RNWC Short Stories
RNWC Short Stories
Gary Henderson
Buy on Leanpub


Short Stories from the annual
RNWC Media Novel Writing Challenge

© 2018 Gary Henderson. All rights reserved.

Cover art by Amy Kathleen, used by permission.

PO Box 559
Pinehurst, TX 77362

Imprint: Young Reader’s Library

Gary Henderson

RNWC Media


Write! Write Like the Wind!

When you do … Sometimes a novel happens. Sometimes, a short story or two.

The first time I began to write in the style made popular by NaNoWriMo, I got both. The novel became “Barley,” the first in a series. But a variety of short stories also leapt onto the page, and here I’d like to share some of them with you!

Beauregard and the Rattler

Beauregard, a country hound, has taken up with Brockwilde the badger and Aunt Nibbles the mole as they search for their grandfathers. Read their stories in The Oak and the Cliff books.

Beauregard ranged on ahead, naturally moving faster than the mole and badger, with his long legs and easy lope.

“Farmhouse up yonder,” he reported. “Should be mice in the barn, grubs in the yard, and breakfast scraps fer me, unless they’ve been eaten up already. Folks ‘ppear to be out in the field, workin’.”

They approached the house, watching for any activity. Seemed pretty quiet.

Brockwilde wandered into the barn, and Nibs found a nice section of grass that looked promising. Beauregard loped around back to where the kitchen door might be. A screen door led into the kitchen, and he could smell breakfast aromas, but found no leftovers in the yard.

“Must not have a dog…” he thought. “Strange. Farmhouses al’ays have a dog.”

A cry came from within the house. A child, maybe 5. Not much more, if that. Sounded frantic, actually. Desperate.

Beauregard tried the screen door, but it was latched.

He trotted back around front, and pushed on the front door, but it was solidly shut.

Out in the yard, he found Nibs.

“Come with me, ma’am, if you would. I think there’s a problem. Got a kid cryin’ in there, and no one else around.”

Nibbles followed him to the back door, and he lifted her past the wooden steps onto the porch. The child was now crying steadily, and crying, “Grandma! Grandma, get up!”

With some squeezing, she was able to get through the crack under the door and into the kitchen. As Beauregard waited, she disappeared into the house. Brockwilde came up from the barn, moving slowly.

“Found a meal?” asked Beauregard.

“Very nice indeed, thank you,” replied Brockwilde. “What’s going on?”

“Somethin’ wrong inside. Nibbles has gone in to have a look-see.”

Brockwilde examined the door, as they both listened to the child. There was certainly no way he could enter, unless they damaged the screen.

“Come help me!” cried Nibbles, from inside. They looked at each other. It was time to go through the screen. Brockwilde drew a claw down the wire fabric to weaken it, and Beauregard backed up to get a run at it. It took three tries, but the screen broke free from its fastenings on the third collision, and Beauregard fell into the kitchen. He ran down the hall, with Brockwilde close behind.

In the bedroom they found an older woman lying on the floor, as though she had fallen. Blood on her head indicated she had struck it on the dresser on the way down. The blood soaked much of her thin silver hair, and ran across her face as she lay there. She was bleeding from an elbow as well. It would take some looking to see how bad she was hurt, and how deep the cuts were.

Nibbles was on top of the dresser. The child was on the bed, crying, and staring at the animals now crowding into her room.

“Mr. Brockwilde! Beauregard!” cried Nibbles. “Look out!”

Across the room, just inside the open window, curled a diamondback rattler. It had just entered, and was surveying the scene. The child now saw it, and was old enough to know what it was, and that Grandma was in danger.

The snake looked around the room. Nice looking morsel up there on the dresser. But the smell of blood was strong, and not coming from there. He looked across the room, and saw the hound beginning to growl at him. That could be a problem, have to be careful with him. And what’s that other thing? Furry, and big. Never seen one like that.

“What can we do, Beauregard?” Nibbles was frightened.

“Don’t see nothin’ in here to kill it with. Maybe lure it outside?”

Brockwilde had no better ideas.

“If you get to the screen door, you could go under it, then climb straight up the outside of it and be out of his reach,” suggested Beauregard, “but the run to the door would be dangerous. Maybe if I nip at his tail I could slow him down, and stay back enough to not get bit.”

The idea was not much to Nibbles’ liking, but she had no better suggestions.

“OK”, she said. “I’m the one he’s most interested in, obviously. And he won’t bother the lady or child, as long as he has to watch you. Get up on the bed, you two, so he’ll come past her and chase me.”

Beauregard and Brockwilde jumped onto the bed. Beauregard licked the child’s face, to try to comfort her. Brockwilde stayed at the far end of the bed, in case the child would be afraid of him.

The snake began to stretch out and move. Nibbles jumped down and began running for her life. With a sideways glance at the dog, the snake slipped past the lady on the floor and went after her. Nibs scampered down the hall and into the kitchen, the snake gaining on her with each moment.

Beauregard padded up behind it and slapped the snake’s tail. It whipped around into a coiled, striking position, and Beauregard back-pedaled out of reach, as quickly as he could get his forward momentum under control. The snake watched him for a moment, and Nibbles reached the screen door. As the snake turned and dove back into his pursuit, she climbed through the hole in the screen and kept climbing, straight up. As the snake approached the door, Beauregard began his most fierce barking, in desperate hopes of persuading the snake to keep going. With all that racket close behind it, the serpent apparently decided to do just that, slipping under the door frame and dropping down across the steps to the open ground.

“What the … Hank, give me that!” came a shout from outside, and a moment later a shotgun blast took the snake away.

A man in coveralls stepped slowly up to the porch. He looked with intense interest at the mole clinging to the top of his screen door, and the hole blasted in the bottom of it. A hole made by a large creature going in, obviously.

And he had heard the barking, so he entered carefully, with the shotgun ready for use.

Beauregard lay down, panting quietly on the floor, so as to make no apparent threat.

“You’re the one chased that snake out of here, huh?”

Beauregard stood, and came and sat in front of the man, looking like every man’s desire for an obedient, attentive dog.

“Good dog. Well done!”

The badger came up behind Beauregard, and sat next to him, emulating the position as much as he could.

“What? You’ve got a partner?”

Then the child heard him, and called, “Daddy! Grandma’s fallen! And the dog chased a snake out for us!”

Daddy ran back to the bedroom and exclaimed over what he found. He went to the bathroom, found some washrags, filled a bowl with water, and came back to the bedroom. He began cleaning the blood, some of which had already dried, and talking to his mother.

Soon she awoke, and was able to sit up.

“I came to check on her, and saw a rattler coming in the window! It startled me so, I fell, and … that’s all I remember.”

“And then the animals came, Daddy, and chased it out!”

The man lifted his mother from the floor and helped her into the living room, settling her into a chair and bringing her a drink of cold water. “I think you’ll be fine. You’ll have a pretty bruise around this eye, but I don’t think we’ll need to sew you up. And that elbow should heal in a couple days, we’ll just keep a cloth on it so you don’t bleed on the furniture!”

He hugged his daughter as she came to stand beside him.

“I think I need to go thank that dog, again!”

But when he went to find them, they were gone.

“Thank you, Nibbles. That was a brave thing to do.” Brockwilde looked at her with admiration, as the farmhouse was finally out of sight behind them.

“Yes indeed, ma’am, I was right proud of you,” added Beauregard.

“Just don’t you tell Barley I was almost eaten by that fellow, Mr. Brockwilde. He’ll not let me go wandering any more, if he hears that story!”

Chasing the Moon

Bucky watched the cars come down the street, roar past, and dwindle into the night. They seemed to go downhill for a while, then start back up, and be almost out of sight when they reached the end of the road. He wondered if he could race them, beat them to that place. Sure, he was fast. Sure he could.

Another set of headlights came out of a small neighborhood street.

He stepped out onto the pavement, and started trotting. It was fair, after all, the car was already moving. It was trotting. He could too!

The headlights approached, and moved to the other side of the road. The car was going faster, so he broke to a smooth canter, then a full run. Maybe a full bound. It seemed to be different than the way the horses did it. Maybe it was a bound instead of a run or gallop.

The car was alongside now. Bucky stretched out and ran, the car purring alongside as though it enjoyed the race. Down they went, down to where the river crossed the road after big storms, and up towards the intersection. A train moaned in the distance, approaching the tracks just a little further away.

Bucky stepped up the pace. I’ll show this guy. Faster, faster, leaving the car behind, Bucky found he had left the ground. He was running so fast he was rising into the air. He crossed over the intersection, out over the empty place, the next road, and suddenly the train was going by under his feet. This was fun!

He stretched out into long, distance-swallowing strides. He felt like he could run until the stars came home.

On he ran, and the full moon rose over the pines. He galloped towards it, and it grew bigger and bigger, until it filled his vision. He approached it at great speed, and began slowing down. When he reached the surface of the moon it was still at the speed of a serious gallop, but his hoofs grabbed the dusty surface and accelerated. Up the side of a crater and off, into the air … the air? … above. Tucking in his legs, he did a somersault in the air, opening up to come running down the slope on the opposite side. He cantered about a bit, then got a good running start and shot up the side of another crater, into the star-splattered sky.

There was the earth, green and blue and white and beautiful. Down he floated, running on wisps of cloud and stardust, sliding down the cloud canyons and into the valleys. A mountain lake rose to meet him, with white-capped peaks and long green grass meadows surrounding the valley. He ran down a mountainside, across the lush emerald lawns, and out onto the lake. Running on the lake!

Not even beginning to tire, he ran up the mountain on the other side and into the skies. Morning dawned over the mountain crests, and golden light bathed him in its warmth. Bright, golden light.



“Bucky, it’s morning! You sleepy head, what’s the matter, is the sun finally in your eyes?”

Bucky opened his eyes. And then closed them, and took one more long run across the lake.

Bucky and his family are found in The Oak and the Cliff books.


Joy glanced out the window, then stopped, and looked again. Finally, the hummingbirds were coming. She called Joel and Caleb over to see. Caleb was explaining to Joel how the crane takes hold of things to lift them, and how the dump truck can raise its back to let the load pour out, and other fine details of the operation of heavy machinery. Since Joel’s vocabulary in this technical area had not yet grown beyond “truck,” it was slow going.

Joy lifted Joel so he could see over the buffet cabinet, as the fast-moving birds hovered around the feeder. Four yellow plastic blossoms on the sides of the red feeder offered sugar water to all comers.

Suddenly a new one arrived, and tried to ram one of the birds already there.

“Mom, it’s a bully!” Caleb understood the situation perfectly. It took Joy a minute of observation before she was willing to agree, but it became pretty obvious. Within a few minutes the bully had the feeder to himself. *** The next day several hummingbirds came, but only one stayed. They named him Buster, and were amazed at how much sugar water he could consume. When they came out and looked at him up close, he still held his ground, claiming the feeder as his own.

“They call him Buster. What do you think?” asked Jay, when the bluejays came for a look. “How long can he keep this up?”

Squawk didn’t think it would be hard for Buster to control the feeder for as long as he wanted. “All he has to do is make a run at each new bird, and they want none of it. Look how long and sharp that beak is! Plenty of other places to get sweet stuff. What do you suppose is chewing on him? What’s got him acting so obnoxious?”

“I dunno. Want to give him a little of his own medicine?”

“Let’s wait until things are a little more private. I can see Young Mother, and Happy, and Brother too, inside. They’re watching.”

When the people had gone, the jays drifted down to some branches close to the feeder. Buster had taken a break, so they settled in to wait. After a few minutes, Buster was back.

“Buster. What’s up? Why are you chasing all your buddies off?”

“I’m depressed. When I get depressed, I get pushy. When I get real depressed, I get mean. You know. Feeder Rage. I’m depressed. I’m real depressed.”

The jays considered this. He might be pulling their legs. They checked. No, their legs were fine. He might be whistling Dixie. No, they knew that tune, it must be something else. And he obviously wasn’t from the South, with that accent.

He might be … telling the truth? If so, that would make him a more dangerous bird than they realized. Feeder Rage. They had heard of that.

Curiosity was begining to replace the urge to play pranks.

“So. What are you depressed about?”

“Jenny. She left me. Again.” Another hummingbird wandered in close to the feeder. Wham.

“When it happened before … how long did you stay depressed?”

“A year. Maybe two.”

“When did she leave you?”

“Last week.” Wham.

This was not looking good for the neighborhood. No swarms of hummingbirds for the kids to look at this season, if Buster stayed in this foul mood, and it sounded like he might stay there until next Christmas if nothing was done.

Now, bluejays are not known for their straight-up, sincere desire to set the world right, to make it a better place. That desire may overwhelm them from time to time, but it has not happened in recent memory. Since Adam, for example. But this was beginning to be a challenge.

“Anyone other than Jenny in your life?”

“Yeah. Sal. And Joanie. And Mar, and Apry, and Sus, and Hon, and Wink, and …”

The obvious question. “So, how about getting with one of them?”

“They left me too.” Wham. Wham, wham, wham. Wham.

Jay and Squawk looked at each other. This was getting brutal. With a nod, Jay motioned to Squawk, and they flew back up to the oak where they could talk privately.

“He’s way, way over the line. We gotta do something.”

Squawk agreed. “But what?”

“How about some behavioral modification therapy?”


“How about if we make him not act this way, by making it not feel good when he does act this way?”

“He doesn’t look like he feels too good now. You want to make him feel even worse?!?”

Jay realized he was not getting through. Might never get through, actually.

“If something unpleasant happens everytime you do something, you stop doing it. Even if you don’t realize that’s why you stopped. Even if you don’t notice the unpleasant thing, or realize the connection. Trust me, it works. I do it to you all the time.”


This last bit may have been a mistake.

“What do you do to me all the time?”

“Remember how you used to squawk in the early morning, and I complained?”

“Yeah, I did it to annoy you. It was fun.”

“Have you noticed you don’t do it anymore?”

Squawk thought about it. It was true. He had stopped. It was still fun, but he never did it. Wonder why.

“Yeah, so … what’s that got to do with Buster knocking hummingbirds upside the head?”

Jay gave up.

“Any idea where Bizzer is?” he asked.

Squawk immediately forgot the earlier conversation. “Yeah, I know the tree he hangs out at. You wanna talk with him?”

Squawk soon returned with Bizzer. The horsefly had been awakened from a nap, so he was grumpy. You might not notice, exactly, because horseflies are always grumpy, but that just means a “grumpy” horsefly is really … never mind.


“What? Are we done yet?” He would be fully awake in just a moment or two, but he wasn’t quite, yet. And since bluejays eat horseflies, this was an … awkward … conversation.

“Need a favor. Need some psychological warfare, and you are just the bug to do it.”

Well, that did it. His pride swelled, his chest puffed out, and all caution was gone. The bluejays had recognized his unique talents, his awesome capabilities, his place in the world. Self-esteem was dripping from his wingtips.

“Point me. Just point me. When it absolutely, positively has to be bitten overnight, I’m your bug. Proud to be a Bizzine. The few, the proud, the nasty. The …”

“Yes. Thank you.” Jay could see where this would lead.

“We have a depressed, lovesick hummingbird beating up on all his fellow depressed, lovesick hummingbirds. It would help him … OK, it would help the rest of us … if he experienced something unpleasant everytime he took out his Lonesome Feathered Blues on a fellow member of birdkind. I’m thinking he would change his ways.”

“Where is he? Where is he? I’m ready, I’m so ready, I’m all over this. Semper Fly. That him, by the feeder? Oooh, I see. He just pounded that bird that looks just like him. Ouch. That’s the undesirable behavior? Got it. I’m on it. I’m all about changed behavior. I’m there. Just …”

“Go. Thanks.” With a wave of his wing, Jay sent Bizzer towards the feeder.

Bizzer positioned himself on a nearby branch, somewhat below Buster, and waited. He did not need to wait long.

Wham. Bite.

“What the …???” Buster looked around. Nothing there. Leg cramp? Wing cramp? Wow, that was … unpleasant.

He went back to feeding. Another hummingbird drifted into the area, and came to the feeder.

Wham. Bite. “Ouch!”

Quickly looking around … and around … he could see nothing.

Next time a hummingbird arrived, he was not so quick to attack. After a few moments, he could not stand it anymore.

Wham. Bite. “Aaargh!”

He moved away from the feeder, where he could just watch the area. After a bit, he noticed some movement on a branch below the feeder. A fly? A big fly? Coming a little closer, he realized what it was. And it looked very suspicious to him. Horseflies do not stay in one place. They are constantly in motion, constantly flying that low-level reconnaissance, looking for the next bit of juicy flesh.

Was that thing biting him? Was it waiting for him?

He saw Jay and Squawk up in the oak, and flew to them. “Guys, there’s a horsefly down there, and I think he’s been attacking me. Would you watch, and tell me what’s happening?”

“Sure,” they replied, looking at each other and grinning a little.

What was that about? he wondered.

Nervously, he resumed feeding … jumping sideways now and then, nervously.

Meanwhile, Bizzer was watching all this. Proud of his success, he did not realize his continual fidgeting had revealed him to the hummingbird. He puzzled over why Buster would have gone to the bluejays and spoken with them. Just asking if they had seen anything, obviously. So Buster had not seen him, and things were going very well. The hovering hummingbird certainly looked more nervous now, even skittish. This was fun. Wait until he’d been hit about 20 more times. You ain’t seen skittish yet! he thought. I’ll give you a case of skittish!

Another hummingbird arrived. Buster drifted towards him, keeping one eye open for a dive bomber. So far, so good. Nothing yet. He edged closer. The bluejays were watching closely. OK, let’s do it.

Wham! What? The other hummingbird had knocked Buster aside!

“Ouch!” The other hummingbird had gotten bit!

Buster drifted away. He saw an opportunity to learn something. He glanced up at the bluejays. They were talking among themselves, and laughing. They had obviously gotten distracted, and hadn’t seen anything. Fine. He could take care of himself. He would watch.

Eventually another hummingbird came in to the feeder, and Buster saw the whole thing. The bully knocked him away, and was immediately attacked by the horsefly, who then disappeared back to his branch. The bluejays were still absorbed in their conversation.

Buster drifted back to the feeder, but did not approach it. The bully was still feeding, and obviously aggravated by the bites.


The bully stared at him. “What?”

“Want to know what’s going on?”

The bully narrowed his eyes. “OK, tell me.”

“There’s a horsefly. When you knock someone away, he bites you.”

“You’re kidding.”

“OK. When you’re ready to talk, I’ll be waiting.” Buster drifted away to a safe distance. The bully looked around, but couldn’t see anything. Horseflies are pretty easy to spot, if they’re staying in one place, so he decided that was nonsense. Soon another hummingbird came in.

Wham. Bite. Profanity.

“All right, wimp. Where is he? Tell me, or I’ll bust your wing.”

“He’s hiding,” said Buster. “Tell you what. Let’s go to the feeder, and on a signal bump into each other and instantly turn around so we can see him coming. We’ll nail him!”

The bully considered this. Cooperation was not a skill he had learned in hummingbaby school, and he had no interest in looking weak at this point. Allowing someone to bump into him was unthinkable. In fact, even suggesting it was probably unthinkable.

Buster saw this line of thought developing, as he looked in the bully’s eyes, and realized his danger.

“Look, I have a better idea,” he said. “That wouldn’t look realistic. He might not go for it. Tell you what. I’ll be feeding, and you just knock me away, like you did before. Then we’ll both turn on him.”

That made more sense to the bully. It was a plan he could work with. Maybe the only plan his mind could absorb without going into convulsions or a coma. So, they agreed, if you can call it that.

The bully went back to feeding, and Buster drifted away to get up his nerve. Being knocked away again was not something he could easily sign up for. They better be quick, and get this bug. Then he had to figure a way to get the bully to leave as well.

Finally he was ready, and eased back to the feeder. He took a position such that the bug would have the furthest to go, to get back to his hiding place. Shouldn’t be long now, he – wham! OK, spin around, get him!

Suddenly Bizzer found himself ambushed. Two hummingbirds, mad, tracked him back to the branch and pinned him between sharp, fast beaks hovering a wing’s breadth away.

What’s the deal?” said the bully. “You have one chance to tell me something I can believe, or you’ll be a shisk-a-bob.” Buster was beginning to like this guy. He was direct, clear, no nonsense. Knew what he wanted. Maybe Buster could share the feeder with him. Carefully. Oh… maybe he wouldn’t share the feeder. Never mind.

Bizzer’s bravado was gone. Striking from secret was one thing. Wing-to-wing combat with two angry hummingbirds … no, thanks. Those dudes were fast. Those beaks were razor sharp, and longer than a turtle’s memory. The game was up.

“The bluejays hired me to do it. They wanted Buster to quit knocking other birds away, and they thought a little instant feedback would break him of the habit.”

Buster looked up at the bluejays in the tree. The bully followed his gaze. The bluejays realized the game was up, and squawked into flight. Perhaps into the next county.

Buster and the bully looked at the horsefly. Except, he was gone, taking advantage of the moment when they looked away. They looked around, and did not see him anywhere.

“Guess he’s gone,” offered Buster. “Say, you mind if I share the feeder with you? Won’t be in your way.”

The bully considered. His opinion of Buster had risen, when he heard about his earlier behavior. “Been keeping the area clear, huh?”

Buster nodded.

“Alright. You do guard duty, and I’ll let you eat. But you let another goofy hummingbird loiter here, or especially if you let another horsefly bite me, I’ll turn you into a feather soufflé. I’m depressed. I need to be alone.”

And with that uneasy truce, they returned to the feeder. Buster returned to bouncing intruders.

Bizzer drifted away, glad to have escaped any further attention from the hummingbirds. Since he was not paying attention, he did not see the bluejay from the neighbor’s yard come cruising through for an after-dinner treat.

PK On the Loose

PK nosed around the edges of the transparent box they had put him in. Seems like there would be a way out. Hunter had always secured it well, but now Gardener seemed to have the job, and she was much less confident in fastening the lid. The Prairie King was an attractive snake, and Hunter liked to show him to the people. But now Hunter seemed to be gone, and the Gardener was looking after him.

The lights went out. No one was around. PK went around one more time, and it seemed to him the opening for the cord offered a little more scent of outside air than before. He nosed up into the gap, and decided to go for it. Moments later, he was lying on the floor, looking for anyone who might want to pick him up. Nothing else moved. He hadn’t made any noise, that he could tell. Moving into a corner of the room, he curled up behind a tall, solid box that was almost against the wall. Aaah, room to stretch out. Much better.

“Speaking of embarrassing”, said Taran, “I’m glad we don’t have any dogs around here. You remember that story about Bo? Gardener used to tell it. Her Mammaw had a black labrador named Bo, and it gave their cat PJ a fit. One time he took a mouse in his mouth, one that PJ was chasing, and just held it there, playing innocent. Gardener saw the tail hanging out of Bo’s mouth! After PJ gave up and went away, he opened his mouth and let that thing run away! Can you imagine, being tricked by a dumb dog like that?”

“Speaking of wet mice …” murmured Fenix. Everyone looked at Peanut and laughed.

“All right, all right! I’m just glad they took me in! I didn’t look like that very long, and I’ve got more hair than any of you now!” Peanut retorted.

“Good thing you bulked up a little before Slider saw you! He likes little mice!”

“Speaking of Slider,” someone said. “Anyone smell a snake in the house lately?”

“As a matter of fact,” Jasmine spoke up. “For about a week now. Started back in the corner room, and then a few days later moved into the hall… almost smells like it’s in the wall somewhere!”

Everyone was quiet. This was not good news. They knew what it was like to tangle with a snake in the woods, and couldn’t imagine it would be much better in the house.

“What did ‘PJ’ stand for?” asked Blanca.

“Pitiful, Jr.” Jasmine laughed. “Her mom’s name was Pitiful. No one remembers why!”

“Speaking of mice … anyone remember that hamster in Barefoot’s room?” Pixie licked her lips, but it had been before her time. Jasmine continued, “A Siberian dwarf. Funny little thing. One night it got loose, and they found it in a cup hanging on the wall. They never knew why it was up there.”

“Let me guess … you know why?” asked Peanut.

“Well, let’s just say it figured out how to climb the wall when it needed to!”

PK had moved into the hallway, then into another room. Lots of books on the floor, and stuff piled in the closets. Plenty of room to hide, but no way outside. After a couple of days, he was missing the food they used to provide, and getting a little hungry. Back in the hallway, he discovered some narrow slits into another space inside the wall. Sliding through, he found a nice cool space between a grate of some kind and some flat panels. The air just seemed to blow right through them. By hooking his body into the grate, he could just hang there. Nice and dark.

Cowboy came down the hall, and saw a loop of snake body hanging out of the air conditioning return vent. Quietly, he went for a pair of gloves, and called Gardener to come help.

“What the … ?!” Suddenly PK found himself yanked out of the grating and held up in the air, flying back to … oh, no, not there again!

Back in the box, he sulked. After eating, of course.

After a couple more feedings – 10 days or so – PK decided he was ready to move on. This business of sunning under a tungsten lamp on a little rock was boring. Once again, he found an opening and made it to the floor. Wouldn’t want to be around when Hunter got back, and found out Gardener couldn’t even close the door on a cage!

But now the cats were on to him, and he had to stay very, very secluded. And the people were looking for him, too, and they could lift and move things that he was hiding under. They seemed to be upset. Why were cats allowed to wander the house, and lie around looking like … cats … but he had to be in a box? That was wrong, just wrong. Oops – here comes someone! Run!

Run? What do you mean, run? Don’t you remember what happened in the Garden?

Oh, yeah.

Quick – back into the couch cushions! Hope nobody really big comes to visit …

PK stuck his head out from between the couch cushions. House was dark. Quiet. It had been days since he had eaten, and staying inside that couch was even less fun than staying inside the transparent box. He had to find a way out of the house.

Sliding out onto the floor, he nosed around. Nothing interesting that he could smell. Moving into the kitchen, he found the cat food bowl, and tried some of it. Pretty dry stuff. There had to be something. But wherever the cats could wander, there would be no mice. He found the stairs, and slithered up the carpeted steps. Ah, more hiding places. He explored a long, dark cavern under the windows, with a door propped slightly open.

Probably a cat’s hiding place. Wandering into the bathroom, he found the opening under the door to the attic and the air conditioning equipment. A whole new world opened up, on the other side of the door. Hot, dry, and not very promising. But dark, and big. And maybe there would be bugs, mice, whatever.

The air conditioning unit shook as it blew air through the ducts, and the whole attic vibrated with it. Now and then the compressor kicked in, and very disturbing noises pressed on his ears. Who could sleep here?

After exploring a bit, he returned to the bathroom, and down the stairs to the living room. Ah, well, back to the couch. He had a nice space hollowed out under the cushions, and he could keep an eye on things from there. Still hadn’t found anything to eat. Except that awful stuff the cats eat. He would rather eat a cat.

Maybe that could be arranged.

PK slid out of the couch onto the living room floor. His body grew, becoming twice as big around, then again, then again. He almost filled the room, halfway to the ceiling. Pushing through a window, he slid out onto the back deck, only just in time, as his body grew to as big a circumference as could fit through that window frame without becoming lodged there.

The birds fluttered from the trees in fright, and he snapped up one or two as he stretched out to full length. A couple of cats stared at him from the grass behind the deck. In a moment, giving them no time to react, he gobbled them up. Mmmm. He grew bigger.

Buck came out of the small building and saw him. Young Mother looked out as well. Buck disappeared, and returned with a long black stick that was fat on one end. He pointed it at PK, and fire bloomed from the end of the stick. Something bit PK on the neck, like a mosquito.

He noticed a black thing, smoking, in the middle of the back yard. Sweet, hot smells came from it. Mmmm. He stretched out his tail and smashed the smaller house, in irritation about the mosquito bite. Then he scooped up the black thing that smelled so good. Ouch. Oh, that was hot! Hot all the way down! Oh, he wished he had not swallowed it. Oh, it hurt, it hurt down in his stomach.

Suddenly he woke. Something very uncomfortable was hurting him, down deep. He was still in the couch, in his hollowed-out space, hiding from the people. But something was hurting. What in the world had he swallowed? They lost so much stuff in this couch it was like a buffet … but he had made a bad choice this time. Oooohhhh, that felt bad.

Did I Mention That Already?


When I’m really bored and no one is around to have their feet attacked, their toes nibbled, their shoelaces undone and unraveled, their ear licked, their nose bitten, their lap climbed, their back attacked through a kitchen chair, their computer keyboard danced on, their stacked papers scattered, their office used as a hiding place, their ankle grabbed as they walk unsuspecting through the living room or past the hanging bed covers, their phone charger cables chewed on, their CDs tossed onto the floor, their leftovers stolen from the kitchen table (not that I would ever do that, you understand, you do understand that, right, that I would never do that, especially since the man swatted my face that time and made me hate him for the rest of the day, or at least five or ten minutes, until he really worked on getting me to purr again, which he does by dragging that stupid blue-eyed mouse around the floor so fast I almost can’t catch it, but I’m really fast, so there’s nothing I really can’t catch, so I put up with it and chase the silly thing and he laughs and I guess we’re friends again, or he thinks so anyway), or even to just have a nice, friendly, fuzzy, odd-colored cat sit on their lap and make them feel wanted, when all of that is going on, or should I say not going on, I wonder what a cat should do with all that free time that could be filled with reading, if I knew how to read, or writing, if I knew how to write, which I will soon because I’ve been watching and I know how to use those letters in front of the bright screen to actually make words and sentences and even whole stories, or planning a trip around the world, which is actually pretty funny since I haven’t even taken a trip around the whole yard yet, but I will as soon as I can sneak out that door, or maybe this one, which will happen as soon as I can getup the nerve to try, because once you try, then you succeed, and then I would be actually out there, in the yard, and not in here where it’s safe and … boring, because there is nothing to do, nothing at all, which brings me back to my original question about what a cat should do at times like this, and I find that the thoughts run through my head without any stop, as though I could just write, and write, and write without end, if only I knew how to write, which I will soon, did I mention that already?

Hard to Catch

“Strider! I think Streak is over here in the bush!”

Strider ran to help Taran. If the cats didn’t work together to keep the porch free of lizards, those tasty green things would over-run the place. At least, that’s what they told the people about why they chased them. Every now and then Hunter would be here, and he really didn’t like to see the cats hunting the lizards. In fact, Hunter would wear a drawing of one of those green delicacies on his shirt sometimes.

The real reason for chasing them, of course, is that lizards are delicious, and you didn’t even have to bite into them. You could just roll them around in your mouth for a while, and enjoy that flavor … sometimes they wouldn’t survive, but mostly you could get all the flavor off, then let them go again. Or if they drowned, you put them at the door into the big house where the people stayed, to let them know you were doing your job.

Hard to tell if the people really understood, or appreciated what you did for them. You could tell them, of course, but they were fairly dense, and didn’t seem to really get it, most of the time. They must be smart, because they could do all sorts of things. Make water fall on the grass, even when there is no rain. Make food fall out of a small, round holder, every day, over and over, like it was never empty. Get in their cars, go away, then come back. Make the air cool inside the big house where they stayed, even when it was hot, and make it hot in there, even when it was dog cold out here.

But simple communication seemed to give them trouble. If we all gather at the door and look through the glass at them, they can guess that we’re hungry. But when we want to play croquet with them, or Bocci Ball, or even just walk with them a ways down the street, they shoo us away. And there’s absolutely no hope of discussing something as complex as meal variety, forget it.

But where was that lizard Streak? Looks like Taran’s lost him again. He’s really good, that one!

Shorty froze behind a twig deep inside the hedge.

“Streak! Here comes Taran, and he’s calling Strider! He sees you!”

“Not for long. Watch this!”

Streak slipped into the gap behind an outlet box fastened to the wall. Taran came quickly, running in a half crouch and not blinking once. He stared at the wall where Streak had been moments before, amazed at the quickness of the little lizard. Shorty held his breath. Streak held his breath. Taran held his position, a stone statue sprayed with golden fur.

“Strider, this is crazy! I can smell him! I know he’s here!”

Strider stretched out on the concrete, and laughed. He had heard this before. Streak was without fear, and would taunt Taran almost within paw’s stroke, then suddenly be gone. He would walk up the white, square posts around the porch, and puff his throat bright red, looking good for the ladies and daring Taran to make a run for him. He would slip, of course, some day, and Taran would taste the delicacy he so intently sought today. But that day was not this day.

He laughed again, realizing he was quoting another Strider.

Outside, Streak was challenging Shorty to a race. Not a race against each other, of course, lizard to lizard. That would be boring. A race with Taran, or another of the cats. Of course, the consequences of losing that race could be significant, so they had plenty of motivation to win.

“Here’s the deal,” said Streak. “You get on the rail here, puff up your throat so Taran sees you. As soon as he looks at us, jump into the hedge, onto the landscape timber, down to the electrical outlet, across to the screen, and up to the roof of the screen, over the water.”

“That’s too long on the ground. If he comes around the hedge, he’ll get us. But if he comes down the porch and through the hedge, it’ll slow him down, and we might make it.”

“What do you mean, ‘we’, slowpoke?”

“Any other cats around? Any chance we’ll get intercepted?”

“Don’t think so. They’re all on the far side of the porch.”

“Alright, suicide jockey, let’s go!”

Shorty looked around the railing post. Taran was stretched out at the corner. Good. It would take him a moment to get into motion.

Taran was watching the lizards at the far end of the porch. Pretending to be lazing about, he was planning every motion for maximum speed. Any minute now they would be up on that rail, and he would launch himself towards them.

“Strider,” he whispered.

Strider lifted his head, and looked over.

“They’re challenging us again. Go around the house. Looks like they’ll head for the pool screen.”

Ahh, the taste of lizard. Sure, he could stand a little work for that. He could feel one on his tongue already, rolling it around …

Strider eased off the porch and trotted around to the far side of the house. When he thought there had been enough time, Taran raised his head and looked down the porch.

Shorty saw Taran lift his head.

“OK. He can see us now. You ready?”

“Go!” ***

Shorty and Streak jumped onto the railing. Without giving them a moment to puff up and get set, Taran was on his feet.

“Whoa, get it on, brother!” shouted Streak, leaping into the hedge. Shorty was past him in a moment. Having already lost a tail to this cat, he felt a righteous certainty that it was Streak’s turn to donate an appendage if they lost.

Leaping to the timber and racing along to the end of it, they jumped into the grass. “This is the hard part. Let’s go!”

Suddenly Strider was in front of them, and they realized the trap.

“Split up!”

Shorty dove left, and Streak jumped to the right. Strider was confused, and lost sight of both of them.

Taran piled into him. “Where are they? Did you catch one?”

Strider frantically looked around. The lizards had disappeared into the bermuda, and were holding absolutely still to avoid drawing their eyes. “They’re here… they’re here… look around. They can’t hold still very long, they’re not that smart.”

Shorty and Streak were holding still, and being paralyzed in fear helped their resolve. But, alas, the cats were right … it is not in the nature of the anole lizard to keep his attention focused for long periods of time, nor to hold himself rigidly still for more than a minute or two. However, they can change color in seconds, and these two had changed from green to brown, gotten as deep into the St. Augustine roots as they could, and disappeared beautifully.

Long moments went by. Finally, Shorty forgot the imminent danger, drifted back into green, and moved to come up from the grass roots. Instantly Taran pounced, and got a paw on top of him.

Just then a roar came around the corner. Both cats looked up, and jumped out of the way of the red motorcycle coming across the grass and heading for the driveway.

Apparently the anoles jumped the other way, because they were not seen again that day. And it was a very long time before Streak challenged anyone to a race again. A couple of days, at least. Maybe a week.

One Good Bounce Deserves Another

Whisk and Jumpy were having a typical squirrel-romp through the oak branches, roof-high and fast. Whisk missed a branch on a long jump, and was suddenly falling. Not the first time in his life, but the first time in a long time, and he would catch no end of grief over it. How embarrassing. He spread his paws to cushion the fall when he hit the ground, and hoped there were no cats close by.

Suddenly he realized it was not grass below him. Oh, no, was it that hard stuff they roll their cars around on?

He landed, and bounced back into the air, tumbling over backwards. What was that!?

He landed again, and bounced again, not as high. And getting a little dizzy. This time he sprawled into some fabric, some kind of soft wall, and rolled to the ground. Or whatever it was.

Jumpy was watching from above. “You OK? You were flying, just like the people do when they stand on that thing!”

Now he remembered. Sometimes the people would stand or jump or roll around in this … cage?… this room made out of black fabric with the black, bouncy floor. They would squeal and squawk.

He walked cautiously onto the floor. It yielded to his weight, like there was nothing under it. He jumped onto the wall, and hung there.

“You gotta jump on it, not just walk on it.” Jumpy was sure brave, up there on his branch. Had he ever been on this thing?

Whisk eased down the wall, and stepped back onto the floor. Nothing happened. “You listenin’ to me? Get up on the wall, and jump!”

Yeah, yeah.

He climbed up a little ways, and jumped down, braced for the impact of the ground. Suddenly he was flipped head over paws, and rolled to a stop. This was embarrassing! Just then Singer flew over. Great. Now Singer would tell Jay, and Squawk, and all the other bluejays!

Jumping up on the side, Whisk said, “OK, peanut brain, your turn!”

Jumpy stood up on the branch, posed like a dancer, and leapt into the air. Good grief, what was he doing? Down he came, spread out like he was flying. Just before landing, he turned over and landed on his back! The fool!

Up he bounced, taking a rare opportunity to show off in front of Whisk, who always learned new things before he did. Almost always! Down he came again, tucked into a ball, and bounced up again. Next time down, he was ready for a jump, and timed it perfectly. The canvas threw him almost over the fabric wall, and he grabbed onto the wall two body lengths above Whisk.

Looking down, he said with a smile, “What’s the matter, pal? You’re looking like a chipmunk down there!”

That was too much! The ultimate insult! Jumpy saw the narrowed eyes, and realized he had pushed it a little too far.

“Oops.” With a quick scramble, he got to the top of a post, leapt for the nearest tree, and fled for safety.

“Betcha can’t!”

There wasn’t much that Strider wouldn’t try. This was giving him some pause.

“Go on. The squirrels did it. Had a blast, looked like.”

Hmm. Anything a squirrel could do … would do …

“On purpose?”

Fenix and Felix just laughed. “Of course! At least … how can you really know what a squirrel does on purpose?”

Strider jumped onto the oak, and climbed up to the branch that went out over the trampoline. He sat there, looking. This was crazy. Jumping from a tree to the roof was one thing. From the roof to the ground? Well, depending on the height, and how bad the weather was. But from a tree to something that moved when you landed on it? And looked like it would throw you up in the air again, when you got there?

Cats are not fond of being thrown into the air, even a little ways, even by someone they really like. Hate it, in fact. Despise it. Triggers every panic nerve God gave them, and that’s a lot. Gives them nightmares. Assuming they can sleep afterwards.

“Tell me again, why are we talking about this?”

“We don’t think you can do it. We think you’re scared.”

“Have you done it?”

“Of course not. But you’re crazy, and we’re not. We won’t do it, because it’s dumb. But that never stops you, so we think you’re just afraid.”

Strider thought about that for a minute. Somehow, he felt his reputation was on the line, but couldn’t quite figure out how it made sense that he had to do this, and they didn’t. They were afraid to do this, but that was OK, but if he wouldn’t do it, it was because he was afraid to, and that was shameful? And that was because … why?

Somehow he had gotten off on the wrong foot when the three of them came to this family.

Fenix and Felix had been rescued from inside the wall of a low-rent, dilapidated building, on a hot July 4th weekend. Probably would have died there, if Cowboy hadn’t come in to turn off his computers or something. But Strider was part of that same cluster of wild cats, and he was just as small and cute … hadn’t been trapped in a building, but nonetheless.

Maybe it was because he had sunk his baby incisors into Gardener’s thumb when she dragged him out from under the bush, and was so scared he couldn’t let go. Probably hurt her. That’s why she began hollering and everybody came running to see him hanging there by his teeth. But ever since then, he’s had to prove himself. Over and over. Just never could get past it.

“You asleep up there? Need someone to push you off the branch?”

Cute. Very helpful.

He looked down into the fabric cage. Big deal. Jump down a little ways onto a flat circle, then climb out and drop to the ground, and be done with it.

He walked out on the limb, over the target. OK, just jump down. No big deal.

Just jump. Ready? Sure. OK.

He stood there, looking down. Not quite sure.

Fenix had come up the trunk, and sat on the branch behind him. “Need some help?”

Forget it. He jumped. And seconds later, upside down, out of control, and in full panic, thought it was the stupidest thing he had ever done. As he came down for what he realized would be another bounce, he also realized that they would never, never forget what was now unfolding before their eyes.

He would get even.


Taran sat on the porch corner, watching Pixie chase Squawk, the bluejay. He was playing with her, sitting on a low branch and chattering until she could stand it no longer and broke into a run towards the tree. As she launched, he would let go of the branch, fall towards the ground, and casually take flight, easily moving out of range.

“You ever caught one?”

“Sure!” answered Taran, trying to remember if he ever had. “Keep trying! You’ll get there.”

“Not,” he added, under his breath.

“I hear you can’t even catch a lizard when Strider runs blocking for you!” replied Pixie, settling in for another run at the bluejay.

Oh. So that story was going around.


Meet these cats again – their worldwide adventures continue in The Oak and the Cliff books!


The armadillos had drifted into the yard that night.

Jimmy Bob snuffled up another mound of dirt. “Nothin’ here. Dang nab it.”

Joey Bob wandered up. “Course not. You’re diggin’ in a dry spot.” He sauntered over to where Johnny Bob was rooting around at the base of a pine. “Got a scent?”

Johnny Bob did not particularly want to share. “Nope.”

Joey Bob understood Johnny Bob quite well, and knew that meant he had found something. He settled in to dig a hole nearby, to Johnny Bob’s irritation.

“Seen the folks that live here?”

“Sure ‘nuff.” Johnny Bob kept digging, and Joey Bob thought he heard some munching sounds as well.

“Matter fact, one of ‘em petted me today.”


“Yeah, the tall cowpoke, he wandered out, kinda snuck up on me like, and ‘fore I got my bearings, he reached out and patted my head.”

Joey Bob was amazed. “You know them folks use firearms, right? And that Gardener lady, her pa used to get after our kinfolk with a shotgun.”

Johhny Bob did not know that. He paused, to give that some thought.

Jerry Bob spoke up from digging around a live oak. “Yup. Better watch out. Several of the menfolk here, they’re serious about such things. Wouldn’t mind an excuse to flip the safety and have at it.”

All this was interfering with Johnny Bob’s appetite, and he said so. Which just inflamed the discussion, because everyone else could see Johnny Bob had found some good digging, and would just as soon he abandon it so they could see what was left.

About then Tall Person, the one who had petted Johnny Bob, eased back into their vicinity. This time, they decided not to chance it, and they laid tracks for the high country.

Not Again!

Slider uncoiled, in the cool dark below the shed. Hot out there. Nice under here. But the last lizard was days ago, and no mice or moles ventured into his well-known habitat.

Sliding to the edge of the shed, he blinked in the afternoon sun. Nothing moved out there. It was just … hot.

He wondered if Hunter were around. Hunter didn’t come often, but he always came looking for Slider when he did come visiting. A snake had to be careful. Hunter had surprised him once by suddenly lifting a board, and almost caught him. Two other times, Hunter had bagged him and carried him around for “show and tell”. Slider never wanted to be that nakedly visible again.

Another time, he was moving fast, like an angry horsefly, chasing a frog over the grass, and suddenly came eye to eye with Hunter. Simply hadn’t realized Hunter was there. Hunter seemed to be digging a hole that later became a great frog trap – but that day, Slider was almost in the trap. He had stared at Hunter for a moment, then fled for cover, with Hunter pursuing. That was close. Too close.

Today, he would hunt lizard. Or frog. Either would be tasty.

Moving out toward the frog pool, he watched for predators. All clear. Easing into the brush by the pool, he suddenly heard the worst of all sounds – Jane and Otsu, those noisy black dogs, being released from Hunter’s car, and bounding about the yard, barking at everything. Moments later, Hunter came around the corner with a long stick and some tongs. No doubt what those were for. Slider lay without moving. His only hope lay in not being noticed. He dare not make a dash for home - the motion would draw Hunter’s eye, and life in the open would quickly become just a memory.

An indolent frog lay sunning itself on the flat stone between Slider and the pool. Oooh, just one quick motion … but the frog jumped for the water at Hunter’s approach, and Jane was beginning to sniff around the brush. Slider had seen how the people dealt with some copperheads they had found, and he had no desire to tempt a similar fate. Must remain motionless. No movement, none at all.

It would be a long afternoon.

Evening came, and with the dogs apparently inside the house, Slider eased away from the brush he had used to save his life. The pond was so close. The bullfrogs were silent, but they knew he was there, so they would be silent. Lizards? None visible. Seeing no people or dogs, he moved down to the creek bed, as far from the house as possible, and sought some dinner in a more secluded place. The bullfrogs in the pond called to him, daring him to come, since they had seen it all and knew his fear. Let them call. When he answered, they would be the ones afraid… but for now, let them call.

He eventually eased back up the bank, and wandered towards the shed. Time to curl up and digest the evening’s meal for a day or two.

Almost back, he noticed a piece of wood lying on the ground. Hadn’t been there before. Tempting. He swung wide around it, smelled it, looked underneath. Nice. Very nice. Tired, he decided to take advantage of the new board, and try it out. He slid underneath it, and curled up. Maybe he would make a home here.

Tomorrow. I’ll decide tomorrow.

Slider was more than afraid. He was frustrated and angry. He knew what it meant, when someone started walking around the yard just after dawn, putting those colored eggs you couldn’t eat all over the grass. Did they think any snake with a brain in his head would be fooled by those?

But the real danger, his real concern, was Hunter. This was the day each Spring when Hunter came looking, and it was almost as if he studied how snakes lived and thought. There seemed to be no way to escape him.

Wherever I hide, he looks. He reads my mind.

Hunter strolled into the back yard, wearing boots and gloves, carrying a long stick with a small device on its end. Slider froze.

He poked around in the brush by the frog pond.

Good thing I hadn’t gone there for breakfast today!

Hunter slowly, watchfully, moved over to the shed, and began looking around its edges.

How does he know to look for me there?

And then he walked casually, almost accidentally, but in a very straight line, to the board under which Slider was cringeing, and lifted it up. Before Slider could jump for the grass on either side, Hunter had laid that device across his neck and lifted him into a hard, clear container. Not again! How did he know?

Hunter lifted him in the air, and bringing his face very close, looked carefully at Slider. He spoke softly to him, as though Slider could understand, and began carrying him over to a group of people.

Not again! I am so embarrassed! I hate it when he does this!

David had shown the Buttermilk Racer to everyone he wanted to, and took it back to the shed area where he had set a new board down as a successful trap.

That was his board. I was such an idiot.

“Liked my board? I’ll set it out for you again next year.”

Bet you will. I just bet you will. Not gonna fall for that again.

“And since it won’t be there until then, you’ll forget. I know you.”


Windtaster Needs Some Help

Windtaster stretched his branches towards the pool, then towards the driveway where the orange boat stayed, then towards the house, then towards the azaleas. Aaaaah. But Shorty was on his trunk, and it tickled. He called to his old friend, Anklo, settled in the deep grass. “Anklo, do you see the lizard on my trunk? Can you reach him?”

The ancient box turtle peered up at the oak. “Too high for me, friend, but perhaps one of the cats is ready for a climb.”

As it turned out, one of the cats was. Anklo drifted over towards the porch, and found Strider.

“My friend the oak tree needs some help. One of the lizards is on him, and I think it tickles. He may be trying to take a nap … hard to tell with an oak tree, of course. Can you help?”

The thought of lizard on the tongue was enough to bring Strider to full attention. A full stretch, a yawn big enough to swallow that lizard whole, and he was ready to go.

Should he bring some help?

What did I say? Did I say that out loud? Surely not. How embarrassing.

“Let’s go!” he said to Anklo, and then remembered. Turtles do not “go” in anything approaching cat speed. In fact, he could have agreed to meet Anklo at the oak tree, and taken another nap in the meantime.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Did you say where, exactly, the lizard was?”

“Well, they move a lot, as you know. And it took me a few minutes to find you. When I saw him last, he was just above the first big branch, on the side facing the rising moon.”

A few minutes, Strider thought. In cat hours, that would be … days? Months?

“Thanks!” he replied, and bounded off.

From the foot of the tree, he peered up. No sign of the lizard. Of course, the little critter would have seen Strider approaching. Jumping to the trunk, he scrambled up.

Approaching the first branch, he moved slowly. One glimpse is all he would get.

The oak shuddered. “Anklo.”

“Yes, my friend.”

“This cat is worse than the lizard! His claws really tickle!”

Anklo laughed. “I have known you since your first leaf came looking for the sun, youngster. I have known many of your brethren, for many, many summers. I have never known a tree that was ticklish. You had best trust that I tell no one, and hope the cat forgets. If the knowledge of your … problem … were to spread, every lizard within three days’ travel would be here to torment you!”

Windtaster sighed. He knew it was true. Best he think of other things, and hope the cat found what he sought quickly, and everyone left. He stretched out again, feeling the sun on his leaves, feeling the breeze through his branches and leaves, feeling that lizard on the higher branch! Sigh.

Strider continued to climb. The tree seemed to shudder under his feet. Strange. Must be the wind.

Shorty had seen the pursuit begin, as Strider came up the tree trunk to find him, and thought he might have some fun. The cat did not know where he was, so … he could be anywhere. Under the cat, for example. He slipped onto the branch Strider had chosen, and dropped to the underside of it. As Strider carefully worked his way out, Shorty moved carefully towards him, peeking now and then to see Strider’s tail and be sure of where he was.

Strider decided the lizard must be somewhere else, so he began backing up.

That’s no fun, thought Shorty. He turned, ran to the end of the branch, and popped up on top. Puffing out his throat and pretending not to notice the cat, he instantly got Strider’s attention. Strider headed back out onto the branch, and Shorty went out onto a twig, jumped to the back of it, climbed back down underneath the branch, and resumed his pursuit of the unsuspecting cat.

Strider ran, then walked, then began walking very carefully on the outermost reaches of the branch. There was no nearby branch the lizard could jump to, and they were high enough that no lizard would jump to the ground from this high up… probably. So this was beginning to look like a sure thing. Mmm, he could taste lizard already. Where was that silly thing?

Shorty came underneath the cat. This was tempting. Too tempting. What should he do? What a great story it would be … “Lizard Bites Cat!”

Strider was far enough out he was very unsteady, and it was a long way to the ground. The lizard was so close he could smell it! Where was he? His tail twitched slowly on the branch behind him.

Shorty could not stand it. He came up on the branch behind Strider, and bit his tail.

At just that moment, Windtaster could not stand it either. Having both the lizard and the cat at the same place on the same small branch just overwhelmed him, ticklish as he was, and he jerked the branch.

Suddenly Strider found himself in mid-air, twenty feet off the ground, with a lizard clamped on his tail.


Shorty let go, and spread out to get as much glide effect as he could on the way down. Wow. I never would have jumped from this high! Wonder if this is what it feels like to die! His life passed before his eyes, all he could remember of it. Two days’ worth, or so.

Strider twisted around, desperate to get his feet under him, and crashed into the flower bed. Gardener must have turned on the soaker hose, because it was a muddy mess. He climbed out, disgusted, and found Felix looking at him. And Fenix. And Jasmine. And … good grief, everybody.

“That was great!” they said. “What a stunt! Can you do it again?”

“Right. Did you see a lizard?”

“Yeah. He went that way, and we think he was laughing!”

Strider and his friends are from The Oak and the Cliff series of books.

Easy Squeezy Scamper Velociraptor

Easy Squeezy Scamper Velociraptor.

That’s me.

Say it again, carefully. Then faster. Get a little practice and you can say it real fast.

Easy Squeezy, or Scamper, for short, but until you get it all said you don’t really know me.

Easy Squeezy Scamper Velociraptor. I like it.

People don’t know what to name a cat, have you noticed that? They start with all sorts of gooshy names, and flowers, and spices like cinammon, and food, like cocoa, and they never really get to the good names.

And then you’re stuck with whatever they stopped on.

Kitten. Pudding. Fluffy. (Of course I’m fluffy, but that’s not a name, for goodness sake.)

We need names that turn us loose, that invite us into the wide world of cat and human adventure, something colorful… but not a color, good grief! Blacky, pinky, whitey, throw-up-y. Give it a rest.

Easy Squeezy Scamper Velociraptor.

Now there’s a name a cat can live with, and grow into.

Smart man. It was the man that came up with that, you know, not the women or the children. But I have to say, one of the kids was using that bottle of easy squeeze jelly, and they were talking about the dinosaur movie, so he had some help. And the that nice lady wanted to call me some pretty names, but … please. I gotta run, I gotta … scamper.

So he got it exactly right.

Did I mention he’s a smart man?

I think I’m going to tell him things. Maybe he already knows. But I can fill in the details. What it’s like to attack a foot from under the bedspread, for example. What that wet catfood smells like. Where to rub my tummy … oh, wait, he already knows that, and I don’t want to ruin a moment like that by talking.

Here comes that blue mousy thing on the string. The eyes light up. That’s weird. They think I like it, so I chase it, and jump for it, and they go crazy. I’m just fooling with them, that’s all. Makes them happy. Then when too many are here, I dive under the couch and get some privacy. Did you know I can slide under the front of the couch when there’s only the space of a ping pong ball?

Speaking of names, that’s an odd one. Why would you take a perfectly good cat toy and call it a “ping pong” ball? Does it make a sound, or something? I’ve never heard it. But on this hard floor, it runs like the wind, and it might get away from me if I weren’t so fast. No chance, really. I’m really fast.

I don’t know what that means, to run like the wind. What is that? They say that, so it must be true. Have I ever seen the wind? Does it come visiting? I can’t get outside, so maybe that’s where it lives… nothing inside here is as fast as me, so it must be out there.

Maybe it has 6 legs, so it can run really, really fast. Is it big? Small? Ugly? I just don’t know.

Maybe it’s not very fast at all, and when they say that, it’s an insult. Hmm. No, I think they mean it as a compliment. They smile when they say it.

Anyway. Maybe I’ll meet Wind someday, and we’ll like each other. He won’t like it that I’m faster, of course, but if he’s a gentleman, that won’t matter. And I won’t point it out, unless he wants to race, and then I’ll try to find an excuse so I don’t embarrass him.

If I do embarrass him, what would he do? Would Wind blush? Is his face hairy? Could you see it, if he blushes? Or maybe smooth, like Deklan’s?

Now, he’s fast. Deklan. And he can run forever. It’s amazing. He likes to catch me and carry me around, so I dilly dally, just dawdle, you know, so he can catch me.

But where do all these children come from? Sometimes there’s no one around, just me and the lady… and sometimes there are more feet chasing me, and more hollering and hitting and jumping than I can keep up with. Crazy. And then they’re gone, like they just come to terrorize anything they can find, amuse themselves, and then go collapse from all the effort.

Poor things. Must not have anything else to do.

Midnight Soccer

“Look, dad!” Bucky picked up a flat, round thing with curved edges. One of the people had left it in the grass.

“Don’t chew on it!” laughed Shadow. “You’ll ruin it. Watch.”

The big buck held it loosely in his teeth, and flipped it out across the yard. All the fawns laughed with delight and bounded after it. Ellie was still too small to have much coordination, but she was in there with the rest. Shadow laughed again. Suddenly Digger, the raccoon, one of Snoot’s kids, ran out and grabbed the disc and disappeared into the bushes. But Lum, his youngest sister, dived in and must have taken him by surprise, for she immediately burst out from the other side and tumbled across the grass with the disc in her paws, or teeth, or paws, or …. how was she holding that?

The fawns leapt after her, and the chase was on. When they got close, she turned under them, and got among their clumsy feet, until they got tangled and fell in a heap. Finally Holly and Misty reached in, grabbed the disk for the deer, and flipped it over to Skit. With a little practice, the does had it moving among them fairly reliably, with an occasional mid-air theft by Bucky or even Ellie.

Shadow began thinking. What about a tournament?

“Yes, you will. And don’t fluff your tail at me like that!”

Snoot, the raccoon, was not happy. This youngster was getting more and more independent. Did he not appreciate all they had done for him?

Wif read his mind perfectly. “Sweet, he’s grown. Let it go.”

Young Digger stood defiantly across the catfood dish from them, having just cleaned it out. He settled his tail down. Sort of. Best he could. Best he wanted to, anyway.

“Thanks, Ma. Listen. There’s a place under the barn, suits me fine. Can I settle in there? You mind, Pa?”

It was fine with Ma, and would be fine with Pa once Ma got through adjusting his attitude. She wanted no incidents here. You heard of such, occasionally, when fathers and sons lived in the same cave too long. It could get bad. And then you never could live it down. The cats would snicker, the possums leered at you and whispered, and even the bluejays would never let it go. Better to separate.

So Digger began spending his days under the barn, and Snoot and Wif had a little more room under the deck with the younger ones, Spoot and Lum. Probably they would have this same conversation with Spoot, when the weather turned cold. Lum would stay until some he-coon took a shine to her, and took her wherever.

Problem was, how to share out the catfood. When the cats had rudely emptied one of the bowls, and what was left was only in one bowl, that was too close for two males to be sharing grub. It would take a while to work out the routine.

Meanwhile, Digger better be nice. I’m still bigger.

But not for long, he suddenly realized, watching Digger amble across the yard.

Stink, living under the barn with his family of possums, decided to challenge the raccoons to a soccer game. Things were entirely too quiet.


She came from the deeper hole, cool and quiet in the afternoon heat.

“Are those kids sleeping again?” Snuffle looked in on Scratch, Bump, and Scrappy, all sound asleep.

“Yes, dear. What is it?”

“I’m up for a soccer game. I’m going over to get in their faces and issue a challenge. When the kids are up, feed them, and we’ll be ready to play when the people all go inside tonight.”

She sighed. When Stink got set on something, there was no turning the river. That long, pink, hairless tail would get stiff, and she knew brick walls would come down before he would change his mind. Mamma warned her.

Snoot, the raccoon, was not eager to see Stink. Ever since Stink moved his family of possums back under the barn, Snoot’s son Digger had moved off somewhere else, and seemed to have a permanent case of Bad Attitude. Even though Digger wasn’t living under the deck with them again, they crossed paths regularly about the yard, and he was just not a happy muncher. Had a thorn stuck under his attitude, somewhere, and it kept him cross.


Sigh. “What is it, Stink? Those cats finish the cat food again?”

“Nah. Too early in the day for that! You know, one day we should just all huddle around those bowls as soon as Gardener leaves, and just finish it all off. Just to put the itch under their collars, you know?”

Just what he needed. His son acting grumpy, and all the cats mad at him as well.

“OK, I give. What is it?”

“I hereby challenge you to a game of soccer. Mine against yours. You can choose the field, or the ball, and I get to choose the other.”

Snoot considered. It would be fun. Raccoons are generally quicker than possums, although you couldn’t always count on that. They seemed to have an afterburner in there somewhere, and when smell came to stink, so to speak, they could really move. But Snoot’s opinion was that they had no real control at that point, that it was an emergency gear that simply carried them away from wherever they were. Could be wrong.

And it might help the general situation with Digger. He loved to play the game. This could brighten his attitude. Couldn’t possibly make it worse, actually.


“Tonight. At moonrise. The people will be inside by then.”

“Do we have a ball?”

“I pushed one under the azaleas a week ago. I don’t think they’ve noticed, so it should still be there.”

“All right. From the fish pond to the swing. I’ll tell everyone.”

“Tell them whoever loses can’t eat cat food for a week!” laughed Stink, as he headed back to the barn.

Late that evening, the two families emerged. The Possums sauntered out from under the barn, and the Raccoons casually wandered out from under the deck. After a few minutes, Digger came in from the creek. They started with the cat food bowls on the deck, of course, as a pre-game warm-up and social activity. They had to convince a couple of stragglers to move on – who did those cats think they were, anyway? – in order to get to the left-overs.

When everyone was full, or when the bowls were empty, Stink made his way to the azaleas, and brought the ball to the back yard, bumping it along in front of him. If the people ever see us doing this, we will have blown our cover in a big way!

A cat on the porch saw this, and decided something was up. He went around mentioning it to the other cats, who all then drifted casually towards the back yard.

Whisk had gone up the tree by the fish pond, and noticed the gathering. He chattered to Jumpy, Flyer, Hop, and Slip, “Hey, we got something goin’ on here!”

Streak heard it. “Shorty, come on!”

Stink bumped the ball out in front of the pond. The possums gathered loosely about. “Scatter out, towards the swing. I’ll get it to you,” he said quietly. They spread out, more or less in that direction.

Snoot and Wif positioned themselves in front of the swing, out a ways from it, and sent the kids forward to try to intercept the ball and knock it into the pool.

Without waiting for a signal, and hoping the raccoons weren’t ready, Stink suddenly spun around and whacked the ball with his tail. It bounced off Scratch, who had not moved very far away yet, and careened high in the air. The possums waited. They aren’t very good at looking up, so they just assumed eventually gravity would do its part, and they would be back in the game.

The raccoons stood on their back legs, looked up, and watched the ball. They saw it land in the crotch of a large branch, and lodge firm. They also saw the squirrels perched further out on that branch, who began laughing at their misfortune.

“Whisk!” shouted Snoot. “Give us a paw!”

Whisk thought about it. When was the last time the raccoons had done him a favor? Hmm, give me a minute, I’ll remember any time now … umm … can’t quite think of it.

“What can I do for you, big guy?”

“Whisk. Do you mind?”

“And that would be in return for … for … I’m having trouble remembering. Could you give me a clue?”

Scrappy, the youngest possum, had a bad case of attention deficit disorder when it came to squirrels. He had had enough, immediately, and the conversation, if it followed the typical squirrel dialog protocol, would last a while. He headed for the tree.

“Really, Snoot, I’d like to help. I’m eager to help. What was it you needed?” He nervously eyed the trunk of the tree, where Scrappy was beginning to climb. “Um, what … what was it?”

Snoot decided he liked the situation as it was now developing, and that he would enjoy letting it play out. “Let me think on it for a minute, Whisk. I’m sure I can remember.”

Scrappy had reached the branch, and moved out onto it. The squirrels were looking for someplace they could jump to. He reached the ball, and nudged it with his head, pushing it free. It fell onto the field. He looked at the squirrels for a moment, as they quivered on the end of the branch. “That’s one.” He turned, and slipped back down the tree, to the great relief of the unhelpful furballs he left behind.

The ball had bounced once by the time Spoot had it in his paws.

“What are you doing?” shouted the possums. “You can’t hold the ball.”

The raccoon looked at the ball, and looked at his paws, and looked at them. “Apparently I can.”

Well, what could you say to that? The problem was, of course, that he could and they couldn’t. So much for the rules. What else might be negotiable?

Scratch decided to find out. He launched himself, in a rambling, casual sort of way, at Spoot, and knocked him rolling. The ball bounced towards Snuffle, who whacked it towards the swing. Snoot stretched out and grabbed it. “Oops! Sorry,” he said, and let it drop. He started pushing it across the yard, downhill towards the pond, with his head. Of course, one of the young possums immediately whacked it away with his tail and another one set up to knock it back to the swing.

“Time out!” called Wif.

“Been about ten minutes!” shouted Bump, as he took another swing at the ball.

Wif groaned. There were certain disadvantages to playing games with possums. Certain disadvantages to doing anything with them. Having a conversation, for example. One of her favorite sports was to ask a certain kind of question, when chatting idly with the possums. Like, “What do you think, can you cry under water?” Or, “If the people make corn oil from corn, and vegetable oil from vegetables, what do they make baby oil from?”

Back to the current problem – how to pause the game.

“That means stop playing!”

“Oh. Why?”

“Because we need to talk. Gather up, team!” she shouted to the family. When they huddled together, she said, “They can knock it around with their tails. We can’t do that. What can we do?”

“We can grab it and carry it,” suggested Bump. “I know you’re not supposed to.”

“Yeah, you can’t do that.” It was Snuffle. The possums had gathered right up with them, and were listening.

“Please,” Wif said to them. “This is a private conversation. It’s called a huddle. It’s when one team gets together to talk about how they can play better. The other team isn’t supposed to hear.”

“Why not?”

“So we can surprise you, that’s why.”

“Oh, thank you. How thoughtful. Come on, possums let’s go … what is it? … huddle.”

The possums gathered together.

“Excuse me, Snuffle?”

“Yes, Wif.”

“Could you move everyone a little distance away? You’re standing on my tail.”

When the groups had separated a bit, the raccoons continued trying to figure out some legal way they could compete with the whacking of the possum tails.

Meanwhile, the possums had decided to huddle as well.

“So, what do we do?”

“We talk.”

“About what?”

“About how to play.”

“We know how to play.”

“About how to play them.”

“We know how to play them. We just whack it, and it goes through the swing. When they catch it, we fuss, and they are overwhelmed with guilt and put it down. And when they push it, we knock it away, and whack it again.”

“Is that it? That’s all there is to it?”

“I think so. Anyone else have any other ideas?”


“OK, let’s go.”

“Bump is asleep.”

“Scrappy, wake Bump up.”

“Scrappy’s asleep.”



“Snuffle, I think it’s over. What’s that called?”


“That’s not a good thing, is it?”

“No. You tell them. I’m taking the kids to bed.”

Stink ambled over to the raccoons. He listened for a while, as they tried to figure out some way they could avoid losing. “I have an idea,” he said. They all jumped. No one had heard him come up.

“What’s that, Stink?”

No one really wanted to hear his ideas, but when Stink wanted to say something, the very shortest way through the conversation – by far, the shortest path – the path that would actually allow you to make it to dinner that evening – or at least, by the next evening – was to simply ask what he wanted to say. And listen. And not comment, and then excuse yourself. If you refused to listen, or argued, or … well, almost any other course of action … Stink would sulk for weeks. Maybe years. There was one instance when … well, the sulk over that one was currently at 3 years, 7 months, and 8 days.

“Yeah, tell us, Stink.”

“We could just forfeit.”

They were stunned. It was actually a good idea. It was relevant. It was concise. It would solve the problem. It was an offer.

“We accept.”

“We accept.”

“We accept.”

And so it happened. The raccoons won the first Last Annual Midnight Soccer game, and the possums went home to bed. The raccoons were more given to celebration than to sleep, and when Snoot woke up three days later with a headache that would split the atom, he could not remember what had happened.

Eventually – when his headache settled down enough that his family could speak to him – he made the whole thing an extended entry in his life’s work, “The Annotated and Illustrated History of Rivendell, As Observed by Snoot the Raccoon and His Wife Wif (that’s redundant, she told him, but he didn’t care) and Recorded for Poserity (that’s Posterity, she told him, but he didn’t care) and For the Future Generations” (that’s redundant, she told him, but he didn’t care).

The Frisbee tournaments sponsored by the deer eventually became the game of choice in the moonlit hours, and Wif never missed the soccer.

The Flavor Shop

Strider, Taran, Felix, and Fenix

Taran decided he would like some ice cream.

“What’s that?” inquired Fenix, stretched across the porch in the blistering heat, trying not to move.

Felix knew. “It’s cold, and sweet, and we never get any. They eat it with cake when the balloons show up, to keep them from being depressed about the balloons, I guess.”

Strider was desperately hot. “Where would we find any?”

“We could go buy some.” Pixie sounded like she knew what she was talking about.

“What’s that?” inquired Felix. “What is ‘buy’? How do you do it? Is that how you make ice cream?”

“Don’t know how you make it,” said Jasmine. “But I know how you get it, and I know where to go.”

Jasmine had been around longer than any of the rest of them, so she could say almost anything, and they wouldn’t know if she were pulling their collective rear legs, or what. OK, ice cream sounded good, maybe she knew something.

Gary pulled up in his old red Explorer, hopped out of the car, and went into the house.

“You guys up for this? OK, let’s go!” Jasmine bounded across the yard to the Explorer, jumped in the door that had been left open, and jumped up on the dashboard. The other cats followed her to the car, uncertain about what was unfolding, and a little nervous about approaching a car with the engine left running … they had heard rumor of what happened when cats and running cars got too friendly. Too well acquainted. Too … close.

But they all jumped in.

“Taran. Keep hold of the seat, and pull that door closed. Fenix, get down on the floor, ready to push on that flat thing close to the middle of the car. Felix, you get ready to push on the smaller thing closer to the door. Strider, see this stick? I need you to move it up and down when I say to. Pixie and Taran, you have to make this round thing turn, whichever way I say. Everyone ready? Taran — get the door closed!”

Gary found the book he had forgotten, and started back to the car. No, better get a drink for the ride. Let’s see, any Coke Zero in the fridge? Yeah, there’s one. OK, get a replacement in. OK, that’s cooling. Oh, forgot to take meds… better do that. Where’s my pill cup?

Taran got the door closed. On Jasmine’s direction, Strider hung on the stick and bounced it down … to D1.

“Felix, now!”

“Now what?”

“Now push on that thing I sent you to push on!”

“Oh, right.”

When the car stopped rolling forward, they started over.

Gary remembered his sunglasses had found their way into the bathroom, so he started towards the back of the house to search for them. ***

Jasmine got them coordinated enough to start the car rolling backwards. Across the street and into the woods.



“Push again!”

“Oh, why didn’t you say so?”

“When I say your name, do your job!”

“OK, OK, don’t get your tail in a tangle!”

Gary came back to the kitchen, and decided he wanted some ginger snaps for this trip. None in the cookie jar. Maybe in the pantry. ***

“OK, team, let’s go! Strider, rock that thing down until there’s a ‘D’ in the window there. Fenix, push a little bit on the ‘go’ thing. Yes, that one. Taran, Pixie … turn slowly left.”

The car began moving, but the steering wheel did not turn.

“She said ‘left’.”

“I am turning it left.”

“No you’re not! I’m trying to turn it left, but you’re turning it right!”

“You wouldn’t know left from left out!”

“Do you know right from a right punch? Which you’re going to get, right now?”

“Felix!” interrupted Jasmine.

“What? Why do you keep yelling at me? Oh, right, sorry, got it.”

Gary decided he would settle for some low-carb fake chocolate. Where’s Marilyn? Better tell her I’m going. In the bedroom? On the deck? Must be upstairs. ***

“Taran. When I say ‘left’, you pull the top towards you. Pixie, help him move it that way. Got it?”

They got it.

“Pixie. When I say ‘right’, you pull the top towards you. Taran, help her move it that way. Got it?

This was getting confusing. They got it, maybe. Sort of.

“And when I say ‘straight’, get it back where it was.”

This was really confusing. How would you know when it was back where it started?

“Once again. Fenix, start us up. Left. Left. Not so left — right! Good. Felix. Felix!! Thank you. Everyone still here? That was kind of a quick stop.”

Everyone seemed to still be in the car.

“Right turn. Fenix, easy. OK, back left, until I say … OK, go straight.”

Gary walked out to the car, and … and … where was the car? ***

“Officer, I guess it has just been stolen. I think I left it running on the driveway, while I went in for a second … well, a few seconds … and it’s gone. ‘92 Explorer, red, license plate …K…A…5 …”

The Explorer careened into Highway 249, and managed to turn south without running into anyone and only getting two wheels over the curb on the other side of the road. A dump truck, full of dirt and broken concrete, rumbled by, honking. The horn blast scared them so much Felix jammed them to a stop, in the middle of the road.

“No! You can’t do that!”

But he had, and she now had to coordinate the effort to get them moving again.

About the time they made it past Hicks Road, their failure to be nice about the red light caught the attention of one of Tomball’s finest. He turned on the red and blue lights and pulled in behind the Explorer. The occupants, however, had no idea what that meant, and kept going.

A few hundred yards later, traffic was stopped, so Jasmine got the car stopped. Before it could start up again, the officer had gotten the word that a car looking a lot like this had been stolen, a car with this license plate, in fact. He pulled up behind it, stopped the patrol car, got out, and walked up to the driver’s window.

No one seemed to be in the car. Several cats were curled up in the back seat, apparently napping. Where had the driver gone?

He walked all the way around the car, looked about, looked under it … and walked back to the patrol car, thoroughly puzzled. As he sat down and reached for the radio, the Explorer pulled away with the rest of the traffic.


The officer closed his door, buckled up, and continued to follow the Explorer with his lights on. One of the cats seemed to have climbed up on the dashboard, but he could still see no driver.

When the car stopped again with the rest of the traffic at Highway 2920, he unbuckled, got out, and … watched the car drive away, across the intersection. Ignoring his flashing signals.

At the entrance to the theater parking lot, the Explorer finally pulled in … but didn’t stop. It continued across the parking lot, until it finally lurched and bumped to a stop at the curb outside The Flavor Shop, an expresso coffee and ice cream shop.

Exasperated, he pulled in behind the Explorer, blocking its ability to leave, and angrily got out of his car. Coming to the driver’s door, he again could find no driver, though he desperately wanted to vent some frustration on such a person. There were the cats again, some in back and some in front, some sleeping and some stretching and looking at him.

As he stared, he began to think maybe he would not report this. Maybe he had not really found the stolen car. Maybe … maybe he needed to go watch for speeders somewhere … somewhere at the other end of town. Yes, that sounded like a very productive thing to do … very productive … at the other end of town. Slowly, looking around for anyone who might be watching, he casually got back in the patrol car, turned off the flashers, pretended to write on a flip pad for a few minutes, and then drove slowly away, as though his business here were finished.

Which it was, if he had any choice in the matter.

Jasmine had found a few dollar bills that had been left in the drink holder. She was not too sure how this worked, but she knew they would need that stuff inside the store.

“OK, everybody out. Strider, make sure you leave the stick showing a ‘P’ – I think it means Put it here for the night, or something.”

Strider wrestled the stick into place, then everyone jumped out through the window. Jasmine led the way to the door.

Hmm. The door. No one was around to open it. They all clustered at the door, some stretching up onto the glass.

John was wiping up the counter, after making the coffees advertised on the markerboard behind the cashier. He glanced up, seeing motion, and realized there was a crowd of cats at the front door. Cats who all seemed to be looking in. And waiting.

“Sally?” She came from the office with a stack of receipts in her hand, glad for any reason to leave Peachtree for a minute. Following his gaze, she looked at the door.

“I don’t believe it. You serve them.” She went back to the computer.

“Excuse me?”

Well, it looked like it was his to figure out. He rounded the corner on the cashier desk, and worked his way through the tables to the front door. The cats had not moved, except to get more focused in their inspection of the interior of the shop.

John opened the door.

“Yes, may I help you?”

Jasmine, Taran, Felix, Fenix, Strider, and Pixie walked in. They each hopped into a plastic chair around the small tables, and sat waiting. Waiting?

“Meow.” Jasmine spoke, and John, turning to see, realized she had some bills in her mouth. She spit them out on the table in front of her.

John sat down. Only two cats were at the second table, so he took a chair with them. Just looking at them. And looking out at Gary’s car, which he recognized instantly. Suddenly he got up, went to the door, went out, and looked for Gary. This was a prank, and a good one, but he had finally figured it out.

Gary wasn’t there. No one was there. The car was running, the window was open, and … no one was there.

The cats still sat, waiting.

For what? He went back inside.

The voice came from the back room. “John, I’d suggest French Vanilla and Mint Chocolate. If they get anything at home, I’ll bet that’s what they get.”


“Did you take their money?”

He looked down. There in his hand was the cash that the black cat had put on the table.

“Umm… yes?”

“Then get them some ice cream! You think they’re here for coffee?”

Well, obviously not.

Well, maybe obviously not. At this point he wasn’t so sure what was obvious and what was … not.

The cats still sat there. Waiting? Apparently.

John went around the end of the counter, found some styrofoam bowls, and dished up six scoops of ice cream. Half of them were Vanilla, half were mint chocolate. Coming out, he hesitated. Which ones would want which flavors?

What am I thinking? They’re CATS.

He set a bowl in the chair next to each cat. They all looked at it. The black one jumped down, and jumped into the chair where the gold and white one was. That cat got down and took the chair where the brown and grey cat was. That cat took the bowl where the black cat had been. And they all began eating.

“Looks like I got three out of six right!” he shouted to Sally, thinking she would surely come to see the show.

“Nice try. I got two out of three, the first time.”

“You WHAT? You got what? Did you say the FIRST time??”

Pixie sat back.

“Pretty good stuff. Think this man made it?”

“No, I think they bring it from somewhere else,” said Jasmine, cleaning up her bowl. “I’ve seen the big barrels come in on a truck.”

Jasmine was watching John. “He looks confused. The lady never acted that way. And she knew I wanted Vanilla; this man isn’t that good.”

Pixie disagreed. “She messed mine up, and he got it exactly right. Don’t you get on his case!”

“OK. Let’s go. I don’t know how long that car will keep running.”

They all hopped down and went to the door. The door chime began ringing, and stopped when they all got there. The man was staring, in unbelief. “Keep the change, just let us out!” called Jasmine. No motion.

“Everyone start walking in circles,” suggested Strider. He had noticed something.

Sure enough, the doorchime began ringing, and as long as they kept walking, it kept ringing. That brought the man out of his chair, as Strider thought it might. He held the door open and all the cats jumped out, climbing into the car.

“Go for ‘R’, Strider. Felix, hold your board for a minute… OK, no one’s coming. Let up on it, and Taran, pull the wheel.”

John stood in the doorway, watching the Explorer ease out into the parking lot, turn, and head off towards the signal light. And long after it was gone, he stood in the doorway, until Sally came to pull him away so the bell would stop ringing.



“Did you see …”

Gary was lying down for a nap, waiting for the police to call with word of his car. Jasmine jumped up on the bed and nuzzled up next to him.

“Where have you been? And what’s that on your … is that ice cream?”

“Gary,” called Marilyn, “didn’t you say the car was gone?”

The End

Strider, Pixie, Felix, Fenix, Jasmine, and Taran travel the world in The Oak and the Cliff books.