A book review by Thumper, the cat with the memories.
Thumper’s the name. We just got to Grandmother’s Texas ranch and I met this babe…a cream tabby vixen with eyes the color of mustard and stripes the color of marigolds. Yowza! It was love at first sight.
After a brief courtship and an ‘understanding,’ Noe-Noe and I were hanging out by the river where we overheard Grandmother’s lawyer and the stable master talking. Seems the lawyer was upset that Grandma plans to change her beneficiary from the Children’s program he sponsors to either my person, Kimberlee, or her cousin, Dorian. Worse yet, he intends to kill Grandmother.
Well, let me tell you, it was enough to twitch the whiskers off a striped skunk! Noe-Noe and I vowed to keep the old gal safe, even though Grandmother’s reason for bringing the family to Texas isn’t the sweet family reunion she claimed. She has an ulterior motive to destroy Kimberlee’s family. In spite of Grandma’s wicked agenda, Noe-Noe and I agreed we had to protect the old biddy. She is family after all, and isn’t it every cat’s duty to protect his family?
What happened to our fun-filled family reunion? Grandma’s on a roll to disrupt Kimberlee’s life. The attorney plans to kill Grandma and now we’re suspecting the stable master is hiding a secret identity! It’s turned into a series of cat-astrophies that shouldn’t happen to a dog.
Speaking of a dog, cousin Dorian brought her dog to Texas, too. When Kimberlee took him for a walk out on the desert, she almost stepped on a rattlesnake. Yikes! Good thing I wasn’t with her. I’d rather face a killer any day of the week. A rattlesnake? …not so much.
If I was of a mind, I could clue you into what’s behind some of the mysteries around here. If you read my first book, Black Cat’s Legacy, you already know that with the aid of my ancestors’ memories, I helped Kimberlee solve some of the Fern Lake mysteries. Same thing here in Texas. There’s the stable master, for instance. Thanks to my great grandfather’s memory, I know that he was involved when Kimberlee’s father was murdered. And, what about Grandmother’s sinister plot with regard to Kimberlee’s little girl? Things are going from bad to worse and there’s only so much a cat can do.
I can’t wait to go home to Fern Lake. Here’s the problem. When we leave, Kimberlee says I have to say farewell to my soul-mate, Noe-Noe. (Big cat sigh). Kimberlee once said, ‘Why do we lose the things we love and things that bring us grief, hang around like warts on the end of your tail?’ That was paraphrased, of course, but you get the drift. Perhaps the fates will intervene and things will turn out okay. Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer is a cozy mystery, after all!)
Elaine Faber’s short stories have appeared in multiple magazines and fourteen anthologies. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Cat Writers Association, and Northern California Publisher and Authors. Elaine enjoys speaking on mystery panels and book signing events. Black Cat’s Legacy and Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer are light romance and cozy cat mysteries. who with the aid of his ancestors’ memories, Thumper (Black Cat) helps Kimberlee solve the mysteries. The third book in the series is Black Cat and the Accidental Angel.
All novels are available at Amazon in print and digital. http://tinyurl.com/q3qrgyu
BALAAM’S DONKEY: One interesting story from the Bible describes the prophet Balaam who was instructed by God to deliver a specific message. Three times Balaam beats his donkey when it stops in the middle of the road. Finally the donkey turns and speaks aloud, “I can’t move forward?" The donkey adds, "Can’t you see that Angel with a sword, standing right in front of us, blocking the road? Why are you beating me?”
Balaam answers, “Because you won’t obey. If I had a sword, I’d kill you!” Finally he sees the angel who delivers God’s message and Balaam obeys. (Loose translation.)##The amazing thing is that Balaam wasn’t the least bit amazed when his donkey spoke aloud to him. Instead, he argues and curses the donkey. Something to think about…But I'm quite familiar with other talking animals. (See my three cozy cat mysteries where Black Cat narrates a good deal of the story).
ANGELS IN THE BIBLE: The Bible includes many interactions and conversations between angels and humans. The most remembered− the Archangel Gabriel visited the Virgin Mary to foretell the birth of Jesus Christ.* Angels directed the shepherds to the stable where Jesus was born.** Following Jesus' Resurrection, an angel rolled back the stone and spoke to Mary Magdalene.***
DO WE STILL BELIEVE IN ANGELS? In the US, a 2008 survey polled 1,700 respondents, and found that fifty-five percent of Americans, including one in five of those who say they are not religious, believe that they have been protected by a guardian angel during their life. Thousands of personal accounts have reported interactions with angels.
DO OTHER RELIGIONS BELIEVE IN ANGELS? Angels are part of many religions including Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism and are mentioned in the Bible as well as in the Qur'an and Hadith. All religions agree that angels are divine spiritual beings sent by God as messengers to comfort, or to protect in time of great need.
FINAL THOUGHTS: In the middle century, art and mythology depicted angels as female and artists added wings. Nowadays, angels could look like any one of us. The prophet in Hebrews admonished us to be kind, even to strangers, as they may be angels in disguise.Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2
Whatever success you’ve achieved in business is likely due to the help of many people who mentored and helped you. Now you can be someone’s angel by mentoring, helping and encouraging others.
Angels lend a helping hand in time of need. Who knows? The person you meet on any particular day may need an angel. Or…he may BE an angel. Donkeys can be stubborn and contrary. Sometimes they hold back when they should move forward. It’s your choice. Donkey…or angel?
* Luke 1:26
** Luke 2:10
*** Matthew 28:5
“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 out into the road. The tractor is coming along any minute. You could be smashed flatter than a fritter!”
Papa Red Warty Thing was right. The urge to see the world was strong in the most adventurous Cucurbita Pepo in the community. Unlike his more obedient and littlest cousins, Baby Boo, Wee-be-Little, and Jack-be- Little, who never strayed past the first twist in the vine, Harvest Jack was determined to see more of the world than the front and rear end of his closest relatives.
Twisting back toward his parents, Papa Red Warty Thing and Sweet Sugar Pie, unruly Harvest Jack huffed and declared, “I’d rather be a fritter than bored to death, lying face up in the sun like the rest of you.”
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 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? Your ancestors never looked like the rest of us. They were always rebellious.”
Papa Red Warty Thing shivered. “I never thought I’d say this, but if he doesn’t change his attitude, he’s likely to end up gutted, with holes in his skin in the shape of an ugly face!”
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 having 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 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 wasn’t anything 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, didn’t he?”
How fool-hardy he had been. How he wished he was back 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, Harvest Jack felt himself lifted from the dirt. Guttural, humanoid sounds reverberated through his stem and then he felt the cool, earth beneath his bottom. What had happened? He found himself 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 very own field. How warm and good the sun felt on his face.
“Oh, Papa Red Warty Thing! You were right,” Harvest Jack cried. “I shouldn’t have disobeyed. I’m so happy to be back where I belong. 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 all your fault.”
“What’s wrong,” Harvest Jack cried. “I thought you wanted me to grow up to be a Harvest dinner pie. You said I could choose what kind of pie I wanted to be.”
“You can, my dear, but you can’t be cherry pie, because you’re a pumpkin.” Papa Red Warty Thing patiently explained.
“Did you hear the lad?” Sweet Sugar Pie screamed. “Apparently, according to political correctness today, if the lad wants to be a cherry pie, then he’s a cherry pie!”
“You’re to blame for this, Sweet Sugar Pie. You were always too lenient with the boy. I knew I should never have married someone from the other side of the field!”
All the critters names are varieties of pumpkins.
If you enjoy my stories, please check out my seven published novels, including All Things Cat - A book of short stories about cats. http://tinyurl.com/y9p9htak (Amazon $2.99 ebook)
The Slobaviakinsky Golf Course and Convention was located in a small, undeveloped country called Slobaviakinsky, somewhere north of the 23rd Parallel. The golf course was funded by a United States grant as an entrepreneurial endeavor to improve the lives of the 1,673,489 citizens of Slobaviakinsky. The convention center employed 312 individuals, from grounds keepers to bartenders, to chefs and maids.
As it happened to be the biggest and finest golf course and convention center within 3000 miles, it was to be the location of the annual European golf tournament. News of Tiger Woods’ attendance had spread far and wide, assuring the event would bring financial and national attention to the not so thriving country. As a result, every room in the convention hotel was reserved.
Having things “just as he liked it,” our boy, Tiger, had shipped his personal all electric golf cart with leather seats, titanium steering wheel, state-of-the-art sound system and beverage center, and golf clubs with gold gilt grips, ahead of his arrival. The cart was now parked on the lawn beside the CEO’s office and covered with a tarp, lest anyone should attempt to pilfer same and sell it at New York Southey’s Auction House.
Unbeknownst to the organizers of the tournament, or for that matter, the golf course’s CEO, long before the course was built at this location, beneath the manicured grass, a secret society had created a maze of tunnels connecting the 1st through the 19th hole. The secret society had planned their covert operations in this location for years and had no desire to risk discovery. Discussions were underway beneath the turf, as to the best way to scuttle the approaching tournament, lest the location of the secret tunnels should be discovered and future doings of the participants thwarted.
At last a plan was voted on and passed, likely to wreck the event.
Three days before the tournament, the CEO found his head landscaper outside his office, awaiting his arrival. The distraught man stood wringing his hands. He blurted out his story. During the night someone had torn out the sound system in Tiger’s golf cart. The leather seats were shredded. The golf bag holding his precious clubs was slashed with marks that looked like the teeth of a wild animal. Knowing Tiger Wood’s erratic moods, the CEO feared that such an attack might result in his refusal to participate. In such a case, would the tournament even proceed?
Much to their surprise, Tiger grudgingly agreed if they promised to provide a cooler with his favorite beverage, he would use a standard golf cart.
Two day before the tournament, the CEO found his head electrician awaiting his arrival. During the night someone had destroyed the wiring to the PA system, making it impossible to announce the events over the loud speakers. Could the tournament proceed if Tiger’s adoring fans could not hear about his prowess on the field? Since the hotel was booked up and news media from around the world were already on their way, they would try to fix the system and save the tournament.
Learning this, the secret society called another emergency meeting. Scuttling Tiger’s golf cart hadn’t worked. Destroying the PA sound system hadn’t derailed the tournament plans. Drastic measures were needed. The timing of the plan had to be perfect.
One day before the tournament, the CEO found his head chef awaiting his arrival. Upon coming to work that morning, he had found what appeared to be rat droppings all over the kitchen, on the stove and in the pantry. Bags of corn meal were torn open. The freezer had thawed during the night thawing hundreds of pounds of meat. He found the refrigerator’s electric cord chewed in half. Obviously, the hotel had been invaded by rodents. With the health inspector due today, the kitchen would likely be shut down putting the tournament in extreme jeopardy.
The clever CEO snapped his fingers. “Have the maintenance crew jimmy up barbecues on the patio with bricks and screens. We’ll BBQ all the meat for the hotel guest’s dinner tonight. Have the local markets and bakeries bring bread, fresh fruit and pastry for breakfast tomorrow. We’ll bring all the portable microwaves from each room to prepare whatever else we need to feed the guests. Contact another dozen food trucks to serve the tournament guests tomorrow. We’ll make it work.”
In despair, the secret society shrugged and gave up. None of their efforts had derailed the tournament. They would have to take their chances of discovery.
On tournament day, Tiger Woods faced the world’s top ten golfers. On the 19th hole, he was one stroke from winning the tournament. He eyed the ball, drew back his club and swung. His foot slipped on a leaf. His ball sailed into the air, then diverted to the left and landed in the trees next to the 19th hole. The crowd erupted in a collective moan. TV cameramen trailed him and his caddy into the woods. Tiger’s ball lay on the top of a mound of dirt, evidence of a major gopher hole.
Tiger stomped down the mound, creating a level field, smacked his ball onto the grass where it slowly rolled across the green and plopped into the hole. Tiger turned to his caddy. “Better notify the CEO about this gopher hole. He should set out poison before they get onto the green,” he said, moving onto the green to the adulation of his adoring fans.
In the tunnel below, a number of ground gophers cringed in trepidation. As they had feared, Tiger Woods’ attendance at the golf tournament had resulted in the discovery of their secret location.
Their existence was doomed. In a matter of time, their secret tunnels would likely be destroyed. There was only one solution. They moved their network of tunnels into the International Culinary School garden next door. Unbeknownst to them, Wolfgang Puck was scheduled to hold his world renowned annual cooking contest there next spring.
If you enjoyed my story, consider purchasing one of my mystery novels on Amazon (ebook $3.99) or check out some of my other articles or short stories on this website.
As I child of the 1950’s, I remember how my friends and I dressed as ghosts, hobos, cowboys or Cinderella at Halloween. Properly attired, we escaped out the door as soon as the sun went down. Invariably these trips were made alone or in groups of two or three, but without chaperones, since our parents stayed at home to dole out the goodies to other trick-or-treaters.
I recall how we tromped through the neighborhood, knocking on doors. Our decorated brown paper bags were soon filled with cookies, cupcakes, oranges and often, homemade fudge or even a candy covered apple. It wasn’t unusual to be invited in to show our costumes to other family members.
Overhead, at least the way I remember it, the moon was always big and round and yellow with the face of the Man in the Moon watching benevolently as we tromped the streets.
Halloween these days? Kiddies are still at the door, but there is always a parent hovering on the sidewalk to keep predators and kidnappers at bay. Good-hearted grandmas can’t offer cookies, unwrapped candy or cupcake treats because any such treat would be thrown away, suspected of Ricin poison or a razor blade hidden inside. Children wouldn’t dare enter a neighbor’s house to show their costume to an aged parent, lest there be some depraved, perverted felon lurking in a dark hallway.
Even the custom of trick or treating has come into displeasure and is often substituted with private school parties, church carnivals with tailgate trick or treating and prizes for all participants.
This blog is not the practices of Halloween yesterday or even today. Instead, it’s about that pesky full moon I thought I remembered shining down on every Halloween trek through the neighborhood. Apparently, my memory was faulty.
I began to wonder how often we had a completely full moon on Halloween. Imagine my surprise when Google research reported that the moon is actually completely full on October 31st only four or five times each century! Whoa! Who knew?
The last time we had such a Halloween moon was October 31, 2001, barely six weeks after the attack on the World Trade Center. The next scheduled Halloween full moon occurs on October 31, 2020.
Now, if I knew a whit about the sun, moon and stars, rotation of the earth, planets or the galaxy, I could probably give you a reasonable explanation for such a rare occurrence, but since I don’t, you’ll have to do your own Google research to understand the why of it.
Suffice it to say, children will celebrate Halloween this year differently than the Halloweens I remember. One more childhood memory bites the dust. One more pleasure that our grandkids will never experience, like riding my bike alone to the park, playing outside all day and not coming home until dark, or selling lemonade on the corner. These days, parents would be arrested for child endangerment if their child walked to school alone, and a City Seller’s Permit is required for a lemonade stand.
But, in just two more years, there will be another Halloween full moon. That’s something to look forward to. October 31, 2020. How should we celebrate?
Some years ago I found my mother’s scrapbook from her teenage years (approximately 1930). In it was a handwritten copy of a poem called How to Make Love. It was sent to her by an admirer, Arthur Larson, from Big Falls, Minnesota some time in her teenage years, around 1929-30. This was the lyrics to a song. It seemed to be a popular pastime, copying song lyrics or poems, as Mother’s scrapbook contained several different clever ‘sayings’ and poems or song lyrics.
How to Make Love was so clever, I’m going to share it here. If anyone has any information about its origins, please let me know.
How to Make Love
Do you want your girl to love you? Do you want to be her beau?
Then I’ll tell you how to do it, boys. I’ll tell you all I know.
Put on your bib and tucker and scrub your face real hard.
Pat your hair right in the middle, boys, and slick it down with lard.
Put your dirty bat on sideways. Put your Sunday pants up short
Get a red bow tie and a rubber band, and show her you’re a sport.
Get yourself some drug store perfume, and sprinkle it on your clothes.
And a dime’s worth will be plenty, bows. To tickle her little nose.
Use your buggy and your harness, and curry your trotting mare.
And buy her a pretty lasso, boys, and get your lady fair.
Tie a ribbon on your buggy whip, get a pair of yellow gloves
And take her to the county fair, and buy her what she loves.
Tell her she is prettier than a movie actress
Talk about her pretty curls, and about her handsome dress
Get yourself a gold front tooth, and a Sears and Roebuck ring
A double note harmonica, and learn to play and sing.
Talk about her family, her granddad and her pap.
And before you know, she’s sitting on your lap.
Tell her she is so pretty, she takes away your breath.
And before you know, she’s a hugging you to death.
But, if she does not love you, boys. Just make her jealous then.
Tell her you love somebody else and she is just a friend.
Take her out to the dances and flirt with other girls.
Hug um’ close and whisper soft, and get them all awhirl.
Laugh out loud with the others, but to your girl don’t speak
And when she comes around you, boys, just turn from her your cheek.
Just follow these directions and she will be your wife
Or else she’ll marry somebody else… and hate you all her life!
To HEAR THIS POEM PUT TO MUSIC, CHECK UTUBE HERE
Thanks, West Cochran...
From my Work in Process: Black Cat and the Key to the Treasure
Kimberlee travels alone in Germany while her friend attends a conference...
Salzburg, Germany: As Kimberlee passed through the countryside, the terrain varied as the road rose and fell through hills and valleys. Around every corner, another picture postcard vista appeared. With no particular agenda, Kimberlee frequently stopped to photograph a scene.
In a green meadow, the only sound was the breeze shaking the leaves on the shrubs alongside the road. The tinkling of shiny brass bells hanging from the collars of a flock of sheep or a group of black and white cows grazing nearby produced a stirring in the heart of a captivated tourist. In another place, the gentle terrain rose up through the pasture to where a fine mist clung to the hillside. The sound of tinkling bells confirmed more animals hidden among the distant trees.
Fewer vineyards dotted the hillside as Kimberlee approached Salzburg; the town where Mozart lived, played his harpsichord and wrote melodies. Several hundred years later, his name is still a household word and millions of people enjoy his music.
She reached the center of the city, parked her car, and began to walk. Ancient ivy-laden buildings with sagging tile roofs covered the sidewalk courtyards. Church spires peeked out from behind red tile rooftops. She passed a church with dates carved into the wall reading 1200-1400. How incredible! One church was said to be 1000 years old.
Faint music drew her toward the town square where a street musician stood on the steps of an ancient church played Ave Maria on his violin. While tourists clustered around the steps, pigeons flew from rooftop to rooftop, as though drawn by the haunting melody.
Kimberlee paused. The lingering notes echoed off the surrounding ancient buildings and filled the courtyard with music such as one might imagine in Heaven. Her thoughts drifted back to another time. She imagined the cobbled streets filled with horse-drawn carriages. Perhaps one held a princess and her ladies-in-waiting. Over there, a knight in shining armor on his trusty steed, ready to joust with a dragon.
The musician drew his bow across the strings, and the final note hung in the air. He lowered his hand. The audience stood motionless. Someone coughed, and the spell was broken. Generous visitors tossed money into the violin case at the musician’s feet before they wandered away.
Kimberlee opened her purse. “That was absolutely lovely! Thank you,” she said, as she dropped a few euros into his case.
She ran to catch a tram climbing to the top of the hill where a medieval castle overlooked the city; a cold and barren place with multiple staircases reaching in all directions. Inside the castle, armor, ancient guns, javelins, chains and torture devices covered the walls. Stepping out onto the balcony, the entire city and valley lay below. It was like peeking into the pages of a storybook.
Rainy mists on the distant mountains beckoned hikers upward into the cold crisp air. To the left–rivers, towers, cathedrals, graveyards, and church spires. To the right–cobblestone streets with horse-drawn carriages, and sidewalk cafes, musicians, and archways where street vendors hawked their wares beneath colorful awnings.
After wandering around the castle for an hour and taking dozens pictures, she returned to the city below.
She came upon a street artist, sitting on a short stool, his backpack and palette of paints by his side. He leaned into his easel and applied the finishing touches to a watercolor painting of the church, where the musician had played his moving aria on the steps. Could she be one of the colorful blobs that represented the tourists?
Unable to resist the appeal of the drawing and the memory of the thrilling experience, she purchased the picture. She would have it framed and hang it in her bedroom, a constant reminder of the poignant melody that had stirred her heart.
What a magical city! After a hearty meal and very strong coffee, Kimberlee returned to her car. She drove to the outskirts of town to look for a pension for the night. Brett would be thrilled to hear about all the things she had seen today. How she missed him and wished he was by her side.
This is an edited scene from my next novel, coming this summer. And Then There Was a Tiger. Watch for announcement of publication.
Agnes took Maddie’s hand and marched her down the aisle towards the back parking lot to the tiger exhibition. “Morning, Mrs. Williams. So, you’ve come to see the tiger, too?”
“I’ll admit, the idea makes me a bit nervous. You don’t suppose it’s a wild one, do you?”
“Can’t imagine they’d let it perform out in the open if it was.” Agnes grinned down at Maddie and squeezed her hand. “I suspect it hasn’t eaten any little girls for a while.”
“Grandma!” Maddie sidled closer to Agnes’s leg. “That’s not funny.” Her eyes were as bright as sparklers on the Fourth of July.
Agnes’s heart warmed, seeing Maddie’s pleasure. It wasn’t likely she had ever met a tiger face to face. For that matter, meeting a tiger was a first for her too.
The spectators gathered in front of a boxcar-like caravan with a painted canvas draped over the front bars. Brightly colored yellow spoked-wheels jutted from beneath the wagon.
The crowd heard grunts and grumbles behind the canvas. They eagerly awaiting the first sign of the emerging tiger.
The tiger’s cage creaked and swung open. A young man emerged, dressed in a blue and yellow shirt and red trousers. He stepped down the metal step carrying a short red and white striped stick resembling a magician’s wand. He bowed to the audience, then glanced back toward the open door, drew a whistle from his pocket and blew a shrill note. “Don’t be shy, Shere Khan. Come on out and say hello to the nice people.”
Scratching sounds came from behind the canvas, like the sound one might imagine a tiger would make as it rises from a metal floor, intent on hunting its prey. An orange nose appeared through the open door and the beast leaped onto the ground. Yellow eyes roamed the crowd.
The spectators murmured and took a collective step backwards. Coming to see a tiger was one thing–actually seeing one three feet away, unchained and unrestrained, was quite another.
“Shere Khan.” The trainer waved his stick in a circular motion. “Wave hello to the nice people.”
“Is he dangerous?” Someone called from the audience.
“Only when he’s hungry.” The trainer chuckled. “Up! Shere Khan!”
Shere Khan sat back on his haunches, lifted his front feet and waggled one foot.
A wave of oohs, aahs and nervous titters broke out in the audience.
They inched forward, clapped and laughed. They weren’t afraid. Not really. They knew he was tame. Heads nodded and smiled.
For the next ten minutes, the trainer put the tiger through his paces. After each trick, he gave the cat a treat from the bag at his waist. At one point, the tiger lay on the platform, gazing at the crowd, looking like an enormous, striped housecat.
Agnes dabbed her hankie across her forehead again as her thoughts turned to Shere Khan’s distant furry relatives. Too many had fallen prey to the hunter’s guns and the clothing industry, now that Hollywood starlets fancied fur coats. Shere Khan’s native cousins should be thankful that fox fur coats had more recently become more fashionable this season than tiger. Even so, the threat imposed by poachers was still very real. She envisioned wealthy and unscrupulous hunters stalking an unsuspecting prey, seeking tiger skin rugs and tiger heads mounted over their bars.
It was hard to imagine this gentle giant pursuing an antelope, leaping on its back, killing it with one snap of his jaws. Hard to imagine his jowls covered in the life’s blood of the still warm antelope, snarling to fend off predators determined to steal his bounty. Hard to imagine the beast dragging his kill through the underbrush, perhaps to a nearby den where two or three cubs awaited their first taste of meat. Such was a wild tiger’s life in the jungle.
This tiger was probably hand-raised, likely declawed and now totally dependent on a human to provide his meat on the end of a stick. It was doubtful he’d ever seen an antelope, and even if starving, wouldn’t know what to do if he saw one.
The trainer’s voice snapped her back to the present. “Does anyone want to pet Shere Khan?” The trainer pointed to Maddie. “You?”
Maddie glanced up at Agnes.
“What do you think?” Agnes touched Maddie’s cheek. “Do you want to pet him?”
“I…I…think so. Yes!” She pulled away from Agnes and stepped closer.
Maddie reached out her hand and touched Shere Khan’s head, then ran one finger over his ear. “He’s so soft.” She stroked down the tiger’s neck and scratched his ear.
Shere Khan turned toward 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 soul. At last he blinked and lowered his head onto a giant paw.
Seeing Maddie’s delight, several other children rushed forward.
The trainer motioned them back. “Just one at a time.”
Maddie returned to Agnes. “He only likes me. See how he’s turning away from the other children?”
Indeed, Shere Khan stood and ambled back toward his caravan, apparently he'd had enough public adulation. Within seconds, he was up the steps and out of sight.
Agnes reached for Maddie’s hand. “Are you ready to go back now?”
Maddie's gaze was fixed on the spot where Shere Khan had disappeared. 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. The child seemed lost in the memory of a special shared moment with a creature from the wild, reluctant to return to her life where troubling events were a daily occurrence. “Shall we go, sweetheart?”
Maddie blinked. “I remember, before I was born, we were in Heaven and we played in a meadow with baby lambs and goats. Was Shere Khan remembering, too, Grandma?”
“What strange ideas you have, child. Where do you come up with such things?” Played together in Heaven? What could have put such a thought into her head?
Maddie’s eyes were aglow, her smile as innocent as an angel. She looked as though she was truly catching a glimpse directly into Heaven where she had played in a meadow with a tiger.
Goosebumps crept up Agnes’s arms. Maybe Maddie was remembering. Hadn’t Pastor Lickleiter just preached on this text and encouraged the congregation to memorize the Bible verse? 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?
The reporter frowned. “ Odboddy! Please tell me in your own words just what caused the fire at the watch tower. I understand you were alone when the fire started.”
Mrs. Odboddy sighed, lowered her eyes and stared at her fingernails. She sat back down on the sofa chair. Here we go. Shouldn’t be too hard to convince them I was responsible. “You see, I…”
For some reason, now that it was time to relate a lie and take responsibility for a foolish act, her mouth went as dry as a prairie cactus flower. She took a quick breath and tried again. “It was like this. I was watching the coastline and…”
Her mind went blank. What did we decide I was supposed to say? That’s right. Kicked over the heater. “I turned on the heater. There was this squirrel, see. It climbed up the legs on the watch tower, or maybe it climbed up the ladder. I didn’t exactly see how it got in, but then it jumped over the wall. It startled me and I made a swipe at it with my purse and…and that’s when I accidently knocked over the heater…” Agnes glanced at the reporter and Ritchie. Were they buying it, or not?
“A squirrel… At the beach? Then what happened?” Harvey’s eyebrows touched the edge of his brow line. He wasn’t buying her story.
I’d better beef it up a little. “Well, maybe it wasn’t a squirrel. Maybe it was a…seagull. Now that I think of it, I’m sure it was a seagull. Anyway, I knocked over the heater and the spark ignited the kerosene and started the fire. I tried to put it out, but it spread too fast. I barely escaped with my life!”
Agnes’s heart thumped. She touched her nose with a shaking hand. In spite of the tingle at the end of her nose, it didn’t seem to be growing like Pinocchio’s.
“A seagull. Makes a little more sense. Why didn’t you say that the first time?” The reporter glanced toward Ritchie.
Ritchie’s hand covered his mouth. His shoulders shook.
Was he actually giggling? “I was embarrassed to say that a seagull startled me. You see, I’ve been terrified of seagulls ever since I was a baby and a seagull landed near my baby blanket and tried to pick…out…my…eyes…” Good grief. This blasted fib was spinning out of control with every breath. Why was this so hard? She’d been telling tall tales for years and never had so much trouble making the details sound right.
Harvey stood and glanced at his wristwatch. “So, let me get this straight for the newspaper story. In the middle of April, when it was close to 75 degrees at the ocean, a squirrel that wasn’t a squirrel but was really a seagull came over the wall. You have a fear of seagulls because one tried to peck out your eyes when you were a baby, and when you tried to chase it away, you accidently knocked over the heater and the watch tower caught on fire. You couldn’t put it out with the fire extinguisher hanging three feet away on the wall, and you barely escaped with your life. Is that about right?”
“You’ve got it! That’s exactly how it happened. Are we done now?”
Agnes jumped up from the sofa chair and opened the front door. “Thank you so much for dropping by. I’m looking forward to your story. Good-bye!
Harvey and Ritchie stood and stepped onto the porch. “Uhh. Okay. Good-bye.”
“Say hello to your aunt, won’t you?” Agnes closed the door and leaned against it. She put her hand over her eyes. Good grief! Katherine was going to have a cat-fit when she saw that whopper in print.
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