Mr. Sugar vs. the New Guy #amwriting #Caturday @StoryADayMay 28

28I’m cheat-cheat-cheating! I wrote this story yesterday, because I’ll be busy all day today! I’m at the Edinburgh Outlet Mall in Edinburgh, Indiana, selling books (I hope!).

Last week, Mrs. DiMarco said she needed to get a kitty, which prompted this week’s Story A Day in May Mr. Sugar and Mrs. DiMarco story. I have a feeling it may grow longer later, with an adventure added to it, but this is all I had time for right now.

Mr. Sugar vs. the New Guy

by Marian Allen

Mrs. DiMarco had said something that worried me. She had indicated a desire to acquire a cat. Although my humans lived on the more financially advantaged end of the street, I considered Mrs. DiMarco my adjunct human. In fact – and, if it were possible for a white Persian cat to blush, I would blush to admit it – I considered her a friend.

Frankly, I didn’t want to share her. More specifically, I didn’t want to share the “scrippy-scraps” and “snicky-snacks” she always had for me, the elegant Mr. Sugar.

She had stated the desire as just that – rather a whim – and not as an intent. Nevertheless, the possibility existed. I had created a monster. Before Mrs. DiMarco and I had begun keeping company, she had been as anti-feline as any woman could be, and now she felt the lack of me whenever I returned to my own home.

This being the case, I thought it best to find and interview a few candidates, myself.

I began in the neighborhood, itself, intending to broaden my search by meow of mouth, if necessary.

Thomas and T.C., two brothers who were very much attached to one another and to their human, Andrea, were the neighborhood watchcats. They never went outdoors, but they knew all the comings and goings for blocks around.

“There’s a shy young female who haunts the corner,” T.C. said. “She lives in the storm drain and catches birds.”

I had no interest in her for Mrs. DiMarco nor for myself, females not being my type, but I made a note to warn her against her choice of domicile. There was an abandoned treehouse not far from the corner which would be much safer when the autumn rains came.

Tommy said, “I saw a new family move in across the street and a block down with a Siamese. He didn’t like the cat carrier, and he didn’t like the move. He cursed them so loudly we could hear him from here, couldn’t we, Teec?”

“We could! They keep him indoors, but he’s run away twice. He might be up for a change of ownership.”

It was worth checking out, supposing no better prospect offered itself before his next escape.

#

The matter was taken out of my hands.

Two days later, when I wearied of my vegetarian owners’ lack of meat scraps, I scurried across the street and down the socio-economic scale to Mrs. DiMarco’s overdecorated lawn. She was just getting out of her ancient Volvo with an armload of package and a cigarette dangling from her lips.

“Ragmop!” (She has always called me Ragmop, even now that she knows my true name.) “Guess what? I done done it!” She fumbled with her keys and pushed the door opened with her toe, leaving another smudge on the abused corner panel. “Come on in and meet the baby!”

The baby? A kitten? Oh, surely not a kitten!

“I hope you two get on,” she said. She dumped the bags onto the couch. A blood-curdling growl came from underneath that worn piece of furniture. “Snaggletooth? Is that you, boy? Come on out and meet my buddy, Ragmop!”

Surely, no kitten was making such a noise!

Mrs. DiMarco led me into the kitchen – not that I was concerned about being left alone in the room with the producer of that savage snarl; I didn’t want to make her wait for me, if she had food to offer. Estimable woman! She pulled a covered dish from the refrigerator and popped it into the microwave. I’m not adverse to cold food, but the warmth brings out the bouquet – in this case, of turkey giblets.

Alas! She divided the repast in two, and put the two dishes on opposite sides of the kitchen.

“Snaggletooth!” She sang the name, putting more syllables into it than she does into the yodeling passage of The Cattle Call.

And he came. He came slinking, close to the ground, one long yellow leg entering the room what seemed like minutes before the rest of his rib-racked, marmalade length followed, torn ears plastered back against his scarred head, his truncated and bandaged tail dragging the floor.

“That’s mama’s baby,” Mrs. DiMarco crooned. “The boys found him in the alley back behind the station.”

The boys were Mrs. DiMarco’s long-late husband’s fellow police officers, and the station was, of course, where they worked.

“He was in pretty bad shape, so they took him to the vet and had him patched up and dosed for whatever might ail him. Got him deticked and defleaed and hydrated and nourished and all.”

“He looks quite the warrior,” I said, and I confess I was more than a little nervous.

He snorted and talked around a mouthful of food. “If I was a warrior, I wouldn’t be such a mess, now would I?”

“Point taken,” I said, surprised by his plummy voice.

“Now, then.” Mrs. DiMarco beamed. “Sounds like you boys are chummying up. I was hoping you would.”

The cat Mrs. DiMarco called Snaggletooth finished his scraps and fastidiously washed his feet and face. His ears were not quite so laid back, and he even managed a sort of staccato series of purrs. He turned his head and squinted at me. His eyes opened fully, and his ears swiveled forward.

“Well, hello, handsome!” He slowly lowered the paw he had been about to attend to.

His eyes were a clear and brilliant green. His teeth were, indeed, broken and dull, showing him to be much my senior. I’ve always liked older cats.

“Hello,” I said, coyly. “Welcome to the neighborhood.”

“This woman,” he said. “Is she worth staying with?”

“She has many fine points,” I said. “If my humans were ever to abandon me, she would be my first choice of all the rest.”

“Meow, meow,” said Mrs. DiMarco. “You boys are bottomless pits. Wait here; I’ll be right back.” She left us in the kitchen.

He stretched his front legs, then his back legs, a truly impressive performance. I sat, my fluffy white tail curled around my immaculate paws. He approached me cautiously, touched his nose to mine, and began cleaning my face with his tongue. It was divine.

“Well, how about that?” said Mrs. DiMarco, coming back into the kitchen, ripping the top off a foil bag. A delicious scent wafted from it. Snaggletooth and I each gave it our undivided attention. “Two best buds already.” She scattered a handful of nuggets on the floor. Naturally, we each ate as many as we could manage with no concern for the other – one is only feline, after all – and traded yawns.

Snaggletooth sniffed about until he found a sunny spot he liked, in a location calculated to be most in Mrs. DiMarco’s way when she wanted to use the kitchen, and curled up there. He looked at me and said, “Friends?”

I touched noses with him and curled up next to him, my head on his long, orange right front leg. “Always,” I said, hoping it might be true.

“Rags and Snags,” said Mrs. DiMarco. “Ain’t that cute?”

Wasn’t it, though?

The End

MY PROMPT TODAY: Mrs. DiMarco said she needed to get a kitty.

MA

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Fireflies #amwriting #paranormal @StoryADayMay 27

27Mitchy is the main character of A DEAD GUY AT THE SUMMERHOUSE, my paranormal suspense novel set in 1968. Most of his short stories aren’t paranormal, but this final Mitch Story A Day in May story is. Is paranormal, I mean.

It’s been great fun, exploring Mitch’s childhood this month. Like Mitch, I was born in 1950, so I’ve been raiding my memory box for details of Mitch’s child psychology. You know what? Little kids are weird. It’s hard being a little kid, having to learn everything from scratch, with grown-ups talking in a code they know but you haven’t learned yet. They tell you lies they all know are lies and expect you to know it, too, except you don’t. Or they don’t tell you things because everybody knows them, except you don’t. It’s a wonder any of us grow up at all, with as many of our brains as we do manage to grow up with.

Fireflies

by Marian Allen

Around 1960, they bulldozed the wasteland, ran the creek through a culvert and covered it, paved over the creek and named it Bailey Creek Street, and built houses on both sides of it. Broke the heart of all us neighborhood kids but relieved all the parents, and especially relieved Mrs. Brandt, the director and house mother of Faelin Municipal Children’s Refuge, where I lived.

Of course, most of the kids at the Refuge who used to play there moved on, adopted or claimed by relatives or reclaimed by their parents when they got out of jail or whatever. I was the only one who remembered.

I’m James Michener Franklin, named by Mrs. Brandt for her favorite writer and her favorite president, found in an alley as a newborn in 1950 and never adopted, claimed, or reclaimed.

We never thought to wonder why there was a rectangular stand of trees running the length of three city blocks between our street and the next street over, not too far from the center of our small town. Kids don’t wonder about stuff like that. Later, I figured everybody called it the wasteland because it wasn’t worth the money it would cost to develop it until the town grew big enough to boost its value.

Whatever the reason, it was there, and us kids didn’t know it was just three blocks wide and two-houses-with-yards-and-a-street wide; to us, it was the woods primeval

#

“Hey, Mitchy! Let’s go play in the wasteland!”

I just feel sure a lot of kids said that to me over the years, but sometimes the invitation just pops out of my memory box, and it’s always that one kid saying it in his gruff voice, so funny coming out of a skinny, four-year-old body. Michael Peevy.

This was 1957, and “Remember Michael Peevy” was the slogan after that of all the grown-ups who didn’t want us to play in the wasteland. Come to think of it, Michael Peevy might be the reason the town finally developed the wasteland. Not many of us have that much of an impact.

So Michael Peevy, at four and new to the Refuge, thought old and Refuge-savvy seven-year-old Mitchy was his own personal big person.

This was after supper on a mild Friday in late May. It would be light enough to play for a couple more hours, but it was late enough for the fireflies to be out. Up and down the block, you could see kids running around their yards with washed-out peanut butter jars, trying to catch fireflies in them without letting the ones they’d already caught out.

“It’s too late to play in the wasteland,” I said. “It’s too dark in there.”

“Not yet, it i’n’t. Look, you can see the light in there.”

The evening sun was on the far side of the trees, throwing shade toward us, but shining between the trunks on the far side of the stream.

“Okay,” I said. “What’ll we play?”

Sometimes we were Indians, sometimes we were pioneers, sometimes we were bank robbers hiding out, or Robin Hood and his merry men. Sometimes the wasteland was a jungle and we were Tarzan and Bomba the Jungle Boy.

“Let’s be lost,” he said.

It never occurred to me that this was a bad idea. Being lost was the best game ever.

“Okay,” I said. “You go first.”

He was little, so he was better at getting lost, and I knew the wasteland like the inside of my eyelids, so I was certain to find him. When I was the one who got lost, I had to practically draw a map to myself or else he got scared and cried. He couldn’t help it; he was just a little kid. But it was embarrassing, you know?

So I closed my eyes and counted to ten, then went after him.

He always went straight in, so I did, too, and picked up his trail right away. Mrs. Brandt was always telling us to pick up our feet and not shuffle, but Michael was still a shuffler, so it was easy to see where he’d scuffed up the old dead leaves and stuff. It was one of the rules that you had to keep your eyes on the trail and not look up; otherwise, you might catch a glimpse of the person you were looking for, and that would ruin the game.

Michael usually only went a little way, then curled up and pretended to be sunk into an exhausted sleep.

This evening, though, he kept going. He even crossed the creek on the rock ford and recrossed it on the tree trunk ford. The ground inside the wasteland was dark, now, and it was hard to see the trail.

“Michael! I can’t see the trail! We have to quit! Let’s go back out and do fireflies until we have to go in.”

From the back of the Refuge, Mrs. Brandt called, “Mitchy? Michael? Are you in the wasteland? You come back right now, it’s getting dark! Ice cream!”

I relayed her message, as if Michael couldn’t hear it just as well as I could: “Michael! We gotta go! Ice cream!”

He didn’t answer.

“Michael?”

Still nothing.

I was pretty scared. I would really be in trouble if I came back without Michael, but I would be in trouble if I didn’t mind Mrs. Brandt and come when she called me. Don’t get me wrong, Mrs. Brandt was the next best thing to a mother, but In Trouble is like this huge deal for kids, like we’re going to get the electric chair or something. I’d rather have to stay in the wasteland for the rest of my life in a hopeless search for Michael Peevy than go back and get In Trouble.

Maybe he had curled up like usual and had really gone to sleep. Like a lot of little kids, he was a heavy sleeper.

I almost forgot about him when I saw a big, pale glow up ahead. My first thought was, “All this time, I thought fairies and fairy dances in the woods was made up!” I mean, first, I find out there really were dinosaurs, and now this? A kid just never knows what’s going to turn out to be actual factual and what’s something grown-ups just pretend is real for fun.

The glow didn’t spread out to dance, though, it shaped itself into a man, like a guy covered with fireflies, walking around in the woods.

He was pale in his own glow, wearing overalls and a flannel shirt and work boots.

He looked at me and smiled.

“Hey, boy.”

We’re not supposed to talk to strangers, but we’re not supposed to be rude, either. “Hey,” I said. I wanted to ask him why he was shining, but this was back in the children-should-be-seen-but-not-heard days, and asking a grown-up questions was impertinent, which seemed to be just one step below spitting on the sidewalk. So I just said, “I’m looking for a little kid. Michael.”

“Oh, is that his name? I thought I’d call him Toby. I used to have a little boy named Toby.”

Great. Here was another kid going off to a real home, leaving me behind! Ah, but no.

“I’m sorry, Mister,” I said, “but you can’t have Michael. He’s got folks who are coming back for him. His daddy’s just out of work, but they’re coming back for him as soon as they can feed him.”

“I’ll take good care of him.”

The man’s glow faded in and out, just like fireflies blink on and off. I didn’t like it when he faded; I wanted to know where he was. I was starting to think maybe he wasn’t an adopting guy, after all.

“You probably would,” I said, “but his people would be sad if they came back for him and he was gone. He’s really looking forward to them, too.”

“I miss Toby.”

This was getting weird. I wanted to run for Mrs. Brandt to come talk to this peculiar grown-up, but I was afraid he’d leave the wasteland with Michael tucked under his arm or something.

I didn’t know what to say. A lot of kids had been through the Refuge in my seven years, and they all missed the life they’d lost, the people or the circumstances they’d lost that had made them need the Refuge.

“Yes, sir,” I said. “Michael misses his folks, so I know what you mean.”

He almost faded away. Shadows rushed in to fill the space where he had been, but he came back and drove them away.

The man said, “He has people.”

“Yes, sir,” I said, kind of hating to disappoint him. “He does.”

He moved closer to me, although I didn’t see him take any steps.

“Do you have people?”

Of course, the answer was No, but it was only kind of No.

“I have Mrs. Brandt.”

Right on cue, she called again, “Mitchy! Michael! You come in right now!”

“That’s her,” I said. “She wants us to come in. I gotta find him and go. I’m real sorry.”

One firefly on his cheek shone brighter than the rest, like a teardrop catching the last of the sun.

The fireflies broke away from each other and rose into the trees, like smoke from a candle you blow out.

Michael called, from where the man had been standing, “Hey, Mitchy, you gonna find me or not? We gotta go in!”

We went in, and I told Mrs. Brandt about the man, although Michael claimed he hadn’t seen or heard anybody.

Mrs. Brandt only heard the part of what I said that scared her most, and she called the police and reported a tramp in the woods and an attempted child abduction. The cops asked me a bunch of questions, which I answered without telling them about the firefly glow. Since Mrs. Brandt hadn’t said anything to them about it, it must not be important.

After that, playing in the wasteland was forbidden and punishable, the reason being that there were tramps who steal children lurking there. “Remember Michael Peevy.”

And, in 1960, the wasteland was bulldozed and built over. Soon after that, I was the only kid at the Refuge who even remembered it. And I would never forget.

The End

MY PROMPTS TODAY: fireflies

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The New Name of Reticence #amwriting #fantasy @StoryADayMay 26

26I almost forgot I wanted to write more about Brother Reticence, from a previous Thursday in this Story A Day May challenge. On Thursdays, I’ve been writing stories set in the world of SAGE, my fantasy trilogy. So here he is, on the last possible Thursday of the challenge.

It’s been so much fun, exploring corners of the world that didn’t make it into the books! There’ll be a collection of SAGE stories coming out Real Soon Now, called SHIFTY, because SAGE is about — among other things — change, variation, and perspective.

The New Name of Reticence

by Marian Allen

The former Brother Reticence requested no hospitality on his way down the mountain. People who saw him approaching gave him the widest possible berth or shut themselves and their children into their houses. They even called their dogs and cattle away from him. He still wore his habit and boots, which marked him as a monk, which meant he had lived on Antosillia’s very border, contaminated by contact with the outside world.

He was glad no one spoke to him. If he had told them he had not only spoken to an outsider who wanted to cross the border, he had also failed to kill her when she sinned by telling him the monastery wasn’t the place for him, they would have driven him away with sticks and stones.

He didn’t want company just now, anyway. He needed to think; he needed to choose a new name, to decide if he should make a plan or simply wander until he found his place. All of Antosillia spread before him, from the foot of the mountains across the hills and plains to the distant sea, invisible in the distance. Though his heart still longed for the austere beauty of the forbidding mountain peaks and the warm serenity of the Cavern of the Labyrinth, the lowland of Antosillia had never stopped calling him back to the comforts of her lush beauty. How could you name a man who was both faithless and faithful, two-minded and steadfast?

The monks had named him Reticence, to remind him to hold his tongue, but he was already reticent enough for the outside world. He had come to the monastery with the name of Purpose, because that was what had led him, after much wandering, to the guardianship of the pass. Should he take that name again, now that he had returned to the search?

By the time night fell, bare rock and high meadows had given way to rubble and thin dirt, flowering ground cover and berry bushes. The cold mountain air had softened to what, for a man who had spent years in the heights, was mildness. The air was thick down here, as hard to breathe as the monastery air had been when he had first climbed to what he had thought was his life’s work.

He found a stream, one of the Ten Thousand, as tradition had it, that fed the many rivers that separated Antosillia into cantonments and united the country by all emptying into the same sea.

The sea. He removed his boots and soaked his feet in the stream. They weren’t sore, for monks were on their feet from dawn until dark, sometimes in boots and sometimes barefoot, but they were hot, and they were unaccustomed to being hot.

He stripped off his habit, spread it behind him, and stretched back on it, feet still in the gurgling water.

#

He had pulled his feet out onto the bank sometime during the night, though he didn’t remember doing it. His skin, loinwrap, and habit were clammy with the lowland’s perfumed dew.

The stranger had been right. As much as he had missed the lowland, being in it again taught him how little he had known the depth of his longing.

His drank deeply from the stream, filling his empty belly with sweet water. There was ground-fruit all around him, but another day of fasting would do him good.

He wrapped his boots in his habit, tied the bundle up like a traveler’s pack with his habit’s rope belt, and shrugged into it.

He was still marked for avoidance by his paled skin and unbound beard and hair, but he could feel the air on his body and the ground under his callused soles and knew that the stranger had been right: this was where he belonged.

#

He saw the old man stagger, fall, rise, stumble in another direction, and fall again. He picked up his pace, running as the bloody scrapes on the old man’s legs and hands became visible.

“Father Not My Father,” he said, extending a hand to help the old man up, “may I help you?”

The puzzled, despairing, frightened eyes the old man lifted to him told him that he was hardly seen, let alone judge, and certainly not rejected.

“I’ve lost her,” the old man said, in a voice oddly strong for being so uncertain. “My One goat is lost. Have you seen her? She’s white, with black around her eyes and one black dot on the tip of her tail. She flicks it like this.” He flapped his hand.

“I haven’t seen a goat, Father Not My Father, but I’ll help you look.”

“Will you? Thank you! Thank you! The others won’t help. They tell me to stay home and forget about her. But she’s my One goat! Without her, the herd will scatter!”

Oh, the words, the terms, the ways of the lowlands! He felt the way his feet had felt the night before, plunging into refreshment and renewal!

“We’ll find her, Father Not My Father. Give me food and drink, and I’ll search with you.”

“Of course. Of course. This way.”

It was a lovely house, dug through the topsoil and down into the muddy clay, the excavated clay used to build up the sill and waterproof the roof of woven branches, to mold the fireplace and chimney. An empty goat shelter was falling to ruins in a yard overgrown with ground cover. Yes, the house was solid, but the place was deserted.

“Here we are,” the old man said. He called, “Prudence! Wife of my heart and life! Cheese and wine! Bread and oil!”

There was no answering call, no frail or sturdy old woman wiping dough from her hands with leaves waving from the doorsill to show she heard.

“She must be out looking, too. Come in. I’ll manage something.”

But that first impression had been correct. Vermin scuttered about and out of the vacant house, with its cold fireplace and empty larder.

“I don’t …. I don’t understand,” the old man said, turning in circles, hands gesturing aimlessly. “Where is Prudence? Where are our things?”

Outside, voices quarrelsome with worry approached.

“Father?” A woman bent over to peer into the gloom, her heavy breasts sagging against their covering band.

The old man’s eyes focused on her. “Patience? Patience, where’s your mother? Where are my goats? Where is our food? My One goat is gone, and the herd after her.”

As he spoke, the woman came down into the house. The man who came behind her was large, but not so large as his frown.

The woman patted the frowning man’s arm and said, “You see, Temper, I told you he’d be here again.”

“Yes, yes, I know.” To the former Brother Reticence, he said, “Who are you?” His eyes, adjusted to the change in light, took in the pale skin, the cloth bundle. “Have you been in prison?”

It would be easy to agree, to trade the contamination of outside contact for the relative respectability of moral error, but then he would have to name himself Honesty, and no one would ever trust him again.

“I was a monk,” he said. “I had to leave because I refused to kill the person who told me I shouldn’t be one.”

“Sounds like a good choice,” Temper said.

“Patience,” the old man pleaded.

“She’s gone, Father,” the woman snapped. “It’s all gone. This isn’t your home anymore. You live with us now, remember? Remember?”

It was an obvious effort, and the old man’s expression clearly stated that the memory was uncertain, but he nodded.

“You’ve got to stop leaving. We can’t stop at home all the time. There’s food to gather and goats to herd and milk. There’s trading to do, and ….” She burst into tears and squatted, hiding her face with her hands, making her emotion invisible.

Temper shook his head and spoke to the former priest. “For the past year, he’s been wandering off while we were away. Two months ago, he found his way back here, and he finds it again maybe every third time he leaves our house. His wife died twenty years ago, and he sold his herd when he moved in with us not long after. Our canton chief says we have leave to let him go wandering until he finds his way to The Land of Bright Shadows, but Patience can’t bear to do it.” He reached a large hand out to stroke the old man’s disheveled locks. “My own father is long, long gone to that happy place. The Father of My Wife has been a father to me for most of my life, now.”

A thought popped into the former monk’s mind, as if a fish had risen to the surface of the sea or a tight green bud had burst into blossom.

“I’m looking for a home and a place,” he said. “Would your chief allow me into your cantonment? Would the cantonment grant me a small herd and a One goat and two or three geese, if I lived here with the father of your wife and looked after him?”

Temper said, “Father of My Wife, would you like to live here again? Would you like to have this man stay with you?”

The old man said, “I do live here! And this man has promised to help me find my One goat if I feed him.”

Patience stood up, wiping her face and nose with the tail of her covering band. Her smile was radiant.

“Our cantonment chief is called Ferocity, because he’s so easily moved to pity. I’m sure he’d agree. And it’s birthing time, so there are sure to be runt goats no one wants, if you don’t mind the extra work of coaxing them to strength.”

“I was good at that, as a boy. I’d love to see if I still have the touch.”

“We have three geese we’d be more than glad to be rid of,” Temper said. “They’re yours.”

“His.” The former monk tapped his left shoulder as he faced the old man, signaling his servanthood.

Temper snorted, just a little. “All right, his. The One goat will be a purchase, though.”

The One goat – the One Who Leads Many – was a goat who, for no reason anyone could determine, other goats liked to follow. Its horns were coaxed to grow together into one, signifying its status. One goats were a precious commodity.

“Would a pair of boots and a habit’s worth of cloth buy one?” He handed over his pack.

“They would buy enough of one that the rest of it would be reasonable.”

Although the old man had little understanding as yet of his coming return to security of place and mind, he joined in the group expressions of agreement and joy.

One voice rose above all, and the other three grew silent to listen.

“I came down the mountain, nameless and placeless. Now I have a name. I will be known as Drifter, because now I have a place.”

The End

MY PROMPTS TODAY: geese, cow, unicorn (Yes, I know they’re goats and not cows, but that’s how prompts do, sometimes.)

MA

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