Tag Archives: novel

When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 15

Canto Fifteen – About the Reefer Mary Celeste

The meeting at the library hadn’t happened on the day originally planned because Alice Stewart sometimes had to close the library when things came up.  Her daughter, Alicia, was a single mother raising a child alone, and some days the library simply had to be closed when the baby developed a mysterious cough and had to go see a doctor in Belle City.   All of this was explained to Mary, Pidney, and Valerie, and apologized for, by Val’s Aunt Alice as they arrived at the finally open Norwall library on Main Street.  The library was a thing of some pride to several Norwall families, the Clarkes and the Stewarts and the Duffys prominent among them because they had raised the money and remodeled the old butcher shop and bought all the books.  The place was a literary miracle for the small town, as most towns of that size did not have anything equivalent to it.

“I swear to you, Valerie,” said Aunt Alice, “I will make it up to you for having to put you off for a couple of days.  I will certainly help you three find whatever important research you are looking for.”

“I think we are looking for Tiki idols, Auntie,” said Valerie.

“Show her, Pid,” said Mary.

Pidney sat the backpack on the librarian’s desk and opened it.  He pulled out Valerie’s ugly little wooden man and sat it down on the desk. 

“I know a book that might help,” said Aunt Alice.  She went directly to a shelf that contained the 200’s from the Dewey Decimal system and pulled down a large old book called Treasury of Maori Folklore by A.W. Reed.  It had “Tiki” listed on a number of pages in the index.  So Aunt Alice handed the book to Pidney who soon found a picture that somewhat resembled the ugly little wooden man.

“It says on this page that Tiki was the very first man,” read Pidney.  “Apparently he found the first woman in a pond… somebody called Marikoriko… they became the first parents of all men.”

“So, he’s our bug-ugly great-great-great grandfather,” commented Mary.

“Doesn’t look so great to me,” said Valerie.

“Well, he’s found in most Polynesian cultures as a large piece of wood carved in the shape of a man.  And, um…”  Pidney’s voice trailed away.

“What, Pid?” asked Mary.

“Well, um…”

“Let me see,” said Valerie.  She grabbed the book out of Pidney’s hands.  The picture of a Tiki idol in the book seemed to wink at her as she tracked down the page to find where Pid was reading.  “Oh, here it is…”   Val began to giggle almost uncontrollably.

“What?” said Mary.  “Read it aloud.”

“In New Zealand, some Maoris contend that Tiki represents the penis of Tane, the god of forests and birds.  He is strongly associated with the procreative act.”  She read that and then broke down into a laughing fit.  One of those painfully embarrassing laughing fits that happen when something is entirely too personal to talk about with the boy you have a crush on and you can’t help but nervously laugh.

Pidney, red as the ripe tomatoes in Mrs. Clarke’s vegetable garden, wandered over towards the encyclopedias and began looking at the volumes of Collier’s.

“What else does it say?” asked Mary.

“It says that in the Cook Islands, at Rarotonga, Tiki is credited with being the guardian of Avaiki the Underworld.    Magical idols of Tiki can be given offerings to smooth the way for those who fear they are dying.  The idol maker is said to have magical powers and can in some cases bring the idol to life as a servant by chanting and touching the painted tattoos on the idol’s body in the correct order.”

“You’re kidding,” Mary said.

“No, really!  It says it right here.”  Valerie pointed to the disputed passage and Mary read it for herself.

“Well, it does say that.  But it doesn’t have any mention of the proper chant to use or anything.”

“This ugly thing does appear to have painted tattoos,” said Aunt Alice, looking at the idol’s protruding buttocks and arched back.  “Swirly patterns with little spots in the center like bull’s-eyes.”

“What was Captain Dettbarn’s ship called?” Pidney asked.

Mary looked over at the Polack who was thumbing through the “M” volume of Colliers’ Encyclopedia.  “The Reefer Mary Celeste.  Why, Pid?”

“This encyclopedia says it was a ghost ship.”

“A ghost ship?” gasped Valerie.

“Good heavens!” swore Aunt Alice.

“What does it say?” asked Mary in a skeptical voice.

“It says the Mary Celeste was an American merchant brigantine that was found sailing near the Azores on December 4th, 1872.  No crew was aboard.  A lifeboat was missing.  And they never found any trace of the crew.  Not the Captain, either.  Captain Briggs, his wife, and their infant daughter, Sofia simply vanished at sea and were never heard from again.”

“Pidney, that was a sailing ship more than a hundred years ago.  That was the Brigantine Mary Celeste.  Not the Reefer Mary Celeste.  Captain Dettbarn’s ship was a modern cargo ship with refrigerated cargo capacity.  They are not the same ship.”

“Oh,” Pidney said softly.  He closed the book.

The ladies all got a chuckle at Pidney’s expense.  But Valerie noticed that Pidney was still uneasy about the spooky connection.  She thought it was something that might later prove to be significant after all.  At least to Pid.

Leave a comment

Filed under humor, novel, NOVEL WRITING

When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 14

Canto Fourteen – Log Book of the Reefer Mary Celeste

Valerie opened the book to the page Mary had indicated with the red paper book mark.

“That’s the spot where the story seems to begin,” said Mary.  “The part before that ‘s all cargo manifests and navigational data.”

“Okay,” said Valerie, “Then here goes;” She began to read aloud.

We were sailing southwest from the Republic of Palau in Micronesia where we had taken on supplies at the big island of Koror.  It was September of 1979.  The seas were calm, although the first mate was tracking a big storm that could potentially turn in our way.   We were supposed to deliver the refrigerated meat and vegetables in our hold to Pinoy Proud  Food Markets of Manila by the beginning of October.  There were supposed to be bananas too, but we had made the mistake of putting the bananas in the freezer and frozen bananas become just the right shade of poo-poo color to make them unmarketable.  So the crew had been eating a lot of frozen banana pops.   Doc Johnson, whom we call Doc because he knows a lot of useful stuff was worried that we might inadvertently cause hyperkalemic death among the crew, which worried me a bit, but since no one else seemed to know what the heck hyperkalemic meant, we were okay with eating that many frozen bananas, but I was later led to wonder if, in fact, the whole hyperkalemic death thing might be the source of hallucinations.

It was a valid worry as it turned out.  Because that September, in the early morning on Monday, September 10th, Kooky Smith first saw the mermaid.

“Wow!” said Danny Murphy, “a real mermaid?”

“Well, that’s the debate, isn’t it?” said Mary.  “The story starts to get stranger and stranger.  And he even says it might be because they ate too many frozen bananas.”

“Does it say what the mermaid looked like?” asked Pidney.

Valerie looked carefully at the block of text ahead written in Captain Dettbarn’s goofy wrong-way-leaning handwritten letters.

“Um, yes, let me read that part.”

Chinooki was a naked woman from the waist upwards, with comely breasts and long pinkish-white hair.  Her skin was a kind of fish-belly-looking silver and her dark red eyes looked brown most of the time, but glowed like fire at night.

“Gonga!” said Danny, a word he often used to express both surprise and admiration at the same moment.

Pidney, however, was blushing a cherry red that covered most of his crew-cut head and neck.

“Chinooki?” asked Mary, “What kind of name is that?”

“It sounds kinda fishy,” said Valerie.  “Like Chinook salmon.”

“Or maybe Chinese,” suggested Danny.

They all turned and looked at Danny.

“What?  They call Chinese people Chinks, right?”

“Polite people don’t,” suggested Mary.

“Read more about what happened,” Pidney asked Valerie.

Kooky said that he saw her the first time off the starboard rail, swimming with her head and shoulders raised out of the water.  He thought she was some kind of shipwreck survivor, but when he hailed her to offer help, she waved at him and smiled, then dove and showed him her fish tail.

Of course, no one believed him.  Sea stories like that get told all the time, and Kooky liked to drink… sometimes even on duty.  We all knew he was quite capable of seeing things that weren’t real.

But the second time she was spotted, Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones were also on deck, and when Kooky shouted they immediately came to the rail and saw her too.  Now, Bob was like Kooky in a lot of ways, so we woulda thought he was making it up too, or just backing Kooky’s kooky story for yucks and kippers.   But Chuck was well known for both sobriety and honesty.  He was the man I trusted to keep the ship’s books because I knew he’d never cheat any of us out of a single penny we were due.  And he’d sooner cut off his own hand than tell a lie.

“We have ta catch her and bring her aboard,” Kooky said.

“You gonna eat her?” Bob asked.

“Are you daft, man?  I don’t want to hurt her,” Kooky said.  “She’s beautiful.  I want to catch her and keep her.”

“Be wary,” Chuck said.  “If she’s not a natural creature, then she’s some kind of unnatural menace sort of thing.  Bringing her on board this ship might be the last thing we ever do in this life.”

“Well, I for one, would very much like to see this real mermaid,” I said.  I would later come to regret those words more than any I had ever said before in my whole life.

The four young Pirates all looked at each other, and all four of them shivered at once.  Valerie could certainly read out loud in a way that would scare you out of your under pants.

Leave a comment

Filed under humor, lying, novel, NOVEL WRITING, old books, Paffooney, Pirates

When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 13

Canto Thirteen – When You Have a Real Crush

Mom had a point about Conrad Doble.  Every single time Valerie was in the same room with him, he looked at her with a look that meant…  Well, it seemed that way.  She made very sure that she was never alone in the same room with him.  She almost wished some times that Mary Philips wasn’t so accepting and was willing to just kick the old slime-bucket out of the Norwall Pirates.  But he was a link to the old Pirates.  Valerie’s cousin Brent had led a group of Pirates that included Milt Morgan, Andrew Doble, Eddie Campbell, Todd Niland, and King Leer when he was the littlest pimple-head in the gang.  Doble even claimed there were times when the Cobble Sisters, Sherry and Shelly, were considered Pirates too, but it was difficult to believe Conrad Doble because he always added random x-rated details to the stories whenever girls were talked about.  But this particular time, when Valerie had been invited to the Philips’ house to discuss the Pirates, Doble was not even invited.

In the basement of Mary’s house, Dagwood Philips, her father, had built a comfortable family room.  It was heated by a Franklin stove that Dag had put in with his own carpentry skills and ingenuity.

“This is a really nice room,” Valerie said.

“Thanks,” said Mary.  “Pidney’s mother Julianna calls it our make-out room.  She says it’s where Pidney and I kiss so much we give each other kissing disease.”

Valerie was shocked.  “You kiss a lot here?”

“No,” said Pidney.  “My mother is always joking about it.  She says that if I know a girl as pretty and smart as Mary, then why am I not already proposing?   Why am I always saying that she is just my best friend?  She is my best friend.”

That was a relief to Valerie whose inner little jealousy-fairy had suddenly been shouting in the back of her mind somewhere until Pidney had said that one perfect thing.

“Your Mom has a thing about mononucleosis, too,” said Mary.

“That’s true.  She had it when she was a teenager in Poland.  She claimed she got it from kissing a boy too much.”

“Does that kind of joking bother your Dad?” Valerie asked.

“Of course not,” said Pidney.  “When Mom tells the story, it was Dad that gave her the disease.  They both had it at the same time.”

Valerie laughed, even though it was not funny.

Danny Murphy plumped down the big leather-bound album that he had brought to the meeting.  It stirred up clouds of dust from the second-hand coffee table where he plumped it.  It was fat with added pages, being one of those loose-leaf albums held together by a decorative cord, one you could add extra pages to.

“What’s that?” asked Valerie.

“That is the Sacred Big Book of Pirate Secrets,” said Mary.  “I asked Danny to keep it for us until we needed it to look at.”

“What kind of secrets?” asked Pidney.

“The secret kind,” said Danny Murphy.  “All of the Pirates wrote down things they thought were important, wise, or… maybe wicked.”

“Did you read some of it?” Mary asked.

“I did,” said Danny.  “In several places in there, different Pirates wrote that seeing Sherry Cobble naked was a very good thing.”

Pidney was suddenly blushing furiously.  “Sherry Cobble?  Isn’t that Brent’s…?”

“His ex-wife,” said Valerie.  “She was a nudist even back then.  I guess they all saw her when…”

“Yeah,” said Mary.  “About that.  I got that book from my brother Branch.  Not everything in there is necessarily put there by the original Pirates.  My brother likes to tell funny stories.”

“He wrote down all the Pirate stories, didn’t he?” asked Danny.

“Yes, he has a very big imagination.”

“Still,” said Danny, “it is written in different handwritings.  And I think Brent Clarke signed his name to one of the naked-Sherry comments.  And there’s a lot of other dumb stuff and cool stuff in there as well.”

“Anything in there about Tiki idols and talking cats?” asked Valerie with a laugh.

“Not yet,” answered Danny.  “I think that’s gonna be for us to write.”

“Is Ray coming today?” asked Pidney.

“He said he couldn’t.  It’s just the four of us,” said Mary.  “But we have more than just this silly thing to look at.  Here’s the log book we talked about.”

She plumped the leather-bound volume down on the table next to the Pirate book.  It had an anchor symbol embossed in gold on the front cover.  And the title, Log of the Reefer Mary Celeste.

“Wowsers!” said Danny.  “Can we read it now?”

“I thought Valerie and I might read parts of it out loud,” said Mary.  “There are parts of this that just beg to be read out loud.  And Valerie’s Aunt is a librarian after all.”

When the Captain Came Calling is the prequel to Snow Babies which is now available for free at this link; https://www.amazon.com/Snow-Babies-Michael-Beyer-ebook/dp/B077PMQ4YF/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_1?keywords=michael+beyer+books+snow+babies&qid=1554128143&s=gateway&sr=8-1-fkmrnull

Leave a comment

Filed under humor, novel, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney

When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 12

Canto Twelve – Mom Matters

“Honey, I’m not trying to be mean to you or anything,” Valerie’s Mom said so that Valerie was clearly meant to understand that she was about to be very mean, but she wasn’t trying to.  “You have to tell us where you are going and what you are doing… and who you are doing it with.”

“Oh, Mom.  I’m not a baby anymore!  You need to trust me.”

“I do trust you.  I just don’t trust everyone you’ve been hanging around with in town.”

“You don’t trust Mary Philips?”

“Oh, I trust Mary fine, I…”

“Is it Pidney you don’t trust?  He’s a football hero, you know.”

“Pidney is fine too, I…”

“Ray Zeffer?  You don’t like Ray Zeffer?”

“I’m sure he’s a fine young man, but…”

“Then you don’t like Danny?  He’s practically my best friend.  He ain’t a girl like Jane and Wanda, or my cousin Stacy, but I can actually talk to Danny!”

“Valerie Elaine Clarke!  You are jumping to conclusions again.  You need to let me talk.”

Mom looked out the kitchen window at the table in the yard where Daddy Kyle and Uncle Dash were in serious discussion.  It was farm talk.  But it did seem an awful lot like older brother, Dash Clarke, was seriously lecturing younger brother, Kyle Clarke, about something that was seriously upsetting to both men.  Was that worry on Mom’s face?  Valerie wasn’t sure whether it was worry for Valerie, or worry for Daddy Kyle.  But she was sure it was worry-wart levels of worrying.

“You do realize,” Mom said, “that Conrad Doble is a lot older than you are.”

“Yes, Mom, I know.”

“And you know he was in trouble with the law?  He was involved in that whole wolf-dog thing when those attack dogs killed poor old Mrs. White.”

“Yes, I know.  But I don’t even like creepy old King Leer.  I try to stay away from him.”

“He’s a part of that club thing that Mary Philips is stirring up again.”

“You mean the Pirates?  We are a 4-H Club softball team, Mom.  They want me to play second base.”

“It’s a long time before summer softball comes around.  And you don’t understand what it was like before when those Pirates were making trouble in the 70’s.”

“Mom, Brent was the leader of the Pirates then.”

“Well, yes.  And your cousin is a fine young man now.  But the Pirates tell such weird stories and get into such weird situations.”

“Werewolves and an undead Chinese wizard, huh?”

“Now, you know I don’t believe any of those stories were true.  It’s just that…”

“You know that Torrie Brownfield had that hair disease that made hair grow all over his body.  He was an awful lot like a werewolf!”

“Okay, but that’s not what I’m trying to say right now.  That Doble boy is not trustworthy.  He is capable of some very bad things.  Maybe even drugs.”

“Believe me, I know, Mom.  But I can take care of myself.  And Pidney and Ray have both told King Leer to leave me alone or they would beat the snot out of him.”

Valerie’s Mom gave a brief chuckle.  “Pidney could do it too,” she said.  “Doble would be black and blue all over.   I have great respect for Pidney Breslow’s football muscles.  It’s just that…”

“I know.  When a girl reaches a certain age…  You know I had this talk with Daddy too.”

“Yes, well…”

At that moment, Daddy Kyle and Uncle Dash came storming in to the kitchen, the screen door making a sound almost like a gunshot as it slammed closed behind Uncle Dash.

“That goddam agent lied to me, Dash!” Kyle shouted.  “He promised me more time, and now he doesn’t even admit what he actually said to me before.  He shook my hand on it!”

“But he’s a government man, Kyle!  You should’ve known better than to trust the goddam FHA like that.  They wanted a chance to foreclose from the very start!”

Mom’s eyes were large and frightened as she looked at Daddy Kyle for answers, and Valerie was sure her own eyes were also.

“Kyle?”  Mom sputtered, “Is something wrong?”

“Oh, it’s the goddam FHA… er,” Kyle looked at both Mom and Valerie and appeared to finally register the big scared eyes.  “Um, it is something we should discuss later.  Not in front of the Princess.”

Uncle Dash suddenly quieted himself as well.  “Yeah, um… we’re not done yet, Kyle.  But I promised Dad I would look after all of it before he died.  I am not going to go back on my word.  We’ll find a way.  I just wish you hadn’t accepted those last two loans.”

“It takes money to farm, Dash.  You know I didn’t plan on the hail or the combine breaking down so soon.”

“Hell, I know you didn’t, Kyle.  We will find a way.”

Uncle Dash looked grim.  Daddy Kyle looked sad.   Valerie walked up to him and hugged him around the middle.  She didn’t know why, but she knew it was a very important thing to do just then.  And Mom was looking at her and nodding ever so slightly.  Not everything Valerie did was wrong.

Leave a comment

Filed under daughters, farming, novel, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney

When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 11

Canto Eleven – Clubhouse Craziness

Two days had passed since the magic cat had given Valerie the strange wooden statue.  Now, it sat on the crate that served as a table in the middle of the Ghost House.  The newly re-formed Pirates were all there.

“I think it’s called a Tiki idol,” said Pidney.

“How do you know that, Polack?” sneered Conrad Doble.

“It looks kinda like the ones in the Tiki Bird Show at Disneyland,” said Pidney sheepishly, “Mom and Dad took me there when I was twelve.”

“Didja like the show?” asked Doble.  “The singing birdies and everything?”

“Yeah,” said Pidney matter-of-factly, “I have always loved everything by Disney.”

Both Valerie and Mary Philips smiled at him.  Pidney was always gonna have a lot of the little boy he used to be in him.

“It reminds me of the book you were telling me about, Mary,” said Ray Zeffer.

“What book?” asked Pidney.

“Ray was there when I showed the book to Mr. Salcom.  He’s in my Modern Novel Class third period.  It’s the book about the last voyage to the South Seas.”

“The one your Uncle Noah gave you,” added Ray.

“Noah Dettbarn is NOT my uncle.  He’s just a family friend.”

“Did your Uncle come to visit you recently?” asked Danny Murphy.  “Since he came home again, I mean?”

“He’s NOT my…  Oh, never mind.   It came in the mail a month ago.  It’s where I got those stories I was telling you about, Pid.”

“Oh, yeah.   The stories that you’re gonna share with us to become the Merlin of the Pirates,” said Pidney.

Valerie admired the way Pidney’s eyes sparkled when he talked about stuff that excited him.  And Mary’s stories were always something that excited him, no matter where she got them from.  Mary’s eldest half-brother, Branch McMillan wrote lots of fantastic stories full of lies and jokes and other nonsense.  A lot of that had rubbed off on Mary.

“So, you have a magic book after all?  Like old Milt Morgan had?”  Conrad Doble looked at Mary with an accusing stare that made Val want to punch him in the ear.

“Well, it’s not a magic book.  It’s a ship’s log book.  It has latitudes and longitudes in it, sonar readings, and some stories about what Captain Noah Dettbarn has been up to that are either huge honking lies, or the most fantastic things that ever happened to someone from Iowa.”

“Cool.  You have the book with you?” asked Doble.

“Not yet.  I’ll bring it to the next meeting.  I have to read all the stories myself first,” Mary said.

Doble squinted at Mary.  Valerie thought that must either mean that old King Leer didn’t believe her, or that his tiny brain was being squeezed too tightly by all the information Mary had just given him.  Surely it was the latter thing.

“What are we gonna do with the Tiki-thing?” asked Pidney.

“You really got it from a magic cat?” Ray asked Valerie.

“Well, I don’t know if it’s a magic cat, exactly.  It’s that ugly white alley cat that lives behind the Main Street businesses, by the water tower.  Crazy old Miss Haire asked me to go talk to it.”

“And did it talk back?” sneered Conrad Doble.

Pidney and Ray both glared at Doble, apparently not liking the tone of voice he used with Valerie.   But it was pretty much the same ugly tone he used with everybody.

“Um… It talked to me… yes.”

“But I didn’t hear it,” said Danny.   “Only Val has the witch ears that crazy old Miss Haire was talking about.”

“Witch ears?” asked Mary.

“She calls it the knowing,” answered Valerie.  “She says it is using all your senses to tell you more than any one thing can tell you by itself.”

“That’s real dog poop!” growled Doble.

“Miss Haire is rather eccentric,” said Mary, “but I believe she’s a good person at heart.  Did she say anything about the Tiki idol?”

“We talked to her before we got the idol,” said Val.  “We didn’t see her or talk to her afterwards.”

“Well, I think we should look up more about it in the library,” said Mary.  “Val, isn’t your aunt the head librarian?”

“My Mom’s sister, Aunt Alice, yes.”

“Can you, Pidney, and I meet in the library tomorrow afternoon?”

“You bet!”  Val liked the idea of looking stuff up with Pidney.  Using his football muscles to pull books off shelves and turn encyclopedia pages really appealed to a girl who liked to see football muscles in use and up close.

So, it was settled.  The Captain’s log book would be the magic book that sealed the New Norwall Pirates, and Valerie would get to do research with two of her favorite people on Earth all because of a silly little wooden-headed man in a grass skirt and a very ugly mask.

Leave a comment

Filed under humor, lying, magic, novel, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney

When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 10

Canto Ten – Cat Magic, and It Isn’t Even a Black Cat

Valerie and Danny walked back towards Main Street unsure of what to do next in spying on Billy’s weird family.  How do you find out if someone is being hurt or tortured by their own family?  And what was old Witch Haire talking about?  Didn’t she know how scary she was?  And couldn’t she just come out and tell them what she knew?  Did she have to make kids discover stuff for themselves?

“Are you gonna try to do what she said?” asked Danny, kicking a stone down the street ahead of them.

“Do you even understand what she wants me to do?”

“Do I understand what a witch wants?”

“Yeah, that.”

“I have no frapping idea.”

“Frapping?”

“Hey, I have to go home and face Mom later.  She’ll know.”

Val grinned at him.  “Yeah, I suppose she would.”

“Look there, Val, it’s that damned cat she was talking about.”

It was indeed the cat the witch had mentioned.  It was a whitish color, about the color of muddied milk.  It had an ugly, misshapen head that was as flat as the flight deck of an aircraft carrier on top.  Valerie imagined little flying flea squadrons taking off from it in formation.  Its cat’s eyes were unusually large, expressive, and somewhat scary.  It had one light blue eye and one sickly green-colored eye.  And scariest of all, it was looking back at her like it was waiting for her to say something.  It just sat there in the alley behind the fire station, looking at her as if it wanted her to speak.

“Gawd, you are one ugly cat,” she finally said.  It blinked.

“You are pretty for a human.   But aren’t you supposed to talk to me about something else?”

Val was startled.  “Danny, did you hear that cat say something just now?  Without moving its lips, I mean?”

“Um, well, no…  Why?”

“What makes you think the stupid tail-yanker could hear me?  Did you know he once tied firecrackers to a cat’s tail and it wasn’t even the Fourth of July?”

“Danny?  That cat is talking to me.”  The cat seemed to be frowning, not something Val had ever considered a cat to be doing before.

“Val?  Are you feeling all right?”

“My name is Scraggles.  I don’t know if Mistress Haire told you that.”

“No, she didn’t,” Valerie said to the cat.

“Who didn’t what?” asked Danny, confused completely.

“Mazie Haire didn’t tell me that cat’s name, did she?”

“Sure she did.  She said it was called Scraggles.”

“If you are capable of learning the knowing, girl,” the cat hissed, “you’re gonna have ta pay a lot better attention than that.”

“Scraggles,” was all that Valerie said.

“You need to follow me down this alley,” said Scraggles in his spooky cat-voice.

“Okay,” Val answered.

The cat leisurely stood up and turned about, showing his somewhat scuffed-up hindquarters to Valerie and Danny.  It sauntered in an unhurried manner down the alley.  It passed between the fire station and the water tower.  Then it went behind the Post Office.  When they got to the garbage barrels in the alley behind Martin’s Bar and Grill, it sat down in the middle of the alley.

“Barkbarkbarkbarkbarkbarkbarkbark… BARK!”

Valerie and Danny both nearly jumped out of their skins.  It was Barky Bill, the dog the Martin family kept to keep the rats away from the trash barrels.   It shot out towards the cat who continued to sit with total unconcern.  Then, reaching the end of its chain, the dog nearly strangled itself and flipped on its back in a cloud of gravel, inches from the cat.

“I think the stupid dog knows he can’t get me,” said the cat, licking its right front paw disdainfully.  “It always nearly pulls it own head off to get me.  It is a beast with very little wit.  You’ll never hear any talking from him, no matter how much knowing you actually learn.”

“I think it’s cruel of you to torture the poor dog like that,” Valerie said.

“Are you talking to me or to the damned cat?” asked Danny.

“To the cat.”

“Oh.”

“Don’t you have some important questions to ask me?” the cat said.

“Yeah.  How does a cat talk like this?  You don’t seem to be moving your mouth.  Is it telepathy?  Mind to mind?”

“You are using the knowing.  You see what I do.  You look at the movements I make and the expressions I have on my face, and knowing what you know about cat behavior, you can actually infer what I have to say to you.  It is a matter of your brain figuring out what your eyes are actually seeing.”

“Why can’t Danny hear you?”

Scraggles looked at Danny, making Val turn towards him too.  She noticed the confused look of stupefaction on Danny’s face.

“He’s a boy.  Not even a very smart example of the species.”

“Hmm,” said Valerie.  She didn’t like the way this was going.

“So what…?”  Valerie stopped mid-thought.  What was the misty purple smoke that was suddenly filling the alley?   “What else am I supposed to learn from you?”

“Follow me.”   The cat continued down the alley, behind the Hardware Store and into the smoke.

Valerie followed.  Danny followed her.

Lurking at the far end of the alley was a dark, cloaked figure that seemed to be wearing a yachting cap, or a cap like the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island wore… a white one.

“Who’s there?” Val asked.

“I see him too,” Danny remarked.

In that instant someone seemed to whip off the cloak and cap… and then no one was there.  The alley was empty, except for a small wooden man carved from a block of wood and wearing only a skirt of grass and a super-ugly mask.

“Good Gawd!” gasped Danny.  “Did the cat do that?”                                                                                                

Leave a comment

Filed under humor, magic, novel, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney

When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 9

Canto Nine – What a Witch Wants

The house was called the Gingerbread House by all Norwall kids because back in the days of the original Pirates, the old German Lady, Grandma Gretel had lived there.  She had been a survivor of Bergen Belsen concentration camp during World War II, and was so full of life as a result that she baked endless piles of gingerbread to feed to the local kids.  She had treated them like her own grandchildren, the grandchildren that she would never have otherwise, thanks to the dragons of the Third Reich in Nazi Germany.

Mazie Haire had bought the Gingerbread House in an estate sale after the old German Lady had passed away with no heirs.  Not only did the mysterious Ms. Haire move in, but she totally changed the fundamental nature of the place.  It still looked like a gingerbread house on the outside, except for the horrible face on the door knocker, but the inside was like a Gothic horror novel.   The walls were now bare gray brick, like the inside of a medieval dungeon.  The wall that once separated the living room from the kitchen had been knocked out, leaving only a support pillar in the center of the big room.  The fireplace had been expanded into a considerable hearth, all of gray stone.  In the center of the hearth was a massive black cauldron where she apparently did all her cooking.  In fact, Val knew that she would only use specific kinds of wood under that cauldron because Daddy Kyle had made the mistake of offering to sell her wood for her fireplace a couple of years ago.  She had made him search all over Iowa for the amount of dogwood she needed and for sweetbriar that turned out not even to be from a tree.  She wanted the apple-scented flowering plants with hooked thorns to burn in her fireplace, but the ones she planted in the yard of the Gingerbread House wouldn’t be ready to harvest for two years.  After he finished that difficult job for her, he never volunteered to do such a thing again… even though she always seemed to have plenty of money and offered to make it worth his while.

“Hold that ice pack on the lump, girl,” Mazie said when Valerie accidentally let it slide a little to one side.

“Thanks for helping us,” mumbled Danny, “but if Val is better, shouldn’t we be going?  I mean… err… you are going to let us go, right?”

Danny glanced nervously at the silent black cauldron on the hearth.

“Afraid I’m gonna cook ya and eat ya, are ya?”  Mazie cackled softly.

“No, um… “

“Don’t you worry none, Danny Murphy,” Mazie said.  “I don’t need your pushy old mommy meddling in my business any more than she already does, so I believe I won’t eat you and give her reason to fret.  I have baby-sat for your little sisters and brothers.  I didn’t eat them, did I?  Cooking don’t make Murphy’s taste any better than they do uncooked.  I’m likely to get food poisoning.”

“You don’t really eat people do you?” asked Valerie, nervously.

“I might eat you, sweet girl.  Especially if you go around committing sins like spying through people’s windows.”

“You’re one to talk!” growled Danny, “with that telescope of yours in the attic room.”

“Oh, for goodness sakes, child.  Get yourself up to the attic and see for yourself.”

Mazie pulled the folding ladder down from the ceiling.  She forced both kids to go up, at the same time forcing Val to press the cold pack against the aching lump on the side of her head.  She followed them up.

The telescope itself was fairly large.  It sat on its tripod in the middle of the single upstairs room.  It was pointed out of the dormer window.  It was pointed up at the sky.

“That is not a spy telescope.  It’s a stargazer.”

Valerie looked all around her at the many pictures on the walls.  Most of them were fanciful drawings of constellations done in colored marker, and using both five and six-pointed stars.

“Well, you could point it at windows in people’s houses, couldn’t you?”

“Sure I could.  Try it young Murphy.  Find a window to point it at.”

Danny took hold of the telescope and pointed it more towards the buildings that faced the Gingerbread House on that side.  There was the back side of the Fire Station.  There was also the back side of the Post Office, Kingman’s Grocery, the old Brenton Bank, Victor Martin’s Bar and Grille, and Stewart’s Hardware store.  He could also see the ground under the water tower and the front corner of old Cecily Dettbarn’s front porch.

“Not much to see, huh?”

“Well…  If the windows were open…”

“How many windows do you count, boy?”

“Not counting the windows on the Dettbarns’ porch?” asked Danny.

“Not counting them…”

“Two.”

“One is the window in the back room of the fire station, and the other is on the back side of the Hardware Store.  And, as you can plainly see, that one got broken a few years back and is covered from the inside with wood and cardboard.”

“Yeah, um…”

“There’s no x-ray vision knob on there anywhere, is there?”

“No, ma’am.”

“There most certainly is not.  I do not use that thing for spying on people.”

“But my dad says you are always up here watching everything with this during the day.”

“I don’t generally watch people.  Here, look at these.”  Mazie opened a drawer in the sideboard and pulled out a sketchbook.  It was filled with pictures of dogs and cats.  Mostly different pictures of one dog and one cat… one very ugly cat.

“That’s Billy Martin’s dog,” said Danny.  “That’s Barky Bill.  I don’t know the cat, though.  It’s a really ugly cat!”

“The cat’s true name is Scraggles,” said Mazie.

“True name?” Valerie asked, “what’s a true name?”

“It is said, mostly by me, that if you know a cat’s true name, the name he calls himself, then you can divine that cat’s thoughts and personality.  Scraggles is what you might call a devil cat.  He is somewhat evil and works to further the causes of Chaos.”

Danny looked knowingly at Val as she continued to hold the ice against the throbbing half of her head.  “A witch, right?” he whispered.

“You may call me a witch,” Mazie said as if she heard Danny clearly in spite of the whisper, “but people who have the knowing are important to the community.  They can steer you down the road where your destiny lies.”

“Erm, sorry, Miss Haire,” muttered Danny.  “I didn’t mean to be rude.”

“Yep,” said Mazie, almost to herself, “If there is one admirable quality about that Mary Murphy with her great big personality and loud ways, it’s that she is good at teaching her children to be sorry about the wicked things they do.  Now, if only she could do the same for that vile old grandpa of yours.”

Danny frowned at that.  Val almost laughed at the change in emotion on his face… flustered embarrassment to confusion to indignation to almost speaking out, and back to flustered again.

“So you don’t spy on people with the telescope,” said Valerie.  “How is it that you seem to know so much about the people in this town, then?”

“It’s the knowing.  You are a clever young girl and could have it too if you just paid more attention to what you are seeing.  Try it.  Use it to solve the mystery of Billy Martin.  He needs you two, you know… just not in the way you believe now because of what you thought you saw.”

“How do I use it?” asked Valerie, wrinkling her nose in disgust.  “I don’t know how it works.  I don’t even know what it is, or what you mean when you say it.”

“Try it on the cat.  On the way home.  Look old Scraggles in the two mismatched eyes.  Try to figure out what he’s trying to tell you.  If you can do that, you can begin to use the knowing as a force for good in the world.”

Val nodded as if she were agreeing, though, in reality, she was merely anxious to get away from this strange old lady.  She didn’t even care anymore if she ever found out the answer to what a witch wants.                                                                               

Leave a comment

Filed under humor, magic, novel, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney