WIP Snippet: “Great is the History of the Many-Skilled Artistes”

Folks following me on Twitter will know that I have been working on a short story entitled "Great is the History of the Many-Skilled Artistes" (a working title).  The story was inspired by one of my graduate school classes this semester.  I'm still working on it, and expect it to be completed next month (once finals are done and over with).

The following is the first of four sections in the story.  Do let me know what you think in the comments!

Here goes:


I.  Tears in the Womb of Unture
“Never trust the snake who wears another man’s clothes.
They are prone to theft and death follows them at the tail.”
--Avaganze Proverb, from The Thirty-third Book of Unturekamo, Date Unknown
 The man in the bowl hat wanted to eat their mythology, he said.  Nothing could have shocked the Avaganze more, since their mythology was everything to them.  They had cultivated it for generations, built their culture around it with stunning clarity.  They believed they were gifted by Unture, Queen of the Divine Realm, to live among the stars singular and alone. 
But then the bowl hat man had come, stepping huge footprints onto their tiny world, demanding a sacrifice like Unture herself.  But he was not Unture.  He could not be.  No.  Unture’s breasts hung low on her chest, because they were full of milk for the children of the universe, and her hips always swayed to an unknown rhythm in the sky.  And yet the bowler hat man had arrived and eaten away those few myths the Avaganze had let drift in the wind, including the divine nature of their existence.  Already, they were hurting. 
The bowl hat man smiled, licking his pearly teeth with a pink tongue glistening in the blazing afternoon sun.  His blue eyes struck dissonant notes in the air as he stared at the collective before him.  He dusted off his black waistcoat and the pleats of his black pants; he did not clean the tan-brown mess from his shoes, as if aware that to do so would be pointless.  His blonde hair fluttered in the wind, shining like gold beneath a brow drenched in sparkling sweat, jettisoning off a sagging frog chin.  His face bore the mark of a thousand ages, but the scars had long since healed, living his skin the color of lilies. 
He spoke again with his authoritarian voice, pulling from the gut and pushing tooth-filled words into the air, which swam down among the little people before him and nibbled at their heels:  “You will feed me your myths, or your children will have no history.” 
They were so much tinier than the bowl hat man, but only because he had consumed so much already.  His gut protruded from his fine clothes, exposing the hairy, jiggling blob beneath.  Yet his slovenly appearance gave way to gentility in the shiny bracelets and trinkets that adorned his neck, wrists, and belt.  
The little people gathered their strength, and finally Rohirre—which in the tongue of Avaganze meant “speaker of convincing words”—stepped forward. 
“How are you called?” he said, peering several feet up into the hungry eyes of the bowler hat man, who licked his lips and giggled from his belly.  A little butterfly fluttered from his belly button, nibbling at the air with its curled protrusion before dispersing in the wind as ashes. 
“Ah, so the Avaganze speak, with such fine, simple words.”  He sucked his teeth effect.  “You may call me Mogron.”  An audible hiss filled the air as the Avaganze reeled away.  “Yes, I like that name.  It rests well on the tongue, does it not?  Oh, and how strongly it translates.  ‘He Who Plagues Unture’s Feet.’  How wonderful you have become.  How creative!  Oh, I will feast well here.  I will feast well indeed.” 
“What compels Mogron to our shores?” 
Mogron bowed low, bringing his eyes level with Rohirre’s, some three feet from the ground; Rohirre was the tallest of his kind with a projecting voice—he had earned his name.  “I have come to eat.  Your mythology compels me.  It demands eating, for the many in the sky who I serve.” 
The Avaganze hissed again, some even cursing. 
Rohirre stiffened, his jaw set against emotion, but revealing the fear lingering in his heart.  “The Ongrorre sent you to us?” 
Mogron laughed.  His voice vibrated in the sand beneath his feet.  “Is that what you call the sky beings?  Dwellers in the City?  Oh, how fascinating!”  He licked his lips, tasting the air with a long, pink tongue covered in warts the size of Rohirre’s fingertips.  “I will eat well here.” 
“You will go now, Mogron.  You will go back to the Ongrorre and tell them that you may not eat here.” 
“And why would I do that, little one?” 
“Because the lands of the Avaganze are for the Avaganze, to be tilled by the Avaganze, to be the haven for the bodies of the Avaganze.  You are not Avaganze.  You are one of the Ongrorre.  Unture’s bane.  Unture’s torturer.  And you belong in Ongrorre.  Now go.”  
Rohirre lifted his chin, proud of his accomplishment, proud of waves of emotion emanating from the dozens of Avaganze standing behind him.  He did not glance back, but he could see them in the back of his mind holding hands tight, faces determined and strong.  Once more, he had fulfilled his namesake. 
Mogron brought himself to his full height, sucking in a deep breath.  And then he laughed, not unkindly.  His belly jiggled, the hairs standing on end with excitement.  The pearly whites in his mouth glistened with spittle as the roar of joy spilled from his gut, emitting serpentine wisps of air that slithered through the air and around the feet of the Avaganze. 
Then Mogron lifted his right arm, pointing a finger in such a way that only an elder would to a child, and in one great cry of pain, Rohirre disintegrated into dust.  Mogron sniffed Rohirre into his lungs, licking his tongue against his lips.  A chuckle built up in his gut.  The Avaganze cried in silence, too shocked to speak out against the great beast before them.  Tears fell from their dark faces, rolling down to their feet until the earth beneath them became mud. 
“Now you will bring me your stories.  For I am hungry.” 
Somewhere in the crowd the lone voice of a baby cried out.
And there you have it.

Random Excerpt: The Lands of the Alger

I had the pleasure of word warring1 with some folks from Young Writers Online the other day and I thought I'd share the 500-word bit that I wrote (it came out of nowhere). I'm calling it The Lands of the Alger for now, and I have no idea if it is going somewhere. All I know is that I had a blast writing it. If you'd like to comment, feel free. I'd love to hear all of your thoughts on this.

Here goes:
The towers of Alger stood for two thousand years against the bitter cold of the mountains beyond. Their shadows were cast as long, watchful beasts across the great valley below, and within the confines of the arched walls outside, one would be assured of safety from the barbarian hordes or the impending wars from the North and South, from the Bespectacled King and the Lords of the Olgen. And on a fine winter’s morning, when the air swung low, dragging a chill breeze that cleansed even the most terrible of colds and drove a spike of warmth, solitude, and wonder into the most staunch of hearts in memory of the thousands who had lived here among the tribes of the Alger, the small white and blue flowers of the Hegemon awoke from the snows and dispensed their glittering seeds into the world.

Orin Dol stood along the gates at just such a moment, tears in his old eyes. He was covered head to toe in thick, tanned wool, which hid his wrinkled, decaying features from the trade caravans moving along the Alger River below. They were heading north, to the black lands where the Bespectacled King was awaiting his offering from the tribes of Irion, who he had finally achieved dominion over in a long, petty dispute over lands along the outer edge of the mountains.

What fools, he thought. Fools indeed. Trading their lives to a king of lesser blood. His ancestors would never have done such a thing. It was unheard of until the Garion of Calin became High King of the tribes of the Alger and sold his soul to the devils. In olden days—so long ago now, as Orin recalled—the High King kept the borders stocked with warriors and the great walls of the ancestors manned and in prime shape—the repairs never ended. The lands of the Alger were not prized for their fertility, for the land was so arid in parts that even the hardiest crops could not grow, even with the aid of irrigation from the fertile lands beyond. The Bespectacled King and the Lords of the Olgen pried the lands of the Alger for the pure desire of ownership. There was a bloodlust in their eyes when they saw what new territories they could add to their coffers.

Looking deep within the walled center, Orin could see that very look on the face of just such a lord—Lord Pinwaul of the southern lands. The young, vibrant looking man could have rivaled the Bespectacled King in garb, adorned from head to toe in pristine armor engrained with gold filigree—shaped like the monstrous orbax of the southern plains, a great beast with curled and spiked horns and eyes that bled steam—and a crimson cloak framed with the spotted fur of the snow leopards that once hunted in the upper tundra of the southernmost portions of the lands of the Alger—before the Lords of the Olgen wiped them out.
That's it!

1. A word war is a writing game which involves two or more people. The participants select a period of time (usually 10-15 minutes) and then, at the same time, do nothing but write for that amount of time. In the end, everyone counts up their words and the person with the most words wins. The object isn't necessarily to win so much as write something. It's also a great way to kick writer's block (if you believe in such things).

Story For Haiti: Catnip Pete and the Suricata Symbol (Part Two)

(You can read part one here.)

The important stuff first.

I am posting the second part of this story for Crossed Genre's "Post A Story For Haiti" project. If you enjoy the story, great; if not, please consider donating by clicking the following links anyway. While I hope you enjoy the story, I'm more interesting in trying to help raise money for the people in Haiti. So, if you hate it, but still donated, then feel free to let me know.

You can donate to any of the following places (the links below go directly to the donation pages):
--The International Red Cross
--Doctors Without Borders
--The Rainbow World Fund

There will be a third part of this story.

The story is below (you might have to click the read more to see it):

Catnip Pete and the Suricata Symbol (Part Two)
by Shaun Duke

The misses made fish gumbo for lunch the following day. We’d long since come to terms with the fact that I was a disaster in the kitchen, and she had refused me the right to use the good pans for anything. To be fair to the misses, she did cook for a living, which somehow made it acceptable for her to take on the kitchen duties and for me to assume the task of cleaning every inch of our little one bedroom Victorian. Before she left for work, thus leaving me to wallow in the emptiness of the world around me, she made a familiar request: “Get some rhubarb from the store.” There’d be a new pie by the end of the day.

The labs were double-booked, so it looked like I’d have to wait an extra few hours before Skipper’s results would come in. I hated waiting as much as I hated it when the misses misplaces my catnip mouse. Aunt Felinia had a saying: if you’re too impatient to wait a mouse out, pretend to be doing something else; a mouse can’t resist the opportunity to get you with your fur down. She said a lot of things, and not all of them useful.

When the results finally came in—delivered by a squirrel runner from FeMA, a little fellow named Stub who suffered from a rare balding disease on his tail (which, no doubt, made it difficult to climb trees)—I had spent already spent a good six hours staring at the table, the pictures, and my notes. It occurred to me that I needed a hobby, but couldn’t for the life of me think of anything I could do. Short of hunting down criminals, keeping up the old exercises, and making sure the misses was happy, I didn’t have much else.

And the results? Salvador was right. There was nothing normal about the every facet of the case. Skipper’s blood had traces of an unknown substance; the docs suspected an antipsychotic, but that was iffy at best—you’d think Skipper would remember having a pill shoved down his throat. So, it had to be something else, something illegal, something produced by someone with access to medical supplies.

Then it dawned on me. I tore into the pages on the table, ignoring the cup of cold coffee the misses had left for me, and the fish bagel, pushing everything out of the way until I found what I was looking for. There it was, staring up at me in all its dead-tree glory: Skipper’s medical records. Plastered in big black letters was the name Dr. Charles P. Murkowitz.

If anyone had access to the kinds of medical supplies needed to give Skipper a psychotic break, you could bet it would be a vet. And Skipper had had an appointment with Dr. Murkowitz the morning of Mr. Smith’s death. I had a lead and things were looking up. For the both of us.

#

Dr. Murkowitz had a shady record—a two-time loser with a pension for recreational hop. With the way the humans ran their vet clinics, though, it wasn’t a surprise that he had access to a lot of the things he had been busted for in ninety-two. None of that was damning, though. Not really. I’d learned over the years that a man who looked guilty when reflected against the past usually was the opposite. Everyone makes mistakes at some point—I once stole a fuzzy teddy bear from a two-year-old—but the way Aunt Felinia figured it, you’re only guilty if you don’t learn a lesson—I’ve since kept my paws off fuzzy teddy bears, and two-year-olds, for that matter.

Murkowitz kept his new office on the south side of Corey Morgan City, a good six miles from FeMA headquarters, and three from his old location from a year ago. His clinic had been doing quite well ever since the CMC Vet Union got busted for padding their accounts, but there were a few other clinics still in operation since Murkowitz wasn’t much of a herp fan—neither are cats, if you get right down to it.

I took a horsetrain down Madison and made my way to the Sunny Side Happy Pets Clinic, keeping the tan trench coat wrapped tight and the bowler had snug around my ears. A chill wind blew along the south side from the harbor, and the tantalizing scent of fresh fish wafted along, tickling whiskers as if the fishermen, the fish, and the Norlington Fisheries were playing a cruel joke. I knew then that leaving the fish bagel on the table before catching the 2:30 to the south side was a bad idea.

Entering through the doggy door left me with two impressions. The first: that it was most certainly racist to have a doggy door without an accompanying kitty door. The second: vet clinics smell (in this case, the lingering stench of bleach, dandruff, and old vomit left me with a bad taste in my mouth). I shoved both impressions back, hopped up onto the counter, and set my mind to the task at hand; an old snow globe depicting a decrepit Santa Claus bringing blobs of presents to blobs of children in a sled pulled by blobs of flying reindeer jiggled.

I flashed my badge to the blonde on the counter. “I need to ask Dr. Murkowitz a few questions.”

She yawned, opened her bright blue eyes, stretched, and gave a sensual purr. If I wasn’t a married cat, I might have taken the bait. “Sure. I’ll let him know you’re here.”

I looked out the window at the dreary weather—dark clouds and the scent of oncoming rain. She did her best to impress, holding her tail high and moving her hips with a swagger that would have tempted a younger me. Then she hopped off the counter, disappeared around the bend, and returned to tell me that Dr. Murkowitz would speak with me in his office. I thanked her, polite as ever, and headed for the edge of counter. She rubbed her tail against my leg and giggled; I did my best to ignore her. Someone was going to have to get her fixed before her lack of inhibitions led her into trouble.

Murkowitz was already talking before I put both feet into his office. “Are you here about the damned gonif from last week?” His face was old, wrinkled and accentuated by a curled mop of graying hair. He was stalky and his lips were perpetually stretched tight over his crooked teeth; he spoke with a muffled accent.

I could see the criminal in him, lingering in the back of his dull green eyes—a criminal that wanted out. But, I could also see the restrained man he had become. Addiction does wicked things to a man, and anyone who can go from hero to zero to businessman deserves a little respect. Hell, even alcoholics have that guilty self sitting in the back of their eyes, desperate for another drink.

Dr. Murkowitz gestured for me to take a seat. I jumped into the old swivel-chair in front of his desk; he dropped his rear in the leather monstrosity sitting on the other side.

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about. You were robbed?”

“You bloody well believe it. Stole two grand worth of medicines. I had to order an emergency supply and send customers I couldn’t treat away. Cost me a fortune. I’ll be lucky to make a sizable profit this year.” He ruffled some pages on his desk.

“Did you file a report?”

“Of course I did. What do you take me for?”

I said nothing.

“So, if you’re not here about that, then what do you want?”

“I’m here about one of your patients. Skipper. You treated him yesterday, correct?”

“Chocolate lab?”

I nodded.

“Yeah. Just a checkup. Nothing major. Needed his toes clipped, though. Mr. Smith has a tendency to ignore the finer points of a dog’s life. He’s scheduled to bring Skipper in tomorrow, actually. Where is it…” he stopped and rummaged through the files on his desk before turning his attention to the file cabinets on either side of the room.

“Actually,” I pulled out my notepad, looking at my notes from the other day, partly for effect, “Mr. Smith is dead.”

“What? How?” His jaw dropped, exposing his teeth for a brief moment before he caught himself and closed up shop. It was a professional sort of surprise, as if he was more shocked by the prospect of losing a customer than the death. It was an honest response.

“I’m afraid Skipper may be the one responsible.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“No, Dr. Murkowitz, I’m afraid not.”

“Well, I’ve never heard of anything like that before. Pitbulls, yeah, that’s easy. Hell, even a Chihuahua snaps once in a blue moon. Chocolate lab? If you were anyone else I wouldn’t believe you.” He rubbed his chin while shaking his head. I couldn’t blame him. You spend as much time as Murkowitz has working with animals, you come to know a few universal truths: human owners always wait until it’s too late to take their pets to the vet, cats are notorious about keeping their illnesses hidden, and labs haven’t got a violent bone in their bodies. I could see the world turning upside-down for him.

“Out of curiosity, Dr. Murkowitz, what medicines were stolen from your clinic last week?”

“Hmm? Oh, right. Well, a few nonessential items. Minor painkillers. Doggy aspirin and the like. But whoever the bastard was stole my entire supply of antipsychotics and tranquilizers. No idea how the little fellow got it all out of the clinic.”

“Little fellow?”

“Oh, well I have security cameras in the place. A little critter about your size, all dolled up in burglar gear. Couldn’t see anything except his size.”

Now things were getting interesting. “Can I ask you a professional question?”

“Shoot.”

“Would it be possible to induce a homicidal reaction in a genetically friendly animal using medicines you might find in your clinic?”

“What are you getting at?” He leaned forward. “You think I had something to do with it?” Then he threw up his hands. “Always suspect the ex-con. Never any different for you flatties, is it? Well, I didn’t have anything to do with it. And you’re not nailing me for something I didn’t do because I’m an easy target either. So buzz off.”

“Dr. Murkowitz. You misunderstand my interest in your professional opinion for an accusation. I just want to know if it’s possible.”

He sighed, a big, thick stream of air that told me he had an unusually large set of lungs. “Theoretically speaking? Yeah, you could. It’d be one hell of a job, though. Maybe a mix of triglofan and mesiniclo could do it, but only at the right doses. To be honest, if you’re suggesting that the fellow who stole my medicines may have been able to concoct a potent mixture that could cause a chocolate lab to snap like that, then your list of suspects is probably pretty small.”

“How so?”

“The kind of knowledge you’d need to pull it off you’d have to get from someone with veterinary training. Which includes me and about a half-dozen other practicing vets, and maybe ten or so retired folks.”

“What about medical doctors?”

He shrugged. “They’d know the medicines, but a dog’s metabolism is drastically different than a human’s. You’re looking for someone who knows how a chocolate lab operates, and you’re only going to get that from someone who works or has worked with dogs.”

“I see.” I jotted down a few notes, then licked my paw and smoothed the fur between my ears. “Would you mind providing a list of the stolen items?”

“Sure.” He did some more rummaging while I wrote a few salient points on the notepad. Eventually, he hunted down a notepad of his own, scrawled a list of names in pencil, ripped it out and handed it over. I grabbed the paper, but he didn’t let go. “If you find the meds, I get them back, you hear?”

I narrowed my eyes and frowned.

“I have to turn this mess into a profit somehow.”

I pursed my lips. Selfish bastard that he was, at least he was honest. But he had to know as well as I that there was no way he was going to get those meds back for months, not so long as Skipper or whoever was on trial. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and said, “As you wish, Dr. Murkowitz.”

He grinned and let go of the paper. “Now, I have patients to see. If you have any more questions, feel free to leave them with Athena up front.”

“Thank you for your time.” We both stood. I hopped down from the chair. He led me back into the hall and disappeared before I could say anything else.

I decided there wasn’t anything else for me to do there. But, I had another lead, and leads were always a good thing. Maybe if Aunt Felinia had had a few more leads back in the day she could have curbed the rodent rebellions of sixty-eight. But she had always said that you never saw the really bad things coming until it was too late, otherwise somebody would have done something about all those bad things and the past would have been a very different place. Mr. Smith really was the innocent victim in all of this; he never saw it coming.

#

The way back to the north side of Corey Morgan City seemed longer, extended purposefully by some baleful god. Thinking does that to you. It extends time, makes it into something distinct from the little inch-by-inch moments that make up life. The leads were getting dangerously close to being circular. Skipper led me to Salvador, who led me to Dr. Murkowitz, who led me to…Salvador? No, that didn’t make any sense. Salvador wouldn’t be so stupid as to lead me right back to him. That’d be like a murderer giving away the location of the body under the guise that it would implicate someone else. Salvador was smarter than that. I could see it.

But there sure as hell was something to this robbery. Maybe Salvador had led me there because he thought it might lead to the people he feared would kill him if he uttered a word. Clever? Yeah, but too movie-like.

Then it hit me. Not the answer, but a hunch, of sorts, and any time a cat gets a hunch, you listen. Cat hunches are good stuff, for most people; I had known a few cat detectives who solved cases almost exclusively on hunches (sometimes they were wrong, but nobody ever paid attention to that). In this case, my hunch told me to check out Dr. Murkowitz’s old office. The aging uber-capitalist was likely innocent, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t a connection between him and the folks who might have screwed with Skipper. I needed answers, because sooner or later people were going to wonder why the lab hadn’t been strung up on murder charges yet—people have always been gloriously impatient.

I signaled the horsetrain to drop me off on the corner of Madison and Magdalena, a short jog from the old location for the Sunny Side Happy Pets Clinic. The old black stallion grumbled something about cats and their unquenchable desire for detours and huffed a few horse insults before pulling down a side street and back onto Madison. A few blocks later and the horsetrain deposited me on the corner of Magdalena. I marched inland to the old office.

The place still had the gold and red paint from when it had been Murkowitz’s dream. The windows were intact, the doors still on their hinges, and the lack of dust inside on the old counters and padded chairs told me that somebody was still visiting. And there was the problem. Murkowitz likely still used the place—maybe for private visits, since he still lived on the north side of Corey Morgan City—and there was nothing damning about that. Another hunch debunked.

I sighed and leaned against the door, peering up into the dark sky, expecting at any moment for the rain to come pouring down. Unlike the misses, I donn’t mind a little drizzle. It keeps the fur fresh. But this day smelled and looked like it was about to unleash a storm. Never a good omen.
Running a paw through my whiskers, I turned my attention to the other side of the street. I’d come to grips with the fact that my hunches weren’t all that great, that Salvador had led me to a dead end and left me to wriggle in the dark. And then I saw the dance studio. And the small, furry, devious-looking weasel scurrying about inside. And the symbol—a dancer with arms pointed to twelve and two, legs at three and nine.

And I thought about what Aunt Felinia had said before she congratulated me on graduating from the FeMA academy (only a handful of months before she passed away from a terrible wasting disease no vet could ever diagnose): always trust your instincts; we tabbies have a propensity for getting it right.

No truer words have ever been said, and I knew then that all this worry over how the pieces were going to fall together, and whether my hunches were any good, ended up meaning nothing whatsoever. Aunt Felinia, my sage and muse, had it straight, and somewhere out there she was smiling, saying, “I told you so.”

Story For Haiti: Catnip Pete and the Suricata Symbol (part one)

The important stuff first.

I am posting this story for Crossed Genre's "Post A Story For Haiti" project. If you enjoy the story, great; if not, please consider donating by clicking the following links anyway. While I hope you enjoy the story, I'm more interesting in trying to help raise money for the people in Haiti. So, if you hate it, but still donated, then feel free to let me know.

You can donate to any of the following places (the links below go directly to the donation pages):
--The International Red Cross
--Doctors Without Borders
--The Rainbow World Fund

I've decided that the story is far too long to put in one piece (it's over 3,500 words at this point), so I am going to split it into two pieces. Part two will be posted tomorrow.

The story is below (you might have to click the read more to see it):

Catnip Pete and the Suricata Symbol (Part One)
by Shaun Duke
The universe is made of catnip. That’s what my Aunt Felinia used to tell me. Then again, she was crazier than an automated rat catcher—not that cats are bad at catching rats, just that we’re not all that interested in it for the usual logistical reasons—it’s a pleasure thing. But fantasies have a way of converging with reality, and I never thought I’d see a real dead body for my first serious case.

His name was Terrance Alimar Coetzee Smith, an Albanian fellow who apparently used to sell ice cream to the little tikes on Captain Street at dirt-cheap prices. Undercutting the big guy? You bet, and the Ice Cream Truck Alliance, with their steambots stationed outside I.C.T.A headquarters, breathing molten fire and vaporized air, would definitely have something to say about that.

But the condition of Smith’s body told me that the I.C.T.A. had nothing to do with it: teeth marks up and down his face, arms, legs, and torso. Someone had bitten him to death. The humans had already figured that part out—no homicide case had been filed—but I worked for another company—the Feline Monitoring Agency (FeMA for short)—and they usually wanted a hand in the affairs of humans, especially when man’s best friend was involved.

“Pete?” One of the officers approached, his buzzer flashing in the sun. He glanced at the crime scene, at the blood, torn flesh, and the terrified, wide-eyed stare of horror. The officer’s name was Wilson, a dark-haired fellow who had the look of an ex-gumshoe in his eyes. “FeMA call you in?”

I nodded. “I’ve got a case.”

“I see that. Pretty much open-and-shut, though. Dog turned on him.”

“Which one?” I scratched my ear.

“Skipper, apparently. He’s the only one missing.”

“I see.”

Rumor had it that Skipper was a bit of a booze hound, no pun intended. But that’s a far cry from murderous cog. Dogs can put up with a lot, unlike us felines, but they lack the independent nature necessary to take up regular employment. There are only two canine detectives in Corey Morgan City: Sigmund and Freud. Fitting names, too; psychoanalytic … the both of them. “Something must have triggered him.”

Wilson shrugged. “We’ll leave that side of the story to you.”

“Thanks.”

“Be careful. He doesn’t have his shots.”

“Yeah.” Nothing like a little rabies to keep you on your toes. “Thanks. I’ll be in touch.”
Wilson walked away and I fingered the matchbox in my jacket pocket. I didn’t smoke, but I liked the feel of them there—like kitty thinker caps playing on the edges of my claws.

Smith looked all kinds of terrible, like the leftovers from a meat grinder, or the strange canned cat food concoctions humans came up with to seize up the arteries of unsuspecting purebreds. Tabby’s, it seems, have it easier in the world: plenty of pampering and no heart attacks from ultra-rich regurgitated fish and chicken. But, after seeing the garbled remains of Smith’s body, I couldn’t imagine eating anything from a can again, even for special occasions. Something about the way his blood oozed out from the torn flesh and bubbled in the sunlight set my stomach churning. Thank the heavens that the misses is a fine cook, otherwise I might have sworn myself to a dried food diet.

But, in all actuality, bodies provide very little useful information when it comes to solving a case. I could smell Skipper, a sort of pungent urine-like scent that blended with the dozens of other dogs who had evacuated themselves in the field. The problem with dogs is they’re all so eager to mark everything, and when everything smells like everyone it’s like trying to find the really special kind of catnip—the kind that sends your fur into a frenzy—in a house of catnip.
But I’d find Skipper. Eventually. You can only stay hidden for so long. Besides, labs aren’t exactly the most intelligent critters on these streets.

I pulled out a notepad from my coat pocket and the misses’ favorite pen and started jotting down everything I’d need—and there wasn’t much at that. A broken leash and collar with Skipper’s name on a little bone-shaped ID tag, the body all mangled, pulverized, bloody dog prints scattered all over the place—chaotic—and the lingering sense that even if Skipper had done this, that there was something more to that story too. Maybe, I started to think to myself, the I.C.T.A. did have something to do with it. But how?

I shook my head and took a few more notes about the shape of the body—the arms pointing to twelve and two, legs at three and nine—before adjusting my bowler cap and heading home. I had told the misses I’d only be out an hour, and she’s not one to be kept waiting, especially when there’s pie to be eaten. Apples and cinnamon. Sweet paradise.

#

The misses had a few words to say before she let me return to the job. She remembered all too well what had happened to me the last time I had taken on a fugitive pooch—three months in a body cast, four hundred and twenty three stitches, five minor surgeries, and a huge cut in my pension. It took some doing, but I managed to calm her down enough to get out the door without ruffling her feathers (or fur, for that matter)—a good way to sooth the misses’ nerves is to appeal to her ego, which is exactly what I did (and if not for the misses and her random ideas and sharp wit, I don’t think I would be nearly as successful or as well known in Corey Morgan City). She’d said over dinner, in passing, something about Agatha Christie, and the simple mention of that name raised the sun over the horizon of knowledge. So, I left her behind with a big plate of apple pie in front of her and a look—her slit eyes open, brow curled slightly in worry, and her lips quivering with anticipation, like a serpent’s tail the second before the strike. Something about that look sent my senses flying, and for a good ten minutes my tail developed a mind of its own and swished about, a furry whip in the evening air. But I had a plan, and I was sticking to it.

I think Agatha Christie had some sort of magical attunement to dogs. I’d told myself after dinner that if I was going to find Skipper without following his scent, then I’d have find out wherever he had gone to lick his wounds. Christie seemed to have it right: injured dogs crawl away and disappear until they’re whole again. And where better to crawl away than a warehouse? There were at least five of them within reasonable distance of Smith’s body and home. It was in the fifth that I found Skipper. Maybe Christie was right about the wound-licking, but she was certainly wrong about them being wise. Seems to me if you don’t want to be found, you don’t go to an abandoned warehouse. It’s too noir, too obvious, too…cliché.

But, I had to paw it to Skipper; if there was any intelligence in that mutt brain of his, maybe he had it in his thoughts that a shadow-ridden place of horror would ward people off. It almost worked. Approaching the warehouse from the north meant I could see into the broken windows, into the darkness within. Yeah, we cats can see pretty well in the dark, but that doesn’t mean it’s an enjoyable experience. It’s like seeing the world through a colored lens, grainy and disconcerting, and yet somewhat comforting to know that at least you won’t bump into anything or get ambushed by some rabid pooch. But, if you’ve ever seen a dog attack through cat night vision, then you’ll understand the apprehension. It’s one thing to play a warbled tune on a piano in the middle of the night; it’s entirely another to track down a violent animal and lay down the law in a place littered with broken glass, falling support beams, trash, old wash basins, and rusted construction bunglers with all their gears seized up for good.

And that’s why I always kept the Pacifier with me. The blasted thing was illegal—most heaters were—and probably for good reasons, but it wasn’t like the cops were willing to do anything about it. A man, or cat, had to defend himself, and when you’re small and furry, and the enemy is ten times your size, well, a little extra help goes a long way. I ran a paw over the bulge in my coat, reassuring myself that it was still there. Hopefully I wouldn’t have to use it.

Tiptoeing through a hole in the front wall, I listened carefully for any sigh of life, looking back and forth, expecting that at any moment Skipper would appear from the darkness and rub me out. But he wasn’t at the front, or anywhere on the first floor. Only the sound of dripping water and the quarrel of irritated pigeons kept me company on my way up the enormous staircase in the back. All the stairs creaked and groaned and the structure itself looked like it would collapse at any minute. It’s a good thing to be a cat, all light on our toes and what not.

And that’s when I heard it. Not arguing or quiet conversation, but rushed, irritated whispers on two separate frequencies, a merging of two oppositional tunes, like a collapsing stream of musical notes until, suddenly, out of the dissonance, an unusual harmony appears. A phoenix from the ashes. A swan from an ugly duckling. A mouse sprung to life after playing dead.

It was probably a miracle that they were too engaged in conversation to notice me climbing the dying stairs, or hear the sound of the Pacifier whirling to life after I had plucked it from my coat pocket, or even notice the shape of a cat in a suit and bowler cap worming his way through the boxes and crates and other broken things. It was probably a miracle that they didn’t start running when I said, “The gig’s up, Skipper.” Hell, there were probably a few dozen miracles at work in those brief minutes before Skipper’s surprised chocolate face looked at me as if I were his mother and destroyer all at once. When the realization dawned on him and his companion—a slender, shifty-looking meerkat who seemed all too out of place in the landscape of Corey Morgan City—it was too late. The miracle had been done and the cuffs were already dangling from my free paw, the bulky, bronze-colored shape of the Pacifier, little gears whirling and the electric spark inside hissing, a serpent waiting to be released by its master, held firm in the other.

And if my Aunt Felinia had seen them willingly give themselves over to be processed by FeMA, without so much as a confession or a denial, or any of the two dozen other things they could of done instead of let me take them without a fight, she might have thought it strange, but still a miracle. She was always such a realist.

#

“Has he said anything yet?” Director Calvin said, staring me down with his flat nose and wide-set eyes—a shade or two lighter than the coffee in the mug in his paw. His tongue played with his lower lip as if anticipating food. It’s a Persian thing.

The observation room was empty but for the two of us, and uncomfortably quiet. Through the one-way mirrors of the two holding pens we could see that nobody was saying much of anything, and the ceiling fans were dead—the steam engine powering the northern quarter had been running on half-power for months. “Nothing, or so your boys tell me.”

“What about his companion, Mr,” he looked down at the documents on the desk, “Salvador Verne?”

“Nothing compelling, I’m afraid. He had some interesting things to say about the legal system, but you can’t really hold him for that.”

“Unless we charge him as an accessory to the murder.”

“There’s not much evidence for that, I’m afraid. I didn’t hear much of their conversation in the warehouse, and for all you know he could have been arguing with Skipper for other reasons.” I shrugged. “You’ve got nothing on him except a reason to hold him for twenty-four hours.”

“And he didn’t say anything to you when you called my boys to come pick them up?”

“No. They went all tight-lipped the second they saw me.”

“Odd that they gave up so easily, don’t you think?”

“Actually, now that you mention it, yes. Skipper doesn’t fit the profile.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, he’s a lab, for one, and they tend to be on the more loyal end. But more importantly, if he really went ape on Mr. Smith, you’d think he would have no qualms ripping this old tabby in two. But, look at him…” Now, the two of us really looked through the glass. Skipper sat transfixed on the bowl of water on the table. His eyes were solemn, and guilty, but the way they quivered told me something else: he was battling something inside, something he didn’t want to tell the rest of us. I hate secrets. “It’s almost as if he doesn’t have a violent bone in his body.”

“No, just a few genes buried somewhere in there.”

“Genes don’t snap to life and turn off like a light switch.”

“Well, we’ve got Skipper on irrefutable charges. This Salvador Verne…well, we’ll see what happens to him. There’s nothing else for you to do here.” Director Calvin turned and lugged his corpulent frame towards to door, no doubt heading for his office. He probably had a few cans of Félin Pompeux sitting on his desk, tempting him like the tree of knowledge. He most certainly gave into temptation whenever it came calling.

“Mind if I ask them a few questions? Might turn up some leads.”

He turned enough to land a dark eye on me from the door. “Feline intuition?”

“Something like that.”

He blinked, rolled his eye and body back towards the door, and waved a hand. “Whatever. Do what you like.”

“Thanks,” I said, but he was already gone.

#

Aunt Felinia had a way with words. She used to say that if you want to get someone to talk, threaten to break a limb; but if you want someone to tell you the truth, and nothing but, then threaten to eat them alive. Maybe that was sound knowledge back in the day when the mice swarms were eating every town from Corey Morgan City to Festington out of house and home. Detective work was a little different back then; Aunt Felinia had desperation on her side.

These days, if you want someone to talk, usually all you need is pathos. Hit a few heartstrings and the truth comes pouring out like a raging river of facts, fears, and explanations. I was betting on that to work with Skipper, but something told me that Salvador would be a tougher nut to crack—he’d have to go first.

A deputy let me into the room and locked the huge door behind me. Levers slid into place with a series of clicks, and then something else made a clang; nobody was getting out of this room. Salvador sat there with his pointed black nose angled towards the ceiling and his beady eyes closed. Long stripes of fuzzy brown fur lined his back, reminding me how far out of his element he was—no zoos for this fellow; the real deal.

“You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.” His eyes opened and he tilted his head in my direction. He had a thick accent—I suspected Kenyan—but his English seemed unrestrained, fluent.

“Is that so, Mr. Verne? Please, enlighten me.” I pulled the other seat out from under the table, letting the legs grind on the stone floor, and then sat down, playing the good cop/bad cop role all on my own. I shuffled some papers around and feigned disinterest.

“I see no reason to put my life at risk.”

“We can offer you…”

“Protection?” His laugh came as a surprising boom, followed by an equally surprising echo; he could project remarkably well for a rodent. Surprises like that at the start of an interrogation never bodes well. “I’m sure you’ve heard it before, Catnip Pete, but you can’t protect me. They have people everywhere.”

“They?”

“You’re not getting anything else out of me.”

“Just hyperbole.”

His lip curled into a sardonic smile. “I was trying to help Skipper. He’s not a bad dog, but he makes a good patsy.”

“A patsy for what?”

“You’re not very good at this.”

“Skipper murdered a human being. So far, that’s all the humans need to rub him out for good.”

“You and I both know there’s nothing right about the whole situation.” He crossed his furry arms and gritted his teeth. “The poor bastard didn’t see it coming, I suspect.”

“So, you were in the warehouse helping Skipper? Helping him to do what?”

“Get him out of the country, of course. You cats have it in your heads that dogs are predisposed to violence, and that every so often a dog just snaps.”

“That’s one school of thought.”

“Yeah?” Salvador slammed his paws on the desk. “A school of thought that everyone seems to buy. Nobody ever looks a little deeper, at least not when it comes to us animals. They pass it off as just another attack, another example of why we’re still so wild. Nobody asks the perpetrators what happened. Nobody does a few tests or talks to folks like Skipper with anything less than an assumption of guilt. Open and shut, as your kind says.”

He had me interested, if not a little convinced. That first day, after seeing the body, the evidence, and getting an idea of who Skipper was. None of it seemed right. But, conspiracies and evil organizations that nobody knows about? It sounded too much like a bad action movie. “So, in your eyes, Skipper is innocent?”

“I know he’s innocent. And I’m not saying anything else. Maybe if you dicks and coppers did your job for once, we wouldn’t be here.”

We stared at one another for a few moments. It was a curious silence, both of us anticipating what neither of us could say. There were secrets on both sides: I didn’t want him to know that I might actually believe him; he didn’t want me to know who he tought was behind everything. Not yet.

Then the staring contest ended and I stood up to leave, ruffling the papers for effect. “Thanks for your time, Mr. Verne.”

“No problem.”

I pounded in the door, sighed as the bolts were undone and the door flew open. Taking a few moments to stare over Skipper’s file, I thought about how all this seemed to tie to my earlier assumptions. Could the I.C.T.A. really be behind this, all because Mr. Smith had been undercutting their business? Or was there another organization at work? And then, I wondered how. If Skipper really was a patsy, how did they get him to attack Mr. Smith? Mind control? I snickered at that. I’ve had a few weird ideas in my day, but nothing quite so…science fictional.

When a few minutes passed, I decided to let myself into Skipper’s interrogation room. They had him chained to his chair, but that didn’t seem to stop him from turning around to stare at me with his big dough eyes as I walked in and took a seat. I didn’t let him get too comfortable.

Interrogating Skipper produced two lines of thought: the first that he had done something terrible; the second that he could remember every detail, but had been unable to do anything about it, as if he had been trapped in his own furry body. Thus far, nobody had actually asked him anything that would allow him to explain his situation; that might have been one of the reasons Aunt Felinia had suggested I move on into the private business—cops have a way of intentionally avoiding finding the facts.

The Skipper experience made the strange conversation with Mr. Verne look emotionally stilted, like a conversation between robots. Skipper cried and whimpered throughout the entire discussion, and it took all my effort to keep him cogent enough to explain everything. It wasn’t that he feared his imminent death (let’s face it, being in the FeMA headquarters was one step on the way to death row); no, he feared for Mr. Smith’s immortal soul, and his own.

In the end, I had one lead: Skipper’s trapped-in-body experience. If Mr. Verne’s story was at all credible, maybe the docs would find something in Skipper’s blood, and if they did, well, that meant someone other than Skipper had a hand in Mr. Smith’s death.

Aunt Felinia was laughing in her grave.

End Part One

A Taste of “The Head” (Tentative Title)

I thought I'd let folks read a little of what I've been working on lately. I've mentioned this story on Twitter a few times, particularly by its first line, but it'd be interested to hear what folks think. The only thing I have to say before taking you to it is that you shouldn't read it if you're easily disturbed or cannot stand the f-word. I don't use the latter excessively, but it is there and has to be there for the characters. The disturbing imagery is a part of the world I'm working with (think of it as sort of what happens when Event Horizon gets stuck in the world we live in and becomes part of the norm). So, don't read past this point if you can't handle that kind of stuff. I don't think it's excessive, but I also don't want anyone yelling at me that I made them ill cause there's an undead, talking, severed head being worn like a hat.

The only other thing to say is that it's still in the rough stage. I'm going to do a lot of editing later.

So here goes:

I used to wear her head like a hat until she started talking to me in downtown Memphis. It’s a strange experience, hearing the head of a dead person curse you out in the middle of the street. There’s something embarrassing about that, like a beacon telling everyone else that you’ve botched your human sacrifice. They were supposed to stay dead.

But, she talked. And talked. The curse words turned into snarls, the snarls into black magic, until finally I had to make a deal with her to get her to shut up: I’d find her a new body.

And that’s how I lost my weekend.

#

There’s always something looming in the dark of the world. A living thing. You can call it God if you want, but whenever I descend into the shadows, her head whispering above, I get the feeling that something isn’t quite right. That’s not a feeling you’re supposed to have if you deal in dead bodies; the fact that someone who isn’t quite right to begin with can sense something that isn’t quite right on top of his or her own not-rightness is like a politician feeling like other politicians are screwing around with the lives of the many. It’s irony, perhaps.

Memphis, though, hasn’t been quite right since the Change. Dimensions don’t mix well, and so here I am, with her head on my own, trying to find a new body for a woman who, quite honestly, didn’t deserve the one she had before, all so I can save my dignity.

“I want one with a nice ass,” she says. “Curves and all that. I don’t want to be one of those skinny bitches that you see on TV. You know, the ones with all the cuts on their damned arms, bleeding all over the place, with all the fat, wart-covered old men drooling foam at their feet…No, I want a voluptuous, curvy body with a fine looking face.”

“Don’t get picky.” I feel her wiggle.

“Fuck. This is the body I’ll be stuck with for the rest of my life.”

“Yes, and if God wanted you to have the perfect body, he would have given it to you in the first place.”

“Fuck what God wants. I want to be able to do things I never could before. I want my tits to say ‘this is what you all want, but you can’t have.’ There are other things you’re going to have to give me, but they’re personal.”

“Right.”

“Did you know the left side of your brain has a tumor?”

It’s interesting. Sacrifices always produce a unique symbiotic relationship with the decapitated. With her, she’s tangled herself through my brain. There’s a good side to it, I think. I didn’t know I had a tumor until that moment. But she’d know. She’s had your veins winding through every inch of me for a week now. She’d know things about my insides that I wouldn’t know even if I had a brain surgeon to go poking around in there. Fuck, the world is weird enough as it is without having some old crone screaming out your genetic defects.

“What about that one?” I point to a young girl, maybe a little young, but, hell, maybe the old bag would have wanted a few extra years as a teenager. The teenager struts along the street, wearing a belly shirt and the shortest skirt I’ve ever seen, her midriff all curves and toned, wobbling back and forth. She draws the eyes of every man on the street, except for the ones that like the blood rolling out of their wrists. She slips into shadows, then out again, and I see that hint of darkness in your soul. It hits something close to home, something dark inside myself that yearns for young flesh. But I’ve had my sacrifice for now. I’ll have to wait. But the old crone should want what that beautiful creature has. Don’t we all want to have our youth again? She could really do something with that.

“Fuck no. I’ve had it up to here…” she pauses, realizing she doesn’t have hands of her own to make the gesture. I do it for her, raising the hand to her forehead. “Thanks. I’ve had it up to here with holier-than-thou-hot-as-shit teenage blonde crap. She’s probably been around the block a few thousand times already. Loose. That’s not in my book of desires. I ain’t hoping for no virginal blood, but, fuck, at least a little self-respect.”

“Alright.” Like she’d know what self-respect looked like. I knew her before she met me in that dark alley. She was a secretary, old, but not quite over the hump, working for a rich blood-letter who knew exactly how to twist the arms off of prospective clients until they were writhing and screaming on the floor, begging for him to end it all for them so they could sign the bloody contract and get on with their lives. He always got his contracts signed. The best in the business. But her? Oh no. She had him in the bag, like you wouldn’t believe. She would look at him and his wallet would fold out like her legs and, well, you know the rest.

“What the hell street are we on?”

“Binder.”

“Jesus fucking Christ. What do you take me for, a whore?”

I never answer those kind of questions. There’s a good reason for it. If you say no, you’re really saying yes, and if you say yes, you’re an asshole. I prefer to keep up the illusion that I still have a human heart. I don’t, but the illusion is good enough for me.

We watch the streets here for a short while before she finally decides she’s had enough and starts blurting out whatever secrets she’s gleaned from my brain. A few men walk by, unperturbed, but when another fellow donning the familiar human-hat slips by, the dead, milk-white eyes of his sacrifice staring blankly forward and the man’s face a cacophony of ugly thoughts, I realize it’s time to go home and put the old crone to bed. She won’t sleep, though. She’ll wake me up every hour or so to tell me about the horrible way I curl up into a ball when I sleep, or how I’m always shivering or running or mumbling. She can’t sleep—the sacrificed have no need of it, mostly because they’re supposed to be mindless and dead—but she’ll curse at me for stealing her beauty sleep anyway, and by morning, after all is said and done and I’ve been sufficiently dragged to the bottom rung of the social ladder, I’ll crawl out of bed and thank her for another glorious night of deep sleep. I won’t tell you what she says to me in the shower.

(End parts one and two)

And there you go. So? Thoughts? Hate it? Love it? Both?

I believe in Unicorns – Hagelrat

Hi, I am really hoping that my legendary lack of sense of time hasn't cropped up again and I am doing this in y'know the right month. Shaun has kindly offered me the chance to guest blog here over the next few days.
My permanent home if you don't know is Un:Bound which I am neglecting a little this week due to my involvement in the Special Olympics in my city, fortunately I have others to hold the fort for me there as I am attempting to help with here.
Anyway, my post for today:

I joined a local book club six months ago. I wanted to read outside my comfort zone and meet other people in the village who read. It's worked in that respect. We have read The Clockwork Orange, The Forgotten Garden, Cloud Atlas, The Gargoyle , Coraline & The life of Pi. Coraline was one I pushed for. The other books were all standard book club fair and there was nothing I adored so I made them read this spooky childrens book. They didn't get it. They couldn't see why button's for eyes, the characters weren't deep enough, they'd have liked to see the other father developed more. Umm the other father was a construct, he was supposed to be paper thin, that's the whole point. Buttons for eyes because it's abnormal and scary, y'know, creepy like a gingerbread cottage.
The problem was I simply couldn't understand why they didn't get it. Do they not still enjoy fairy tales? Would they want Hansel and Gretel's father to be a more complex character? Did they just accept that a wolf could get in, eat granny, don her clothes and then hold a conversation with Red? As children did these very lovely and intelligent women accept that it is possible to climb a tower using hair as a rope or to bring someone back with a kiss (well ok but even in my day fairy tales were a bit sanitised even if they weren't full on disneyed)? Presumably they did. So why don't they anymore?
My book group don't really do fantasy, they don't really get Coraline. My conclusion? They are too grown up and just can't believe in unicorns anymore. I think that's kind of sad. How must the world look if you never see dragons? So having now experienced this problem I started looking at it more widely. Obviously some people are just literary snobs and unredeemable, but what of the others, the grown ups whose inner child has given up? I really think that not being able to believe like a twelve year old hiding under the duvet with a torch, is what is keeping these people from enjoying genre fiction. I don't know how to fix them, they probably don't realise they are broken. They think comics are just for kids and LARP'ing is for the socially inept (seriously, they have no clue how hard it is to exist in their world 9-5 then fully take on a whole other set of social norms and acceptable behaviour when you escape for a few days).
So next time someone gets that expression on their face (the one that says ok you read at least 3 times more books in a month than I do, but it doesn't count because you only read SFF, y'know the one) remember, it's not their fault, there are no fairies at the bottom of their garden and we should be more tolerant and sympathetic. After all what could bring more pleasure than allowing yourself to believe in magic?

Writing Prompt #1: 300-word Story Challenge

Recently John of SF Signal challenged me to write an extremely short story using a rather bizarre prompt:
A steampunk culinary cat mystery involving manga in 300 words or less.
Since a commenter recently suggested I start offering writing prompts to my readers, I thought this would be a great way to start. Since I've already written my 300-word story on this prompt, I'm going to put it up to my readers to come up with their own versions.

So, in 300 words or less, tell a steampunk culinary cat mystery involving manga. You can use those elements however you please, so long as it remains under 301 words. Post your stories in the comments section for this post and let everyone else know about it. Anyone may enter, whether you're a budding writer or someone who has never really written anything before.

Here is my entry:
Catnip Pete and the Case of the Naruto Blanco
The rusty cat-box steamed and told me it had happened at midnight. Someone had stolen the infamous Naruto manga from Mr. Wilson’s front window, and the Mechanical Steam-powered Cat-box Enclave didn’t like that one bit. So I took the case, along with a recipe for Cherry Rhubarb Pie for the misses. I can smell it now, like catnip for the sophisticated palette.

That’s not all I smell: Mr. Wilson’s front window reeks of five-year-old, and the chocolate fingerprint smudges on the glass tell me I’m dealing with none other than Johnny Stumblefeet. I follow the scent; he’s close, too close, but what do you expect from a five-year-old?

I find him in the alley, munching on a chocolate bar and rubbing his grubby fingers over the pages of the manga. Already I can see that half the pages are ruined. He smells of old cheese. Gouda.

He sees me and grins. “Kitty!” His hands grab, tug my tail, mess my fur.

I push him away with a declawed hand. “Give me the manga, Stumblefeet.”

“No.”

I grab the book. No time to argue, the misses is waiting for her pie. He stands, but his grip loosens and I flash him a toothy grin and rip the book away. His feet catch underneath him as he pursues. I hear him strike the ground as I round the corner at the end of the alley. He’ll live.

Mr. Wilson grins when I return his Naruto. My reward is a can of cherries and some sliced rhubarb. Heading home, I think about that pie and salivate. The misses meets me at the door, her fur gleaming in the sun.

“So?” she says, wondering how it went.

I grin. “Elementary.” School, that is.

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Hope you all enjoyed that. Make sure to spread the word about this post and to post your entry!