15
Dec

The Christmas Miracle

Anthony crouched next to the telephone booth behind the Rescue Mission. He pushed back a strand of dirty hair and wiped a ragged sleeve across his nose. He was sick of hot dogs and beans at the Rescue Mission and their phony Christmas spirit. He hated the sight of plastic Christmas trees, fake Santa’s and the city’s hollow Christmas cheer.

Last Christmas, his family had hiked through snow to cut down a Christmas tree. He and Mom watched holiday movies, sipping hot chocolate. His name was on most of the presents under the tree. He was always the tallest Wise Man in the Christmas Eve Nativity play. Life was good, but not good enough. He had brindled under Dad’s strict rules. ‘Be home by eleven. Clean up your room. No girl friends in your bedroom.’

Feeling that his life was unbearable and the rules unfair, and dreaming of being his own boss, he left home. He’s show them. He would find a job, rent an apartment, and buy a nice car. Such wonderful plans at the time…

Several months had passed and none of his plans had worked out. Without a high school diploma, he couldn’t find a job. Without a job, he couldn’t even rent a room, and the car he wanted? A pipe dream.

He shivered in the cold and pulled a wallet and ring box from his pocket. Now, look at me; a common thief, homeless and hungry. What a fool I am. I want to go home.

Anthony counted the money in the wallet$267. The glow of the light pole glinted off the diamond in the platinum engagement ring. Was it enough? Maybe with the stolen money and if he pawned the ring, it would be enough for a bus ticket home…All the way across country. But, what if Mom and Dad turned him away? What if…? Anthony stepped into the phone booth and dialed the familiar number. The phone rang three times.

“Hello?” His mom’s voice... So warm, so reassuring. Would she…?
“Hi, Mom. It’s me, Anthony.” Tears stung his eyes. “Umm…Mom? Can I come home?”

****
Mark slumped onto his fiancé’s sofa. “What am I going to do? He took everything, all my money and…even Mom’s ring.”

Martha sat beside Mark and took his hand. “Why did you have your mom’s ring with you?”

“I was taking it to have it cleaned after work, but the jeweler’s was closed when I got there.” Mark kicked the side of the coffee table, knocking over a cup. Coffee wicked into the doily, turning the edges brown. He put his hand over his eyes and lowered his head. “It was supposed to be your Christmas present.”

“Oh!” Martha’s face flushed. “Tell me what happened.”

“The kid stepped out of the shadows. It looked like he had a gun in his pocket. He demanded money. I gave him my wallet and then he said, ‘Empty your pockets,’ almost like he knew I had something more. I didn’t want to give up the ring, but he kept jerking his hand, like he was gonna shoot. I took out the ring box and he snatched it and ran. I just stood there like an idiot. I thought I was going to die.” Mark knuckled his eyes.

“Oh, Mark. You could have been killed!”

“Your ring is gone and a weeks’ pay,” Mark groaned. “How can I even make my car payment? Why do these things happen?”

“We don’t always understand why bad stuff happened, but we have to trust that God has a plan. Even when bad things happen, there’s usually some good come out of it.”

“What good can come from this? Mom’s never going to forgive me for losing her ring, and I can’t afford to buy you another one.”

Martha put Mark’s arm around her shoulder. “Give me a hug. I’d marry you, even with a paper cigar band around my finger.”

Mark pulled her into an embrace. It’s my own fault. I shouldn’t have gone into that neighborhood after dark.

****
The bell over the shop door tinkled when a portly man entered the neighborhood pawn shop the next afternoon. He glanced around the shop and walked straight to a glass case filled with rings and watches.

An elderly man stepped through the curtain in the doorway into the back room. “Afternoon.” His head dipped in greeting. “Help ya? In the market for somethin’ shiny?” His eyes danced in expectation as he ran a hand over his week-old bearded chin.

George peered at the rows of diamond rings in the glass case. “Interested in your diamond rings.” He glanced up at the clerk. “And, don’t think you can pull a fast one. I know a real diamond from a chip a’ glass.”

The clerk threw up his hands. “You can trust me. I’m an honest man.” He unlocked the cabinet. “Which one ya’ fancy?”

George pointed. “Third from the left, second row.”

“Nice choice. Bought it off a kid just this morning. His grandma’s ring, he said. Nice platinum mounting, quarter carat diamond. It’s yours for two hundred bucks.”

“Sounds like a lot. Let me see it.”

“So yer’ getting hitched?”

“Nah! Puttin’ a ring on her finger to shut her up. Insurance!” He chuckled. “So she don’t leave me. You know how it is. Women!”
The elderly clerk nodded. “Sure. All alike.”

George held the ring up to the light. “I’ll take it.” He pulled a bundle of bills from his Warehouse for Stout-Men’s breast pocket, counted out nine twenties and laid them on the counter. “$180 cash. That enough?” He raised an eyebrow.

“Bein’ as its cash, it’ll do.” The old man stuffed the bills into his pocket. He produced a silver ring box from under the counter, inserted the ring and handed it to George. “Need a bag?”

“Nah!” George tucked the ring inside his suit jacket. “Got a receipt?”

“The way I figger,” the old man said, “With no need for counting the money so exact, there’s no need for a receipt.”

“Sure great doin’ business with an honest man.” The doorbell tinkled overhead as the cold air struck George’s face. He stooped into the wind and walked away.

That evening, George and Lisa strolled along the snowy sidewalk outside Macy’s Department Store. Lisa stopped beside the display window. She grabbed George’s arm. “Oh, look Georgie. Will you buy me that pretty dress for Christmas? Will ya, Georgie?”

He shook his head. “I’m not gonna buy some dumb dress. I bought you something nice this afternoon.” He reached into his pocket and drew out the silver ring box.

“Oh, Georgie, for me?” Lisa’s eyes glittered as bright as the diamond inside the box. She slipped the ring on her finger. “Oh, it’s beautiful. Now we can get married. Let’s drive to Reno tomorrow! Can we, Georgie?” She touched his cheek and drew his face down for a kiss.

He jerked his head back. His cheeks warmed. “Knock it off, Lisa.” He scowled. “You know I hate it when you get all smoochie in public. For once, will you pretend you’re a lady?”

Her face crumpled. George put his hands on her shoulders. “Hey! I’m sorry. You know I love ya’, Baby. Give me a kiss. Aren’t you my fi-ance’ now?” Lisa wrapped her arms around his stout middle and tilted her head for a kiss. George’s lips barely grazed her forehead. He looked around to see if anyone was watching. The shoppers on the sidewalk scurried past without a glance.

“You call that a kiss?” Lisa waved her ring in front of George’s face. “We’re engaged, right? Well? What do you say? Are we going to Reno tomorrow, or not?”

“Listen, Baby. I got too much going on right now. I hadn’t exactly thought about getting married so soon. Can’t you be my fi-ance’ for a year or two–?

“A year or two? I don’t want to wait that long. Pretty soon, I’ll be too old to have babies, and–”

“Babies? What babies? First you’re talking marriage and now you’re talking babies? I didn’t plan on havin’ no…”

Lisa’s face paled. She pulled off the ring and shrieked, “Just as I thought. The only reason you bought me a ring was you figured it would keep me quiet. Well, it won’t work, George. I’m not waiting a year or two, or a month or two! We’re through!” Lisa pitched the ring into the street where it disappeared under two inches of snow. She whirled and ran down the street, waving. “Taxi!” Lisa jumped into a passing cab and before George had time to catch his breath, the cab turned the corner and disappeared.

George plunged into the street in search of the ring. As he dodged between cars, kicking at the snow, cursing, a cab driver called 911. “Better come quick. There’s going to be an accident. Some crazy man is running in front of cars in front of Macy’s Department Store.”
Within minutes, two policemen had George handcuffed and headed for the station, under arrest for disturbing the peace.

“But, you don’t understand,” George whined. “I wasn’t trying to cause a wreck. There’s a diamond ring out there under the snow!”

“Uh huh... It’s Christmas Eve,” the officer said. “Maybe Santa will tuck one in your stocking, tonight. In jail!”
****
Christmas morning, George was released after a thorough psychiatric consultation determined that he was no risk to himself or society.
In the next cell block, the pawn shop owner was being booked for selling stolen property, the result of an undercover sting operation….

Across town, Lisa sat red-eyed and sniffling, wondering if a George in the bush was better than no George at all...

Martha and Mark attended Christmas morning church services with Mark’s mother…

Outside of town, a flock of crows huddled in a tree near a hill where children swooshed through the snow in new, bright-re Christmas sleds. Roused by the children’s laughter, a crow rose up and swooped over the treetops, across the town square and landed on the warm metal roof of Macy’s Department Store.

As the sun melted the snow, the crow spotted something glittering in the street. He swooped down and picked up the bright object, flew over the park and past the church parking lot where Mark and Martha were walking with other parishioners after the service. Attracted by the crowd, the crow circled back. Now, his attention was caught by a shiny gum wrapper tossed out a car window.

The crow dropped the ring and dove for the silvery paper, picked it up and flew away. The ring plummeted down and landed at Mark’s feet. He leaned down. “What on earth?” Chill bumps raced up the back of his neck. “Why, it’s Mom’s engagement ring…! How on earth…?” Mark turned and looked up.

The sky was empty except for a crow, flying away with a shiny gum wrapper in its beak. “It’s like it fell from Heaven. It’s a miracle!” Mark slid the ring on Martha’s finger and pulled her into his arms.
****
Eighteen hours later, Anthony peered wearily from the window as the bus pulled into an Omaha bus terminal. Will they forgive me? Will they let me stay and go back to school? Maybe I could work in Dad’s store and earn my room and board.

An hour later, Anthony’s mother opened the front door and Anthony stepped into his living room. His dog rushed out, body squirming, tail a-wag. A Welcome Home banner stretched across the fireplace. A Christmas tree sparkled with lights. The aroma of turkey and stuffing wafted from the kitchen. Tears flooded Anthony’s eyes. “Mom. I–”

“Welcome home, son. Dinner will be ready as soon as your Dad gets home.”

9
Dec

Thumper Reviews Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer


Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer

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

26
Oct

Harvest Jack's Rebellion - A Halloween Short Story

“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)

8
Oct

Short Story - The Slobaviakinsky Golf Course

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.

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23
May

Excerpt: And Then There Was a Tiger (WWII novel)

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.

Roar!

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?

12
Apr

Excerpt from Mrs. Odboddy Hometown Patriot

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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.

Mrs Odboddy Hometown Patriot is available at Amazon in e-book for $3.99 http://tinyurl.com/hdbvzsv

19
Feb

The Conscientious Objector


One of the stories from my book - ALL THINGS CAT HTTP://tinyurl.com/y9p9htak
The Conscientious Objector
The old woman, Broomtilda, took me in when I was a wee kitten and named me Tinkleberry. Her idea, not mine…Over the years, as she grew frailer, it became difficult for her to find enough work around the village to buy bread and cheese. Were it not for the old cow in the byre, we would have no milk for my breakfast and Broomtilda’s dinner.

One night, Broomtilda tucked her shoes under the bed, pulled the covers up to her nose and went to sleep with only milk for her dinner. Come dawn, being too weak to rise, she called me to her side. “I have provided all your needs until today, Tinkleberry. Now, you must go, my friend, kill a small beast and bring me meat, for I no longer have the means to feed us. If you fail, I shall perish.”

That she should ask me to kill a living creature went against my very soul, for unlike my feline brethern, I have long been a conscientious objector. “You know I would do anything for you, dear Broomtilda,” I said, “but to kill even the smallest living creature, I cannot do. Please do not ask me to pay such a price in return for your kindness.”

“How can you answer thus, when I am ill and hungry? Have I not always provided for you?”

The tears in her eyes wrenched my heart, and yet I trembled in horror at the thought of killing even the smallest vole. “Isn’t there another way to meet our needs?”

“Only one, but I dare not speak of it. It’s far too dangerous,” she wept.

“Whatever it might be, I shall do as you demand, if it keep me from breaking my vow as a conscientious objector.” I bowed my head, my hair bristling in dread.

She lifted her frail hand. “You must make your way to yonder mountain. High on the top beside a river, you’ll find a cave where a wicked leprechaun dwells,” she said. “Perhaps you can trick him into revealing where he hides his gold. Even if you can steal one small coin, it would feed us for many weeks. Go, now Tinkleberry. My life is in your paws, small friend.” My mistress fell back upon the bed, her voice a bare whisper. “If you cannot bring back a piece of gold, our days on this earth are numbered.”

I set out to do as she had bid. Though against my conscience to kill, my wits would be tested if I was to fool the evil leprechaun, steal a coin, and live to tell the tale.

The trail to the mountain was steep. With each step, I cast about in my mind how to fulfill such a task. And with each step nearer the cave, I had no clear plan how to dupe the leprechaun from his gold.

“Halt. Who goes there?” The shrill voice of the wicked leprechaun called out from beneath the log that spanned the river. His words chilled my heart. It was now or never! “Answer, Cat, or I’ll turn you to stone.”

Panic seized my heart. And an idea popped into my furry head. “I’m just a harmless pussy cat out for a stroll in the woods. My, what a lovely river you have here, Sir Leprechaun. I love what you’ve done with the place.” A little honey-talk goes a long way toward soothing a malevolent spirit, or so I’m told. I sashayed across the log, humming an Irish ditty, and bowed low. “My name is Tinkleberry. (Her idea, not mine.) Pray tell, what might your name be, kind sir?”

The leprechaun’s demeanor softened somewhat. “My name is Merichandrick. What do you seek?” He grumbled.

“A spot of tea would be lovely. I’m weary from my travels.” I looked wistfully toward the gnome, hoping to convey abject vulnerability and candor. To my great relief, he invited me to step inside his abode.

“Come on in and I’ll light the fire.” I followed him into the grotto, aware that he might have a trick up his sleeve. Was he planning to toss me into the stew pot once inside? My nerves tingled, prepared for the worst.

“Sit over there.” The imp shuffled toward the fire as I scanned the cave.

Fearing treachery, I kept one wary eye on my host as I gazed around. A green and red parrot in a cage, hung from a golden hook. “Oh, what a lovely bird,” I posited, sidling closer to the cage. Where was he hiding that blasted pot of gold? Near the back of the cave, something lay hidden beneath a red blanket.

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

He likely plans to kill me as I lay sleeping. “If I’m so invited,” says I with a yawn, patting my paw against my mouth, giving him a good view of my sharp fangs, in case he had any funny ideas. “Let us drink our tea and I’ll curl up for the night just yonder on your lovely 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.”

“As you wish, and I thank you kindly for the hospitality,” says I. Oho! The gold is beneath the blanket. Once the little man sleeps, I’ll snatch a coin and be on my way. He’ll be none the wiser from the loss of one coin.

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

As I reached to snatch a gold coin from the pot beneath the blanket, the parrot shrieked, spewing vile curses. Murderous rage filled my heart. Would the cursed bird ruin everything? All I needed was one small coin to save my mistress.

A conscientious objector no more, I leaped at the cage and knocked it to the dirt floor. The door flew upon and the now repentant parrot squawked and flapped on the ground. One swift snap of my jaws, and the bird would curse no more.

Broomtilda traded the gold coin for six chickens and a second cow. Bossy gives us enough milk to sell and pay for bread and vegetables.
As a recovering conscientious objector, only occasionally must I venture into the woods, highjack an unsuspecting rabbit and fetch it home for the stewpot. If our fortune changes for the worse or the old cow dies, the wicked leprechaun still has a pot full of gold coins, and I know where he lives.

If you enjoyed this story, I urge you to purchase the book, All Things Cat, with 21 of my short stories about cats or in this case... written by the cat!

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