Category Archives: magic

Merry Christmas… (maybe)

This holiday is going to be different. Different from the holiday I grew up with. Different than the celebrationless non-holiday I lived with for twenty years. And different from the new traditions we established, my kids and I, as we pulled away from my wife’s religion. The pandemic affects everything.

I was born into a family of Iowa Methodists living in North Central Iowa in a tiny farm town called Rowan.

I remember Christmas being the most magical time of year. I believed in Santa Claus. I felt like the Christmas magic that we saw in seasonal specials on TV in black and white were so real… the realest reality there could be…even if Andy Williams wasn’t the host of the program. Candy canes and Christmas trees and sitting on Santa’s lap being terrified of getting it wrong… and making him think I was asking for a talking Chatty Kathy doll even though I was a boy… FOR MY SISTER, SANTA! FOR MY SISTER… Oh, gawd, that really went wrong. And we had family gatherings where we ate pot-luck family meals with Swedish meatballs and turkey and mashed potatoes with brown gravy and casseroles of fifteen different kinds and nuts and candy…eating ourselves into a semi-stupor as we also did only three and a half weeks before at Thanksgiving.

And presents. Everybody gave presents. And Christmas Carols in Church.

But time goes on. You grow out of believing in Santa Claus. You even grow out of believing in Andy Williams. Perry Como was better. And it was getting so commercial. And Christmas shows we loved as kids seemed so simple and lame when watched again as young adults.

And then I married a Jehovah’s Witness. If you are not aware of it, Christmas originated as a pagan holiday, the Roman Saturnalia. It was a night of feasts and orgies and excess. And Jehovah’s Witnesses believe their beliefs are the only true beliefs, and celebrating Christmas is of Satan. I celebrated Christmas for the last time in 1994. I married in 1995.

For the next twenty years I did not celebrate Christmas. At least, not out loud where Brothers and Sisters in the Truth could hear. And the season became very austere and sanitized for me by the religious integrity of those around me in the faith.

But there were friends in the faith that lost their faith and left the congregation permanently. And the people around me changed. And I was beset by illnesses, mine and my family’s. And Jehovah’s Witnesses are very good at helping the sick. But, apparently only for others, not me and mine. They began turning away.

I am probably disfellowshipped now. They have turned away from me, and I am now isolated from all those who used to be friends and acquaintances. My wife is still a member of the congregation. And this is good because she desperately needs to believe. It is a good life for her and keeps her relatively well. But I know they disfellowshipped me, even though nobody told me so like they always do in such cases. My wife barely talks to me now. And this is probably because members of the congregation are supposed to shun the disfellowshipped, even if they are family.

But I bare no one ill will. That may be part of the problem. The Bible directive is to “Hate what is bad.” And blood transfusions and psychiatry are both bad things according to the Witnesses’ understanding of Bible commands.

I didn’t need any transfusions, and though I have significant stress and diabetic depression, I was never hospitalized for that. But I did kinda fake some disfellowshippable offenses so that I would be the one, and my wife would still be able to be a Witness. She needs it more than I do.

And, to be quite honest, I need to feel a little bit of Christmas now in my old age and infirmity. After all, it is a holiday all about making sacrifices in order to give gifts to others. I know that this post will make Jehovah’s Witnesses cringe. But now that they are shunning me, I guess they won’t be seeing this anyway. And I wish them a Merry Christmas in spite of it all.

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Filed under feeling sorry for myself, humor, irony, magic, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Thinking About Thinking with a Thought-free Thinker

Yes, today is another in a long, tepid series of Art-Day posts, but it is also about metacognitive thinking. Specifically thinking about thinking using pictures to think with. (Maybe that title should say, “Free-Thought Thinker” rather than, “Thought-Free.”)

To start with, what does a person actually see when they close their eyes? My brain does not color everything on the inside of my eyelids black. Even in the dark of night with no nightlight so that nothing shines through my eyelids, my brain interprets the dark as shapes, patterns, and colors. Hence the inspiration for this picture.

But my brain is never satisfied with raw shapes, colors, and patterns. It has to interpret ideas into them. The mass of yellow and black resolves into a butterfly, or a sunflower, or an etude by J.S. Bach. The pink mass becomes a blond girl playing the music in my head…. a girl from piano-lesson days in the early 70’s. But naked. The way I always thought about her while sitting and waiting for my piano lesson and listening to hers. How else does a boy think about a pretty girl when he is fourteen?

And as the items in the picture take shape, they do also begin to tell a story. Who is this Dr. Seabreez? Is he a shaman of the Republic of Lakotah People? Is he a white man? Seabreez is not a Native American name. The naked boy by the tent flap has a crutch, and there is a mouse silhouetted nearby. Does that make him a medical doctor? A veterinarian? A professor of Native-American Studies? The mind begins to piece together a script.

But here we see that Dr. Seabreez has set up a new practice in Japan. Again the boy near the door has a crutch and there is a silhouetted mouse near him. But now the other boy has horns on his forehead. Why horns? And pointed ears? Is he a Doctor of Magic and Wizardry? Demonology perhaps? And what is an anthropomorphized panda doing in Japan? That’s clearly a Japanese castle in the distance. The collar Kanji is definitely Japanese in character.

And now there are horns again. Three of them by my count. And another naked character. But a Grecian background. The mind is here making connections between the pictures, noticing patterns. Appreciating colors. And turning every detail over in the mind’s eye, evaluating and analyzing.

Art, especially on Saturdays, totally engages the mind. That is one of the reasons we keep art around to look at again and again. It is the purpose of art to make us see something. And not just once, superfluously. We must see it in depth, looking beyond the surface.

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The Real Magic in that Old Home Town

Rowan, Iowa… Not the place I was born, but the place where I got to be a stupid kid, and have the lessons of the good and god-fearing life hammered into my head hard enough to make a dent and make it stay with me for more than half a century. I got to go to grade school there. I learned to read there, especially in Miss Mennenga’s third and fourth grade class. Especially in that old copy of Treasure Island with the N.C, Wyeth illustrations in it, the one Grandma Aldrich kept in the upstairs closet in their farm house. I got to see my first naked girl there. I learned a lot of things about sex from my friends there, and none of them were true. I played 4-H softball there, and made a game-saving catch in center field… in the same game where my cousin Bob hit the game-winning home run. But those were things kids did everywhere. It didn’t make me special. There was no real magic in it.

Being a farm-kid’s kid taught me the importance of doing your chores, every day and on time. If you didn’t do them, animals could get sick, animals could die, crops could be spoiled, the chickens could get angry and petulant and peck your hands when you tried to get the eggs. Cows could get grumpy and kick the milk bucket. Cats could vow revenge if you didn’t direct a spray or two at their little faces as they lined up to watch you milk the cows. And you never knew for sure what a vengeful cat might do to you later, as cats were evil. They might jump on the keyboard during your piano recital. They might knock the turkey stuffing bowl off the top of the dryer when Mom and Grandma and several aunts were cooking Thanksgiving Dinner. And I know old black Midnight did that on purpose because he got to snatch some off the floor before it could be reached by angry aunts with brooms and dustpans. And all of it was your fault if it all led back to not doing your chores, and not doing them exactly right.

But, even though we learned responsibility and work ethic from our chores, that was not the real home-town magic either. I wasn’t technically a real farm kid. Sure, I picked up the eggs in the chicken house at Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich’s farm more than once. And I did, in fact, help with milking machines and even milking cows by hand and squirting cats in the faces at Uncle Donny’s farm. I walked beans, going up and down the rows to pull and chop weeds out of the bean fields at Uncle Larry’s farm. I drove a tractor at Great Uncle Alvin’s farm. But I didn’t have to do any of those things every single day. My mother and my father both grew up on farms. But we lived in town. So, my work ethic was probably worth only a quarter of what the work ethic of any of my friends in school was truly worth. I was a bum kid by comparison. Gary G. and Kevin K, both real farm kids and older than me, explained this to me one day behind the gymnasium with specific examples and fists.

Being a farm kid helped to forge my character. But that was really all about working hard, and nothing really to do with magic.

I truly believe the real magic to be found in Rowan, Iowa, my home town, was the fact that it was boring. It was a sleepy little town, that never had any real event… well, except maybe for a couple of monster blizzards in the 60’s and 70’s, and the Bicentennial parade and tractor pull on Main Street in 1976, and a couple of costume contests in the 1960’s held in the Fire Station where I had really worked hard on the costumes, a scarecrow one year, and an ogre the next, where I almost won a prize. But nothing that changed history or made Rowan the center of everything.

And therein lies the magic. I had to look at everything closely to find the things and strategies that would take me to the great things and places where I wanted to end up. I learned to wish upon a star from Disney movies. I learned about beauty of body and soul from the girls that I grew up with, most of them related. And I invented fantastical stories with the vivid imagination I discovered lurking in my own stupid head. I embarrassed Alicia Stewart by telling everyone that I could prove she was a Martian princess, kidnapped and brought to Earth by space pirates that only I knew how to defeat. And I learned to say funny things and make people laugh… but in ways that didn’t get me sent to the principal’s office in school. Yes, it was the magic of my own imagination. And boring Iowa farm towns made more people with magic in them than just me. John Wayne was one. Johnny Carson was one also. And have you heard of Elijah Wood? Or the painter Grant Wood? Or the actress Cloris Leachman?

Yep. We were such stuff as dreams were made on in small towns in Iowa. And that is real magic.

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Filed under autobiography, commentary, dreaming, farm boy, farming, foolishness, goofy thoughts, humor, magic, Paffooney

Day After Day

Posting every day keeps the imaginary writing muscles toned and renews my basic energy levels. But it also becomes a chore on certain days. Like today. The weather has got me down with arthritis woes. Typing like this is it not as easy as it should be. And when I have to labor at it to make the paragraphs flow, sometimes I just turn it all into rambling babbling. I spin my mental wheels and get nowhere.

I can use this post to tell you, however, that I have now started a new work-in-progress. I have already pounded out the first four thousand words of The Wizard in His Keep.

This is the final story in the arc of the character Milt Morgan. This story has been gestating in my brain since 1995. Though, if I am honest, it began with fantasies I had back in fifth grade. The main character, Milt Morgan, is half me and half the other Mike from our gang back in Rowan in the 1960’s. Back when Mike and Michael were sometimes good friends and sometimes the brains behind evil plans and terrible tricks. He supplied the devious know-how, and I provided the creative spark that lit the schemes on fire.

But this story is advanced to the computer age.

Milt Morgan is 50% me and 50% my best nemesis, Mike Bridges

In 1996, Milt Morgan was a 34-year-old video game designer living a double life in a high-tech, state-of-the-art computer lab. It is then that he mysteriously kidnaps the three children of his child-hood friend’s sister and takes them away to a magical world that only two people in the entire world have the keys to. Milt is the Wizard. The other Key-Master is Daniel Quilp, the Necromancer. A battle for the soul of the world must take place, and Daisy, Johnny, and Mortie Brown are a part of it.

Anyway, the words are beginning to pile up again. And again I have made something out of nothing. My book promotion is still going on until tomorrow. The link above can still get you a free e-book copy until after midnight tomorrow. And nobody, it seems, still wants my book for free. (How’s that for a pathos pitch?) We’ll see how it all ends tomorrow.

Johnny Brown in Purple Glammis (the Magical Kingdom)

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Dibbletey Dobbletey Doo

On Wednesday I subbed again for a science teacher at Long Middle School. They were eighth graders, the chest-thumping apes at the top of the monkey-house food chain. There was an AVID class with too many at-risk and under-disciplined kids in it. And the Long ESL classes contain too many rabid monkeys who don’t understand monkey-English well and are liberally dispersed through-out the harried eighth-grade teachers’ day. In other words, the Wednesday job caused me brain damage from which I haven’t recovered from fully at this writing.

So, today I am obsessed with finding the magic necessary to avoid having any more teacher-meltdowns and brain injuries like that 6th period debacle. (“Debakkil” is a magic word, but it is an evil magic word),

In the Disney animated classic Cinderella, the Fairy Godmother uses a magic spell called (in a song) “Bibbety Bobbity Boo”. In the course of singing the song, the old F-G turns a pumpkin into a carriage and mice into horses, the swayback horse into a driver, and the dog into a groom. I need a spell like that to remedy the monkey-house meltdown syndrome that I was victimized by.

So, here is how “Dibbletey Dobbletey Doo” will work.

The spell is cast initially on a male student, a monkey-like being swinging from the light fixtures, but obviously smarter than the other male monkey-students. You could magically turn his raggy clothing into a ball gown and embarrass him completely (which would be true to the metaphor, but would turn him into your worst nightmare)… but don’t. Instead, tell him that he is smart enough to be a leader. Put him in a position of power, making him in charge of a group, and telling him his consequences will be either a reward for good leadership, or the blame for the bad behavior of the group. Remind him that he has natural leadership skills. If he speaks to others respectfully, they will be respectful to everybody. If he shows them how to behave properly, they will use him as a positive example. He will get the credit for the good things they will do.

“Dibbletey Dobbletey Doo!”

It works. We had a poster project to do in groups of four. They were supposed to create a diagram of the mechanics of the four seasons of the year, with a sun and four representations of the earth with its axis and equator tilted properly in relation to the sun. That’s the kind of assignment that can result in the explosion of the science lab or the total cannibalization of the substitute. But I made it successfully work in four out of five classes.

Why did it go wrong in that last period? 1. Classes that are out of control for the regular teacher are impossible for even the best sub to control. 2. Too many students in one classroom are impossible to control when you have more groups than work tables. 3. Supplies run out at the end of the day, and empty pens and markers become projectiles. 4. Eighth graders all need to take mandatory naps in the afternoon (using sedative darts and a dart gun when necessary) but no school or principal is aware of that fact. 5. Cranky afternoon baboons grow longer fangs than they had in the morning.

So, Mickey must revise and rework this particular spell for the afternoons. And he must refuse the next job coming from this particular teacher.

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Filed under education, horror writing, humor, insight, kids, magic, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, teaching

The Boy… Forever (Free Book Promotion)

My most-recently-published book is now available for free from Amazon. I have tried this free-book promotion idea with other books, but this is the newest book I have available. I need to give away a bunch of books, so help yourself to one with the above link.

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Editing, Revising, and Re-writing

My new novel, finished the first time the day before yesterday, is not what writers call a rough draft. My writing process consists of doing rough draft, revision, and proofreading chapter by chapter. Or, as I call them, canto by canto.

It was written following an outline that existed first in my imagination as it was played out like a television show, dreamed up episode by episode knowing what would ultimately happen by the end of the story.

So, the process about to begin is not a second draft. It is not a revision-step either, though minor revisions may happen in the final pass before publishing. It is merely a final proofread where the story is reread as a whole, and given necessary corrections of typos and boo-boos. As a writing teacher, I have seen too many young writers skip this final, critical step. They don’t go back and read the whole thing as one piece of writing, stepping back far enough to view the work of art as a whole. How can any good writer only read the thing through as he or she writes it and figure it is good enough as it is? It may be that, but it is probably not.

Adjustments will occur for me because this new novel uses characters from a series of novels in which time passes and people change. Those adjustments are what you can safely call revisions. The character of Milt Morgan is appearing in the novel as a narrator. He has appeared in the story cycle three times now, in three different novels, and this is the first time he is ever used as a first-person narrator. He has changed and grown up a bit from novel to novel. This time he is no longer a virgin. He has freed himself from the cycle of abuse that he and his older sister both endured from alcoholic parents. He has a deeper understanding now of what magic really means and what meaning it gives to his life to call himself a wizard. But he has yet to come to terms with how lying and fantasizing about life can lead to consequences. That part of his future story will be tackled in another story that is a novel in my head, but not yet written out in novel form. That is a future writing project called The Wizard in His Keep. So, I must check this novel to be sure that all the pistons in the engine of his personal story arc firing properly in this book to ensure that it carries him forward into that new adult character he must later become. Those pistons in the engine are what revision is really all about.

Characters will die in this novel, as they do in almost every novel I write. Usually at least one bad guy, and one good guy. Of course, the doomed ones are not fated to change in this book. The story is set. I won’t be surprised by a death in this story the way I was with Snow Babies, and The Bicycle-Wheel-Genius. Of course, this story is about Immortals, and it is possible that a character dies in this book who doesn’t stay dead.

The final pass through The Boy… Forever will not be a rewrite either. Rewriting is what I am doing to AeroQuest where whole chapters (cantos) are added and left out, New characters are created. Old ones are deleted. And the plot changes in how the details come together. And though the main plot points remain, spread over four books instead of one, they are reorganized and better fleshed out.

That book is becoming books. The original and the rewritten are quite different from each other. For one thing, the new versions will make use of my cartooning skill and allow the books to be far more illustration-filled. Rewriting is a total do-over.

So, my baby book is still not quite ready to be born. But it is a complete book. Only the messy business of giving birth remains.

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Ken Akamatsu

Ken Akamatsu

Japanese Manga is a complicated and difficult-to-understand thing. Of course, it is also a very beautiful art form when done well. There are many features of Japanese culture that play a prominent part in the comic book genre known as manga.

It is a strange fusion of the art of Meiji culture in Pre-War Japan and the Western influence of the U.S. Occupation forces after WWII. You read the comic from right to left, opposite to American comics, and the dialogue in speech balloons go from top to bottom rather than horizontally.

A manga by Akamatsu

I first discovered Ken Akamatsu’s manga brilliance in 2004 through Half-Price Books copies of his manga series Negima! I was reading the last two Harry Potter novels at that time and the Harry Potter-ness of the main character, Negi Springfield is what attracted me. He is a ten-year-old boy who is secretly a wizard. He is also so accelerated in school that they make him an English teacher in a Middle School where they give him an all-girl class. Of course, Negi is definitely NOT like Harry Potter. I learned that after three books worth of Negi’s magic sneeze that blows girl’s dresses off and all the other accidentally-seeing-middle-school-girls-naked jokes. Gushering nose-bleeds and the most-important girl character, Asuna, constantly ending up standing in front of the older instructor she has a crush on stark naked soon convinced me that Japanese humor and sense of adventure are very different from their American counterparts.

Negi Springfield is the little guy in the middle… Of course he’s the teacher.

The students in this ten-year-old teacher’s class are a diverse group of girls. One is a deadly ninja. Another is a dead-shot gunslinger. A third is an expert swordswoman who fights with a katana in each hand. Several of them wield magic like their teacher.

The adventures in this multi-book story are filled to the brim with magical battles, martial arts, demon summoning, Japanese festivals, and the many ups and downs of young love.

There are lots of instances of girls losing their clothing. Some of it happens in Japanese outdoor baths and spas. Some happens by magic. And some happens completely by accident.

Though, the writer seems to focus on it an awful lot.

Ken Akamatsu has been at the business of creating very similar manga stories for many years. He started in 1994 with A.I. Love You.

He has written three series since.

Love Hina came before Negima!

UQ Holder! is his current manga series.

So, I love the artwork of Ken Akamatsu. And it isn’t necessarily the story that makes it so good. The stories are chaotic and full of things that make very little sense to American sensibilities. And I do like artfully done naked girls. But the real attraction for me is something that I can’t quite name.

I just know it is there. Ken Akamatsu definitely has it. Whatever it is. (Maybe it IS naked girls?)

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The Fortuneteller

This week I ran afoul of the gypsy fortuneteller Madame Pumpkinwrinkle. She crossed my path and gave me the eye.

I, of course, immediately gave it back, and she popped the glass eye back into her right eye socket.

“You shud be seeing wot I am seeing, you silly, seely man.”

“Why? What are you seeing?”

“Your future is weary grave. You needs to be gibbing me ein nickel, und I weel tell you ov it.”

Well, I don’t credit her prophesying ability any more than the Trojans credited Cassandra. But I had a nickel in my pocket. So, I thought, “What the heck! Why not?”

She took the nickel and handed me the eye again.

“Yeck! I don’t want this!”

“I will look into your mind. Hold it up to the ear so I can see in.”

I held it up to my ear.

“What do you see?”

“Light from the udder side.”

“Somehow I knew that is what you would say.”

“I see many grave tings.”

“Like what?”

“Trumpy is elected again 2020. You is gedding so mad that you is having a strobe.”

“You mean a stroke?”

:”No, you is flashing in and out of existence. Strobe!”

“Ah, yes. So, is that what kills me?”

“No, you is not gonna die until after dat.”

“So, will I die before I get out of bankruptcy?”

“No, Bank-o-Merica not gonna let you die until day after you pay off everting.”

“Oh, so I die with everybody else from global warming?”

“No. You is gonna die before that.”

“Oh? How?”

“You is gonna try to be a substie-toot teachum. You will forget to wear cloze one day, and you is dying of embarrassment.”

“Well, then, I guess I already got my nickel’s worth. That’s enough for today… and maybe for a lifetime.”

“You come back wit anudder nickel. I got lots more.”

“Oh, good.”

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When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 24

Canto Twenty-Four – Squirrel Time

It was Skaggs the cat that started the action.   He stared at Valerie-squirrel with evil, mismatched eyes.  He licked his evil cat-lips.  Then he launched himself into the air, intending to come down on top of Valerie-squirrel’s head.

Pidney-squirrel was having none of that.  Faster than the eye could follow, he dashed over to defend Valerie-squirrel, latching on to Skaggs the cat’s left rear haunch with his sharp squirrel teeth.

“Yeeowehrrrrr-owwwerrrr!” screamed the cat as he tumbled over his wound into a very un-catlike pile of Pidney-squirrel-and-Skaggs-the-cat-awkwardness all wrapped up in a fight to the death.

“Chreee-chit-it-it-it!” cried Valerie, trying hard to say, “I’ll help you, Pidney-squirrel!” but not managing it very well.  She caught the tip of the cat’s tail in her mouth and bit hard with her own sharp squirrel teeth.

“Have a care, cat!” said Oojie.  “You can eat the boy-squirrel, but not the girl-squirrels.  I need them alive!”

The enraged cat was, paws and claws, splayed out in agony in four directions at once, spitting his fury and hatred at the squirrels who still had him impaled with buck teeth.

“You will die, beautiful one!” swore Skaggs in the mental language Valerie-squirrel had come to think of as cat language.  “I don’t care what the juju thing says.  He is only someone’s servant!  Not the witch-doctor himself.”

Mary-squirrel pulled at Pidney and made him let go of Skaggs’ hind leg.  She dragged him over to the furnace fixture and up a pipe that was wrapped with black tape where the squirrels could get a decent claw- hold.  Both Pidney and Mary squirrels shot up the pipe and out the open basement window above it.

Valerie-squirrel realized too late that she should’ve let go and followed them up the pipe.  The evil cat whipped his injured tail around and launched her toward the stairs.  Mary Philips’ father always kept a waste basket at the foot of the stairs, and Valerie-squirrel, head over tail, spiraled into it.

“Get outside and get the other squirrels!” Skaggs commanded the other cats.  “This one is all mine!”

The other cats disappeared up the cellar stairs and out of the house.

“You cannot kill the girl squirrel!” commanded Oojie with a shout.

“Spare me, little familiar… for that’s what you are, only the witch’s familiar, not the actual witch.  Magic flows through you, but it does not come from you.  You can’t control me.”    

Valerie-squirrel knew she was in deep and dire distress, so she felt around in the darkness for possible weapons.  But how does one wield a weapon with squirrel paws?  And then she realized that the waste basket was made of wicker.  She quickly bit into the soft woody fibers with her amazingly sharp incisors.

“I am going to report you to the master!” Oojie said to the cat.

“Go ahead.  I will have a nice squirrel lunch while you get him.  I have her trapped in this human trash thingy.”

The hole was big enough to squirm through.  And with luck, there was a mouse hole in the basement brickwork right near where she tumbled out on the dark floor.  She wriggled through the opening and into the hollow tunnel that was on the inside of the cinderblock wall.  She could see light somewhere far above.

“Where are you, beautiful one?  How can you be hiding under this paper and string and old apple cores?”

Valerie-squirrel heard the basket being batted away and new light flooded in the door of the mouse hole.

“Aha!  So that is where you have gone.”

The cat’s paw came reaching in through the hole, the only part of Skaggs that actually fit.  He nearly got a hold on Valerie-squirrel’s bushy blond tail.  She wasn’t used to having a tail the way a real squirrel would be.  She tucked it up underneath herself just in time.  Then she began to climb up through the brickwork.  It was a long, hard climb basically going straight up, but she could manage with four splayed squirrel legs.

“You haven’t escaped me yet!” cried the cat.  “I will have you still.” Her tiny heart beat even faster as she climbed.

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