By the Book
Repairperson Saradeeh huffed and tossed her sewing kit aside.
“Nothing serious. He’s been in a bit of a scuffle. Lost a button, which I was going to sew back on, but it appears I’ll have to do an emergency parlormaidectomy before that happens. Also seems to have lost his hat, a straw boater with a red hatband, imported regardless of cost from the Susquehanna Hat Company.”
“Chap knocked it off,” said Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog).
“Oh,” said Head Librarian Devra Langsam, with the industrial-strength sarcasm available only by prescription for librarians, “did you notice there are other people in the room?”
“I say,” said the young man.
One doesn’t become Head Librarian by missing one’s chances. Before his attention could be reclaimed by his beloved, Devra drove to the heart of the matter. “What happened to you?”
“I was on my way back here. On foot, you know. It isn’t far, and I fancy walking is good for me. Not too much walking, naturally. I knew a chap once, cousin of a friend of mine, who hurt himself quite badly walking–“
“You were on your way back here,” said Devra, with a firmness of purpose that was not to be denied.
“Yes. And these two chaps stepped out of an alley and flanked me. Next thing I knew, I was jolly well in the alley, you know, and one of the chaps had knocked my hat off. ‘I say!’ I said. That had no effect on them, though. It was as if I hadn’t spoken. I wonder if they were deaf? No, no, they weren’t, and I’ll tell you how I know: One of them said, ‘Get that hat,’ and the other one bent down to get it. That’s when I tore myself out of the one chap’s clutches and shoved the other chap out of the way and ran like billy-o! They’d have caught me, but a school had just let out and I sort of dodged amongst the students, you know, and got away. I went to ground: took cover until I was certain they had lost my scent.”
There’s a Furry at the Bottom of My Garden, Or, The Cat Who Fell to Earth
When I finally looked up from the pattern I was drafting, it was getting dark outside. Seven o’clock already. I tidied my equipment on the desk and flipped open the laptop for one last check of my inbox before finishing work for the day. Corrections and questions on some pattern instructions from one of the magazine’s test crafters awaited a reply, but I could answer that in the morning.
I shut down the computer and turned out the lights, intending to spend a cozy evening in the sitting room watching TV with a cat or two curled up on my lap, and maybe a glass of wine.
I had almost forgotten about the stray, until the scratching started at the kitchen door.
There he was, looking up through the window, proudly offering me a very dead vole.
“Sorry, my lovely, but I don’t really fancy that: it’s very kind of you to offer, but I think I prefer pizza. Want some? We could send out?”
He looked at me steadily, with the dead vole hanging either side of his mouth like a limp moustache, then dropped it and uttered a sharp, “Maoow!”
“Oh, so you don’t fancy mouldy vole, either? I don’t blame you. Let’s see what’s we can find for you, shall we?”
I opened the back door, slid through before the cat had a chance to realise his opportunity, and dropped a few cat treats by his feet, carefully not approaching too closely.
He sniffed them, licked one, picked it up delicately between his teeth and crunched it, then politely turned away and vomited on the tiles.
Veva, my human, goes quietly about her day and even notices me on occasion. But if I weren’t sharing my house with her, I’m not sure how she would manage. She is afraid of mice, panics if a bird comes in through an open window, and runs outside while shouting into her cell phone. When help arrives to show the creature the way out, she moans with gratitude, fearfully reenters the house, and plops down on the couch, exhausted. To be fair, she is showing some age.
I do worry that her sleep habits are inconsistent with sunrise and sunset. Though I attempt with all gentleness to begin her day with the rising sun, so that she can incorporate a reasonable number of naps before dark, she merely feeds me and goes back to bed. I believe her to have been reared somewhat carelessly, though with affection. Certainly, with affection.
Herders and Herdees
Janet Wolanin Alexander
Dream on, Two-Leggeds! You may well fancy yourselves as the herders; but we four-leggeds, especially we cats, know better.
Leader of the Pack
“There’s a new cat in town,” announced Kitty Me with a long drawn out purr.
“Rrrr, who is he? Tell me all about him.” Kitty Lulu sidled up to Kitty Me as if they were BFFs.
“Yes. Tell us,” purred the rest of the she-pack.
“Okay. But …” Kitty Me turned her back to the other cats, wrapped her full, silky tail around her, then looked over her shoulder. “… the first thing you need to know is, he’s mine.”
Claws scratched on walls and pavement. Green eyes narrowed. Kitty It flicked her tail back and forth. She moved gingerly past the others and closer to Kitty Me.
“Rrr,” growled Kitty It. “What makes you so sure of yourself?”
“He kissed me.”
A chorus of envious “Meows” echoed in the corner of the alley, near the dumpster of a high-class restaurant which they claimed as their turf.
“When? Where?” purred Kitty Lulu.
“Never mind all that,” hissed Kitty It, as she pushed Kitty Lulu aside. “What makes this new cat something special?”
Kitty Me licked her paw and slowly rubbed it down the front of her long neck.
“He’s so . . . feral.”
This time the pack emitted a breathy gasp and a slew of whispers.
“Did she say feral?”
“Isn’t that risky?”
“Whatever is she thinking?”
“She’s not. You know how it is, Dearie.”
Things might have gone much better if my ex-husband hadn’t been such a dip and I wasn’t such a bad speller. But he was and I was and, due to unforeseen circumstances, that day swiftly went to Hell in a hand-basket.
Nimrod was at my apartment — again! Dogging me. Whining and following close on my heels like a forlorn puppy. “Take me back, Barbie. I’ve changed. Really. I’ve changed!” Then, like the adult hyperactive child he was, he switched canoes in midstream. “Have ya seen my Spider-Man comics? I must’a left ’em here. You probably threw ’em out. Right?” Insert dramatic pout here. “You always throw out my stuff.” Cue the midstream canoe. It spun back around for his impassioned ending: “Take me back. I looove you!!!“
Every — single — time Nimrod walked through my door (yeah, Nimmy’s clueless and cruel parents actually named their only child that classical Victorian name; any wonder he preferred that everyone call him Nimmy?), every single time I was filled with equal parts confusing fondness, chuckling amazement, and angry disgust for this twit.
His dog-and-pony show might have been endearingly sweet if he’d not already taken this act on the road and bombed on Broadway. Nimrod’s an actor, as is yours truly. Difference being, Nimmy could never hold a job, as he never stuck to the script, while I was a director’s dream. I was known in the world of soap operas as the famed, phenomenally bad-ass character Peaches Kielbasa. That is, until the other day when I died once again on Promises To Keep. This time they decided to kill Peaches off simply to bring in a teenage daughter she’d conceived during a nasty bout of amnesia — and birthed while in a coma — while, known to no one else in the whole entire world, she was held captive on a deserted island by that eccentric and quite madly-insane Scottish multi-billionaire Dingus J. Twiddle of the world-domination-seeking Twiddle Dynasty: I kid you not. Soaps. Gotta love em. Or change the channel.
Out of the Cabinet
“It wasn’t our fault,” said Nefron. His square face reddened and his already-porcupine hair seemed to bristle even more.
“Exactly what was not your fault?”
Ona and Ventula giggled. “The cats,” they said in unison.
“They were cute cats,” said Egal. His blue eyes flashed defiantly. “And they didn’t hurt anything.”
“We didn’t conjure them,” said Lob. “We just — sort of — let them loose.”
“And they didn’t hurt anything,” repeated Egal.
“I see,” said Playit, “and just where were these cats?” A picture of a stream of cats toppling over bottles in the Potions Room flashed through her mind.
“Well,” said Lob, “they weren’t really anywhere until they got let out.”
“Perhaps you should start from the beginning.” This was from Broka, always the rational one behind those owl-like glasses. She had once been painfully thin, but a steady diet of good food and love had changed her into quite a pretty little girl. And so smart, thought Playit, already two levels ahead of her former classmates.
“We were in our clubroom,” said Issim. “Ona and Ventula were practicing some spells and–“
“It wasn’t our fault,” declared Ventula. “The door to that old cabinet just opened.”
“Well, it was an Opening Spell,” said Lob. “But it really wasn’t their fault. How were they to know there would be something in that old thing? It’s been there as long as we’ve used that room. What’s it been now, three years?”
“Anyway,” said Ona, “the cats came out — like, a whole bunch of them — and the room door was open–“
“–And they all just went out into the hall and were gone. We tried to find them,” added Ventula.
“I take it, you didn’t find them?” said Playit.
“Uh, well, not exactly,” said Lob.
Ghost in the Machine
T. Lee Harris
The Spiderling, still unaware of her presence, scuttled off. The UAMC didn’t have a lot of intel on the Emporium, but one piece it did have was that Spiderlings were part of a larger construct. They also were known to assimilate the remains of other, damaged units so they could be rebuilt. This one might or might not be heading back to the main Spider. Regardless, her best bet was to follow it.
As appalling as the Emporium was by itself, Miranda found the Spiderling sinister on a primal level. She’d never liked spiders and, while these weren’t real ones, they were close enough to awaken a deep unease. It was her grandmother’s fault. Gran had been a good story teller and the often gruesome tales of Iktomi, the spider-trickster spirit were some of her favorites. Her tales had sent Miranda and the other grandchildren away with bad cases of the shivers — and the lessons of the stories etched into their minds.
Enough delay. She’d better get a move on before she lost her lock on the nasty thing. She’d taken one step forward, then the passageway filled with the shriek and flash of a plasma bolt. It hit the Spiderling from the side and she saw it smash into a hundred pieces before the effects of the plasma overwhelmed the Carapace’s sensors. Over the echoes of the blast, she heard: “HAH! Gotcha, ya little roach-golem.”
Input was returning to normal when a short, slightly overweight man with wildly curly hair, wearing low light goggles and a mining company uniform, darted out and bent to brush the smoking remains into a scoop. Glancing up, he caught sight of Miranda and froze. “Uh oh.”
Procrastination was just one of the many gifts Rita possessed, and, when the task at hand was filling out thirty-seven questions about her marriage in the hopes of getting an annulment, it was easy to put it off. She needed the paperwork to go through, especially now that Jeremy was in the picture. She had answered the first twenty-three questions; only fourteen more to go. Question twenty-four wanted to know about her former spouse’s family and childhood. It had nine parts.
One thing was becoming crystal clear: her marriage had been a train wreck waiting to happen from the beginning. Still, this was not what she had planned thirty years ago, when she vowed to stay with Steve for life. She found herself in a relationship limbo, civilly divorced and yet married in the eyes of her Church.
“How did I end up here?” she said out loud. It wasn’t the first time she had asked herself this question. She knew the why’s of the divorce. Steve was on mistress number four by the time she left. He had stopped giving her any financial support to raise their youngest son, the only one still at home. He was mean and hurtful every chance he got. She knew why she had left. What she couldn’t wrap her mind around was the realization that she now hated someone who at one time she had loved with all her heart, someone she had had four children with, someone who had been there for the best and worst of almost thirty years of her life.
Her coffee cup half empty, she went upstairs to get dressed for the day. She thought back to her text message last night — to the hurt that had spilled out in words. She’d never really thought too much about the whole cat/dog mentality. Growing up, she’d had both and loved them equally. It wasn’t until she’d met Steve that she’d realized there were people who were one or the other.
Brett Alan Sanders
“Penny for your thoughts,” Cameron said, observing her sullenness with some alarm.
Mel just sighed and looked away, staring distractedly out the passenger window. A moment later she sighed again.
“Look. I don’t know what to couch this in, so I’ll just be direct. The world as we’ve known it is in collapse, the God of comforts strangely absent, and I’m not sure I love you anymore. That’s it, I’m finally out with it! And on the third point, I’m thinking maybe we should take a break for a while. Or maybe just call it quits.”
Cameron, after all his renewed efforts to please her, thought she was being rather petulant, though he did share her uneasiness about the fragile state of the cosmos. He glanced at her from where he sat behind his old Love Bug’s wheel, the ancient yellow Volkswagen Beetle he chugged to school in every weekday morning at a neighboring county’s alternative high school. He raised his brows, tilted his head to the right. Otherwise, his characteristically bemused stone face did not change much.
“Oh, really? Big words for the sweet little hippie girl I thought I married.”
“You think it’s funny. I’m not joking.”
“Didn’t say you were. Don’t mean to imply it.”
She opened the glove compartment, fiddled around for some tissues, began dabbing at her eyes.
“It’s not to get back at you, if that’s what you think.”
“Tell me what to think. I’m drawing a blank on this one.”
She sighed. He turned left through the rich foliage into the state park.