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.”

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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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!

10
Feb

All Things Cat - Stories to warm the cat-lovers heart

I read that when cats are cuddling and kneading you, and you think it's cute, they're really just checking your vitals for weak spots. Kandyse McClure

If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but deteriorate the cat. Mark Twain

From the beginning of recorded time, cats have shared our lives, gained our trust, protected our harvests and warmed our beds. They were likely the first aboard Noah’s ark and the last ones off, not wanting to get their feet wet.

Over the centuries, cats were both revered and worshipped in ancient Egypt and reviled during the dark ages when they were thought to consort with the devil.(Upon occasion, considering some of my cats’ antics, I’ve had my own suspicions about their continued devil consorting.)

Currently, cats have taken over millions of American families. Cats have become one of the most popular subjects of Facebook and You-Tube videos. With so many people enjoying cats and cozy-cat mysteries, I felt a book of short stories about cats would be well-received. I compiled twenty-one of my best short stories that are either about a cat or include a cat and published a little book called All Things Cat. http://tinyurl.com/y9p9htak

All Things Cat stories range from humorous to heartrending, featuring cats from diverse walks of life and varying periods of time.

Some are ‘first-person’ accounts, written by anonymous felines, abandoned by his master, the prize in an Old West poker game, routing a burglar in a WWII meat market, overcoming self-doubts about his hunting/stalking abilities, and adopting the First Family in the White House. Likely, these feline authors had no intention of sharing their innermost thoughts, dreams and fears with the world, but, as an author, that’s what I’m here for, right?

Other stories were inspired by a plethora of situations, news events, contest prompts, holidays, and the like. They illustrate how cats affect, impact or enrich our lives through their contributions or companionship.

The stories are set in both past and present and in diverse surroundings: Salem, Massachusetts, a pirate ship off the coast of Maine, a haunted hotel in the Sierra Mountains, Roswell, New Mexico, and the oval office in Washington, D.C., to name but a few locations.

Also included are excerpts from my novels, Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer, and Black Cat’s Legacy, and Mrs. Odboddy - Hometown Patriot.

So, whether you are a cat lover or a reader who enjoys stories about cats, I expect you would enjoy reading All Things Cat. Just $2.99 for an Amazon e-book. http://tinyurl.com/y9p9htak

7
Nov

Does God Love Cats?

This story was published in the Inspire Victory anthology, 2014. It is also a repeat blog post from February, 2015. I thought you would enjoy reading it again.

I love my cat, Truffie. She’s a gift of joy in my life. Every day, she makes me smile. She loves me unconditionally, even when I’m not wearing make-up or my hair is a mess. She loves me when I’m grumpy or had a bad day. She even loves me when I accidentally step on her tail.

I remember a day that Truffie stopped eating. She lost weight. We took her to the vet twice. Though we racked up $600 in medical bills, the vet’s diagnosis held no reassurance, “All the lab tests and x-rays are normal. I don’t know what’s wrong with her. Maybe we could−”

“No,” I said. “I can’t afford to spend any more money. Not if we don’t even know what’s wrong or how to fix it.”

Five days had passed since she became ill. If something didn’t change soon, there was no hope for her. I took her home. I forced eye droppers full or water down her throat every few hours. She still wouldn’t eat or drink on her own. She had a fever. None of the medicine the vet had prescribed seemed to help.

I began to wonder. Does God care that Truffie is sick?
Sure, we know He cares about our health and our finances and foreign affairs and protecting the troops fighting in far-away places. But does God really care if my cat is sick? Would He take time from His busy schedule of healing folks and finding work for the unemployed, and protecting our troops and trying to make the Washington swamp solve our problems, to heal a cat just because I asked? You see, I’ve prayed about all those things for a while now, but Truffie’s fever? Does He really care? Do I dare pray and expect God to heal her?

I asked my pastor, “Do you think God cares when our pets are sick? Would it help to pray for Truffie?” He told me that on a certain day, people bring their animals to the Catholic Church to be blessed, but he couldn’t think of a Bible verse that specifically says God heals pets, especially cats.

I searched the Bible in hopes I’d find something to prove God cared about the animals and would answer our prayers when they’re sick. Matthew reminds us…Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. (Matthew 10:20 NIV) Sparrows... Cats... Not quite the same, but if He cares about birds, it stands to reason that He cares about cats too.

We’re all familiar with God’s blessings and promises. We know He gives us everything we need. Our home... Our loved ones... A job–well, most of us have a job, or we had one, before they downsized the company, and now some of us have unemployment. But not many of us are going hungry or sleeping in the streets, so even in our adversity, God supplies our needs. But that didn’t answer my question. Would it help if I ask Him to heal my cat?

I searched the scriptures for more about prayer and faith. Ask and it will be given to you. (Matthew 7:7 NIV). Was that the key? It went on to say that faith the size of the mustard seed could even move mountains. For truly I say to you. If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move and nothing will be impossible. (Matthew 17:20NIV) That sounded promising. And lastly…how much more will the Father in Heaven give good gifts to those (his children) who ask Him. (Matthew 7:11NIV)

Now, we were getting somewhere. The Bible teaches us that it’s a matter of having faith when we pray, not the specifics of what we pray about.

What did I have to lose? So I prayed for Truffie. “Lord, You know how much I love her. You know how much joy she gives me and You know how it would grieve me to lose her. I’m calling on Your promise, Ask and it will be given…. I place this little cat in Your loving hands, Lord, and ask You to heal her and raise her up again. I have faith that she will be healed because You’ve promised…”

Now, I’m not going to tell you that a bolt of lightning surrounded my head or that the Heavens opened and God’s voice rang out, “Truffie. Rise up and walk,” but the next day, Truffie started to eat. Her mood brightened! She purred! She was on her way. She would recover.

I know that God cares for our cats and dogs and rabbits and horses and all our pets. Not because there’s a specific verse in the Bible that says so, but because we love them and He loves us…enough to want our joy to be complete. He promises that if we ask and have faith, we can move mulberry trees into the sea, or move mountains from here to there, or maybe it’s all about teaching us to take all our cares to the Lord, no matter how big or small and knowing He will hear and answer.

Truffie was eight years old this spring and has never been sick another day in her life. Truffie is living proof. God answered my prayer, and yes, I’m convinced.

God loves cats.

11
Sep

How Often is there a Full Moon on Halloween?

Based on true facts about a full moon on Halloween, here is a fantasy story called:
MOONLIGHT MADNESS

Six weeks after the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001, the nation continued to mourn.

Several days ago, the Sacramento Daily Sun editor burst into my office, “Clive. Pack your bags. You’re going to Salem, Massachusetts, to cover their Halloween celebration. Let’s give the subscribers something new to read about.”

He had me at the words, ‘pack your bags!’ With yet another gut-wrenching editorial in my computer about the 341 firemen lost in the Towers, I was up for anything to get away from the twenty-four-seven news cycle.

October 31st is big news in Salem every year. 250,000 visitors swarm the city to experience haunted houses, costume balls, live music, dances and holiday parades. This year, due to a full moon scheduled on October 31, 2001, the first full moon on that date since 1974, Salem planned even more spectacular events. The occurrence of a full moon on Halloween happens only four or five times each century! The next one isn’t expected for another twenty years─October 31, 2020!
Entering Salem, I was impressed by the witches and goblins, pumpkins and ghouls decorating houses and businesses, much like we decorate for Christmas back home. Witches are big in Salem all year long, due to the history of the Salem witch trials, but this year, especially so, what with the full moon phenomenon. Apparently, Salem’s city fathers thought the citizenry had grieved 911 long enough and should get their minds back onto business as usual. Let the nation grieve if it must. Salem would strike while the moon was full!

Cornstalks lined the streets. Jack-o-lanterns hung from each lamp post. Shopkeepers, decked out in witch and warlock, ghost and vampire costumes, hawked merchandise. Every shop window displayed witches and cauldrons, spirits and ghouls. Tourists clamored through the town atop horse drawn hay wagons and carts.

I ate lunch at a little diner and delighted in the attentions of a charming waitress with long black hair, shocking gold eyes and fluttering lashes. With a glance, Jenny churned up feelings I hardly remembered, being a widower well past middle-aged, and an almost regular church goer.

Imagine my surprise when she handed me a napkin with a message inside. Meet me outside tonight. 11:25 P.M. Come alone. I must see you.

I left my lunch half-eaten and stumbled outside to ponder the situation. With her obvious charms, she had the pick of any young man; what could she possibly want with me? I interviewed shopkeepers and snapped photos of the holiday events that day and well into the evening. Even knowing it was a fool’s errand, at 11:15 P.M, I was drawn back to the diner like a moth to a flame.
****
At 11:20 P.M. Jenny wiped down the last table, flipped over the CLOSED sign and locked the café door. She had nearly given up hope of finding a middle-aged man with silver-white hair and mustache. What were the odds that Clive should walk through the door at the last possible moment to change her destiny?

Jenny wrapped her cape around her shoulders and stepped out the front door. There Clive stood, as she had hoped! She was blessed with a sixth sense about the future, knowing when the phone would ring or a visitor would knock at her door. An oppressive spirit had even settled on her the morning of September 11, feeling something evil on the horizon. She had powers over men, but on this night of nights, with the full moon overhead on this auspicious date, her fate lay in the hands of this stranger. Without his cooperation, she could not escape the family curse.

“Hello. Thanks so much for coming.” Jenny placed her small white hand on Clive’s arm, hoping to bend his will to her needs. “You’re the only one who can help me.” She lifted her hand to dab at a tear.
“I’m happy to oblige. But, why do you ask a stranger? Don’t you have family or friends who could help you?”

Jenny lowered her head, brushing her lashes against her pale face. She allowed her lip to tremble as the tear trickled down her cheek. A white curl tumbled onto her forehead, seemingly out of place among her mass of black curls.

“Here, here, now. None of that.” Clive brushed Jenny’s hair back into place. “I’ll help you if I can, my dear. Don’t cry.” He tipped up her chin and dried her tears with his handkerchief. “Now, give me a smile and tell me all about it.”

“I fear you’ll think me crazy, sir, but I swear I speak the truth.” Jenny sat on a bench and began an inexplicable tale.

“I am a descendent of the judge who unjustly hanged Sarah Good as a witch in 1692, right here in Salem. Since Sarah Good’s death, the judge’s descendants have suffered a terrible curse. Upon the rare occasion, only about four or five times each century, when the full moon is overhead on All-Hollow’s Eve, any female descendent between the age of 18 and 29 is in grave danger.

“As the full moon is upon us this night for the first time since 1974, and to avoid the curse, I must find a middle-aged man with long silver-white hair, who resembles the judge who sentenced my poor ancestor, Sarah, to death. Before midnight, a drop of this man’s blood must voluntarily be placed on a particular stone that stands at the edge of town.” Jenny’s pale lips trembled most effectively. “Would you shed a drop of your blood on Sarah’s commemorative stone to save me from the curse?”

“What kind of curse, my dear?” Clive raised a perplexed eyebrow.
“It is so terrible, I dare not speak it aloud.” Whispering these words, Jenny clung to Clive’s shoulder and wept piteously. Would it be enough to convince him to go with her to the stone? And, once there, could she muster the courage to do what she must do to stave off the curse?
****
Clive was speechless. Never had he encountered such a stunning creature that so captivated his heart within minutes of meeting. Never has such a ridiculous tale so captured his imagination. He was inclined to leap from the bench, take her by the hand and race to the stone in question. Only with great difficulty did he pummel his rash impulses into submission and sit back on the bench, staring up into the starry sky.

The full moon hung blood-red over the city, casting an orange glow across the sidewalks, still churning with costumed tourists, jostling and laughing, their joyous songs of nonsense carried into the black sky on the night breeze.

The young woman stirred in his arms, her sobs finally ceased. She dashed tears from her cheeks and looked up at him. “You will help me, won’t you? I’m so desperate. I only need a teeny-weeny drop of blood, really. I’d be ever so grateful.”

If she truly believed her outrageous tale, considering the unusual request, even a gentleman couldn’t help wondering, how grateful? On the other hand, just exactly how much was a teeny-weeny drop of blood and just how crazy was this charming girl?

Clive shivered. The breeze rustled the corn husks tied to the lamp posts. A thin cloud crept across the center of the moon, seeming to cut it in half.

Clive glanced at his watch. 11:40 P.M. “Well, let’s get on with it. Can we walk to the stone?” He would humor her and see where all this would lead. His hand rested around a small penknife in his pocket. If a tiny drop of blood is all it takes to satisfy her fantasy and win her gratitude, I can do that.

The wind picked up and whistled overhead as the cemetery loomed into view. Groups of tourists ambled among the grave stones. Raucous laughter burst from the direction of Bridget Bishop and Martha Corey’s graves, also victims of the 1692 Salem witch trials. One would think it was an amusement park rather than a cemetery from the sounds of merriment coming from the shadows.

Jenny squealed when a man dressed as a vampire loomed from the bushes.

Clive put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. She was really a dear little thing, and his heart stirred. He wanted so to calm her fears. Perhaps he’d bring her coffee in bed tomorrow morning…

Sarah Good’s commemorative stone gleamed in the moonlight.
Jenny ran her fingers over the grooves in the stone forming the letters– Sarah Good 1653 – 1692. “Poor thing. I’m so sorry, Sarah. Please forgive my ancestor.” Jenny glanced at her watch. “Are you ready?” She drew a huge serrated bread knife from her purse. “We don’t have much time. I only have two more minutes. Clive?” Jenny’s beautiful smile, only moments ago holding so much promise, faded, replaced by a fiendish leer. Only his blood splashed across the accursed stone would make her smile now.

At the sight of Jenny’s wild eyes gleaming in the moonlight, Clive stepped back. The thrill of the lovely lady and moonlight adventure faded and common sense finally prevailed. Jenny had no intention of settling for a pricked finger and a drop of blood.

With the knife in her hand, she crept closer and closer with murder in her eye.

“Hold on, there, young lady.” He backed away, glancing left and right. Where had all the costumed tourists gone? The witches and ghosts and even the vampire had disappeared at the first sight of Jenny’s knife.

In the distance, the town clock began to strike. Twelve o’clock…the witching hour. Bong…bong…bong. The hour that a real witch, if there was such a thing, might easily murder a stranger to satisfy her twisted notion of an imaginary family curse.

Bong…bong…bong. Clive’s dull life suddenly held a great deal more appeal. How he wished he was back in New York and had never heard of Salem.
Bong…bong…bong.

Bong…bong… Jenny shrieked and rushed at him, the knife raised...
Paralyzed with fear, Clive threw up his hands, closed his eyes and held his breath, waiting for the death blow. Bong! Midnight!
Seconds ticked by. Clive ran his hands up and down his chest. “I’m still alive?” He opened his eyes.

Jenny’s cape and the bread knife lay on the ground, but… Where was Jenny? Had she waited seconds too long to strike and the curse taken her? But where? How?

Sarah Good’s gravestone gleamed in the moonlight. A small black cat hunched beside the stone, her tail whipping around her black toes. A white blaze crept over her nose, across one golden eye, ending beside her ear. She stared up at Clive, terror in those golden eyes, such as to soften the hardest heart. Meow?

“Jenny?” Clive walked closer to the stone. Wasn’t there a fable about witches turning into black cats? He’d never believed such tales before, but... He stroked the little cat and peered into her eyes. “Jenny?” He gasped. Jenny’s golden eyes stared back. The curse! It was true. “She needed me to protect her from the curse. She still needs me.”

He would write his 2000 words newspaper story about Salem, about the haunted houses and the costume ball and the decorations and the Halloween parades. The story would be colorful and for a few minutes the Sacramento Daily Sun readers could forget the tragedy that took almost 3000 lives on September 11, 2001
.
He would write about tonight being the first full moon on Halloween for the last twenty-seven years, but, he would not write about a 300-year-old curse that turned a Salem witch into a little black cat. Who would believe it?

Clive cradled Jenny in his arms as he walked back to town. “Don’t worry, Jenny. I’ll always take care of you. You don’t have to worry about anything ever again.

1
Aug

Dead Bush Poker - A short cat story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25
Dec

Kitty's Blessing - A Christmas Story

Once, in a faraway land, on a crisp winter afternoon, Kitty strode across a hillside, a contented pussy cat, her tummy full and her breath pungent with the after-flavor of this morning’s breakfast mouse. She settled on a warm rock for a snooze in the sunshine near a group of shepherds tending their sheep. As the flock moved down the hillside, the bleating of lambs faded into silence. With her tail curled around her nose, Kitty fell asleep.

The twittering of a bird interrupted her catnap. Kitty’s eye peeked open. The tip of her tail drifted from side to side. What’s this?

She slipped off the rock and inched toward the unsuspecting after-breakfast snack. Kitty’s whiskers snapped to attention. Every hair on her head stood upright. She was a silent warrior armed with experience, girded with strength, clad with skill. The bird was within striking range; distance calculated (ten feet, six and a half inches); wind velocity (twenty-one and a half mph from the south-southeast); thrust computed; muscles poised. She leaped.

The striped instrument of death hurtled toward the beautiful white bird. At the last moment, she fluttered off the bush. Kitty seized her wing and pulled her to the ground.

The white bird shrieked. “Wait! Don’t eat me I’ll make it worth your while if you spare my life.”

Much impressed by the bird’s bravery, as misguided as it was under the circumstances, Kitty paused, curiosity being a trait of her breed, often quoted as being the method of her kind’s demise. “What can possibly change my mind, my pretty?” She tilted her left ear as she licked her lips and tightened her grip on the bird’s wing.

The white bird lifted her elegant head, and folded her one free wing against her quivering body. “If you set me free, I promise, ere the night is over, you will receive a great blessing that will bring honor to you and all your descendants.”

Kitty loosened her grip and pondered the bird’s message. If true, a blessing would be a fine legacy to leave her descendents. Much more likely, the blessing was a ploy to escape. But, what did she have to lose? Intrigued, and frankly, still burping this morning’s mouse, she agreed. “I’ll let you go this time, but if you’re fooling me, next time we meet, I’ll show no mercy.” She lifted her paw.

The grateful captive fluttered from her grasp. She circled, dipping low over Kitty’s head. “Remember! Ere the night is over! I promise,” she cried and disappeared behind a puffy white cloud.

“A blessing! Indeed!” Kitty shook her body from nose to tail, dispelling the idea that she had been foolish to believe such a story.

As the stars blinked across the night sky, Kitty returned to town. She came upon a cave where cows and a donkey nodded, warming the area with their breath. In the corner, a lamb curled next to its mother.

Kitty jumped into the box of straw near the cow, turned around three times and then curled herself into a ball. Gentle snuffles from the lamb combined with the cows’ warm breath created the perfect ambiance for a long winter nap. Kitty was soon fast asleep and dreaming. Dots of white sheep ambled down the dark hillside. Overhead, the white bird darted across a yellow moon as shepherds moved their flock toward town.

Gentle hands lifted Kitty from the straw. She opened her eyes and saw a young bearded man who set her gently on the ground. “Here, Kitty, will you give up your warm bed? It’s just the right size for the baby.” He laid the swaddled infant in the straw where Kitty’s body had molded and warmed a circle of straw.

Kitty lay down beneath the manger, curled her toes into a semi-circle, fascinated by the sudden activity in the stable.

The father heaped up a soft bed of straw for the mother. He hovered nearby, brought her water and covered her with his cloak.

Shepherds from the hillside entered the stable and knelt at the feet of the Babe.

Two white birds fluttered through the open door, circled and came to rest on the edge of the manger. Wasn’t that the same bird she had freed that afternoon? Wonder of wonders, a brilliant light shone above the manger. Where the birds had rested, angels now hovered on each side of the Baby.

In the later hours, three men dressed in fine colored garments came to worship the Baby and presented him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

When the worshipers had gone, in the stillness of the stable, the family slept, while the angels kept watch.

Kitty approached the angels and addressed the angel from earlier in the day. “Angel, I know this is the Promised One the world has waited for. I feel unworthy. The others brought gifts. I have no gift to give.”

“Kitty, Christ Child wants only the gift of our reverence and obedience. Tonight, you willingly gave up your warm bed for the Christ Child. In return you receive a great blessing you and your descendants can treasure for generations to come.”

Kitty curled her tail around her nose and began to dream of cat-things, naps in the sunshine, chasing mice, catching birdsperhaps she would forgo that pleasure in the future. One never knew when the bird might be an angelor when a good deed might turn into a blessing, but none as great as the blessing she had received this night. The chance to warm the bed of the Christ Child.

9
Jul

A Short Story of Magic and Dreams- A CHANCE ENCOUNTER

hofpgartenchurch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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