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Tag Archives: When the Captain Came Calling
Up until now I have been putting chapters of When the Captain Came Calling on this blog, in order, as I have been finishing the manuscript, and revising and editing at the same time. I used this method to show you all the work in progress, step-by-step, as I did the revision and editing.
30 chapters (that I mysteriously call cantos for illicit poetical reasons) posted on 30 Tuesdays for the last 30 weeks. That is less than half of the novel.
I took the 22,000-word first draft and turned it into a 57,000-word completed novel in that time. The illustration above is the final copy of the cover art for When the Captain Came Calling. It is a slightly altered version of the concept cover art I have been posting for 30 weeks. Val is wearing a skate-boarder’s t-shirt that up til now had a fairly accurate portrayal of what is probably a copyrighted cartoon character. So, I turned Rude Dog into a parody called Ride, Dog! and gave him two black eyes… or possibly sunglasses. I should know better than to draw other people’s cartoons too accurately, even though it was a real detail about 80’s skate-boarders that they often wore that same cropped t-shirt.
I have also shown you character art for some of the most important characters in the story. Pictured to the right are Mary Philips, the leader of the re-formed Norwall Pirates, a small-town adventure club and 4-H softball team. She’s a practical girl-next-door sort of leader, mentor, and friend who believes all the kids who have reached their middle teenage years need to stick together and help each other through the common problems of growing up, and dealing with moving from the fantasy worlds of who they want to become, into the practical worlds of who you really can become, if only somebody gives you a boost. And the Invisible Captain Noah Dettbarn, the victim of a South Seas Voodoo curse which he is trying to overcome by finding a virgin to throw into a volcano is pictured also. He’s not exactly the villain of the story, but he turns out to be a relative of the witch-doctor. And also, Valerie-squirrel is in that picture, clinging to Mary’s arm. At one point Valerie has to run through the trees to escape an ugly, evil, killer cat who wants to eat her while she is still the squirrel the witch-doctor turned her into.
And, for some reason, people in Norwall (not just kids) think that Mazie Haire is a witch. True, she is the current resident of the Gingerbread House that has always been associated with magic and witches. Also true, she has a telescope in that upstairs room and always seems to know things about other people in the community that she shouldn’t. by rights, actually know. But that doesn’t make her the villain of the story. It also doesn’t make her the hero.
These character sketches and short explanations were a kind of crafting of the puzzle pieces that helped me to put the entire big picture together piece by piece.
I am now moving into the final proof-reading and formatting that will lead to being able to publish this book on KDP with Amazon. You should look for that book to appear there in a couple of weeks. And I intend to make some noise about it here when it is done.
Canto Thirty – Rage in the Clarke Name
Kyle Clarke came storming into the Zeffer house before either the sheriff’s deputy or Mrs. Philips could arrive. He was angry to the point of curse words over what apparently had happened to Valerie. He made Mrs. Zeffer and Ray repeat the story of how Ray found her three times before he even started calming down. He made it clear he wanted the story from Ray, not Valerie. Once he had learned she had been unconscious, he didn’t even want to hear her version of events. He told her she would not be able to make sense of things until she was well rested and recovered. He wanted Mrs. Philips, a registered nurse, to examine her before any other investigation took place. Valerie could only imagine in horror what he suspected.
“Mrs. Philips! We need you to examine little Valerie Clarke,” said Mrs. Zeffer as Mary’s mother arrived at the Zeffer home. “She’s been attacked by someone.”
Mrs. Philips was very pale, and also seemed shaken.
“What is the matter, Mrs. Philips?” Kyle asked. “You seem unwell.”
“My daughter Mary and her boyfriend Pidney Breslow are missing. I’m afraid it has something to do with what happened to Valerie.”
“Oh, no! We’ve phoned the sheriff already and he’s sending Deputy Harper from Belle City to investigate,” Kyle said in a concerned tone.
“Do you know what happened?” asked Mrs. Zeffer.
Ray was sitting on the bed in Bobby’s room next to Valerie who was already wearing the clothes Kyle had brought her. Both of them looked at the adults standing just outside the bedroom doorway. Valerie’s fear for what might’ve happened to Mary and Pid was overwhelming. She leaned against Ray’s shoulder and began to cry softly.
“It was the strangest thing. The three of them were all in our basement, reading some old book. Then, suddenly there was a purple fog in the house. It smelled so sweet it made me sick to my stomach. It apparently knocked me out. When I came to, I found my daughter Amy and her brother Jason were both sleeping on the floor. They had been knocked out too.”
“And the kids were taken from your house?” Kyle looked alarmed and upset.
“Yes, all we found were their clothes in the basement. I have never seen anything so strange. Whoever took them must have stripped them naked first.”
“Oh, you poor dear,” said Mrs. Zeffer, taking hold of Lady Philips’ shaking hands and guiding her to a chair in Bobby’s room. “Sit here. Let me get you some tea.”
“Was there any indication who might have done this terrible thing?” asked Kyle.
“I… I don’t know,” Mrs. Philips said as Mrs. Zeffer bustled out of the room to make tea. “We found the empty clothes… and then you called asking me to come here and examine Valerie.”
“You should’ve said something then,” Kyle said.
“I… I just felt numb. I told Jason to look after Amy and came right here to see what I could find out.”
“All right… um, Mrs. Philips… I called you over here to examine my daughter Valerie. I was worried someone might have… well, she was found naked in the alley, unconscious.”
Lady Philips made a small strangling sound in her throat. Valerie knew immediately what she must have thought had happened to Mary.
“I’m okay, Daddy. I know for a fact that nobody did anything like that to me.”
“Valerie, princess, you were unconscious. Somebody drugged you and stripped you naked. We need to be certain what happened.” Daddy Kyle was trying to be comforting and soothing, but there was a cold, desperate edge to his voice that actually scared Valerie. She looked at Ray. Ray’s eyes were frightened too.
“Your dad is right, Val. You need to be checked. Mrs. Philips is an RN, a professional nurse. She’ll be able to tell.”
“Okay, Ray,” said Valerie’s dad coolly, “You should go help your mother in the kitchen. Deputy Harper will be here soon.”
Ray reluctantly let go of Valerie and stood up. “You know, sir, that I would never hurt your daughter.”
Kyle’s angry glare softened a bit. “I… I do know that, son. And believe me, I am grateful for the way you rescued her and brought her somewhere safe. I’m on edge right now. I don’t know what was done or who did it. You know what I mean?”
“Of course. If I were in your shoes, I’d be afraid for my daughter too.”
Ray nodded resolutely. Then he went out of the room.
“I will examine her in private, Mr. Clarke. I will be able to tell. I have treated rape victims before. I don’t have a kit with me, but I will know if one needs to be used… Only…”
“What?” Kyle asked.
“After we know, I am going to need you and Deputy Harper to find Mary.” Valerie’s dad was grim-faced, but he nodded his agreement.
I know this title sounds like a total bummer of a post written by a sixty-plus-year-old loser in poor health and totally obsessed with his own imminent mortality. And I know why you might think that based on the general trends you have observed in my reflections-on-life sorts of posts, especially if you actually do more than only look at the pictures in this goofy blog. But it is not the ending of me that I am obsessed about. It is the ending of a novel.
I wrote the first draft of When the Captain Came Calling in 1996, twenty-three years ago. And I knew then that it was not finished. And I thought, perhaps, that it would never be finished. It was a hard thing to write. And I knew from the writing of the novel Snow Babies that I could not write this book without writing directly about the suicide. Something like that can’t just happen to a major character in a series of novels in between what happens in novel one and the start of novel two. It has been a twenty-three-year struggle with a plot-knot that was almost impossible to untangle.
You see, the most important character in the patchwork-quilt-book that is Snow Babies, is Valerie Clarke, a skateboarding thrasher of a girl from the 80’s based on a girl I taught in the 90’s and named after a classmate I had a hopeless crush on in the 60’s. And she could not have been the character I wrote about in that book without having survived the fact of the suicide in the previous book. But when I completed Snow Babies, the Captain still didn’t have the suicide in it. And believe me, writing about suicide is hard. It is something that has been a life-long hardship to explain and to deal with.
You see too, that suicide has been a thing I have had to deal with in real life. Ruben got himself killed in a car accident in a car-theft joy ride. Osvaldo took his own life with a gun after getting out of prison. J.J. got drunk and ran his pickup truck into a train. And they were kids I taught and learned about from talking to them about their lives. And two of them I loved like they were my own children because that’s how teachers do… And I have spent three whole days in emergency rooms and one terrible night in ERs with suicidal teens, two long conversations with kids over the telephone when I had to talk them out of hurting themselves, and I had no idea where they actually were. And I have talked to counselors at three different schools about suicidal things kids shared with me more times than I can count accurately. And some of those incidents I am listing are about family members. And my cousin’s son… Well, you can see how that kind of battle can make a suicide something hard to write about. Especially since all the scars it leaves makes you hyper-aware of how precious and fragile life really is.
But you see three, now that I have taken time out to cry a bit for having written that last horrible paragraph, that it is important, as a writer, to share your truth with the world in the best way you know how. And as the spirits of Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and Terry Pratchett nod knowingly from beyond, I can honestly say that the best way that I can deal with it is by writing comedy, making readers smile and laugh and feel good about enough good stuff to make up for the bad stuff that everybody faces… even suicide. And I have finally passed the test. I wrote the chapter about the suicide. I have written about Valerie’s recovery, and I am nearing the end of the book, my current Work In Progress, When the Captain Came Calling. A good story can heal the world, the way Oliver Twist did, or the way The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn did. And while the jury has not yet convened on this book of mine, and I can’t begin to compare my book to those, I don’t hate it now the way I did for the last twenty-two years. It is going to get finished. And then the whole world can ignore it the way they have all my other books.
Canto Twenty-Nine – In the Arms of an Angel
When Valerie awoke, she was no longer on the ground. Someone was carrying her and she had someone’s jacket wrapped tightly around her bare body. Someone was gently, tenderly lowering her into a bed loaded with comforter and quilts.
“Be careful of her head, Ray,” said an older woman. Valerie vaguely became aware that a young man or boy was holding her, and lowering her onto soft bedding. “How did you ever find her in such a condition?” The woman was Patricia Zeffer, Ray’s Mom. Valerie looked groggily up into the face of her rescuer. It was Ray.
“I found her in the alley behind Martin’s Bar and Grill,” Ray said with deep concern in his voice. “She was just lying there, completely nude and unconscious. Did you call someone?”
“I am going to in a minute. I will call the hospital in Belle City for advice. Then I’ll call the poor dear’s parents. I just needed to get a look at what’s wrong with her.”
“She’s awake,” said Ray, smiling down at her as he pulled a quilt over her.
“Oh, my poor, sweet girl,” said Mrs. Zeffer, “whatever happened to you?”
“I… I’m not entirely sure.” Valerie’s voice was shaky and soft, almost too quiet to hear.
“Did you see if she was bleeding anywhere?” Mrs. Zeffer asked Ray.
“She had some bloody scratches on her shoulder and back, maybe from an animal.”
“Are you in pain, dear?”
“No… I mean, only where the cat clawed me. It stings.”
“Why were you in the alley naked? Did something terrible happen?” It was obvious from the look on her motherly face that Mrs. Zeffer wasn’t too sure she should be asking this question.
“I… I don’t know. I was with Mary Philips and Pidney Breslow. I’m afraid they may be hurt worse than I am.”
“They didn’t hurt you, did they?” asked Ray.
“Of course not. Someone else…”
“Do you know who?”
“Mom, you better call the sheriff too. They will need to find Pid and Mary and make sure they’re all right.”
“Yes, yes, of course.” Mrs. Zeffer hustled out of the bedroom headed for the phone downstairs.
“Ray, um… you found me naked?”
“I’m sorry,” said Ray. “I could see you needed help. I put my jacket on you. I… um… didn’t look too hard.”
“Ah… it’s okay. You saved me. You and Barky Bill.”
“The Martins’ dog? He fought off your attacker?”
“Well, yes… kinda. I think he killed my attacker.”
“He did? I didn’t see anybody lying there in the alley.”
“Well, you wouldn’t have. It was a cat. I think the dog ate him.”
“You were attacked by a cat? Come on, you have to tell me the whole story.”
Valerie did. She filled Ray in on everything he probably didn’t already know.
“Wow, that’s really messed up,” said Ray. “The witchdoctor wants you as a virgin to sacrifice to the volcano, but the cat wanted to eat you?”
“That’s how I understood it.”
“I’m glad the cat didn’t eat you.”
“You… ah… Ray… can I ask you something?”
“Yes, Val. I can’t promise I know the answer, but you may always ask.”
“Thanks… uh, Ray… you saw me naked in the alley?”
Ray blushed and looked away from Valerie’s face. “Yes, I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to be sorry… but… um… am I the first girl you ever saw naked?”
“I know you never had any sisters…”
“No, I didn’t, but…”
“I mean, it’s okay if I’m your first.”
“You aren’t. Mary didn’t tell you about me, huh?”
“Well, yes, but… I mean, no… well… what was she supposed to tell me?”
“About why I need friends now? Why she thought I needed to be a Norwall Pirate?”
“About why you are so sad all the time?”
“No, not really.”
“Well, you see… um, I have a girlfriend already.”
“You do? And you’ve seen her naked?”
“Um, yeah. You see, she’s pregnant.”
“She is? Who is she?”
“Carla Sears from Belle City. She’s the prettiest girl in my class.”
“And she’s gonna have a baby?”
“So, you’re gonna get married, then?”
“No. Her parents won’t allow it. They blame me for the whole mess… and I suppose they’re right.”
“She’s going to have the baby all by herself?”
“Well, that’s one of the things they are talking about… I mean…” Ray’s eyes were filled with tears.
“You mean they might…?”
All Ray seemed to be able to do was nod.
“Oh.” Valerie’s eyes began to gush tears too. “I’m so… sorry… I mean…ah…”
She reached up and put her arms around Ray’s neck. When she did, the quilt and the jacket fell away, revealing her naked self to him. She was past mere embarrassment, but she held on. He cried against her neck.
As he struggled for control of his emotions, she knew they had to talk about something else. Anything else. The walls around them were painted a warm, sunny yellow.
“This room is very pretty. Is it your room?”
“No,” he said simply. “It was my brother Bobby’s room.”
“The one that died before I was born.” Ray had enough control to pick up the fallen jacket and put it back around the naked girl. “I never knew him.”
“That’s sad too.”
“Yeah. And hard. I was the replacement child for Mom and Dad.”
“They knew if they had another child, especially a boy, that he could be a hemophiliac too, just like Bobby. But they took the chance anyway. They were heartbroken by his death, and well…”
“So, they had you.”
“They did. And now I’m…”
“You would be a great dad, Ray… if they… um…
“Yeah… but they won’t.”
Valerie squeezed him tightly. She was beginning to see things in a way she never had before. Ray was worthy of love.
Canto Twenty-Eight – Squirrel Versus Skaggs
Valerie-squirrel hustled out towards the alley once more. How do you find your focus and take back your own mind? Could it possibly have something to do with not listening to nonsense from the mouth of a witch? But things that were affecting her now were things that came in clouds of purple gas from the mouth of the Tiki idol called Oojie Magoober. Maybe she had to not listen to him… or it… or whatever the hell it was. She scampered back towards the end of the alley where she had first crossed paths with the little wooden man.
The alley was unnaturally quiet. She looked all around for Skaggs the cat, or the dog Barky Bill. Not only could she not see them with her little squirrel eyes, she couldn’t smell them with her little squirrel nose. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. She could smell the poo-poo smells from the area where she knew the dog had to be because it was chained up. But Barky Bill was not boofing out cat warnings, or prowling around. He was apparently in his little lean-to doghouse by the back door of Martin’s Bar and Grill.
There were no other squirrels chittering. Valerie-squirrel was also deeply concerned about what may have happened to Mary-squirrel and Pidney-squirrel. Did Oojie and the cats catch them? Maybe eat them? She shuddered to think such a thought.
So, she crept forward ever more wary and ever more alert. Her little pointed ears were perked straight up and listening intently. She continually looked behind her for stalking cats.
It was eerie how quiet the alley was. Not only were the squirrels quiet, but no birds were singing. No insects were buzzing. It was as if Mother Nature was holding her breath… worried about… something evil about to take place.
Valerie-squirrel timidly put her little nose to the spot in the alley where the wooden Tiki idol had first appeared. Anyway, she was pretty sure it was the right spot. But the smells were mostly unfamiliar. She had not been a squirrel long enough to really know what the smells all stood for.
Skaggs was on top of her before she could even look up from sniffing the dirt. Cruel cat claws pricked deeply into squirrel muscles and her squirrel heart practically exploded with instant terror.
“Well, well, pretty little one. I wonder how beautifully you are going to taste.”
“No! You cannot eat me!”
“Let’s see now… are you not a squirrel and significantly smaller than me?”
“And do I not have you pinned down helplessly under my claws?”
“BOOF! Boof! Boof! Boof! Yipe!”
Barky Bill came rocketing out from hiding, leaping for the terrible, awful, wicked cat. With full force he reached the end of his chain and practically tore his own head off straining against the chain-enforced back flip that came next.
“Ah, very clever, stupid dog. You thought if I couldn’t see you hiding under that old piece of carpet I would never know you were there. But you forgot, that you are chained there, and you never go anywhere else. And I never forget where the maximum chain reach is.”
“You can’t eat her, cat!”
“You surprise me, stupid dog. I didn’t know you could animal-talk.”
“I can’t. I’m just a stupid dog. But you can’t eat her. She’s not really a squirrel. You can tell by the smell. She’s really a human girl. You must leave her alone!”
“Ah, but the point is, she thinks she’s a squirrel. If she thinks she’s a squirrel, then I think I can eat her. I also think she will be delicious.”
Valerie-squirrel was suddenly aware of the real meaning behind the cat’s words. “She thinks she’s a squirrel…,” the cat said. But what had Mazie said? Something about her focus… Yes. Someone had definitely used magic to convince her that she was a squirrel. But she wasn’t a squirrel. Barky Bill knew she was a real girl because of her smell. And if she still smelled like a human…
Suddenly Valerie Clarke was lying there in the dirt in the middle of the alley by the Main Street water tower, as naked as the day that she was born. She was a human girl… all girl… and definitely too large to be eaten by a cat.
Shocked, Skaggs leaped splay-footed into the air. He was totally taken by surprise by his prey’s sudden change of form. He came down awkwardly and nearly didn’t land on his feet.
“You… you can’t do that! Only witches have the power to see through spells!”
Valerie, now herself again, was feeling very woozy and uncoordinated. She tried to get up from the ground and failed, only managing to sit up in the alley dirt.
“The laws of magic cannot be broken by such as you… such a weak-willed…”
“BOOF! Boof! Boof!” Barky Bill lunged out to the fullest possible stretch of the chain, and then the chain snapped. The dog had the ugly white cat with the mismatched eyes neck-first in his jaws. The jaws tightened and you could hear Skaggs’ neck-bones snap. The cat went limp.
“I told you I would kill and eat this cat.”
“Yes, you did. Thank you, Barky Bill. But how are you talking with a cat in your mouth?”
“Oh, dogs can’t talk, miss. You know that.” “Yes, I suppose you are right.” Valerie was drained in every fiber of her bare body. She smiled weakly at the dog, and then everything went black.
*********************************Remember, this is promotion week for Recipes for Gingerbread Children********************
Canto Twenty-Seven – Begging for Counter Spells
Valerie-squirrel scurried through the cat door in the back of Mazie Haire’s Gingerbread House. Once inside the house, she searched all around the downstairs for Miss Haire. Not finding her anywhere around the kitchen cauldron and fireplace, or the sitting room and reading area, or even the bathroom, the little blond squirrel finally found the witch upstairs, watching something through the telescope.
“So, you still aren’t practicing your natural skills of seeing and knowing, I see,” Miss Haire said to the squirrel at the top of the stairs.
“Chit Chitter Chit-it-it!” said Valerie-squirrel angrily, even though she meant to say, “I need help, I’ve been changed into a squirrel!”
“You don’t have to talk like that, you know. Just say it in regular people words.”
“Chit-chitter… do I use regular people words?”
“Just like that, girl. You have to use the acuity of your own intelligent mind to see through the fog the spell put on your brain.”
“Well, that’s what a witch calls it, of course. But it is more like a bit of chemistry in gaseous form, I believe. Did you not come in contact with a cloud of purple smoke at one point or another?”
“Yes. The Tiki idol filled Mary’s basement with purple smoke right before Mary, Pidney, and I all turned into squirrels.”
“Yes, and somehow you were given some sort of powerful suggestion right before that, I believe.”
“Ideas were placed in your head prior to inhaling the gas, I believe. Someone talking, or chanting, or telling a story perhaps.”
“There was… some chanting… yes.”
“So, that was the trick of it.”
“Can you…? Can you cure me? Or reverse the spell? I don’t want to be a squirrel, Miss Haire.”
“You are not a squirrel, child. You are a rather stupid and completely naked girl. I can’t cure stupid, but you can.”
“What do you mean?”
“You will continue to think you are a squirrel until you take control of your own mind and convince yourself that you are not.”
Valerie-squirrel looked down at her own paws and golden-blond fur. How exactly was that done? Everything she saw, heard, and smelled told her that she was really a squirrel. A human girl in her mind, but definitely a squirrel in all her body parts.
“So, what do I do?”
“Obviously, me telling you that you are not a squirrel is not enough. So, you are going to have to go back out there and find for yourself the proof you need to turn yourself back into a beautiful young lady, and not a silly, naked squirrel.
“Go back… out there? Where the cat is? And that dog, Barky Bill?”
“Yes. Go back out there and find the focus, find the part of your brain that reminds you that are not what somebody else says you are. Go out and find the part of Valerie Clarke that is not a squirrel.” Valerie-squirrel swallowed hard and looked back down the staircase. This was going to be hard.
Canto Twenty-Six – The Secrets of Stupid Dogs
Valerie-squirrel, despite the almost endless supply of squirrel energy provided by a fast-pumping squirrel heart, was panting and out of breath as she stopped at the corner of Cecily Dettbarn’s porch roof. She needed to catch her breath, but she could see Mazie Haire’s Gingerbread House on the other side of the Norwall water tower, just across the street. Even better, she hadn’t seen Skaggs the cat for at least two blocks.
The evil cat had nearly caught her as she ran along the fence back at the Kellogg place. When he had lunged at her, he missed, and he toppled into the concrete birdbath that sat between the fence and Mrs. Kellogg’s big bay window on the west side of the house. She hadn’t seen the cat since she had left him behind there, sputtering cat-curses and spitting out old sparrow feathers.
Valerie-squirrel had gone back up into the trees to travel the rest of the way north on Whitten Avenue, and then from maple to maple along the north side of main street.
Now, looking carefully all around for signs of danger and lurking cats, she climbed down the trellis on the side of the Dettbarn house. She then sniffed the air and scampered quickly across the street to tall grass under the water tower.
“Boof! Boof! Boof!” barked Barky Bill from the end of his chain behind Martin’s Bar and Grill.
“What does boof mean, stupid dog?” Valerie-squirrel thought in the direction of the stupid dog.
“Well, it means boof, or possibly bark in dog language. How is it you don’t know that already? You are a dog, aren’t you?”
Valerie-squirrel was stunned. “I thought the cat told me dogs can’t speak. You’re Barky Bill, aren’t you?”
“I answer to that, yeah. But also, Stupid Dog, and Ijit Dog, and Damned Dog… and some other strange words that end in dog.”
“Skaggs the cat told me you couldn’t speak.”
“Yeah. The cat’s right. Dumb dogs can’t speak.”
“But you’re talking to me now. What do you mean dogs can’t speak?”
“You are a dog, ain’t ya? Dogs can talk to other dogs. We do it by waggin’ tails and sniffin’ butts and stuff. You know about that, right?”
“I’m not a dog. I am a girl, actually. Valerie Clarke. But I’ve been turned into a squirrel by black magic.”
“Oh, yeah. You are a squirrel! I can smell you from here. But not the eating kind of squirrel. I can smell that you are not a real squirrel.”
“Do you smell the cat? Skaggs? He was chasing me, trying to kill me.”
“No. I hate the dumb cat. I will kill him some day. I don’t smell him now… no.”
“Good. Promise you won’t eat me if I go over to the Gingerbread House?”
“The witch’s house? You don’t want to go there.”
“Yes, I do. And I don’t want you to attack me when I try to get there.”
“Oh, I would never eat you. You smell like the prettiest little squirrel-girl that ever lived in this town. I will protect you. I will boof at the cat if he comes near. And one day I will kill him. But I could never eat you. Barky Bill is a good boy, yes, he is.”
Valerie-squirrel was a little worried that Barky Bill might not be completely sane as dogs go. She didn’t know if she dared run past too close to the chained and perpetually angry dog. So, giving him the widest possible berth she could manage, she slipped under the water tower and down the alley behind main street into the back yard of the Gingerbread House. “Boof! Boof! Boof-boof-boof-boof!” was how Barky Bill ended their brief conversation.
Canto Twenty-Five – Squirrel on the Lam
Valerie-squirrel found that even though she had rapidly ascended through the hollows of the brickwork, dodging obstacles, squeezing through narrows, and working her paws at a high rate of speed, she reached the top with energy to spare. Her squirrel-body was almost infinitely flexible and full of muscle. What skateboard miracles she could perform if her body were only like that as a human!
But she came out under the eaves of the Philips’ house and was soon racing across the roof. She leaped into the branches of the tall maple that stood in front of Mary’s house. The leaves were mostly yellow with fall color, but bright reds and scarlet colors tipped the five points of almost every leaf. The view was amazing from the heights of the tree, especially because of her squirrel eyes that gave her very nearly a 360-degree view around her. It was like three-dimensional vision warped into surround-see super-reality. And yet, as amazing as the view was, her squirrel heart knew despair because the Pidney and Mary squirrels were nowhere to be seen. Had cats eaten them already? She shuddered to think it. Was it up to her to save them? Could they somehow save her?
There was no squirrel-plan that made sense at that moment. Her instincts were screaming at her to run and climb and jump… and eat nuts. But how could any of that be helpful? Especially eating nuts?
She knew this predicament had to be the result of magic, probably evil magic. How could she turn herself back into a human girl? The only real magic she was aware of before this terrible curse was the magic revealed to her by the witch, Mazie Haire. Somehow she had to go and find the Haire woman, and somehow she had to make the woman understand, through a stream of screamed-out squirrel curses, chreeks, and chit-it-its, that magically somehow the witch would interpret, what had happened to Valerie, and that she needed the old witch to change her back. But how to get there?
“I see you up there!” The cat’s voice startled her because, even though she could clearly see the cat on the ground far below, it sounded as loud as if she were face to face with the ugly old cat. She calmed herself with the realization that the cat was somehow telepathic.
She looked intently at the cat, wiggled her blond tail, and thought intensely in its general direction. “Can you read minds, damned old cat?” she heard herself say.
“I can hear you animal-talking,” said Skaggs from below. “I can’t hear what you’re thinking. But I don’t need to know that to know you must come down from that tree to get the help you need.”
She ran along a maple branch and launched herself through the air, landing in a branch of the elm tree next door in the Pixeley’s yard. “I can travel from tree to tree!” she cried out with her mind.
“Not all the way to where you need to go. There is too much space for you to cross to go north to the witch’s house.”
“How did you know I wanted to go there?”
“Where else would you go in your present situation? You need that old witch’s magic to undo what Oojie did. Am I right?”
“You are about as wrong as anything could be… because you are… you’re evil! Evil is always wrong!”
“I am not evil. But I will admit, to a squirrel a cat surely seems evil.”
“I will find a way.” She leaped down onto the red tar-paper shingles of the Pixeley house. There was no tree near enough going to the north, but there were bushes around the house. And there was a line of pine trees in Tom Kellogg’s yard to the north.
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.