls. “Not there,” he shrieked, panic shining from his wicked eye. “Best you should sleep closer to the fire where it will warm your exceedingly handsome fur.”

 

“As you wish, and I thank you kindly for the hospitality,” says I. Oho! Once the little man sleeps, I’ll snatch the magic wand from beneath the blanket and skedaddle.

 

My host poured two mugs of tea and shoved one toward me. Expecting a trick, I sneezed, and as he reached for a handkerchief, I switched the mugs. Indeed, the mug was drugged. Soon after the evil goblin drank, he fell into a stupor.

 

Without further ado, I grabbed the magic wand, wrapped in a paper containing the magic spell, and hurried back to the farm.

 

Mother waved the wand, read the magic words, and the spell was broken. I was instantly changed back into a young man, even more comely than before. Soon, thereafter, the cows began to give milk, the orange trees blossomed and bore fruit, and this spring, we had a bumper crop of potatoes.

 

The leprechaun still lives in the cave with his parrot, but without his magic wand or his evil spells, his complexion has turned from green to a sallow yellow, and, embarrassed by his looks, he rarely leaves his cave.

 

As long as fortune smiles, we’ll leave him be, but if the cows go dry or the potato crop should ever fail, I happen to know where I can find an exceedingly ugly yellow leprechaun and a pot o’ gold.

Leave a comment for a chance to win a free copy of All Things Cat ...Twenty-one short stories all about cats or....

 check out my book of short stories, All Things Cat, on Amazon in e-book for just $2.99.  http://tinyurl.com/y9p9htak  

3
Mar

Advice on How to Write a Short Story

The ideal short story contains the following elements: A compelling title, interesting characters, an unusual setting, an intriguing goal or situation, and a good conclusion, perhaps with a twist.

Suppose there were two short stories in a magazine. Both stories are about women who have an unexpected event occur in their lives. Which of the two titles below would get the most readers?

The Mall Purse (A housewife finds a purse at the mall)

The Abandoned Baby on the Doorstep (Fortune Teller finds baby)

Although the housewife may have a fascinating tale of how she reunites the purse with the owner, unless we added the words, “bloodstained purse” to the title, it is likely that the most read would be the one about the character with a diverse job, setting and situation. The reader would want to know–what exactly does the fortune teller do with a baby left on her doorstep? If she’s a real fortune teller, shouldn’t she have known the baby would be there? And, for that matter, wouldn’t she know who left it on her doorstep in the first place. Just sayin’…

Once an unusual character, setting and goal are chosen, an author begins the body of the story. He must identify the main character, the problem he faces, a conflict or two along the way that threatens his solving the problem, and the solution, all within the limit of 1000 to 2500 words. There is no room for backstory, character development, personalities, subplots, red herrings, and minor conflicts along the way, misdirection of the culprit, conflicted romance, or intrigue. All those story details can only be explored in a novel.

From time to time, it is helpful for authors of full length novels to enter contests and submission requests for stories of limited word counts. Without the luxury of75- 80,000+ words to ‘make it work,’ the author must make the short story compelling, outline the problem and bring about a convincing solution in short order. The process or writing a limited word story sharpens and challenges an author to make each word count, yet tell a story with a fun plot and a satisfying conclusion, in a very limited space.

My book of short stories, All Things Cat, includes 21 short stories, all related in some way to a cat. I’ve incorporated both past and present times, unusual locations, situations and circumstances. Some stories are self-narrated BY the cat. Some are stories from my personal experiences, but most are fiction based on ideas taken from holidays, story prompts, contest submissions, and even a couple excerpted scenes from my full-length novels. I’ve introduced witches, poker players, burglars, and members of the First Family, to name but a few. I’ve tried to incorporate all the aspects of a good short story into each tale.

When an author of full length novels publishes a short story, we demonstration our storytelling abilities, style, and writing skills. Like tasting samples at the grocery store, in hopes the customer will buy the product. With a short story, the author hopes to encourage the reader to travel on another journey with the characters we create in our full length novels. My main goal is to share my make believe world, and bring a bit of fun and laughter into the reader’s life. Hope you’ll travel this journey with me.

All Things Cat is available in e-book at Amazon for $2.99. http://tinyurl.com/y9p9htak. What a fun book for the cat lover or as a gift for the cat lover in your life.

 

25
Feb

The Good Shepherd and Agnes Agatha Odboddy

Bernhard Plockhorst (March 2, 1825 – May 18, 1907) was a German painter and graphic artist. In Germany, Plockhorst is mainly known only to experts today, whereas his pictures are still very popular in the United States and their reproductions can be found in many American homes and churches.

Bernhard Plockhorst’s painting of The Guardian Angel(1886), showing an angel and two little children close to an abyss, was reproduced as a color lithography in thousands of copies and greatly influenced the later pictures of guardian angels.

"The Good Shepherd" showing Christ caring for his flock, graces the stained glass windows of several U.S. American churches; the First Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma; and in the Zion Lutheran Church, in Baltimore, MD., as well as in thousands of copies in churches and homes. To this day, his painting of Christ’s face has become the most popular version of the accepted face of Christ.

*****

In my next Mrs. Odboddy novel,  Agnes learns that her doctor’s Hippocratic Oath becomes hypocritical when she believes he has stolen an early lithograph of The Good Shepherd from her church. When she tracks the suspected doctor to a mansion in San Francisco, she very nearly loses her life. Mrs. Odboddy and the Devious Doctor is the fourth Mrs. Odboddy adventure and should be published next year,

In the first Mrs. Odboddy adventure, Mrs. Odboddy Hometown Patriot, Agnes attempts to locate the thief stealing ration books from mailboxes in her hometown during WWII. As she serves the community with all manner of volunteer activities, she believes there are sleeper Nazi agents in her small town and is determined to bring them to justice. When Mrs. Roosevelt comes to town, Agnes must become a hometown patriot to save her life. http://tinyurl.com/hdbvzsv

Agnes’s next adventure takes place on a train from California to Washington, D.C. as she carries a package to President Roosevelt. In Mrs. Odboddy Undercover Courier, Agnes is sure the package contains secret war documents, and is just as sure that Nazi spies will attempt to steal the package along the way. The characters she meets on the train are diverse and intriguing. A WWII wounded veteran helps her succeed in her journey as adverse events almost derail her along the way. http://tinyurl/com/jn5bzwb

 

Mrs. Odboddy and Then There was a Tiger has Agnes back at home, falsely accused as a burglar and a thief. Her hysterical antics as she attempts to clear her name will keep you in stitches. And, yes, when she becomes involved with a county fair tiger, she learns more than she bargained about tigers as she attempts to save his striped hide and bring miscreants to justice.   https://tinyurl.com/y96qshuv

All novels are available for $3.99 at Amazon.

18
Feb

The Bookmobile and Daddy's Big Hand

I won first place in a local library writing contest with this story several years ago. The theme was 'what library memories did we have?'.

In 1950, I was a first grader in a new, small, rural school. The children marked the days off the calendar, waiting for the two days a month  the yellow Sonoma County bookmobile visited the school and we could each select a library book! Without today’s modern technology of television, videos, and smart phones, a book was the doorway to a world of fantasy, imagination and excitement.

We lined up at the door of the bookmobile. I was barely able to contain our excitement until finally it was my turn to enter the truck. The librarian directed my attention to the two shelves dedicated to beginning readers and I made my selection.

The librarian challenged me with the responsibility of caring for library property and tucked a card into the back cover. It was mine for two whole weeks! Triumphantly, I carried my book down the steps and into the shade of a nearby tree.

The book was a treasure, sent to me personally by the President of the United States, who owned the County Public Library System and personally sent the yellow bookmobiles to rural schools, as a symbol of truth, justice and the American Way. This, I knew in my heart of hearts.

I walked home from school that day, carrying my lunch pail, sweater and my precious library book under my arm. One of my companions suggested we take a different route home. Though I knew this was against my mama’s rule, the chanting of chicken cinched my decision to agree. Several blocks from home, our path brought us to a PG&E workman’s hole, loosely covered by boards. Our leader pranced across the boards and 'double-dog dared' us to follow. I was afraid, but unable to defy a double-dog dare, I had no choice but to follow him across the wobbling boards.

Fighting back tears, I clutched my lunch pail, sweater and library book, closed my eyes and took a step onto the wobbly boards. Flailing my hands to keep my balance, my precious book tumbled into the dark hole and landed surely, into the pits of hell. Horrified, we peered into the darkness. I could barely see its pages flipping gently back and forth. The hole was too deep, and rescue too challenging for our small six-year-old minds to comprehend.

I contemplated the outcome of this catastrophe. The President of the United States had personally commissioned the book into my hands and I had failed him…. miserably. Someone was going to jail. I felt sure they wouldn’t put a 6-year-old in jail, but, who…? Suddenly it became all too clear. They would put Daddy in jail because I was his kid and somebody had to pay for this grievous error.

When I got home, I hid in the closet, despite my mother’s pleas to come out. I sat in the dark, crying, imagining what would become of us. Mama would have to go to work. Everyone would  point fingers at me, knowing I was the reason Daddy was in jail.

When Daddy came home, he grabbed me by the collar, pulled me from the closet and whacked my bottom, “What the heck is going on?” Daddy always could get to the seat of the problem in about four seconds.

Between tears and trembling, I confessed the loss of my library book on the way home. (I decided not to mention my suspected opinion about him going to jail. The library police would be here soon enough to point that out and arrest him.)

Daddy drove us back to the gigantic, monstrous hole that yawned beneath the 100 foot deep PGE boards, the hole that had swallowed my precious book, the hole that was the cause of his impending incarceration, and my everlasting shame. He leaned over the gaping cavern, reached his long arm down and…pulled out the book.

Things were easier back then. You could count on Daddy to solve life-shattering problems with one sweep of his big hand, or so it seemed to me, as I snuggled against his shoulder on the way home, my library book clutched tightly to my chest.

 

15
Feb

The Elevator Pitch

 

The blurb on the back of my cozy cat mystery reads something like this. ‘While Black Cat narrates his own challenges back home, his mistress, Kimberlee, follows a clue to a lost treasure she found in a WWII soldier’s diary. It sends her on a treasure hunt to Austria. Little does she know she is on a collision course with a stalker determined to steal the diary and reach the treasure…blah…blah…blah...’

The back of the cover cannot explain the plot’s humor, drama, intrigue, or the battle on the beaches of Normandy and the friendship struck between Dewey and a German soldier recorded in the diary, or the beauty of Austria, or the intrigue as Kimberlee matches wits with the stalker.

When I first starting writing years ago, no one told me there was more to ‘being an author’ than plots and dialogue. In these days of limited acceptance by traditional publishing houses unless one has achieved personal fame or fortune and a platform of 10,000, an author must resort to Indie Publishing and be a jack of all trades.

Beyond writing talent, one must master the skills of publicist, bookkeeper, full time blogger, cover artist, and skilled orator, always keeping an eye and ear open for opportunities to participate on author panels and speaking engagements. Though not necessarily a ‘master’ at any of the above mentioned skills, I’ve become somewhat competent in most. Now, I’ve learned I must master one more skill... Memorize an ‘elevator pitch’ on the off chance that, perhaps in a coffee shop or the dry cleaners, I should run into a literary agent sipping a Carmel Macchiato or picking up dry cleaning.

It is imperative to command the agent’s undivided attention with an opening hook, and define my scintillating plot’s originality. I must convince him everyone from a cowboy in Texas to a stock broker in Hollywood would buy my book with his last green dollar, and how it will become a Best Seller…and accomplish all this in sixty seconds or less.

I have practiced my ‘elevator pitch’ in front of a three-way mirror and perfected where to smile, when to pause for special effect, and when to use hand motions to emphasize the final sentence. It has become second nature and the words now roll off my tongue like scotch tape at a Christmas party.

Unfortunately, in my case, I fear if I should ever be fortunate enough to find myself on that much discussed elevator with an agent, in spite of my good intentions and hours of practice, I expect the conversation would more likely go something like this.

Uh… You’re that Zondervan guy, right! Wait. Let me push this button and stop the elevator. I never thought… I have some notes here somewhere. Where is that paper? Well, never mind. I wrote a book, see? You’re not going anywhere special right now, right? About that book I wrote… You’re gonna love it. I called it Black Cat and the Secret in Dewey’s Diary. Do you like cats? It’s narrated partly by the cat. At least half of it. The other half is in Austria. There’s a stolen treasure, see and Kimberlee…that’s the lady, not the cat. She finds a clue in a diary. Well, you have to read it. So, there’s this cat…see….

****

Black Cat and the Secret in Dewey's Diary is available on Amazon for $3.99  https://tinyurl.com/vgyP89s

 

 

22
Jan

MORNING MATCH - A short story by a visitor - Judy Vaughan

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.

Morning Match  

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 jfbvaughan@comcast.net.

 

26
Dec

Remembering the story of The Christmas Bird

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.”

 

13
Dec

And, a Little Child Shall Lead Them.

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.

Roar!

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?

 

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