Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Name That Cat by Rick Hartwell

Name That Cat
by Rick Hartwell

I’m thinking about nicknames, the universality of them, the reasons for them, the ridiculousness of some of them. Almost all of us have had a nickname, or several, bestowed upon us because of a euphemism with our given name, or a physical attribute, or a mannerism, or even as a designation of complete oppositeness to a fact or reality. Some of us not only name our pets, but we then go on to create a nickname for them as well. Such was the case with a cat my wife and I acquired when we were first living together.

My son John was visiting us at our apartment in Tennessee when I was stationed at Fort Campbell. My girlfriend, who was destined to be my wife within the year, was very taken by one of the kittens in a litter from our upstairs neighbor’s cat. She, as well as my son, was so taken by one runty kitten in particular that I gave in to her request in spite of my initial misgivings.

That done, and my girlfriend and son dutifully thankful and appreciative, it came to the thorny issue of naming this new family member. Ever the pompous classicist, I opted for Pericles, knowing full well that Perry would likely be the agreed-upon nickname. Sally, the girlfriend-later-turned-wife, wanted something softer, gentler, kinder. John, about five at the time, wanted something unique and snappy and topical. What was the result of all this? Why, the cat was named Pericles Batcat Hartwell, a combination from the great minds of father and son. Now, you would of course ask, what did we call the cat? Sally said she needed a cute name and immediately called the kitten Pumpkin. The kitten meowed, apparently agreeing that cute was best, and that was that! So much for male-dominated naming conventions!

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Shade of Grey by Lorie Calkins

A Shade of Grey

by Lorie Calkins

Owen squatted in the dusty street, the heat of the morning sun stinging the back of his neck as he watched the bug scuttle along in a brave attempt to cross the enormous, for a bug, distance between the raised wood-slatted walkway in front of Wylie's General Store and the dirt-level door of the Saloon. He glanced up at the pounding hoofbeats and rattle of creaking wood, and understood at once that the heavy freight wagon, hauled by two huge mud-grey Percherons had no driver to stop the team or veer around him, as folks usually did. Too late.


"Ettie, don't take on so."

"It's my fault," the young woman sobbed, her brazenly gaudy dress clashing wildly with her grief. "I shoulda been watching him!"

"You had to sleep some time. An' he was surely old enough to know better than to sit in the street, for Heaven's sake. Don't blame yourself."

Ettie lifted her face. Damp curls of fine hair framed a face that would have been pretty, had it not been grief-swollen. A few soft chestnut strands remained tear-glued to the old metal strong box, clutched between her arms where she half-lay on the bed, obscuring the promising paintings of horses, eagles, cottonwood trees, snakes, and owls, that decorated its dull grey exterior. "You don't understand, Clara Mae," she said, the pain in her voice so powerful Clara could feel it rasping through her, like barbed wire being pulled through her grasp. "He was all I had."

"You got us, honey." She said the words gently, genuinely, but Ettie dropped her head again to the box, weeping, her anguish still fresh.

"I'm sorry, Mama," the freckled boy said, patting her shoulder softly. "I didn't mean to, Mama. I'll be good from now on, Mama." He stopped, then, realizing that she couldn't hear him, as well as the fact that he wouldn't have another chance to be good.

He knew he must be a ghost, since no one could see or hear him, and he could pass through walls, horses, even people. It was plain to him that if he was now a ghost, he must have died. But what was most obvious to him was that he had caused his Mama pain. Again. He ran from the room, so distracted that he forgot his new abilities and fled through the open bedroom door, down the long hallway, past the other ladies' rooms, some with their doors closed as they "entertained customers." He dashed down the steep stairway to the main parlor, filled with men eager to console the `ladies' for their loss. He darted quickly to the kitchen, knowing he was not allowed in the parlor when customers were there, and escaped out the back door. Reaching his favorite place, the base of an immense cottonwood, he curled between two massive roots exposed by wind and flash flood, that stretched toward a trickle of stream.

"I didn't mean to be bad," he moaned, capable of the motions of crying, but not the salve of tears. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry! Why am I always bad?! Mama told me to stay out of the street, and now I've gone and got killed, and she thinks it's her fault." Owen cried, berated himself, and felt generally miserable until, worn out, he lay quietly in his hollow, listening to the susurration of leaves above. In that quiet moment, he felt a tug. It had been there for some time, he realized, but his misery had kept its awareness from him. Something called him, pulled him, toward ... what? He didn't know.

Owen got up, floated up, really. He hadn't got the hang of ghostly movement yet. In search of the reason for the tug, he wandered into town again. Behind the big house where his mother lived with all the other women, his little cat, Grey Baby, scampered up to him, her body arched and turned sideways. Her fluffed tail straight up, she playfully batted him with her paw. It went right through.

Baby sat down immediately and washed her paw, then a spot on her left shoulder, before looking at Owen again. She took another swipe at him, less sure than before, with the same result. Owen crouched down to pet her. He felt sorry for her confusion. But his hand couldn't touch her soft, silvery fur. He tried to hug her, for whatever solace he could derive, but found he could not.

Peeking out from inside the foggy form of her favorite human confused Baby to the point of voicing her displeasure, a high-pitched cry, so human-sounding that it had earned her part of her name. Owen wanted to cry again, because he was hurting yet another loved one, but he had no energy left for it. Instead, he walked on, Baby at his heels, as she so often had been before.

A woman with a painted face stared from an open ground floor window as they passed the side of the sun-greyed clapboard building. "Mara, look! It's the cat! Be darned if that cat ain't trotting along, just as if she's following the boy like always!" Owen glanced up to his and Mama's window, in time to see his mother turn away from the window, crying.

He crossed the dusty street, still heedless of the cantering horses, hurrying stagecoach, and jockeying wagons. The strange tugging feeling led him to the open door of the Saloon, a door he had never passed through. He hesitated. But why not? Nobody could see him now. He went in, leaving the little cat to bask in the patch of dusty sunshine outside the swinging doors.

Wondering at the noise and the activity around the bar, and what sort of things might happen in here that he had been forbidden to see, Owen threaded between the chairs, around the cow-smelling ranch hands, toward the tinny old piano, played off-key. He stopped there, and stared at the woman playing it. Her gaudy, feathered, red dress looked to him more like a fancy lamp shade than a dress, and certainly its ability to preserve her modesty shared more with unmentionables than outer clothing. He stared at her bare arms moving up and down the length of the piano.

"You! Hey, you there!" Owen started at the first shout. Then he ignored it. They couldn't mean him. Nobody could see him. He was a ghost. His eyes never left the piano player.

"Hey, Boy! What're you doin in here!" The voice sounded from directly behind him, as his arm was roughly seized. "I'm talkin to you, Boy."

"What!" Owen screamed, more out of shock that he had been seen than fear of punishment. "Let me go!"

"You don't belong in here, kid." Owen whirled to look at the man, who was dragging him out of the Saloon, and saw the foggy outline of a gaunt, weather-aged cowboy, with a two-day growth of beard over a deeply creased face, topped by a grey Stetson hat.

"How ... How can you see me?" he finally got out. "How can you touch me?"

"Ain't it obvious, Boy? I'm a ghost, too." The man released his arm. They had passed out of the Saloon. "Now don't you be goin back in that Saloon no more, Boy. That's no place for a youngster." With those words and a stern look, he turned to go on his way.

Because Owen felt so bewildered by his encounter with another ghost, (on top of the shock of the strange world inside the Saloon), it took him a few minutes to rediscover the tugging feeling, and then to recognize that part of it was pulling him toward the other ghost.

"Wait," he cried out in his childish voice. "Don't leave me!" He ran after the ghost of the cowboy in the grey hat, his little, silvery cat loping along behind him, as always. But the horse and wagon traffic didn't stop for ghosts the riders couldn't see, nor for small, grey cats that trustingly followed their masters.

A squeal and a gut-churning crunch made Owen aware for the first time that the cat had been following him. He screamed and flew to the cat's side in the blowing dust of the road. The driver stopped his hay wagon and climbed down to see if he could help the poor creature. It was too late even to put her out of her misery. Grey Baby was dead, consigned to the same terrible fate as her young master.

"No! Oh, no, Grey Baby. Not you, too. Oh, Baby. I'm sorry." Owen cried and railed, trying to hug the crushed furry body. He couldn't. His touch went right through. The driver paid the dead cat the courtesy of dragging it to the side of the road before he remounted the wagon and drove on.

"Baby, I didn't know you were following me. I didn't think. I should have watched out for you, and now you're dead. I'm real sorry, Baby. And I just told Mama I'd be good from now on." Instinctively, he tried again to gather the cat into his arms. This time, he came away with an armful of purring grey ghost. Baby rubbed her chin on him and bumped him ecstatically with her head. With a single high-pitched, "Meaow!" the ghost-cat squirmed out of Owen's arms and rubbed herself back and forth across his shins, overjoyed to be back with her beloved master.

But Owen only gathered her up again and trudged miserably after the cowboy's ghost. The older spirit had more experience with the form, so the boy and cat didn't catch up to him until they reached the top of Boot Hill, where they found the cowboy's ghost stretched out on an old, grassy grave. Daunted by the sight of so many graves, Owen hesitated. But the tugging felt strong here. He needed to know what it was.

"Excuse me, Mister."

"What do you want now, Boy? Can't you see I've got things to do?"

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bother you, Mister."

"The name's Quincy. What is it you want, kid?"

"Quick-Finger Quincy? The famous gunfighter?" Quincy scowled, but the grey hat tilted slightly in reply. "I have this feeling that there's something I forgot to do, or someplace I'm supposed to go. It's like something's tugging at me, or calling me. Can you tell me what it means?"

"Sure can. You got to pass over."

This made no sense to Owen. "Over what?"

The ghostly cowboy thought a bit. "Not over nothing, really. Just the way we say it. You got to cross over to the other side. You're a spirit now. You don't belong on this side, with the living folks." Quincy could tell from the child's face that he didn't understand. "You got to go on up to Heaven, Boy."

"My name's Owen, Mister. How come you're here? Did you come to fetch me?"

"Nope. Been here for near twenty years now. You'd better run along. Git yourself to Heaven, where you belong. Myself, I didn't cross over, as I didn't figure I was likely to go to Heaven, and I didn't want to go to the other place."

Owen sat down, the little cat curled on his lap. "I guess I better stay here, too," he said quietly.

"Boy, if you know what's good for you, you'll take off now for the other side. Once they bury your body in the grave, it's too late. You're stuck here forever." Quincy looked around him at the gravestones, the dead, brown grass, and the slaty, peeling, buildings of the town below. "You don't want to stay here, kid."

"Well, I'd like to go. But I just can't. I don't want to burn. Preacher said bad people burn in Hell for Ternity," the boy answered solemnly. "I been real bad."

The old ghost threw his head back and guffawed with laughter until he would have choked with tears, had he been able to spill any. "BOY!" he roared, then more kindly, "Child. You ain't done nothin bad enough to get sent to Hell for. What're you worried about? Sassing the schoolmarm? Snitching cookies?"

"No, sir," he said. "I'm bad. I hurt my Mama."

"Oh, come now, young man. Can't be all that bad. What'd you do, tell her you didn't like her new dress?”

Owen's small freckled face looked sadly down. "I ruined her life. It's my fault she has to live in that house with all the other women and people call her bad names."

"How do you figure that, Boy?"

"Owen," he said firmly. Then, remembering, he went on softly. "I once heard Mama yelling at a man. He told her I was nothin but a sissy, that no self-respecting boy would be sitting in the parlor playing with paints and colors, drawing pretty pitchers. He said I should be out riding a horse and learning how to be a cowboy. Then Mama asked him, "Are you offering to marry me and help me raise this child, then?'

"And he said, `You must be kidding. Marry a whore? My mother would turn over in her grave!'

"Mama got really angry then. She talked in a voice that scared me. `You know full well your bastard child is the reason I have to live like a whore to survive.' That was me, Mister."

The long-dead spirit was silent for a moment, unsure what to say. "My name's Quincy, Boy."

"And my name's Owen."



"She say any more?"

"He did. He said, `I don't know no such thing. You could've been with a hundred men.' And she said, `Then you got no reason to be telling me how you think the boy should be raised. Get out.' After he left Mama cried and cried. That's how I know I'm bad. It's bad for a boy to draw pretty things, and I didn't stop. I like to draw. I didn't want to stop, even after I knew it was bad. Besides, I'm a bastard child."

"Do you know what that means, Owen?"

"No. But it's bad, ain't it?"

"Yeah, I guess. But not the way you think. It ain't none of it your fault."

They were both quiet for a long time, thinking over the good and bad deeds of their lives.

"Quincy, are you a good man or a bad man?"

"Why do you ask me that?"

"I can't tell by your hat. Good guys wear white hats, and bad guys wear black hats, right? But yours is grey. I can't tell!"

"Boy, ... Owen. White hats get dirty; black hats fade. Nobody's all good or all bad, no matter what color hat they got."

"What're all those people coming up here for, Quincy?"

"Looks like a burial, Owen, probably yours. You'd better cross over, while you still can. You can't get through after the body's buried. I know! I wish I had gone."

"But you said you'd have gone down to Hell!"

"Most likely. Still, it couldn't be any worse than sitting here, day after day for twenty years, watching the living go about their lives, and not being able to talk to anyone, touch anyone, even be seen by anyone. If that ain't a kind of Hell, I don't know what is."

"That's my Mama!" Owen said suddenly, as the parade of black and grey clad mourners climbed the hill. "She looks real sad. I'm sorry, Mama. I'm sorry I was bad." Owen looked down at the cat perched on his bony knees. "Quincy, I killed my cat, too."

"This cat here?" Quincy asked. The boy nodded. "Well, she don't seem too angry with you now." The little cat, noticing that she was under discussion, began to purr and nudge Owen's knee.

"I guess not." He looked over at the funeral procession, his Mama, the other ladies, the men carrying the pine box that seemed, even to him, very small and light. "Mama shouldn't wear black. It doesn't look right on her. She should wear grey for mourning." He took the cat into his arms again and stood up, walking over to peer into the narrow, but deep, hole.

"Owen, go now. Please. Cross over while you can." Quincy had been pacing back and forth, and now he threw his ghostly arms into the air. "They're lowering the coffin into the grave, Boy! You got to go!" He strode over to take the boy's shoulders and shake him. "Listen to me, Owen!" He turned the boy to face him, and saw that he was crying.

"I'm afraid, Quincy."

"Owen, I'm sure you'll go to Heaven. You're a good boy. You ain't even got a hat, and I can tell. You got your cat. She can go with you."

"She's scared, too. You come with me, Quincy. If you come and hold my hand, I won't be so afraid."

"I can't come, Owen. I told you. I waited too long. And besides, I'm a bad man. I wouldn't be able to go where you're going."

"You're wrong, Quincy. Maybe you were bad before, but you're good now. I can tell without the hat." He paused, then stuck out his chin in childish stubbornness. "And I won't go without you."

The prayers finished, women put their arms around Ettie and led her away, as the men picked up shovels. Quincy couldn't stand it. He just couldn't let this innocent child make the same tragic mistake he had.

"Owen, I'll never be able to get through, but I'll take you as far as I can. Take my hand, Boy! Come on, run!" He took the boy's small freckled, ghostly-grey hand in his big, calloused one, and turned away, toward the tugging feeling that had never ceased in him, despite twenty years of knowing the doorway was closed to him forever. He began to run.

For a brief moment, Owen continued to watch the departing mourners. "Goodbye, Mama. I love you, Mama!" he cried at last.

As he turned, pulled by Quincy toward the light, the pretty woman in the black dress turned back, almost as if she had heard. "Goodbye, Owen," she said through her tears. "You were always such a good boy. You were my treasure."

As the first scoops of dirt thudded onto pine, Owen, his little grey cat in his arms, disappeared into the light, pulled in by an old grey ghost in a white hat.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Bastet by Beaulah Pragg


by Beaulah Pragg

How many years have I walked this earth? How many things have I seen? Yet here, in the final days, I find it strange that it is she who dances in wild abandon. Humanity’s last star; she is born in darkness, rocked to sleep by the crash of bombs, while above they choke on red dust. Warm her with your fur, my children. Bring her scraps of food when you can find them. Give her comfort, teach her to dance. They have been waiting for her.

Grow tall, little girl. Escape the pitch black sewers to see the end of the world through your own two eyes; here are towering pillars of twisted steel and melted glass. Fill yourself up on the emptiness, the silence. The birds do not sing in this metal graveyard. Dance out your anguish in the Theater Royale. Sweep clean its cracked marble floors; cling to the dusty red velvet – what better home for the world’s last dancer?

See how they come. They love her, these ghosts of the past. They yearn to touch her, to remember what it was to live. She looks at them, eyes dulled, hating them for their betrayal. Her pink skirt is hitched up above her thighs, sleeves slip, revealing smooth young shoulders. See, how she taunts them with things they cannot have. They crowd around, lusting after life, but their fingers pass right through, raising only a shiver.

Taking a sip from her chipped teacup, she asks them how the world came to this? What justified such a slaughter? Dancers – they cry – blinded them with glitter and flashing lights. Evil slipped by unnoticed. Innocence, they plead, blaming her for their fall. Last child of the human race, the weight is heavy on her shoulders.

She stands, lifts her frail body onto the tips of her toes and spreads her arms wide. Twisting and leaping, she does not falter. If redemption could be danced, she would dance it for them. Salty tears pour down her cheeks as she gives herself over, accepts the responsibility. Her shadow grows longer, filling up with their pain.

Outside, the sun is setting. Yellows merge into orange becoming red, then later blue. In the theater, she dances still. Perfect pink ballet shoes, laced up just so, are darkening with blood. Possessed, she cannot stop. Dance through the night and maybe, when the sun rises, the world will be silent.

She collapses at last and my children cuddle around, purring, licking, nuzzling. They love her, silly fools. They want me to bring her back and perhaps I will…

I wander the streets of this once mighty city. My paws leave delicate prints in the ash and trees grow in my wake. Concrete dissolves, replaced by grass. Water springs up, clean and clear. I will make a garden for my own children; I will teach them to care for the earth and the air. They will purr and pounce and play for the earth belongs to us now. Osiris can keep the souls of his humans, all except for one.

Eve has earned her place in paradise.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Gombhi by Louis Bertrand Shalako

by Louis Bertrand Shalako

Gombhi sat at his grandfather’s side. The two of them were on the edge of a great cliff, looking off across the valley. Down below could be seen the glistening sphere where the newcomers lived, as well as the cuts in the land they had made with their beasts-without-legs. The two had walked up here in friendly, contemplative silence; although Gombhi was troubled by the grey hairs on the older cat’s muzzle. He also noticed, not for the first time, that his grandfather’s tail dragged in the dust most of the time.

He could remember a time when that simply wouldn’t be.

“Never accept the judgment of the mob, Gombhi,” Laughing in the Wind told him,
his paw on the young cat’s shoulder. “Truth is often lost by the will of the many. Do what you know to be right, even if you find yourself alone.”

“I…I fear, grandfather,” confessed Gombhi, trembling at these words, which he had never spoken aloud to anyone.

His grandfather nodded sagely, turning to look upon the youth’s troubled face.

Gombhi had never heard these words, or this tone before.

“I have never met a brave cat,” he said gently. “And for that I am truly grateful. You will never lead the Ni-Annanni into a war of our own choosing. You will never risk all for a goal that is unworthy.”

How to put it in words? Perhaps if he went about it another way.

“I heard that you thanked your mother, and your grandmother, for your upbringing.”

That showed a maturity beyond his years.

“Have you given any thought as to who you are, and who you might become?” he


Gombhi just shook his head in the negative.

“Before you command, you must learn how to obey.”

His grandfather paused in silent thought.

Gombhi heard the words, the voice no longer the strong voice of a young cat, but the shaky and soft wise words of the very old. The two stood silently with just the wind for company, and the land for their friend.

“I want you to take the two newcomers to the place where stones stand upon one
another,” his grandfather instructed him. “Show them where words are scratched on the
stones, so that they might see how even the mighty may be laid low, by history, by time, by fate. Show them how their own greed and ignorance may be their undoing.”

“Who made that place?” Gombhi asked his grandfather. “Is that not an evil place?”

“No one living today knows, but it is to be hoped they never return,” stated Laughing in the Wind. “As for evil; your heart is pure and that will suffice to protect you.”

“See,” said Gombhi excitedly. “The world is a ball — you can see it from any big hill.”

“But not everyone can see it, Gombhi. You look at the world differently, and it is your greatest strength.”

He felt his grandfather’s big paw, still strong, squeeze his shoulder.

“I will tell you who you are, Gombhi.” the old one said. “You will make a good
father. You will be honored to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves, the
children, the elderly, the women, the sick, the weak, and the cripples; and those people as yet unborn. Did I ever tell you about your father? In thirty-five winters, I never saw your father raise his voice in anger, I never saw him strike another cat, I never saw him lose control over his temper.”

Gombhi contemplated this awful truth. How could anyone ever live up to such an
example? And yet his father had been killed in battle, defending a fording-place while his warrior-brethren retreated in the face of superior numbers.

“Do not hate the Ti-Arranna, Gombhi,” his grandfather advised, “Seek to understand your enemies, and to avoid conflict with them. That battle was about nothing; a misunderstanding.”

The pair of them thought about that for a while.

“The most important thing a cat can have is his name. A cat must have a good
name,” his grandfather told him seriously. “Think on how you wish to be known.”

Gombhi had no words to answer this truth.

“After you show the new people the words-on-stone, take them back to their home.”

“Yes, grandfather,” muttered Gombhi.

“I cannot tell you, for words do not exist, just how proud I am of you, my grandson,” said Laughing in the Wind.

His tired old eyes drank in the scene of the valley, the desert.

“Why do you tell me all this?” Gombhi asked, his fears rising to the forefront.

“Because I am old, Gombhi. Because I am old,” and the old cat would go no further.

After some silence, his grandfather made a request, startling in its stark simplicity.

“Sing me a song, please, Gombhi?” the old chief asked. “Any song. Sing the first one that comes into your mind.”

Gombhi cleared his throat, and took a deep breath. He had one already.

“What is it that we mean,”

“When we say we know?”

“What is it that we mean,”

“When we say we mean?”

“Who is we?”

“And what is what?”

“What’s done is done,”

“What is, is”

“What will be, will be.”

“What little we know,”

“When we say we know.”

“The time has come:”

“It’s time to go.”

Gombhi’s words spun around on the air, falling off the cliff into the valley below.

The old chief grinned, nodding in approval; watching clouds gather across the valley.

“And to think I was worried about you,” he laughed.

The youngster was right; another few days and it would be time to pick up the village and follow the suns as they fell ever-lower in the sky.

Louis Bertrand Shalako lives in Canada. He studied Radio, Television, and Journalism Arts at Lambton College of Applied Arts and Technology in Sarnia, Ontario. Louis enjoys cycling and swimming, and is a lover of good books. He lives with his elderly father, in a small war-time bungalow filled with books, cats, and model airplanes. Louis feels extremely fortunate to have retired early, and to have the opportunity to write full-time. He still has his self-respect, and that's the main thing.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Seeing in the Dark by Bruce Boston

Seeing in the Dark
by Bruce Boston

The cats come out at night
to prowl the neighborhood.
On rooftops and in yards
some gather to fight.

Others join in exploits
of feline exploration
beneath the passing moon.

The cat lady from the dirty
white frame at the corner
stands alone in her robe
at the end of the block.

She summons her brood
of strays and discards,
long-haired and short.

She croons to them
in a language all her own,
She offers loud kisses
to the night.

She calls again and again,
yet her wayward charges
have other needs.

With a complement of senses
and a questing sentience,
a range of emotions
and eccentric variations,
each in its own way
consumes the curious night.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Cats Closed by Mary Lou Pearce

Cats Closed
by Mary Lou Pearce

The sleek cat stepped daintily over the body lying in its path. Even more daintily, it sat down and began to lick the blood from its paws as it stared through slitted eyes into near space. Abruptly, the regal Siamese sat tall and began to yowl, heart-breakingly human in its anger and pain.

Repeated calls to the ASPCA and the increasingly strong smell coming from the condo eventually brought authority, of all shapes, sizes and kinds. The deceased proved to be deli heiress, Magda Steinberg, known for both her philanthropy and her champion Siamese, Ming China Doll. There was nothing obvious missing from the scene, in spite of the over-abundance of fence-able items scattered throughout the luxury apartment and the blatant signs of ransacking that were everywhere.

All efforts to capture the frightened Ming China Doll proved hopeless. She knew every nook and cranny and used them all like a seasoned escape artist. Lt. Erickson knew, from the time he was assigned to this case, that his only witness, a sensitive, excitable feline could only be soothed and eventually, questioned by one exceptional man.

He punched a certain unlisted number he knew by heart into his cell phone and waited impatiently. On the eighth ring, the distinctive voice he had been waiting to hear finally came on the line. Wasting no time, the policeman cut off the usual pleasantries before they started.

“Milo, it’s Lee. I just got a case that’s right up your alley,” he growled into the phone. The reply he got made him hold the phone several inches from his ear.

“No, that was not a sick joke on your middle name! Jeeze, I’m the last guy to make jokes about something like that! Look,” the red bearded policeman continued roughly, “this one’s really a stumper and there’s a cat right in the middle of it.”

The bulky cop leaned on the door molding and pushed back his visored cap as he continued. “Yes, I said…cat! Come down right now so I can fill you in, okay?”

The middle-aged lieutenant with the typically Irish face and the unlikely name of Lee F. Erickson barely finished giving the address before he heard the connection get cut off abruptly. He sighed gustily and pushed off wearily from the door frame. It was going to be a long day!

Thinking longingly of a tall cold one, the enjoyment of which he’d given up six months ago on doctor’s orders, Erickson jumped guiltily a few minutes later as the familiar basso profundo voice hailed him heartily.

“Lee F., you old Viking by-blow you! What’s all the caterwauling?” The tall, thin man dressed all in black who addressed him blinked owlishly through thick glasses and grinned broadly.

The big policeman groaned and wished he had that beer after all. This amazing man, who looked nothing like his voice, was prone to using many allusions to cats in his everyday conversation. As if his name, Milo Allee Katz wasn’t enough, this was a man with a most amazing, almost unbelievable talent.

Milo Katz understood cats. He bent all of his genius IQ and considerable common sense to doing just that, on a regular basis. He was known internationally as the ultimate expert on communications with and about cats, wild or domestic.

Many hailed him as the only truly qualified cat psychiatrist in the known world. Lee F. could and did believe anything he heard from and about this man. He’d seen him at work more than once.

It was as if Milo could read a cat’s mind or maybe the cat read his, the big policeman never knew exactly which. How he did what he did really didn’t matter much. What did was that Milo got excellent results and fast.

“Where’s the little beauty?” Milo asked Lee.

Seeing Lee’s hopeless shrug, Milo grinned anew. Reaching into the pocket of his height of fashion suit jacket, the thin man pulled out a handful of something. Placing his hand flat, he began making incredibly real-sounding vocalizations like a Siamese.

In less time than it took for Lee to wonder what he had in his hand, Milo was stroking a trembling Ming China Doll. When she was finished eating her snack, the man scooped her up and slipped an elastic collar with a leash attached over her head simultaneously. “But we tried every kind of food we could find in the house to get her to come out, what finally got her?” Lee couldn’t resist asking.

Milo shook his head as if he would never understand how someone couldn’t know such a simple thing. “The trick with these pampered cats is to offer them something they’ve never even smelled before. In this case, imitation bacon bits.” Lee started to roar with laughter.

“I’ll have you know it works every time,” Milo protested somewhat huffily. “If you don’t need me or Ming China Doll any longer, I think I’ll take the poor, traumatized thing home with me.” Lee nodded, still chuckling.

After both cat and man had left, the policeman took a last look around. After seeing the coroner off with the body and making sure all the experts from Forensics had gotten what they needed and left, he ordered his men to secure the crime scene with police seals and yellow crime scene tape across the windows and doors. Soon all was quiet.

Yawning nonstop, Lee slapped his pal Harvey Tynes on his blue clad shoulder.

“Do me a big favor, pal ‘o mine; take first watch, okay?”

Harvey nodded and said with a grin, “You owe me one, Lee-F, today’s my afternoon off!”

Before they sealed the main door, Lee ran back in and brought out a large, leather Windsor chair. Setting it down beside the door, he brushed off the leather and plumped up the pillow. “There you go, Harve; a throne fit for a prince among friends,” he said with a flourish.

With Harvey’s roar of laughter and comments about blarney ringing in his ears, Lee headed home. It seemed like his head had barely hit the pillow, when his bedside phone shrilled. He swore colourfully when he could finally understand what the voice on the other end was trying to tell him.

On his way back to the Steinberg condo, Lee tried to collect his thoughts. When the next guy on the watch rotation had come to relieve Harvey, he had found the police seals broken and Harvey dead in the big chair, seemingly killed by a single blow to the side of his head. Apparently, the condo had then been, methodically this time, ransacked a second time.

Grabbing his cell phone, Lee ordered a guard sent to Milo’s brownstone. The only reason anyone would return so soon to the scene of the crime was because they didn’t get what they had killed for in the first place. That could only mean they wanted Ming China Doll, maybe for cat-napping and ransom purposes and were surprised by Magda Steinberg, whom they were forced to kill before she could identify them.

The young rookie pulled up to the brownstone and parked her cruiser. She stepped out and stood looking at the old house. Two gateposts topped with black marble cats guarded the walk up to the door.

The walk itself was made up of stepping stones shaped like cat paw prints. As she walked quickly up to the massive door with its stained glass window in the shape of cats' eyes and a huge lion’s head knocker, she decided this was a person after her own heart. She smiled to herself.

When she reached the door and used the knocker, a loud purring sound came from it instead of a thump. Smiling wider, the policewoman couldn’t wait to meet the famous Milo Allee Katz.

When she opened the door and stepped in at the request of a deep bass voice, she wasn’t surprised to see a tall thin black-clad man entirely surrounded by cats sitting in a Lazy Boy recliner and sipping what smelled like catnip tea.

“Yes, officer…what can I do for you?” the man asked.

“If you’re Milo Allee Katz, then you can let me come in and guard you and Ming China Doll” the officer said, holding out her hand.

Clearing his lap, Milo stood up and stepped forward to take her hand and shake it.

“Now why, Officer Calico would any of us need guarding?” Milo asked, raising one dark eyebrow.

As she explained, Milo’s face grew more and more solemn, even as he handed her a cup and filled it with tea.

“So, you’re our guard? What makes you the best man…I mean person for the job?” Milo asked when she had finished and was sipping her tea.

She grinned. “I am an experienced witness protection officer, I’ve read all your books and I love cats,” she said, ticking each item off on her ringless left hand.

Milo beamed benevolently at her and said, “Well, a fan! I was just about to try finding out what happened from Ming China Doll, maybe you’d like to sit in on the session,” he queried jovially.

Officer Calico nodded eagerly, in spite of the fact that as her guard she would have to stay with Ming China Doll anyway.

“I’m afraid you might find my methods a little unorthodox,” Milo said over his shoulder as he carried Ming China Doll draped over the other shoulder into a small library and study off the living room.

“You see, I do most of my communicating with animals, cats in particular, by mental telepathy. This can take some time depending on the animal’s willingness to cooperate.”

“At other times, I use mind reading while the animal is under the influence of hypnosis. Many times, I just observe the cat and it begins revealing clues by its actions and attitude. But then,” he finished as he settled down in a chair that stood behind an ebony desk that was a carved marvel of hundreds of cats entwined to make its legs and sides, while the more solid top was Birdseye maple assembled cleverly to look like as many cats’ eyes. "You probably know all this, since you claim to have read all my books,” he said with a twinkle across at the officer.

Settling a tense and trembling Ming China Doll on the desk blotter in front of him, Milo began, while Officer Calico watched in rapt astonishment. Three hours later, the thin man in black was totally exhausted; Ming China Doll was hysterically bouncing off walls and Officer Calico was sympathetically making coffee for the fifth time. Nothing was getting the elegant Siamese to open up and “tell” what she knew, Milo explained with bewilderment.

As the harried man sipped the strong brew and stared morosely at the elegant lady cat, who by now had finally tucked under paws and perched on her brisket and was staring intently at him. He was looking very dispirited. Suddenly, all three jumped as Milo’s purring doorbell was heard loudly and insistently. Wearily, Milo waved distractedly at Officer Calico when she reminded him that she should really answer all door while she was present in the house.

When Milo saw whom she had with her when she came back, his face brightened immediately and relaxed in a smile when he saw what they were carrying. “Nona!” he cried, jumping up to take the huge covered platter and assorted plates out of his grandmother’s hands. As she supervised their trip to the kitchen and talked a mile a minute, Nona Katz kept patting Officer Calico’s hand and cheek affectionately.

After he had settled his tiny grandmother comfortably in her favorite armchair with a cup of tea at her elbow, Milo showed his curiosity at last.

“Nona, what are you doing here?” he demanded sternly.

Ming China Doll jumped up into the old lady’s lap, settled herself in the crook of one arm and began purring as she was being stroked gently.

“A better question, bubal, is where you got my friend Magda Steinberg’s precious angel, China Doll.” the old lady countered, looking at him over the top of her cat’s eye glasses.

Officer Calico turned to the old lady. “You knew Mrs. Steinberg, Mrs. Katz?”

“Of course,” the old lady said, still stroking the velvety cat. “We were girls together, even came to America on the same ship. Why, we even became citizens on the same day, too,” she finished proudly.

Milo and the officer looked at each other.

“Magda never put on airs, even if she was entitled, she would always play canasta with her old friends, even after she got her rich husband,” continued Milo’s Nona.

“You still haven’t answered my question, how come you got Ming China Doll?”

When Milo told her gently about the death of her old friend, his grandmother sighed deeply then said matter-of-factly, “I’ll sit Shiva with her family when the time comes. But what about my little sweetheart, what happens to her?” The frail senior hugged the sleepy cat and began murmuring to her in a strange tongue.

Officer Calico cocked an eyebrow askance at Milo; he smiled back and said, “Yiddish. She speaks it most of the time among her old friends, especially when she or they are upset.” The tall man slapped his forehead.

“Yiddish. That was the problem all along, the cat only understands Yiddish!” Over the next hour, with a lot of help from his grandmother, Milo astounded Officer Calico once more by coming out with a plausible story that he claimed came from the cat!

After she had taken down the story, Officer Calico asked to use the phone. When she got through to the precinct, she found out Lee F. was out breaking the sad news to Magda’s family. She left a message and began to have a cozy chat with Milo’s Nona, just to see what else she could find out about Magda Steinberg and her family.

What a family! Lee F. slapped his notebook shut and leaned back in his rickety office chair. That Aymes, the butler and only full time servant to Magda Steinberg, strictly speaking wasn’t family, certainly not officially.

But what he didn’t know about her personal business and private affairs wasn’t worth knowing, it seemed. He claimed he was out doing the marketing yesterday at the time of the murder and said any number of tradesmen could vouch for it, since they all knew him at the specialty stories where he shopped at Madam’s insistence. When Erickson prodded, he finally conceded he was named in Madam’s will for quite a considerable sum but only on the condition he kept Ming China Doll in the manner she had become accustomed to until her death.

Then, it seemed, a monthly allowance, which he admitted was more than generous, would be his for life. Lee F. had checked his story and found several witnesses that knew him in the stores he had mentioned stopping in. Still, shopping would not take that long and who knew what an old retainer like him would do to be rid of the impediment of a spoiled cat and an even more spoiled old lady, in order to get the bequest and allowance early.

Then, there was Ida Lassiter. According to her, she had been the victim’s right hand woman. Personal secretary and companion for ten years to the deceased, she had told him every detail of the will and any questions he asked about the old lady’s business affairs, she seemed to know all the answers and then some.

Erickson studied his notes from the interview with Ida again. It seemed that the only heirs were Mrs. Steinberg’s twin girls, May and June. According to Ida, as she insisted flirtatiously that she be called, those two were shopping addicts married to gamblers who couldn’t keep a job to save their bank accounts.

Recently, Ida claimed, Mrs. Steinberg had threatened them, both to their faces and behind their backs to her lawyer, to cut them off and divide the estate between Aymes and herself. So there seemed to be a solid motive for the daughters to get rid of the old lady before she could change her will and if Magda had succeeded in cutting the girls off, Ida now stood to get a hefty chunk of cash for herself.

The daughters, speaking irritatingly in chorus and between sobs, claimed they were shopping at the time of their mother’s death. They had credit cards receipts to prove it, unfortunately. As for Ida herself, it seemed she was busy with the hundred and one things she did every day for her employer and wasn’t home at the time of the murder.

When Lee talked to the old lady’s lawyer, he bore out Ida’s claim that one of the places she had stopped was his office with the newly signed and witnessed revised will. So, here he was with four suspects, all with compelling motives for murder, all with seeming airtight alibis and not a real clue in sight. All he could hop for now was that Milo was having some kind of luck with that cat!

“Yes, Lee,” Milo said serenely into the phone, “I have done ‘my thing,’ as you so quaintly put it, and I’m pretty sure she knows who the murderer is.” He listened intently, absently stroking Ming China Doll, who was dozing on his lap.

“No,” he continued reluctantly, “I can’t prove she really knows, that’s your job, isn’t it?”

Relenting, Milo finally worked out a plan with Lee that he was satisfied would work, in spite of the policeman’s very vocal skepticism and hung up the phone. He smiled down at the sleeping Siamese.

“Well,” he murmured to the cat, “I guess we’ll know tonight whether you know who done it, eh?” Ming’s ear twitched and one eye opened and closed as if in a wink.

At seven o’clock, Milo stood outside the ornate front door of Magda Steinberg’s condo once more. Beside him stood his grandmother holding the carrier where Ming China Doll was telling the whole world how insulted she felt by the treatment she was receiving. Through the door, they could hear the sounds of several voices all talking, arguing, pleading and generally causing a stir.

Milo smiled down at his frail grandmother. She was almost grinning and there was a light of avid curiosity in her eyes as she reached up to press the bell again, this time more firmly. He hadn’t really wanted to bring her, but she had helped him with Ming China Doll and she deserved to see that the killer of her old friend was brought to swift and proper justice.

A harassed looking Lee F. opened the door. “It’s about time” he roared, “I’ve almost got a mutiny on my hands here. What took you so long?”

Milo and his Nona moved into the elaborate living room to find every one of the suspects seated around the room, some holding drinks in their hands.

When the group saw the carrier and heard the cat, they all stopped talking at once. The air was so full of tension it could have been cut with a knife as they looked at each other and then at the new arrivals uneasily.

Milo’s grandmother quietly set the carrier down in the center of the room. Milo opened the door and Ming China Doll stepped out daintily. With high raised tail and whiskers twitching, she circled the room, sniffing each person in turn.

When she got to the twins, sitting side by side like bookends, she bristled. With a yowl fit to wake the dead, she leaped onto the head of one, digging all her claws into her scalp. When the other tried to remove the cat, it clawed her face viciously.

Milo leaped to remove the cat and expertly put her back into the carrier. Lee stepped up to the two women and began to read them their rights. He had barely started when Milo stopped him with a loud clearing of his throat.

“Excuse me, Lieutenant,” said Officer Calico, who had entered the condo behind Milo and his grandmother, then stood back in the shadows to see what happened, just as Milo had asked her to.

“I think you’ll find those two ladies are not the only two twins in the room.” She pointed the carrier toward the butler Aymes and the companion, Ida Lassiter.

When she opened it, Ming China Doll sprang out. She approached the pair cautiously. When she reached their feet, she deliberately peed on each of their shoes in turn.

“I’d say you have your proof, Lee,” Milo pointed out mildly as he reached out one long arm to stop Aymes from running from the room.

His grandmother tossed the empty cat carrier under Ida Lassiter’s feet as she tried to escape at the same time. Officer Calico and Lee Erickson had them both cuffed before the others in the room could do more than gasp.

“So,” said Lee F. over Chinese food at Ling Wong’s Oriental for Occidentals Palace. “Aymes and Lassiter were fraternal twins. But if they were named in the will, why kill Magda?”

Milo passed the Chicken Soo Guy to his Nona with a sigh. “Don’t forget Magda didn’t follow up on her threat to cut out her daughters and leave the whole fortune to her faithful retainers,” he reminded the other man patiently.

“So those two decided to fake the cat’s kidnapping to get some ready money so that they could arrange the death of the old lady so it would look like she died of a broken heart at the loss of her beloved Ming China Doll.” Officer Calico continued the story as she served herself some more chicken balls with sweet and sour sauce.

“But, as Ming China Doll ‘told’ us, poor Magda caught them at it, so they were forced to kill her before she could expose them,” finished Milo’s grandmother as she emptied the plate of fortune cookies into her voluminous handbag.

Lee F. sighed as he pushed himself back from the table and pulled out this wallet to pay the check. “Speaking of Her Highness,” said the big policeman, "What happens to her now?”

Milo’s grandmother lifted a cat carrier onto the empty chair beside her and poked some chicken through the mesh. ”Magda would have wanted her Ming to go to someone who loves her,” the old lady said as a throaty purr issued from the box.

“But Nona,” protested Milo, “What will you do with her when you go to Florida in the winter?”

His Nona winked and smiled across at Officer Calico, “I think I know the perfect cat sitter,” she said brashly.

As the young lady blushed, Milo said nonchalantly, “Well, I guess it’s the least I can do to visit while you’re gone and see how Ming China Doll is doing.” Nona and Lee smiled at each other.

It was definitely time to mark this one “Cats Closed” before things got any more out of hand.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Lost Souls of Cats by Emily Veinglory

The Lost Souls of Cats
by Emily Veinglory

The first soul asks, “You’re the cat angel?”

Sign on the door aside, the fur and whiskers usually give me away.

“I died yesterday,” she continues, “and I was gaga most of the last year. My son promised he would look after her, but....”

“But you think...?”

“He put her put to sleep, my Snowball.”

I open the book; it falls to the right page.

“We have thousands of ‘Snowballs’ here,” I say. “There’s only one way to proceed.”

I lead her to the purgatory of cats. It looks like an enormous hall, walls extending into depthless gloom. The cat souls aren’t cold, hungry, or even scared…but they still suffer. Spread to every horizon there is nothing but glowing, waiting eyes. A thousand golden eyes blink and waver, and one glad meow rings out. Snowball leaps from the masses and into her owner’s arms, and simultaneously one of many Snowballs vanishes from the book.

“That nasty boy,” she says. “I knew it.”

Not your fault, Snowball replies. I would rather be with you.

They leave together and thousands of cat souls look away, disappointed again.

God’s concession to the cats is that although they cannot go to heaven of wild cats, they can go to human heaven so long as their owner claims them — no place for strays in paradise.

The second in line insists, “Cinder must be here!”

But none come forth.

“I see the problem,” I say. “Cinders has already gone, with a Mrs. Smyth.”

“That old bat,” he explodes, “always feeding my cat, sucking up to her while I was at work. I paid the vet bills, worried when she stays out all night.”

“You could share her?”

“Are you serious?”

I gave him a look that reminds a soul they are addressing a genuine Angel.

“I didn’t even like Cinders much,” he grumbles. “She wouldn’t sit on my knee, never purred — but wouldn’t let me have another cat. I tried once with a kitten. Cinders beat the tar out of it, stitches and everything, so I gave it away. And here I am for eternity without a cat."

“Sorry, Mr. Pederson,” I reply. “Invite me by some time for a saucer of milk.”

He looks worried.

“Joke,” I say.

Not everyone feels comfortable around a cat angel, or maybe he’s just not a cat person really, but I could see how it was the blood pressure that got him.

The third guy causes lots of interest.



“Spotty, Phantom, Tabby?”




“I love cats,” he explains. “Any kind of cat, since I was a kid. Now let me see; other Blacky, other other Blacky, little Blacky, Fatso, Spike, Tabby, other Tabby, Whiskers…”

The cats mill gleefully.

“Whiskers, how long has it been, twenty years?”

Too long.

“Whiskers, meet Phantom.”


“There was another. I was about seven…small and black. The name escapes me; it was seventy year ago.”

“Another Blacky?”

“No…but something like…”

“Sooty, Shadow, Jet?”

“No, wait. That stuff, you know, they used it on stoves.”


“That’s it, Zebo!”


“That’s all,” he says, “until Blacky number four pops off, but he might decide to stay with Judy.”

Thirteen leave, but fifty more new cat souls arrive. Another lady edges in.

“I’m looking for Nibbles…Nibbles?”

No answer.

“Are you sure Nibbles has passed on?”

She bursts into tears. “I’m sure. I was only ten and didn’t know. Dad said we had to move for his job. I assumed Nibbles would be coming. On the day we got into the car I was saying ‘Where is Nibbles?’ and Dad said he’d run away.”

I had a bad feeling about where this story was going.

“It wasn’t until I was over forty Mum told me Dad had SHOT HIM. He had taken Nibbles out back and SHOT HIM BECAUSE HE COULDN’T BE BOTHERED BRINGING HIM ALONG. Mummy said she’d thought we could just get another cat, but I didn’t want another cat. I never did have another cat.”

I sense tremulous interest out in the dark.

“Try again,” I said.

“Nibbles!” she called. “I would have stopped him… I would have tried to stop him.”


“I swear. I’ll make it up to you!”

Slowly at first, but quicker and quicker and finally in great leaps and bounds, Nibbles went to her.

Daddy didn’t come, Mummy didn’t come, little Georgie didn’t come, he didn’t even remember me!

“I came. As soon as I could.”

You came.

They left together, not looking back. They never look back at those left behind.

Next came a man inquiring for: “Plucky?”

No answer.

“Always wanted a cat,” he said wistfully. “Mum couldn’t abide them. I got married and Mabel was allergic, so that was that. When she passed on there was this scraggly feral thing. I spent months feeding him and luring him in, almost had him too. Then I found him on the road, stone dead, buried him under the roses. Went into hospital myself not long after, and never came out. Then I heard about this place. I wouldn’t
like to think he was in here…Plucky?”

I took out the other book.

“Sorry, sir. It seems Plucky went straight through to wild cat heaven.”

“With the lions and all? Well it doesn’t surprise me, he was a wild’un. Still, I always did want a cat. Don’t suppose I could take one of these?”

We were fixed with the intense gaze of the almost uncountable eyes of the cat souls.

I have waited many thousand years. No one will come for me.

There was dignity in the request, but desperation also.

I am Bilqis. Take me?

They look to me.

“How could I refuse,” I say.

They leave together. The eyes of the remaining cats fix on me. New hope wells up in those abandoned beyond all hope of remembrance.

“Excuse me,” I say to those waiting. “I must have a quick word with God.”

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Note to Contributors

It looks like I'll be opening paying submissions again starting September 1st and ending September 30th. Get your good and bad cat stories, poetry and art ready for this fall.